OK then; you’ve got your body position slightly forward (so gravity pulls you to the finish), are landing feet beneath yourself (to avoid putting on the brakes), and you’ve even got your cadence nice and high. If it works for you like it does for me, your pace will increase, or your endurance get longer, or your perceived effort go down (or any combination of all that, depending on your own intensities and priorities). But what if you’d like to improve even more? If you can’t take mores strides in a given time (180 steps a minute is pretty much the limit, at least for this MPR), the only other way to cover more distance is to make the strides longer, right? But doesn’t that mean your feet need to extend out in front of you again?
Maybe not. The trick is to lengthen the duration of each stride behind you, not in front, and the way to do that is to picture your heels coming up a little bit closer to your butt.
I got wind of this when reading a description of some elite marathoner in a treadmill demonstration. The author – who was far more of an authority than I; which is not saying much – made all the expected noises about relaxed upper body, forward C.O.G., forefoot landing (you can’t land on your forefoot if it’s very far in front, unless you’re a prima ballerina – and willing to look like one), very high cadence, then remarked about how high his heels came up, like that was a really big deal.
What the heck, I thought. If your heels come up higher, they are travelling farther, but not in the direction you want to go, so how can that help?
The answer that make sense to my little brain goes back to that description of running as catching yourself when gravity wants to make you fall forward. With that in mind, if makes sense that a foot that comes up higher behind you is off the ground a little longer, and that means gravity has more time to pull you forward a little farther. And since gravity is an acceleration, its effect is the square of its duration, so a little time goes a long way.
They ain’t no free lunch though, so we must admit that pulling heels up higher takes some energy, and doing that while keeping cadence up requires your feet move faster (just as they would have to if your stride lengthened out front), but done right, it’s a high-efficiency technique – maximum performance increase for minimum added exertion. Way better than stretching strides out in front.
Once you’ve got the other stuff working the way it works best for you, try kicking up your heels a bit. You may just find your pace goes up as well!