Improving your speed and becoming a faster runner over your preferred distance is the goal of any competitive runner.
Interval sessions, Tempo runs, Fartlek training, etc., etc., are all fantastic ways to improve your fitness for faster running. There is however, another way to develop your ability to run faster, that works in a different way and may make a huge difference in how ‘fast you get faster’.
That magic missing ingredient is Neuromotor Development.
Sounds complicated? It isn’t.
This is simply a way of showing your muscles and your nervous system what you want them to do, giving them a chance to experience it and learn what it feels like, then allowing it to replicate the process.
The simplest way of doing this is through fast downhill running.
Find a long downhill that is smooth, safe and not too steep, and run down it at a pace that feels just a bit reckless. The key things to ensure you are doing are to keep your stride length short, land softly, activate your core, keep your body aligned and lean forward slightly over your ankles.
By keeping your stride length short you will reduce the amount of force going through your heels and bring your centre of gravity more over your feet. Landing softly means focusing more on lifting your feet rather than landing on them. So try to spend less time on the ground with each footfall and the result will be a faster cadence (foot turn over), less impact on ground contact and you should notice less noise from your footfall. There is a tendency to pound the ground when running downhill…. this trashes your quads and obviously increases your chance of joint injury also.
Activating your core keeps your lower back and pelvis in check. An inactive core while running downhill can lead to an increase in forward tilt of your pelvis, and exaggerated curve in your lower back and eventual back pan. See Runner’s Core
Keeping your body upright and aligned means not flexing forward at the hips. Rather than bending at the hips/waist, lean forward slightly from the ankles. This subtle shift instantly puts your bodyweight more over your toes than over your heels which is where it tends to be when running downhill. This alone will force you to run faster, as each step simply becomes a measure to stop you falling on your face!
The act of running fast downhill, builds a pattern of fast foot turnover and shows your nervous system that it is capable of producing high speeds while still maintaining control. The idea of running at a pace that feels slightly reckless does more than just get the adrenalin pumping, it also over time, removes self-imposed barriers to fast running that we put up to protect ourselves from potential injury. These barriers are there for a reason, which is why correct form and a gradual build in intensity is important to avoid those injuries.
The best way to test this for yourself is to run a 1, 3, 5 or 10km time trial (depending on your fitness), include the fast downhill running into your training without changing anything else, and then run that same time trial 4-6 weeks later to see how it works for you.
Find a hill, run down it really fast. If nothing else, you’ll have a whole lot of fun!
Run long (and fast!)