RUNNING >> Step with the Best to Success

Step with the Best to Success

Tony Benson
National Consultant - Track & Field

Over the years I have remained convinced the accumulated volume is the key to success in running – be it measured in kilometres, miles or time. Now however I believe it is actually the number of steps a person takes that is the real reason. After all a person is not training their structural while in the air between strides and it is well known the highly trained cardio-vascular and neuromuscular systems of elite swimmers and cyclists will not allow these people to run at even good club run level without muscular-skeletal conditioning.

We have all heard the account of the African kids running to and from school and that the best of them also go home for lunch. Well in my 5 visits to Kenya totalling 15 weeks I have not seen more than a handful of kids running to school. Most walk and those running are usually late. This was also true of Australian, New Zealand and American kids when these countries dominated distance running.

If we consider most people walk with a stride length between 60 and 80cm it means they record between 166 and 125 strides per 100m and 1660 and 1250 for a kilometre.

From a training perspective it means a coach could simply prescribe their athlete get a pedometer and complete a workout of say 5000 steps. If a beginner was told to walk or jog/walk at around 9 minutes per kilometre or to run with correct technique at 8 minute kilometre (or 13 minute mile) pace they would walk or run about 125 steps per 100m or 1250 steps per kilometre. That would mean the person covers 4k or 2.5 mile. If the next stage were to increase the 5000 steps to a pace of 6 minutes per kilometre (about a 1 metre stride) the person would increase their distance to 5k or 3 mile. The same 5000 steps done at 4 minute per kilometre would mean the person is running 65 to 70 steps per 100m and therefore they would cover 7.1k to 8k or 4.4 to 5 mile.

Using steps has a number of advantages when working with beginners:

  1. It obliterates the distinction between walking, alternating walking & jogging and running.
  2. It means running with a shorter stride accumulates steps faster so cadence rather than time is the important thing.
  3. It ensures the any person who has been taught correct technique (see Library/Run at maintains better posture during the workout.
  4. Slower running will mean likelihood of injury during the development stages of an athlete’s career.

It also has advantages when working with track athletes who are moving from sprint or short middle distance to longer distances, for recreational 2 to 3 hour a week runners to say the half marathon or the marathon and for triathletes moving from the short or shorter race to the Half Ironman or Ironman.

Take the long run as an example. An elite male or female athlete running say a relaxed 2 hours at 4 minutes per kilometre pace would run 30 kilometre with a stride length of about 1.5m and therefore take about 20,000 steps. This means a person whose relaxed 2-hour pace is 6 minutes (ie, 20k) should aim to run as close to 20,000 steps as possible. This can be done if the person keeps their stride length to about 1 metre because it means they run 1000 steps every kilometre and 20,000 steps will equal 20 kilometres.

In this way the training values are equal.

It would also be possible for an athlete to accumulate even more steps if they shortened their stride to say 90 centimetres. Using a 90 cm step would mean running 22,220 steps in 2 hours. Naturally the distance would be less unless there was an increase in cadence. However if developing great muscular-skeletal strength was the goal – as it is those the types of athletes listed above – running 18 or 19 kilometre is not relevant.

This leads to the question of how to work out your cadence in relation to your running speed. For this it’s easier for me to use myself as an example.

First I walked 100m at a relaxed speed and the time was 65 seconds and I took 120 strides (83 cm) then I walked 100m at a steadier pace and the time was 55 seconds and I took 110 strides (90 cm). Then I run about 30 x 100m using a natural stride as determined by the time I was aiming to achieve for the 100m.

The average result were:

The event this step count method has most application is the marathon and the ironman marathon. In my case this told me that if my goal was to run 3:45 hours for a marathon or an IM 42.2k my pace would have to be ~5:20 minute kilometre and I would need to be capable of absorbing about 38,000 impacts. I would then slow my pace to 7 minutes per kilometre in a number of long (2:15 to 2:30 hour type runs), increase my cadence slightly and target a stride length of 80 centimetres because 2:30 hours at 7 minutes per kilometre would mean that while I only ran about 22 kilometre I would have taken about 26,400 steps. If I chose to run 3 hours like this I would run about 26k and accumulate over 30,000 steps.

By increasing the cadence the cardiovascular impact would be greater that a 7 minute per kilometre run would normally be and, more importantly I would be training more specifically for my event than running 18,000 to 22,000 steps faster because the marathon is rarely about cardiovascular failure and the IM 42.2k is always about muscular-skeletal failure.

Question: How far would I have had to run at 7 minutes per kilometre using a 90 cm stride to record 38,000 steps?  How long would that take me? Would it be equivalent to a 4 hour or 45k Ultra Run?

So get a pedometer and go and experiment on yourself.

© Benson’s Run With The Best and Endurance Performance Systems 2006

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