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Become a Better Runner by… Running!

Casual and competitive endurance runners alike often find themselves re-thinking their training regimen.  Who can blame them?  Every day magazines and blogs report new cross-training exercises to help runners perform better.  They offer strength/yoga/plyometric classes or programs to become the best possible runner.

While the desire to reach a PR is great and hitting milestone goals is fantastic, it’s not always easy to squeeze in anything beyond running. Don’t get us wrong, adding strength and cross-training is ideal. But if a runner only runs, do they risk not becoming better runners?  Thankfully, no!  A study published in the Journal of Medicine in Sports and Exercise showed a group of brand new female runners improved their running form (including running efficiency) after a 10-week program of only running.

Naturally we wondered…did our data concur? We looked at 300 people who ran a marathon with a MilestonePod in 2016, and analyzed their training leading up the Big Day. We found that over time, runners did improve their running form through running. This phenomenon extends from fast runners to slower runners, and includes both male and female.

Let’s look at cadence, a popular metric that is running-based and often heralded as a cornerstone of efficient running form. Both sub four-hour marathoners and runners who ran over a four-hour marathon improved in cadence throughout their training (see figure 1).  Most readers would think this improved cadence was the result of running faster, and for the faster group, this was true. However, for the slower group, this was not true (see Figure 2).

 

Marathon Cad with Training-1
Figure 1. The increase in cadence for faster and slower runners while training for a marathon. The scale is counting down the weeks remaining until the race.

 

Marathon Pace with Training-1
Figure 2. The pace change for faster and slower runners while training for a marathon. The scale is counting down the weeks remaining until the race.

 

The data shows the slower group of runners increased cadence while decreasing their speed.  So rather than speed being the driving factor, the improved running mechanics may have stemmed from the body trying to protect of itself naturally as the miles increased.  The Journal of Sports Health showed that increasing cadence will decrease the impact the body incurs per step and therefore helps reduce the risk of injury while running.

Training for a marathon is very time consuming, so if you do not always have time to add in cross-training, do not fear. You can become a better runner through running alone.

Author: Steve Suydam

Steve is a PhD and Director of Research at Milestone Sports. He can be reached at steve@milestonepod.com.