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March 16, 2014

Here is a unique, local speed workout

Two important techniques improve running form and promote a faster running pace.

One is that, by running fast, improved biomechanic running posture is an almost natural byproduct. Two, the muscles used in running sprints are rarely used in a slow jog, or even at a steady race pace. With an increase in stronger muscle involvement, and improved running posture, the ability to run faster with more ease becomes the outcome of this practice.

One drill that I have found to be easy to follow (and is a fun speed workout at the same time) is found over at City Park on the large soccer field. Along the side by the railroad tracks is a series of large light poles. The poles are evenly spaced and the ground is a nice soft grass that makes it easy on the feet.

Taking a nice easy jog around the field one or two times to warm up the muscles is recommended before the speed drills began. Start at one end of the poles, and think that you will be running at four different speeds for each pole length.

For the first pole distance, jog a nice easy slow pace. At the second pole, increase the speed to a training-run speed. At the third pole, pick up the pace to a race pace and think of pushing the pace a little. At the fourth pole, think of running a pace like you would in a 100-yard dash.

This last pole is an all-out effort to see how fast you can really run. The next pole is used to slow down and recover. At the end of this last pole, you turn around and walk slowly back one pole length; then you repeat the sequence over again. Slow, easy jog; easy training pace; race pace; sprint pace; and recovery.

Repeat this from eight to ten repetitions for a workout. It will be a good workout; and you will find that it was a short, fun workout, and one that will leave you more tired than you might think. Follow the speed repeats with another two easy jogs around the fields to cool down and relax the muscles that haven’t been used much in workouts at slower paces.

This is also a good opportunity to go through a series of stretches. Including a few abdominal exercises to finish off the workout adds to the better posture of running by strengthening the stomach muscles that keep the pelvic girdle level.

The race pace and sprint sections of the run are the keys to improving running form. Sprinting will have you lifting your knees higher, pumping your arms vigorously, keeping your trunk in a more upright position and will improve the tracking motion of the legs. Tracking motion refers to the legs moving in a straight line - similar to parallel railroad tracks - and not swinging from side to side, or crossing in front of each other.

The drill should only be done once a week at the most; and some runners may want to try it once every two weeks. After trying the workout several times, you will notice that your running form, even at slower paces, will be improved. The tracking movement of the legs is starting to become a habit in your running, and the foot strike is not flaring outward as much.

The nice thing about running on a grassy surface is that, until you learn to run lightly during the sprint, your initial attempts might be almost earth-shattering when your feet hit the ground. The soft grass eases the stress on the feet and knees considerably.

Since the poles are evenly spaced, it is easy to know when to shift gears to a faster running pace; and since they are not that far apart, each pace is only a short distance. With regular speed workouts throughout the summer, you will find that your finish time in local 5K races will be faster.

This is a good speed workout in the hot summers because it only takes a short time to do. If you find that you are getting too hot, the river is just a short distance away for a quick dip to cool off.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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