Note: This post incorporates technical data & information is from the USATF Podium Education Program session presented by Robert Chapman Ph.D.
Try this exercise. Get a stop watch (you could use your chronograph watch – but take it off to do this). Now, as fast as you possibly can start and stop the watch with one finger. How fast can you click it? .2 (two tenths of a second), .18 (18 hundreths of a second)? If you have a stop watch try tapping it on a desk top to start and stop. Was your time any faster?
Now, as fast as you did that, you were no doubt many times slower than the increments of time we’re going to talk about here. Even at the elite levels the goal is to get even faster. Of course, at this level they benefit from highly refined technical gadgetry to measure current status and progress. At the elite level, reducing footstrike time by .005 (five thousandths) of a second will yield 25 second faster times in a 10k.
Tidbit #1: At the elite level men take 5100 steps and women take 5800 in a 10k race. They also found that it is not dependent on the individual’s height. There was statistically insignificant differences though there were of course some variation by individual.
Here is a critical point: The goal is to decrease foot contact time but you must be able to do that and end up metabolically neutral – you can’t modify running only to end up spending more energy! This is a warning to everyone. If you modify your running style/form, you have to be sure you don’t expend more energy (use more oxygen) to do so. As I have pointed out before running form is very unique. There is no single perfect form.
Here are some interesting points about speed:
Tidbit #2: Sprinters have less contact time than distance runners and controls (non-athletes) while running at the same speed!
[Tidbit #2 is actually observable. Go to a track meet with very good sprinters. Watch them warm-up. Even jogging they appear to just tap the ground with a bounce in their legs you don’t see in distance runners. Continue the comparison by watching elite distance runners “jog” their warm-up. Compared to non-elite distance runners they appear light on their feet in comparison. This comes from years of training at very high intensity specific training routines… not from tons of long slow distance (LSD) runs.]
So, the bottom-line message to even non-elite performers is clear. Incorporate near maximum speed training, plyometrics and drills as part of your comprehensive performance improvement program. Race pace intervals and slower will NOT decrease foot contact time. If you have hit a plateau – this may be the critical element you are missing.