Running Economy

Hi Gang!


Huge congrats to all the triathletes in this group who crushed it in the Muskoka Half IM and the Musselman Half IM! Madalyn, Eleanor, Carolyn and Jason. Mad respect – y’all are awesome!


I’m reading another book about running. Funny how after being a nerd about something for over 30 years you can still learn new things. What struck me in this book is the concept that your brain and body are constantly mapping and updating your system to make you a more economical runner. Running economy refers not to how fast you run, but how much energy it costs to run a certain pace. It’s like fuel efficiency for cars. When Paula Radcliffe broke the world record for the marathon in 2003, she had been undergoing constant physical testing. Her Vo2 max, max running speed, strength and power were all tested. She ranked the same or even slightly lower on some of these tests than she had 5 years previously. What had changed? She was more economical. Although less fast and less powerful, she could maintain a certain velocity with less effort. How did she manage this? By running. A lot. Mostly easy.


Running is a skill. When running, the brain and body are in constant communication, mapping which patterns feel easier and creating a blueprint to encode those patterns. The signals are then sent for all muscles to synchronize and move a certain way in order to replicate the smoothest path. This learning happens over many miles and is constantly being adjusted and refined. Every single time we run, we are reinforcing the skill of learning how to run with a little less effort. There is no “one right way” to run. Every body is different and every brain figures out the most economical movements. It has been shown that as runners age, even as they lose muscle and strength, they continue to become more economical. This is probably why we see older runners generally progress to longer distances. They’ve been doing it longer and so have a higher skill level for running, even though they’re “slowing down”.


Anyway, I just loved this idea that even when we’re going out for a slow, tired jog, our brains and bodies are adapting and “training” and working on making us better. This is unique for running. In no other sport do our brains automatically find the most efficient and best way of doing something. They don’t care how much energy we spend swinging a golf club, and have no internal feedback on how far the ball went. In swimming our brains have to be taught how to move through the water – we aren’t figuring it out by sensation. But in running every step is mapped back to sensation and effort. If we happen upon a slightly different gait or pattern and it reduces the sensation of effort, that will be recorded and uploaded and replayed. These tiny variations over time lead to our optimal running stride. But this takes time. And lots and lots of easy miles. So enjoy them. Whether you’re training or not, your brains and bodies are always working to make you more efficient. A nifty offshoot of evolution I guess.


On to tomorrow’s workout! Back to Lakeshore and Leslie – 6:05 drills, 6:15 GO

  1. 1 mile tempo (faster side of tempo), 2 min rest, 4 x 400 w 1:15 (thinking 5K pace here), 2 min rest, Repeat. THEN marathoners can finish with 1 mile at marathon pace.
  2. If just coming to workouts from a hiatus, just do mile – 4 x 400 – mile
  3. If going by time: 6 min tempo, 2 min easy, 4 x 1:15 On, 1:15 Off, Repeat.


That is all – see you in the am!