I love strides! Love them, love them, love them. Is this clear. I am seriously the worlds biggest fan of strides. There are a few reasons for this not the least of which is that strides are awesome and that they are more awesome if you lack much natural speed and therefore need to keep working the speed you have in order to run anything at a decent pace.
For the uninitiated strides are simply short sprints of 10 to 20 seconds on flat ground. You tend to accelerate up into them a bit slower than you would a max out sprint and to slow down more gradually. Very often people do not get up to their top speed in strides. I assume they have been around as long as running competitively has existed. I imagine in the mid 19th century when kids first played Hare and Hounds some of those kids were doing short acceleration and sprints before the actually game started to get ready. They are a ubiquitous part of almost all warm ups and have been a part of almost every major coaches program since before Paavo Nurmi started tearing up the track and trails.
Why are they so common and so wide spread? Two simple reasons. Simplicity and effectiveness. They are so basic and yet they can be used in so many ways to have so many positive impacts on our training outcomes.
You probably already do strides before your workouts and races. You should continue to do this. They are an integral part of a good warm up. Many of you probably do a few in the days before a major race, this too is good. I would simply suggest that you need to do them even MORE often.
In his seminal article "Anatomy of a Medal", where he discusses the training that brought Deena Kastor (Drossin) from a solid but not super start All American runner to an Olympic podium, Joe Vigil talks about how they did something for speed basically every single day for years. See the article here: http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_1/the-anatomy-of-a-medal.shtml Strides were a big part of how they did that. Recently after winning the Boston marathon Meb Keflezghi said in multiple interviews that one of the things he was doing now that he was older was making sure he did strides EVERY day as he couldn't do some of the speed workouts he used to without getting hurt or robbing himself of some of the longer workouts he needed for marathon success. Meb is coached by Bob Larson who is one of the finest distance coaches in American history. He is the quintessential "nobody's fool" If Bob has his athletes do something it is because it works. Flat out.
So when should you do strides. I would suggest that if you are really trying to get the best out of yourself as a middle or long distance runner you should be doing strides in one form or an other every single day if you can. Now we all have days when we are banged up or when the goal to get something done doesn't happen but that should be the goal. It is also wise to point out at this point that if you currently do about 5 strides a week and you go out and do 5 to 10 every day next week you are going to be very very sore and if you keep that up another week you are likely going to be very hurt. Use some common sense whenever adding something into your training program and build up sensibly.
How to use strides. First after your regular runs trying to mix in 2 to 10 strides is a great idea. They may not all be great efforts but they really go a long way in preventing injury. Improving and maintaining basic speed and building great muscular endurance and efficiency. I am for 'at least 4' after every regular run. Which means I do exactly 4 like 99% of the time. Don't judge I'm very tired before I start the run, never mind after!
Next up you can use strides as a muscular workout. 30x100m at 800m to mile pace with full recovery or near full recovery is an easy session that can help in a big way. When I set my 1500m PB I had not done any intervals or hard repeats. I had done some tempos and I had been consistently running 30x100m in 15 seconds each week and I got in a 1500 and was SHOCKED to run that time. It was a season opener and I was far from in the best shape but here was a PR and a time that compared well with my mile best. Thing is though out the race I felt strong and mechanically in control. Why? I had specifically trained the muscles through strides.
Another famous session is diagonals which are very similar and another great way to build up the speed. If you focus on a short event 800m to 3k or if you are a young runner making sure you are doing a session like one of the two above year round pretty much every week is going to be one of the best things you can ever do for your running.
Strides two most important contributions to your training are first that they teach the single most important skill in effective distance racing. Relaxed fast running. If you aren't relaxed you won't be going to long and you will always get beat by anyone who is relaxed who has built a similar sized engine. It is like if two people build car engines that have the same horsepower and one of them burns more gas than the other. That one will lose in any sort of longer race because it will run out of fuel. Second strides are a great way to sneak in a large volume of quick to very fast running over the course of a week and this builds muscular strength that helps you hold your form together and stay efficient in the later stages of races when you are getting fatigued.
Strides have some other side benefits, increased stroke volume from your heart, better access to energy stored in the alatic system, improved form, to name a few but they two above are the ones that you will notice the most. Best part is they are so simply you almost can't screw them up and as long as you do them often and in decent volume you will get all the benefits including the ones you aren't even targeting!
So suck it up and do your strides. Like brushing your teeth once they are part of the routine they are easy enough and man do they make life.. err running better!