Whether you’re gunning for the parkrun podium or looking to achieve a new marathon personal best, producing a fast mile is a powerful weapon in your off-road running arsenal. To that end, Trail Running travelled to Iffley Road – the athletics track where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile mark in 1954,and the home of speed in British running – to pick
up some tips from triathlon coach James Beckinsale.
As you set off, lean slightly forwards from the ankle – not the waist – to enable you to stride
out fully right from the start. This position stretches your hip flexors, which in turn prepares your leg to swing through with more power and efficiency. Try to maintain your position for the whole mile.
Increase strike rate
An effective way to run faster is to increase your strike rate, or cadence. This is the number of times one foot hits the ground per minute. Increasing your strike rate is possible no matter which type of foot strike you use, provided you avoid over-striding and landing heavily. Good runners don’t hit the ground heavily and linger there; ground contact is quick, light, and virtually silent.
Tuck in arms
Forget about your trailing leg – it will swing through naturally. Instead, focus on keeping your arms tucked at right angles and rotating at the shoulder, parallel to your torso. This balances your leg movement and helps set your running pace.
As you move into mid-stance and prepare to toe-off, keep the upright position but use your knee to lean forwards – focus on driving your femur, or thigh bone, in front of you. This motion moves your body forwards as economically as possible.
You should keep your body as upright as possible when running. Your torso may twist slightly when your legs are driving forwards, but you can minimise this movement by keeping your arms parallel to your body as much as you can. Your arms can move towards your midline, but do not let them cross it or they will also pull your legs out of alignment. Keep your head relaxed, and look straight ahead, not down.
Strike mid foot
A heel strike will act as a braking force, slowing you down – instead, strike your foot just in front of your centre of gravity with a midfoot strike. This maintains your forward momentum and allows your leg to absorb the impact force, storing it briefly as energy ready to be released later in the foot-strike cycle.
Meet the expert
James Beckinsale is an ex-army physical training instructor, esteemed triathlon coach and an ambassador for premium running-wear brand
Iffley Road. In short, not a bad guy to be pushing you to new limits.