While no real scientific studies have tested the effects of stride workouts on runner performance, most athletes and coaches agree that they're beneficial. Runners who include strides in their training regimens seem to perform better than runners who simply run long distances at race pace or slower. This difference was dramatically illustrated during the 1930s after the development of Fartlek, a conditioning method characterized by periods where a runner exceeds his or her normal training pace during a run. In the decade following its introduction, Fartlek-trained runners set world records in the 5K, the 10K, the 2-mile, the indoor 2-mile, the 3-mile, the 4-mile, and the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Fast-paced stride workouts undoubtedly have similar benefits.
Strides can help boost your ability in a variety of ways. When done before a race, they initiate fast-twitch muscle fibers you use during the race and improve communication between your brain and muscles. The resulting improvement in coordination makes running feel more natural at the beginning of a race. Doing strides after a relaxed training run helps coach your body to pick up the pace as you jockey for position at the end of a race. On race day this final burst could propel you ahead of several less-conditioned runners.
Stride workouts don't just have the potential to improve your speed, they also can be used to correct inefficiencies in your running form. Using strides to focus on technique, you can eliminate common problems like overstriding, excessive arm swinging and poor posture. Once you correct these inefficiencies, your speed is likely to increase even more.
For runners looking to advance their ability to the next level, strides are a great way to get there. Of course, this conditioning method is just one part of a well-balanced workout, but if executed properly, strides are sure to give you a definite edge come race day.