Stride Length, Does It Matter?

May 25, 2016

Hello, and happy Wednesday! Man, I have no idea how I dragged myself out of bed to run this winter because I am really loving the light coming through my window before 6 AM. It no longer feels like an epic display of willpower to turn off my alarm and get up, and when I spied my headlamp hanging from my closet door this morning I did not feel anything remotely like nostalgia. I mean, I know we do what we have to do sometimes, but this is by far my favorite running season. The temps have been slowly climbing this week, but I didn’t mind an excuse to linger on my front porch for a few minutes to sweat. Though, I do feel like the sweat trail I leave through the house is a badge of honor. My husband, however, might disagree.

After this morning’s run, which included some Fartlek intervals, I was perusing data from my Garmin and noticed today’s average stride length: 1.01 meters. The reason I noticed it wasn’t that it seemed good or bad, it was actually that I had no idea what, if anything, it did mean. Being the data geek that I am, and being armed with the amazing amount of information my trusty watch spits back at me, I looked at my stride length for the past year and was a little surprised to see that it has mostly remained consistent. It hovers anywhere between .98 and 1.07 meters (3.22 to 3.51 feet), which means it has varied by about 3.5 inches. Is this a lot of variation? I don’t know. Here’s how I’ve trended:


It seems likely that I’d have a slightly shorter stride length in the colder months when it takes longer to warm up, and I’m also likely to be shuffling on/around snow and ice. There’s also something about running in the dark that makes me much more cautious about where my foot strikes, even without inclement weather. Just for kicks, here’s my average cadence:


The other variable is the tight tendon that popped in in February, so maybe as my stride got a little shorter somehow my body was trying to maintain my usual paces by turning over faster, though I don’t my cadence varied too much either if you were to break it down by percent. I can assure you that I was not turning over faster on purpose. I just found it interesting that these two things seemed to be in sync, and perhaps my first assessment wasn’t correct. Maybe the increase in my cadence caused the decrease in stride length, and not the other way around.

I’m sharing all this because it begs the question: does it matter? Should I pay attention to my stride length and/or cadence? I remember reading many moons ago that as a recreational runner you shouldn’t try to extend your stride by kicking out because you are more likely to injure yourself by overextending, so I’ve always kept this in the back of my mind. I can no longer credit the source of the article, but its writer suggested that the safest way to try to run faster was to simply turn over your legs faster, and I’ve kept this loosely as my guiding principal. This also seems to be a very individual metric in that at 5’4” my stride length is going to naturally be a lot shorter than someone who is 5’9” (I don’t have abnormally long legs), so at the end of the day my fast running might look more like a road runner than a loping gazelle.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. I flitted around the internet looking for some more substantial information, and liked this article on Runner’s Connect: Improving Your Speed: Step Frequency and Step Length. Key takeaway?

[T]he goal of cadence training is to gradually optimize your unique step length and step frequency, not imitate someone else’s.

Will I be paying attention to my stride length in the future? Probably not (unless my coach tells me to). It seems to me that any change in its length will come as a result of other things, but that focusing on this length as an isolated metric isn’t necessary and won’t indicate a change in my performance one way or the other.

*Photo credit: Chris



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