How do the stride lengths of the elite compare?
The video below captured Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, and Mo Farah, at mile 12 at the BUPA Great North Run in 2013. At this point, the 3 runners are running at the same speed as they had done for most of the race; shortly after this point Bekele broke away.
We can see a very real differences in the stride lengths. If the speed is the same and stride lengths are different, then the cadence — or stride rates — must also be different. This obviously questions the often-recommended 180 stride rate; these guys are after all three of the very best distance runners on the planet.
For many runners though (especially the slower ones), the 180 guide is a good one. We find a large proportion of the runners we start to coach are way below this and we are constantly giving drills to encourage them to reduce the tendency to over-reach on their stride (we find that counting strides and focusing on picking the feet up can have a profound effect on over-striding form).
However, the vast majority of runners shouldn’t get too carried away by analysing and particularly trying to copy the form of elite runners. Form is a product of speed and not necessarily the other way round. The runners in the video would be lapping a 400m track in about 68 seconds. Most recreational and club runners would have some difficulty in running just one lap at that speed, and if they did, their form would be looking very different to the way it looks when they run at their more normal 6-8 minute miles over 10k.
There’s a more detailed discussion on stride length in Steve Magness’ article ‘180 isn’t a magic number — Stride Rate and what it means‘ on his excellent Science of Running site.