Running is a fairly basic sport. All you need is a pair of shoes and you’re good to go, right?

Not quite. The accessories can become costly in a hurry: Technical shirts, a jacket, lightweight hats, running shorts/tights/pants, a GPS watch, some good sunglasses, energy gels, gloves and hats for the winter. Then there are other expenses like race registrations, coaching, gym membership, special dietary considerations. But is all the expense worth it in terms of running improvement?

A study done at the University of Colorado at Boulder and recently published in Frontiers in Physiology looked at how much improving “running economy,” or the number of calories burned per second at an aerobic pace, can improve a runner’s speed. The researchers found there is a relationship between running economy and speed, but it varies depending on the type of runner.

The researchers looked at treadmill studies of runners to consider air resistance and oxygen uptake velocity, which both go up the faster you run, according to a press release. The findings were interesting. For those running slower than 9 minutes per mile, any percent improvement in running economy (whether due to better shoes, nutritional supplements, a tailwind, drafting or other measures) resulted in an even higher percentage improvement in pace.

For example, a 1 percent improvement in running economy for a 4:30 marathoner would make the runner 1.17 percent faster, which would cut more than three minutes off their finishing time. Conversely, for runners who run faster than 9 minutes per mile, each percent improvement in economy led to less than that percentage improvement in pace. So a 1 percent improvement in a 2:03 marathoner would translate to a .65 percent increase in speed, or 47 seconds.

The findings are encouraging for recreational runners, the study’s authors say. “A lot of times recreational runners assume these things are just going to benefit elite athletes when the reality is they can benefit even more than the elites,” said lead author Shalaya Kipp in the release.

This means that for a slower runner, wearing a pair of shoes that claim to improve performance by 4 percent (like Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly claims) could result in a 5 percent improvement in finish times. And other measures to improve running efficiency such as drafting behind another running or doing plyometric exercises could also lead to improved speed for slower runners.

My takeaway from the study isn’t necessarily that we should all go out and get Nike Vaporfly shoes, but that there are definitely ways to get faster, even if you’re not an elite runner. Another way to get faster is to lose weight (this, of course, depends on whether you should and if it’s safe to do so). Improving your training methods, whether through a coach or running with others, can also help you become a more efficient runner.

Ultimately, there are many ways to improve your running, but the key is to do your research and then armed with that knowledge, get your miles in. There’s no easy path to getting faster. Just like anything else you want to get better at, you need to put the work in.


Starts and stops:

• The 5th annual Tapleyville 7-Mile Classic is scheduled for Sunday, April 28 at 8 a.m. at Western Cycle, 89 Maple St., Danvers. The race is the second in the 2019 North Shore/Brooks Running Series and benefits the Alzheimer’s Association and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem. Visit for more information.

• The 6th annual Rocky Neck 5K Run/Walk & Team Challenge is set for Sunday, May 5 at 10 a.m. on the Rocky Neck Cultural Center, 6 Wonson St., Gloucester. The race benefits Rocky Neck Art Colony programs and services. Race entries will be capped at 400. Visit for more information.


On the Run is a biweekly column about the North Shore running scene. Send any questions, comments, or news to


Upcoming races

Saturday, April 13

• The inaugural Flynnie 5K, the AOH, 58 Lowell St., Peabody, 10 a.m. The race is in memory of the late Kevin Flynn, legendary Danvers High School hockey coach, who died in 2017. The run/walk will benefit a graduating male and female from Danvers High School. Visit for more information.

• Chase the Gorilla Down Argilla 5K, Ipswich Family YMCA, 110 County Road, Ipswich, 9 a.m. First race of the YMCA of the North Shore Race Series. Visit for more information.

Sunday, April 14

• Notch Sunday Meters for Liters, Notch Brewing, 283R Derby St., Salem, 11:30 a.m. Free group 5K or 10K run from the brewery. Beer and pretzels provided to runners after the run. Runners who complete 10 runs (aka 50,000 meters) will receive Notch swag.

Wednesday, April 17

• Danvers 5K Fun Run, meets at Panini Pizzeria, 11 Maple St., Danvers, 7 p.m. Run starts and finishes at the corner of Elm and Page streets, near the Danvers Fresh Market Place. Free, timed run. All welcome. These events are part of a weekly 52-race series. E-mail

• Meters for Liters, Notch Brewing, 283R Derby St., Salem, 6:30 p.m. Free group 5K run from the brewery. Beer and pretzels provided to runners after the run. Runners who complete 10 runs (aka 50,000 meters) will receive Notch swag.