Cadence: It’s Not Just for Cyclists Anymore

Posted: March 9, 2016 in Run, The Plan
Tags: ,

As I alluded to in a previous post, my run workouts have become a bit, well, “intense” (click HERE).  Seldom do I ever have anything resembling an “easy run” in my training plan anymore.  No.  Those days are long gone.  Now everything has a specific purpose; either build strength or improve pacing.  And now the new Coach has gone and thrown another monkey wrench into the machine: “cadence”, or the number of strides I take per minute.

Yay.

While I’ve always heard about the benefits and importance of cadence from other “runners”, I’ve never really given it much thought or consideration.  Now when I first started swimming I didn’t see the importance of drills, or “watts” when I first started spinning either.  But eventually I did come to understand the importance these training tools provide and I have since incorporated them into my daily workouts religiously…but “running cadence”, well, not so much.  What can I say?

I can be a bit slow on the uptake.

And truth be told, when I was first told via email to “focus on my cadence” over, say “pace”, this was the first thing that came to my mind:

 –

Needless to say I wasn’t impressed.

Imagine me doing that through the back roads of Ridgeway in my stretchy tights.

Yeah.

I’d likely be burned at the stake as a witch.

However, being the dutiful foot soldier I am, I decided to give this “cadence” thing a chance.  First, however, I wanted to investigate it a little more in depth to discover what exactly the whole point and perhaps what the ultimate payoff will be come Ironman time.

What I’m really trying to say here is “hey, what’s in for me?”

What I’ve come to understand is that our bodies love rhythms.  And I’m not talking about your crunchy reggae beats but the natural rhythms of life itself.  We thrive on them.  Our heartbeats, breath rate, and need for rest are all based on rhythms that occur naturally in the body.  When our body has a natural rhythm to follow, it doesn’t have to work as hard. It just knows what to do and goes about the business of getting it done.

Okay, so “easier” you say?

I’m listening.

It turns out that most runners run upright with a long stride, causing them to land on their heels with their feet out in front of their bodies.  I happen to run like a retarded orangutan on stilts.  This tends to overwork the legs, as they have to pull themselves forward with each step.  Heel striking also causes huge impact to ankles, shins, knees and hips, and is a primary cause of running injuries. And Lord knows I’ve had my fair share of those the past few years.  However, when we run with a quicker cadence, our stride becomes shorter, making it easier for our feet to land underneath us, which then reduces heel striking, saves our knees, and helps prevent other injuries.

So, it minimizes injury too?

Go on.

Furthermore, most runners will spend too long in the “support stance,” or landing phase of their stride.  During that time, our leg muscles are engaged and supporting our body weight which, in my case, is a lot; fast bastard I am.  When you have a quick foot turnover, you’re supporting your weight for less time.  You actually expend less energy and become more efficient – two benefits that are especially important during those long training runs and on race day.

So I’m even less fatigued?

Fuck, yeah!

WINNING!

So how does one improve their cadence then?

Personally, I imagine running on hot coals.  This means that my stride is typically a bit shorter but my “turn over” rate is much higher.  After all, I don’t want to get burned on those imaginary coals.  You could also think of it this way, your forward momentum really only happens when you’re not on the ground but are actually in the air – get this – moving through space.  Wrap your brain melon around that!  You’ll just have to believe me here but there are, like, tons of scientific studies on the ‘ol Interweb thingee that you can reference.  Not that I really understood any of it but that’s the basic premise.  So the longer my foot is on the ground, the less I’m technically moving forward through space.  So, rather than think about actually planting my foot I concentrate on keeping it off the ground and therefore moving my fat ass through space.

This is basically my new focus now for all my runs and for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying it on all  my training runs; fartlek, long or otherwise.  I was initially curious what my actual cadence was so I learned that I can calculate my run cadence fairly easily by counting every step taken by my right  foot for 30 steps.  I then needed to divide this time into 3600.  The first time I tried this, about two week s ago, 30 steps with my right foot took me 22 seconds. So, 3600 ÷ 22 = …… Blue?  Cantaloupe?

Fucked if I know.

I failed math.

But when I got home I tapped it out on a calculator and learned that I take approximately 163 steps per minute, or the equivalent of a three-legged sloth doing the Watusi.

Good for me.

What I can tell you for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it sucked…at first.

But stuck with it I did.

After a few workouts, I was able to increase my cadence to about 180 quite consistently; 180 being the recommended cadence for truly minimizing my risk of injury.  Now, I can’t maintain this for long periods, yet, but during these 2 and 4 minute intervals my Garmin data does verify that I am running at a must faster that I initially thought possible. Eventually, after approximately 6-7 workouts, I’m actually finding it a bit easier and spot-checking a few times during each of my workouts confirms that I am indeed running at an elevated pace – dare I say it – easier.

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The other noticeable difference is that ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning don’t seem quite so beat up after my runs and that  is definitely a good thing.

On my weekend long runs I am now focusing on increasing my cadence every 20 minutes so that I am, in fact, increasing my pace over time and distance and therefore becoming more adept at running more efficiently and effectively; basically finishing strong instead of dragging my ass across the finish line broken and battered which is usually the case.

And, this, is how I want to finish my Ironman.  I don’t want to simply survive the marathon as I did before (click HERE  or a little recap) – I want to rock  it.  The Ironman run is definitely my “limiter”, as it with most people I suppose.  Well, fat bastards like me anyway.  However, this time around I want to bend this thing over my knee and slap it’s ass.  So if that means getting more comfortable with and capable of maintaining a strong run form by working on this fast cadence thing, then so be it.

It’s on.

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Comments
  1. An easier way to determine your cadence:
    – count steps for 15 seconds, multiply by 4 (makes math problem a lot easier)
    – get fancy foot pod (no math)

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