I hope the weekend was good! This week’s Coach Tip is fundamental to optimizing run performance:
RUN EVERYTHING WITH A QUICK CADENCE.
Always running with quick leg turnover will do three things for you: you’ll spend more time in the air with less impact forces all while being less likely to take a header and eat dirt. So, it stands to reason you’ll not only save a TON of energy over the long haul ’cause your efficiency high, but you’ll also arrive to the finish line FASTER, wondering why in THE hell you haven’t made cadence center-stage years ago. It’s a little thing that makes a BIG difference.
I define “quick cadence” as something in the neighborhood of 180 steps per minute (spm). That’s 90 left foot-strikes per minute, or like I tell athletes, ~15 left foot-strikes per 10sec. Count how many left foot-falls you’re getting in 10 seconds, sometime. Probably best to measure cadence on a smooth surface. Some GPS watches measure cadence. You can even go so far as displaying it on your watch but after playing around with 180spm and getting a feel for it, I’d have you focus on internalizing what 180 feels like rather than obsessing over a number on a screen.
I’m most interested in cadence after progression runs and RACES. I do check it out after long runs but notice it’s always under 180, because long runs are NOT races! I do want to see ~180 or higher in my progression runs and races at 100k or less. After a 50k in the Marin Headlands last month, my average cadence (according to Suunto) was 186. That DID feel right too, since my goal, even on the climbs, was to keep steppin’—a little above 180 on the downs, a little under 180 on the steepest, most technical ups, and right at 180 on the flats, which had to be less than 5% of that course.
So, if cadence is constant then STRIDE LENGTH is variable. On the flats, stride length is relaxed and smooth. On the ups and downs, all you have to remember is that cadence is the constant and therefore VARY stride-length accordingly. If you’re running down a technical descent, keep those legs turning over! If you’re on a long climb, shorten that stride length to the degree that you’re hitting about 15 lefts/10sec while keeping you’re breathing in check. The fitter you are the more of those climbs you’ll be able to RUN, maybe even going from a 15-18min/mi pace on the ups to a 12min/mile pace or faster. Think of what this optimized cadence is going to do for your run times!
A quick, relaxed cadence will keep you in the air longer and that’s what we’re looking for. We want to maintain momentum and capitalize on the free speed that gravity offers on the downs. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Inertia, baby!
As it turns out, a quicker cadence actually works to accumulate LESS physical stress on the body. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive, I know. For example, my 186spm over a 5hr 50k with 16,000′ of elevation change, netted me some 56,000 total steps for the event! It stands to reason that leg turnover was something I was clearly focused on throughout that entire race. I’ve also been wondering to what degree my shoe choice affects overall running economy. When you’re committed to a fast run cadence you can go with a lighter shoe (7-8oz) since you’re more lightly striking the ground at the mid-forefoot. Fast cadence + light shoe = optimized human locomotion.
Another BIG bonus for always running with a quick turnover is you will fall LESS, simply because you’ll catch yourself quicker. For example, when you catch a toe, your other leg will already likely to be out in front of you. I’m not saying you’ll never fall again, but I’ve noticed that I fall less when I’m ENGAGED with my running and high engagement means high cadence. You have a big engine. Keep those pistons pumping!
In conclusion, I’d like to remind you to take any cadence data with a grain of salt. Relax. As long as you’re checking in with your cadence regularly, that’s a powerful thing you can do for your running. The fitter you become the more climbs you’ll be able to run, albeit with a much reduced stride-length! In the meantime, we accept the fact that a lot of our runs we’ll see an average cadence under 180spm, especially when we’re trail-running. I know I’m hiking a lot these days on my easy runs. For race-day though?! I’m putting on my dancing shoes and trying to RUN everything I can, especially if the race is 100k or less.