More on cadence…

Ran 5 loops around the St. Matthew’s Mall this morning (it’s right next to the gym – I didn’t drive to the mall to run around it!). That translates to 6.1 miles. Time was 49:04 (8:02/mile).

I made an effort to get my cadence to 29-30 strides per 20 seconds on the first lap and it made a huge difference. My first lap was at a 7:39/mile pace. As expected, my mind drifted and I settled into my normal running cadence over the next 5 miles – thus my pace slowed to my normal 8:15-8:30/miles. When I felt myself slowing down, I tried to quicken my pace by increasing my cadence. This is a totally different philosophy that I’ve used in the past. If I felt my pace slowing, I would always speed up by lengthening my stride. Now I increase my cadence instead, and while it feels weird, I can see how it’s more effective.

I know from swimming, that the best way to improve your form is to do drills. So I’m going to have to incorporate the following drill into my run training:

1. Warm up by jogging slowly for half a mile.

2. Now begin to run at my normal training pace. After I’ve got my momentum going, start my watch. For exactly 1 minute, count the number of times my right foot touches the ground. This is my current cadence (turnover rate).

3. Jog slowly back to the start.

4. Repeat step 2, and try to increase the number of right-foot touches per minute by two to five. Follow up with another recovery jog.

5. Do two to four more repeats, continuing to increase foot-touches each time until I’m not running comfortably anymore. Back off the cadence at that point, and for any remaining repeats, maintain the number of foot-touches that allows me to stay relaxed while still using a faster turnover.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your turnover drills:

Do them at least twice a week. One weekly session will net only minimal improvement, and once a month won’t help at all. Incorporate them either before a long run or after a short run.

Stay light on your feet. As you count your cadence, imagine you’re running on thin ice. By touching very lightly, you minimize the delay between touchdown and push-off.

Stay low to the ground. The more time you spend in the air, the longer it takes your feet to make a cycle. And if you’re bouncing too much, you’re expending unnecessary energy pushing your body upward. If you’re having trouble reducing bounce, try shuffling at first; that is, aim for a foot clearance of an inch or less from the surface. As you become used to less vertical motion, you can ease back to your natural foot lift.

Stay upright. Leaning forward will reduce your legs’ freedom of motion and will slow down your turnover rate. To keep upright, imagine you’re suspended from the top of your head like a marionette. Your head should be directly over your shoulders, neck muscles relaxed, shoulders over the hips.

Shorten your stride if necessary. If you’re struggling to speed up your cadence, shorten your stride length during the first 10 to 15 seconds of each repeat. This should relax the leg muscles and encourage a faster turnover. Once your cadence has increased, you can gradually lengthen your stride to normal.

If I’m patient and stick with these drills, in several months I’ll reset my body’s running clock at a faster rate. Until then, I have to try not to “zone out” on my runs…which is going to be tough!

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