So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Feel The Rhythm, Feel The Rhyme

Coach Patrick McCrann's Endurance Nation (and lately, his new Marathon Nation) sites have provided me some great common-sense hacks to pass along to folks I advise, coach or mentor. If you feel like you're spending way too much time training, not achieving any positive outcomes, and more likely ticking off everyone around you (family, friends, co-workers, employer) because you spend too much time working harder rather than smarter...well, I'd definitely recommend giving any of the two sites, or his personal site - http://www.patrickjohnmccrann - a long look-see.

This month, Patrick is providing 30 marathon (I'm going to borrow and read "distance running" where he says "marathon") tips over the next 30 days...of which you might run into on any of the three blogs (here, or North Florida RRCA, or F.A.S.T. Pensacola) on which I post. I might punch them in verbatim...I might provide some editorial comments, which will be duly noted:

I picked this tip as the first tip because I think it's that important. After years of doing run clinics and gait analysis sessions, I have learned that if a runner can get her cadence into the right spot, almost every other running technique variable takes care of itself. In other words, if you ignore the next 29 tips but nail this'll be in a pretty good place. Repeat studies and performance reviews of elite athletes have shown that 180-190 steps per minute is the golden standard of cadence. In other words, taking approximately 180 steps per minute (or 90 for each leg) is an excellent way to:

move your stride length into the optimal range;
vastly improve your running economy;
reduce your chance of running injury;
and...all of the above without unduly placing too much focus on running "form."
For many people, this 180 steps per minute is much faster than what they are used to doing. While it will take time and focus to ensure that you can properly make the transition to a higher run cadence, since you can actually control (and measure) how many steps you take, this is a very easy way to implement a positive change in how you run. At the end of the day, running with a good cadence can help keep you going stronger, faster, and even help protect you from many common injuries. Let's get started...

Step 1: Assess Your Cadence
Step 2: Practice + Feel 180 Cadence
Step 3: Implement + Score Your Running

Step 1: Assess Your Cadence in :15 Increments
While it's tempting to just start shouldn't. Before we can make any changes, we have to know where you are starting from. The next time you go for a run, make a mental note to count your steps during the warm up, warm down, and main set portions of your run.

Try counting the strides of one leg for 15 seconds and see how close you can get to 22. Alternately, you can also count arm swings if that's easier. If you're a stickler for details, you'll want to multiply the number of steps by "4" to get the number of steps per minute for that leg, then again by "2" to get the total number of steps taken.

Regardless of your effort level / speed, your cadence should be very similar. By the end of the run, you will have a ball park number for your current "default" number of foot strikes.

Step 2: Practice + Feel 180 Cadence
Now that you know what your default cadence is, it's time to begin working on the 180. Following the same target of 22 steps per 15 seconds, begin your next run at this higher cadence. Check in every minute -- or as needed -- to assess. From experience I suggest you keep this run relatively short in duration (no more than 30 minutes) as the mental focus will really consume the workout.

In addition to counting steps, there are many other cues that you can focus on to help maintain this optimal cadence. As Jack Daniels, elite running coach and renown author advises, optimal stride rate should feel like you are running "over the ground, not into it." Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

Stay relaxed.
Land on the balls of your feet.
Keep your knees slightly bent.
Work on being light-footed / reducing friction.
Concentrate on turning your feet over as fast as you can.
Don't put too much emphasis on pushing off the ground. Instead, work on gliding across it.
Step 3: Implementing The Cadence Habit
With a quality run under your belt at the target cadence of 180 we can now go back to your regular running schedule -- i.e., whatever you are training for. As you continue running, make note of your cadence when you feel great and when you feel, well, not-so-great. Check in on the numbers during your intervals and your longer runs. If you notice a decline in steps -- or related running form/performance -- then get back to those quicker steps! Before you know it you'll be hitting 22 steps every 15 seconds like a well-oiled running machine...leaving the old you (and some of the competition) in the dust.

Making the cadence change, like any other new element to your running, takes time and practice. At first you will need to repeat the workout in Step 2 rather frequently, but over time you will begin to gravitate to this more natural rhythm. You will also notice a slightly higher heart rate than usual for the same (or slightly slower) pace. This is not uncommon and is evidence that you are, in fact, making a change to how you run. Awesome! Give yourself until the end of the Project and you'll find that as your cadence evolves, your higher heart rate will simply fade away.
While I'm not a fan of running with music, especially on race day or during track workouts when acceleration drills might be on the agenda...there are times when having the right tempo music can help you to groove in that 85-90 left/right foot strikes per minute. I'm one of those guys who loves to know exactly what tempo the tunes in my iTunes are...not only for the benefit of those days when I might be on the treadmill, but also on the elliptical trainer or in the pool (I have a waterproof MP3 player). I have playlists of tunes in five-to-ten beat windows (to borrow from Foghorn Leghorn...), just for such an occasion.
If you prefer to not wear an iPod or MP3 player you can do a search on the internet for song tempos, or purchase a little metronome to clip on your hat or waistband.
There are some folks who can be their own jukebox as needed. I used to memorize entire albums of music and could pick tracks out of thin air. Strangest thing was the tune I picked out for my first road race, across the Gandy Bridge between Tampa and St. Petersburg, was in that 85 left/right foot strike per minute sweet spot...A Thousand Years, from Sting's Brand New Day release (a staple of my late college years). When I went back through my Sting collection in iTunes, I found a few other tracks which fell in that window:
Brand New Day-
-A Thousand Years (88)
-Perfect Love...Gone Wrong (90)
Bring On The Night-
-Low Life (90)
Dream of the Blue Turtles-
-Love Is The Seventh Wave (85)
-Shadows In The Rain (92)
Fields Of Gold: Best Of Sting-
-When We Dance (90)
-Why Should I Cry For You? (84)
Mercury Falling-
-All Four Seasons (88)
Nothing Like The Sun-
-Fragile (84)
Sacred Love-
-Dead Man's Rope (88)
-Forget About The Future (88)
The Soul Cages-
-Mad About You (90)
Ten Summoners Tales-
-Love Is Stronger Than Justice (85)
-She's Too Good For Me (90)
-It's Probably Me (90)
If I had to pick three tunes to channel in order to work on my pacing/rhythm/tempo/footstrike from the tunes above:
3. Fragile - a great tune for those long runs when you want to go to your happy place.
2. Why Should I Cry For You? - perfect for tempo work; the groove just goes.
1. A Thousand Years - race day tune, pure and simple, at least in my opinion.
Take the time to look at the tunes which are your running favorites and see how many of them fall into that 85-90 footstrike/minute pace...I bet there are more than you care to admit.

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