Learn to Run Part 6: Tread lightly upon the earth

When you run, or when you walk for that matter, how would you describe your relationship with the earth? I don’t mean as an existential question of your oneness with all that exists in nature, I mean how do you treat the ground underneath you? Do you strike it gently with quick, light, glancing blows? Or is your relationship more akin to George Foreman hitting the heavy bag prior to the Rumble in the Jungle?

This is not a blog about foot strike method, or barefoot running. This is a question of cadence, and it includes an experiment if you are up for it. But first some nerdy stuff:

Running speed is determined by strike length x stride frequency. Pretty simple stuff. With that in mind, here is a question for you:

2 Runners are running at 12km/h, therefore they are covering 200m every minute.

Runner one has a stride length of 1.43m, resulting in a step cadence of 140spm.

Runner two has a stride length of 1.11m, resulting in a step cadence of 180spm.

Question: Which one is better?

On paper it is easy to make a case for runner one; longer stride equals less steps over a given distance for no loss in speed. Great! And that is the logic behind the thickened heel on the sole of many modern running shoes. That extra cushioning allowed for a longer, heel strike gait to become tolerable, in the short term at least.

But we don’t run on paper, unless we are Caine from Kung-Fu of course. We run on asphalt, concrete, grass, sand, stones, dirt- so I encourage you to get practical with this question by undertaking the following experiment:

Download a metronome onto your smart phone (free). Set it on 140bpm, then run to the beat. Then dial it up to 180bpm and run to that beat at the same speed. Move back and forth between the two, evaluating how your joints feel at each cadence as you become used to them.

Now ask yourself this question: Which one feels better.

There is much discussion at present as to whether a forefoot strike is preferential to a heel strike. I will address this question in due course. I believe however, if you don’t get your cadence to a point where your running feels light, smooth, easy and cyclical then you are doomed regardless of your foot strike.

 

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