Yesterday I had my first group training run as part of Team Tufts Medical Center with the Marathon Coalition. Before our run began, Coach Rick kicked off the morning with a great, motivational talk for the group. He reminded us of the impact that training for and running a marathon will have on our lives and on each of us individually. He told us that we will be forever changed by this journey we have embarked on together toward Boston this coming April. Finally, he talked about key things to keep in mind as we begin our marathon training. This was the piece of his talk that stuck with me. There is always room to improve and if someone the caliber of Coach Rick is going to give me tips and things to work on, you better believe I am going to listen, soak in those tips, and get to work.
Lately, I have been hearing chatter about something called “cadence”. After running four marathons, I somehow didn’t even know exactly what this meant, but the more I heard about it, the more I paid attention. Cadence is simply the number of times your foot strikes the ground in a given timeframe (typically one minute) and is measured in steps per minute (SPM). My friend pointed out to me a few months ago that my Garmin 220 kept track of my cadence and so I started looking at it. I noticed my average cadence over the last month has been about 153-155 SPM. This is NOT good! See above from Coach Rick: “Running Efficienty – 180 SPM” is the FIRST thing listed. It is his #1 rule of training. With quicker foot turnover comes better form, ideally a mid-foot landing (versus my usual heel strike), and overall a more efficient approach to every run which can save the body from injury…Yes please!
So, after finishing our 4 miler on Saturday, I hung around for a bit and caught the ear of Coach Paul, another awesome Marathon Coalition Coach, to ask about rule # 1. This is how the conversation went…
Me: “So I am wondering about cadence. I know ideally I should be targeting 180 SPM. Right now, I am averaging between 153-155 SPM on all of my runs.”
Coach Paul: “153-155? Yeah. You’ve got some work to do.”
And that was that!
Of course, the conversation continued and Coach Paul helped me to understand all of the negatives to being in the 150’s, like the fact that I am putting my body through unnecessary hell and likely heel striking every step of the way. He helped me to figure out exactly how I was going to start making changes to train my feet to turnover faster, ultimately leading to my body remembering that striking rhythm so that it eventually becomes natural.
Now, it sounds easy enough to increase your steps per minute. Right? Wrong! For some reason, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to do this when I already felt like I was maxing out steps each mile I pound out on the pavement. So I decided on my next run, I was just going to do what Coach Paul and Coach Rick told me to do…count my foot strikes.
I headed out this morning for my local 3 mile route and immediately started counting how many times my right foot was striking the ground over 30 seconds. My coaches explained that if you count for 30 seconds, you ideally want to have about 45 foot strikes. If you count for one minute, then you’re looking for about 90. That would equate to 180 SPM. I continued counting for the entire 3 mile run, setting a metronome beat in my head and visualizing faster foot turnover. I must have counted about 12 times, a few times on each street I took, and I averaged approximately 42 SPM in 30 seconds. I was so focused on counting and turning my feet over that I didn’t realize until the end of the run that my average pace had improved quite a bit as compared to previous runs. This was a direct result of my cadence work. What I also noticed was that even though I was running at a faster pace than usual, my body was not screaming at me and I did not feel as tired. Don’t get me wrong, it was not an easy run, but I felt like with my shorter strides, I was not heel striking as much as I tend to, my body was naturally aligning, and I was much more relaxed. The tension that I typically hold in my neck and shoulders wasn’t there. Counting my foot strikes was like a game. Gotta get in 3 more steps before my 30 seconds is up! Move those feet faster girl! Progress is what I am looking for and I saw it today. According to my Garmin, my average cadence today was 164 SPM as compared to my usual 153-155 SPM.
Training the body to make changes certainly does not happen on one single run. But today’s one run marked the start of my working toward consistency…counting my foot strikes, setting that metronome beat in my head, turning my feet over faster, and embracing rule #1!