Cadence – The Quest For 180

I’ve read in several places that one of the keys to running is to run with a cadence of 180 a minute or faster.  The science behind it depends on the study you read, but the theory sounds sound to me.

Basically the faster your cadence the less time your foot is on the ground with each step.  The less time your foot is on the ground the more time is is not on the ground – resulting in a lighter, less injury prone step.

This is especially important when you are running barefoot over rough terrain such as gravel or, a favorite here in Florida, broken up shells. They cover a lot of the otherwise sandy roads in the parks here. The reason this is so helpful is, again, because you don’t want your feet to totally settle (or slam) into the ground.  You can test that by taking a short jog over some pebbles or gravel, and then trying to walk on them.  When you are walking your foot settles fully into the ground, and you feel EVERYTHING.

I’ve had two issues with running at 180 beats per minute.  No, I haven’t even tried for faster than that.

One, if my feet are moving that fast then I get tired too quickly no matter how slow I’m running. One of the advantages of a higher cadence is said to be a smoother, more effortless run. I believe this simply because so many professionals say  it’s true – but so far it certainly feels like a lot of effort to me! I’m hoping that with practice that won’t be true.

Two, how the heck am I supposed to know I’m running at the right cadence?  Technically speaking you should be able to count how many times one foot touches the ground for a minute and then multiply that by 2. I have an issue with that, wouldn’t I already have to be running at my normal speed when I started the stop watch? Um, I can’t really concentrate on both of those at the same time.  It’s physically impossible for me to be that graceful. BUT I did manage to do it by setting a stopwatch on my phone and then setting the phone on the treadmill so that all I had to do once I settled into my normal speed was hit the start button and count how many times my right foot touched the ground until the beeper went off.  82 times.  That’s a cadence of 164 which is actually quite a bit better than I would have guessed! I think it’s a bit high to be honest. I was trying to run at my normal pace but I DID know I was timing myself and human nature and all…

Unfortunately some suggestions I’ve read to help with improving in this area just don’t work for me.  First I tried running to music with a beat at a particular cadence.  Turns out the fact that I don’t dance isn’t a fluke. I just don’t get it.  Fortunately for you it seems that music does work for everyone else on the planet. However, when I try it I either can’t find the beat I am supposed to be running to for more than about 30 seconds at a time OR I kind of hear it, but my lame attempts at running to it makes it look like there is something very, very wrong with me.

Moving on.

How about an app to turn my phone into a metronome?  Now this works for me.  It seems like it should be boring to just listen to the tick-tick-ticking but to me it’s kind of meditative. I have the RunSafe app and I don’t use all the features but I like it for this. It not only gives you the beat to run to, it counts your steps and tells you how you are doing. I think it would be more accurate if I didn’t carry my phone in my hand, I need to invest in an arm band.

So, all of that said, what to do to improve cadence? Here’s my plan.

  • Add a one mile run a week where I try to concentrate on cadence the entire run.  I’ll use the app and set it at a slightly higher cadence than I usually run at.
  • Cut my Tuesday run to 2 miles and run fartleks.  I’ll simply pick up my cadence a good bit until I pass a light post or two a few times during the run. Sound kind of random and unstructured?  That’s why I chose fartleks. You can be random and still do it right.
  • I’ll keep my last 2 runs of the week at 3 working on 3.5 miles and not worry about a thing while running besides what music I feel like listening to.

They say you can’t learn to run faster without running faster – and I fear this falls into the same category. I’m not convinced that 180 is the magic number for everyone, but I am convinced that barefoot running can be improved by a faster cadence- so here goes.

Do you think that a higher cadence is a key to good running form?  If you work on your cadence how do you do it?  I’d love to hear some suggestions on good apps or any drills you can recommend to help improve running cadence.