Running cadence is your best insurance policy

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Have you counted your running cadence lately?


With the triathlon season just around the corner, now is the time to start getting ready for race day. If you were lucky enough to avoid the winter blues then you’re probably feeling pretty confident that this summer will be your best yet. However, if you suffered through the cold winter, then now is the time to start paying attention. Remember that it’s not too late to get your form back in time for the new season.

Running cadence is one of the most important tools that any runner or triathlete can own. Furthermore, the ability to control it will end up becoming your insurance policy on race day. We define cadence as the number of steps per minute and as a general rule we aim for around 180 steps, or 90 steps per leg each minute. Like anything, there are exceptions to this rule, particularly seeing as how runners come in so many different shapes and sizes. However, if you’re not somewhere close to this mark, then you’ve got some work to do.

The first step is determining what your actual cadence is. On your next run, settle into a normal rhythm and count the number of steps taken on one side for a minute. Remembering to start the count with zero, double the number to get your overall cadence. It is a good idea to track this at the start and finish of your run to get an idea of how fatigue builds up through the session. If you notice a significant drop in cadence from start to finish, then this should be your warning light for injury. Turn around to check if your footprints look like potholes in the concrete. This can mean you’ve lost form, might be landing heavily and probably not enjoying your run as much as you could second step is to break down your default patterning and incorporate a higher cadence into your running. Rather than set a run with intervals based on HR or speed, why not create some intervals focused on cadence work? Try running 5 to 10 steps per minute quicker than normal for a short interval. Rest, repeat and develop just like you would with your speed. Then you can use HR and speed as a guideline to find your most efficient cadence.

The end goal is to reproduce your ideal cadence on race day when fatigued, especially when running off the bike. This is where muscle patterning (memory) becomes important. If your legs are used to turning over at 180 steps per minute, that’s what they will want to do when you start the run leg. A sound technique will give you more chance of maintaining this under pressure, but awareness is still the trump card here. Sometimes your legs just don’t have the energy required to drive into the ground and keep your cadence up. A skilled cadence runner will be able to overcome this, even with next to no power in their legs. It’s not necessary to take big steps, but you need to take them often. A great example is Mirinda Carfrae running down the field in Hawaii. She looks as fresh and light despite having 8 hours of racing in her legs. Cadence is her insurance policy, just as it is mine. And it should be yours too. Cadence is king!

Triathlon training is so often about going harder and longer. With swimming everyone appreciates the importance of technique and efficiency, and running is no different. The best runners all display common traits that allow them to run economically at pace. Spending time to work on your cadence will help you understand why you get stuck or fall apart on race day. If you can learn to stay close to your most efficient number, your insurance policy will be there even when your energy is not.

At CF Racing, we have developed our clinics to help athletes better understand their running. Video analysis allows us to identify areas of weakness while our strong principles keep them thinking about every step. For more information on our CF Racing Run Clinics or our weekly Run Squad, please visit our website.


Be smart and enjoy!

Mitchell Kibby
CF Racing Run Coach

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