Opening my eyes that improvements in stride can be very beneficial is the observation by an excellent international distance coach, Jack Tupper Daniels. He studied a range of top Olympic distance athletes across all distances, and found their running cadences were amazingly consistent, regardless of the athletes' height, at 180 steps per minute (spm). Also encouraging are two recent Science of Running posts (i.e. #1 & #2) describing several successful efforts to change runners' biomechanics, and advice from my Kenyan Way coach, Sean Wade.
With this in mind, some time ago I had measured my cadence, and found it to be 165 spm. Despite knowing that I should therefore target a quicker stride cadence, my subsequent attempts to do so felt a bit awkward and were generally unsuccessful. This began to change with purchase of my first pair of Newton running shoes about a year ago. Newtons are very lightweight, have a reduced heel and slightly elevated mid-sole landing area, and thereby encourage the runner to avoid heel-landing by instead landing with their mid-foot or forefoot, using a somewhat shorter stride and more rapid cadence. Immediately gratified by seeing my finishing times significantly improve I became a Newton shoes convert, and continue to use them as my prime racing shoes.
However, owing to the Newton's comparatively high cost per mile I have been reluctant to wear them routinely in training. When I grow fatigued while not wearing the low-heeled Newtons, I often lose concentration on my running form and revert to an inefficient and slow cadence heel-landing stride. To avoid this, I've begun a gradual and - I hope permanent - change in my running form to a shorter and quicker stride with a forefoot landing via:
- My purchase of an excellent DVD, Evolution Running: Run Faster with Fewer Injuries. After viewing the DVD and following its exercises I highly recommend it as the system is well communicated via the informative videos, dialog and explanations. Please see this post by Coach Mierke on the importance of running turnover and form.
- My download of the excellent Podrunner audio tracks for use on my iPod while running. Simply by listening to the rhythmic and percussive techno and progressive house tracks my stride automatically synchronizes. With a faster and slightly shorter stride, combined a slight forward lean from the ankles and relaxed shoulders I find an efficient new stride has quickly emerged! Over a period of four weeks I gradually - and successfully - transitioned to this faster (180 spm) stride cadence by listening to faster Podrunner tracks while concentrating on the key running form elements. One should not attempt to increase one's cadence by more than 3-5 strides per minute per week, however. Thus, in my first transitional week I ran at 169 spm via listening to identical beat Podrunner tracks, followed by 173, 176 and finally 180 spm.
Here's a good video from Harvard's Dr. Lieberman regarding forefoot/mid-foot running:
Cautionary Disclaimer: Thanks to fellow running bloggers Pete, Joe and Flo I found the following super slow-motion videos of the elite leaders and Ryan Hall during the 2010 Boston Marathon. Fascinatingly, you'll see the full range of heel-landing, mid-foot and forefoot landing techniques represented, though from my perspective Ryan Hall's stride appears closest to perfection:
Elite Men in the 2010 Boston Marathon - Super Slow Motion from Runblogger on Vimeo.
Ryan Hall Super Slow Motion - 2010 Boston Marathon from Runblogger on Vimeo.