The Cadence Dance

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Runners feel about cadence the way I imagine drunk people feel about traffic laws. They know they’re there and must be followed – but who cares? (Let’s just be thankful that our carefree ignorance of cadence, unlike drunk driving, is not dangerous — oh, and illegal!)

The good news is, the November issue of Runner’s World has a very handy guide on cadence: how to determine yours for different race distances and how to optimize it.

Cadence, need I remind you, is the number of steps you take per minute as you run. All research so far points to 180 being the optimal number, though keep in mind that this is based on runners’ performance at the 1984 Olympics, as the article says. So you’ve got two factors there that are highly impossible for us, mortals, to replicate:

  • making it to the Olympics;
  • running as fast as those guys who actually do.

Regardless, the story got me curious about my own number. I decided to take one for the team and do a treadmill run so I can most accurately count my steps for several specific speeds.

Sigh. I hate treadmills. Running on one feels exactly like this:

Kitty GIF

I mean, why bother? I’m not really going anywhere. I dreaded that run all day.

But hey – once I got going, it was actually impossible to get bored, seeing how I had to constantly count. From now on, every treadmill run shall involve doing math in my head and possibly taking notes. (Who knew: one negative plus another negative equal a positive!)

Here’s how I did (first pace, then number of steps):

8:22 pace: 168
8:34 pace: 164
8:41 pace: 160
8:47 pace: 168 (??)
8:57 pace: 172 (??)
9:05 pace: 168
9:13 pace: 164
10:00 pace: 160

Notice I placed question marks next to my mid-range paces (which happens to be how fast I go on 10K races or longer training runs). Supposedly, the faster you run – i.e. the shorter distance you need to cover, in theory – the higher your cadence number. As you move to a slower pace — easy or long runs rather than tempo/ sprints — the number of steps you take should also go down.

Why mine are highest at what’s supposed to be an easy pace, I don’t know. It could have been the music I was listening to: Eminem’s Lose Yourself tends to make me go faster. Or maybe it’s the real reason why I feel best running and racing longer distances, while 5Ks are pure, short-lived torture.

Next up: trying to go from 172 to 180. (Runner’s World tells you how to do it exactly, but you’ll have to read the story for the details.)

Today’s run:

Because of the 3-minute warm-up and several minutes of running at 10:00 minute/ mile, my average pace was pretty slow. Yet, I did a few massive sprints – including two one-minutes of 6:30 minute/miles at the end, with 10 seconds rest in between. As I was wiping down the treadmill with antibacterial wipes after I was done, a nice old man from the gym (because yes, I go to the YMCA, I am that cool) came to me and said: Good run, huh?

You know what? It wasn’t bad, considering!

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