Sunday 10 December 2017

Catherina McKiernan: Striding ahead, 90 steps a minute

Running together is team-building
Running together is team-building

Catherina McKiernan

I went to watch the National Track and Field Championships at the Morton Stadium in Santry recently and enjoyed a great afternoon of athletics.

When I was competing, the track was my least favourite form of running. I didn't like the confinement and much preferred the freedom of running cross-country or road races. I suppose I shied away from the track as I didn't have the turn of speed of some of my competitors but also because I didn't feel comfortable running in a packed group.

At the Morton meet, I was amazed at the speed of some of the athletes. That said, though, I noticed some of them were running with too slow of a cadence ­­- which is the number of strides per minute that each foot takes.

I advise people to run at a cadence of 90 strides per minute. The rapid turnover of the legs helps the muscles to clear out lactic acid. When too much acid accumulates it causes that familiar burn, which reduces the amount of time an athlete wants or is able to keep exercising. So by continually removing lactic acid from the muscles with a faster leg turnover, you are able to keep running for longer.

The slower the cadence, the longer you are in the air and the harder your feet land. This means increased impact, which can cause more injury. Quicker strides make it easier to keep the footfall under the body, landing mid-foot and reducing the amount of heel to toe.

If you try to increase your cadence by just pushing off harder with your toes, you will fatigue very quickly. Instead, relax your lower legs, keep your posture tall and lean forward.

Even though 90 steps per minute is ideal, (this is 180 steps/minute counting both feet), it will take time to reach that, especially if your current cadence is much slower. Even one more step per minute has potential benefits in energy efficiency and injury prevention.

There are small electronic metronomes that make this task easy. Go for a run without the metronome and count the number of steps your right leg takes over a one-minute period. After you find out what your current cadence is, set your metronome to beep at that cadence level.

If the number is lower than 90 then you should look at changing your running. The best way to do this is to run with your metronome for a week so that you get accustomed to matching your footfall with the beat.

After that week, increase your setting by one beep per minute and run with the new beat for five runs. Repeat this increase of one beat every five runs until you are up to 90.

You don't have to leave the metronome all on the time, especially once your body has begun to adapt to the change. You can turn it off and then check back again in a few minutes.

You should aim to have a fast cadence regardless of what speed you are running, so that you are spending as little time on the ground as possible, resulting in less impact on the body. Resist the urge to fall back into a plodding stride when you are running slowly.

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