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More Stride Rate Comments

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4/21/06

The following was posted on the RWOL Marathons Forum:

 

“I know we have gone over this before concerning the advice of Jack Daniels and Chirunning guru Danny Dryer about striving for a 180 cadence and shortening our strides. And I have seen the stride shortening advice in other places as well.

Now I am reading The Lore of Running by Dr. Timothy Noakes and he says not to worry about stride length because the body will naturally adjust to the most natural and economical stride length. He also says we should strive for a slower stride rate. I am impressed by Noakes' credentials, academic and athletic.

So what do I do now, short and quick or relax and let the body do what the body wants to do?

And BTW, anyone else read The Lore of Running and what did you think of it?”

 

A couple of forumites replied by saying that the poster should try to adjust his stride rate to 180 steps/minute. The following was my reply, plus a sub-thread another forumite and I had.

 

I have a problem with overly focusing on 180 as an “optimum” stride rate for everyone at all paces. I know that Daniels and some other running gurus suggest that. However, it simply isn’t optimum for many runners. I think it should be a benchmark to measure one’s pace against, rather than a target to force yourself to reach. Forcing it can result in understriding, especially at slower paces, which is inefficient (read “wasted energy”). Some runners might find a stride rate somewhat faster or slower than 180 to be “optimum” for some paces. However, I do think that, if a runner’s stride rate is more than 10% slower than 180, s/he should seriously evaluate if s/he is overstriding.

I have Noakes book and think it is great. He probably has more running info in that book than any other two running books combined. In addition to Noakes, Bob Glover also advocates that stride length, not stride rate, is the bigger determinant of running economy and says that, although 180 is a reasonable goal to shoot for, don't get overly hung up on hitting it at all paces. In fact, he says that both stride rate and stride length should vary with pace.

A few years ago (September, 1998), I conducted a personal stride rate test on a treadmill and found that stride rates of 176 at easy pace and 178 at threshold pace to be optimum (lowest heart rate) for me. Faster (180-184) and slower (172) stride rates resulted in higher heart rates, which indicates reduced running economy. If anyone is interested in the details of my experiment, it is described in a post (“A Personal Stride Rate Test”) that I wrote at that time and is archived under the Running Mechanics section of my Running Page. I also conducted a brief, less structured test while running on a treadmill last summer and determined that my optimum stride rate has slipped down to the 168-171 range at easy pace. That might partly be because I was 7 years older (66 vs. 59) than my previous test, but probably mostly because I haven’t run much for the last 5 years, gained 50 pounds and lost a lot of conditioning. I suspect that with training, which I am now starting to do, it will come back up to the mid-170’s.

I also participated in an discussion with another forumite in 1998 on the subject of stride rate, stride length, and footfall in July, 1998....we went at it ad nauseum for two days.
My posts from that exchange are also on my Running Page.

Not even all elites run at 180 rate. Let me offer a example of an elite runner with a stride rate significantly slower than 180. Shortly after the posts mentioned above, I watched the 1998 NY Marathon live on TV with a specific objective of paying attention to the elites’ stride mechanics. The leaders couldn’t have cooperated better. The three leading runners ran abreast, literally shoulder to shoulder, for 10 miles from the half way point to mile 23. They were John Kagwe of Kenya, Joseph Chebet of Kenya, and Bayo Zebedayo of Tanzania. There was plenty of opportunity to analyze their stride mechanics. Chebet and Zebedayo, who are the same height, ran in lock step for the entire 10 miles. Their footfalls were precisely synchronized the entire way. They varied only when going though aid stations. I counted their stride rate several times and it was exactly 180 every time. However, Kagwe’s stride rate was very noticeably slower. His footplant coincided with that of the other two every 17 strides.....he was taking 16 strides for every 17 of theirs. That’s a 5.88% difference. Thus, he had a stride rate of only 169.4 and a longer stride length....and he was a few inches shorter than the other two! They finished 1-2-3 within 6 seconds of each other. Guess which one pulled ahead at mile 23 and went on to finish first? Yep, you are right. Kagwe, the shorter guy with the longer stride and slower stride rate, won in 2:08:45. I think it stands today as the 7th fastest NYCM ever run.....and he also ran one of the 6 faster ones (2:08:12) in 1997! I’m not suggesting that he won because he had a slower stride rate, but that his slower stride rate, though enough slower than 180 that it would concern many runners and prompt them to work on increasing it, was most efficient for him and didn’t handicap him.

The message in all of this, of course, is don’t get overly hung up on reaching a 180 strides/minute target. It might not be optimum for you. Although, I do think that one should investigate possible overstriding if his or her stride rate falls much below about 160-165. Other than that, I think the best approach is to run the stride length that is most comfortable for a given pace and let stride rate take care of itself. Both can and will increase through further speed and strength training and racing. In terms of consciously working on stride mechanics, I think it’s better to focus on foot strike than on stride rate or length. A midfoot strike instead of a heel strike will ensure that you are not overstriding, which is a key to both optimum stride length and most efficient running.

BTW, when one counts stride rate, it is important to do it correctly. Many people don’t. You can count strides for 6 seconds and multiply by 10, count for 10 seconds and multiply by 6, or count for a full 60 seconds, which is what I prefer to do. In any case, many people count the foot plant that begins the 6, 10, or 60 second count period as “1”. It should be “0”. Counting it as “1” results in a stride rate that is erroneously overstated by 10 strides for a 6 second count, 6 strides for a 10 second count, or 1 stride for a 60 second count.

Jim2

 

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4/22/06 Reply by another forumite:

 

“I agree with everything you wrote, but I don't believe that undermines the general point that most beginning runners overstride at too slow a cadence. I certainly did.

”And, like you, I have found that my natural (and efficient) cadence at easy (8:45-9:00) pace, is 176 strides per minute. It is slightly faster at faster paces. At threshold pace, it is right at 180. I have no idea what it is at 5K pace, but I'd guess it's slightly higher still. I think that's natural and efficient.

”As I said in my original post, the real focus needs to be not overstriding and landing on the heel. And for most runners, trying to increase cadence is an intuitive way to reduce overstriding. The idea that runners will naturally stumble upon the most correct and efficient form for themselves is silly.

But again, I think we agree on everything.

 

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4/23/06 – My reply to him.

 

I certainly agree that correcting overstriding is the most important correction to stride mechanics that a runner can make. In fact, I think it's really the only reason to tinker with stride mechanics that "feel best". If one is most efficient at 170 strides/minute at a particular pace and isn't overstriding, I see no reason shorten stride just to increase turnover rate.

I also agree that most beginners overstride. I did also. In fact, if I'm not careful, when I get tired (like late in a race or long run) I still tend to "sit back on my heels", slouch and slip into an overstride. I try to counter the tendency by doing a form check every few minutes....erect posture, hips forward, shoulders square, hands and jaw loose, chin up, and eyes looking straight ahead parallel to the ground.

I agree that a midfoot strike will just about assure that one isn't overstriding. OTOH, heel striking doesn't necessarily mean that one is overstriding, as long as the heel strike is light and just slightly ahead of one's center of gravity....that's probably the most common stride mechanic among runners who do not overstride. Of course, a hard heel strike usually does indicate overstriding. And if it is accompanied by a harsh "foot slap", it's a dead giveaway of overstriding.

Yep, we do agree.


BTW, if you like Noakes book, do you also have Martin and Coe's "Better Training for Distance Runner's"? It's another excellent, highly technical book. Lots of good stuff on the physiology and chemistry of running. Like Noakes' book, it isn't as popular as Daniels', Pfitz's and Glover's books because it is so very technical. Concerning the subject we are discussing here, they put more emphasis on stride length than rate and never mention the 180 guideline. Specifically, they say:

"Both stride frequency and stride length increase as we run faster, with stride length increasing more than stride frequency. The exact combination of length and frequency at a given pace may differ slightly for each runner...."

and:

"A runner's most efficient stride length, that is the stride length that is least energy costly in terms of O2 consumption, typically occurs subconsciously."

 

Jim2