Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cadence and Old Punk Vinyl

Running cadence is one of the least debated bits of running technique. Unlike a forward lean or midfoot vs. forefoot vs. heel striking, running books, coaches, triathletes and runners themselves are almost unilateral in their praise of running cadence and insistence that every runner should be running at a cadence of around 88 - 92. I have been working on my running cadence for a couple of years, and have posted questions about cadence at places like the Trifuel forums, normally a font of wisdom on all subjects to do with triathlon training. What I've heard back is unilateral praise for the merits of high cadence. Even when I've asked questions about whether or not this is feasible for slower runners or for some of the heavier Clydesdale-class athletes I've been coaching, the answer has been that a high cadence is good across the board.

Unfortunately, this advice hasn't matched up with my experience, which is that for runners who are slower than about 10 minutes a mile, a high cadence is very hard or impossible to achieve. And it's not a matter of just practicing it more, it just doesn't seem to work. At the triathlete coach's seminar, Dave Scott was talking about cadence and I asked him this question. He said that over about a 9 minute mile, runners usually can't sustain a cadence of 90. Just one more little nugget of wisdom that I gleaned from that training. As I said earlier, this stuff has been percolating through my brain as I've been training and coaching and these kernels of insight have been popping to the top.

For me, the cadence issue has been both a saviour and a bugaboo. A saviour in the sense that developing a higher cadence finally has enabled me to run off of the bike effectively in my sprint and Olympic distance races. I can keep about a 8 minute per mile pace in these shorter races and the high cadence and shorter stride has helped me transition from biking to running more smoothly with much less effort on my legs. So all of the high cadence work I was doing has been very helpful in that regard. But on my slower paced runs (I'm about a 9-minute miler for a half-marathon, and 10 minutes per mile at the marathon distance), I struggled with implementing the higher cadence. It always seemed to drive my heartrate up, and I could never reconcile the higher cadence with the heartrate needed for the longer distances. So what Dave Scott said rang completely true from my own experience - the 9 minute mile is about where I lose the ability to keep my cadence high. Finally, some cadence advice in running that makes sense to me! This will also help me immensely in coaching my newer runners and Clydesdale runners, for whom a 10 minute mile is still a distant goal.

So with all of this in mind, I set out on a tempo run this week, and was searching through for a useful set of tunes to bolster my higher cadence. I came across this album, Someone's Gonna Ger Their Head to Believe, which was perfect. As I was listening through the album preview, a wave of good old nostalgia washed over me. This album is a compilation of most of the best early American Hardcore punk, brought together on an album called Someone Got Their Head Kicked In, from the seminal punk year of 1982. They've combined it with most of the best tracks from another compilation, 1984's Something to Believe In, and ended up with an album containing many of the best US Hardcore tracks ever layed on good old-fashioned vinyl. I have both of these albums somewhere in my moldering vinyl collection, but I'm not one of those folks who still have their record players. So to find it easily downloadable in an MP3 format on a day when I needed a jolt for a tempo run was a Godsend. Youth Brigade, Aggression, Battalian of Saints, Bad Religion, Adolescents, Social Distortion, Seven Seconds - this album is definitely a soundtrack of my teenage years.

Our city's weekly newspaper just did an article on the re-emerging trend of House Concerts. When I was a teen, they were in full swing in our town, and I was happy to note that the article mentioned my old house as one of the early venues for house concerts in our town that has apparently renewed itself as a music venue. Three friends and I rented a house we called "The Greenhouse" (not surprisingly, for the paint color) in 1985 and nailed mattresses over the basement windows. Our band practiced there and a number of the best hardcore bands in the world played there over the year or so that passed between signing the rental contract and getting kicked out for having a bunch of homeless kids living in our basement. It's funny to walk downtown and see a marquee for bands like NOFX and remember selling tickets at my own back door and begging people not to drink beer on the lawn facing the street.

So my tempo run was bolstered by fast tracks and good memories, and the mystery of why I can't hold that faster cadence on my distance runs has been solved. On Tuesday I leave with my kids and our robotics team en route to the World Robotics Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. This might be the last missive from me until we get back a week from now. Until then, rock on....

1 comment:

Nancy Toby said...

Cadence = stride frequency

Velocity = stride frequency * stride length

So when you're increasing cadence you're just using one of two ways to run faster. Unless you cut your stride length down to near zero and take rapid mincing steps. NO there is no evidence that is more efficient for anyone!!!! If there is, I'd sure like to see the efficiency studies out there!!!