Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Human Metronome

So here's my confession for the day:

I am a heavy walker.  I land hard on my heels when I walk and it's not at all ladylike.  Stomp, stomp, stomp I go through the house.

I am also a heavy runner.  I land hard on my heels when I run.  Pound, pound, pound - like a delicate lady-elephant on her way to the waterhole.  Pound, pound, pound.  You can almost feel the ground shake.

I went to see Geoff on Tuesday for the first time in four weeks.  He was pretty excited to tell me all the stuff he's been reading about.  Apparently he's taken my shin splint / stress fracture case under his wing and is determined to make me a stronger and less prone to injury runner.

He said that he read all sorts of journal articles about shin splints.  Some say one thing, some say the opposite.  But one theme that held true through them all was that heavy runners who land hard on their heels are more prone to stress fracture relapses.


That's not good news for little miss twinkle toes over here.

He started talking about running cadence.  Not how fast you run but how fast your feet turn over.  The longer your feet are on the ground during your stride, the most stressful it is on your shins and calves.  If you keep your legs under you and increase your running cadence, you naturally strike the ground with your mid foot rather than your heel.  You strike the ground with less force and your feet stay on the ground for less time.  All of this means less stress on your legs.

Apparently the ideal running cadence is 90 steps per foot per minute.  Or 180 steps per minute.

And apparently the amount of stress on the shins and calves is reduced by half when you go from 160 steps to 180 steps per minute.

So he suggested that I try to increase my cadence.  180 steps per minute sounded pretty fast.  Geoff said to aim for about 20 steps per foot over 15 seconds.

I headed out the door and started running.  I made a very conscious effort to keep my legs under me and speed up the turnaround time for my stride.  Geoff made it very clear that a runner can increase their cadence without increasing their speed.  Perhaps that's true but I have no idea how one does that.  I shortened my stride, sped up my cadence and found myself running 5 minutes per kilometre instead of my usual 6:15.


I could NOT slow down my pace without slowing down my feet.  I just couldn't figure out how to do it.  I can rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time but running faster and slower at the same time was NOT working out.

After about five minutes of this I gave up trying to run faster and slower and decided that it was time to count.  I figured I had better see what my cadence was before I worried too much about adjusting it.

I counted the total number of steps I took in 15 seconds.

Twenty-four.  That's 12 per foot.  That adds up to 92 steps per minute which is, no matter how you look at it, a wee bit slower than the 180 steps per minute that it ideal.

It's also a little short of the 160 steps per minute that Geoff said most recreational runners typically do.

So either he's exaggerating about the cadence of normal people or I have a very very slow cadence meaning that I have a lot of work to do.

Supposedly one can buy a cadence contraption that you can attach to your coat.  You set the cadence you want to run and it beeps every time your foot should be striking the ground.

Kinda like a metronome.

I took piano lessons long enough to know that those things are both a blessing and a curse.  I think I'll try a few more cadence runs before I invest in something that will quite likely cause me to simultaneously trip over my feet and lose my mind.

So between swimming across the pool without taking a breath and running at a 160 beats per minute cadence - I have a LOT of work to do.

Recovery update:  I felt some mild shin splint aches (not pain!) in both of my shins after running 30 minutes on both Saturday and Sunday last week.  So Geoff has me redoing last week's running schedule rather than moving on.  Can't check off a week until I can do all of the runs without any pain.


  1. I've actually run with my little digital metronome to get down cadence, and if you have a somewhat smart phone, you should probably be able to download an app on it. Yeah, it's not exactly fun to carry, but if you're just testing the waters......

    Good luck! Apparently, recovering from an injury means you're finding more speed! :)What a bonus!

  2. Have you tried... the treadmill? I know, I know: not my favorite thing in the world either. You could try setting the speed you want and then fiddle with your cadence there.

    Also, I hear that listening to music at the right tempo helps. Or you could use a metronome. Whatever. :^)