One thing you might not know about me is that I am a HUGE data nerd!  I love tracking data on things – my email open rates, my weekly mileage, my weight at one time… It must be something with my background in research (thanks to my hardcore undergraduate degree) that gets me completely nerded out on seeing changes + trends in data.

Lately, I have been looking at data of my VIP runners that I coach.  Anytime they have questions about their running or concerns on certain things, I immediately check out their data on Final Surge.  Looking at their heart rate, the elevation, their pace, etc. can give me a ton of information on their runs.

The one things I have really been nerding out on lately is cadence (measured in steps per minute).  I’ve been OBSESSED with looking at my runners’ cadences lately because it tells me SO much about their running – their speed, their foot strike, etc.  It’s the single source of data I’ve been using lately to help me change up my VIPs’ training programs and adding things that will help make them faster.

One of my runners in particular has become my biggest project.  I am DETERMINED to make this girl faster.  She’s been suffering through marathon training her last few marathons and really wants to see her times drop.  And to me, she absolutely should be running faster based on her training experience + size (she’s built like a pro-runner!).  But, she’s been stuck in these slow paces for years now, and it’s been causing her a lot of injuries and is leading to burnout.  She’s one of my runners that I am most determined to help her see increases in her paces because I KNOW she can do it!

As I was looking at her data a few weeks ago, there was one thing that was SCREAMING to me that needed to be fixed:  her cadence.  Her steps per minute were averaging around 140-150 steps per minute, which is entirely too low to serve her any good, and most likely why she is dealing with overuse injuries and isn’t getting faster.

Why is your cadence so important in your running, especially when it comes to speed?

Your cadence is how quickly you are able to turn over your legs.  The quicker you are able to turn over your legs, the faster you are able to run.  Of course, there are some restrictions on this – genetics, experience, etc.  But, really, your turnover is really important if you are determined to run faster.

What cadence should I be training at and why?

Your average cadence should be around 180 steps be minute.  If you’ve ever tried deliberately running at this cadence (set a metronome to 180 beats per minute – you should be taking a step each time it beats… or set it to 90 and make sure you take a step with your right foot every time it beats), you will see just how much it shortens your stride.  THIS IS GOOD!  By shortening your stride, you will start running more on your forefoot instead of heel-striking, landing under your hips instead of stretching your leg out in front of you.  Heel striking is known for causing overuse injuries, so once you teach yourself to land on your forefoot, you are less likely to deal with running-related injuries.

In addition, 180 steps per minute increases your turnover rate.  A higher turnover rate will help you run faster.  If you look at your data from your last race, you will see that your cadence is naturally higher compared to an easy run.  Learning how to keep your cadence the same no matter what type of run you are doing will help you increase your speed in the long run (no pun intended).

How do I know what cadence I am running?

If you have a Garmin, it automatically calculates it for you, so you can just go into your Garmin Connect to figure out what your cadence is.  But, if you don’t have a Garmin, count how many times you step with your  right foot for one minute.  You NEED this to be around 90 steps.  If it is not, your turnover is not high enough.  You can also download a metronome app and set it to 90.  Take a step with your right leg every time it beeps – you will automatically see your stride HAS to shorten.  It’s going to feel really weird + fast, but this is what we want!

My runner’s goal now is to start doing this on a regular basis.  I’ve analyzed her running form, but she is also starting to practice this on her easy runs, as well as incorporating some barefoot running into her training to not only strengthen her feet, but to help her learn how to land on her forefoot as well.  I’m hoping that this is the difference in her marathon time when she runs Chicago this fall!