Stay on Your Toes

As I was starting my training with my coach, he sent me this message:

Cadence and rpm are used throughout your training plan. How many right (or left) foot strikes are there in 60 seconds? The goal for a triathlete is 90 per minute per foot (or ~22 in 15 seconds = ~90 per minute) on the bike and run. That will feel very weird at first, but will make a huge difference. Only do this high cadence for a few minutes per run, and work on getting up on your toes. But again, only a few minutes at a time on the run to not kill your legs this early.

Now I’m the type of guy who has trouble doing things if I don’t know why I’m doing them, and someone saying it “will make a huge difference” doesn’t quite do it for me. So I sort of…well, ignored this part about running on my toes, and I didn’t quite get the connection between cadence and being on my toes. That is, until I tried it.

I normally run a 10-minute mile. I can run faster for 2-3 miles, but that’s about as far as I can run if I’m going faster, whereas I can do 13 miles and average 10-minute miles and that just barely pushes the limits. That is, I can still carry on a conversation while doing a 10-minute mile, but only with some difficulty. But the other day, I really tried running on my toes and made a real effort to get my cadence up to where my coach wanted it. And wow, what a difference.  All of a sudden I jumped from doing 10-minute miles to 9-minute miles, and at the same time my heart rate was lower (about 140 bpm vs. 150 bpm). In other words, I was running 10% faster and it took less effort.

The strange part, the the part that made it difficult initially and which still makes it difficult if I don’t concentrate on my cadence and form, is that even though I was running quite a bit faster, it felt slower. I felt as though I were running in place. And yet I was looking down at my Garmin and the numbers don’t lie–I really was running quite a bit faster.

As my coach pointed out, it’s hard on the muscles and knees to do this at first. I do feel it in certain muscles, but I especially felt it in my knees. Not that it feels as though I’m doing any damage, but I can feel that I need to build up to doing this all the time.

That said, on my last run I tried to stay on my toes and keep the cadence up for the entire 30 minutes, and my muscles did just fine, although I could feel it a little in my knees. But as soon as I stopped running I didn’t feel it in my knees and haven’t felt a trace of it since. My next run is 45 minutes, and I plan on doing it on my toes all over again, and I suspect my knees and muscles will hold up pretty well.

Again, it’s hard to switch from touching your heel on every stride to taking short, mincing, girly steps, but trust me, it makes a huge difference.

  • http://bob bob

    that’s why i like my newton shoes. they really have made a difference for me to run more mid-forefoot and i do run a lot fasterer than when heelstriking. if you just look at the mechanics of it all, by running forefoot you are leaning forward as opposed to the heelstrike runner.

  • Joshua

    What we all need some of those shoes Kramer had in The Jimmy episode of Seinfeld.