I’m not an ideal distance runner.
Far from it, actually. Your typical elite marathon runner is going to be around 5’7” and 120 pounds, and yes, that’s the men. Even Ryan Hall, American marathoner extraordinaire, whose head can be seen peaking over the top of any race pack, is only 5’10” and 130. I’ve got two inches and 30 pounds on the best runner in the country.
Now, normally, I’m glad to be taller, and I don’t think for a moment that I need to drop 30 pounds. Still, you can’t escape one basic fact: less weight is easier to carry. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of muscle-bound marathon runners. Our kind keeps slim to put less pressure on the legs and conserve energy for those later miles. The smaller you are, the faster you can go. In theory.
There is still hope for us giants, though. If we can’t be lighter, we must be stronger or smarter. Or both. I’m working on the second in the hopes of the first.
As I mentioned before, I’m trying to focus somewhat on my form of late, but I also want to take a look at my cadence. Elite male marathoners average approximately 180 steps per minute. Quite frankly, it’s strange to see how close they are to that number. In the 2011 Boston Marathon, someone did a study of the cadence of the top ten runners and all were within 8 steps of 180. It’s a magic number, so to speak, and a good target to aim for.
Here’s the potential problem: does being taller affect the optimal rate of my cadence? The elite women in the same marathon were an average of 7-10 steps more per minute, so should I be aiming for something a little under 180?
Well, I don’t know. To be honest, I haven’t done as much research in this department as I’d like. I do know that practicing a quicker turnover will help get me faster. That seems to be a given in the limited articles that I’ve read, so I started work on that today. I’m not going to spend a 15-mile run trying to take extra steps, but a speed work day seemed like a perfect time to give it a go. I did my first three half-mile repeats as normal, and then pulled out the iPhone.
I don’t run with music anymore, so it was strange to try and move with cords flying all over the place, but I had downloaded a metronome app (yes, they have one for everything), so I set it to 180 and started off. Almost immediately, I realized the difference.
Hills. Hills are the difference.
On flat ground, 180 is pretty close to standard for me, but going up or down hills, my stride instinctively lengthens, which it really should not be doing. Taking longer strides on hills will cause injury going up or down, and I’ve been doing it without realizing it. Thank you, metronome, for showing me the error of my ways.
Repeats four and five went well, but I bailed on the cadence halfway through my last repeat. I found it very tough to change the basic mechanics of my stride, so I had to finish the last lap in normal steps. However, the experiment got me through my first speed workout in months without much agony or exhaustion, and so I think I’ll try it again next week.
Because however hard it is, it’s got to be easier than changing my height.