Coaching/Training

Mark Handel, RunScribe

An Experiment with Stride Rate

When I joined RunScribe, I was more of a cyclist than a runner.  I’d been a runner in my younger years and was excited to get back to my running roots, but it took time for my body to acclimate to the strain. When I started to rack up more miles, I felt it in my legs — especially my knees.  I shared my metrics with Tim and John (RunScribe co-founders); they were floored by my mechanics.  Even though my pace had been increasing, I was still running with an amazingly low step rate, often dipping below 150 steps per minute.  I’m a tall guy at 6’5”, so my stride covers a long distance.  But still, less than 150?  That’s low.  At RunScribe we’ve seen how running mechanics vary and know the mythical 180 steps per minute is not a suitable goal for everyone, but I decided to experiment and see how my body would react to increasing my stride rate.

Over the next few months my goal was to get comfortable running around 160 steps per minute.  At first it felt very awkward, like I was on a hamster wheel.  As I slowly worked my way to a higher cadence, it started to feel more natural.  I noticed some distinct differences in how I felt.  My knees hurt less, actually, they didn’t hurt at all.  I used to have a problem on trail runs, where steep downhills caused lingering pain, especially in my left kneecap.  Now I had no issues whatsoever.  On longer runs my quads felt fresher.  I stopped experiencing the  ‘leg burn’ that previously accompanied my 5 miles at threshold-pace workouts.  I am now more limited by my cardiovascular system than my legs.  The result of my experiment is that I am running faster – actually becoming competitive on some Strava segments!

While I was keeping close tabs on how I ‘felt,’ I also wanted to quantify the effect the changes were having on my mechanics. As expected, I saw a distinct drop in contact times.  My stride length remained unchanged even though I was taking more steps – likely because of my faster pace.  My shock value increased a bit, mostly due to my braking Gs, but this change was minimal. My pronation asymmetries were the same as they’d been. Knowing that there were no abrupt changes in my metrics was comforting – knowing there wouldn’t be an injury waiting around the next corner.

6 months later, I feel great and am running faster than I have in years.  I’m contemplating jumping into some 10k and half marathon races – something I would have never considered before.  I plan to stick with this step rate and reassess later.  Maybe next I’ll try to get to the bottom of my pronation asymmetry – I’ll let you know how it goes!