running blog

Clive Whaley

Zippy Feet

Marathon Training Day 4 - 30 mins steady

I rated this run as feeling 'Good' on my Marathon Plan. It was going 'sort of OK' and then I passed an older guy on the coast path who shouted after me, "Look there's an athlete! Fantastic!". There was no side to it. You could tell he was just joining me in spirit and wishing me well and it made me feel absolutely great. Aren't people wonderful when they share in each other's efforts, when they make you appreciate what you're doing even more than you were already? It did help that he was considerably older than me and I was also running down hill - both factors increased my 'athlete' rating I think but Hey! … he made me feel good and I think I made him feel good too.

I spent some of my time on this run experimenting a little with my cadence - that is how many steps my feet take in a minute. I spent more than 30 years running without anyone teaching me anything about how to do it. I knew nothing about technique, form, skill - I just did it in my own way, like most people do. But in the last couple of years, and particularly in this last year (when I qualified as a Running Coach myself) I have learnt so much about running styles and techniques. And one of the simplest and most obvious things I have learnt, is the significance of cadence.

Put more simply - the faster you move your feet, the faster you are likely to go. Although that seems like stating the bleeding obvious, there's a bit more to it than that. What happens, I think, is that most people settle into a cadence that feels natural to them and they never change it. And I think that most people would benefit from consciously working on increasing their cadence i.e. their steps per minute. Of course you can also increase your stride length and if you can increase both - cadence and stride length - in a big way, then watch out Mo Farah.

But of the two, I think cadence is more important and easier to work on for most people. And what's more, and I'm speaking from experience here, to be skipping along with what feels like lighter and faster feet is quite liberating. I think if anything I have probably slightly shortened my stride but increased the speed of my steps and it feels good. I encourage the people I coach to be 'lighter on their feet' all the time. It is partly physical and partly mental. Even though I am advancing through my 50s much quicker than I would like, since I discovered the principles of Zippy Feet, I feel like I am running younger and more freely than I did a few years ago.

They say that the optimum cadence for good distance running is 180 steps per minute and that top Marathon Runners are zipping along at something like 184 - 188 steps a minute.* I counted as I was running today (30 seconds worth of steps then double it) and I think my cadence at the moment is somewhere between 166 - 168. Of course it's best to measure it on a firm level surface, which was in short supply today. If I consciously work on it, I can push it into the 170s without excessive effort but it's not there naturally yet.

It will be interesting to see, during the course of my Marathon Training, whether there is any significant change in my cadence. I am certainly going to work on it when I remember to, because I don't see it as a chore - I enjoy bringing out my Zippy Feet. I feel lighter, faster, happier when I run that way. And, after all, I am an Athlete.

* I owe this statistic to the Julian Goater book, "The Art of Running Faster" and I also owe Julian for playing a role in enthusing me to use my Zippy Feet.