The Importance of Running Cadence in Triathlon Training

Beep, beep, beep, beep. Right, left, right, left. Beep, beep, beep, beep.

I match my footfalls to the metronome app set to 180 bpm (beats per minute). Right, left, right, left, right, left.  Rats! I’m off again. Right, right, left, right, left, right—once again matching the beat and the constant beep of the metronome. 

Right, left, right, left. Then I forget the beat altogether as I slow to a stop so that the neighborhood dog who thinks the metronome noise is an invitation to play chase understands that I am not here to play.

I’ll admit, I don’t enjoy running with the metronome. I don’t think that my neighbors appreciate it much either. But I recently dedicated time and energy to working on my running cadence. 

So why, after running marathons for five years, have I decided now to change my running form and subject myself to the constant beeping of the metronome?

My running stride has been categorized as “gazelle-like,” meaning that I run with a rather long stride with my legs at a full extension. This places unnecessary stress on my knees, hips, and lower back, and my joints feel especially sore after a long run. 

Knowing that 1) I want to continue running for a long time and 2) I want to improve my running mechanics, it was necessary for me to make some adjustments.

This became especially important to me as I look to improve my marathon time within the full Ironman distance triathlon. I need to have an efficient running stride and stay injury free in order to do this.

While the ideal stride rate (cadence) is different for every individual based on biomechanics, the average ideal cadence is 180 strides per minute. Increases in stride cadence lead to reduction in the amount of stress placed upon the knees, hips, and lower back—which can help with injury prevention.   

Instead of reaching forward with my leg, an increased stride rate encourages the body to use the glutes and hamstrings to propel the body forward. I have found that increasing my cadence not only reduces the stress placed on my joints, but I have also gained a little speed from the increased turnover rate of my legs. 

If you are interested in measuring your current stride rate, start your watch and count your footfalls (left and right) for one minute.  Slower than 180?  You may benefit from increasing your turnover to reduce your risk of running injury.

TRIDOT TAKEAWAY: Triathletes can dramatically increase their efficiency and performance by increasing your run cadence to 180 strides per minute.

ELIZABETH JAMES is an IRONMAN, a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach, and a TriDot Coach. She made the transition from running marathons to triathlon in 2012 and has completed sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and full IRONMAN distances. She and her husband, Charles, live in Garland, Texas.

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