Gait Changer

Let’s start out with a picture. Here I am nearly a year ago, running the Emerald Across the Bay 12K. It’s a race from Sausalito to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, Suzee, this is what I look like. Say Hi if you see me in Alameda or Bay Farm.
emerald_race_photo
More about the picture in a moment. A few days after the race I was at a neighbor’s house, and was invited to try his treadmill. I set it for 6 mph with no gradient, and settled into a comfortable jog, Actually not all that comfortable. Every few steps the belt would check slightly as my heel hit it. Mac (the neighbor) was concerned about this, and I reassured him thus: “I’m not used to treadmills, and I must be overstriding rather badly to push the belt backwards like that.”
Later, I looked at the race photo proofs online with Cathi. She ordered the above print, while I thought: “Looks like I don’t just overstride on treadmills!”

The next morning I tried an experiment. I ran 4.5 miles, doing a shorter joggy stride, with my feet landing underneath. It felt awkward, and seemed slow. Without a backlight on my watch, I could not check my splits until later. It was NOT slow.  Comparing this run with other recent ones, heart rate went down while speed went up. Taking these together gave me 15 seconds per mile improvement on the first try. So I stuck with it. It was only later that I read Jack Daniels’ assertion that elite runners usually have a cadence of 180 steps per minute. I measured mine. 180, Yess! At least there’s one thing I have in common with those people…

The other bad thing in that picture is that my posterior is sticking out. Karen, who organises our group runs, suggested that I do core exercises to try and fix this. Situps, pushups, planks and so forth. So I did that, and paid attention to posture whilst running. Within a few weeks, the straightened spine and improved posture led to a half inch increase in my height! And yes, I was getting faster.

It’s an ongoing process, and I tend to backslide a bit when tired. But it has transformed my running.

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6 Responses to “Gait Changer”


  1. 1 Loraine January 19, 2009 at 7:53 am

    You got a lot out of that picture Jim. I should have you analyze mine! For a start I never look anywhere near as happy as you do.

    How do you measure your step? Just count for one minute? Related to this, our triathlete Barbara was telling me at the track the other day (I was NOT doing speedwork there) that she listens to stuff on her ipod while running that she’s downloaded and is specifically 180 bpm. I didn’t realize this was a magic number.

    So how does steps per minute relate to pace? Is 180 a fast pace, jogging pace, 5 minute mile pace …. or doesn’t it work like that. I’ve been meaning to ask you about a good way to increase speed in relation to steps — what’s the word on that? Should I be looking to increase turnover rather than lengthen stride? Sorry, lots of questions!

    • 2 jime2 January 19, 2009 at 8:36 am

      Hi Loraine, My late-lamented polar watch had a countdown timer. I set it to 20 seconds so I could hit the start button and count arm-pumps until it beeped. One arm-pump is two steps, so 30 pumps in 20 seconds is 180 steps per minute. With a Garmin, I would switch to the elapsed time display, wait for the seconds to get to 00 and start counting till they get to 20.
      It’s tempting to change pace by changing gait, but it’s not supposed to be that way. We should speed up by taking longer strides, but keeping to the same beat. The tricky part for me is extending without planting my heels too far forward again. I”m currently concentrating on this when I do strides.

      Hi Christi, My running got quieter, with less slap when I changed my form, mainly because I was landing mid-heel, so there was less distance for the toes to plop down.
      Having said that, I was racing with a very experienced runner a few weeks back, and she had quite a loud slap. So it’s not always a bad thing, apparently.

  2. 3 Christi January 19, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Hi Jim! I have not started counting strides yet but I have been a lot more cognizant of my form. Last weekend on a group run with the team one of my buddies indicated that I was striding heavy. Personally, I didn’t notice because I thought that noise was just my head pounding. Seems it really was my feet slapping the pavement. Now I try to keep my feet light and my knees up to avoid that annoying noise!!!! Next up, stride counting!

  3. 4 spaulukonis January 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Yay! I’ll look for you.

    I started working on the shorter gait in the fall, and have been injury-free since then, and have shaved about 15 seconds off my “regular” run pace, despite being in worse shape. Just in December I started working my abs and back to try to control the butt thing, too. Yours is the first blog I’ve seen to address these issues, and it’s great to see the photograph with the discussion!

  4. 5 Flo January 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Nice legs. 🙂

    Another big believer in working on cadence here, but I’ve also tried to change my heel-landing without success (it never feels like a heel landing till I see my photos). I’ve since given up caring as it’s been pointed out to me that many Elites heel-strike, so I could be in worse company. And I’m still quiet enough to sneak up on innocent people in the park, scaring the bejeezus out of them, so I’m good with that.

  5. 6 jime2 January 21, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    It’s not the heel-strike and flap that was the problem, I think, it’s the fact that it was happening out in front of my body.
    As for terrifying the innocents, you want to try doing in the dark, at interval speed. I’ll probably get arrested one of these days.


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Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
10K43:44
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)

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