Monday, March 21, 2011

Smart Run Techniques for Faster Times

QUESTION FOR THE COACH:  Most people I train with say that 180 strides per minute is the optimum stride rate while running long distances. Whenever I check my cadence I'm usually between 150-160, and I've had trouble finishing off the final miles of my marathons strong. I'm wondering if my cadence might be what's holding me back and what I can do to pick it up. A few guys have recommended plyometrics and water jogging -- do you think that would help? 


This is a great question and addresses a very important issue for the triathlete when it comes to the run leg  (especially long course racing) and that’s the overall economy and efficiency of their running form. 

Unlike ‘open’ running races, triathlon runs are done on tired legs with waning energy reserves.  Even the best triathletes in the world, who are running 2:41-2:50’s (Male) and 2:53-3:00’s (Women) marathons at Ironman are well off their potential open marathon times due to this fact. Foot strike, posture, arm swing and stride rate are all factors when it comes to one’s running economy and their importance is magnified when running off the bike in a triathlon.  As you improve each of these technique variables, you’ll be able to run faster while using less energy. 

Stride rate is of particular importance because it’s indicative of one’s overall running form.  Athletes with ‘loping’ running styles tend to have a lower foot strike frequency, taking longer strides and tend to get more ‘air’ (bounding) between each footstrike meaning more energy is going vertically as opposed to horizontally.

On the other hand, athletes with higher foot strike frequency in that 180 +/- range, tend to be more forefoot strike oriented with greater horizontal velocity (as opposed to vertical bounding), take shorter strides and have better posture.  Ultimately, their more efficient form yields faster overall running spilts on fatigued legs.

There are several ways in which to improve your running cadence.  National Run Training Director for Life Time Fitness, Rebekah Mayer, recommends incorporating ‘stride outs’ into your running program once or twice per week.  This involves warming up for 10-15 minutes, performing some dynamic stretches and run drills then doing a series of 6-12 100 Meter runs where you gradually build speed throughout each effort until your running at around 95% of your maximum speed while focused on executing perfect form. Another means to achieve a greater footstrike cadence is to run on a treadmill once or twice a week at your aerobic pace and to set your incline at 3-6%.  Focus on taking shorter, quicker steps as you run uphill, counting your footstrikes and making a conscious effort to nail that 180 stride per minute range.  Start with doing this for only a few minutes and progress to more as your technique improves. 

Last but not least, anyone who does my Spinervals workouts knows that I’m a huge proponent of developing the ability to spin the pedals smoothly at a high cadence of 90-100 rpms.  I believe, as do many other coaches, that your ability to spin quickly and smoothly on the bike translates to a higher, smoother and more efficient leg turnover on the run too. 

Give these ideas a whirl, improve your footstrike cadence and you’ll likely run your Ironman marathon PR this season! And for more insights on how to run a faster Ironman marathon, read this article HERE.

Good Luck!
-       Coach Troy

Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of Ironman. A former pro in the 1990’s, he’s back to racing again as a Master’s athlete and set his marathon PR at 2010 IM AZ with a 2:59:55 incorporating the techniques described in this article. For more info, visit


  1. Hi Couch,

    What is your perspective on incorporating, some yoga postures and breathing techniques, either before or after a run?

  2. If you're an athlete, you should absolutely invest in a kulae hot yoga mat to help build your core.

  3. Jackie O'Brien, I'm also agree with you. hot yoga mat

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