18 months ago I went for a running analysis with Barbara Brunner from Energy Lab BTS. She took onboard my medical history, including my anxiety about exercising my core after having a hernia operation in 2011. She then filmed me on a running machine, gradually increasing speed until I was at my limit.
As we watched the video playback Barbara showed me how my upper body was wobbling like a jelly because I lacked the core strength to support it. She explained that because I’d had a hernia I needed to strengthen the area. This made perfect sense, but I’d been too afraid to try anything for fear of a repeat. She devised a programme of core strengthening exercises to stabilise my upper body, so that I could put the energy saved into moving my legs more quickly. She also delicately pointed out that “You run like Hulk”, and taught me to bring my elbows in when I run.
When it came to my legs she said I was in better shape, but she wanted to work on my technique. I have a long stride length as I’m tall, but I needed to improve my cadence. Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. I learned I should be taking over 180 but was taking 160. She compared slow-mo video of me running with slow-mo footage from the Olympic 10K final, so I could see what to aim for.
Core exercise became part of my routine and I began to consciously adapt my arm placement. I tried hard to improve cadence, but seemed to be getting nowhere. I bought a pedometer, but couldn’t manage to run even a mile at 180 foot strikes per minute. Thinking about it so much was taking the joy out of running, so after a year of trying I’d pretty much given up on ever improving. Then suddenly, after running a PB at the Berlin Half Marathon, I ran a 3 mile easy run at the required cadence. In retrospect, I was building up the physical strength to run a high-cadence style over that year while nothing appeared to be happening on the surface.
Running higher cadence asks more of your leg muscles, but because my form has improved, I’m a more efficient runner. I regularly do bodyweight training and yoga, and could see the benefits in the Berlin Half Marathon where I ran strong the whole way round, instead of fading over the last third. I set out to gain 10 pounds this year, which I’ve achieved, most of it in lean muscle, without supplements, through eating well and training. Consistency pays off.
I’m excited to see what benefits the increased cadence and strength will bring when I run Movember 10K and Paris Marathon over the next six months. I’ve run in Asics Gel Kayanos for years as I over-pronate. Now I want to find a shoe that better supports my developing running style but am not sure where to start. Let me know if you have any tips.