September 21


Cadence Matters: Optimize Your Triathlon Run Performance

Cadence Matters

Trying to hold a respectable run pace in your half ironman or ironman race, but experience frustration when you see your times plummet?  What’s causing the slowdown?  More importantly, can you do anything to prevent it?  Your answer can be as simple as focusing on your cadence.

Every time your foot contacts the ground the weight of your body comes down with each landing.  The longer your foot is in contact with the ground the more gravitational force you have to contend with.  Fortunately, our muscular and skeletal structures allow us to resist breakdown and keep us upright.  However, there is a point where it becomes more difficult for your body to fight the force of gravity and this is right about the time your form starts to fall apart, your cadence slows, and each step becomes more difficult.

The less time each foot spends on the ground, the less this wicked gravitational force has a chance to wreak havoc on your body.  So, how do we spend less time on the ground? Increase your cadence and shorten your stride.  Cadence is determined by the amount of times your foot hits the ground in a certain period of  time.  You can measure this in total foot strikes or just pick one foot.  In order to increase your cadence without demanding more force production from your body, you should shorten your stride length.  You will have to train your muscles to respond to the faster firing patters of this quicker and shorter cadence, but let me assure you it’s worth it, especially you are a triathlete.

What Should my Cadence Be?

According to research in distance running, the optimal cadence range is about 180 – 200 total foot strikes per minute.  That’s 90 – 100 foot strikes on each foot in a minute.  A  quick way to assess your cadence while running is to pick one foot and count how many times it contacts the ground in 15 seconds.  Multiply this by 4 and this will give you your right/left foot strikes. Aim for 90-100.  Another option is to purchase a foot pod that will automatically register your cadence.

Build Slowly

Before you try and hit the 90-100 mark, take a few minutes to check what your natural cadence is and progress upward from there.  For example, If you are naturally at 80, then trying to reaching 86 rather than jumping up to 90 right away.  Start with small incremental increases to allow your body to adjust to the change.  Wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you are not working harder to obtain the increase in cadence.  If your heart rate spikes, there’s a good chance that your stride length has not changed and  your body is working overtime to maintain the same stride length at a higher cadence.

Long Course Triathletes

A quick cadence is even more important for triathletes.  Think about the amount of abuse your legs take during the bike portion of your events.  The amount of force your legs need to produce while running with a slow cadence is so much greater than with a quicker and more efficient cadence.  If your body only knows a slow cadence,the amount of energy and muscular force required to propel you forward will prove to be too much.  As a result, you will need to slow down the pace the your cadence will drop even more. Eventually the walking will begin.

Efficiency is a long course athlete’s best friend and efficiency  is exponentially more important as you make the jump to the Ironman distance. If you are slowing down more than 10% from your marathon to half marathon in a triathlon, take a look at the possible causes of this slowdown.

How to Incorporate Cadence Work

  • Long run – On your next long run check your cadence every 5 miles.  What feels like an easy relaxed cadence at mile 5 might not feel that way at mile 15.  Rather than try to stick to a certain pace, try holding your goal cadence.  You may have to shorten your stride even more while doing so.
  • Transition Run – Aim to hit your target cadence or even a little faster.  Don’t worry about pace too much.  Try and run as fast as you can without exerting a lot of effort. Think quick, light and compact strides.

While there are other factors impacting slowdown in a triathlon, this one has the most bang for the buck.  A high cadence can help you conserve the precious needed energy in your next ironman race.  Give it a shot and you might be surprised how much faster you can be.


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