09 January 2015

the sounds of cadence

blonk.  klop.  boing.  whirr.  ping.

i know, it sounds like the noises that might come from some cool new kids toy.  or your car's transmission just as it's about to blow up on you.

but have you ever paid attention to your footfall while running?

admittedly, it's far from scientific ... but i think that one of the markers of my running progress has been just how i visualize (or perhaps auditorialize) the way in which my feet impact the ground during the running gait cycle.
image taken from here

when i first started taking to running as a form of exercise (mid-2009) i simply didn't think about it.  as such i tromped along, slapping my foot onto the tarmac with each stride as if letting my feet fall like dead weights (wearing the heaviest tennis shoes that i had in the closet probably didn't help any) was the best way to maximize my fitness ROI (return-on-investment).  it was heavy, jarring, and makes me think of *blonk*.

the next iteration of my footstrike pattern came when i started to believe that the most natural (!) and effective way to run was to land heel-first, roll along the mid-foot and then toe off.  this reminded me of the way that a wheel contacts the ground, and actually was the way that i used to explain the functionality and science of Nike running footwear to our patrons while i worked for Nike's retail division.  the word that i associate most closely with this style of running was/is *klop*, as even though the technique is depicted as a rolling motion it often winds up being more of a slapping-the-ground movement.

watch dr. nick campitelli talk about the perils of 'toe-off'
when i was first introduced to the idea of forefoot striking (courtesy of my friend trevor and dr. mark cuccuzzella) i transitioned to loping around on the front pads of my feet.  the immediate kinetic feedback was that i was activating the springy tissues (e.g. tendons and ligaments) as well as relying on my muscles to serve as shock absorbers and energy-returning pistons.  i had braced myself for the inevitable "you'll feel unusually sore" response to making this kind of a change, and while it did happen it didn't last very long.  i had done it - made the move to a more 'natural' method of running.  each day i took to the roads with a *boing*.

and then i read a little something about vertical travel.

at the time i was not only a fan of american distance runner ryan hall (and still am!) but also did my best to model my running style after his.  when i read this article detailing how if you measured the distance of vertical travel or 'bounce' that ryan had over the course of a marathon it would equal something like 1.24 miles - quite an unnecessary expenditure of energy.  in my attempts to mimic ryan i was quite unwittingly also bouncing around - as noted by the pacer i ran with at the 2012 hamilton marathon road2hope.


just as surely as a pendulum swings back and forth, my next 'adaptation' was to try to limit the extent of vertical travel during my stride cycle and mimicking what it would be like to "balance a dinner plate on your head".  my running form got closer to a shuffle-like movement, staying low and level ... something of a *whirr* effect (think 'road runner') across the ground.  a corollary effect of this transition was to turn my attention to increasing my cadence since (at least in my mind) i was going to cover less distance while airborne.

the most recent change in my running form has been a more modest one, and has come about as a result of watching and studying the speed and lightness of 2014 NYC marathon winner mary keitany.  in a post last month i commented on how there was much to learn from watching mary run, and perhaps for me one of the most remarkable aspects of that is just how effortless she appears while in motion (contrast that with the discernible chugging effort of someone like meb keflezighi or the flailing form of lelisa desisa).  i've characterized this footstrike as something akin to a *ping* - rapid, reflexive and light.  the intention behind this adjustment is all about economy of motion.

of course all of this only exists inside of my head ... i've not had any kind of video evidence or filmed analysis to corroborate the notion that the way that i run has changed at all, or that (apart from the Road2Hope pacer's observations) i even do half of the things that i think that i've done with regard to running form.  but if visualization counts for anything at all i will continue to think of myself as pinging my way to faster race times.



now you know that i hear voices (or at least imaginary footstrike sounds) in my head.  that's partially due to the fact that i don't listen to any music during any of my runs, of any distance ... but maybe you do!  if you'd like to enter to win a 2GB iPod shuffle just use the rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



  1. Nice post Patrick. Your story isn't the first I've heard of runners who deliberately mimicked the "klop" style of running. One of my coworkers who runs with a fairly decent light rearfoot heel strike tried her best to transform it into a heavy heelstrike because she thought that it was the correct way of running. This happened because a shoe store employee told her that she "pronates" and needed a stability shoe.

    Needless to say, I managed to convince to switch back to her normal stride and she is quite happy running in the Brooks Cadence and wants to try Skechers soon.

    1. thanks stan! it's definitely remarkable now that i've become a bit more of a student of running mechanics how i can actually hear bad form at work. it truly pains me when i listen to passing runners thump or slap the ground with each footstrike. i just want to grab them and say "do you know what you're doing to yourself?!?" :)

  2. I'm lucky...I always walked on my toes as a kid (still catch myself to be honest) and my natural running gait is a nice and easy mid- to forefoot strike. I had one guy at our weekly Splash n Dash that would always say he knew when I was coming on the run because I sounded like a little machine gun with my high cadence (I'm around 190). I've noticed as well that my footfalls are fairly quiet...so maybe I'm a whirr?
    It's fun to see the changes you've made through the years with your running form, great descriptions!

  3. When I'm out for a jog, or warming up prior to playing something like soccer, I tend to be a footslapper.. I think it comes more as a consequence of my build (stocky), with my torso being more or less straight up and down. When I sprint, to chase down a player or a loose ball, I'm much more forward, and tend to land closer to my toes, in order to get the cleats to dig in harder.
    But, I am very much a horrid runner, with form that would probably make you cringe :D