Thursday, December 1, 2011

"I don't know, but it's been said, barefoot runners love Barefoot Ted"

No?  Confused? 

This a lousy attempt to show a little trick  I have learnt to help me with my running form. I have been using it for a long while now and when I have talked to others about it, it seems to have sparked some interesting comments and surprisingly a few admissions that it works.

I vaguely remember that this trick was briefly mentioned on the Runners World Barefoot Forum, probably around summer 2009 and I think it was Angie B who brought it up. I can't be sure, it was a LONG time ago.  Since then it's stuck in my head and I use it pretty much every time I do a long run to "reset" myself when I am getting tired.  It takes about 10 seconds and it fixes my form pretty much immediately.

So are you eager?  Hanging on my every word? Want to know what this magic skill is? Say Please…;)


The trick is singing the double-time march in my head.  We all know it, sort of. "1-2-3-4-hey".  Okay, that didn't really work; one of the few times it literally did sound better in my head. It's this…

Why is this trick so important in running with good form?  It's simple.  The double-time military cadence is 180 beats per minute.  Simple as that.  Just be glad I wasn't one of those Internet con-artists asking for money before I told you the magic secret. Hey, I think I messed up somewhere.  I really need to work on my business model.

I have long maintained that the hidden secret to good form is cadence.  Get your legs running to a minimum of 180 steps a minute and you will have cracked it.  Landing on your fore or mid foot, landing underneath you, running upright - that will all kick into place when you have a cadence of 180 beats per minute.  About 80-90% of your form will magically happen when you finally hit that beat.  The other 20 or so percent is just bell's and whistles.  Not real bells and whistles by the way.  It was a metaphor, although... it may make those walkers move out of your way on the trail.. hum.  I think I have just found my million dollar seller!  Warning devices for "ninja-like" barefoot runners.

*Starts daydreaming*

Okay, now back to the good part.. (That was just for you Jesse)

The issue most people have is that getting the right cadence is sometimes easier said than done.  Especially if you have come from "heel striking", supportive-shoe territory.  You are so used to running at a slower cadence that running at a 180 pace makes you feel like you are in a hamster wheel and it feels very strange.  It's hard to automatically know what 180 beats per minute feels like.  Until you have been running at this cadence for a while it's easy to slip up and that's when your form issues come to the front again.  People have used ipods with specific tracks, or even a metronome to perfect it.  But why carry around all of that gear.  We are meant to be reducing our running burden.  The only gadget you need is your mind and a 10 second burst of chanting in a very loud voice.  

I personally run at a higher cadence; I would estimate I run at about a 200 ish beats per minute.  I put this down to the fact I run trails a lot.  When you run trails it's easier to have a quicker cadence and a smaller stride so you can dodge the obstacles on the trail.  This gives me the slight edge because generally during a road race or when I am tired on a long run, my cadence won't really go below that magic 180 number.

However, that doesn't mean it doesn't come close.  When I get tired during a long run and I feel my form slipping, I use a quick 10 second burst of the "double-time" march as a silent chant in my head to check if my cadence has slipped.  If it has, I repeat the double-time march through my head until my cadence comes back up.  Trust me, having "Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-Duhhh" or "1-2-3-4-hey" running constantly through your head is more annoying than any tweenie pop song the local radio station can throw out.  You will pick up your form just so you can stop chanting it to yourself.

I found it so helpful for me, I have suggested it to fellow running friends and those who run at the "Good Form" group at the local running club and scarily enough it works.  Everyone seemed to have issues maintaining 180 cadence until I told them to quietly chant the double-time march in their heads.  As soon as they did, their cadence picked up and their form improved.  You see, I am a genius. Or it could be Angie... like I said it was a long time ago and I was probably "very, very drunk".

I have experimented even further.  I have downloaded a few marine "double-time" military chants onto my iPod (mainly these ones - look for the ones marked as Running Cadence) and placed them into the play-list from about 30-40 minutes into the run then at about 10 -15 minute intervals. (Just think of them as mental GU shots).  I found I was able to run longer because during the natural lull in my run -at the point my form would start slipping- my mind became focused on the rhythm of the chants.  I also found the call-back part of the chants very calming despite the chants themselves being sometimes very uncomfortable to my civilian mentality.  (If people can think of "Barefoot running chants" post them in the comments section.  Maybe we can make our own playlist!)

So you would like a quick and easy method to getting better form?  Then chant boys! Slap on the black paint and webbing and repeat after me…

"I wanna be a barefoot runner, Live the life of beer and summer."


  1. Kate - when you gave me this tip in NY I was shocked at how well it worked. I've always tried to keep my cadence high (and I would use specific 180bpm music to do this), but since a lot of times I run with no music I had no idea whether I was hitting the mark. Sometimes just a half a second makes a huge difference.

    I'm sure people I passed on the trail thought I was crazy for singing aloud the duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh... hahaha! You were dead on. That little tip of yours rocked!

  2. Wow.. this is amazing! I have been struggling with cadence.. I know its important for form, and I know it will help run some better times. Perfect timing (pun intended) for this post! THANKS for this... I would love to have some annoying chant stuck in my head! :-)

  3. I do something similar. Having a bit of musical background I can get 180 in my head but use a four count to keep it going :)

  4. Ok.. just have to share this... I had a "running" mix on my ipod.. but just a collection of stuff I liked. My son took playlist, ran it through an audio editing program, and converted them all to 180BPM, or 90BPM (double time). Worked out great!