Success with Stamina
Success with Stamina
A little blog about being a triathlon coach. Here you'll find a little diary about my activities as a coach, the performances of the people I work with and my thoughts and opinions on what makes athletes faster for longer.

Lessons from the Olympics 1 - Race Walking

AndyBby AndyBAug 17th 2012
So it's nearly a week since the London Olympics packed up the show and passed the flag to Rio but that is plenty of time to reflect on things that can be learnt from the two week festival of sport. Over my next few blog posts I'll discuss a few areas that stood out for me and how they can be applied to triathlon, first up race walking!

I watched with interest last Saturday morning and the men tackled the marathon race walk. For those of you that missed it the race consisted of 50 km split into 25 laps of a 2km course (the result and some footage can be seen here What was very impressive, as with most Olympic sports, was the speed at which the walkers were moving; the winner finished the 50km in 3:35:59, that's an average 10K pace of 43:12 or covering the running marathon distance (42.2km) in 3:02:18. This got me thinking! A 3:02 marathon is something many of us would dream about doing for an ironman run, yet these athletes were walking that quickly, that's right, technically speaking one part of a foot is always on the floor with most athletes heel striking, this is not running. Am I suggesting we should all go out and train ourselves to perfectly execute the hip wobble? No, but at a time when legs are fatigued and we may be unable to adopt the high heel lift and carry demonstrated by the track runners should we focus on other areas of technique and what are the key points we can learn from the walkers?

The two stand out points for me were:

1) Use of our arms.

From the footage of the winner finishing you can see his arms are swinging hard and rhythmically. The movement of your arms are strongly connected to your legs and a larger swing leads to a longer stride both forward and back. Setting and maintaining a rhythm using your arms even as you tire is incredibly important to helping your legs continue to turn over and helping you maintain a longer stride.

2) Cadence

The beauty of the having a course which consisted of 25 laps was the ability to compare the technique of those moving quicker with those being lapped. It was clear that those athletes at the front of the race had a higher cadence. When stride length is limited because of needing to always have one foot on the floor the real way to gain an advantage is to moving with a higher leg turnover. Using the footage mentioned above the winner is moving down the finishing area with a cadence of around 110 right foot strikes per minute - that's incredibly high.

How can we apply this to our training?

Speed of running or walking is made up of a combination of stride length and leg turnover, the reason the walkers move so quickly is not because of their stride length but because of their turnover and rhythm. If you think you need to increase your turnover focus on these two areas in training.

Arm swing - Run for a bit without using your arms and then over emphasising your arm swing. Notice the difference in your stride length as a result. Then spend some time running and finding the optimal arm swing for you to help tie in with your cadence below.

Cadence - Time the number of right foot strikes over a six second period and times it by ten to get your cadence. You'll probably notice it is quite a bit lower than 110 and probably lower than 90 or even 80. To speed this up you may find it is useful to swing your arms quicker or more vigorously and shorten your stride a little at the front (which may help with those who over stride and land with the heal first in front of their centre of mass).

Once you have put both of these practices together remember to keep up a high turnover on all your run sessions and really use your arms to maintain rhythm especially as you tire towards the end of a long run.

So to recap, am I suggesting we should all adopt the race walking wobble? No, obviously running at higher speeds there are quicker techniques however, when we are fatigued and unable to lift our heels so high can we learn from the walkers? Definitely.

Let me know if you try this and how you get on.

If you would like more information on Endurance Sports Coaching please visit my website, like my facebook page and follow me on twitter
peterruelby member: peterruel, Aug 17th 2012 21:08
I am a BIG believer in runners using their arms, especially in the Tri.

I use to be a pretty accomplished 1600 meter runner and one of the things I found way back then (20 years ago) was that when I go tired I could rely on a strong arm swing to improve my form and increase my cadence. This simple focus led to faster and faster 1600 meter times.

Years later when I started racing Triathlons I found that the same thing could help me get over the "wet noodle" feeling of the bike to run transition. The arms force the legs to move. Good arm form = good leg form.

Good blog and good advice.
sarahleonardby member: sarahleonard, Aug 18th 2012 16:21
Great blog and some useful tips :o)
AndyBby blog author: AndyB, Aug 20th 2012 11:22
Thanks guys. Peter I agree (obviously!) Use of arms is definitely under coached in most environments.
Loggzyby member: Loggzy, Aug 23rd 2012 22:52
Interesting stuff. I've been aiming to hold a cadence of around 90, although I reckon it drops a little to around 85 when I'm really tired. This is an improvement mind, as I used to be around the 80 mark.

I've tried swinging the arms a bit to increase the cadence as I get tired, with some success. However, I'm also finding that concentrating on getting my hips up and forward is having more of an effect (I must really be sinking down as I get tired I guess). It helps me get my centre of gravity back up over the feet, and seems to automatically lead to lower contact time with the ground, and thus a quicker cadence.
charlieeliseby member: charlieelise, Aug 28th 2012 10:13
I've been taking some running tuition and the instructors say it's very common for triathletes to not really use their arms. I have been trying a new technique and the biggest part is actually the arms, not the legs. I believe you are spot on here Andy, I am noticing the difference (and my arms are hurting!)
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