Hopefully most of you are aware of cadence (how fast your feet turn over-the-counter usually measured per minute) if not Google running cadence and gorge on the masses of information on the science and studies.
I've done no studies and I'm no scientist so I'm not going to regurgitate stuff I've found online (much). The optimal cadence for runners is 180+ steps a minute. Sounds like a lot, it is a lot! Well for us average runners it is. If you're running sub 4min ks it's a hell of a lot easier to turn your legs over. For us mere mortals though it can feel like jogging on the spot and looking like a dick whilst doing so.
But fear not a cadence of 180 is possible and I promise you don't look as ridiculous as you feel...
First things first buy a metronome (music shops or I got mine from a horse riding shop) or if you run with your phone you can download a metronome app. I don't run with my phone and when I do it's only for the sole purpose of taking selfies!!
Now with a metronome there are a number of options available (depending on the type you buy). I bought the Seiko DM51 which has a few different settings on the type of beep it makes (lots of musical half note / quarter note stuff that I have no idea about!). But all you really need is to be able to change a) the speed of the beeping and b) the volume (unless you like to let the people two blocks away know that you're coming!).
Setting the speed
This is personal preference. Of course you can set it to 180 beats per minute and each foot that lands should aim to land at the same time as a beep. I find that the beeping is way to close together for my brain to tell me if my foot is hitting at the same time or not. Instead I set the beep to be 90 and focus on hitting the beep with every second step e.g. always with my right foot. This make it easier to tell if you're on beat and as you go for longer runs if you suddenly notice you're landing on the left foot then you know you're deviated from the cadence pattern.
Adjusting the speed
If you find that you're often switching between feet then you're consistently running off of the planned speed. Now to figure out if you're going to fast or two slow you can off course really concentrate on which foot is striking when but it's a lot of effort and focus. What I found works best is to also have your running watch set to show the cadence. You can then cross check between the watch and the metronome.
For me I noticed I was actually running more consistently at 92 beats per minute and hence I was running faster than the metronome. So I unclipped the metronome from my shorts and upped it from 90 to 92. That got me back on beat for most of my run. When I was pushing the pace in sections I went as high as 93 beats and when my legs were fatiguing I allowed it to fall to 91 beats. I could have set it at 90 but I didn't want to teach my body bad habits for when it's tired. If I'm capable of 93 beats comfortably then I figure I should try to maintain that where possible. Again I’m not a scientist or a running coach so there's no evidence that I know of to back this theory, this is just my feel for things.
Feeling like a tool
Yep that first time you're running at a notably increased cadence you're going to feel silly. I was running at around 176 and just moving up to 180-182 I felt like I was running on the spot. But give it some time to settle and try it for a few weeks and hopefully your stride will become more natural at the faster cadence and you won't feel so ridiculous. But as with everything in life it's not a one shoe fit and you need to adapt your training and your style according to your body type and your running. But I note that I have easily been able to increase my cadence and now feel very comfortable at this increased turnover and I've seen videos of me running and I look awesome, no tool in sight ;o)
What about hills - surely I lower my cadence then?
Well no. Really you should aim to keep your cadence high at all times. On the downhill taking short small steps reduces the potential for injury on overextended hamstrings and smashing of legs in general (again Google this sh!t) and on the uphill (assuming you're not walking) you can really charge up them by taking small, fast, mountain goat steps. This is how the pros do it.
And as I've read in a number of place when on the trail if there's the option to take more steps then take them! This means that, as much fun as it is, you shouldn't take massive leaps between rocks or off of tree trunks as all you're doing (other than looking mean as in your Instagram photos) is increasing the potential for injury and giving your body a hammering it doesn't need.
As always seek feedback from your body and find your own rhythm and flow