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Even Kenyans stride slowly

September 10th, 2011

Just for fun, following up on yesterday’s post on running cadence, I did a little YouTube surfing to find footage of fast Kenyans running slowly. Because the question I’m interested in isn’t: “Do fast runners take quick strides?” I think that’s reasonably well established. The trickier — and I’d argue more relevant — question is: “Do fast runners take quick strides when they’re running slowly?”

The best example I found was this 10-minute clip posted in 2007 by Toby Tanser, which shows all sorts of footage of Kenyan runners at different speeds:

Now, if you spend a little time with a stopwatch, you quickly find that when the runners are shuffling along slowly, then tend to have a slow cadence in the 160s, and when they’re running fast, their cadence tends to be above 180. But that doesn’t really answer the question, because it’s not necessarily the same runner. So I’ve cued to video to 2:49, where you see a clip of Hilda Kibet (1:08 half-marathoner, 2:24 marathoner) jogging slowly, and then another clip of her running quickly around the track. My measurements:

Jogging slowly: 18 strides in 6.7 seconds = 162 steps per minute

Running fast: 16 strides in 5.0 seconds = 190 steps per minute

I realize this is pretty scanty data! And I also realize that there’s a fairly extreme difference between how slowly she’s shuffling in the first clip, and how quickly she’s hauling in the second clip. But that’s the whole point: you can’t talk about cadence without considering speed.

  1. Darren White
    September 10th, 2011 at 16:07 | #1

    This is something I’ve struggled to get my head around. For a while I tried to maintain a constant cadence but could not see how I could do this for different speeds. To me it seems logical that it increases and decreases relative to speed.

  2. September 10th, 2011 at 22:37 | #2

    Nice job Alex, when I first started out tweaking my running technique I spent too much time thinking 180. Overtime I began to suspect it was counterproductive and now you’ve confirmed that and given me a great idea for a new article.


  3. September 12th, 2011 at 01:16 | #3

    Thank you for this blog and doing actual research on a lot of received wisdom in the running world!

  4. Mikeh
    September 12th, 2011 at 18:58 | #4

    I see the same relationship when I’m cycling. At easy pace (30kph) it is comfortable to be in the mid 80 rpm, but at racing speeds (sprint/olympic distance triathlon for me) closer to 40kph, I average in the low 90 rpm’s. And on more favorable stretches (tailwind, slight downhills) approaching 50kph, I’ll be doing 100 rpm. The interesting point here is that gearing would permit one to keep a narrow cadence, but you never see experienced cyclists ride/race this way. It just doesn’t feel right. But in either running or cycling when I observe less experienced racers, they always appear to be using a too low cadence, particularly on uphills.

    My personal theory is that to increase pace, it is not as efficient to do it with power alone (increasing stride length) so you also increase cadence. I’d also say that elites generally started younger, racing shorter distances at faster cadence levels, effectively learning(?) foot speed.

  5. Timiji
    September 20th, 2011 at 18:22 | #5

    The stride (stroke) rate [cadence]/stride (stroke) frequency issue is also prevalent in swimming. I think the question should now be… do better runners have a higher cadence at a set speed than lower performing runners? What’s more ‘efficient’ – long stride length and lower cadence (and likely the attendant vertical displacement in centre of mass?) or high cadence/shorter stride? Do better runners tend to one end of the continuum than lower performing runners? And is there an experience effect – do novice runners tend to one strategy while experienced runners work the other?

    PhD pending? Or at least a good review of literature?

  6. Paul
    November 6th, 2011 at 00:31 | #6

    I did a little research using youtube clips and windows live movie maker that lets you play video frame by frame which was really needed because the intervals of elite athletes jogging are very short (unlike their racing). I got these numbers: Sammy Wanjiru 160, Bekele brothers 170, Haile Gebrselassie – almost 180. I used the following videos:


    around time 2:43


    time 4:44


    time 0:25

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