180 Challenge: Robert Hjelmstad
I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Hjelmstad last week about his experience increasing his running cadence after experiencing injury. He's a fellow doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he studies piano.
AH: How long have you been running?
RH: I ran casually when I was in high school, but I started racing on weekends when I was in college. So probably about 10 years now.
AH: So I heard you experienced a running injury. Can you tell me about that?
RH: Yes, I ran the AthHalf, a local half marathon, twice while I was living in Georgia. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn't consistently running. I would train really hard for three months and then not run the rest of the year. My achilles started hurting and I noticed there was a little bit of swelling, but I chose to ignore it instead of going to the doctor. When I moved out to Colorado, I started running again. But when I hit a certain mileage and I couldn't get past it without any pain. I went to the health center and learned that the bump on my achilles was a mass of cartilage and that my tendon was really inflamed. I did physical therapy and they worked with me, so that I could keep running. One of the things they mentioned right away was to increase my cadence and to track my cadence.
AH: What was your cadence when you started tracking it?
RH: Low to mid 160s.
AH: Was it difficult to increase your cadence?
RH: It just felt really weird. The first thing that my PT had me to do was run at 180 steps per minute. It totally changed the way I was running, but I didn't get a whole lot of pointers about how to make it feel more natural. But I did notice right away that with the shorter steps I could land a lot softer. And then, with time, the faster cadence started feeling more comfortable.
AH: Do you have any tips for anyone who is interested in increasing their cadence?
RH: Trying to do a little bit of running fast can help. For me, the hardest thing is having the proper cadence at a slow training pace. This helps to know what it feels like to get your feet under your hips. The other piece of advice I would give is to run triplets at 60 or some other form so that you’re not accenting the same foot all the time. When I first tried it at 180, I was still inadvertently favoring the bad foot.
AH: Have you noticed any other benefits from increasing your cadence besides your achilles?
RH: When I first started running, if I went too long running without lifting weights, I would feel pain in my knees, so I had to do some leg weights to counteract it. Now I find that I can run more without doing supplementary exercises without getting hurt.
AH: Thank you, Robert! Good luck with your continued training -- see at you at the Six Pack Series 5K in January!
Consider taking the 180 Challenge -- I would love to hear about your experience!