Coming Back and Running Cadence (also, a trick to staying sane on the treadmill)

I’m slowly growing my mileage and slowly growing my hair out. Which would you like to hear about?

Running? Ok fine. Operation awkward pixie grow-out will have to wait for a rainy day.

photo 3 (1)a

ironic bandana and heavily-filtered on purpose

It’s been five weeks since my visit to Dr AJ and my diagnosis with high hamstring tendinosis, which in laymen’s terms is: chronic pain in the butt crease caused by effed up tendons that connect the hamstring to the hip bone. A little more eloquently explained by a smart doctor runner from the “for running clarity” article AJ sent me:

The hamstring is made up of 3 muscles which all attach to your ischial tuberosity – the bone in your bottom. The hamstring tendon is vulnerable to compression against the ischial tuberosity when the hip is flexed and also has to deal with high loads during running. This combination of compressive and tensile load can make it vulnerable to developing tendinopathy. So, baring this in mind, what 3 activities are likely to cause high load on the tendon; Running uphill, running carrying a heavy load and doing prolonged speed work.

source, Running-Physio

post-script self memo: hurry up and get the eff back to healthy so everyone can stop reading “high hamstring tendinosis” every time they come here and want to take you out back and saw your stupid leg off to put you (and them) out of your laymen misery.

So somewhere back in like, August I did something like that. And kept running through it like a moron because it never felt like a “big enough deal” to really address it. I’m lucky it didn’t turn into a more serious issue, but if I wanted to finally straighten out those tendons and get back to running pain-free I had to do a few things:

  • Treatment. ART and deep-tissue massage recommended to break up all the junk build up, but for a girl on a budget I was assured extensive foam rolling (this plus lateral side-to-side rolling) and softball-sitting would suffice.
  • PT exercises to strengthen and prevent re-injury. I keep saying I’m going to do a post on these, and I probablymaybesomeday will. Hips, glutes, obliques primarily.
  • Run. Smartly.

The last part was going to be the tricky one. I mean, I’m sure you’ve dealt with some degree of injury at some point, and that “I’d kill a stranger’s baby just for a few good miles” urge to run when we shouldn’t is a real bitch to fight. And then on top of that, getting brainwashed by endorphins and “woopsies ran twice as far/twice as fast as I should have” is a greedy threat every time you do make it into your sneakers. Knowing how far to push, and having the clarity and discipline to rein it in when needed, is probably the toughest of all.

My guidelines for comeback are simple on paper, but knowing the evil runner brain hiding ready to sabotage them, I approached them with overt caution and a side of “quit being a baby, seriously?” Scaredy cat, safety first when there’s nothing to rush back for. The guidelines were as follows:

Run one mile. If no residual pain or stiffness the next day, run a little further. Then a little further.

Never let the 10-point pain scale tip past a 2-3. Step back when needed. Repeat.

No hills, sprints, or friends until 100% pain and niggle-free.

I’ve slowly built my way up over the last month+, and last night I ran 5 whole miles. It felt like my early runner days, bragging to my college roommates about running two miles “straight! no stopping!” when I came in the door and beamed at Bri, still sweating, earbuds still blaring. Sure have missed those little victories.

strava 5m

are you on Strava? I’m still deciding whether it’s worth the homescreen space on my phone or not.

Something I’ve been focusing on which has helped make the short barely-worth-it runs seem more worthwhile is cadence. I’ve mentioned it on a twitter a few times which piqued a few interests, but I avoided elaborating because it seems so silly and dumb spelled out. Like, sorry if I let you think I had a brilliant miracle training secret or something – you’re going to be pretty let down.

Once upon a time, somebody decided 180 strides per minute was the “ideal” cadence for runners. Like everything else on the planet, there are dozens of variables that could sway that high or low for personalization, but in general, let’s go with it.

I hopped on the treadmill for one of my short (<2 miles) runs, and once I was warmed up counted out steps for 10 seconds. I got 26, or 156/min, at my usual lollygag pace. Not awful, but pretty lopey and la-dee-da. Curiosity (and the challenge, let’s be honest) got the best of me and I spent the rest of the run randomly counting out steps to see how closer I could get to 30 (=180) without employing some ridiculous looking stride. Those horrifying mirrored walls apparently have a use, after all.


useful for more than just gym selfies!

Picking up my knees, kicking my heels a little higher, and really focusing on midfoot strike has gotten me up to 168/min comfortably, and I’m hoping once my overall speed quickens it’ll be even easier to sneak up to that goal of 180. While that number is pretty arbitrary, reaching for it has gotten me to focus on my form and running more like an athlete, which I can’t deny is something my marathon shuffle desperately needed. Not only is a shorter, quicker stride more efficient, but it leaves less room for error while feet and legs are airborne. A whole lot of goofy crap can happen between toe-off and foot-strike, and getting from here to there the quickest and shortest way possible just seems like common sense.

I’m a fan of common sense. I wish there was more of it in the world.

Sarah OUaL

More info on cadence from people smarter than me:


16 thoughts on “Coming Back and Running Cadence (also, a trick to staying sane on the treadmill)

  1. These are great tips! Ill still be waiting with baited breath for the post about pixie grow out, because after whacking my long hair off into a pixie myself, I can’t figure out how to run with a headband or a beanie without looking like a total tool!


  2. I like reading your build up success – I started from 1 mile this week (although PT says run/walk, boo) and I’m building slowly about 0.5 at a time. 2 miles today! Woo! I’m not pain free but I was also told the 2-3 pain range is ok. It’s nice to see what I’m hearing repeated to put a little extra common sense in me. Glad to hear you are improving and adding on!


  3. OMG, I have the same hamstring thing. Mine isn’t horrible, so I’m still running, but I’ve been getting ART on it too. I don’t know about yours, but my chiropractor is kind of cute, so I can’t even look him in the eye, while getting ART in THAT area. Hee hee.


  4. Loved your post. I have occasional hip flexor pain and definitely know the, “Oops, went too far” and endorphin withdrawal like “I’ve get you of the house” feelings.


  5. Somewhere out there on the internet is a mp3 file of a 180 beats per minute metronome that lasts about two minutes. Google it, or check itunes. I think I found it on some running website. I have it on my running playlist and it is really handy. I did a running form clinic a while ago and the cadence thing was a big part of what they talked about. I have a naturally faster stride anyway so I was already pretty close to 180 bpm, but when that track comes on during my run it’s kind of a reminder to check my form and increase my turnover efficiently.

    I don’t have hamstring issues but I have been dealing with tibial tendinitis (which I think has progressed to “tibial tendinosis” or “tibial tendon dysfunction”, I’ve had it for so long). I’ve done the ART and Graston thing and I need to go back for another dose of both, but my sports doc told me if I ever wanted to run pain free again I HAD to do the exercises he prescribed – a whole bunch of clamshells, resistance band exercises, and planks. I am bound and determined to be stronger when I see him next, so I’ve been doing them religiously. Bonus: I will never have six pack abs (not after two kids) but I can see my obliques now, and slowly but surely each run is more comfortable!!


  6. I’m like a month late on this comment, so excuse me. Did your doc recommend treatment from a chiropractor or just a regular physical therapist? I have some similar issues going on (although I haven’t been given a complete diagnosis yet, tendinosis is one of them). Glad to hear that your recovery has been going well :)



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