Music as an aid to running

Tony Benson: Music as an aid to running

‘National Track & Field Consultant , Australia Level 5 T&F Coach/Level 3 Triathlon Coach’

Way back during my running career in the 1960’s and 1970’s I realised that if I was sore or tired I should simply jog very, very slowly. This translated in a term called “VegieJogging” once I began to coach seriously from 1975 onwards because it allowed me to gradually increase the volume of running for beginners (and others who may have had injuries) safely.

Over time I also began to realise that runners did not achieve their true potential, no matter how fast they actually ran in competition, until they had mastered correct technique and had accumulated a total volume of kilometres/miles specific to their event. For example the accumulated volume required to run a world class 10,000m was greater than for an 800m.

As my coaching diversified from coaching mostly elite athletes, or athletes whose major focus was to be elite, to including triathletes and ‘fun runners’ I realised accumulated volume as measured by kilometres or miles was not the ideal way to do things, because, while one runner could cover 160k/100 mile per week in 10 hours, an equally strong but much slower person could take up to 16 hours to do the same distance at the same intensity. So I moved to time. If 160k was the required goal and it was 10 hours of running for an elite athlete then 10 hours, not 160k/100 mile, was ideal for that type of person.

By now you’ll be wondering where this is leading. Here it is. I read a Weight Watcher’s book and it was talking about steps. This got me thinking. Leaving eating aside, if say 8,000 steps per day was ideal to maintain weight and ~10,000 steps was ideal to lose weight how long would it take to cover that 8,000 or 10,000 steps.

To find out I went out and walked and ran counting steps per minute. I soon realised that if I walked at 120 steps per minute I would need to exercise for about 67 minutes to cover 8000 steps but if I ran slowly at 6 minutes per kilometre/10 minute mile I travelled at about 163 steps per minute - which meant it would take me about 49 minutes to cover 8000 steps.

Suddenly here was the concept I had been seeking. It was not distance covered or the time of the exercise that was important but the number of ground contacts. This is what strengthens the muscular/skeletal system to withstand injury. Once the body would withstand injury then higher intensity training could be introduced to improve the cardiovascular system and technical drills could be introduced to improve the neuro-muscular system.

But wait! Technique has not been mentioned I hear you saying. You are correct. Moving in a technically correct manner, especially at higher speeds and over greater distances, is also critical to avoiding injury. Thus was borne the associated concept of the TECHNIJOG or TechniJogging.

All the components were now easily identifiable. First teach the person to move correctly. Then spend considerable time practising correct technique at walking pace, ie, between 10 minutes and 8 minutes per kilometre, before moving on to running at 7, 6 or 5 minute/km pace.

The next question was how many steps per week should the person aim to achieve? Well a quick calculation based on my own (former) capabilities showed I ran with an average stride length of about 1.6m so 160 km per week required about 100,000 steps or about 14,500 steps per day.

Knowing this meant I could start by setting the person a goal being say 5000 to 10,000 steps per day of (Techni) jogging or alternating walking with jogging. From here we could move onto setting a program.

So what about the music I hear you asking. Well that came as a result of the link between the steps per minute and the beats per minute. To this point I was not a fan of listening to music while running because it distracted the runner from focussing on technique and also because I had not found any music that enhanced technique so when Gary (Blake) raised the idea of running to music I did not want any part of it.

However Gary had had a good experience with one piece of music, he has a strong musical background. And he persisted! We ran at various paces refining steps per minute in relation to minutes per kilometre and reached the point where Gary became convinced that he could create his own music, set at different cadences to match the various running paces, which would allow a runner to control their pace by running to rhythm.

So we began testing the idea on other athletes and I even tested it against the Kenyan runners training with me prior to the 2006 World Cross Country Championships. Everything we did pointed to the same thing. Regardless of their physical characteristics people running technically correct ran at very similar cadences when running at similar paces and when the pace and cadence did not match it was almost always because they were over-striding, landing on their heels behind their centre of mass and generally exhibiting many characteristics of poor technique.

Run2Rhythm advanced to the conceptual stage. From here on in I have watched as Gary turned his dream into the reality you and others can access today at www.run2r.com

© 2006 This paper is written for the exclusive use of Tony Benson (Run with The Best) and Run 2 Rhythm Pty Ltd.
National Track & Field Consultant, Australia
Level 5 T&F Coach/Level 3 Triathlon Coach