Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Calling All Runners: Try Out A Song!

Songs for Running is the new Lady Southpaw 6 song E.P. I put it together with the tempo and attitude of an ideal running experience. Using computer beats, guitars, my vocals and various other instruments each song plays a different role for various stages of a run. Some are more meditative to get you through the long haul while others motivate for a burst of speed. All are written with a consistent beat to keep you going. It is my intention to keep writing because you can't train for a marathon on only 6 songs. Help me make sure I'm on the right track so the songs will get runners on their feet.

I will give you a song for no charge if you take it for a run and let me know how it goes. Once the songs go live on iTunes they will be the usual .99 each.

You can get an idea of my sound by listening to older songs I have already posted (see my website or the in the left column.) Right now the only way to get one of the Songs for Running is to write to ladysouthpawmusic@gmail.com. Please include a brief note about what kind of music you usually listen to while running and your average steps per minute if you know it to help me choose the song for you.

If this takes off you can brag that you were there giving your input at the beginning ;)

Follow me on twitter:


Become a fan on Facebook


Monday, April 27, 2009

Stride Right: How Cadence Affects Running Performance

Recently I was at Jack Rabbit Sports in Brooklyn buying new running shoes. They analyze your running gait by using a treadmill and video equipment. I was told that I was bouncing too much. All the movement up and down was taking away from my forward momentum, slowing me down and also forcing more impact on my joints upon landing. The Jack Rabbit staffer recommended I read ChiRunning to help me adjust my form.

I went to work breaking down my running form and trying to figure out how to be more efficient. I bought Danny Dreyer's ChiRunning as well as other books on running technique. One key problem I found was that my stride was too long for the speed and the distances I was running. This was not as huge of an issue when I was running 2 to 3 miles on the treadmill but when I started training for a marathon and running for 10 miles or more I could feel my ITB (or iliotibial band) tighten with some accompanying knee pain. Icing and stretching helped but I wanted to reduce as much of the impact as possible in the first place.

According to Danny:

One of the most common and significant problems I see in runners is too long a stride length when running slowly. This is very inefficient and exhausting to the body. If your cadence is slower than 85 strides per minute, your feet stay in contact with the ground longer, which means that your legs are supporting your body weight for a longer period of time. Conversely, if your stride is over 85 strides per minute, you'll spend significantly less time on your feet, saving valuable energy. (ChiRunning, p81)

Dreyer recommends a cadence of between 85 and 90 strides per minute. That means if you are counting how many times you step with your left foot for one minute of running it should be 85-90 times. For both feet that would be a cadence of 170 to 180 steps per minute. The more I researched the more this magic number kept appearing. Up until this point I always thought the faster you ran the more steps you would take per minute. It turns out this is incorrect, it is actually the length of your stride that changes while the number of steps remains relatively consistent.

Exercise physiologist Jack Daniels, Ph.D., described by Runner's World as the "World's Best Running Coach" is known for his comprehensive research in sport performance and coaching of elite runners.

He writes in Daniel's Running Formula:

One of the first things I teach new runners is some basics about running cadence, or stride rate. Almost all elite distance runners (both men and women) tend to stride at about the same rate: 180 or more steps per minute. This means that they're taking 90 or more steps with each foot per minute, a rate that doesn't vary much even when they're not running fast. The main change that occurs as runners go faster is in stride length; the faster they go, the longer the stride rate becomes, with little change in rate of leg turnover. ... I try to save runners a lot of grief by encouraging them to convert to a stride rate associated with less landing shock and more efficient use of energy. ... We often talk about getting into a good running rhythm, and the one you want to get into involves 180 steps or more steps per minute. (p93-4)

There are a number of things I try to be conscious of while running to reduce my bounce: core strength, flexibility, alignment, arm swing etc. However, increasing my cadence and shortening my stride was the easiest fix that made the most difference right away.

So, how do you know if you are training at the correct cadence? Danny Dreyer encourages taking a metronome on runs. As a former young music student this sends me into memories of painful piano lessons and makes me want to tear my hair out. You may be guessing where I am going with this by now. My newfound knowledge and experience led me to choose a specific tempo for the new music. The beats per minute (b.p.m.) in music is what people tend to sync their steps per minute to if they are running to the rhythm of a song. Initially I had planned to write at different tempos and let people choose songs that matched their unique cadences or the speed they wanted to go. I was amazed to discover that I could run at the same cadence whether I was going fast or slow. Music became a useful tool to remaining consistent over an extended period of time.

The problem with most popular music in terms of running is that it is not written at an ideal tempo. It usually clocks in between 110 and 140 b.p.m. Of course there are exceptions which is why it is possible to find songs that work. The other problem with making a running playlist is that chances are the songs are all at different tempos. This again leads to problems of consistency and may inhibit your training.

Music can be very useful in training specifically in the case of developing a consistent stride rate when it is set to the correct tempo. I can hear voices of running coaches in my head arguing with the idea of running to music so I will again emphasize: it is important to be able to run without music so that you are prepared for race conditions and can listen in the moment to your body and what is going on around you. However, if you have multiple training runs per week there is no harm in having a couple of them to focus on rhythm and letting music add some extra vibrance.

In Songs for Running (the title of my new 6 song E.P.) I wrote the first 3 songs with the same beats and structure but at increasing tempos of 160, 170 and 180 b.p.m. to help people get used to the cadence if they are not already. After that all songs are written at the 180 b.p.m. gold standard.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Feel the Flow

Have you ever had a moment when music just clicked? You are out with friends at a club or maybe alone in your bedroom and dancing to a great song when everything comes together and suddenly you own the beat. The song consumes you so that you can hit it just right with a thrash of your arm and a swing of your hips.

Or maybe dance is not your thing, maybe you felt it as an athlete. At a pivotal point a team mate passes you the ball and your focus sharpens with pinpoint precision. You weave through your opponents and target that sweet spot the goalie can't reach. There is nothing like the euphoria of the perfect goal right?

These scenarios can be explained by a theory in psychology called flow. Athletes refer to it as being in the zone. The term flow was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state of optimal experience and creativity. It is a state that can be cultivated routinely to create contentment in life. The game winning goal is a rare experience but it is possible to find pieces of this feeling in activities that are accessible everyday. Essentially, you are engaged in something that is challenging enough that your skills are balanced and you are neither overwhelmed nor bored. Then time seems to melt away, you feel empowered and work becomes pleasure. Click here for a video of Csikszentmihalyi explaining flow with a post from the people at Lateral Action that breaks it down.

This is a feeling I have been chasing since the first time I was ever in a play. It was Shakespeare's The Tempest.

The drama teacher at my school generously cast some of us younger kids to come out in the beginning and be the tempest. On opening night I experienced something that was bigger than me. I was the storm! I owned every step of the choreography and it was as if the music was coming out of me. My mother said she could see how much I was enjoying it and knew I had been bitten by the theatre bug.

I have gone through many phases looking for that click and hoping to find it in something I would not have to give up at the end of a play production or soccer season. Since college, there are two main avenues that I go down if I want to drown out the stresses of being an adult and making ends meet in the city. I pick up my guitar and sing or I go to the gym. It was relatively recently that I discovered how compatible those two things could be.

I used to hate running with headphones because I would get tangled in the wires or deciding on what to listen to seemed like too much of a hassle. Also, I liked to have the opportunity to focus on my body and listen to my steps to make sure they were not too loud. For that reason I still think it is important to run without the extra devices particularly in a race situation. However, running with the right music is a revelation.

Running to music combines the inner aesthetic of dance with the outer technique of an athlete. You do not have to be coordinated or graceful to feel what a dancer feels, there are only two steps you need to know left and right, that is it. Then on the running side you are building endurance and consistent turnover in your stride. If your mind is inspired it will translate to your body. The right music is good at any level of training whether to maintain energy over a long distance or for a quick burst speed.

"The right music" on the other hand is tough to find. You make playlists of songs that seem like they would be good for running and of those one or two might synch perfectly to your running stride. Most pop and rock is written to a tempo that is not quite right for running. Hip hop and rap are often closer, but not every time. For this reason many coaches will discourage running to music, particularly if you are inclined to letting the beat affect your stride.

That is why as a musician I have made it my personal challenge to write music with the idea of an optimal running experience in mind. I have spent the last year or two intently listening and running to songs to see what works best. I have written 6 new songs (so far) that I will be releasing over the coming weeks. I have also been researching running approaches and the surprising power of music on the brain. In upcoming posts I will share some of my findings.

In this blog:

- Announcements for each of my new songs

- Announcements of upcoming Lady Southpaw performances

- Reasons for running with music

- Resources I have found helpful for running

- Interesting research about the flow/zone, music and the brain, and the mind-body connection

Stay tuned!