Gait Keeper


If you have a second-hand timer, do this: Count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand...and so on, keeping pace with the seconds. That's the minimum turnover--180 beats per minute--you want for trailrunning and for distance running in general.

"Turnover" means the beat you keep with your feet. When you're going up a steep hill, your turnover should be as fast as 220 beats per minute. It's like shifting into first gear. 

Term check: Turnover is your rhythm--how fast your feet hit the ground. Stride is the distance you go from one foot to another. Pace is the distance you cover in minutes per mile. Gait is the whole package: turnover plus stride plus, some say, style.

If I had a style, it would be "Shetland." Short strides, not very fast. I've gone running several times with the legendary Amby Burfoot, who won the Boston Marathon in 1968 (and had almost finished this year before the bombs went off). I literally can't move my feet as fast as Amby did. But these days I'm learning a new trick: my turnover is getting faster.

Years ago I would do lunch hour runs with Lee, a colleague at Dartmouth, and we'd often get into such deep conversations that one of us would suddenly notice that we weren't running at all. Sometimes we found ourselves at a dead stop. This is as slow a turnover as you can get. (Afterwards we'd go to Lou's Diner for an ice cream soda with Half-n-Half poured into it. It's the only time a running regime made me gain weight.)

Anyway, this morning--a beautiful moonlit Sunday--I got up at 4, did 40 minutes of Insanity (Core & Balance), ran up the meadow for another warm-up, then hit the road. I made it all the way to the Cardigan Mountain Trailhead without walking, for the first time in years. Took me 25 minutes. The shorter stride saved my hips, the faster turnover maintained my speed, and my gait became that of a very fit 57-year-old Shetland pony.

I have this theory. Geezers who learn new tricks--new skills, new thoughts, new ways of getting in trouble--tend to see the world with greater liberality than those who stick to the same old same old. 

By "liberality" I don't mean left-wing politics. I mean being free--of confining thoughts, of received wisdom, of fear. We live in a very illiberal time, I think.

Ultimately, liberality is what breaking the Time Barrier is all about. I'm not just doing math here, not just running the numbers--of beats per second or minutes up a mountain. I'm looking to break something much more brittle and meaningful. So far the effort has been half painful, half wonderful.

In other words, something's already breaking. And so far (knock on hip), it's not me.