When I was* a runner I used from time to time to run over in my mind some lines of verse: the thump, thump of one’s footfall lends itself to the “Into the valley of death” sort of thing. My problem was not being very good at memorization, so I’d quickly run out of material. This Literary Hub piece, Counting feet: On running and poetic meter, is written more from the point of view of the running poet. If I’d been making up my own stuff as we bumped along, maybe I’d have been a more successful runner/reciter.

You can imagine getting along pretty well with W. B. Yeats’ words ringing in your ears:

As I came over Windy Gap
They threw a halfpenny into my cap.
For I am running to paradise. . .

This is one of fifty poems for running provided by PoemHunter. An audio version might be the ideal accompaniment for the runner. The audio which accompanies the poems is a bit too mechanical though.

Rhythm counts in both activities. Apparently marathon champions will dot along at something like 180 to 200 steps a minute. I flake out at 100, and doubtless would be happy to be managing 20 after 20 miles. I insist that I did always keep moving though. It’s desirable to maintain the same cadence so that you get into the habit. Bikers go on about cadence a lot too. It’s probably more straightforward for them: they can switch down a gear when they start going uphill. I suppose the spondee might be the target for most runners, but a constant diet of DUM-DUM will probably drive you mad. “We all know the sound of the iamb (dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM); its opposite, the trochee (DUM-dah) comes from the Greek trokhaios pous, or ‘running foot’. Trochees, known as ‘falling feet’, can move forwards with an urgent pace (‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright / In the forests of the night’).” My falling feet would rapidly lead to a state of falling runner, I fear.

For reciter-runners here’s advice from Matt Seidel at The Millions. The meter is obviously important. The writer comments “Reciting the metaphysical poets costs me about a minute per mile, not to mention attracting some strange looks from passersby” so he’s obviously got the puff to be reciting in quite a loud voice. He finds Burns and Blake get him going faster, but keeps Keats for long runs when he can take his “time with the great odes”. This guy obviously has a lot of poetry by heart, though he does confess to forgetting more and more as he progresses through middle age. I do like his thought that reciting the same poem again and again while running brings a fresh appreciation of its overall shape and rhythm.

The word cadence comes from the Latin. The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its etymology “< French cadence, < Italian cadenza ‘falling, cadence in music’, on Latin type cadentia , noun, < cadent- present participle of cadĕre to fall. The literal sense is ‘action or mode of falling, fall’, and in this sense it was used by 17th cent. writers; but at an early period the word was in Italian appropriated to the musical or rhythmical fall of the voice, and in this sense occurs as early as Chaucer.” This “action or mode of falling” can obviously be used of footfall as the feet hit the ground. Whatever the benefits of cadence when running, falling down is never a good idea.


* I am working towards a return after a partial knee replacement. Lots of bending and stretching going on. Cadence is out the window for now I fear, unless an irregular cadence can count.