The key to light, easy running is rhythm, and that’s a secret that combat forces have known for thousands of years. Roman centurions used to cover 50 miles in a single night, running with one hand holding their weapons and the other on the shoulder of the soldier ahead of them. That kind of close-quarters striding demands a quick, left-right-left-right rhythm: you’d either kick the guy ahead of you or get kicked by the guy behind if you didn’t get your feet up fast. No way, in other words, could you land on your heel; you’d never have time to roll through to your forefoot for the next stride without getting a sandal up your butt.
So what was the long lost running rhythm of the ancient Romans? Most likely, the same one the U.S. military calls double-time running cadence: 180 strides per minute. Not coincidentally, that’s the same stride rate preferred by elite marathoners. Check out Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat duking it out at 10,000 meters, and Emil Zatopek fighting and lunging his way to the tape in 1952. Despite the differences in speeds, distances and generations, people who need their legs to be fast and resilient are also fans of a pop-pop-pop forefoot stride.