I often wonder how many runners pay attention to the rate at which they turnover when running. In about 20 years of teaching (non-runner) college students about running, I never had a beginner who took as many as 180 steps per minute. When my wife and I counted stride rates among male and female distance runners at the Olympics one year, only one of the 46 we studied took fewer than 180 steps per minute (176). It seems that runners learn to turnover a little faster as they spend time running.
Interestingly, of those we studied at the Olympics, the 800 and 1500 runners definitely used a faster leg turnover than did those in the races from 5k to the marathon. In fact, the 800 runners may not be using the most economical rate, but they are more interested in getting from point A to point B as fast as possible rather than using the most economical stride rate, and if they were to slow down to 180 they may not get there fast enough.
On the other hand, a longer-distance runner I tested during 5k, 10k and marathon-paced runs used stride rates of 186, 186 and 184 for those 3 different race speeds. This resulted in a 10% difference in speed of running and only a 1% change in stride rate. Seems a particular rate is most comfortable to good runners and they stick with that rate even when changing the speed at which they are running (with a more powerful and longer stride length as they race at shorter distances).
A few studies we did in the lab indicated that the aerobic demand of running tends to be a little less when using a stride rate of 90 per minute with each foot, than when using a slower rate, like 85 or so, or when using a much faster rate. I should point out that if timing your own stride rate, no need to count every step; rather just count right-foot falls and assume you take as many steps with the left as you do with the right.
Something to consider is that the slower the stride rate, the more time you are spending in the air, and the longer in the air usually means elevating the body a little higher, which means coming down harder with each landing. No doubt landing impact is responsible for some injuries, so I try to tell my runners to roll over the ground, not bound over the ground. Imagine you are running over a field of raw eggs and you don’t want to break any of them; be light and quick with your leg turnover.
A great place to practice different stride rates is on a treadmill because you can try different rates without changing the speed of running, and it is often the case that when I ask a runner to try a faster turnover, they run faster rather than just keeping the same speed and a quicker turnover. Try checking your stride rate during some different runs and see how changing rate (faster or slower) feels. Hopefully you will find what works best for you.