Do you run with a GPS watch? Do you track your workouts? How about a heart rate monitor? Cadence sensor? Fitbit?
While some runners write all this stuff off as meaningless gadgetry, smart runners know that collecting and analzing data can help improve performance.
You can’t analyze if you don’t collect
If you aren’t collecting data about your workouts, then you aren’t able to track your progress over time and you won’t be able to measure whether you are improving.
That’s not to suggest that every runner should rush out to get one of every sensor known to man. But at the very least, every runner should be doing some basic data capture and tracking.
That might be as simple as a pen, a paper runner’s log, and a watch. You can learn a lot about performance over time with the most basic of tools.
The pen and paper combined with a watch can be used to track date, distance, time and (with a bit of math) your pace. You can also note how you felt, the weather and anything else that’s worth capturing like what you ate prior to the run.
Going beyond basic metrics
I’ve been logging all my runs, including the distance and time plus some notes since I started running in 2008. That’s 966 runs, totalling 9,221 kilometres. Looking back at the data, I can see that I’m a faster runner now than I was in 2008. The notes with the runs and my race reports provide reminders of lessons learned and good runs.
Recently, I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in my running since I started collecting and paying attention to both cadence and heart rate data. Prior to that, I only looked at pace and distance when measuring performance over time.
Adding cadence tracking in the summer showed me that I run with a reasonable turnover, but that there was room for improvement. For the pen and paper trackers, cadence is another metric you can fairly easily measure without the need for an electronic gadget.
Grab the watch and count your steps over 20 seconds, then multiply by three. You can do this a few times throughout the run, but make sure you take into account the pace you were running at when you measured.
Adding a heart rate monitor showed me that I often ran too fast, especially on Sunday where a slower run that helped build endurance would have meant higher quality training. As with cadence, you can also measure your heart rate from time to time on the run without a fancy heart rate monitor.
To calculate your heart rate you’ll probably need to stop running for a minute or two. Find your pulse on your neck or wrist and count it for 20 seconds, then multiply by three to get a general sense of your effort when running.
It’s not super accurate since your heart rate will naturally slow fairly quickly as soon as you stop running, but it’s better than measuring effort solely by feel.
Log, learn and improve
Whether you opt for the sensors, gadgets and gizmos, or go old school with a watch and a notebook, it’s important to do more than just measure. Without some analysis, the data is just numbers in a book or on a screen.
Looking at the data over time lets you find trends that reveal where you’re doing well, where you have work to do, and best of all, where you’re improving.
When your only measure of improvement is your pace or race results, it’s really difficult to see incremental improvements in things like efficiency or endurance.
Bring able to quantify improvement (or lack of improvement) in areas other than pace or distance means that your training focus can be on something other than just speed. That, in turn, means that you won’t be heading out on every run trying to beat some previous personal best.
The net result? Higher quality training that will pay off on race day.