Today I want to talk a little bit about the numbers and data that we pay attention to as runners. I’ve said before that I love my Garmin and upload my data to a number of sites. Most sites have a lot of the same base data and then some specific charts and graphs. Your best strategy is to look at the data after your run, not during. Today let’s spend some time talking about what specifically we should be looking at, what it means, and what we should do about it.
Let’s start with the heat map. This is popular on Nike plus and some other sites. It shows your run on a map and your route is color coded based on the speed of your run. Red is for when you were running the slowest and green for the fastest. An issue that I have with this is that fast is not always good (green) and slow is not always bad (red). Sometimes the purpose of the run is best served by going slow. Another issue I have with this is that you don’t want or need to be running fast all the time. A lot of training in the aerobic zone will be very easy and also very slow. What this does for you is next to nothing. This information tends to make you want to either run steady all the time or make every run into a progression run, increasing the speed as you go along. Doing the same run every day is not a recipe for success. Do yourself a favor and simply ignore the heat map.
Another metric that we see all the time is average speed or average pace. This is great for when you’re going on a steady distance run, but if you are doing any kind of fartlek, interval, or progression run it’s useless. What it promotes is this desire to go faster than last time based on your average speed. There is no viable training strategy that says,”always run faster today than you did last time.” In fact this is a good way to get injured and/or not improve. Each and every run should have a specific purpose behind it and that purpose will vary depending on the training phase you are in. The specifics of that workout (paces, distances, recovery, etc.) should be tailored to you and your fitness level. If you have your purpose clearly identified (i.e. 8 miles easy for building an aerobic base) you need to evaluate your run against the goal for that run. This is based more by how you felt during the run rather than average pace. If a run felt hard even though your pace was “easy” you may be dealing with an injury or some other stress in your life. Your best bet is to ignore the average pace and instead evaluate your run based on the purpose and how well you felt.
Let me say a few words about cadence. My watch records it and it gets uploaded with the rest of my data but I rarely pay attention to it. Contrary to what you may have read, there is no ideal cadence for all people on all runs. There are just too many factors that are unique to each individual for there to be one cadence that is optimal for every person on every run. I view cadence as an outcome of other things happening rather than something I explicitly try to increase or control. If I’ve got good hip extension, I’m landing under or close to under my center of gravity, and I’m going hard, my cadence will be high. Maximizing cadence in isolation is a waste of time. Focus on engaging your hips and running tall; let the cadence take care of itself.
An item that you may be neglecting but is vital is the comments or notes you add to the run. Here you can add any information about how hard or easy it felt, the specific purpose of the workout, and if you think you actually accomplished that. Make sure that you at least put down a perceived effort level and the purpose of the workout or run. When you do a weekly or monthly review with your coach, this information will be what he or she keys on to best adjust your training. Even though you won’t be able to graph it and see the information over time at a glance, this is the most important item in your training log.
Hope this was helpful.