Whether you’re new to running, have been running for years or are a world-class racer, knowing what running metrics to pay attention to can be daunting. As technology improves, it gets even more complicated, since data that once was only available in a lab setting is now at our fingertips. This deluge of data can make selecting the numbers that really matter for your goals tricky — it’s easy to get so data-crazed that you’re collecting dozens of different metrics, but then not actually using that information. Thankfully, there are exercise scientists and running coaches like Under Armour’s Jeff Knight to help make the whole ‘data collection’ concept a little easier.
KNOW WHY YOU’RE MEASURING
It’s great to collect data, but what you’re collecting should fit your goals. If you’re looking for weight loss, for example, calorie counting and macronutrient measuring, in addition to mileage or time running, might be more important than something more run-specific like your cadence. But if you’re hoping for a 5K PR this summer, your pace per mile is much more important and things like cadence are good to know in order to optimize your performance.
A lot of new runners get distracted by data at first, says Knight. The idea that everything needs to be recorded (or it didn’t happen) can be daunting. So start low-key with something simple, like pace per mile or even just total number of miles run.
“Distance, frequency and pace are the backbones of training,” says Knight. “To get better, you have to increase distance or frequency, and pace will also change as you do more of those.” You don’t need a fancy watch or device for this, especially when you’re just getting started — your phone can act as a GPS and diary by using an app like MapMyRun to keep a record of every workout.
FOCUS ON TRENDS
“You’re looking for your pace to slowly trickle lower and lower,” says Knight. From day to day, it won’t look very different, but if you look at week after week, you should see more progress. (You can see this in MapMyRun on the Clipboard on your homescreen!) It can feel frustrating if you only focus on day-to-day improvements, since running prowess doesn’t develop overnight. But that’s why regular data collection is so important: If you’re collecting info from each run, every day, you’ll quickly start seeing how your fitness is trending.
GO OFF THE GRID
While phones and gizmos are great, it’s just as important to enjoy the run, without the need to watch the clock. Knight is thrilled about the UA Hovr shoes because they allow data-loving runners to leave phones at home and go off the grid for their runs while still collecting data. If you don’t have a pair, at least try running occasionally with your phone or running watch tucked away.
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SMALL TWEAKS CAN YIELD BIG RESULTS
The Hovr’s ability to record stride length is a great tool for tweaking your training — stride length is more intuitive for runners, Knight says, and it’s easier for recreational runners to change stride length to an optimal distance (going shorter or longer in your steps) versus trying to coordinate a better cadence, which often ends up leading to a choppy, awkward running technique.
While running form is highly individual, the Hovr helps promote the most efficient stride length for you as an individual, and it can make your run surprisingly faster with minimal effort. Beginner runners, Knight says, tend to have a low cadence that isn’t as efficient, and the Hovr shoes can help push you toward a better stride for your running style.
DON’T COUNT EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME
It’s easy to get data-obsessed, admits Knight. It’s great to check in every so often — maybe a few days every month — to make sure you’re on track. Don’t force it. The occasional check-in is enough to keep most runners honest.
DON’T ADD WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
If you don’t really care about how fast you’re going, don’t stress yourself out by looking at pace, says Knight. He sees recreational runners constantly getting bogged down and obsessive about data that just doesn’t matter for what they’re trying to accomplish. If you have a full-time gig and a lot of family obligations, focus on getting out and running when you can and don’t stress about the numbers if they’re just making you feel nervous or behind in your training.