When it comes to your running, you want to make the right choice — every time. We all know hard work pays off, but smart work pays off more. Training should be designed intelligently to maximize fitness gains. This is where data plays a critical role.
But how do you know what data influences running performance the most? Not all measurements are effective. As American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” With numbers, you have to use a similar sentiment. Ignore the excess, and focus on the fundamentals — this will yield your greatest returns.
Let’s explore the different data points that contribute to making you fitter, faster and healthier:
Initially, you get better at running by covering more mileage (volume). You can accomplish that by gradually increasing the number of times you run and the distance covered per run week over week. Increasing your volume by 10% per week is conservative, but a rule of thumb worth following.
After you have reached sustainable daily and weekly training volumes, you can significantly improve your fitness by running faster more often. You can do this by upping the average speed of your daily runs (measured in minutes per mile) and/or adding workouts with intervals of faster and slower running once or twice a week. One simple way to increase your pace is by running two minutes at half marathon goal pace followed by one minute of jogging. Start with three reps total for your first session, then increase as you feel comfortable.
Finally, when you’re comfortable with your mileage and pace, you can then start to tinker with your cadence. Improving your cadence will make you a more efficient runner, allowing you to run farther and faster while expending less effort.
Heart rate is measured in beats per minute. Many factors influence your heart rate, including training loads, sleep and nutrition. The fitter you become, the lower your resting heart rate — and the harder you can push yourself in training. However, as you age, your maximum rate decreases. This can make it tougher to push yourself as hard at age 50 versus 25.
Sleep significantly influences our response to training. Recent research clearly shows a positive relationship between consistent, copious sleep habits and increased recovery and readiness. Ideally, you want to get 8–10 hours of sleep daily. Anything less and you are compromising the impact of your training efforts.
As I remind my athletes: The training you do is only as potent as the nourishment you provide your body. Higher-quality nutrition equals higher impact from training efforts. Common missteps for athletes are not eating enough or eating too many calories.
Knowing which data is worth tracking influences your intensity of effort and baseline health. Employing the highest quality tools keeps you honest and accountable. Your body will thank you, your fitness will improve and your performance will soar!