By Harry Andrew
We are living in a world of unlimited information and nowhere is this more true than in the sports world. We’re inundated almost daily with new wearable devices with advanced metrics that provide athletes, coaches and trainers real-time performance data. Whether you’re running, throwing a football, shooting a basket, swinging a golf club or any other sport, you only have to have a pulse for one of them to provide measurable data.
So what do you do with all this new data? Information is only worthwhile if you know how to interpret it. Since many of the more affordable devices on the market today are for runners, Live Science writer Elizabeth Palermo recently spoke with two expert running coaches who offered five tips to make sense of your running data.
1. Pay attention to your total time and distance
According to John Honerkamp, running coach and senior manager of runner products and services at New York Road Runner, the most basic data from any GPS running watch – your total time spent running and the total distance you covered – are the most important metrics you should be tracking. Calling basic GPS information the key, he says that any information beyond that, like cadence and heart rate, can be helpful but it’s not necessary.
Honerkamp recommends that runners always follow the “coaching standard,” that of gradually building your endurance by increasing the number of miles you finish on your longest run every week. But he also cautions not to exceed more than 10 percent per week.
2. Check your pace (but not too often)
Measured in minutes per mile, your pace is another helpful piece of information because it enables you to estimate your effort over the course of a run. “You don’t need to look at your pace every five seconds,” said Honerkamp, “since things like going up a hill will change your pace, and you don’t want to change your pace all the time just because of your watch.” He recommends checking your pace every mile or so just to ensure you’re on the right track.
3. Don’t ignore elevation gain
Jack Daniels, the two-time Olympic medalist and running coach with the Run SMART Project, says that this information can be handy in certain situations, like determining whether you’re running uphill or downhill in relatively flat areas where it can be hard to tell. Since you’re likely to run at a slower pace as the elevation increases, he says that if you’re training for a race like the Boston Marathon that has a hilly course, you’d be smart to train your body in advance for those elevation changes.
4. Cadence (sometimes) counts
Your steps-per-minute or your cadence, says Honerkamp, isn’t a metric most runners need to analyze after every workout. But like elevation gain, there are certain situations where that information is helpful. For example, if a runner is working with a podiatrist or doctor but is still getting injured constantly, then pace is something to look at because it’s directly related to running economy or running efficiency – the amount of work you need to do to maintain a certain speed.
The most efficient cadence, according to Daniels, is about 180 steps-per-minute. This is based on his testing runners at a variety of stride rates and always finding that this rate uses the least amount of energy. If you’re working on improving your running form then check your cadence every few weeks to determine if your efficiency has improved.
5. Efficiency is great, but don’t get hung up on it
Cadence is just one measure of running efficiency. Some of the most advanced running watches also track vertical oscillation (your up/down movement or “bounce”) and ground contact time (the amount of time your foot stays on the ground with every step). But Honerkamp doesn’t believe these metrics are something the average runner needs to worry about.
Daniels agrees with Honerkamp, saying that “a runner who tends to bounce up and down a lot will certainly be less efficient than a runner who focuses on moving horizontally instead of vertically.” Instead, he tells his runners to “Try to imagine you are running over a field of raw eggs and you don’t want to break any of them.”
To see Live Science’s list of best GPS watches of 2015 go to: www.livescience.com/45043-best-gps-running-watches.html. And to see their list of best fitness tracker bands go to: www.livescience.com/41556-best-fitness-trackers.html.