If a runner from 20 years ago was to look at what almost every single one of us has on our wrists and could comprehend all of the data these magnificent watches record, they would be floored.
The irony of this is that many coaches, myself included, are now worried that many runners are too fixated on that data and have forgotten how to listen to their bodies.
So how do you use all of that data that you have readily available in a productive way?
There are two things to consider when answering that question. First, how do you use that data in real time, while running or living your life? Second, how do you look at that data and use it after the fact?
How do you use the data in real time?
When running, how much time do you spend checking your watch to see that you’re hitting the “right” pace, heart rate, cadence or whatever else?
I would like to propose that you don’t. For the runners I coach and Club HillRunner.com members, I give at least one reminder every winter to encourage runners to use their long sleeve shirts and jackets to cover their watches in order to break the habit of always checking the watch.
The problem with all of this data while running is that you can get lost in it and so easily forget to pay attention to what matters most: how your body feels. Your body will tell you all you need to know in real time if you pay attention to it. Your device will actually be less responsive than your body at best and, at worst, convince you to do something you shouldn’t. For example, on a very windy day, your pace should vary. When running uphill, your heart rate will go up but it will come back down when going downhill. If you’re paying attention to your body, you’ll adjust your pace for the wind and you won’t get worried about what a few hills will do to your heart rate.
How do you use the data after the fact?
On the flip side, after the fact, it doesn’t hurt to look at the data. In fact, if you’re going to have a device that records it, it only makes sense to look at the data at some point.
There is some power in looking at the fine grain data. How did your heart rate or cadence vary on this run? Does your cadence fall off on uphills? If so, maybe you need to work on your uphill form and technique. Things like this can be helpful.
Even more helpful, though, are long term trends. If you see your pace getting faster without your heart rate going up, you know you’re getting more fit. If you see the reverse, it’s time to think about what you’re doing because something is going wrong.
Even more, today’s devices measure much more than our running metrics. My watch measures things like all day heart rate, stress and sleep. Don’t forget to look at these things. Recently, I had a health issue. I could see my sleeping heart rate and overall stress level spike as this issue was hitting me and I could see them return to normal as I was overcoming it. If I had an issue that wasn’t so readily apparent, these things would have been signals that something was wrong.
You can also use these metrics to keep track of how you’re doing. More stressed? Maybe you need to work some meditation or yoga into your daily routine to help relax. Have you changed your bedtime routine or the time of the day you work out? How is that affecting your sleep?
You can still pay attention to your body for these things but I’ve found that having the numbers forces you to face the facts and not pretend everything is fine when something really is wrong. For me as a numbers person at least, I can justify a lot of things but not my sleeping heart rate going from the 40s to near 60 or my nightly sleep time decreasing by 30 minutes.