Runners tracking their data

After nearly a year of revising designs, throwing out ideas, and testing new functionality, we finally released Smashrun Pro. And, it’s truly befitting because, as we approach the end of the year, the concept of how data tracking has suddenly become a huge part of running as a social sport came to mind. Even races are now starting to take advantage of data and sharing it with their participants by indicating far more than just your splits but, also include a demographic breakdown of finisher stats.

I’ve had people ask me before about GPS watches or the best running apps to use. I usually point them towards DC Rainmaker or to this blog post I wrote about running apps and their data integrity. Those same people become one of two types of runners after tracking their stats for a little while: you either become tied to your data and you can’t ever seem to run without your watch or, you’re able to detach yourself from it whenever you need to.

The latter is actually pretty rare.

It’s important to understand that while data tracking provides consistency, structure, and a means for quantifying improvement, it can also hinder your progress.

Coach Jeff from RunnersConnect wrote an excellent article called “Don’t be a slave to your Garmin“. It does a really good job of summarizing GPS accuracy, pacing dependencies, and losing out on your easy days.

I think it’s hard for many runners to remember that tracking your stats can add noise to the big picture of your running. That we have to remain mindful of the variables that we compare. That we have to ask ourselves why it’s important to look at your pace trends, your total mileage, or the length of your streak.

I’m a chronic data tracker and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much more fun I have when I don’t pay attention to my watch.

I still have to teach myself to just leave it at home sometimes but, for now, I think not looking at it while I’m running is a really good first step.

2 Thoughts.

  1. You know, when I first got my GPS watch, I was like a kid in a toystore, tracking almost every single step I ran. I configured it to give me speed, heartrate, distance and cadence on its main screen. I actually leared to run while almost constantly watching that little screen on my wrist. Religiously tracking data, tweaking my runs… Sports became an effort in digitizing. Soon, I figured out that I was supposed to run for the fun of it – not to make that screen always show ‘better’ numbers. I stalled, no longer improving because it became a necessity, it became a chore. I became a slave of the watch.

    Now, that same watch is only showing one metric, the only one that really matters to me: heartrate. I know approximately how long and far I run – topo maps are great for discovering stuff like that (and finding new routes on top of that). Speed is irrelevant and can be derived from heartrate: lower is slower. The heartrate is there only to protect myself from redlining – it warns me when I start applying myself too hard by a single beep and has learned me to pace myself better. And you know what? I find myself hardly looking at the watch during runs any longer, I again started looking and appreciating my environment while I run. Listening to my body tell me that it can go faster, or needs to slow down a bit to make it back home. And guess what: I actually started running better once more. Slowly improving over time. My body was telling me this in subtle manners, like the way it eases into a stride and the ability to enjoy lovely vistas once more. My mind is no longer afraid to have to walk a bit – it knows it will get to run afterwards again and still enjoy it.

    Arriving back home, I upload my data and then check if my feeling of the run corresponds to its metrics. I can analyze my every step and satisfy my digital tracking needs. And yes, if you look hard enough, you see the gradual improvements my body is experiencing. My digital self rejoiced once more. But the watch is no longer my master. Always present, it has become a friend of my shoes and a companion on my wrist. My digital self appreciates going analog from time to time 8)

    • That is such a great comment! It really says a lot about you as a runner. You love running for the sake of running and I think that’s rockstar status in my book. It’s challenging for me to constantly balance my need for validation (“Am I getting faster? Am I more consistent? Do I run too hard all the time? Not hard enough often times?”) and my need to enjoy running. I am still a work in progress, so to speak :)

      Maintaining a running website is teaching me quite a lot about what different types of runners care about when it comes to data tracking. There’s all sorts of crazy technical things. Super basic stuff like a training log or shoe tracking. Fun, quirky stuff like badges or props! And yet, we’ve all got that same desire to run that makes us all a little similar.

      Runners are just an awesome bunch of people.

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