It’s a Numbers Game
I’m the first to admit that when it comes to numbers, I’m never the smartest guy in the room. My brain just isn’t wired that way. I wish it were, but it’s just the way I was made (it also might have something to do with the fact that I spent too many math classes in high school napping in the back row). The exception to this though, is when considering numbers that relate to my training. In that case, I’m all about numbers. I become a numerical wizard. On my iPhone, I currently have 12 apps that I’ve downloaded; 6 of them serve to collect and analyze training data.
I have no doubt that a lot of people can relate to this. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t regularly train with a GPS watch anymore, and I think there is no argument that this kind of technology has revolutionised running training, and on a broader scale, the way people approach fitness in general. Using numbers to quantify your training is mostly a good thing, but sometimes I think that the sheer amount of data available can be overwhelming, confusing, and distracting to both the beginner and advanced athlete.
Probably the greatest risk that comes from such easy access to these numbers is the underlying, almost sub-conscious desire to perform better/longer/faster every session. It can turn your greatest strength, that is, your drive and determination, against you. How often have you ended up running harder or further than you were meant to, just so you could see those numbers on your watch? I know many a recovery run for me has turned into an all out tempo session because each beep and the accompanying vibration of my watch per kilometer had to come sooner than the previous one. Or a run ended up longer than it should have been because I just had to round up to the nearest 5Km. Training hard and pushing limits is great, but not at the expense of the original training objective of the session.
Every now and then, test yourself out by leaving your watch off and running by feel. Go running for what you estimate is an hour, and when you get back see how close you actually were. If you can’t quite bring yourself to quit your watch cold turkey, try using only the stopwatch function on your watch, or turn the auto-lap alert function off. It’s quite liberating to just run without having a mechanical coach on your wrist every now and then. It doesn’t just have to be easy sessions either. One of my favourite tempo ‘feel’ sessions is to put my watch on silent/no vibration, carry it in my pocket or somewhere that I can’t see it, and then run a loop of known distance at my estimate a specific pace, and then see how close I was at the end.
Using numbers to quantify your training is an awesome way to advance, but remember that it is not the only way. The acronym ‘GPS’ has only held its modern day meaning for 20 years or so, and people were running fast for a long time before that. Always remember the training objective of your session isn’t the numbers on your watch themselves; it’s the physiological stress and resulting adaptation that they represent. Happy running!