Why Data Matters – Monitoring your Progress

I’m a bit of a data junkie. I wear a fitness band to monitor my activity, food intake and sleep. I wear a running watch that has a GPS receiver and connects with a shoe sensor and chest start that monitors my heart rate. And I record workouts on a fitness social networking site. But that data can be really helpful and more than just something I collect for its own sake.

Most of my tracking for running focusses on three metrics – distance, time and heart rate. Technically you could include pace in that but distance and time are really pace. After I got back from my long run a couple of days ago, I reflected on my performance and was pretty disappointed. Here’s the data.

20km run on flat terrain on 13 Sep 2014

19km run on hilly terrain on 20 Sep 2014

It’s not easy to see but there are some serious hills (for me) in this run. And I took two short (100m) walk breaks at the 7km and 14km marks to suck an energy gel down.

The week before I ran slightly further but too just over a minute less.

20km run on flat terrain on 13 Sep 2014

This was basically a flat run. Weather conditions were similar for both runs.

I was pretty disappointed with the more recent, shorter run. But the data tells me that my gut feel is wrong. Although I was slower I was working pretty hard (the average heart rate differed by just 4 bpm on average – less than 3%) and there were a couple of walk breaks in the shorter run.

Even over the course of just one week, I was distorting my view of my performance and progress.

It’s easy to get discourage by “one bad run”. But the reality is that there are no really bad runs. There are runs you learn from because they feel harder. There are runs that are slower than expected. And there are runs that are faster than expected. I did a 5km run the day after my “awful” 19km and run one of my fastest times of the year.

The takeaway from all this? Look at your data before relying on gut feel. We are usually harder on ourselves than we deserve. Or, as someone said to: “Be kind to yourself”.

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