Huff…huff…huff…

God help me, I’ve started running.

Why? With two young children, one of them real fresh, I can’t carve off the kind of time I’d like to have to go cycling. In 30 minutes of running I can get a vaguely equivalent (albeit less enjoyable) fitness hit, which makes it very efficient. Hateful, but efficient.

I don’t like running, mostly because I’m very bad at it. Some rare people look great when they run, all technique and smoothness and capability. I am not one of them. I kind of look like a big lumbering duck. Not pretty to watch, and it never seems to get easier to do, but damn, got to try new things, so why not?

But I needed a way to make sure I was actually making gains. I’d never used a heart rate monitor in my training before – you know when you’re fit and when you’re not, right? But given I’m a shitty runner and it *always* hurts, unless I knew I was getting better it would feel pointless.

This is where measurement is handy. Data is a big and useful guide to progress, and I use it everyday in my UX work. So I recorded 12 running sessions over two months looking at distance, run-time, average heart rate & maximum heart rate.

Obviously I started small, huffing my way over 5kms and working up to a mighty 7kms, then equalised the results to work out how my pace (ie, how fast I ran over kilometre) worked out. If I graph the distance (kms) over time (minutes), it goes like this:

What the data tells me: That I’m steadily getting quicker. Biiiig deal. But in the context of the heart rate data it starts to get interesting:

It’s a bit all over the place, meaning that effort varied, but was generally stable and in a narrow range. When I compare it to how much quicker I’m getting (pace), it starts to paint a good picture of overall improvement: I’m putting about the same effort in but getting faster. Therefore, I’m running more efficiently. I’ll spare you more graphs, but when I consider that I’ve increased the distance I’m running, that makes it look better again.

Did this tell me I didn’t already intuitively know: ie, that training consistently would help me improve? No.Does the data give me a better picture of my improvement? Absolutely. I can graphically see the gains in the ‘pace’ chart in that steadily decreasing line.

Does having some good solid data behind to validate it make me feel better about running? Hells yeah. I mean, I could *assume* I was getting better and guess at by how much, but with some data behind it, I know to what degree it’s happening. And, just like in my work world, I feel better once I have some data to back something up.

Whilst none of this helps me enjoy running any more, I grudgingly admit it helps me dislike it slightly less.

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