Every Number But The One That Counts

I mentioned a few posts back that I had lost patience with heart rate zone training and was moving back to training "my way." Of course, it's still far too early to decide whether this is a good training decision or a bad one, but I'm already seeing changes in the data my various apps are presenting to me.

The most notable of such data comes from Garmin's "Training Status" report. (I blogged about what "Training Status" is, and how to interpret it, here.) My first day of doing things "my way" was this past Monday, May 6th. From April 26th through May 5th, my Training Status had been shown as "Unproductive." I was working out plenty, but it was apparently not doing my body any good. I felt that way, too. My runs felt sluggish, mostly because I was forcing myself to run slow in order to keep my heart rate down. The moment I decided to train "my way," my Training Status immediately switched back over to "Productive" and stayed there. My VO2 max estimate went back up to 61, from 59. I take these numbers with a grain of salt, but I do believe them in the sense that I think they offer some kind of "directional read."

By contrast, my Fitness graph at Strava has flattened-out at about 90 points. The trend is either flat or even possibly in a slight downward direction there since I switched back to training "my way." So, by Strava's algorithmic estimation, I am perhaps losing a bit of my physical fitness by training my way, versus training according to Garmin's HR zone training schedule.

All of these statistics, however, are generated by running heart rate, speed, and distance data into various "impulses," i.e. mathematical models designed to estimate fitness. So, these apps give me VO2 max estimates, estimates of training load and fitness, of my "status," and so on. That's every number a person could ever possibly want to know about their running.

Every number, that is, except one; arguably, the only one that counts: Average pace.

Relative to my previous week of running, my average pace has increased twelve seconds per mile. That's even after a particularly bad workout on Tuesday afternoon and despite the fact that my heart rate has not increased all that much. The main thing is that I simply haven't deliberately slowed myself down.

Pace is really the only number that counts. If you're capable of running at a particular pace, then you should. If you can't, then you should try to get yourself there. All this heart rate zone training and various "easy runs" versus other kinds of runs are all in service of increasing your average pace. If you're not increasing your average pace - or, if you're an older guy, maintaining a strong average pace - then your training isn't doing much for you at all.

For all the lovely metrics modern running apps offer you, don't forget the one that matters most.

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