Am I really getting better at this?

DSC_27111People begin running for many different reasons, some for weight loss, some use it as a diversion to things they would rather not be doing, some people do it for fitness, others just want to get to school.  Serious competitive runners are always looking for a way to lower their race times.   No matter why you run,  it’s nice to know if all of your efforts are paying off.  If weight loss is you goal it’s easy to see if your making progress just by stepping on the scale every morning.  If you are using it as a diversion and it kept you from exhibiting destructive behavior for a few hours, great you did it.  If you are beyond the goal of losing weight or running away from your behaviors, and are now focused on more athletic goals it becomes harder, and harder to track your gains and you are left wondering, am I really getting better at this?

I am not a huge fan of heart rate monitors.  I do use one, but I believe they are one of the most misunderstood, misused tools used by the general running population.  I do however recognize that they do serve a purpose when they are used the correct way.

If you are interested in lowering your times or getting more fit, here is an easy method using a heart rate monitor to chart your progress, and understand if you are really getting stronger, faster, raising that aerobic capacity, and actually making gains.

Go to the track.  The track is the best location for this exercise because it is flat and consistent.   If you do not have a track available go to an area where you can run on flat terrain at a consistent pace.

Lets say that 120bpm is going to be thoretic target, although any bpm you decide to target is fine.  Begin to run, watch the monitor and when your HR reaches 120bpm quickly note your location.   Run for 5 minutes without going 1-2 bpm above or below your target of 120.  In our example we will not let or heart rate go above 122 or below 118, this will take a bit of practice so don’t become discouraged if you can’t make it happen the first time you try.  After the 5 minutes have passed, running at 120, note your position.  The distance traveled, between those two points, will be the bench mark for your next test.  After training for 2 weeks come back to the same location, perform the same test using the same parameters as the first test, and note the distance traveled.

If you have not made any gain, or have lost meters, there can be several variables to consider.  If the distance traveled is the same as, or less than, the last test you may not have given yourself enough time for adaption.  You may be over training.  Your plan may not have sufficient stress.  Or it may simply be that the test was not performed under the same conditions as your first test.  It may be 10f degrees hotter, it may be windy, you may not have your nutrition in check?  Think about it you will probably come up with the right answer for your lack of gain.  If you perform this test over several months it will begin to tell you a story.  You are either going to like what you’re reading or you are going to come to some realization that something is amiss.  If you are making nice gains along the way, and your distances are progressing, congratulations your training program is working.

The lesson is if you want to chart the direction your program is taking you, you need a consistent test, run under the same conditions, charted and run over several weeks or months. Then you will know if you are, or not really, getting any better at this.