Evaluate the right metrics or you could find yourself working hard with nothing to show for it.

Analyzing metrics in the workplace is a familiar concept. Whether it be counting the visitors to a website, calculating the number of products sold, or measuring levels of employee satisfaction, we all have metrics in our daily lives that help us prioritize and assess the progress of our work.

Running is no different.

Runners implement metrics such as the speed of their tempo runs, the length of their long runs, and a variety of other quantitative measurements to help evaluate their development and ensure that they are on target to reach their goals.

However, as many business analysts will tell you, it’s far too easy to get caught up in focusing on the wrong metrics. If you sell purple t-shirts, having 1 million visitors to your website is a huge accomplishment. But, if none of those visitors buy your purple t-shirt, it’s a useless number.

In the working world, we’re well educated and often quite aware of the temptation and potential pitfalls of concentrating on the wrong metrics. Unfortunately, many runners are not aware that they might be too concerned with the wrong metrics in their training. The result is often frustration, stagnant race results, and injuries.

Here are a couple of common metrics many runners put too much focus on and tips on how you can shift your mindset should you fall victim to these familiar pitfalls.

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Pacing Of Easy Runs

Want to know the most common question I receive from runners, both veteran and beginner?

“If I feel good, can I start running my easy runs faster?”

Before writing this article, I decided to count how many times I received this question in one week. I counted eight times.

The problem isn’t eight people asking the same question. The issue is that these runners are unnecessarily focused on the speed of their easy runs and think that by running faster on their easy days they will improve more rapidly.

Unfortunately, focusing on upping the pace of your easy runs is a vanity metric that does not correlate with your progress and contributes little to your fitness.

Aerobic development is roughly the same whether you’re running at 30 seconds or 2 minutes slower than marathon pace. For a 3:30 marathoner, this means that 8:30 pace essentially provides the same aerobic benefits as miles at 9:30 or 10:00 pace. However, running faster than an 8:30 pace only increases the time it takes for you to recover while providing little additional benefit aerobically. So, running faster is actually detrimental.

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Probably the best example of how little your easy run pace matters is the training of Kenyan runners. Catherine Ndereba, who has a 2:18:47 marathon PR, often runs her easy run days at 7:00 – 7:30 pace, which is about 2 minutes slower than her marathon pace. By keeping the easy days slow, Kenyan runners like Ndereba are able to perform notoriously difficult workouts and take their performances to another level on race day. The Kenyans understand that increasing the pace on their easy days is not the most beneficial way to improve.

Your Takeaway: Running faster on your easy days is not important, nor is it a sign of increasing fitness. Focus instead on the purpose of easy runs — recovering from hard workouts and preparing the body for upcoming sessions.

Workouts As Fitness Measurements

It’s easy to get frustrated and feel like you’re going backwards after a tough workout. I’ve had more than a few training sessions in my career that lead me to wonder if I had somehow completely lost it. After one rough workout three weeks before an important 10K, my coach said something to me that I’ll never forget: “Workouts are for improving specific physiological systems, not for proving how fit you are. You prove your fitness on race day.”

That statement hit home and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

When analyzing workouts it’s tempting to compare splits and workout times to potential race performances. However, the two rarely correlate.

Perhaps you’re working on speed, which is a weaknesses for your predominantly slow twitch muscles, or you’re heading into the workout with tired legs to help simulate marathon fatigue. Regardless, you may find yourself running slower than expected or struggling to maintain race pace. This can be frustrating and demoralizing if you’re always looking to measure your workout performance with race potential.

However, if you focus instead on executing the purpose of the workout and completing it to the best of your ability, you’re making progress physiologically, which will ultimately lead to a personal best on race day.

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Your Takeaway: You should only use your workouts to measure progress when compared to similar workouts under similar conditions, not as a measurement of race times or potential. Remember, workouts are for improving specific physiological systems, not for proving how fit you are. You prove your fitness on race day.

The next time you’re analyzing your training or looking for areas to improve, make sure you’re evaluating the right metrics or you could find yourself working hard with nothing to show for it.

Have questions or have other example of vanity running metrics? Let us know in the comments section, we would love to hear them.