If you look at marathon training guides, everything is about mileage and pace. Of course, you can throw in some cross-training or strength training for better overall fitness, and faster-paced runs like intervals or tempo runs will prepare you for race day. But on the whole, training for a marathon is about numbers. For that, you can rely on an old-fashioned GPS watch or no tech at all if you’re dedicated.
In his prime, my dad ran 16 miles a day, give or take, with no tech except for a Walkman CD player he’d carry with him on recovery days to relax. I just introduced my dad to his first smartphone at 79, which he was willing to try, but he’s never shown as much interest in running tech.
Some runners ignore tech and just push themselves with no distractions. Others rely on apps and gadgets to tell them how they did. Is one method better than the other?
In my case, I’ve used fitness apps like Strava and Runtastic to track my progress over the years. And very recently, I’ve begun to wear fitness trackers to get a better view of how my body is handling workouts.
But does knowing your current mileage or pace really help to drive you on during a run? I know some runners who wear fitness watches but tape over the screen so the data doesn’t distract them during a run. In my case, GPS data sometimes spurs me on to run just one more mile after I’m ready to stop … or makes me run harder than I should to hit the right pace, tiring me prematurely and limiting my distance.
For the next eight weeks of marathon-prep cramming, my goal will be to decide whether going all-out with fitness tech proves more of a help or a hindrance.
Stride like an Olympian
Roberto Mandje, director of Runner Training and Education for the New York Road Runners and a former Olympian, said he doesn’t always rely on tech for training, racing, or post-run analysis.
“For most of the year, I don’t use any tech outside of my GPS watch to make sure I cover the distance I intend to cover,” Mandje said. “As long as I get out a few times per week to run, then I know I’ll keep a baseline fitness.”
Mandje went on to add that it’s only when he begins his marathon prep that he starts to pay closer attention to specific health and running metrics.
In particular, he pays very close attention to his heart rate. To properly build up your mileage and endurance, he believes runners need to track resting heart rate, max heart rate, and averages at different levels of intensity. When planning out an easy or threshold run, “familiarizing yourself with your heart rate monitor and ranges will help keep you from going too hard on days when you should be running slower to recover, even if you feel good.”
But what other metrics should a would-be marathoner care about? You get basic stats like pace and splits from a running app, but some of the best-running watches can give you information on your ground contact time, stride length, cadence, and other running form stats. How valuable will these be to a running layperson?
“I think there’s a time and place for those sort of metrics, but for most runners, newer or not, it would be best to visit a sports or running lab to have their gait, stride, cadence, and overall biomechanics properly [measured].”
— Roberto Mandje, director of Runner Training and Education for the New York Road Runners and former Olympian
Mandje said he focuses on miles, pace, and elevation gain from his fitness tech to keep training simple. He also chooses to run efficiently and “within himself” to keep his body under control. He manages his strides, so he’s careful not to overexert himself too much by worrying about details like precise cadence or stride length.
“I think there’s a time and place for those sort of metrics, but for most runners, newer or not, it would be best to visit a sports or running lab to have their gait, stride, cadence, and overall biomechanics properly [measured],” he said. “Otherwise, primarily for newer runners, you’ll find yourself reading numbers off your app and comparing them with generic numbers from the internet and then start chasing those numbers without knowing if you really should and exactly what your optimal cadence and stride length should be.”
This content was originally published here.