Ready to reflect on your running performance in 2016? Runners, if your face looks like this after I say "bar charts" and "data table", please hug a fellow runner and don’t run away! For those of you data nerds who track all your mileage plus some extra statistics like location, heart rate, and so on, I’m excited to share with you all how that running data you’ve been logging day in and day out for years can actually reveal insights to help you become a better runner. and crush all the awesome half marathons you'll do in 2017. Of course, you can still use your data for ego-boosting, chest bumping purposes…
Anyway, I digress, back to the subject of this post. It’s a new year! 2016 may have been great for some, and awful for others. No matter, a new year means brand new goals! The first step to making a good goal is to reflect on what you have or have not done.
For the year 2016, I had a simple goal: run over 2,000 miles. The year before I ran ~1,750 miles. Running an additional 250 miles in 2016 seems doable; that equates to about 21 more miles per month on average. Did I reach my goal?
As evidenced in my 2016 running year profile, I did not. In fact, I ran less mileage than I did in 2015.
1. Ask yourself what happened?
Simply put, I got injured – a stress fracture on my left tibia (shinbone). I was entering taper period (3 weeks out) for my upcoming marathon in New Jersey. At the point of diagnosis, I had all the symptoms of a stress fracture: the injured spot on my tibia was tender to the touch; significant pain raced up my leg whenever I forced my body to take the next running step; acute bursts of pain was felt as I hobbled up and down subway stairs. The only way to heal from a stress fracture is…no running. But to give up and not race the NJ Marathon, which I have been training for since January was horrifying. However, years of running competitively had taught me to not ignore injuries; an injury usually happens for a reason! I made the tough decision to defer my race, and my feet did not touch a single pair of running shoes for almost two months.
2. Data Analysis - Look at More Than Just Your Mileage
Now that 2016 is over with, I decided to dig deeper into my troves of running data for any interesting discovery. I first looked at my total mileage for each month in 2016 to see if anything appeared unusual. At first glance, the sharp jump in mileage from February to March seemed to be a likely culprit.
I went from 142 total miles in February to 227 miles in March. That is 85 additional miles on top of February’s mileage, 2.4 additional miles per day on average.
However, when I took a look at the same statistics for 2015, my conclusion doesn’t seem to hold.
In fact, for the month of June 2015, I totally obliterated the mileage increase. I ran 90 miles in May; in June I ran 222 miles. That is a 132-mile increase from May to June, 4.5 additional miles per day on average. Why was I not injured? I continued to run high mileage in July and August, before a sharp decrease in mileage due to a marathon race in September. What did I do differently in 2015 that I didn’t do in 2016?
Digging deeper into my troves of data, I uncovered this vital information: of my 31 run occurrences in March of 2016, I only ran once on trails. In other words, only 3% of my runs for March were on trails.
Now contrast this with June 2015. The picture could not have been more different. Of the 33 run occurrences (yes, I sometimes ran twice in one day) in June of 2015, I ran 12 times on trails. 36% of my runs were on trails!
The difference between no trail runs to every third run on trails is significant. Running on pavement can produce an impact between three and four times your body weight; that impact increases with speed. Running on trails will take away a lot of stress from the impact you normally receive running on harder surfaces like pavement. To show the significance of trail impact, let’s use some data. On average, I run ~45 minutes per day. My average cadence is around 96 steps per minute (one leg). This means that on a 45-minute run, my left (or right) leg will strike the ground approximately 4,320 times.
In a typical week, I run around 50 miles. One leg will strike the ground approximately 38,400 times! Imaging striking the ground 38,400 times at 3-4 times your body weight – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t deadlift 300 pounds! In other words, running 50 miles a week on pavement is like a hammer strike from Thor!
Now, imagine if a third of those miles were on trails, ~13,000 of the ~39,000 strikes on the ground are now cushioned...
3. Be Proud of What You've Accomplished Even If You Didn't Meet Your Exact Goal
With the passing of every year, everyone makes resolutions and goals they would like to accomplish for the New Year. However, if there is one thing I learned this past year, setting goals can become a game of win-all or lose-all. I didn’t make my 2000 miles running goal, but then I think of what I did accomplish, and those accomplishments were so much better than my established goal. Whether you reached your 2016 goals or not, made new 2017 goals or not, appreciate the accomplishments you have made or will make, no matter how small and insignificant you think they are.
Even though I had a major injury this past year, I would say 2016 was possibly my best running year. In the chart below, the blue columns indicate my total running time for that particular month. The lavender line represents my average minute per mile, which includes warm up, cool down, and all other “junk” runs. I restricted my data to November 2015 and on because November 2015 was the month I started tracking my run miles on a GPS watch (improved accuracy). Ignoring April and May, which were the months I was injured, the trend is a noticeable drop in my average minute per mile. I actually improved time-wise between pre-injury and post-injury running!
This improved running performance also showed up in my Chicago Marathon, raced in October 2016. I ran my fastest marathon ever at Chicago in a time of 3 hours and 19 minutes.
I hope everyone enjoyed reading this post and learned something about how running data can help you as a runner!