Making Sense of the Data From Your Running Watch

Nancy Anderson
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Running watches and other wearable fitness devices track a myriad of information about your workout, including the length of your stride and the number of steps you take per minute — but how much information is too much? Two expert running coaches share what information runners should be focused on during and after workouts and help runners make sense of all the advanced information running watches collect.

Look at Your Total Time and Distance

Total time and distance are the most important metrics a running watch keeps track of, according to John Honerkamp, running coach and senior manager of runner products and services at New York Runners. Those who are actively training for a race or just trying to stay in shape can build endurance by gradually increasing their distance week after week.

Regularly Check Your Pace

Another important metric that running watches track is pace, usually measured in minutes per mile. Keeping track of this information helps you determine the amount of effort you put into any particular run. Pace can also be used to predict how long it will take you to cover a specific distance, which is useful if training for a timed racing event. Honerkamp recommends checking your pace every mile or so to be sure you're on the right track.

Pay Attention to Elevation

Even basic-model running watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 10, keep track of changes in elevation during your run. This information is important if you're training for a race that may take place over hilly terrain, as you'll be better able to prepare your body for those terrain changes ahead of time. If the area where you normally run seems relatively flat, use the running watch's elevation tracker to determine what parts of the run have you going downhill or uphill.

Steps Per Minute

While average runners may find no need to analyze their cadence, or steps per minute, Honerkamp advises that there are certain situations in which this information is useful. For runners who are working with a doctor or podiatrist, or who find themselves with frequent injuries, cadence may require a closer look, as someone with inefficient form will likely have fewer steps per minute.

The Importance of Efficiency

Advanced running watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 620, track highly advanced efficiency metrics such as vertical oscillation, or up-and-down movement, and ground contact time, or the amount of time your foot remains in contact with the ground between steps. "They're just other stats that tell you you're fitter and more efficient or faster. They tell you you're on the right track," says Honerkamp. However, the average runner most likely doesn't need such advanced analysis of running efficiency. Instead, Daniels suggests limiting your vertical movement and improving your ground contact time by imagining you're running over a field of raw eggs, and you don't want to break any of them. This will keep you light on your feet and moving in a stronger forward motion.

Running watches and other wearable fitness devices offer convenience and flexibility for runners, allowing easy access to running statistics, heart rate and other valuable information. Market predictions show that stores may carry up to 110 wearable devices by the year 2018.

Photo courtesy of franky242 at



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