Fri. Dec 4th, 2020

Measuring running improvement without races

5 min read

We are six months into the covid pandemic and most of us haven’t run a race in a while. Runners who have been training smart through this period should come out of the pandemic an improved runner. If you’ve had a progressive and consistent approach to running improvement will be inevitable. But without a race how do you know if you’ve gotten better.

Fortunately, there is more to running then personal best times. We can focus on a virtual race or time trial, but with GPS accuracy and other factors you can’t really count these as personal bests.

Looking at running holistically and with more long-term focus can give us a different focus on improvement. Some other ways to set short term goals and measure your running improvement include;

  • Mileage targets
  • Consistency of training
  • Successfully staying injury free
  • Implementing a strength training habit

All of these are alternative ways to measure your running improvement other than personal best race results or virtual race time trials.

Mileage Targets

Set yourself a short-term mileage target, make it a higher stretch on your recent mileage. It doesn’t have to be too ambitious but should give you something to strive towards over a set period. Work your way up to running this mileage so it’s achievable and sustainable.

One of the easiest ways to improve as a runner is to run more. The simplest way to run more is to increase the time you run by 5-10 minutes each run. Get up a bit earlier and get out the door. For most runners 5-10 minutes will add 1-2km of running to your runs. This could be 10-15 valuable kilometres by the end of the week.

Do this for 4-6 weeks and you’ve run 50 – 80km more in a month. Do this for three months in a row and you’ll get great gains in aerobic development.

Each runner should have a short-term mileage target. Probably monthly is the best place to start as it’s easier than weekly to turn around if something goes wrong. What’s your mileage target for September?

Consistency of training

Following on from having a mileage target and working towards increasing this mileage comes consistency of training. If you’ve been training consistently through this period, you will have improved your running.

If you are to improve running it’s important to keep a consistent training regime. If you chop and change your approach and regularly miss time training your progress will stall. Keep a consistent training schedule even without races.

The other major aspect to this is building running as a habit into your life. If you do can do this through covid when you aren’t motivated by races imagine when races resume, and you are motivated for your first race back. It’s a win-win situation.

Consistency of training can be measured simply by looking at your training calendar. It’s easy to see if you are running consistently and not missing blocks of days of running. Look back at the last few months and see where the gaps are. You probably already know this.

Successfully staying injury free

Staying injury free is a challenge for most runners. The numbers of runners that are injured every year is generally staggering with majority of runners experiencing some injury every year. It’s a frustrating time for an injured runner to not be able to run. But does it have to be this way?

If you are regularly experiencing injury, what are you doing to reverse this trend? There are things you can be doing.

Do you change or rotate your footwear? If you are regularly injured and wear the same shoes i.e. Buy the same brand and model each time. Maybe the shoes are the problem.

What does your stretching and strength routine look like?  If you are regularly injured do you work on improving your strength and stability.

What does the mileage you run look like? Do you increase mileage quickly after a break or increase slowly? If you are regularly injured, you should focus on the mileage you run. Add variety to your mileage including weeks with higher mileage and lower mileage deliberately to manage the load of running.

What terrains do you run? If you are injured regularly do you stick mostly to the roads or add variety with softer surfaces like trails and grass. Adding a variety of hilly runs and flat runs, trail runs, and mixed surface runs will work different muscles and help with injury prevention.

There are many things you can do to help prevent injury. Adding variety to your running will keep running interesting and you motivated to go running.

Having said all this if you’ve managed to train consistently through covid and not experienced injury you will have improved as a runner. For anyone who’s suffered injuries this is a great measure of success.

Implementing a strength training habit

Strength training is an often-overlooked area for runners. It is something we’d like to do and should do but often the thing we don’t get around to. When there aren’t races on the calendar this is the time to implement a strength training habit into your life. Now is your time, make it count.

It doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing strength training routine but add 2-3 days a week of strength training. Whether this means you take a day off running to strength train or find time before or after your easy runs is best left up to each individual runner.

However, if you can honestly say you are a runner with a regular strength training schedule built into your routine. You are likely to improve your running.

All these ways to measure improvement will have a level of ambiguity to them. Meaning you may not see the improvement until you finally race again. They will all make you a better runner though. My belief is they will make you enjoy running more and be more motivated to run on daily basis. This will ultimately help you turn your running into a lifelong pursuit.

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