Running While Traveling

Traveling runners don’t always get enough credit for how challenging it is to run while they’re on the road. For someone who runs regularly, and travels pretty often, there’s a few things I’ve learned along the way when it comes to running while traveling.

Run early. The easiest way to guarantee that you’ll get your run in is to run early. It also means you’ll miss the usual foot traffic, in case you’re running in a big city and you’re less likely to feel self-conscious about running in a new place.

The best first route is out-and-back. We’re not always lucky with our destination and, sometimes, it just requires a bit of research to find the actual running routes.

Try OpenStreet Maps - their map legend shows byways, footways, pathways, primary and secondary roads, residential areas, parks – pretty much everything you might want to know when plotting your route.

OpenStreet Map

If you’re going somewhere more remote, Bing Maps is actually better than Google Maps. To look up some running routes, WalkJogRun might be helpful – you can filter by distance and type of activity as well.

When you’re strapped for time, it’s good practice to run out for a certain distance and then just backtrack on the return. It’s an excuse to explore on foot, but you’re also less likely to get lost. Take as few turns as possible and just remember the way you came. You can always look up places in a map after your first run, because you’ll have your bearings.

Run easy or run short. You’re more likely to stick to your running schedule if you don’t overcommit yourself while traveling. Take advantage of those easy runs. You’ll enjoy it more since you’re running somewhere new and there’s probably a lot to explore.

Arcos de la Frontera

Ask the locals. This one doesn’t always go perfectly well (language barriers make it tricky), but it’s worth a shot. You might be surprised to find that there’s a trail that winds around the city, a path that only the locals know, or a shortcut to a better area for running. Like this one in Montenegro, which starts in someone’s backyard…

Waterfall path (Przno)

Run when it rains. It’s the last thing you’d want to do. It’s hard to argue with staying in but, every city is different when it’s raining. You’d probably want to steer clear of torrential downpours but if it’s light rain, it’s usually worth it.

Pack for layering. If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, bring a top and bottom baselayer. We’ve all been there. Packed shorts and it’s too cold out. Packed tights and there’s suddenly a heatwave. Layering is your friend. Add or remove layers as needed.

What sort of things do you normally worry about when you run while traveling? Feel free to share below!

SMART Running Goals

Many runners fall into the routine of running for maintenance – running to “stay fit” – but, inevitably, maintaining fitness level often means having to introduce challenges by increasing training load. Think of it as the amount of stress we undertake while preparing for a race.

A great resource for understanding adaptation to exercise is Thomas Fahey’s article on progressive resistance training. According to Fahey, the whole point of exercise is to teach our body how to respond when it gets tired. He also makes it very clear that the amount of exercise we do should be “sufficient to stimulate adaptation, but not so severe that breakdown and injury occur.”

Know Your Current Fitness Level

Before you can push your limits, you’ll first need to know what they are so it’s a good idea to do a baseline fitness test before you set any short or long-term goals.

Depending on your personal running goals, you might decide to perform one of three things to assess your current fitness level: (1) run a Cooper Test, (2) run or walk your fastest mile, or (3) run, jog, or walk for a set amount of time or distance. Write down the results of your fitness “test” and put it somewhere visible as a constant reminder.

Because this is supposed to be your baseline fitness level, you’ll want to choose a good day to set it. Don’t run during the warmest time of day or after a rough night of sleep. Don’t set your benchmark on a treadmill unless your final test will also be on a treadmill (instead of a road race).

Set Realistic Goals

Running Goal

Effective goal setting inherently improves athletic performance. As long as your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.), you can be in a position to achieve them.

You should also avoid the most common mistakes with goal setting and remember these tips!

  • Be prepared to adapt and modify your training plan as needed.
  • Generic goals are much easier to deviate from, whereas specific goals will keep you accountable.
  • Remember to evaluate yourself along the way. Track your runs.
  • Only set 2-3 goals at a time to keep it within your control.
  • Lean more towards goals that are performance-based instead of focusing solely on overall outcome.

For example:
[Outcome]: I run my first 5k.
[Performance]: I jog for 15-20min at least 3x/week.

[Outcome]: I sign up for a half marathon.
[Performance]: I run at least 25 miles every week.

Write down your goal on something you can post on your refrigerator, stick to the edge of your computer monitor, or tape to your bathroom mirror. It’s your motivator, and seeing it constantly will assist you in your training.

Your Goal Setting Worksheet

Set your baseline running fitness level. It can be your fastest mile, your best Cooper Test, the longest distance you can currently run, or the longest time you can run continuously at a specific pace. Just be specific.

Write down your metrics for measuring improvement. Sometimes, it helps to have a calendar where you can physically cross off days or write down what you did on a certain day!

Remind yourself why this is a realistic goal. Think of your recent running accomplishments and your best runs.

Anchor your short-term goals to a lifetime running goal. It will help consolidate all of your milestones and enable you to reach much larger goals that might otherwise be difficult to achieve – like running the Boston Marathon.

Set a deadline. Constraints bring out our competitive nature. It’s like running with a GPS watch and being able to check your pace vs. running without a watch and not caring as much about how fast you’re running.

Good luck!

Heart Rate Training: The Importance of Resting Heart Rates and Heart Rate Reserve

Monitoring heart rate activity is one of the easiest ways to measure changes in your aerobic capacity and get a sense of your overall progress while training. Primarily, you should be familiar with your resting heart rate and typical heart rate recovery after a workout.

This isn’t an unfamiliar concept to runners, especially with many training programs prescribing heart rate zones that are meant to optimize performance. Yet, not every runner is aware of how target heart rate zones are calculated and the vast majority of generic training plans calculate it the wrong way.

Resting Heart Rates and Cardiac Output

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute while you’re relaxed and at complete rest. It has an inverse relationship with your stroke volume, the amount of blood your heart can pump with each contraction measured in mL/beat. That means, the lower your resting heart rate, the higher the stroke volume.

Consider two individuals with vastly different resting heart rates: a sedentary person who is at 85bpm at rest and a frequent runner who is at 45bpm at rest. The sedentary person can only remain at rest at 85bpm, whereas the frequent runner can probably walk or jog at 85bpm, because they have a higher stroke volume. The frequent runner is more efficient at pumping blood with each contraction and, they also have a higher cardiac output.

Cardiac Output = Stroke Volume x Heart Rate

Over time, performing a lot of endurance training will gradually lower your resting heart rate…

Notice that this means resting heart rate will vary greatly between individuals so it’s more important to pay attention to relative changes to your own resting heart rate rather than comparing it with others. Over time, performing a lot of endurance training (whether long slow distance runs or speed training) will gradually lower your resting heart rate while long periods of detraining can gradually raise it.

You can also use your resting heart rate to figure out whether or not you are getting enough recovery. Once you have an idea of your normal heart rate range at rest, you can use it to identify symptoms of overtraining or fatigue.

Generally speaking, your resting heart rate should remain relatively stable during training periods +/- 5 bpm. Something is usually off when the deviation is much higher.

Heart Rate Training Zones and Heart Rate Reserve

A lot of runners dislike heart rate training, because sometimes they feel like they’re running too slow even though it’s the only way to hit their target heart rate. More often than not, it is too slow because their target is based on their maximum heart rate.

A lot of training plans usually say something like “your aerobic zone is at 70 – 80% of your maximum heart rate,” but that’s not exactly right. What it should say is that your aerobic zone is at 70 – 80% of your heart rate reserve.

Heart Rate Reserve = Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate

It’s the range in which you can perform under. It also makes so much more sense because you can’t exercise from zero to your max heart rate, you can only exercise from your resting heart rate to your max heart rate. So a better way to calculate your target heart rate zones is by using your heart rate reserve.

Target Heart Rate = Resting Heart Rate + (% Training Zone x Heart Rate Reserve)

To give you a sense of how different this is, let’s say a runner has a maximum HR of 193bpm, their resting heart rate is 45bpm, and their heart rate reserve is 148bpm. If they wanted to push their anaerobic threshold (~80-90% training zone), using max heart rate would suggest a target zone of 154-174bpm.

.80 x 193 = 154.4

.90 x 193 = 173.7

However, if they use heart rate reserve, they get a higher range of 163-178bpm.

45 + (.80 x 148) = 163.4

45 + (.90 x 148) = 178.2

That’s a pretty big difference! If you need to quickly recalculate your different training zones, here are two resources that can help you:

Calculate Your Training Heart Rate Zones
Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator

Heart Rate Recovery as a True Measure of Fitness

If you do a quick search on heart rate recovery, one of several studies you’ll find indicates that the first minute of heart rate recovery can determine mortality and the second minute can identify the presence of cardiovascular problems. That means that how quickly your heart rate drops probably says quite a lot about how healthy your heart is.

The way you measure your heart rate recovery is by noting the working heart rate (your heart rate right when you stop) and substracting from it your heart rate after two minutes.

For example, let’s says you stop running, take your HR, and get 175bpm. You wait two minutes to take it again and get 125bpm. Your heart rate recovery is then 50, which is really good!

Heart rate training is one of the easiest things you can do to track your level of fitness.

Generally, if the drop in your heart rate is <20 bpm over 2 minutes, it’s worth asking your doctor about it and, for the most part, this is pretty unusual. A 20-30bpm drop is considered fair, up to 45bpm is really good, and above 50bpm is excellent.

You can also find a fair amount of research on heart rate recovery including the following more recent ones:

http://www.cardiology.org/recentpapers/AJCHRR.pdf

http://jsportscimed.org/vol4/n1/2/v4n1-2pdf.pdf

http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=193090

Of course, keep in mind that heart rate training is very sensitive to your min and max heart rates. As much as possible, it’s better to base them on actual data than using estimates.

Track your resting heart rate over a period of at least two weeks and at the same time of day to get an averaged true resting rate. Track your heart rate recovery in the same fashion after finishing each run: walking, full stop, and sitting will have different effects on your heart rate recovery.

Heart rate training is one of the easiest things you can do to track your level of fitness. With time, being aware of how your heart rate responds to various types of training will also help you become a more efficient runner.

Short Quality Runs to Help You Run Faster

Having performance standards helps you perform better. That’s a fact. When you set time, distance, and pacing constraints, you naturally push harder, especially, when it comes to running faster.

Many workouts that teach you how to run faster usually add up to longer distances. Luckily, if you don’t have much time or it’s too hot to train long, you can still get a quality workout from your short distance runs!

For Minimal Structure

Fartleks or “speed play” can be done with both long and short runs and the premise is simple: perform short bursts of concentrated intense effort at any point during your run. For example, if you’re running under 5km, you could throw in several 15-25sec sprints separated by easy effort (or recovery periods). It helps develop your fast twitch muscles and the short, but quick, accelerations can add quite a bit of power to your legs.

Strides is a type of running drill that require less effort than fartleks and you can incorporate it pretty easily in the beginning, middle, and end of your runs. They’re short, at about 50-100 meters, and they emphasize proper form. Strides are usually done “comfortably fast” and it forces you to mimic the mechanical motion of an all-out sprint, but in a controlled fashion.

For the Mindful Runner

Efficiency is ultimately the product of experience. Repetition creates muscle memory and consistent practice ingrains the action being performed so much so that, eventually, you can accomplish something without even thinking about it!

Runners who can pick up their speed and look effortless in the process are probably quite familiar with proprioceptive cues. Propioception is your conscious awareness of your body’s movements and propioceptive cues are prompts that help you improve control over those movements.

The important thing to remember about proprioceptive cues is that they focus your attention on external factors to help you improve your stride length and turnover rate: two factors that have a direct impact on your speed. They’re also kind of ideal for shorter runs (to start) since it requires a lot of effort to focus on any given cue.

In Brain Training for Runners, author Matt Fitzgerald, covers several proprioceptive cues that increase your running efficiency and speed. These three are my favorite, which are adapted from Active.com.

Coasting – Imagine driving a car up a hill. You reach the top and start back down but, before you descend, you shift the gear to neutral. The car coasts down letting gravity do its job and conserves gas in the process. As a runner, when you coast, the principle is the same – you relax into a steady pace to conserve energy and just let the natural forward movement carry you.

Running Against a Wall – Picture yourself running on a treadmill with a wall that’s only inches away from your nose. If you reach your foot too far ahead, you’ll hit the wall. Keeping this image in mind enables you to plant your foot closer to your center of gravity and prevents you from overstriding (one of the most common mistakes runners make when they speed up).

Sneaking Up – Quick feet reduces ground contact time and faster runners are very quick on their feet. One way to trick your legs into increasing their turnover rate is to run softly. Imagine that you’re trying to catch up to a runner in front of you, but you don’t want them to know you’re getting closer. Just listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. If you just focus on the sound and try to land quietly (or just eliminate the “stomping sound”), you’ll naturally reduce the amount of impact your legs absorb during your runs.

There are also other ways to increase the quality of shorter runs – I, for one, occasionally break up a short run into a couple of different running drills to make it more fun (!), but we’ll touch up on that another time.

Lessons Learned from Running Everyday

A follow up to Tips for Running Everyday and Is it Bad to Run Everyday?

I started running everyday on December 30, 2011 and I did it because one of the milestones we have on Smashrun is a 100-day streak. At the time, I knew that a running streak could help develop training consistency because running everyday creates momentum.

…the more you run, the more chances you have at improving it, because you get constant instantaneous feedback

Of course, there are drawbacks. The most prominent being the repetitive impact forces on your knees, which is only made worse by the lack of rest days. There are ways to increase recovery periods and techniques or training patterns that can reduce chances of developing knee injury, but they require structure and discipline.

With experience, running everyday can be good, but it’s worth your while to know that most of the advantages derived from running streaks can be just as easily acquired from running frequently enough like five to six times a week.

Simply put, the more you run, the more chances you have at improving it, because you get constant instantaneous feedback. Frankly, the biggest benefit of running everyday is your increased awareness of all the different systems that play a central role in running efficiency.

Over time, you might develop interest in breathing techniques, proper form, optimal turnover rate, or pacing strategies. You start to care about these things because you quickly realize where you fall short and, if you’re running everyday, you’ll need to address your shortcomings in order to stay injury free.

Here’s a quick rundown on what I learned over the course of 536 days of running… and still counting.

You Can Run and Still Travel

routemaps

  • Running is an excellent excuse to explore. Use it to find the best trails, check out new neighborhoods, and even get acquainted with a new city.
  • Just don’t plan any hard runs. Stick with easy runs and recovery days when you’re on the road.
  • If you can, run before you travel, especially, if you’re about to spend a lot of time in confined spaces like in a plane or a bus. It’s good for your immune system and can prevent restlessness during long trips.
  • You can survive with one pair of shorts if it’s 100% polyester because the material is thin enough for a quick wash in the sink and hang dry overnight.
  • Two sweat wicking shirts can last you six days if you alternate. You won’t smell great, but it won’t be as bad as if you wear the same shirt on the fourth day.
  • Unless we’re talking sub-zero temperatures and really cold windchills, you can usually get away with never wearing sweatpants.
  • If you’re traveling international, don’t pack your running clothes in your checked luggage, in case you get stuck in between flights. Especially, if you’re on a streak.

Quality Training is Possible with Running Everyday

April Training Plan

  • I ran Maratón de Santiago while running everyday! And took 20 minutes off my last marathon time.
  • Design your own training plan and balance all hard runs with recovery.
  • Do consistent speedwork, but with longer breaks of 3-4 days in between.
  • Include steady state runs, which is just under your tempo pace, but still much faster than your easy pace. It’s a good solution for moderate speedwork and it’s great for endurance. It can also help improve control at faster speeds, while being less taxing than a traditional tempo.
  • Vary your terrain if and when you can. Run off-road!
  • Cross-train on easy days, not on recovery days.
  • And when you do, focus on core stability. It has a direct correlation with stride efficiency. Many people associate their core with their abs, but it also includes your hip stabilizers. A lot of beginner runners who get hurt have weak hips. You can test yourself to find out whether or not it’s something you should keep in mind while running.
  • When it’s summer, don’t continue your usual training load when the temperature picks up. Start low, keep the distance shorter than your usual, and build back up. You need to get acclimated, which can take up to a week. Run when the sun is low in the sky or run in an area that’s shaded during the day.
  • If weight loss is your goal, you’re more likely to lose weight if you include longer runs than if you only run very short distances, even everyday.

Recovery Should Always Be Easy

  • Do easy runs at an easy pace. If you run it too hard, you’re adding to your muscle tears instead of fixing them. The same applies to recovery runs.
  • Use treadmills to ease back into it if you’re just getting over a really tough run like a Cooper Test or any other type of baseline fitness test.
  • Down weeks are the best! A down week is basically a low-mileage week – try running only half of your usual weekly mileage – I also tend to cut back on speedwork. Think of it as routine rest and recovery.
  • Alternate between running at the same time everyday and spacing them out by running earlier or later the following day. For example, you can run every morning at 7am, but follow a hard 7am run with a 7pm run the next day.
  • Short, slow distance runs are perfect for learning proprioceptive cues to improve your stride.

Running Gear

Old shoes but new footpod!

  • You don’t need special socks for running everyday or compression sleeves although one research suggests that it can improve performance at certain aenerobic and aerobic thresholds while another implies that it might be psychological – if you think it’ll work, then it might. I’m about to test whether or not it can successfully reduce muscle soreness during recovery.
  • You can usually run in shorts year round. I don’t even own sweatpants and I ran around in Vermont during winter. Of course, what you wear when it gets cold really depends on your winter.
  • I run with FR 610 and a 405CX. I love my watches because they give me cues while doing speedwork, but they’re not necessary. You can run with an app and just as easily wear a SpiBelt.
  • If you frequently get spikes in your heart rate data, you’ll need an electrode gel.

Other Lessons Learned While Running Everyday

Scallops on Quinoa!

  • Eat sensibly and cook for yourself. It’s way more fun, anyway.
  • Taking a multi-vitamin can help you keep your energy level high throughout the day. Of course, eating lots of greens like collards, arugula, spinach, brussel sprouts, and kale helps too.
  • Whey Protein speeds up recovery periods, but eating protein-rich vegetables or lots of beans and legumes works just as well, if not better.
  • Creatine can improve performance during speedwork, but you don’t need much and you don’t necessarily have to follow the loading phase.
  • Stuff your shoes with crumpled up newspaper to dry it after a rainy run.
  • You can train yourself to not eat before long runs under 2 hours so you can do them right when you wake up.
  • You can also train yourself to not drink water for 10km up to 10mi, except in the summertime.
  • Don’t run after lunch. Not even two hours after. Unless you’re not prone to stitches or cramps then you can probably do it.
  • If you’re thinking of having a nice cold beer immediately after a hard run, drink a tall glass of water first. Otherwise, you’re asking for a headache later.
  • I’ve never been seriously sick at any point during my streak. Nothing that lasted more than a day. Nothing. Of course, this probably doesn’t apply to everyone on a streak so it’s not a fool-proof plan for staying healthy. Look at it this way, regular aerobic activity can boost your immunity, but overdoing it will do the opposite, so be careful with toeing the line.

Finding the Best Running Apps

…everything you could ever want to know about choosing a running app

I’ve spent hundreds of hours testing all sorts of running apps over the past year. As the co-founder of Smashrun and a daily runner, knowing my way around running apps and GPS devices comes with the territory.

It used to be that running apps, essentially, served the same purpose as a spreadsheet and a stop watch. They tracked basic metrics like time, distance, average pace and speed.

It didn’t take long for many apps to start offering features that recorded heart rate, and cadence or offer training recommendations that popularized workouts like speedwork and threshold runs.

Now, you search for running apps and you’ve got options that range from “live tracking” to escaping zombies!

This blog post is everything you could ever want to know about choosing a running app and the long detailed version of what’s over here, but reading this for its entirety can help make a difference in the development of future running apps.

What You Might Not Know About Popular Apps
I’ve tried all of the popular running apps across many different platforms. For the past nine months, I’ve been looking over their GPX and/or TCX exports to evaluate data integrity. I doubt that all runners wonder about pause detection, distance calculations, or data resampling before choosing an app, but it’s something to think about.

A friend of mine who’s been a veteran Garmin user for almost a decade never knew that Garmin’s distance calculation didn’t account for altitude change. Some of the runners that have emailed us at Smashrun about their run data from Runtastic never realized that their exported data is resampled.

Popular running apps like Endomondo and Strava don’t encode pauses in their data and SportsTracker uses local time instead of UTC when recording your runs.

There are many different degrees of problems when it comes to the nuances in reporting standards. For the most part, running apps should follow one of two schemas for data exports: Garmin’s schema for TCX files and the official GPX schema. Every app interprets both differently.

Pause Detection Can Make or Break Your Data
You might ask why pauses should matter or why any apps should bother trying to detect it. Pausing is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t transfer so well between platforms unless your app encodes it.

Strava has pause detection built in to their web platform. RunMeter has pause detection built in to their mobile app. SmartRunner encodes pauses in their data export, but SportsTracker, Runtastic, and Endomondo do not. All of these matter because it maintains the integrity of your data when you move it from one platform to another.

When you export your runs and pauses are not clearly delineated, you’re leaving third parties to guess where the pauses took place.

Pauses are a big deal because they can shorten your calculated distance, which affects your average pace, speed, and maybe even elevation gain or loss. It’s why incorrect pause detection frustrates a lot of people.

Imagine recording a 10km PR with Runtastic only to find that Strava says you actually ran 9.8km because you paused.

When you run with a GPS device (whether it’s your phone or Garmin), it records trackpoints, which at the very least consists of lattitude and longitude.

2013-06-10_1525

Every trackpoint has a time stamp and, depending on your GPS device, it will record a trackpoint at set intervals, the best scenario being one trackpoint per second and the worst could be something like one trackpoint every 30 to 40 seconds.

If it takes 30 seconds to grab your next position, that means if you sprint as fast as you can up and down a hill as many times as you want and get back to your starting point before the next trackpoint, your app will say that you never left that spot. How disappointing would that be?

Pause detection algorithms evaluate long gaps between time stamps and consider the possibility that it’s a pause. At Smashrun, we look at every detail your GPX or TCX file provides to figure out whether or not you paused, including cadence, heart rate, and speed among other things.

When you export your runs and pauses are not clearly delineated, you’re leaving third parties to guess where the pauses took place. Of course, if you never pause, then you have other things to worry about … like whether or not your app resamples your data.

Resampling is the Worst Thing Running Apps Can Do
If you have any intention of ever moving your run data between platforms or if you have any plans to analyze your splits in the future, make sure that the app you’re using does not resample your data when you export it.

Resampling is a process that removes trackpoints in order to reduce file size and/or simplify the process of creating a map for a given run. It is inherently destructive. The simplest and probably the most popular resampling algorithm is Douglas-Peucker.

Douglas-Peucker_animated

You can download this recent study on the Douglas-Peucker algorithm, which has some great examples on how simplification algorithms work.

The basic idea is this: let’s say you ran a straight line that was 3km long, trackpoint A is where you started the 3km run and trackpoint Z is where 3km ended and you turned left, thereby breaking your straight route.

If you resample that run using Douglas-Peucker, trackpoints B – Y will be deleted because you can easily draw a straight line from A to Z without the trackpoints in between.

That’s really bad.

You can no longer accurately calculate your splits without those trackpoints. It’s like they never existed. What’s more is that you now have this huge gap in time stamps between trackpoint A and trackpoint Z, which could look like a pause.

Luckily, some web platforms are smart enough to turn off pause detection for apps that resample run data. Although, that doesn’t change the fact that you can never move your original data.

Of Course, There’s Also Bad Files

I’ve come across files that suggest it’s possible to run backwards through time…

There are a lot of ways a GPX or TCX file can go wrong. I’ve come across files that suggest it’s possible to run backwards through time because the time stamps are in reverse order. I’ve looked at GPX files with zeros and negative values for time stamps – there’s not much anyone can do with that unless they re-label all of the time stamps.

There are running apps, like SportsTracker, that record your runs in local time instead of UTC, but that doesn’t make sense because local time can always change depending on time zones – that’s why we have something called “coordinated universal time”.

Then, there’s the lax reporting convention. Running apps don’t necessarily identify themselves in their data exports, and closed tracks or track segments are not necessarily used to represent breaks in a contiguous track.

Although, let’s assume that pauses are properly encoded, resampling doesn’t take place, and there’s nothing buggy about your data export. There’s one more thing that can throw a wrench into your summary details, which might not affect your choice of apps but is important, nonetheless, and that’s total distance.

Everyone Calculates Total Distance Differently
It’s the number one accuracy-related issue that pops up in almost every running app forum. Total distance is different between apps. You might track a run using MapMyRun and then import your GPX file into Strava. Chances are pretty high that the total distance, along with your average pace and speed, will slightly differ between the two because of their distance formulas.

Every distance formula relies on a coordinate frame that is a representation of the globe so that we can say point A to point B equals x-meters (sometimes referred to as a geodetic calculation). The many different representations of the globe is one of the reasons why it’s tough to match the exact distance between apps, because we don’t know which representation of the globe an app is using .

Let’s presume that every running app uses the same current standard coordinate frame used in geodetic calculations. Now we have to figure out what distance formula is being used.

2013-06-10_1537

Some apps offset their distance calculations to improve accuracy but they usually start with either Haversine or Vincenty’s formula (above), the latter being the most accurate down to half a millimeter. Beyond these two, there’s a multitude of other formulas that can be applied to calculate the distance between two points.

Is one formula more accurate than another? It depends. If you want to account for altitude change in your total distance then the formula matters, because you can calculate total distance projected on a flat surface vs. a sphere.

You might have noticed that some web platforms always match the total distance when you import a TCX file. That’s usually because they just add up the total distance noted for each lap as opposed to calculating your summary details based on the individual trackpoints.

So how do you go about choosing the best running app?

Your Running App Should Match Your Running Goals
On Smashrun, I wrote a section called Run Tracking 101 where I mention that there are three things you should consider before committing to an app or device:

  1. The purpose of your training
  2. What you intend to do with your data
  3. How you would prefer to access it

For casual runners and beginners, it makes sense to choose a running app that helps build momentum through social accountability so that you’re more likely to stick with it. Try an app like Endomondo or MapMyRun.

Remember that your data is only as good as what you can do with it.

For intermediate and long-term runners, it’s usually better to run with a GPS watch since you’re more likely to dig into the underlying data. You’ll need a device that’s dedicated to your running as opposed to being at the mercy of your phone’s GPS capabilities. That said, apps like RunMeter, iSmoothRun, and RunKeeper can sometimes work just as well.

Of course, what you intend to do with your data will affect your decision. Remember that your data is only as good as what you can do with it. If you can’t export it, then you’re stuck with the same platform. If you can export it, but it’s bad data, then you can’t do much with it.

I looked over every list of top free running apps published over the last two years. Then, I tested every app and looked at all of their data exports and evaluated each one based on six categories:

  • Pause detection
  • Ability to export via email
  • Data ownership
  • Export file type
  • Data resampling
  • Data consistency

You can find the list of apps here. I also tested a bunch of running apps that don’t perform GPS tracking, lack data export functionality, and/or it’s not free, which included Fitocracy, Roadbud, Adidas MiCoach Running, and Ghost Race Lite.

I also ran with the Nike+ GPS app, which was one of the very first running apps I had ever used. I would only recommend it if you don’t ever pause during a run, because it’s not encoded and it’s impossible to detect. However, if you don’t pause and you’re okay with never being able to export your data in GPX or TCX format, then you have nothing to worry about.

This brings me to my final point of data portability. It’s not uncommon to move data between platforms, especially if one is better at analyzing it than another. Some runners don’t really care about in-depth analysis, but some are more than inclined to crunch numbers.

If you’re in the latter group, you should keep in mind the different pitfalls I mentioned earlier, especially pauses and data resampling. Chances are pretty good that if you find a data issue while importing your old runs to a new platform, it’s not the new platform’s fault. Your old running app might be to blame.

Where does that leave us?

Choosing a running app isn’t just about going with what’s most popular. It’s worth your while to know what goes into building a good app. It protects you in the long run from choosing apps that don’t allow you to export your data or, worse, an app that resamples your original data.

Apps are a great way to get started with running and I’m a huge proponent of running apps that keep runners motivated. Unfortunately, as developers continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, they also inadvertantly carry over legacy issues that make it difficult to transfer your run data between platforms.

Download running apps that give you the freedom to move your original data and that follow due diligence when it comes to reporting standards. You can help make a difference and maybe one day, the not-so-good apps will change the way they record your run data.

Find Time to Run – Schedule Running

For runners, lack of training consistency is the bane of our existence. You miss one day, you tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow. You miss tomorrow, you might push it to next week. If you’re off long enough, picking it up literally feels like starting over again, which means you’re going to want to put it off even more. Much like all of our other habitual routines, running requires a schedule. It has to fit somewhere, comfortably.

You wouldn’t schedule morning runs if you’re not a morning person (at all) or evening runs if you like to go out (every) night unless, of course, you enjoy exercising Herculean self-control. But you do have to start somewhere, so let’s get to it!

First: you start with a goal.
I’m going to run twice a week for a month, a mile every other day, or 10 minutes every evening. Any goal. Just make sure you set one. And choose something that you could be excited about! Start a brief running streak or try for a personal best on your mile.

Having a goal teases out your inner stick-to-it-ness. If you were running 100 days in a row and, on day 99, they forecast that a hurricane will roll in at 5am – you can bet yourself that you’d be up at 4am to knock out that second to last run. And if that storm’s still around on day 100, you’d probably run around your house to make sure you finish off your streak.

Plan it and put it on a calendar.
You won’t do it forever, but having structure around the early repetitions give you momentum. And looking at a calendar, or some kind of training plan, really does give you a sense of where your running fits. Try out these resources:

When I get stuck in a rut and each run feels like work, I create a running schedule. I plan out each and every run, right down to pacing and my running route. Once I’ve invested the time in planning it, I actually feel more compelled to do it.

It’s okay to compromise.
Having a to-do list doesn’t always mean things get done. Train intuitively. If you’re having a bad day, you might not feel like going out for a proper run, but you might really enjoy blowing off steam by sprinting a few hundred meters (several times) – then have a beer after (yeah!)

Occasionally, we overestimate ourselves and plan (silly) 10-mile runs on a weekday only to change our mind the day of. That’s always tough, because changing the plan is almost like missing a day.

Do what works for you, then more forward. Pick up wherever you left off the day after. Every runner has his/her bad day(s). Accept it and then realize how awesome you are for having knocked out a run anyway :)

Remember that you are the sole beneficiary of your training schedule. Don’t make it (too) hard on yourself. Here’s some ideas for finding your ‘perfect’ time to run:

  • If you’re an early-riser, schedule your runs around sunrise – it gives you something to look forward to.
  • Keep your running gear close to you. Bring it to work. Leave it in your car.
  • Have a running partner – it forces you to be committed. Better yet, try out a running group.
  • “Run” errands if or when you can – as in run to the store, the post office, or the gym.
  • Run to work or run home. You might be surprised to find yourself running faster than public transportation.
  • Make running an excuse to clear your head. Like an appointment for weekly therapy, but free.
  • Run faster, shorter runs.
  • Break up your planned run – 10K today? Run what you can in the morning and finish it off in the evening.

No excuses. Just make it happen.

Image from Melanie Legaspi

Completing Couch-to-5K

Making it through the first half of C25K is a serious accomplishment. You should already find that your leg muscles are stronger and your endurance is better. Making it through the second half of the program, however, will be an even greater challenge. The walking breaks will soon be phased out entirely, which effectively takes the training wheels off and really puts you to the test.

It will be very tough, but you can make it to the end. Showing up is half the battle and the following tips should help push you to the finish.

Prepare for success – Take the time to get both mentally and physically prepared for every run. Physically prepare by properly hydrating and eating a light, healthy meal at least an hour beforehand (unless you’ve had success with running on an empty stomach). Make sure to also wear light, comfortable attire and warm up well with some dynamic stretching. Mentally prepare yourself; believe you’ll succeed, and you will.

Slow down – I’ve mentioned this before but it’s especially important with respect to the second half of the program, where there are either few or no walking breaks. Take your time. Slow down. Making the all too common mistake of pushing too hard out of the gate can completely drain your energy reserves and make the rest of your run miserable. Run at a pace slow enough that you can casually carry on a conversation. Don’t concern yourself with speed. Your only concern is making it through to the end without taking unscheduled walking breaks.

Don’t mind the clock – My grandma always said, “a watched pot never boils.” Well, it does, but it feels like it takes forever. I found that during these late-stage runs, the sooner I looked at the timer the longer the run felt. In contrast, the longer I waited to peek, the quicker time seemed to pass. Hold out as long as you can to look at how much time is left on the clock, and you might be surprised how quickly the time passes.

There’s no such thing as failure – If you find yourself unable to complete a workout, absolutely do not think you’ve failed. Everyone has bad days now and then – it’s an unavoidable part of running. Every time you get out there and put your feet on the pavement, you improve. Progress takes time for everyone, but as long as you keep getting out there, you will get stronger and gain endurance.

This isn’t a race and, not finishing in nine weeks is of no consequence. That’s the best part about Couch to 5k – you can always repeat a previous week and move forward only when you feel ready to do so.

Running in extreme heat

Most people are well aware of the danger that accompanies intense exercise in extreme heat. Those who fail to properly prepare for these conditions are subject to dangerous bouts of dehydration and heat sickness. However, when approached correctly, training under warm conditions has its benefits and is known as heat acclimatization training. Keep in mind that it’s not for everyone and should only be done with great caution or under supervision by a certified trainer

According to a study published by Aoyagi, McLellan, and Shephard, some of the potential benefits of heat acclimatization training include:

  • Improved aerobic fitness leading to greater cardiovascular reserve
  • Slower increase in body temperature
  • Reduced cardiovascular stress during exercise

Reaping these benefits are not easy and hardly a guarantee. As one of our previous entries on heat acclimatization shows, your body has to work much harder to perform than it normally would. With the right precautions and gradual adaptation to training in the heat, you’ll discover that it improves your fitness far more than training under normal conditions.

Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

The better you prepare yourself for running in high temperatures, the better you’ll perform. More importantly, the better you prepare, the lower your risk of dehydration and/or injury.

Mind the Heat Index – The actual temperature of the weather itself is only one component of the heat you’ll face; Humidity also plays a large part. The more humid it is, the hotter it will feel outside. Check the NOAA Heat Index to see just how hot it really is out, and consider holding off your run if the heat levels are in the danger zone.

Hydration is Critical – It’s very tough for your body to replenish fluids at the same rate it loses them during exercise, so drinking enough water before a run, especially in very warm conditions, is one of the main things that will prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion. Bring water during your run or stop by water fountains if they’re along the way. I typically take a 32 oz jug filled half with ice and half with water. The jug stays full with cold water even as the sun quickly melts the ice.

Needless to say, running long distances in extreme heat is not a good idea. If you happen to be training for a long race and it’s a very warm day, try to run in shaded areas and drink fluids with electrolytes. Consider bringing a sports drink like Gatorade or a GU product to replace some of the electrolytes you’ve lost.

What to Wear – Opt for the lightest clothing you can find, both in terms of weight and color. A black shirt will absorb a great deal of the sun’s heat, while a white one will reflect it off of you. A good pair of polarized sunglasses can also make a big difference in comfort as they neutralize the sun’s bright rays.

Be Mindful of the Signs of Heat Sickness – Dehydration can result in heat exhaustion and it can progress to a heat stroke, which is potentially life threatening.

If you start to feel weak, lightheaded, or nauseated during your run – always stop. Don’t ever risk it. Just get into a shaded area and rehydrate. Here are some additional information about preventative measures from the CDC.

Note: above image is taken from Armstrong, L.E. (1998). Heat Acclimatization. In : Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science