6 Metrics You have To Measure To Become A Smarter Runner

How To Run Properly

So you’ve started running and to you running is nothing more than getting out for a 30 minute workout.

Perhaps you’ve set yourself a few goals – like losing weight. And that, is your barometer for success.

Maybe you’ve been running for some time and you are starting to enjoy your running. But deep inside, you feel you could be doing so much more to become a better runner.

Whichever category runner you fall into, I’ve written this post to emphasize the significance or measuring all your runs.

Whilst there are numerous benefits to running, the reality is that you are only scratching the surface of those benefits if you don’t measure your runs.

I am obsessed about measuring my daily activities. This very blog is operated on the premise of ‘measuring everything’. When “Run For Wealth” turned one, I posted a detailed analysis of my blog objectives and how I measure those.

Running is no different. You have to measure. At Nike+ Run Club (NRC), one of the 7 Truths is “Measure Success As Many Ways As Possible”.

In this post, I am going to give you 6 metrics you absolutely have to measure to become a smarter runner.

The first three metrics will give you a base as a beginner runner. These are not optional. You have to measure them. The latter 3, although you can survive without measuring them, are metrics that will turn your average or good running into fantastic running.

1. Time

This is often the easiest to measure. When you start out as a beginner runner, when asked “how long was your run”, the easiest answer to give is time-related. “I ran for approximately 30 – 45 minutes”.

Often, the answer is an estimate. Never an exact time.

Why is time important?

Time is such a critical (if not the most critical) component of our lives. It is at the centre of everything we do. Running is no different. As you will note further on the article, time as a metric becomes the common thread of many of your other metrics.

It’s time you start measuring the exact amount of time it takes you to complete each of your runs.

2. Distance

I remember the first few runs I completed like it was yesterday.


Because, they all felt like 10kms. I was shocked to find out, when I eventually decided to measure the distances, that they were far less than half the distance I thought I was running.

In fact, I was shattered when I made this discovery.

Needless to say, the distance you “feel” you ran is no where near the actual distance.

Why is distance important?

Distance is the foundation to your running. Whether you are running a short or long distance, to have any sense of base to build on requires you to have a clear understanding of distance.

Start measuring the actual distance you run.

3. Pace

This metric is directly linked to your distance and time. It is often measured in minutes per kilometer or minutes per mile.

Why is pace important?

In my “Free Training Programmes”, I include a PDF titled: “The 8 Laws Of Successful Long Distance Running”.  In that pdf, I highlight:

  1. Speed categories (I define 5 broad categories)
  2. Beginner athlete speeds
  3. How speed qualifies or disqualifies you
  4. How speed determines your qualification for other races
  5. How speed gets you past cut-off points
  6. How speed lessens strain

Speed categories: I define speed categories as Competitive, Advanced, Intermediate, Average or Slow. Every runner will fall into one of these 5.

Beginner athlete speeds: I use beginner athlete speeds to help you understand where you fit according to the 5 categories. For the majority of runners, they fit into the “average” or “slow” category. To understand your base speed as a beginner athlete enables you to build your running acumen appropriately.

Speed qualifies or disqualifies you: Most races have finishing cut-off times. If you finish after that time, you don’t get acknowledged as a participant. Those who finish after the cut-off time are simply running too slow.

Speed determines your qualifications for other races: Ultra-marathon races like the Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades Marathon require all entrants to submit a qualifying time. These times are used to establish whether you will be allowed to participate or not. In addition, they are used to establish where you start. In a race like the Comrades Marathon, where there are approximately 18 000 runners at the starting line, where you start is critically important. And that is a function of your speed.

Speed gets you past cut-off points: Finishing after the cut-off point and get cut mid-way through the race are two different issues. The Comrades Marathon is 87kms or 89kms long, depending on whether it is an “Up” or “Down” run.

The first cut off point is at 08h10, 2hrs 40mins into the race. Considering that most runners finish after 11hrs, it means you get cut-off before you’ve completed 30% of the race. Think about that trauma for a second – training for 10 months and then getting cut off before you’ve completed half the run.

Speed lessens strain: the longer it takes you to finish a race, the longer the strain on your body.

It’s quite clear from the above that pace is a vital part of your running. It affects you whether you are a beginner or experienced runner.

Don’t neglect to measure it!

4. Elevation Gain

Ever come across this potentially confusing term?

If you have, trust me – you are not alone.

Here’s a standard definition: elevation gain is the sum total of all climbing done over the course as determined by the points created by clicking on the route.

It gets more confusing when you begin to factor more parameters.

Have a look at this definition on www.cohp.org as defined under “Calculation of Total Elevation Gain on Hill Terrain”:

“The current elevation gain rules specify that in order for an uphill segment of a route to count in the calculation of total elevation gain, said segment must support at least two forty foot contour intervals on the relevant USGS topographic chart. The mean elevation gain for such a hill is eighty feet, as the average of forty and one hundred twenty feet. However, the uphill section need not be forty, let alone eighty feet in vertical extent for additional physical effort to apply – ten feet of gain will suffice – as occurs when climbing a single flight of stairs”

More confused? Let me assist.

Here’s the deal: we are not scientists. We are runners. So, the above parameters and jargon mean very little when we can’t make sense of them.

So, I’m going to try and break it down in layman terms by highlighting the importance of elevation.

Why is elevation gain important?

From a runner’s perspective, the physical and mental effort required to go uphill is greater. As such, you are likely to run at a slower pace when elevation increases.

Routes and terrains are different. As such, the hills you find in races vary. From a training perspective, it is important that you prepare your body for those elevation changes ahead of time by scoping routes of different elevation.

You need to start measuring it!

5. Heart Rate

Wikipedia defines the heart rate as the speed of the heartbeat measured by the number of contractions of the heart per unit of time – typically beats per minute.

Wikipedia further explains that the heart rate can vary according to the body’s physical needs and highlights physical exercise, sleep, anxiety, stress, illness, ingesting and drugs as activities that can provoke the change in your heart rate.

Why is your heart rate important?

From a running perspective, your heart rate stats will tell you how hard or easy your heart is working. By monitoring this you are able to pace yourself and avoid running too fast – be it training or races.

By pacing yourself adequately, you avoid over-training and burning out during training periods or races.

6. Cadence

Running cadence is the amount of steps you take per minute.

Why is cadence important?

You might ask, who the heck is interested in the number of the steps they take every minute when they run?

When you run, you want to minimize over-striding. When you minimize over-striding you minimize the amount of time your body mass spends suspended in the air. When you minimize that, you then minimize impact every time you step. Since, many common running injuries are impact-related, paying attention to your cadence becomes incredibly important from an injury-prevention perspective.

In addition, by reducing over-striding, you improve your running economy and become a more efficient runner.


Running is a science. As simple as things may look from the naked eye, there’s quite a lot going on behind the scenes.

The objective of this post is to make you aware of the some of those behind the scenes factors.

Whilst there are more metrics you could measure, in my opinion, the above 6 are the most vital from a running perspective.

The first 3 are a MUST MEASURE for any beginner! The latter 3, although equally important, are metrics you can measure and pay attention to as you begin to become a more intelligent and experienced runner.

I have not gone into the intricate details of each metric. I will publish separate posts that deal with each metric in-depth.

I have also not mentioned or suggested any measuring tools. Again, I will publish a separate post for that.

I really hope you’ve enjoyed the post and found value in it.

God Bless!

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