Are Runners Falling Victim to a Tech Overdose?

Too much data, not enough insight

Data is great, but we have to remember that humans are not algorithms. We can analyze the data, sure, but we have to also account for the intangibles. The mile splits and workouts we’ve uploaded may predict we are ready to run a certain time, but on race day we fall way short of our goal and wonder what happened.

Well, humans happened!

We aren’t a math equation—two plus two does not equal four when we take up the unpredictable sport of running. .Perhaps our main workouts were run in 50-degree weather and race day was 70 and sunny. Or perhaps our data looked better than it really was due to all the times we stopped our Garmin to rest. To learn anything meaningful from our data we have to account for the intangibles. How is your body feeling? Was that last workout horrible because of the weather—or the four pieces of pizza you ate last night?

Being a great runner means establishing a balance between using the data for good, while not letting it define you.

The other day I found myself looking back in time in DailyMile, comparing my splits from a workout a year prior and getting discouraged. But that data only provides a single snapshot in time. I had no record of what I’d eaten the day before, what the weather was like or even how my life stressors—kids, job, sleep—were impacting me at that point.

So what did it really tell me? A year ago I ran a route of a certain length and hit certain paces. It doesn’t tell me a thing about what my potential is or what my body is prepared to do right now.

The upside to data

Of course, data isn’t all bad. With data, you can establish a baseline for your training or view trends over time to look for patterns. Perhaps you had a stellar season and noted that you strength trained twice a week. Or perhaps you notice that you were constantly running your recovery runs too hard, which set you up for a sub-par race.

The point is: Being a great runner means establishing a balance between using the data for good, while not letting it define you.

If you’d like to take a step back, try this:

  • Designate some runs as “watchless” and run a mapped course by feel instead of by time. Take it as easy as needed and listen to your body.  
  • Use data to look at past trends, but don’t put too much stock in any one workout, metric or data point.
  • Make note of intangibles—how you felt, what you ate, life stressors, the weather—along with your data in whatever tracking system you use. This will help add context when you review the data later.

Our sport will always be time-focused in nature, but we should resist the urge to reduce all of our runs to a series of data bytes.I’ve got one final challenge for you: Try running your next race without a watch and go by effort. Who knows, you might surprise yourself with a new PR. Let’s call it a low-tech experiment.

Just don’t send me any data.


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