Every runner starts from scratch–and inevitably, many runners have to restart after injury, illness, having a baby, or big life changes that require time off of running. Taking a break from running comes detraining and a loss of fitness. Even as your start resuming running, you may not be able to hit the times you hit before–and you may be wondering just how to measure your progress when you can’t run as fast or long as you previously did.
Whether you are just starting to run or are starting back up after training back, there are objective ways to measure your progress in running.
Start with a clean slate
When you are starting from scratch, you do not have past runs to compare yourself to. In some ways, this is to your benefit; you cannot compare your current progress against your past progress. However, comparison to past progress can be a common source of frustration and discouragement to experienced runners resuming after a few weeks or months off.
Whether you are coming back from an injury or having a baby, you may have lost some fitness. A 2021 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science shows that even after two weeks of detraining, endurance athletes exhausted more quickly in all-out efforts. After four or more weeks of no running, most runners will inevitably be slower and have less endurance than they did before the break. Their fitness after the break will simply not be the same as before–so instead of comparing to fitness prior to the training hiatus, you want to view your new training through a fresh lens.
In the Insights tab on the Runkeeper app, you can see your progress sorted by last 30 days, 90 days, calendar year, and all-time. When you are building back, use the shorter windows to compare your recent runs. This will prevent you from comparing runs to your all-time bests and make it clearer to see your progress over the recent weeks.
You could even completely reset your previous records. That way, new breakthroughs can shine through as the accomplishments that they are–without being overshadowed by the past.
What stats should you look at in the Runkeeper app?
The Me tab will be your best friend. Under My Stats, you’ll see your distance, average pace, and activity count. Racking up mileage/kilometers can be satisfying, and it’ll be insightful to know what a comfortable pace is as you get started. As you progress in your running journey, focusing more on numbers may be more fun, but try not to get bogged down by these in the beginning. The most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel.
Set one goal at a time
Do not attempt to improve both your speed and your total weekly mileage at the same time. Doing too much, too soon actually slows down adaptation since your body may not be able to recover fully. Increasing speed and mileage at the same time can heighten your risk of injury, which would certainly derail your progress.
Instead, focus on one aspect of your fitness at a time. Set one goal, such as running 25 miles per week, running ten miles at once, or running one mile at a certain pace. Focus on this one particular goal for at least 8 weeks (longer if training for a race).
Once you have your goal, you can establish benchmarks for the next several weeks. These benchmarks will help you track your progress toward your goal. For example, if you are currently running 15 miles per week and want to build up to 25 miles in ten weeks, you may set a benchmark goal of 18 miles per week at four weeks and 22 miles per week at seven weeks.
Perform a fitness assessment every 4-6 weeks
Progress does not always show in day-to-day runs, especially since most of your runs will be done at an easy effort. However, progress is still happening! If you want to clearly track your progress over time, you can perform a fitness assessment every four to six weeks.
Generally speaking, you will see increased fitness with every four to six weeks of training. This is why every four to six weeks is ideal for a time trial; if you perform a fitness assessment too often, you may not see any clear progress.
One of the best methods for assessing your fitness is a time trial. These are free and easy to do; all you need is somewhere flat and uninterrupted to run (such as a track, rail trail, etc). While they sound intimidating, they will be more exciting once you start clearly seeing your fitness.
An ideal length for a time trial is 20 minutes. Spend a few minutes running at an easy pace to warm up and then pause. You will want to record your time trial as a separate activity; as you set up your Runkeeper app, enjoy that moment to catch your breath. Then, run the 20 minutes as hard as you can, without stopping. (You may want to start a bit slower than you think the first few times you do this.)
As you repeat these 20-minute time trials every four to six weeks, you shall see improvement. Be sure to use the same course every time you do your time trial. You may have a slower time occasionally due to external conditions such as hot weather, so do not let one slower time discourage you. Once you do three or more, you will be able to see your clear pattern of progress.
Another alternative for assessing your fitness is a 5K race. 5K races are easy to find (check Race Roster to find one near you). You can race one every couple of months and compare your finish times. Just be sure to take the course into account, as you could run a slower time on a hillier course, even if you made progress over the past several weeks.
The most important takeaway? patience!
It is human nature to want to see progress immediately. However, in running, measurable progress requires consistency over longer periods of time. As mentioned above, give yourself several weeks to see that progress happen– and in the meanwhile, focus on enjoying the process!
Try Guided Workouts in the ASICS Runkeeper app and let our coaches guide you on your next run.