Check Your Running Fitness

Determining running fitness can be performed quite easily in a variety of ways. This is also quite a relative concept. In fact, it's hard not to get philosophical when speaking about it. Due to unique individual variations in genetics, adaptations to training, experience level and even running goals, a runner should only compare their fitness to themselves. Certainly it can be interesting to see how you rank compared to other runners in the results of any given race but these stats are rarely of much more use than vague percentage groupings of small section of the running community that happened to show for the event that day.

Even during training, it’s difficult to compare yourself to your training partners due to individual differences in heart rate training zones, and even different recovery/adaptation rates. Clearly, a 2:55 marathoner has a much higher level of running fitness than a 4 hour marathoner however this conclusion is hardly much to any of us. After all, when it comes to our personal running goals, all you can ever do is work hard to be the best that YOU can be!

Finishing a race in a specific time may be one element of running fitness. Obviously, to make a good race time, all of your systems needs to come together in harmony. That is, your brain, heart, lungs, musculature and all related biological systems. But then, a fast 5k time may not translate into a fast half marathon if your endurance has not been properly developed for the distance including your body’s ability to utilize lactate at pace and glycogen storing capabilities. Therefore, generally running fitness should be determined by several variables including but not limited to how long, how fast and how quickly you can recover from any given event.

So what IS a good method and measure of your fitness status? One great way to assess your on-going fitness for running, and by far the most accurate, is by monitoring your exercise and even recovery heart rate. The more that you run your running economy will increase with weeks and months of training. This will be a result of your adaptation to the physiological demands of running. What you should see then is a lower heart rate for any given pace. One week your average heart rate is 145 while running 7.0 mph, where 2 weeks later your heart rate is 141 for the same pace.

If you are not treadmill training , you can also determine this by a quicker finishing time for any given route with the same average heart rate. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, it’s difficult to check your own pulse if you’re running outside during exercise. However, there are more crude ways that you can still employ to assess your running fitness.

Pick a race or group of races that you have the opportunity to run every year. Running the same course every year normalizes the terrain so you can gain a good sense of your fitness if you are able to compare your time to previous years. You will need to take into consideration some other variables such as extreme weather differences however it will still be a fairly good gauge.

Quicker recovery both in terms of heart rate for any given workout such as between intervals as well as the number of days you are sore after races is a good measure as well of your running fitness. The only limitation here is you may very well be quite sore after you’ve run the best time of your life!

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