For such a simple pastime, runners seems to love to over-complicate and super-analyze every facet of information about their runs, their friend’s runs and those amazing superhumans who attempted to break the 2-hour marathon record. This arises from the proliferation of GPS watches and smartphones that allow runners to track their performance with NSA-like precision and then broadcast their accomplishments on social media. How obnoxious is that? Yeah, I love doing it to.
This year I did start running with a GPS watch that monitors my heart rate, to get a better sense of how hard I was pushing myself and gauge my recovery. The watch would give me entire tables of data that I swiped right past to get to speed and calories: in other words, how fast was that and how much pizza can I eat now?
But as I’ve gotten used to the functions of the watch and learned to balance the information I get, one overlooked tidbit has become more and more interesting. Steps per minute, or SPM, is an small total at the bottom of my run summary. But in reality, it’s a measure of how efficient, and therefore how healthy, a runner I was that day.
Most running injuries are from accumulated stress: pounding the joints and tendons and muscles against the pavement or trail for hours and hours. The better your form, the more efficiently you run, the less the chance of these stresses exploding into plantar fascitis or IT band pain. A quick google search will lead you this article about the importance of good cadence: 180 SPM or so, depending on the runner.
What does that look like?
This was from a fast run (for me) on pavement so I was happy to note that my SPM was between 180 and 200.
This was on a trail run over much more uncertain terrain (rocks, roots, snakes) so there was a lot more variation.
I still prefer to think of myself as a “mindful” runner, someone who gets lost in the movement and uses running as a mental escape hatch. For a long time I thought technology would detract from the experience. Music is one thing, knowing my exact heart rate and calorie count is another. Who needs it, I thought. But the value in understanding this data is that we can avoid injury and therefore, eat more pizza. And what else is this about, if not that?