The Basics: How far did I run?

Posted by Dave on June 28, 2011 | 11 Comments

The unofficial record of my first marathon

30 years ago when I first started running, just about the only way for me to know for sure how far I had run in a session was to run on a marked track or path, or participate in a race. If I was just out for a casual run in the neighborhood, there was really no certain way of knowing how far I had gone. I was too young to have a driver’s license, so I couldn’t even drive the route to get a rough measure.

In fact, I don’t think that was such a bad thing. I could run by feel, and I had a pretty good sense of when I was getting a hard workout and when I was taking it easy. If I needed to do precise work like repeated intervals over a specified distance, I’d just head to the track. Most recreational runners running just a few miles don’t have any reason to know how far they’ve run either: They’re primarily interested in working out for a specified duration and intensity.

That said, it can be a real comfort to know exactly how far you’re running — to see if your efforts are helping you improve, to pace yourself, to remind yourself when you need to eat or drink something. Fortunately, now there are plenty of tools to help you do that, from GPS trainers to websites that help you track your runs.

As the photo above illustrates, I’m a big fan of GPS trainers; they not only tell you exactly how far and fast you’ve run, but allow you to upload it to a website for analysis. But you don’t need to lay out $100-plus for a device if all you need to know is how far you ran this morning. One of my favorite tools for runners is a simple site called Gmaps Pedometer. This site allows you to zoom into your neighborhood on Google maps, and plot the route of your last run, automatically following any roads along the way. It can even follow some pedestrian/bike paths. You can save your favorite routes and email them to friends, too. For example, this is the route I ran this morning. You can also see an elevation profile of the run, but I’ve found this feature to be a little buggy.

Another popular site that adds a few extra bells and whistles is MapMyRun. I prefer Gmaps Pedometer for its speed and simplicity, but you might like MapMyRun for its ability to catalog your running routes and track your times.

Once you’ve run your route and measured its distance, the next question is “How fast was I going?” To answer that question, I’ve bookmarked a very simple tool, the Cool Running Pace Calculator. It’s dead simple to use. Just enter the distance you ran and the time it took, and it tells your your pace in minutes per mile (or kilometer). Today, for example, I ran my 6.41 miles in 51:41, so when I plug those numbers in it tells me I ran an average pace of 8:03 per mile. Then if I want to know how long it would take me to run a marathon at that pace, I can just change the mileage and keep the same pace, and it will calculate my projected marathon time (3:31:24 — if only actually running the marathon were that easy!).

Even if you don’t have a GPS trainer, I’ve found the Garmin Connect website to be a very useful tool for previewing races and runs. Since thousands of runners use the site to track the runs they have recorded using GPS, it has a vast database of runs and other workouts that you can search through. Just visit the site and select “Activities” under the “Explore” tab. Enter a location and a distance and it will show you recent nearby runs. If you’re looking for a particular event, you’ll want to enter a location, distance, and time as close as possible to the event. For example, I was interested in last year’s Run for the Green half-marathon in my town, Davidson, NC, so I searched for events in September of 2010 between 13 and 14 miles long. I found this record of one runner’s race (it looks like she had a great race!). Not only can I see the exact route of last year’s race, I can also see where all the hills are. Unfortunately, GPS elevation profiles are not always accurate, and in this case lorismith12’s plot added a mystery 400-foot drop in the first quarter-mile of the race, and a phantom mountain two miles in!

GPS trainers, clearly, are the easiest and most convenient way to track how far and fast you’ve run, and they have many additional uses. I’ll discuss them in a separate post. I’ve started a sidebar section to track useful sites such as the ones mentioned here; if you know of any other useful sites for runners, send me a tweet or comment here, and I’ll check them out and add them if I think they’ll be helpful to other readers.

Comments

11 Responses to “The Basics: How far did I run?”

  1. mgeek
    June 28th, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    Besides the distance, these “toys” are also very useful in my opinion to track and monitor your heart rate, which is a very good parameter for “real time” intensity monitoring and geeky improvement analytsis of running log graphs.

    May I suggest you check http://www.dailymile.com ?

    I have been using it for 2-3 years now: it’s free and syncs with garmin devices (I own a forerunner 305 too!)

  2. Bill Altreuter
    June 29th, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

    There are a lot of smartphone apps out there that do this sort of thing. The Nike app uses a footpod which attaches to your shoe– I haven’t found it to be very accurate. The adidas app, miCoach, on the other hand is terrific, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  3. Andy
    June 30th, 2011 @ 1:18 am

    Lots of friends have recommended dailymile, mapmyrun, garmin’s tool, but I’m enjoying the macro view that Runkeeper+Garmin305 gives me as someone in my second year running. I’ve found that obsessing over tool features just give my headaches and finding a tool that isn’t locked to a product, that integrates to where my friends are, and works from the laptop, iPad and iPhone is just what a second year runner and starting marathoner is aiming for…. Now it just needs a button that resets the odometer for each new pair of shoes!

  4. Sam Hight
    June 30th, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    I’ve recently started using http://www.sports-tracker.com and it’s pretty cool. I think it even provides “real-time” progress so other sitting at home can watch your progress if you are using an internet enabled mobile phone.

  5. Dave
    June 30th, 2011 @ 11:59 am

    Thanks for all the suggestions! I may have to spend some time reviewing all these sites and then write them up in a separate post.

  6. Courtney
    June 30th, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

    RunKeeper is the best of the smartphone based apps that I have tried. I don’t own an actual running watch, but for casual use RunKeeper is hard to beat.

    Admittedly I run my first actual race tomorrow, and so am far out of your target demographic. :-)

  7. Vincent
    June 30th, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    I very much like endomondo.com, there is an iphone app that keeps track of your run and automatically uploads it. There might be apps for other phones too, I wouldn’t know. It also syncs with garmin devices (I also own a forerunner).

  8. Steve
    July 1st, 2011 @ 8:02 am

    +1 for Endomondo, which works on Android and even Symbian. The mapping can be real-time, so your rough progress updates to the website as you run, allowing others to follow you and even send you messages. Your pace can be read to you over headphones each kilometer, even while you listen to music from you phone. Works well, with more analysis features in development.

  9. Jeff Walden
    July 2nd, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    I’ve used gmaps-pedometer before to measure distances after-the-fact (e.g. to plot distance walked in a day in a city, or to measure a bike ride not meticulously pre-planned), but it doesn’t seem to have UI for long-term memory of routes taken if one wanted to put it to regular use.

    I’ve never been a regular runner, but given my performance in the one 5k I do a year it’s clear I’d do well if I applied myself. And when I look at it in that light, it becomes a challenge, and I can’t just ignore a challenge once noted. Lately I’ve been recording regular running with walkjogrun.net. Comparing to mapmyrun: MMR’s map-creation interface seems more polished. WJR’s ability to mark training as of a particular kind seems lacking compared to MMR (which matters when I’ve recorded both 100mi century bike routes and 5k jogs). But WJR emphasizes the map more, which I like. For now I don’t see one as particularly winning over the other, so I’ll probably stick with WJR for simplicity.

    I look forward to more comparisons of various training sites — I use walkjogrun mostly because it was the first site I learned about, and it’d be great to make a more informed decision for the long run. (That is, assuming I actually make this running thing a real habit. Doable if I make the effort!)

  10. Brendan
    July 4th, 2011 @ 1:07 am

    I’ve been using logyourrun.com, which lets you save your routes, and save them as either public or private. It also has a garmin tool, but since I don’t use a garmin I don’t know whether it’s any good.

  11. Matt H
    July 5th, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

    actually my favorite GPS website is

    http://www.usatf.org/routes/map/

    Here not only can you draw routes and calculate mileage, it also keeps track of the elevation profile of your run. Just click “update now”, under “elev. update”, after drawing your run, and it outputs a graph with distance traveled on the x axis and height above sea level on the y axis. Everything else works pretty much like Gmaps-pedometer. If you run on a trail, switch to satellite view and you can usually find it (if it isn’t marked in the regular map view)