Posted by Dave on June 28, 2011 | 11 Comments30 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.