There are many ways to set and measure progress and performance at running. Three parameters are involved: time, distance and speed which you could vary. Run a fixed distance and try to go as fast as you can by measuring your time. This is what competitive running is after all. Or run for a fixed time and try to cover as much distance as possible. This is simple – you go for a 30-minute run and just keep running without looking back until your time is up.
Other more advanced techniques to measure progress include a step counter, trying to minimise the number of steps while covering the same distance, heart rate monitor, calorie counter, oxygen monitor etc.
For most of us who don’t have an oxygen monitor or don’t want to use any gadgets while running outdoors, here is a simple technique to set yourself a benchmark and push yourself every time.
Let’s say you are running 3 laps for 30 minutes. Towards the end, you sprint in order to cut down on your time and dig deep within yourself to find that last bit of energy. This is a good strategy as you should push yourself in order to improve your performance. Thus by sprinting at the end, you make sure you give it all you have.
However, this can be self-defeating because you might want to save your strength for that last bit of sprint, tricking yourself into believing that if you save your energy to run faster for that last sprint, you will cut down on your overall time. Sprinting hard for 1 minute does not help you catch up on 29 minutes of slow jogging.
The running technique
So the technique here is to start sprinting as early as possible, for as long as possible and keeping your speed as high as you can.
Obviously you won’t be able to sprint for 30 minutes flat out. But if today you sprint at the 29th minute for 60 seconds before you reached the finishing line, remember where you start your final sprint. Next time, start sprinting a few metres before that and sustain a high speed. Every time you run keep increasing the length over which you sprint by starting a few metres earlier.
You will find out that you are unable to keep up a high speed the longer you sprint. This is normal. The aim here is to increase your speed throughout your whole 3 laps by starting your final sprint earlier and earlier and inevitably dropping your speed during that sprint. Let’s say you run your third and final lap at a higher speed than the second lap and are able to sustain it throughout but as you come close to the finishing line, you are unable to push yourself any faster. This is an excellent sign that you are giving it everything you have and not saving energy for the end. You will also find out with this technique that you are cutting down on your overall time a lot.
Beginners at running are rightly advised to mix walking and running and to progress to full running eventually. This technique of starting your final sprint earlier and earlier is particularly adapted at beginners. When they started running continuously without walking at all, their initial speed is likely going to be low and they won’t push themselves hard, except perhaps at the end. By pushing themselves hard earlier and earlier, beginners will automatically make progress and will see their running time go down rapidly.