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Running by numbers

January 22, 2014

Most of the entries on this blog have been directed to the use of performance measures for organisations, especially government ones. But today I would like to look at a more personal use of performance measures: to assess progress of a fitness regime.

Last year, I decided to increase my fitness level in order to run a 10 km fun run. I had been told about the challenge of ‘run your age’, and being 61, my target was to complete the run in 61 minutes.

So the fitness regime began. I decided to slowly increase the time of my longer (weekly) runs until they approached an hour – trying to increase endurance – and then increase the speed and hence distance that I could complete within an hour until it approached 10 km. At the same time, I understood that running sprints on other days of the week would also help to increase speed. The performance measurement regime was limited to measuring the longer runs – I assumed that my work on the sprints would be reflected in the performance there.

Things were going pretty well for a month or two, but then a combination of being very busy (well, that was my excuse) and minor injuries meant that I was left with decreased fitness only a month or so from the run. So when I recovered, I increased the intensity, and measured a 10km run that I could benchmark myself against (thankyou Google maps – beta pedestrian version).

But the numbers were not encouraging. I could only get my measured time for the 10km run down to 65 minutes on my last long run, a week before the event. The race effect – being encouraged by all those other runners – and tapering of training would, I thought, give me two or three more minutes, but my best estimate was that I would just miss my target.

fun run

But on the day, the weather was perfect – fine and cool as I like it – and with my slightly fitter daughter effectively pushing me on for the first 4km or so, I easily achieved the target, running just over 59 minutes.

Lessons:

1. Focus objectives on the measurable – a general ‘improve fitness’ objective would not have been as useful as setting the objective of running 10km in a set time, even if it was theoretically more fundamental.

2. Targets are often arbitrary, but the setting of one that is achievable but difficult (run your age) is a key part of improving performance.

3. In measuring progress towards the target, try to stay as close as possible to the conditions that will apply at the time of the real assessment. Recognise the variations from this real assessment, and try to allow for them. (measuring times over 10km; allowing for the race day effect)

4. You don’t need to measure everything. (Not timing the sprint runs.)

5. Use interim performance measurement to adjust activities undertaken. (increasing training when times appeared too slow)

6. Accept that achieving the target includes an element of luck. (good conditions on the day)

7. Enjoy success!

© Numerical Advantage 2014
http://www.numericaladvantage.com.au

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