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The Runner’s Edge

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Nov. 13, 2009
  • Updated Nov. 17, 2009 at 6:18 PM UTC

The Runner's Edge

New book shows runners how to get more out of speed and distance devices.

Written by Matt Fitzgerald

In the ‘70s my dad used to run with a pedometer that measured the distance of his runs—very inaccurately. I jogged with it a few times when I was a kid, and while I realized how primitive it was, I thought it was pretty cool. Later, as a high school cross country and track runner, I used to wish that there existed a more advanced type of pedometer that accurately measured distance and pace in real time on any run. About 15 years later, my wish was fulfilled when the first accelerometer-based and GPS-based speed and distances devices hit the market. I was among the first runners to purchase one.

In the several years since their advent, these devices have become even more advanced. There are now several companies—including market leader Garmin, Polar, Suunto, and Timex—that make highly accurate and easy-to-use speed and distance devices with cool advanced features. Prices are falling, too, and this trend has led to a steady increase in sales after a surprisingly slow initial period of market penetration. As a numbers-obsessed runner, I truly can’t imagine not wanting to use a speed and distance device for virtually every workout. But I forget how tight-fisted and technology-averse many of my fellow runners are!

While more and more runners are using speed and distance devices, very few are truly getting the most out of this still relatively new technology. Most runners just use them to monitor their pace and measure their distance while running. But the real potential of speed and distance devices is only unleashed after you download workout data into a computer and analyze it with a view toward shaping your future training appropriately.

Stephen McGregor, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Eastern Michigan University, has played a leading role in developing analysis and planning software for use with speed and distance devices. These tools have been incorporated into a powerful application called TrainingPeaks WKO+. I have also developed speed and distance tools for TrainingPeaks. Specifically, I created the first training plans that can be downloaded in their entirety from the internet onto a speed and distance device and used to guide a runner through each workout of the plan for up to 24 weeks.

A couple of years ago, McGregor and I began to discuss the need for a book that would explain to runners how to get the most out of their speed and distance devices—something similar to the books on heart rate training that came out in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Today that book exists—because McGregor and I wrote it! The book is called The Runner’s Edge: High-Tech Training for Peak Performance, and it was released by Human Kinetics just this month.

The book begins by describing the uses of speed and distance devices and heart rate monitors (which may be purchased separately but are bundled together in many units) and the benefits of using them to their full potential.  Chapter 2 presents a comprehensive buyer’s guide for speed and distance devices (with emphasis on those units that are bundled with heart rate monitors), and aftermarket software programs that help runners get more out of their technologies.  Chapters 3 through 6 describe the performance management system that enables runners to unleash the full potential of their technology and the three steps of this system: monitor, analyze, and plan (or MAP).

The book’s later chapters show runners how to race with technology and create pace-based training plans, and provide a selection of readymade plans for various types of runner.  There’s also a special chapter for triathletes that provides tips and guidelines for integrating swim, bike, and run training within a unified performance management system.

Several of the book’s 12 chapters feature a special section in which a leading coach or expert provides a perspective on the topic of that chapter.  Among the coaches and experts included in these sections are Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes; Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible; and Hal Higdon, Runner’s World columnist and author of numerous running books.

Most runners have no idea how much you can do with a speed and distance device. For example, did you know you can use one to precisely measure your current fatigue level and use this information to do such things as plan the perfect pre-race taper? Did you know you can use a speed and distance device to measure not just your overall running fitness level, but your fitness level in each specific component of overall running fitness, from endurance to speed, and thereby identify and correct the weaknesses that are holding you back?

The Runner’s Edge shows runners how to do these things and much more. Whether you already own a speed and distance device or are just considering buying one, consider going beyond the user’s manual and picking up a copy of The Runner’s Edge to get the very most from your device.

FILED UNDER: Training

Matt Fitzgerald

Matt Fitzgerald

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