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12 Non-Time-Based Ways to Tell You're Getting Better at Running

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Getting Faster. It Doesn't Have To Be Your Only Run Objective. 12 Telling Ways You Get Better At Running That's Not All About Your Time.

Coach Kim & Pam Celebrating Huntington Olympic Tri Finish
Pam's Huntington Olympic Tri Finish with Coach Kim

It's not simply about lowering your pace or time when it comes to getting better at running. In fact, putting too much emphasis on metrics can backfire.

Even if your aim is to run faster in a race or just over a certain distance, according to Kimberly Townsend, an expert runner, Boston qualifier, & Running & Triathlon certified coach based in Indiana, pushing yourself every day to make those numbers fall isn't the greatest approach to get there.

And, maybe more importantly, it can make your runs feel a lot less enjoyable. It will definitely take away from the other benefits of running frequently and suck the fun out of your runs.

"Trying to beat your time from the week before, or the day before, adds a lot of pressure," Townsend says. "We see changes in running over the period of weeks, not days," says coach Kim.

After all, according to the Fort Wanye- based running instructor Coach Kimberly, your pace might vary depending on everything from how far you're going to the terrain you're covering to the temperature—and even how much you slept the night before effects your running performance.

Now, there's no rule that says you have to improve your running skills. It's completely acceptable if you're happy with your current speed. In fact, you don't have to strive to get better or faster at all; simply getting out there, maintaining your fitness, and enjoying the mood boost is totally acceptable.

However, if making improvements motivates you, you might want to explore other indicators that your cardiovascular and respiratory fitness is increasing. The good thing is that there are lots. It's also beneficial to tune into them if you expect to keep running for a long time.

Coach Kimberly, shared with our team, "I often find that people identify their runs too much with their pace." When runners are hampered by injury, age, or other factors, they may experience increased stress or even be compelled to quit.

"It becomes critical for people to identify at least a couple of distinct ways that running provides them benefits, worth, and purpose beyond their running pace for staying power," Coach Kim adds.

Here are 12 different ways to track your running success that don't include your time.

What Signs Point to Improving Running Performance?

1. You've improved your training consistency.

Logs shows that over time, running has a slew of advantages, ranging from making you feel happier and healthier to improving your cardiorespiratory fitness. Coach Kimberly points out, obtaining all of these benefits necessitates going out on a regular basis.

If you just run once or twice a week, your body will feel as if it is beginning from scratch each time, making your workout feel much more difficult. Your musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and neurological systems, on the other hand, learn to absorb the impact of running with consistent practice—and build adjustments to get better at it.

Because consistency underpins so many of running's impacts, setting regular runs as an early goal is a good idea, according to Coach Kimbery. It will certainly seem easier after three to four weeks if you can manage three runs each week, even if they are super-short. "For the first month, running might not be much fun. "However, if you can get through the hump and stay with it for a month, you will notice a difference," she says. (If three times a week seems onerous, keep in mind that it's likely frequency related; if you've been running once every couple weeks, reducing to once or twice a week would likely provide some regularity benefits.)

2. The movements appear to be more natural.

When you're just starting out, ramping up, or returning after a break, Coach Kimberly believes that running form can feel odd and uncomfortable. Every step and leg movement can feel taxing, as if you're aware of everything your body is doing.

However, after you've found your stride, the connections between your brain and muscles become more efficient and need less effort. "It's almost as if you're floating," she explains. Bonus: If you can run outside, reaching this milestone allows you to take in and appreciate the environment around you, which is another indicator you're progressing.

Kim Townsend Runner on trail in newton running shoes
Anna Janice Run Buddy Du

3. You are able to run longer distances.

In 2012, Camille, SBR Fun Events Director, tried her hand at jogging for the first time after having a few babies. She recalls stumbling along the neighborhood trail path, which was lined with street lamps. "I couldn't sprint the entire length of those lights—I had to pause, regain my breath, and walk a little," she explains.

In 2014, she returned to running on a more regular basis, and her cardiovascular system improved to the point where she could run from the first to the last streetlight on the trail path without stopping.

New runners, according to Coach Kim & Camille, should start with a run/walk interval and celebrate every time they reduce their walking interval and raise their running interval. You might set a goal to go even further once you've worked up to a consistent run.

Coach Kimberly suggests selecting one run per week as your long run. If you want to go further, gradually increase the distance of that one weekly outing—for example, from two to three miles, four to five, and finally more if you want.

Even if your pace isn't changing, the fact that you're putting in more kilometers is a sign that your run game is improving. Warning-Increase no more than 10% at a time, max 1/2-1 mile, for super beginners.

4. Week by week, you can run more.

Running is such a high-impact sport that adding too much too soon can lead to injury. However, progressively increasing your strength and resilience is an indication that your muscles, tendons, and joints are responding.

If you've been running two days a week for a few weeks, Townsend suggests adding a third and seeing how your body reacts. You can then build up to four or even five if you desire. Simply aim to raise your overall weekly mileage by no more than 10% at a time, which may mean shortening each day at first.

Tracking your training is one technique to ensure that you don't burn out. You can track your distance using digital logs on sites like Fit Bit, Garmin Connect, Strava, or TrainingPeaks, but it's also vital to pay attention to how your body feels. If you go through your logs frequently, you'll start to find patterns in how you feel, how much your body can endure, and how far you've come, says Townsend.

Two Female runners on a trail run
Corina at Tri Finish Line

5. You sprint up a hill.

Consider it a built-in benchmark if you reside in an area with hilly terrain. You may feel so much stronger one day going up an uphill that you used to kick your butt-that is a marker to let you know that you are steadily improving in your runs. Especially if you often had to walk up it in the past, you can now climb it without breaking pace.

Hills not only give your cardiovascular system a boost, but they also work practically every muscle in your core and lower body. Climbing becomes easier as you gain strength. "There's something about running uphill that makes people feel powerful," Townsend explains.

If you live in a flat area, see if you can find an incline—even a parking garage will suffice—and practice sprinting up it while walking or jogging down. You'll know you're getting stronger if you can do more of these repeats without slowing down or stopping, according to Coach Kimberly.

6. Your heart rate has slowed.

Your heart has to work especially hard when you first start jogging to keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to your working muscles. Each pint of blood may carry more oxygen as your circulatory system improves, and your heart can pump bigger quantities of it with each pump.

Townsend recommends keeping track of your heart rate over time to see if this is happening. Your starting point will be determined by factors such as your age and family history, but regardless of where you start, you'll likely see your average fall even if you keep running at the same pace. (A chest strap will normally provide more precise readings than a wrist-based monitor, but both will likely allow you to notice trends, she says.)

SSI When Camille was recovering from a leg injury a few months ago, she used this procedure. "I wouldn't expect to notice significant increases in my speed. "However, my heart rate would be 10 to 20 beats lower than it was a few weeks ago," she explains. "That was another pretty excellent indicator for me." Your resting heart rate, which you may check when you first wake up in the morning, may also drop.

7. You'll be able to breathe more comfortably and even talk while running.

Have you ever felt as if you couldn't run a block, much less a mile? Any distance can leave you huffing and puffing as your lungs fight to take in enough oxygen while you're first starting out, according to Coach Kimberly.

Changes in your muscles and cardiovascular system caused by training gradually raise your ventilatory threshold—the point during exercise when breathing becomes laborious. As a result, you'll be able to run longer and faster without becoming tired.

According to Townsend, you may eventually be able to carry on a conversation with your jogging companion or on the phone if you're running alone. "It's thrilling to tell tales and engage with people on the road," she adds, adding that it's a good indicator of fitness.

two female runners on a trail on a training run
Cheryl at Finish Line

8. You feel energized after finishing a run.

You'll likely discover that not only can you run for longer periods of time, but you'll also feel better while doing so. Whereas you used to think you'd pass out a quarter-mile before the end of a two-mile run, you might have enough left in the tank to speed up at the end. This increased energy will come naturally as your body adjusts to running, as well as the distance and time you're covering.

You can also deliberately practice positive self-talk to increase your stamina. When you feel yourself fading, Camille suggests repeating an affirmation—you can also use one for the entire week or your entire training plan. "I can do this," "This little light of mine, I am gonna let it shine," and "I was made for this" are a few of her favorites.

9. You're less zonked right after a run, and you're less sore the next day.

The first time you attempt a new distance, you may feel the need for a nap or, at the very least, a healthy dose of Hulu time on the couch. "You may find yourself extremely sore, or when you wake up the next day and try to get out of bed, you may feel quite creaky," Coach Townsend says.

As your muscles and connective tissue become stronger, they sustain less damage when you run and recover from the stress and strain of running more quickly. As a result, you'll be able to do the same amount of running—or even more—while experiencing fewer aches and pains.

According to Townsend, you may eventually be able to complete a long run in the morning and then move on to the rest of your day energized rather than exhausted. (It's also worth mentioning that fatigue can be a good sign of whether you're achieving the correct balance in your running—if you're usually totally wiped after a run, you might be overdoing it or not giving yourself enough time to recuperate between runs.)

10. It is easier physically and psychologically to do it again the next time.

Running on a regular basis improves your fitness and recovery, which influences your motivation. True, even experienced, elite runners have difficulty getting out the door—or experience moments of doubt or frustration along the way.

However, once you've gotten into a routine and made running a habit, it's much easier to lace up. "That confidence begins to grow, the ability to know you're going to get through whatever day is ahead," Roche says.

Finally, you'll develop self-efficacy—a belief in yourself and your ability to succeed that extends beyond running. Coach Kimberly puts it this way: "I'm competent, valuable, and capable of accomplishing things."

According to her, one great but unexpected potential sign that you're improving as a runner is when that feeling starts to carry over into other areas of your life, from your work to your relationships.

Runner celebrating milestone accomplishments
Diana and Anna

11. You make life decisions based on your running schedule.

As a result of your newfound running habit, you may find that your priorities change. When it comes to fueling for their long runs, Coach Kimberley and her husband, for example, now choose nutrient-rich foods for lunch and dinner days before their run.

You may also find yourself going to bed earlier or purchasing a foam roller or other similar tools to aid in your recovery. And, if you want to stay healthy as a runner in the long run, you'll find ways to incorporate strength training and mobility exercises, such as yoga and Pilates, into your routine, according to Townsend.

12. You're inspired to set higher goals while having fun along the way.

There's nothing wrong with having time-based goals if you're taking a healthy approach to speed—but they're far from the only option. Whether it's about pace, distance, consistency, or something else, you'll know you're progressing as a runner when you set goals, achieve them, and then feel compelled to set new ones.

On the other hand, setting unrealistic goals, such as running every day when you're only running a couple of times a month, or going straight from two-mile regular runs to five-milers, can make them unsustainable in the long run.

"Not every day will be great," Coach Kimberly says, "but you should choose goals that excite you and make you enjoy your work." "Start with attainable goals and cross them off as you go. You'll construct the stairway that will lead you to those loftier goals that seemed a pipe dream at first but, with a little effort, feel more attainable."

Conclusion: 12 non-time-based ways to tell you're getting better at running

When it comes to running, you don't have to only focus on getting faster. Focusing on your running splits and mile pace times will diminish the other advantages of frequent running and take fun out of your runs.

Hope you enjoyed us sharing 12 alternative approaches to track your run achievements that are not pace based.


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