What is Your Benchmark?

AJW's TaproomThese days, we runners have more gadgets at our disposal than ever before. Whatever we want to measure, there is a way to do it: miles or kilometers, vertical feet or meters, cadence, stride length, power, body mass, sleep quantity and quality, and so much more. The impact of all these great new gadgets on training and racing–particularly for and during long, remote, mountainous ultramarathons–has been increased accessibility and success for countless runners.

What all this data also provides is a seemingly endless supply of numbers. And runners love their numbers! For as long as I’ve been in the sport, being in the presence of other runners has inevitably led to discussions of numbers which then leads to many of the non-runners in the vicinity eagerly fleeing the scene and leaving the runners blissfully alone to wax endlessly on about pacing, splits, mileages, and PRs. Admittedly, I am as guilty as the next guy of being obsessed with numbers. In fact, most of my running friends will gladly tell you stories of training runs during which I literally spent the entire time blathering on about numbers.

In the midst of all the data and through the fog of various metrics, many of us in recent years have needed to prioritize the numbers to decide what should be most important to us. Some of us look to the newest and most cutting-edge numbers to provide guidance, while others look back to an earlier time when numbers were fewer and the interpretation was simpler. I find myself in the latter group. While I love all the new information, I have found the need to cut through the noise and seek simpler, more comprehensible benchmarks. While these may not be the most scientifically based, they do tend to be the ones that allow me to most confidently assess my fitness and goals and to use my running as a path toward self-improvement rather than a never-ending striving for something better.

The benchmark that has always provided me with stability, the one that provides a sense of confidence and hope, and the one that I find myself striving toward each time my running goes slightly astray, is the 40-mile week. I know it’s just an arbitrary number, but ever since I first started running 35 years ago, the 40-mile week has been my benchmark. Certainly, there have been countless weeks over the last three decades that I’ve exceeded that mark and even more countless others during which I have fallen woefully short. But through it all, that has remained my standard, my ‘par,’ if you will.

And so, as I enter my 53rd year on this earth, firmly entrenched in middle age, slightly battered and broken from years of pounding, and looking ahead to the 2020 Hardrock 100 which is 300 days away, I am seeking comfort and homeostasis in once again finding consistency with my benchmark. I am not there yet as I have been hovering in the 20-to-30-mile-per-week range for the past few months. However, I see it there on the horizon, hopefully beckoning me, urging me to get out there a little earlier and stretch things out a bit longer because, in the midst of all the numbers, sometimes just one is all I need.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from longtime Taproom favorite Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, Vermont. Recently, my friend and local man on the ground in Vermont Todd Sears sent me a couple sample cans from Lawson’s and I must admit I was blown away by the The Space In Between undefined ale. It’s described by the brewer as “an ale without definition, blurry and green, with a depth and form unclear, this beer resides in the space in between.” When I first tried it, I was struck by its tart aftertaste and oaky smell. I also felt it had a crispness and lemonade-type flavor that makes it the perfect post-run 5% beer.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What is your benchmark data point, or the indicator you rely on to show you are on a training path toward success?
  • Are there other data points which have emerged from the running-technology boom that you’ve found meaningful? Alternately, are there forms of tech that haven’t worked for you?

There are 6 comments

  1. Joe

    I am in the same boat AJW. The 40 mile week comes out when I am training for some event otherwise I am in the 7-mile a day, 5 days a week boat. While I do not know how my body will react when I exceed 40 miles per week, when I am in the 30 range, I can guess my run time pretty accurately based on feel alone.

  2. Rich

    Sticking to the discussion question of a benchmark point indicating training points to success – for me that would be a flat-ish 40-50 km run at ≤5 min/km (≤8 min/mi). This benchmark is symbolic mentally as much as physically. All other benchmarks are qualitative and more race specific.

  3. John Vanderpot

    My single most important benchmark? Was I smiling at the end of the run…

    No numbers required, but that’s the primary indicator that I’m going in the right direction!

  4. Russell Thomas

    This is so true AJW – I too started running seriously 35 years ago, training for the Leeds (UK) Marathon – I ran 3:29.
    A year or so later a new running club opened where I lived so I joined Horsforth Harriers where some guys had run London Marathon in sub 3hrs – a time I thought impossible for me. Chatting to them the sage advice of one seasoned veteran was to “run 40 mile a week and you’ll improve lad, do it for a year and you’ll get sub 3:15, do it for 2 years and you’ll be sub3” – I was hooked, I followed the advice and I did exactly that and ran a 3:13 the next year and a 2:58 the year after that.
    Ever since my benchmark has been the 40 mile week – I even extend it a bit to the 2000 mile year and it is my great delight to have completed 35 of such years.
    This article has brought back happy memories thankyou

  5. Richard Senelly

    Metrics… a byword for this age of data. I’ve never been much of a numbers guy. In the past, I’ve made time targets for races, but rarely kept tabs on them. I wear a watch but use it more to keep from missing a meal than hitting a split. I’ve kept records of training, but long ago figured out that training duration was more important for me than mileage. I am happy to report that whether finishing 1st or last (I’ve done both), time on my feet per week doing any kind of training at all works better for me than miles per week. As an older runner this seems especially gratifying. These days, my miles may be fewer but my “upright” time has remained fairly constant.PS “upright” includes bike time, lawn mowing, and dog walking…

  6. Marc

    These days we have easy access to all sorts of data. Even a simple watch gives us anough information for the benchmark. And these data are good to analyse the progress.

    But even though we have a lot of data available, the most iportant benchmark is how we feel at the end of a run, smiling should be the benchmark. Sure we all want to get faster, but the smiling keeps us putting on the trainers for the next run and that’s what counts!

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