Measuring Your Running Progress With a Heart Rate Monitor

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Every so often you need to stop and think about how far you’ve come, as the progress won’t always be obvious, or your training might not feel productive. 

How to Review your Progress Without a Heart Rate Monitor 

A simple test can be repeating a session from early on in your schedule that you found challenging and comparing that with how it feels now. If it feels easier now, you will be able to measure your progress.   

If it still feels the same now, then compare the time taken to complete. As you get fitter and stronger you will start to run faster even though the effort feels the same, so the comparison can also be measured by time rather than effort. If it feels the same but takes less time, then you’ve improved. 

According to Run in the Dark coach and international endurance athlete John O’Regan, another way to track your progress is to use a heart rate monitor. Here is how…  

Staying in the (Heart Rate) Zone 

Using a Heart Rate Monitor, a simple test would be selecting a very easy heart rate zone with a difference of 5 beats between the lower and upper end of the zone. To select a zone, you could take the average heart rate from one of your regular easy runs and use the average as the midpoint of the zone and go two beats either side to create the testing zone. 

To get a benchmark for future comparisons, you run a set distance staying within these parameters even if it means walking on the inclines to keep the heart rate constant. Note the time taken to complete and run the same test over the same route every 2-4 weeks. To get the most from this session you need to run the exact same route when repeating and try doing it after a rest or easy day. 

If you notice an improvement, it’s a sign that your training is productive and you are responding to the stimulus created by your exercise routine. On the other hand, if you don’t seem to be improving but remain the same, you can try increasing the pace during one of your runs or start running a more undulating route, as this will work your heart and lungs a little bit more. 

Tracking Performance Over Time: Down Days 

Don’t get disheartened by the occasional result that might indicate you are going backward rather than forwards. Sometimes a drop in performance can be a warning of an illness brewing, fatigue, or possibly you are just trying to do too much.  

Have a think about what might be causing it, and in some cases making a few lifestyle changes can be all that’s needed. For example, improving your quality of sleep by going to bed earlier and ensuring you are getting enough rest and recovery, along with good nutrition, should be enough to get you moving forward again. 

In Summary  

  1. Establish a baseline by knowing your current fitness level.
  2. Use the baseline as starting point to monitor progress / improvement
  3. Regular testing will ensure you are heading in the right direction. 

It’s advisable to consult with your doctor before starting on any new exercise regime if starting from a base of zero fitness and years of inactivity or returning from illness or injury. 

About John O’Regan

John O’Regan is the official running coach for Run in the Dark. 

John has run over 50 marathons and ultra-marathons on seven continents / 20 countries and represented Ireland on ten occasions at ultra-marathon distance. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @johnoregan777. 


Run in the Dark

As darkness sweeps around the globe every November, 25,000 people worldwide get up from their armchairs, slip on their red flashing armbands and pull on their running shoes to complete a 5k or 10k. From Sydney to San Francisco, together, we run for those who dream to walk.

Sign up to Run in the Dark from June each year, or join the waitlist, and we’ll let you know when registration opens.