The 5 metrics that runners should take into account on their racing watch

As a runner, it took me almost ten years, and four marathons, to properly set my watch and learn what I Actually need to see while running. Let me give you an example. I am 20 miles away from my second marathon, the training has gone well and so far I have been running hard. For some reason (probably the crowds or the skyscrapers) my watch’s GPS is telling me that my current pace is a minute slower than my actual pace.

Mentally, I give up. I start to walk. I have a cry. I call my dad and cross the finish line ten minutes later than I had hoped. A lot of things went wrong, but ultimately, in that second, if I had looked at my average pace, not my current pace, the race might have turned out differently.

Before you send that new running watch back, also know that this nifty little gadget that you just unboxed also has the power to revolutionize your training. You’ll be able to track your runs better, on some watches you’ll be able to download training plans or set up more technical workouts, and it might even allow you to leave your phone at home on your next run. A good running watch can also help you better understand your overall health, thanks to sleep tracking and recovery data.

But if the data on your wrist is overwhelming you, or you’re not sure exactly what to watch while running, here’s a quick guide. It can also help you decide which metrics you have onscreen as you run. (Plus, if you’re reading this ahead of the upgrade, take a look at the best racing watches to buy right now).

5 metrics that runners should take into account on their racing watch:

Average pace

Your average pace gives you your average time over your entire run, while your current pace gives you your pace for the kilometer traveled. While both are extremely useful, I would say that if you’re trying to get out obsessively checking your watch, the average pace is the most important metric to check when you’re on the run. Keep in mind that your running watch’s GPS can be affected by skyscrapers, tunnels, or just a bad signal, so your current pace can vary dramatically.

On my watch, I choose to see the average pace on the main screen, but I also have a split screen that shows the current pace and the average pace for speed sessions.


Obviously, but it’s probably a measurement you’ll want to see when looking at your wrist. You will probably also want to see your time, especially if you are training by time rather than distance.

A runner checking his heart rate on a running watch

(Image credit: boonchai wedmakawand)


Most running watches that have the ability to track heart rate will display “heart rate zones” during a run. When you first set up your watch, most use the default settings to determine your heart rate zones, which may change slightly as you train. On some Garmin running watches, you can set different heart rate zones for different sport profiles, you can also adjust your heart rate zones manually.

Your heart rate zones are usually calculated from your maximum heart rate (MHR), which is the maximum number of times your heart will beat in a minute. Your maximum heart rate is unique to you and is normally determined by your age and genetics, not your physical condition. For example, your recovery heart rate zone will be around 50-60% of your HRM, your light heart rate or endurance zone will be around 60-70% of your HRM, your aerobic zone will be 70 -80% of your FCM, your anaerobic zone will be 80-90% of your FCM and your threshold zone will be 90-100% of your FCM.

But why are they important? While every runner is different, getting out and running in your threshold zone every run is probably not a long term training strategy you’ll want to stick to. More advanced runners, for example, will aim to spend a large portion of their easy training miles in the light heart rate or endurance zone in order to fully recover and develop aerobic fitness. On the other hand, if you don’t force yourself enough in your speed workouts, you may also be peaking in your workout. Knowing more about your heart rate can help you train smarter.


Simply put, your cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. It’s not something you’ll need to see on your watch as you run, but it’s a useful training tool to look at once you’ve uploaded your run to your favorite app, because it’ll keep you running. says a lot about your running form.

For most runners, your pace is likely to be between 150 and 200 steps per minute, but studies have found that running at a pace of over 170 steps per minute is the best way to run effectively.

That said, a lower cadence isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to a faster run, so if that’s your goal, it’s time to work on your stride length, usually by incorporating speed work in your plan. Another easy way to work on your cadence is to download a 170 BPM soundtrack from your favorite music streaming app and listen to it while you run – you should find it easier to get up to speed. the music.

A photo of the Garmin Fenix ​​6 with VO2 max

(Image credit: Future / Tom’s Guide)

VO2 max

Another that sounds pretty scary, or like a throwback from your high school science class – your maximum VO2 is the volume of oxygen in millimeters you can use per minute, per kilogram of body weight when you exercise at your gym. maximum threshold. It makes sense, right?

If you’re even more confused, just know that number refers to how much oxygen your body is able to absorb when you run. Ideally, you want this number to increase as you improve, because the higher your VO2 max, the better your body is able to oxygenate your muscles as you move, helping you go faster or farther. It is also an indicator of the efficiency of your run.

When you set up your new running watch, it typically asks you to run for 10 minutes to determine your VO2 max, using your pace and heart rate. The most accurate way to calculate your VO2 max is to go to a lab, but that’s probably a little extreme, and unless you’re an athlete, your watch should give you a pretty good idea. Unlike your maximum heart rate, this is something you can work on, and it should increase as you train.

Recovery data

Another metric found on most running watches these days will focus on recovery – on the Garmin Forerunner series this is called ‘recovery time’, Polar running watches have a ‘training load’. After the holidays, or when we buy a new gadget with a race in mind, it’s too easy to increase our training too much, too soon. This often results in injury or downtime, which you probably won’t want.

Running watches are smart recovery tools these days and will often give you a suggested recovery time based on how hard you work during the session. This is often shortened if you get a good night’s sleep or reduce the load on your body within a few days.

Whatever running watch you just unpack, learning about the recovery tools available is a sure-fire way to take care of your body and avoid overtraining injuries.

A photo of a running watch and phone showing calories burned

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Things you should forget:

Calories burned

Unless you’re concerned about your weight and trying to burn more calories than you consume to shed a few pounds, constantly checking your calories burned throughout the day is probably not good for you. . As someone with a history of eating disorders, this is always something I hide on the home screen of my running watch because I find it encourages obsessive habits. There is also to research this suggests that on some running watches the predicted calories burned is not that precise (after all, the number is designed by an algorithm on a machine, and humans are not machines) so it is definitely not something. thing to hang up on too.

Taken measures

To be clear, I’m not announcing anyone who Is it that counting their steps, because I know it can encourage people to get up and walk around the office between meetings, or take the stairs and not the elevator, and that’s great. That said, it’s not a metric that I would worry too much about, because recent research found little scientific evidence behind the reasoning that, say, 10,000 steps per day is a goal.

It should also be noted that your running watch is likely to measure the steps taken by the electromagnetic sensors that detect movement. The watch will then use an algorithm to convert said movement into steps. The algorithm used will often only detect steps if they are considered a “normal” pace or a “normal” pace, which means that your watch will often not detect steps if you push, for example, a stroller. Again, it’s not worth ignoring completely, but it’s probably not a measure worth overstaying.

Looking to get fitter? We’ve hand picked some of the best gear on the market, including the best running shoes, the best trail running shoes, and the best carbon fiber running shoes to wear on race day.

If you’re not a runner, we’ve also picked out the best adjustable dumbbells and exercise bikes for you to workout at at home.

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