Lies, damned lies and statistics

What can statistics tell us and how can they be used to help training, my thoughts.

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In our lives we are bombarded by a constant stream of information and statistics, some of it fake (#prayforSweden), some of it real, most of it useless, understanding what is useful and more importantly how to make use of it seems to me to be the tricky part in terms of training.

Above all else there is one statistic about a marathon that you can’t escape, isn’t fake and will never change, and that is in order to finish the marathon you have to somehow get yourself around a course of 42.195 kilometres or 26.219 miles. How you do this and how long it takes will in part be down to a combination of various factors and statistics, the temperature on the day, your bodyweight, your level of hydration, training miles in the bank, the number of people in the field (and more importantly the number of people who massively overestimate their ability and start walking after a mile forcing you to slow down or take evasive action to get round them) etc etc etc. I know that some of these factors are totally beyond my control so I’ll forget about them and focus on what I can do something about and then look at how and if I can use the information available to me to improve my performance in any way.

Over the last 12 months I’ve mainly focussed on my weight, I can’t really say that I’ve typically been one to weigh myself regularly but since realising that I wasn’t happy with my weight and that 13st 8lbs (87.6kg) wasn’t healthy or sustainable I’ve weighed myself every week and am currently down to 10st 9lbs (69.6kg), I’ve never been particularly scientific but even I know that dragging 3 stone less around with me can only be good for me and make my running easier and quicker.

On Saturday my wife arranged for me to attend Fitness Evolution in Burnley for an assessment on their Biotrax system. As mentioned in my first blog post I’d previously had a similar health check this time last year which gave me a kick up the backside and started my journey to being a runner/advanced jogger. On that check I was told my metabolic age was 50, on Saturday that metabolic age had dropped to 24, I’m actually 39! I have no idea how that assessment works, it’s a statistic, I think it paints a wider picture of where I started and where I am now, whether it can assist me is a moot point.

 metabolic-ageMore measurable and more telling is my body fat percentage, last February I had 24.8% body fat, on Saturday I had just 8.7%.

body-fat

Whilst it’s obvious what that is telling me about how my body looks and feels I don’t yet know how I can actually use this information to aid my training, is this figure about right, too high, too low, should I add a bit of fat, does it matter? I’d appreciate any thoughts and comments from either seasoned runners or medical people out there on this one.

As my training has now gained a genuine sense of purpose I have also started to pay far greater attention to my pace. Based on my performance in the Burnley 10k last June I was doing a race pace of just under 9 minute miles. Over recent weeks and longer distances I am now hovering around 8 minute miles (tonight’s 11.7 miles for example was rattled off in 1 hour 31 mins 20 secs, 7.77 minutes per mile) which gives me a good measure of progress,  one I’ll be putting to the test in another 10k race in early March, this is also useful information for me to set myself a realistic finish time goal for the big day in October. As I was particularly restless one evening last week I tried to get myself to sleep by doing the maths in my head for various paces and finish times, 8 minute miles across the full distance would bring me home in 3hrs 28mins, is it realistic to keep that pace up across the full distance? Doubtful. Running half the distance at 8 minute miles and the other half at 9 minute miles is probably a more sensible target and would bring me home in 3 hrs 41 mins and even if I did the whole thing at 9 minute mile pace I’d still be over the line inside 4 hours at 3hrs 54 mins. Whilst I’m at this level of pace in training I totally understand that things can change on race day so again I’d really appreciate any feedback on what times others have run on their marathon debuts compared to any targets you’d set yourself and whether my times seem reasonable or overly optimistic?

If used appropriately statistics, assuming they are the right set of statistics, can I believe really add value in training, provide motivation and help us all to improve in one way or other, on the other hand lies and damned lies just leave us looking like some fella with bad hair who just happens to have landed the biggest job in the world!!!

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