How to see Improvements in your Running

How do I see if I’ve gotten fitter? Easy: run (or race) a similar course and if my time has gotten faster, I’m fitter!

True, but there are other ways to tell if you’re in better shape than by racing all the time.


Seeing Progress

It’s not always so cut and dry to see if we’re getting in better shape.  How do we really know we’re fitter if we don’t race and have a time next to our name?  Charting our progress is a bit different when we’re not racing.  That doesn’t mean we have to go out and race just to see if we’re in shape.  It means we have to look for other signs to tell if we’re in shape.

Here are 4 ways we can know we’re in better shape without having to run a race:

  1. Workout Times
  2. Workout Distances
  3. Workout Recoveries
  4. Recovery Time

Workout Times

The easiest way to tell if we’re getting in shape is if our workout times are getting better.  Doing 5 x 800 at 3 minutes per 800 this week and 5 x 800 at 2:50 the next week is an improvement.  It’s a tangible way to see you’re in better shape, but do you really want to do 800s all the time?  Probably not.  Instead of basing your fitness on repeat 800s, focus more on the pace of the repeat, rather than on the time it takes you to run the repeat.

Have a staple workout that you do every 6-8 weeks.  If it’s repeat 800s or 1200s, you’ll be able to determine whether you’re in better shape.


Workout Distances 

Running 400s at your goal 10k pace was hard a month ago – you could only do 6.  A month later, you’re doing 1Ks at your goal 10k pace.  The pace stayed the same, but the distance you were able to hold that pace has improved.  That’s huge progress!  

Track Workouts
TWM meets for workouts in South Jersey

Increasing the distance of your repeats while keeping the same pace is another way of knowing your fitness has improved.

Workout Recoveries

After every repeat, you take a recovery (walk or jog).  If you can decrease the amount of time you need before you have to go again, you know you’re getting fitter!


After your first try at 5×800 you needed 2 minutes to fully recover, and 8 weeks later you do the workout again and you only need 1:30 to recover.  That’s a good sign that you are responding well to training and getting in better shape.


This has little to do with the actual running repeats you do and more to do with how fast you feel recovered and can work out hard again.  The fitter you get, the quicker you recover regardless of what the workout is. 

Post-Boston Marathon Recovery Time
Post-Boston Marathon Recovery Time

Taking care of yourself – hydrating, sleeping, stretching, and foam rolling – will all help you recover quicker.  Recovering quicker will allow you to work out sooner, thus getting you in better shape.

Charting progress isn’t strictly about a race time.  I can tell if I’m getting in better shape by how fast I recover from hard runs.

Charting Fitness without Racing
Charting Fitness without Racing

For example, I ran 5 x 800 at 6 minute pace with 2 minutes rest after each repeat.  I felt good during the workout and I recovered as well as would have been expected for my first workout.  The following week, I did 5 x 1k at 6 minute pace with 50 seconds rest after each repeat.  Again, I felt good and recovered well.

I know I made a big fitness jump because my recoveries were shorter and the workout distance increased.  The workout times and the post-workout recoveries were the same, and that’s fine.  Really, you don’t want to be changing more than two variables anyway.  


How do you know you’re in better shape?

Do you do a specific workout or aim for a specific race?

Want other stories about workouts and training? 5 strategies to recover faster, 4 ways to keep your training efforts honest, training with tired legs to help improve fitness

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