Thursday, September 22, 2011

Accurate Measurements

I went for a seven mile run today. Enjoyed it a lot – ran at a fast clip, had Life’s Rich Pageant spuring me on – but when I got home found out that Runmeter (my iPhone tracking app) had not captured a good chunk of the run because the GPS crapped out again. Now, I was able to enter the missing data into the phone manually, but I’m finding myself continually frustrated by tools that don’t measure what they’re supposed to. This is not to bust on Runmeter, which I think is a fantastic running app. The problem could be with my phone, the GPS signals in very hilly and tree-covered Ashland, or another random issue I haven't thought of. I bring this up because I've been thinking about how difficult it is to accurately measure something (outside of a laboratory).

Just last week, Eric and I were talking about tracking your fitness on the Daily Plate and being surprised at the number of calories that the program credits you with burning. For example, the Daily Plate tells me that my 53.5 minute run at just under 8 minute miles for 7 miles burned 861 calories. Doesn’t sound accurate to me, but I’m also not sure which of the many “running” options to choose: selecting 7 mph credits you with burning 1,190 cal/hour, while selecting 7.5 mph credits you with burning 970 cal/hour. WTF? Another example was a health check my company provided for everyone this past week. Standard measurements of cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass/weight, etc. Essentially a physical. But the scale that these folks used informed me that I weighed 163 pounds. This didn't seem right to me, so I used the sliding weight scale in the gym which told me I was at 170. Which is right? Who to trust?

Of course, the Red Sox connection here is which stats to trust. As we’ve argued before, which stats are the ones to trust? ERA? WAR? etc. etc. Consider as well the human factor of calling balls and strikes.

All this uncertainty can be fun to ponder, but at the moment I’m frustrated because I’m trying to be more scientific about my training and can't be sure if the numbers I have are right or not. I’m trying to consider new factors and new information , but I’m just not sure how accurate it all is, and it’s starting to bug me the point where I should probably just invest in high-quality gear (heart rate monitor?) or just go back to running by feel.


  1. If you want to spend $140, buy a Garmin Forerunner 305. I still need to write a review of mine, but as a technical device, it is fantastic. And once I'd made the investment, it certainly motivated me to get out and use it!

    If you don't want to spend any money, map out your course on Then, use an ordinary wristwatch to determine when you stop and start your run. You can pace yourself if you know where your mile marks are, and if you can do math while you run (always a challenge for me.)

  2. The problem is that I just can't see myself dropping $140 on a measurement device. Nor do I see myself doing math while I'm running, as good of an idea as that is - one of the main reasons I run is because I get to let my mind wander and see what it comes up with.

    For now, I'm going to try the nike running app that Eric uses and see if that makes any difference. I'll report back and let y'all know.