Top Ways for Triathletes to Track Their Running Distance and Potential

Have you ever started a training schedule not quite sure of where you are at fitness-wise and having to make an educated guess? This poses a big problem for runners – over-estimate your ability and you may over-train and under-perform. 

Under-estimate your ability and you may sell yourself short and not get the training stimulus you need to improve. Thankfully, there really is no need for guesswork. If you’re here looking for an answer to the question ‘how far did I run?’, then you’re in the right place!

And you’re not the only one; runners want to know how far they’ve run for many reasons, including trying to improve their performance, predicting race times, and overcoming training challenging.

Because let’s face it, without the right tools it can be difficult to figure out how far you ran. But now, keeping track of your distance, steps, pace, and even heart rate is easier than ever thanks to the latest tech and tools out there.

Tracking Your Mileage and Creating Running Routes

Whether you started running with a beginner’s training plan for a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or even a marathon or you just wanted to get moving, initially distance might not have been top of mind. Running for time is a fantastic thing to do.

It’s a great way to let go of the pressure and you’re still making progress. It’s why many beginner plans focus on time over distance.

But the longer you run, the more you start wanting to see some of the data. You start being introduced to other concepts like intervals and want to take more control of your runs. 

This is when planning, routing, and tracking start becoming more important. It’s also an interesting mental transition that makes you feel like you’re becoming more of a real runner.

Questions such as how far did I run, how fast did I run, and tracking how often I run are what many runners would like to know. That data helps you get better advice from their running coaches or online running groups or find the best training plan for you.

Why You Should Start Tracking Your Runs

One thing that you’ll notice is common amongst the best runners and athletes in the world is that they all track their training and progress meticulously.

Why is that important, you ask? Because it allows them to see how much they’ve grown over some time. It also allows them to push themselves further to become a better runner. What we measure we manage.

If you run the same easy three miles every single day, your body has no reason to push itself more to improve speed and endurance because it already knows how to handle what you’re doing.

Multiple studies have shown that the key to getting better at running is to run more over a given period, by incorporating progressive overload. This means that to improve any athletic quality, you need to expose your body to increasing levels of exertion to force it to adapt and become better.

Top Ways to Track How Far You Run

There are four main ways to accurately answer the question ‘how far did I run?’. Let’s look at each of them in more detail so you can decide which one is the best option for you.

GPS Watches

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Using a GPS watch is, by far, the easiest and most convenient way to figure out and track how far you ran.

GPS stands for the US government-owned Global Positioning System which uses a network of satellites to provide navigation, positioning, and timing. It’s a space-based radio-navigation system that broadcasts highly accurate navigation pulses to users on earth.

There are two other major satellite networks apart from GPS: Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System and the European Union’s Galileo. Both of these provide the same type of navigation data as GPS, but GPS happens to be the most popular around the world.

Since these systems work by tracking the location of devices here on earth, they’re ideal for runners, cyclists, and swimmers to use to know how far they’re going.

The most common GPS tracking device used by athletes is a GPS running watch. There are several great options out there by different brands such as Garmin, Suunto, Polar, and Epson, amongst others. 

But there is a risk to this – you don’t want to increase your mileage, speed, and exertion so quickly that it leads to injury. This is why we often talk about how quickly to increase running mileage as the 10% rule.

This is where tracking becomes incredibly important. Even for the most casual runner, tracking mileage is a fundamental component of training.

All you have to do while using a GPS watch is to click a button on the watch to connect it to a satellite, and the device will ping your location at predetermined time intervals to measure how far you’re running.

The accuracy of GPS technology is one of its biggest advantages.

Some also come with the capability of modifying how often they ping the satellite. The more often the device pings and checks in, the more accurate your distance will be.

Run-Mapping Websites

Another great option is to use run-mapping websites online. You can use these to find out how far you ran by tracing your route after a run. Two of the most popular run-mapping websites are Map My Run and On The Go Map.

Both of these sites allow you to trace routes on an interactive map of any city. Just click on the starting point, then click on other points along the way and also click and select a finish point.

The routes on both these sites automatically snap to the nearest road or trail which makes clicking and tracing routes easier. Both are free to use online and great when you’re just starting.

Smartphone Apps

One of the best ways to track your runs, apart from a GPS watch, is by using free running apps. They allow you to track important metrics such as pace, distance, and elevation.

There are a bunch of different options out there to choose through, including free and paid apps, with some offering a free trial so you can test it out.

Apps are going to use the GPS from your phone, so you don’t need to have a good cell signal or WiFi. However, we do know they are less accurate than a running watch due to the satellites used.

Some popular apps include Nike Run Club, Strava, Asics Runkeeper, and Adidas Runtastic. Runkeeper is an easy-to-use app that’s excellent for beginners and provides crucial data to help you with your training and measure your progress.

Adidas Runtastic and Nike Run Club are two other highly popular apps with some great features. Nike’s app is gamified and is based on challenging yourself to beat personal goals. You can also compete with friends via the app.

Adidas Runtastic includes social sharing features and has some great analytics displayed in beautiful charts and graphs so you can analyze your runs with ease.

Strava allows you to even connect and upload your GPS watch data to it and includes a social media component to see your friends’ progress as well as yours.

Three Tests To Measure Your Running Potential


A basic speed test to ensure runners did not waste time training for distances at which they would never be competitive thus avoiding frustration and disappointment knocking on a closed door.

To execute this test you ideally need to go to the nearest track and run the test over a half-lap but the alternative is to find another flat measured course or use your GPS watch although this may be slightly off over a distance as short as 200m.

This problem is not just relevant to elites and talented youngsters. Recently a middle-aged marathoner who could not – however much he tried to break 30 seconds for 200m. This pace equates to a 2:30 min/km pace or 4:02 min/mi. 

Theoretically, this runner has enough basic speed to be trained to be very successful over a wide array of distances – certainly from 5 km and upwards. 


On the other end of the spectrum from your basic speed lies your true ‘easy running pace’. Famous coach Phil Maffetone identified a simple formula that closely matched the intensity where your aerobic energy system provides almost 100% of the energy. 

If you don’t know what the aerobic system is, think of them simply as the ‘clean long-term fuel tank’ versus the ‘dirty short-term fuel tank’.

From an energy perspective, most running distances are predominantly aerobic – even the very short 800-metre distance requires 63 to 73% of the energy demand to be supplied from the aerobic energy system. For the marathon, it is more than 99%.

The MAF test requires a heart rate monitor – the only downside of it but other than that can be performed on any course that has an even 1 km or 1-mile loop (or on a track) or even a reasonable flat stretch of road long enough to complete the standard 3 mile/5 km or 5 mile / 8 km version of the test.

Once training has begun runners just do this as part of Medium Long Runs – as you need 10-15 minutes warm-up and can add as much cool-down as needed. This means the testing does not even need to take away a training day.

Rushing into quality training off a very weak foundation usually leads to a runner who only gets worse as training progresses. A word of warning: heart rate is a symptom of how much stress the body is experiencing overall – both from exercise demands and otherwise. 

When your pace is unnaturally low in this test, it can mean you have an injury, underlying illness or other chronic stressor affecting the test. This makes the MAF test a virtual ‘canary in the coal mine’.

The MAF HR would correspond very closely with these three physiologically determined thresholds: Aerobic threshold (Aer T), Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA) and Fatmax (the highest level of fat oxidation, which occurs during submax activity).

Maximum Steady State Test

This test has recently come back into fashion on various running sites in the guise of ‘Functional Threshold’ – a way to find the ‘Lactate Threshold’ without being tested. 

But Arthur Lydiard’s ‘Maximum Steady State is not a physiological measurement but a practical one: it represents the best pace you can maintain for 1 hour AND recover well enough afterwards that you could perform the same run the next day and the day after that and the day after that.

The ‘Maximum Steady State is the best ‘1/2 effort’ you can sustain for 1 hour. If you happen to run a 10-mile race in 60 minutes then that would represent your full effort for one hour whereas for a top elite runner their full effort for one-hour would be around half-marathon pace. 

Since 1/2 effort means you should be able to go out and do it all again the next day, many runners will be asked to start the ‘Maximum Steady State’ test every day they run for 3 weeks. 

This gives a very accurate picture not just of where to draw this line but also of the runner’s ability to recover and how honestly they can judge their own efforts.

How It Affects Training

If an athlete has a huge problem with health, injury or general fitness, we will put in place a period of running where all runs are done under the MAF heart rate – so very easy. If the runner is stressed but not injured, do some very short and fast strides to maintain speed.

For runners who are in good health and have been improving and training consistently for a while, use a more traditional Lydiard week – in this case only easy runs, recovery runs, long runs and medium-long runs are done at MAF HR or below and instead allow 2-3 ‘steady state’ runs usually in the shape of ‘Out & Backs‘, ‘Circuit Runs‘ and endurance-focused Fartlek.

The latter approach has several benefits – improvements happen quicker and the runner gets exposed to much more variety taking care of especially the boredom that can be the main challenge of doing purely MAF-intensity runs.  Once enjoyment and enthusiasm drip out of training, you have lost the battle and every run becomes a stressor in itself even if it is easy.

How It Affects Goal-Setting

Once we are armed with the three figures: your basic speed, your easy pace and your maximum steady state, we can very accurately predict where your current fitness places you about what you should be able to do to run the time you aspire to over a given distance. 

Begin by creating a pace chart that lists both your ‘current’, ‘best’ and ‘target’ paces for a variety of training intensities and race distances.


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