When it comes to staying motivated to run (particularly when one is injured), tracking one’s progress–miles run, paces held, monthly mileages, averages, calories burned, elevation, etc–is paramount. At least for me, it gives a big boost to see how far I’ve come and paint a clearer picture of where I’d like to go.
The Lady and I both use Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watches to record our workouts. They’re freaking awesome. The question, however, is this: how do we visualize the data?
I’ve written a few posts chronicling my own efforts to analyze the trends in my running data. Obviously this is both far more detailed than I necessarily need, and also not very good at giving me a bulleted summary of how things, in general, are going. For these, I rely on a trio of websites. Ideally I’d love for just one service to incorporate everything I want, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In no particular order, here are the things I’d really like:
- Lots of flexibility to slice and dice my data: weekly, monthly, yearly summaries; just running, cycling, cross-training, or any combination; view races separately from training.
- A way of assessing my progress over time. This is somewhat related to the previous point, but involves a little more in the way of behind-the-scenes number-crunching, as opposed to simply summing different combinations of numbers.
- Social is nice…to an extent. Even though running is a very independent sport, there’s absolutely no substitute for giving and receiving congratulations after solid workouts, encouragement after tough ones, and celebrations after races. But focusing exclusively on the social aspect can be detrimental as well. There’s a balance to be had.
That’s really about it. Granted these are pretty broad, so I’ll narrow them down a bit by introducing the three services I use to track my progress, and where I think each of these is solid and where they fall short. Keep in mind: these are my personal preferences. You may find everything you need at one of these sites.
This is sort of a prerequisite by virtue of my use of a Garmin watch. But its strength is absolutely in number-crunching: I can slice my data almost any way I want. Further, it has an API (admittedly, not well-documented) that I can access for even higher resolution details of my workouts; it’s how I’ve created the various custom analyses. It recently tacked on a social module, but its effect is minimal to the point of almost being entirely invisible. I can’t really give that a positive or a negative; it’s just sort of “there”.
Its weakness is probably the long-term tracking of progress. Sure, you can view summaries collated by year, but that’s such a high-level view that you lose sight of all the details. Some combination of the two would be perfect. Its reporting system isn’t too bad, but I’d love to see some deeper-level analysis, some higher-order statistics than just averages for certain periods of time. I also wouldn’t mind if they beefed the social aspect up juuuuust a tad.
All things considered, my personal opinion is that Garmin Connect comes the closest of the three sites I use to my imaginary “ideal”.
Fitocracy has the social aspect nailed. It’s the central theme, but honestly it’s not overbearing either. It knows it’s supposed to be a fitness website, so it doesn’t go overboard beyond basic community, photo, and status support.
Its point system is also a fantastic reward mechanism. Over time, you realize that distance running is pretty much the core ingredient in whatever algorithm it uses to calculate points, and it’s fun to view weekly/monthly/yearly points for you compared to all your followers. It fosters a healthy sense of competition, motivating you to get out of bed when you reaaaaallly want to stay under the covers.
Where it falls flat is any kind of long-term performance assessment and number crunching. There is absolutely no way to slice up your workouts; viewing your accumulated points over various periods of time is the only indicator you have, and you can’t even see the points you received from running vs cross-training, etc. For a guy who loves viewing data from as many angles as possible, this is a definite weakness. But the social competitive aspect is solid enough to keep me interested.
Of the three, DailyMile has hands-down the slickest UI. Curved edges, smooth gradients and bevels, simple but informative layouts; it’s visually enticing.
The social aspect is also a perfect blend: not too much, not too little. There’s less in terms of social features than Fitocracy, but it’s still a healthy level of interaction that doesn’t approach overwhelming. It also provides arguably some of the best (and best-looking) weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries of your workouts. Seriously: how cool is it to be told how many donuts’ worth of calories you’ve burned?
You can also break things down by activity type, and see how your workouts compare to those of your friends. It even supports plotting out running routes (though I don’t think it can take elevation into account). Thus far, a pretty solid combination of the strengths of Garmin Connect and Fitocracy.
Unfortunately, where I have problems is that it doesn’t support nearly the level of detail in terms of workout types as the other two. I love that Garmin Connect lets me specify a training run VS a race VS a recreational run. To DailyMile and Fitocracy, all three would be the same. Furthermore, Fitocracy has a boatload of cross-training activities; for someone who loves cross-training as much as I do, this is a big plus. DailyMile doesn’t have much beyond running, swimming, cycling, and a few basic cross-training activities. Good luck finding a category for racquetball, or recording exactly how much weight you lifted on bench press.
As of this writing, I haven’t found a service that’s perfect. These three seem to collectively cover the spectrum; cutting any one out leaves something to be desired. But it is a bit tedious to keep all three updated, and I do end up repeating myself quite a bit when recording the workouts. DailyMile does provide a handy plugin to Garmin Connect, but that still means a minimum of two distinct data inputs (plus I keep track of how many miles I have on each set of shoes using Garmin Connect, so I’d need to access that data anyway).
Maybe I should create a new one? 😛