How Data Visualization Helped Me Run Faster

Published June 15, 2014   |   
Shane O'Neill

Could you use a data visualization lift in your life and work?

I never thought I’d be that guy who tracks his fitness data. But a few months ago I tapped on the Nike+ app on my iPod Nano and after about a mile I was a running data junkie.

The lure of easy information sucked me in. I now knew — through a simple app UI and voice prompts — my average pace per mile, distance, time, and calories burned for every run. How had I spent all those years slogging through my runs unquantified?

Of course, just knowing basic numbers wasn’t enough if I wanted to run faster, which is really the point. What got me hooked is how the Nike+ website and mobile app crunch those numbers for me and display them in such a powerful way. To understand the data — and to really get addicted to the data, enough to change my behavior — I need to see it.
I soon recognized patterns via the Nike+ visual dashboard and activity logs, and I didn’t like what I saw. The line graphs showed that during my typical 4-mile runs my pace consistently dropped in the middle miles.

I knew what was going on here, and I’m sure other runners can relate: After a mile or so, I tend to tune out mentally and slow down. It’s not that I’m physically tired; my body just switches to autopilot, and it’s subtle enough that I never noticed it. But on a data chart, it shows up as a reverse bell curve. Start out high, sag in the middle, finish strong as I smell the finish line.

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