How elite ultramarathon runner Steve Way trains with wearable tech

Want to know how a professional athlete thinks about running, diet and sleep?
An ultramarathon elite on wearables

If you're looking to kickstart your fitness, employing the help of a fitness tracker or GPS running watch is a sensible first step. There's no need to wear an armband for your phone or a pouch on the waist, while you also get access to more accurate and in-depth stats about your workout.

Of course, the long-term benefit of this is to provide motivation for you to improve. But while that's all well and good for the average runner, does this formula still apply to the day-to-day routine of a professional?

Well, we sat down with ultramarathon runner Steve Way, the holder of the British 100km record, to see how his wrist companions have aided the journey from a self-described overweight smoker to a professional athlete and record breaker.

"I've always been a gadget man, even before running. So if there was a gadget to make anything easier and more fun, I was in," said the 42-year-old athlete and Garmin ambassador. "I like viewing stats while I'm running — I don't listen to music, I don't try and solve world issues — pretty much the only thing on my mind is stats.

"And a huge amount of my motivation in the first few years of my running was the statistics I was getting out of my Garmin watch, so I lived by the improvement curves I was seeing and that's what turned me into the athlete I am. These days I get a lot of motivation from being competitive for races. So it has changed but it certainly played a massive part of my journey and got me to a stage where I was able to reach the competitive side of things."

How elite ultramarathon runner Steve Way trains with wearable tech

Way is currently training for the Comrades Marathon — a 90km race in South Africa taking place in June — after finishing 30th overall in the London Marathon, and fourth within the 40-44-year-old category. In terms of metrics that help him throughout his training, he indicated that Performance Condition is a mainstay on his Forerunner 935 screen.

"I used to work out [my running condition] in my head, so I'd look at heart rate, the pace I'm running at, and then work out how well I'm running at that precise moment," he told us. "With the Performance Condition, it's not only using my pace and my heart rate, but also my heart rate variability and working out how stressed I am, and it's just giving me a score.

"I've been running long enough so I know my body pretty well now, but it's great to have that immediate backup to say, yes, you're not recovered from your last run and you need to go home.


"My four main fields on my first screen are always my performance condition, the average pace for the mile I'm currently in, my heart rate and the amount of time in the currently lap, which is useful for certain interval training."

It's not a shock to hear of a professional runner taking recovery stats seriously, but Way admitted that he keeps things much simpler when it comes to tracking diet and sleep monitoring, something which, as progress is made, can surge up the priority list for a device.

Working from home allows him to take afternoon power naps, he joked, while also noting how he can be left embarrassed about his sleep stats: "It's higher than the average person, I would think. If I get eight hours of sleep, that's typically a bad day."

How wearables helped a professional athlete on his journey

Wearables certainly played a massive part of my journey and got me to a stage where I was able to reach the competitive side of things

"And in terms of food, I think life's too short to, year-in and year-out, only eat exactly what you're meant to eat. I take a policy of: the closer I get to my race, the better my diet gets."

Even if food tracking got to the point where it was virtually automatic (like we pondered in our perfect fitness tracker wish list), Way thinks it would only become useful for him in the final stages of his preparation.

"In the week before, I can tell you exactly how many grams of carbohydrates I've had through my very OCD spreadsheet on my laptop, and that's because I do this carb-depletion and carb-load and I need an exact number. On a day-to-day basis, though, I take up a slightly more relaxed view on it."

Whether you're a relative beginner or have your eyes set on more expansive races, Steve Way is proof that wearables can help form part of the motivation to keep you on the right path. But with everything from your steps to your VO2 max recorded from the wrist, figuring out what works for you is the first step to improving as a runner.

"Early on, it was just me and the watch, and seeing how well I could improve myself, and then it became proper racing out on the streets," Way explained. Ah, he makes the journey sound so simple.




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