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The Suunto Ambit3 Manual 7: Running Performance

Firmware 2.0 for the Ambit3 line,  beside recovery testing, also introduced a new “running performance” measurement.

Running Performance (Tracking) Display

What is Running Performance?

Where the recovery tests analyze heart rate variability to measure stress/recovery, the running performance indicator reflects how efficient one is running compared to one’s (weighted) average-to-date. Reflected in that score is the relationship between heart rate (variability) and speed/pace.

Running performance is related to VO2max (*the* indicator of aerobic fitness, indicating how well the body can transport and use oxygen) as well as running economy (technique and muscular performance) – see at the end of this post.

This running performance indication is only calculated

  • in “running” modes,
  • in moderate (to high) intensity runs (with HR exceeding 70% Hrmax, at least for some time), and
  • when the HR sensor and GPS work without too many errors.
  • Also, it only makes sense when running on flat and hard ground.

Soft ground means that more energy is needed to push off, and ascents/descents, of course, also increase/decrease heart rate compared to pace, making the running performance indicated, simply put, dubious.

Altitude measurement is actually taken into account so that ascents/descents should not matter.

However, altitude measurement by GPS alone (on all models except the Ambit3 Peak with its barometric sensor) is not the most trustworthy, and trail running tends to also give problematic results for pace, if the trail is rather winding and makes it difficult for the GPS to measure the pace correctly.

So, if such a move is set up as a “running” sports mode (rather than “trail running”), running performance can still be shown because the watch alone doesn’t recognize the data as actually not very accurate then and there.

However, I’d recommend activating the running performance analysis only in a “track-running” or “running test” mode and, especially, comparing the running performance indicated only for runs on similar, flat, and hard-surface courses.

The running performance actually appears in two different ways, as the current performance during an activity (and its trend) and as the 30-day trend.

Real-Time Running Performance

Running performance can be shown in real time, during a ‘move’ (i.e., while out for training) as a new line of data displaying “diff x%”, the percentage difference between the current running performance and the longer-term running performance.

Instead of just the single current value, one can also get a graph view of the running performance during the current ‘move’. This displays the percentage difference in the top line, the distance covered in the bottom line, and a graph of the running performance’s development, with a dot for each kilometer (mile) of the current ‘move’, in the graph in the middle.

This graph display is particularly interesting as it makes it possible to quickly see the trend in running performance.

Typically, as one gets more tired during a run, heart rate is likely to go up, heart rate variability is likely to go down, running efficiency (form) probably declines, and all of that is reflected in running performance going down as well.

Conceivably, running performance could also trend up, possibly if starting out slow and ‘cold’ and then warming up, getting more used to moving again, and moving more efficiently. More typically, when at a good (and peaking) performance level, it starts out higher (and then goes down).

Flat running performance during a move would (probably) indicate that this run is a really good one at a level that can be sustained easily in terms of both physiological load (how hard it is for you, bodily) and form (how well you keep up an efficient gait, for example).

Setting Up Running Performance Displays

This real-time display of running performance should be included in the default “running” mode of Ambit3 models, but of course (if you aren’t completely new to it, for example), may need to be added to the screens:

Just remember that it has to be a mode for the “activity: running” or it won’t display running performance, and decide if you want the single-line display or the graph display (or both).

As I mention in the video, setting up a display for heart rate, running performance value, and perhaps pace, does make some sense.

The graph view still seems the more useful to me, though.

Running Performance Tracking

The overall score for a run is also shown in the summary view displayed at the end of a run (or viewable in the exercise logbook as long as the move is still stored on the watch, and also displayed in Movescount), and that score is used in the second way that running performance features on the Ambit3:

Running performance cannot only be seen in a sports mode display and in real time, but also in the activity tracking / active recovery displays in the Ambit3’s time mode, showing the 30-day trend.

Here, you can see how your recent (last 30 days’) runs compare to each other and, therefore, how your running performance has been developing.

Understandably, even if it doesn’t look quite so extreme as in my example (which is mainly just based on some initial data – from lactate testing – that confused the analysis), seeing performance trend upwards is a good and motivating thing to have happen, and a downwards trend would, at the very least, provide a good warning that something must be off…

What Does Running Performance Mean?

To go a little more in-depth, a final look at the numbers…

First, another word from Firstbeat:

What’s the thinking behind the running performance indicators? It looks obviously good during a run, to be able to see that one is getting ‘weaker’, okay. But that’s to be expected. How else can it be used best? Periodization and tapering before a race, perhaps? How?

Firstbeat:

“If you really want to shock your body, i.e. get high training effect, then a big decrease in performance is expected, and a good thing. That’s one example.

It is also a way to assess how your fitness develops in the long term: For example, if you have a weekly 15km running exercise for a marathon with a target pace, then the decrement in performance should get smaller week by week. This is because the same exercise causes a smaller disturbance in your body’s homeostasis (balance state) as fitness level improves.

In addition: if performance level drops fast during the workout it is a sign of upcoming exhaustion.”

Running performance, as mentioned in the introduction, reflects physiological state (cardiorespiratory fitness) as well as running economy. Through that, it is related to, but not directly reflective of, VO2max: If running economy were perfect (a score of 1.0, i.e. the best it could be for you), then the running performance indicated would directly correspond to VO2max; otherwise, it is a product of VO2max x running efficiency.

So, you cannot quite put your running performance number into that table below directly (as the table shows VO2max, which is likely to be lower than your running performance), but it does give an indication of your likely fitness level:

VO2max and Fitness Level Classification

VO2max and Fitness Level Classification (Source: Firstbeat)

The running performance / VO2max number can also be used to predict race time:

Running Performance and Race Time Predictions

Running Performance and Race Time Predictions (Source: Firstbeat)

Of course, one should keep in mind that such a prediction is an art at least as much as it is a science. For example, if all you ever run is a 10k, your performance on a marathon or an ultra will most likely be ‘weaker’ than your performance score alone would predict.

If you want to delve deeper, the White Paper from Firstbeat explaining this analysis (and showing the sources that the above tables are based on) is available here as a pdf.

Otherwise, just have fun – and use the tools you have been given well ;)

    • Travis on 2015/12/03 at 04:45

    Reply

    Thanks for this great review. I initially misunderstood what you meant when you said “Altitude measurement is actually taken into account so that ascents/descents should not matter.” I thought you were saying that you can do a hill/mountain run and that the watch will take the altitude change into account when calcuating performace level, but in fact what happens is that the watch will ignore any data that includes altitude change from it’s analysis. This means that if you’re only climbing/descending a trail, you’re out of luck.

    I was hoping to find a way to get running performance feedback for my trail runs up and down mountains. To make explicit what you already said, this feature only works on flat ground in running mode (not trail running), though the watch should be smart enough to ignore the occasional hill.

      • Gerald on 2015/12/03 at 09:06
      • Author

      Reply

      Ah, yes, I see where this can be misleading. Basically, I hope the impression one gets is that running performance should be measured / compared only between runs which are all on flat, hard ground. Otherwise, other factors than actual performance may really be what makes for the difference.

      I recently found that I forgot to mention the one factor I’m constantly battling, and that the watch couldn’t possibly know about: wind ;-)

      Glad you’re pointing this out.

      For your mountain runs, comparing time and PTE / EPOC over the same distance would probably give the best impression. Plus simply perceived effort…

    • Erik Thomas on 2016/01/17 at 14:39

    Reply

    Thank you for your explanation. I have the watch for 1 week now and I am having a consistent running performance of 46 whatever the workout I am doing. Also the curve per workout is 100% flat. Do you have an explanation for this? Seems like there is something that is not activated yet?

    Thanks

      • Gerald on 2016/01/17 at 16:44
      • Author

      Reply

      No, that sounds unproblematic to me. The running performance shouldn’t change (much) over 1 week or over a single workout – unless your workout is longer than, let’s say, one hour and your performance changes considerably during that time. (Summer heat, for example, does tend to cause a decline within a single workout.)

      What you could do – or what I would like to ask: Have you done any interval training? There I would expect to see at least some change.

      (I also feel like I remember someone asking about the running performance not showing anything sensible – and then it turned out he wasn’t wearing the HR belt. HR/R-R is needed for the performance measurement.)

    • Tasos Katsaros on 2016/10/03 at 03:18

    Reply

    great explanation as always! Really thank you!

      • Gerald on 2016/10/03 at 06:21
      • Author

      Reply

      Thank you for the kind words :)

    • Max on 2017/02/07 at 08:28

    Reply

    Hi,
    Just wondering …as I run at the Gym ,
    Treadmill considered as running activity on Suunto?

    Max

      • Gerald on 2017/02/07 at 20:17
      • Author

      Reply

      Yes, sure. Data is not entirely trustworthy as it comes only from the accelerometer (hopefully, since gps wouldn’t exactly help) but often works surprisingly well. Or, use a footpod. Or just add distance and such data later, manually.

        • Max on 2017/02/08 at 06:52

        Reply

        Hi Gerald,
        Thanks for the fast reply,
        I was care less about the distance as I see it on the on the Treadmill ,
        But now I understand that incorrect distance effecting Suunto Running Performance .
        The Treadmill displayed 5 KM (as planned ) and Suunto displayed 7.31 KM

        Max

          • Gerald on 2017/02/08 at 20:43
          • Author

          Reply

          Treadmill running should not even be a running mode that allows for display of running performance. Read the post again: performance needs GPS to be working well, for accurate distance measurement. So, of course the running performance gets messed up…

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