Exercise and Fitness

Beating Cancer and Conquering Marathons – Garmin Ambassador Joonas Laurila Talks about the Metrics That Keep Him Going

Riikka LamminenContent Manager

“My current condition determines how I use my smartwatch,” says Joonas Laurila.

An avid distance runner and coach, Joonas isn’t just talking about phases of his training program, like endurance or strength training. For him, it’s his health and the chapters of his life that matter.

When he was only 18, doctors detected a synovial sarcoma growing in his leg. Treatment for this rare form of soft-tissue cancer has involved multiple reconstructive surgeries, each one requiring physical therapy and rehabilitation.

After each round, Joonas has learned to walk and then to run again. Determined to thrive, he has even conquered marathons along the way, knowing that his next reconstructive procedure may hit the reset button on his progress. The last operation on his leg was only a year ago.

“After that, I was on crutches for several months, and had to start everything from scratch,” he explains. “I have been gradually working my way back into running, and recently did a 17-kilometer run, my longest run in a year and a half.”

At the peak of his powers, Joonas has finished a marathon in under 3 hours.

“When I am able to train with specific goals in mind, I rely heavily on the performance data I get from my watch. It’s almost an addiction,” he jokes. “The data my watch gives me needs to be reliable, otherwise I might be over or under training or find myself running at the wrong intensity during a race.”

Joonas has gravitated towards the Garmin Fenix series in recent years.

“Rehabbing from an operation takes me out of running, which means putting serious training, and the metrics that go along with it, on the back burner. That’s when I get the most out of just being able to keep tabs on my activity level with step counts and heart rate. Coming back, sometimes just going for a walk is enough to get my heart rate up.”

After his latest surgery, Joonas Laurila has been able to run again. Sometimes he runs even twice a day, but mostly his life rotates around his family and twin boys.

Personalized insights light the way

Endurance athletes are some of the most data driven people on the planet. Among the most popular metrics they monitor is VO2max, the metric that describes your body’s ability to produce energy aerobically.

Historically only available from a treadmill test performed in a physiology lab, Joonas’ Garmin watch gives him easy access to the same data each time he goes for a run. Powered by the Firstbeat analytics engine, the results are near laboratory quality assessment using real world data.

The VO2max I get from my watch is super accurate, especially when I have my watch paired with a chest belt. My running friends and I used to need to run a laboratory test to get this feedback, but we’ve been able to replace those treadmill tests with the watch since it gives the same information.”

The Training Status widget and Training Load screens also keep Joonas up to speed with his progress, letting him know whether he’s training enough and if he’s on the right path.

“I get the insight I need to get into top shape, which sometimes means needing to take it easy for a bit. For example, if I try to rush back after an illness before I’m ready, the results show up in my training data. If I try to force 6 runs in a week that I’m not feeling well, my fitness will decline even though I’m working hard. When this happens, my watch tells me that my training is unproductive. Then the optimal range for my Training Load is automatically lowered, based on my recent fitness and activity levels, to bring me back up to speed.”

Training Load and Training Status tell how training is going in the big picture. But, his watch can also predict how any specific workout will impact the development of aerobic or anaerobic performance capacity, and if his body is recovered enough to benefit from a tough workout. “It is important to do the right workouts on a right day. Similar workouts can produce different results depending on the overall load on the body,” Joonas explains.

What happens at night impacts the day

What you do during a workout is important, but so is what you do with the rest of your time. Joonas, who a few years ago became the father of twin boys, has begun to more fully appreciate the value of monitoring his stress levels and overnight recovery.

“How you sleep and what goes on during the day has a tremendous effect on how your body responds to exercise. Lately, I’ve been using my watch to better understand this relationship”, says Joonas.

Each morning he flips through the screens of his watch looking at sleep data to see how he should work out that day – or if he should even exercise at all.

“If the boys kept me up during the night, or if I’ve had some wine in the evening, I can see it immediately in my heart rate. It rarely means I can’t workout, but I need to be smart, recognize my limits, and maybe go a little easier.”

This message is one he is eager to pass along to the other runners he coaches.

“Organizing our daily lives is a one of the biggest challenges people face each day. Finding time to work out isn’t easy, so there’s extra pressure to use that time wisely. This is another area where the insight I get my watch is a big help. All-day Stress tracking, for example, makes the relationship between what I do and how my body responds visible and easy-to-understand.”

Weight loss goals and the opportunity to burn more calories by upping their activity level are commonly cited motivations for those who look to Joonas for advice. Of course, it’s still important to maintain a healthy diet.

“When you exercise a lot, you need to eat enough to support your effort. If you don’t, your watch will eventually start to tell you that your training efforts are unproductive. Your running suffers, you don’t progress, and your chances of getting injured increases when you don’t have enough energy.”

In recent years, Joonas Laurila has learned the importance of stress and recovery data from his Garmin watch. “Those metrics have a huge effect on running performance as well.”

Giving your watch time

A new coach and a new multisport watch have something in common. They both need to learn about you, grow familiar with your body and how you train before they can provide truly personalized feedback. The more you use your device, the more personally meaningful the feedback it provides becomes, something Joonas has witnessed in practice.

“I upgraded to the new Garmin Fenix 5 Plus recently, and it’s been interesting to notice the subtle changes and improvements in the feedback as it incorporates more training data,” he says.

Years of training have taught Joonas how to listen to his body. Once in a while, he’ll pull the sleeve of his training shirt down, over his wrist, to cover his watch face. Sometimes it’s useful to run on pure feeling alone.

“Even then it’s important that the data is still there,” Joonas explains. “It available when I need it. Ideally, as a runner, the feedback supports how you feel and strengthens your body awareness.”

“There are times, however, when the guidance I get from my watch is more literal. Maps make me feel safe when I’m out running in a new environment and Garmin Pay is sure to save me from trouble sometime – you never know what’s going to happen during a run,” he says. It seems that Joonas has found his way to use his device.

Pictures: Garmin Finland

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Riikka Lamminen

Content Manager

Riikka is an Exercise Physiologist (M.Sc.) who has worked for several years in the fields of communication and journalism. Now, at Firstbeat she combines those two pathways in a great way. General wellness and healthy living have always inspired Riikka and now she is able to spread the word via her Firstbeat blogs. Physical activity is an inseparable part of Riikka’s life. She rides a bicycle everywhere, relaxes by paddling at the sea and challenges herself with some acrobatics.

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