Friday, June 26, 2009

GPS watches: Good ... or evil?

My life changed when I got the Garmin Forerunner 305 last Christmas. But did it change for the better?

A quick synopsis of the GPS watch for the uninitiated: It straps onto your wrist; locks onto orbiting satellites; tracks data including pace, time, distance and heart rate; and allows runners to customize workouts in a variety of ways.

There's no question my Garmin has made me more aware of my ability, and that it's made tracking progress ridiculously easy. (Playing connect-the-dots with Google Maps' distance measurement tool is fun the first few times, but eventually the thrill wears off.)

I like how it gives you your mile splits in real-time, so you know if you're falling off the pace during a tempo workout or if you're maybe pushing a little too hard on an easy run. I like how it coaches you through intervals, which can be harder to manage if you don't have a high school track handy. And I really like it during races, when I can set up the Virtual Partner feature -- to explain, I can program it so my "partner" (i.e. the watch) will run 13.1 miles in 1 hour and 47 minutes at an even pace ... then throughout my half-marathon, a glance at my watch will tell me precisely how far ahead or behind my "partner" is. I've set many a PR this way.

I recently asked a bunch of fellow runners using my Facebook profile, and the consensus seems to be that a Garmin is a must-have gadget.

David: "I would never leave for a run without the 405 [the latest Garmin model]. I like the Virtual Partner on long runs so I don't have to do the math in my head."

Mike: "The Garmin is a terrific tool for those in all levels of fitness. The measurement of distance, elevation, location and heart rate are priceless. I have a 305 and a 405. I sincerely hate to run without it." Then, in the next breath: "Can't live without it."

Cathy: "Most favorite of all my toys!"

Which leads me to what I really don't like about my Garmin: the fact that I would never leave for a run without mine, that I hate to run without it/can't live without it, that it's my most favorite toy, too. I mean, I really hate being addicted to anything. And I'm addicted to this gadget. In a sense, I'm kind of like a 5-year-old who can't get to sleep without their favorite blanket. And if you're a parent, you know that someday, you'd like to break them of that crutch.

Interestingly, the Facebook discussion -- which included so many raves -- ended with a diss.

Aaron: "Soooooooo not needed. Why does such a pure sport that requires virtually nothing become inundated with equipment? Part of the freedom of running is just doing it, with no constraints. Who cares if you run 6.5 miles vs. 6.7? Run on feel, not by what a computer tells you. Running is sadly going the way of biking. Folks spent more time tinkering with the equipment rather than doing the actual sport."

And this may surprise you: Aaron is probably the fastest runner of all who contributed thoughts, a guy who can run a three-hour marathon and a sub-17-minute 5K.

Are his comments on target? Perhaps. But I'd need my Garmin and a strong signal from those satellites to be sure.

Do you have thoughts on GPS watches? Are they the greatest fitness invention ever? Or will they ruin running?


bojolais said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bojolais said...

Finding a balance between tools and the purity of running is important, but you can have it both ways. My GPS watch is incredibly nice for me on long runs, since I can head out on a familiar 15 mile course and freestyle in a few extra miles to make sure I get my needed mileage. Traveling? No problem!

However, it's also important to get "feel" runs in. Once a week, on a known course, head out without any watch at all and just run according to how you feel. It's very liberating.

chris said...


How big is it on your wrist? It looks really cumbersome. I currently have a Timex HRM, but no GPS. Is it realtime in regards to distance?

Cool Down Runner said...

I am definitely a Garmin guy. I use my Garmin any time that I want to free form a run or ride. I guess I do it because I like to keep up with the number of miles that I cover during my workouts.

Davidson Area Running Team said...

I ran for 14 years without a GPS like Garmin, then got one for my birthday last year (Forerunner 405). Found out that I can't run without it. Discovered that what I thought was a 5-mile trail route was actually only 4.5 miles; found out that many small marathons don't have mile markers, making the Garmin essential; and found that I get a kick out of checking my elevation changes over the course of a run. By the way, my wife absconded with my 405, so I bought a used 205 in its stead.

Anonymous said...

If you want to wear a GPS, go ahead. If Aaron doesn't like them, then he's free to not wear one. Going on about the purity of the sport make him sound like someone I wouldn't want to run with anyway.

Michael said...

I'm a 405 user since Christmas '08, and I'd seriously hate to run without it. As others have said, I don't need a known course when the Garmin will tell me how far (and at what pace) I've run.

As for the 'dependency' issue: After some practice, I was able to break myself of the watch-checking habit; I tend to glance at it when a split ticks off and not much more ... the analysis is saved for later once the run is done and the data is on the computer.

Oh, and one of my favorite things about using the Forerunner? Sharing my workouts with other folks online.