The Case for Ditching your GPS Watch (At Least Sometimes)

While a GPS watch can indeed be a useful tool for training purposes, it can- and has - become a hindering crutch for many runners. So why should you give up your GPS watch...at least some of the time? I've got four good reasons for you.

July 1, 2015
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It’s no secret that these days everyone is obsessed with technology, and runners are no exception. Look through the online photo album of a recent road race and I guarantee you that more than half of the shots will not be of runners beaming cheek to cheek or raising their hands in the air celebrating their accomplishments. No, instead you will see countless photos of runners crossing the finish line, head down, feverishly reaching to stop the clock on their GPS watches.

We are obsessed.

And in a society driven by gadgets and technology, it is no surprise. What was once a luxury in the running world, GPS (Global Positioning System) watches are now as common as a neon colored pair of running sneakers. But who can blame us? What runner wouldn’t want to know their exact distance run or pace at any given second, plus have the ability to immediately upload the data to our computers to analyze our run AND simultaneously brag to our friends on social media? Incase you’ve never met a runner before, I’ll go ahead and inform you: this group typically comprised of “Type A” personalities. And a valuable tool that can give us instant feedback regarding our performance is a temptation very few in the endurance community can resist.

But they (we) should try to resist more often.

While a GPS watch can indeed be a useful tool for training purposes, it can- and has – become a hindering crutch for many runners. So why should you give up your GPS watch…at least some of the time? I’ve got four good reasons for you.

1) So You Can Learn to Listen to Your Body.

So many runners now rely on the numbers on the screen of their GPS watch to determine their running pace, instead of listening to their bodies and running by feel. Relying on these numbers may physically and psychologically prevent you from being able to differentiate race pace, tempo pace, aerobic pace, and so on. What are you going to do if your GPS battery dies on race day? You need to have a general idea of what effort your body is putting forth without depending on technology.

Which leads me to my next point:

2) So you don’t become a slave to the GPS.

Let me ask a question: have you ever delayed or skipped a run because you forgot to charge your GPS watch and the battery is dead? You can admit it, I’m guilty as well. Sure, I totally understand the desire to know your splits or distance for a longer or important workout. But if you have come to rely on your GPS for your ALL of your training runs, finding out that you cannot run with the GPS for whatever reason may become frustrating, or even detrimental, to your training. And let’s face it, it starts to take the fun out of the sport you love.

3) They aren’t 100% reliable anyway.

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but believe it or not, technology is not always accurate. GPS signals can be delayed, or even off in distance. As a result, the obsessive GPS runner may speed up or slow down their workout based on an inaccurate GPS reading, and therefore not reach their goal. Learning to pace based upon feel, and only relying on the GPS as a backup, will result in more consistent, successful workouts.

4) Don’t ruin your recovery.

Recovery days. We love them and we hate them. But easy workout days are prescribed for a reason; they allow your body to actively recover between more intense workouts. Now, as we’ve mentioned numerous times already, endurance athletes tend to be slightly obsessed with numbers. And being obsessed can lead to a hatred or dread for seeing a pace much slower than what we know we are capable of. For some people, knowing their pace at any given moment may cause them to push harder than they should for that specific workout. Leaving your GPS at home on easy runs will allow you to relax and focus on your pace based upon listening to your body.

Listen, you don’t NEED to know your pace and distance to enjoy a good run.  And you also don’t NEED to know your pace and distance to become a better runner.  Is the data provided by GPS watches helpful? Absolutely. But can it suck the enjoyment out of running? Yes.  And if you lose the love and thrill for running, what’s the point in even continuing?

So if you find yourself getting frustrated by the numbers that are…or aren’t…showing up on the gadget on your wrist, consider ditching the GPS. At least some of the time.  And remember why you loved running in the first place.

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