Ten Reasons To Consider Using a GPS Wristwatch When You Run

December 2012

During Your Runs

1. …to know your distance: It may seem obvious, but one of the most common questions I get asked (while wearing my GPS watch out running) by other runners (not wearing a GPS watch) is “how far have we gone?” For the most part, the first day-by-day goals we set tend to be one based purely on distance. How far are we going? How far have we gone? How far have we got left? Speed, pace, time all come after that. The watch lets me know second-by-second (if I so desire) the answers to each of these, down to a meter-by-meter accuracy.

2. …to pace yourself: The second training variable folks usually ask out on a run is “how fast are we going?” We generally run by a pace rate — minutes per kilometer, here in Canada — and tend to run anywhere between (in our little groups) a 5:30/km to a 7:00/km depending on the type of training we’re doing. And since a lot of the training categories (steady, tempo, fartlek) we try out depend on setting a fairly accurate pace, knowing our pace, second-by-second, can help us stay in the proper pace bracket for our goals.

3. …to lose yourself in the run: Before I had a watch, I was always looking at the time. Intervals — or for whatever reason — it was tough to forget about the data-and-timing-part for a stretch of time and do what I was there to do: just run. But the watch can be set up to give audible feedback for any number of training bracket variables. I personally use mine mostly for interval running, the watch beeping at set time intervals to let me know what I should be doing. And this set it and forget about it feature let’s you go out, run, and lose yourself in the run while you just stop worrying about the time, distance, etc.

4. …to customize your workout: The gamer in me loves to play with technology features. And the features built into a GPS watch are no exception. When I run in a group I usually stick to the ten-and-one interval training, but when I’m on my own anything is game (on). For example, one of the custom workout modes is to challenge a virtual running buddy. A little animated runner on one of the panels of the watch will keep pace with a preset goal (usually pace or time/distance) and simultaneously compare where you are in your run with where s/he is in the run. If you are behind, it will scold you. If you are ahead, it will spur you on even faster. And who wants to run alone anyhow?

5. …to challenge a goal: You’ve set goals. You know how fast, how far, or how long you need to run. But unless you’ve got that speedometer and odometer strapped to your wrist, you’re left to your own senses and perceptions to know for sure if you’re keeping track with meeting those goals. Instant feedback is once again your friend as you dash through the streets. And if you are serious about meeting and challenging goals, it’s the only way to run.

Between Your Runs

6. …to track your progress: So, now that you’ve got this data and history stored in this little watch, plugging it into a computer with the provided software should let you download all that information into a neat little package for your browsing. It’s a lot of data at first glance, but when you start sorting and labeling the data you’ll really start to get a sense of your progress. Built in graphing tools and comparative charts are great to track where you’ve been, how you’ve improved, and what your limits seem to be. And knowing what you’ve accomplished can help you set goals and build new training plans in the future.

7. …to average your progress: We all have really good days and really bad days. And being humans, we tend to hold the runs in the ‘statistical tails’ in our minds and give them more importance than they really have. Good management of your data — and this is easier to accomplish than you might first think looking at all those numbers — will help you iron out those statistical wrinkles and give you a sense of your average progress over time, rather than dwelling on just the blips (good or bad) in your training.

8. …to inventory your routes: Not only can you go back and look at those great runs you did in days past for the hard number data — checking and averaging your progress as in the last couple of points — but you can import that data into any number of mapping software tools (Google Earth is my favorite) and remind yourself how to relive the adventure. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve gone back and repeated a route after poking through my data and thinking — “hey, I did that one last summer and it worked out awesome. Let’s try it again!”

9. …to manage your goals: Goals are so much better when you can put numbers behind them. All that data you’ve been collecting and looking at as snapshots can be compiled into evidence to support your training. Want to run ten really long runs this summer? Set a calendar goal and have your database, spreadsheet, or software flag and count all the runs that meet your criteria (date, time, distance, etc). Want to run a total distance for the season? A simple running-total (pun intended) of all your run data over those dates will tell you in an instant, with hard numbers, how close you are to achieving that.

10. …to envision mega-goals: In a sense mega-goals don’t really exist. My mega-goal is currently that I’m running all the way, coast-to-coast across Canada. Or, well… not really. The software I’m using (a little well-built application called Runner’s Studio) let’s me track something they call a mega-goal, virtually compiling all the runs I’ve input between a start date and and end date and then mapping those runs onto a virtual and cumulative goal of such grand proportions that you could only under rare and extreme circumstances accomplish it in reality. But at the same time, it gives me something to dream big about… And that’s only possible with extreme technology and data management.