By Jess in Minneapolis
Greg McMillan, of “McMillan Calculator” fame, recently wrote about GPS devices in his weekly newsletter, and he provided some helpful rules to ensure that you are using your GPS to your benefit, rather than to your detriment.
Now, I love my Garmin just as much as the next runner, but I definitely agree with Greg that sometimes runners can become a little obsessed with it. We are often too focused on the numbers on that screen, and we don’t allow ourselves the true pleasures of a run.
If I am going for an easy run, and I know the route, I just leave the Garmin at home. It’s better that way for me. I think every runner should have some “naked” runs, where they leave all the devices at home. Its too easy to let that little device make or break your confidence, when often times just running easy is what your body needs.
GPS devices are awesome when it comes to workouts and race pacing, but they often can make you push too hard on an easy day, or not listen to your body when its telling you to back off on a given run.
On the other hand, I think a GPS can sometimes scare you a bit too, and make you back off during a run. Sometimes if I see a pace on there that I don’t think I can maintain for a three mile tempo, I mentally get spooked and back off. But what if I ran that tempo based only on how I felt like a tempo workout should feel- comfortably hard, able to talk but not more than short sentences…maybe I could actually run faster if I just listened to my body and let it tell me when we need to slow down, rather than letting my GPS tell me.
With that said, I give you the FIVE RULES FOR YOUR GPS from Greg McMillan:
RULE NO. 1: DON’T LOOK
Don’t look at your GPS for the first 10 minutes of your run. GPS users often start their runs too fast because they let the watch set the pace instead of letting their body settle into it. Listen to your body. Let the pace come to you. Don’t force it on yourself early in the run just because the watch says so. And, even when you do take that first peek at your watch, don’t surge to hit your intended pace. Flow into your normal pace over the next mile or two. Trust me. You’ll feel better for it.
I have fallen victim to this before- I’ll stress that “OMG, am I really going that slow?” rather than just letting my body warm up and ease into my pace. My running buddy and I were discussing this very topic this morning, agreeing that particularly on our cold, early morning runs, we need to ease into the pace, and being too tied into the number on your Garmin can take away from the time that your body needs to get into your groove.
RULE NO. 2: LET THE PACE VARY
If you ran without a watch, your pace would vary across the run. You’d run faster on some sections of the route and slower on others. This is natural. But if you’re constantly checking your GPS, you’ll find yourself worrying more about perfect pacing than flowing through the run (besides making yourself susceptible to Runner’s Elbow–an overuse injury from too much watch-checking). Get comfortable with pace variation and don’t worry so much about your exact speed at any given time during an easy run. Instead, just see what your average pace is after the run.
Pace variation occurs during speed workouts too. It will vary from mile to mile, lap to lap. That’s natural. You’ll know if you fall out of your optimal training range by checking your GPS, but as long as you’re within 5 or so seconds of your goal workout pace, you’re on target.
This is an important rule. Sure it’s helpful to try to be consistent, but let your body speed up and slow down as the route and terrain permit.
RULE NO. 3: DON’T QUESTION THE RACE DISTANCE
Each week I receive an email (or two or three) from a runner providing his race time but inevitably stating, “But the course was long because my GPS said it was 26.8 miles, not 26.2 miles.” The GPS estimates the distanceyou run, but race courses are measured along the shortest distance, using more precise tools. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll run this shortest distance for the entire race, though you should try to run every tangent as best you can. As a result, all your races will likely be “long.” In the end, it’s what the race clock says that stands, not what your GPS says.
Ha! I did this at the Berlin marathon. My Garmin was close to 27 miles. Though I know that I didn’t run the tangents, I also know that it doesn’t matter that my Garmin distance was long. The clock matters. I can cry all I want that the course was long, but the race clock trumps my Garmin.
I have heard lots of friends complain that “oh, I am sure the race was long because my Garmin said so.” I’m pretty darn confident that a USATF certified course is more accurate than your Garmin.
RULE NO. 4: DON’T RACE THE GPS
We’re all competitive. I get it. But when it comes to training, faster isn’t always better. Training zones are just that: zones. They have a fast end and a slow end. You need to be within the pace range to get the benefits of the workout. Exceeding the optimal pace range and entering a new training zone isn’t necessarily better. Therefore, don’t try to beat the GPS. Use it to help you stay in the correct zone on workouts. That’s one of the greatest uses of the device.
I think this is great advice as well. Its easy to focus too much on pace. I might ask myself, “why am I only running 9:00 min/mile today, when I was running 8:20’s yesterday and it felt easy?”
But really, we should just let an easy run be an easy run at WHATEVER pace feels easy that day.
RULE NO. 5: LEAVE IT AT HOME
The GPS is one of the best advances we’ve seen in monitoring training to date, but let’s not forget that it’s just another training tool. Its role is to help you train better, which ideally means learning to train by your internal GPS more than your external GPS. So if you’re going on your regular run that you’ve done dozens of times, leave your GPS at home. Run by your internal GPS.
So true! Like I said earlier, I often leave my Garmin at home, particularly when I run with Matilda. If she wants to stop and sniff, we stop and sniff. There’s no need to turn the Garmin on and off every time we pause. But even without the dog, I often run without my Garmin, and it feels pretty darn freeing. One of my run club friends said this morning that after a marathon, she gives herself a few months of Garmin-free running, where she just lets her body determine the pace.
Now, get out there and locate some satellites runners!
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