Running with a GPS – A Powerful Tool/Crutch

It might sound ridiculous, but it's true.
It might sound ridiculous, but it’s true.


I’ve gone back and forth over the years on the use of a Garmin or other GPS watch while running. On one hand, it helps me get a good idea of where my fitness is by comparing my perceived effort to the pace on the watch. On the other hand, it can cause me to obsess over every second and 1/100th of a mile. You’ve probably seen me out doing laps in the parking lot at the end of a workout so I can get the watch to roll over to the nearest even number. Yes, it’s sad, so I’ve stopped wearing my watch when pace doesn’t matter.


This isn’t to say that certain runs don’t matter, or I consider them “junk miles.” On the contrary, my easy and recovery runs are so important that I shed the geek-o-meter (as my coach refers to GPS watches as) so that I’ll focus on keeping it easy. If I set out on an easy run with my Garmin, I would almost certainly push the pace for ego’s sake. I’ll map out a route for whatever distance I’m aiming for prior to heading out, and go unplugged for a while. No GPS, no cell phone, no music. Just my breathing, footsteps, and thoughts. This is my therapy.


If I’m running a workout that calls for certain paces and distances, nothing will beat the GPS watch. Yesterday, my team had a workout on a 3.5 mile course that called for half marathon paces. Knowing that the course was very hilly, it was important that we not start the workout too quickly, but also knew that we needed to keep a certain level of effort going. The Garmin helped pinpoint the proper zone, and helped us get into the right rhythm to complete the workout. I also like to have my watch on for races because it helps me not start out too fast. In a short race like a 5k, I’ll wear the watch but maybe won’t look at the paces until after the race. This historical data helps me strategize how to run the next race. For my marathon in January, I set my laps to 3 miles in length so I could run within a certain pace range and not obsess over every mile. I rarely looked at my watch during the race.


My geek side really enjoys using my Garmin Forerunner 405 (I got it for Christmas 5 years ago), but I think there’s a true balance that allows me to enjoy the act of running by simply leaving it home sometimes.

My basic rule of thumb: Workout/Race – Watch. No Workout – No Watch.

I wore my watch on this slow, easy run for the sole purpose of recording more miles than degrees.
Wore my watch on this slow, easy run for the sole purpose of recording more miles than degrees.

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