Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Garmin. Suunto. Strava. Two of those three words barely existed a decade ago (well, as running-specific uses, anyway), while the third wasn't even a twinkle in its parent's eyes.

My, my how times have changed in 10 years. Now it seems like just about all runners have some sort of running-specific GPS device. Runners ramble on and on about them like they're these magical bands and if worn properly, they will run the exact number of miles that their schedule calls for, because, of course, their GPS device is 100% accurate. Even if you and your friend run the exact same route and your devices show different mileage totals, you'll both swear that yours is correct.

My favorite part of the distance discrepancy is when runners compare their GPS distance with their online training website distance (i.e., Strava, Moves Count, Garmin Connect, etc) vs the advertised course distance of an event. If a race course is certified, then it really doesn't matter what your GPS device and online training website show for your distance; the distance is the race distance and that's what everyone officially gets credit for (and when we go off course for a couple of miles, well, those are just freebie miles). No one is perfect at running exact tangents, and unless a course is certified, then advertised distances are usually "ish", anyway, and the steeper, twistier, and bumpier the course is, the more "ish" the advertised course distance, and a GPS device, is. As long as we're all running the same course, that's really what should matter.

I digress...

Another thing that I find funny about GPS devices in races is when people refer to their "Garmin time". What? Garmin time? What about just, simply, your time? Apparently "Garmin time" is sometimes different than "official time" or "chip time", and often, by more than a few seconds. I love it when I hear "Well, the race had my time as 5:02, but my Garmin time was 4:54, so I'm going with that". Um, okay. I'm guessing that usually means the runner's Garmin was set to auto-pause so the stopwatch would automatically stop timing when the runner stops moving. As a race director, every year I receive emails from finishers telling me that their time is wrong in the official results and they can, and sometimes do, show me their Garmin as proof.

That's just silly.

Maybe you're wondering "what kind of GPS does that old fuddy duddy curmudgeon use?" Well, my watch is a Timex Ironman. As far as figuring out my mileage, sometimes I'll use a map to plot routes and get mileage estimates, sometimes I'll use mileage markers on roads, trails, etc, but usually I'll just use my built-in GPS earned from over 35 years of running. If I'm off by a bit here and there, oh well. I'll glance at my watch when I start and then again when I finish and some quick math tells me how long, time-wise, I was running.

Now, I'm not saying all of this because I think GPS devices are useless, because they aren't. In addition to being fun gadgets to play with, they can help runners learn pacing, tell them about how far they've run at just a quick glance, and can even help getting un-lost in unfortunate situations. Just don't get so obsessed with your GPS that you lose the essence of just running. Running is supposed to be one of the easiest and logistically simple forms of exercise there is. And that's pretty cool.

Time may change me
But I can't trace time

See what my fellow synchrobloggers, including our newest addition Wyatt Hornsby, have to say about the changes in ultrarunning over the past decade:


Anonymous said...

Sean, this is great. I grew up running as you did; just a watch and a general idea of my route and distance. As a physical therapist, I also believe focusing on a GPS device and it's output can lead to overuse injuries or injuries from poor mechanics as people forget to be present and to simply run in a manner that feels good.

He told them: "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Luke 9:3

Ben Fitzpatrick

Olga said...

I still only own a simple stop watch. Timex. Start and stop bottom.

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JCaba said...

Ohhh. So now you're Colonel. Quite the promotion from Saschasdad. Guess you're old enough for that title:) Popped on my old blog from 9 years ago trying to track down race results and saw you updated your blog in 2019. Was floored anybody blogged still. Good to see you're still out there running. Let us know when back in Bend. Let's do an old man run at some point. Hope you are well. teamcaba@gmail.com

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