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Don't be a GPS Slave!

Hello everyone & a Happy New Year!

We're kicking off the 2020 blog with a post about the beloved GARMIN. Every runner now days has one, or a similar product from a different brand. In this post, we're going to weigh up the pro's & con's and highlight how using a Garmin can both help & hinder your running.

The Good

Running is becoming more and more of a 'technology sport', with the development of the Nike Vaporfly, Hoka Carbon X etc etc, the involvement of technology became particularly apparent when it seemed that every man and his dog began to wear the speed-recording, mile-tracking, heart rate-monitoring laptop on their wrist whilst going out for a run; thankfully, they've become a lot more aesthetic in recent years! But as much as the old-school approach needs to be maintained, we can't exclude the fact that GPS watches have transformed our sport. They allow us to monitor how fast we're running and for how long, how long our stride length is, how long we spend in the air, accurately tell our weekly mileage, and monitor our heart rate. These features are incredibly useful when it comes to checking your progress, for example comparing how fast you ran 10km this week compared to two weeks ago. They also allow us to judge our pace and stick to our 'target pace' to ensure we don't burn ourselves off too soon.

The two most important factors from a coaching point of view, however, is that GPS watches allow us to A) individualise each members' training by setting target paces during sessions, runs & races, and B) monitor fatigue by comparing heart rate values both at rest and during training. This is vital for us because it gives us a much more accurate picture of whether the aim of each training session is being met, something we wouldn't have been able to do 30 years ago.

The Bad

They are obsessive. As a coach, if we could limit the use of a Garmin for our athletes to only a few times a week then we would, and here's why...

1) People focus on pace too much. Once you've worked out your target race-pace, it can become very easy to begin obsessing about this, which isn't a good thing. Have you ever started to panic during a run when you look down at your watch and you're not running as fast as you thought? This can seriously mess with your head and even lead to some athletes getting pretty down about a session. Just as bad, it can lead to you pushing harder than you should be, until a steady run turns into a tempo... not ideal.

2) Too much comparison. We often tell our athletes that when they're not feeling good during a session to "just get it done". But the trouble with a GPS watch is that it lends itself to looking at the session and seeing just how bad you felt. Instead of moving on and forgetting the one bad session, we tend to dwell on it, which again is no help to our mental state.

3) Accuracy. Tree coverage hinders GPS, providing us with a (sometimes) extremely inaccurate pace reading, a problem due to the aforementioned reasons. Wrist-based heart rate values are nowhere near as accurate as proper heart rate monitors. However, the stand-outs are the race predictor & VO2max readings; how a watch on your wrist is able to determine the volume of inspired / expired air and their corresponding oxygen & carbon dioxide levels at a given intensity relative to your body weight, I don't know. And how it's meant to predict how fast someone can run during a race is dangerous for two polar reasons; it can limit you by encouraging you to stick to a target time that you're actually capable of beating, but it can also lead you into a false sense of security and cause you to set off at a pace that maybe you aren't ready for yet, ultimately sabotaging your race.

Our Advice

Overall, we think that GPS watches are a help, not a hindrance, so long as you don't become a slave to them. The ability to track mileage, pace & intensity is extremely helpful to specificity & recovery purposes of a training plan. But the biggest take-homes from this blog should be the following:

- Don't obsess. Anything from the weather, shoes, surface, tree coverage & fatigue can affect how fast you run on a particular day. Using a Garmin to identify that you may be fatigued because your heart rate is higher at a given speed is an advantage... but worrying about this and letting it mess with your head definitely isn't. Instead, mention it to your coach and let them do the worrying.

- Learn about yourself. Don't deviate too far away from the old-school approach of learning how you feel and learning pace-judgement. Run to feel and get the session done with the correct aim being met.

Discover Your Potential,

Coach Callum

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All good advice. 'Running to feel' is something I'm only just starting to get a handle on... but I like to be able to measure progress not just by times/pace, but by realising I no longer struggle running up that same old hilly bit, for example. As a slow-ish runner, there are plenty of others out there who post 'better' results - which can get me down sometimes - but you have to look at it relatively, and at the overall progress you've made, and the goals you achieve.

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