Monday, August 8, 2011

The Garmin

Remote controlled by a Garmin 310
I'll admit it.  I'm a slave to my Garmin.  You know, that big honkin' alien-transceiver looking thing.  Gawdier than anything Elizabeth Taylor ever wore.  Weighs 12 lbs.  Beeps and shakes every couple of minutes.  Makes it miserable to run, right?

I held off for a while.  I thought to myself, "Why don't these runner geeks put the tech down for a second and just enjoy running???"  Isn't running about getting out there and just going?

Well, I'd like to share with you lessons I've learned from my transformation from tech-loather to lover.  I'm now a firm believer that for some folks, one of the best items they could purchase is one of those crazy GPS units.

Mile repeats, 15:30 pace.  Push the flats below
and above the 16 Golden Stairs.
One of the strongest arguments I have for using a Garmin is the feedback it provides.  In Colorado, I don't have the luxury of driving the loops I run.  I can't really use applications like map my run or the USATF mapping tool due to the nature of the terrain around here.  Those apps are only really effective when you run on streets and sidewalks.  (can you imagine the horror in that??? haha!)  Wear the Garmin on a loop just one time, though, and you know what you're dealing with.  It also records elevation gain and loss, which is a critical piece of info to track for any somewhat serious mountain/trail runner.  60 miles with 12k of gain is a helluva lot more time on feet than 70 miles and 2k of gain.  The Garmin also provides you with your current pace.  Not information you need constantly, but there certainly are instances where that information is invaluable.  The difference between LT pace and a pace that tears you down is a pretty fine line; having the Garmin there to keep you from blowing it is amazing.  The visual interface and ability to actually see what you've done for the day is nice, too.   For instance, I have run the top mile of Pikes enough to become familiar with particular switchbacks.  When I see an image of my Sunday workout, though, I can easily recognize and put in perspective each of the twists and turns.  Just by looking at the picture above, I know see just how far into the last mile I go before hitting the 16 Golden Stairs.

Another factor to consider is how well GPS units like the Garmin aid you in honing feel.  Anyone who is serious about his training needs to be able to tell the difference in his pace beyond "hard" and "easy."  I know many programs in college that expected their runners to be able to tell the difference between a 7:00 mile and a 7:05 mile.  I also know that once you're dialed in, that's not only possible but somewhat simple to do.  Since most runners tend to start races, workouts, etc too quickly, the Garmin can keep you in check until you find your groove.  Instead of having to wait a full mile to get that first pace check in, you simply look down at your watch and see if it matches what you perceive.  It's cool when those two start to jive with increasing frequency.

Possibly the biggest advantage I've found to owning a Garmin is in how it has motivated me.  Before I had one, I could only estimate how far I ran in any given week.  When I'm actually tracking that number, I'm much more motivated to bump that number up - to get out the door on a day where I'm otherwise feeling lethargic or to tack on that extra loop just to hit double digits.  It's fun to see what I've done and to challenge, to one-up myself.  I can also tangibly see differences in my fitness by comparing similar workouts across different points in time.  It's powerful stuff to see that I'm 30 sec/mile faster on a given loop now than I was last, maybe the miles ARE adding up.  When it comes down to it, the Garmin causes me to get my lazy butt out the door more, for longer, and faster.  Not sure how an addiction like that can be a bad thing.



  1. Nerd. The only thing you need on a watch is time of day, so you can end a long run at Kinfolk's at 11:01AM and get the free PBR.

    I never track elevation. Though admittedly, I take running a little less seriously than most of the blogger crew.

    Honestly, I think the Garmin revolution (EVERYONE around here has one) has lead to more consistent racing by everyone, but I think ovarall it holds back most people. Folks do fairly well at all their races now, as opposed to sucking ass at nine races and having a truly great performance at that 10th race. Ditch the watch and race!

  2. You summed up my feelings perfectly, great post. I used to scoff at these as well, but am now hooked.

    I hardly look at anything other than the stopwatch on most runs, but love having the data/stats to load at home and actually simplifies my record keeping greatly.

    It also helps motivate me on those days where I run with the double jogger, makes the flat stuff more interesting for sure. I almost feel like if my 305 broke, I could potentially skip a run just because of it (not really, but the thought would cross my mind).

  3. So many benefits that is totally outweighs any negatives in my opinion for any aspiring runner. It definitely got me in the game. I used the feature to download workouts into the watch back in the day. It had me slave to getting out and running whatever the watch told me to run. It was hell. And it was the best thing I ever did.

  4. My name is Andy and I am a Garmin addict....

    Seriously... I don't use mine for that deep of data analysis, nothing like other folks do but I really like the accuracy of knowing how far I have gone and being able to see my courses online. I don't live and die by it but it is with me on all of my runs.

  5. I am a dataholic. I love sifting through data, looking for patterns, seeing what I can learn... and my Garmin has been my most favorite toy, ever.

    However, although I've not run a step w/o my Garmin in three years, I never set it to show anything but 'time of day' and 'elevation' -- I'd rather run by feel and let my body dictate how and where I run.

    That said, I love having the database of information to dig into... it's similar to my map fetish -- I could geek for hours looking at elevation profiles, histograms, doing Fourier analysis on my weekly bread-and-butter runs...

  6. GPS has been a part of my life for over 20 years. I was installing these buggers on B-52s back then when it was still not really available to the public. Sort of blows my mind that I now have one in the car, one on my wrist for running and we debate it a course was long or short based on the data from two or three people's watches.

    What's your take on the HR side then?

  7. Brownie - been to Kinfolk's at 11:01 many a time just to find it still closed. No GPS is gonna help me there. Swing by for a birthday beer. Maybe I'll have some clothes on.

    JV and Andy - no doubt, many days I don't look at it much during my run. It's afterward that supplies me with the fun.

    Brandon - I had to go back to school for 2 years to figure out your data postings!

    Brendan - maps are like my crack. Love 'em. You gotta be having a blast hitting all those new routes out west. Jealous.

    GZ - when I'm doing tempo stuff on flats in the winter I'll wear the HRM, but come summer it's off. Probably just out of fear of the man-bra tan.