I’ve been running for ten years, including seven marathons and many other shorter races, without ever feeling the need to get a GPS running watch. My basic retro stopwatch served me fine.
The immediate reason for my belated arrival into modernity is that I need to start measuring my fast workouts more accurately this year. Up to last June I was living on the outskirts of Paris, with free and flexible access to two municipal athletics tracks in my neighbourhood. For my speed training last spring, using the Daniels Red Intermediate Plan, the track and the stopwatch were all I needed.
But now I’m back in Ireland and I don’t have convenient access to a running track. When I was training for last year’s Dublin Marathon I used a nearby football pitch to improvise a post-to-post sprint workout and used Map My Run to find a good, if inexact, route for my threshold runs.
Running on a regular lap or route is a good way to push yourself and measure your progress, of course. But this year I want to be a bit more precise in my training pace and my target race pace when running in parks where I don’t have the exact distances of track laps. And my faithful old stopwatch only tells the time. My options were to get a GPS watch or build my own running track; the watch was the slightly cheaper option.
So, in preparation for my first fast session of the year this morning, yesterday I got myself a Garmin Forerunner 10, the most basic model of the best-known brand in GPS sports watches. (Not being a doctor, I felt that I didn’t need a model with a heart rate monitor.) Last night I charged it up so that it was ready for my run this morning.
My plan for today’s run was to do two miles of a warm-up without the aid of technology, then use my GPS watch to time a fast mile in a nearby park at a target race pace, and finally take another mile to warm down. Drizzle smothered Dublin this morning but that didn’t dampen my pioneering spirit.
Compared to my simple stopwatch, this GPS watch is bulkier and heavier. But that’s to be expected when you consider that this is effectively a satellite tracking station that I’m wearing. I’ll get used to it.
I must admit that I misunderstood slightly the set-up of my watch. During my two-mile warm-up I wondered in slight frustration how the watch was taking so long to locate me on GPS. Perhaps the satellite wasn’t switched on at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, I thought – or perhaps it didn’t bother too efficiently to pick up small countries like Ireland. On I ran.
Only when I stopped to cross a junction did I notice my watch finally update – and I realised that it can only establish your location if you stay in one place. Doh! But I think I’ve found a handy loophole for any government whistleblowers worried about being eavesdropped and spied upon by The Man – the satellite can’t locate you if you stay on the move!
Anyway, with my GPS watch now ready to go, I shuffled on towards the park. At the start of my fast loop, having set my watch to mark a mile, I gathered myself for my giant leap into satellite-assisted running. A push of the button, a beep and I was away!
Everything went fine. The tarmac paths of the park were deserted at that hour and in that weather, so I felt safe to build up some speed despite the pools of water here and there. I heard that mile beep, already familiar to me in the soundscape of races, and was pleased to see that I had hit my target pace exactly.
I won’t decommission my old stopwatch just yet. For one thing, on a race day I don’t want to have to depend on a satellite. (I’ve seen at races some runners left behind at the start as they stood around waiting impatiently for a satellite to locate their watches.) And I don’t really need a GPS watch for my long runs just yet, unless I soon decide that I can’t live without knowing my exact pace for every single mile.
Still, progress demands change, so this new GPS watch is a step for me towards improving my race performance this year. It makes you wonder how anyone ever ran in the days before GPS and Sputnik!