Smart GPS Training


By: Trey Brush

I remember when running was simple.  Shoes, socks, shirt and shorts was the essential gear you needed to run.  Oh how things have changed.  I am not suggesting that we turn in all of our gadgets, I am just suggesting that we make sure we are using them wisely to help us improve as runners.

One gadget I have used for years is the GPS watch.  The GPS watch has been one of those things I love to have and for a long time I did not run without it.  However, I think it is important to find the best ways to use it and make sure it is making you a better runner.

I will give you 5 things that I think a GPS watch does great with, I will also give you some warnings of how that could keep you from improving as a runner.

1. Distance

One of the best features of any tracking device is allowing you to know your distance.  I think using a scoreboard to know how you are doing is critical to your success.  Whether it is an app on your phone or a GPS watch it is very helpful to know when you have run 4 miles.  Many years ago I remember taking my car out to measure a course to get my distance!  Imagine that.

Red flag- One thing that a device can do, is take away “just running”.  I recently went running with my 11 year old son and we did not worry about distance, pace or anything.  We just ran and enjoyed the sites along the way.  I still run because of the freedom it gives me and it is supposed to be fun.  It can become very easy to lock in only on a distance and your GPS watch. 

The solution- Every once in a while, just take that watch off and run to see something and enjoy your surroundings.  Don’t make running just about “work”.

2. Pace

This can be very helpful while you are running.  I love knowing I can take just one look and know what pace I am running.  Whether it is an easy run or during a race getting information to yourself can be very helpful.

Red flag- You can eventually become pace dependent on your watch.  There are times now where I just know how fast I am running.  No watch needed, no pace guide needed, as over time I have developed my inner GPS.  Becoming pace dependent on the GPS will keep you from running by feel.

The solution- Learn to run, look, feel and learn.  On your runs as you vary your pace, look at your splits, look at your current pace and try to begin and get an idea of what that pace feels like.  What does a 9 minute mile feel like?  This will take time, but it will come to you.

3. Repeats and Intervals

Using the setting on your GPS can allow you to run repeats and intervals and track your progress.  This goes right back to the scoreboard and it can be a great way to see how you are successful.  You can still do it the old fashion way and get a stop watch and go to the local track.  Your GPS can make working out anywhere possible.

Red flag- If you are not careful you can turn these into a competition and force fast.  We each have a goal and with that goal comes recommended workouts that will allow us to get stronger as runners.  Looking at your watch and making this a competition about seeing how fast you can go will not help you get better as a runner. 

The solution- What needs to be done is to work with your run coach or find your recommended paces and use your GPS device and discipline yourself to stay there.  By hitting the pace and intervals you need, you will get faster as a runner.  Run the pace.

4. Heart Rate Monitor

Many GPS watches come with a HR monitor.  Of all the tools you can have as a runner, nothing might be a better tool than this.  You can keep the heart rate at a level it needs to be.  You can also see improvement along the way by watching how the same 5 mile run you did today compared with that 2 months ago.  It might be the same pace, but the heart rate might have dropped by 10 beats per minute.

Red flag- We have recommended HR zones and that are important, but many times we can easily let that be the dictator of the pace we need to run and not our body.  A gadget is a tool and can only tell you so much. 

The solution- This gadget if used correctly will probably help you more than any other and will probably tell the same story as your body.  Remember, an easy run is an easy run.  Forget the pace and forget everything else.  It should be easy.  On some days you might find that easier pace is faster or slower than others.  Just remember, it is supposed to be easy.

5. Training versus Racing

When used correctly your GPS can be a tool that will help you become a better runner.  If you use discipline, know your distance and your pace it will allow you to gain more knowledge about your running that can make you better.  Training with a GPS has helped me improve.

Red flag- If we become solely dependent on that GPS we can lose the “feel” we need to run.  I have actually gotten to the end of a race and felt I held back.  I ran the pace I planned and was trying to exercise discipline and I just happened to feel really good that day.

The solution- Every now and then, take that GPS off and race.  Some of the races I have enjoyed the most and by far some of my fastest have been without a GPS.  You might get to the start line and feeling amazing that day and you just need to race by feel.  You don’t need a GPS to tell you how to run every race, sometimes you can just race.  I have also run marathons where I did not want to stress about pace and just enjoy the race.  Those have probably been my favorites.

As you have heard, I am not the grumpy old man yelling, “get off my lawn!”  I am just recommending every so often to run without the GPS and use it wisely to make yourself a better runner.    

Trey is a runner and coach with a desire to help create change in others.  He lost 80 pounds on his journey from a watcher in life to a doer.  His passion for running and creating change led him from the couch to marathons and ultramarathons.  He is a husband and the father of 2 boys living in Jefferson GA.  You can follow Trey on twitter @RunOnPurpose