Q: Do Fancy Watches like the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS or Garmin help you train better?


It seems like everyone has one of those Garmins or the new Nike GPS watch or something similar. Does having one of those actually help you train better? I just have a watch (and a Nike sportband, which I haven’t used in a year) and half the time I don’t even time my runs. Do I need to have all that data to get better?

If I bring back the ol’ sportband, I’m challenging you on Nike+.



trail run

Running in the New Mexico forest with Mena.

Dear Meggie,

My purest running is of the “hippy on a forest trail” variety, and I often run with no watch at all.  Do you have to have a fancy watch to improve?  No.  But can they help you train better? Yes.  And by the way, the answer to the question you didn’t ask: “Are GPS watch people annoying?” is also “Yes.” 🙂

When it comes to using techy watches, the endurance world splits into two groups: GPS people and freedom runners.  When the Garmin first came out, freedom runners everywhere were appalled when a GPS person joined them on their favorite long run only to tell them afterwards that it was 10 miles, not the promised 12.  GPS people would kindly alert their freedom runner friends that their easy run pace was actually a minute slower than they’ve been recording in their logs for the last five years. It didn’t take many of those experiences before a passive aggressive resistance movement took hold.

If I hadn’t been a Pro runner looking for every edge possible in 2005, I would probably be President of the freedom runners by now.  I get it, I really do.  If a GPS gets into the wrong persons hands:

  • You can’t go on a run based on how you feel (they two-step you and push the pace into their zone).
  • You can’t be content with a 90 minute long run on hills (the end mileage # suddenly seems pathetic).
  • You can’t stop the run when you get back to the car like a normal person (they start doing loops around the parking lot until the watch says exactly 6 POINT ZERO miles).

gps watchBut the fact of the matter is, a GPS can really take you to the next level.  I’ve used several over the years and most recently a Nike+ Sportwatch. They are still updating the firmware since its a first generation model, (all 1st gen. have their quirks) but I have confidence it will soon be the best watch out there, especially because of the online community 4 million strong on Nike+.  A GPS lets me know exactly how fast and far I’m running.  It liberates me from needing to run on a track to get exact paces, which helps me stay healthy and refreshed on the trails or roads.  I can get an effective workout in ANYWHERE…on vacation, on an island, you name it.  Most importantly, it gives me objective data so I can use logic rather than emotion to evaluate my training.

Here are some tips for people who are considering getting a GPS watch:

How to Use a GPS Watch Effectively:

The trick to using a fancy watch effectively is to use it for a week or two without looking at any of the data during the run.  Run the way you always run, THEN go through the data.  The number one mistake people make is they obsess over the paces and numbers from the word “start,” freak out when it says 8:30 pace instead of the anticipated 7:45 pace, and ramp up their training to make the watch say what they were expecting it to say. That is a quick way to both over-train and lose all your training partners.

A fancy watch will tell you the truth. Don’t be afraid of the truth.  Once you make the mental adjustments to your actual data, the fancy watch is your best friend. You still run based on how you feel (freedom runners take note) but after the run is done, you can look at the stats and have real information that helps you make real training decisions.  And sometimes you need to run out of your comfort zone and hit certain paces on command if you are going to improve.

A fancy watch helps you interpret and plan for the future.  If it turns out you’ve been running much slower than anticipated for a week, you have concrete data that you are on the edge a bit, and need to watch your recovery.  If you record some impressive numbers, it can really boost your confidence to see the data laid out there for you.  Without a fancy watch, you miss the opportunities to really relish in your awesome days.  Any sports psychologist will tell you the importance of spending time bathing in your successful moments.  Staring at your timex simply doesn’t inspire a chest bump.

You don’t need to use all the features, (or ANY of them for that matter,) every day.  But it is great to have them when you need them.

I can geek out with the dorkiest of GPS runners, but please, if you get one, promise me one thing:

“Lauren, I promise I won’t become a geekazoid splits monkey and run around the parking lot to finish on a perfect mile split.”

Think about it…those things have a margin of error, people!  Seek help!

Readers, what do you think of GPS watches for training?