As technology improves, and the amount of information available on your wrist increases, are GPS watches helping or hurting your running? As with most things in life, the answer is, of course, both.
We require every athlete on our cross country team to get at least a stopwatch. Other athletes we train often have gps watches. We both have gps watches. The ease of workouts improves when you strap a watch to your wrist even if the workout is simply run harder for 2 minutes, and then easier for 2 minutes. If you are looking to improve your performance, you are going to need some concrete numbers that a watch can provide. The extra enhancements like heart rate, pacing, and cadence can also be used to see performance improvement.
When using a watch to train in heart rate zones, the watch provides an honest accountability partner. It forces easy to stay easy and lets you know when your heart rate has reached its hard zone. The watch may not know that you only slept two hours last night, but it knows your heart rate is elevated and you need to slow down to make it an easy day.
Unfortunately, the watch can sometimes replace our brain. Rather than running by effort and feeling what easy and medium feel like, runners can get caught up staring at their watch. All runners should be working toward a greater understanding of the feedback between the brain and body, and the watch can allow a runner to bypass that loop. In this episode, we have a lively discussion on how many effort levels should exist.
Finally, the watch can become a limiter. If the workout says to run at these specific speeds, or train in this heart rate zone, runners get nervous to reach farther. Running should provide opportunities for fun and experimentation. The watch, and it’s constant feedback, can lead us into the mindset of magic workouts that lead to automatic results. Every runner is different, brings different backgrounds, and adapts differently to training stimuli. Regular experimentation helps mental training by removing the fear of failing.
Ultimately, I love my watch and will always run with it for safety purposes and the extra information that I can check out after my run. However, it is important to realize that the watch is one of many tools that can enhance your running, but we should never discount our own intuition and learning about our body. We need to use the external feedback that the watch provides, and compare it to the internal feedback that we are gaining with each run about how our body feels. External and internal feedback are crucial to develop into a well-rounded runner, and we need to make sure all of our tools are working correctly to help us achieve that.
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