Technology is a Fickle Mistress


GPS technology and running go hand in hand.  For years these little devices that we wear on our wrists have been able to help us figure out how fast we are going, how far we are going, and elevation changes in the road or trail we are running.  All this from a piece of equipment 12,000 miles away and traveling at over 7,000 miles an hour beaming a signal to something the size of a dollar bill, right on your wrist.  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  I mean, just look at the data from my a recent run.  Pace, distance, a map, elevation (which is difficult to see) all….from…space!


This is one of the reasons that I feel kind of silly when I start complaining about GPS not picking up correctly, or being off by a 1/4 mile or more on a fairly short run.  The fact of the matter is though, runners have come to rely on these things more and more.

Sure it’s easy to get out there and run, all you need are feet!  With today’s barefoot running boom, you don’t even need shoes!

That’s a whole lot of NOPE from me

There are far fewer people running just for pure leisure than looking at pace and data crunching the numbers on hills, straightaways, etc, so the use of GPS watches seem to be almost as essential as a comfy pair of shoes.  My drug of choice, based on price, interface, and customer service is the Nike+ GPS Sports watch.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been having some severe discrepancies between mapping a route out, and the final distance.  Nike replaced my watch saying it was defective, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, but who am I to argue (see customer service), and after the first run or two, it was dead on.  This was run on a marked route around a lake.  Each mark was 1/10 of a mile.  During a race, it would be dead on as well, no matter the location.  Then I’d run my normal routes, and it would start again and the distance, even on longer runs would be as much as almost 1 mile off.  I mean…that’s 5,280 feet….surely that device 12,000 miles away can do better than that right??  My pace would sometimes vary up to 40 seconds a mile between the watch and the map, and while trying to find my race pace for the September marathon, it’s been quite frustrating.

After another couple weeks of racking my brain, importing things to different pieces of mapping software etc…I noticed that it would be very close at some points and then fall off somewhere along the way.

After talking it through a few times with my friend Miguel, he noticed something that I was doing that I might want to adjust.  When I run a race, or run a marked course, I don’t pause my watch, there are no stop lights.  All of my other runs have stoplights and heavy traffic that I deal with so I pause my watch.  So it was suggested that I don’t pause it, just let it run.  It’s something that I really hadn’t thought of, and, according to Nike, doing that wouldn’t effect it at all.

After today’s run, I call shenanigans!  It absolutely made a difference! I usually stop my watch 4 times on this route, and this time I didn’t and came less than 1/10 of a mile from the other software that I use.

Now, the question is, at least for me, what was my pace with me just stopping at the lights?  9:23, and, as you can see from the image, there are some fairly challenging hills.  If I adjust for the time stopped, it was 9:17.  With this information in mind, I’m feeling great going into the Half-Marathon on Sunday.

Yes, technology is a fickle mistress.  We can do without her, but we don’t want to.  Much like the rush of a good run, we need her, crave her, and go out of our way to please her even when she’s being a bitch.  For now I’ve tamed her thanks to the help of a friend who patiently listened to me try and figure this out.  I’m sure some other time, some other place, she’ll rear her ugly head once more, and once more, I’ll do everything in my power to make her happy.

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