Leave your GPS at home…at least sometimes!

Monday, September 21, 2015

by Jeff Burger

As previously mentioned, I’m not a big fan of GPS watches…if you let them control your run. I have one and I wear it…from time to time. And, I admit they have their place in training, and can be a very useful tool to assist runners but please don’t be married to your GPS (it’s hard enough staying married to your spouse). I laugh every time I see someone running around in circles because they have to get to an exact mile, and I can’t help but chuckle (and freeze) every time I see someone shivering and holding their wrist up to the stars while waiting to begin a winter run. And, I get frustrated when people don’t want to run on trails or don’t want to run hilly courses because their GPS will tell them they are running “too slowly.” Oh, and don’t even get me started when people complain that a race is too long or too short because their GPS had a different distance than advertised. I’ll start with the race thing. The bottom line, you have to run from the start to the finish; so, do it! And, I can promise you that a USATF certified course is more accurate than your GPS. If you’re really worried about this, I’ll let you google it for the explanation, but the short version is – when a course is certified, they have to make sure that if you run the course in the shortest possible way, meaning you take every turn perfectly, you still run the advertised distance. Us middle of the packers never do this so, it makes sense that our GPS’s would be a little long. 

From a training point of view, I get worried about people who are married to their GPS. Don’t get me wrong, the problem I have is not necessarily with the GPS, it is with our reaction to having too much information. The truth about running is – not every run is the same. Just because you averaged a 9:02 one day doesn’t mean you’re going to average a 9:02 every day, and the best part about it – you shouldn’t average the same pace every day. My concern is that some runs are meant to be easy. If you’re too worried about your pace, you’re not letting the run be as easy as it needs to be. My easy runs range in pace by almost a minute per mile. Some days I feel good and other days I don’t. Run whatever is easy on that day. One of my other concerns is people’s reluctance to run a hilly course or on trails because they are too worried about their pace. I train one person who flat refuses to run on trails because she equates pace with effort level as opposed to equating effort level with….well, effort level. Trails are harder. There are more turns, more rocks, more roots, steeper hills, more hills, etc. You’re going to run slower, but you’re going to put out the same amount or more effort. And, if one of your goals is to burn calories, you burn calories based on effort, not pace. Trails and hills are good for you so don’t let your pace take that away from you.

This brings me to my main point and the reason I do 67% of my training by time. Your body has no idea how far you’ve traveled. Your body knows you are running at a certain intensity level for a period of time. Your heart, lungs, and legs have no idea how many miles you’ve run. This concept holds true for almost every kind of workout. For instance, if you are doing interval training, the point of that workout is to increase your VO2 max. In order to do this, you train at or near your maximum heart rate. If done properly, you can hold a maximum heart rate effort for approximately three to five minutes.  So, you’re body knows that you are running at a very hard intensity (90-100% of your maximum HR) and your body is going to force you to stop that intensity in approximately three minutes. Your body has no idea how much ground you’ve covered in those three minutes. In fact, everyone is going to cover a different distance in the same amount of time while getting the same benefit from the workout. Most of us do our intervals on a track. 400 meters is 400 meters.  You don’t need a GPS to tell you that. The same holds true for tempo or threshold runs. In fact, these runs (or the pace at which they are run) are defined by time not distance. Your tempo or threshold (the terms are interchangeable) pace is the pace you can maintain for approximately 60 minutes. This is different for everybody. For some people, this is your ten mile pace, while for most, this is approximately your 10k pace. Either way, you are training your body to process lactate efficiently, and again, your body has no idea how far you’ve traveled over this 60 minute period. 

I understand that most of us (including me) keep track of our weekly mileage and not our weekly time running. I get it. To combat this, I assume, like me, you run the same courses throughout the week. You know how far they are – your GPS tells you approximately the same thing every time you run the same course. This means you only have to GPS (yes, I just used GPS as a verb…you’ve all done it) it once. The only run left is the long run. As far as the long run goes, I do 100% of mine by time, but I know that 90% of you will not do this, so I’m not going to put up much of a fight. I will concede there is something awesome about seeing your GPS read 18 or 20 or 22 miles! I will take the time to point out that you probably have a goal pace in mind for your marathon and you probably know approximately how fast you run your long runs. So, using myself as the example, if I want to run a marathon in approximately three hours, I’m going to do my long runs in fifteen minute increments: 2:15, 2:30, 2:45, etc. But, I know it’s sexy to see 20 or 22 miles so, I will stop arguing with you for your long run.

If I had to pick a weekday workout or two for you to wear your GPS, I would pick your tempo run and your long run, but probably not for the reason you think.  I would wear a GPS to avoid running too fast. We’ve all probably learned the hard way that going out too fast can ruin any tempo or long run. Wearing a GPS can prevent that happening. And, I’m certainly okay with wearing a GPS when you’re running a new route. We all like to know how far a new route is. In closing, I encourage all of you to own and use a GPS…just use it correctly! 


Monday, September 21, 2015

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