Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When Your GPS Is An A$$hole

I felt like I was working. W-O-R-K-I-N-G. When I looked down at my Garmin 220, though, the effort was not matching the pace. It was showing 9:15, 9:30, and I was sure I was going a minute faster.

Beep. Beep beep. Beep beep beep.

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A symphony of dings went off as we headed toward the baseball diamonds at Foster Park during the JP Jones 10K on Sunday, indicating one mile was done. My watch didn't beep until 20 seconds later.

I wasn't running close enough to anyone during the remaining miles to know how my laps matched with others but by the end of the 10K, which measured correctly for every one, my Garmin read 5.99.

"It happens," I thought, apparently during any 10K I run this summer. (My watch was ridiculously off when I set my PR in August.)

On Tuesday, I headed out for a steady-state workout: 2-mile warm-up, 4 miles at marathon pace (8:50) and 1-mile cool down.

I was mindful to start slow, and I kept any eye on the Garmin to make sure I was in the right spot. And I was. I hit the first mile in 9:41 and the second in 9:42. Perfect.

But as I hit the goal pace miles, things just seemed off. Again, pace was not matching effort. The first mile was 9:11 but maybe my legs were still recovering from a tough weekend. I might have to work harder, I thought. So I did. The second MP mile came in at 8:46.

"OK, better," I thought. "It's fine.

The third mile was 9:30, and I knew that wasn't right. It had to be the watch, not me. Not my legs. Not my fitness. It was the mother effing Garmin.

So here's what I did:

I screamed. (OK, maybe not.)

I took an extra moment at a stop light to collect myself and make a resolution: run hard and do my best.

I connected with the greenway, which has quarter-mile markers. I made a mental not of where I was according to the Garmin and tracked it for the next mile. It was off by 0.07.

I was right! Time to celebrate! It helped that I was finished with the marathon pace miles.

I ran until the watch said I hit the full distance. I knew the watch was off but I wanted to be certain that my workout was done. Lo and behold, after I mapped it on two sites, I had been done a half-mile earlier.

I uploaded my data via bluetooth immediately after getting in the car so I could know I was right again.

When I got home, I looked for software updates and plugged in the watch via USB cable to my computer. I find if I've gone too long doing so that it can cause errors. Again, it's the watch and not me.

I basked in the knowledge that I ran the 7.4 miles at an 8:39 pace, which should sub out nicely for a workout I planned on doing later in the week: 2-mile WU, 4 x 1.5 miles at half marathon pace with 2 minutes rest, and 1-mile CD.

Other things to do:

Write furious public messages to Garmin on your social media accounts.

Know mile landmarks on your regular routes to compare to the GPS mileage if you think things are off.

Run on effort, not readout. It might help you avoid running too fast/like a jerk as I did.

Roll with it. Once upon a time, people ran without Garmins. The horror!


  1. Haha! We are so dependent on technology and when it fails us...ugh...

    Nice run, anyways!

    ~Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home

  2. haha loved your last sentence! What on earth did we do before garmins???? :)

  3. I've never run with a GPS device, and this does nothing to change my opinion of them. I've had good results this year (PRs at 1 mile, 10K, 13.1M, 50K, and 50M) running by time and feel. When I want to measure (or, very rarely, aim for) a specific pace, I preview my route on MapMyRun to figure out where the "mile markers" are and use my stopwatch. Most of the time, I don't.

    My perception, perhaps unfairly, is that those things suck all the enjoyment out of running and encourage you to focus obsessively on numbers rather than the experience. Then again, you've gotten faster than me in the last year so you're doing something right.

    1. I don't think your perception is unfair at all! My most enjoyable runs are always the ones where I'm with my friends, in the early morning and I can't see the GPS. Pace is not an issue. As you said, it's about the experience and not the numbers.

      I find the GPS helpful, for me, as I think I fail to trust myself or maybe I'm not in tune enough to know what each effort feels like (ie 5K, 10K, etc.)

      I do know that once this half is over that I will be less about the numbers (and the crazy math runs). It really can lead to burnout.

  4. I think I told you before my 10k PR happened because Garmin was lying. That said mine is missing. I hate it....but I can't wait to get a pretty purple one.

  5. Exactly!! What did we do years ago without a watch telling us how far or how fast we have gone! I was in New Zealand for a month a couple of years ago. I didn't take my Garmin but I ran most days and did lots of hiking all on feel. I came home and ran a half marathon PR the next weekend! It is do-able for sure!! We just have to learn how to "run by feel"!! :) Technology goes a rye sometimes! I like it going in my favor though!! :)

  6. I have been having trouble with my Garmin as well. For some reason my watch has been recording more mileage than I actually ran. Just lately, my watch will not record distance and remains stuck on .04 even when I know I have run at least a mile. I took it into our running store where I bought it and they couldn't figure it out. So now with the half coming up next weekend I'm not sure what to do. I use it for my run/walk intervals so I'm a bit frustrated just like you. I think we both have the same watch too!