Garmin racing–not my thing

running GPS watchAt the Runner’s World Half Marathon last week, I used my Garmin for the first time ever during a race. You may recall that I’m the one person on the planet that is not a big fan of the gadgets, but because I’ll be pacing a group at an upcoming Metric Marathon, I’ve had to suck it up and get used to it. I thought a race was an ideal time to put it to the test and make sure I have all the Garmin nuances down pat before my pacing gig.

But I’m going to categorize using a Garmin in a race as a big ‘ole fail for me. I just didn’t like it, for a couple of reasons: The biggest is that I race my best by finding the right pace and then holding it. I am as consistent as they come when I just tap into my body’s desired rythymn. Using a Garmin throws that off entirely, at least for me. I would look at it and adjust my pace time and time again. Too fast? I’d slow it down. Too slow? I’d speed up. There was never a consistency to my paces. I find resting and surging very hard on my legs.

The other thing I didn’t like was the fact that the Garmin gets so far off the actual mileage simply because no matter how hard I tried, I was clearly not hitting all the tangents. So mid-way through the race, my watch was beeping miles long before I got the mile markers. Mentally I found this tiring–I had to keep reminding myself that the only thing that mattered was the cumulative time on the race clock.

Did I find anything good about it? Yes, I do think that for the first mile or two, having an indicator for how fast I was going before the mile markers was good. Going out too fast can wreck races (at least for me), so I liked being able to keep myself in check early on.

All that said, I have decided I won’t use a Garmin for my marathon. I’m going back to my favorite system of a plain old Timex Ironman and the mile markers. My one issue, however, is that I’m going to have to change to a bigger, male model so that my poor, farsighted eyes can read the numbers. Sigh. The problems of the elderly runner!

So tell me–am I the only one who prefers to race without a Garmin? What do you like/not like about using one in a race? 

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  1. says

    This is so interesting because I am one of those runners who is obsessed with my Garmin. But, the other night at a track workout, our coach suggested I do a repeat without looking at my watch. Not looking allowed me to run an even pace which was faster than my 800s that I watch watched! I was doing the slow-then-surge that you described, and wasting energy. I actually felt stronger after the last two 800s without watch peaking :)
    GreenGirlRunning recently posted..Weekly Wrap Up, CIM Training Week 12My Profile

  2. says

    I’m basically permanently attached to my Garmin – but I’ve often thought about running without it in a race and just going by “feel” alone. Sometimes it’s disappointing in a race to be so focused on hitting a certain pace on your Garmin, that you basically miss what’s going on around you. Also, the tangent thing is VERY discouraging. Very seldom in a race does my Garmin match up to the mile markers. It’s a mind game when you have to add an extra .1 miles or so to every marker depending on what your Garmin says. (I haven’t commented in a while, but still stop by all the time – you’re always been one of my fav’s!)
    jim recently posted..Halloween Hustle 10K Report … & New PR!!!My Profile

  3. says

    I don’t have a GPS watch – yet. I will probably get one for those rainy days. I like the GPS program on my iPhone because it announces the splits to give me a guestimate of how far I have run and splits. But most of the time I just acknowledge the approximate knowledge and don’t worry about it.

    What I like about GPS devices is the information they provide after the run is over. Typically I hate interpreting data and crunching numbers, creating charts, etc., except when it comes to my running. Then I enjoy seeing the graphic results of what I have done. The GPS devices, make that part a lot easier, as long as you don’t get hung up on the inaccuracy of the distance/splits and go with the idea that it is close enough.

    During RWH my GPS was within 10-20 feet of the mile markers which is close enough for what I want from it :-)

    So for Christmas I will probably ask for a Forerunner 10, since I got my iSmoothRun to log to Garmin Connect Website, for those days I don’t really want to run with my iPhone on :-)

    Good luck with your marathon, run naked and enjoy it.
    HAROLD recently posted..AVR – Week In Review 10-28-12My Profile

  4. says

    I monitor my Garmin constantly during races, but I also know to just use the numbers as a guide. It helps me not start out too fast, and when I feel like I am sucking, it usually tells me that I am going fast so I can ease up a bit. I find inconsistencies between my instant reads and my split times — usually my spilts are faster than any time I saw when I glanced at it.
    Coco recently posted..(Foam) Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’My Profile

  5. Lisa says

    I agree with Miss Zippy completely! Being a naturally even pacer, it messes with my head to watch the splits and notice the discrepancies in mile markers. The only thing I like about it is looking at splits afterwards! But that can be done with a good old fashioned Timex. I just wish the numbers were BIGGER!

  6. says

    I’ve only just bought a GPS watch (the Nike one), and I’ve been wearing it in races since I bought it. I run in km, but I’ve left my watch set to miles – that way I don’t obsess over the numbers while I’m running, but I can analyse it (in km!) when I’ve finished. The min/mile will eventually make sense to me, but for now it has no significant.
    Tyra recently posted..Melbourne Half Marathon – race recapMy Profile

  7. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race says

    I set my watch up to beep every 15 min so I know it is time to drink. To figure out the time it is just a little math and that helps kill time as well.

    If you need a male model Timex the Ironman one would be perfect for you since it rarely picks up a satellite and thus you will never know what mile you are at based on its beeps.
    Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race recently posted..Homemade GranolaMy Profile

  8. says

    i have been racing with my garmin for about a year and half and I really like it but I used to race in my timex watch. I like being able to tell my paces as I run but it can get a little annoying. I have noticed in the past few races that I have been looking less and less at my watch as I run because I know what the pace is supposed to feel like. I think having the garmin has helped me to learn the paces better so that now I don’t depend on it as much even if I do still race/run with it.
    J recently posted..Three Things ThursdayMy Profile

  9. CJ says

    I have a TomTom/Nike GPS watch, and I’ve found the pace feature throws me way off in trying to pace. Even if I see that I’m running “real-time” 7:45s, my avg pace at the end may be 8:05.

    So I use only the avg pace setting. It’s subject to pretty quick changes in the early miles, but once you settle into a pace, it takes a lot to increase or decrease it, so it’s an excellent and reliable gauge of how you’re doing overall–not just in the moment.

    I used it during MCM yesterday and was able to see that I was on track for around a 4:00 finish for the first half or so (9:07 avg pace). Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold it, but I found it a very effective way of assessing my pace without obsessing about each step. Also, I had the distance visible and could see that I was running tangents well, even with all the twists and turns: net 26.39, while I heard other GPS beeps all around me that were way ahead.

    Good luck!

  10. says

    I think running with a Garmin takes practice because you learn to not respond directly to what the Garmin says. I don’t know how to pace myself but if I can see numbers I know the ranges I should be in and don’t react unless it is terribly off. I have also learned when the Garmin is not reporting the right numbers. Running with the heart rate strap has helped with that.

    But, I do agree with sticking with the timex. I wish I could run with only a Timex but that is not what I am comfortable with. There are some really pretty Timex watches that I have been wanting to buy from my store lately.
    Robin recently posted..Race Recap of Runner’s World Half Marathon 2012My Profile

  11. says

    It’s WONDERFUL that you’re able to find and keep a pace all on your own. For me, a relatively new runner, I needed the Garmin to help me find my pace. I’m getting better, but it’s still a good indicator because I NEED The message to slow down or speed up. But for you, an old pro, stick to what you do naturally! Good for you.
    Meredith @ DareYouTo recently posted..Monday Motivation: RunningMy Profile

  12. says

    Bawhaha! I am an elderly runner as well. Nothing like thinking you’ve just done a super fast mile only to let done when you put your glasses on. Hope you have a great week! Thank you so much for sharing my post the other day, it means a lot to me… love ya girlie! xoxo
    LisaM@RunWiki recently posted..Riding the Waves of PainMy Profile

  13. Susan SRMS says

    I’m old school…I run with my Tech 40 and my friends can’t believe how even I run marathons…I listen to my body and get in a rhythm. It’s really very easy to do when don’t rely on technology to prompt you.

  14. says

    This is an interesting perspective. I say if you’re in tune with your body and pace, don’t confuse it with technology!
    I like racing with mine so I can see where I’m at, but it does mess with my mind, too. Especially when the miles are chiming before the official markers, or if it’s been a hilly mile and I get a bit behind. However, at the end of an Ironman, I have no concept of how fast or slow I’m going, so it’s nice to be able to see!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..Relax…a lotMy Profile

  15. says

    I think I’d feel like you…

    I’m totally not tech-saavy and the last time I tried using some “tools” to show me pace/distance/etc, the equipment stopped working and I was soooo mad during the race, that it ruined the entire race for me, I was busy looking down trying to fix it when all I was doing was making it worse…
    marissa recently boys and the soup’s on!My Profile

  16. says

    Maybe I’m just lazy, but the Garmin doesn’t psych me out in races because if it’s slower than I want to be going, well, I just figure that’s what my body wants to do (faster is another story–I have been known to pull back early if there’s something too fast showing for the pace). As you know, though, the heart rate issue has been psyching me out big-time recently–I really rely on the Garmin to keep me honest with heart rates, so when it’s not working I panic (like Saturday). Panic never helps.

    I think we are all too reliant on gadgets. I should probably just do what you’re thinking of doing, but from a heart rate perspective–get something that has a straight stopwatch and a heart rate tracker and nothing else, maybe something made by Polar. Back when I used their HR monitors, I never had this problem.
    Terzah recently posted..Be Still My Beating HeartMy Profile

  17. says

    My PR marathon was run w/o a Garmin. I just listened to my body . I ran at a pace that felt comfortable for me. It allowed me to pace myself properly – as opposed to being a slave to that # on the screen. Like you, I feel like I can’t get into a grove when I have my Garmin – I spend the whole race looking at my screen and not focusing on things I should be. I like training with a Garmin (for tempo, speed, and long runs) so that I know my current fitness level.
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Sandy + Double Digits are BACK!My Profile

  18. says

    Pretty much the only time I don’t run with my Garmin is when I’m on the track – that seems to be the one place where I can easily dial into a pace and hold on to it. I’ve been working with my Garmin more and more to learn what different paces feel like.

    In a race I suffer from going out way too fast so the Garmin helps a lot there! I know what you’re saying about it being off vs. the mile markers but I’m guess I’m so use to it now that it doesn’t really bother me much
    Michelle @ Running with Attitude recently posted..Yurbuds Inspire Review & GiveawayMy Profile

  19. says

    I definitely find myself doing the surge and slow down pattern in races with my Garmin. I never thought about that being tiring on my legs, but I’m sure it is. I haven’t raced without my Garmin since getting it, but I keep telling myself I should one of these days… I’m nervous that I’ll go too slowly if I don’t know my pace!
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  20. says

    In the olden days, pre foot injury, I never race with a Garmin and sometimes not even with a watch, because I tend to become a slave to the thing and miss enjoying the race itself. But these days, I am not good at guessing my pace and it’s just going to take me a very long time to get back at the “feel” of racing and training so I wear it. I’m not a fan of it though.
    Jill recently posted..ChicagoMy Profile

  21. says

    This is a timely post for me… I’m wondering if I should go Garmin-less in my half on Sunday. The thought of staring down at my Garmin and making sure I’m running even splits stresses me out. In my last half, I told myself that I was NOT going to look at my Garmin because it was a hilly course, so there was no point. I do remember looking down at it on one of the hills and seeing a 9:50ish pace, which sort of bummed me out. I do know that panicky feeling when you realize you’re running too slowly, and who needs that on top of the general fatigue you’re already feeling towards the end of a race?
    Allison Johnson recently posted..Fall Update!My Profile

  22. says

    I didn’t use a Garmin at LA Half this weekend since I wasn’t planning on racing it. I did, in fact, go out too fast that first mile. But other than that, it was kind of liberating. I just went with a pace that felt comfortable and when I finished in 1:45 I realized I ran marathon pace without the help of a Garmin! I paid attention to my body — my heart rate especially, and it all worked out! I got in the perfect training @ MP.

    With all that being said, I will be using the Garmin at my marathon. I just don’t trust that I won’t go too fast initially. I know my body will probably feel great and want to fly but the Garmin will remind me to take it easy.
    Kate @ Run with Kate recently posted..Taper Time: To Race or Not to Race?My Profile

  23. says

    I like focusing on my pace more during training. I live for those stats. But as far as during a race, I just like to glance and make sure I’m not acting crazy. I’m not a seasoned enough runner that I have confidence in myself as far as holding a certain pace for (fill in the distance here), so I like to have it as a guideline during races/runs. And then obsess over stats afterwards. 😉
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  24. says

    It took me a really long time to learn to use my Garmin as a guide and not stare at it obsessively/let it wreck my race.
    One thing I do, that might help you if you ever need to wear it again, is turn off auto lapping. I just press the lap button when I pass a mile marker. At the end I do end up with the extra recorded distance but I’ll see where I picked up during the race (ex. mile 6 was actually 1.05 miles). Then I just throw it on pace display and go. I look down every so often to see if my real/perceived effort still matches and thats about it :)
    Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted..Runner’s World 5K and Half Marathon RecapsMy Profile

  25. says

    Interesting! See at yesterday’s marathon I was going by Theodora’s watch and I liked being able to keep pace. However, I wasn’t actually paying that much attention and was just going by what she said. I’m excited to see how it works for me wearing my own watch at the next marathon in three weeks. I think I’ll like it but who knows? I know if I was doing a marathon for pleasure, I would not want it though.
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  26. says

    i’ve never raced with a Garmin and don’t plan it. i’ve seen tons of people do it and in my mind i’m on the same page as u. if u’re going into a race to race, if it’s a legit race the course should be correct and because the Garmin is always a little off for miles/pace it’s not worth the mental anguish of second guessing urself. u go into a race trained and ready to run for effort, times and mile markers are YES tools to gauge that, but i think sometimes people go a little garmin-obsessed and it bites them in the bum second guessing themselves. but that’s just my opinion. :)

  27. says

    I like having a garmin at races, if nothing else for the heartrate data it provides – it helps to keep me in check so I don’t start off too fast. Though listening to your body is the way to go, because if you don’t you could end up in a world of hurt near the end of the race.
    Nelly recently posted..Running talk/politicsMy Profile

  28. says

    For training runs, I like my Garmin for the heartrate, cadence, and pace data, and during a race, I use it for heartrate and for my time goals every 5ish miles. But I’m thinking learning to listen to my body is the way to go, and will work on that over the winter.
    Ama_Runs recently posted..For The Beauty Of ItMy Profile

  29. Alyssa K says

    I ran my first 10K with my MotoActv on Sunday. I was had never done a race with one and figured it would make me feel better about my corral choice and not overdo it with my cold. I dunno if I will run my first half with one or not. I did like it for Ragnar, but that is an entirely different sort of race. Mine doubles as a music player and I like that it tells me which songs make me run faster.
    Alyssa K recently posted..Marine Corps 10KMy Profile

  30. says

    I think so many people become too dependent on their Garmins. I totally admit to being one of them. I had a really horrible race in July where I let my mind get the best of me as I was trying too hard in the heat to hit my pace, instead of running how I felt. I took a month off of my Garmin afterwards, and I would catch myself looking for my watch when it wasn’t there. Now that I’m back to using it, I prefer it much more for a guide afterwards than to dictate how I should be doing at that particular point. In larger and longer races, I tend to turn off the “auto lap” feature and just manually lap it myself for my own mile splits. If you forget to hit auto lap, no biggie, as you can get the next one. I am much less dependent on my Garmin now than I was before, and I think taking a break from it definitely helped.
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  31. Pat says

    I am also not a Garmin fan, for racing or training. I used one a few times and found myself staring at it and getting stressed in just the way you described—too fast, too slow, too fast, too slow. I’ve never been a log-keeper, either. I know my plan and find that logging workouts makes me neurotic about sticking to the plan vs staying flexible . Sometimes life gets in the way and I need to back and sometimes I’m having a great day and want to go faster or do more. Old school, not high tech, is the way to go for me.