My (brief) love affair with running gadgetry

As a runner, learning to trust your body is a big deal. When I first started running it felt like my body was my biggest obstacle – my lungs would panic within minutes of setting off and my limbs seemed to lose track of which one was doing what. But over time I learned how to work with with my body and how to train my physical self to do the things that I wanted to do. We co-operate well, generally speaking, me and my body. I promise to stretch properly and my legs keep running, I promise to slowly lengthen my threshold reps and in return my body slowly learns to run faster.

I’m not very flush for cash, but my body doesn’t care about the contents of my wallet. Rather than demanding I buy a flashy GPS watch me and my body have always trained to ‘perceived effort’. My easy runs would ‘feel’ easy – so easy I could have a conversation. My threshold runs would require me to breathe to an uneven rhythm of 2 counts in and one count out – a moderately hard pace. And my hard, 5K pace would  leave me feeling nauseous by 4,000m. Once I learned to trust my body’s reaction to different running paces and its inner GPS my training has come on leaps and bounds. Me and my body had more going for us than a lot of married couples – mutual respect, co-operation and trust.

That was until I met Soleus…

soleus

I’d be lying if I said I’d never fancied a GPS watch. While I truly believe that listening to your body and pacing runs according to perceived levels of effort is the best way to train, I wasn’t always convinced that I was doing it right. Insecurities about my own performance pushed me to gaze enviously at the wristwear of other runners. It’s not that I didn’t trust my body and its inner GPS system anymore, it’s just that I needed some reassurance. I wanted to be told that I was good at running, that I was going fast enough, slow enough, far enough…

I bought the Soleus 1.0 GPS running watch on impulse. I don’t know what came over me – such frivolity and spontaneity is out of character. It was half priced to £50 during the January sales (no doubt due to its own insecurities in the face of Garmin’s Forerunner 10). I can only assume that in a moment of mutual insecurity Soleus and I found comfort in each other – I, a technology starved runner and her, a simple but effective running accessory.

I never intended for Soleus to become a regular running companion. I just needed some pace guidance on threshold sessions to build my confidence and an indication of mileage on long runs. I never thought that I would get so emotionally attached – it just sort of happened.

But to be honest, Soleus didn’t make pacing my runs any easier or more enjoyable. If anything, the tendency for the pace readings to fluctuate as I ran over my neighbourhood’s hills made me more paranoid about my running ability. I started second guessing myself more than ever, turning to Soleus for reassurance and constantly checking the ‘pace’ view when the real reassurance was right there in my breathing pattern and muscular fatigue.

Last week I decided to turn Soleus’s ‘pace’ view off before heading out for a 5 mile half marathon pace run with just my body to guide me into my pace. I wanted to try and reopen the channels of communication between my brain and my body that I had once loved and trusted so much. It wasn’t perfect, I’ll admit – I ran a bit too fast, and though I felt I could have sustained it for a couple more miles, anything beyond 8 miles would have been a struggle. But it was steady, it was even, and most importantly it felt good. Soleus was still there in the background, beeping every mile so that I knew when I’d completed my run, but I didn’t need and nor did I want that constant reassurance of the ‘pace’ view. I have realised that unless you listen to your body and unless you trust that you can communicate honestly and effectively with it you will struggle to run consistently or to improve. All the GPS watches in the world can’t substitute that relationship.

Me and Soleus still have a relationship, but without the moving pace. The watch still has a regular timer function and a lap timer, and an accurate GPS signal for measuring distance. Of course I still think about my pace and I do check the stored data after my run. But that doesn’t mean me an my body can’t get through this half marathon training together, right?

The Soleus 1.0 is Soleus’s budget, no frills GPS running watch. It retailed around £100 until late 2012 when Garmin released it’s budget market competitor, the Forerunner 10, which also retails around the £100 mark. While both watches have almost identical functionality, the Soleus 1.0 does not connect to a computer and so you cannot upload your data to any swanky websites, create maps from your runs or jazzy pie charts of your speedwork sessions (I have not had confirmation of Garmin’s ability to create pie charts, but I’m pretty sure there’s a geek in that company somewhere who’s working on it…). Since the Forerunner 10 stepped on the scene the Soleus has tumbled in price and I’ve seen them averaging £75 online and at Sweatshop. It’s a great watch – really accurate – and its moving pace updates roughly every 15-20 seconds, which avoids erratic jumping. Even though I’ve temporarily opted out of using the moving pace I’m still finding this watch invaluable in my training with it’s cute mile beeps… It’s down to personal choice at the end of the day. GPS watches – could you run without yours?

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6 responses to “My (brief) love affair with running gadgetry

  1. I used to ride with a computer, and occasionally I commute with my garmin etrex, I find the most useful thing the speed function, especially average speed. Once I know the speed I can do it, nay should be doing it, its time for the legs to harden the fuck up if they’re feeling the pain and thinking about slacking off.

  2. Ultimate GARMIN fail was my cousin husband leaving his on-top of his car post-run and then driving off without it – lesson = Garmin’s are only as useful as their owner!

  3. It sounds just as dangerous as having scales in the house when you’re trying to watch your – or to lose some – weight! I think the bizarre ups and down in the middle of any process shouldn’t be allowed too much serious attention. Just imagine if we looked at our psychosocial development in this way.. I think I’d have given up completely at about age 14..

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