A GPS running watch will make your training easier, but only if you use it right. Running coach Andrew Cheong shares his top tips.
You probably know that a GPS-enabled watch can help to improve your training by several notches. However, knowing how to make full use of it is another ball game, which most sports watch users have not mastered. If you’re planning to get one or already own one, read on.
First things first, mobile phones are not a good substitute
Almost all mobile devices can play apps that track your running distance and speed. However, I would recommend using a dedicated GPS-enabled watch instead, as mobile phones are bulky, inaccurate, and quite a challenge to use when you are running.
Not all GPS watches are the same
Most GPS watches have the same, basic features like water resistance, bluetooth connectivity, time and distance tracking. Things get complicated when brands add different new functions that can confuse and intimidate you. Instead of choosing a model with the most features, pick the one that provides you the essential data. What’s the use of having all these functions when you don’t know how to find and use them?
(Also read: Best Running Apps to Motivate You)
Here are some key race and training terms you need to know.
Key race and training terms to note
Average pace versus actual pace
Pace is the time you take to cover one kilometre. All GPS-enabled watches can track both the average pace you took over the total duration of your run, and also the actual pace, which is your pace at any point of time. Both numbers may be different at any instance, so don’t get confused! If you speed up, your actual pace will be faster than your average pace. Because of this, the actual pace will fluctuate a lot more compared to the average pace during a run.
Elapsed time, Gun time and Net time
Elapsed time is the total time taken measured from the moment you start your watch to the time you stop it. At a race, gun time starts when the starter’s horn or gun goes off, marking the official start of the race. Most of us could still be stuck in the crowd, many metres behind the start line, so our actual time spent running is called the net time, which starts only when we step over the start line and stops the moment we cross the finish line. As a result, the net time will be less than the gun time.
Now that you understand the basic terms, follow these tips to kickstart a positive relationship with your GPS watch.
Best GPS running watch tips
Take the heart rate readings with a pinch of salt
Heart rate monitors are now a ubiquitous feature in GPS watches. However, watch-based heart rate monitors are not as accurate compared to the ones with the chest strap. When you swing your arms vigorously, or when your watch strap is worn too loose, a higher heart rate will be registered. Heart rate readings are also laggy, so when you speed up or run up a hill, your increased heart rate will not register perhaps until you are midway or at the top of the hill. Trying to run within a heart rate zone? Whoops! You may have already exceeded your targeted zone before it shows up on your watch. That can drive you nuts sometimes!
Set 1km alerts for a peace of mind
Evelyn Chua, one of the Shape Run 2019 pacers and an SSTAR.fitness athlete, said: ”In a race, or during training, there are so many things to think about, and the beeps and alerts from your watch can be very distracting.” I agree with that – running and training should be fun and as stress-free as possible. You do not need to monitor your exact pace or heart rate all the time. Instead, set the watch to alert you once every kilometre so you don’t have to look at it too frequently.
Learn to sense your pacing and effort
While technology provides you meaningful data to make you a better runner, sometimes we get too caught up with it, obsessing about our pace or our heart rates too often. It’s better to focus on how we feel, and our rate of perceived exertion as measured by our breathing and effort. At SSTAR.fitness, we teach athletes and Shape Run pacers how to acquire an ”inner GPS” by using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion to cultivate a sense of your pace and effort. Master this, and you’ll be able to enjoy your race much more.
About the author
Andrew Cheong is the founder and Head Coach of SSTAR.fitness, an endurance sports coaching service. Since 2010, Andrew has been dedicated to training runners of all abilities, for races ranging from 5km to the Marathon and beyond. He has a Diploma in Sports Science, is a certified Distance Running Coach by the Road Running Clubs of America, a qualified FISAF personal trainer, an IAAF Track and Field Certified and a Mental Toughness Coach. Andrew has completed more than 30 marathons and Ironman races. He and his wife were the first Singaporean couple to be awarded the Abbott Six Star World Marathon Major recipient in 2017.