Why some top runners prefer to train without a GPS watch | ET REALITY


As a decorated college running back at Notre Dame and then the University of Tennessee, Dylan Jacobs dabbled in a device that many of his teammates considered indispensable.

But on those rare occasions when Jacobs succumbed to peer pressure and put a GPS watch on his wrist, he almost immediately remembered why he had resisted the temptation in the first place.

“The races seemed a lot longer,” said Jacobs, 23, a three-time NCAA champion who recently turned professional. “That was one of my main problems. I wasn’t having fun or looking around. Instead, I looked at the clock every quarter mile to see how much time I had left.”

GPS watches (popular brands are Garmin, Suunto and Coros) come equipped with satellite technology and heart rate monitors to produce a buffet of functions. Do you want to know how far and how fast you ran, or how many milliliters of sweat you shed in Central Park last weekend? How about your average stride length? Your cadence? The list goes on.

For many, GPS watches are a very useful training tool. But there are other runners, including world-class runners like Jacobs, who have a hard time understanding all the fuss. For them, a heterogeneous mix of data is more of a hindrance than a help. And get this: some runners don’t wear a watch at all.

“I like to focus more on the feel of everything and not worry too much about the time,” Jacobs said.

Olympic 1,500-meter runner Heather MacLean recalled a period in her life when she enjoyed the usefulness of a GPS watch. As a student at the University of Massachusetts, she came to understand the value of sleep (and, more importantly, that she wasn’t getting enough sleep) while working in a neuroscience lab. She then started using a Garmin Forerunner to monitor her sleep and adjust her schedule.

Later, as a first-year pro on the New Balance Boston team, MacLean attempted to be consistent in wearing a GPS watch, but was hampered by a couple of issues. First, he always forgot to carry it.

“I would just let him die all the time, and I’m very lazy about that kind of thing,” she said.

Second, MacLean realized that his watch was taking the fun out of his racing. It was especially evident to her during a low-key stretch when she was simply trying to improve her physical condition.

“I hated that every race I did I felt like I had to control my pace, my distance and everything else,” he said. “So I decided to leave it for a while and switch to a normal guard.”

She never returned. MacLean, 28, who now wears a Armitron Dragonfly which she said she bought for $10 at Walmart, acknowledged that there were certain workouts where a GPS watch would be useful, such as when she was running alone. (Pace runs are faster than easy jogs and often run at a prescribed pace.) But Mark Coogan, her coach, has been around for a long time. effort prioritized over paceand MacLean logs his training in minutes instead of miles.

“I know I’m at the elite level now, so it’s not all going to be joy,” MacLean said. “But when there are things that give me a lot of joy, I’m going to invest in them. And one of those things is the ability to avoid focusing on my pace during my runs.”

Without the pressure of feeling like she needs to account for every mile (or, rather, post her workouts for public inspection on Strava, the fitness-tracking platform), MacLean has also gotten better at listening to her body. She has no qualms about forgoing additional training if she feels exhausted.

“And I’ll tell Mark I’m going for a walk instead,” MacLean said. “And he says, ‘Okay!'”

Sam Prakel rose to prominence in high school in Versailles, Ohio, when the assistant coach of his cross-country team introduced him to the magic of GPS watches. Prakel invested in one. It was a mistake from the beginning.

“I started running too fast on all my races,” Prakel said, “and it became harder to recover because I was so focused on my pace. “I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t good for me.”

Prakel opted for a Timex Ironman, which he wore during his freshman year at the University of Oregon. When the band broke up in its second year, he asked for another one. Prakel, 28, has worn the same simple watch ever since, until his time in Oregon, where he was a five-time All-American and, in more recent years, as an Adidas pro. He has never needed to change the battery.

Prakel, the reigning U.S. indoor champion in the men’s 1,500 and 3,000 meters, has a system that works for him, which in some ways is a setback. What did runners do before the advent of GPS watches? They estimated. In Prakel’s case, a 65-minute run is about 10 miles and a half-hour jog is about four miles. It doesn’t need to be precise.

“As long as you do the same things every week and you’re consistent, that’s all that matters,” he said, adding, “I feel like I’m in a better place when I don’t have all that data to worry about.” .”

For some runners, aesthetics matter, too. Luke Houser, a University of Washington junior who won an NCAA championship in the men’s indoor mile last winter, wears a vintage-inspired Casio with digital display and gold metal band. His teammates simply refer to him as “the golden Casio.”

“I think it looks great,” he said. “I’ve never been interested in cadence or heart rate, which I don’t think are that accurate anyway. All you need to know is how you feel and the time. That gets the job done.”

Kieran Lumb, who recently broke his own Canadian record in the men’s 3,000 meters, he is well aware that he is the type of person susceptible to the sweet lure of data.

At the University of British Columbia, Lumb majored in electrical engineering. Later, while working in Washington, he earned a master’s degree in information systems. And for a long time, no one who knew him was surprised that he kept an Excel spreadsheet to catalog his sleep, his workouts, and something he called “graded perceived fatigue.”

“I’m just trying to do a little data science on myself,” he said.

The twist is that Lumb, 25, who now runs professionally for sportswear brand On, hasn’t worn a GPS watch since he was a competitive cross-country skier growing up in Canada. As a college freshman, he made the switch to a Casio calculator watch that didn’t even have a proper lap function for track workouts.

“So I had to remember all my splits,” he said, “and it was amazing.”

Lumb noted that because many runners are competitive by nature, they can become obsessed with numbers. And the task of reaching the top as an elite runner can be especially grueling.

As a result, Lumb’s coach, Andy Powell, try to keep things as simple as possible. For Lumb, that has meant ditching his Excel folder in favor of Powell’s old-school approach: weekly training sheets that his runners fill out and file in three-ring binders.

“There’s something nice about slowing down and writing it by hand, something I find almost endearing,” Lumb said. “It’s taken me a while to be less neurotic, but it’s liberating.”

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