Friday, December 11, 2015

Running with a Watch

Some people don't like to wear a watch when they run. They prefer to soar like a wild eagle, unencumbered by bulky technology. They prefer to run by feel, rather than having an obnoxious wrist robot beeping, "you're running slower than a turtle that just had tacos." Tacos make you gassy.

Not me. When I run without my watch, I feel like I'm supposed to enjoy the run for the sake of itself. Like I can just ignore the fact that my legs are about to explode and that my stomach is full of tacos with extra beans. I like having all those stats at my finger tips, telling me exactly how much I do or don't suck.

Here is a thing in big letters to get you excited so you read the rest of this article.

Plus, if I don't run with my watch, how am I supposed to share every single run with the world? I know all of my friends are secretly deeply impressed that I ran 11 miles despite staying up, like, an hour later than usual the night before. "How does that maniac do it?!"

I don't wear a watch throughout the day (see above about wild eagles). But when I hit the pavement, it suddenly becomes a necessity. I'd sooner run without shorts. Although that would be a short-lived run.

"I'm a wild eagle."

In any event, there are a bunch of stats the watch offers. And despite the fact that I didn't advertise it in the title, surprise! This is a list article. Here's some of the data fields you can usually access, and how I personally like to use them.

Time Elapsed

I rarely check the total elapsed time. Sometimes I want to figure out what time it is, and I'll add the elapsed time to my start time to figure it out. I can probably press a button to just SEE what time it is, but I'm too paranoid that I'll screw something up. Of course, I usually forget when I started, other than that it was really cold and I really didn't feel like running.

The only other time I may look at the elapsed time is if I'm running a race and trying to get under a certain time or to set a PR. I'm not going to knock a minute of my last mile, but I may be able to knock off a couple seconds. Also, if I'm running a marathon, it's nice to check the elapsed time at the halfway point to see if I'm on track with my goal time.

But on most of my training runs, I don't look at the elapsed time.


This is another thing I don't look at. Checking out the total distance I've run is usually depressing. It reminds me how little I've run and how much I still have left. I prefer to chunk up my runs into minigoals: one mile, a certain landmark, etc. Looking at my total distance makes me feel like I only have one goal: to finish. And usually that's really far away.

When I look at the time, I at least can see the seconds ticking by and feel like I'm making progress. But with the distance, you can look at your watch, look back up to avoid crashing into a street sign, and not have the distance change at all in that time. It makes you feel like you're running zero miles per hour (which is not that far off for some of my runs...). And if you obsessively look at your watch as often as I do, that distance will usually only creep up by tiny fractions, which also makes it feel like you'll be running for the rest of your life.

So no, I don't like to see my distance.

I don't want to know how far I've run.
Just give me something pretty to look at.


The regular pace data field sucks. I don't know what algorithm the watch uses to figure this out, but it's usually useless. If I actually need the information - for example if I'm doing intervals and need to go a certain speed, or I just crested a hill, or I'm sprinting the last bit of a race - the pace catches up too late to matter. I much prefer the lap pace (below).

Heart Rate

This is my favorite field. I like to see how close my heart is to exploding. Or at the very least, to gauge my level of effort. Sometimes a run will feel harder than what your heart rate indicates, and occasionally (= rarely) easier. But as a general rule this is a good indicator.

When it comes to training runs, I use my heart rate to determine if I'm on track with my training goal. If I'm doing intervals or other speed work, then I usually want it really high. If I'm doing a long run, I'll want it lower, so I don't burn out too soon. It takes some experience to figure out where your heart rate should be for different types of runs, but once you get used to it, it becomes a really useful metric. I'm not going to give you a bunch of math or charts here. Just do a few runs and figure it out intuitively.

For me, where the heart rate data really shines is on race day. I have a pretty solid idea of where my heart rate should be at for any given distance: In the 150 range for marathons, 160 range for half marathons, and around 170 for shorter races. And it's not uncommon for it to hit about 185 for my epic sprint finish. Of course, you have to first to get comfortable with the heart rate data via your training runs. Don't buy a watch and wear it the first time on a race. That will screw you up.

The heart rate is also useful on hills. I try not to slow down on hills (when I'm racing). This naturally causes my heart rate to climb. However, it's at the top that I focus in on it. It's not uncommon to slow down a bit at the top of a hill to catch your breath. I use my heart rate here to make sure that it doesn't drop TOO much at the top. I know that my heart rate will drop in any case, so I try to push through the pain at the top of the hill and maintain my pace as closely as possible. Watching my heart rate insures that I don't go too fast up the hill, or too slow once I'm at the top.

Also, if I zone out due to pretty scenery, or get distracted by a group of runners (perhaps with nice butts) or some other obstacle, I'll glance at my heart rate to make sure that I haven't lost track of my pace. It's easy to get excited and speed up too much, or to zone out and slow down to a more comfortable pace. Racing isn't about comfort! It's about kicking ass! But not too much ass. You don't want to fall on your face after the first mile.

My heart rate says 200 but I'm still alive!


Lap Time

This is another field I like. As with the overall time, I don't want to look at this too often. But this is a good indicator of how far into a given mile I am. I prefer using the lap time over the lap distance because of the reasons I mentioned above under distance. Distance is discouraging, but doing rough math using the lap time abstracts it for me.

This is also an important field if you're doing interval work where you're trying to hit very specific times per interval. You can use the button on your watch to end the lap and start the next lap. At least my watch is cool enough to have this feature.

By default, my watch laps every mile. If I'm running a race, I use the lap time to make sure I'm on track with my pace. For example in a 5K, I may want a fast first mile, a slower "recovery" mile on the second one, and then a lightning fast sprint for the third mile. And with longer races, I want to make sure I'm not running too fast early on. Burning out at the end of a marathon sucks.

And I want to make sure to finish the
marathon so I can have beer after!!

Photo Cr. Pixie

Lap Pace

I like this field too. The lap time above is useful for determining your mile pace towards the end of the mile, but early on, it's hard to tell. But the lap pace will give you a pretty accurate pace after about a tenth of a mile.

If you're
doing speed work, you want to watch this field closely to make sure you're not going too fast or too slow. Just keep in mind that it takes a few seconds for the lap pace to "catch up" to any change your make. So if you're running a little too slow, and then pick up your pace, it's possible to overcompensate and get too fast of a lap time.
It may be nice to get an extra fast lap time, but you'll suffer towards the end of your speed workout.

This is
also a nice field if you're trying to maintain even splits on your long runs. The reason to do this is to prepare you for races, where you need to keep your pace right on the razor edge of fast enough but not too fast.

And sometimes, if I'm out for a casual run, and I see that my pace is, say, 8:04, I'll speed up before the end of the mile just so I can get that sub 8 min/mile split. But that's just my big fat ego. It is very big. And very fat.

Other fields

There are plenty of other data fields to pick from as well, like cadence, calories burned, elevation, etc. I don't care about any of these during the run. I prefer to look at them after the run is done.

I've never been terribly obsessive about my cadence (steps/minute). It's only very recently that I've started paying attention to it (thanks largely to Geoffrey). But even though I want to have a decently high cadence, I don't worry about it enough to want to see it during my run. However, if you're making a big effort to work on your cadence, this may be worth displaying.

Geoffrey is full of knowledge. Knowledge and booze.

Calories burned? What the heck am I going to do with that info during a run? It's not like I'm carrying a bag of french fries and eating one every time I burn 10 calories. The only reason i would do that is for the bewildered expressions from onlookers. If seeing your calorie count go up is motivating for you, then go for it. Otherwise there's much for valuable information to display in the limited space on your watch.

Elevation? "Oh, I've only climbed 400 feet. Let me find another mountain." No. Maybe if you're following the guidance of a training coach, and they're OCD about you hitting an exact elevation on your hill workouts. But even then, just plan out your run ahead of time.

There are other fields I don't even know about. I just looked online and saw that there is a "power" field. I guess maybe if I was a robot I would care. And then of course there are many variations of the fields I mentioned above. Feel free to experiment with your watch to find your favorites.

On my Garmin, I have two screens. The one I use the most has heart rate, lap time, and lap pace. The other screen, which I almost never look at, has overall time, overall distance, and average pace. But this was just the default screen the watch came with. And I took all of 3 seconds to learn how to use my watch. So for now it stays.

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