Motivation Monday – To Track or Not To Track?

Three GPS Watches1

For Mother’s Day I got Lisa a Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker, which tracks ‘steps’, calories, and even monitors your sleep motion. We have been talking about this for her off and on for a while – she had a Striiv for a while until it died an untimely death. The Striiv was more of a ‘smart pedometer’ with integrated games and challenges to keep you moving.

As soon as Lisa opened the Vivofit, she got it synced to the app on her phone and set up her goals and settings, put it on her wrist and started tracking. Throughout the day she was very aware of where she was compared to her goal, and when we were sitting for a while the ‘red bar’ came on to tell her to ‘get moving’.

It really had me thinking about how motivating she finds having the tracking on her all the time, and how much tracking has meant to me – and how I have also suffered from an over-dependence on GPS. I have also been seeing several articles around separately on tracking and not tracking – including one PRO tracking on Olive to Run with the first comment being about STOPPING tracking – so I wanted to round up a few thoughts on each:

Here are five reasons you SHOULD track:

1. Knowledge – I will never forget running with my brother in April 2012 with his Garmin … and I learned how short my runs were and slow I was – it was sad and disappointing. The following day as I started my run I used my smartphone to track my runs. I kept doing that for a month until I got the Nike+ smartwatch, and have had some sort of tracking on my wrist or phone ever since. Using a GPS tracker lets me know how far I run, how fast, the hills, and so on.

2. Progress – every runner knows that no two runs are created equal, regardless of pace or distance or time. So naturally there are days when we feel like we are doing great and days we are struggling – but how do we know if we are making progress? To do this you really don’t need a GPS – you could just time yourself running the same distance or route. But the bottom line is this – monitoring progress really requires tracking of SOME type.

3. Accountability – whether or not you share your stats publicly, keeping records of what you are doing allows you to look at how well you are tracking your goals. What ‘accountability’ looks like for you depends on what motivates you, but in general it has been demonstrated that sharing your workouts, upcoming races, weight and eating, and so on tends to keep you more focused on keeping up positive habits.

4. Goals – Most software systems allow you to set goals and then give your ‘badges’ or awards when you hit those goals. I mean, how great is it to be out running and get to the end and get a ‘fastest mile’ notice! Whatever your goals are, having some metrics around them allows you to work to meet those challenges and assess your progress.

5. Learning About Yourself – are you a fast starter? Strong finisher? Great at hills? Even pace? By running the same routes multiple times you can discover an awful lot about yourself as a runner. I remember running later in the day for the first time and discovering how much different it felt for me.

Here are five reasons you SHOULD NOT track:

1. Running by Feel – one of the best things this winter about not having any tech on me (or any accessible without digging through layers in the depth of winter), is that I have developed a sense of pace – if I want to stretch my run and still have to get home by 6AM, I have to figure out how I am running and sense if I can add 0.5, 1.0 or 1.5 miles at the end. Sure with a quick look at my watch I can tell – but that teaches me nothing about my running.

2. Listen to Your Body – there are some days a 9 min/mile pace is tough, and other times it is a breeze. Two weekends ago in the midst of a long run I had punishing hills and managed to keep my pace close to 9/mi … it was grueling but rewarding. But I didn’t look at my GPS at all – I came to the hills and pushed myself to keep increasing the effort to maintain what felt like a constant pace … and it worked!

3. Over-dependence on the GPS – another learning experience was my trail marathon last summer … I went out WAY too fast, the GPS was uselessly blinking in and out … and I ran a pretty terrible race. I took that as a challenge that I needed to learn pacing … and the best way to do that was to stop staring at my GPS! I know I still have issues, but I have done much better throughout last fall and winter. I think it is similar to never driving some place without a car GPS – you never learn the route.

4. Addiction to Mileage – If doing 30 miles is good, then 40 must be better, right? NO!!!! Training plans generally have you gradually increasing as you hear to the taper, but it should always be GRADUAL. Also, it is very easy to get competitive with other runners online. I have been fairly consistent with between 50-60 miles per week – when I did the 80 mile week a couple of weeks ago I was really exhausted. I loved it and let myself go with it because it worked for me, but I know my comfort zone in summer is closer to the 60-70 mile range.

5. No More Easy Days – if someone told me to go out and run a very slow, casual pace … it would be hard enough. If I had my GPS on and it said 11 min/mi I would freak out and speed up! As it is I think that between blogs and social media people don’t really follow the ‘easy run’ paces most training plans call for. Actually, this weekend I was driving and saw a neighbor’s son – who does sub-20 min 5Ks regularly – running what was no faster than a 10 minute pace in our neighborhood … and all I could think was ‘now THAT is an easy pace’. I remember seeing it somewhere caleld getting caught up in the ‘FOGS’ – fear of going slow.

Keeping It Real
So … what are some of the big reasons I worry about this?
– Overdependence on technology
– Crappy sense of pace
– Desire to be faster and build endurance
– I NEVER want to go back to my ‘low and slow’ runs!

So yeah, I am a terrible offender of all of the issues around GPS watch over-use!

So what do YOU think?

23 thoughts on “Motivation Monday – To Track or Not To Track?

  1. I think you made some valid points. I definitely value listening to my body and running by feel and making that a PART of my training plan. I am not saying you need to follow everything on your training plan. If it doesn’t feel right, you need to make that decision. I do find value in tracking those hiccups though to evaluate. Example: If I have a really bad long run one week I may be able to look back and see that it could be because I started to feel a little achy throughout the week. There have been times I was able to identify the early onsets of a cold and did what I could to battle it off before it became a bigger issue.

    I also find value in realizing that not everything is going to be perfect during training but what I put into my workouts does pay off in the end on race day [if we’re talking running specific].

    • Excellent points – I will never stop tracking, but I think the goal always has to be to find the balance between useful information and obsessive attention to minutia … especially over-reliance on technology.

  2. LOVE this post! I started out running not tracking at all, but once I became more serious I started tracking about 2/3 of my runs. When I want to truly do an easy pace I DO NOT track, because I have that issue of not wanting too see the “slow” numbers. However, tracking definitely keeps me accountable for my training in every way, so 4 out of 6 runs a week I track. I have to catch myself though when I don’t want to track for whatever reason and ask myself what I’m trying to hide from myself! It’s definitely an issue in my running, enjoyed reading this 🙂

    • Thanks Michele – that sounds so much like me! Because I started so slow as a runner, pace to me is like weight – which I KNOW is stupid, but when did that ever stop anyone! 🙂

      And I think that is one thing I learned this winter – not to let the GPS own me. I track almost every day, but don’t look at it very frequently unless needed.

  3. Great post. I am a tracker. I actually find the Garmin helped me on my long runs bc it forced me to slow down when I was going too fast. I am TERRIBLE at running by feel, when I do that, I always ended up going way too fast when I was training. I don’t like to be dependent on technology, but I’ll be honest, I am when it comes to my Garmin. I also look at it as a security blanket, I have used it on runs and not looked at it until I was done with my run, but knowing it was there made me feel better, even if I wasn’t “using” it. I know it’s silly but I am weird.

    • Actually that makes perfect sense – I know some folks who wear their GPS above their winter clothes … not me, and I think that helps since it means 4 or so months where it is inconvenient to check my GPS.

  4. I’m just starting out, and while I use my phone to actually track my runs (overall distance, pace, elevation, splits etc), I turn the app on and then DON’T LOOK AT IT until I’m done–done meaning either I complete my planned route or stop running cause I can’t anymore. That way I get all the information I need to keep track of how I’m doing, but I don’t obsess during my run. I’m thinking very tentatively about buying some sort of GPS watch, but I’m definitely worried about getting down on myself over “slow” paces or getting freaked out by how far I have yet to go on longer runs. So far running by feel is working out pretty well. I’m getting faster, and I can maintain a pretty consistent pace, although I still end up with positive splits most of the time.

    • Sounds good so far – it is all about doing what works best for you! I know there are situations when more close attention to pace is needed, but daily normal runs aren’t that time 🙂

  5. I tend to track all of my runs and publicly out myself on what I am doing when I blog about them. I like being able to look back and see where I have been, it is remarkable what you can learn about your running that way.

    You need to know where you have been, to know how to get where you want to go as a runner.

    Personally, I am addicted to “knowing” my miles and I have tried several times to change how I track my progress, (using time, effort, etc.) it doesn’t work for me and I have accepted needing to know my miles addiction, that is one reason that I really like the GPS systems out there for runners.

    However, unless I am doing a specific workout, I find that I don’t really pay that much attention to the splits or stats until after I am done. I might peek to see what the last mile was, but I don’t use the current pace features, heart rate or other “neat” features to “help” me be a better or more consistent runner.

    Like many runners I have a problem with running my easy days too fast.

    So I guess I am somewhere in between when it comes to being an old-fashioned simple runner who runs by feel and the techno-geek that uses all the tech they can to know the numbers.

    For now as long as I can use my GPS watch or app on my phone to record time/distance during the run and then give me all the other information after the run, I am pretty happy.

    Maybe someday, I will take the time to figure out how to program my watch/phone to correctly track my interval workouts ;-).

    As far as using a Fitbit or any of those other activity tracking devices, they don’t hold any interest for me. They are great tools, but at what point do we become to reliant on technology to tell us how much or if we need to work out more or if we are doing too much? I wonder if I am just becoming an old fart, who has reached the point of data overload? When is too much information too much information?

    • I think it is ‘balance’ you have – you can run without the technology controlling you, but after you use it for information. Pretty ideal, really.

      I am loving watching Lisa with the Vivofit … and apparently it worked well for her on the elliptical this morning as well!

    • As for data overload, I get that feeling – for me my life has been about transforming data to information, and in the early years getting data was hard and doing the calculations was painful. Now you get data like a firehose and computers are cheap … but we are not any more ‘information rich’ … we just have too much data we con’t know what to do with!

      Also that is what triggered me last week with the ‘fitbit for kids’ from LeapPad. Too much, too young.

  6. The mini-panic attack I had in the starting chute for the Pittsburgh Marathon as my Garmin took forever to lock on a signal was funny. I soooooo wanted to capture the data, the official PR, all the fun on the Garmin website for later analysis and entertainment value. Luckily, it locked on before they sang the National Anthem so I could sing with peace in my heart.

    I learned a danger of tracking when I used the Nike+ site before getting GPS. They post your average speed for all runs and show the change over time. This led me to the unhealthy behavior of running all workouts at full speed, always hating slow downs because of how it would impact my average. This is entirely my problem, not Nike’s, but it did illustrate to me that tech doesn’t kill people, people kill people. Race day near panic attack aside, I have since developed a more healthy relationship with tracking runs.

    • I remember my first marathon, and I had just gotten the newly released Garmin FR-10 *two days* before, used it once and lined up with it on race day instead of my Nike+ … fortunately it hooked right up to satellites whereas a couple of people nearby with Nike+ had real problems connecting! Ugh, never know what will get you freaked out!

  7. I think at least reasons 2, 3 and 5 of your “reasons not to track” are mooted by doing heart rate training, which I like — it’s a nice combination of following a schedule and listening to my body (if the schedule says to run 8 miles at a HR in my zone 2, which is say 155-164 bpm, one day that can be a 9 min pace one day at a HR of 160, 8 min pace another day with HR 160, and 10 min pace another, when it’s hot and sunny and I’m overly tired). And when the HR is for an easy day, I just have to force myself to stay in that range. It’s a nice break from looking at per mile pace, and sometimes I set my screen so I don’t even see pace, I just look at HR.

    • Cool – I had gotten started with it just a bit but now that my Magellan Echo isn’t working right I have fallen off. Definitely need to get serious to see how it works for me!

  8. I would say that I approach my tracking of mileage and such the same way that I do with my food–more for a general knowledge of when I am doing too much/little, but not with any real pressure either way. I have found in the past that I have allowed technology to negatively affect how I feel about myself, my days, or my workouts, and there are times when I should have called it but didn’t because I wasn’t at a certain number. But I think that if you tend towards slothdom or overdoing it naturually, then such things are great in terms of encouragement or reining it in. But I think that it does encourage you to be more dependent on the tech than to do it by feel. I try to balance it all–sometimes with tech to check progress or my perception of my pace, distance, etc, and then without–just for the enjoyment and maintenance. I used to love tracking my number of steps at the restaurant though–those could climb up up up during the busy seasons!

    • I really love this comment – because it is very stream-of-consciousness and reflects what so many of us think about the whole thing! I think that fitness trackers are a great thing for many people, same for GPS watches, heart rate monitors, etc. It all depends on your goals and your your relationship with technology. Thanks again for your perspective!

  9. Its crazy to think about how when I started running I had no gps and never tracked mileage. I think I ran with a stopwatch just to know how long I was out for. I really had no idea what my paces were like until I started doing races. After I had a GPS watch for about a year I remember the band of my garmin broke and I had to run a 10 miler with just a stopwatch. Thats when I realized how addicted I was:)
    You bring up many good points, and I think I probably overuse my watch. I have a really hard time leaving it at home. However, when I go out to run easy, I really do take it easy and don’t look at pace.
    I love uploading all the data and being able to look back on everything. Now that I am so used to it I don’t think I would be able to stop:)

    • It is funny for me to think that I had been running nearly 15 years before the first Garmins were available based on the government allowing GPS for civilian use … and now I am just like you say, enjoying looking at my history, how I have performed and so on. It is fun – and the big thing is to keep it all in perspective and never put our bodies at risk.

  10. You KNOW how I feel about this! I agree with all of it! It’s such a struggle I’ve been having lately, especially leading up to the marathon and trying to decide if I even want to track it. I have really been enjoying the experience of running by feel recently and found that it allowed me to slow down a little and not freak out (because you are absolutely right…if I looked down and saw that I was running an 11 minute mile I would freak out and speed up). At the same time though, I love the accountability and having the numbers laid out in front of me.

    BTW I’ve decided I am going to run with the watch, but stash it someplace where I won’t be so tempted to look at it. 🙂

    • Definitely knew your feelings on this – and am loving your sharing everything leading up to your race on the 25th!

      Interestingly, I have found that the Magellan Echo being ‘wigged out’ has a side-benefit … I can just use my phone, drop it in my belt, and I have all of the tracking and none of the access! Of course, not using the Echo frees up my wrist for the Garmin … not saying I have been dual-tracking for the last couple of weeks or anything … no, not me … 😉

  11. My day job is being a stats geek so naturally I love to track my running. However, as with everything in life, I think it’s all about variety and balance – you need to do some tracking and measurement as well as some “naked” running.

    • I couldn’t imagine allowing anything at work go untracked in at least SOME way … but you are right that with running sometimes it is liberating to just ‘let it go’! Thanks for the comment!

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