Imprisoned by Garmin
“I had planned to go for a seven-mile run around the lake, but my Garmin battery died so I turned around after two miles.”
When I read that sentence on a popular running blog a few months ago, I felt the blood-boiling urge to smash every last GPS-device-for-runners on the planet into a billion bits. Perhaps taking out the satellite would have been easier.
The matter-of-factness of the sentence makes clear just how deeply ingrained in our running consciousness the technology already is, only a few years after its introduction to our sport. The implied rule is unequivocal: No GPS, no running.
I’m all for using technology to enhance our lives, even in so primal a pastime as running. Technology touches running through iPods, watches, hydration systems, moisture-wick clothing, sports drinks, Gu’s, even our very shoes (though one could argue running shoes do more harm than good). And GPS has its place: I know that last week when I was lost in the woods in twenty degree weather during my first-ever 50K, it would have brought me immeasurable comfort to know that I had Ponce-de-Leon-in-a-box waiting at my beck and call, should my lips turn the color of cobalt.
For navigation, I get it (though not all running GPS’s do navigation). But for running to be so wrapped up with GPS technology that a runner can’t leave home without her Garmin makes me want to vomit in my Vibrams. Is it knowing your exact mileage that’s so captivating? Is it the lack of knowledge, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you ran 8.02 miles and not 7.86 miles that keeps you imprisoned in the house when the battery dies? If so, I suggest you pull the plug for a while.
Running, at its core, is not about miles or kilometers — we made those measures up. It’s not about hours, minutes and seconds — we made those up too. Your body doesn’t care about numbers; it knows only how it feels. Long ago, we ran to chase and to escape. For most of us, that’s not what it’s about anymore, but that spirit lives on in our desire to run, to move our bodies and to be free. Put simply, running is about that movement, no matter the speed, time, direction, or distance. If you’ve done it for some time, that movement is fun. And no watch-connected-to-a-satellite can tell me when to stop having fun.
I know that for some, training is about numbers. I did the whole numbers thing when I was training to qualify for Boston; in fact, it was only with a very specific “x miles at y pace” program that I was eventually able to qualify. I didn’t use a GPS, but I can appreciate that knowing exact mileage would have freed me from having to run mindlessly around a track so much in my training.
In that role, GPS is a liberator. To the blogger mentioned above, it’s a jailer. GPS can do a lot of wonderful things for runners, and I’m sure at times it has quite literally been a lifesaver. But make no mistake: Running and GPS aren’t inextricably tied for all eternity. Just as you can run without music, Gatorade, and even shoes, you can run without a watch, a plan, and yes, a GPS.
Try it. Just run.