To GPS Or Not To GPS? That My Fellow Runners Is The Question

There is an odd displacement to running without a GPS. There is nothing to accurately gauge my distance, to gauge my pace, and to tell me how I am faring. For the second day in a row my Garmin has misfired on my run. So today I run old school. I go by feel alone to mete out my efforts. Guided by years of experience running a trusty route. A route in which I can with happy alacrity point out where each and every kilometre marker should be.

Who needs you Garmin?

In the critically acclaimed documentary Spirit of The Marathon it is referred to as Zen Running. This manner of running without heed to a watch. And it is liberating. It is peaceful. Without that tell-tale beep to announce the passing of yet another kilometre, the pressures and dictates of speed and pace are indeed obviated.

It is just me and the road ahead.

But I am at heart an analytical sort. Some would say obsessive-compulsive. I would politely posit thorough and dedicated. I thrive when I scrutinize my training runs. Comparing and contrasting. Am I faster today? Where did I lose pace compared to the last time? And more importantly come race day, did I PB?

Perhaps for now I am not quite ready to join the hallowed ranks of the Zen Runner. Perhaps my mortalness still beseeches the technological assurance that my kilometres are being accurately counted, my speed being dutifully recorded, for my own semblance of posterity.

So tomorrow, as I step out to the wintry darkness for yet another run, I will do so in silent prayer that my footing is sure, my legs strong, and that the GPS gods are with me.




  1. I run without GPS and just run by time. So instead of going for 6 miles, I go for 60 minutes. And depending on how my body feels that might mean 7.5 miles or it might mean 6.5. I like it more because I get to run more. And I’m not constantly looking at my watch to check pace or distance. I enjoy my running more now that I don’t run with GPS.

    1. Ah…a Zen Runner among us 😃

      What made you decide to give up the GPS Joey? Was it hard at first?

      1. A year and a half ago I was about a week out from my first 50 miler when my GPS watched just died. I didn’t have the funds to get a new one so I decided to get a cheap Timex at Walmart for a short term fix. When I did that my coach made the point that he didn’t have GPS technology for most of his running years and all the greats as well. So I decided to train old school mainly because of money. It did take a few weeks to get use to but I loved it once I did get use to it. When I had GPS I was always checking my distance late in long runs and it just made those runs feel really long. Now that I don’t have the data, I don’t care and my runs are way more enjoyable. My speed workouts are mainly based on time now like fartleks and tempo runs. But if I do speed workouts based on distance I just hit up a track.

        I had a friend pace me during a 5k once and I was starting to drag ass towards the end. He then told me that other than myself not a single person gives a shit about my time and pace. And I completely believe that. It’s great motivation to see if you really want a certain time but at the same time it doesn’t really matter on a larger scale.

        I debate the GPS vs no GPS in groups sometimes and a lot of people get pissed by my reasoning saying that they need to qualify for Boston, so they need GPS. I get the whole goal thing but I truly believe we run better by disconnecting. There is less worry and less pressure to hit a certain pace per run.

        I could keep babbling! Haha!

  2. I love the idea of going out for a run and leaving behind the GPS. But that love only goes so far. I NEED to know my distance and pace. It’s almost a problem. I use the GPS on my phone which talks to me and I refer to the disembodied voice as “my running girlfriend”. It’s challenging for me to go on a run without her.

    1. I hear you!

      When I studied educational psychology, it was emphasized that a quick turn-around with marking allowed students to better connect their learning with their test results. It’s the same way for me and my running 🙂 I just love the immediacy of seeing the results of my training.

  3. I’m too much of a stat and track junkie to not run with something that log’s even though my daily runs are pretty much the same routes so I know with in a hand grenades blast radius how far I’ve gone. I always feel like I missing out on something when I run without a logger.

    1. I’m gonna have to google the standard radius for hand grenade blasts! In the meantime, I love the description!

      Unfortunately my GPS bailed on me again today. It was fine yesterday after a hard reset of my watch. And it seems ok again now after another hard reset. I’m committing the procedure to memory in the event that I need to do this yet again tomorrow morning.

      Today was just a recovery run so I felt relatively ok in not having a measured run. In fact I mixed up a few of my favourite routes through the city to ensure that my brain was scrambled enough that I wouldn’t really have an accurate idea of my distance. I just kept an eye on time and ran the same duration that I would on average for Thursdays.

      1. Its a little more accurate then a GPS(10 to 50 feet/3 to 15 meters), M67 Hand Grenade (0 to 50 feet/0 – 15 meters ) I want to get a wrist watch style GPS but don’t have the funds right now (just spent a small fortune on tickets to the Philippines) I use my iPhone4s with the iSmoothRun app.

      2. Thanks for the info. On both the radius and the app. I was gonna ask for a recommendation as I may want back up for my watch.

  4. I moved from the paid version pf MapMyRun Plus to iSmoothRun I’ve had better accuracy with iSmoothRun then I had with MapMyRun. MMR seemed to always have abnormal GPS readings and to get some to the features and statics I wanted with MMR I would have to pay and annual $39.00 fee to get MVP. With iSmoothRun I get all the save stuff as MapMyRun MVP plus more, I can even download may run data to an excel/CVS file or import all my runs to MapMyRun and other fitness app sites. and it only costs $6.00 US

    1. Very very good to know! And very very much appreciated. Thank you 🙂

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