Following on from my rather pathetic whining during the Wild Horse Mountain 16.5km race and throughout the ensuing report, it is time to answer the million-dollar question that literally
hundre Grandpa has asked me:
Why don’t I just buy myself the infamous fancy Garmin watch that measures distance as well as time?
Well the answer is complicated, because in case you hadn’t noticed I am a complicated soul. Turn your brain on and try to keep up because before unleashing this blog post upon the world I re-read the dribble and counted approximately 8 instances where I contradict myself or make no sense. Brace yourself…
I follow lots of runners and athletes on Instagram. If you don’t (you lucky person) then you may not have noticed that the general consensus among these groups on social media is that if you don’t record your training session on your Garmin (your watch) it didn’t happen.
In fact, one of the most popular jokes on social media among my people (yes I am one of them now, if you haven’t been keeping up) is ‘if you see me collapse, please pause my Garmin.’
At least once a day I see a picture posted on Insta, featuring a Garmin watch face with data on it. I have purposefully tried to avoid following people who do this (because really I don’t care what their watch says, it’s not inspiring or interesting) yet even with my ruthless culling I still see it all the time. Apparently it’s an actual thing – post a picture of your watch after exercise as proof of something happening. Even though no one cares that it happened.
Welcome to social media, I guess.
Or maybe I am being harsh and there are people out there who just love seeing pictures of watches. Particularly Garmin watches. Maybe it’s the pretty numbers on said watches. I suppose the number 8 is a little bit sexy.
But I doubt there are that many watch fans and my point is, quasi-cult followings really turn me off. I can’t help but feel that Garmin watches are only owned by ridiculous people who looked at nothing on their 10km run except their watch face.
SIDENOTE: I know deep down this is unfair because I follow lots of other people who are interesting and inspiring athletes, and they also own Garmin watches – but they don’t post pictures of them.
Whether my impression is based on fact or not, perceived cult followings and I do not go well together. Now that I sit and think about it, it’s possible that I simply don’t trust my friends and peer groups to have good taste. So I am cynical of anything that is popular with the masses (the masses to which I belong, of course)
When all my friends were obsessed with Take That when I was younger, I liked Celine Dion. I know, way out there. When Apple Ipods first came out, I dug out my old Sony Walkman and went retro. I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but I’ll quite happily watch a re-run of Mash. Please note that none of my choices are at all cool and I am well aware of that; I hope you’re laughing at my adoration of Celine Dion. I am the first to admit that I have no taste.
I just don’t like to do the exact same thing that everyone else is doing, so I do something slightly different but equally normative.
In short, I’m reluctant to buy a Garmin watch and join the club. Plus, Garmin watches are really expensive. I guess you’ve got to pay for the brand name. The one I would buy (Garmin Fenix 3 Multisport) retails for about $800 which means that if I am lucky I can get it on eBay for about $700. And that’s a lot of money to put out on something that isn’t actually a requirement for training. Thus far, I have found other things to spend that $700 bucks on – things such as my mortgage, for example. Wacky I know.
But apart from the brand name they’re expensive because they are super clever. A device such as a Garmin watch can be used in a multitude of ways: It’s not just about trying to beat your Personal Best time over 5km more easily because it measures the distance for you.
Let’s refer to the Garmin webpage for the specifics.
Running: When used with the HRM-Run monitor, fēnix 3 reports your cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time. These metrics are called running dynamics, and they affect your running economy.
Swimming: fēnix 3 tracks your distance, pace, stroke count and more. You just tell fēnix 3 the size of the pool you’re swimming in and begin your workout.
Cycling: fēnix 3 is equipped with ABC sensors to provide relevant real-time information. The built-in altimeter provides elevation data to accurately monitor ascent and descent, while the barometer can be used to predict weather changes by showing short-term trends in air pressure. The 3-axis electronic compass keeps your bearing whether you’re moving or not.
On top of all this, when used with a heart rate monitor, fēnix 3 crunches data, including your running speed, beats per minute and heart rate variability to estimate the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume per minute. Track changes to your VO2 max to see your fitness gains and to compare with your peers. Other fitness metrics include recovery advisor with a recovery timer and recovery check, plus a Race Predictor, which estimates your ideal finish time based on your current VO2 max number.
Impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree. But to be honest, another reason I haven’t bought one of these watches yet is that I just don’t care about all of that stuff. It sounds amazing… but also really complicated. I’m still at the stage of being impressed by the fact that I can actually run 5km instead of walk, or that I can swim instead of drown, or cycle instead of crash.
I do all my training sessions without knowing the average time it takes me to run the average kilometre, or how many arm strokes I do in 100 metres of swimming, or the recovery time I need after each session.
I couldn’t tell you whether I reached HR (heart rate) zone 2, 3 or 4. I have to work out for myself whether I have gone faster or slower than I did last time.
And the thing is, the longer it goes on the happier I am about that.
It has become a bit of a Shecantry idiosyncrasy. It’s my thing. I have no data to tell me I am improving, but I know that I am. And I enjoy my training, and am motivated to do it, without a watch telling me I am enjoying it or providing motivation for me.
The longer my data-less state continues, the more aware I become that by owning the ability to tell myself when I have slacked off or done badly, I have also retained ownership of the ability to tell myself that I have improved and done well.
I am not sure whether I want to take that power away and give it to a watch.
I had a fitbit once, before I broke it. I must admit that I found it quite motivational to know what an enormous (in my opinion) number of steps I did each day. But the novelty kind of wore off and counting steps is not very exciting when you go for a 10km run one day and then a 40km ride the next, but the 10km run ‘wins’ by about 15,000 steps because your ride counted for 4 steps (if you are lucky and the watch accidentally thought that the manic waving you did to other cyclists was actually you taking a step)
And that’s the other thing, how precise are these things? I did a Google search on the topic and found out some rather disappointing information. If you wear two heart rate watches on the same run, the chances are you will get slightly different data on each of them. The pedometer (steps counter) can be off by a couple of hundred, and the ‘calories burned’ is about as useful as a very useless thing. The actual measure of how many calories you burn during exercise is dependent on so many things (other than heart rate, age and gender) that the calorie count can be off by about 600 calories a day.
My reluctance to give the power of assessment to a watch also stems from the things I have learned about myself over the last few months. For example, I know without a doubt that I run faster when it is cold. And no Garmin watch measures the temperature or makes adjustments on your goal in relation to the weather. I am not sure I want to give the power of grading me to an object that doesn’t actually understand me, or the individual challenges I face each day.
Sometimes, it’s about the quality of the workout. A Garmin doesn’t get that.
Or what about when I am just having an ‘off day’ because I spent 6 hours in the hospital with Grandpa the day before and my nutrition consisted of two chocolate biscuits before climbing into bed for 4 hours sleep? That is called Monday in this household lately. Without a watch to judge me, I can give myself a bit of slack. I talk kindly to myself on those days and firmly believe that when I am slower or less powerful as a result, that is perfectly acceptable.
So it feels a bit like a naughty confession, but yes I am going to remain data-less and happy for the foreseeable future.
BUT A DISCLAIMER: I am sure that one day I will buy myself a Garmin. I will get to a point where I’ll have a stricter training program, that requires me to spend a certain amount of time in a certain heart rate zone. Or I will face too many moments like the one on Wild Horse Mountain, where not knowing enough information made me feel sad. I might have to sell my house first to do it, but when I reach those stages I will buy a watch.
When the day arrives, I hope I will remember to still train data-less once in a while. Maybe if you suspect that you are addicted to your data it is worth trying to do a session without it, too.
Set yourself free, people.