In his first Fast10 blog Jack Gray explores why a blind reliance on technology has the potential to make us more docile, rather than more informed

It’s fair to say that the best way to use any new tool is with an accompanying application of rationality and common sense. I mean, take vehicle parking sensors, the little bleeper is a brilliant assistant, but (I hope) you wouldn’t park without checking your wing mirrors.

Parking sensors aside, how often have you heard another runner (who had a respectable education, and holds down a good job) question the length of a road race, and occasionally the length of an athletics track, because their “watch says it’s short”?

The point being, technology can be a brilliant aid to our running, but it should be used to help guide us on our journey, rather than set our course.

A question of accuracy

So how accurate are GPS watches? Garmin claim that with a “strong signal” the GPS position reported by an outdoor watch can be accurate to three meters. Therefore, if your watch is recording a GPS location every second, and you do not pause an activity while standing still, your watch can record movement of up to 180 meters in one minute. Moreover, for those of us who run among tall buildings, under dense tree cover and bridges, or make sharp turns, GPS is often significantly inaccurate.

The docile athlete

Whilst an extreme over-reliance on GPS watches is harmless, and certainly gives me a good laugh, does it pose a broader question about whether technology and GPS watches in particular are beginning to regulate the behaviour of runners?

Indeed, the increasingly advanced function of GPS watches now advise us on rest, recovery, recommended sessions and even when to “MOVE!”. Although these functions can be useful, especially for those making their first steps as a runner, our watches are arguably moving from passive to active technologies.

These active or interventionist technologies prescribe self-control, obedience and conformance to rules, which some will adhere to over the advice of a coach or experienced club mate. Here, the advent of GPS watches, for all their brilliance, has arguably turned watches from machines designed for calculating time into disciplinarians that regulate time and the way we experience it.

No GPS can help you here…


Induced behaviours

Taken to an extreme, the constant feedback from our watches when we run, could be constructed as a form of social technology that is starting to effect how we run. Here, the greater emphasis on regulating and controlling our running time, through the often addictive qualities of data feedback, influences the way in which people act. There are many examples of these watch induced behaviours (WIBs), and I’ve listed a few common ones below:

The clock watcher: pushing too hard on a steady run, because 6:37 per mile doesn’t look quite as nice as a round 6:30.

The cruiser: not pushing hard enough on a session, because their watch says they’re ‘on pace’, when they might not be!

The obsessive: “I’ve done 13.7 miles, but it won’t hurt if I make it up to 14”

The plonka: misjudging a race by relying too heavily on the pace function of your watch. This one is for all those runners heading over to the Armagh 5km.

As Albert Einstein said “information isn’t knowledge”, and nor does it procure wisdom. Therefore, if you take anything from this article, please use your GPS watch, and its outputs, as a guideline not a barometer. Don’t believe the data, believe in yourself.

Some concluding thoughts

Satellite watches are amazing, don’t get me wrong. I personally use a GPS watch to log my miles and GPS technology is a wonderful tool that has helped countless runners simplify their training plans and run with a greater degree of flexibility.

The statistics and feedback that such technology provides also gives us a wealth of information that can enable runners to make more informed decisions, share their efforts with friends and in many cases push their bodies further with a greater degree of confidence.

However, I believe a drive toward ever more information, data and technology is not always the right choice, even when it appears to provide a solution to an existing problem.

Finally, on a personal note, I think technology can lessen the beautiful simplicity of running. Running takes us into a space of disconnection, where we cannot receive emails, instant messages or notifications, a place where we are alone with our own thoughts or the company of others. Therefore, does the increasing colonisation of this space with gadgets, perhaps detract from our wellbeing?

Jack Gray is a sub 29 minute 10km runner and a member of our Fast10 team for 2020. He is supported by Hoka One One. 

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