Random running annoyances No.8: GPS watches

I love my Garmin Forerunner 220. I couldn’t really imagine doing a race without it. If it broke, I’d pretty much go straight out and buy another one.

Other GPS running watches are, of course, available. And they’re an absolutely brilliant tool for runners. For the first few months I entered races, I used my £7.99 Casio F-91W digital watch. It had a stopwatch function. When I started the race I pressed start. When I finished, I pressed stop. The stopwatch told me how long I’d been running. And… well, that was pretty much it.

When I finally invested in my Garmin, the amount of data it generated was pretty overwhelming. I still barely use a fraction of it, if I’m honest. Average pace, lap splits, cadence, elevation, stride length, calories burnt, and the ability to plot my run on mapping services such as Google Earth… So much information.

So, in short, GPS running watches are good.

And yet.

And yet…

And yet, they can be immensely annoying, in a slightly temperamental and frustrating way.

For a start, my Garmin Forerunner 220 is really simple to use – until you want to change the unit measurement. When I’m doing 5k and 10k races I like to have my watch do the timing and splits in kilometres. When I’m doing 10-mile races, half-marathons or marathons, I like to have my watch do the timing and splits in miles. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Except switching it over isn’t the work of a moment. Basically you have to open the menu, scroll down to ‘settings’. Then you have to scroll down to ‘system’. Then you have to scroll down to ‘units’.  Then you have to select ‘distance’ and change it from kilometres to miles (or vice versa). And then you have to go down to pace/speed and change that from kilometres to miles (or vice versa) as well.

Why would you want the distance in miles and the pace/speed in kilometres? No idea. So that already seems an unnecessary extra action. And we’re not done yet. Because we still need to set the auto lap settings. So you have to go back up into the ‘settings’ menu, and then scroll down to ‘activity settings’. Then you have to select ‘auto lap’. The auto lap distance will be shown in the unit you’ve just selected. So if you had it set to 1km and have you watch in miles, the lap will be 0.64 miles. So you have to select it and change it manually to one mile.

Granted, once you’ve got your head round it, doing that doesn’t take all that long. But it seems quite daft you need to essentially do three separate processes in order to simply convert the watch from working in kilometres to miles.

But there’s something else that’s even more annoying about GPS watches…

…when they can’t lock onto the GPS signal.

GPS, as I’m sure you’re aware, stands for Global Positioning System, and essentially the watch uses signals from a network of satellites in orbit to work out your exact location. It then uses that data to derive most of the date when you run.

It’s pretty cool. And, usually, it’s pretty quick to lock onto the GPS network. But just occasionally, it isn’t quick. Very occasionally, it can take a really long time. Which is really annoying when you’ve got changed, warmed up, are ready to go – and then find your watch isn’t.

Normally, this annoying wait only lasts a minute or two. But sometimes it takes longer, especially if you’re in a built-up or covered area (obviously, the more objects there are in the way of the satellites, the harder it is to lock in the signal). Which is when, instead of running, you end up walking around trying to find an open space with your arm stuck out, looking just a little bit daft while you’re doing so.

On a very small number of occasions, the watch just can’t seem to find a signal before my patience runs out and I decide just to go running. You can still use the watch for timing, and get most of the info, but you don’t get the full range of data. Although you do get an amusingly random map showing you running through some random buildings.


No, I didn’t run through buildings in Madrid. I just didn’t wait for my GPS to lock in…

To sum up then. GPS watches great. Except when they’re being annoying. But there’s something even more annoying. I’m actually annoyed with myself for being annoyed with my watch.

Eh? Here’s the thing. GPS watches are awesome. They’re amazing. Think about it: it’s a running watch that locks onto a satellite network and knows where you are. That’s awesome. Totally awesome!

It’s clearly not the sort of thing that’s easy, and it’s not the sort of thing I should ever really take for granted. I certainly shouldn’t get annoyed that it might my watch might take a minute or two to lock onto a global satellite network before I can go running.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I get annoyed by it. I almost certainly won’t.

To sum up further then. GPS watches can be annoying. But not as annoying as impatient runners…

For more random running annoyances, click here.



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