When Is the Best Time to Take a Look at Your GPS Watch?

That tricky balance between running by feel and running with the data in front of you.

As part of this training cycle, I vowed to recalibrate as much as possible. That meant better eating habits. That meant no more forgetting the BodyGlide. That meant consistency, planning and execution week after week.

It also meant more tempo runs.

For me, the midweek tempo run has been like a bowl of beets – something I know is good for me, but something I always managed to avoid. I can go long and slow, and I like the shorter intervals of pushing hard. But I spook at those hold-it-while-it-hurts runs.

Now a regular part of my training cycle to break 30 minutes in the 5K again, my tempo runs have been getting better (sometimes by a lot, sometimes by a little). While I’m in tune to what’s happening physically – listening to legs, lungs, knees, hips, and usually Eminem – I’ve been struggling with one mental aspect: at what point should I look at my watch? Here are three general scenarios:

  • Halfway to see if I’m on target?
  • Every 400 metres to use the data and assess it mid-run?
  • Not until the end and see how I did, just running by feel?

I’ve defaulted to looking down with about 160 metres to go, and I think I do it because it’s short enough to know the end of that tempo is almost done, but long enough to inspire a little more kick to try to beat last week.

But should I use more data or less?

On my track intervals, I do the same thing – I don’t spy the clock until I’m just about to hit the end of the line. I like it because it feels like a surprise, and I like it because I would have a tendency to bail or beat myself if I didn’t like the number in the middle of the interval. (If you’re feeling the same way, check out How to Let Go of Pace and Run By Effort.)

But I also wonder if I’m doing myself a disservice – not trying to be more in tune to the data points to help me adjust.

So what do you find most effective for monitoring your time? A lot, a little, or a mix between the two? I try not to be handcuffed to minutes and seconds, but I also know that it’s the only way I’ll get better.

So I’ll keep watching, even if I don’t always like the view.


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