Pro-am running (me and my Garmin – a review)

Sometimes I feel almost like a professional – taking sips of water every couple of miles from my Camelbak thingy strapped around my waist, monitoring my progress with regular glances at the device strapped to my wrist – surely this is how the top marathoners, ultra-marathoners and iron men and women train.  Then my legs give-up and I move from ‘pro’ to ‘am’ in the space of a few strides.

Even when I ‘hit the wall’ (anywhere between the 2nd and 6th miles of a six mile run) I can then go home and, if I so wish, analyse what happened by attaching my Garmin to my computer.

I sometimes deliberate whether the Garmin 305 looks incredibly futuristic or incredibly retro. It’s certainly big, and has dimensions closer to a a personal computer than a wrist watch*. Most of the time I think that it looks crap. Surely, wrist worn devices of the future will look better than this, and even the first digital watches would have finished higher up the rankings in a beauty contest. But just as we would not judge our friends by their looks alone, neither do I judge my 305, my running friend**, by its*** insane, maybe even grotesque, appearance.

Since purchase nearly 15 months ago I’ve only done a couple of runs without it. Once when I’d not charged it, and once when I knew that the run would be so awful I did not want any data whatsoever.

It’s data gleaned during and after my run that somehow, and probably even more sadly than having a watch as a friend, adds to the buzz of running. The miles soon pass by and new challenges can be made-up when constantly playing with the figures in my head.

And what a lot of data the Garmin provides. I’ve only used it for running – look at the fantastic DC Rainmaker blog for a more in depth review of everything it does – but even now I don’t feel I’ve done much more than scratch the surface of its potential.

So, how have I used it? I’ve had some ‘straightforward’ runs, in which the 305 has timed the run, totted-up the distance as I’ve plodded along, constantly updated my pace and told me my heart rate. I wear the heart rate monitor across my chest for almost every run. I like to see how my average bpm compares to how easy or hard the run felt, and if I were to have a heart attack (and survive it) while running, I’d love to see the data it provided!**** All of the data collected from the run can be stored on the device and/or uploaded to a computer using Garmin Connect. I don’t analyse it as much as I could but the same data/software combination also provides a nice map (using Google maps) of the route. Then my second favorourite  part of the 305 (I’ll save the best until later) – the map of your route is displayed on the computer screen, along with any combination of graphs showing pace, bpm, distance and elevation. With a simple click to get started, a marker on the map moves along the route you ran, while simultaneously markers move along the graphs. You can see how your pace and heart rate changed at different points along the route, even pinpointing where you slipped into a nearny bush or alley for a pee, and the mad dash you made to get back on track after it. 

When you actually find time to go for your next run, rather than revelling in the glory (or otherwise) of your analysis fom the previous run, there are different ways to train. Simple training targets can be set for a run – e.g. distance and time or time and pace – or more complex training sessions can be added with the watch set to alert when pace is due to change, distance reached etc etc. The machine can be a hard task master if you dare to let it be.

Being an average bloke of average size and average weight (or at least with aspirations to be average weight) and having plenty of other gadgets which hardl y ever get used,I clearly needed a device which would allow me to also set heart rate or pace zones in which to run! I do actually use these features though, and after just a little reading round on the interweb, they really have helped me to get fitter. Running at a slower pace and keeping within a certain pace zone or heart rate zone has helped me to run further, and making adjustments to the zones as I’ve got fitter has helped me to improve. The only problem is, although it’s easy to change the pace range for each zone, I can’t change the name of each zone from names that are tailor made for proper athletes to names that would suit the more casual runner. For example, I’d like to change ‘Slow Jog’ to ‘I can do this’, ‘Slow Run’ to ‘This is a bit fast’ and ‘Run’ to ‘Arrgghh !*$!#*$ arrgghh’.

The Garmin 305 also does amazing things for swimming and cycling too. I’ve never used these features and probably never will but just having them on board fuels my imagination as I jog around the local streets, imagining myself competing in the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii (because on a dark winter evening small Midlands market towns full of charity shops and take-aways are surely just like Kailua-Kona).

There is however, a feature (my favourite) which gives even me a competitive streak. A virtual training partner splits the screen into two. On the top half is a little stick man (you) and on the bottom half a little stick man (him or her- the Garmin virtual partner) You simply set the pace and time or distance you want to run for and then keep your little man (or woman) next to the little Garmin man (or woman) and at the end of the run you will have achieved the chosen pace for the chosen distance. In theory. Every time I do this I set off at a slightly faster pace than is necessary, just for the first few yards, just to give me a small lead just in case I encounter a nasty hill later on. Then with this small cushion established I simply jog along just a few feet ahead of the pixilated little fellow on my screen, or at least I should.

I would challenge anyone not to actually treat the virtual partner mode as a hard fought, cold-blooded race to the death. My Garmin might be my running friend but when it comes to this mode it is every man for himself. Rarely do I even run side-by-side, preferring to run from the front and hang on to my lead. There have been times when I’ve been hyperventilating after an uphill finish when he’s nearly caught me. I’ve lost count of the number of occassions when I could have sworn I’d heard Mr Garmin’s footsteps closing-in on me. I’m often so engaged in the race that I actually look over my shoulder expecting to see him there. I’ve even swore when he has managed to catch me, although this doesn’t often happen because before the race starts I’m in control of my senses and set a pace I should be able to manage. If he threatens to win I’ve been known to switch him off before the end.

I would never have believed that a digital watch could have been so much fun. I might be almost totally amateur in my approach but the Garmin helps me to pretend a little each day.

I can even just use it as a stopwatch. And even more amazingly – it tells the time.


*That’s a slight exaggeration but it’s big. The more expensive Garmin 405, and new 910 are significantly smaller (and more expensive).

**Did I really just admit to having a friendship with a glorified wrist watch?

***Note, however, that I still use ‘it’ rather than the more personal ‘he’ or ‘she’

****After last night’s run, I had no heart rate data. The bpm was blank. Either I am dead, or the battery has gone. But I’m doing my best to pretend it’s the former.


One thought on “Pro-am running (me and my Garmin – a review)

Comments are closed.