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Is Technology Helping or Harming Your Run?

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The world of running is continually changing and the use of technology is just one of the areas that has made an impact on running in the modern day. We used to run in cotton t-shirts, shorts, and rubber shoes. Now we have sweat-wicking tech shirts, compression shorts, and every type of shoe under the sun. Runners used to be lucky to go out with a watch that told them how long they were on the roads, now we have watches that track our runs, HR monitors that tell us how hard we are pushing ourselves and IPODs to distract us from the pain. While these devices allow us to train purposefully, they can also hinder the enjoyment of running and the awareness of our own bodies. Let’s review the pros and cons of some of the top technologies used by today’s runners:

IPODS

Pros…

  • Diversion: listening to music can pump you up and get you into a zone, breaking the monotony of the treadmill or long road
  • Set the Pace: Playlists with up tempo songs can keep you going through a threshold run or a speed session
  • Go Longer: Music can inject energy into you to push for that extra 2 miles.
  • Motivation: Music is not the only thing you can listen to on your IPOD, motivational material can help keep your efforts high during your workout.

Cons…

  • Distraction: Running on the road or trail? Music can put you in serious danger when you cannot hear what is coming from behind or beside you.
  • Dependency: If you rely too heavily on the noise from your IPOD it can become a crutch and with many races banning the use of iPods you could be setting yourself up for a poor performance.
  • Slow Poke: If your music selection is slower it can hinder your tougher workouts as your body gets into rhythm with the slower tempo
  • Losing Touch: One of the best attributes of elite runners is their ability to tune into their bodies, to go easy when they need to and push it when they can. Music can distract you from your bodies natural signals leading to injury or burnout.

GPS Watches

Pros…

  • Intensity: GPS provides you with pace per mile which allows you to train at the intensities you mean to train at, so you don’t overtrain or undertrain
  • Mileage and Routes: GPS tracks your mileage and routes. This allows you to know how far you are going, need to go, and the breakdown of your splits. You can review where you may tire during a race and it keeps you honest with distances run.
  • Race Execution: One of the biggest mistakes runners make is going out too fast in the beginning of the race, a GPS allows you the luxury of executing your race plan because you will know exactly how fast you go out, what pace you maintain throughout the race, and how far to the finish.
  • Advanced Workouts: Many feature the ability to set up intervals and other advanced workouts so that you can push yourself through harder efforts by time, pace, or distance, again keeping your workouts honest.

Cons…

  • Numbers Slave: Many runners become obsessed with the #s on their GPS which can lead to overtraining as they go too hard on their easy days just to see a certain pace or go too far because they have to end on even mileage
  • No Internal Pace: When always relying on a GPS to tell you your pace, you lose the ability to read your bodies’ signals about what is the “correct” pace for you that day. Races have different elevations, weather, etc. that affect pace. For those not familiar with “feeling” of different paces in different situations they may push too hard during a race to maintain an unrealistic pace and hit the “wall”.
  • Satellite Reception: Many watches lose reception in cities or on trails and can emit inaccurate information again setting a dependent athlete up for failure.

HR Monitors

Pros…

  • Progress Report: HR Monitors allow you to check progress over time. As you become fitter your HR should be lower for a given speed or you can run faster for the same HR. Similarly, your resting HR should gradually lower, and if it spikes you know to take an easy day
  • Hard/Easy Days: You can train specifically within your optimal HR zones on any given training day and training type. Helps both elites and inexperienced not to over train.
  • Stimulus: Sometimes you don’t realize that you’ve slowed down. Your heart rate monitor can be there to tell you to take it up a little. It’s your own personal trainer, you can’t cheat your HR.

Cons…

  • Numbers Game: Runners get locked into heart rate training and let the number dictate their pace or whether their run was a success because they hit that certain HR average or max.
  • Variability: There are a lot of factors that can cause your heart rate to artificially increase …weather, dehydration, anxiety and over training. If you could control everything, relying solely on the monitor might be all you need, but you can’t.
  • Data Freak: Too much data can ruin your focus and distract you from your bodies signals and your environment. To have the ability to feel which HR rate you have in training vs. competition without the use of a heart rate monitor is best.

Treadmills

Pros…

  • Effective: Research has shown that heart rate is lower on a treadmill than it is outdoors, but you can counteract the slight difference by running at a 1% grade. Also the treadmill does not allow you to slow down, or cheat your workout.
  • Convenience: Running is something you can do anytime, anywhere. But if you run before the sun comes up or after it goes down, a treadmill can spare you from having to run in the dark. If ice and snow take over your winter training, a treadmill can save you from a nasty fall.
  • Control: They allow you to create precise workouts. If you want to practice running at your goal pace before an upcoming race or ace a tough interval workout, you can set the precise pace on the treadmill and use it to get your body accustomed to holding that pace steadily.

Cons…

  • Lack of Variation: Your foot lands in approximately the same way every step because the surface never changes, this can lead to overuse injuries as the same muscles are firing over and over. It is also impossible to simulate downhill running on most treadmills, which makes it hard to train for such races as the Boston Marathon or get some of the benefits of eccentric quad contraction.
  • Boredom: Researchers at the University of Stockholm found that when runners were allowed to set their own pace in an indoor treadmill run and an outdoor trail run, they ran significantly faster at the same perceived effort level outdoors which suggests running outside may be more effective for some.
  • Expensive: Even if you do not buy a treadmill for your home, renting one or joining a gym costs a lot more than the $0 you spend to walk out your door.
  • Moral of this Story: Technology is going to keep getting better and adding more information to our already clogged running logs. It’s fine to take advantage of these wonderful gadgets but make sure you have a few “free” runs a week when you just listen to your body. It knows best.

By Meghan Kennighan. Meghan is a USA Track & Field coach and a RRCA (Road Runners of America) certified distance coach. She is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and a level 3 USA Cycling Coach. Meghan is passionate about helping others enjoy running, fitness, and health as much as she does. She strives to bring out the best in everyone she works with. Connect with Meghan at meghan.kennihan@gmail.com and www.trainwithmeghan.com

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