Kicking the Garmin Habit

Like a smoker to their cigarettes or an alcoholic to the bottle, my relationship with my Garmin Forerunner was an addictive one. I couldn’t give it up. Sure, I went for the occasional run without it, but more often than not I had the giant GPS watch strapped to my tiny wrist, my eyeballs glued to the pace indicator. I wore it in every race and on every tempo run. Garmin told me how fast and how far, and soon I was dependent. I had no idea what my pace was unless I was wearing it. I completely lost the ability to run on feel. And that’s never a good thing.

Of course, unlike cigarettes or excessive alcohol, a Garmin isn’t detrimental to your health, but it sure can be detrimental to your running. Dependence on the Garmin robbed me of the ability to listen to my body, determine my pace, and, to an extent, measure distance. Wearing a Garmin in a race can be helpful, but what if it stops working during the race? Do you stop running?

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have Garmins. We relied much more on race clocks to tell us how we were doing. I remember there being a clock at every mile of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler. Although, one year the 9 mile clock was missing and everyone freaked out. You don’t see on-course clocks that often any more. Mile markers appear less frequently now, too, as if race organizers figure there’s no point in using them, since everyone has a Garmin.

So, how did I kick the habit? Well, first I tried the gum… Actually, truth is, the START button fell off my 310XT. I am not kidding. I picked up my Garmin to wear it for a run one day, and there was a divot where the button should be. I looked around and didn’t see the button anywhere. I offered my kids a dollar if they could find it…they negotiated for $2 and I agreed. Such an addict. But the button could not be found. I called Garmin and they told me to send it to Kansas for repair. I freaked out. My Garmin would be gone for 2 weeks. What would I do? And then I realized. This was my perfect chance to kick the habit.

Today I raced EX2 Adventures’ 10 mile Backyard Burn at Hemlock. Wearing a Garmin in a trail race doesn’t really help all that much. Pace varies wildly anyway, distances get skewed, and when you’re done Garmin says you only ran 9.3 miles and your pace sucked. Still, I’ve worn a Garmin for every trail race. Today I wore a stopwatch. Well, you can’t expect me to go completely cold turkey, can you?  Even with the watch, I had no idea of my pace and ran completely on feel. It was a liberating experience. I only looked at my watch to know when to drink and take a GU, and near the end to estimate my finish time.

I felt like I was pushing the pace a little too hard in the first 5 mile loop, but the course was crowded (it thins out significantly after the first loop as many people run the 5 mile option) and I had someone right behind me and I hate letting people pass. In the second loop I was able to relax a bit more on the technical sections as I no longer had a runner on my tail, but still pushed hard on the flats, which are few and far between at Hemlock. The race is basically a series of loops down to the Occoquan river and back up, so most of the time you’re flying downhill trying not to wipe out, or chugging up trying not to walk. Towards the end of the first loop I was in my own little world and apparently not looking out, because my head clipped a low-lying branch I hadn’t seen. I saw stars for a few minutes and felt the top of my head – no blood, good – which really hurt!

I think it was somewhere between miles 6 and 7 that I really got into the race. Until then I’d been feeling kinda OK but not great. As I turned up a switchback I looked down onto the trail below me and saw a string of guys. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I decided right then that I was going to try my hardest not to let any of the guys behind me pass me. For the last 3 – 4 miles I pushed the pace as hard as I could. With 2 miles to go I looked at my watch: 1:11. I decided I wanted to finish under 1:30, which gave me just under 19 minutes to go 2 miles. That seems easy but I was on the most technical part of the course with lots of rocks, after which there would be a very steep climb, part of which I knew I had to walk. Then a very steep downhill, some twisty single track, and a climb to the finish. I pushed on.

With 0.5 miles to go I was at 1:25. That was a really long 0.5 miles. (Signage isn’t always accurate in trail races!) I ran as fast as I could, making sure not to run into the tree I’ve almost hit several times before where there’s a 90 degree left turn, and trying not to wipe out on the boardwalk, which was moving and sliding as I ran over it. I sailed through the finish just as the clocked turned to 1:30:00, although my official time was 1:30:01. My fastest previous time at Hemlock was 1:34. Without a Garmin, I PR’d by 4 minutes!

When my Garmin returns with its new START button, I will definitely wear it, but sparingly. Running Garmin-free has shown me how to run on feel again, and that’ s a habit I don’t want to break.

Are you addicted to your Garmin? Do you need help? I will provide interventions free of charge…


  1. Sometimes we get so reliant on our “toys” that we forget that we are just supposed to be doing something natural, just running.

    I wear a watch, but ditched my iPhone last summer just because I was paying too much attention to it while running instead of just running. Then I got rid of my data plan, so iPhone becomes an iTouch, but still don’t use it very often.

    Good luck with tech free running – I consider a watch one of those necessary evils that serves a purpose.


  2. Good points. I left my Garmin at home for this race too, as I’d been sick two days before and I don’t find the “pace” reading to be all that accurate anyway … especially on trails where one mile might be flat and smooth and the next, a big climb and technical section.

  3. Great post! And nice job on a race that sounds extremely challenging. I have been relying less and less on the Garmin. I still wear it in races but I don’t look at it as much as I used to. It can be a motivator at the end of the race, but for the most part, it just leads to unnecessary obsessing!

  4. I’m so addicted to wearing mine, not even for the instant pace but I LOVE knowing exactly what my pace and splits were for any type of run. If satellites didn’t record it, did it even happen??

  5. I just got a Garmin last week and have run twice with it so far… and can see how it can be addicting… I’ll have to heed your warnings!

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