QT: Your Running Watch is Not All Knowing, I Promise

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If you’re like a lot of runners, you have embraced your running watch.

Lord knows I have.

If you’re old school and run with nothing but a simple Timex? Or no watch at all?

Well played.

And also, you might as well stop reading because the rest of this post doesn’t really apply to you.

The Best Use for a Running Watch

There are certain aspects within our sport where our running watches really shine.

When it comes to calculating distance, pace, and time?

And they are also great at running all kinds of calculations based on those, and a few other, metrics.

Depending on how techy you are, you can also program your workouts into your watch so you don’t have to think during a run.

Go out too fast or slow? The watch will alert you.

Heart rate too high? You’ll get a beep or a buzz.

Time to switch from hard interval to recovery interval? The watch has you covered on that front, too.

But our running watches don’t do everything perfectly.

No matter what the ads and marketing copy may suggest.

Don’t Outsource Your Thinking Just Yet

With all due respect to our eventual AI overlords, our running watches are pretty incapable of logical thought and reasoned nuance at the moment.

From where I sit, logical thought and reasoned nuance are kind of important when it comes to our growth as runners.

Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention, the human body is pretty complex.

So while it would be nice to be able to look at certain data points and assess with near 100% certainty what we can expect ourselves to be capable of, that’s not always how our bodies work.

Nevermind the fact that our watches have various algorhithms and formulas in place that may or may not apply to each of us in every specific case.

And don’t even get me started on a watch that is going to tell you that your run was unproductive.

Every run is productive, even if we aren’t hammering.

Outlier metrics should be ignored.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

And our silly running watches can’t pick up on any of these points.

<over our head>

A Few Examples

How about a few tangible examples to help make my point, eh?

Post Streak Push

One of the runners I coach recently opted to challenge herself with a month-long run streak.

Dude is Crazy

But it wasn’t just the streak that was part of her challenge, there was also a mileage component.

240 miles was the target.

For some? That’s nothing more than a typical month.

For others? That may be closer to a year’s worth of miles.

In this specific case, 240 miles was a solid 6-7 weeks of typical mileage crammed into 31 days.

She crushed it, finishing with 248 miles while feeling tired but strong as the month challenge wrapped up.

For the final week of her challenge, her watch was telling her every day to rest and not run.

The first day of the new month? When we were definitely planning a day off?

Her watch said to go run.

What

Yep.

A couple of days later, as we were starting to get back into the groove, her watch suggested a strong tempo workout was in order.

She pretty much laughed at the suggestion, and said there was no way her legs were up for any sustained effort yet.

Paces Defined

Another recent example of why we shouldn’t outsource our thinking to running watches and it’s questionable AI at this point has to do with defining tempo pace.

In this particular case, it’s an athlete that has really be working on keeping her easy runs easy.

When she was poking around on Strava recently, she stumbled upon suggested paces for her workouts.

And her tempo pace was defined as 10 minute pace.

She thought her tempo pace was probably closer to 8 minute pace.

(She was right, fyi.)

The reason for the discrepancy?

She’s been so focused on slowing down with her easy runs, but the algorithm doesn’t calculate that into its formula.

It assumes that every run is pushing pretty hard, maybe not all out but certainly not easy.

As such, her fitness ratings and pace predictions were regressing even though I’d argue that her fitness is clearly improving.

Don’t Outsource All Thinking

To be clear, I’m not saying that you should disregard everything your watch is telling you.

Honestly, I think some of the feedback metrics are actually rather helpful.

But those are supplemental metrics, not proven truths.

If you’re feeling a bit tired/worn down, then trust what your body is telling you.

Even if your watch says you should to run.

And if your watch is trying to tell you that you’re losing fitness but you’ve been running consistently and keeping your effort intentionally easy?

Your fitness isn’t regressing, at all.

You’re just building fitness in a way that your running watch can’t seem to comprehend.

Don’t let your watch tell you otherwise, ok?


Your running watch is smart, but it's not smarter than you. Act accordingly. #runchat Share on X

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