6 GPS Watch Tips and Tricks


A GPS watch might be the most maligned, yet indispensable piece of training gear a runner owns. Purists scoff at knowing your pace at any given moment. New runners have trouble getting it to work. Road race participants complain race course distances aren’t in-line with their GPS watch.

But anyone who has ever questioned how far or fast they ran marvels at the data a GPS watch instantly provides, all a wrist-glance away.

The question is: are you getting the most out of your GPS watch? Here are 6 tips to solve your GPS problems and enhance your next workout.

1. Turn the GPS watch on inside

Nowadays, with highly sensitive GPS receivers, runners shouldn’t have to wait long for their GPS watch to lock onto satellite signals. Some watches can even be pre-programmed with locations, eliminating the extra-long start-up times when using a watch in a new place.

Yet waiting outside while the watch locks onto satellite signals is still a common complaint. Which makes sense — when you are ready to start your run, even 30 seconds can seem like an eternity.

The solution is to turn your watch on inside while you are getting ready. Placing it on a windowsill is ideal but simply being near a window should be enough. It will take the watch longer to locate satellites this way — but not longer than the five or ten minutes it takes to get ready.

The same holds true if you are driving somewhere — turn it on five minutes before you are about to arrive. The watch will be ready when you step out of the car.

2. Reset the watch

We’ve all seen it happen. The screen freezes. You push every button in every order imaginable but nothing works.

The answer is to reset the watch. Keep in mind that most watches have two types of resets: a soft reset and a hard reset. The hard reset returns the watch to its default factory mode and erases any workouts on the watch. Make sure you try the soft reset – which reboots the watch but does not erase any data – before doing a hard reset.

3. Turn off Instant Pace. Turn on Average Lap Pace

There is no doubt that instant pace is flakey and inaccurate. Are you running 8:05 min/miles or 8:17 min/miles or 7:58 min/miles? Fluctuations vary by watch, but it’s not unusual to see 10-15 second min/mile pace changes every few seconds.

Despite this inaccuracy, most runners continually use and rely on instant pace. It’s understandable. Everyone wants to check their watch and immediately know how fast they are going at that very second.

There is a compromise guaranteed to keep you from pulling your hair out. Turn off instant pace and replace it with average lap pace set to every 1/4 mile. This shows you the pace of your last 1/4 mile split. It’s long enough to accurately determine your pace — but short enough that it updates frequently, so you can adjust your running speed as needed.

4. Do intervals away from the track

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There is certainly a time and place for the track. And it is a great way to do intervals. But face it, the track is boring.

A GPS watch frees you from the track. It will measure distance and time. You just need to run. Some GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner 35 can even be programmed with intervals. It will count reps and notify you with an audible or vibration alert when it’s time to start and stop each leg.

But what about accuracy? And what if you are forced to stop mid-interval, say, at a traffic light?

Of course a GPS watch will never be as accurate as the track. But it’s pretty close. Running a slightly longer or shorter rep will have little impact on your aerobic fitness.

And having to stop mid-interval — well, it could happen. While it is better to run in places where stopping is avoidable, it won’t have a huge impact on your training if you do.

5. Explore new running routes

Being creatures of habit, many runners find themselves running the same routes over and over again. A great way to rejuvenate your runs is to head somewhere new. Many GPS watches come with basic navigational features that make it easy to find new places to run.

Using your PC, you can program a route online and upload it to your watch. If your watch has a bread-crumb map, you can actually see that route, and where you are along that route, while you run.

Garmin’s fenix series and other watches use waypoints. These are navigational coordinates loaded onto the watch that can be placed at turns or other points of interest (a bathroom, say). Once loaded, your watch will point to each waypoint with a compass-like arrow.

6. Use it everywhere

A GPS watch will work whenever you are outdoors and moving. Don’t limit its use to running. You can take it cycling, hiking, canoeing, or kayaking. It’s a great tool to track and record every outdoor activity you do.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.