Garmin’s Virtual Training Aids



Have you ever considered ways to motivate yourself run faster? The solution might actually exist on your wrist. There’s evidence that simulated training partners can push you to exercise harder and faster than you could alone. If you have a GPS watch, virtual training aids might be that motivating factor to take your training to the next level.

In this article, we’re going to discuss virtual training features found on GPS watches today.

Before we get into the details, let’s first note that the Virtual Partner, Pacer, etc. are actually trademarked features created by Garmin. But just like blowing your nose with a Kleenex or Xeroxing (does anyone make photocopies anymore?), non-Garmin GPS watches have sprung up with features eerily similar, sometimes improved upon, to Garmin’s line of virtual training aids. For purposes of clarity, these discussions will be about Garmin’s features, interspersed with competitor watches when appropriate.

Virtual Pacer

Let’s start with the simplest feature: Virtual Pacer. Here, you set a specific pace you want to run – say 8:00 min/miles – and the watch alerts you, usually with a beep, sometimes with a vibration alert, if you’re above or below that pace by 5 seconds or more.

Ultimately, all this feature does is save you from glancing at your watch every minute or so to make sure you’re on pace. The other downside is that it won’t account for an accelerating or decelerating pace on hills; meaning, you’ll naturally slow down and speed up on hills. But the virtual pacer doesn’t know the difference. Expect some beeps.

Virtual Partner

Virtual Partner is similar to Virtual Pacer in that you set a specific pace on the GPS watch, but it doesn’t alert you when you deviate from that pace. Instead, it tracks it with a little digital person on the watch. Your own pace is represented as another little person. How far ahead or behind you are is visually presented along with the actual distance between you.


One other difference is that the Virtual Partner allows you to set a specific distance. The activity will end automatically after you’ve finished; the Virtual Pacer remains on indefinitely.

The downside to this feature is that like the Virtual Pacer, the set pace doesn’t change regardless of terrain, kind of like being chased by the a mob of zombies.

In addition to trying to “beat” the virtual partner, it’s also a nice feature to simply pace yourself, especially during a race. It gives you a visual signal as to how far ahead (or back, ouch!) you are from your goal pace.

Magellan, Polar, and Suunto all have a similar virtual partner training aid. Magellan adds one extra feature not found in other GPS watches: it displays your ETA in clock-time (i.e. 5:20 PM) based on current pace.


This is Garmin feature expands on the Virtual Partner concept. Instead of running against a set pace, you compete versus prior workouts. So if you ran a 5 mile route a month ago, you can go back a month later and re-run that route, measuring your current performance to your original run.

What’s nice is that you race against yourself – so unlike the virtual partner, you know your pace will speed up or slow down depending on the terrain. One caveat is that your route must align exactly with your original activity. No short-cuts!

Virtual Racer

Virtual Racer is Garmin’s newest feature in the Virtual training partner family. It’s so new it only works on Garmin’s more advanced (and expensive) watches – the Forerunner 610, Forerunner 910xt, Forerunner 920XT, and fenix. Oddly, this feature isn’t found on the Forerunner 620 – Garmin’s newest runner-focused watch.

The Virtual Racer is similar to Courses where you race against old workouts, but it takes it a step further in that you don’t need to follow the same exact route. For example, if you ran 3 miles along roads in your neighborhood, you can race against yourself along those same 3 miles but you can do it anywhere. A cool feature if you want to try to beat old race times. What’s even cooler is that you can download activities from Garmin Connect, where you can race against anybody you want. Have a friend across the country? You can download their activities and try to beat them.


Garmin’s Virtual Partner training aids are very cool and add some fun ways to mix up your running routine. While they aren’t vital, they add an interesting mix of ways to make your training that much more fun. Will these help you train harder? Try it and let us know how it went.

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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.