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My GPS Watch and Me – iRunFar

I’m writing about one of many endurance runner’s favourite instruments, the GPS watch.

Gulliver’s Watch

In “Gulliver’s Travels,” the 1726 satire by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput. There, Gulliver is regarded an enormous, as he finds himself towering over the Lilliputians, the inhabitants of the island who’re six inches tall.

In a memorable change with the Lilliputians, Gulliver pulls out his pocket watch — a device they’ve by no means encountered. The Lilliputians report that it’s both “some unknown animal, or the god he worships; however we’re extra inclined to the latter opinion, as a result of he assured us … that he seldom did something with out consulting it (1).”

Gulliver consults his watch earlier than he does something, such that the Lilliputians suppose it’s his god.

Gulliver has this in frequent with the modern endurance athlete.

My Watch

I really like my GPS look ahead to all the same old causes. As a nostalgic particular person, the information features like a receipt for my operating adventures. I can revisit my metrics, poring over the numbers and making sense of them. In contrast to a reminiscence, which shape-shifts and fades, the numbers are goal and fixed.

My GPS watch can also be an ideal accountability device. It helps me hold observe of my coaching in order that my mileage is inerratic and wise. If I say I’m operating simply however my heartrate says in any other case, I can confront this actuality truthfully.

Additionally, the primary yr I educated with a GPS watch, I grew sooner. I used the information to attract nearer to my limits by recognizing I may maintain sooner paces than I imagined, earlier than my physique entered the pink zone. Introspection alone didn’t persuade me to probe my limits. I wanted to see the numbers to imagine I may run tougher.

So, I really like my watch. However two issues may be true, and it’s potential that I’m changing into a bit like Gulliver in my habits of consideration. There are causes to surprise about how my watch is impacting me — doubtlessly for unwell.

Listed below are just a few considerations:

Sabrina Little - GPS watch

The writer together with her trusty GPS watch. All photographs courtesy of Sabrina Little.

1. The Lack of the Creature

There may be an essay by Walker Percy referred to as “The Lack of the Creature (2).” Percy describes boundaries to “direct, sovereign notion in a world filled with specialists and packaged experiences (3).”

For instance, Percy describes the impossibility of gazing merely on the Grand Canyon. The sightseer doesn’t see the Grand Canyon in itself. Slightly, the Grand Canyon has been “appropriated by the symbolic advanced which has already been shaped within the sightseer’s thoughts (4).” It’s mediated by means of the lens of expectation, pictures, and knowledge. We’re abstracted from the expertise “in itself.”

Percy offers a second instance of a pupil studying a Shakespearean sonnet (5). The coed doesn’t expertise the sonnet straight. The sonnet is mediated by means of symbols and framing, or explanations provided by instruction. It’s not encountered by itself phrases.

Percy’s commentary rings true of my experiences with a GPS watch. It’s usually difficult to expertise operating instantly, straight, and in fullness as a result of — alongside expectations and an acquired data of the game — my runs are mediated by my GPS watch. My watch offers a stream of numbers I take part in, aware of as they unfold.

I’ve written up to now about an commentary my husband as soon as made. He remarked that, once we run collectively, we’re by no means actually alone. We run with the entire folks, together with earlier variations of ourselves, who’ve ever run that very same stretch of highway and forged a digital shadow. That is true. I’m not absolutely current.

Generally my watch malfunctions, and on some stage, I really feel as if my exercise didn’t depend — as if it makes a cosmic distinction if I don’t depart a hint of numbers in my wake. I really feel as if my legs can’t profit from a run that made no digital influence. (How will my legs know that I ran?)

And even after I depart my watch behind (one thing I do occasionally), I nonetheless view my runs by means of the habits of consideration educated by my watch. My perceptions of operating are mediated by means of the display screen of numbers my watch has conditioned me to take care of as essential.

So, that is the primary concern. I used to be initially drawn to operating, partially, to expertise the outside in its fullness, and my GPS watch diminishes my standing as a sovereign knower. Today I understand my runs by means of the numbers my watch reviews and the values I’ve assigned to them.

2. Magnificence and Surprise

This concern is steady with the primary. The explanation the “lack of the creature” issues is that sure experiences are forfeited in symbolic abstraction — particularly the house to surprise, expertise gratitude, and respect the world past the quantitative reviews my watch generates.

It’s fall in Virginia. A number of weeks in the past, there have been just a few pink leaves portending the transition of seasons. Day by day, giant swaths of leaves have modified colours (6). As of this morning, my neighborhood park is resplendent — like a fireworks show.

Generally I run by means of scenes resembling these, inattentive to the sweetness and centered on my coaching targets. The explanation I seen the leaves this morning was that my daughter (a red-headed toddler who was driving within the stroller) stored exclaiming, “The bushes are pink like my hair!”

I want to inhabit my runs like my daughter does. I want to restore surprise and gratitude to my coaching — at the least typically. If my watch impedes these experiences, possibly I ought to run extra with my toddler and fewer with my wearable tech.

Sabrina Little - fall colors

Fall colours adorn the writer’s operating route.

 3. Is and Ought

A closing consideration is that this: A GPS watch can inform us what ‘is.’ It offers an outline of coaching — the place we run, what we run, and once we run. However our watches can not inform us what we ‘ought’ to run. They can’t inform us what we should always prioritize or how operating ought to match into our lives.

I say this as a result of there’s a sturdy precedent impact in operating. Generally I’m drawn to run what I (or others) have run up to now, just because that’s the precedent. Generally momentum compels me to place extra miles in as a result of I really feel like I ought to. However the numbers can’t inform me what’s essential, or how I ought to construction my coaching on steadiness with the remainder of my life. My watch can solely inform me what’s, not what should be.

Closing Ideas

As I stated, I really like my watch. It is a crucial supply of data and has facilitated self-honesty in my coaching. I don’t intend to do away with it anytime quickly. However utilizing a device like a GPS watch can contribute to emotions of abstraction, and it may possibly practice our habits of consideration towards measuring and controlling, over appreciating and experiencing gratitude. And finally, our watches can not inform us what is efficacious or how we should always spend our time.

Name for Feedback

  • Do you practice with a GPS watch?
  • If that’s the case, do you ever choose to depart it at residence?


  1. Jonathan Swift. (1902, 1726). “Gulliver’s Travels.” Plain Label Books, p. 33
  2. Walker Percy. (2000). The Lack of the Creature, in “The Message within the Bottle,” 46-63. St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Leon Kass. (2004). Introduction to “The Lack of the Creature,” in “Being Human: Core Readings within the Humanities,” edited by Leon Kass, 541. New York: W.W. Norton.
  4. Walker Percy. (2000). The Lack of the Creature, p. 47
  5. Walker Percy. (2000). The Lack of the Creature, pp. 57-9.
  6. The leaves have modified colours like an autumnal model of blob tag. Do folks learn endnotes?

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