GPS – A Love/Hate Relationship


As both a runner and traveler with a GPS watch on my wrist and in my Iphone, I love the ability to know exactly where you are at point A and how to get to point B at any given moment then know how far you traveled when you arrive. I love being able to check my pace and decrease it or increase it accordingly. I love being able to plot coordinates for aid stations and other vital spots for vendors, volunteers and other race partners.

Come race day and the days after, I’m not too fond of it. You see, many runners view the distance displayed on their GPS devices as the gospel and are quick to point out that accurately measured courses are not accurate based on their readings. I cannot count the number of times I have been told a course is either short or long, based solely on the number on a watch.

As many of your prepare for the upcoming Asheville Running Experience races, allow me to point out a few things that will skew the numbers on your watch:

  • There are points in the heart of downtown Asheville, with the tall buildings and dips in the road, where you will not get a signal
  • Anytime you run on a road with heavy tree canopy, chances are good your signal will be blotted out with the sun
  • If it is foggy day, you will have a hard time getting your GPS to come on, let alone give you accurate readings throughout the course

Like I said, people view their display with holy reverence so if you don’t believe what I just said, take this simple test. The next time you are on a group run, have your buddies start and stop their GPS watches at the exact same moments. At the end of run, compare the distances. I bet there will be a significant deviation between the different devices.

The job of course measurement according to USA Track & Field standards is a tedious process. For those that are certified, or even measured by a wheel, you can be assured the distance is more accurate than anything your watch will tell you.

Happy Running.