parkrunning with no GPS

After struggling with running for a while, I decided a couple of months ago to relegate my Garmin to the bottom drawer. I don’t tend to look at my watch while running but after a run I tended to look at my mile splits and was often disappointed to find that I hadn’t ran as fast as I hoped.  Instead, my aim was to get out running regularly around 3 times a week, running various three mile routes I had at home. 

So since the beginning of May, I have run around three times a week, as well as running to and from the gym, and have managed to get some consistent miles in my legs. More importantly, it has let me look forward to my running again, not caring about how fast or hard I work, just running for enjoyment.

During this time, I ran three parkruns, all at different courses, and had different experiences running without a GPS.

Perth parkrun: 18 June 2016

My first one was Perth parkrun and it was my first time running the course. My intention was just to go out, enjoy the run and see how I got on.  If you have read my race report, you will know that I found it quite strange at the start, just starting without pressing a watch.  It wasn’t until I got about 1/3 of the way around the course I realised there were no k markers and so I had no idea how far or long I had been running for.  The course is essentially an out and back route so I did have some idea as to how far I still had to go while on my way back and I was able to try and push the pace a bit.  The finish was equally as strange as the start with no watch.  Normally, my time would be the sole indication of whether I had had a good race or a bad one but without a watch I was able to be a bit more objective. I had gone out with the intention of enjoying a new course, which I did.  I felt that I had paced it well, passing people around the course and managing to keep pushing until the finish.  Overall, I was pleased with my race.  We got our race results within about an hour of finishing and my official time was 31:07, my fastest time since September 2014.  Definitely a good race for me and while it was strange running without a GPS, I don’t think it affected my run in any way.


Dundee parkrun: 02 July 2016

We were staying at Piperdam for our wedding anniversary and with Camperdown Park only a few miles away we decided to do some more parkrun tourism and opted to run Dundee parkrun for the first time.   From chatting with a Dundee regular, Susan, when we are at Perth and from other runners, I knew it was a hilly course and so was expecting a tough run.  Had I looked at the elevation profile beforehand, I am not sure I would have ran it!!

We arrived quite early and while Owain was doing his warm up I had a good chat with the run director, who talked me through the course, pointing out the “climbs” and indicating that we could expect to add about 90 seconds on to our normal parkrun times.  At this stage, the intention was definitely on getting round the course and not worrying too much about time.  The race starts on a downhill and so I was very careful not to get too carried away with pace.  There were a few flatter sections before the course gradually climbs.  At this stage, I had no idea whether this was the “climb” or in fact just a little incline.  I decided to just keep steadily pushing on and the hill just seemed to keep going.  As we continued more and more people dropped to a walk and with no idea of how far I still had to go, I admitted defeat and dropped to a walk/run option.  It wasn’t too long before I reached the top and managed to make up some ground on the downhill, passing those that had passed me on the uphill.  The course then evens out before another climb back through the woods before back up to the finish.  By the time I crossed the line, I was absolutely spent.  Even without the Garmin, I knew it was not a good run.  I felt disappointed in myself that I had dropped to a walk but the hills had definitely beat my mentally.  The event had pacers and I knew I was some way behind the 32:30 pacer but was still disappointed to get my results email which showed 33:44.

On reflection, I wonder whether having a Garmin would have helped me in this race. As I hadn’t ran the race before, I had no idea of the route but the k markers had been pointed out by the race director and knowing how far left to run may have helped me get to the top of the hill.

If nothing else, this race gave me a bit of a kick up the backside as I realised I perhaps wasn’t quite as fit as I had thought I was. I had been struggling with my breathing over the last few months but my increase in medication seemed to have helped with that. Owain had Brig Bash 5 on Wednesday night and like last year I decided to come along to run part of the course and take some photos at the same time.  However, in order to get some speed in to my legs I dusted the Garmin off with the intention of doing some sprints while on the course.  I headed out about 20 minutes before the race started to do a mile warm up followed by 1 min fast/1 min walk for 6 reps.  I then did a mile cool down running back to the start/finish as the front runners made their way back.  I did feel that I was running strong on the sprints as well as the warm up/cool down, but part of this was making sure I managed to get it all in before the race started!  Looking at my Garmin afterwards, I was really pleased with the whole session and seeing the stats definitely boosted my confidence.


Edinburgh parkrun

As we had a friend visiting for lunch on Saturday, we decided on Friday night that we would head down to Cramond to make sure we got our runs in (having first checked the weather to make sure there was no harsh wind forecast!).

After my positive session on Wednesday where my breathing was hard but under control, I decided that I would try to race this as much as I could. As we haven’t been to Cramond for a while, I had no idea where to stand.  However, that took care of itself as the race brief started while I was chatting and before I knew it we were off.  The start was quite slow and congested and I counted around 20 seconds before I got to the start line. At this stage, I did think I should have worn my Garmin in order to get a personal time, given I was wanting to race.  Never mind, too late now.  I had forgotten how busy Edinburgh parkrun is and it wasn’t until we were past the tree line (where the final marshal stands on the way back) that I was able to get into my own pace.  On reflection, I am not sure if this was a help or a hindrance, it may have helped me pace it better rather than setting off too fast.  To date, I have run 37 parkruns, 31 at Edinburgh, so it is fair to say I know the course pretty well.  My intention was simply to run as fast as I could.  All the way out, I was gradually picking people off which was a great confidence boost.  I know from previous races that I tend to lose concentration from 3-4k and so really tried to stay focused, calming my breathing down and letting my legs do the work.  At about 4.5k, I saw Owain and just about managed a smile as he snapped away on his phone. 

Mandy edinburgh parkrun


I was definitely working hard by this point and could quite have easily stopped.  We haven't been down to Edinburgh for a while so I hadn't realised the change to the finish - despite Susan mentioning it in the race brief! - but I managed to keep pushing all the way to the line, even passing people just before we got to it.  Owain would have been proud.  Again, with no idea of what my finish time was, I was able to reflect a bit more objectively and knew that I had definitely raced this one compared to the others. I said to Owain that it felt like a season's best and was hoping to dip under 31 minutes.   Unfortunately, given the success of Edinburgh and the huge amount of runners, it was about three hours before I received my results email but it was worth the wait - official time of 30:28.  Not just a season's best but my fastest parkrun time in over 3 years - which means my fastest parkrun as Mrs Williams.  

Given it had taken me around 20 seconds to cross the start line, it means sub 30 minutes is not too far away.  I have wondered whether having my GPS would have made a difference as when I have my watch on I don't start it until I cross the line, giving me a personal time for the route.  Had I known I was so close to sub 30, would it have given me the focus to keep pushing?  Then again, knowing I was so close, would I have panicked that I was running faster than I thought I am capable of???  So many questions, all not able to be answered.

So does this mean the GPS is coming out of hibernation?  After much thought, I have decided it will stay where it is for now.  If we are running a new course, I may be tempted to get it out just so I have an idea of the distance, but it will firmly be set to distance only.  For now, I am looking forward to continuing to run according to how I feel and not going back to being governed by my GPS.


Mandy Williams

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