Jan 01, 2015

Your new GPS running watch

90 days to getting the most from your Garmin, Nike+, Suunto, TomTom or Polar

So... your significant other just gave you your first GPS running watch? Or maybe you bought it for yourself? You've ripped into the box with excitement; pulled it out and charged it up, and...

Now what???

Below I'll guide you through your first 90 days with your new GPS running watch to make sure you get the most out of it. As someone who has been through dozens of watches (from the first primitive Garmin Forerunner 201) you can trust this advice comes from a place of experience and knowledge.

Day 0. Do you really need a GPS watch?

Usually I would suggest you ask this question before you go out and buy a new gadget. Too late. You already got it. Don't worry, we will definitely find a use for it. But hold on to your excitement for a few seconds and lets take a step back.

Step zero: Understand your refund or return policy. What is the timeframe? 30 days? 90 days? Where do you return it? How much will it cost?

Even if you absolutely love the watch you may need to deal with a manufacturing defect. Now is the time to set aside any paperwork you need for a refund.

On to the fun stuff.

Day 1. Move.

Assuming you charged up your watch your first step is easy. Go out and run. Where? Anywhere. One of the first exciting things you'll notice about your new watch is the freedom it gives you. Freedom to head out the door and know the mileage you're going to hit without needing to plan ahead. Amazing. So hit one of your regular routes if you're feeling conservative, or go explore some new trails, streets or neighborhoods with the confidence you're not going to go too far or get lost. Want to hit 5 miles? Turn around after your watch hits 2.5.

Your first day should not be worrying about the technology or fussing with the buttons and display. Just go out and run.

Week 1-2. Learn.

Once you've got your first run under your belt it's time to learn about your watch.

Step 1: Read your manual. Minimalist packaging design (thanks Apple) means you probably won't find anything in your box except a "getting started" flyer. So you'll need to go online. Simply google your full manufacturer and model followed by the phrase "product manual".

Protip: If you can't find the manual, try including the phrase "filetype:pdf" in your Google search.

You will likely be amazed at the features hidden within your watch that you wouldn't know about unless you read the manual.

Step 2: Read the DC Rainmaker review. If you really want to go the extra distance, you can find comprehensive reviews of major GPS watches from Garmin, Polar, Suunto and TomTom at dcrainmaker.com. Google the manufacturer + model followed by the phrase "site:dcrainmaker.com"

Final step: Go out running and start using as many features as you can. Try a few programmed interval workouts. Try the routing and mapping features. Go on...

Week 3-4. Analyze.

It's been two weeks. You've finished a few runs and know the basics of starting, pausing and stopping your watch, how to mark laps and how to read the various pages of data on your watch. It's now time to take it to the next level.

While you're running your watch is tracking and saving a lots of data (we call "metrics") about your run: distance, pace, elevation, and maybe heartrate, temperature, cadence and more. If you're a seasoned runner but new to GPS you're probably chomping at the bit to get at this data.

It's time to import your saved data into a software package that will let you look at this data, analyze it for trends, and ultimately understand and improve your performance. Thats probably the reason you decided to step up to GPS, because you want to get serious about performance tracking.

For simple logging your watch probably came with some software. It's a good place to start. Upload or sync to the manufacturer software (you read how to do that in the manual, right?). Poke around and look at your pace or elevation for your last two weeks. How did your runs measure up to your distance and time goals for the week? Are you faster or slower than you thought? Are you hitting your target heartrate zones and intensity levels? These are the basics any software app should tell you.

For more advanced analysis you'll want to look at software packages such as SportTracks. Using our software you can dig deeper into analyzing specific segments of runs, splitting out performance by different run types (trail, road), understand metrics such as how your pace is effected by elevation grade, and much much more. Getting your data on our system is simple and most major watch models are supported.

Learn more about SportTracks features


Month 2. Enhance.

After your first month with your new GPS watch it's time to think about what you're missing and enhancing your gadget collection. Did you skip on a heart rate monitor and now want to train based on heart rate zones? Now is the time to buy an HRM strap. Do you want to track your running cadence to optimize your stride? If your watch or HRM doesn't record this info you may want to invest in a footpod. For both of these the upgrade is straightforward - just be sure to do some research to find a brand/model that is compatible with your GPS wireless communication (Bluetooth, ANT+, or proprietary).

If you're not using your GPS watch for other crosstraining now is the time to start. Maybe you want to invest in a second GPS for cycling, or a dedicated swim watch? It's now a good time to research apps to enhance your training, or for those times when you forget your GPS. It's very important to find an app that integrates with the analysis software you're using so all your tracking and logging lands in the same place. If you're an iPhone fan and use SportTracks, we recommend iSmoothRun.

Month 3. Integrate.

After two months your GPS watch should now be part of your training life. You now grab both your running shoes and your watch before heading out. It's natural, and something you don't need to remember to do the same way you wouldn't forget to put your shoes on.

You're planning workouts in an online software package (such as SportTracks, natch) and making sure your goal targets are reached based on data from your watch. You're using your HRM to precisely target training zone intensity to maximize the effectiveness of your training. And maybe you've started to learn about training load to model performance and predict peak fitness for your upcoming races. You're looking at long term trends and thinking about your seasonal goals 3-6 months out and how to reach them.

Year 1. Upgrade?

I promised you a 90 day guide but here is a bonus section of what you can look forward to after 1 year.

Assuming you're mostly happy with your watch but not 100%, it might be time to think about upgrading or replacing it. Most watches on the market will last 2-3 years before they die, but there is a good market on eBay or Craigslist for used watches. After a year you might want to think about selling your watch to pay for an upgrade. If you want to stay cutting edge you can use this scheme every year to get a new watch for $100 USD or less after selling your old watch.

Questions about your new GPS? Let us know in the comments below.