Ask The Coach: Can You Recommend A Speed-Distance Device?

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published May. 17, 2013
  • Updated May. 19, 2013 at 1:58 PM UTC
In today's running world, there are numerous options for tracking your workouts. Photo:


Mario ,

I’m training for my first half marathon and have been using a pedometer (cost me $20) to measure out my running loops, but it doesn’t seem to be very accurate. Can you recommend something not too expensive that will tell me how many miles I’ve run? Thanks!

Susan B.


Hi Susan,

Pedometers such as the one you are using (assuming it clips to your hip) are OK for walkers, but don’t work so well for runners. The reason for this is that most of these lower-priced units use a spring mechanism that moves a lever which counts your steps and calculates a reading. Constant usage combined with the motion of running as well as terrain/stride changes causes the spring to lose its spring, so to speak. As a result, you end up with readings all over the place.

The most accurate type of speed and distance device for runners is going to be a GPS unit, but these products are also going to be the most expensive. Retailing for anywhere between $100 and $400, a GPS unit will fit on your wrist and communicate with satellites to provide you the most accurate information in regard to speed and distance–assuming, of course, that you don’t lose the satellite signal! Garmin, Suunto, Nike and Soleus are a few of the more reputable brands in the GPS market, and offer many different options depending on the features you are looking for as well as how much money you’re willing to spend. Depending on the unit, a heart-rate monitor option may also be included, which, of course, will add about 50 bucks or more to the price tag. A lot of this information, including distance, speed, heart rate, calories burned and maps of your routes, can be downloaded straight to your computer afterward, graphed out, and analyzed for you all the way down to the most minute details. If information overload is your thing, then a GPS unit is for you!

Of course, this level of sophistication isn’t for everyone. A little less expensive, and almost as accurate, are food pods, which are small units that attach to the laces on your running shoe and communicate with a watch to give you speed and distance information by sensing the motion of your foot. After an initial calibration, it detects the acceleration/deceleration of each stride, which allows the unit to adjust for any variations in terrain. One advantage to using a foot pods over a GPS unit is that you will never have to fear losing a satellite signal! Some brands also feature foot pod units in addition to their GPS offerings, and other brands offer just foot pod options that retail for between $50 and $200.

Lastly, most smartphones now have apps, such as MapMyRun and RunKeeper, which take advantage of your phone’s GPS system to track your mileage and, in some cases, even dictate your pace to you as you’re going along. Many of these apps are free, while others will cost you a few bucks. Of course, you have to carry your phone with you, which can become cumbersome in some cases.

What are the advantages to using these types of training devices? The benefits are many. No longer will you be left guessing just how fast that last mile was, or if you’ve gone a mile-and-a-half or a mile-and-three-quarters. The numbers don’t lie — if you’re going too fast, you’ll know instantaneously; if you’re dragging and need a kick in the butt, a virtual partner option can help keep you honest. Also, if you want to compare times over your usual routes or see have the hard data to show how much you’ve progressed as a runner in the last year, you can do so with the click of a button. In short, spending a little bit more money can give you a lot of accurate information.

Best of luck with your training!


FILED UNDER: Shoes and Gear TAGS: / /

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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