Ask Mario: Can You Recommend A Speed-Distance Device?

In today's running world, there are numerous options for tracking your workouts. Photo: www.guardian.co.uk

Q.

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.

A.

Hi Susan,

A pedometer that clips to your hip is OK for walking and counting steps, but won’t work so well for running and tracking miles. 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 dynamic 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 that are 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, Polar 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 may also be included, which, of course, can 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 or synced to your phone afterward, graphed out and analyzed for you all the way down to the most minute details. If information overload is your thing, then you’ve got a lot of great options!

RELATED: Is your GPS watch lying to you on race day?

Of course, this level of sophistication isn’t for everyone. A little less expensive, and almost as accurate, are foot 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 pod 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 Strava, 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 or upgraded versions will cost you a few bucks a month. Of course, you have to carry your phone with you, which can become cumbersome in some cases.

RELATED: Are runners too tech dependent?

So, 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 have the hard data to see 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!

Mario

Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.

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