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February 8, 2008

GPS Depression

Unlike most of my training partners, I haven’t yet given in to the siren call of GPS devices. However, my friend Mike and I have enough vicarious experience to write an entire Herald article about them, which follows below.

The article is fairly straightforward - but one tidbit toward the end triggered a lot of discussion and a somewhat funny follow-up story, which I’ll share next week. I’ll leave it up to you to guess which part I’m referring to.

Otherwise, here’s the article from last month. As for the new sidebar video, we’ve gone from the sublime (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) to the ridiculous: ladies and gentlemen … Sum 41. You can blame Canada.

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Running Life 1/24/08 “GPS Depression”


GPS devices have become increasingly common among runners over the past couple of years, and we train with many people who use them on a regular basis.

The devices are supposed to take the guesswork out of gathering information from each day’s run – but many times, they can create just as many questions as answers.

Here’s a typical conversation after our group completes the usual Friday morning route – and keep in mind that we’ve all run the EXACT same course:

While we’re stretching in the parking lot, Dave starts by asking, "Just how long was that run?"

Andrew looks at his GPS device and says, "I’ve got 6.78 miles with 1,142 feet of elevation change."

Jim looks at his GPS and says, "Mine says 6.62 miles with 988 feet of elevation change, with an average pace of 6.33 minutes per mile."

Jon, our resident scientist, will say, "Mine calculates it to 6.8417834290876 miles with 1,045 feet of elevation, an average pace of 6:45 per mile, average temperature of 38.6 degrees, and our correlation coefficient speed of inertia had a Beta factor of 1.23.”

(Or, at least, it sounds something like that – sometimes we don’t catch all the details.)

That’s about when Dave yells, "HEY - I just wanted to know if we’ve been gone more than an hour! I have to get to work!"

It’s easy to see how the advanced technology can cause us to lose the forest for the trees. It’s also been known to cause cases of GPS-related paranoia and/or depression among long-time runners.

Think of it this way: what if somebody from your college called to tell you that after reviewing your transcript, they realized that you were actually 6 units short of graduation. You didn’t really complete the work you thought you had, and they were revoking your diploma as a consequence. You’d freak out, right?

That’s sort of what runners feel like when using GPS devices for the first time. Suddenly, all of our runs become shorter than we always assumed, and our mileage totals don’t add up to the same numbers we’re accustomed to.

For example, the distance of our regular Friday run was historically agreed to be 7.5 miles. We have years of training logs attesting to the fact that we ran 7.5 miles every Friday. So you can imagine our horror when the first GPS readings from this run registered 6.7 miles.

The situation becomes even more nightmarish, as the GPS almost NEVER says a run is longer than we thought – only shorter. Our 13-mile Tuesday run is actually 12.7. Our 7-mile Wednesday run is merely 6.3. Worst of all, our crucial 20-mile marathon training workout may not even be 19 miles.

After all these years of running, we discovered that we owe a lot of mileage to make our training logs accurate. When we thought we were 50 mile-per-week runners, we were actually only hitting the mid-40s. When we were proud to log 80 miles per week, it might have only been 74. It’s enough to drive runners towards antidepressants.

Some of the discrepancy can be chalked up to innocent confusion over certain distances. Before GPS, we’d drive road routes in our car to measure the mileage, or guess at trail distances based on our pace, and come out with close estimates. Then we’d do some rounding. 6.84 would round up to 7, and 5.06 rounded down to 5. We figured that over a long period of time, the occasional overestimates and underestimates would cancel each other out – and it made the math much simpler that way.

However, the short GPS readings can also be attributed to real live, honest-to-goodness scientific inaccuracy. GPS devices come with some inherent technical limitations based on their mode of operation. They can intermittently lose their satellite signal - particularly on routes through canyons or with a lot of tree cover - and need some lag time to recover. The distance you run while the antenna is searching is “uncredited”, and doesn’t count toward your overall mileage.

(While training routes seem to always be short by GPS, it’s interesting to hear GPS users claim, “the course was long” after doing a race. Over any course with lots of turns or curves, it’s very easy to measure a few tenths of a mile long if you’re not taking all of the tangents. Sometimes you just can’t please a GPS’r.)

Thankfully, we’ve also become familiar with the Beta factor, which seems to be just the anti-depressant we’ve been looking for. After one morning run measured remarkably short and caused much consternation among the group, Jon – remember, he’s our scientist - plugged his GPS into a computer running analysis program and calculated a Beta factor of 1.23 for on our 6.8 mile run.

What the heck does this mean? Well, taking into account all the hills along with our speed, those 6.8 miles could be multiplied by 1.23 to arrive at an actual “training value” of 8.4 miles. As you can imagine, we love the Beta factor!

Of course, we still face the same training log dilemma. Do we record 6.8 miles, or 7.5 miles, or 8.4 miles with an asterisk? It all seemed a lot easier when we just wrote “one hour run.”

Actually, there’s nothing that prevents us from going back to the way things used to be. Some people will swear by GPS and never go without it – but the real joy of running is in the experience, not in the numbers. It’s something that all of us - whether we embrace the new technology or not – should always keep in mind.

20 comments:

Dana 2/8/08, 4:19 AM  

I COMPLETELY agree Donald. I run w/ a friend who has a GPS & swears by it & is constantly after me to get one. But I like my old school method & considering that often it will lose a signal when we run,it doesn't justify the cost.

RunBubbaRun 2/8/08, 4:50 AM  

I hate to say it, but I always run with a GPS, and have on occassion just ran around in circles to get the miles I wanted to do that day.

I think I was .08 miles short of 60running miles last week. I guess I'm a slave to technolgy. But does make logging your training alot easier.

Deene 2/8/08, 7:59 AM  

the beta sounds friendly, esp. if we can round up to the next higher number.

triguyjt 2/8/08, 8:02 AM  

i dont have one....but lust for one.....
however...this is a bummer.
next thing ..you'll tell me that beyonce is really a drag queen...

or that j-lo is not just pregnant, but, 3.667899 months along with a co-efficent factor of boy vs girl to the degree of 1.3345 x the width in centimeters of her stomach.

great article...thanks

Backofpack 2/8/08, 9:11 AM  

I thought "gps depression" was what struck me when I had to send my garmin in for repairs. A week without drove me nuts!

I love my gps. Before I had it, I stuck to the same routes over and over because I knew the mileage. If I did vary, then I had to come home and google-map it so I could figure it out.

I figure it's about as close as my old driving-the-car guesses, or my mapping guesses or pace guesses. We'll never know for sure!

Paul 2/8/08, 10:35 AM  

Nice post. I've gone back and forth so many times on this one. And I still don't have GPS. The inaccuracy of consumer GPS still turns me off. Maybe someday I'll join the revolution. Until then I'll use the beta factor :)

Journey to a Centum 2/8/08, 11:12 AM  

Mine says I need to get off my butt and run more!

T Clarke 2/8/08, 1:44 PM  

Very true and you didn't mention the tyranny of current pace! Last season I spent so much time looking at my GPS to see how fast I was going I would lose the plot of the workout. Too much data can cripple!

Who is SLB+? 2/8/08, 3:15 PM  

A fun article, but, some people really do just run for the numbers!

angie's pink fuzzy 2/8/08, 5:53 PM  

I've had it return longer distances than I was expecting before, but the overall trend seems to be shorter. I just started running with a Garmin in December, so it's still new to me. I like it for calculating my pace. And I figure that it returns a better guesstimate for my trail runs than me poring over a map attempting to figure it out myself. The other features I really like is the amount of calories burned and the overall elevation gain. I sort of have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the actual distance...

angie's pink fuzzy 2/8/08, 5:53 PM  

I've had it return longer distances than I was expecting before, but the overall trend seems to be shorter. I just started running with a Garmin in December, so it's still new to me. I like it for calculating my pace. And I figure that it returns a better guesstimate for my trail runs than me poring over a map attempting to figure it out myself. The other features I really like is the amount of calories burned and the overall elevation gain. I sort of have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the actual distance...

21stCenturyMom 2/8/08, 6:24 PM  

You're missing a very important point. If you go for a run and you finish it feeling really good and you can't really see the numbers to know that your pace was totally off, how will you turn a great run into a reason to flog yourself? I mean come on! Feeling good just because is for sissies, Donald. Real runners need good hard data to judge the experience. :-)

confession - I HAVE to run with my Garmin. It's a sickness.

Rainmaker 2/8/08, 7:59 PM  

So true.

I remember after getting mine and finding out my four mile course was only 3.8 miles. Given this was one of my tempo run courses...it spun my whole universe out of control. Not.Good.I.Say.

Thomas 2/9/08, 2:43 AM  

That's really funny, because I got my first garmin about 10 days ago, and can really relate to just about everything you said. I was smug as hell when my 5-mile loop turned out to be almost dead accurate, but shattered when my trusty 10-mile loop only came up to 9.8. I don't dare to go on my long run loop any more for fear it might me half a mile short.

Actually, it's a fun tool, and the thought of being able to run wherever I want and still being able to satisfy my Nerdy Need for Numbers feels somehow liberating.

olga 2/9/08, 8:49 PM  

Gawd, I am so glad I don't have one! Half the time I don't even wear a watch! Totally with the last paragraph, didn't even read the whole thing carefully - sorry...there is no science for me in my runs, just joy and feelings. And I record how it felt if I need a pet on a back - like today's 30 mile run was the first in 3 weeks where my legs did not feel dead! Woohoo, I got my legs back!

Addy 2/10/08, 3:21 PM  

This is a somewhat timely post as I've just started using my GPS and am currently charging it up for my run right now :) Since I started training for ultras on trails, though (and running in places without reception) I've become much less dependent on the good ol gps.

Still enjoy seeing those numbers though :)

Lisa - Slow & Steady 2/10/08, 4:14 PM  

Only one of my routes ever came up longer than I expected. ONLY.ONE.

Makita 2/11/08, 7:18 AM  

I ditto Michelle, "I love my gps. Before I had it, I stuck to the same routes over and over because I knew the mileage. If I did vary, then I had to come home and google-map it so I could figure it out."

It proved to be a little short on mileage as well but I love the freedom it provides... running new routes or trails just for fun.

I, too, find myself running little circles in the neighborhood to get an even 7 miles rather than 6.87, for example.

I occasionally do runs sans the GPS though. I call them FREE runs. Running for the sake of running. Just enjoying myself. But I still record the estimated mileage in my log book.

My Life & Running 2/11/08, 7:56 AM  

I adore my Garmin. I think for me, it's been a great training tool. Since I run alone I've used it to "compete" against, it's helped me to learn my pace and then regulate my pace and, slowly, improve my pace, and it's given me freedom to run wherever, whenever and have a rough idea on how far I went. I'm not a slave to "exact numbers," but I do like to see mileage calculated by a device other than myself.

That being said... when I ran the Yuma 10K this weekend and the Garmin said it was only 6.06 miles I got quite annoyed. Who miscalculated? The race directors or my lovely Garmin??

&& I've never heard of the Beta factor... I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!

Thamarai,  6/21/08, 7:07 AM  

hello,
It really true,I Give some info about this,
The test GPs use to diagnose depression is worse than useless, according to new research. Under the latest government guidelines, doctors are paid extra to ask patients two simple questions. Your answers are supposed to show if you are depressed or not.

But, a study has found that 62 per cent of patients diagnosed as depressed weren't in fact depressed at all.

As a result, doctors and psychiatrists could be seriously over-estimating the number of people who are depressed - and prescribing drugs to thousands who are healthy, says the study's author, Dr Alex Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist at Leicester General Hospital.

Under current guidelines, with mild to moderate depression are meant to be offered talking therapies - psychological treatments which help people change their attitudes or behaviour patterns.

Research by the mental health charity SANE has found that only and studies have found they can two per cent of patients were having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and more than 80per cent of patients were being treated with medication.

Anti-depressants come with a range of side-effects. About 25 per cent of patients have problems when they try to stop taking them and studies have found they can cause a rise in suicidal thoughts and actions. Patients also report a loss of libido.
-----------------------------------
Thamarai
Dual Diagnosis
Dual Diagnosis

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