Tech Gadgets—Help or Hindrance?

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Highlights from the February Trail Runner Blog Symposium on tech gadgets on the trails



The February 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium topic was: Are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trails?

Our Editors’ Choice, “How Taking a GPS is Like Taking a Lover,” by Vanessa Rodriguez, details all the ways—for better or worse—that taking a GPS device on a trail run is similar to getting into a romantic relationship. As she writes, “The idea seems great in theory but there’s a chance you’ll end up miserable.”

Happy reading! Stay tuned to Inside Dirt for next month’s topic.

***Editors’ Choice
As enamored as we are with the ideal image of that powerful and gadget-less trail runner bounding nearly-nude over mountains with his beard flowing three feet behind him, chances are we have more in common with the huffing mid-packer trying to decide which hills to walk and glancing nervously at his beeping GPS while he scarfs down yet another gel.
—Vanessa Rodriguez, Vanessa Runs


If having [your cell phone] with you gives you peace of mind that your spouse or children can reach you in case of an emergency (or vice versa), then that’ll be good because you’ll run more relaxed. But if you’re always glancing at the screen to check your work email or (God forbid!) you actually take calls on the trail, then that’s a bad thing. In each of these cases, though, the device is neutral. Use it properly and it helps. Use it improperly and it’s a hindrance.
—Jacob Wyatt, Sometimes I Run


The metrics that I value most on the trails are different. I care about how difficult something feels so that I know whether to run it on an easy day or a hard day. I care about the hill grade, because moderately hilly terrain is great for short bursts of speed, whereas steep hills are better for bounding drills. I care about the type of terrain, in case I’m doing a long progression run and I want to avoid a surprise ascent in the fastest part of my run.
—Jacklyn Giron, Frequent Runner, Lifelong Traveler


I think that whatever gets you out and aids in your training is great.  If a watch motivates you to get off the couch and go hit a target of time or miles, I say great!  If it helps you stay away from injury, I say more power to you and your gadget!
—Rachel Bell Kelley, Trail Wisp(erings)


As a new trail runner, I seek solace from my hectic schedule in nature; on a singletrack path surrounded by the symphony of Creation. This is my time to simplify things. It is a retreat from the incessant sensory overload of email, phone calls, and noise. There is something raw and organic when in nature which is why on my next trail run you’ll find my GPS watch safely stowed inside of my fuel pack with all alerts set to silent. 
—Jeneen Olive, Caffeine? Yes, Please!


Smart phones-again, a phone can be a help until it goes dead and becomes a hindrance!  I had a friend who went off course during a 50K last summer. She utilized her phone as both a map-to locate what road she was on, and as an actual communication device with the Race Director, who was able to get her back to the proper route.
—Kimba, Ultra Trail Goddess


My watch does not hinder me. It propels me forward. It gives me the necessary data to keep going. It keeps me on track in my training. It tracks my progress. It helps me. Some will say to leave it at home. Without it you will be free. And I know that. I know that I would be fine. But I don’t want to. There is no reason for me to give it up. I need my data, I need my watch. 
—Emir Dedic, Japod Runner


I have been told I am unusually sociable for a person who spends 5 hours on a Sunday in the middle of the forest alone. And it’s true. Being plugged in, dialed in and engaged to the world is often the opposite of what trail runners are trying to achieve in a long run, so bringing a smart phone can seem completely counterintuitive.
—Jessica Kuepfer, Laces and Lattes


The one thing I do know is no matter what fancy gadgets we continue to amass around the house the bottom line is it’s me running. No amount of gear is going to do it for me, there’s no miracle cure for injuries or stomach issues. I have to do the training, log the miles, work on nutrition. And I’m the one that’s out there on race day. These things might make my body feel better while I’m out there, but it’s still just my legs turning over across the trail and up each mountain.
—Siobhan Pritchard, Run Hard


The same smartphone that can get me assistance in an emergency and play me pumped-up music when I hit a rough patch also interrupts my focus with texts and phone calls–things I wouldn’t have a problem missing if I’d just left it behind. Stopping because I feel the need to reply to a text can definitely hinder a workout.
—Dana Davis, Treading on the Heights

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