Is using a training GPS during a Marathon ethical?
April 5, 2005 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Would using a training GPS like the Garmin Forerunner be ethical during a running race like a marathon? I think of it like you would a computer on a bike, so I don't think i have a problem with it. What do you think? I don't really want to use it to keep me on pace, i use it more as a data collection thing to go over my stats later and not as a crutch during. Am i just rationalizing it for myself to use cool gadgets?
posted by joshgray to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
I don't think it's unethical at all. You use a watch to keep time, right? And you might even have a chrono on your watch? So why would the GPS be any different? I don't see the GPS as offering you any significant advantage over the other marathoners.

And good luck on your 'thon! Which one are you running?
posted by seawallrunner at 6:24 PM on April 5, 2005

Perhaps you could tape over or otherwise obscure the display and review the data after your run. I'm not a marathon runner, so I'm not sure how it's unethical, so I'll ask: How would it be unethical, exactly?
posted by boo_radley at 6:35 PM on April 5, 2005

Response by poster: I was just thinking it takes MUCH effort out of attempting to calculate pace in your head as you go. Then again, a chrono like sewallrunner said would do this, and most races have pace runners anyways... I guess it wouldn't give an unfair advantage. Probably would be frowned upon by old school people though

I'm doing St Louis marathon this weekend. My first, but i've done two ironman triathlons but i don't consider my performace on the running parts quite a "run" if you catch my drift ;)
posted by joshgray at 6:55 PM on April 5, 2005

Not an expert, but I get the impression that teams use even more sophisticated monitoring and feedback than this at the olympics, so it seems fine to me on the ethics front. The ettiquete front might be different though - it might be a bit like bringing a custom pool cue to the bar with your friends - no-one can fault you for it but it seems a little overkill.

I'm under the vague impression that a lot of marathon runners are more interested in their personal progress and fitness than in their placing, in which case monitoring your own performance in any and every way you choose to do so is your perogative.

I'd say go for it. Even if it's just rationalising an excuse for gadgetry, you've got to have something to think about whiel you run :)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:01 PM on April 5, 2005

A decent GPS unit would give you much more information than the usual bicycle "computer" (glorified speedometer/odometer/stopwatch). It would certainly give you an advantage over other competitors if you know how to use it, especially if you import the data onto a PC and analyze in detail how different race tactics affect your overall performance. But you'd have to gather and analyze a lot of data (i.e. run a lot) in order to determine any which tactics work and which don't. So I don't think it makes much difference whether or not you use it on the actual race day.

As to whether or not the GPS should be used at all, there's no easy answer to that question. There will always be disagreements about whether or not a particular technology gives you an unsporting advantage. E.g. it's no secret that Lance Armstrong, for all his athleticism, is a robot utterly dependent on Johann Bruyneel dictating every little move to him through his radio earpiece. The guy still doesn't get cycling strategy after all these years. Is that unfair? Well...the rules of the race allow it. And the rules are, by definition, the agreed upon standard of fairness. So unless GPS is banned I say go for it.
posted by randomstriker at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2005

I do not see how that would be unethical. Perhaps I am not familiar enough with the rules of these events, but my impression is that anything to do with information is fine, but artificial energy boosts are not.
posted by caddis at 7:20 PM on April 5, 2005

A friend of mine who's training to run a marathon (her first) says she doesn't think it would be unethical, but she wasn't sure how useful it would be.
posted by heresiarch at 7:46 PM on April 5, 2005

I have been in a race (the dipsea in Marin County, CA) where they have explicit rules about pace-helper-thingums. I think that if there are no rules preventing such devices, then it shouldn't be a problem.
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 8:34 PM on April 5, 2005

joshgray - Timex and a few others sell watches that have integrated GPS, so it's not like a GPS unit is instantly recognizable.

Using this device may prove to be not be remarkably useful during the race. After all, the directive during a marathon is to put one foot in front of the other, using a pace you can sustain over 26.2 miles - a GPS unit cannot help you there.

However, the GPS may be helpful in post-race analysis, esp if you download the data into a computer and work the numbers.

You might also want to consider the extra weight of carrying this unit (unless you have one of those Timex watches). Consider too the extra mental effort to remember to take a bearing every mile. Believe me, in the later stages of the race, it's not just the legs that get tired!

Consider, too, that GPS data is skewed by atmospheric conditions, and by geographic conditions - if you are running near water, near cliffs, in forest, the readings may be skewed. I've run in StL (not the marathon!) and I remember Forest Park, the river and its deep banks. If these are on the marathon path, your readings /may/ be affected.

This is your first marathon - have fun. Enjoy. Have a good time, while having a good time. If you want to do post-race analysis, why not use a heart-rate monitor instead? The data from that unit may give you much more useful, and perhaps more accurate, information than a GPS ever would...
posted by seawallrunner at 9:30 PM on April 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the info everyone...!

Some things to consider: the Timex's (both the first generation and the 2nd) are much too large and bulky to be useful. I felt like freakin robo cop with the GPS armband (it's NOT in the watch), oversized watch, datarecorder, and mp3 player. (ipod shuffle is even smaller now than my older one but still...) The Garmin Forerunner 301 has heart rate with it, along with much better software than Timex. Weight is not an issue at all with the 301 either.

I have trained with the first timex for quite some time, the forerunner 201 for a year and the 301 for a few months and in all this time i have very rarely had a problem with reception mostly due to the fact that they are very smart about projecting from the last good coordinate to the next good one (say if you were blocked by tall buildings for a few blocks). not too many places i run would _ever_ block out the sky for a long enough period to cause an issue.
posted by joshgray at 9:56 PM on April 5, 2005

I've been using a Garmin Foretrex 201 (same as Forerunner but with less running-specific features) on races for over a year now, including two half-marathons and several 10ks. It never even occurred to me that it would be unethical to use it, and in any case I gather that while rare, there are other runners who also use GPS watches.

I tend to use the Foretrex for pace and for distance measures mostly.
posted by adrianhon at 1:25 AM on April 6, 2005

I ran the Air Force marathon in 2000. I trained hard to make it, and I have absolutely no idea how a GPS could help you.

Pace? Stupid. These people obviously never studied performance athletics like I did. The key item is a heart rate monitor. Using it, and getting to know your body intimately will allow you to know when you can push harder, and when you should back off.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? It's hard. I set mine to beep when I was going too hard, or beep when I was going too easy. The key is to ignore everyone around you. There were points where people were blasting by me. I let them. Six miles later, I was dropping them.

The real secret is to push your body as hard as it can be pushed (and here's the really tricky bit) but no harder. It's equivalent to running an engine just below red-line.

Odds are, if you push yourself according to a GPS pace, you'll bonk. Think about it. Are you going to be faster on the climbs or downhills? If you just meant overall race pace, think about this: is your body up to it? It's a real issue. Somedays we're just stronger and better than others. Some small dietary or sleep change, maybe. Just because you could run a 3 hour marathon in training doesn't mean you're going to run one today. Heck, maybe you could pull a 2:55 out of your butt.

The heart rate monitor does not lie, and is not influenced by your personal vanity!

Seriously, read about Dave Scott's personal fitness, and you'll learn that some top level people are able to "feel" there heart rate, in effect using a heart rate monitor without actually using one. Very Zen. You need to know your own body intimitely, because this will be a long day of pain for you.

Just my thoughts.
posted by kungfujoe at 4:28 AM on April 6, 2005

Thank you for calling me 'stupid' but I found that monitoring my speed and pace, and also knowing exactly how far I'd run was actually pretty useful in figuring out whether I was really going faster or slower than I thought I was. It's not as if people religiously keep to a certain speed at all times either, especially with uphills or downhills - assuming that that was all people used GPS watches for is equally stupid.
posted by adrianhon at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2005

It's not at all unethical. I'm not sure it would be all that much more helpful than the mile markers, but it isn't at all unethical. I also agree with KFJ, insofar as computed assistance is helpful, and HR monitor provides much more important information, and no one thinks them unethical.

In fact, I mostly run distances over 26.2 miles, and it is very common for people in ultras to use the Garmin products during races. It never comes up as an issue, even though I am on several ultramarathon forums where they are discussed all the time. The thinking seems to be: you've got to get yourself to the finish line, no matter how much information you have along the way.
posted by OmieWise at 8:00 AM on April 6, 2005

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