A blog by runners. For runners.

To track or not to track: the pros and cons of watches and apps


Do you wear a watch — or some other tracking device (like our app) — while you run?

Though I’m of a rather tech-savvy generation, I still find it amazing the amount of information a little gadget strapped to my wrist or to my arm can give me. I mean, why wouldn’t we all want as much information as possible to enhance our training? Yet, one of the biggest ongoing debates I have with myself is, watch or no watch?

You see, sometimes knowing how fast (or slowly) I’m running freaks me out in a bad, bad way. “How could I possibly be starting this workout at this snail pace?” I think to myself. “What’s going on today?” Other days, I get this insane boost of confidence. “My last mile was WHAT? I’m invincible — hello PRs!”

So, there’s definitely a spectrum. Here’s the way I see it.

Wear a watch . . . 

  • If you are chasing a major PR goal. In a recent race, I started wearing my husband’s Garmin on speedwork and tempo workouts. It made me accountable to actually hit those prescribed mile splits — sort of like a personal coach. In the end, I took over 2 minutes off my half marathon PR.
  • If you feel like going rogue. Sometimes the same 5 mile loop gets boring. If you want to run outside the box, take a GPS watch along and go wild, within reason — don’t get lost! But strapping on your buddy will allow you to track your distance while taking in fresh scenery. 
  • If you find stats motivating. I go through cycles with this one, but if you get extra energy by seeing your pace and distance in real time, wearing watch might be just what you need to take your workouts to another level.
  • If you’re running a race. Smaller races don’t have clocks and most others don’t have them conveniently stationed at every mile. So, if you’re chasing a specific goal — a watch can be your friend and help pace you along the way.

Don’t wear a watch . . .

  • If you’re new to running. Starting up a new activity like running is all about rhythm and routine. Don’t over-complicate things, just put one foot in front of the other.
  • If you’re in a motivation slump. Sometimes all those statistics can be overwhelming when you’ve temporarily fallen out of love with running. Go naked to get those fires burning again.
  • If you’re sick or tired or otherwise compromised. There’s no better way to discourage yourself when you’re already down than seeing a slower mile split. If you’re not well, take care of yourself and listen to your body’s cues, not the numbers on your watch’s screen.
  • If you’re running a race. Didn’t I already write this? Yes. Well, on the flip side, I have worn a watch during a race and really wished I hadn’t almost immediately after crossing the start. If you’re having an off day, nothing’s more disheartening than watching the seconds and minutes tick by as you miss your mark.

What’s your take on this watch or no watch debate?

Written by  Ashley Marcin.