Inspect A Gadget

How to use technology to make marathon training a bit more exciting and a bit less painful
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inspect a gadget - how technology can help your running

By Coach Tim, We Run Coach for Cardiffcoach tim circle

Ron Hill, Emil Zatopek and Abebe Bikila ran tens of thousands of miles with just their thoughts and the odd mountain goat for company. They used their legs to judge pace and their brains to judge distance. When they’d finished their run they posted it… in their training diary maybe? But nobody uses their heads, or a pen, anymore! Here’s how to unleash your inner geek and use technology to help you get through marathon training and the marathon itself. (N.B. Hoverboards and teleportation devices are not included.)

GPS Watches

I started running in 2002. In my first two years as a runner I used a complicated system of a ruler and a Cardiff A to Z to work out how far I’d run. It was time-consuming and not particularly accurate so I cycled all my running routes so my bike computer could tell me how far they were. This was more accurate but a real hassle if I wanted to try a different route. It’s hard to believe this was in this millennium and thankfully technology has improved very quickly.

The GPS watch is the staple of any even-slightly-serious runner. Go to any parkrun and you’ll hear the songbird-chorus-like beeps of watches at the start line, finish line and every kilometre along the way. If you haven’t got one, they’re well worth the investment and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one. You’ll feel an added motivation knowing how far you’ve run and they’ll help you to pace your runs more evenly which will make the later miles feel easier – this is particularly useful if you’re likely to get excited at the start of your marathon and go off too quickly. Garmin and TomTom, two of the leading brands, sell them from around £100. However, make sure the battery life with the GPS turned on is enough to get you through a marathon (this is your target marathon time + 1 hour because you know… marathons don’t always go as planned…)

A Music Player

In my early running days I used to listen to a Walkman with a 120 minute tape. This meant that on my longer runs I’d hear the same songs twice. Then I invested in a Sony Minidisc player which overcame this problem, although I found it a bit bulky to carry round. I then invested in an iPod Shuffle – and I still use this today! As people love watching HD videos, modern mobile phones are massive and therefore a bit cumbersome to carry around (wearing one on my arm makes me feel like a one-sided Captain America.) You’ve also got the stress of rain potentially ruining the £1000 piece of technology which connects you to your nearest and dearest and all those PPI companies. This is where the iPod shuffle comes into its own – it’s tiny (about an inch square) and clips onto your clothing, which includes the inside of your rain jacket if you need to protect it from those unpredictable British elements. What the iPod Shuffle lacks however is the option of checking an online map if you’re lost and afraid of asking for directions, or the ability to ring a loved one to ask them to put the oven on when you’re 20 minutes from home.


In 2007 USA Track and Field banned the use of headphones and portable music players at its events “to ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge.” Headphones are also banned at many races in Britain but there’s nothing to stop you having a competitive edge in your training runs – USA Track and Field don’t own you on those! Why not while away an afternoon compiling a couple of running playlists – upbeat numbers for your tempo runs and slower songs for your more relaxed, longer runs? Or consider:


I actually prefer listening to podcasts on longer runs. I play closer attention to them than songs I’ve heard before – this makes the miles pass more quickly and distracts my attention from how my legs are feeling. And guess what – they can be educational, entertaining and motivational and are usually free. My favourite podcast is Marathon Talk – this weekly podcast has been going a long time and has had some amazing guests such as Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah, Haile Gebrsellassie, Kelly Holmes, Alastair Brownlee and Chrissie Wellington. Who knows? You may have interests other than running! As a Welsh football fan I love Elis James’s Feast of Football and the Tailenders cricket podcast is very enjoyable too.


These are the things you need to consider when buying headphones for running: Are they waterproof? Are they comfortable? Do they fit well – ie will they fall out when your ears get a little sweaty? Are the in-ear buds too snug? This could mean you get a thud in your ear every time your feet hit the ground. This could happen tens of thousands of times on a run – it would drive you insane! If you’ve gone for the phone-as-a-music-player option you could even enjoy the freedom of some wireless Bluetooth headphones. However, if your phone battery has seen better days this could see your battery life slip away faster than Laura Muir running down a water slide.

what you need to know
  • A GPS watch will enable you to judge your pace better and help you follow that training plan more accurately

  • Great music will inspire you and a witty, interesting podcast will take your mind off your aching legs

  • Headphones are often banned in races – but you are the boss of your training runs!

what you need to do
  • Invest in a GPS watch and take time to learn about all it’s features and how it can help you. However, don’t let your new obsession avert your eyes from trees and lampposts!

  • Spend time compiling playlists – you are the DJ! Research podcasts on subjects you like. Ask your friends for recommendations

  • Headphones are quite a personal choice – we all have slightly different ears. Choose carefully to make sure you get the right ones

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