Gone are the days of having to drive your car to get a semi-accurate measurement of the course you ran earlier in the day. With today's modern technology and a sky filled with satellites, Global Positioning System devices have replaced the car odometer as the preferred way to measure a run. Several manufacturers make GPS units suitable for running. GPS devices aren't the only way to go, however -- another type of device also gives you data about your run.
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When you think of a GPS unit, you may think of the devices commonly seen on car dashboards. GPS device manufacturers have made great strides in reducing the size of the units so you can wear them comfortably on your wrist while you're running. A sports GPS device has multiple functions and gives you every statistic about your run. With each passing year, the designers have made the units smaller, more user-friendly and less expensive.
How GPS Works
The Global Positioning System involves dozens of satellites that communicate with the unit on your wrist to measure your position, speed, distance and pace. As you move your position while running, the satellite adjusts the signal to measure your speed and distance.
GPS Run Functions
A GPS sports watch offers numerous functions, measurements and statistics you can use to gauge your running effort and progress. The basic functions are your speed, distance and pace. Depending on the model you buy, the unit may provide information on elevation change, course mapping, current, maximum and average heart rate, calories burned, fastest lap and time of day. Most of the better GPS sports watches will transmit your statistics to your computer so you can review and compare runs.
While not always as accurate as a GPS, an accelerometer is also a good way to get your speed, distance and pace while running, and usually at much less cost. An accelerometer is a motion sensor that senses each step of your run and uses the information to gauge speed, distance and pace. With each foot strike, the accelerometer produces an electrical signal, then sends it to a readout screen to give you your running statistics.
While a GPS unit can give you more than simply speed, distance and pace information, its features come at a cost -- as of 2014, these devices start at about $99 and go up to more than $449 in price. If you simply want the basics and are not adamant that the distance measurement be precise, an accelerometer will meet your needs, and you can purchase one for as little as $30.