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Essential Gear Part 1: GPS Devices

So you want to become a fitness guru? That’s great. But where do you start? Why, with merchandise, of course! This is America, after all. And I’m here to tell you all about the most essential equipment you need in your fitness portfolio.


  1. Arms and/or legs
  2. Shoes (optional)
  3. Motivation

Wait, what? Let’s back up.

I read a guest post yesterday on Carrots ‘n’ Cake by MelissaNibbles called “How Blogging Put Me In The Poor House.” It made me LOL. There’s a lot of truth to it, though.

When I began blogging, I was overwhelmed with all the food, gadgets, running clothes, fitness dvds, etc…that I never even knew existed. It was awesome! Who knew there was such a thing as a tofu press?! I never knew you could wear a Garmin on your wrist that tells you how far you’ve run! And running skirts?! Adorable! The whole time I’d just been doing my thing, running, eating, and dressing like normal. I felt like I had been doing it wrong the whole time! Was I supposed to be wearing a Garmin? I eat all natural peanut butter, but what is almond butter? Is that better for me? Gah!!!

I know exactly how Melissa felt, even though it wasn’t blogging that got me into trouble. Gadgets have always been my weakness. Guess who my favorite superhero is? Batman. Why? Because he doesn’t actually have any super powers. His defeats villains with his man-cave full of expensive technology, his wits, and his rage against the universe for the untimely death of his parents.

This is the first part in a multi-part series of what kinds of “essential” fitness gadgets are out there, whether you could possibly live your life without them, and whether they’re worth it anyway.

First up: GPS Devices. I’m talking to you, Garmin Forerunner Series. These gadgets use satellite technology to pinpoint your exact location on planet Earth. That means they can tell you how far you’ve gone, at what speed, at what altitude. Most of them can calculate your calorie expenditure by parsing that data along with your height, weight and age. They’ll tell you your mile splits, beep at you if you’re going too slow, and map your course on Google for you. Pretty neat, right?

Garmin Forerunner 201

Celebrating my first-ever 10-mile run with my Forerunner 201. The thing on my shoulder is a metronome. I'll tell you all about it when we get to Chi Running 🙂

GPS Devices

The old-fashionened way: Civilian GPS devices started to come on the market when I was in high school. I remember my physics teacher, an ex-military man, took us on a field trip around town to show us how they worked. But how on earth did people track their mileage before they were able to attach satellite beacons to their arms? For running, the two best ways were either training at a track, as it has a measured distance; or pre-measuring the distance of an alternative route. My college jogging prof’s favorite method was biking routes in advance. You can buy a magnet-based bike computer for $20 that will calculate your biking distance from your number of tire rotations. A simplified example: If your wheel circumference is exactly one foot, then you know that you have gone a mile after the wheel has rotated 5,280 times. One you’ve figured out your distance, everything else your average GPS device does can be MacGuyvered with nothing more than a stopwatch and a calculator.

The modern, cheap way: Yeah, that’s a lot of work. Why bother when you can tap into the power of Google? Sign up for a free online service that lets you trace your route on Google Maps using a hybrid street/satellite view. Most of these sites double as training logs. They’ll record individual activities, calculate your calorie burn for you, and let you keep track of how many miles you’ve got on your Nike shoes or exactly how hot it was that day you ran your worst 5K ever. Try Map My Run or DailyMile.

But is it worth it? Alternatives are all well and good, but if you had a GPS device, would you use it? In my experience, yes. I have a Garmin Forerunner 201, and I use it every single time I run. It’s great for cycling, too. However, I want to point out that I bought this Garmin in 2006. They don’t make it anymore. It’s so old that it doesn’t sync to my computer via USB — it syncs via serial port! Seriously, when was the last time you saw a serial port? I had to actually go out and buy one for my computer; that’s how out of date that technology is. What I’m saying is, if you want to spend the money on a GPS device, do your research to get a good one, and don’t be tempted to upgrade it to the next shiny new thing when your existing device works perfectly fine.

Serial cable for Garmin Forerunner 201

Also remember that we now live in an age where multiple unitasking gadgets can be combined into a single Uber Gadget. The one gadget to rule them all: Smartphones. I only recently got an iPhone, and it’s yet to be seen if the RunKeeper app will finally retire my Forerunner 201. The possibility definitely exists.

We’ll have to talk more on smartphones later, because real life is becoming more like a Star Trek episode every day. While this increases your options when it comes to health and fitness gadgetry, it can also be totally confusing.

Do you own a GPS device? Do you actually use it? Do you feel like you could live without it?

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