*Disclaimer 1* This article is intended for recreational athletes, not semi-pro or pro athletes. The main focus here is to ignore awesome looking, exciting tech, and to put in quality fitness work to be a better competitor! We're all competitors in sport regardless of whether we're competing against ourselves or others.
The Sport Technology industry is all about finding faster, better, more efficient ways to improve the performance of those using it. For mid to top-tier athletes, technology can be a true game changer. Knowing exact data matters when 60 seconds at a Spartan Beast course is the difference between World Champion and runner-up. However, for athletes whose goals are more aligned with recreation and not top-level competition, technology is not a Necessary factor.
*Disclaimer 2* There is nothing wrong with buying tech gear that works. It's fun, interesting, motivating, and CAN lead to performance enhancement!
Disclaimer 2 aside, most people don't have a sizable budget for fancy workout equipment (myself included), and those people can still be exceptional athletes if they choose.
I want to look at 2 different pieces of tech equipment that (it seems) most people try to get a hold of, but that most people PROBABLY don't need.
1 - Sport Watches:
Unlike what advertising suggests through its messaging and visuals, a sport watch won't make you a better runner by itself. For the general athlete, focusing on your fundamentals, your form, your technique, finding a proper pair of shoes, and doing the necessary strength training and mobility work are all things that will make you a better runner. If you do all of those things well, and do them enough, you can even become a great runner. While AWESOME, the newest, baddest Garmin Fenix or Suunto Spartan watch just won't do that work for you.
A sport watch also won't MAKE you perform better on race day. A Polar M200 isn't going to lift your bucket, carry your sandbag, climb the hills, or jump over the fire for you. The data the watch gives you AFTER the race could be very valuable in evaluating strengths and weaknesses to plan future training, but on race day, it won't change anything for the average person. Again, there is nothing wrong with having it for your race, but you don't Need it. Don't feel left out or like a lesser athlete if other people have GPS watches and you don't.
I've run every single OCR to date without a watch. Not just without a GPS watch, but without any watch at all. I've been on multiple podiums, qualified for and competed in the Pro/Elite heats at the Spartan World Championship and OCR World Championships, and finished top-10 many times in Pro/Elite waves, so I can tell you with the certainty of experience that a watch is not necessary.
*Disclaimer 3* In 2019, I do intend to race with a GPS watch because I'm at a point where the information and it's application are worthwhile for to me.
GPS watches are awesome for tracking distance. However, our phones also track distance and could be used just as easily for no extra cost. If you are someone like me who HATES running with their phone, then you might argue that a GPS watch is your only acceptable option. You might be interested in reconsidering that evaluation though after I tell you that many running coaches prescribe running based on time and not distance.
I know, wearing a regular old watch and planning your runs based on time isn't (for lack of a better word) sexy. People love the watches, the data, the distances, and the photos because they are sexy in the running/instagram world. I say, let your training look ugly, and let your results be "sexy".
2 - Heart Rate Monitors:
These are big now because of the "recent" addition of Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) to so many different GPS watches. Chest strap monitors are much less prominent, yet I can't count the number of people I've had ask about them. Again, HRMs absolutely have their place! Many many many competitive racers wear HRMs during their training and some also do so during their races, but HRMs aren't necessary for the recreational athlete.
You might be asking, "why does this matter? I wasn't going to buy a chest strap HRM anyway." To you I'd say, with most (if not all) sport watch brands offering models of their watches with built-in HRMs, it does matter to you. It matters because of price. A watch without a HRM is (obviously) going to cost less than one with a built-in HRM.
The other piece to consider is that the HRMs in watches are still not very accurate. They are getting much better, but when compared to chest strap monitors (or even comparing different brands) they are all over the place. Inaccurate HR data is essentially worthless.
If you are looking at a chest strap HRM, why? I know, the data is fascinating, but that's not a reason that will aid your performance if you don't know how to use the data. I said before that many running coaches base runs on time instead of distance. Well, many also base it on HR Zones + Time. If you don't know what HR Zones are, or how to train using them, a chest strap HRM probably isn't necessary for you.
HRMs are great for knowing what intensity you are working at, true. But you yourself are also great at knowing what intensity you're working at. If you are smashing the pedal to the metal, you'll feel it. If you are slacking, you'll know it. Be honest with yourself and work hard and you likely won't need a HRM.
SUMMING IT UP:
I'm trying to save you all some $$$$$ (sports tech is not cheap) and trying to take the ego and the "sexy" out of training. Just because your training looks good, doesn't mean your results will. Your very best bet for improving your performance on the course is to do the fundamentals well. Run well, and run frequently enough to be prepared for whatever distance race you're competing in. Train hard consistently with weights using great form and you'll get stronger and be ready for those heavy carries! Personal effort and consistent hard work stand above technology for performance.
For OCR Training designed specifically for your goals and abilities, click Here.