Garmin power problems?

I love my Garmin Forerunner 610. Prior to having this gizmo strapped to my wrist, I was relying on my iOS device for tracking distance, pace, time, et cetera. Now, I don’t have to wait for audio cues; I can just glance at my wrist and be updated of my running progress.

But lately I’ve been plagued with some power-related problems. For one, I have experienced the infamous “reverse charging” issue. Other instances include the battery draining for no apparent reason and being unable to charge the watch. There was a time when I was awakened by the constant chirping of my Garmin watch and to find the watch incessantly recycling—i.e., the screen would display the Garmin logo, go blank, then show the logo again. That cycle would continue until the battery was drained. I would do a master reset but no improvement. Imagine my anxiety when discovering my costly, relatively new GPS watch dead and unable to charge!

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Dear run organizers: show us how you calculated the distance!

(Photo Credit)

One thing I noticed about runners after a run is that they begin to question the race distance.  It’s probably because they are sporting a GPS-enabled device—maybe a watch or a smartphone.  It’s also probably because they couldn’t believe their race times or the exhaustion they felt when they crossed the finish line.  I know, for example, that the Ateneo-sponsored Run With ME 21K couldn’t possibly be 21K.  I finished in PR time but I was far from exhausted and I didn’t go all-out in that event.  What’s more, my Runkeeper app registered a distance of 19.95 kilometers. And it sure didn’t feel like 21K.  As I saw the finish line looming in front of me, I asked myself: “Is that it?”

And as I walked back to my car, I wondered: how did they measure the race distance?

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Runkeeper vs Runmeter: which is more accurate?

I use the Runkeeper app  a lot.  It is extremely useful and almost indispensable. I use it to track my workouts, to advise me of my pace, to guide me if I will achieve my training goal.

But in the Yamaha Run For Heroes race, I discovered how pitifully imprecise the app is.  I don’t know if it is caused by the app itself, the limitations of the iPhone’s GPS chip, or the quality of the GPS signal in the area.  At first , the app was a few hundred meters ahead.  I would hear the kilometer mark through my headphones, only to see the corresponding kilometer sign up ahead.  I figured that the margin of error was still acceptable, but then, as I drudged along Buendia Avenue, the gap became even wider.  At the final third of the race, the app was almost a kilometer ahead.  It was telling me that I had already ran a distance of 16 kilometers when I just passed the 15 kilometer sign!

Check out this image:

Map generated by Runkeeper

It’s frustrating because I use Runkeeper to monitor and manage my pace.  If my goal is to finish the race in under 2:20, then I use Runkeeper to keep my pace somewhere around the 6:40 per kilometer.  I am particular about keeping tabs on my pace and to rein me in if I run too fast.

At first I considered switching to Runmeter.  According to their website, Runmeter uses some “Fuzzy Logic, based on apparent speed, distance, GPS accuracy.” Could this be just some empty sales pitch?  I used Runmeter in the Condura 16K race, and it was off by just 100 meters.

I checked the map that was generated by Runmeter.  GPS accuracy was incredibly accurate when I ran on the Skyway, where I had a clear view of the sky. I learned is that Buendia is notorious for screwing up GPS signals, probably because of the tall buildings.  And if you compare the map generated by Runkeeper with that of Runmeter, the variances are occurring in the same areas!

Map generated by Runmeter

Then I found this post coming from a Runmeter developer:

But one thing the iPhone does is use wi-fi and cell tower locations to more rapidly narrow in on the location on first use.  That’s great for a more fast lock, but since wi-fi and cell phone tower locations are so course, we need to avoid using any data derived from wi-fi or cell tower location.  And so, one thing that helps on the iPhone is to turn off wi-fi.

I can say fairly definitively that jostling does NOT affect accuracy. (Based on my two years of running with an iPhone, plus what I hear from customers.) But what DOES affect accuracy is how much “stuff” is between the iPhone and the sky, where “stuff” especially includes metal, but can also include trees, buildings, and  your body.  Running in Manhattan can lead to an inaccurate path being shown.  If you keep an iPhone with a backpack with a metal zipper, that can have an effect, too.

In short, when it comes to GPS accuracy, it matters little which app you use.  What you have to do is:

  • turn off wi-fi
  • turn off cellular data
  • keep as little stuff between the device and the sky