Do I Need a Fancy New Running Watch?

Dear Dumb Runner,
My old fancy-schmancy running watch has finally given up the ghost (subtle plug for Brooks). It did everything: pace, mapping, played music via Bluetooth headphones, multi-sport tracking, heart rate monitor (with strap... sold separately), tracked intervals, voice alerts, automatically uploaded data via WiFi, filed my taxes... I loved it.

I want to get a new watch, but one with all those features (and more!) is pretty pricey. For a fraction of the price I can get a basic GPS watch that will track my run and pace, and upload to online running sites. No music, no heart rate, no preset interval tracking, only files the 1040EZ tax form... Of course that's probably plenty, but after what I was used to, will I be happy with? Will I still be able to train properly for my next marathon?—Cameron, Stratford, Connecticut


Dear Cameron,

The short answer is: No. Of course you don't need a fancy-schmancy watch. 

The longer answer is: No, of course you don't, and I'd argue that in most cases you really don't need a watch at all. Not even a plain, boring one. (My thoughts on watches are well documented.) I'll go a step further and assert that we—as Americans and also as runners—don't need most of the crap we've been told we do. (My thoughts on this are also well documented, here and here, for starters.)

Take that, capitalism!

Now, wanting a fancy-schmancy watch? That's another thing. It's natural to want fancy-schmancy things, if for no other reason than it gives us an excuse to use the phrase "fancy-schmancy," or possibly "fancy-pants." Once we open that door, though, we stumble into things like the nature of desire, the folly of mistaking "more" for "better," and even the seven deadly sins, when you consider that the allure of a fancy-schmancy running watch may involve no fewer than three of them—namely lust, greed, and envy. So we won't go there.

But I think you knew all of this before you wrote. I think you're looking for validation, for someone as esteemed as Dumb Runner to assure you that you are choosing wisely. If so, consider this response your validation.

Cast aside the fancy-schmancy. Embrace the bare-bones GPS watch. It will get you where you need to go.

Will you be happy with it? Cameron, that is up to you. Happiness comes from within. And occasionally from an actual pair of fancy pants. But mostly from within.

Happy running.


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