This is the February topic from the Trail Runner Blog Symposium.
Are tech gadgets more help or
hindrance on the trails?
For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to eliminate the tech item of music-headphones. Under consideration would be watches/smart phones with all their little gadgets available on them.
I think it is up to the user, and how the user perceives the gadgets, and how the user reacts when the technology stops working!
I use a Garmin 910 to run with. It lasts much longer than the 305, but I can still outlast the battery. But that is cool, I am used to it.
What I do find the Garmin useful for is a guesstimate for unfamiliar routes/races. For example, you are running a 50 mile race that is new to you. Aid stations are eight miles apart. That gives you an opportunity to glance at your Garmin and see that you have about two miles to the aid station, you can finish drinking your water or eating your last snack you have on you.
I also have used a Suunto watch with an altimeter. If you know what elevation you are going to peak out on, that could help you on a long lonely climb in the middle of the night to know you have another 2000 feet to go, since you can't see outside of your little globe of light!
Smart phones-again, a phone can be a help until it goes dead and becomes a hindrance! I had a friend who went off course during a 50K last summer. She utilized her phone as both a map-to locate what road she was on, and as an actual communication device with the Race Director, who was able to get her back to the proper route.
I ran an event last week; I had several people lined up to pace me. I used both text messages and a Facebook update to let my pacers know where I was, and the time I would be through certain checkpoints. Could we have synced up otherwise? Sure, but not as convenient.
A little aside with the smart phone-it will not do you any good at all, to have the Race Director or run organizer's phone number programmed into the phone if your phone is dead. You are far smarter to have that phone number written down, on paper, in your pocket, so you can borrow a working phone to make that phone call!
In conclusion, I would call tech gadgets a help. As long as your safety is not rolled up 100% in the gadget, and you are not going to have a negative reaction if the gadget stops working.