Garmin Gets It Wrong (Again)

Garmin forerunner 405 GPS 跑表

Image by guccio@文房具社 via Flickr

On Wednesday, I was talking to a woman who runs with LUNAChix about her Garmin Forerunner 405, the same one I have.   We’d had a conversation about it before with a few other women in the group, and we’d all agreed that between its bezel problems, accuracy, and general annoyingness (for lack of a better word), the 405 left much to be desired.  During our most recent talk, though, she was telling me about how she’d left her apartment the other day, run to the park and then done the full loop, and returned to her apartment–the Garmin told her she’d run a distance of 3 miles.  She said the distance was probably closer to 11, and given that the park loop is 6 miles, it would be hard to make a case that it was the Garmin, and not her, that was right in this case.

As devotees of this blog are probably aware, I’ve had no end of Garmin woes, and today’s run was no exception.  It started out in the usual way–I stepped outside and set it to locate satellites.  Oddly, though, it skipped right to the training screen and the graphic indicator located at the bottom center of the display showed that it had established a satellite connection.  I felt dubious but figured it wouldn’t say it had satellites if it didn’t, and began on my merry way.  I glanced down at the Garmin when I stopped at my first stoplight.  My average pace, it said, was 12:35 per mile.  Huh?  My pace on Wednesday’s run was a minute and a half faster than that, and I know myself well enough as a runner to be confident that I was running faster than I had been the other night.  As I continued through that first mile, the pace gradually came down; when I hit one mile, it gave me a time of 10:42.  Also weird: by my calculations, the first mile should have ended about .25 miles before the Garmin said it did.  I’ve had times when I’ve gotten weird paces at the beginning of a run before, but usually by the time I got to the end of my first mile, it seemed like both the pace and my distance were back on track (I don’t know how this works, but this is what seems to be the case).  I kind of figured the same thing would happen during this run–the Garmin would sort itself out eventually.

The problem?  I’m not sure it ever did.  I ran a route I don’t run a whole lot, so while I know where the first mile is, I don’t know exactly where the rest are.  So I’m not entirely sure that the Garmin ever really settled in and got any more accurate.  The paces it gave me were also really varied even though I was running pretty steadily.  One mile would be a 9:27, the next would be a 10:11.  I’m not the world’s most consistent runner, but usually I can keep my mile splits within :10 of each other.  A different of :40-:50 is probably something I’d notice.

I got back to my apartment having run what I knew to be close to 5.2 miles (an approximation of what is the minimum distance this run could have been)–the Garmin told me I’d barely rolled over to 5.  Where did that .2 miles go?  And which of my splits (if any) was accurate?  I don’t really feel like I have any way of knowing.  When I got back upstairs and tried to look at my splits, the bezel started acting up (if you sweat while you run, don’t bother trying to touch that thing) so I had to wait for a few minutes before I could touch it without the display light coming on and it hopping frenetically from one display screen to the next without any prompting whatsoever (these things are clearly the signs of true technological achievement).

I wish I could say I rely less on my Garmin than I do.  But in spite of its many, many flaws, I hesitate to give it up.  For one thing, I paid a lot for it and I still feel like I haven’t gotten my money’s worth (honestly, if I had half as many problems with it as I do, I’d feel differently).  For another, I depend on it to get an idea of how many miles I’ve run, and how fast I’ve run them.  I feel like this is especially important now that I’m training for a marathon.  At the same time, though, I could really afford to take a bit of a break from it, and since I’m still in the first weeks of training, this would probably be the right time to do so.  I know my regular routes well enough to hit my target mileage, and if I’m doing a long run or a run in an unfamiliar place, I can always bring the Garmin with me.  So maybe it’s time to get back to basics, and give that frustrating piece of plastic a bit of a rest.

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7 comments

  1. I find your post very interesting. I have a Garmin 405 cx and have not had a bit of a problem with its accuracy. Even at the end of my 10k at the MCM, it was right on target with distance and pace. Sweat doesn’t seem to bother the ability to utilize the bezel either. It makes me wonder if yours has some factory defects.

    I’m sorry you have so many issues with yours. I know how frustrating it must be especially when you’re trying to get in a specific distance or pace on a run!

    I don’t know how long you’ve had yours, but have you been in touch with the company? Hope you find a more accurate replacement whether another Garmin or something else!

  2. I have not had too much trouble with my Garmin 405, especially now that I’m running more on city/neighborhood roads. When I was living in the country, it took the Garmin a much longer time if at all to locate satellites.

    My Garmin, for the most part, has been pretty accurate unless it lost a satellite signal. I had a little of it beeping today for some reason. The only other issue I had with it is when I hadn’t used it for awhile, it took forever to get the correct time. I had to set my time to some time zone in a different country, just so it would read what it was supposed to. Then, one day, it just automatically switched to the correct time.

    Anyway, I think if you are having problems with the Garmin, you should contact them directly. I’m sure they’ll be willing to help you. Nonetheless, it is frustrating.

    I do know some people who have liked the Nike Sport+ or whatever it is called.

  3. I’ve heard of people having problems with the 405, I have the 305 and the main problem I have with it comes from syncing it to my computer. But i’ve been contemplating going back to basics as well when I get to start running again when my foot heals. That might help with the whole running less mileage overall thing as well as making it more relaxed.

    Although, I’d love to get my hands on the new Nike+ GPS watch, I’ve heard good things about it!

  4. I am totally addicted to my Garmin–I have the 305 and I DON’T run without it. I’ve had issues with it in downtown cities, which stinks when a race starts/ends there. Yesterday I had issues with it on a very tree-covered bike path. I would look down to check my pace and for awhile it would vary between 7 min/mile and 17 min/mile and, like you said, I’m pretty consistent with my pace. However, when comparing the distance to the mile-markers on the trail it was right on. How does that work? I guess we shouldn’t complain–having a Garmin has significantly improved my speed during training and races!

  5. Thanks for the post and to everyone’s comments – this is interesting, i’m considering getting the 110. I have run for years and never had one. It kinda takes away the point of running for me, but i would like to use one to see how i’m doing when races start getting tres close.

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