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/ GPS use in fell running

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ablackett - on 14 May 2018

Ambleside AC have, this week, banned the use of GPS in all of the fell races they organise.  Today views are being sought be the FRA's safety, equipment and rules subcommittee on the use of GPS in fell races.

They are proposing, "you may not use a GPS or other device for navigation".  Obviously the wording needs cleaning up to allow compass/map and clarifying as to if you can track distance, use the GPS altimeter etc.

I have done a lot of fell races over the last few years, started back in 2011 and have gradually started to use a bread crumb trail (generally stolen off strava) for most races.  Back when I started I entered mountain marathons and the Mountain Trial to lean to navigate quickly and got pretty good, did some long races without the GPS, but while it was within the rules and I wanted to be as competitive as possible I started to use it.

I am all in favour of this rule change, there have been over 1000 posts on a FB thread on the subject, so clearly plenty are against.

Disallowing gps use isn't going back to a long forgotten golden era of fell running, it is going back a few years to make the sport again, what it has always been.

It will discourage some people from entering long races, but I don't see that as a problem - there are plenty of sky/trail races if you don't want to learn to navigate.  This will preserve the sport of fell running, as something unique to the UK blending moving fast, with mountain craft, route choice and navigation.

Bravo to ambleside and fingers crossed the FRA committee put this in place for 2019 so we don't end up with different rules for different races.

DancingOnRock - on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

There’s a thread about GPS use in Orienteering last week. 

It’s only use of GPS for navigation. You can use it for safety to return to base and you can use it to record. 

I think if you use it because you got lost then you need to voluntarily withdraw else be pulled from the race.

mbh - on 14 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> It’s only use of GPS for navigation. You can use it for safety to return to base and you can use it to record. 

How could that possibly be policed?

 

ablackett - on 14 May 2018
In reply to mbh:

Not easily, which does present a problem.  Shane Ohly in his mountain marathon events disqualifies people at the finish if they are seen wearing a gps watch, which is hard line but appropriate in my opinion given mountain marathons are a navigation challenge.

Other rules which aren't easy to police are that everyone carries kit for the whole race, and some people flout the rules, but it normally doesn't affect the result so people don't generally care.

 

 

David Riley - on 14 May 2018
In reply to mbh:

An opaque plastic bag. Welded at the start.

galpinos on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

I agree with all of that. 

steveriley - on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

Going back to map and compass is a laudable aim but the dirty secret of fell running is that an awful lot of people are actually rubbish at navigating (including some very fast people). I've done the nav leg in the fell relays several times, and my nav is at best ok ...just better than my clubmates

Probably 50% of people are using GPS watches these days for recording at least?

richlan - on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

What exactly is the issue that Ambleside see with it, is it a safety issue or wishing to maintain the skill of nav as part of the race (not that a line of 200 people isn't enough on some races)

You still have to carry map and compass as part of the regs but there is no check made to see if somebody can actually use them though, so you can stop somebody from running without a waterproof but not for not knowing how to take a bearing, arguably that should be the first thing you know how to do.

As others have said 99% of people use GPS watches to record routes as part of their training program or logging so are going to be wearing a GPS of some sort be it used for nav or not, its an incredibly difficult rule to police as you have to know the function of every wrist mounted device on the market to make a call !

DancingOnRock - on 14 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

You don’t need to know the function. You just kit check and make sure the watch is in a sealed black bag. The competitor can always start the watch before it’s put in the bag and trim the start and finish part afterwards if they want a recording of the route. 

Same if people want to carry gps units as backup.

elliptic on 14 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

In reply to richlan:

> What exactly is the issue that Ambleside see with it, is it a safety issue or wishing to maintain the skill of nav as part of the race

There's a full rationale on their Facebook page but keeping the nav aspect in its traditional form is the basis of it. They're made it very clear that they're fine with people wearing a GPS watch to record their track so long as it doesn't have a preloaded race route on it or a map display.

Yes its going to be tricky to police if people don't co-operate, I suppose sealed bags would be the next step but either way they've decided its worth making a stand and I think they're making a good call.

richlan - on 14 May 2018
In reply to elliptic:

OK, fair enough, i can understand the rationale, just not sure how is ever going to work, the plastic bag thing is just a non starter really, i think its just going to have have to to be in good faith the same way that it is now for kit, without inspecting 100% of the field its impossible to say everybody complies.

DancingOnRock - on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

They are allowing GPS watches as long as they’re not following a breadcrumb trail or have a map displayed on them. 

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2507755049250782&id=171685472857763

summo on 14 May 2018
In reply to mbh:

> How could that possibly be policed?

The device remains in a pocket or bag. If the device is held out on the course then the runner will be considered to have self withdrawn from the race. 

summo on 14 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

> As others have said 99% of people use GPS watches to record routes as part of their training program or logging so are going to be wearing a GPS of some sort be it used for nav or not,

I must be the 1%. If I go high tech I wear a heart monitor. Route wise I draw it in afterwards, good for tracking the rational or decisions..etc.. and chatting with others. 

 

Deleted bagger - on 14 May 2018
In reply to steveriley:

> I've done the nav leg in the fell relays several times, and my nav is at best ok ...just better than my clubmates >

My navigation was always my strong point. Popping up in front of runners I knew to be faster than me always cheered me up.

 

timjones - on 14 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> There’s a thread about GPS use in Orienteering last week. 

> It’s only use of GPS for navigation. You can use it for safety to return to base and you can use it to record. 

> I think if you use it because you got lost then you need to voluntarily withdraw else be pulled from the race.

I might agree if it wasn't for the fact that it is common to turn up to a race with your map and compass and no prior knowledge of the route and discover that a sizeable proportion of the field disappear over the horizon because they know the route off by heart.

My gut feeling is that if a a race has a pre published route then the use of GPS will do little more than level the playing field for those without extensive local knowledge who haven't been out and practiced the route.

I'm not sure that I would want to routinely use GPS to navigate but I struggle to see the logic in this rule unless the route is not published until the start.

ablackett - on 14 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

> I'm not sure that I would want to routinely use GPS to navigate but I struggle to see the logic in this rule unless the route is not published until the start.

Even if the route is published and people recce the route they will still get lost if they are in the clag and don't know how to navigate.  Fell racing is a sport which has always required map and compass skills to be able to navigate at race pace over pathless terrain.  The logic in this rule is it keeps this element of the fell running alive and distinguishes it from trail and sky running.

 

richlan - on 14 May 2018
In reply to summo:

Well maybe my 99% comment should be changed to a large number of people !

mbh - on 14 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

What proportion of people who run over, say, 1000 miles and climb over, say, 100,000 ft in a year do not, do you think, routinely use GPS devices these days? No idea, but I bet it's less than 1%.

timjones - on 14 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

> Even if the route is published and people recce the route they will still get lost if they are in the clag and don't know how to navigate.  Fell racing is a sport which has always required map and compass skills to be able to navigate at race pace over pathless terrain.  The logic in this rule is it keeps this element of the fell running alive and distinguishes it from trail and sky running.

It seems to delusional to suggest that navigation is a factor for an awful lot of runners in an awful lot of races, how many races do you enter where you don't see people disappearing over the horizon without even needing to glance at a map?

In light of this it seems laughable to say that first timers who don't know the route and are using a map can't even wear a GPS watch that displays the distance that we have covered.

elliptic on 14 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

> In light of this it seems laughable to say that first timers who don't know the route and are using a map can't even wear a GPS watch that displays the distance that we have covered.

Ambleside's policy is that you *can* have a distance display during the race (apparently on some watches you can't actually switch it off).

But you can't use a device with a map display or follow a preloaded route. It's all laid out in the link up above.

 

 

Post edited at 18:03
David Riley - on 14 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

>  the plastic bag thing is just a non starter really, 

Perhaps say why you think that ?

timjones - on 14 May 2018
In reply to elliptic:

> Ambleside's policy is that you *can* have a distance display during the race (apparently on some watches you can't actually switch it off).

> But you can't use a device with a map display or follow a preloaded route. It's all laid out in the link up above.

I stand corrected it appears that whilst thiis was part of the original proposal they backed down on it.

 

summo on 14 May 2018
In reply to mbh:

> What proportion of people who run over, say, 1000 miles and climb over, say, 100,000 ft in a year do not, do you think, routinely use GPS devices these days? No idea, but I bet it's less than 1%.

Me. And I know a few others. But of those covering that distance all can also navigate comfortably without GPS.

The problem is now some newer runners seem to want to fast track to big events, they don't serve apprenticeships and also event organisers are held to account when things go wrong. It's like park runner, tough mudder... MM all in half a year... then it's the organisers fault when they become geographically challenged and get hypothermia because they went a bit marginal on the kitting. I don't blame event organisers all. Langdale horseshoe fell race being a classic, a straight romp round in the sun, but with low cloud there are few bits that test people every year and I think the club is just clamping down before entries open in July. 

Post edited at 19:49
richlan - on 14 May 2018
In reply to David Riley:

Well besides the environmental impact of loads of plastic for no good reason I just can’t see organisers bothering, they usually have more to worry about than somebody following a breadcrumb trail of the route, I can’t really see anybody using it to any advantage in anything than the longer races in poor weather anyway.

David Riley - on 15 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

> Well besides the environmental impact of loads of plastic for no good reason

Oh come on.  Many races give you a plastic number and a plastic shirt in a plastic bag.

> I just can’t see organisers bothering, they usually have more to worry about than somebody following a breadcrumb trail of the route, I can’t really see anybody using it to any advantage in anything than the longer races in poor weather anyway.

The question was - how would the organizers do it if they wanted to. This would be the simplest.

If there is a demand for tracker or emergency only use when the devices are banned. Then it's easy and a charge can be made to seal them in the required bags which would be waterproof too..

richlan - on 15 May 2018
In reply to David Riley:

I guess we will have to see how it plays out then if they make it a rule.

DancingOnRock - on 15 May 2018
In reply to richlan:

If any rules do come, they’ll be from the FRA. Who seem to be letting it run for now. 

Simon Caldwell - on 15 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

Knowing the route doesn't seem to help much when the clag's down. Many of those who went hopelessly wrong at Black Combe a couple of years ago had done the race several times before.

http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/tips-for-navigating-in-bad-visibility/

 

timjones - on 15 May 2018
In reply to Simon Caldwell:

> Knowing the route doesn't seem to help much when the clag's down. Many of those who went hopelessly wrong at Black Combe a couple of years ago had done the race several times before.

I love it when the clag comes down, the hares struggle and us slow old tortoises can have our play ;)

steelbru - on 15 May 2018
In reply to ablackett:

I think I'm correct in saying that altimeters ARE allowed in all fell races. I wonder if there was a similar discussion back whenever handheld/in-a-watch altimeters started becoming common.

An altimeter is a technological aid to navigation - yes to a lesser extent than an OS gridref, or a breadcrumb trail, but an aid all the same. Surely if map & compass navigation is so important to the ethics of the sport then altimeters should be banned as well ?

In 10 years time we'll all be getting a heads-up-display of navigational commands beamed onto our eyeballs from the microchip embedded under your skin

Robert Durran - on 15 May 2018
In reply to steelbru:

> An altimeter is a technological aid to navigation......... Surely if map & compass navigation is so important to the ethics of the sport then altimeters should be banned as well ?

 I think it is entirely consistent to allow both compass and altimeter but to ban GPS. Compass and altimeter are both technologies which you carry with you and which only otherwise use natural phenomenena (earth's magnetic field and atmospheric pressure) whereas GPS uses a multi billion dollar network of satellites. Personally I use compass and altimeter in the hills but consider GPS "cheating" and shun it.

summo on 16 May 2018
In reply to steelbru:

An altimeter only confirms your thinking, a GPS removes the thinking altogether. You can get head up displays on sun glasses already. 

timjones - on 16 May 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

If you're embracing the technology of compass and altimeter the logic of shunning GPS seems a little illogical. Isn't it cheating to use a compass that utilises something as vast as the earths magnetic field ;)

 

Some of us would argue that those who recce routes prior to an event are cheating, why shouldn't it be permitted to use a simple and cheap GPS to negate the unfair advantage that they gain?

Post edited at 09:17
galpinos on 16 May 2018
In reply to summo:

I use an altimeter in mountain marathons and it has changed our tactics, as well as made us a lot quicker (well, we are still as slow at running as ever but can make more nav gains). Things like contouring round, hitting a re-entrant, etc we approach very differently. I would prefer them banning altimeters though, than allowing GPS.

Robert Durran - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

> If you're embracing the technology of compass and altimeter the logic of shunning GPS seems a little illogical. Isn't it cheating to use a compass that utilises something as vast as the earths magnetic field ;)

I think you have missed my point, which is, to me, the clear distinction between natural phenomena (magnetic field, atmospheric pressure) and man made "phenomenon" (GPS satellite system). Using compass and altimeter, you are self sufficient in the sense that you are carrying all the technology you directly use, but with GPS you are not so - and on a mammoth scale; to me, GPS destroys any sense of self-sufficiency which is such a big part of being in the hills.

Post edited at 09:55
DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

Whether or not it’s cheating depends on the rules. Whether or not it’s ethical is a completely different matter.

GPS units may well be cheap but the infrastructure cost billions to implement and maintain.

GPS is gaining outside assistance as far as I’m concerned. You are being given constantly updated information by a 3rd party during the race. Carrying a map and compass is deemed necessary and is specified in the rules. Reccying the route is a part of training your brain, anyone can reccy the route or spend time in the mountains so there is no unfair advantage.

Do professional athletes have an unfair advantage because they have all day free to train? 

Post edited at 09:49
MG - on 16 May 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

I agree with you intuitively but doesn't a modern map require huge outside infrastructure too? 

 

Robert Durran - on 16 May 2018
In reply to MG:

> I agree with you intuitively but doesn't a modern map require huge outside infrastructure too? 

Yes, but the logical (rather than intuitive!) distinction is that you are carrying the product of that infrastructure with you in map, compass and altimeter rather than accessing it directly while in the hills - to me a map and compass is no different in that respect to clothing, headtorch etc, whereas GPS is utterly different in terms of self sufficiency.

MG - on 16 May 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

If there existing something with the same functionality as a GPS but which didn't require real-time contact with anything not carried, would you be OK with that? 

timjones - on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> Whether or not it’s cheating depends on the rules. Whether or not it’s ethical is a completely different matter.

> GPS units may well be cheap but the infrastructure cost billions to implement and maintain.

> GPS is gaining outside assistance as far as I’m concerned. You are being given constantly updated information by a 3rd party during the race. Carrying a map and compass is deemed necessary and is specified in the rules. Reccying the route is a part of training your brain, anyone can reccy the route or spend time in the mountains so there is no unfair advantage.

> Do professional athletes have an unfair advantage because they have all day free to train? 

I'm not saying that practice provides an unfair advantage, I'm saying that as long as people are able to prtice the route freely it is illogical to fret about GPS providing any advantage or being cheating in any way.

Robert Durran - on 16 May 2018
In reply to MG:

> If there existing something with the same functionality as a GPS but which didn't require real-time contact with anything not carried, would you be OK with that? 

Yes, I would have no issue with a sextant and a clock.

DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

It does provide an advantage. It means that the runner doesn’t have to go out and learn the route. 

It’s all part of the ethos where the person who puts in the most amount of preparation and training, is the person that wins. 

It’s unfair for someone to rock up with billions of pounds of technology at their fingertips and gain an advantage over someone who has been out in all weathers training and learning the route. 

DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to MG:

Everything modern requires huge amounts of infrastructure. You have to draw a line at some point. 

What about the competitor who drove to the event, compared to the one who walked. Has the driver got an unfair advantage? It’s about what happens after the gun that’s important. You could run with a hand drawn map?

Post edited at 13:19
timjones - on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> It’s unfair for someone to rock up with billions of pounds of technology at their fingertips and gain an advantage over someone who has been out in all weathers training and learning the route. 

I disagree strongly with that sentiment.  The overall cost of the technology is not relevant when we can all have  access to it for no more than the cost of a pair of decent running shoes.

 

DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

That’s not really my point. The ethos of the event is to reward the person who has done all the hard work, not the person letting the technology do the work for them. 

The main underlying issue is that GPS technology does fail and out on the moors in the clag following a breadcrumb trail leaves people without experience exposed. 

 

Post edited at 14:14
Robert Durran - on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> That’s not really my point. The ethos of the event is to reward the person who has done all the hard work, not the person letting the technology do the work for them. 

> The main underlying issue is that GPS technology does fail and out on the moors in the clag following a breadcrumb trail leaves people without experience exposed. 

I reckon that if someone has gone to the effort of sprinkling breadcrumbs for miles across the hills in advance of a race then good luck to them. Of course it could backfire if they've all been eaten by birds and they have no backup navigational skills.

Roadrunner6 - on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

They've changed it now.

GPS can be used and worn.

It just cant have the route tracking option, altitude and distance are fine tp have displayed. A common sense compromise.

timjones - on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

 

> That’s not really my point. The ethos of the event is to reward the person who has done all the hard work, not the person letting the technology do the work for them. 

Quite possibly in some peoples eyes, I'd argue that the purest ethos would be for everyone to start the event blind. For me personally both pre-practice and GPS devalue the performance on the day.

> The main underlying issue is that GPS technology does fail and out on the moors in the clag following a breadcrumb trail leaves people without experience exposed. 

 

Do you honestly think that banning GPS is going to stop the inexperienced from entering?

 

Roadrunner6 - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

Most fell runners cannot navigate.

I've had people ask me to navigate for them in the race as they were lost in clag.

Most just follow and hope the person ahead can nav.

I did Jura in very bad weather one year and went up the next morning and there were footprints everywhere. I ended up 4th and was being over taken on most climbs by the leaders who would then get lost coming off the next descent.

Anyway a good navigator will beat someone following a GPS track. I can nav pretty well but not compared to a top orienteer. They think real time, always planning a head. No GPS track is that accurate on complex terrain. It'll get them there but a good navigator would a good map wins everytime.

I think the use of GPS watches is fine. However the more modern ones which can show mapping is a step too far for me so think the use of basic functions like height and distance should be allowed but not anymore advanced features.

timjones - on 16 May 2018
In reply to Roadrunner6:

> Most fell runners cannot navigate.

> I've had people ask me to navigate for them in the race as they were lost in clag.

> Most just follow and hope the person ahead can nav.

> I did Jura in very bad weather one year and went up the next morning and there were footprints everywhere. I ended up 4th and was being over taken on most climbs by the leaders who would then get lost coming off the next descent.

> Anyway a good navigator will beat someone following a GPS track. I can nav pretty well but not compared to a top orienteer. They think real time, always planning a head. No GPS track is that accurate on complex terrain. It'll get them there but a good navigator would a good map wins everytime.

> I think the use of GPS watches is fine. However the more modern ones which can show mapping is a step too far for me so think the use of basic functions like height and distance should be allowed but not anymore advanced features.

I'm glad to see that they have compromised on allowing distance to be displayed as this is the only feature that I would regularly use, height I'm not so willing to use as it can be wildly inaccurate if calculated using GPS signals.

If I got desperately lost I'm sure that the phone would come out to display my position on an OS map but if that was the case I would probably be judging myself more harshly than any event organiser.

I would very much agree on the navigational abilities of many fell runners. I completed the Woodhouse Edition of the Fan Dance with AEE in January in pretty full on winter conditions. It was  shoocking to observe the rathe of attrition by super fit athletes who quite simply lacked any sort of basic hill or mountain skills. Many of them seemed incapable of beating a simple time cut off that should have been easy for an average hillwalker.

At the end of the day, with or without GPS you still need good navigational skills. A good navigator with a GPS  would take some beating ;)

gazonk - on 16 May 2018
r0b on 16 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> The main underlying issue is that GPS technology does fail and out on the moors in the clag following a breadcrumb trail leaves people without experience exposed. 

Losing your map or compass leaves people (with or without experience) exposed too...

All seems like a big fuss about nothing to me. I think people overestimate the number of people who follow a GPS trail during a race; I suspect it is vastly outnumbered by people who just follow the person in front and hope that they are going the right way!

 

DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to Roadrunner6:

Yes. They changed it before we started the conversation. The conversation is about whether they are right or not. 

DancingOnRock - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

I agree. But when they issue the route in advance it is so that people can reccy the route in advance. 

Having someone else reccying it for you is what we are talking about here. 

Roadrunner6 - on 16 May 2018
In reply to timjones: I find GPS altitude pretty good TBH. A barometric one is only good when calibrated and that changes during the day. 

I think this wasn’t needed tbh. It’s another regulation and I don’t think it’s a significant issue at all.

 

timjones - on 17 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

Pre-plotting the route and uploading it to your own GPS isn't having someone else recce the route for you?

How many people who practice the route before the event use a GPS for their recce?

DancingOnRock - on 17 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

Uploading a GPX file that another runner has produced is. See the link I posted above. 

timjones - on 17 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> Uploading a GPX file that another runner has produced is. See the link I posted above. 

So uploading one that you have produced yourself using mapping software is OK in your book?

That said it seems a little perverse to worry about uploading another runners GPX file when half the field is likely to blindly following the runner in front anyway ;)

DancingOnRock - on 17 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

I don’t think I said that. The point is you’re not going out into the hills to put the legwork in beforehand. So you’re gaining an advantage.

If you want to follow a long line of runners without any clue where you’re going, or whether they’re heading in the right direction. That’s fine. But I’ve come highly placed in events where people have done just that. 

timjones - on 17 May 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

> I don’t think I said that. The point is you’re not going out into the hills to put the legwork in beforehand. So you’re gaining an advantage.

So the person who has the luxury of living in an events backyard and training over the race route has an advantage over someone who puts in the same volume of training on similar terrain but can't recce the route?

I just can't see the logic in the ban given that the technology just isn't going to go away and the vast majority of fell races are a million miles away from being a pure navigational challenge on a level playing field.

On a race that uses broadly the same route year in, year out each competitor will only get one chance in a lifetime to run it as a pure navigational challenge provided that you have never visited the area before.  The navigational element of fell racing is severely compromised with or without GPS.

 

 

DancingOnRock - on 17 May 2018
In reply to timjones:

For that event yes. When they are at an ‘away’ event the advantages are reversed. 

The FRA are fairly clear on it. It’s down to the race director to decide depending on the event and they will monitor what happens. 


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