If you have a GPS running watch, you’re creating a ton of valuable data that you don’t want to lose.
Services like Strava, Garmin Connect and others do a great job helping you analyze the performance data that a fitness watch or tracker creates. But don’t think of those sites as archives or backups of that data.
Training Center → MotionBased → Garmin Connect
I bought my first Garmin GPS watch in May, 2008. The first run with that watch was on May 10, 2008. I know this because there is a .tcx file in a folder in my DropBox and on my Mac with all the data from that run. Garmin used to provide an application for Mac and PC called Garmin Training Center and that’s what you used to see how you did on the run.
Back then there was no Garmin Connect. Instead, you could upload the data file to a service called MotionBased (which Garmin eventually bought and which became Garmin Connect). Keeping those .tcx files safe was important to me because I wanted to have a full historical record of all my runs.
First there was Dailymile which eventually sort of handled Garmin .tcx files. Then a few years later Strava came along. It’s a great service that offers a community for athletes regardless of which specific brand of GPS watch or device they use. I signed up, but that meant starting from scratch with all my stats and metrics…except it didn’t because I had all that data!
Rather than starting at nothing, I bulk uploaded all the .tcx files I had safely stored away and within an hour or two, all my run data was in Strava too. Awesome! As of today, that’s 1080 runs and 11,254.6km. Here’s that first run I ever did with a GPS watch.
Why does it matter?
Training Center and MotionBased are gone. Dailymile is all but forgotten. If you only used a single service to track your runs and didn’t bother to save or archive the raw data, you’d be in big trouble right now. Services come and go and in many cases, there’s no way to get your raw data out. Dailymile, for example, gives you a sparse .csv with almost no useful info.
In my case, because I archive all of my .tcx files outside of the services I use, if another service comes along that’s better, assuming they support the Garmin .tcx standard, I can bulk upload and push nine-plus years of running data into it on day one.
I find myself going back and looking at past runs fairly frequently. Sometimes its for sentimental reasons like looking at the first 10km I ran, or seeing when I first exceeded 21.1km. Comparing present-day performance to past performance is only possible if you have past performance data.
Save, store and backup!
So…how to make sure you are saving your data. There are a few of ways to do this.
- Back them up manually (and make backups) – this is what I did initially. I would copy the .tcx file off my watch, and into a folder on my computer. Every. Single. Time.
- Use a service that has proper export capabilities – while Strava offers a way to “download all your activities” from the settings page, what you get is .gpx files, not .tcx files which means some of the data is missing. Garmin lets you export single activities, but not all of your files at once.
- Use a service to do it automatically (the best option) – I use a service called Tapiriik that interconnects various fitness tracking services automatically. With Tapiriik, you have the option to link Garmin Connect to DropBox. For a mere $2/year, Tapiriik automatically pulls the .tcx files from Garmin Connect and puts them into my DropBox whenever I upload them. I don’t even think about it. Tapiriik will also go back in time and get all of your Garmin files back to day one, if you want (and you do).
Own (and save) your own data
It’s my preference to always have all of my data in my own hands. While it’s tempting to assume that you’ll always be able to get your files from Garmin Connect or Strava, the truth is that services come and go, and features come and go.
At this point, Tapiriik has me covered, but I also know that Garmin could pull the plug on their API access at any point and I might have to go back to manually archiving them.
Whatever your chosen solution, make sure you are saving off your GPS run data somewhere so you will always be able to look back on your running history. And if you do store them yourself, remember, two places or it doesn’t exist! DropBox is good because it stores a copy in the cloud plus a copy on your computer.