The Welsh Fell Runners Association (WFRA) has banned the use of GPS navigation in all competitive races in Wales.
In August, WFRA members signed an open letter seeking a ban on GPS devices in Welsh races (as Chairman Craig Jones said, “Using Nasa to help, that’s a big advantage”). The proposal was accepted by the WFRA Committee, who published a document clarifying the Association’s position on GPS in 2019.
Although race participants will be allowed to carry certain types of GPS device, their use will be limited to recording routes, showing distance travelled, and as an altimeter. Participants will not be allowed to follow a pre-loaded route, use a GPS which displays a map, or load checkpoints onto the device. GPS navigation will be permitted in emergency situations, but particpants must declare themselves ‘non-competitive’ at the finish.
“The use of GPS devices for navigational purposes is not commensurate with the ethos of our sport,” said Andrew Blackmore, WFRA Secretary. “Fellrunning is a simple sport – you have some hills and some checkpoints to visit. You use your skill and fitness to get between these points as fast as possible.
“The widespread use of GPS devices for navigational purposes threatens the fundamentals of our sport.”
The use (and abuse) of GPS in the British hills continues to be a subject of intense debate amongst hillwalkers, runners, cyclists and backpackers. While most casual and recreational users now adopt a hybrid technique – taking advantage of the strengths of both traditional and digital methods – in a competitive scenario it’s hard to argue against the claim that pre-programmed GPS navigation removes much of the skill from the activity.
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