Our guest blogger this month is Lauren, an RRCA certified coach and the mastermind behind Health on the Run. Her running and wellness blog has been a favorite among the sneakered set since 2010. Since then, she and her husband have started a new life (and a new family!) in Southern Vermont. Follow her adventures in running in the Green Mountains.
This blog was originally written in December 2011, but the content is timeless. Enjoy!
Up until a couple of years ago, I rarely ran with a watch if I could help it. And when I did wear one, it was usually because I was running for time instead of distance. Which meant that unless I went and mapped out the route later, there wasn’t any way to tell what pace I was running. The year I qualified for Boston, I timed myself on treadmill runs (you can’t really avoid that) and long runs, not because I wanted to keep a specific pace, but because I wanted to have a general idea of how long it took me to run 20 miles. Those long run times were the only running “data” that I had going into the marathon. That year, I managed to take 19.5 minutes off my marathon time – my biggest marathon PR to date.
But then I got a fancy Garmin as a gift, and this girl who once loved running free and un-timed suddenly became a slave to numbers. I thought I would hate all that feedback, and would hate always seeing my pace in front of me or exactly how far I had gone. But the truth is – it was love at first run. I loved not only having data on the run, but also being able to upload it and see what my runs looked like over time. I loved that I could run in any direction, without any sort of plan, and still know how far and fast I had gone that day. In short, I was hooked.
I know many of you feel the same way about these little wrist computers. They’re a great tool to have when you are actively training for something. But they’re also incredibly easy to become addicted to. And even though I just spent the first part of this post talking about how much I love my Garmin, sometimes I think the dependence becomes too much. Like so many others I read about, I became a little obsessed with seeing the numbers on every run. If I got ready to run and found out that my Garmin wasn’t charged, it threw everything off. “But how will I run without knowing how fast I’m going every single step of the way??” It’s a little ridiculous, really.
Now that I’m not actively in training, I’ve decided to ditch the Garmin – for most runs. And instead of feeling panic at the loss of so much “valuable” data, I can tell you that it’s been wonderful. So wonderful, that I think it’s something you should do too.
10 Reasons to Ditch the Garmin (for now)
It’s true – runners love their numbers. Average pace, fastest race times, miles per week, miles that need to be run at X pace in order to hit X time – our life revolves around them. I know breaking the cycle by ditching the Garmin has been discussed before, but here are 10 reasons why I think it can be great to run without the feedback. I promise it won’t kill you.
1.) Break the addiction
Pure and simple – you won’t break your dependence on the watch if you never let yourself run without it. I know this seems obvious, but you need to give yourself more than one day. Running watch-less multiple days a week will help you break free of your dependence. I promise it may feel weird at first, but that’ll soon pass. After a few days, seeing an uncharged Garmin before you head out the door on your run won’t even phase you.
2.) Stop worrying about mileage
I am one of those runners who, when I get to the end of what was supposed to be a 5 mile loop and see 4.83 miles on my watch instead, will run up and down the street until I get to exactly 5 miles. Why? I could tell you that it’s because those last .17 miles are just so important, but really it’s because I just like seeing the even number on my watch. Plus, who wants to go out and run 4.83 miles? That’s not as good as 5, right? Five full miles will make me a better runner – 4.83 ? Not worth it.
The beauty of it all is – once you ditch the watch you won’t know whether you went exactly 5 miles or not. And you’ll find that you don’t even care, leaving you free to actually finish the run right in front of your house, instead of 3 blocks down the street.
3.) Stop worrying about pace
Even on days when I’m not trying to run for pace, it’s hard to not keep checking the watch to see how I’m doing. If it tells me that I’m running slower than I want to be, there’s a huge part of me that wants to pick up the pace until it’s back where I like it. Even if I manage to not look at the watch during the run, I still know that the time is being recorded, ready for me to pick apart and analyze later. Running without a watch is the only way that I really, truly don’t care how fast or slow I’m going. I just run.
4.) Embrace the freedom
It’s amazing how freeing it can feel to just shed one little piece of running equipment. There are no paces to hit, no exact mileage to run. Just you and the road.
5.) Run simpler
That freedom you get from ditching the watch takes you back to the simplest form of running. How fast or far you run doesn’t matter. Instead, the run is just about being out there, about experiencing the miles, and getting back to the reasons you fell in love with running in the first place.
6.) Zone out on the run
Besides the fact that you never actually get anywhere, one reason people hate running on a treadmill so much is because of the constant feedback. You can’t escape the monitor that tells you how far you’re running, how fast you’re going, how many calories you’ve burned, and (if you just grab onto the handrails) your heart rate. The watch does the exact same thing – it just lets you know all that stuff without being chained to a treadmill. Having so much feedback all the time makes it really hard to zone out. The watch beeps, you have an urge to glance down at the numbers, you check to see how much further you have to go. None of that helps you “get in the zone.” Ditching the watch gives you less to think about, making it easier to spend the run getting lost in your own thoughts.
7.) Your arm stays warmer
Okay so this may not be at the top of your priority list, but if you ditch the watch your forearm is likely to stay much warmer this winter. It’s amazing how great NOT having a huge chunk of metal against your skin or having to lift a layer or two to see the numbers on the watch feels.
8.) Easy runs become easy again
I’m one of those runners who has certain paces in my head that I feel like I should be hitting, and paces I don’t really like to go above even on easy days. But running is weird. We all know that some days a certain pace will feel so effortless while other days we’re struggling to hang on. So when I go out for what is supposed to be an easy run and see that my pace is a lot slower than it feels like I’m running, instead of telling myself that I obviously need the extra rest today so should slow it down, I push through, often trying to speed up a little in the final miles. At the end of the run, I may have hit the arbitrary pace that I feel is acceptable, but I haven’t exactly had a nice, easy, recovery day either.
When there isn’t any feedback to tell me otherwise, I run as slow as my body wants to go. It may seem silly that I can’t do this normally, but it’s all a part of the “Garmin Effect.”
Which brings me to…
9.) Relieve the pressure and run stress-free
Wearing that watch can put an unnecessary amount of pressure on you. Just like I described above, when you know something is always recording how fast you’re moving, it creates pressure to hit certain paces. I know this isn’t completely logical. No one (literally no one) cares how fast I complete that 7 mile run except for me. But when I’m being timed, it’s as though the stakes are higher. That run will be recorded forever. Everyone will know I ran slow today. And I will be annoyed with myself that I couldn’t hold the pace I wanted to.
Getting rid of the watch means removing that pressure – the pressure to hit a certain pace, the stress of getting caught behind a group of walkers or a slower runner who might mess up your average pace for that mile, the stress of getting stuck at a stoplight or stop sign (should I pause my watch? Try to sprint across? My pace is ruined! My watch will say I’m slow when I’m really not!)…all of that will be gone.
10.) Become more in tune with your body
Finally, and most importantly, running watch free means that you can’t rely on a piece of technology to tell you how fast you are running, or should be running. Instead you just run by feel. When you don’t have the numbers to tell you if you’re hitting a recovery pace or a tempo pace, you are forced to look inward. A few weeks of running watch-less can help you become more in tune with your own body. You’ll know an easy pace because you know what it feels like to run it – the rate of your breathing, the length of your stride – these will help you determine how fast you’re running, not the watch.
When marathon training starts up again in January, I’m sure my Garmin and I will be reunited. Like I said, the watch can be an incredibly useful tool. But that doesn’t mean you need to run with it all the time. If you find yourself tied to your Garmin, I encourage you to give it a break even if just for a few weeks. After awhile, you might find that you don’t even really miss it…