Lessening Reliance on Watches and Reconnecting with Our Bodies

If I had to guess, I would say there are two things few runners leave home without: a pair of running shoes, and a GPS watch.

GPS watches are quickly becoming the go-to accessory for runners of all levels, and it’s not hard to see why. With companies like Garmin constantly producing ground-breaking technology, we have access to more running data than ever before.

Not only can paces and mileage be calculated with impressive accuracy, but we can monitor heart rate thresholds, track biometric progress and compare our PRs to other runners ... all from our watch (post it to Strava or it didn’t happen).

Many runners have a go-to route that they know like the back of their hand. I certainly have one, and I often do more than half of my weekly runs at the same trail. I know exactly where each mile is, roughly how long it takes to complete the run and how much effort I’ll need to put in. Yet nearly every day, I strap on my watch, wait for it to sync and carefully hit start and stop at the exact times I begin and end my run. The habit of tracking each step is so ingrained in my training that I rarely run a mile without my Garmin Forerunner.

Mileage is the runner’s badge of honor. From people brand new to the sport to seasoned pros, setting mileage records is an exciting sign of improvement. However, putting the training emphasis on mileage can often lead to fatigue, burnout, or worst of all, injury. Slight increases in mileage each year or season can be a great way to build strength and shave down PRs. Unfortunately, every season runners succumb to overuse injuries due to a determination to hit a prescribed mileage. So, while a good watch is a great tool for a runner to have, there is also something magical about going sans-GPS every now and then. And here’s why.

Recovering Better

Running with a watch that alerts you to each mile accomplished can be an excellent motivator when it’s time to up the mileage. It can also make it difficult to back off on the days when going a little shorter (or slower) is the smarter option. It’s important to remember that every run has a different purpose. On days when the goal is to work hard and test your limits, a watch may be precisely what you need. On days when the goal is to take it easy and let your body recover however, the ability to track mileage might be a temptation to push instead of rest. To help stay focused on easy days, try turning off your GPS or leaving your watch at home if you’re familiar with the route. Reconnecting with the simple joy of moving your body is an ideal way to give both your body and mind the rest it needs.

Learning How to Pace

Along with being a good method to focus on recovery, running without a watch can also be a surprisingly great strategy to hone your racing skills. Our bodies have internal clocks, but reliance on watches that track our speed make it easy to let our pacing intuition get rusty.

As a college athlete, my coach never allowed watches on the track. We were expected to hit our splits to the nearest half second all by feel (and going out too quickly was never an excuse for falling off pace). The no watch rule was challenging at first, but as my pacing improved, my racing improved, too. Drastically.

Learning to Trust Your Speed

Learning to workout without a watch is as much about teaching your body to learn pacing as it is about learning what different efforts feel like. It’s frustrating to cross the finish line feeling like there was more left in the tank. When wearing a watch, it can be a challenge to convince your brain to keep pushing when the split on your watch is faster than expected. As we make jumps in fitness, faster paces start to feel as manageable as the slower paces we were running before.

Track and shorter interval workouts teach our bodies what racing feels like and how to handle it. We become familiar with what a race effort should feel like, and as we improve that same effort will deliver a faster time. Tackling some of these workouts watch-free will force you to rely on your body’s perceived effort to hit your paces. Once you become more familiar with what your race effort feels like, seeing a fast split won’t be a cause for worry – it might be a sign you’re on the way to a new PR.

I love my watch. I love how easy it is to track my mileage, check my pace during a long run and look back at my past records as I work to set new ones. I also love my watch-free days when I run for the sake of running, or challenge myself to let my body do the pacing all on its own.

So, watches are excellent tools for all runners, but becoming too reliant on them can cause us to lose touch with our bodies. Try leaving the watch behind. To hone your pacing skills, maximize recovery and trust your fitness gains, aim to complete one watchless run per week. Take the time to enjoy moving without worrying about the pace or the miles. And when Sunday rolls around and it’s time for a long run, strap on that watch and tackle your miles. After all, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

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