Why You Don’t Need Technology to Have a Good Run
I lace up my shoes and press the “run” button on my watch. It’s already well past 7 p.m., and if I don’t get going soon, I won’t have much daylight left to use. But here I am, impatiently standing in my driveway waiting for the GPS to connect on my watch.
Finally, once it connects a good ten minutes later, I start off down the road near my home. I immediately check the pace on my watch. Too slow—you feel good, so speed it up, I say to myself. I pick up my cadence and begin to move faster, only to find that two minutes later I am already starting to become out of breath. I begin to slow down a bit, and once again check my watch that’s too slow. What an embarrassing pace, I think to myself as I stare down at the 06:36/km on my watch. I work to find a more stable pace and turn in after running about three kilometres.
The next day I go out again. I decide to go along a dirt road that curves around a nearby lake. I stop and pull my phone out to take a photo of the sunset over the lake, and I subconsciously think to myself that I need to post the picture when I put my run up on Strava. I begin to wonder what I could say about this run once I post it on social media, and only while I’m mid-thought do I stop and think: Is that really why you’re running?
That was me a couple weeks ago, attached to my running technology.
When I first started running again after having my second baby almost five months ago, I just started my watch and went. I didn’t care about my pace or waiting for the GPS to connect; I only cared about getting out there. I felt like I did when I first really started running at 15 years old: just happy to be out there and enjoying where my feet took me.
Slowly, as I began to run more, I started worrying about my pace and what other people thought of me when I was running until I suddenly couldn’t remember why I was running anymore. Would someone look out their window and think I was running too slow? Was I running because I wanted to or was it because I felt like I had to? Would I look look lazy for not posting anything on my running apps?
At the time, I was reading Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, which encapsulated what it meant to love running. This inspired me to brainstorm what I could do to turn my thoughts around and go out just to run. So I took off my watch.
My first two or three runs without a watch, I found myself thinking that when I start tracking my runs on Strava again, I’ll tell followers what I was doing. I also started trying to do mental math at the end of each run, figuring out the mileage and calculating how fast I went. Once I realised what I was doing, I stopped and took a breath. It didn’t matter.
After those initial watch-less runs, I started walking out the door, no watch in sight, purely because I enjoyed it. I adjusted to running without a watch by enjoying what was around me and clearing my mind; I was surprised at how easy the transition came. It was fairly easy to convince my brain that there were more interesting things to think about and observe when I was running than my pace, such as the birds chirping in the trees or the sunset reflecting on the lake.
When I’d been running without a watch for a few weeks, I reached out to Janet Hamilton, the founder and head coach of Running Strong, to ask about the benefits of unplugged running—was this something I should continue doing?
“Taking running out of [the social media] environment is just delightful,” she told me. “For some people, social networking sites where running stats are shared are a motivational tool, but for most people it is not a good thing—there is too much self judgement. Ask yourself: What good could these tracking websites do for you?”
If you aren’t sure on whether they motivate or stifle you, she suggests taking the tracking to a personal level instead, and record your runs in a notebook or Excel sheet. To start running unplugged, Hamilton suggests starting with a “no-agenda run” one day a week. Just go out and run by how you feel, she advises.
For me, running became a therapeutic way to shut everything out from the day. All I had to focus on was my breath, my foot strike, and keeping my shoulders back—and that was liberating.
Also, I began to also ditch my headphones, which was an easier habit for me to break than my watch. I felt so good after every run, no matter how slow or fast I felt like I was going. My brain was clear, and I was happy to be out there.
My experience running unplugged has been a positive one. I’ll likely slap it on if I begin a training cycle, but for my day-to-day runs, I might only wear it to keep track of the time of day.
Hamilton left me with wonderful perspective on running.
“Experience the joy of running,” she said. “Running is a gift and not a lot of people get that gift. So if you’re one of those fortunate people who’ve gotten the gift of running, never take it for granted.”
I think I’ll always keep that in the back of my brain, especially on those really tough days, whether I’m wearing a watch or not.