No watch? No tunes? Leave behind your gadgets and gain a new respect for your efforts.
I recently ran a half-marathon technologically blind. No Garmin telling me my pace or position, no heart-rate monitor blinking away, no MP3 player blasting Bruce Springsteen. The racecourse didn’t have any clocks, either, and some of the kilometre markers were missing, so I had no precise idea how far along I was, or how fast I was running. I wasn’t doing the race with a time goal in mind, so I thought to myself, Why not just wing it?
I PBed by nearly four minutes.
Sure, gadgets help you quantify the effort you put into training. But occasionally blocking out all that technological noise can help you recalibrate, bringing you back to the joy of mind-clearing running. Freed from the stress of constant feedback, you may even find yourself going faster and performing better. Here’s how to pause and reflect.
STOP: THE WATCH
Checking your pace, distance and heart rate every few minutes means you’re focusing more on numbers than on your body’s cues. Not only might you tend to ignore the feedback your body is sending, but you are also diminishing one of the best benefits of running: mental peace.
“Wearing technology while running intrudes on the mind’s attempt to give itself over to the body,” says Dr Ben Agger, author of Body Problems: Running and Living Long in a Fast-Food Society.
Plus, leaving those devices – and numbers – behind can also free you from preconceived notions of how far and fast you can run, says Jessica Underhill, a personal trainer and running coach.
“As much as numbers sometimes motivate us, they sometimes limit us,” she says. “We all have this number in our head—we think we can’t perform well unless we’re at that exact spot, and we limit ourselves to that number.” But by blinding yourself to the various digits, you might push past your own barriers and discover another level of running.
HOW: Don’t map it. Don’t time it.
Set out on a destination run – maybe to and from a friend’s house, or to a bridge you usually drive over but have always wanted to see up close. You can also make this a social activity by doing an actual bagel run: run to a shop for a bagel and coffee with a friend (who can then, of course, drive you home). Or run your regular route but without your watch. Focus on your form, your breathing, and how your legs feel instead of how fast a timepiece says you’re going. It’s fine to note what time you leave and what time you finish, but don’t carry that watch with you. And when you’re ready to race sans technology, remember that many smaller races forgo timers and kilometre markers.
STOP: THE MUSIC
Good tunes can get us through a long, boring run or drown out the chitchat of the people power-walking on the treadmills next to you. But music can also block sensory feedback your body is trying to give you, and be a distraction. For example, when you run with earbuds, you’re missing out on the sound of your breathing and your footstrikes – important clues that give you an idea of how hard you’re working, says Underhill. “Runners should tune into their bodies more often,” she says. “It will help them be more ‘present’ in their workouts.”
Listening to music all the time, every time, means it loses its value, too. “You can become desensitised to its motivating effects,” says Ben Greenfield, an exercise physiologist, certified coach and author of Run With No Pain.
And then there’s the issue of rules: many race organisers discourage, or even ban, the use of headphones from its events. Organisers of the ING New York City Marathon “strongly discourage” runners from using their MP3 players or headphones in the race. Same thing for the Boston Marathon, which also flat-out bans them for elite athletes vying for prize money.
Greenfield suggests using music strategically. He listens to music only during hard speedwork sessions, for example. Or aim for two weekly runs without the earbuds. If you’re setting out on a long run but still need something to help you along the way, take the tunes but use them intermittently. If you tend to run solo because you don’t like chatting, find a like-minded quiet partner who will put in the kilometres without oversharing.
STOP: GOING SOLO
A relay race (whether it’s marathon or ultra distance all up) shifts your focus to your group as a whole – and away from your personal stats. “These races aren’t about hitting a certain finish time and pace,” adds Underhill. “They are about adventure, fun and camaraderie, which means technology takes a backseat to everything else.” And since you can’t technically PB solo for any distance when you’re splitting it up, the numbers mean less than in a traditional race, freeing you from your own expectations except to do your best for the team.
HOW: Hand off timing duties.
Make a pact that no one will run with a watch. Instead, other teammates will keep an eye on the clock, and then times can be shared at the end of the race. Runners who’ve been part of the same group for a while may also want to try shuffling between relay teams. The advantage here is that you’ll be focused on making new friends and working toward the different teams’ goals, not your own. You can also call a race director and ask to be listed as a sub in case someone’s team falls short by race day. Nothing says adventure like being the mystery relay member.
Is your mobile phone a necessary piece of running equipment? We asked recreational runners and a professional coach to weigh in.
“Carrying my phone is a simple safety measure. You could be hit by a car; you could twist an ankle. Why not have a way to call for help in case you need it?” – CRAIG GUILLOT
“Running is my time to focus on me by improving my body and clearing my mind. That time is precious, so no beeping or buzzing electronics allowed.” – JEN DEDECKER
“If it is for safety reasons, that’s fine. If it’s for social or business reasons, then it better be something like your wife’s in labour or you’re going to get fired if a contract won’t go through because you didn’t pick up. Otherwise, you’re better off leaving it at home.” – BEN GREENFIELD, exercise physiologist, coach
FEEL BETTER: Runners who meditate regularly for 30 minutes may have lower blood lactate concentration after a workout than those who don’t meditate.