Saturday, March 8, 2014

Don't Be Afraid to Run Naked (At the Wrist, That Is)

At my day job, covering technology, there’s a lot of talk about fitness apps and fitness gadgets and wearable tech and, in the context of healthcare, the quantified self. (Full disclosure: I contributed to the hype by creating a list of tech for the athletes on your Christmas list. To further prove I am a sellout, I made it a slideshow, too.)

There’s definitely value in tracking all this data. When you’re training, you need to make sure you’re hitting the right pace and distance -- and, frankly, it’s much easier to log that information and study it later if it comes from a fancy watch or smartphone. (Full disclosure, again, which makes sense since I put "naked" in the headline: I track my runs using dailymile.)

However, there’s also a downside to having so much data. It’s easy to fret over, especially when targets are missed. It doesn’t take into account that, say, your tempo run in 22-degree weather on snow- and ice-covered sidewalks couldn’t possibly happen at goal pace (as has been the case so often this winter). It’s not just times, too; steps taken in a day, miles run in a month, weight lost (or gained) or other numbers can quickly become obsessions -- and the problem can be further exacerbated when all this information gets shared on social media sites.

I fully recognize the benefit to aggregating and sharing this information. If you've started, and especially if you've started as a means of motivation, there's no point in returning to the 20th century and "guessing" how far, fast and long you've run.

Every once in a while, though, it pays to unplug. On an easy day, the watch stays home. On the first few runs after my post-marathon rest, the watch stays home. On days when the weather's terrible, and pace goals go out the window, the watch stays home (or freezes). On a rushed race day, the watch (often accidentally) stays home.

Running unplugged offers a few benefits. It helps to run "by feel," without constantly staring at your watch. It prepares you for situations when your watch fails you. It lets you clear your head, since you're not focusing on every little detail of your run. It lets you enjoy the scenery. It lets you return to your roots, to the freedom of running around your backyard or park for hours as a child, and appreciate our sport even more.

It certainly isn't easy. Like any routine, running with a watch is a hard habit to break. But if you have an easy run in your future, it might be worth leaving the watch behind and just seeing what happens.

Who knows? It just might be the start of a new routine.