For most of my running career I’ve run with a watch—and by career I mean an internship since nobody is making me do it and also I don’t get a paycheck.
Before I had a Garmin, I would simply time my runs using a clock and a map. It wasn’t accurate, but I sort of knew how far I’d gone and how long it took me. Then, one year, my husband got me a Garmin running watch for Christmas.
He instantly regretted it. I became absolutely obsessed with my running stats, and while that has relaxed somewhat over the years, I still generally like to know how fast I went even when I am supposed to go slow.
So it was kind of a big deal when I left my Garmin home, on purpose, for a relay race I ran with some friend a couple of weeks ago.
I signed up to run the short sections of the relay because I haven’t been training very much these days. Still, I didn’t feel like I wanted to know how slow I’d become. Sometimes we can be unreasonably hard on ourselves, can’t we?
On relay day, I was the last runner. After hours of cheering on my teammates and other runners, and also after half a bag of potato chips, it was finally my turn to run. My section was short and fast—2.7 miles on a paved trail that is slightly downhill.
It felt a little weird to be in a race without my Garmin, but I just let my body guide me. After all, my body isn’t used to doing a lot of running. If ever there was a time to listen to it, the time was now.
I started my relay leg and at about 30 second in, I thought, “This is hard.” But, checking in with myself, I realized I was running hard, so it made sense. I eased off a little, but challenged myself.
A couple of faster runners passed me. I gritted my teeth and ran harder.
In the distance ahead I could see a couple of people. Was I gaining on them? After a few more seconds, I determined that, yes, I was. Sure. Maybe one of them was an ultra-marathoner running the whole 50-mile race by themselves, but I wouldn’t know that unless I caught up to them.
I fixed my eyes on the nearest back. I let them pull me—mentally. I tried not to go too fast. I didn’t want to burn out before the end of the leg and I still had more than a couple of miles go. While I didn’t have my Garmin on, I do wear a step-counter watch that has the time, date, steps, and mileage on it.
Just by using this targeting technique, I was able to gain on the runner ahead, and passed them. I continued to do this with each new person in front of me—staring at their back and making it my goal to catch them. I didn’t have a watch to tell me if I was going slow. More importantly, I didn’t have a watch telling me if I was going too fast.
After I finished the race, I looked at the distance and the time (on a relay, keeping track of time is important so you know how long you have to get to the next leg in order to be ready for your runner). After doing a little math, I realized ran nearly 90 seconds faster per mile than I had estimated I would.
Would I have run that fast if I’d been wearing a watch? I doubt it. I would’ve looked at it and told myself to slow down, you can’t maintain this pace. I’m considering not wearing a watch in an upcoming 5K I have—just to test this theory again.
What do you think? Does a running watch do more harm than good?
Kerrie Turcic is a runner from Maple Valley, Wash. Kerrie is currently a copywriter by day, and also a