When I started running in high school I didn’t own much gear. The running market was not geared at all towards high school girls. I would wear a pair of running shoes and that’s about the only running-specific gear I had. I wore cotton sweatpants, a cotton t-shirt and if it was cool a sweatshirt. Often I wore a baseball cap backwards (because I thought I looked dumb in a ponytail.) In the summer I would go for runs wearing boys’ boxer shorts. Sometimes I think back to those times when gear didn’t matter with a sense of nostalgia. What I remember most however, is how little I worried about pace per mile or even exact times or distances. Often I would just look at the kitchen clock before heading out and then again when I returned and I’d have a rough calculation of the amount of time I’d spent running. At some point I must have gotten a digital watch, as I started training and knew I had to go for 30 or 40 minute runs. But I never knew my pace or translated my time into distance. I ran for the allotted time at the pace I felt comfortable.
I continued to train this way throughout my university years and beyond. At some point I stopped wearing boys’ boxer shorts and a hat on backwards to run, but I never had more than a digital watch. That’s probably because they didn’t make GPS watches then, but I was pretty relaxed about letting my body dictate my pace. Tempos, fartleks, long runs and easy runs were all done based on perceived effort and I estimated my distance covered based on time. With this type of training I achieved Personal Best times in the 1500 m, 5K, 10K, Marathon and Ironman.
A few years ago I was given a GPS watch which allowed me to monitor my exact pace and distance as I ran. What a different experience. I stopped trusting my body and instead allowed my watch to tell me whether I should speed up, slow down, stop or keep going. Sometimes this gave me a boost in confidence, but other times it was an added stress: was I slowing down? How much did I have to pick-it up on the downhill to average my reduced pace from the uphill? exactly how many more kilometers did I have to go at this pace? how many more loops around the block so I could stop at an even 10K instead of 9.78K? But the knowledge was addictive. Continual feedback kept me informed of exactly how I was doing on every single kilometer and uploading my results on the computer was satisfying. Suddenly I was looking down at my watch all the time just to make sure I was on track. Then one day the battery wasn’t charged and I went for a run with my old digital standby. I felt relieved. I wasn’t letting my watch dictate my pace – I just ran as I felt. I haven’t worn my GPS watch since.
The other day I went for a run without even using my digital watch. Imagine! I vaguely knew the route I would take, although I adjusted it a few times on the go. As I ran my mind wandered as I alternately daydreamed and worked out problems in my head. Suddenly I found myself at the end of my run. I had no recollection of which route I’d taken and had no idea how long I’d been running for. All I know is that I ran somewhere between five and eight kilometers. It was like I headed out for a run, fell asleep, woke up and was done!
I’m back to where I started in high school as a runner, just trusting my body and mind and going by feel. When it’s time to push myself, I push myself and when it’s time to recover and run slowly, I do that. The exact measurements don’t matter to me and my race performances haven’t suffered. If anything I’m running stronger as I’m a little more in-tune with my body. I don’t think I’ll go back to cotton sweatpants though. Some changes are for the better.