Running Without a GPS is Liberating

Running GPS1

When you look at running books, magazines and blogs you will see loads of thing about ‘Running by Feel’. It is a current buzzword, but what does it really MEAN? The term was made famous by the book ‘Run’ by Matt Fitzgerald that talks about the mind-body connection that will help any runner improve their ability by learning to better listen to their body is telling them.

This isn’t just about injury or stride or other physical issues so much as it is about learning what various paces feel like to your body under various conditions. How does an ‘easy’ pace compared to a ‘tempo run’ feel when you just start out on a run, compared to the middle of a run or the end. How do they feel when you have logged a bunch of miles compared to having had significant rest.

An article at Runner’s World notes that elite runners can nail their goal pace within +/- 10 seconds, whereas recreational runners are off by more than +/-40 seconds. Even at the average marathon completion pace of ~10:35/mile … that is a significant deviation!

One of the major problems according to many is our over-reliance on gadgets. Rather than learning how we feel on a warm sunny day on a flat course 8 miles into a goal pace run after already putting in 40 miles that week … we look at our wrists and say ‘oh, THAT is my pace’. It disconnects us from our bodies.

So WHY do we use them? To collect data – it IS important to know how far we are running, how fast we are running, how we handle hills, how our pace on the same route varies from time to time, and so on. The idea is that we should learn from all of that data – and then use it to improve. Instead most of us become dependant to tell us what is going on rather than learning from our bodies.

Imagine if you had to just go to a race and run with no GPS watch, no split times at miles … nothing but you and the course. What would happen? For me – I would go out too fast due to the adrenaline pumping, and would burn myself out. I can guarantee it … because I have to fight that instinct in myself all the time.

But I still use my GPS watch every day – but mostly it is about tracking miles. One thing I found early in 2012 was that my mileage estimate was way off (meaning that my pace estimate was similarly wrong) – so I was doing shorter and slower runs than I thought. For me the GPS has been a way to track myself and keep myself accountable. And it has been fantastic for me in that way – it provides a great system of tracking how I am doing and helps me plan my weeks and what I hope to do in races. But I also know it isn’t helping me learn how to pace myself properly – and THAT is a major thing I need to work on.

But this week, since running that glorious 15.5 miles on Saturday, I have been in ‘taper mode’. And I had a plan: 5 easy runs with Sunday and Wednesday off. I know my area and all of the routes, so I would do:
* Monday – 6.25 miles
* Tuesday – 5.75 miles
* Thursday – 5.25 miles
* Friday – 4.75 miles
* Saturday – 4 miles

And race the Red Baron half marathon on Sunday.

So this week I have gotten myself ready, done a quick stretch and just headed out. Since it is dark I pretty much never look at my watch anyway, but without it on I can’t even do the two or three checks I would usually do during a 6 – 10 mile run. And this morning it struck me how great that is. On Tuesday I stretched indoors and made a note of the precise time I left and also when I returned to do a rough calculation of pacing compared to how I felt. My goal was to be at a comfortable but quick pace, so I would ‘feel it’ by the end, which I did … and my overall pace was about what I expected.

Maybe there is something to this ‘running by feel’ thing after all – I will have to work more with it in 2014!

Are you tied to your GPS watch? How do you deal with controlling your pace? Have you read the ‘Run’ book?

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6 thoughts on “Running Without a GPS is Liberating

  1. Medals-is your relationship status complicated? 😛 I am actually still stuck using unreliable mapmyfitness on my phone. My husband is talking about getting me a garmin for Christmas, and I am excited and nervous at the same time. Guess it’s like a new relationship that way. I can admit that I’ve done some non-tracked workouts and they’ve felt far better than the ones where I’m constantly checking and saying “you’re going too slow!” or whatever.

  2. Love that ‘complicated GPS relationship’ 🙂

    I am totally hooked into using my Garmin … and I know that it will be on my wrist on Sunday and back on again on Monday … I just know that while I get loads of benefit from it, there are also downsides.

  3. I can group my runs into two categories BG/AG (before Garmin/after Garmin) and have to say I love running with my GPS. I didn’t have my Garmin until my third race this past September and I have to admit I am a metric’s junkie but I think that has more to do with my career life spilling over into my running life. (I led a team in a contact centre for years and EVERYTHING is about the metric’s). I love analyzing the data after a run, looking at my average pace and how it has improved because of the hill workouts and tempo’s, etc but try not to look at my watch during the runs because I usually think “I’ve only go x number of km?!? It feels like farther.”

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