When you’re used to always having data, running “naked” can be scary.
Smartphones and GPS watches have revolutionised our sport, enabling us to track pace and distance in real time. According to the organisation Running USA 52 per cent of runners carry GPS devices. But there is a downside: “There’s been a shift from training and racing by feel to training and racing by numbers,” says Jenny Hadfield, a running coach and regular columnist on RunnersWorldmag.com.au. Race according to your watch in heat or on an off day and you risk going out too fast and flaming out. If you let it dictate your pace when you’re feeling great, you might hold back unnecessarily, robbing yourself of a PB. Check it obsessively in either case and you’ll stress yourself out. Better to tune into your “inner GPS” first and foremost, says Hadfield. “When you run by feel, you race at your optimal speed for the given day.”
Sense your speed
“Your breathing is the easiest way to stay in tune with what’s going on inside your body,” says coach Budd Coates, author of Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter. Pay attention to your inhale/exhale patterns: Use a five-step count (inhale for three steps, exhale for two) for slow to moderate runs and a three-step count (inhale for two, exhale for one) for moderate to hard workouts. Hadfield uses a colour coded intensity scale: Yellow (you can converse easily), orange (you can manage a few words at a time), and red (you can’t talk). By tuning into your perceived effort in workouts, you can use it to guide your racing.
You may run entire shorter races like 5Ks at a moderate to hard effort level, while a marathon merits spending at least the first 24 kilometres in a comfortable to moderate zone.
Hone your skills
To get started, do at least one run per week without GPS – if it’s a long or recovery run, you’ll be more likely to go at an appropriately easy pace. Every few weeks, do a workout to practice changing effort levels: Warm up with 10 easy minutes; run three minutes at a moderate pace, one minute hard, two minutes easy, five times total; then finish with a 10 minute cooldown.
To hone race day skills, try a GPS free 5K or 10K before your goal race to practice tuning into your exertion level despite starting line adrenaline and competitive drive.
Sneak a peek
If having no pacing data is too unsettling, wear a normal watch and glance at it occasionally –halfway in a 5K, every eight kilometres in a marathon – comparing how you feel to how fast you’re going. Or rely on the race clock, or latch onto a pace group (if the pace feels comfortable). These all give you a sense of your speed without the stress – and surges and brakes – that can come with obsessive pace checking. Or you can wear your GPS device and simply ignore it until the race is over. “It’s not about never running with GPS,” says Hadfield. “It’s about allowing it to become what it’s meant to be: a measuring tool, not a coach.”