Let me set the stage: An average Jane, mid-pack runner with more than a dozen half marathons and even a couple full marathons under her fuel belt is struggling. After a couple years of steady improvement, she keeps seeing her paces and times go up instead of down. Nearly every one of her DailyMile posts contains some element of dissatisfaction, whether it be about the entire run or even a “bad” split here and there. Her friends are concerned she is going to end up hating running forever if she continues down this path.
One of her friends sets forth a challenge…try running naked for an entire month. Now, obviously this doesn’t mean in the buff. This is a family website after all! No, running “naked” means putting away all timing devices and just running by feel. No Garmin, no checking the clock, no apps, no nothing. To some, running naked would also include ditching music, but for the sake of Jane’s sanity, music is still ok if she wants to use it.
This scares our runner girl. She’s always run with a watch and loves her fancy Garmin and gadgets. She thrives on structure and a training plan. She even has a half marathon scheduled during this month! How is this supposed to work? She talks to another runner friend about the idea, thinking this friend would say, “No, that’s crazy! Stick with your Garmin!” Um…NOPE…this other friend AGREES with the first friend and says “I think that’s an excellent idea!”
So for the last few days of March and the entire month of April, Jane (who are we kidding, this is about me) “I” put away my watch. As I type this post, it’s sitting completely dead and neglected on my bathroom counter. Aside from a few cheats early on (noticing the clock as I left and returned from a run or seeing the time stamp on texts) I have been running naked. I even ran my half marathon with no timing devices at all, other than seeing the clock at the end of the race (I still didn’t know my actual time until I looked it up later).
Here are a few things I’ve noticed while running naked:
- Running by feel is not easy. One day I may feel great and the next day feel horrible. The benefit to not having my watch though is I really have no idea how that affected my pace. I’ve never been good at judging how fast I was running which was why I relied on my Garmin. For the past month, I haven’t been able to do that.
- Not having to hit a certain pace was quite freeing. Maybe too freeing. I found myself taking more walk breaks and on long runs not pushing myself very hard. I started realizing that it really didn’t matter what my times were since the goal was to just cover the miles.
- Speedwork is very hard for me to do without a watch. I probably only had one really great intervals session where I felt like I crushed my repeats. The rest of the month I kind of backed away from speedwork.
- It was tough to know when to fuel for long runs. I’ve always taken a gel about every 4 miles. If I didn’t know the route very well, I didn’t really know when to fuel. One benefit – I’ve learned that it’s ok to fluctuate a bit by how you feel. In my run this past weekend, I fueled at 4, 8 and 11 because I was fading at the end.
- After my race, it was hard to answer the question, “How did you do?” Most people wanted to know my time. I almost didn’t put it in my race report because it wasn’t a “good” time for me (20 minutes slower than my PR) and I was almost embarrassed for not running faster. The thing was, that race became about so much more than the final number on the clock. I chatted with people on the course. I crossed the finish with one of my best friends after stopping to walk with her because she was struggling. I realized when a pace group passed me that it didn’t really matter. I was out there to cover the distance, enjoy the day, and have fun. I accomplished all three of those things.
- I’ve learned to listen to my body a lot closer this past month. My body is telling me I need to take a break. I’m tired and borderline injured. Taking away the pressure to perform at paces which are unrealistic right now has allowed me to keep running without causing further damage. I’ve been able to complete several 12-14 mile long runs without feeling like I had to hit “goal” pace. This has given me the freedom to walk when I felt like I needed and pick up the pace when I didn’t.
The main goal for this little experiment was to see if I could find the joy in running again. I’d say yes and no. I really identify with being a “runner” but lately it hasn’t been very fun. I wouldn’t say giving up my Garmin has made me love running again but at least I’m not hating on myself as much for times when I feel like I didn’t achieve some arbitrary standard.
I have one more big race coming up – a 25k (15.5 mile) race in just over a week. I’m 90% sure the Garmin is going to remain uncharged and put away for the foreseeable future. I’m ready to reevaluate my running goals after this race. I don’t know if that means taking a break completely, backing down on distance or working on speed. I know that I’m not the same runner I was a couple years ago but I’m still a runner. I’m a runner who is learning to love running again by running naked.
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