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Running Free: Ditching the GPS and Learning to Obsess Less

Posted on August 31 2015

Garmin 620My relationship with running has changed a lot this year. In many ways I feel like I’ve come full circle back to where I started – running simply for enjoyment, the release, and the health benefits that it provides. I ran only a single race this past Spring, a ten mile trail race that kicked my butt, and I have nothing planned for this Fall. I’ve not obsessed about my weekly mileage – some weeks I approach 30 miles, others I may only do 10-15. This past week has been a big fat zero.

The reason for the change in approach is that I knew this year was going to be one of transition. As I’ve shared in a few recent posts, I’m heading back into the classroom, and have started a teacher certification program for high school biology. I spent last week at the high school where I am interning, and I taught my first lesson on Friday (nothing like jumping right in!). I decided to push running to the side for the week so that I could focus on the new experience. In years past, six straight days without a run would have driven me crazy, but I’m in a place now where I’m OK with it. No need to stress out about a few missed runs.

For much of this summer I’ve been trying to wrestle myself into a healthier relationship with my running since I knew things would be challenging come Fall. One of the first steps I took back in July was to start running more frequently without my GPS watch. Like many runners, my GPS had become an extension of my running identity, and a permanent fixture on my wrist. I obsessed about pace, and would feel guilty if I didn’t live up to what I felt I was capable of – can’t have a Strava report with a 10:00+ mile pace for a run! I obsessed about mileage – always need to add a bit to get to the nearest whole number, that 4.97 mile run just won’t do! I felt the need to reach weekly mileage goals, and heat and hills were no excuse for a slow-paced run.

Since I don’t have a Fall race planned this year, I thought it might be a good time to try ditching the GPS for a bit. I’m not gonna lie, those first few runs without the watch were tough. I seem to think that if a run isn’t recorded, it never really happened. Silly, I know.

To ease the transition away from the GPS, I decided to allow myself to use a heart rate monitor to gauge effort (displayed on a Garmin Vivofit – no GPS recording). The purpose was more to hold me back than to push me harder. I quickly came to realize that in the heat of summer (I tend to run in late afternoon), what I felt was my easy pace would have my heart rate way above the aerobic zone. So I started to allow myself to walk a bit if my HR went above 150 or 160 bpm (depending on how hot it was outside). Coming to terms with walking frequently during hot runs was also a challenge, but it has made for a much more enjoyable summer of running. And on cooler days I’ve found that it really hasn’t hurt my fitness very much.

As the runs without a GPS started to accumulate, I found that I was really liking the fact that I had cut the cord. I no longer felt the need to add on a bit at the end of the run to reach a whole number – though I generally had an idea of how far I’d run, the tenths and hundredths of a mile were impossible to estimate. It simply didn’t matter. And pacing was a total mystery – I just ran by how I felt on a given day. I have no idea what my pace was for most of my runs since mid-July. This bothered me a bit (a lot, really) at first, but after a tough, hilly 4-mile run in Maine in mid-August where I brought the GPS back I was comforted that my fitness hadn’t been destroyed by a lack of GPS recordings.

Running without a GPS has been an incredibly freeing experience. I feel like I am now enjoying my runs a lot more. I don’t feel guilty if I stop to take a photo or enjoy a view – that short break won’t mess up my pace report or GPS track, and no need to fiddle with stopping or starting a watch (heaven forbid I forget to restart the GPS!). There are times when I still find the watch to be helpful – for example, measuring out a route in a new place, after which it is no longer needed. And if I were training for a race there are times when I think knowing pace is important. But without any major race goals in the foreseeable future, I think I’ll continue to run mostly without the watch.

How about you, have you tried cutting the cord and running without a GPS?

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