One of the most difficult aspects of running to master and one that pays arguably the largest dividends is running by feel. I freely admit that I love my Garmin. I upload my data to about 4 different sites. Mainly because each one gives me some data analysis tool that I cannot get anywhere else. I spend a significant amount of time analyzing my data for insights and adjustments. With all that said, the best thing that I ever did for my running was to stop looking at my Garmin while I’m running. This takes a lot of getting used to. At the beginning I would wear a long sleeved shirt and cover up my watch after I started it to deter me from looking at it. Now I am pretty good at ignoring it while I’m running and paying closer attention to my body and how I am feeling. This has resulted in more consistent pacing on my long runs and being able to hit my paces on my tempo runs and on workouts.
There are many reasons to run by feel and not be a slave to the watch. The “real time” pace on your watch is not all that accurate. Trees, buildings, dead spots, and gremlins can all wreak havoc on your GPS watch. It can be off by quite a bit.There are times when I’ve glanced down and literally thought, “That can’t be right.” Looking at your watch breaks your rhythm. You slow down when you look at your watch whether you want to or not. It breaks your focus for a fraction of a second and that is sometimes enough to break your rhythm entirely.
The biggest reason to run by feel and not be a slave to the watch is that life happens to all of us and it’s happening all the time. There are days when your easy pace will be faster because you are feeling great, things are going well at work, and your relationships are filled with bliss. Other days your tempo pace may seem impossible to you because your kid’s sick, you missed a deadline at work, and you’ve not gotten good sleep in 4 or 5 days. Running by feel accounts for all of this. Why is this important? Because your body doesn’t really care where the stress is coming from. Whether it’s from the physical stress of your training pace or the emotional stress of your home life, it’s all the same to your body. In a very real way, stress is stress. This means that you are less likely to go out too fast because you’re trying to hit a pace that you shouldn’t be running just because it’s on the training schedule. You will also train harder when you have the opportunity to do so when things are going well. This optimizes your training. You will be less likely to overdo it on days when you are only 80% and more likely to really challenge yourself on those days when you are firing on all cylinders. With my busy life every day that I can train is extremely valuable. I cannot afford to waste a training day by going out too hard or running a workout too easy. By running by feel I can make each and every day add maximum value to my training.
A great resource for me has been Matt Fitzgerald’s book Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel. In it he describes in great detail how to structure your running to really learn how to run by feel. Like many things it is a journey and not a full fledged destination. Besides covering the watch up you can have it just show elapsed time or the clock during your run. So on your next easy run, hide your watch – it will help you to run by feel.