On Garmin-Free Running

After the Las Vegas Half Marathon, I went on and on about how I was discouraged with racing. My brain wanted to go fast, but my legs couldn’t keep up. How dare they not work in perfect harmony, right? Rude.

I never lost my love for running — that wasn’t the problem. I friggin’ love running, pretty much always. The problem is that I have become too focused on numbers.

I always run with my watch on. Whether I’m doing speedwork, a long run or a recovery run, I’m constantly glancing down to analyze my pace, obsess over my splits and check my distance.

When I was marathon training, Coach Cane taught me that every run had a purpose — something that would ultimately make me stronger on race day.

Oh I'm totally prepared for this marathon, you know, because of all those slow recovery runs I did. And yes. Another marathon photo. I'll stop soon.

But I’m not marathon training right now. I’m no longer half marathon training either. In fact, I currently have no monumental races on my calendar (this weekend’s Ted Corbitt 15K does not count).

This weekend I ran twice: 10 miles on Saturday and 5 miles on Sunday.

Saturday’s run was kind of brutal. I felt slow and sluggish. (Perhaps because you’re still recovering from last week’s race, Alison? Gosh you’re smart.)

I stopped a lot to shake out my legs and felt dehydrated. (Perhaps from the drinking the night before, Alison? And the night before that? Again, with the smartness. Way to go. Way to plan.) I wish Central Park had those temperature-resistant water fountains so they didn’t have to shut off my hydration supply in the winter.

I flew through my first few miles at a sub-8:00 pace, and then wondered why I was banging out 9:30s in my final mile. Positive splitting, even on a casual weekend run. I will never learn.

I didn’t really care that Saturday’s run wasn’t the speediest or most consistent. I just wanted to get out, enjoy the frigid weather and break a little sweat. So on that front: great success!

I wanted to do something different on Sunday, though. I didn’t want to care about how far I was running or how fast I was going.

And so, for the first time since long before I started training for the Hamptons Marathon, I ran without my watch.

The verdict? It was awesome. Totally freeing. Totally stressless.

I have no idea whether I was running 7:30 miles or 10:30 miles (though I’d guess it was closer to the latter). I only know that I ran 5 miles because I ran a familiar route in the park. But it was so nice not to care about how fast everything was happening.

I may make this a regular thing. I think some chilled-out runs would be good for me. So Garmin, I love you, and you’re very helpful, but maybe we need some time apart. Just for now. Just to see how it feels.

Other things that happened this weekend? I did a lot of holiday shopping. I’m making good progress on my various lists.

And if anyone wants to buy me a present this year, I obviously want this very practical and stylish llama hat:

Somewhere in the world an alpaca is very cold while my head remains very warm. I stole that little joke from Brian, and I will take full credit for it now.

Llamas are my favorite. Really. Someday I’ll have a bunch of them and we’ll have spitting contests. Bring your camels and we can all have a competition.

I’m very much in the holiday spirit these days. Last night Brian and I decorated a Christmas tree together.

Tree + Christmas pajamas + soup and grilled cheese = perfect Sunday evening

We said we were going to decorate while listening to Christmas music, but somehow that turned into decorating while watching “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.” I’m very embarrassed to have just admitted that, but I also admitted to crying over the time I didn’t PR in Las Vegas, so I clearly have no shame.

And now it’s Monday and this week is going to be wonderful and crazy. Highlights include an event at 16 Handles tomorrow night, seeing the Book of Mormon on Broadway for the second time on Wednesday and a fun little holiday fiesta with friends on Sunday.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RUNNING HABITS: Do you run with a watch or something to clock your speed and distance? If so, how often? And do you ever run naked, and by naked I mean without a watch or just, you know, naked? Because that would be interesting.



0 Responses

  1. After my marathon last October, I ran without my watch. I’m super type-A and get really frustrated with myself sometimes!! So I instituted a no watch rule for almost a month. I also recently ran a half marathon without my watch, something normally I wouldn’t do. BUT I had a little chat with myself the day before the half. It went like this: Emily, have your runs been feeling good at all? (answer: nope, heavy legs and little energy) Have you been actually training to run a half marathon? (answer: consistant mileage but no speedwork or hills) Is a PR even a possibility? (answer: nope) So I didn’t even bring my watch to the run. I ran by feel and it really didn’t end up that slow!

  2. I’ve become obsessed with the idea of running efficiently and having 180 steps per minute so I do find myself checking my Garmin more now but my general rule is that I am only allowed to look at it when I finish a mile, that way I can see how fast I ran it but I do not allow myself to check to see what my current pace is. I even went so far as to remove that from my display so I am not tempted.

  3. I have an older Garmin, the one with the foot pod, not the GPS. So it isn’t that accurate. I got annoyed and stopped using it. It was nice to just run without the frustration of knowing that I might have gone father or not as far as the garmin said. I just kinda ran what felt good. But then I downloaded RunKeeper on my iphone and created a whole new habit. I liked being able to post what I ran and my routes online using the app. But now its just another habit I will have to kick… as soon as training is over! Thanks for the post!

  4. I love the Garmin free running every once in a while! I like leaving the iPod behind as well sometimes and make for electronics free running. Really nice to just hear the sounds that are around you, foot strike, breathing, etc. Nice post!

  5. So, I’m thinking about breaking down and actually BUYING a Garmin. I used to run before a garmin was de rigueur, and I returned to running after a knee surgery. But I don’t run with a garmin. For a while, I had a stop watch, but that broke, and most recently my regular watch band broke, so I just ran a half-marathon without a watch! That was kind of stressful, but I could at least track myself based on the pace groups.
    I am torn – a part of me would LOVE to get a garmin, but I do think that I would just obsess and obsess and obsess some more. At the moment, I’m a bit burnt out on running, despite not clocking too many miles, and I feel like a garmin would just aggravate my neurotic obsession(s).

  6. I love the record-keeping aspect of running with gadgets — 95% of my runs since 2008 (<– aka my entire running life) are on Nike+. BUT, ever since I got a GPS watch, I've been way more hung up on immediate pace, and I don't like it. So I think I'm going to just set my watch to show total time and distance for a while. That was plenty for me for three years, and it's not like I can't do the math if I *really* want to know.

  7. I have a Garmin Forerunner 101 from years ago but I don’t use it. I bring my iPhone along with me on runs mainly for music and to use the RunKeeper app. I actually had to break up with the little pace voice that whispered sweet pacing nothings in my ear at every mile. It was too distracting. So, I use the app but without knowing each mile split until my run is over. I map my run before I set out if I don’t know the exact distance and kind of just run by feel, building in speedwork when I feel like it and just clocking these times. I’m a pretty consistent runner and have been able to shave off 13 minutes between a half marathon in June 2011 and another in October. Something’s obviously working!

  8. I love 16 handles! We just got one in Fairfield, which I was very excited about 🙂
    As far as running, I usually run with my watch just to keep track of time so I am not late for work and just generalize my distance. It does feel good, but there are times I need a little more structure. There have also been times when I totally needed to kiss structure good bye and remember why I got into running in the first place. It is such a (difficult) balance, but it sounds like you are in a good place!

  9. I got pretty turned on by ‘zen’ running after meeting an older lady who loved running (halfs were her longest distance) without a watch. When I was marathon training I was much like you, obsessed over every minute of my runs and I remember when wearing my watch on my first 18 miler I wanted to die because I felt terrible about myself for running so slow. Since then I have only worn a watch to races so I can keep my own time, and I LOVE IT! I enjoy running so much more and get to focus on and take in everything because I’m not focused on my wrist. I use Map My Run to log my runs beforehand and know the trails where I live really well, so I just go!

  10. I love running without my Garmin, especially if I’m not training for anything and know my way around a route. Like you said, it’s freeing and I can spend my time more focused on other important stuff, like learning all the words to the new Beyonce song I just downloaded. Or imagining Darren Criss dancing while I listen to the new Glee song I just downloaded. You know, totally hypothetical.

  11. Hey if I ran a marathon, I would be the girl at the grocery store showing off my marathon pics to everyone in line 😉 I don’t even know what will happen when I have kids!!!

  12. I’m kind of obsessed with numbers and stats, so I always run with my garmin – as long as it is charged. Sometimes, I cover it with my sleeve or convince myself not to look at it. That works out ok for me. If I just chill out and run, like the time I listened to Felicity while running, I think my pace drops a min/ min and a half. I need to stay alert!
    Last time I went from 3-4 miles to half marathon it killed my pace (which is unremarkable to begin with), so I won’t be ditching the Garmin for a few months – but I can definitely see how it could be freeing. You have no reason to beat yourself up over your runs, you are awesome!

  13. I think it’s good to run without a Garmin when you’re not training. Maybe just keep track of how long it takes you to run the route, so you know about what speed you’re running but you’re not obsessing over it during your run.

    I actually have a Garmin question for you, nice timing I know. How do you like yours? I’m thinking of getting the 110 because it seems to be the cheapest and the least bulky one.

    1. I love the 110! I highly recommend it to people all the time. It’s good about picking up a satellite and it’s super easy to use. It’s also really lightweight, comfortable on the wrist (I don’t even notice it anymore) and user-friendly.

  14. I completely understand the feeling of being free without a watch..I was the same way with watch while running, or a heartrate monitor while doing other forms of cardio..and since I dropped it I think my runs/workouts are even better!

  15. I love using my Garmin when I’m training for something. When I’m not training, I use it mostly to track the distance rather than the time. I guess I’m just too lazy to look up my routes, haha. I also like uploading all the details to my computer so I can keep track of my running and be able to look back and compare patterns or changes.

  16. I always run without a Garmin. It helps me relax and not worry about how fast I’m running compared to everyone else (read: much slower) and remember that I’m not out there to win, I’m out there for me. =)

    By the way, I saw you this weekend when I was doing my own 10 mile run in Central Park. I wanted to tell you I love your blog, but I was afraid it would just come out as a wheezy cough since I was on mile 9 when I saw you…

  17. OMG, I’m embarassed to admit I watched that show too – on my DVR. Even more embarassing and hypocrticial since I hate them so much. You and your tree are adorable! I usually don’t go garmin-less because at the very least i like to know how far i go. But I may dare to try it in these non-training days too! maybe we can run together later this week!

  18. Since I got my watch in July, I always run with it. There are times when I become obsessed with the numbers, but I find that when I run with people I don’t really focus on the watch…then I just focus on keeping up with my friends and chatting it up. I think it’s probably a really good thing to go “naked” sometimes and really remember why you love running. I should definitely do it, too!

  19. I often run without a Garmin. Like you, I become too focused on the numbers when I wear it. I’m usually not going as fast as I think I should be and I get bummed out about it and it makes the run not fun.

  20. Funny you mention running naked…I was close to it this weekend! Ahaha, ok not really. But I was racing in some very minimal clothing. And it felt kind of awesome. Have you ever seen that Nike commercial for the naked running camp? It’s a joke, but oh so funny!

    Re: the garmin, I rarely use it. If I’m doing a solo tempo run or a longgggg run (like 20 miles) it’s nice to have, but usually I don’t have the patience to wait for satellites to load.

    Also, I love your tree. Come over and help me decorate??? I have zero decorations out in my apartment. I’ll make you grilled cheese.

  21. I run with a watch, but I’m not looking at it as much. Lately I’ve had it underneath my long sleeve so I can’t see my pace anyway. I might even turn off the beep so i don’t know my distance either.

  22. I almost always wear my watch, but I try not to stare at it as much. I am developing more of a sense of pace so I know pretty much what pace I am going and am trying to do my long runs so that I start slower and finish them at goal pace. I have yet to actually negative split a race though, but I am getting better with starting at realistic paces so I don’t completely die at the end. I think it all comes with experience 🙂 Not that I am the expert or anything. hah…

  23. I always run naked! (Meaning with no GPS, etc.) The only tool I own is a pedometer that does a pretty unreliable job of measuring mileage based on how many steps I take. But, I still love to run, though I avoid it during the cold weather because it makes me cough and I ALWAYS end up with a sore throat and runny nose after. (I know cold doesn’t make you get a cold, but it certainly makes my lungs have a hard time functioning.) Anyway, I say, be free and go out on your own for awhile! It may not make you faster, but it will likely make you remember why you love to run!

  24. So you positive splitting is a good thing in my book. This morning I did major negative splits – dropping almost a minute – from 1st to last mile and after wards I was wondering what that meant? Do i warm up slow? Or did I just not try hard enough? Somehow I think the latter is the case.

    And yes, I ditch the garmin in “easy runs” and love it.

  25. I don’t really run much anymore because I prefer CrossFit, but I did a Garmin-less 5K a few weeks ago (after not running more than a 400m sprint for 3 months) and…surprise surprise, my pace was exactly what I expected. It was nice to not stress about it, and my body just kind of knew what to do anyway. It was nice.

  26. So glad you posted this. I’ve toyed with the idea of purchasing a sportswatch but don’t want to spend the investment, as my Nike+ app does well. I don’t want to focus on numbers and like you said, I just want to enjoy what I enjoy doing and that’s running. Thanks for the blog, love reading it daily!

  27. This is why I am so obsessed with your blog and you! You always put me in a good mood. I get so obsessed with numbers that it takes out the fun for me too. I love the feeling of running without a garmin and running at a pace that is challenging but not trying to kill myself off for a silly number. Keep it up girl, when are we going to run a race together?!?!

  28. I always run with my Garmin … until my last 5k race. The damn thing wouldn’t locate satellites so I threw a fit, stomped around like a 5 year old, and shut him off. The entire race I felt like I was slowly shuffling along at an 11-min pace (normal long run pace). It wasn’t until I crossed the finish that I realized I had been running sub 10-min miles. Sooo maybe I need to ditch G more often. Apparently I don’t obsess over paces as much.

  29. I always run with a watch but it’s not a Garmin (although I kind of want a Garmin). I just have the “Ironman Triathlon” watch that I’m pretty sure everyone has. I know it can take splits and stuff but the only thing I know how to do with it other than tell time is turn on the backlight. I also know how to change it for daylight savings, but I forget every time and it’s a process to try to figure it out again. Anyway, the point of that is, I run with the watch just because not knowing what time it was would stress me out. I count how many minutes I run and sometimes I divide by the distance that I know I ran because I always run the same loop…but usually I try not to keep track of my pace. Having to actually put in effort (all that subtracting and dividing) shields me from stressing about pace when I don’t want to (which is most of the time, even when I’m training for something).

  30. One of the best pieces of advice (among the many good pieces of advice I’ve received) when I first started racing was to ditch the watch and run by feel. I actually ditched my watch for about a 3-4 month period altogether, when I wasn’t training for a big race or anything (I was just trying to build a good endurance base). It was the best thing I ever did.

    I do have a Garmin and I use it for tempos, long runs, and some workouts. For most workouts, I use a Timex watch (unless I don’t know the exact distance of something, when I will use my Garmin for the first repeat or something). I use it for long runs so I can make up my route as I go. If it’s an easy run, I never calculate my pace and such. Maybe I should start. I go a little too much in the extreme of non-Garmin, non-watch running. I only think the pace on easy runs would be good to know as it can tell you if you’re recovering well or not. Otherwise, I really don’t care if I’m running 9 min pace or 10 min pace.

    But, then again, I’m not that much of an expert nor a super stellar runner, so maybe take this with a grain of salt. ha!

    I mostly try to think of things like Garmins and watches as a tool that can help me. Knowing my splits for every run is unneccesary to me, but it is crucial to know it for important workouts and runs. That’s where the Garmin comes into play for me.

    I actually asked LF this question on her website and here is her response: http://asklaurenfleshman.com/questions/2011/06/05/do-fancy-watches-like-the-nike-sportwatch-gps-or-garmin-help-you-train-better/ <—actual expert/super stellar runner

  31. I always run with my watch… unless its out of juice. And I always seem to enjoy my “naked” runs a lot more. I should let it run out of battery power more often!

  32. I use a Garmin for specific workouts or if I’m not sure of the distance, and also in short races. I noticed that I start to obsess and stress more when I do wear it, so I stopped wearing it for anything except 5K and 10K races. I can honestly say I enjoy running 10x more without that beast strapped to my wrist! 🙂

  33. I fully support this! Garmins are awesome tools, but sometimes the obsession with pace can become TOO much. I take periodic Garmin-breaks, especially when I’m not training for something (as in, basically every run these days). It’s so freeing, because when I wear my Garmin I’m always thinking about pace – even on those days I tell myself I’m not. Giving yourself some time to run WITHOUT focusing on the numbers is the best way to enjoy running just for the sake of being out there.

  34. Please, please PLEASE do go garmin-less more often!! I have been begging all of my running friends to do that very thing – even if for just one of your runs per week. It takes the pressure off, gets your mind off all those numbers and helps you JUST RUN. Reminds you why you love to run in the first place, right? I always run “free” and love it. And clearly it hasn’t hindered my running ability and I know it wouldn’t hinder yours either. Just sayin. Give it a try – at least once a week to start?? 🙂

  35. FYI, the Alpacas that are along the course of the Napa to Sonoma Half are for sale. Well they were during this past summer’s race. I almost stopped mid-course to put in my offer.

  36. I love running without my Garmin! I do run with my phone and the iMapMyRun app, which is perfect because my pace and mileage are recorded but I’m not constantly beeped at. For races, I just run with a watch and do some tricky math to figure out if I’m staying consistent, pace wise. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to my Garmin ways!

  37. Yes, I agree it’s very freeing to run w/o the Garmin at times! I ran my fastest 5k this wknd (avg. 7:10 m) sans the watch! I think at times u need to just run free w/ no real purpose.

  38. I don’t own a Garmin but think that if I did, I would be too focused on the numbers and less on the run itself. Not saying this is happening to you, because I don’t and I think the Garmin can be super useful when training. BUT I do think you are right, this will be great to add in to your runs, a chill run, no time, no distance, just run. Love your tree! And I love the Kardashians, I fully admit it 😉

  39. I’m still very new to running and being a former competitive swimmer, everything I do is hyperfocused on time. I always wore my watch the first 3 months of me getting into running and I found myself putting way too much pressure on my times. Now I try to run without my watch at least a few times a week. Like you said, there is a sense of freedom that goes along with watch free running. Its definitely a nice mental break when I go watchless!

  40. I haven’t run with my Garmin since I stopped training for the marathon. I’ve been running more for time instead of for pace or distance. It’s pretty much how I always run when I’m not in good shape. Also, almost every pr I’ve set has been done without a watch of any sort.

  41. I’ve been doing a lot of runs naked since I injured my hip. At first I just didn’t want to see how slow I was running. Then I went back to Garmin for speed work, but have ditched him for long runs. When we don’t listen to our bodies we get hurt and sometimes it’s much easier to listen without knowing your pace.

  42. I love running with my non-Garmin watch from time to time. Not only is it smaller and lighter and a pretty blue color, but it’s really refreshing not to constantly look down at my pace and get annoyed with myself for being slow.

    Yay naked running! Sometimes.

  43. I always run sans Garmin! It helps me just take in the run better instead of focusing on my pace. Now that I’ve moved to Holland, I really love just looking at the trees, nature, ponds, etc. Totally different from my beachside runs in California 🙂

  44. Sometimes it is nice to run sans-Garmin! I too get way to obsessive over pace, and it is completely freeing to listen to my body and just run.

    Also, there’s no shame in Kim and Kourtney! It is ADDICTING!

  45. I love to naked run! Ha ha … by naked I mean technology free. I try to do it once a week and I always come back feeling liberated.
    I’m a little new to the world of Garmins, its only been a few months that I’ve had one, but I am suddenly really focused on my time and splits. I need the tech free naked runs to remind myself why I run.

  46. Love the hat love the tree! I don’t own a Garmin so I’m always ‘naked’ but I’m so interested in knowing my pace, so I should buy one. I thought I ran a 10min mile but I recently ran a 5k and my friends and I finished with about a 9:10 pace! I can see how people can become obsessed with pace! But I’m a fan of running to enjoy the outdoors. However, I’m sure I’ll care once I register for my first half marathon or something!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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