Running by feel. Leave the watch at home.

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Training
Tags: , , ,

Over the last 12-18 months I have been playing an idea over and over in my head when it comes to racing.  I have been thinking about showing up to an “A” race, one where my performance is of utmost importance in my eyes, where I have trained diligently, watched my nutrition, tapered properly and find myself at the starting line 100% ready and 100% healthy.

I put on my race gear, affix my bib, double tie the laces in my race flats and race completely by feel.

No GPS watch.  No race splits.  No feedback.  Just me, the way my body is reacting to the load and my brain to interpret the fastest pace I can run over the remaining miles of the race to the very last stride.

Essentially, racing old school.

The way Bill Rogers and the rest of the American Road Racers did when we produced more sub 2:20 marathoners in the United States 40 years ago than we do today.  By a wide margin.

This notion has been building for some time as I have noticed that my ability to exceed expectations on training runs where I do not look at my GPS watch have become commonplace.

The last two weeks I have wrapped up my One Off, One On workouts with a closing mile in 5:57 and 5:59 respectively without sneaking a peak at watch or my pace.

At the New York City marathon, where I started on the lower deck of the Verrazano bridge – my GPS watch could not find signal and I had no reliable data for the first 6 miles of the course.  My pace through 6 miles – 6:47.  My goal pace for the race – 6:52.

Exactly where I needed to be.

At the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon last Sunday my GPS watch was “frozen” as I transitioned from the bike to the run.  I was unable to revive it and I ran the entire run leg by feel.

My pace after the swim, a 14 mile bike in 85 degree weather?  6:14 for 3 miles.

My pace the day before at the Holland Cornfest 5K?  6.02 for 3.1 miles.

Watch Dead, Legs Alive (6:14 pace)


My point is that I believe that with the proper emphasis on training by feel  and locking in our feelings of “exerted effort” and how it “feels” to run a 6 minute mile, a mile at half-marathon pace (6:22), marathon goal pace (6:52) or “easy” pace (7:45) – these feelings manifest themselves on race day and allow us to get out of our own way.

Instead of fixating on a mile split and thinking, “Man, I need to back off – I’m going too fast ….” running by feel allows the athlete to compute the distance remaining and determine just how much they can push it at that point to again, run the remainder of the race as fast as possible down to the last second.

Our reliance on our GPS devices has taken away the freedom of road racing and replaced it with a system of positive and negative reinforcement.  We are becoming like the chicken that pecks at the bulls eye to release food pellets.

I am seriously contemplating running the Houston Marathon, my next “A” race and leaving the watch at home.  I am going to make a concerted effort to run at least twice a week in the interim with my watch in the driveway – only recording my starting time and ending time and relying on my internal compass to take me through my workout.

By January I will know EXACTLY what 6:50 pace feels like and be able to repeat it at will.

If on January 13th my body feels that 6:42 pace or 6:40 pace is where we need to be, then that is where we will race.  We will never know the difference until we reach mile 20 and start to do the math and figure out just how much time we have left to cross that finish line in 2 hours, 59 minutes and as many seconds that I can shave off to break three hours.

In a sense I am going to just get out of my own way and let me be great.

That’s how winning is done after all.  It doesn’t have anything to do with a watch.

  1. Erin Ruyle says:

    Great post, Joe. I always race the run portion of triathlons “naked” so that I am running purely by feel – and, I’m always surprised how much better I run that way. I haven’t taken that over to road races yet, but it might be worth a try. Happy training!

  2. Jim in Maine says:

    Makes perfectly good sense for an athlete as finely tuned in his or her own body and spirit as you are Joe — and I have a real good feeling that it will prove to be a successful in January 2013.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jim! Well we’ve fallen short in the marathon in the past – the only distance we have not reached our ability. I’m ready to try a different race approach and let the legs take me where I want to go. So glad you were selected Jim! Going to be great to race with you there!

  3. Joseph Hayes says:

    Great post. I like using my Garmin but sometimes it stresses me out and detracts from my concentration when I keep looking at the watch and worrying about pace. There have been a few times when I didn’t look for a while and was surprised at how fast I had been running. This post has convinced me to ignore the watch this Saturday and see how it goes.

    Joe, I also wanted to thank you for sharing your training plan with me. I’ve modified a bit to build my mileage a little slower and to incorporate tapering for the 8+ races I have between now and the marathon but I’m very confident that it will turn out to be a great training plan.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Joseph. Hope you are doing great and your training plan is coming together! The watch is great, very valuable for feedback and charting progress, but at times I think it does indeed get in the way. Here’s to my first marathon PR Watchless in January …

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