Will a running watch make me a better runner?
Day of Reckoning #1
In the last post I showed my cards, I don’t think a running watch will make you a better runner.
Everyone reading that last statement will probably heartily agree or scoff at my ignorance. Frankly, I haven’t made up my own mind, so that is why I am continuing this series and testing my own assumptions.
To catch you up to speed:
I have run multiple races ranging between 50 km and 100 miles yet have never owned a running watch in my 10+ years of distance running.
I have decided to commandeer my wife’s Garmin Forerunner 235 and use only one function during my training for three key races throughout this year.
I decided to use the elevation function in preparation for my 60 km race in the mountains of northern Spain, ignored all other data and only concerned about getting a certain about of elevation gain each run.
What has happened
Training for the Travesía Integral de Los Montes Aquilianos while using only an elevation function was probably a stupid idea. One reason I wanted to use this is because of those annoying pictures runners post of their running watch saying some ridiculous amount of elevation gain. My media feed is saturated with “So honored to have gotten in 10,000 meters of gain today on my warm up run” and “Really pushed myself to climb as high as commercial jet flight paths…” and then the obligatory emoticons. You know who you are.
I did not plan on taking in anything near what you see on the top runners watches, but I did want to push myself harder than what I normal do.
Here are a couple excerpts from my journal:
Because of the Watch Series, I borrowed Crystal’s watch and ran up “the Hill.” She had to show me how to use it. I got out there and then it started this annoying buzzing. I had no idea what it meant. I also couldn’t get it to just tell me the accumulated elevation gain so I just did the math in my head. That ended up with me not doing my 500 meters of gain as I wanted, but 600. I thought this watch was supposed to help you not have to think so much.
Got up and had a normal morning. I went running up “the Hill,” trying to use the watch. Tried a different route. The buzzing annoys me.
After breakfast I went for a run, up and down, up and down “the Hill.” It was hot in the sun. A lot of sweating. If it wasn’t for this style of training I would have taken some shaded single track.
Day of Reckoning:
Leading up to race day was sort of a disaster. I went into the doctor 24 hours before the race and found out I had an ear infection and a cold. I had one day for the antibiotics to kick in. But I started the race on time and the first 30 km were great. The race has incredible views (you can read about it here), and even though my body was battling, I was feeling good on the uphills and really good on the downhills. One of the bonuses that I had failed to think of with the elevation training is that “what goes up must come down.” Since I had only been out training for elevation gain, I wanted to get the run done as quickly as possible, meaning that I started picking up speed on my steep downhills.
Leading up to the midpoint of the race there is a 1000+ meter climb in the space of four kilometers. Once I made it to the top that is when I began to notice one of the problems of my focused training. My hips had seized up. In my training leading up to this race I had spent a lot of time pushing up hills and flying down them, but very little time on long undulating runs. I could tell during the training period leading up to the race that my hips were feeling it. I tried to incorporate different stretches, but apparently it wasn’t enough. This really slowed down my race. I ended up finishing, but slower than I know I could have had I not been hobbling.
The Watch! I love it
Having the watch on my wrist was really helpful because I had a general idea of the gain for each main climb. I kept watching the numbers rise and used it to pace myself on several of the long hauls, specifically the 1000+ meter climb.
I also loved having the watch give me definitive distances. This allowed me to regulate fuel consumption between aid stations and toward the end, bargain with my brain that it would be just as hard to quit now and try to find a ride home than to just finish the race.
The Watch! I hate it
Running with a watch means I outsource my knowledge of my body to a device. This can be helpful, such as when my mind is struggling and I need something to override what I am feeling. This is not helpful when it causes me to push when I should be pulling back. I may be able to function at a certain level in training, but on race day there are other variables. The variable on this race was the ear infection, cold, and medications. My body was saying, “Not feeling good” but The Watch was saying, “you should be feeling good. Don’t listen to your body.”
The next race will be the Voyageur 50 mile race with 1230 meters of gain. I have run this three times already in previous years, so I know what I am getting into. However, instead of my normal training leading up to the race I plan on only concerning myself with my pace. I am not going to measure the distance as much as my speed while out running. My trusty Timex didn’t figure that out for me, but “The Watch” can.