Running Watch: Day of Reckoning #2

Will a running watch make me a better runner?

Day of Reckoning #2

Running watches are overrated. I think you should lose yours…at least that is my assumption. In the previous posts I have been challenging my thoughts on wearable technology.

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.

I have used the elevation function exclusively for my 60 km race in the mountains of northern Spain. For preparation for my 50 mile race in the USA, I used only kilometer per minute function.

What has happened

Training for the 50 miler while focusing on pace was painful. Running long distances is one thing, running long distance fast is another.

Here are a couple excerpts from my journal:

June 25

Took The Watch out for an afternoon run in the heat. 96 degrees out. High sun. I only watched the pace and kept my eye on the minutes per kilometers. My main goal for today was to get a bearing on my general speed on flat terrain, up hills, and down hills. I also walked segments in order to figure out how fast I could walk up hill. Since normally the most I do is look at an average over an entire run, seeing the actual real time pace was helpful. It would take me awhile to really hone it in, but if it were necessary to know an actual minute by minute speed this would be helpful.

Then I realized I hadn’t charged The Watch and it warned of its imminent death. This has never been a problem for the trusty Timex.

With all my attention on The Watch I didn’t spend as much time thinking or watching my heat tolerance or water intake. I didn’t even get a chance to get an annoying song stuck in my head.

June 29

Took the watch on a 24 km run. I was running in a group and so it was helpful to track the pace of the group. I ran half with the group and turned back and ran the last by myself. It was helpful to push myself to run faster when I was alone. I could note a difference.

Negative: I was running faster than normal, but I kept looking at my watch and would get frustrated when I didn’t make the time I was hoping for during that specific mile.

July 11

Went out running twice today in the heat of the day and tried to keep a certain pace. I was always batting what my watch was telling me to run and what my body thought it could run. I definitely did it faster than I would have had I not been using The Watch, but is that a good thing? Didn’t really enjoy the run, but what running in high heat and humidity do people really enjoy anyway?

My wife didn’t seem to appreciate my focus on pace.

July 12

Went running with The Watch today. It was really hot. We did 18 miles and it helped at keeping a consistent pace, specifically for the end when I was getting sore legs. What I don’t like as much is that I haven’t figured out how to put the normal daytime on the watch face so I’m always trying to figure out when I started and what the current time it is. I suppose if you had someone set up your watch for you and make it a whole lot easier. I need one of those friends.

July 16

Took the Watch out on a run in a new area. I was on a flat trail and kept watch my time, trying to drop the pace. I kept pushing myself harder because I wanted to see the time drop. I was not aware of when the sun set, so I ended up coming back in the dark on trails I had never been on.

July 21

I went out and pushed myself harder than the first time. The one problem was that The Watch didn’t pick up the satellites until I was through a mile and a half. I kept trying to drop my pace down. I have my race in a week, so I probably shouldn’t be trying to do speed work now, but I suppose I can argue in my mind that all of this is just training for the 100 miler anyway.

July 24

I went out for a slower run since the 50 miler is this weekend. The Watch was nice to have since it kept me honest. After working on speed the past few weeks I have a tendency to push now and having The Watch there has kept me from pushing too much. I did realize that the second by second pace can be questionable through different areas of the trail, either in heavily wooded areas or culverts under roads. The final lap pace each mile seems pretty good and I am generally within 10 to 20 seconds when I judge just by feel.

Day of Reckoning:

I was pretty excited for the race, seeing old friends and running a familiar course. There was a much larger field than in the past, and because of that the first five miles of predominately single track were pretty slow. The race picked up and because of a cooler day, runners were able to put down lower times.

I heard that some of the pack out front, those expected to break the course record, got lost. No such luck for me. I had to suffer through the whole race with no legitimate reason to drop out except my low pain tolerance.

The day was beautiful. The streams were full.

My final three miles can be summarized in three words: downpour, hail, finish.

The watch! I love it

Having The Watch was a new experience on this course. Before I was always bumming mileage off of others, hoping I was closer to the finish line than I really was. This at least lowered my “annoying status” a few points.

My pace was generally better than other years. Normally I am content running by feel and grazing my way through the aid stations, but The Watch kept me honest throughout the race and from getting caught at the aid stations.

I had some vague ideas of how fast I wanted to run this race, but at the middle of the race I figured I could probably make a push and beat my PR on the course (and a friend’s PR to boot!). At this point The Watch made a decisive difference. I began doing regular calculations in my mind as to whether I could finish in time or not. This pushed me to grind out mile after mile at a pace I normally wouldn’t have tried in the last 20 miles of the race.

This inversely had an effect on my overall mental challenges, both making it harder to keep moving and offering me hope to overcome. I think that is a positive, but now that I think about it…

No watch! I hate it

Had I not actually beaten my PR, I probably would have cursed The Watch and all its kin. The race was great, but primarily because I beat a time restraint I had set in my mind. If I hadn’t reached that goal I would have nothing to show for my anxiety about mile times, my skipping aid stations, and my fragile emotional state.

PR’s and lower times are great, but did I just miss something? This is one of my favorite races but while I was watching The Watch I was missing my friends.

What’s next

It has come to this. The Final Day of Reckoning is the Superior 100 mile race with 6400 meters of gain. I have run this only once before and it was brutal, living up to its moniker of “Rugged. Relentless. Remote.” So, in preparation for this little race I will be focusing on my heart rate. My Trusty Timex had no such ability, but The Watch does, so that’s what I will be training with!

What is the worst that could happen?