An experiment in non-quantified running

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Those of you who know me will confirm that I am a pretty techy kind of person, and this extends to my running activities. For a while now, I have trained using a heart rate monitor and have used that effectively more in my training runs than actual events. However, I normally wear the HR monitor watch during events as information.

Yesterday, was the Wellington marathon / half-marathon, 10k and 5k event. After a week of big storms and freezing rain in the region, we were lucky and were left with a cold morning, but it was dry and only a moderate wind was blowing. Even then you could only really feel it at the more exposed points of the course. I am still recovering from the concussion I sustained about 10 weeks ago, and I had only run a handful of times since then – the longest run being a 6km treadmill effort. So signing up for this half-marathon event two weeks ago as a real marker to myself to step up my efforts in my recovery plan. The other challenge was that we have had a lot of family health challenges this winter, and although the least affected by these I felt pretty lousy when I went to bed the night before the half-marathon.

When I signed up, I decided that I was not going to wear a watch. Partly, this was so that I didn’t fret about how fast I was going during the event. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t pushing myself too hard. But partly this was an experiment on how well I could judge my pace without looking at my watch. I hadn’t been too bad at this in the past, as I calibrated my movement pattern and learned what pace was appropriate at different times.

I knew I probably wasn’t sub-2 hours fit, but I was aiming for between 2 hours and 2 hours 10, and finished in 2 hours 2 mins and 57 seconds. So yes, a successful experiment. But the most interesting thing was where how I took my cues, from my internal and external environment. For the first 8kms or so, my mind was tempting me with the thought that I could run sub-2 hours if I really wanted to, and it was tricky to resist the pull to go faster. I was feeling comfortable, and sounding comfortable compared to people blowing out their breath in the cold air all around me. I hung back. By the time I got to the turnaround point at 10.5km, my mind had settled that actually, it was proving a little tougher than I thought and that I should perhaps just try to lock in what I had. Again, amazing what your mind says to you during different stages of an endurance event.

I also had external cues to orient from. I could see the 2 hour pace running group running towards me in the other lane at the turnaround point – so I knew I was behind them, but not by much. And on my way back, I saw the 2 hours 10 pace running group a wee way behind me so I knew I had a start on them. And of course, there is the to-ing and fro-ing with people running a similar pace to you as you get ahead of each other, and overtake each other as you go through water stops and toilet stops. The trick is to stick to your own race and not get drawn into other people’s or mini-duels (though sometimes that is fun for a while). Indeed, I have run events with nothing more in mind than to either talk to people as I go around, or to find people to duel with as I run. Whatever your goal is, stick with it. Of course, you can have sub-goals, but it gets more complicated. Switching goals can get you into trouble.

I liked running without the watch. There is a certain freedom in that  But it is amazing how the mind’s desire to constantly compare can find things to triangulate your performance. Beware if your inner voice is admonishing or tempts you to stray from your goal. Some prepared, kind, gentle self-talk can help keep you focused on the goals you set before the event began.