June 29, 2017

By Yitka Winn

Once upon a time, I didn’t own a GPS watch.

I still remember my first one — a past-season Garmin I bought on clearance at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was a clunky, ungainly piece of hardware that made me feel as though I had finally become a Runner — with a capital R!

Over the years since, I’ve invited everything from a fully loaded GPS/altimeter watch to my iPhone to a heart-rate monitor along for my runs.

Overall, they’ve been good buddies — but, sometimes, at a cost.

Technology’s Siren Song

Like many runners, I can geek out hard on the kinds of data that technology like GPS watches or heart-rate monitors can provide. It’s fun to chart my progress over time, to have mapped tracks of where I’ve been, to monitor my mileage.

Numbers motivate me. Apps have helped me find routes to run, connect with others in the running community, and given me valuable training feedback.

Indeed, technology is not inherently the problem. Sometimes, however inadvertently, our relationship with it can become one.

The Pitfalls

Waiting for your watch to find its satellite, uploading your workouts afterward, and analyzing or sharing your data all takes time. That’s time that could otherwise be spent actually running, or doing other valuable things like spending time with your loved ones or pursuing creative passion projects.

If you ever feel like you don’t have enough time in life to do everything you want to do, ask yourself whether the time you spend obsessing over your running data is really worth it.

Also beware of the feelings of insecurity or inadequacy that can result from comparing your training times to others’, or to your own past performances or quantitative goals. While doing so can sometimes fire up your motivation, other times it can zap it and ultimately interfere with your ability to enjoy your training runs.

If every workout is a competition with yourself or others, you put yourself at greater risk for injury and burnout.

The Joys of Tech-Free Running

Not recording every workout can help you take more of the easy days that should be the bread and butter of most runners’ training regimens. Motivation to get out the door may also come more readily if it’s a simple, hassle-free process; don’t let the fact that you forgot to charge your watch or phone be reasons not to get your run in.

There are, of course, benefits to reap on the run itself. Leaving your earphones at home lets you tune in, instead, to the birds chirping, to the wind rustling the leaves around you, to the rhythm of your own breath. Ditching your heart-rate monitor or GPS watch forces you to tune more intuitively into your body’s biofeedback — a powerful tool for those focused on improving performance.

If you find yourself increasingly relying on the “kudos” of others to make you feel good about your training, get back in touch with more intrinsic motivators — the adventurous joy of running, the endorphin high, the sense of well-being.

No doubt, we live in a technology-saturated world. If you ever feel like you have difficulty focusing or relaxing in your day-to-day life, it can be powerfully restorative to occasionally disconnect from the devices you may otherwise be tethered to. Permit your runs — or, at least, some of them — to serve as a respite for your mind.

Yitka Winn is a Seattle-based freelance writer, avid mountain runner and OutdoorsNW’s On the Run columnist. Follow her adventures at yitkawinn.com or on Instagram (she’s no Luddite, after all!) @yitkawinn.