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Stop Looking At Your Watch And Learn To Run By Feel

Your watch is not a dictator. You are the master of your mind and body. Only you can determine how hard or how easy to run, when to speed up or when to slow down. You determine your pace. Your watch does not.

How many times have you looked down at your wrist during a workout to see your pace and felt disappointment? What if you had not been wearing a GPS watch, or any watch at all, but completed your interval or workout at the prescribed effort level? Most likely you would feel proud of the work you had done. You would not feel defeated by the numbers. Instead you would feel motivated by accomplishing your workout.

When our efforts don’t line up with the numbers on our watch, we can question our abilities and our goals. Yet there are so many things that matter more than the pace we ran, such as how we executed the workout. If the effort was there, that’s what matters. That’s how we make progress and get faster.

The pace your watch doesn’t tell you about is how much sleep you had last night. It doesn’t tell how tired your legs are. It doesn’t measure cumulative fatigue from weeks of training. It certainly doesn’t measure your stress levels. All of these are factors that determine how a workout goes. Bottom line—your effort level matters more than the pace ran.

You’ve read about running by feel several times (take here and here for example), but maybe you dismissed it as something you don’t need or don’t want to do. I’m here to tell you that running by feel will change how you approach running. You might even surprise yourself and set a new PR. Even if you don’t, I bet you’ll enjoy running more than ever when you let go of the numbers on your watch.

If breaking your dependence on your GPS watch isn’t something you ever thought you could do, I challenge you to give it a try for a few months by starting with the steps outlined below. I will warn you—just like everything else, it takes time to learn to run by feel.

How to Stop Looking at Your Watch One Run at a Time

Step 1: Make the commitment to trust your body’s signals as to when to slow down or when to speed up during any type of run including a race.

Step 2: Go for a run without wearing a watch. Map out your run ahead of time so you know that you will hit your mileage for the day. Then do something bold and execute your workout for the day sans watch.

Step 3: Wear your watch for a speed workout, but set the display to only show elapsed time. Run your intervals or tempo miles for time instead of for distance. Running for time means you can’t cheat the clock by running the intervals faster to get them over with sooner.

Step 4: Wear your GPS watch on a run, but put a piece of duct tape over the face. Try to run even splits during your run without letting your watch guide you. Your body will give you all the clues you need.

Step 5: Wear your watch during a race, but commit to only looking at the mile splits. Write out a race plan based on effort level instead of specific paces. Use the splits at each mile marker as feedback only. Stick to the race plan you created based off effort level only.

After doing these five things a number of times you’ll learn how to be less dependent on your watch and more dependent on your body’s signals.

If you aren’t sure how to run by feel here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to your breath. Unless there is an elevation fluctuation, when your breathing rate speeds up or slows down, your pace has most likely changed. Noticing changes in your breathing pattern is difficult to do if you’re listening to headphones or chatting with a friend.
  • Notice your stride. Variations in the length of the steps you are taking can indicate a change in pace. A shorter stride usually indicates you’ve picked up the pace.
  • Listen to the sound of your feet hitting the ground. A louder or softer foot strike may also indicate a change in pace.

Related: Apply A 1% Rule To This Common GPS Watch Complaint

Race Pace Jess

Race Pace Jess

Jess Underhill fell in love with running during a rough patch in life, a time period most people just refer to as middle school. Twenty-six years later that first runner's high she experienced continues to shape nearly every aspect of her life, including her career. She has a Master's Degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, is graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is a UESCA Certified Run Coach. Most recently Jess launched Race Pace Run Club, a free virtual run club that welcomes runners of all levels from coast to coast and also meets in-person in NYC. She is an ambassador for Sparkly Soul Headbands