Friday, November 8, 2013

Running "naked", running free, and becoming a body whisperer

I will never forget the moment when Cam came home with a surprise in his hands, my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch. I had recently committed to training for my comeback race, that half marathon in 2011 that began it all for me. He told me that because I was taking my goals more seriously, and running longer distances, I deserved to be treated with a tool that would help me measure my achievements. My Garmin over these last couple years has become an invaluable training partner for me. It's helped me measure all kinds stats of a given run so I can analyze how I did, and then track the stats of a comparable workout, so I can track progress as I become a stronger runner, or learn to be a smarter runner. It's tracked thousands of kilometres I've run, been on my wrist every race I've run, and it's helped me measure out several running routes all over the place. 

In early 2012 when I was training for my first marathon, there came a very scary day where my Garmin absolutely refused to turn on. I recall being rather distraught because I insisted I needed the darn thing. It was invaluable to my half marathon, and I NEEDED it for my marathon, my first marathon too! Nothing could go wrong. Cam was quick to remind me that people had been running marathons for many years, long before the invention of the Garmin GPS running watches. Of course, what he said was true, but a man's logical thinking only helps so much when I had become to emotionally attached and dependent upon this piece of technology. He told me I could go for my run and survive not knowing what my pace was (of course, his phrasing was much lovelier than this), and reminded me that I run because I love running, and maybe a day of running where I'm not in tune with the stats will do me good. I grumbled because sure I might survive that one run, but what about when I have to run 30km in one day? What then? What about the fate of my marathon? I shot Cam my look of disapproval, and with a frown on my face, I left for my run.

I ran a loop I'd run several times before, knowing it was exactly 6km long.  But when I returned to my front door, I decided to keep going. I didn't want to end this run knowing I'd run 6km, when the whole point was to run without stats. I ran a bunch of random loops around residential streets in my area and returned home when I felt like I was done. I have no idea how far I went, how long I had been outside, what time it was, or how fast I was going. It was still a good workout. In fact, it was a great workout; I felt amazing because I had no choice but to just be in the moment during that run, with no feedback to receive on how well I was doing. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're doing something well, just matters that you're doing it. I realized I was onto something. Little did I know that while I was out on this run, Cam was busy on his computer, googling, visiting running forums, doing what he could to troubleshoot how to fix my watch. He managed to reset it, and it's worked perfectly fine since then. (Bless him!)

The thing is though, when you get serious about your goals, the "need" for the watch comes into play frequently. I have 3 runs a week that have a specific purpose for the watch. 1) My long runs, focused on distance: my watch helps me ensure I've run the distance I need to and I've not gone too short or too far (2) My interval runs: my watch helps me track elapsed time and average pace on each interval so I can track if I'm going to achieve my goal time (3) My tempo runs: my watch helps me calculate my distance, my current pace, and my average pace, so I can see how well I am doing at keeping my pace consistent and within goal range.

So recently, I've been trying to incorporate more runs where technology takes a backseat. These are often that 4th run in a week that I do: the "fun run", or the "whatever run". Despite their titles that make them sound seemingly pointless, these runs have been invaluable to me, and their purpose is powerful. They've restored my joy for running, because I get to run just for the sake of it. But they have also helped me hone some skills in running I didn't notice were valuable or that I needed to work on beforehand. These have also helped me not feel so dependent on my watch (or upset if I failed to charge the watch before a big workout) and I honestly believe the secret to my success at my most recent race was because I was comfortable with the idea of not looking at my watch.

These low-tech or tech-free runs take two forms: runs in which I either don't wear the watch at all (a kind of running I categorize now as "running naked" thanks to my friend, Sean), or where I do wear the watch, but switch up my screen so I am only looking at one stat during the run, rather than many.

"Running naked" can take many forms, and as its name suggests, it's about freedom and sheer joy. At times, it feels almost like you're getting away with something! For example, going for a mid-week run with a friend, more of a social call, two people of different paces and abilities who love to run and socialize by running. It shouldn't matter how fast we're going or how far, as the purpose is just having a really good time with another person.  Or say I'm doing my 4th run of the week which frequently is my "10km hilly run". I have a few of these routes mapped out and memorized so I don't need to measure the distance and I could care less how long it takes. I just go, I often go "naked", and I always finish satisfied. "Naked" running is also very valuable when you're returning from illness, injury, or other hiatuses from running where knowing pace would be discouraging because you know what you were once capable of and don't need the reminder of how out of shape you now are; you just want to want and enjoy what it means to run again. And it's fantastic for when you're on holiday and you want to go explore a new area and enjoy all it has to offer on foot. You're exploring first, running second.

Running wearing my watch but only tracking one stat during the run serves a whole other purpose. This is where becoming a body whisperer comes in. It's all about learning to trust your body to tell you how you are running, not some piece of techology. Here are a few examples:

The out and back timed run: 
This is one of my favourite kinds of runs. I choose a route that I know the level of difficulty will be similar in both directions, so a place like the seawall is perfect. I either go 15-20 min in one direction at interval pace, then take 5min to recover before going back in the other direction, starting the second 15-20 min session at the exact spot I ended the first. Or if I'm doing a more moderately paced run, I will simply run the 20 min out, then turn around and head back right away. In either scenario, the goal of the second half of the run is to remember where I began the first half, and try to overshoot it in the time I have left (ideally) or simply get there right on time. This is a great way to work on keeping pace consistent and steady or to practice negative splits. 

Running by feel:
This is exactly what it sounds like. This can be not fretting about pace appearing too fast when it's supposed to be easy....I know these days as my speed is improving, my "easy" pace is getting re-defined. What's easy on a hilly course versus flat is different, but as is an easy pace when I'm fully rested versus tired. So instead of fretting about what the pace is on my watch, I simply go with how it feels. If I can hear my breathing and can't talk easily, I'm going too fast. I only look at my watch on these long easy runs to verify distance. I ignore pace, and then after the run, if I do look at what pace I was running, it generally is in the range it should be. So why fret?

The running by feel idea was huge for me when I was returning from injury and the low iron thing. Everything was slower than it "should" be, but if I would simply get the workouts in at the same quality/intensity as they were before, pace would eventually drop again. And it did. This was particularly important for my tempo runs. For a few months, I didn't track my pace at all during or after the runs, just based it on the effort that a tempo should feel like. I've only started looking at pace again the last 3 weeks, and they are the fastest tempos of all time :)

There's probably lots of great resources out there on being a body whisperer. I'm trying to learn as much as I can by practicing these runs regularly, and I am getting good at it. If you see a resource that I might enjoy, please feel free to pass it my way. Here's one I found recently in Runner's World titled Becoming a Body Whisperer.

What's next? The New Balance Fall Classic half marathon on November 17th

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