Training seriously means keeping track of a lot– from how far and fast you run to how well you eat and sleep, to being diligent about all the details to get the most out of yourself.
Conveniently, current technology has made the process easier than ever (or so it might seem) with gadgets, gear and apps that can track and monitor almost every aspect of your training.
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But this obsession with data comes with an increasing reliance on technology. And that has a dark side. Obsessing over statistics can leave us feeling anxious about missing targets, deviating from the plan or not running as fast or as far as expected. In some cases it means we push our bodies and minds to do more than we should and expect more than we can deliver. Ultimately, that leads to mental burnout or physical injury.
So what’s the fix? In the weeks following a heavy training season, pay less attention to goal paces, weekly mileage and racing. Instead focus on proper recovery, base building and the simple act of running. This is an opportunity to try something that may seem foreign to most runners these days: running by feel.
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Forgoing the GPS watch, the app-tracking or the heart rate monitor can be a liberating and beneficial experience that is all too uncommon among runners these days. Running by feel simply refers to the act of running without a pre-determined distance or pace in mind. It means listening to your body and running at the speed, pace and level of exertion that matches your level of fitness and fatigue. The bottom line is that it doesn’t increase your risk of injury or leave you feeling overly taxed or tired.
If you simply can’t handle the idea of running without all that data, you can opt to map out a route before you go so you at least know the distance you’ll run. If possible though, resist the urge to time or track your speed and pace.
Learning what it’s like to run at different paces and effort levels without the feedback of a heart rate monitor or GPS device will also become a useful skill in training and racing. Subtle differences to how you feel at different paces will ensure you don’t run too hard during easy runs, too slow during workouts or too fast at the beginning of races.
It will also allow your body to fully rest and recover between harder efforts as well as provides a mental break from constantly obsessing over the details.
Choose to run by feel on easy days, recovery days and occasionally during long runs as well. Reserve the watch and data collection for workouts and races, when you really need it and when the information is truly useful.