Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Running Naked

a little too naked for my taste!  (source)

Shoes? Check.
Shirt? Check.
Shorts? Check.

Ahhh...those were the days!  Although I wasn't part of the running boom that started in the 70's (I'm older than a lot of you but not quite that old...), I am sure anyone who was running back then remembers those days with at least some nostalgia.  It all seemed so simple and came down to putting your shoes on and heading out the door.  If you were lucky, you might be the proud owner of the newly-invented digital watch (although, I'm not sure it had a stopwatch functionality back then.)

Nowadays, many runners leave the house with not only shoes, shirt and shorts but with a Garmin, an ipod or iphone in a special carrying case, earphones, a heart rate monitor, a fuel belt (complete with water/electrolyte drink and gels, beans or chews), compression sleeves for arms and/or calves and possibly a strap on their lower legs to help combat runner's knee or IT band issues.

Obviously, that is a bit of an exaggeration but I'm sure a runner or two has been spotted with all of the above.

Until last fall, I ran with only an ipod and a regular Timex watch.  I would guesstimate my mileage on most runs or map it on google maps when I returned if I really wanted to come up with an idea of my pace. A few months ago, however, I finally bought myself a Garmin.  I am now, like so many others, addicted to glancing down at it constantly so that I can see how fast or slow I'm running.

While I love the convenience of a Garmin and the reams of data it provides (average pace, pace per lap or mile, elevation gain, etc.), I have realized how much I really don't like being so tied to the numbers.  I think being able to feel certain paces based solely on effort is an invaluable skill.  For me, the Garmin has caused me to go out too fast on many runs because I wanted to hit my goal pace in the very first mile instead of letting my body start out slow and naturally settle into the pace.  It causes my runs to be choppy as I find myself speeding up when I see I'm going too slow and slowing down when I'm going too fast...which is made all the more complicated by hills or weather that greatly impact effort, too.

All winter, I was looking forward to a half-marathon race in February and a 15k race in March as preparation for Boston.  I was anxious to see how my decision to hire a coach last fall and step up my training would impact my race times.  Unfortunately, I had to skip the half-marathon due to strep throat so I had only one race leading up to the marathon -- a 15k race on St. Patrick's Day.

The Shamrock Run in Portland is a huge race with over 40,000 runners and walkers participating in a number of different distances -- a 5k walk, 5k run, 8k run and 15k run.  The 15k route is a challenging one as it climbs up a long, steep hill for most of the first half of the race before plummeting back down towards the finish.  Most of my training is done in my pancake-flat neighborhood so I was concerned about how I would do on the hills.  I knew that I would be frustrated if I were to look down at my Garmin and see a pace much slower than I was hoping to run.

Elevation map...notice the almost mile-long stretch at 4.8%!

I decided to run this race entirely by feel.  I had some tentative time goals in mind and was curious to see how close I would come to my goals.  On a "flat and fast" marathon course (and with perfect weather, etc.), I believe I could run a 3:25 marathon right now.  But since Boston is supposed to be a hard course, I am targeting somewhere between 3:25 and 3:30.  So I plugged those times into the McMillan Running Calculator to see what it predicted for a 15k race.  According to McMillan, my 15k pace should be between 7:16 and 7:26 per mile if I'm capable of a 3:25-3:30 marathon.

I was nervous about running with no watch and no idea how fast I was running.  I assumed I would go out too fast, slow down too much on the hills and still not have enough left in my legs to take advantage of the downhill finish.  Although I did actually wear my Garmin so it would capture my mile splits, it was covered by my long-sleeve shirt and I honestly didn't look at it once the entire race. did it go??  I have to say I loved running by feel!  It felt so freeing to just listen to my body and push myself based solely on how my legs, lungs, heart and mind felt.  And my finishing time?  My time of 1:08:33 was at an average pace of 7:21 -- exactly in the middle of where I wanted to be!  The mile splits showed I started out a little conservative (which was perfect), slowed on the hills and then really pushed it on the downhill.

Mile 1 - 7:32
Mile 2 - 7:28
Mile 3 - 7:33
Mile 4 - 8:09
Mile 5 - 7:56
Mile 6 - 7:46
Mile 7 - 6:36
Mile 8 - 6:40
Mile 9 - 6:28
Last 0.3 - 6:16

I finished 8th out of 559 women in my age group (let's hear it for the over 40 crowd - ha!) and, more importantly, beat my previous time by 9 minutes.  It is so encouraging to know that I ran this same race one other time -- 10 years ago when I was 30 years old -- and was a full minute per mile faster this time around!

Post-race green smoothie (it was St. Patty's day, after all) and a cool finisher's medal that is a bottle opener
Now that Boston is less than two weeks away, I've started thinking a little about my race strategy for the marathon.  I don't want to go out too fast and yet the start is all downhill.  I'd like to run negative splits but the majority of the hills are in the second half.  Given these two factors plus the unpredictability of weather and the fact that I've never run this race is leading me to consider running Boston without my watch. Yes, it makes me a little nervous to think about trying to gauge my pace for 26.2 miles with no concrete feedback regarding my time.  I've put months of hard work, time and sweat into preparing for this race and it seems a little crazy to leave it all up to how I'm feeling during the race.  But at the same time, it sounds so liberating to just trust my body and my training.  I'll decide for sure in the days before the marathon but as of right now, I think I will go naked...

Have you run a marathon or other race with no watch?  Did you enjoy it or miss having feedback during your race?  Do you have any gear you would never run without??

- Kristen


  1. I love your posts Kristen! And that picture is hilarious :D I admit, I'm a slave to the Garmin, but I try to go *naked* every now and again. I totally agree with you about running by feel and being able to gauge your pace this way, being an invaluable tool. I know my runs are more choppy when I'm constantly checking my pace, and I get so frustrated when my effort doesn't match what the G says. And that Garmin can be a little trickster! When it's not connecting to a satellite or whatever. I'm super impressed by your 15k, and that you're considering running Boston sans Garmin. Considering my tendonitis issue, maybe I shoukd brave Eugene without Garmin! It's so funny to me that I feel *scared* to run a marathon without minute to minute knowledge of my pace :) You are such a strong runner and I'm so inspired by you! Congrats on a terrific race!

    1. Do you ever find that you run faster without your Garmin? I definitely think that I do, although not always. I will let you know for sure what I end up doing at Boston but for someone who is coming off an injury, I think running without a watch/Garmin would be ideal. You could really just listen to your body. But, I agree, it seems crazy to run with no watch for a race you have spent months preparing to run! Thanks for the sweet words -- you are such an inspiration, too, and I am excited for you to run Eugene. :)

  2. You inspired me!!!!!!!!! I'm doing Boston kinda naked! Today, I tested out my plan. I am going to start my watch, then turn it on time/date mode for the rest of the race. I can see each mile's split, but I won't be staring at it all race. Thank you!

    1. That sounds like a great way to do it, Devon! So even when your watch is on the time/date mode, your split time will show at the end of every mile? That would help so much with the constant watch-checking and yet still give you an idea of your pace. In the beginning few miles, I mostly want my Garmin in order to prevent me from going out too fast on the downhills -- I'm nervous about not having any idea how I'm doing for the entire marathon... I'm still undecided but will either wear no watch at all or wear it but only check it at specified points (10k, half, 20 miles). One week to go!!!

  3. Great job! Hope your last week of the taper for Boston is going well!!! I have playing with the idea of no watch/garmin in Boston. I have had my garmin not in work in 2 marathons before and just ran on feel.

    1. I'm feeling the usual taper madness...thinking I have done too little the past few weeks after doing so much early on, little niggles and doubts bubbling to the surface of my thoughts before I force them back down, etc. :)

      Hope you are having a good last week of taper, too. I know you've had a rough few months health-wise but happy to hear things have turned around for you. And just n time for Boston! :)

  4. did very well! I ran a 10k once with no watch. Not pretty. haha.

    Congrats on a fantastic shamrock run race!! Your improvement is considerable over the last year.

    I love having the data afterwards, so no going back for me :)

    1. Thanks, Raina! I am still worried about running 26.2 miles without a watch as that is so much further than a 15k. And I'd love to have the data afterwards, too, so I'm thinking of wearing it but not looking at it.