To Watch Less

With the transition of the seasons comes a transition in training. It isn’t exactly a new year, or a completely clean slate, but the gradual shifting of nature’s palette has encouraged me to take stock and consider what might I do differently in the year’s final chapters compared to it’s long open, and sun-stunted middle. 

An increase in the distance that I will be racing means a slight increase in the number of training miles logged (or so goes the plan) but exactly how I log those miles is going to change. Through the summer everything I did went through my watch and onto Strava. Easy runs, tempo days, and track sessions were completed via GPS and then automatically logged through Garmin Connect onto Strava. Even my indoor bike workouts (although not connected to Zwift or similar services) were tracked and logged via the wrist based heart rate monitor on my watch. 

I don’t see any intrinsic evil in putting things on Strava, in fact I quite enjoy it. I have a happy curiosity for running because, you see, I quite like it, and I like seeing my friends and peers getting out there and doing it. It’s also nice to see what the professionals are doing. Running is a more accessible sport than most when it comes to the divide between professional and amatuer. The difference in speed might be considerable, but there is an increasing willingness for the top athletes in the game to be transparent about what they are doing and how they are training, and Strava facilitates that (along with a – somehow – still growing YouTube running space. Check out Sweat Elite if you aren’t sure where to start). I love that direct insight from pro to amateur. A lot of running fans are runners themselves. Conversely, I might be a football fan but I definitely do not consider myself a football player (and I think that is the typical situation). 

When these transitory periods come about, say at the end of the year, or at the onset of summer, or now at the beginning of autumn, it is worth making some assessments of how exactly the things in your life serve you. I’m sure we all have a plentitude of things and stuff in our lives and increasingly these bits and bobs are becoming digital, intangible. Which is to say I feel as if all of these Strava files that I’m generating are turning to clutter. Some of them remain useful; when I go out on a tempo run I think it is helpful to have splits which I can relate to how I felt, and to some limited extent chart my progress through a training block. When I’m out on the trail I also like to track myself because if I find some new path to follow I might want to have the digital map of that route laid out for future reference. But what about when I go out for an easy run connecting the various loops which are about my house? I don’t need to care about the splits for my easy runs, and I don’t need a map laying out these loops which I’ve been running all my life, so why do I need to wear a watch on those runs at all? Why do I need a record?

Strava acts as a training log, and if you are tracking overall mileage and effort then just wearing a watch is an easy way to automatically make note of all your training. But I find Strava a bit too involved for that, a bit too detailed, too invested in the minutia. I particularly dislike it’s bizarre assessment which puts an arbitrary numerical value on your ‘fitness’. Someone please tell me what the hell it means to have a fitness rating of 60? 43? 71? Are these FIFA ratings? Is there a Strava Ultimate Team?

Perhaps more important to my decision to stop wearing the watch a few days a week is that on purely easy runs the watch only serves as a distraction. I want to run easy and this can only be felt. The watch cannot tell me via splits or heart rate, or any metric which I care to track, whether or not the run feels easy, but if I wear the watch I’m probably going to be checking on it – if not during the run then definitely after, at least – and what is the point of that? The watch doesn’t know if a run feels easy or not, it’s not that smart.

My road to the half marathon will be travelled often sans watch. For the first time in my life I’ve created a full spreadsheet plan of my training onto which I can also track my real training (I’ve already gone off plan several times in the first week) meaning that I’ll still be recording my mileage – just not every split of every run every time I go out and trot about the old familiars. 

So far, it feels pretty damn good. Going out for an evening run after work shouldn’t feel like more work. It should be a pleasure. Relieving my wrist of it’s burden seems to have relieved my mind of burden also. I’m free to pitter patter around these old roads without a care for pace; free to walk, jog, sprint, whatever feels right. And when it comes to actually getting fitter, I believe that this freedom of ease will offer me the chance to run harder when the appropriate time comes. If my easy runs are truly, honestly easy, then my body should be ready to run faster and longer when it’s time to put the watch back on and lay down some work.  

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