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This newsletter was originally posted on Patreon on 9 November 2020
I’ve been mulling over my use of Strava on my runs lately. I ran for years without a watch of any sort, without knowing how far or how fast I was running - until it came to race day, at least. Race times were my benchmark. Then for a few years I just had a simple stopwatch. I ran all my best times like that. It was only a few years ago, when I started running ultras, that I finally caved in and got myself a Garmin and signed up to Strava.
I was determined that it wouldn’t dictate my running, but would just act as a record of my runs that I could have fun looking back on, poring over the data, afterwards.
But as I ran my long run yesterday, knowing I wanted to keep the pace easy, but constantly checking the watch, calculating how fast I had to run to get my average minutes-per-mile pace under 9.5, I realised I was trapped. I looked up from my watch at the rusting autumn colours, the wide sweep of the valley, the mist making it feel like Middle Earth, and I took a deep breath. Take it all in, I thought. Forget the watch. Just enjoy being out here.
But it was like a little devil on my wrist, calling me back. I couldn’t resist checking in again. Calculating again my average pace, wondering how far I had left, and what pace I needed to run it in. I thought about the shape my run would make on the Strava map if I turned left or right. I wondered what I would call this run. “Easy like Sunday morning”? No, too cheesy. The watch beeped. 10:12. Damn, I need to pick it up a bit. Never mind that the mud was thick and slippery - that doesn’t show up on Strava.
Embrace the mud, feel the joy of splashing through it. Forget the time, the pace. The mist through the redwoods of Dartington caught my eye. Wow. What an amazing place to be running. Look up, breath it in. Beep. 9:16. That’s better. Now, I have three miles to go, so …
For a while I had the watch set to beep every mile and every kilometre, and that was terrible. I’d be trying to guess which beep was coming next and when, and constantly making calculations in my head to gauge how far apart they would be. I changed off that setting, and I think the solution for me now is to turn off the mile beeps too. That way I could start my watch at the beginning of the run, turn it to the time, and then just forget about it. That way I’d still get the maps and stats to pore over afterwards, but I could be fully present on the run.
But could I do that? Or would I be constantly switching back to the pace screen to see how I was getting on? And then I think, could I ditch Strava altogether? Or at least for my easy runs?
Every once in a while I forget my watch when I go out for a run, and rather than feel liberated, I get that feeling of mild panic I used to laugh at in others in the days when I didn’t even wear a watch. What did it matter how far you were running, I thought? Your body is getting strong, you’re out moving, you can still see the trail and the trees.
How do you use your watch? Does it dictate your running too much, or have you found a way to run in harmony with it? Or are you sans-watch, off-grid, footloose and fancy free? Even typing that, I know it has to be the way to go.