Earlier this fall I promised myself (and Coach G for accountability) that I would run the Turkey Day 5k “naked.” Don’t worry, no need to keep the kids inside (I left my streaking days behind in college) — I’m not talking about taking my clothes off, I’m talking about running sans GPS watch. Scary, right? How would I pace myself without technology? How would I do without knowing anything about my time? I’d heard some positive things about running without a GPS watch and was curious about trying it, but my type A personality is quite attached to glancing at my watch every so often while training and racing so I was not sure how I would do without it.
Coach Jenny Hadfield suggests that runners practice running without GPS devices so that we can tune into our own bodies and run at the pace our bodies are ready to run on any given day rather than becoming hyper focused on the number on the watch. While GPS watches are a valuable training tool, when overused they can prevent us from finding our internal GPS. Hadfield created three “effort-based” zones that we can try to visualize when running:
- Yellow Zone (Easy): You should be able to have a conversation and talk in full sentences.
- Orange Zone (Moderate): You should still be able to talk, but only in one or two word responses.
- Red Zone (Hard): You do not feel like talking when running in this zone. You need all of the oxygen you can get and do not want to use any of it for speaking. This is the anaerobic zone.
Coach Hadfield recommends that when racing a 5k experienced runners warm up in the yellow zone and split the race evenly between the orange and red zone. So with that in mind, I put painters tape over my Bia GPS sports watch and prepared to give running naked a try. I pressed start on my watch, peeked under the tape to make sure it was running, put the tape down again and crossed over the start mat. I tried to find someone who seemed like he or she was running about my pace to pace myself off of, but that proved to be a difficult strategy. This might work in a longer race like a half or full marathon, but in a crowded turkey day 5k, it was just not possible. I was surrounded by all types of runners. Fast runners, slow runners, families running together, a runner in jeans, and runners in costume. I tried to just run in a straight line as best I could and find some sort of groove without doing too much weaving in and out of other people.
The urge to peek underneath the tape was strongest during the first half mile or so. I kept looking down at my watch only to see blue painters tape with the message “Run Happy!” written on top. But how far had I gone? What was my average pace? My inquiring mind wanted to know! After glancing down at my wrist at least 27 times in the first 3 minutes of the race, my brain finally got the message that it was not going to get any answers there and I began to focus on other things like my footfalls and my breath. Ah, perhaps THIS is how you tune in to your body! I was breathing hard, but not too hard — Like I could speak in two or three word sentences. I was in the orange zone! Exactly where I should be. I focused on my breath and tried to pick up my pace ever so slightly every time I passed a mile or half mile marker.
The last mile, and particularly the last half mile, felt very intense. I did not want to talk at all, but when a teammate passed me I did use a little bit of my precious oxygen to cheer her on. (Nice work, Emily!!) I was certainly in the red zone. I felt like I was slowing down and had to dig deep mentally to maintain my pace to the finish. I crossed the finish, stopped my watch, and looked around for my teammates. I did not see a timing clock at the finish line so I still did not know my race time. When I finally did peek underneath that painters tape, what did I see? A 2 ½ minute PR!
Not only did I run my best 5k without looking at my GPS watch, but I also ran faster than I thought I was capable of running on that day. Had I looked at my watch and seen the pace I was running, I likely would have panicked, thinking thoughts like “Slow down! That’s too fast! You won’t be able to keep that up for the whole 5k!” But by using the Coach Hadifield’s zone method I was able to go by feel and run the pace that my body was ready for on that day. And I surprised myself. So try running naked sometime. You might surprise yourself too!