racing unplugged

For the past year, I’ve been trying something new:  competing in all my races without a watch or Garmin or any other way to keep track of my pace.  It’s a new concept to me, as someone who obsessively checks her pace and keeps track of her pace on every single run, race or training.  Right now, it seems to be working for me, but there are some pros and cons that come with it.

//Pros// I’m no longer obsessively checking my watch every 2 minutes.  It’s been very freeing not having to worry about my pace.  I’ve been running on feel for the most part.  It’s taken a lot of pressure off race day, so I don’t have to beat myself up if I’m having an “off” day.

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The only race that I’ve really run “timed” in the past year was the race I ran with Matt in Branson.  He decided to carry his phone with RunKeeper on it, which would tell us our pace every 5 minutes.  It was soooooo frustrating!  Every time I heard a number that was slower than I wanted, I pressured myself to speed up and pass more people.

And looking back at the Chicago Marathon, when it was really freaking hot and there was no way I was going to PR, it would have been much better had I not timed myself.  Hitting the half mark on pace and then watching it fall off as the race went on was a huge shot to my ego.  I would have rather not known how awful the race was going than beating myself up because I wasn’t going to hit my time goal.


It’s especially helped me with my bad habit of going out too fast.  I tend to warm up during the first mile, so it’s always my slowest mile.  But again, if I see a pace that I don’t want to see right away, I beat myself up and feel the need to go faster, when in reality, I know I can make up that slower first mile as the race goes on. It’s by far made me a better racer just for this reason alone.

//Cons// I really haven’t had to worry about PR-ing post-pregnancy yet.  I’m probably one of the few moms that isn’t faster post-pregnancy just because I had a lot more time to train before we had a family.  And it’s not that I’m not fast now, it’s just that the PRs I set have been really difficult for me to get even close to, particularly my 5K PR, which of course is my race distance of choice.

However, I’m getting to that point where I’m going to start wanting to PR again and I am going to need to know those paces to make sure that I am on the right track.  The thing about being a short distance runner is that there usually aren’t clocks every mile like there are with half and full marathons.  The only time I see a clock after the start is at the finish line – far too late for me to know whether or not I was “on pace”.


It’s also been difficult not knowing where I’m at in a race.  Yes, there are usually mile markers set up, but in all honesty, I’m too focused to even notice them.  The only time I have any idea where the mile markers are is when other runners’ Garmins go off.  As I’ve found with training, I am able to focus much better when I know exactly how much farther I need to run.  Having a watch to tell me how much longer I need to push would really be helpful!

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But, all in all, I think racing unplugged has been extremely beneficial for me.  I love being able to race on just how I feel and just worry about my time at the finish line only, when the race is done and over with.  No regrets this way since I wasn’t obsessively looking at my watch, beating myself up for not running faster.

I’m still on the fence about wearing one or using my RunKeeper app during the half marathon in a couple weeks.  I don’t necessarily have a time goal since I’m really just running with my brother and helping him through the race, but it would really be nice to have those mile markers!

Do you race with a watch or Garmin or do you go unplugged?  If you’ve done it both ways, which do you prefer?

  • Brian

    Just remember that your brother has a time goal in mind and is hell bent on BLOWING IT OUT OF THE WATER! 🙂 No, really, this is where I’m struggling too. Do I want to know if I am running the pace I want to run or do I really just want to go out there and see what I can do?

  • Lee

    I like it when I run unplugged but there is a person saying the times (or a clock) at each mile marker. That way I have an idea of how fast I’m going, but I’m not obsessively checking my Garmin all the time.
    Lee recently posted..Bad Mood

  • Granted I’m not a racer (yet) and only just getting back into running, but what I do is start my MapMyRun app, put on some music, put my phone in the stroller or my pocket, and leave it. It’s nice to hear the lady break through the music to tell me where I’m at, but I focus on running the rest of the time. My breathing. My arms. When my calves get tired I focus on my thighs. Maybe it’s because I’m so new, but it would consume too much of my energy and mental focus to check my pace constantly. I think the idea of racing without a timer sounds freeing and fun. I might have to give it a try when I get to that point! 🙂
    Laura recently posted..A Single Step

  • Jen

    I’ve only raced w/o a watch once and it was my half PR. I really agree with all your pros and cons. I guess my biggest fear is missing a PR by a few seconds. I feel like knowing exactly how much time I had would force me to push it harder? Or maybe not! There are definitely pluses and minsues to each approach!
    Jen recently posted..Notes from Dr. Sears

  • I don’t use Runkeeper when I’m racing. I just run by feel. I think it would be frustrating to know I’m not hitting my pace goals
    Sarah recently posted..I’m gonna kick your butt! Not that I’m thinking of butts..

  • Can you change the display on your garmin? I now have mine set to just show distance. It will beep every mile and my mile pace will flash on the screen for about 5 seconds. It gives me the option of looking or not looking. I can also change screens mid run to show another screen that will show my pace.

    I really wish my battery had died in my marathon (i had a low battery warning at mile 16).

    • Kristen

      I honestly only run with my phone. I haven’t used my garmin in ages! It’s totally old school!