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Editor’s Corner: Lost in the Woods

Would you run a half marathon with no watch, GPS or mile markers? Editor Jessie did just that and discovered the pleasures of unplugging.

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Stepping into a busy coffee shop the other day, I experienced a brief moment of anxiety. I had left my phone in the car. Instead of checking my email, Twitter and newsstand, I’d have to just stand there for 10 minutes waiting for my coffee.  After my initial panic wore off, I thought to myself, Wow, you have a problem.

It’s no secret that with every year that passes, we become increasingly attached to technology. Whether you like it or not, this addiction extends to our running life as well. Habits that are par for the course in 2012 would have been unthinkable just a few years back. Wrap your head around this one: When I was in high school, I would ask my mom to drive running routes for me so that I could track the distance on the car’s odometer. And I never carried a cell phone because I didn’t have one.

Ten years later, I always have my smartphone in my hand when running. I use an app to track my mileage, another to listen to podcasts and a third to find my way if I get lost. During races, I’ll wear my Garmin instead, the pleasant chirping indicating when each mile has passed.

Last Saturday, however, I decided to run a trail half marathon for fun. Driving to the race, I realized that I’d left my Garmin at home and my phone only had one bar left. When I got to the start line at a little state park north of Tampa, Florida, the race director announced that there would be no mile markers (in an effort to preserve the trails). After we took off, I had exactly one piece of equipment to rely on for the next 13.1 miles: my body.

I carry my smartphone to avoid getting lost or feeling disoriented. But running without any indication of distance or time passed didn’t elicit any confusion. Instead, it was one of the most restorative races I’ve ever run.

It wasn’t until these external cues were stripped away that I realized how much time I normally spend (waste?) thinking about how many miles I’ve run, how many miles I have left to go, if my pace is too fast or too slow, when I should speed up or slow down. Without this data ticker scrolling through my mind, I was able to enjoy the things I often barely notice. I gave the beautiful surroundings my full attention, watched my footing over the roots and creeks and even saw a few butterflies.

I let my body run at a pace that felt tough yet comfortable. I sped up on the downhills and reined it in on the inclines. Like in any half marathon, I was tired by the end and glad to recognize the path we’d traced from the start, knowing it would lead me to the finish.

After I’d freed myself from panic, the run had nourished me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. And to my surprise, I ran 20 seconds faster than the road half marathon I’d raced two weekends before, a good enough time to win first female and third overall.

I realized later that I didn’t take a single photo at the race—but I remember the experience perfectly.

Have you ever raced without a watch? Tell me about your experience here or Tweet me @JessieSebor.