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There’s a beautiful simplicity about cross country. In theory, you only need a pair of good running shoes and you’re set. But if there’s one thoughtful investment a runner makes beyond shoes, it’s a watch. A small, simple watch. Or maybe a bright, touchscreen GPS watch. Either way: They are all the rage in the running community. And there are many individuals who will race with their watch as well, crouching at the starting line with a finger resting over the buttons. This begs the question: Should you run a race with a watch? It really comes down to personal preference, but let me break it down for you.
1. Is it a GPS watch?
Before you start debating whether or not you should race with a watch, you need to familiarize yourself with the rules, especially if you have a GPS watch. Typically, GPS watches are not allowed in high school cross country races. If you run collegiately or recreationally, you should be fine, but you should still check the guidelines for specific races. It would be terrible to finish a stellar performance, only to be disqualified because of your wrist wear. When in doubt, opt for an old-fashioned “dumb watch,” which is almost allows permissible in a race.
2. How long are you racing?
Okay, so you’re allowed to wear your watch in a race. But should you? Well, how long is the race? There’s no iron-clad distance at which racing with a watch is labeled “good” or “bad.” At the same time, if you are racing a short distance (say, a mile or two), a watch might be more distracting than helpful. When you’re running for less than 15 minutes, looking at your pace or your time is not very beneficial, and it will take your mind out of the race when you do it. You also don’t want to be distracted during longer races, but a watch may very well help with that. Let’s say you’re racing a half marathon over the summer for some speed work. You’re not in season and you most likely won’t have someone to consistently give feedback on how your pace is. If that doesn’t rattle you, then I’d say nix the watch! But if the watch will help prevent you from going out too hard and dying, it might be smart to use it.
3. Why do you want to use it?
That brings me to the third question: Why do you want to race with a watch? In other words: What purpose is the watch serving? If you’re anything like me, a watch (GPS enabled or not) can be nerve-wracking. I’m very Type-A and I know that if I raced with a watch, my mind would get tied to the pace and start making judgements or getting distracted. “Oh no! A 5:45 mile? That is a little too fast… I’m going to crash and burn!” I know how my mind works, and that’s why I’ve never raced with a watch. I still might see or hear my splits, but I’m able to focus on the race more without a watch. I allow my body and mind to tell me how to run, and not the numbers.
However, that’s just me. Every runner is different, and I have plenty of friends who are able to use with a watch without obsessing over it during a race. They find it helpful to race with a watch, even if they don’t look at it.
At the end of the day though, I would encourage you to go without. Cross country is an intricate process of challenging your mind while simultaneously letting your body run free. And pace doesn’t matter as much as competing does, so a watch could easily distract you from the latter. No matter which way you sway on the watch debate though, don’t forget to enjoy your journey as a runner and make every moment count.