Once you’ve run with a GPS watch it’s hard to lose that instant data from the convenience of your wrist. It’s nice to see your pace, distance, heart rate and whatever other data you’ve become accustomed to seeing. There’s a bit of comfort in having access to all of that on your run. But one thing you’re losing out on is the opportunity to run by feel; to really be in tune with your body.
While my GPS watch is a great training tool, I’ve found that I race best when I run without it. My best race finishes have come when I’ve simply worn a stopwatch and have focused on running by perceived effort instead of a goal pace. And there’s a reason for that. When you run by feel, you often run truer to your current level of fitness. But sometimes when you run with a goal finish time and goal pace in mind, you go out too fast and burn up before the end of the race. Perhaps you are undertrained for the finish time you wanted. Or on the other end of the spectrum you could be running much slower than you are capable of, simply because you’re trying to stick to a specific pace. Taking the pace information provided by your GPS watch out of the picture can simplify the race equation: it’s just you and the road.
If you always strap on your GPS watch for every run, the thought of running without it can be a bit daunting. So here are a few tips to race your next race by feel.
Test It Out In Training. Before your race “naked” test out running by feel in a training run. Grab a watch with a stopwatch function and head out on a run where you know the mile markers. Hit the lap split at each mile so you know your mile time. See if you can run consistent splits for the whole run. As you are running focus on how your pace feels: Are you breathing hard? Does your form feel relaxed?
Focus On Effort. Most road races include a least a few hills. Hills often slow our pace and that can throw you off if you’re running by the pace on your GPS watch. When running, racing without it simply focus on maintaining an even effort. If you’re pushing for a PR, focus on a steady effort that increases towards the end of the race.
Hit The Splits. Running with a stopwatch is a good way to get some feedback on your pace. Hit the split time at each mile marker and you’ll be able to see your mile time. If you’re running by feel, the information from the split time can help motivate you. Ask yourself if you can push a little harder and sustain it? If so then speed up a bit. But if your effort doesn’t feel sustainable back off and save your energy for a strong kick at the finish.