5 Reasons You Should Unplug While Running

How disconnecting from technology can improve your running

The concept of wearing powerful computers on your hands and arms to measure biometric data, distance, and pace is relatively new to the sport.

Runners throughout history have been able to achieve greatness without these things, so are they really needed on every run or race in the modern world? The answer to this question depends on the individual runner, but no matter how you personally feel about running technology, there may be times where it makes sense to leave the gadgets at home.

Here are five reasons to let go of the technological tether every now and then:

1. A chance to practice mindfulness and meditation.

Taking the earbuds out and turning off the watch means that you can connect your mind and body in a completely natural way. Instead of listening to music, you can listen instead to the peaceful sounds of nature. Rather than concentrating on how fast and how far you are running, you can choose to tune out, meditate, and think about other things. Sara Hall, a gold medalist at the 2011 Pan American Games and a U.S. Cross Country champion does just that. A devout Christian, Hall says she purposely runs one day a week without the aid of music so that she can pray. “I still use my Fitbit Ionic to track my mileage,” she says. “And usually, for my second run of the day, I purposefully don’t look at it often or stress the pace, but just get in the time and enjoy the run.”

2. A way to naturally teach your body goal pace.

Seasoned runners know that it’s possible to memorize what certain paces feel like in the legs and lungs. Using a smartwatch to gauge your pace, can interfere with this important mind-body connection. Sasha Gollish, a 1:11 half-marathoner who has represented her home country of Canada on the international stage, occasionally takes off the watch for this very reason. “You have to run by ‘feel’ and you actually have a better cognitive connection with what you’re doing than if you blindly follow technology,” she says. “When you’re doing an important training run, it’s a really good way to be engaged with the moment and let go of everything else.”

3. A stress-free opportunity to recover from a difficult workout.

Coach Mario Fraioli, author of “The Morning Shakeout” and a MotivRunning.com columnist, occasionally prescribes gadget-free recovery runs for his athletes. “They are usually shorter in duration and are intended for you to absorb the harder workout(s) while readying yourself for the next one, are the perfect time to unplug from technology,” he says. “That way, you can better listen to the cues your body is giving you and keep the effort as easy as you need it to be in order to achieve the run’s purpose.” Fraioli says these recovery runs are to be so relaxed that you can let your mind wander and give it a break, too.

4. An experiment with new workout routines.

If you’re used to running repeat laps or miles on a track at a specific heart rate or at a specific pace, then doing something without this kind of precise measurement is a great way to mix up your routine and inject it with a healthy dose of fun experimentation. A great “gadget-free” workout is the landmark fartlek. Fraioli suggests that for this workout you pick a familiar loop and run it without a watch. “Warm up with some easy running and then start having fun with natural landmarks such as mailboxes, street signs and fence posts,” he says. Run hard from one landmark to the next and then run easy until you feel like running hard again. “This is a great way to get in some quality running without having to constantly look down at your watch,” he says. “The interval is over when you want it to be over.”

5. A fun way to race.

Most races are stressful affairs with the focus solely on achieving a personal best, but if you can completely unplug in one of your races and instead focus on your competitors, the conditions, and the course itself, you may be pleasantly surprised. Many races have course clocks that you can use along the way, instead of constantly looking down at your smartwatch. Rather than searching for data on your wrist, look instead at the race unfolding around you. Find a competitor or a group of competitors and focus on what’s happening in front and behind you. Race them instead of the clock. Fraioli recalls a personal story of an athlete that he coached who’s GPS died 8 miles into a half marathon. Rather than freaking out, she tuned into her body and by feel the rest of the way, resulting in a near-3-minute personal best. “The last 5 miles were her fastest of the race because she didn’t have the watch to limit her—it was only through the unplanned unplugging that she learned she could run faster than she thought possible,” he says.

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is a freelance writer and 2:32 marathoner. His latest book, “The 30-Minute Runner,” will be published in January.