How to outsmart your running watch

I was distracted the other day by the glare of someone’s massive smart watch and it reminded me of how old and basic my own version is. Despite my family’s polite suggestions of an upgrade whenever another birthday is approaching I have resisted retiring my simple model. So far, I am not even tempted. Because why would I replace my running watch when it’s in working order and has everything that I consider to be the essentials for any run? It measures the time, the distance and also the pace. And to be honest, I only really care about the first two. I would probably find out that there are loads of other things it also records if I could be bothered to look it up in the app but truthfully, I cannot. Though still, I am outnumbered in my family by the wearers of sophisticated mini-computers who collect a wealth of information about their health and fitness stats.  

One child tells me about their stress levels and intensity minutes while another family member likes to wear their watch to bed so that they can check how well they slept. Whether what is measured is accurate or not is never even questioned. Even so, I find it hard to believe that a score telling them that they’re even more stressed out than earlier is helpful or if a number can truly reveal the extent to which someone else was snoring like a bull. However, as I only tend to wear my running watch when I plan to go for a run I may be alone in not embracing all of the new technology available on a wristband. Yet still, something about the extent and excess of information these devices collect and report back to us completely puts me off upgrading. Instinctively, I feel that all of this tracking is taking the fun and enjoyment out of running and that’s not very smart.         

But to test this theory, if you are a runner, then I ask if you can remember the last time you went for a run just for the sake of it? In other words, when was the last time you can honestly say that you went for a run without caring about how you were running? When did you last go for a run and didn’t glance down to check your stats on your watch even once? At the end of a run, do you normally stop when you have completed your planned distance or route or more than often do you find yourself having to keep running for longer, sometimes in circles, until your device tells you that you’re done? When was the last time you ever went for a run and didn’t share it with anyone or upload it onto Strava etc;? Have you ever gone for a run without recording it (intentionally)??

Now I am not saying that using smart watches and running apps are all a bad thing because clearly they can be very useful for training purposes and can help with rehabilitation and returning from an injury. Of course, routinely carrying a phone whilst out running is always sensible in terms of safety, especially if you are going on your own. And I am certainly not trying to stop anyone from listening to some good music or a gripping podcast while out plodding along the trails. However, the risk of putting too much importance and attention on your running metrics and physiological measurements that are immediately fed back to you is that before you know it, you can lose some of the joy of why you were out there in the first place. Even worse, our overreliance on smart devices that reduce a simple workout to a mountain of information about our health can mean that we often ignore our common sense. Because why else would anyone still let their device have the final say on whether they had a ‘good’ run or not when our data cannot tell us how much we actually enjoyed it?

Of course, you may believe that you are far cleverer than your smart watch and it has absolutely zero influence on your enjoyment of running. In fact, you may think that having all of this information at your fingertips has made you a better runner. It keeps you motivated, focused and helps you reach all of your fitness goals. And if that is the case, well done to you. But if you haven’t already skipped ahead to the recipe bit of this blog then I challenge you to try to remember back to a recent run or two. Did you feel differently about each of your runs once you had checked your resulting stats afterwards? Did you feel any better or more disappointed about how well you ran or whether you enjoyed them? Why? Do you remember these recent runs because of your stats? Or do you remember them because of how you felt running and where you ran?

If you do find that you may be falling into the rabbit hole of too much information and your enjoyment of running is starting to be affected by the stats, then it might be time to try to wean yourself off caring about your device. Although, no one is saying to get rid of your smart watch or to delete your running apps. But if you find yourself putting too much importance on your results and are beginning to lose sight on why you are running, I suggest that you do a couple of smart things.

Less is more
Start by changing the display on your running watch so that it only shows the bare minimum of what you need to know and resist the temptation to scroll down. For bog standard running if you don’t need to navigate anywhere you probably only need to see the distance and the time as you run, but if you also want to keep your speed in check then include the pace or heartrate.

Do look up
Next, when you go for a run try to reduce the number of times you glance down at your watch to check your current stats. You may find it easier to do this if you set your watch to silent. If you are running a well-known route where you already know how far you need to go then ask yourself why you need to check? Why not look up and enjoy your run and think about what you are seeing or listening to rather than paying attention to what your stats are saying about how well you are running.

Don’t let your smart watch have the last word
Lastly, whenever you finish a run think about how it went for you before you check your stats. Did you enjoy it? How did you feel? Try to get better at overriding the feedback your device gives you if it doesn’t match with what you know and felt on your run. Even if you are trying to improve you will be more encouraged to put on your trainers again by thinking about what went well rather than focusing on bare stats that never tell the whole story. Ultimately, if you enjoyed your run and felt you ran like a gazelle then it will always have been a great run even if your device says it tracked something more like a Heffalump. Always try to put things into perspective and remind yourself that sometimes a smart watch can just be a bit of a smartass.

And now for the recipe. As I am training for an upcoming running holiday in the Highlands of Scotland I wanted to come up with another great ultra-marathon snack but more on the savoury side. These Ultra pretzels are fantastic for all-day running when you need a salty fix but they will be also quickly devoured by the other hungry members of your family.  

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