As a coach and a runner, I am constantly trying to refine my personal coaching style and philosophy. The more I read, and the more I realize what is truly important in training, the more I am convinced that my philosophy is one of minimalism. Not in the sense of wearing ridiculous barefoot shoes, but in the sense of eschewing technology and gear in favor of relying on your own senses.
I have written about the over-reliance on GPS watches in the past, and the onslaught of data at our fingertips these days. Let it be known that I am NOT anti-GPS. I have one myself, and find it an invaluable training tool. But it is a tool, and in that regard, has a place and time where it should be used. If you are running a marathon pace run, a GPS is great for keeping you on pace. However, if you are on a recovery jog, then a GPS can lure you into running too fast if you have a pre-conceived notion of what pace you should be running. Likewise, when doing tempo runs or intervals on the roads, a GPS can help you dial into the correct pace, but once you have that, I suggest turning it off and trying to keep the same effort for the remainder of the workout.
My reasoning is this: data is good. But sometimes too much data can overwhelm you. It is not a fact that more data is always better. In fact, sometimes it can be counterproductive. If you spend your entire workout glancing at your GPS every 5 seconds to make sure you are on pace, you learn nothing. The key to running well is to be able to take a self-assessment and determine if the effort level you are running at is appropriate or not. If you are doing 3-minute surges at 5K effort, you need to be able to gauge if the effort you are expending is one you can keep for three miles. During the race, you also need to be able to assess your effort and determine if you can increase the pace, or if you need to back off slightly in order to stay strong through the finish. Honing this skill allows you to race at the proper effort, and not get pulled out too fast.
Furthermore, effort matters more than pace. Suppose you use a calculator to find out that you should be doing intervals at 6:00 pace based on a recent race. However, there are myriad factors that affect how fast you can run at a certain effort on any given day. The heat, humidity, and wind can cause you to run faster or slower. Internal factors, such as your hydration level, how much food or caffeine you have consumed, whether you are relaxed or stressed, or how much sleep you got the night before can also affect your performance. Taking this into consideration, there should at very least be a range for your paces, but I argue to keying off effort level is even better. That way, it doesn’t matter if you are feeling good and running 5:50 pace, or feeling off and running 6:15s; the effort and the benefit of the workout is the same.
What I’m trying to convey is that running is a very primal, instinctual activity. Humans have been running for millennia, and lacing up your running shoes is a great way to get in touch with that ancient act. Come race day, it is your body, and even more importantly, your mind, that allows you to achieve your best, not the GPS. Unlike some other sports, the victor in a road race is not determined by who spent the most money on their gear.
So what does this mean to somebody looking to run their best? I believe that you should dedicate at least some of your workouts, and all of your easy runs, to be done by feel, rather than pace. If you must wear a GPS, make a goal not to look at it during your run. I also think GPS watches should not be worn for races shorter than a half marathon. Not only will you learn to be able to gauge your effort better, but chances are you will enjoy the run more too!
Also, it means that instead of immediately purchasing the latest and greatest running gadget, save your money and put it toward something more useful, like food or a concert. If you simplify your running, you will have less distractions, and can focus on what really matters. As I said before, running is a simple activity. Don’t over-complicate it.