“I’ve stopped tracking my runs and it’s really elevated my running game”

Do you always log your runs on Strava? Can’t head out without starting your Garmin? Ever thought of running… without tech? Writer Lisa Bowman ditched the apps and found that she suddenly became a tougher, better runner. 

Research from Running USA shows there was a 65% global increase in running and jogging activities at the height of the pandemic in 2020, with nearly 30% of runners lacing up for the first time as lockdowns took over. It’s hardly surprising, then, that running app usage has increased by the same amount since 2020. We’re all at it.

There’s no doubt that sports watches and running apps such as Strava and Nike Run Club can be useful for setting goals or event training, but do we really need to be using them on every run?  

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When I swapped running on the road for sand-based jogging, instead of focusing on how the terrain worked my body differently, I became obsessed with waiting for the robotic mile marker announcements. It was troubling to see how much slower I appeared to be going. 

While I still stash my phone in my running belt for safety reasons, I’m now enjoying more runs without tracking them – and it’s really elevated my running game.  

Going tech-free can help you to listen to your body

Our bodies all have a natural rhythm, which we can disrupt unnecessarily when focusing too much on what we think or want our minute mile to be.

“I’ve never run using an app or a sports watch,” says Nicola Cher Geismer, founder of Free Your Spine. “I intuitively listen to my body, especially my back, knee and hip health. I always set a minimum of a 20 minute run (set on a stopwatch) starting with a light jog, then pace, then to a more dynamic run, but I never push myself to a time that feels counterintuitive to my joint and muscular health.

“Setting a minimum time per run allows me to maintain my fitness levels, listen in to my body’s wisdom, and supports me in tapping into my endorphin high without pushing myself too strenuously – potentially towards injury.” 

Listening to your body doesn’t necessarily mean running slower or for less time, however. It’s about allowing your body to do whatever it’s capable of that day. Let’s be real – we don’t need an app to tell us we’re pushing our limits when an elevated heart rate and laboured breathing are perfectly adequate indicators. Experienced runners may even find they intuitively know what speed they’re running at. 

Why it’s time to lose the obsession with tracking

A 2020 study of 272 cyclists who used fitness apps found that those who used them to give support and encouragement to other cyclists were likely to have a harmonious passion for exercise themselves. However, those who used them for social recognition, for example posting their positive stats online, were more likely to develop an obsessive passion for exercise, creating added stress. Researchers also found that people were more likely to skip workouts if the battery on their tracking device was dead.  

“I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve realised I’ve forgotten my watch and ran home and started again,” runner Pia Dodd admits. “I hate it… I really feel like if it’s not on Strava, it doesn’t count.” Dodd has just come back from a period of injury, and when she resumed running after taking time off, she became more relaxed with tracking her runs. “I was just grateful to be able to move again,” she explains. 

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Beth Davies, a women’s personal trainer and coach, recognises that tracking can create useful awareness around activity levels and other health markers, but also acknowledges its downfalls.

“I remember a client using a smart watch in her workout and her view was that unless she hit a certain heart rate, the workout didn’t count,” says Davies. “This is absolutely not true. Trackers can create a narrow definition of success, which isn’t healthy.

“In terms of my own training, which is mostly strength-based, I don’t track anything, but make consistent progress over time. As a recovered exercise obsessive and disordered eater, I love the freedom this gives me.” 

Tracking can increase pressure around working out

Tracking our runs can add unnecessary pressure and competition with ourselves and others, taking away the sense of accomplishment we should rightly feel every time we lace up our trainers and get out there.

“If you don’t have an event coming up, with a time to hit, I would suggest a more natural form of running is better,” advises Will Goodge, head coach at Puresport Run Club.

“We can sometimes get caught up in the data and what it means, or attach a value system based on how fast or far we went. Most people run because of how it makes them feel, especially afterwards. So ditching the tracking equipment can help drop any pressures and allow us to simply enjoy the activity for what it is.” 

How to be a more mindful runner

I’m lucky enough to be able to run on a beautiful stretch of beach, but I often find I’m not appreciating my surroundings when blasting music and waiting for the mile marker announcements. Running without tech has allowed me to focus on the sights, sounds and smells I might otherwise ignore when consumed by hitting a goal speed/distance.

“Running without a sports watch or app to track mileage, heart rate, speed and distance can reduce stress, as well as allow yourself to wander in peace,” says Kinetic Sweat trainer Jess Rose McDowell.

“You’re able to run with a clear mind, be present in the moment, and appreciate your surroundings. It’s OK to simply run for the experience of what it does to your body and mind. The pressure of running to ‘win’ or convincing yourself you cannot run is what I call ‘runner’s anxiety’, where people may avoid running because it is a mental sport.” 

So, we should run because it feels good, not because we want cheap validation from an app. When we ditch our trackers, there’s no room for disappointment – only dopamine.

Tips for ditching tech from Bev Logan, founder of the Badass Mother Runners run club

  • Plan a route you already know well if you’re aiming for a certain distance.
  • Join a running club and participate in group runs – a great way to discover new routes in your local area.
  • Meet a friend for a run/chat and put the world to rights for a bit.
  • Practise mindfulness on your run and be ‘in the moment’.
  • Keep a running journal of things you see/how you feel after your runs.  

For more running tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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