I’ve been running for about 15 years, which means my running pre-dates Garmins and other GPS devices. Which means that I had to learn to run without any type of device beeping my mile paces along the way. I consider this an advantage, actually, and to this day only use the Garmin when I am running specific tempo runs.
There are several reasons I think every runner should learn to run without a GPS watch, chief among them, the ability to learn to run certain paces by feel. If you are constantly looking at your watch, you’ll never get that chance.
Why is running by pace important? One is that your GPS is pretty much never going to match up to the mile markers on a race course. And guess what? The race director only cares what your end result is on the measured course, not on your GPS.
Secondly, technology fails sometimes. You might forget to charge your watch before you race, or your watch might not pick up accurate readings. Finally, constantly checking in on your pace on a race course leads to surging and resting, which is not the most efficient way to race.
Many runners don’t know how to learn to pace by feel, however. My suggestion? Go to the track with a plain old sports watch. You more than likely have certain paces in mind when you do track. Work out the quarter (or even 200) splits ahead of time, and then hit the rubber. Check your splits on the quarter and adjust accordingly. Do this for a couple of months and before you know it, you’ll get a sense of exactly how certain paces feel for you.
Come race day, you can take your race out at your goal pace and feel fairly confident that you’re hitting it. You’ll get a chance to settle in to a nice, steady pace and hold that until the end—the most effective way to hit a goal.
I’d also suggest that you don’t wear your GPS watch when running easy recovery runs. Let your body dictate what pace you need to hit. With a GPS watch on, you might get frustrated by how slow you are going and speed up to a pace that won’t facilitate recovery. Instead, don’t worry about your pace—just run what you need to run on that day. Your legs will be fresher for you the next time you do need to run hard.
If you really want to be daring, after some practice, try a race without a GPS watch and see how well you can run. You might be surprised at how listening to your body and running the best pace for you during different sections of the race course turns out for you.
I recently ran my PR half marathon on a course with no GPS and messed up mile markers. I was left with nothing but my body’s own gauge for how to run that course. Turns out my body knew best, and with some practice, yours can, too.