Running 'Naked' Through Paris

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Sometimes technology is not your best friend on race day. We have become so accustomed to having constant feedback as we make our way through life (any 'likes' on my latest Instagram yet?) that we can lose sight of the real purpose of activities. Running, which at its core is one of the most pure activities an athlete can pursue, is no stranger to technological distractions. The most obvious example of the tension between technology working for you and you working for technology is the sports watch. I hate to run without my trusted Garmin 610, but I am trying to learn how to choose when the watch is in charge. A lot of my training is structured workouts, for which the watch is absolutely brilliant. If I am meant to run a certain time at a certain effort level, and I know that the watch will beep when it is time to switch paces, I can just focus on running. Or focus on thinking about something else. This is definitely the watch working for me. Then there are times when I use the watch as a crutch, the most egregious example of this being on nights when I am supposed to run with the Run Dem Crew elites (think suicide pace) for a limited number of minutes. Some of the worst runs I have had have been twenty minutes with Elites. Why? Well, when you keep looking at your watch to see if you are done yet you are constantly losing your focus, in particular losing a grip on your mental coping techniques for pushing your body to its limit. The effect is compounded when you think you have just done a good long stretch since you last peeked at the watch, and discover it was only 45 seconds. Soul crushing. This same problem arises in races. My current marathon PB was in Berlin in 2013. In many ways that race was the best marathon I have yet run. My biggest regret was that I didn't listen to my inner voice telling me to hide my watch from myself. A lot of the mental struggle in that race was my dealing with the feedback from the watch, rather than focusing on running as best I could. 
I've been training myself to be less dependent on my watch, and working on running longer and longer stretches without paying attention to the data available to me. I took the next step in this process in Paris a few weeks ago. My training this year is focused on strength and endurance. Sure I am still doing tempo runs, but I am not pushing myself to my limit in the pursuit of speed. Which means that while I felt fully prepared to run a respectably fast half marathon, I hadn't specifically trained to run fast at this distance. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to run a complete race without paying attention to anything but the messages from my body. Yet I still wanted to have the data from the run to look through afterwards. So I was wearing my watch, but I had it set to a display which only showed my altitude above sea level, a completely useless piece of data while running through central Paris. In retrospect I could have had a more pure experience if I had switched off the watch feature which beeps every kilometre and shows the time it took to run that kilometre, but I only looked at a few of those times during the race, and didn't adjust my running in response to them. I wouldn't say I truly went 'the Full Monty' as I didn't simply leave the watch at home, but this was quite close to running 'naked,' that is without technology. The result of this was that I crossed the finish line of the race, and honestly did not know what my time was.
The last time I ran this race it was cold, my stomach was a little off, and I really struggled. That race is still my half marathon PB, but it felt like a struggle most of the way. This year the weather was nearly perfect, perhaps getting a bit warm by the finish but comfortable (even in vest and short-shorts) at the start. I did get to the starting pen a little late, and as a result ended up stuck behind the 1:35 pace group. I had been thinking that I should be capable of outrunning them, but after expending a bunch of energy trying to get clear of them I gave up and just settled into running comfortably. After about 7km my thighs were starting to ache a bit, and I had this bout of negative thinking along the lines of 'if I am in pain now how awful will this be to run with for another 9.5 miles?' Then I cleared those thoughts out of my head, took an inventory of my technique, corrected my leg stride to be more correct, and the pain vanished. Phew. Once I was back to being pain-free I really started enjoying the run. Sunshine, beautiful city, feeling good. After about 45 minutes I took a short break at a water station, had a few sips of water, gave up about 15-20 seconds of time to walk while drinking, and then got back to cruising speed. The rest of the race passed by with occasional reruns of an inner conversation about whether I should just be enjoying myself, or whether I should be pushing harder. I kept reminding myself that the goal was to run on feel, and the feel was telling me that my pace was respectable. Eventually I settled on a promise to myself that when I hit 20km I would kick up the pace and race the final 1100 metres. This focus on allowing my body's feedback, rather than technology, dictate my thinking about how well I was running was tremendously liberating. I could have had constant feedback telling me I was slowing down a bit, which would have probably triggered negative thinking about how I don't run well in the heat, which would have likely resulted in my slowing down more and struggling. Instead I just kept assuring myself that the feel of how I was running was fine, which allowed me to enjoy the weather and the scenery, and kept my pace steady. This was the first race I have run where after the race others were commenting about how hot it had been, and I was saying how comfortable I had been. As promised I kicked my speed up for the last stretch, flew past people struggling to finish, and crossed the finish line with a big smile. Final time: 1:41:06. Not a PB (but under two minutes off my best time), but a very satisfying and fun run.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Maskit published on April 6, 2015 9:57 PM.

Awaking From Hibernation, Raring to Race a Mile was the previous entry in this blog.

With A Little Help From My Friends is the next entry in this blog.

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