I’ve run a lot in my life. It’s been twelve years of professional 400m running followed by a marathon preparation, so I’ve done lap after lap, kilometer after kilometer, day in, day out. Add to this the hours of road-biking, weight-lifting, etc. Up until recently, everything has always been about perfectly calculating and planning my trainings and then putting them into numbers to supervise and analyze each session to make the most of each workout. Athletes like me normally use two main metrics: distance and time/pace/heart rate –meaning that we run or cycle ‘x’ meters/kilometers at a certain heart rate, pace, or in a certain time. There is no way out for the athlete; no way to hide or cheat these metrics, as opposed to using just one parameter –like ‘running 10k,’ which could either be an easy jog or a tough workout.
With the rise of modern technology and training equipment the boom for controlling, managing, and analyzing every single move we make has skyrocketed. We can now be more precise, more accurate and efficient than ever. But there are still certain things that can hardly be measured or put into numbers. For one, the actual feelings and emotions attached to working out. Indeed, how do you feel when you set out to run, or even before, when you’re getting ready to do so?
I used to be one of the biggest freaks when it came to analyzing and planning the metrics of a workout, and I still see a huge potential in this. But at the same time, there is also a huge risk: the risk of forgetting to run by feel.
Running by feel
Our bodies talk to us. Not in any language we can hear out loud, but they give us signals. The signals can differ. They may sometimes be expressed as a certain kind of pain, drowsiness, anxiety, tightness, a sort of gut feeling; or, on the contrary, as a sort of lightness, vibrancy, a certain happiness even. Trying to put this ‘language’ into words is futile because there’s hardly a way to accurately and unequivocally do so. And so, when you think again about the fever of current metrics and analysis’ systems, it all necessarily begs the question of how sure can one be that something we can not express with words can even actually find expression through numbers?
To me, it seems that somewhere along the way we have lost the capacity to interpret those truly human –indeed, truly animal– signals. It sounds pessimistic to say so but, to a large extent, we have lost our connection to our bodies. To make up for it, we have slowly developed increasingly accurate technology; gadgets meant to pick up some of our bodies’ signals and then turn them into numbers. Parameters we can interpret. But a lot gets lost in translation.
As long as you only stick to the numbers, you will only be getting a partial view on the overall picture. The picture of you moving in time and space with a given sensation of how it really feels to move that way. But perhaps the saddest part of it all is that you won’t even realize that you’re actually missing out on those very honest, unfiltered, and raw bits and pieces of information coming at you from your own running Self. For it is ‘your experience’ before, during, and after a workout which can really make a difference. This is so both for high level athletes, and for the amateur runner.
So, my point here is not to banish technology and gadgets from your running altogether, or to deny the capacity these have to make your training more effective. No. I’m here advocating instead for measure, conscious use, and enhancing utilization. Because, if you know how to use these gadgets properly, they can also be incredibly helpful. They can help you better calibrate your ‘inner sensors’ to create an ‘awareness of feeling’ whereby you may be able, once again, to interpret and make the most of all those subtle signals your body sends you.
A technology of feeling: conscious running
There is a great deal of value in going first through your body’s signals –the actual ‘feeling’– using technology to record in the background so as to do a double check afterwards. Approaching each training with the mindset of ‘what do I feel? How do I feel today?’ will give you invaluable input –your input, the one only you have access to–, allowing you to resort to the gadgets later to see how that ‘feeling’ translated into numbers. The idea here is to learn to rely more and more on your own sensations, slowly, gradually, making your dependence on technology and gadgets obsolete over time. This is, perhaps, not a suggestion for the newbie runner or for beginners in general. It takes time to learn to run by feel; to feel your body’s signals again, decodify the sensations, and use this inner compass to navigate a workout to achieve certain results. But perhaps, the newbie runner could make a good start and begin using technology wisely and consciously during training.
Indeed, once you get to this point –the point where your inner sensations take over and you can just be ‘your own man’ while running– believe me, you won’t go back. You will feel powerful, free, and alive. I still remember a recent workout where I had to run four times 200 metres in 24 seconds, and I managed to come in every single time between 23.96s and 24.05s without even checking the watch halfway. That feeling –the feeling of you on the final straight, feeling that you are running at the proper pace without any type of aid– is simply the best! The type of feeling every runner out there likes to get.
At the end of the day, everything really boils down to the feeling. This proves even more relevant when you consider the psychological advantages of working out entirely without technology. Because research has actually shown that you will do great mainly when you feel that you can actually do great. Which, as some of our older blog entries have explained, goes to show how everything starts in the head.
In those days where the training goes well and you don’t have your watch, or GPS, or smartphone close by, you will just feel great, with or without the gadget to corroborate the feeling. And in those days where things don’t go the way you expected, and you come back feeling anything but great, you will simply be relieved because, not having the gadget close by will allow you to break free from the torment of knowing how much you actually sucked. It’s a win-win, even when you lose!
At the end of the day, and for the majority of us, there is only one thing that makes us better runners, which is –and you might have guessed it– running. So my final two-cents on all of this is not to worry so much about hightech measurement, lightweight apparel, or even trainers with a certain sole stiffness. Just lace up your shoes and go out for a run into the beach, the mountains, the woods, the prairie. Tune in your ears, open your eyes, and allow yourself to run in the moment. With each breath coming in and out, you are one step closer to just being; with your body gliding sometimes smoothly, sometimes roughly, you leave a conscious footprint into space and time.