Tuesday 26th January 2021 (1.13pm)
The most important thing that I have learnt both physically and mentally over the last four years is don’t be driven by performance data. The multi million pound sports watch industry has boomed over recent years as people are interested in step count, pace, distance travelled, calories burned and heart rate as they strive to hit personal bests. I was introduced to such a watch 30 years ago and have been wearing one ever since. I am currently wearing a Garmin 735XT, but do I really need to?
Being a triathlete, Ironman and someone who takes part in all 3 events individually, my trusted companion has never been far from my wrist. For swimming, it counts my lengths, strokes, pace, distance and time. For cycling, it shows my speed, power, gradient, and for running I can check out my performance condition, cadence and training effect. All of this then automatically syncs into my Garmin account, Training Peaks and Strava. This opens a whole new world into analysing performance against fatigue, training loads and projections.
For those of you who own a smart watch, would you consider going for a swim, bike, run, (or any other activity) without one?
If it is not on Strava it doesn’t count, right?
In 2017 whilst training for the London marathon I was advised to ditch the watch and run for fun. This in itself was enough to raise my heart rate and show a look of panic on my face.
As a child I was very competitive, I had to be the fastest and the best. I had to win all of my races as both a swimmer and runner. Primary school sports day was all about the cup at the end (which I won every year). This continued into secondary school as I progressed through the levels of international hockey. I lost a few years due to all of my knee operations (I am in double figures) but this made me more determined to smash the goals and targets set for me. I wanted to be fitter, better and faster than ever, and every run needed to be a personal best. I was pushing limits and boundaries too far on a road to self destruction. I was the same academically (still am) and in work (off with mental distress).
Little did I know that such pressure would one day be detrimental both physically and mentally. Something had to give and something had to change. My addictive behaviour towards exercise saw me fall into the realms of self harm.
Returning back to 2017, I did what I was told by the marathon coach (kind of). I still wore my watch but step by step I started paying little attention to it. My running changed, it became lighter, it became freer and I started noticing where I was and what was around me. I would go to parkrun and wasn’t bothered about getting a personal best. If I spent the whole run near the back talking to someone then so be it. I found something that I had never really experienced in running before and that was enjoyment. My focus had shifted.
I have been fortunate enough to run the London marathon 3 times, New York marathon, and finish Ironman Wales (amongst many other events). I am also a holder of the London Classics Medal. The questions I am always asked is what time do you hope to finish in? or what was your time? My answers are always I don’t care, and usually I don’t know.
What I have found is that naturally I have got fitter and faster without the help of my Garmin. These days when I go out for a run, I don’t plan distance, time or route, I just put on my daps and decide when I am out of the door. How much I do is all dependant on how I feel. I have become better at listening to my body. If I want to return home after 1 mile then I will. If I run for 9.99 miles then it must have been an ok day. When I start my watch, I will not look at it during the run (unless I get a notification). My feet and lungs determine my pace and speed. If I stop for a chat, great. If I stop to take a selfie, great. When I finish I stop my watch as it automatically uploads. It is only when I add a title to my activity do I see what I have run. It does not bother me if I stop on 4.97, or 5.99 miles. I can see how my pace has got much quicker (as an average) over the last couple of years and this has happened through running for fun.
The reason why I still wear my Garmin is because I am interested to see how far I have run or cycled (not much swimming at the moment) during a month. I make no comparisons from month to month or to other people. I also need to provide evidence for my virtual challenges. Oh, and I am also in a Red January challenge with my dog Olly.
Of course everyone has different goals and objectives. Some of you want a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon PB. I have utmost respect to your commitment and drive. This works for many people. It can give training structure and is a good measure of progress, but to me it became detrimental to my mental health.
Next time you are out running, try taking things back to basics by listening to your body rather than being a slave to your watch. You never know, it may work for you as it has done for me.
Let me know your thoughts and how you get on.