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Why I Love Running Without a Fitness Tracker or GPS Watch

Running Naked
I run naked! It sounds scandalous, right?

But to run naked the way you're probably picturing would be downright disastrous. A sports bra is the very first thing I put on before I head out for a run, followed by all the other items and layers that keep my daily jaunts well supported—and, uh, legal.

There is one thing I stopped wearing on the run recently, though: my GPS watch.

For years, I strapped a Garmin GPS watch to my wrist before every single run. It didn't matter if my training plan called for a tempo workout or an easy recovery run. Heck, it didn't even matter whether I was even following a training plan. I always ran with that watch firmly attached to my left arm. (Don't have a watch? Try one of these Shape-approved models.)

At first, running with a timing device was a blast. I loved suddenly knowing how far I was running instead of having to come home and map out my route on the computer, and it was fascinating seeing an ever-changing monitor displaying my pace as I trotted through Central Park and along Manhattan's West Side Highway.

After each run, I would connect my watch to my computer and upload my data, fascinated by all the numbers at my fingertips. I could see how far I ran, how fast I ran each mile, and what the elevation gain and loss amounted to. I could pore over those numbers for hours. (Seriously, ask my husband. On Saturday mornings, I would let him know I'd be out running for two hours, then I'd need approximately 20 minutes of data time before embarking on our weekend adventures.)

But what started as a fun, harmless—even helpful—way to keep track of my distance and assess my paces and workouts quickly became an all-consuming, can't-live-without-it mind trap.

I got into the habit of stopping and starting my watch at every intersection, stop light, or pause to say hi to a friend. I didn't want to mess with my precious numbers! I'd beat myself up when I ran a pace that was "too slow" or slower than my usual. I'd stare at the watch on easy runs and during races, watching the pace estimates fluctuate.

It was so easy to measure every run using those GPS-defined numbers. I stopped taking into account how my body felt, and started abiding entirely by my splits, distances, and paces. (Just one of many things every fitness tracker addict can probably relate to.)

I came to a point where I found myself bonking at races, feeling completely over-trained and under-recovered. I took some time off running so my body could properly chill for a while and then, when I started up again, I knew I needed to make a change in the way I ran and trained.

So I ditched the data. (Cue Ross and Rachel shouting, "We were on a break!")

I'm now six months watch-free, and I've never been happier or healthier. I'll sometimes use an app on my phone so I can keep track of my distance and avoid racking up too many miles per week. But generally, I'm running naked. I pop my phone in my pocket, let my left wrist breathe, and just run. I do hard workouts based on effort, and I race based on feel—and it seems to be working. I ran a personal best at a 10K last month and ran a surprisingly speedy-for-me half-marathon a few weeks later. I finally feel in charge of my own body again, instead of letting technology rule my runs. (OK, one exception might be these smart sneakers that give you form feedback during runs to help prevent injury.)

GPS watches can be hugely helpful and beneficial, especially when runners are striving to reach personal goals. But I got too attached. I made a clean break and haven't looked back.

It's not you, watch. It's me.

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