Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

When you should run without a GPS watch

4 min read

Like most aspects of life technology has changed running. Almost every runner today relies on a GPS watch for real time data as they run and logs their run on line. GPS watches today give a myriad of metrics to measure and analyse. This can be highly beneficial in monitoring training load, however can hinder performance when runners rely too heavily on the technology to dictate their performance.

There are times every week where a runner could benefit from forgetting the watch. Running with the aid of a GPS watch all the time can limit you reaching your potential for a variety of reasons. Ditching the watch occasionally can simplify your training and running.

  • You become reliant on pace
  • You limit the chance of a surprising performance
  • You over analyse your running performance

There are two ways you can reduce the impact of your watch in your running. Either leave the watch at home or ignore it while you run. With both options having a benefit.

If you leave the watch at home, you lose the ability to over rely on your watch. Although you don’t get to revisit the run later.

If you ignore your watch, you get the benefit of being able to measure your performance later. And you’re not a slave to the watch while your running. Easiest way to ‘ignore your watch’ would be to switch it to simply time of day function and run as normal. There may be the temptation to switch the watch to other screens.

A good reason to wear the watch just showing time of day is you can track your runs afterwards. This can be valuable to analyse your pace at perceived effort levels and gives you a better guide of your training miles.

Easy Days

It’s often said that many runners run their easy runs too fast. Focussing on pace during your easy runs is an obvious reason. Ignore the watch by switching to time of day. This way you can focus purely on perceived effort and measure your easy run effort. Afterwards measure the pace of your runs, this gives you a valuable guide for future runs.

Easy days are days to switch off and recover from the harder runs. They are also a way to switch off from the mental side of running. Reducing the watch as a distraction can allow you to switch off.

Long Runs

Long runs are another opportunity to remove the focus on pace. While some long runs could be specific for races mostly, they should be aerobic long runs that build endurance and pace shouldn’t be a factor. For this reason, you can ignore the watch and again switch to time of day setting only.

You’ll get great benefit in doing this and begin to understand your effort levels as you fatigue. You’ll understand yourself more as a runner when you listen to you body and the long run is the perfect time to listen.

While the long run is arguably the most important run of the week, it’s also a time to switch off. Certainly, at the start of the run when your aerobic long run pace feels relatively easy. You can switch the mind back on later in the run when you fatigue, and things become more challenging.


This may seem like an odd suggestion, but races are the ultimate time to listen to your body.

The advantages of focussing on the watch during a race is you give yourself a better chance of not going out too hard. However, you can learn to run to your goal paces through feel and not rely on your watch.

If you focus on the watch too much in a race you reduce the chances of a surprising personal best result. There still needs to be a focus on pace but you’ll do this by measuring your effort over the course of the race. Running by feel can have contributing factors to great performance.

During a longer race like the marathon you’ll often have periods where you feel bad and equally times when you feel great. Run by feel and you’ll see the warning signs of tough periods earlier and be able to adjust to ward them off quicker. Equally you’ll recognise the periods you feel great and be able to run free and confidently. This strategy gives you a much better chance of knocking a personal best out of the park than locking into a goal race pace regardless of how you feel through the run.

If you are used to racing with your watch giving you constant feedback through your race it will take some courage and adjustment. You may try this strategy in a lower priority race that has less personal importance to begin with. You can also set the watch to give you limited alerts on your progress. For example, for a marathon you could have the watch set for time of day or race time and get an alert of each of your 5km splits. It gives you the best chance to run a great race based on feel with regular reminders of your progress.

Give the watch a break when;

  • You feel you are over reliant on your watch
  • You always focus on the pace you run
  • You don’t believe you can pace yourself by effort or feel

These are just some of the opportunities to run with less reliance on your watch. To be a runner you are often pushed outside our comfort zone in training or races.  This is a great opportunity to push yourself further and challenge yourself to improve as a runner Ultimately, you’ll become a better runner when you have greater understanding of your running.

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