racing without a GPS

Michelle has her watch on her right wrist, but she stopped looking at it—for real—after just a few minutes into a 10K.

Mile 1 – Glance at watch to make sure it’s on. 200 yards later, another glance to make sure I’m not going out too fast (which of course I am, because, duh: it’s a race). 400 yards later, a glance to see if I’ve backed off enough. 400 yards later…wait, no, I’m so over this.

I want to just run. No more looking at the watch, no more numbers.

Mile 2 – Blissfully flat. Cruising along, getting in the flow, and everything feels right. Stride feels good, air is humid but not too warm, scenery running past a slightly foggy river is beautiful. Am I tempted to look at my watch? Nope.

Mile 3 – Still flat, pace is comfortably challenging. Do I miss checking my watch? Not even a tiny bit.

Mile 4 – A few little rollers in this mile. Feels like I’m moving through quicksand. Glad to not be watching my pace.

Mile 5 – Couple more rollers. Getting tired. If I was number-watching, I’d be doing race math now, and as much as I hate regular math, I hate race math even more. So liberating to not put that pressure on myself.

Mile 6 – No numbers to distract me; totally in tune with my body; feel my footsteps becoming heavier. Throw my shoulders back, dial in my posture, get my form back in order. No clue if it affects my pace, but I feel stronger and that’s enough.

Final .2 – I see the chute, give it the best finishing kick I have. Press stop on my watch after I’ve crossed the mat. Pleasantly surprised at how well I ran.

racing without a GPS

Speedy—but more importantly, consistent—splits. Which is what we’ve heard happens again and again when you let your body dictate your pace.

What did I learn from racing a 10K without knowing my pace?

  • It feels good – really good! – to trust your body and let it do what feels right.
  • It’s freeing and fun to let go of race math.
  • The surprise of looking at the numbers post-race and seeing how it all went down is fun.
  • It is possible to hold a relatively consistent pace without a watch to guide you.

Most importantly, fourteen years of racing have brought me to the point where I don’t need to always leave it all on the course; I don’t need to run all the races, and I don’t need to find a competitor to chase.

I have learned to really and truly run my own race: in my own head, on my own terms.

This attitude has carried over—or maybe is carried over from—my attitude about life. Over the course of 6 months in late 2020/early 2021, I lost my father, one of my closest running friends, and my mother. Experiencing loss like that makes you understand the importance of doing things that bring you joy, and to borrow a phrase that will date me, not to “sweat the small stuff.”

I’ve been coloring my gray hair for many years, but I’m over it now. I’m even considering dyeing the gray streaks purple, because why not? I got my first-ever tattoo a few months ago, and am in the process of picking out a design for my second one.

The best part about all of this? Not being faced with the constant feedback in the race, and not being worried about the feedback or opinions of other people leaves no opening for negative thoughts to creep in.

I’ve realized that in running, as in life, it’s more about finding yourself along the journey than it is about the end point. And that process of finding yourself is a continual one, with wonderful new discoveries and new ways to find joy at every step along the way.

My younger self loved training and always striving, but that isn’t what brings me joy anymore, so I’m ok leaving it behind. I still race and put in a good effort, but not with any real goal or purpose in mind, other than finishing with a smile on my face.

That’s what my mom always told me to do—and as moms usually do, she knew what she was talking about.

Racing without a GPS: Yay or Nay?