One of the (many) advantages to being a late onset runner  — I didn’t even think about a couch-to-5K until I was in my 40s — is that I don’t get too hung up on my pace. Or so I thought. In truth, I didn’t realize how much I relied on those numbers until my current running watch went to the big Garmin heaven in the sky.

I’ve had some base model of Garmin for just under a decade. When Herr Garmin passed, Herr Garmin the Second was elevated. Herr Garmin III: Mo’ Garmin, Mo’ Betta stepped in when his predecessor ceased communicating with the satellites above. In October, I poured one out for my third Garmin, which I splashed milk into while churning butter at the Farmer’s Museum. Mistakes were made.

Why not try something new, I asked myself. And so rather than simply find the simplest, cheapest Garmin to add to the line up, I splurged on a simple, relatively inexpensive running watch from another manufacturer. My Coros Pace 2 does everything I need it to do quickly and efficiently. My only complaint is super specific to me: my new watch made me realize how dependent I’d become on the numbers on my wrist.

The transition from one brand of watch to another has been like the switch from an iPhone to an Android. Both do the same things but all of the ways you get them to do the same things are different, which is a fundamental fact I relearn every time my mother wants me to fix her phone. My brain is wired for Justin Long, not John Hodgman.

Two men against a white background.

I’m not the only one who remembers these ads, right?

After nearly a decade, my brain was wired for the Garmin system.  I knew exactly what to tweak to see what I was used to seeing. While the physical thing on my body was new, what I was looking at mid-run was essentially the same. Pace, distance, and time were always where I expected them.

When I strapped on my newest watch, I had the sudden realization that my brain is a big, whiny baby. Why can’t I just hit this button and go? Why doesn’t it give me what I want when I want it? What is this “learning something new” thing? Feh, I thought. This is what I get for changing it up.

running by feel

Now that I’m doing more workouts on the indoor track because the weather is very January, I’m loving how my new watch copes with being inside. This used to freak Herr Garmin out.

Rather than poke and prod and, okay, read the f’ing manual, I did the bare minimum. I set it up so that I could go for a run and know the distance. When I got back home, I’d look at the app and know my pace — as well as a bazillion other metrics of my running performance. These stripped-down miles forced me to focus on running my easy runs at an actual easy pace, rather than trying to match the numbers I assumed were my easy pace. Which, as it turns out, were only sometimes my easy numbers because human bodies are inconsistent.

For example, for me, I’d shoot for running 13-minute miles on base-building runs. An interval with a 9 in the front of it was for speedwork. Sure, sure. Various coaches and podcasts mentioned that the whole “perceived exertion” scale should be your true guide. So should running by feel. But why pay attention to my feelings, I thought, when I can just use a number?

Again: mistakes were made.

running by feel

This is about as chipper as I can look on a snowy morning. The upside of the indoor track, however, is the low risk of a broken ankle or frostbite.

What I learned from not having easy access to real-time pace calculations is that “easy” and “hard” are all in the legs of the runner. My own impatience finally made me listen to what my body was telling me. Crazy, right?

Now that we’re past all of the end-of-the-year madness, I’ve started to customize my data screens. We’re in a better place, my new watch and me. My new challenge is not freaking out at a pace that doesn’t match what my brain expects. My new challenge is running by feel.

As enlightened as I may have become about pace, I still haven’t bothered to figure out what some of the many, many (many!) charts and graphs the app spits out actually mean. Baby steps, y’all. Baby steps. I can only learn so much at one time.

Where do you fall in the running by feel vs. running by numbers continuum?