This is an excerpt from Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Christina Muir & Zoë H. Rom.
We are our own worst critics. Our second worst critic? Our GPS watches. Many a running career has been lost to the swirling vortex of activity logging apps. While there are proven benefits to the accountability and community these platforms can offer, they can also suck people further down the rabbit hole of insecurity.
Pay attention to your mindset as you log in to these apps, and observe how you feel when you exit out. How we engage with these feedback systems can alter our feelings about our lived experience in ways that aren’t healthy or productive. Many runners, consciously or not, will run faster or turn out higher volume training weeks—not because it’s good or productive but to get a Strava segment or display their training triumph online. While Strava is working to further develop and foster their online community, and help runners develop a healthier relationship to achievement, it is still important to examine our relationship to activity apps. If we walk away from these platforms feeling worse than when we opened them, it might be time to explore other features or step away.
Similarly, there might be individuals or entire online communities that are unhealthy for us. It’s not uncommon for relationships to start with casual or even friendly competition but devolve into mean-spirited one-upmanship as egos battle. Likewise, some teams, running groups, or other communities might form based on a healthy premise but unintentionally foment strains of inadequacy. While people usually don’t put others down intentionally or maliciously, those who struggle with their own self-worth are more likely to demean others—even friends or teammates. We have been that person too. We all have.
If we find ourselves in a community or a relationship that habitually undermines our self-worth, it is time to step away and get some air. It doesn’t mean forever, or that it was a bad community or relationship, but as our needs and esteem evolve, so will how we relate to others.
Society tells us the more technology we have, the better off we are. If we look up from our phone in any social situation nowadays, it is rare to find anyone not looking down at a personal device. But is it adding to our lives, or taking away from them? One study found that just one hour of screen time resulted in a decrease in psychological well-being among teens (Twenge et al. 2018). Most of us spend much more than one hour a day on screens, so what does that mean for our mental health?
When we are connected to a device, rather than noticing the different calls of birds or paying attention to how our body feels as we run, we let our GPS watches tell us what to feel. We are so out of touch with our body that we struggle to function without electronics. Running may be a sport that requires little equipment, but we have become very reliant on technology and, in particular, GPS watches. Many runners love numbers, love tracking, and love to know exactly where they are at. GPS watches are a helpful tool to monitor training, but they can quickly and covertly turn into an addiction that pushes us beyond our means, especially during periods of high stress. During challenging periods of life, our bodies will adjust accordingly to protect us. If we let go of the pace expectations set by GPS watches, our body will consider all that it is currently dealing with and do the best it can for that day. And doing our best is all we can ever ask for.
This doesn’t mean you should stop wearing a tracking watch, but try to avoid looking at your watch at all during runs. Feel free to geek out over stats afterward (although if you can refrain, your mental health would probably be better off), but knowing your pace during easy runs is unnecessary. Monitoring pace ranges can be helpful for newer runners but leaves runners woefully inept to know what a pace feels like. We need to be able to understand how we’re actually feeling, not how our watch is telling us we should feel. Relying on our watch causes us to discount other variables like how much sleep we have had, the food we have eaten (or not), stress in our lives, and weather conditions that can have a big impact on our speed.
Having a healthy relationship to our GPS watch can mean turning off the beeping and displaying only distance and time on the main screen. Our body appreciates being able to judge what feels right and then settle in there. Internally, we are always trying to maintain a constant, steady environment, or homeostasis. We often end up surprising ourselves with just how much better we feel and faster we run when we are not staring down at our wrists and letting the psychological impact of what we see affect us. We end up panicking when we see a pace faster than we expect on our watch, waiting for the moment it catches up to us. Maybe we were ready all along to run that pace, but our GPS watch messed with our heads. Besides, runners have gotten by just fine for thousands of years without GPS watches!