Technology: A Blessing And A Curse

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Technology has become an integral part of running and is both a blessing and a curse.  Runners, by nature, tend to be very quantitative and need instant feedback on their training.  It’s wonderful to monitor such important data as average pace, average heart rate, maximum heart rate, calories burned, total running time and distance, vertical oscillation and average stride length. Today’s  GPS technology is a marked improvement over the Timex watch with only a stopwatch feature I relied on for so many years.

But there is a significant downside to this modern technology.  I have witnessed runners become obsessed with all the data that’s at their fingertips.  Runners circle the parking lot at training to make sure they get to the next full mile or a designated distance.   I have witnessed runners  visibly upset because the scheduled run was slightly shorter or longer than the designated distance.  These same runners cannot reconcile their GPS not reflecting precisely 26.2 miles when they cross the marathon finish line.

The biggest downside to modern technology occurs during races.  Runners tend to micro-manage their race strategy.  They monitor their average pace so closely they overlook far more important aspects to achieving the goal marathon pace.  Marathon courses, particularly in Boston, aren’t conducive to running a consistent pace because of  their topography.  Consequently, it’s likely that a runner’s average or goal marathon pace will be slower or faster; causing a runner to panic or become erratic with their pacing.  This burns fuel unnecessarily and wreaks havoc on them mentally.

The reality is that a runner will not be capable or running any faster than they are physically and mentally prepared to run on a given day…regardless of the data on their GPS.  I have convinced many of my runners to not monitor their average pace during the marathon or, in a few rare cases,  to not wear a watch at all.  That’s almost like asking a runner to not where their running clothes during the marathon-they feel completely naked without their GPS.  But, without exception, 100% of these runners have enjoyed personal bests.

This occurs because runners tend to focus more on their form and breathing and actually enjoy all the marathon offers when they aren’t consumed and obsessed with technology.  It’s a far more enjoyable experience.

iPods also have provided a wonderful distraction from the difficulty of running by allowing runners to listen to their favorite music.  I’m always surprised when I observe runners wearing an iPod during a marathon because they miss all the encouragement and comments from the spectators.  Listening to their favorite music has a downside, too.  Certain music can also contribute to erratic pacing because some songs are more motivating than others.

Balance is the key to enjoying the benefits of running technology.  I recommend running entirely by feel at least twice a week.  It may ultimately require therapy, but you should leave your GPS and iPod at home.  You should focus on establishing a good rhythm and perfect form by practicing efficient running form.  Listen to how your feet are striking and how quietly you are breathing and suddenly you’ll feel more engaged with the one thing that will provide the result you desire…efficient running.

Running by feel…not by data from modern technology… will yield far greater results and return your running to a higher level of enjoyment!

  1. Matt Fitch says:

    Hello, I completely agree. I just completed my second marathon yesterday in Miami. (I actually met you on a train to NY/Philly a couple years ago from New Haven) – not sure if you remember me. We were talking diet and you were really supportive of my running – i was just starting out.

    Last year when I ran Miami for the first time, i tried to hold onto the 9min mile that I had trained for up in CT (by looking at my watch). The heat was as a killer and as I approached the 1/2 way point i was extremely frustrated that I wasn’t going to be near the 4 hour mark that I set in my head. I had nothing left in me and the last 13 miles seemed to take forever. I bonked both physically and mentally. Ended up with a 4:48 but was miserable, sore and frustrated that I performed poorly.

    This year my strategy was different. I walked through all of the aid stations. I did a real quick stretch and deep squat to loosen up after every other station. I listened to my breathing and focused on form – i didn’t use music at all. I didn’t care that I passed the 1/2 way point at 2:20 (last year was at 1:50). I met a guy at the start of the race who was similar to me in size and strategy but he was running based on his heart rate, not on his pace. We monitored our pace based on his heart. When the heat climbed, so did his heart so we slowed down. After it rained and the breeze cooled us off and his heart rate dropped we picked up the pace a little. This year it took me 50 minutes longer to complete; but I actually really enjoyed the race, the people and the atmosphere by listening to ourbodies, not to our PRs!

    Keep up the great work and the posts.



    • Hello Matt,

      Congratulations on completing Miami! I actually do remember our conversation on the train. I’m pleased to hear you’ve pursued your running. You also seem to be appreciating the importance of listening to your body throughout your runs and races.

      I’m a firm believer that you can actually run faster and farther with less effort when you perfect your form. At the center of perfect form is a cadence of 180 SPM (steps per minute). If you maintain this rhythm, it will reduce your stride length (helping you to avoid striking with your heels), reduce your vertical oscillation (bounce) and minimize the likelihood of an injury.

      Thank you for following my blog, Matt!


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