There’s an adage in medicine that instructs one not to do a study if it isn’t going to change the management of the disease or illness. Will and I often joke about this in our everyday life as well, in part because learning the art of medicine is basically our sole focus right now and in part because it’s actually good life advice. The same logic explains why I almost always race without a watch. When I race, save for the first mile, I’m giving it what I have on that day so how does checking my watch change my “management”?
I always used to wear a watch in races and for longer races, often wrote paces out on my wrist or forearm to “keep on track.” As I started to get faster and aim higher, however, one of my good friends (who also happens to be a multiple time All-American etc) and training partners suggested that I try racing without a watch. I made a deal with him that I would try it for one race, the Downtown 10K in 2012, and ended up running a big 10K PR AND feeling great about my race. From then on, I started racing without a watch and worked on trusting my body.
Of course, it’s hard to run any race completely blind because most big races have a clock at least at the first mile and often every couple of miles as was the case in Philly. For me, my memory of course clocks is a good subjective measure of how a race is going or went. The first time I ran Philly, I barely remember any race clocks except for the first two because the markers were way off and the clock at mile 10, This time, I can remember almost every fl*pping clock on the course because I was that miserable. Your watch can operate in the same way, especially if it’s a Garmin. While this can be valuable feedback, it can also create a situation where you aren’t as tuned into your body as you are to your wrist.
The only situation where I think a watch can be very useful is the runner who struggles with going out too fast. Almost none of my girls race with a watch, although many wear their watch because they are used to having them on their wrist. One of my athletes, however, ended up using her watch this fall after we realized that she was taking it out WAY too fast. The outcome? She ended the season with some incredible performances once she learned to use her watch to slow her first mile down. For me, the 5K is the most tempting race to go out too fast in because it doesn’t seem that long. Take it out 10 or 15 seconds too fast, however, and you’ll pay for it dearly in the home stretch. For this reason, I do often wear a watch in a 5K if only to check my pace at the mile marker.
Do you race with a watch? Why or why not?