Why I Race Without A Watch

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?

4 thoughts on “Why I Race Without A Watch

  1. Ryan

    I like to race with my watch. I find it helps keep me from going out too fast and later on it helps keep me on pace. I noticed I have a tendency to lose focus during the 3rd quarter of races and my pace starts drifting up, hearing the mile beep and seeing the last pace helps get things back on track. I also like being able to look at my splits when I get home, not that I really do anything with that information I just like to see it. Have you ever tried racing with the watch in a pocket so you can see your splits afterwards but not have to worry about becoming a slave to the watch while running?

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      I have a similar issue of fading in the section before the real end of races and from coaching high school runners for the last few years, I can confirm that they have similar struggles. I haven’t tried wearing a watch in my pocket (primarily because I don’t usually have a pocket on my race shorts free) but often get frustrated that I don’t have the feedback after the race. I do usually wear a watch during the marathon for the very reason you point out: it keeps you from going out too fast. I think the solution is probably a happy medium, really. Wear a watch sometimes to check in, but learn to listen to your body as well.

  2. foxrunsfast

    I really struggle with this. I WANT to race without a watch, but I have a poor internal sense of pace and therefore sometimes FEEL like I’m running much faster than I am. So I’ve had races where if I don’t check in with my watch to give me the kick in the butt to push harder, I end up slipping back into a more “comfortable” pace and not running as fast as I’m able. I’m positive this has more to do with my lack of focus and lack of that real sense of pace – and I’m working this season to improve on both!!!

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      It takes such a leap of faith to take off your watch, especially if you’re someone who slips into going too slowly rather than going out too fast. Perhaps something that would work for you would be to just enter some totally low stakes races and try it? I also might try doing more workouts on effort rather than prescribed paces to learn what different efforts feel like for your body. Keep me posted!


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