Autumn marks the transition from summer to winter, along with the end of race season. While there are many events on the calendar through winter months, some runners see fall as a time to slow down. With that comes a decrease in training load and sometimes a switch to different modes of exercise such as cycling, backpacking, yoga or simply, more rest. In parallel with the abundance of crops, garden treats and wild wood foraging, autumn is a ripe time for reflection and adjustment of the hurried pace that summer tends to bring as well as an opportunity to connect more deeply with our natural surroundings. Trail and ultrarunners tend to be high-achieving individuals, so gravitating strongly toward structured training plans, racking up miles and elevation gain can take precedence over the simplicity of bipedal movement in the outdoors. But numbers don’t always need to be the leading objective and arguably, they should not constantly be in the driver’s seat.
The benefits of resting, moving more slowly and looking back can be enhanced by a return to days before devices were an extension of ourselves. I am suggesting that running analog, either leaving wearable devices at home, or just using them as a basic timing device, can be both liberating and beneficial. Of course, we gain a lot of insight from data that is collected using wearables. Still, what if you ran just for “fun,” without numbers providing constant feedback? We are fed constant information such as where we are on the planet, how many beats per minute our heart is beating, vertical gain—information is constant and thorough. In its most basic form, all of this is objective, but the human side tends to spin the data through a filter and interpret the numbers into subjective formulations. It’s “good” if we are running “fast,” maybe your heart rate is higher or lower on your go-to climb on a particular day or you set a new speed-for-distance record. This can be useful data. Simultaneously, it can be incredibly valuable to take a break from the constant barrage of statistics. Isn’t it “good” if we are just outside moving our bodies?
I would wager that many of us came to trail and ultrarunning for simple reasons: to be in nature, breathe fresh air and move through space independently and self-supported. If you found the sport through a competitive route and have never experienced running without knowing your pace, elevation, splits and heart rate, it’s at least worth trying. Why? It can greatly enhance your ability to tune into your built-in intuition. Knowing how you feel versus what the numbers are telling you is a powerful skill. Losing the ability to understand cues that our body is relaying to us can be harmful and even lead to injury or overtraining syndrome. Arguably, this can happen rather quickly when we rely exclusively or primarily on numerical feedback and ignore or underplay internal subjective inferences. Signals we get from our body, including our thoughts and self-talk, can be as powerful or more powerful than device measurements.
All of this to say, it may be a valuable proposition to consider leaving your watch at home or resist pushing the start button on the activity tracking app and just go run. Maybe it’s an intimidating, even scary proposal, especially for those of us who tend to be highly wrapped up in the data and have been using devices to guide us for many years. If that’s you, I would argue that’s an even more compelling reason to try experimenting with a few runs or hikes without recording them. You might discover something that you didn’t anticipate. You may see a trail differently, and hear noises that you’ve never noticed. In the absence of digital input, there may be more awareness of external occurrences that are not man-made. And who knows, those internal signals may be enhanced and more easily observed when the digital information is quieted. This fall, as you rest more, challenge yourself to feel more, elevate your senses and grow appreciation for being out on the trails by going analog.