Now, I know I’m not the only person who struggles with numbers…there is a reason “running naked” has become a thing [naked as in no watch, keep your shorts on!]. The numbers your GPS watch spit out at you are not always very nice. You can finish up an incredibly refreshing love fest on your favorite trail then look down at your watch to see you finished 30 minutes slower than last time. That sucks, a lot! But does it matter?! More importantly, should it matter?
Occasionally the controlling power of a few numbers on an overpriced watch have the ability to wreck runs that I haven’t even started yet. If I’m not feeling 110% amazing the idea of hitting the trails for some mileage training I’ll start to think about the numbers and my brain will freak out. Even before I start searching for satellites my confidence is annihilated by the what if’s.
Is that just a “me” thing? Does anyone else experience that? When I first started running it wasn’t an issue but as I’ve gotten more comfortable with longer miles they scare me more. You would think that knowing I’ve gone the distance before would give me confidence…instead it creates this fear of failure. It’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. And it has definitely kept me off the trails a time or two, something I’m rather embarrassed to admit! It’s a silly fear to have but it is *very* real.
Why am I even bringing this up? No, not to have a little whine fest of my own. I am admitting I’m afraid of my GPS watch because…I think I’ve found a way to conquer that fear! Something that goes beyond leaving it behind or just avoiding Strava.
In the past week I’ve discovered a new perspective on training that has really clicked for me — running to practice a technique, not miles. Rather than focus on getting in the miles while running a few technical downhills on the side, ignore the miles all together and focus on just running downhill without breaking anything with the miles you cover being your bonus mojo.
- You: “Hey, I’m headed out for a trail run, see you in a bit”
- Them: “Cool, how many miles are you going?”
- You: “Oh, I don’t know…until I master the art of running downhill”
- Them: “Okay…?”
Oh, yes, it sounds ridiculous! But…it works. I fell into this perspective on accident a few weeks ago when I wanted to get out of the house and explore some new trails. At the time I was living in Monterrey, Mexico — a huge city that I didn’t know very well. There is very little trail information online and the trails are very poorly marked, but there was a mountain out my backdoor so I packed my UD Wink pack, lathered on some sunscreen and headed outside. I had 3 hours before I needed to be back for work. I found the looks-like-trespassing trailhead and started my trek up, up, up, up.
The trail was insane — I did more scrambling than I did running. It was a misty day so everything was wet, muddy and slippery. I spent just over an hour climbing uphill before I decided to call it a day. I was back at the trailhead 2 hours after I started. My legs were scratched and covered with mud. My hands were bleeding from the jagged rocks I had been climbing over. Everything was soaking wet from the rain and sticky, humid sweat. Nothing about that run was glorious or graceful but it was incredible…according to my crazy grin.
The numbers? Well, they said I had covered less than 1.5 miles…in two hours. Granted, my vertical gain was nearly 2,000 feet [in just 0.75 miles, that’s legit!] but that pace was still a little painful the look at. My grin faded a bit as I powered down my watch.
Then I flipped through the photos I took on that “run” and realized those numbers can eat it! Who cares what they say? Not me, not after looking back at the fun I had and the random things I learned about crazy steep trails! I mastered the art of downclimbing jagged rocks without ripping my shorts. I got much calmer about spider webs in my face. I survived some class 3-4 scramble on wet rocks without freaking out. I ran down slick dirt trails while Tarzan’ing my way between trees. It was awesome, it was exhilarating, it was uplifting…regardless of what the numbers have to say about it.
Since then I’ve used the “well, I’ll practice _____“ way of thinking to get myself outside when the idea of competing against yesterday’s version of me is just too much to handle. It works. I even surprised myself by crushing my previous ascent time on a 3.5 mile/4,100 foot climb in 90 degree heat later that week. It gets me outside and moving without breaking my fragile trail ego. I’ll take it and I’ll enjoy it!
It might make for a really long, painful race if this is the only type of training you do — covering long miles is important, too. Just remember to forget about those mileage numbers every once in awhile and hit the trails simply because you want to see if you can find more butterflies than last time! [no joke, I’ve run “until I count 31 butterflies”…it works!].