When I started running back in February I wanted all the gadgets. I took great pleasure in finding every and any piece of tech that would help me reach my goal.
I downloaded the app that promised it would get me from the sofa to 5k (it did), the app that devised me a training schedule, I bought an iPod shuffle that clipped onto my running vest, I learned how to “map my run” and began seriously looking into the Fitbit watch and how it would help me.
It’s safe to say I was pretty addicted to how tech could transform my new hobby. After the first app successfully managed to get me to 5k, I searched and read recommendations for another that would take from from 5k to 10k. And the next that would get me to a half marathon, genuinely feeling as if I couldn’t do it without my precious smartphone and 3G.
And then I signed up to the Brighton half marathon and things started to go a bit like this.
My training app would tell me how far I needed to run that day and give me a rough guide on pace. I’d go out after work with my phone in my hand, start my workout on MapMyRun, put my music on and start running.
The app would tell me through my headphones when I reached 1k and every kilometre after that. It would tell me what my pace was after every single kilometre and at the same point it’d tell me how long I’d been running. I knew it was coming because my music would quieten and the woman’s voice would cheerily tell me how I’d been doing.
At first I liked it – “I did my first 1km in under six minutes? This is good, this is the pace I want for my half marathon”. My pace would usually vary around the six-minute mark so if I ever went over, I’d run faster.
As soon as I finished my run I would immediately log onto my training app and tick my workout off for the day. I’d go on MapMyRun and see what my split paces were for every kilometre. I’d see I was slower in the middle and kick myself a bit, trying to go over the route in my head and wonder if it was because there was a hill or it was the point I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road.
It became a bit of an obsession.
I started to get frustrated at myself if I ever ran at a pace that would be slower that my goal half marathon pace (under two hours). I would consciously speed up if I heard through my headphones that I was running slower, then feel exhausted at the end because I was running too fast.
I’d kick myself if I came back from the same run I did the previous week at a much slower time. Even on the days where it was sunny and I told myself it’d “just be nice to go for a jog”, I couldn’t “just go for a jog” when there was a woman in my ear telling me my pace was SIX MINUTES 49 SECONDS.
And on the days when I just wasn’t feeling it at all, when I was tired but forced myself to go out, I found myself just waiting and waiting for the voice in my headphones to tell me I had reached the next kilometre: “How had I not reached 3k yet? I must have reached 3k. I’m knackered.”
On the days when my runs just weren’t as good as usual (because that happens, right?) I’d go home without a sense of achievement. I wasn’t proud of myself just for going out and still running 8k on a Tuesday night, I was pissed that my pace was slow. And I only knew that because of these apps. The apps that, little did I realise, we’re starting to turn my hobby into a goal-driven thing that I began to resent.
One evening, God forbid I couldn’t take my phone out and map my run. I had no data free because I’d used it all up (woe is me) and my headphones weren’t working. Embarrassingly, I even considered not going out for a run because seriously does it even count if I haven’t mapped it on my app?
I went out and it was during those lovely summer days we happened to have in June. I’m lucky that my running route is around a common with lots of grass and trees and no cars (not that I ever felt lucky before when I was too concentrated on how far I had run).
Admittedly at first it was odd without music but I just people watched, looked at the groups on the grass having picnics and barbecues on the common. Watched people sitting in groups together and laughing. Noticed a cute little ice cream shack hidden in the trees that I’d never noticed before.
I didn’t know when I had reached my first 1km or the one after that.
I didn’t know how far the route was or if I was reaching my goal time.
I had no idea what my pace was. I didn’t even look at the time when I left so I couldn’t even try and calculate how long my run was overall.
And ignorance was absolute bliss. I was completely distracted the whole way round by other people I was running past, ideas in my head, the fact that I could smell freshly-cut grass from the common.
I came home and I felt great. I had no routes to analyse. I didn’t have to look at my split pace on the app. If I’m honest, I probably didn’t run my goal pace, but the fact I had no idea was great. I felt great. Even if my pace WAS above that six-minute mark, I’d never know.
Ditching the digital for that run made me remember why I started running in the first place: because I enjoyed it and it made me happy. It calmed me down and made me feel energised.
I think you could probably call it mindful running, where all you’re thinking about is what you’re doing in that exact moment with little or no distraction.
I do completely agree if you’re training for a race then those apps are godsends – they teach you about your running style and show you what you need to do to achieve your goal. But running isn’t always about your pace and your distance or even how far you’ve gone.
Running should be enjoyable too and I’ve learned my lesson now.
Now I’m not obsessed. Now I make sure one of my runs a week is dedicated to a run just for me, without the timings or the pace or that bloody woman in my ear stressing me out telling me I’m being slow.
I think you should all try the same.
This August we’re running a Digital Detox campaign, where we’re championing switching off, spending more time with our loved ones and being more mindful around technology. From inspirational interviews to how it can massively improve your life, we hope to inspire everyone to get out there and reconnect with the world. If you’d like to contribute email firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on social media using the hashtag #HPDigital Detox