Running with or without a watch

Running with or without a watch header image

Running and watches are closely linked. That will always be the case in a sport where the primary indicator of ability, for many people, is how fast a runner can cover a certain distance. Whether measured with a watch on your wrist, a stopwatch around a coach’s neck, or a timing chip on your shoe or race number, it can be easy to conclude that everything comes down to time. For what it’s worth, at Lonely Goat we think the value of a run should be measured by enjoyment, rather than speed or distance. This got us thinking… Should we run with or without a watch?

Technological progress

In recent years, the technology available to runners has improved dramatically. No longer limited to simple chronographs, we can choose to run with GPS-enabled watches that tell us how far and how fast we run, can play music, measure our heart-rate, count our steps, and even tell us when we get a message on our phone.

Undoubtedly this technology is helpful, as greater precision when measuring our training gives us additional tools with which to optimise that training. This is useful if you want to run faster or further. This data can also help us avoid injuries by indicating if we are overfatigued. But are there situations when it is beneficial to ditch your watch?

Regain your mojo

In a previous article, on refinding your running mojo, we looked at some of the benefits of leaving your watch at home when you go for a run.  You might choose to do this should you find yourself becoming a slave to the results on your watch and worrying too much about how fast or how far you’re running. When this happens, you can struggle to enjoy the simple act of getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where those feet take you.

By leaving your watch behind, you liberate yourself from the tyranny of time and can reconnect with running for running’s sake.

Listen to your body

If your relationship with running is going through a rough patch, consider leaving your watch at home. You don’t have to leave it behind on all your runs, but doing so every now and then can be helpful.

This will encourage you to run by feel, without worrying about the time. You might find that if you’re not thinking about what your watch says, you become more aware of your legs, your form, your breathing, and your surroundings, which could revitalise your running.

‘Running free’, with no watch, or worrying about how fast or how far, makes it easier to enjoy the act of running itself. Enjoy the view, notice things you wouldn’t normally notice, explore places that are both familiar and unfamiliar to you. This can be a great boost to your emotional wellbeing.

You might run slower

If you learn to run by feel you may find that sometimes you naturally run slower. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this can be a good thing. Not all of your runs should be run quickly. Mixing up really hard runs with really slow runs is something many of the top distance runners in the word do. It’s known as the 80/20 principle.

Slower runs at an easier pace are necessary to help recover from harder races and training sessions. They help loosen your legs and shift some of that stiffness you get the day or two after running flat out or pushing the distance.

Easy runs also contribute to musculoskeletal and cardiovascular improvement without putting too much strain on your body.

If you’re always looking at your watch on your ‘easy’ runs, you can be tempted to speed up when you should be slowing down.

You might run faster

Have you ever done a race, or gone out for a hard run, with an idea in mind of how fast you might be able to do it – and then found your finishing time was remarkably close to your pre-run expectation?

Sometimes, if we go out with a time in mind, we end up running that time because we can look at our watch and keep track of our progress. We have an expectation and pace ourselves accordingly.

But what if you don’t use a watch and have to rely solely on how you feel? Using only the subjective feedback of perceived effort, you won’t know how fast you’re running.

Run to feel, not pace

Rather than being aware of how much time has passed, all you’ll know is how hard it feels. This means that you won’t have any of those moments where you hit a distance marker and panic that you’re going too quickly or too slowly, based on how fast you think you should be running. Instead, at any given part of the run you’ll have to work out whether you can sustain that effort level to the end, whether you can push a bit harder, or whether you’re going to have to ease off before the finish.

Because of this, you could get your pacing completely wrong, and fall short of your target. However, there’s also a good chance that you ‘accidentally’ run faster than you expected and smash your goal.

Admittedly, it could go either way, but it’s a fun experiment to try – especially if you find your results have got ‘stuck’. Trying something different could lead to a breakthrough.

Photo by Lonely Goat, Gemma Goode

How to run without a watch

We’ve considered why you may want to run without a watch, so now let’s look at how you can do so. Obviously, it can be as easy as not putting your watch on and heading out your door for a run.

If you’re not fussed about knowing the duration, but you still want to know how far you’ve run, you can either use a route that you already know the distance of, or measure it afterwards using a website such as or a piece of string and an OS map.

Save the information for later

Sometimes, you may want to run without looking at your watch while you’re running, but still be able to see how you did after the run. For example: you might want to upload the run to Strava; or keep track of your pace so you know how hard you were working.

With a race, it’s really easy to do this, as you’ll know the distance and be able to look at your results afterwards. With a longer race, that has intermediate timing mats, you’ll also be able to get your split times for specific parts of the course. 

On a training run, the simple solution is to wear your watch, but hide the information from yourself in some way. If you don’t trust yourself not to have a look at your watch, then put some tape over the screen, hide it under a sleeve, or put your watch in a pocket.

You control the watch. It doesn’t control you

There are some scenarios where you don’t want to know all the information while you’re running, but still need some indicators of what is happening. In these instances, you can use the features of your watch to help you do this.

If you still need to make sure that you’re home by a particular time, or don’t want to run too far or for too long, then – depending on your watch – you may be able to set it to beep at certain intervals or when you hit a certain distance, without you having to look at the screen.

If you want to run for 60 minutes, you can set the watch to beep after 30 minutes, at which point you turn round and retrace your steps. You probably won’t get home at bang on 60 minutes, but unless your pacing was all over the place, you’re not going to be far out.

If you do this often enough, over the same routes, you’ll begin to notice the subtle day-to-day changes in natural pace that occur from differing levels of fitness, fatigue, or other factors, really helping to finetune your understanding of your own body.

It’s up to you

As discussed, the reasons for running without a watch – or without looking at your watch until after your run – are varied, but whatever your motivation for doing so, it can have the potential to be of great benefit to your running. Either by reducing the stress of trying to run at a certain speed; by slowing you down; or by speeding you up.

You are likely to get more in tune with your body, developing an awareness of your effort levels and how hard you can push at any given time. Regardless of where you are in your running journey, it’s worth a go at the very least.

If you’ve run without a watch, or fancy giving it a go, share how you got on with your fellow Lonely Goats in the Facebook Chat Group, on Instagram, or at our Strava Club page..

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