A New Kind of Minimalist Running?

I know, I know, I said that I was going to write an iPhone GPS app shootout on Friday. Unfortunately, I got unexpectedly busy so I couldn’t get to it. So why am I not writing it now? Because doing compare/contrast things takes a lot of brain-work and time and I seem to be short on both lately. And, my brain got a bit tweaked by something I read the other day.

There’s an online running coach, Jason Fitzgerald, (he goes by “Fitz”) who writes a blog called Strength Running. Somehow, I found myself on his site and I ran across an article that he wrote, “Minimalist Running: Ditch the Technology and Run Free“. Thinking that it was yet another writeup on barefoot running or touting the evils that are cushioned soles and motion control shoes, I proceeded to read with interest. Turns out the article had little to do with shoes. Rather, it was about losing the GPS watches, phones, iPods and all of the other high-tech gear that are designed to help us become better runners and make our sport more enjoyable.

In his article, he redefines “minimalist running” as running without the benefits of what the computer age has brought us. For example, instead of sticking a set of white ear phones in your ears and listening to the latest Bruno Mars or Katy Perry, Fitz urges us to listen to “the symphony of footsteps, breathing, birds, wind, and running water that you will experience on a forest trail.”

I actually spent a bit of time thinking about the article, especially in the recent light of the some of the testing that I’ve been doing with GPS running apps. I thought about whether or not these apps have enhanced my enjoyment of the sport or if they’ve drawn my focus away from running and more towards my performance. I think about when I took my first few runs back in middle school, I’d routinely go out in a pair of gym shorts, a cotton tee-shirt, a pair of Nike waffle-soled shoes and that’s about it. I remember running the trails of hills above San Jose sans-watch and how I never seemed to care about how fast I ran. I didn’t worry about pace, splits, elevation profiles or any of that — I was running worry and concern free and I was addicted to it.

So, as I’ve headed out on my last three runs, I’ve chosen to leave the watch at home and the GPS tracker off. And, on the first run, I admit that it felt a little strange. Keep in mind that, in the area in which I live, the flattest terrain that is offered to me comes in the form of a false flat. So, my GPS experiments have shown me where on my courses I tend to slow down and where I have opportunities to make up some serious time. This time out though, instead of trying to make up time on one stretch or push hard through another, I just ran — I ran at a pace that my body felt appropriate and it felt great. I’ve done three runs now without any sort of timing or tracking device and have had similar experiences. This is not to say that there’s no value in the various available training tools, they definitely have their place during training but, for every day runs, I find that I’m able to focus more on experience of the run and less about my performance. Were I an elite runner who is trying to break the two-hour marathon mark then perhaps I’d feel differently but, for now, I find that I’m really enjoying getting back to basics.

BTW, yes, a shootout is still coming and I’ll definitely evaluate a few more apps. IMO, technology is too cool to be avoided. And I don’t care what Fitz says, I’m not ready to give up my Asics 2150’s just yet. 😉

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