In Defense of Data

Judging by a number of blog posts I’ve read recently, it seems it’s the season for runners to pack up their Garmins and run “naked.” The timing makes sense: Most big races are over for the year, it’s cold and/or dark and/or snowy and/or wet, and the holidays have enough pressure and obligation without worrying about running x miles at y:zz pace.

But I’m still not running naked.

I started running largely because of the gadgets — it was the data, the feedback, the ability to see progress that ultimately got me out the door. I came to love running for many other reasons, but Nike+ is what made it a habit.

I love knowing that this week I ran the same loop that I ran on the same day last year, and I ran it a little faster. I love looking at really choppy runs with lots of pausing and thinking, “Ugh, I guess I decided to run in the Mission that day.” I love learning things about myself: Not even a month ago, I swore up and down to a friend that I didn’t know why my first mile of a run was slow because “my first mile is never the slow one.” Lo and behold, my first mile is always the slow one.

I don’t know if this helps me run better, or faster, or stronger, or smarter. But it helps me run.

That said, even for me, there can be too much data. Adjusting to having a GPS watch (instead of the Nike+ gadgets that just use the foot pod) has been challenging, and I’ve realized it’s because I now have access to so much more data while I’m still running. Before, I couldn’t get anything more detailed than distance, time, and instant pace while I was running, and even after, the data was fairly limited and subject to the whims of the Nike+ developers; I got so excited the first time I could get my mile splits for a run, and that was in, like, June. What’s more, I had to ask for data while I was running; it wasn’t just flashing there daring me to look. I had to decide to turn on my iPhone screen or press the button on my Nano to hear my run status and current pace. I was more conscious of what I was doing than I am now, when I constantly catch myself glancing at my wrist to see more numbers (and getting frustrated when they don’t match what I want to see).

There are times — specific workouts with paces attached, mostly — when I want all those numbers right away, as soon as possible, as quickly as I can take them in. But that’s rare. In most cases, I want the data later; I don’t necessarily need it live.

So, I’m keeping my watch on in December. I’ll keep walking around the block while it tries to find satellites — hey, at least it forces me to warm up — and I’ll still upload all my runs when I get home to check out my splits. But I’m experimenting with running “semi-naked,” let’s call it: running with the data I used to have, no more and no less.

For most runs this month, I’m setting my watch’s main screen to show distance and time — and that’s it. Pace is still there, if I really want it, but I’m hiding it so it takes a couple of taps of a button to bring it up. I’m also going to try not to look so often as I’m actually running. (Long sleeves help with this.) I think there’s value in paying attention to how I’m feeling while I run and syncing that up with the numbers later, rather than letting one bleed into the other.

And maybe I’ll be capable of being surprised by my own running again. After two of my semi-naked runs, I’ve been enjoying a spirited game of “guess what pace that mile was” — and losing miserably, mostly, but that’s kind of the point. I want to know what a given effort feels like for a while before I assign it a number. I think this might be the right balance for me: I can just run … and then analyze the crap out of it later.

Are you a naked runner, or are you addicted to the data?


One thought on “In Defense of Data

  1. kilax says:

    Great post! I don’t like to run “naked” but I also try not to stare at my watch all the time because of data overload! But I would be bummed if I ran outside and couldn’t look at my stats later, or have it on Garmin Connect. 🙂

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