After an eight-hour drive back to Kansas for the Christmas holiday, I dropped my bags and headed out the door for a run. I left my watch inside.
I’ve gone through a variety of phases in my running life: a GPS phase, an iPod phase, a fancy gear phase—I’m probably still in that last one. But now, with nothing more than shoes, shorts, and a shirt, something felt different. Maybe it was the colors—the green grass poking through the black tilled fields; the brown, bare tree trunks; the chalk white of the winter sky. Maybe it was the smell of wood smoke in the chilly air or the frantic clatter of deer hooves as they scattered across the road. After thousands of miles in my running life, maybe I was finally paying attention.
“Running in the Rockies on an awesome trail does not go with listening to music or finding out how much elevation you’ve climbed to the millimeter,” says Duncan Larkin, author of Run Simple: A Minimalist Approach to Fitness and Well-Being. “Running should be something more spiritual.”
A 2:32 marathoner, Larkin says he wrote his book as a “protest song” after seeing running become increasingly complicated in the Internet age. His book runs the gamut of the running life, and it’s an all-encompassing philosophy that goes far beyond shoes. But there are a few easy things, he says, that you can incorporate now to simplify your run.
First, once a week, go electricity-free. Leave the iPod at home and your GPS on the charger. “Listen to the birds. Hear the world,” he says. “It sounds really yogi-esque, but that’s the basics.”
Next, in your goal race, don’t wear a watch. With nothing around your wrist, you’ll learn to pace yourself by feel. “If you’re glued to a device, you’re going to depend on that device,” Larkin says. “Whereas if you’re in tune with your own body’s clock, you’re going to run the way you should run.”
What’s the point of all this? It’s peace of mind. It’s noticing the green of the fields and woodsmoke in the air. “In our world, we’re so plugged in, and we need to make running the time to unplug,” Larkin says. “We’re not robot-people. We’re humans, and we should be connecting in an animalistic way with our environment.”
Even after my Christmas run, I probably won’t go completely off-grid. Those recovery runs are great for podcasts, and I’m only halfway through Serial (nobody spoil it for me!). And even if I don’t have a set time to run, I do have a set time to be at work. The watch will probably stay on Monday through Friday. But Saturday, when my cat wakes me up at her discretion and the training log calls for a slow five miles, I might just leave the watch at home and see, smell, and really listen to the world around me. After the past 10 years of remembering to bring all my high-tech doodads with me, running in its purest form, devoid of electricity save for the body electric, might be the one thing I forgot.