A watchless marathon?

I’ll be honest, running a marathon without a watch sounds stupid in my eyes. I’ve always been a numbers guy. I love seeing split miles, especially in races when I want to perform my best. I love to finish any type of race, get home, shower/relax, and then view my splits. It’s rewarding, it’s what I’ve been known to do…up until this point. So last month when I decided to run a rail trail marathon without a watch, I was somewhat skeptical.

I was familiar with The North Central Rail Trail Marathon, (NCR Trail Marathon). I ran it last year. It has a small town feel to it. This was their 25th anniversary of the marathon. It seems that there are a lot of people who run this marathon for a specific goal, i.e. a PR, or to add or complete a running streak of some form. After running a lot of marathons and running a small marathon like this, it was obvious this marathon has had it’s share of experienced runners and ultrarunners. I’m sure it has it’s share of first timers, too.

The race is an out and back course primarily along the Northern Central Railroad Trail. The start and finish are at Sparks Elementary School, with the first 1.8 miles being on rural paved roads as you make your way to the trail. The last 1.5 miles of

NCR Trail thon

the race are also on paved roads.The remainder of the race is on the flat stretches of the NCR Trail. The trail surface is a compacted combination of dirt and fine stone. The trail winds along the Gunpowder River, through quiet farmland.

……a perfect time to experience a marathon without a watch. I wanted to listen and feel my body through the race without having a watch come in to play. I wanted to see if there would be any physical or mental changes running a marathon without a watch. There was only one issue, though. I’ve had a sore achilles tendon since last week. I knew the soreness could change the way I ran the race. I was hoping for the best, with minimal soreness.

It was nice to see Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell at the race….but it wasn’t a surprise. They seem to be at every race. Look them up! They both take exceptional photographs. Clay took this picture of me…

NCR Trail

We started at Sparks Elementary School and headed down to the rail trail, via road. There’s not much to a rail trail….it’s runnable, it’s scenic, and you can find yourself mentally. I felt good the first 10 miles or so. I felt the same way I normally felt up to that point in marathons: glad, honorable, curious and anxious on what was to come in the next 16 miles…. At one point I recognized a familiar voice approaching me from behind. To be honest, I’ve heard this voice a lot during my marathons. I would say he has run 70 % of the marathon’s I’ve run. Keith Straw was approaching, with his English accent. He has run hundred’s of marathons and ultra marathons. If you don’t know him, maybe you have at least seen him before. Here he is…

Keith Straw

I had my Oil Creek 100 shirt on and I heard conversation behind me about it. It’s a great feeling when runners can relate to you. Keith and his running buddy’s related, and we talked about Oil Creek when they ran by. By the turn, around mile 14, I felt pretty good. I didn’t really have the urge to check my watch. There was only one issue, though. My achilles was starting to hurt. It’s not good when you feel a pulse down by your foot. It was definitely sore.

It clearly wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to run  26.2 miles strictly on feeling. I wanted to listen to my body, tell me when I was getting tired, tell me when I was ready for a gel, tell me when I could push myself further. But it wasn’t meant to be. It turned out, I was limited on what I could do. At mile 18, watch less, my achilles pain had taken over…..And that was not the feeling I wanted. I wanted to feel free, I wanted to let loose when the time was right. It never happened. All I felt was a thumping pain near my left foot.

My plan was to predict what my finish time would be as I was running. I knew last years’ finish time probably wouldn’t happen this year. At mile 19, I thought I could reach a goal of 3:45. With the pain, all I could manage from then on was to jog one mile and then walk 20-30 seconds. That really didn’t help much because once I got running again, it hurt even more. By mile 22, I was predicting somewhere around a 3:55 finish. By the time I got to the last mile, which by the way is all up hill, a 4:04 seemed reasonable. It was hard to push off the foot going uphill, so I walked most of it.

It was a wash…This  watchless experiment thing was a complete failure. I debated naming this blog “Cry baby” or “achilles tendonitis”. Though each marathon is a fun and challenging experience, this was one of the few I’ve done where I just wanted it to be over. When I approached mile 26, I made the final prediction that I would finish at  4:06. So when I made that final turn and saw the clock, I was pleasantly surprised. It read 3:50. I normally run as hard as I can when I see the finish. This was a trot. I crossed at 3:51:11. I honestly had no clue what type of pace I was running. I really have no clue how I finished under 4 hrs. This is me finishing……

   NCR Trail

I did learn a few things after this marathon. I do prefer wearing a watch, but I still didn’t get the satisfaction out of not wearing one. I’ll have to pick another marathon at a later time to experiment more. Unfortunately, I found out I have achilles tendonitis and that I’ll have to take it easy the next few weeks.

Do you run watchless? Why? Do you have or have had achilles tendonitis? Why? How did you recover?

7 thoughts on “A watchless marathon?

  1. I run watch-less when my Garmin dies! But a lot of times I wear it but don’t look at it until the end. Sometimes I have a goal pace but sometimes I just like to run what feels good. I have had achilles tendonitis, unfortunately! Lots of stretching and a little but of PT helped. But mostly rest. Hang in there!

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    • Yes, my Garmin has died on me a few times mid-run too. Thanks for the advice, Megan! I’ve needed to rest my legs and never want to. Now I’m pretty much forced to and think it will be good for me.

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  2. Really enjoyed this post!
    I never run with a watch, I don’t enjoy running when I am stressed about my pace. I ran with one for a while, but I was running everything WAY too fast because I was obsessed with my pace. And then I ended up with a stress fracture. These days, I trust my body enough to settle into a pace that is good for me that particular day.
    However, I do usually race with a watch just to keep an eye on pace and make sure I am not going out too quickly or too slowly. I do find that I end up totally obsessed with it and spent 70 percent of the race staring at my watch. Incidentally, I did run my first race sans watch on Thursday, but that was only because the strap broke as I was walking out the door. I actually really liked it, and felt like I got a lot more of the race. I noticed more about the course and the people around me, instead of staring at my watch. The only thing I regret is not having my splits after, just because it’s interesting to me.
    Anyway, I am super impressed you ran a marathon without one. I think I would be too nervous because I tend to get caught up in the excitement and go out too fast. Sorry to hear about your achilles tendonitis. Running injuries are the worst… I hope it heals quickly!
    Sorry for the marathon comment! 🙂

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    • Thanks Kelly for your comment! When I train, it’s almost as if I HAVE to wear a watch. If I don’t, I would have no idea what I would be capable of come race day….. I like the fact that you were able to enjoy your race on Thursday, without a watch!

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  3. Enjoyed your article! And you ran smart!!
    I’ve run a half dozen or so marathons without a watch. When I wear a watch I seldom if ever look at it during the race and most of the time fail to turn it off when I cross the finish. Most of the time I run by feel and I do need to say I never run a race so hard that I feel like in going to die. At the end of a marathon the question I ask myself is did I give it a very good effort. That question allows for the conditions to come into play: trail versus road, hot versus cold, windy etc. In nearly all the marathons I’ve run I’ve been able to answer that question with a yes. In a few I made the deliberate decision to run with a friend, or with someone in trouble knowing that I wouldn’t be answering the question with a yes. But as runners seem to intrinsically know, sometimes something is more important than that race. Any then there were two races where I didn’t give it the effort I should have … And it still bothers me today!

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