So many runners rely on their sports watches to tell them running pace, distance and time, as well as all the other numerous data details from heart rate to cadence and elevation to VO2 max. I’m one of these runners – so how would it be if I let go of the tech and tried so-called naked running?
Naked running isn't about the clothes you wear (or don’t wear) and more about leaving behind modern sports tech. It’s all about running free and mindfully, rather than being a slave to the data and stats.
The naked running movement is said to have come about because so many people are devoted to the performance tracking app Strava and their GPS watches. The idea behind naked running is to forget your pace, distance, time, heart rate and so on, and simply run how you feel and for as long as your mind and body wants to.
This is how I normally run
I am not a huge slave to the running stats but I do use a Garmin Enduro watch, Garmin Connect, and Strava. I like to keep track of distance, elevation and time. I am also quite keen on knowing my pace, heart rate and VO2 max readings.
I confess I do quite like to score a Strava Local Legend achievement, or gain a new segment time, although I’m aware this can seem quite silly when trying to explain to people who don't use it. Put simply, I'm not obsessed by the stats for general running, but I do like a record of them.
When I train for a race goal, things step up a notch and I keep a much closer track of the data. The idea that I might be better off running naked isn't something I’ve ever considered.
The best way to try naked running is to simply remove your sports watch. I carried a mobile phone with me so I could call for help if required, or to find my way home if I got lost. I felt it was a good idea to be able to find out the time if necessary but ,in fact, I never felt the need to refer to my phone.
I ran without my watch during solo runs, and on one run with friends. The latter didn’t work out so well because a friend tagged me anyway and so I was able to see my distance, time, elevation etc on Strava.
The best naked running took place when I went out for a run on my own. The first thing I noticed was my arm felt lighter! My Garmin Enduro isn’t a particularly heavy watch, but simply not wearing it made me feel generally less encumbered.
At first I wasn’t sure where to run. I know plenty of trail running routes from my front door and their approximate distance but I decided not to think about any of these. I wanted the naked running to feel purer, so I started from a new location. I got out of my vehicle, tried to start my watch and forgot it wasn’t on my wrist, chastised myself and then just ran.
I ran uphill and into woodlands and turned right at the second junction I came to. I followed this trail for a while, then turned again at another junction and started to enjoy the idea that I might be getting a bit lost. I know the trail network fairly well so there was not danger of me becoming completely lost but I ran with much less thought about route and distance than I normally would.
Because I didn’t know the eventual distance and elevation, I ran at a pace that I felt I could keep going for many miles. I stayed well within my comfort zone.
I felt no pressure to speed up and, indeed, at hills that I might normally push myself to run up, I slowed to a comfortable brisk walk. No one else was going to see my distance, time or speed because it wouldn’t be recorded or shared on Garmin Connect or Strava.
I didn’t think I normally felt much pressure to perform but it occurred to me that I must in some way because without the watch on, I felt a lot more relaxed. So what if I walked up the hill and didn't run? Who cares if I covered 2km in 30 mins, rather than my normally faster pace?
Once I’d stopped thinking about the tracking, stats – and the not tracking and non-stats – I started to feel a lot freer in my mind. My thoughts turned to other stuff, such as a work problem I was trying to puzzle out, what my next mountain adventure might be and what I needed at the shops later on.
When I’d worked through all these bits and pieces, I started to think about, well, nothing much at all. I took a closer look at the trees and plants as I ran past. I tuned into the noises of nature, including birds and insects. I stopped to enjoy a beautiful evening view for a bit longer than I normally would.
I ran on and on. I decided I might have been running for about an hour and perhaps it was time to start running back towards the car. I didn’t have any time constraints so there was no pressure to get there very quickly.
I took a few more detours on favourite trails. I stopped for a nice sit-down at a bench with another good view. I mulled over a couple of other ideas I had for a forthcoming holiday. I remembered I needed to fix a bike puncture (I have no idea how that floated into my brain at that point). I spotted a roe deer and then some wild chanterelle mushrooms.
Then I started to notice my legs were tiring. I decided that was my cue to run straight back – well as straight as the trails would allow me – to get to my vehicle. It felt like I’d had a good work out even if I’d not pushed myself at any point. I did wonder how far I’d run but I decided it didn’t matter. It felt like I’d had a good run.
Looking at my car clock, it turned out I’d run for 1.5 hours. It had seemed longer – or maybe it had seemed shorter. Anyway, it felt different.
It was a more relaxed run in many ways. I had listened to my body and mind. I’d taken the pressure off and simply run in a relaxed way. I’d enjoyed having time to think and to appreciate the natural world around me.
Will naked running be a habit?
I have enjoyed more naked running since the first try. Sometimes it’s nice to turn off my sports watch and just run because I like to run. I can see the benefits for mental health, and for recovery runs.
Naked running reminds me why I enjoy running. It lets me switch off from performance and tune into how I am feeling both mentally and physically. Without the distraction of my sports watch I pay more attention to what is around me, including the views and wildlife.
That said, I'm not sure that naked running is the way to train for a new PB because consistent and focused sessions always help me to improve on my times and whatever the distance, from 5ks to ultra races.
It is never easy to break free of routines either. And so many of us live with the mantra: 'If your run isn't on Strava, did it happen?' However, I do think it’s a good idea to switch off the watch every so often simply to enjoy running for running’s sake.
In conclusion, naked running is a great idea but, in my opinion, not for every run.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.