Running can be a wonderfully natural, freeing experience, but sometimes it can be more stressful than relaxing if you're tied down by accessories and gadgets. So why not strip it all back and try running 'naked'?
We're not suggesting you should actually throw out your shirt and shorts, or toss your best trail running shoes in the garbage (although barefoot running shoes are an option). No, we're talking about running unplugged, with no music or fitness tracking devices on your person.
Leaving your best running headphones and best GPS watch at home might feel like a wrench (after all, if your run isn't on Strava, did it really happen?) but there are a lot of advantages to going without the tech now and then.
Reconnect with nature
Music and podcasts are fantastic, but particularly right now, if your ears are plugged with headphones then you're missing some of the real joys of nature. Birds are fledging, and even in cities, there's an abundance of calls and songs hanging in the air. Learning to identify the songs of a few native birds makes things even better, even if it's nothing more exotic than the wheeze of a grumpy-faced greenfinch or the melodious song of a blackbird.
Bone conduction headphones let in some ambient noise, which is helpful for making you aware of traffic and other hazards, but you'll hear so much more if you leave the headset at home and really listen as you run.
Keeping your ears open means you're also more likely to be watching your surroundings. One of my favorite 'naked' runs was an afternoon jog along a river when I suddenly caught sight of something electric blue, but too large to be a dragonfly. It was a beautiful kingfisher, and I'd have completely missed it if I'd been focusing on music instead.
Go at your own pace
The best Garmin watches provide some incredibly useful fitness insights, as well as workout suggestions that help you mix up your training and avoid falling into a rut, However, sometimes it's best to ignore all that and just run at a pace that feels right to you. Glancing at your wrist can be almost addictive, and feeling the need to stick to a certain pace or within a certain heart rate zone can sometimes suck the fun out of a run.
With no watch, you can dial the effort back a little if you start to tire, or cut your planned route short. Alternatively, if you get that elusive runner's high, you can push yourself harder, or tackle an extra hill or two.
Running sans headphones can also be a benefit here. A great beat can be helpful if you want to maintain a certain cadence, but you might find yourself subconsciously changing your turnover in time with the changing tracks rather than going with a rhythm that feels right to you in the moment.
Make it social
Running with a friend should be fun, but it's all too easy to spend the whole time being stressed that you're holding them back, or that your natural pace is slightly faster than they're comfortable with. If you both ditch the tech, neither of you will be glancing at your watches and you can settle into a casual, easy rhythm that works for you both. As a run leader, I advise groups on longer runs to go at a speed where they can hold a proper conversation rather than gasped half-sentences. You should be able to speak easily
Listen to your body
When you've got music or a good audiobook to distract you, it's quite possible to overlook slight discomfort. That's part of what makes music so great for motivation, but it's not always a good thing. While you don't need to worry about every little ache, if you're returning to running from an injury it's wise to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending. It might be necessary to ease off, or even stop to avoid re-injuring yourself or delaying healing.
Focusing on your body can also help you recognize if you've been running too long without water or fuel, thereby helping about avoid the dreaded bonk (when your muscles run out of glycogen and you want to fall asleep on the side of the road) or potentially dangerous dehydration.
On a happier note, it'll also make you more aware of when you catch that elusive runner's high. The sensation that comes from the simple joy of movement, and has you picking up your pace with a smile on your face. Even the best beats can't match that.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).
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