By Sara Stover
Mar 18, 2019
Originally Featured on http://www.runnerclick.com
The screen flashed 15% at me. Alarmingly low! I doubted that my GPS watch would last 5 miles with that little juice. My Wednesday was rather solidly booked with assignments and appointments, so this was the only slice of my day when a run was possible. It was now or never, so I ventured out for a run, plugged in only to my Shuffle. I felt nervous, not unlike a child jumping into the pool’s deep-end without their floaty. But did I really need all these devices to keep me afloat for a tempo run?
In the span of about 45 minutes, I would discover that what I needed was something so simple that I couldn’t hear or see it until I was unplugged.
A Runner Unplugged
A quick glance at my phone on the kitchen counter (which is about the only piece of tech that I avoid running with), and I knew I had about an hour to get this run crossed off my to-do list. I would quickly realize that this very mentality was partially to blame for a problem that I’d ignored as long as I could plug in.
I turned left out of my parking lot, intending to run a loop that I knew to be about 5 miles. I was on automatic pilot. My headphones securely positioned in my ears, I had successfully blocked out the songs of the mynah birds and of the local playing his ukulele on the seawall. My playlist drowned out any gentle rustle of the breeze in the palm’s leaves, or even the hum of a wet saw a worker was using to cut tile for a walkway, just as I always do. Just as so many of my fellow runners were doing, a fact that I was likely noticing for the first time because I was actually looking up and around, not down at my wrist.
Is that how I ran? Like one so hypnotized by the pace and distance that my watch displayed that I was unaware of the immense, sparkling ocean that I get to run along and the active island community I get to belong to? It’s no wonder I hadn’t heard my student the week before!
He informed me that he drove past while I was running, and cheered for me out the window of his friend’s truck, but I was “too busy running” to notice. He didn’t seem offended, so I didn’t have reason to examine what his words really meant. A week later, as I was forced to absorb the busy and beautiful sights of my tropical town on this watchless Wednesday, his words resurfaced and settled in.
“Too busy running.”
Too busy to even feel the joy (and occasional pain) of running. Like a robot, void of emotion.
I was horrified! When did running become just another item on my list of to-do’s that gave me a sense of productivity, which in turn gave my life a false sense of value? When did running become another task to rush through? If I was too busy running to connect with my students, my neighbors, even the tourists that flood the streets when the cruise ship comes to port on Wednesday mornings, then I was missing what truly makes life valuable!
A Soul Detected
I admitted to myself that “busy” was a terrible excuse. There is no task in my life so important that it can justify my failure to simply smile at a couple walking past me or exchange an “Aloha.”
That’s why I stopped when I saw him. I suspect I have run past him dozens of times, but have been too distracted to notice. Running unplugged made me look up, and appreciate just how many shades of flowers there are on my street alone, and the cute beach next to the hibiscus plants, and the local man with weathered skin and boardshorts dragging five or six palm branches bigger than him through the sand.
Once he reached the shore, he dipped each branch in the sea, letting the salty surf wash over the green leaves. Free of my watch, which would have certainly been flashing some message about “No movement detected” at this point, alerting me to the end of the world that was imminent if I slowed to below a 14 minute mile, I followed the path the leaves had raked in the sand until I was standing on a lava rock beside him.
“Hello! What are you doing with those branches?” I asked. He looked up at me with a smile, still rinsing the leaves in each wave, almost meditatively. His name was Lenny, and he was not “too busy” washing leaf after leaf to explain to me that he had just climbed a palm tree to retrieve these leaves, and they would be his media for crafting and weaving palm-green animals and flowers. Lenny would sell them to the tourists before they headed back to the cruise ship for the evening. What he didn’t sell, he would give away to his ohana – his family and close friends.
I didn’t run 5 miles that Wednesday. It was closer to 3 miles if that. When I had ventured from my place an hour before, I was convinced that I absolutely had to run for all 60 minutes. I was mistaken.
I enjoyed that brief run more than I have any workout in too long, and it was comprised of only 30 minutes of running and 15 minutes of listening to Lenny explain how to weave a bird from palm leaves! I imagined my watch flashing “Soul detected” as I ran back home. I never did put my headphones back in either but chose instead to listen to the beat of native drums echoing from a luau that was just beginning at the nearby resort, and the rush of waves beating against lava rock.
This resurgence of my soul brought a freedom that I hadn’t realized my running was lacking until I was liberated from adjusting my headphones and looking down at my wrist. In running so untethered, I was more aware of the places and people I could connect with while on a run. Why weren’t more people applying this mindfulness to their running, no matter where they lived and ran? And what exactly was this mindset that my uncharged watch had led me to?
Photo: Stephanie.macleanswain / Facebook / Stephanie Bianchi appreciates her surroundings while running in Arizona
A Soul Runner is Born
“Soul running” seems to be the best description of this mindset, and I was barely scraping the surface of what this implies. This much I conceded: A soul runner is mindful of the people and places they interact with when running.
I’m not implying that we should all go home and trash our tech. Social networks that track fitness encourage healthy competition, while playlists on our phones and iPods offer the benefits of running to music. And there is proven motivation in having a social media feed that is filled with posts from inspirational runners and accountability from your virtual running community.
That is, unless these tools become distractions and disconnect us in a detrimental way from our surroundings, our community, and our own heart!
Aside from missing out on the beauty of the moment by being so consistently plugged in, our dependence on these devices can actually harm our running! I’ve experienced this firsthand in my training. I’ve gotten so obsessed with seeing a certain pace on my watch that I’ve neglected to listen to my body. When my pace dropped because my body was fatigued from fighting a cold, or because an old injury was flaring up, I pushed through it all for the sake of attaining a big, round number of weekly mileage, largely motivated by sharing it on social media. Conversely, I made a habit of holding back on days when I felt strong because the pace displayed on my watch intimidated me.
Allowing technology to dictate every workout could also prevent you from noticing unsafe surroundings. Studies show that pedestrian accidents have risen by 300% since the accessibility of headphones, with 70% of those accidents resulting in death. Running while wearing earbuds for listening to music or even podcasts disengages individuals from situational awareness, making it difficult for us to notice if there is a threat at hand, whether it be another person, wildlife, or a vehicle. Not only can reducing the amount of time you train with technology make you appreciate your surroundings, but it could actually save your life!
Maybe statistics on physical accidents, the inability to fully listen to your body, and the potential lack of connection to your surroundings are still not enough to convince you to leave your tech at home occasionally. Maybe the idea makes you as nervous as the notion of running naked through the streets of your neighborhood! If so, ease into it by practicing Watchless Wednesdays. Even as my A and B races approach, I still make it a point to train without music or a watch once or twice a week. Choosing one device for your workout, and running with only your watch, or just your music is a good alternative for anyone who isn’t ready to go cold-tech turkey.
A Passion for Running Rekindled
Running was my passion once upon a time, but until that run with a naked wrist, it had felt more like we had drifted into a rut. That tech-free day sparked something in my relationship with running that I thought had fizzled out. Don’t blame it on running though. I am the one who sold my runner’s soul to technology! I was going through the motions, but for too long my heart wasn’t in it. My soul was lost in the sea of online logs and apps and tracking technology and sharing on social media that I was chained to through my phone and watch and playlist.
A dead device was the re-birth of my passion for running. As it turns out, I can float just fine without them. More than fine actually! I am running better without them because I am running with all my soul.