Are Runners Falling Victim to a Tech Overdose?

A runner

In a faraway land, well over a decade ago, determining the pace of your weekend long run was no small task.

You’d first have to hop in your car to measure your route using your vehicle’s tripmeter. Then, upon returning to your starting point, you could strap on your trusty Timex watch and go for your run—unable to calculate your average pace until you finished.

Today, we have devices on our wrists that track our average pace, lap pace, distance, heart rate, calories burned, cadence and elevation—and even alert us to phone calls, text messages and calendar appointments for good measure. Participate in any race these days, and you’ll hear a cacophony of beeps and buzzes as the watches of fellow runners provide users with a constant stream of data.

But where does good data become bad? Is it possible this massive influx of information could actually be hurting our running?

Splitting your focus

Much like scrolling down your social feed has replaced what used to be the “quiet time” before bed, and checking emails is now how you spend any “waiting time” throughout the day, technology has also replaced key elements of good old-fashioned running.

Picture this: You walk in the door post-run and hit the “save run” button on your Garmin. Since you are in range of your phone, it automatically uploads your workout and alerts you once it’s completed. Instead of stretching for five minutes or consuming your recovery fuel within the magic 20-minute window, you instinctively pick up your phone to check your splits—or perhaps download and retitle your run on Strava, coming up with a clever description for your workout (hey, we’ve been there). Before you know it, it’s time to move on to your next task, and your post-run plan to stretch and refuel is abandoned.

Remember when running used to be an escape from everyday life?

A constant stream of data, even when it’s relevant, can divert our attention away from what’s most important: the actual act of running. Seeing a pace on your watch that you don’t think is “fast enough” can lead you to overdo it, focusing more on the display screen on your wrist than how your body feels that day. Relying on your watch can cause you to lose touch with your sense of effort and internal pacing.

And of course, the opposite can happen. You’re maintaining the perfect pace, only to get interrupted by a distracting text message on your fitness tracker every 20 minutes. Remember when running used to be an escape from everyday life?

Technology can also overload our brains after the run. The latest GPS watches download directly to Strava, Facebook, Garmin Connect and other websites where you can slice and dice the data until your eyes are glassy with fatigue.

But what does all that data really tell us?

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