Tune Out Your Run Tech to Get More Reliable

Ultramarathon mindset coach Susan Donnelly uses mental toughness instead of tech to finish Massanutten 100-mile race

A client recently asked, “How do I know how fast to run in my 100-mile race?”

I wondered the exact same thing before my first 100.

I tired to imagine covering the distance and couldn’t, so I had no way to imagine what the running would be like.

“Should I be running as hard as that guy on the cover of the magazine?” 

“How hard should I be breathing? Working?” 

“How do I know what’s too fast?" 

“How does it compare to my long run training pace if the distance is three times further?”

The best answer is that you don’t “know” - you have to learn. And there’s no shortcut. You have to get to know your body.

That’s not a popular answer because getting to know your body takes time and because we’ve been conditioned to think of our bodies as untrustworthy strangers. A thing hopelessly full of weaknesses that need to be trained, strengthened, stretched and slimmed out for you to run faster. The thing that holds you back. 

For example, the phrase “listen to your body” is typically code for, “stop running so much,” or “it’s ok - quitting's the right decision.” Like your body only wants you to give up.

So it’s tempting to grab some unbiased tech device to tell you how you’re doing. A GPS watch. A heart rate monitor. A fitness tracker. A wearable data pod for your waistband. Or one for your shoe. 

And not as a backup. 

You insert this middleman between you and your body because the middleman’s easier to deal with. You get specific, quantitative numbers and instead of squishy, qualitative information like “no energy,” and “slow.” 

You don’t have to listen or understand. You just have to react to the number and “dial it in.”

You learn to run according to numbers instead of feel, even though the numbers only show a tiny fraction of the universe of information your body can tell you.

So you start to depend on the device, even though it can’t tell you

  • Whether you’re eating too much or too little

  • What type of food you need

  • If you’re drinking too much or too little

  • If the pace is sustainable for the conditions

And...it’s more likely to fail than your body.

There’s no substitute for taking the time to develop a relationship with your body and learning to understand what it’s telling you. And it doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t order it from Amazon and there’s no hack. It takes time, love, trust and attention, like any worthwhile relationship.

If you do make the time, you’ll learn more than a fitness tracker can tell you. Like how different levels on the fatigue scale feel - what’s garden-variety tired, what’s uncomfortable but tolerable, and what's a mind limit that your body can still go beyond.

Besides, when you’re shivering and wet at a 63-mile aid station in the middle of a rainy, empty night, a device can’t give you a tidy answer about going on or quitting, so you might as well learn to hear what your body has to say.

Body first - tech devices second.

Your body’s not a unreliable stranger - it’s a trusty partner for life and all your adventures. 

A technological device is just a device…and it can fail.

You don’t need a device to finish a 100-miler but you do need your body.

Why not invest patience and attention in your relationship with it?

Get to know it better, without the middleman?

Learn how to run a 100-miler together?

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Until next week,

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PS - If you want help running your own longer distance, like a expert pacer who’s finished over 100 of these, help planning out the details of your own race, or simple, practical tips you can use on race day, check out DON’T GO HOME WITHOUT A BUCKLE. It’s made to help you be one of those finishers. Email me if you have a question about it or want to see if your race date is available.