The Benefits of Running Naked

September 16, 2022

If you didn’t track it, did you even run? So goes the saying. Whether it’s an app, a watch, or a foot pod or all of the above, runners tend to be obsessed with tracking stats. But what if you stopped using real-time pace to dictate your effort and ran on feel instead? Or ignored the distance on your tracker and paced the streets until you got tired or bored?

We recommend you try out silencing your running app split updates, stick a sweatband over your watch screen and see what happens. Here’s how breaking free from tech and running ‘naked’ could help you run further, faster, and freer. In the past 10 years, running watches and apps have changed the way we run. They’re extremely useful tools that reveal all kinds of insights into our running. However, an over-reliance on your device can work against you, adding unnecessary pressure, numbing some of the intuitions that help you run well and even inhibiting your performance.

It’s time to try running naked – aka tech-free. We’re not suggesting you ditch your trackers altogether. After all, being able to review your stats is important for matching up what a run felt like in the moment and how that translates into performance. Keep wearing your watch, using your app but don’t look at the feedback mid-run. You could reap some interesting benefits from adding feel-based runs into the weekly mix.

Test your limits
How do you know what you’re really capable of? As runners, each time we shoot for a personal best we make a judgment call on how hard to run. It’s often based on factors, including past runs at this distance, recent training, and how we feel on the day. But it’s a guess at best and there’s a chance you’re limiting your own potential. Here’s an interesting experiment you can do to see.

The Cooper Test is an all-out run to find out how far you can cover in 12 minutes. It’s a useful way to benchmark your fitness and it raises that acute question: how fast should you run in the first minute to make sure you’re not on your knees in the last? The instinct here is to make a rough estimate of your 5k pace and use your watch to stick close to that evenly through the run. But by doing so you’ve already made a conscious decision to limit your effort.

Do this test once using your watch to pace the run and record your distance. Repeat the test a week later but this time set an interval on your watch for 12 minutes, hit start, and don’t look at your real-time pace until the time is up. Run entirely on feel and see what you get. But also pay attention to how you felt on the run. Were you better at keeping a consistent pace? Did you find you could push harder in the final quarter?

Get better at pacing yourself
A good sense of pace is critical for race day success but if you become over-reliant on your GPS watch, it can be hard to get a truly intuitive sense of pace. That can lead to problems in conditions where GPS isn’t all that reliable, for example a really hot, cold or windy day, running through tunnels or when you’re forced to speed up and slow down to navigate a crowd. Running regularly by feel, rather than on the watch, helps you learn what your easy, medium, and hard efforts feel like, putting you more in control regardless of what the world throws at you.

Run in the moment
There’s nothing more freeing than losing track of how long, how far and fast you’ve been running. Settling into a rhythm with the world flashing by in a zen-like state is something many runners – particularly endurance runners – seek. But it’s hard to achieve that mental state with your watch beeping and buzzing every time you complete a kilometre, perhaps even reminding you that you’re not moving as well as you did last time out. Running ‘naked’ lets you silence the interruptions, freeing you to tune into your surroundings, your breathing, the rhythm of your feet. Free from pressures of chasing time and distance, you’ll be better placed to run in the moment and reap the mental health benefits of a break without being judged.

It can help optimise your recovery runs
One of the biggest mistakes many runners make is running too fast on recovery runs. It’s all too easy to look at the pace on your watch and worry you’re moving too slowly. But that’s your ego talking. Running without a watch helps you escape your own unhelpful expectations, letting you respond to how you feel on the day. You can then run as slow as you need, to let your body relax and recover. If you’ve had a particularly hard session the day before or poor sleep, this might mean moving at 9-minute miles instead of the 8-minute miles you’d usually do for recovery but that’s fine. That’s just what your body needs.

It powers up your positivity
How many times have you finished one of your scheduled hard training runs, looked at your splits and felt deflated that you didn’t hit the highs of a previous run, despite knowing that you’d given it your all? However, those numbers on your watch don’t really tell the whole truth. For all kinds of external reasons, you can work equally hard on different runs but some days you will run better than others. By running watch-free and listening to your body, however, you can ask yourself honestly after each session ‘Did I run with the intensity and effort I needed to today?” If the answer is yes, the splits don’t matter. The negative feedback is silenced and you can finish every run feeling good about yourself, safe in the knowledge you did what you could in that moment. That sends you into your next session feeling positive.

Thanks to Running Heroes

Stuart has competed in triathlons from Sprint to Ironman distance. As a qualified Triathlon Australia, Australian Athletics Run Coach, and a certified Ironman coach, he is aware of the importance of balancing training with lifestyle, thus complementing other important aspects of an athlete’s life (family, work, study commitments, etc.).

Contact Stuart at



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