Most days my alarm goes off around 6 a.m., and I’m out the door by 6:30. Then, I hit the ground running.
Whether a run is the only thing on my agenda or I’m on my way to a boutique fitness class, I’d say three days each week start off with a few morning miles. Most of which start the same way, by sliding my finger across the “start workout” screen on my Apple Watch and filming the moment for my Instagram story.
It feels sort of lame to admit this, but it’s more than a habit. It’s kind of become my thing; documenting the activity on social helps keeps me accountable. When I go a few days without logging a run, both the act of pounding pavement and showcasing my efforts via Insta, I’ll hear about it. My friends check in on me. When I resurface, I’ll get direct messages from followers telling me what type of activity they did that day.
But lately, I’ve been thinking about how keeping tabs on my stride impacts me, beyond the accountability factor. I feel bad when I don’t run for as long or as far as I thought I would, and I feel even worse when I peak at a sluggish pace. I began to wonder: What if I unplugged? What if I tried running “naked,” as in, sans technology?
So, I committed. For one week, I’d log all of my runs without a watch, peeking at my phone, or even music. Here are five lessons I learned running naked:
1. Runs without music feel longer
I’ve always called myself a BPM (beats per minute) runner. Hovering at around 88 to 90 BPM, the motivating vibes of my playlist have gotten me out of bed when all I wanted to do was stay under the covers. I look forward to pounding my feet on the beat. I can’t wait to crush that tempo. As a former dancer, I get lost in the rhythm. With tunes in tow, before I know it, 60 minutes have flown by. My run feels more like a jam sesh than exercise.
I really wanted to be able to say that I came out of running naked with some epic revelation that my go-to playlist wasn’t essential. I wanted to tell you that running naked with the simple sounds of birds chirping and taxis buzzing by would be invigorating. And while I certainly was more alert to my surroundings, I ultimately just missed “No Diggity” coming on around mile three. Time felt slower. I felt slower.
2. Keeping track of your pace can either hold you back or set you free
I’ve heard the tales of people who limit themselves via their favorite running watch because they hit a certain pace and stick with it, rather than running the faster speed they’re capable of. For me, though, wearing a watch is more about monitoring my distance and keeping tabs on my progress. While running naked, I found myself anxious. Not because I’m a stickler, but because I’ve admittedly become a bit of a slave to validation. There were times I knew I was breezing at around an 8:30 mile, and others that I felt like I may as well have been walking. But without my running watch, neither pace felt as gratifying.
3. Exploring a new place naked is totally ideal
On my final day of running naked, I was in San Francisco for a work trip. I was booked for a training session at a gym just under two miles from my hotel, so I decided to hit the pavement and warm up by running to my workout. Without a doubt, those two miles were some of the most enjoyable miles I’ve run in weeks. Exploring any city with a run is one of my favorites things to do, and doing it without tech helped me take in the sights and sounds better than if I had been blasting top 40 hits. This was the only time during my experiment that I didn’t miss the slight vibration on my wrist telling me I’d just hit the one-mile marker and I thought, “Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.”
4. It’s Okay if you don’t know how far you ran
This was something that took me a few naked runs to come to terms with. Instead of basing my success on how far I’d ran, I thought more in terms of how my body and mind felt. After my third naked run, I honed in on that thankful feeling while walking the three flights of stairs up to my apartment. I had conquered the miles that I didn’t feel like getting up to do in the first place. I had this moment when I audibly told myself to chill out, to not be so hard on myself sans watch. My world wasn’t going to end because I didn’t tackle exactly five miles on the dot—or finish those five miles at a breezy 8:45 pace. Instead, my day was going to continue on. I would feel more alert. I would feel like I did something important to me. Something that makes me, me.
5. The world can wait
Considering my go-to way to monitor my runs is my Apple Watch, that means I constantly have my notifications available on my wrist. Typically, I’m alerted about texts, emails, and phone calls via a slight vibration during my runs. There have been times in the past—especially during marathon training, which can have me pounding pavement for upwards of two hours—that I’ve appreciated being in the loop. But on these shorter, brief, naked runs? I came to appreciate the “me time.”
The conclusion? While there were some aspects of the experiment I enjoyed, running naked isn’t necessarily for me—and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying metrics or music. While disconnecting from the outside world helped me relax a bit, it also made me feel disconnected with my run. But hey—now I won’t totally write off the idea of doing a run if my watch is dead.