At first, it was difficult. Several times during the first couple miles, my eyes drifted down to my naked wrist and I shook my head in frustration. But as the miles clicked by, I settled into a rhythm and gradually lost track of time. As I climbed and descended the rollers between miles 11 and 18, I found myself deliberately focusing on my breathing and effort level more than I typically do. At that point I began to feel a bit of freedom in being watch-less and just taking what the trail gave me.
As I rolled into Long Mountain and the race’s halfway point, I recalled the story of Mark Richtman who, years ago, ran the Western States 100 without a watch. According to local legend, that year Mark arrived at Michigan Bluff, mile 55 and the psychological halfway point of the race, and asked a volunteer what time it was. When he was told it was 2 p.m., he simply smiled and trotted on. Then, nine hours later, Mark crossed the finish line in an impeccably paced 17:59:59. Channeling my inner Richtman, as I left the aid station I asked a volunteer what time it was. “11:30 sharp,” was the answer. That was the last time I would have a real time check until the finish.
At around the 35-mile mark, the steady drizzle that had been falling for most of the day turned into a cold and drenching rain. This coupled with my labored pace made me long for my watch. Not so much for a sense of time but more for the feeling of comfort that comes with the simple awareness of the passage of time. In that cold gloom, it would have been helpful to have some temporal bearing.
Over the last few miles, as the wonderfully familiar ‘smell of the barn’ settled in and the rain subsided, I savored the simplicity of this run. Crossing the finish line and seeing the ticking clock had a little deeper meaning on this day as there was an element of surprise to it that made me smile. There are so many little joys in this wonderful sport of ours and last Saturday I found yet another one. I found, through the simple act of relinquishing a bit of knowledge, that the fundamental act of running could reveal its wisdom.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you ever raced or run intentionally without a watch? What was your reasoning and how did it go for you?
- What other regiments of your running habit have you taken at least a temporary break from?