Running Without A Watch

An essay about the freedom and challenge of running without a watch.

By on November 10, 2017 | Comments

AJW's TaproomLast weekend I did something I hadn’t done in over 25 years of running ultras: I ran a race without wearing a watch. The 35th annual Mountain Masochist 50 Mile took place last Saturday and at the last minute I decided to give it a go. Knowing that I was not in shape for any sort of sustained effort, I thought it would be a good time for an experiment. The night before the race, I decided to leave the watch behind to see what it would be like to run 50 miles on feel.

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.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Trillium Brewing Company Congress Street IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Trillium Brewing Company in Boston, Massachusetts. I recently got my hands on their flagship IPA, Congress Street IPA, and it was delicious. Similar to many of the ‘New England IPAs’ popping up these days, it is hazy and juicy. Yet, it is also so much more! Slightly bitter, not at all boozy, with a balanced maltiness to counter the fruit, Congress Street is one of the more complex IPAs I’ve had. Well worth a try!

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.