FLASHBACK to exactly 30 years ago. November 1989 was unusually sunny, mild and dry. It was a month when history was made: the Berlin Wall came down, TV cameras were allowed into the House of Commons, Thatcher’s Tory leadership was challenged for the first time, and revolutions kicked off in Bucharest and Prague.
And . . . attracting far fewer headlines . . . was the fact my trusty runner’s wristwatch suddenly packed up. But, bizarrely, this malfunction would prove a blessing in disguise.
It unexpectedly helped bring about probably the best month of racing I ever did. In four events, including a tough 10-miler, every single mile was completed in well under six minutes (these days I can barely manage a kilometre in six minutes, let alone a mile!). And all because I raced without the aid of a watch.
Nowadays running without a watch (or any other technology) is known as 'running naked'. Back then it didn't have a name.
Knowing zilch about my pace and mile-splits initially felt like a problem. In those days it was all about chasing PBs; and how could you chase a PB if you couldn’t monitor your pace? But, rather magically, there was some sort of chemical reaction and my anxiety transformed into adrenaline. I ended up faster than usual!
First up was the popular Pitsea 5-mile road race, a fast and mostly flat affair near Basildon, in near-perfect conditions. Habitual glancing at my naked left wrist gave zero clues as to how things were going, but it felt fast. I became hopeful I’d get close to my existing PB of 27:55.
Runners finishing nearby reckoned we’d gone under 28 and later it was confirmed I was clocked at 27:20. It was a big chunk off the PB, and really pleasing to have averaged quicker than 5:30 per mile.
A week later came the Clacton five-miler and I continued the ‘no watch’ experiment. Things went even better. In blissful ignorance of time and tide I came home in exactly 27 minutes, nabbing a place in the top ten.
I was left pondering how legs and lungs seemed to perform better when there was no brain telling them about time. Mind you, I did wonder if a watch would have helped me cut off an extra second . . . 26:59 would have been so much better than 27:00!
All this seemed to cause an excess of foolish confidence the following Saturday, when I entered two different races on the same morning! Despite having to gather in Ipswich’s Humber Doucy Lane at the ungodly hour of 0745, I managed second place in the Sri Chinmoy 4, in a time of 22:30.
Exit stage left and a quick costume change . . . and off I dashed with minutes to spare to the University of Essex, and the Today’s Runner cross-country league race. This also went swimmingly, although XC never requires watches anyway!
With birthday and Christmas coming up I was in no hurry to buy a new watch by this point, and went ‘naked’ again the following week for the toughest task of all - the undulating 10-miler put on annually by Hadleigh Hares. It’s not one to be messed with, and definitely not a PB course.
Nevertheless, the ‘no watch’ trick had one more surprise in store for me. It got me home in 58:30, a 10-mile time that in 2019 remains my second-best of all time.
Hadleigh concluded a great month but I didn’t want to push my luck . . . so returned to wearing a fully-functioning timepiece at all subsequent races. And in the 30 years since, I’ve never managed to kick the habit.
|* The annual Hadleigh (Suffolk) 10-miler - November 2019 style (Pic by Katrina Rigby)|