A few miles into the marathon, my Garmin winked at me before closing its sleepy digital eye for the duration of the race.

If my hands hadn’t been so uncoordinated from the finger-numbing drizzle, I would’ve tossed the watch into the lake.

It reminded me of when I’d forgotten to charge it the night before a long run. It was that day, without the constraints of time or minutes-per-mile, that I discovered a new system of trails—a runner’s paradise with green rolling hills, fields of flowers, forests, and even medieval ruins. I was like a kid in an amusement park—running cheerfully from one attraction to the next.

After that day, I did many of my runs without being henpecked by my digital training partner. I could concentrate on how my body felt—how it felt to go slow; how it felt to go fast.

Since I couldn’t precisely track my mileage (which, honestly, was annoying at first), I would just run for a certain amount of time, paying attention to form and function, while also allowing my thoughts to roam.

So, I wasn’t at a complete loss without my gadget during the marathon, though I did spend significant brain power trying to convert kilometers into miles.

The watch is a seductive tyrant. Success or failure is easily calculated in its cold gray numbers, and when you wear it, you can completely ignore your own self.

Why not just walk a mile until you can run it? And when you can run it, go a little farther? Success should be based on how your body feels, or how your jeans fit, rather than what the heartless gadget tells you.

It is so like life. We push ourselves to fit into a perfect, pre-packaged category.

That’s not to say we can be lazy—it means we need to be honest. If you learn to listen to your body, then you will know when you are working hard and when you are just wimping out. Achieving honesty in training is one of the hardest things to do. It means overcoming your worst enemy—yourself.

Because marathon training is a program that requires a certain number of miles and minutes if you want to finish alive, the gadgets come in handy. And for professional athletes, a split second determines whether you win or lose.

But for most of us, there is a tendency to become too focused on the watch.

We find ourselves measuring a good workout not by how good we feel afterwards, but by a few random numbers.

But the numbers can’t calculate how late you were up the night before, tending to a crying baby. They can’t calculate the stress from work or school or home that has built up, or that feeling of utter freedom when you release it. Garmin or Timex or Salomon can’t calculate if your finger is broken; nor can it fit into its equation the sunrise or the deer on the hill that makes you pause for a moment to absorb the sheer tranquility of an early morning run.

For now, my Garmin is history: a deposed dictator banished to the bottom of my electronics basket, where it will keep company with a variety of rechargers, stray batteries and camera attachments.

But who knows? It may stage a daring coup d’état for the next marathon.

Time will tell.

Advertisements