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Can you go for a run without bringing your phone?

Many runners feel separation anxiety when they go out without their mobile

What do we fail to hear when we go running with headphones?

Do you bring your phone on you run? That was the question I asked my group of runners recently. I was curious to know why the phone has become such a popular running accessory. With running clothing being designed with smart phone size pockets and a multitude of running belts and armbands on the market, phones clearly run a lot of miles these days.

If I am perfectly honest, the main reason I bring my phone is to avoid missing out on a photo opportunity. One of the many reasons I’ll never be an elite athlete, I’m more tempted by a scenic route than a faster time. As for the rest of the phone features I use very little on the run. I don’t listen to music, track my distance or share any running history on social media. My phone goes on silent and I try to resist the temptation to check it by hiding it in my back pocket. I understand there is an element of pure escapism in leaving the phone, family and work behind when heading out the door but I feel benefit from this, once I don’t look at it.

I feel a sense of security of having my phone with me and it turns out I’m not alone. The vast majority of the runners I questioned cited safety and security as the main reason they carry their phone. It offers an always-there option to call someone in an emergency, to be contactable by loved ones or the possibility of their location being mapped should the unthinkable happen. I should point out that most of my running group are female so the statistics may be a little biased. An interesting research topic might be to identify if as many men carry their phone for the same reason. That is however a question for another day.

Motivation or music

The next most common use of a phone on the run is the motivation of music or podcasts. It is a little ironic that while many of us are bringing the phone primarily for safety, we then put on headphones and drown out awareness of our own surroundings. I could write a whole article on headphones, music and its impact on our run, but if you feel the tunes are essential to your run then maybe just consider how much you can hear beyond the music. Consider running with one headphone in your ear, or indeed research some of the latest sports headphones which claim to allow you to hear beyond the phone.

Running apps are the main other use of a phone on the run. Since I last wrote about the merits and drawbacks of such apps last year, there are even more “intelligent” tools on the market. From beginners to elite athletes, there are apps that do everything apart from actually run the miles for you. If you are the type of runner who thrives on analysing your running statistics, continue indeed to use your app of choice. Just become aware of how much screen time is associated with one individual run. If the phone app helps you get out the door, then I’m all for it. But if these apps are tying you to your phone and you would rather a little more freedom, a running watch might be worth considering. While they do have an initial cost, they avoid the constant dependency on our phone. You can also avoid that anxious worry of the phone battery dying and leaving you running solo with only your own thoughts for company and no idea how far you have run.

The fear of being without our phone is certainly not only a runner’s problem. If we can’t be without it during the day, expecting us to be able to leave it at home on a run might just be a step too far initially. As one of my runners joked, she couldn’t deal with the “separation anxiety” of being away from her phone for the length of her run. All joking aside, when we exercise outside it is often the only time of the day we don’t have some form of screen or distraction in front of us.

Having time with our own thoughts is what is missing from so many of our busy days. Our running time out lets our heads process so much of the input we are constantly receiving. The search for “solitude” is one of many topics in all the current literature in digital minimalism and this solitude doesn’t have to come from locking yourself in a room and sitting on a cushion. Just allowing ourselves the time to avoid the constant flow of distraction coming our way is a necessary break. That is the reason so many of us feel a clearer head after our fresh air escape, and often an increase in creativity and reduction of anxiety after our run.

Right place

But despite the research on phone use, if the phone is still coming with you, let it at least be in the right place. Try and avoid carrying it in your hand. Firstly it’s easier to ignore incoming notifications and secondly it will help your running technique. Having one hand tense holding a phone radiates tightness right up to the shoulder. You might just avoid a fall too if you don’t have your head stuck in your phone. Invest in a waist belt, or indeed an arm holder (if you are one of the few that seem to find these comfortable) and your phone will be close enough for you not to feel that separation anxiety, but free enough to feel like you have quality time away from the screen.

I aspire like so many others to have full freedom from my phone. I’m not there yet, but the starting point has been to become conscious of how attached I am. Maybe the best use of a phone for a runner could be just using the most basic phone features. Setting an alarm to get up in the morning, texting a friend to meet them in the park or indeed adding our weekly runs to our diary in advance are simple but motivating actions to help to keep us all going in the right direction. For now though, if you cannot run without the phone, keep it close but out of sight. If you feel content to run phone free, go for it. I’m a little jealous and trying my best to catch up with you.

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Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.