Running Unplugged – A Runner Experiences Digital Detox

I tend to be a very “plugged in” runner.  My garmin is almost always on my wrist, and if for some reason the battery is dead I hop onto the google pedometer and map out my run before I go so I make sure to run exactly the right distance and check the clock right before I go and as soon as I am home so I know how long it took.  I plug my ears into my ipod and count the number of songs I believe each mile should take and check my wrist after that many songs to see how close I was.  If I need a certain pace of a run I make sure it is on a treadmill so that I can hit it on the nose.  While running is a hobby, I tend to micromanage it in the way someone might manage their job.  My training plan is on my google calendar, and I can tell you every mile I am “supposed” to run between now and Thanksgiving.

Last week, however, things got shaken up.  I found myself in Hendersonville, North Carolina at Camp Grounded – a “digital detox” adult summer camp.  Upon check in you had to go through “tech check” in which anything electronic you have have had – phones, ipods, even any kind of time piece – was put into a plastic bag and locked up in a box where they would remain for four days.  Hell bent on sticking to my goal of a 100 day running streak (and heading to camp on only about six days into it), I brought running gear (meaning just shoes, shorts, and some sports bras) and decided I would make it work.


The ladies of the Bobcat Village. The author in the sports bra after a run.

Camp Grounded was an amazing experience.  I would like to say it was exactly like summer camp as a kid, and in many ways that is true, but in many ways it doesn’t work that way at all.  We were divided into our gender segregated villages (I was a bobcat – my husband a grasshopper), and we played getting to know you games and created village cheers.  This was between things like yoga, meditation, and sweat lodge opportunities.  We swam in the lake, went off ziplines, and took hip hop dance workshops to perform at the Talent Show.  During the day we had a lot of free time – and I used this time to run.  The camp was covered in trails that criss-crossed throughout the woods and to the different sections of camp.  Every day I pulled on my running clothes and hit the trails, hoping that I made it to the couple mile mark, and knowing that I would have no idea how far I went.  The first day it was hard.  My husband came along with me and I kept questioning how far we had gone.  How fast we were going.  If we turn back now, will I have gotten in at least a mile?  It made me crazy.

The second and third days I headed out alone, listening to squealing campers play kickball and try to steal the flags from the other villages (mind you – all of the campers are adults, most in their late 20s-30s, many older).  These days were easier – I let myself sink into the woods.  I found myself far enough away from camp to where I couldn’t hear the sound effects anymore, and enjoyed my time in the woods.  I really don’t know how long I ran.  It may have been 10 minutes and it may have been 40.  The trails were meant for mountain bikes, full of hills and curves and roots, so while I am certain the runs were slow, they were steady and beautiful.  I stopped wanting to look at my wrist and founds that I was okay being “done” running without knowing what I had done.

Now that I’m back in the real world, I realize what an unusual gift having a totally unplugged run is.  Anywhere I run near home I have an approximate idea of the distance.  I know the trail around Burke Lake by heart.  Most of our big and wonderful trails have mile markers making sure you know your distance, and our days aren’t always so open that we can run until we are done and not worry about any kind of schedule for the rest of the day.  It wasn’t perfect running.  I won’t ever know how far I ran or even how long I was out (clocks of any kind were banned at camp), but it felt good.  I felt like I was running for the run, and not to log the miles, and that was an uncommon gift for me.

If you find that you are an overly plugged in runner like me, take my advice.  Next time you are on vacation – give it a try.  Find a park and hit the trails totally unplugged.  No music, no garmin, no attention to anything except the scenery, the sounds, and yourself moving forward through the world.

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