Fitbit and Freedom: A Runner’s Intro to Walking

Fitbit and Freedom: A Runner’s Intro to Walking

By ginaschmeling   /     Oct 20, 2015  /     Running, Social Media  /     

This is my sixth year of running. I thought I knew the scene. That I was seasoned.

There was a disconnect. I’d run, train, and kibbitz online with my run group, and then find myself sitting in professional contexts thinking about the next run. Or dreaming about just getting out of my chair. They were opposite worlds.

When I did finally get out of my seat, away from the laptop, I was slow, achy, and stiff.

Recently there’s been new, healthy discussion about walking meetings, standing desks and enlightened thinking about energizing worklife. Whoa! That got my attention. As Beth Kanter has been blogging and speaking about, professional life doesn’t have to be sedentary. The science argues that it shouldn’t. I didn’t realize how walking — low tech, simple, human — would change my running. Here’s what strapping on another tracker, and plunging into Fitbit life has taught me so far.

Resting Heart Rate Matters

Many athletes track heart rate during training. Some runs are even called “Threshold” workouts, meant to push heart rate to uppermost zones. There’s a hill in Prospect Park — North Hill. It is not easy. Many of us do hill workouts there to get to the next zone. That will work, as long as the majority of the week’s runs are in a lower zone. Runners like data and numbers. Somehow fast paces and high heart rates seem like badges of honor.

“I think most runners are running their easy runs faster than they should,” says Brooklyn Team in Training Coach Jim Purvis. “It would be an eye opening surprise for many runners to run at their easy pace. Your resting heart rate (RHR) gets lower as you become more conditioned. I would want to monitor increases in RHR, as that could indicate overtraining.”

I know my speed-work heart rate zones from years of Garmin loyalty. With Fitbit, I am now on top of my resting HR. Low-zone heart rate training is key to building endurance, and making race day more effective. For those of us striving for speed, slowing down is essential in training.

License to Sit

Common runner argument: I run lots of miles a week! I can sit as much as I like, eat what I want — I’m good.

License comes in many forms, but mainly we frame it in terms of food. Runners World explores this phenomenon often. Sitting may be an invisible type of indulgence. Or worse, an accepted norm.

When I started wearing a Fitbit, I was psyched. The steps came easily. What I didn’t realize was how flatlined the rest of my day was. The inertia was a bizarre consequence for having woken up early and gotten my run in. I had been giving myself license to sit for hours.

While the Fitbit tingled to reward my step goal, the app showed me the rest of my day was spent on my rear. Not so rewarding.

It was a new challenge. I started skipping subway stops, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, making my kids walk more then they realized (shhh). The number of steps didn’t matter as much as how I felt, time spent moving, and what happened to my running. It changed because I started purposefully walking more.

My annoying, persistent middle-aged running pains abated. I slept better. I lost some weight and kept it off. In the midst of a high-pressure year, I felt lighter. My running metrics improved: better endurance, more speed, and I even placed in my age group in a few races.

Strapped in: The Multi-Gadget, Multichannel Life

Somehow the SQ (suffering quotient) of a run feels more righteous when one is strapped in to gadgets requiring charging and syncing.

This spring, I ran with Chris McDougall of “Born to Run” fame. His book started the barefoot, natural running craze. I was so excited to meet him, I geared up in reflective “tech” logo paraphernalia and gadgets (Heart Rate Monitor, iPhone, Garmin and yes, Fitbit) without realizing just how much of a Cyborg I had become. He was wearing sandals, a plain cotton t-shirt, no electronic anything. I think he had a necklace.

We ran side by side with a small group in drippy, cold weather. He generously ignored my flashing, beeping gadgets and told me I had a light stride. Sigh.

How many gadgets are too many? Purple Fitbit, Garmin watch, Mio Heart Rate Monitor.

Too much? Fitbit Charge, Garmin watch, Mio Heart Rate Monitor.

That run was revealing. A running buddy of mine noticed my gadget overload. When I added the Fitbit, he said, “Giggy, why so many devices?” Do I have the courage to unstrap? I think so, but that will have to wait until after my fall race (October 11, the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon). November will be a gadget and app Sabbath for me. Until then, the wearable tech is a training tool. It won’t get me to the finish line, but it is certainly shaping the road there.

The tech helps me see and understand how training is going. An upshot is being able to connect online with coaches, and cheer friends and allies (Strava!). I’m crediting Fitbit for opening up a new fitness space for me. The FaceBook Fitbit/Walking group I’ve joined is an inspiration for many reasons — it is playful, supportive, encouraging and not competitive. The Fitbit challenges are hard! Usually, I get schooled.

Take Aways

  1. For super charged, highly competitive runners – don’t knock the walking life. There’s no silver bullet, but integrating a generous amount of walking into your weekly training can be a major asset.
  2. Join a run or walking group, online or in real life. It is the best way to insure you do it. In my online Fitbit group, I’ve met people from all over the world and made new friendships and partnerships locally. It’s been a refreshing and wonderful addition to my online running communities.
  3. Know your RHR data. A spike is not good. The more you train, the lower it should be, yet sudden fluctuations can be a warning sign.

Good luck with your training! For those running fall marathons, I wish you speed, ease, and lots of walking.

Added October 20, 2015: I ran my fall marathon last week, and set a new personal record (PR). I had been chasing this for a few years and I’m delighted. Post-race, I’m walking for active recovery. This winter, I look forward to finding new paths with walking and running.

Think running is enough? Read this: Runners World, July 2013, Sitting is the New Smoking.


  1. Lynn Richardson Says: October 23, 2015 3:24 pm

    Thanks, Gina. This is a great piece. In my current state, all of my “training” is walking. I like to think it’s helping me heal and prepare for the next steps. I also think it will carry me through. This piece makes me feel a bit better and I can hold my head a little higher as a walker 🙂 Curious to know how you selected fit bit? I’m going to invest in a device like this and I’d love your thoughts. Thanks!

    Reply this comment
    • ginaschmeling Says: October 23, 2015 4:13 pm

      Lynn! Thanks for reading. Walkers should always feel the pride, head high. I started wearing a Fitbit after one of Beth Kanter’s sessions at the Nonprofit Technology Conference last year, “Walk is Work.” I think I was being a run-snob by not checking it out earlier. The app and “social” (friending) software is really fun, and I’ve enjoyed it. It seemed a nice diversion from pure “training” data in Garmin and Training Peaks. I recommend getting a Fitbit Charge, because it will track HR. Let me know what you do!

      Reply this comment
  2. Miphun Says: October 24, 2015 1:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Gina. I am wearing FitBit Flex and it made me walked a lot more than before. After reading your piece, I may invest in FitBit charge – want to keep an eye on my HR.

    Reply this comment
    • ginaschmeling Says: October 24, 2015 3:32 pm

      Hi Miphun! Thanks for reading. I sort of love the design of the Flex, and the way the “bit” pops out. Let me know if you get a Charge. We should start a BK Fitbit challenge. Maybe November?

      Reply this comment

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