Leading up to my first race I read an article in which a local elite triathlete stated that he never raced with a watch, a few days later my mentor said he only uses a heart rate monitor for health reasons, and a few days after that Chris "Macca" McCormack stated on his blog that people are too reliant on technology and that they lose their "feel". With that I reluctantly decided that I was meant to ditch the gadgets this season, and I did.
My First tri of the season was the Boulder sprint, I got out of the water having no idea how long it took me and headed out on the bike. I had no cyclocomputer and no watch I just had "feel", a constant conversation with myself in which I was asking, "Is this your best? No? Then go harder." Heading out on the run I felt like I was running slow because I was too comfortable but I just kept racing as fast as I felt I could maintain for 3.1 miles. In the end I rode faster than I ever had before and set a personal best 5K at 19:23 placing 9th in a very competitive Boulder age group... I was sold. This season I raced every event with "feel" and the results have been great, but, there are pros and cons to going blind.
One of the biggest benefits of going sans gadgets is that you are in touch with your body in that moment in time and not relying on heart rate which can fluctuate greatly, if you listen closely your body will tell you if you can go harder or not. Another benefit is that I was not bound by any preconceived notions about how fast I could go. Last year I was in a race and got passed on the run by someone in my age group, I started running with him and looked down at my Garmin, when I saw the pace i said, "Oh no, you can't run that fast", I psyched myself out. He took third and I took fourth, who knows what might have been. Course lengths can also vary greatly from there advertised distances which more than once have thrown off my plans. If I was planning on going all out at mile 2 on a 5k course but the actual distance is a tenth of a mile longer, I may run out of steam prematurely. Without a Garmin I just run to the finish line no matter the actual distance.
Going blind is not without it's faults. Having no idea how fast you are going prevents you from trying to make a pace. Perhaps if you know you want to run a certain pace you would push harder than you think your capable of. Not having any sense of time can mess with your nutrition plan as well, leaving you to utilize landmarks as fueling points. However, what I miss most about the Garmin on race day is all the delicious data. Race data is extremely useful in judging your fitness, there are things you can push yourself to do on race day that you could never do in training but, without some computer to record it all, you are left with race results which can be less than accurate.
All in all this season's experiment in self awareness has paid off in dividends, I don't know that I'll ever race with the Garmin again... but it will be missed. Maybe for your next race you should try going blind. Who knows what you may discover about yourself.
After I posted this a friend called and asked me if I would suggest that someone I coach try going blind and I replied, "It depends." If you are just starting out (in your first year or two) I would not suggest it. There is just too much valuable data that can help shape the course of your training. However, once you have a good feel for pacing and what the perceived rate of exertion is for the distance you racing then I would highly recommend it. As I said above, relying too heavily on technology while racing can hinder your performance by making you second guess what you are capable of.