My Garmin was on the fritz recently and before I could fix it I was thinking, ‘Weren’t we all better off without this technology? Simple Cavemen didn’t run with iPods or Fitbits.’
Well Cavemen were stupid and we weren’t better off without all this technology. At least not as far as I’m concerned. I love all the stupid little details that my Garmin tells me: the map of where I’ve run or swam to strokes per minute and how many times my feet hit the ground. Some of the stuff, like my foot cadence, have no reference for me. I have no idea if my foot cadence is Olympic quality or back of the pack. For me at least, the tech has improved my performance by keeping me honest. Cold hard GPS facts tell me what my pace is instead of me just feeling fast.
Yes, there are times that I like to run without any sound or knowing what my pace is or my potential VO2 max. Especially when I’m far off the Prom and running on the trails outside of the city. I teach and work with kids all day, so by the time I run home at the end of the day, I’ve had it with noise of any sort. It certainly clears my head to run in the woods with no other distractions or to run along the Prom on a rainy day when there’s not a soul about and you feel like you have the whole sea to yourself.
My first wearable tech was a Technics solid state AM/FM radio headphones circa 1977. The headphones were about the size of a coffee cup with two aluminium antenna that could be extended about a foot long. Since I started running in Canada, these had the added bonus of keeping your ears warm in winter. However, since I grew up in the country, reception was crappy. The best reception was from the CBC (Canada’s version of the BBC) which constantly played classical music. According to twelve year old me, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields could do no wrong when it came to classical music. Anything popular, however just came through in fuzzy snippets, while I fiddled with the reception knobs in the hopes of listening to all of Manfred Mann’s, Blinded by the Light.
The next big running music innovation for me came with the iPod. I love listening to music while I run. Years ago I read some famous coach saying that running with music was ill advised as it kept the athlete from focusing on race day. But I didn’t want to think of race day. Why did I want to visualise all those people passing me? Listening to music while I ran helped lull me into a more meditative state. The Walkman did come before the iPod but a Walkman could be more hassle than it was worth. You had to spend hours making endless mixed tapes which was a great exercise for a friend’s birthday party but I just got bored when I was making them for myself. Plus there were the technical difficulties of a Walkman: eaten cassettes and always wondering when your batteries were going to go dead. I won’t even bother with how useless a Discman was unless you were planning on standing perfectly still while waiting for a bus. When the iPod came out, I thought it was running’s most innovative tech since the Nike waffle outsole.
The iPod also introduced me to the world of podcasts. When I started training for Ultra-marathons, I grew bored of listening to five hours of Elvis Costello. That’s when I discovered this new tab in the iTunes store called Podcasts. I could listen to people talk about anything on shows that were roughly about an hour long. Great entertainment for ultra training.
As far as tracking distance, there were pedometers but they could be wildly inaccurate. Essentially these were little analog devices that you clipped to your hip and judged how far you were going based on each time they slapped against your hip. Some were a bit more scientific and you put in your stride length or inseam and it would figure out a simple trig problem to tell you how far you’d gone. But by far the most accurate was to just get in a car and drive the distance you were going to run. This was great for city running but when I ran trails, I just had to guesstimate and when I was in a new city without a car, I’d do the same.
It wasn’t until about ten years ago that Garmin came out with a device that I thought was durable, portable and water proof that I was able to accurately judge just about any activity I could do. I love my Garmin and I swear by their products. Sure, I have had some glitches with their first generation of stuff, but by and large, I find it technically a very solid product and design wise, an incredible product. What is it about Garmin and Suunto design that makes Polar look like the ugly step child of GPS watches?
The constant monitoring of yourself with these watches can screw with your head. I don’t know how many times, Nancy has come home from a run or swim and beat herself up because she was off her personal best. Last week I was just talking with Thomas and he was telling me the same thing. I’m prone to the same training shame, so for that reason, unless I’m training for a run I don’t wear my Garmin all the time and even when I do wear it, I just check in with it sporadically to see how I’m doing.
When we’re training for an Otillo race, I find my little buddy indispensable. It allows us to be very accurate for our training and lets us figure out how close to cutoff times we’ll be. Without it, I’d spend most of every race running in a frantic panic, wondering what pace I’m at and how far it is to the next cut off station.
Recently, I’ve also discovered the advantages of treadmill running. I’ve never loved running on a treadmill and didn’t understand why people chose to run on one. Living in New York or Toronto, I preferred running outside even on the coldest days to running on a treadmill. But when I started running, treadmills were basically hamster wheels for humans. I work at a sports school that was just built this year and the school is filled with the latest equipment including treadmills. Holy Crap! I can’t believe what treadmills can do now. I find them incredibly helpful for speed and conditioning training now. The treadmills at the school are awesome. I jump on one and select the cross trainer coach option for 40 minutes and can’t believe the workout I get on it.
Last year for my birthday, I got a Fitbit and have to admit I’m a bit addicted to it. I have a large family that is spread all over North America. About half of us have Fitbits and its a great way for us to keep in daily contact. Though I have to admit I suspect my brother of tying the Fitbit to his dog and letting it run wild in the back yard for hours.
Of course there’s nothing like swimming in the sea on a summer day with no wetsuit or Garmin or running in the woods with no other distraction other than the view but if I want to be entertained with an uhh yeah dude podcast or need to know if I’m going to make the 1000 Lakes cut off times, I love my wearable tech.
I grew up in a small town north of Toronto. I started running on country roads and fell in love with long distance running when I was twelve years old. I loved (and still do) getting up just before the sun and going for a run in the country. Running in Canada you get everything from 30+°C heat in the summer and minus 20°C cold in the winter. I started challenging myself when I was 13 and would just run for hours on the weekends not really knowing the distances or pace but just seeing if I could run to the next town and back and then set a new challenge. I first heard about an Ironman when I read an article about it in Sports Illustrated when I was about 13 years old. At the time, an Ironman was a disorganized, crazy endurance challenge and I set my sights on doing one. Finally did my first Ironman more than ten years later in Canada out in British Columbia after completing several marathons and several smaller triathlons. I finished. I still remembered how exhausting that first one was. Although I’m not fast, I love the endurance aspect of sports. This led me to the world of ulra-marathons where I’ve done a 50 mile, 100KM and 100 mile race. A few years ago, my wife told me about these swimrun races in Scandanavia. Easily the toughest endurance event I’ve done because you need to not only have endurance but you have to be quick. Then there’s the challenge of nature, the cold and trails. The best thing about it is being a team with my wife and sharing the highs and the lows that a demanding endurance sport brings. One moment you’re telling each other to fuck off and the next you’re kissing at the finish line.something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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