It has been a busy few weeks here at Slowhabits. We have had a number of running events. Peter, Emily and I did the Mount Oxford Odyssey, 20km over Mt Oxford, with a seriously punishing climb. Then Emily ran the 33km Mountain Run section of the Coast to Coast and Rowan and I crewed for her. At a lesser level, there has been a 5km series in the park and I did a local 10km as a time trial.
This inevitably brought us into contact with other runners and their gear, gadgets and gizmos. There has also been the inevitable training talk.
And this has left me feeling rather adrift.
I prefer to run without any electronics. For me the beauty of running is its simplicity, just me, my dog and the trail. I do sometimes carry a watch if I need to be back at a certain time, maybe to pick someone up or for an appointment, but I prefer not to.
Talk recently has included ‘slowing down to speed up’. The theory seems to be to train your endurance systems by training for a long time at low heart rate levels. Then on other days training for a short time at high heart rate levels. This method of training requires the use of a heart rate monitor; a strap around your chest, and a special watch to pick up and record the data.
Other people spoke of GPS systems in their watches or phones or iPods. These can be downloaded to computer programs, mobile ones even, that are right there on your mobile device, which tell you exactly how far you have run and how many feet of ascent you have climbed and even how many calories you have burnt.
The programme will graph the results in multiple ways, allowing you to compare this week with last, or this year with last year, or even you with your training partner. You can count calories burnt this week, and decide if you can justify that piece of chocolate cake. And you can set goals for the next training period and get to see if you have achieved them.
I, of course, am a minimalist runner. I do not need or use these gadgets.
So why do I want them? And I do want them!
I feel that somehow I will not reach my potential if I do not have them. That these gadgets will somehow transform me from a struggling but happy back-of-the-packer to a lean lithe competitive front runner. Somehow my training will became easier, and I will even leap out of bed on cold rainy mornings energised, like some weird kind of battery, by the electronic gizmos hung around me.
It is time to step back and take stock.
Do I really and truly think these things will make me a better runner? How did people train before they had them? Would I still enjoy my running if I used them? And would the use of them simply make me anxious?
Let’s take each question one at a time.
Do I really and truly think these things will make me a better runner?
Yes, they probably would, IF I took the time to use them properly, formulate an action plan and carry it through. There has been a lot of research into the best way to train, and these gadgets would help me train in the best way. BUT, I would actually have to make and carry through the plan, rain or shine, whether I want to or not, otherwise the expensive device would become like that gym membership. The one you never use, and makes you feel guilty every time you think about what you paid for it.
How did people train before they had them?
I have no idea, but it would be interesting to find out. After all whilst the record for the marathon continues to fall, there are fewer men who seem to be able to run a marathon in less than 2:20. Apparently in the 1960’s and 70’s there were 180 people under 2:20 in Britain alone, in 2005 only 5 British men ran under 2:20. I don’t know the stats but I assume it is the same for the women. What were these runners doing for training? I don’t know, but I DO know they didn’t have iPods and GPS systems!
Would I still enjoy my running?
This is the big one for me. I am not sure I would. I think I would quickly become obsessive about my times and distances. I would be watching the numbers on my heart rate monitor rather than the Hectors Dolphins cavorting off the beach. This might be fun at first but I do not think it would be long before my definition of a ‘good run’ changed from how I was feeling after the run, and what I saw during the run (dolphins, seals, hawks, Kea….), to what the numbers said on my gadget.
Would the use of them simply make me anxious?
Yes. These gadgets lead to goal setting, something I do not do well with. I prefer a serendipitous, happy-go-lucky way of living to a carefully planned and well defined goal orientated life. Planning and goal setting makes me anxious, and repeated failure (the dark side of goal setting) numbs and immobilises me.
So do I still want them? Well yes…they are widgety gadgety and fun looking, but on the whole I think the bad outweighs the good, and that is without taking the prohibitive cost of these things into account.
So I am not going to buy them, I am just going to run and enjoy myself. And I might do some research and find out how people used to train before we had these things.