What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not your father's wristwatch

For the last two years I haven't worn a watch. Not when I drive, not when I walk around, not in class and not when I run.

Most distance runners are chained to their timepiece and wear a watch with such regularity that they tattoo a white band into their wrists. This is called Ghost Watch and can be remedied by inexpensive outpatient plastic surgery and cancer-causing chemicals. Some runners have watches that are so advanced that their piece will measure heart rate or GPS and give the user a minute-per-mile pace calculation. Others just use a basic chronograph or even an analog unit to gage speed.

Not me. After a several years of running with watch, I decided the weight was too cumbersome to bother with on a regular basis. I didn't like the tan line, the itch or the hassle. And I was cheap. So when the last one broke I stopped using a watch.

If I really needed to know my time, on some tempo runs, I would bring a stopwatch, but most of my training was conducted without an accurate time appraisal. I would calculate my speed using a more precise version of the circadian clock, a built-in meter that lets us "feel" the passage of time. Granted, the brain powered watch isn't nearly as accurate as its human made counterpart, but it did the trick. And it was convenient. "That felt like a four-minute mile!"

I survived a career on a collegiate track team and over fifteen races without ever strapping on a digital watch. Sometimes my coach would advise us on the merits of being able to accurately measure our own time, but after each admonishing lecture I returned to running with a naked left wrist.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago when I ran with a couple friends in a relay race. Both of my friends put up stellar performances (first and third in the field, respectively), but my time was much more pedestrian. We ended up getting fifth place overall, but it was obvious that my time held us back.

One of my friends kindly took me aside and gently advised that, perhaps, a watch might be the necessary addition to improve my training and racing. Maybe, he mused in a kind and gentle way that was insistent yet gave me room to wiggle, my times were suffering because I didn't have an objective standard against which to weigh my progress.

A couple of days later, I was at the watch counter at my sporting goods supplier weighing the merits of various "Running Accessories." Saying these devices are watches is like comparing a space shuttle to a Cessna. More than just tell the time, the products could measure heart rate, communicate with other watches, report altitude and temperature and conduct the kind of analytical mathematic calculations usually reserved for scientific calculators.

The watch technology has advanced significantly in the past two years! I wondered to the salesperson how long it would be before the SAT prohibited watches during the test taking.

I wasn't especially excited about spending two hundred dollars for an athletic wristwatch, so I settled on a less expensive unit that boasted "Tap Start Technology" and "200 Lap Chronometer." Tap Start means that the user can start the chronograph, just by lightly tapping a single button - as long as the watch is in the appropriate mode and of a friendly disposition. The 200 Lap feature allows the user to take 200 individual splits and, conveniently, uses the same tap start technology to begin split measurements.

Next morning I undertook my first run with my new hardware.

I pushed start and ensured that the watch was, indeed, counting. I then didn't look at the screen for the duration of the run. Those of you who are used to running with watches might find this unusual, but if watches aren’t your thing, looking at it during a run is one of the most unnatural motions imaginable. And in the last twenty-four months, I had run over 2,000 miles without a watch.

When I finished my outing (six miles, in case you just had to know), I checked my new watch and was excited to see a new personal record. According to the screen in front of me, I had run six miles in 4:22.89; Four minutes and twenty-three seconds.

My tired, endorphin laden brain interpreted that number with euphoria. But then reality took over and I measured my circadian measurement against the digital contraption in front of me. It really felt as if I'd been out for fifty minutes. I wasn't even pushing. A reality check also told me that a per mile time of less than a minute was fast in a car and humanly impossible.

On investigation, I discovered that this number represented only my latest split time. Apparently my long sleeved shirt kept bumping the tap technology button and, while my cumulative time remained accurate, the splits recent constantly. In all, I had used 142 splits in 46 minutes of running.

Maybe I should have stuck with an 8 lap model.

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