Sunday, February 16, 2014

When did Running become so complex?

    I love watching my grandchildren run.They run with such reckless abandon, not with the goal of running, or even getting anywhere, but just as a part of playing.   It reminds me of great times as a young whipper-snapper when running was an integral part of daily activities like playing tag, capture the flag and of course street football and baseball games (and yes, they had footballs and baseballs when I was young).    
When I first started running marathons it seemed equally simple.  You bought a pair of running shoes (you had 2 or 3 different brands to choose from), pair of baggy grey cotton sweats and if you were really into it, a watch with a timer.   Getting ready for a run was simple, you rolled out of bed, threw on the sweats, laced up the shoes and 10 minutes later you were running.   Adjusting to the weather was as simple as deciding if you needed the sweat pants or if it was sub freezing maybe a hat and gloves.

Over the last 35 years, life has gotten more complex and it has dragged running along with it.  Technology, social media, and YouTube of everything has changed running from a natural activity into a fashion runway decked out in the latest Best Buy techno-toys.  Gone are the days of “who cares what I look like” or “enjoying the peaceful Zen of a run on a country road”.   Now it’s about designer clothes, day-glow shoes, space age headphones, GPS watches, organic food and phone apps.     
Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the new stuff.   The other morning when it was sub zero and my breath was forming a layer of ice on my mustache and eyebrows I said a little prayer of thanks to the Under Armour inventor whose product was protecting certain vital organs.   At my age I don’t generate a lot of heat doing the “geriatric shuffle” so staying warm can be a challenge.  I once had a nightmare that I was going so slow that they found me actually frozen to the road mid stride.  I’d drag a heater along if I could figure out the logistics of a 5 mile extension cord.   Given the aging population there is probably a patent and a trip to Shark Tank in there somewhere.

I’ve tried to adapt to the changes over the years.   I got a GPS watch (actually my daughter and son-in-law bought it for me), I received new running clothes (from my son and other daughter/son-in-law), more clothes from my wife (the aforementioned under armor…she said she had a vested interest in protecting certain assets), and a postage stamp size radio/MP3 player (also from Pam) to replace my 12 year old cigarette sized FM radio.  OK, so maybe my family dragged me into the 21st century.  But regardless, the outcome is the 10 minutes it used to take me from bed to road now takes me 20 minutes just to “gear up”.   And of course we have to add another 10+ minutes to “get the kinks out” so when I hit the roads I don’t look like a refugee from a nursing home that forgot his walker. 

In relative terms I’m still in the dark ages.  I don’t have any of the noise cancelling ear buds guaranteed to never fall out while running, the mini-heart rate monitors,  the energy boosting shoes,  the compression lycra shorts/leggings (frequently a frightening sight if you happen to be behind the wrong person),   or the fitness apps that turn your phone into a coach.   It will even remind you when you are running too slow by vibrating (unverified rumors speak of a version that replaces vibration with electrical shocks for a little more motivation).   In the latter case, the running aspect is actually leaking into everyday life.  There are wrist bands that will not only track your running, but  how many calories you burn walking around during the day, measures your sleep quality, and wakes you in the morning to start it all over again.     In case having your every move monitored is not enough, it will transmit it to your computer so you can compare it with the stats from your phone app that has been monitoring what you eat.  
It won’t be long before the latest technology innovation (the Internet of Things…basically every device talking to every other) co-ops running as well.   You can easily imagine a scenario where you miss a few weeks of exercise and your bathroom scale notices you’ve gained a few pounds so it notifies your phone which changes your ringtone to start haranguing you about exercising every time it rings.  Meantime the refrigerator (which is tracking what you are eating) replaces ice cream on your grocery list with low fat yogurt and notifies your doctor’s office to schedule a checkup.   When my running watch or phone starts waking me up early with a reminder I need to go exercise or starts coaching me to run faster, it won’t be long for this world. 

There is a reason I kept my old running watch.

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