Friday, August 20, 2010

Role of Technology

I am a huge fan of fitness technology - GPS watches, heartrate monitors, cadence sensors, lap counters, iPods. I figure it's just a matter of time before a trainer can create a customized bike or treadmill workout and upload it over the network to a specific piece of equipment, then receive data back regarding a client's performance.

Technology is great for the brain, the logical side of workouts, but it can take something away from the heart if you become over reliant on it. Technology doesn't capture those moments of lightness and flow I reach for periods of a run. It doesn't mark the spot where dozens of small bright yellow birds predictably gather as if waiting for my arrival. It can't distinguish between my self-talk that is positive and uplifting or negative and punitive. It shouldn't be the final arbiter on whether my run was categorically "good" or "bad".

A few weeks ago I had a run on the Huckleberry that seemed, by feel, to be reasonably strong. I scrolled through the run data in the car afterward and was devastated to see how slow it actually was. I had an overreaction to say the least. It's a good thing I was alone in my car, with no one to see my irrational tears.

This week Coach Jim encouraged me to incorporate some runs without technology. It was baby steps - first I headed out without a GPS watch, but with my Timex. I still found myself compulsively watching the minutes tick by. I'd estimate my pace and do some math to determine distance. My brain was still thinking numbers. I might add, though, that I did this run without my iPod too! It was along the New River and there was much to hear and attend to.

Later in the week Jim had me run with no watch at all. I would approach an intersection and instinctively reach for the "stop" button and realize with relief that I didn't have to. Again, I left the iPod behind. I felt light and unencumbered. Finally, FINALLY I was able to really enjoy a low-key run and because it didn't require all my mental faculties to push-push-push, it seemed I had more room to think and ponder. I finished this run feeling very rejuvenated and positive.

One of my shortcomings as a runner is that it has been difficult to give myself permission to back off on easy aerobic runs. I know that logically these runs are important for recovery and to allow for better efforts on other key runs, but in the back of my mind I was worried that if I allowed myself to "slack" I'd get too used to it and lose my speed and drive! Ridiculous, of course.

I see now that it is important for me to run free like this periodically. And I am finally coming around to the role of the easy aerobic run. I still enjoy the technology but there are limits to what it can do and the story it can tell.