One of the differences between running and many other sports is its individualistic nature. How successfully you perform depends on you alone, and how hard you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone is self-regulated. Our internal voice tells us when to push it harder, and sometimes an undermining voice arises and tells us to go back to sleep when the alarm clock goes off or to cut a run short. My internal voice often employs reverse psychology by appealing to my nuts running gene and asking, “What would a sane person do?”
But now we have other voices coming at us through what we wear on our wrist. Years ago running watches didn’t have much more than a stopwatch function. Want to know how far you went? Get in your car, retrace your route, and track it the old-fashioned odometer way. A little more difficult to measure those narrow single-track trail runs.
Eventually, GPS technology emerged and we not only had our distance staring us in the face from our running watch, but our pace as well. But why stop there? We can now get the number of calories burned, elevation chart for our route, and the temperature. We can get our heart rate, mile splits, cadence, and step count. A vibration alarm signals when we’ve gone off pace. Heck, eventually our watches will probably be able to tell us how many more strides before we should re-hydrate or pop an energy gel packet.
I certainly welcome all the magic that running watches can provide. However, there’s one addition I can do without. Most of us don’t have a reality show with a personal trainer shouting words of encouragement. Nor do we have, on a daily basis, race spectators shouting phrases like “You’re looking good.” But now we can. Sort of. Running watches have come along containing messages that attempt to put us on a pedestal after our runs. The wizards of watch technology offer words of praise like “Atta boy,” or “Job well done,” or “Way to go.” I recognize that some runners enjoy those accolades from their wrist. Personally, I’m leaning toward the opinion that if I need compliments from a chronometer or tributes from my timepiece, well, I may have other issues.
Does any other aspect of my life provide unsolicited words of praise? Heck, no. What’s next? My computer saying, “Nice sentence, Bob! Way to string those humorous metaphors. You da man, Shakespeare!” Or does my car tell me, “That was a heck of a parallel parking job! Nobody does that better than you.” I can’t imagine my stove top saying, “Nice omelet flip there, Chef Incredible! And the coffee this morning smelled divine.”
The last things I’m looking for after a particularly bad run are flattering yet fallacious words, which are about as welcome at that point as learning a course was mismeasured after you’d set a PR. It’s like the queen and her mirror in Snow White:
“My watch, my watch, on my hand. Who’s the fastest in the land?”
“You, my runner, are fastest of them all.”
I wouldn’t bet on it.
What I need are the words of legendary coach Bill Bowerman when my alarm clock goes off as a chilly rain pounds on my roof and I contemplate going back to sleep. I could use a bright flashing neon sign plastered across my bedroom ceiling with Bill’s words “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” And feel free to toss in for good measure “So get your lazy hiney out of bed there you weak little man. Now!”
I also could use, in the latter stages of a race, my watch to feed me a double dose of Winston Churchill, such as “Never, never, never give up” and “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I don’t need pearls of drivel like “Wow, you’ve just gone 20 miles. Amazing! You’re the greatest. The wall may be coming soon. Feel free to jog it in from here or, better yet, just take the sweep bus to the finish.”
Running watches also come with an artificial runner that lays down the gauntlet to challenge us to a race. That’s more like it: a healthy dose of virtual competition. Add in some trash talking and all the better! Let my watch berate me with “Is that all you got, Wonder Boy?” or “Feel free to pick up the pace anytime now.”
What I could also use before a race is to glance down at my watch to see words of wisdom from Steve Prefontaine. Such as “I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.” That’ll get my heart pumping. I don’t need flattering bouquets like “I just love the way your singlet matches your shorts.”
Feel free to give me a watch that will tell me after a run, “That wasn’t good enough, twinkle toes. Better be ready to push it tomorrow!” It was Prefontaine who also said, “You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.”
Or by having your watch do the patting for that matter. Or your computer, car, or stove top.