Day #59: Back to the Watch

polar h7

Not too many days ago, I wrote about ‘The 4 Stages of Runners” – Wheezers, Watchers, Whiners and – the perfected few – Winners. Somehow, I hoped that I mostly fell into the most complete Stage 4 category of distance runner. After all, I had years before passed through the novelty of getting in shape. I remember, year after year in cross-country, patiently enduring the awful season-beginning workouts, knowing that in about 9 days the training cycle would run its course and my whole system would truly be improving. And I had done the gadgetry of Stage 2. I had owned the flashy shoes, the swishy, burgundy Gore-Tex running sweats (at the time when this ‘revolutionary’ fabric had just been invented:) And I had owned the running watches — watch after watch, in fact. I had even “learned” to wear my watch on my left hand – despite being a south-paw – because Nike’s bizarrely shaped latest 1997 iteration had been customized for the ubiquitous “right-handed runners” – whatever they could possibly be. I had been there and done that in Stage 3, too – I paid my dues in full. I had run my double digits of marathons, logged countless miles in all weather in countless countries on all terrains. I had won my share of races and lost countless more and had gained a bit of running wisdom along the way. And I had even “seen” the glory of the distance run: when uncommon joy wells up and tears of exhilaration have you weeping and running and running and exulting. This Stage 4 realization occurred in the middle of a 78K race in Switzerland. And when I had finally crested the second of two high-altitude Alpine summits – and only downhill lay ahead of me and 32 miles of impossible switchbacks and ascents fell off behind me – there I tapped in somehow to that purest “olympian glory” — the true victory which depends on no faltering competitors nor time, nor pace, nor any objective marker but instead was pure, intrinsic running for the sheer joy of moving freely through space and achieving the impossible…

And so it’s no wonder that I am scratching my head a bit today in the aftermath of having tapped in my credit card numbers and exp. date late last night to purchase a heart-rate monitor. I have descended from the mountaintop of Stage 4 all the way back to the hum-drum off ramp of stage 1. I am a “Watcher” again. And no doubt I always was but in my pride I believed my own PR that I had matured beyond such material trifles.

Now that I have confessed that, let me indulge you in my newest piece of tech! After having talked to Dr. Phil Maffetone last week about his principles of Maximum Aerobic Threshold training, about the cross-over point and about the gains that await the disciplined athlete – I had to finally plunge into the world of high-tech fitness. Maffetone’s scientific contentions that we should run slow to race fast make so much sense to me – especially given my experience of eventually plateauing back in my competitive marathoning days. I now see clearly that I generally trained too fast and did not fully train my aerobic engine. And though there are many variables and pieces to my puzzle, I see that I can at least finally heed the science and train up my deficiency today. The heart rate monitor is the single most important bit of tech to help me do this.

I asked a good Ironman-stud buddy of mine about which watch/heart rate monitor system he recommended. Of course, he wisely responded that Garmin makes great and tested gear and recommended that I shop around for my exact needs as a distance runner. The GPS enabled Garmins – such as the 310XT – are all so inviting. Sleek, minimalist design, seamless, innovative technology, etc. But I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars.

I had actually asked Dr. Phil about recommended heart rate monitoring systems after we shut down our recorded interview last week and just chatted off the record. He said that there is basically only one heart rate monitor technology – the same analog tech in all of the various models on the market. “Get the cheapest one you can find as they are all basically the same.” With this knowledge in my back pocket, I shopped around and ended up deciding to capitalize on my habit of always running with my iPhone in hand. Given that the iPhone has GPS and access to countless ingenious apps, not to mention my podcast and music library (and Siri!! – see my article on “Rexting: Texting on the Run”), I figured I could save lots by refraining from purchasing another GPS enabled computer in the form of a watch. And so I settled on the $67 Polar H7 which has Blue Tooth technology to communicate with my iPhone. In tandem with an app like Endomondo or Strava, I am all set to dive back in head first to Stage 2.

Now I wait for the Fed-Ex guy to knock… Ah, such is the plight of us “Watchers.”

Whatever it takes,

~Coach Reed

image credit: PolarUSA

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