Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plugged in and Tracking

On Sunday, my wife and I took the dog to Burke Lake for what I hoped would be my first successful foray outside and off the treadmill.  If I couldn't have the flatness of the treadmill, I could at least have the trail's forgiving surface.  

Burke Lake, though a picturesque loop that offers stunning views in any season, always seems to give me trouble stamina-wise, no matter what kind of shape I'm in.  Still, I figured if nothing else, I could always walk up or down any of the hills if need be and just consider the effort a hike/run.

I walked down to the water and took in the lake, a steely, gunmetal mirror that reflected the bare trees.  Rangers skated over to a patch of ice on their boots and knelt down to inspect a larger hole.  I took in a couple nervous, cold breaths, then picked up the trail just off the boat launch.  I started a cautious jog around the standing puddles left over from the week's earlier dusting and relished the cold against my face.

After a few awkward strides and some slight discomfort, I found my stride and began to drop the pace.  Each step chased away those lingering doubts, and I started thinking more about the surroundings than, "Does it hurt?  Did I tweak something?  Is that pop bad? Can I take it up this hill?  Should I try and run down?"  I started to run again.  I darted in and around walkers, dogs, and other runners.  At each clearing in the trees, I took in the view of the lake.

Around mile 1, actually exactly at mile 1, my watch beeped.  Confused, I checked my wrist.  Sure enough, 1.00 mi at a 7:15 pace...and counting.  You see, this run also became my first trial run with my new GPS watch.

My parents graciously gave me a gift card to a local running store for Christmas.  Normally, I'd get some shorts or a singlet I'd been eyeing.  But this time, I was at a loss having just gotten new shoes and some new winter gear.  Then it hit me, I could get a new watch.

I've resisted the idea of getting a GPS watch for sometime.  For the last five years, I've gotten by on a cheap-o $10 watch from Target.  I calculate the pace in my head, or simply run by feel and plug my time into my training log when I get home and let it spit the pace out for me.

Plus, these watches ain't cheap.  Not to mention the fact that I carry some OCD as it is, and feared that I would focus too much on what my pace is this second and oh, God I'm falling off my pace, I need to push harder, but I can't I'm tired, self-doubt, self-doubt, self-doubt and...whew, you see what I mean.  So, rather than obsess, I'd just be unplugged.

Then I started doing some research.  I settled on the Garmin Forerunner 110.  Simple, not too bulky, calculates pace, distance, and time.  What more did I need?  So I bought it.  Then I got injured and never got to use it.  Until this past weekend.

Truth be told, having the watch proved a nice distraction from obsessing over my knee.  Now I had the lake, the trail, and the watch to think about other than, "Does my knee hurt?"

When I felt particularly good, I checked the pace to watch it drop, when I hit a rough patch, I just ignored it and soldiered on.  Every mile I got a beep to let me know I'd knocked another one down. This I found to be the most valuable part.  I always get slightly tweaked not knowing how far I've gone on a trail and it's hard to click it out on google.  This completely takes the guessing out of it.

After 4.51 miles, I arrived back at the parking lot.  I clicked the watch, saved my workout, and walked back to the car.  My knee hadn't even registered any discomfort since mile two (which I can say definitively since my watch told me so), and the watch hadn't thrown me off my game as I once feared it might.

There may come a time where I decide to leave the watch at home as I did over Christmas and simply run for the sake of running, completely unplugged from music and time, but for now, I'm plugged in and ready to get back on the bus.

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