‘Digital’ Marathons

Posted by Filed Under: News and Opinion, Races & Racing

The New York Times published stories all last week about running in general and the ING NYC marathon in particular.

If you have even a passing interest in this distance, you might want to check out some of the coverage. One article that caught my eye—in the Style section, no less—debates all the gadgets many runners now use on the course. Interesting comments from both sides.

Among the numerous quotes (minus attribution here):

“I’ve been at finish lines where people come across looking like a hardware store.”

“You don’t notice the time going by.”

“We all have to work at getting good at running at an even pace. It’s not something everybody can do. The Garmin has made it a lot easier.”

“If you’re using your cellphone, are you really trying your hardest?”

“When I see someone wearing headphones in the New York City Marathon, I feel sorry for them. They don’t even know what they are missing. The hoots, the hollers, all the bands, the excitement. When else can a skinny white guy wearing little shorts run in Harlem and get cheers?”

What do you think about runners’ “hardware?”

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. 21stCenturyMom on November 6th at 9:19 am

    I like to wear my Garmin in a marathon because I like to upload the results to google earth and look at the trail they make – it’s way more fun than the marathon map they give you.

    I NEVER wear my iPod in a race. I like to fully experience the racing zeitgeist and you can’t do that from the bubble of an iPod. That having been said, when I was so trashed in my last marathon I did put on some music for a little while to get my going and it helped. But then I took it off.

  2. Lukas McKnight on November 6th at 9:24 am

    I refuse to judge others for what they opt to do; whatever helps anyone run that distance, who am I to criticize? Yes, it helps me immensely to hear the crowd cheering as I run the final few miles, and I enjoy the sounds of nature as I plod along. Others need music as a pick me up- and if they can’t hear the crowd, maybe that’s someone else I can beat!

  3. Adeel on November 6th at 9:53 am

    If an MP3 player or a cell phone makes the marathon more enjoyable, that’s one thing, but the performance benefits of a Garmin 305 or a Polar 800 are negligible. I don’t think I saw a footpod on Paul Tergat’s flats yesterday. Running might be the only sport in which amateurs have more technologically advanced gear than professionals.

    This is the best quote:

    “Alan Culpepper, a top American marathoner who will compete in New York, feels the same way. “The problem with technology is it can get you away from your own barometer,” he said. Why not figure out during training how it feels to go at a hard but sustainable pace, then aim to replicate that feeling on marathon day?”

  4. Mark Iocchelli on November 6th at 10:35 am

    Adeel, I think it’s easy to SUGGEST that someone just “figure out during training how it feels to go at a hard but sustainable pace, then aim to replicate that feeling on marathon day” but, from my perspective, it’s much harder to actually DO THAT.

    I have always had an EXTREMELY difficult time figuring out the appropriate pace and effort I should be running at. I would go so far as to say this is an extremely difficult thing for many people to learn. I think some people can be as gifted at figuring out pace and effort as they can be at running fast.

    In that sense, I am very sold on the use of a heart rate monitor for connecting pace with effort. It is a tool I use to make up for my inability to connect pace with effort.

    In other words, the reason us mere mortals may need extra gear might have to do with our physical limitations comparted to the elites – many of whom I imagine have super fine tuned biofeedback ability.

  5. Adeel on November 6th at 10:56 am

    Mark, I used to be just like that. I once ran an indoor 3,000 (not a marathon, 3k around a 200-metre track) with kilometre splits of 3:16, 3:44 and 3:58. I used to start workouts I couldn’t finish because I’d simply gone out way too hard. I’m sure that some people might have a “gift” for knowing what pace they’re going at, but I’m not one of them, and I think for the most part it’s experience.

    Running by feel helped me get a sense of pace. I run a lot of workouts on an 850-metre loop and I can tell the difference between 2:58 and 3:01. Previously I would run some 2:50s, go to 3:15 for a while and maybe pop a 3:23 before coming home in 2:55…and it all felt the same to me.

    There’s nothing a Garmin does for you that can’t be done on any sort of loop. More importantly, what do you do on a hilly race on a hot day if all you know is how to keep pace with the Garmin? The answer, of course, is that you end up listening to your body, not a gadget.

    When the world’s best runners often train on courses that can’t even be measured, much less yield an accurate pace, I can’t justify the need for a Garmin.

  6. Jessica on November 6th at 11:56 am

    I have mixed feeling about running hardware. During the Nike Women’s Marathon I had only my watch. I do sometimes where my ipod in races. I even considered it during that marathon. But I’d keep the volume low so I could hear the cheering, etc. Most marathons have some lonely and quiet sections and music can help. I’m not so sure about cell phone use during a race though – people can certainly get carried away with their phones.

    I run with an ipod on a lot of my training runs. I use a Suunto Watch that I just bought. However, I also enjoy very much my “unplugged” runs.

    Either way.. I think it’s important to not let technology be a crutch in general – and especially to our running.

  7. Soozan on November 6th at 12:29 pm

    Ha! I ran my pr of 2:04 during a half once and made six phone calls . . . I look back now and wonder how fast I could have gone if I wasn’t on the phone the whole time!

  8. Funky Dung on November 6th at 1:09 pm

    I ditch my heart monitor for a race so I can use my regular stopwatch to record splits. I’ve tried running without my Walkman and hated it. I’m just a musical guy. Silence (or near to it) drives me nuts. I don’t care how many times experienced runners tell me I’m disassociating by listening to music and should be associating instead by “listening” to my body because without music I would likely eventually give up running. People tell me I don’t really like coffee because I add so much cream and sugar and I ignore them, too. The bottom line is that you have to do what works for you. I like zoning out to tunes when I run and that hasn’t stopped me from getting a lot better in the year and half since I started. As long as it’s not a hindrance, I don’t intend to give up listening to music while running.

  9. Jeanne on November 6th at 4:50 pm

    I pretty much have three paces. Very slow, slow, and a little faster. No garmin needed!

  10. Perry on November 6th at 5:09 pm

    I like to run with an iPod. The first 12 marathons I did, I had no music, MP3 players or anything else. But for my next 9, I’ve gone digital. It’s just a more effective use of my time. I can run a marathon, read a book (audio) and juggle all at the same time.

    I should note however, that I have taken to wearing the headphones in only 1 ear. That way I can still hear the crowds when they are around. In New York, there’s nobody on those bridges so a little music/talk helps a lot.

  11. Jack on November 7th at 4:59 am

    I generally wear a stopwatch when I train and race, but that’s about it. I have tried an MP3 player, but I prefer to run without it.

  12. Ben Lawson on November 11th at 7:41 pm

    I train with my iPod nano & Nike+ pedometer, music really adds to my enjoyment, and it’s nice to get live pace information. I ran in the Toronto Half Marathon a few weeks ago and carried them with me. I kept the volume very low, so I could easily hear and talk to people around me. It really helped me stay focused. Nice to see the run plotted out afterward too.