A Split Obsession

Warning: this post may contain graphic images of me running. Proceed with caution, and certainly not on a full stomach.

Last month I joined a gym. Again. I used to be a runner. Not a fast one, mind you, but I’ve been one since middle school. I ran track and cross country in middle and high school, ran my first 10k in middle school, ran my first marathon in high school. My fastest marathon (keep in mind fast is a relative term) came when I was 33. In fact, it was this very weekend in 1998. The last few years, though, I’ve been more couch potato than runner, and it shows. So I joined Planet Fitness, and I’m not calling it a resolution. It’s a lifestyle change. So far, I’ve been pretty successful, going 4-5 times a week and getting in plenty of cardio. But I’ve noticed one thing. Thanks to more and more technology, I’ve become even more split obsessed than before!

Just to be clear on one thing. I’m not talking split infinitives. My father was an English teacher and I want to clearly state I know  my infinitives. As much as I want to boldly go down that path, that’s not why I am here! Rather, I am talking about running and split times within a run or race. With today’s technology, you can get instant feedback on your current pace, your average pace, your current and average heart rate, your exact distance run to the hundredth of a mile. I have the NIKE run app on my phone, and I have it programmed to tell me every quarter mile what my distance, time and average pace are. I also use a heart rate monitor with a chest strap to tell me what my heart rate is, how many minutes I was in each “zone”, and how many calories I have burned. It has become an obsession. Whether on the treadmill or running outside, I am constantly looking at my phone, hoping to hear that friendly voice say “time: x minutes, y seconds, distance z.zz miles, average pace aa:aa minutes per mile.” It’s not like I am trying to break Kenenisa Bekele’s 5k world record of 12:37.35. But my split and accuracy issues have become almost an addiction.

Run feedback. Time and paced blurred to protect the slow!
Workout feedback, including a warm down and sprints after my run.

Last weekend, for example, I wanted to run 3 miles on the track. Not just 12 laps, but 3 miles. On a 400 meter track, that’s 12 laps plus 30 yards, or more precisely, 28 meters. But I had another issue. A kid’s track team was running in lane one, so I had to run in lane 2, which presented another issue. I counted the number of steps from the start line to the 400 meter start line in lane 2, then counted off 12 laps worth. A 2 turn stagger in lane two is about 7.5 meters or 9 steps, so I counted off the steps and started way up the curve. Why?? Do I think that running just a little bit further was really going to make that big of a difference? It’s gotten that bad! Maybe a mild case of OCD??

While training for that aforementioned marathon best, I was due for a 20 mile training run. It was in the winter, and too cold to run outside. I snuck into the George Mason University field house, on my expired student ID, and ran 20 miles on a 200 meter indoor track. Oh, and not just 160 laps. No, that just wouldn’t do. The required number of laps was 161. Goodness knows I couldn’t short myself that last 200 meters!

How did I get this way?

I began jogging in middle school, and my first 10k was the Sarasota Herald-Tribune 10k. I ran in cut off shorts and a mesh tank top. Not a pretty sight. I didn’t know what splits were back then, knew nothing of pacing. I just ran. The only thing I knew was that to get a t-shirt, I needed to finish in under 49 minutes. I finished in about 49:30 and while I was disappointed, I didn’t care. Running was just fun! No digital watch, no music, just out for a run. That’s the way we rolled back then.

My first 10k. Great running outfit!

In 1979, a handful of us on the cross country team decided to run a marathon. I was the slowest guy on the team, but decided I’d try it as well. This was an out and back course in Tampa, and much of it was on some lonely stretches of road out in the orange groves. Not even sure they had markers for every mile. I was pathetically under trained. Looking at my running logs that I still have from high school, my longest training runs were some 10k’s that we ran leading up to the marathon. While I didn’t give myself much chance of finishing, it didn’t matter. That’s they joy of being a kid and not worrying about mileage and splits. Just go out and run. And I finished! Sure, there was some walking involved. OK, maybe a lot that second half. But I finally crossed the finish line in about four hours and 45 minutes. Since the race was sponsored by Schlitz Light, I was rewarded with 2 beers at the end. My mom (who drove us to the race) said if I was old enough to run that far, I was old enough to have beer after. Well, if you consider Schlitz Light beer…

Pre race photo of the Schlitz Light marathon.
26 miles and two beers later!
I still have my race number!

Later, technology was the beginning of my downfall, starting with the running watch. I would go to the track and run a 5k or a 10k, and could get my split anytime I wanted. It was great for pacing! Without music, I would pretend to race my favorite track stars in my mind. I’d race Craig Virgin or Alberto Salazar in a 10k on the track, always coming down to the last 200. Needless to say I was undefeated!

Then came portable tape players and running playlists! To make a playlist now is so easy. You plug in your iPhone, drop a few songs on a list, and you were done. If you aren’t into a particular song, you just press next and you’ve got another song! Playlists are created in minutes. Back in the day, though, a mix tape was a labor of love. Recording songs from either CDs or other tapes as they played, and it took at least 90 minutes to make a tape. But they were the bee’s knees! When I ran my personal best marathon on that winter day in 1998, I had a fanny pack stuffed with Gu, power bars, and an extra tape to go along with the 90 minute tape already loaded in my Walkman.

Please don’t judge me on my fanny pack!

Today, though, I feel naked without my iPhone and heart rate monitor. And I can’t say I enjoy running any more than I did as a kid. Today is an almost spring like day, maybe I should get out for a run with no technology and run like a kid. Get back to the basics. Get away from the split obsession and focus on how to boldly keep from splitting my infinitives!



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