Thursday, January 5, 2012

In praise of the GPS Running Watch


After a few days considering simplicity in teaching and living,  I stand up today (no, really, I'm standing to type this) in praise of the GPS running watch.

Last night, I went for a run. Running should be simple, but I had complicated things quite a bit. Most of the complexities had to do with fending off the cold and keeping safe. Only my GPS watch was a luxury, but it was worthwhile.

I wore FiveFingers shoes, five-fingered socks, compression underwear (with thighs like these, alas, it helps), tights (because it was below freezing), a long-sleeve shirt, running jacket, fleece vest, hat, and gloves. I wore a headlamp and a RoadID bracelet, but I forgot my reflective vest. Oh, and I brought a stick of gum. It's a lot of stuff, but, like I said, none of that (well, maybe the gum) is extra.

Last, I pushed the button on my watch and waited for it to grab the GPS signal.

I've read a bit about the Global Positioning System. The first satellite launched back in 1989 and the system went active in 1994. President Clinton signed the order that, on May 1, 2000, let everyday people have accurate GPS signals. I don't know when I first heard about GPS, I think it was from Wired Magazine or Slashdot.org, but I remember thinking that it was a cool idea. I couldn't imagine what it was good for though. And this is why I'm not an entrepreneur.

My watch grabbed the signal and I set off running. A woman I used to run with suggests all too regularly that we should leave watches at home and just run how we feel, but I like numbers. How far, how fast, how long. Before Christmas, I came home from runs, mapped them on DailyMile.com and put in the time from my watch to get the numbers.

This Christmas my wife gave me a GPS watch and using it I have found a couple of unexpected bonuses.

When I had to map the run at home, I ran the main streets and made few turns. After all, I needed to plot it when I got home. Many times, I gave up the notion of checking out some path because I knew it would be a pain to map. I was a slave to the numbers and my own deficient memory.

Not anymore.

Last night I ran willy-nilly, threading through downtown Syracuse. I ran to downtown, past the justice center and War Memorial, over to Armory Square, out to School of Architecture building, the skating rink, City Hall, Columbus Circle and the fireman's park. I went where the mood took me.

It was joyous.

Late in the run I was trying to decide whether to go back up into the University or out to Westcott Street, I looked down at my mileage and knew I could push farther. I knew that if I turned into the University, I would finish too soon and wish I had run more. So I headed for Westcott Street sure that I had the time and that I had the ability.

The GPS watch, at that point, was still a luxury but an extremely valuable and useful one. And it led me to run a quarter marathon, something I hadn't planned but which gave me joy and a feeling of real accomplishment.

In writing, all I really need is pen and paper. I use a fountain pen. It's a luxury, but does a job. I use a computer for these writings because I type faster than I write and publication is easier. In teaching I use pen, paper, and books primarily. Sometimes the Elmo projector makes things better, the interactive white board too.

Simplicity is a good watchword. I love running on a summer morning in nothing more than shorts and a shirt (not even shoes). Winter demands more. And now, for most runs, I take the GPS. The complication adds something valuable. Through it, I better advance myself, I run farther, I run on.

Write on.