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Ready for takeoff

Why my prerun routine looks more like a preflight protocol - and why that's a good thing.

The first piece of running gear I ever bought, even before I got a pair of real running shoes, was a Timex 8-lap Ironman watch. It was perfect: small with just two buttons on the bottom. I wore it everywhere, and it symbolized my immersion into the world of running. More than that, the watch told everyone that I was an athlete. And not just any old athlete - an athlete who needed an 8-lap Ironman watch.

I bought three of those watches back in the day (one with red buttons, one with blue buttons, and one with orange buttons). I also developed an Imelda Marcos-like interest in running shoes (I must have bought at least 10 pairs during my first year of running) and began a Holy Grail-type search for the perfect running socks and underwear. I had fallen in love with the stuff of running, and it helped keep me going mile after mile. Thing is, 15 years ago, that was about all the running stuff you could get.

Fast forward to this morning's run. As I headed out the door for an easy five-miler, I had (1) a running watch on one wrist, (2) a GPS unit on the other wrist, (3) a Nike sensor in my shoe, and (4) an iPod strapped to my arm. And that was a light day.

The need for the watch is obvious, although mine isn't just a watch. It will keep track of 100 laps. A hundred laps of what, I don't know. But I amuse myself endlessly thinking of the possibilities - like if I ever want to run 25 miles on a track and need my quarter-mile splits.

Then there's my GPS unit, which tells me where I am, where I've been, how far I've gone, how long it's taken me to get there, what my current pace is, what my average pace is, maybe even what my college grade-point average was (I haven't read the manual). Point is, I know way more about my running than I ever did before, and I revel in the details.

The sensor and the iPod are the newest pieces of my running armor. Initially I thought I needed to hear the rhythm of my breathing as I ran. Turns out, I do just as well listening to Paul Simon's "Rhythm of the Saints". And my sensor talks to me. I tell it how far I want to run and it tells me how I'm doing. I can't stress enough how motivating it is to have a pleasant voice tell you when you've completed a mile or when you've only got one mile to go. It'll even congratulate you as you improve. Not long ago, after a particularly good effort on a local loop I use for tempo runs, Lance Armstrong's voice came into my headphones and told me that I'd set a PR. Lance Armstrong knew that I had a good day. How cool is that?

Of course, I know all the gear in the world won't make me a better runner. Only time and effort do that. But all the gadgets over the years have sure made my training a lot more interesting - and fun. Besides, there might come a time when I need to know the exact coordinates of where I was, what my pace was, and how far I'd run when I heard Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" for the 1,000th time. If so, I'll be ready.

Waddle on, friends.

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