Running and Listening (Or Thinking?)

There was a clear winner for the biggest consumer tech news over the past couple of weeks (sorry new MacBook Air) – at least in my eyes. It was the announcement that some Garmin watches were now supporting Spotify.

In other words: running evolves into simply checking your bluetooth earphones are charged and away you go. No mobile required. It’s just like the good old days of running. Except, er, you’re probably still carting somewhere north of £600-worth of equipment about on you (not to mention all that essential highly performant runner-specific clothing and shoes of course).

Few things can match the original impact of that first iPod I bought back back in 2003 (freeing up as it did the passenger seat of my car from its only use until that point which was to store my CD’s). But this one comes pretty close. Or at least would do if my particular Garmin model was supported.

But I was reading this article today and it’s making me think again. Peter Sagal makes a strong case for leaving the headphones at home all together. As he puts it:

“Your brain is like a duvet cover. Every once in a while, it needs to be aired out”

I’ve been running for 20 years now. That’s a somewhat sobering thought when I realise that the fastest marathon time I had my first, back in the third of those years. But during that time, I’ve pretty much done everything when it goes to listening. From being an earphone-free beginner, to being heavily music-dependent, I now tend to enjoy those long meandering runs with book and podcast runs. I save the running playlists mostly for races and bribery when it’s most required

Running brings its own particular kind of focus. It’s one that you can find in very few other places. And now I’m starting to remember all those times that I ended up running without any auditory crutch (generally as a result of bad forward-planning when it came to that curse of modern 21st-century life – i.e. failing to remember to charge your gear). On those occasions, I inevitably ended the run with more positive ideas in my head than I left with – and with any more destructive ones drowned once again under the swell of endorphins. Or as Sagal says:

“Our sport seems mindless only to people who never run long enough for any thought other than, ‘When can I stop running?'”.

Maybe it’s time to step away from the headphones after all. I’ll end up ‘reading’ far fewer audiobooks. But at least it’ll save me all that money from not having to buy a new Garmin.

Sometimes Progress Needs A Little Shove

During a number of recent conversations about technology and the rate of progress (general thrust: technologists underestimate – and the general public overestimate – how long adoption will take), I’ve been thinking about tipping points. In most cases, these appear obvious only in retrospect after a little time has passed to firmly place events in some kind of perspective.

However some events clearly have more impact than others. I read a great article today about Kathrine Switzer who ran the Boston Marathon in 1967. So far, so unremarkable you might think. Nothing unusual there –  unless you realise that women were banned from running marathons 50 years ago.

It gets better though. Not only did Switzer run in and complete the race (in a very creditable 4 hours 20), one of the organisers was so affronted when he spied the interloper, he took it upon himself to physically launch himself at her in an attempt to shove her off the road, before a male running companion removed him.

The drama was caught by a photographer whose three pictures were shared far and wide in the press, starting that same evening. As the article says, “her run, and the photos, changed the lives of all female runners”.

Only 6 years later, Switzer’s would-be assailant, Jock Semple, opened up the Boston Marathon to women (Switzer came third) and the 1984 Olympics saw the introduction of the woman’s Marathon for the first time. And today, almost half of all entrants in marathons around the world are female.

I guess sometimes rules have to be broken in order to allow widescale progress to take place. Rules that, by definition, have after all been designed for the purpose of protecting the status quo. And ironically it’s often the very people who are most opposed to progress that inadvertently lay the foundations for it to take place.