Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 7 Jun 1998 15:36:21 -0400

Watch It

(from RC 273)

A race doesn't start at the starting line but in the training leading up to it. And the race doesn't end at the finish line but in the recovery period leading away from it.

Getting over a race doesn't take as long as getting ready for it, but recovery time is longer than you might think. It goes on for days to weeks, depending on the distance raced.

Recovery starts when you punch off your time. Pushing your own watch button is your first signal to yourself that running is over for today.

Overhead clocks and ChampionChips haven't made personal stopwatches obsolete. The finish-line clock has already ticked on as you walk through the chute, and your Chip time is yet to appear on a printout. Frozen on your watch is instant and enduring evidence of what you have just done.

I have praised the digital stopwatch as one of the great inventions in running history. It serves as a coach on your wrist, timing training at any hour and in any weather. It allows you to run by time instead of distance. But best of all it faithfully and accurately records race times, both splits and final.

After a race you can glance proudly at those numbers on the watch's face -- knowing that each hour, minute, second and fraction is yours alone. The time lingers as a visible reminder of all that you've done.

At the Vancouver Marathon I punched out at the finish, took a quick peek at the time, then moved to more pressing needs. First surrender the Chip to a lovely volunteer who untied shoes for us tight runners, then satisfy thirst and hunger before cleaning up.

Only later did I take time to study the final numbers and the underlying 10-K splits. The cold numbers produced a warm glow that lasted as long as the times stayed on the watch.

If watches like this had been invented when I was still setting PRs (no, we weren't using sundials in those days, but watches still had hands and still went tick-tick), I might have retired the digital instead of erasing the time. The results would have stayed on the watch face until the batteries died.

Trying to make time stand still this way would have been a mistake. It is just as important to erase times eventually as to save them at first.

The Vancouver times stayed on my watch for three days. I checked it often to see if this race had really happened.

On the fourth day, after more than a little hesitation, I held down the button that wiped out those precious, hard-earned numbers and replaced them with a line of zeros. Then I started to run again from there.

Save and savor time for a while, yes, but also pay special attention to the zeroing of the watch. It's time to turn your back on the past and move ahead. Your last race is finally over, and the run-up to a new one begins now.

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