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

Sat, 12 Jun 1999 10:53:15 -0400

Taking Time

Time means a great deal to every runner. It means everything to me.

That's because time isn't just one way to keep score of my running. It's the only way.

I count no miles in my record-keeping, only minutes. With time, not distance, as the measurement I'm very finicky about my choice of wristwear.

The watch is my second most important piece of equipment, after shoes. Just as we're always searching for the perfect shoe, I'm forever seeking the perfect watch.

An experiment with a new style of watch began last year. The Timex Ironman Triathlon attracted me for one of its features. That was the repeating countdown timer that beeped at the end of each cycle.

Perfect, I thought, for signaling walk breaks during long runs. I set it for 10-minute intervals and heeded its beeps for the next few months.

My excuse for buying this watch was to ease clock-watching. I could listen for time checks and not have to look for them. But the insistent and prolonged beep-beep-beep of the alarm signal turned out to be more annoying than glances at my wrist ever had been.

The countdown clock bothered me in another, more subtle way. It reversed time, giving the impression of minutes dwindling away instead of adding up.

Time could still accumulate the satisfying way by switching the I.T. into the stopwatch mode, leaving the countdown invisible yet still audible. But now the watch displayed a confusing twin readout, with splits on top and total time below, that was hard to decode on the fly.

The I.T. now ticks along in retirement, unworn and unheard. Replacing it first was a cheap watch that only told time the old-fashioned visual way.

My experiment took a familiar path from extreme to extreme, one I've taken before in matters as diverse as training and diet. In this case I went from the fanciest of watches to the simplest, and from always to never hearing and heeding the beeps.

Then, as often happens with learning, I found a middle ground more to my liking than either extremes. The first step toward compromise was finding my best timepiece yet.

Nike supplied it with the Triax model, which features a more cozy fit on the wrist than the I.T., and a larger and simpler readout. Most importantly the Triax voices a briefer and more pleasant beep, like the "chirp-chirp" of a small bird.

I'm back to using the beeper. It gently reminds me of each 10 minutes' passing. I don't necessarily stop on command, but this chirp signals progress from one invisible milepost to the next.

The Triax lets me be a two-timer. I can make time add up with the stopwatch feature, and at the same time count down the intervals. Something as important to me as time is worth taking twice -- or more often. The Triax and other watches in its class also quietly record split times for later review.

I leave these times on the watch until the next run, then make a brief ceremony of erasing the numbers. This is a silent signal that the old run is gone and it's time to build a new one.

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