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

Sat, 29 Mar 2008 05:51:23 -0400

Running Out of Time

RUNNING COMMENTARY 721

Time means everything to me when I run alone, which is almost always. I never check or care about miles -- only minutes.

This is a liberating way to run. It frees me to go wherever I please, without having to plot, measure or follow a prescribed route. Minutes pass at the same rate wherever they're run.

Also, time can't be hurried. This fact frees me from trying to rush through a run, as can happen while trying to finish a known distance faster. By time, I relax and let the minutes pass however they wish, knowing that by hurrying I'll only have to tack extra time on the end.

This practice works wonderfully when the distance is unknown and time is my friend. Each extra minute run longer than planned is a small victory.

In a race, where miles are measured, time becomes an opponent. Each minute raced slower than expected is a little defeat.

At this year's Napa Valley Marathon, I wore a Nike Triax watch that does everything but make me run faster. I intended to hit the memory button at each mile, stopping a split and storing it for later review. At one mile I began making mental calculations of what final time might result from the early pace.

Just three miles passed before rebellion set it. Too much information, my run-freely self shouted to my number-obsessed side.

Here the free side scored a small but incomplete victory. I switched out of stopwatch mode to time-of-day, which at first meant little because I hadn't checked the exact start time.

But I still could, and did, grab rough splits from the daytime dial. I still could, and did, compute in my head where the splits would lead. I still could, and did, watch my softest target of a time slip out of reach only in the last mile.

Out of habit I hit the watch to stop the time at the last running step, to freeze it on the dial. Of course, the time of day never stops ticking.

I thought fleetingly that I'd failed this time. Then I quickly decided not to let any watch or clock make that judgment for me. I'd covered 26-plus miles, and that always is a victory of sorts.

This thought led to a plan that would be unthinkable on my daily runs but makes good sense in a race: leave the watch behind in my next marathon. Run timeless except for the only one that counts, on the finish-line clock.

Avoid the time-obsessing that comes with looking at a watch every few minutes. Focus on the numbers that really count during a marathon -- miles one to 26.2 (or if I slip across the Canadian border, kilometres one through 42.2). Let the final time take care of itself, as the distance does on daily by-time runs.

Going watchless in a race can be as freeing as going distance-free in time-only training runs. I can still "win" races by going the distance, if not by taking less time to do it.
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