I’ve been thinking a lot about running and gear recently. When I first came to running six years ago, it was from the sport of mountain biking. Talk about a gear-heavy activity. Obviously, you have to have a bike and if you’re serious about racing, it needs to be a relatively good machine.
Then come the shoes, the helmet, the speedometer, waterbottles, lights, jackets, jerseys, shorts, and on and on and on.
It wasn’t cheap and often seemed fussy. I’ve never been mechanically inclined, so when the bike broke, it meant a trip to the shop and sometimes a few days without the ride and therefore the sport.
Initially, when I began running I loved the simplicity of the sport.
I’d throw on a shirt, shorts, shoes and head out the door. I was living on Prince Edward Island at the time, just outside of Charlottetown, and I’d run five kilometres up the Ferry Road, following the rolling hills and then turn around and come back. My return trip often coincided with the setting sun and I’d be transported as the endorphins flooded my system and the cool air washed over me while the light over the green hills and fields shimmered and grew dim.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
But being competitive (and urged to race by well-meaning friends: “C’mon. Do it. You’ll love it!), I started to race…and train, and train and race.
And pretty soon, I had a Garmin to record my run times and pace and heart rate and everything else. I began rotating shoes. Ha: rotating shoes! To understand just how fancy this was know that when I first began running it was in a pair of shoes my former brother-in-law left at my house. They weren’t even my own shoes! I ran in those for six months.
Suddenly, though, I had a pair of Asics and a pair of Mizunos. It wasn’t long before I acquired a pair of trainers. These days I have five pairs on the go – quite reasonable compared to the numbers of shoes some of my running friends stock.
I have a drawer brimming with technical T-shirts, jerseys, hats, gloves and more. A jacket. A water bottle belt. My iPod (for solo long runs only and even then, not always). It’s not as bad as biking, but I went from owning next to nothing to suddenly have gear spread all over the place.
Which leads me to Prefontaine’s Garmin…. He didn’t have one, of course. Pre ran in a cotton shirt or singlet, a ball cap and a pair of runners. He didn’t have an iPhone strapped to his arm or a sweat-wicking tech shirt or any of that.
No, what Pre had was heart.
Lots of it.
And guts. He ran with fortitude, mental toughness and focus.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking away from anyone who wants to wear, or enjoys wearing, water-belts, iPods and more. That’s their choice. I’m just contemplating how I got from there to here and along the way attracted all these…well, things.
It’s the very, er, thingness of these objects that bothers me and the complexity that they bring with them. To run is a simple, primitive, age-old impulse; programming your sports watch is not.
With that strapped to my wrist or the music blaring in my ears, I’ve failed to outrun civilization, to make some peace for myself in the course of my day, to strip my life down to an essential and beautiful state of simplicity.
That said, honestly, I enjoy a lot of the comfort that some of these things provide: I love my compression socks.
But some times I think it might do me some good to leave the Garmin at home, forget about the time, the distance, the pace, and just hit a dirt road or trail and run and run and run into that shimmering sunset.
Experience is everything. Things? Well, they’re just things.