Prefontaine’s Garmin

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.

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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11 Responses to Prefontaine’s Garmin

  1. Kelly says:

    I completely agree with this post. I also think you’re forgetting how much fun you have on your $100 mountain bike.

    • subthree says:

      Ha. Thanks, Kelly. Not at all. In fact, I had said bike out last week and was frustrated because the seat post continually sank down during the course of my ride, causing me to stop no fewer than six times to adjust it. Technology frustration. I don’t think I’m done with this particular topic yet; rather, this might be a thread to explore further. Thanks for reading!

  2. runningfarce says:

    I love this post. What I love most about running is the “organic-ness” of it. I’m pumped I found you on WP – look forward to reading more from you about running.

    • subthree says:

      Thank you. And back at you. I just had a quick look at your blog and really enjoyed what I saw. I note you’re new to it like me. I just began this one less than two months ago. Good luck with yours.

  3. Geb says:

    Although I can’t bring myself to not bring the Garmin on my runs (I’m too much of a stat head), you’ve inspired me to put down the iPod for my 2nd run at least once a week.

    • subthree says:

      That’s great! It took me a long time, when on solo runs, to ditch the iPod. And at first it seemed difficult, even – dare I say it? – boring. But then I began to love the sound of my breath, my footfalls and ultimately found I could get deeper into the run than before. Thank you for reading.

  4. Absolutely. Enjoy your run in itself. Though how much of the problem is technology in itself and how much is poorly designed, frustrating technology? You are making me feel better about how much my custom figure skates cost me with your four pairs of running shoes– and I know how often they wear out. I’m hoping my skates will last four or five years.

    • subthree says:

      You think it would be intuitive for us to enjoy the run for itself, as you point out. Yet, it seems we are naturally attracted to gear. Thank you for your comment and for reading. Please stop in again.

  5. Pingback: Put Down Your iPod (even if it’s only for 1 run) | Geb Brown

  6. I wholeheartedly agree. I find it quite funny how Nike make a lot of Pre running on “guts” but sell Nike Plus and their new watch…

    • subthree says:

      A very good point. Nike is an odd company. I ran in their Vomeros for four years and during that time three pairs of that model shoe had Bruce Bowerman’s face on the inside where the heel was, so when you slipped on the shoe, you were essentially stepping on Bowerman’s visage. I always thought it must be a private joke among some Nike insiders.

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