Sunday June 24, 2018
Time & flying feet

For a while now I have been promising myself I'm going to get a runner's watch. I would probably have done it this month had not my label printer packed up. I just had to buy another one. So no watch.

You may think that a runner's watch is just a fancy version of the old fashioned type, a sort of souped up Rolex. It isn't. It is closer to Robert Oppenheimer's description of the first nuclear test: "'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Next time you see a runner pushing a double buggy apparently juggling the handles, this isn't some weird dance: he (or more likely she) is trying to cope with a watch that is reluctant to measure alternate steps of someone pushing a handle.

Yes the humble watch may actually be a fitness tracker, a step recorder, a swimming pool length timer, a heart beat monitor, a map maker and more, so much more.

All this comes at a price. You can easily spend £500 or more if you want. And because the watches have different functionality some runners buy several and might wear a couple at the same time. Then there are the foot monitors and of course you can have a smart phone tied into your watch by Bluetooth.

A runner's watch can also be used to spur on the wearer or to ensure she or he makes a self imposed target. One way is the metronome. You can set the number of paces you intend to take each minute and then tell the watch to beep every time you need to make a step. If you don't reach your target speed, you simply raise the beat rate. You may also be able to have a schedule. Say five minutes fast running followed by a couple of minutes walking and then a minute flat out. The watch will remind you when you need to start each section.

Worst of all is the personal best setting. Those who have done the Parkrun (something like three million of us have taken part in the five kilometre Parkrun) will be familiar with the personal best: your fastest run.

Watches take this to a whole new level. Each section of a run can have a PB. So whereas there used to be a lot of club runs that were basically done simply for fun, nowadays there will always be someone with a watch trying to improve a time for a section of the run (if not for the whole thing).

The Garmin watch is basically the subject of religious devotion amongst some runners. Garmins got there first, producing a good quality, sensibly priced watch before anyone else did. Garmin had the maps thanks to its SatNavs and knew how to make a GPS device.

But watches are a lot more than SatNavs: they may also be fitness devices monitoring things like your heart beat. Doctors are missing a trick if they are not asking their patients for a feed from their watch.

Other groups monitoring the watches include enemy powers. Apparently the military have been told to leave their watches at home if they are planning to run round a military installation because an enemy power may be watching.

And you thought those things on the wrist were just some quaint throw back, a family heirloom or a 20th century device some poor shmuck could not throw away!
Posted by Jonathan Brind.
Sunday June 24, 2018