A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grand Slam Journal: Technology and Running, Really?

This is one of the snippets from my daily Grand Slam journal I'm writing in. I figured it was important to share now.

...and now, things have gotten even more sophisticated. In addition to the heart rate monitors they now trust their phones and watches to give them accurate distances. Most of these runners now have some sort of technology taped to their arms as if they are cyborgs. It just feels so wrong on all sorts of levels that I've naturally resisted getting such devices.

As most runners are stuck with technology to tell them right from wrong, I seem to be one of few who have seen what is wrong with these devices today; that they keep people from being in tune with their own bodies. Listen, I don't care what a heart rate monitor says; if you are out of breath after running for several minutes, chances are that you are going too hard. The body naturally TELLS you these things, if you care to listen.

And that is what this whole ultrarunning philosophy is all about, to get 100% in tune with your body. To know instinctively if you're going too hard or too easy. To know your body's behavior when you start to get dehydrated. To know your body's behavior when you need certain types of foods. To know the warning signs of an impending injury. Yes, the body tells you all these things! You don't need a $300 GPS watch to determine what your pace is; if you've run for plenty of years, you should know your pace instinctively!

I am not anti-technology though. As a coach, I do recommend beginners to get a heart rate monitor so that it can help them start to know what is a hard pace and what is an easy pace. It is a good guide to have for those who are starting out, so that they don't make rookie mistakes. But after several years, I tell athletes to start to wean themselves off the technology and start trusting their bodies to tell them the information they need. That is the road to increased self-awareness, and I'm sorry to say that 99% of these people will not transcend to this level.

Call it a fixation of technology. Again, people create their own limits because they slip into another comfort zone and stay there. It is easy to keep that machine on your arm and have it tell you your pace and heart rate. You really don't have to think hard. Just let the machine do the “thinking” for you. But the downside of this is that machines are NEVER perfect, and more often are worse than your body's signals. In addition, machines like heart rate monitors disregard a lot of variables that might affect your energy and effort from one day to the next. For example, running with a heart rate of 155 might feel good one day, but might feel impossibly hard the next day. Maybe that is because you might be coming down with an illness, or maybe you were dehydrated from the previous day's workout. Or maybe your stress levels from work were much higher than yesterday, leading to much tougher run at that heart rate level. Heart rate monitors don't take these intangibles into account.

Your body and its signals, however take EVERYTHING into account. And that is why it is so important to listen to your body if you really want to perform well in races, especially the longer ones. Getting ultimate sense of awareness of oneself should be the ultimate goal for everyone. Heck you're exercising to make your body better, right? Don't you think that getting to know how your body works is part of that program also?

It's not easy for people to understand this next level of training. It is as alien to them as ultrarunning itself. And I guess that is why there are still few ultrarunners in the world. Yes, ultrarunning has gotten more popular, but these 100 mile races will never get any easier for the people new to it. Look, if people want to run 100 mile ultras and still want to run well into their old age, they are going to HAVE to take their training to this level. Otherwise they will be broken before long. And no heart rate monitor or GPS device will help them at this level.
And even shorter distance athletes should be warned about relying too much on these machines. I've also seen a lot of those people sidelined permanently also because they didn't take that extra step to actually listen to their bodies. Yes, bodies do give very accurate warning signals if you run too hard. If they just got their heads out of their GPS devices and heart rate monitors and actually pay attention, they might finally get the message before they get injured.

 (snippet ends)

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