Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trail Tech: A Toss-Up?

This month's Trail Runner Blog Symposium topic is whether tech gadgets are more help or hindrance on the trails.

In a way, gadgets have made endurance and adventure sports even more cool (and safer) than they were to begin with.

Have a trail map with no distances on it? Not a problem, just wear your GPS watch, and reap the added benefits of knowing your pace and elevation change and having access to all kinds of data about your run. Those numbers can be so gratifying after a hard workout.

Going alone? Never fear, your smartphone might get service there. Your friends and family won't have to worry about you, and if something does happen, you'll be able to call for help. It handily fits in the front pocket of your hydration vest, so you'll never miss a text, and you can even listen to music sans headphones. It also doubles (triples?) as a camera, for capturing that panoramic view or inspiring sunrise.

Night racing or training after dark due to a packed schedule? Just grab one of the latest headlamps, designed specifically for trail running.

Those are all examples of ways technology has changed running life on the trails for the better. I would honestly never consider running on trails alone without my phone if I was sure I was going to get cell service. Maybe I've read too many "I shouldn't be alive" stories.

And yet...

That GPS watch can turn a refreshing run into a competition with myself, and ruin my whole day if I don't feel like I measured up.

There is nothing more frustrating during a trail run (and especially during a race) than trying to pass a runner wearing earbuds, who continues to hog the trail because he is incapable of hearing my approach.

The same smartphone that can get me assistance in an emergency and play me pumped-up music when I hit a rough patch also interrupts my focus with texts and phone calls--things I wouldn't have a problem missing if I'd just left it behind. Stopping because I feel the need to reply to a text can definitely hinder a workout.

I think gadgets have their place in trail running, for safety, knowledge, and even entertainment purposes. If you run long enough without any gadgets, I think you are going to have a run where you find yourself wanting or needing one, whether a phone to call and tell someone you'll be late or a GPS watch so you can tell your running friends just how long this awesome new trail is.

But there is also something to be said for the freedom and purity of tech-free trail running. Just me with my thoughts and the trail can be a refreshing getaway from my highly-connected Facebook-and-email-checking life. Perhaps the key is balance, and if I find myself too heavy on the tech or tech-free side, maybe changing it up from time to time can add a new spark to my running.

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