Through the Looking Glass

I recently ran my first road race in over 25 years. Now, technology has certainly advanced a great deal in the past quarter century, and as an engineer I should probably not be amazed by this. But the truth is, having a mindset of someone who was happy to have a gas station map to get to his previous most recent race, the experience was pretty much indistinguishable from magic.

Picture of young man on left with trophy; picture of same person running in a race 40 years later.

(L) The previous, inferior version of myself, which could only run 5.25 miles in 29:05. (R) The new, improved version of myself, which can now run 4 miles in 30:38.

  1. The last time I ran a road race, I wasn’t able to access a satellite imagery map of the course, along with a graph of the elevation changes. And when I decided to go drive the course, my car back then had only a gasoline engine and didn’t get 50 miles per gallon.
  2. Also back then, the chip timing system did not automatically send a text to my wife when I started and finished, along with my finish time. Probably because back then there were no cellphones, texting, or chip timing systems. Nor did I have a wife (and vice versa), for that matter.
  3. I did not have an iPhone tucked in a belt in the small of my back connected to bluetooth earbuds, running an app with a nice lady who would interrupt my exercise playlist every quarter mile (as interpreted per GPS) to tell me how I was doing relative to my planned pace. Probably because there were no iPhones, internet, GPS satellites (at least, not enough of them to be useful), MP3 format (AAC, actually), and I’ll bet the lady talking in my ear hadn’t been born yet. Incidentally, the first two songs from my random exercise playlist selection in that race were The Moody Blues’ “Legend of a Mind” (Live at Red Rocks version) and Kansas’ “Got to Rock On”. Can’t say that I remember after that, but two great choices to start!
  4. Way back when, you didn’t have a DJ at the finish who was reading off everyone’s name as they finished. I made note of that and was impressed that they could flip through the list of race bib numbers that quickly. Ooops, old-think again. It hadn’t occurred to me that they had probably set up a chip detection strip close to the finish and the numbers and names of those approaching the finish would pop up on a laptop screen right in front of the DJ.
  5. There certainly wasn’t a kiosk you could walk up to after the finish to enter your bib number – 371 in my case – to see how you had finished. And that led to a little future shock as well. I was disappointed because it said that I had finished fourth out of five in my age group. I didn’t have real high expectations, and I pretty much ran my plan,  but still… It didn’t dawn on me until I checked again after I got home that, even though results were being posted, the race was still in progress, so the rest of my age group hadn’t finished yet. So I was in the weird position of feeling better about my relative performance as the day went on!
  6. The whole idea of having timing chips makes things more fair between runners because your “clock” doesn’t start until you actually cross the starting line. With 1400 people in a race, it can take you awhile to get there! But except for the elite runners who start at the front (disclosure: not me), this means when you get to the finish, you don’t know if you’re really ahead of or behind the people you’re finishing with because you don’t know when you all started. So it’s a bit more like a time trial and you lose some of that “head to head” competition at the end. Makes me think I might want to run some track races again in the future, where you still all line up next to each other along the starting line.
  7. And clothing technology. Goodbye to cotton t-shirts, hello tech fabrics!

It’s the same old story, it’s amazing what we take for granted. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to experience a “Rip van Winkle” moment to recapture some of that appreciation!

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