Friday, July 22, 2011

A run dripping with comedy and error - mostly error

I knew the run would be off to a bad start when I got up and looked at our thermometer. At 6:30 a.m., it registered 78 degrees. Then I looked in my drawer for running gear; my usual shorts weren't clean, so I unthinkingly grabbed an older pair. They had an internal pocket which should be fine for storing the gel pack I'd need to get through my planned 11 miles, so they should be okay, right?

I went downstairs and plotted out a course on gmap-pedometer. I didn't want to do the usual thing, so I planned something a little more ambitious, heading out of town. It might be closer to 12 miles than 11, but I could handle that, right?

Next I noticed that Jim had unplugged my Garmin so he could recharge his computer. I hoped I'd have enough battery life to record the whole run. Then I loaded a podcast in the iPod and headed out the door. It was a steamy morning, with cicadas already at full buzz. Four miles in, I was already completely drenched with sweat. I had 20 ounces of water, and I needed to make it last until Mile 10, when there would be a water fountain. At Mile 4 I took a brief walk break, then kept running. At Mile 6 I ate my gel and drank some water. At Mile 6.5 I had to climb a fence, but kept running.

Then the trouble began. Around Mile 7, I noticed my GPS was flashing an alarm: "Battery Low. Press Enter." Why did I have to press enter just because my battery was low? I know my battery is low, now move on--there's nothing I can do about it.

At Mile 7.42 I saw the first other runner, Will, who I've run with before. We exchanged sweaty glances and kept running. I ran a little further up the trail and glanced down at the GPS again. The distance had barely changed: Was I really going that slow? After what seemed like another mile, I looked down at the GPS and it still was in Mile 7. This mile just wouldn't end!

Finally, after what felt like another half mile, I looked down again and realized that my GPS timer had stopped. I was still at Mile 7.42. It must have stopped over a mile back, when it flashed the "battery low" warning. What idiot came up with that feature? I can just imagine the conversation among the engineers at Garmin:

ENGINEER 1: What should we do when the battery runs low?
ENGINEER 2: Well, runners should be warned about a low battery. After all, you wouldn't want the timer to stop recording in the middle of the run.
ENGINEER 1: Hmm... what to do, what to do? I know! When there's an hour's worth of battery left, we'll stop the timer and tell the runner that their battery is low!
ENGINEER 2: Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?

After swearing quite loudly in the middle of the staid neighborhood I was running in, I restarted the timer, which successfully recorded the remainder of my run. But it missed a good chunk, as these maps illustrate:

What it should have recorded

What it actually recorded

Notice the straight line from the lower-right to the upper-left of the picture on the bottom? That's the part my Garmin skipped. From the first map, you can see that's at least 1.5 miles.

Meanwhile, it was getting hotter and hotter, and I was running slower and slower. I was nearly out of water. Finally, I reached the soccer fields about 1.5 miles from home, where there was a water fountain. I took huge gulps of water, filled my bottle halfway, and walked about 100 meters while I downed the rest of the water. Then I ran home, sopping with sweat.

As I changed into dry clothes, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. There was a thin red line all the way around my waist, where the crummy old shorts I had thrown on had worn my skin raw. It made for an incredibly painful shower as my sweat washed into the wound.

Still, I managed 11.8 miles (or 10.3 according to Garmin) at a 9:44 average pace -- not bad, given the conditions. Time for a tall glass of water. (Partial) details of the run are below:

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