The Internet, contrary to ubernerds' hopeful forecasts, hasn't spelled the demise of books, newspapers, television, greeting cards or anchovies. But this powerful medium for exchanging information has impacted all aspects of contemporary life, even those beyond the reach of conventional mass media-like running.
As we're always reminding each other, running is a simple pursuit, unburdened by superfluous gadgets, cumbersome equipment, or charisma.
The truth is that runners have used their PC's to transform a hobby into a maelstrom of statistics, graphs, and analyses that bear scant relationship to the basic act of locomotion.
Remember your spiral-bound running log? This laughably archaic device has, in the name of convenience, been replaced by a million different software and shareware packages. Today, instead of taking ten seconds to jot down a few words ("8 miles medium; hot"), you simply boot up your system, wait for the interminable theme music to end, point and click, type in a few dozen paragraphs regarding time, distance, speed, weather, heart rate, lactate, race conversions, pace perversions, GPS data, calories, excuses, and, that's it-you're done!
In days of yore, to find race results, you had to wait a month for your local running newsletter to arrive. Now, there's a running-related Web site for every region, and complete race results are often posted the day of the event. It's a blessing that has spoiled us rotten. We're so demanding that if the results of a race 20,000 strong aren't online before the final finisher staggers into the massage tent, we dispatch vitriolic e-mails to the first fifty people who come to mind. Hey, I got me a high-speed connection for a reason!
The Web has essentially spelled the extinction of the pathological liar-runner. In the Internet age, the mumbling, glassy-eyed guy boasting of PR's run in faraway lands is toast; Uncle Sam has nothing on the running community when it comes to keeping tabs. Friends no longer have to ask how your running is going; if your racing's been in the tank, sympathetic looks and awkward gestures testify to folks' recent research. Hell, now everyone knows when you're a year older, too.
There are also "message boards" where runners exchange all sorts of stuff-encouragement, training tips, injury remedies, news, death threats. Each board assumes a unique flavor: one might smack of suburbanites dining al fresco at the club; another, a horde of coked-up parolees battling with sawed-off pool cues in a 120-decibel biker bar. The luxury of online anonymity assigns "expert credentials" to anyone who wants them and fosters heated arguments most of us, in the flesh-and-blood world, would literally run from.
Make no mistake: the Internet age has been a huge boost to runners. Race calendars, online applications, directions to events, and e-mail access to the stars of the sport are just a few of the handy features at our disposal. But it's easy to get utterly lost in the morass of information and amusement. A post I saw on a message board, referencing Africans' superiority, spoke volumes: "They're not sitting in front of their computers talking about running. They're out running".
Run The Planet thanks Running Times Magazine (www.runningtimes.com) for the permission to reprint the article "How's Your Computer Running?" by Kevin Beck. Text copyright © by Running Times Magazine. Illustration copyright © 2001 by Run The Planet.