“All my body needs is a little recalibration-to become once more the most sensitive and sophosticated instrument ever divised..”

When I passed the digital clock at the one-mile mark of The Asbury Park 10-K, it read 10:45. I looked down at the heart monitor on my wrist to check my pulse-140. I was on my target pace and at my target pulse. For the first time in my life I was using a technological device in a race. Pulse monitors use sensitive electrodes encased in a chestband to pick up the heart's electrical impulses. Then, by telemetry, the impulses are transmitted to a wrist receiver. I was relying in this one to set my pace. I have never been a fan of technology. Although I agree with Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset that "the mission of technology consists in releasing man for the task of being himself," I rarely think it does. I am computer-hostile. I still write my columns by hand, using an ancient Royal typewriter only during a spell of automatic writing. Of course, I have allowed some technology into my life. But, before I do, I try to be certain that it will enrich my life rather than impoverish it. That it will help me in the task of being myself rather than in making that task more difficult. Thus, at first, I viewed the pulse monitor with suspicion. For more than three decades of running, my basic principle has been "Listen to your body." There should be no need for a biofeedback device when the message can be heard quite clearly without it. Lately, however, my body has been telling me things I find difficult to believe. Following its instruction in races, I would average about 11 minutes per mile. My speed had decreased 30 percent, even though the effort felt the same to me. In the past, that pace would've been a slow jog, but now it put me near the top of my perceived exertion chart-very hard. I decided that a pulse monitor would give me scientific appraisal of what my body was telling me. I had heard from several runners more inclined than me to try something new that these monitors were worthwhile. One told me that he no longer made the mistake of running the first mile too fast. And that, by running an even pace, he had moved up in his age-group. Another said he could now estimate his pulse within a few beats without looking at the watch. I rapidly made the same discovery at Asbury Park. Setting 140 as my limit kept me from going too fast in the first mile mad scramble. And after that, the watch and my body were in sync. Whenever my body told me I was going too fast or too slow, the watch confirmed it. At one point an elderly man passed me, and although we were clearly bringing up the rear, my competitive juices started to flow. When I tried to stay with him, both the watch and my body said it was out of the question. I backed off and resumed my pace. This was mid-August so I took water at most of the water stations. Initially this procedure made my pulse rise well over 150. Apparently, maneuvering to get a cup of water and then drinking it on the run is taxing. In time I began to walk through these stations, drinking two cups of water and pouring one on my head. That kept my pulse at the prescribed level. Because of the heart monitor, I ran my best possible race at Asbury Park. Age and illness have taken the spring out of my stride, and I have had to relearn how to communicate with my body. Fortunately, the pulse monitor makes this simple. It teaches me how to interpret the new signals coming from my legs and chest. Ortega was right; this particular technology releases me for the task of being myself. And in time that new self will have no use for it. All my body needs is a little recalibration-to become once more the most sensitive and sophisticated instrument ever devised. (1993)