How forgetting to charge phone gave me a run to remember, with no app readings to distract me from beauty of my surroundings

Without my running app tracking my every stride, I started to recognise nature in all its beauty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 5:17pm


More on this story

It was when I awoke at 5am that the terrible realisation came to the fore. The previous night, just prior to retiring, I’d performed my usual nightly ablutions. I did a quick clean-up of my bedroom, placing dirty clothes in the clothes basket, as well as tossing a mountain of squeezed lemon wedges and empty yellow tonic cans into the trash.

I plugged in my iPhone to charge it overnight then fell asleep. When I woke up, I reached for my cellphone only to discover the battery was at 3 per cent. This was the worst possible thing to see first thing in the morning – well, perhaps not the worst. There have been mornings I can remember waking up to far worse, but that didn’t make the current catastrophe any better.

Top 5 smartphone apps for runners and joggers

I blame those squeezed lemon wedges. Where did I read lemon before bedtime was bad for your mental faculties? How else could I have plugged in one end of the phone so deftly and then have totally forgotten to plug the other end into a power source? That’s the sort of thing a serial alcoholic does, not me.

The worst part was I had to be out of the house in 15 minutes in order to participate in a fun run at Bangkok’s Rama IX Park. I was a special invited guest, so I had to show up looking prepared and fit and fashionable. There was no time to charge my phone.

For the past five years I have run with an app that keeps track of all my runs. It tells me exactly how far I run and my time down to the split second.

China catches the ultra-running bug, as businesses and government seek to cash in on trail racing’s global popularity

That’s not all. It also tells me my average speed, kilometre by kilometre. These are called splits, dear reader. Oh yes. I’m up on all the latest terminology, though I suspect the etymology of “splits” pre-dates apps and iPhones.

Each kilometre I run, I know exactly my time and speed. I know whether I need to speed up or slow down. The latter has yet to happen but that’s not the point. This information is at my fingertips if ever I need it.

It’s not just speed either. There is elevation to consider. My 5km park run begins at an elevation of a few centimetres below sea level. You may be fascinated to learn, as I was, that my run takes me to 7 metres above sea level. How would I have ever known that without my cellphone?

Then I decided to become a paid member of this app and it was like opening Ali Baba’s cave. I was able to rank my runs according to speed and, even better, I could measure how many steps I was running per minute. This information, known as my stride rate, was exciting to pore over.

Apple may be embracing wireless smartphone charging, China is not, says top venture capitalist

I could register my emotion after my run. That’s important to know and keep as a record. This app also recorded what songs I listened to during the run – even how fast I was running when each new song began.

It automatically calculated how many kilometres in total I’d run in my current pair of running shoes. Plus the temperature at the time. Plus the chance of rain at the time … and even the wind speed in the park.

I’m telling you; this app was running porn.

I knew how many kilometres I had collectively run over each week. This gave me the impetus to keep up the frequency of runs. I couldn’t retreat. Not while I was in control of this app or, more likely, the app was in control of me.

This morning my life was about to change.

As I got into my car, I plugged my phone into the power bank I keep for such emergencies. Alas, the power bank was running on near empty. When I got to the park, my phone was at 7 per cent, hardly enough to get me through the 5km run.

I felt sick. Here I was, an invited guest to this charity fun run, and I’d be turning up technologically naked.

The worst thing was that most of the other runners were young people, attached to all things mobile and technological. And here I was, the ageing celebrity uncle, without a cellphone strapped to his arm, let alone Bluetooth earphones.

What was the point of running those 5km? There would be no record of it. The stride rate, splits, elevation, steps, weather, precipitation – all lost to the winds of time (which this app could probably measure as well).

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a sound? Similarly, if I run 5km without my app … did I run it? Should I even run it?

What a waste of time and energy. Plus for the rest of my life I would go running knowing that whatever statistics were being thrown up at me, they were lies, because this 5km fun run could not be factored in.

I may as well just quit right now.

Such was my mental state at the starting line, surrounded by fit and firm bodies encased in earphones and smartphones. I was the only one looking at the starting line; everybody else had their faces in their cellphone screens punching in their running data or logging into Facebook. Sad old me; a tall farang in a sea of downward-craned necks.

When the starting horn sounded, I took off, sullen and resentful. Things started to change around kilometre number two.

For the first time in years I was aware of my surroundings. Without the distractions of statistics and self-enforced play lists, I realised Rama IX Park was a really beautiful park. I passed gardens I’d never seen before, trees I never realised were so majestic, and pathways that were so tranquil.

Soon I was encompassed by a freedom – being one with nature, running through the trees and flowers and the breeze, regardless of its speed. I was aware of the sound and feel of my breathing as I settled in to the run. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was enjoying the experience. The exhilaration of my app statistics had been eclipsed by a new exhilaration; that is, being devoid of them.

Was this a defining moment in my life, when I had been forced to step out of the all-consuming technology that binds us all, which turns a simple task like recreational running into a statistical spreadsheet worthy of a Nasa computer console?

It should have been … but it wasn’t.

More Hong Kong women take up competitive running, helped by women-only races

This story would have been great had I deleted my running app and returned to nature the next time I ran. But I didn’t. Two days later I was back in the park with a fully charged cellphone and my app back in full control, pulling the strings of my life like all those other apps do.

After that run, I paused to enjoy the setting sun against the lake in the middle of the park. There were four young couples sitting near me. They all had their heads craned downwards in their phones, engaged in Facebook, Line, Instagram and Snapchat, far more interesting to them than an old sun going down behind the lake.

At least I had the decency to wait until I got into my car to shove my head deep into my phone screen, checking my stride rate, splits, elevation, steps, weather, song list, running shoe mileage and precipitation. Like those lemon wedges, such is the evidence of my addiction.