They didn’t used to be referred to simply and collectively as iPods. To the best of my knowledge, ‘Walkman’ by Sony was the first truly portable music-playing device… and my brother and I (as almost everyone from our generation) coveted this ‘self-identity-creating’ implement as a means to drown out our parent’s music and voice on long car rides to ‘far-away-living’ relatives. I was three years younger than my bro and as a sixth-grader (when he was in ninth-grade) I remember ‘borrowing’ his Walkman for the first time. What a liberating experience it was. To be honest, I can’t even remember what I listened to… likely something like ‘Nirvana’ or ‘Nine-Inch-Nails’ or whatever he was listening to at the time. Still, I remember hearing nothing from the front seat. From that moment on, I was hooked on portable electronics and the ‘sub-climate’ of noise that I could create with just a push of a button.
Then I got into endurance sports. I mean, really got into ‘em. I defined my existence by ‘trying to be hardcore.’ Whatever that meant. Walkmans and Discmans (whoa… a portable CD player!) remained part of my life while sitting in my room doing homework, during long drives with the family, or bus rides to track meets, but I shunned the thought of using music or listening to books-on-tape during my ‘intense’ training sessions. (At the time, I treated every training session as ‘intense’) Basically I likened runners with headphones to ‘weaklings’ and mere ‘fitness devotees.’ I scoffed at the idea, as did my friend and running partner in high school Mike Cipriano. We watched the neighborhood women put on their headphones and power-walk for twenty minutes and wanted nothing to do with it. The real nail-in-the-coffin though came when I saw a fitness show with Richard Simmons. For some reason, as I was flipping through the channels on TV, I stumbled upon a white man with puffy hair, wearing a 1-piece leotard, talking in a weird voice…. leading some exercise group. The kicker though was that he was wearing a pair of headphones. (In retrospect, I think it was one of those large radio-receiver pair of headphones… with an antenna!) Nope, no thanks, not for me.
Somewhere along the line though, I got curious and decided to experiment. (Other teenagers ‘experimented’ with drugs and alcohol, but I used a Walkman!) I still remember running around Crandall Pond as the loud music blared through my headphones. (Dave Matthew’s Band… ‘Too Much’) I was carrying the tape player in my right hand and I remember timing the landing of a jump over a log to one of the explosions of sound during the song. Whoa… that made an impact, but I still wasn’t sold. Deep in my insecure psyche I was convinced that only weak people looking for distractions listened to anything during ‘training’. Other than music, I thought fitness enthusiasts used these devices to enhance their general ‘Renaissance-Man’ well roundedness. This was yet another thing I scoffed at while in high school. To borrow a term from Mark Twight, I used to ‘Rave and Kick Against Mediocrity’, and I simply assumed that if you were trying to learn German by using a ‘Rosetta Stone’ tape during a power walk… well… I thought you probably sucked at both. I know I did. (The ironic part… Mark Twight was the dude known for using a Walkman during almost all of his mountaineering exploits!)
Regardless, I shunned distractions during training until my own ‘wheels-of-elitism’ began to fall off by the end of my college ski career. I was tired, burned out, and briefly left the sport of cross-country-skiing for a bit over a year while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. During this time I noticed a roll of something around my mid-section… fat…. and I decided that I needed to start being physically active again. The only problem though was now I was out of shape for the first time ever. Training, running, recreating… these endeavors are WAY less fun when you are out of shape. 20 minutes per session was my max for a week or two and to crack through that time-barrier, I tapped into an untapped resource… my Sony Sport Discman. Music during training had now become a bigger part of my repertoire and life. I sought out ‘inspirational’ or ‘motivational’ tunes to get me through long outings. Volume was important, but up-tempo was not necessary, as I simply wanted ‘deep’ and ‘powerful’ music.
Five years ago, we bought an iPod and with it my running life changed. At first it was just music, until I noticed that I was using it as a crutch. I put the iPod down for a few months during the summer of 2008, only to pick it back up during the winter of ‘08 – ‘09. I couldn’t get away, and this time I became even more ‘hooked’ as podcasts became my ‘go-to’ listening. From sports to politics to Christian-teaching to news… I tried to listen to everything and ‘use my time wisely’. Whatever that means. I had become that dude looking to ‘maximize his time’ and enhance his well roundedness. Ugh. I put the iPod down and ran the other way for a while. Running, for a bit over a year, became my ‘problem-solving’ time during which I ran scenarios through my head, conversations with others popped in and out of my brain, and training ideas for the athletes I coached were hatched. During this time, Parr and I began to run more and more together… and our conversations have been great, ranging from the mundane to big-picture stuff.
Now? On the precipice of my 30s, with an awesome new baby girl in our lives, and many seemingly large life-changes on the horizon, I have gone straight back to the iPod merely as a distraction tool. Over time, I have silenced and deleted the podcasts on politics, news, and media, but kept a sports podcast (ESPN’s Colin Cowherd) and turned headlong toward podcasts on nutrition, health and wellness. I have become increasingly passionate about the general human population, nutrition, and health, so I think I can safely say that these podcasts are feeding that academic and intellectual side of my brain… rather than merely severing as a distraction. Colin Cowherd? Well, the guy is a big-picture thinker and radio-show guru, but it is still sports and certainly falls into the category of distraction-tool. The brain however gets the rare opportunity to unplug, disconnect, and focus on something else other than problem-solving… and that is a welcomed and highly under-valued thing that we all need sometimes.
Still, I can’t help but hearken back to my Puritan and Spartan days of living and think that I had it right back then. Maybe we can all use a boost of focus in every endeavor. Maybe unplugging during a 2 hour run and going quiet is urgently needed. Is ‘silence’ the thing we all need the most? Perhaps the many voices in our brains are only quieted when confronted. Problem-solving? Yeah, the brain does find a nice flow-state while running but should we keep catering to the brain though or is the spirit what needs the most feeding?
The silence is deafening. Gotta go find my walkman…