A seasonal confession

Forgive me Pre for I have sinned. In thought, word and deed. Indeed.

You know that I have always been a purist, boosting my meager athletic abilities with nothing but guts and determination. The sight of someone ahead of me and the sounds of my breathing, my thumping heart and my feet pounding the pavement have been all I've ever wanted or needed to push myself in this wonderful sport we call running.

Well, Pre, I have let you down.

Lately, I have taken to sharing those most intimate limit-pushing moments with the likes of Bob Marley, Annie Lennox, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, even Frank Zappa. You see, I recently came into one of those top-selling personal digital audio devices — a few of which also have video capabilities — and, I must say, I am somewhat hooked.

Now, it's not something I sought out. Past experience has not been very positive. It was very tough way back in the late 70s carrying music on your daily run. Those boom boxes had great sound, but they came at the expense of weight.

Even portable CD players were a bit of a nuisance. It's tough to change discs while you're trying to crank out four-minute kilometres.

But those new-fangled top-selling personal digital audio devices? You could run from Toronto to Winnipeg and not exhaust your music library.

Throw in that partnership with that multinational running shoe company and you've got a top-selling personal digital audio device that tracks your workout. Tells you how far you've gone and how fast you're going — or how far off your pace you are. You can even go online and compare your performance to your friends'.

You can be sure there will be a lot of both of those devices under the Christmas trees of homes inhabited by addicted runners. The ranks of the purists are thinning out.

But, Pre, you can rest assured that the bodies that oversee this wonderful sport of running do have the purity of the sport at heart. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) forbids the "possession or use of video or cassette recorders, radios, CD, radio transmitters, mobile phone or similar devices in the arena." It's right there under article 2d.

There's been a huge debate south of the border. Last month, delegates to the U.S.A. Track and Field convention debated the issue. Some folks are worried that the ban would drive away recreational runners — the ones who actually pay the bills for these races.

Very few American races have enforced the ban. One — the Twin Cities Marathon — disqualified 176 runners for wearing headphones. Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, says it will confiscate such devices in the starting area and arrange to mail them back to their owners.

It's partly an insurance issue, they say. If Bono is blasting your brain, you probably won't hear some race official telling you to stop because the course has been washed out.

On this side of the border, the Ottawa Marathon says it abides by IAAF rules — but doesn't actively go after people with headphones.

The folks who run the Toronto International Marathon "strongly recommend you do not wear iPods, walkmans, or similar devices which inhibit your ability to hear surrounding sounds."

Pre, I promise I won't wear my brand new top-selling personal digital audio device (which may have video capability) in any marathon. Wearing one would make it hard to hear the bands that race organizers have persuaded to come out to play early on a Sunday morning. It would also make it hard to hear those college kids hanging out on their dorm house porches yelling out "only 20 miles to go!"

I am a purist, after all. Well, mostly a purist.

Pre, I have another confession to make. The weather's been pretty seasonal lately — lots of snow and cold temperatures. The sidewalks have been in pretty bad shape. And it's really slushy, too.

I've taken to staying indoors more and more. Made friends with a treadmill. And I've brought Bob and Annie and Bruce and even Frank along for the ride.