My Dad’s Two Cents: Running Unplugged

Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It

I don’t know about you, but the thought of going for a run without my phone, iPod, and Garmin makes me break out in a cold sweat. Now imagine running with nothing but a stopwatch hanging around your neck! My dad was running unplugged before being unplugged was even a thing. Read on – this is some good stuff.  ~ Sharon

My Dad's Two Cents: Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It

source: One More Mile

Gizmos and Gadgets Aplenty

When I started running (back in the days of the ancient Greeks) the only way of timing a race or training run was with the use of a stopwatch. Even the Olympic races were timed using a stopwatch. My first stopwatch was very simple – I pressed a button on the watch to start timing and pressed the same button to stop timing. When I would go for a run I would hang it on a string or shoelace that I wore around my neck. I would then tuck the watch itself under the waistband of my supporter. To get a split I would have to pull the watch out and look at it as I ran by the mileage point and then have to remember it for the rest of the race. When that watch died I replaced it with a split timer stopwatch. This watch had a second button to stop the split timer hand and then reset it. It allowed you to get one split, unless you wanted to try to memorize your splits along the way.

My Dad's Two Cents: Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It

There are a number of rules associated with using as stopwatch to time a race. You had to use your forefinger, not your thumb to start and stop the watch. You also started the watch when you saw the muzzle flash from the starter’s pistol, not the gun sound. For those of you that are science geeks, if you are standing down the track from the starting line you know that you see the flash before you hear the sound due to the difference in the speed of light vs. the speed of sound. This does not make much difference for the long races, but for the sprints, it can be measurable.

As technology advanced I was able to switch from the stopwatch to a wrist watch with a built-in timer and then to a timing watch with split time capability. To me that was a great leap in technology and how I still time my runs and races.

My Dad's Two Cents: Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It

Whosits and Whatsists Galore

Race timing and place recording was another area that has greatly improved due to advances in technology. Way back when, timing and place recording of race results was a tedious and time-consuming task. You needed two teams of officials – one for place timing and one for place recording. Each team had a recorder and an announcer. The recorder had a clipboard with the place numbers written in columns. The timing announcer would call out the time as each runner crossed the finish line, and the timing recorder would record the time in place order. The place announcer would call out the race number of each runner as they crossed the line (which is one of the reasons why in distance races the numbers are worn on the front of the jersey, not the back). The place recorder would record the race number in finish order. Afterwards, the two lists would be matched up to create a single list of place number, race number, and finish time. The race numbers then had to be crossed-referenced to the entry forms to determine the name of the runner. Obviously this system was not conducive to providing race results in a timely fashion.

My Dad's Two Cents: Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It

As the years went by this system saw some improvements. Some races used tongue depressors with finish place numbers written on them. You were handed the tongue depressor after you crossed the finish line. You then filled out an index card with your name and place number written down. The index cards were handed in to a group of officials, who had boxes, sorted by age group. This greatly improved the time to provide race results. Other races used tear-off squares that were part of your race number. At the end of the chute an official would tear-off this square, which had your race number. The square also had a hole, so they could be strung together in place order. As computers became more and more portable they were used to help further speedup this process.

[Tweet “Before timing chips, races were scored with tongue depressors. What?! Read more! #runchat #runnerd”]

I recently ran my first race using a timing chip. I have to say that I was amazed at how fast the results were available.

My Dad's Two Cents: Running Unplugged | Mommy Runs It


Measuring the distance I ran was always difficult. The only officially recognized method is using a calibrated wheel and counting the number of full rotations of the wheel. Needless to say, not many people have a calibrated wheel lying around the house.  I usually used the odometer of my car, which is usually not that accurate, plus it is sometime difficult to drive the actual course. I now use the distance recording function of my Fitbit. The only problem I have is remembering the starting mileage (which gets more difficult with advancing age), since it will be greater than zero. I also find it difficult to read when wearing sunglasses and when the sun creates a glare. I know that there are cell phone apps and watches with GPS capability that can record the distance that you have covered. I have not yet tried this latest technology.

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I hope that you have enjoyed these past few articles on my nostalgic journey through the history of running as seen from my eyes.

Are you curious about the “then & now” of other running topics? Post your questions for my dad in the comments. It might even give him ideas about future posts. 


Do you want my dad’s two cents on your running question? Contact him at Dad{at}MommyRunsIt{dot}com. And for more great advice and information, be sure to check out his other posts!

running in cold weatherAlbert is the proud father of Mommy Runs It’s owner Sharon Wilhelm. He has degrees in Nuclear and Mechanical Engineering and is a licensed Professional Engineer in Florida and is also certified as a Project Management Professional. He started running as a sophomore in high school (Oct 1964), and never stopped. In high school and college he was a middle of the pack runner. He hit his peak as a runner in the first 10 years after graduating college. Though never achieving a champion performance, he ran some decent times (5K – 16:58, 5 mi – 27:07, 6 mi – 33:00, 10K – 34:58, 13.1 mi – 1:36, 20 mi – 2:20:51, marathon – 3:37:48).  Currently he runs primarily to maintain a level of physical fitness. He hopes that when he retires in a few years he will be able to increase his training and return to competitive running.  His secret (not so secret any more) ambition is to be a high school track coach; not to produce champion runners, but to instill the love of running in these young people and pass on his experience.

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About sharon

Sharon is a mom, a marathon runner, and a licensed therapist. She owns Mommy Runs It, a fitness & lifestyle blog. She is a passionate advocate of the Galloway training method and knows firsthand that everyday moms can run marathons. Connect with Sharon on Google+.


  1. Another good article by your Dad;)

  2. I think your dad sounds pretty cool!

  3. this is great!

  4. Great article and so interesting to read through the history of timing! I ran for a year with a plain cheap watch with a timer (like a Timex Ironman or something). Then, I got my Garmin and I’ve been addicted every since. My hubby, who is a very serious and quite speedy runner, never wears a watch of any type nor does he carry a phone. He’s been running since the 80’s so I guess that’s just what he’s used to! He HAS a really nice Garmin but doesn’t use it. He totally runs by feel. He can also run specific paces w/out a watch so I guess he’s just more aware. Sometimes I think Garmins become a crutch!

    • My dad doesn’t run with a phone either. He recently got an iPhone…I wonder if he’d be willing to try out any of the apps. It’d be interesting to get his take on them. I doubt he’d use a Garmin either. He does love the Road ID I got for him though! :)

  5. I dont run with anything but my watch and my small Ipod shuffle. I have several courses that I take that are 5 miles round trip. I simply run one direction and turn around. I run a couple of races a year to see how i am doing in my pace.

  6. Wow, I would imagine in the early years that stopwatch was darn heavy!!! And the clipboards and announcers and recorders, good grief! All I see there are heated debates on accuracy. Another great read!

    • I know! I had to read it through a couple of times just to get it straight in my head. I can’t imagine having to actually understand it in real life. Technology makes me lazy. :)

  7. Never knew all those facts about stopwatches. Learned something new.

  8. I loved this. Your dad is amazing and it brought back so many memories. Thank you again.

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