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ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS

Offbeat ways to count laps for the technology impaired

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 12:01 am

How do you count laps when you're looking to pile up dozens at a time?

I've moved my running indoors, partly due to the cold but also to prep for next month's Maple Leaf Indoor Marathon at Goshen College -- 204 laps around a 208-meter track. Trouble is, I'm terrible at holding numbers in my head, and I don't own a fancy runner's watch that could track the mileage for me.

Here are some lap-counting tricks I've been experimenting with, some of which would be suitable for the pool as well:

Method 1: Jot tally marks on your arm with a silly pen

I did this a couple of weeks ago during a 48-lap, 6-mile run at the Jorgensen YMCA. The goofy pen was the key, as it made me feel ironic rather than idiotic. Plus, the cereal box “Star Wars” pen (which my kids later identified as Boba Fett) was easy to grip, thanks to its small size and textured surface.

Method 2: Measuring by mantra

The simplest chant I've used is “Lap 1, x to go.” It's morale boosting to feel the movement of the lap load shifting from the impending to the “done” side of the equation, but obviously it's a bit dull.

A more entertaining variation is the countdown song “99 bottles of beer on the wall,” which can obviously be adapted to however many laps you plan to run. You'll need to improvise some rap lyrics to make each verse last long enough to get you around the track, which adds to the amusement factor.

Method 3: Number associations

An Israeli blogger friend who swims three sets of 20 laps during her workouts says that “each number from 1 to 20 has a different association in my mind so it's easier to remember which lap I'm swimming.”

When I asked her to elaborate, she said she uses things that are “random but unmistakable, like birth dates, age of kids, how many languages I speak … very entertaining stuff!”

(For the record, she speaks three languages, having lived in Uruguay and the U.S. before moving to Israel: English, Spanish and Hebrew.)

Method 4: The time machine

I prepped for one recent 96-lap, 12-mile run by watching the scene in “Godfather 2” when Michael Corleone flees a New Year's Eve party in Cuba during the 1959 revolution.

It was my husband's suggestion. As a history buff, he's gotten much more interested in my training since I started focusing on each lap as a year. On this run, I started at 1918 and worked my way up to 2014.

I started with the Spanish Flu Epidemic, reflecting on a relative's memory, and got through the 1920s-1950s by focusing on images that stuck in my head from looking over an Internet timeline. Though I wouldn't have aced a quiz linking events to specific years, it was fun to time surf through such random events as the first cheeseburger, the birth of Superman and the publication of George Orwell's “1984” (in 1948).

I was able to come up with something for most years during my own lifetime, but it was amusing to see what came to mind. For 1974, for instance, I remembered a General Electric key chain my grandpa gave us during a big promotion at the Fort Wayne factory that year -- along with the 1974 Gran Torino that several years later became my first car.

By the time my husband called to check in, I was approaching 1983. “I'm coming up on high school graduation,” I said. It felt good to laugh in the middle of a long run.

Method 5: The “clicker”

My brother-in-law the baseball coach suggested I try a pitch counter. These golf ball-sized $10 gadgets, available at Dick's Sporting Goods, are easy to carry, with a metal loop to poke a finger through or attach to a belt, if you prefer. Pushing a small metal knob advances the tally, which tracks up to four digits. It's purely mechanical; there are no batteries to fail.

Turns out my dad and his fishing buddies use these to track their catch. Without their “clicker” (that's the sound it makes when you press the knob), he figures their estimates would be padded with dozens of extra fish.

I now carry a pitch counter on all my lap runs. It's reassuring to have a backup count, regardless of whatever mental imagery I'm using to mark the progression of time and laps.

Tanya Isch Caylor, a News-Sentinel copy editor, blogs on diet and fitness at www.90in9.wordpress.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.