Watching Dots

All my life I have been drawn to endurance sport, all of it, from when I can remember. Mostly to the challenge and participation side of it and more recently, since the increased availability of information on the Internet, as an enthusiastic spectator or as it’s called in the digital age, a dot watcher. Yes, I am a self-confessed dot watcher.

I have always enjoyed tracking, capturing and drawing tracks of routes. Even before Strava and Garmin Connect I had always a GPS with me that I used to plan routes and then go ride or hike them, all around the world. I have folders and folders of GPS files and folders and folders of Google Earth tracks or all kinds of routes, mostly of endurance races.  My own participation has taken me to many of these places over the past few decades and there’s just something about plotting a route and then going on it. Maybe it’s just me.

Races like the Freedom Challenge, Expedition Africa and long distance mountain biking races have become favourites. As dot watcher I am often more interested in the route than the athletes (sorry), I draw the tracks in detail on Google Earth, in the process developing an interest in the areas and surrounds of the route. Google is a handy aid to go and look at images along the route the athletes are travelling and I’m a sucker and a sponge for absorbing these interesting titbits of information.

More recently, especially with Freedom Challenge and Munga, I have unwittingly found myself in the role of “race statistician”, I have folders with progress reports from previous years and knowing most of the routes from personal racing or travelling, I can see in my mind exactly where and what the racers are experiencing in terms of visual scenery, people, nature, terrain and even weather. Every year when these events appear on the calendar I get inexplicably drawn to the spreadsheets and tables of comparison to report how riders/runners are tracking against leaders, records and previous years. I admit I am a bit of a data analysis geek and when the race starts, my desk looks much like that of a stock exchange trader with multiple screens showing maps, tables and twitter feeds, sucking up every bit of information.

What does it take to be a dot watcher? A keen interest in the what, where and who of what you are watching helps. Having been there makes even following dots very real, even elevated heart rate, it’s just the sore muscles that are missing. If you go next level dot watching, you need the full hog, live tracking, twitter feeds for news and photos, Googling interesting information about the location, Google Earth and spreadsheets to capture progress, splits and notes. I strongly recommend avoiding this stage of enthusiasm, there may even be a mental condition for this.

Every now and then I am fortunate enough to find myself participating and no dot watching can make up for the thrill of being out there on the trails rather than stuck behind the desk but watching dots as a consolation still beats mowing the lawn or watching television. In the final analysis, there’s a part to dot watching that is seriously geek but in the end it will most likely leave you enriched with new knowledge and hopefully inspired to get out-there to undertake your own adventures.

Here’s to the dot watchers, the racers out there drawing the lines for us and most importantly, the inspiration we draw from the dots!

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