Nigel Roberts

First, let it be clear, I’m no Luddite.

For those of you who are not clear, a Luddite is generally taken to be someone who opposes technological change, even though it’s not clear whether Ned Ludd himself was opposed to change. What he was opposed to was being disciplined for shoddy work. Enraged at being told to tighten his knitting, young Ludd grabbed a hammer and demolished the machine he was using.

As evidence of my non-Luddite status, I would point out that I began using computers to do research as far back as 1968 (in those days we used punch cards which were fed into a mainframe computer), and that in 1986 I bought a Mac Plus, the first in a long (and continuous) line of desktop computers that I’ve owned.

Nevertheless, one of the reasons I have always liked running is that to do so you need very little equipment. In order to run, you don’t need sophisticated gear. While a set of golf clubs will set you back a thousand dollars (or more), and a reasonable mountain bike will cost about the same, running is free. 

To run – as Noel Thatcher, a Paralympian who has won five gold medals, has said – “all you need is a pair of shoes and love of life.”

I do concede, though, that the technical quality of my running shoes has improved. After doing a little cross-country running as a school boy, I was a couch potato for 16 years. My re-introduction to running and my introduction to road racing was via the Christchurch Star’s City-to-Surf 12-kilometre races. From 1976 through to and including 1979, however, I ran them wearing cheap tennis shoes (which are sometimes also called plimsolls).

Charles Fanning, a visiting professor who came to the University of Canterbury from the United States in 1979, persuaded me to buy some decent running shoes. I bought a pair of Adidas running shoes, and immediately noticed the difference. My times didn’t improve dramatically (I’d already lowered my race time by more than fifteen minutes), but by gosh they were comfortable and a pleasure to wear. 

Photographed after the 1979 Christchurch City-to-Surf race are Charles Fanning (left), who advised Nigel Roberts (right) that he really should stop wearing flimsy tennis shoes and invest instead in a pair of proper running shoes.

During the next four decades, I have worn – and worn out – countless pairs of running shoes. I have never been wedded to any particular brand of shoes: comfort and fit have been my criteria for choosing them. At one time or another, I have also run in Asics, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike, Reebok, and Saucony shoes.

In early 1980, I bought my first digital watch. I bought it partly because it had a stop-watch function. Prior to that – and I kid you not – I used a large, old-fashioned stop-watch. It had a diameter of about 8 centimetres and was far too big to carry with me when I was running. I used to start it when I began a run, leave it our letter-box, and then retrieve it and turn it off when I got home. 

I have owned far, far fewer digital watches than I have had running shoes. I’ve had my current watch, for example, a Casio that includes a single-memory stop-watch, since 2011 (after my previous digital watch died when I wore it while swimming in the sea in Far North Queensland: clearly it wasn’t as waterproof as I’d thought). 

Nigel took Charles Fanning’s advice, as shown in this picture of Nigel finishing his first marathon (which was the 1981 Christchurch marathon) wearing his first pair of Adidas running shoes. Nigel’s also wearing his first digital watch, which recorded the fact that he took 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 18 seconds to complete the 42.195-kilometre race.

One result of the fact that I have owned simple digital watches (each of which has included a stop-watch) for the past 40 years is that I have timed – and recorded the time in my diaries of – every run I’ve been on. Technology has meant that I can tell you – to the second – how long I have taken to run any particular route on any particular day.

However, that’s where my love affair with technology has peaked. I’ve never felt remotely tempted to buy one of those fancy watches with GPS facilities and route-mapping functions. Thousand-dollar Garmins are not my style. Don’t worry, though. If you show me yours, I won’t pick up a hammer and smash it. 

As I said, I’m not a Luddite.