Ode to the Pace Pal

Bear with me on what will likely to be a boring post about swimming and gear… I feel compelled to admit something in print… I am beginning to really like my Pace Pal.

What’s a Pace Pal, you ask? It’s a waterproof pace clock that this sixty-something, masters swimmer created, patented, and put into production, and Greg (my thoughtful, loving husband) bought me one for Christmas. You can check it out here.

Please understand, this is totally out of character for me… I’m not a gear-head. One of the reasons I like swimming is it requires almost no gear. Cap and goggles are cheap. Bathing suits still cost less than running shoes. The only catch is that you need to have access to a pool. Lucky for me, my generous employer pays all but $28 a month of my fancy gym membership (gym: Equinox). $28 dollars is about 4 swims at the local high school pool. Bonus, at the gym I also have access to excellent yoga classes (another activity that requires minimal equipment… in fact, come to think of it, all my preferred activities don’t require socks and shoes… it all makes sense now… I hate wearing socks and shoes…).

How did I get so far off topic? We were talking about my Pace Pal…. right. Okay. So, my gym, awesome as it may be, has selected a ridiculously over-priced digital timing clock for the wall. The clock designers clearly prioritized form over function. The clock doesn’t show cumulative minutes and has a unacceptably short battery life. My biggest complaint about swimming at the gym last year was that the clock was either broken (dead battery), or temporarily removed from the wall (likely so maintenance could replace said dead battery), on most of the days I chose to swim laps. This happened often enough that my “maker” / “hacker” hubby threatened to just make me a timing clock that I could take with me to the pool so I could swim the workout sets I had planned and not have to worry about last minute workout changes due to lack of functional timing technology.

I didn’t realize he was actually serious. In the spirit of Christmas season gift giving, he was attempting, in secret, to actually execute this plan of his, to make me a portable time clock. At some point in his research (he is a master Googler…), he stumbled upon the Pace Pal. Once he realized that someone had already created this thing that I so clearly needed, he ordered one for me.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas present to discover a brand new Pace Pal, just for me. It was a sweet thing for him to do, but the Pace Pal is much larger than the portable time clock I had fleetingly wished for so many months earlier (and promptly forgotten about). It also comes in this professional-looking plastic suitcase that would make me look like an even bigger tool when commuting as I do via public transit (I mean, I already wear this goofy knit earflap hat… you have to draw the line somewhere…). Also, you just don’t walk onto a pool deck in a gym carrying your own digital time clock. Especially when the one on the wall is apparently working fine (of course it would be, now that I don’t need it….). I could imagine the looks I would get and I felt like a poser just thinking about bringing this thing to the pool.

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On the other hand, it was such a thoughtful present, and I knew it wasn’t cheap, and he kept asking, “Did you bring your clock to the pool today? When are you going to bring it?” in such an eager and hopeful voice. I felt guilty not bringing it with me.

So, one day, after I’d been back at the gym for a week and the New Year’s crowd had thinned a bit (fewer witnesses), and after I had competed in my first swim meet since high school (slightly less poser-ish), I broke down and took the Pace Pal with me to the gym. I had scoped out the usual crowd and calculated the potential embarrassment to be within tolerable levels, but I still refused to carry that silly little plastic suitcase. I removed the clock from the box, left the weighted stand nestled in the foam, and slipped my new Pal into my swim bag. The clock by itself is actually quite lightweight and thin. It doesn’t take up much room at all, or add much to the already heavy load I have to haul daily to and from the office via transit (I’m looking at you, Macbook Pro…).

I admit, I was a little embarrassed walking out of the locker room those first few times, wearing my bathing suit, carrying my cap, goggles, water bottle…. plus this, almost notebook-sized, clock. People stared a bit more than normal. I probably looked like a pretentious fool. But, after a few days, either they stopped looking or I stopped caring. I didn’t notice because by then this little Pal had become dead useful.

At this point, after almost two weeks using the Pace Pal (propped on the deck, not underwater… still can’t bring myself to lug that base around…), I’m hooked. I actually called my husband this morning after leaving the gym and said, “okay… I have to admit it… I am starting to really love this clock. Thank you.” (He is sweet enough that he didn’t once say, “See! I told you so!” — or at least not to me directly…)

So, now, thanks to my little Pace Pal friend, I know exactly how depressingly not fast I am. I have a lot of work to do if I’m going to reach my goal of swimming a nationals qualifying time in any of the breaststroke events this year. Also, I’m pretty sure that I will be hovering near the bottom of the pack at the freestyle quadrathon I registered to compete in this weekend (the entire meet is just four events: 50, 100, 200, and 500 yrd freestyle).

Technically, you can swim any stroke in a freestyle race, but most people choose to swim front crawl, as it is typically the fastest of the competition strokes (breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, and backstroke — in my order of preference). After observing my times in practice this week for the 200 yard distance, I have seriously considered swimming breaststroke instead of front crawl for the 200 yrd event. It’s pretty sad when you begin to think your front crawl is arguably not that much faster than your breaststroke.

It’s fine. I’m just doing this to have fun and get more experience racing because I love to compete. Still… I love to compete more in events I know I’m competitive in… it’s both a blessing (more training time…) and a curse (long time to wait…) that the meets where I can compete in breaststroke aren’t until March.

After watching this interview with the Pace Pal inventor, I really have nothing to complain about (spoiler: he survived a heart attack and went on to swim two World Records for his age group). If this clock helps me to make anywhere near the endurance improvements that he made, it will be more than worth the money, and the (it’s all in my head, right?) embarrassment.

(anyone who stuck through to the end of this post, you deserve a loyalty prize… thanks for humoring my swim-mania…)

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2 thoughts on “Ode to the Pace Pal

  1. Great post 🙂 Here’s a slightly related story from my high school swimming days: I ended up in an event with only teammates. It was the 200-yd individual medley, which is typically fly, back, breast, free. Because we were going to win all the points available, and because my most efficient stroke is breast, the coach and I came up with a plan for me to swim fly-back-breast-breast. The ref ended up disqualifying me! We protested saying that we were allowed to do any stroke for the freestyle leg… she claimed it had to be any stroke that wasn’t fly, back, or breast. To this day I think we got a bad call!

    • I agree! Bad call! You were robbed! 🙂

      Also… arrived at the pool today (with my Pal) only to find that the pace clock on the wall was dead again. I’m gonna bet some of my fellow swimmers were pretty envious of my Pace Pal. #allMine

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