Running by the Numbers

Runner’s Math.  It is a thing.  If you have not heard of it, before, you have, now.  If you have not heard of it before, perhaps you’re now wondering, “what, exactly, is runner’s math?”

Runner’s math is an activity that many of us engage in, during long training runs or, for me at least, especially during races.

Remember back in elementary school when you would be given a number, like 100, and the teacher would ask you to create as many different multiplication equations as you could that would equal 100?  So, you would have 1 x 100, 2 x 50, 4 x 25, etc.

Runner’s math is similar, but involves breaking down the distance of the current run or race into as many different shorter runs as mathematically possible.  It somehow helps, at times, to make the longer distances feel more do-able, and less overwhelming.  And it helps keep our brains “occupied” during longer runs.

For me, it started when I ran my first half marathon. The half-marathon is 13.1 miles, or 21 kilometers.  The first time I toed the starting line for a 13.1-mile race, it felt daunting.  But I had been told to “break the race into smaller, more manageable, sections, and take them one at a time.”  So I did.  And it worked.  I told myself to “just run a 5K.”  Then, when I got to the 3.1-mile mark, I knew that I j needed only to double it to get to a 10K.  At that point, I could tell myself I was 6.2 miles in, and almost half-way.  On the last half of the race, I would do a similar line of thought – “just 10K from here to the finish.” Then, “just 5K to the finish.”

For those whose minds get quickly bored with the distance-based runner’s math, there is always the alternative, which would be time-based runner’s math.

In time-based runner’s math, I might think to myself “OK, that first mile was 10 minutes and 45 seconds.  If I average that for 13.1 miles, it will take me…. 13 miles x 10 minutes =130 minutes, and 13 miles times 45 seconds is…. (long pause while I try to do the math in my head) … 585 seconds.  OK, 585 seconds, divided by 60 (to convert seconds to minutes) is 9 minutes and 45 seconds.  Add that to the first 130 minutes for a total of 139:45 to run 13 miles.  Now we need to also add another minute and a half or so for the final 1/10 of a mile, which all adds up to a total of 141 minutes and 15 seconds.  So, I should be able to finish this race in 2 hours, 21 minutes and 15 seconds.”

By the time I have done all of that, in my head, another few miles have gone by, I look at the elapsed time, again, see that I ran subsequent miles faster or slower, which changes the whole equation…  and so, I start the process all over, again.

As with any form of math, however, runner’s math can get complicated.  For example, just 8 days ago I completed my first 100K race.  Runner’s math came into play quite a bit during that race.  After the first 10K, I told myself (and friends) “Hey, I am a 10K in!”  I thought it would feel like an accomplishment.  But, somehow, it didn’t. The looming 90K left, at that point, felt daunting by comparison.  Looking at it as having completed 10% of the race felt slightly better. But ultimately what worked for me during that 100K distance, was to count down the remaining aid stations.  There was 3.5 to 6.5 miles between each one.  There were 11 aid stations between the start and the finish.  So, I focused on conquering and counting down each aid station.  In between the aid stations, of course I reverted back to more basic runner’s math to mentally address the distances between each of them, especially during the 6.5-mile sections… those were a 5K, then halfway there, then another 5K and the station would be in sight.

So, there you have it.  The next time you see someone running miles on end, you will no longer have to wonder what they can possibly think about to keep their mind occupied the whole time, because you know there is a good chance that they are working their way through some version of a runner’s math equation.

Speaking of numbers… the Outlaw 100 is now 102 days away.

Between now and then I will run more than 875 miles in training on ~85 days of work-outs.  On 35 of those days I will follow the run with strength training that will have me doing several thousand squats, lunges, crunches, chair dips, bridges, leg raises and push-ups.

Today was my first official day of training – 6 moderate miles followed by a 30-minute strength work-out. It felt good to run again after taking so much time off.

Only 869 more training miles to go….

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