Not Now, I’m Doing Math

We used to steal our son’s shoes off of his feet on long trips in the car as one of the many ways to fight off boredom and stay engaged. Before Kindergarten, he became obsessed with general math and begged us to give him problems to solve to pass the time. When he wasn’t in the mood for playing around and having his feet tickled he would seriously tell us, “Not now, I’m doing math.” Math was too important to be interrupted with a frivolous game.

I have never enjoyed crunching numbers and sometime about 8th grade I ended up feeling very stupid when it came to Algebra. I had been placed in a group of students who were set on an accelerated path through Junior High School, we were constantly pushed to enroll in classes that were 2 years more advanced than anyone else in our grade. I did excel in many topics but math was not one that came easily and I struggled to keep up. The track we were on was clearly outlined as a long series of advanced math courses for years. I was relieved at the beginning of my senior year when I had enough math credits accumulated to graduate and could have a year without any math class and take on 2 science classes.

As a runner, I find myself thrust back into doing math more often than I would like. I am not a maniac about bettering my time and don’t really keep an eye on my watch for that reason. If I do have to be at a specific location by a specific time, that ends up requiring… math.

As an example, Monday I wanted to set out from home to run 10 miles. I had never run that far in the snow before so I wanted to be generous with the amount of time I would need and estimated 2 hours (my 10 miler normally would be closer to 1:42:00). Because of the snow, I didn’t want to have to run the final mile back to my house which is all uphill and a gravel snow covered road part of the way. I asked Jimmy-the-eye to pick me on his way home for lunch at a park that is enroute.

With all of the above information, I needed to figure out when to turn around to make it back to the park close to when he was to pick me up. This required me to see how long it took me to get to the park (about 2 miles into my run) and subtract that out of my remaining time and distance for the return. Then I realized that I had to cut that time in HALF when applying it to my finale 8 or so miles because I would be running that time in both directions. AUGH! All I wanted was to take a run!

On top of all of that, I was carrying water and fuel which I wouldn’t need for my entire run. I like to refuel about 40 minutes/ 4 miles into my run and once more at 8 miles. I spent most of my first 4 miles trying to figure out exactly where to drop my water bottle in the snow so that I would be running back past it for my 8 mile refueling. This, of course, required that I had a plan for exactly where/when I would be turning around. My first 4 miles were super-saturated with little math problems. Next time I will plan ahead and wear my CamelBak.

I need to mention that I can’t do math when I am really exerting myself so my figuring has to be put on hold if I have any hills to run up. I also need to focus if I share any of my route on roads that have traffic; no math on roads. Loose dogs, tricky footing, wedgies, running snot and any malfunctioning gear will all cause my calculations to be put on hold (at best) or be totally forgotten (at worst). It may surprise you that I can walk/run and chew gum at the same time, I just can’t do math.

On the plus side (pun intended), once I have figured out the general length of a route it is much easier to know how to tackle it in the future. Running by a landmark I will think, “Oh, that’s my 8 mile point when I start from point X and run route Y,” even though it would only be my mile 3 for that day. I don’t forget things like that if I have put effort into getting it straight a run or two in the past. I don’t want to have to do the math more than once.

It is said, to run a strong race a runner is encouraged to run negative splits. That means for each mile you run it is a good practice to try to run each additional mile a little bit faster than the last. More math. I have been coasting along at a 10 (something) minute mile pace for quite a while. I think I could probably train to get a little stronger but I will be honest, I like working with 10s. The only race I where I had my splits written down, they stayed tucked neatly away in my SPIbelt as I struggled to keep myself moving forward at any pace. For the time being, I will just be glad to run my second half of anything faster than my first half.

Maybe I am becoming more comfortable with the mathematical challenges running has thrown at me. I was pleased to recently realize that I almost naturally run the tangents of any race course. That has not been, however, to make better time nor that I relish Euclidean vectors. I can easily be distracted from doing math but I won’t run any farther in a race than I absolutely have to. I’m not that stupid.