We runners are fascinated with numbers. Numbers are how so many of us measure ourselves against ourselves, others and even Mother Nature.
16 degrees. It was 16 degrees at the start of the race. Okay, what idiot laces up the racing flats in 16 degrees? (Please don’t answer that… I am aware it was me).
On Aug. 15, 2018, I will celebrate my 40th anniversary as a runner. My very first cross country practice took place Aug. 15, 1978. Most high school athletes know Aug. 15 as the very first day of fall sports. And in 1978, it was no different. I’m very excited to mark that anniversary.
One of my usual Christmas gifts is a running log. I’ve been tracking my mileage since 1984, and still have every single log. From 1978 until 1983 I did not track my running. Last year’s mileage total was my 5th lowest since I started tracking, 1355 miles total. The year started slowly due to knee surgery recovery and a few other smallish injuries sabotaged my totals. So 1355 is the 2017 total and it’s mine for all-time.
Numbers. We runners are fascinated with numbers: 16 degrees, 40 years, 1355 miles, PRs, streaks, elevation gain and loss, even shoe models! My favorite shoe went through 5 models before being discontinued. Numbers are how so many of us measure ourselves against ourselves, others and even Mother Nature.
Numbers allow us to propagate all sorts of data sheets, running logs and computer apps. Heck, the latest generation of “sports watches” measure heart rates, foot falls per mile, calories burned, miles (or kilometers) run, elevation, take phone calls, surf the web, provide real time tracking for your social media pals, and I THINK tell time. I think.
Part of the problem with numbers is that they can be exceedingly overwhelming. I know so many runners who measure today’s 5 mile run against yesterday’s 5 mile run. And if today’s run was slower, they’ll obsess about it until the next 5 mile run. Then they’ll obsess about that one! Slow down? NEVER!
The simplicity of running is often lost to the statistical nature of our competitive side. We don’t need to know how many yards per carry, goals against or earned runs allowed. The simplicity of it is that we go run. Our sport doesn’t require anything more than that. The problem often is asking ourselves to turn off that competitive “how fast/far/often am I running.”
At age 54, I am never going to approach my “in my prime” personal bests. I recently came across a newspaper clipping for a now-defunct race in Wilmington, the Delaware Mile. My 1993 self ran that race in 4:25. This past summer, I managed a 4:50 in a 1500 meter race, which equates to about 5:12 for the mile. Obsess much? I can’t. And if I did, it would really suck the fun out of tomorrow’s run. The numbers are unbending so I have to be. But I can say I ran a sub 5 minute “metric” mile.
Whether you are a new runner, an experienced racer or a veteran of 40 years or more, looking at the numbers all the time can be disheartening to the strongest of us mentally and at times downright demoralizing. Rather than obsess, try stepping away from the fancy watches or adding the extra .17 miles to the run so you can call it 5, not 4.83. Once you get into the habit of going out for the fun of going out, you may find that the numbers become MORE meaningful and LESS controlling.
Of course, there are some things you just can’t control, like the idiot in 16 degrees. But many of you will be happy to know that I indeed did wear tights rather than my normal shorts. And that’s probably meaningful to somebody – like the paramedics on call.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails!
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.