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It’s a numbers game

by kirsty
Wednesday 14th October 2015
Tags  Math   |   Kirsty Reade

Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade advises runners to cram some extra math lessons if their skills are not up to scratch

Running should be a predominantly physical matter. You lace up your shoes, you head out the door, you enjoy anywhere between 20 minutes and 20 hours of blissful fresh air and lovely views and return a fitter and more relaxed person. In an ideal world this would be true but these days we need the brain of a maths genius to be a runner.

The most obvious mathematical skill involves working out split times in pursuit of that PB. Training runs are carefully gauged as race pace, 15 seconds slower per minute than race pace, 10 seconds per kilometre faster than race pace etc. There’s so much thinking involved that just writing this makes my head hurt. Then there’s the race itself, slavishly paying attention to your watch, working out what your new split times need to be now that you’ve lost those 30 seconds with that unplanned-for toilet trip. And how many of us have worked out our split times for 5k, 10k, half or marathon in minutes per mile ONLY TO FORGET THAT 0.1 or 0.2 OF A MILE? Aaargh! They should teach that in GCSE maths.

If you’re chasing PBs then you need to be clued up on the numbers. But a word of warning to fans of split times: nobody else is that interested in them. Many a good conversation about running can be ruined with the words ‘so I ran the first mile in 7.23, the second in 7.36 … [oh no, they’re going to tell me all of them] … mile 13 was an 8.42, mile 14 8.45 … mile 23 was 11.09 … [good grief, they’re still talking, hmm, what shall I have for dinner]…’, particularly if this finishes with the sentence ‘so, if I’d just kept up that 7.23 pace I’d have done it in under 3hrs 15’.

And who says maths can’t be a creative discipline? With the advent of GPS watches we can use that data to extrapolate our own conclusions. Run247 editor Britta calls this the ‘should have/could have’ factor. A friend of mine did a marathon and her ‘accurate’ GPS watch logged it at 26.4 miles so she took off the time that extra 0.2 miles took from her time, which by a massive coincidence meant she actually got a new PB! There’s also the ‘well I actually spent two minutes at that aid station so I can take that off my time,’, the ‘if I hadn’t been injured I would have been at least 30 seconds per mile quicker’ and the ‘I stopped my watch for all the cake stops, the traffic lights, that bloke who asked me the way to the station and all the times I stopped for a rest and I was really pleased to average 6 minute miles!’. And let’s not go there with the people who drive to a particular point, then run or cycle up a 200m hill just in order to take the Strava segment off the poor person who set that CR by sweating it out in the middle of a run/cycle.

One bit of maths that we all get wrong is the calories in vs calories out equation. This is a tricky one and I don’t want to bamboozle you with high level maths but the official equation is:
X (amount of running) x Y (what your genuine weight is, not what you tell people) x Z (your age, again, real age) divided by C (size of cake) + L (gigantico caramellato mochachino) + B (bacon sandwich) = OMG you’re kidding me, I did all that running but I’m now fatter?

For those who don’t hold a maths degree, simply put this means that just because you ran three miles it doesn’t mean you can stuff your face with anything at all you want. I think that we’re all guilty of this one. Remedial runners’ maths class for all of us please.

Another important mathematical equation that most cyclists will be aware of is N + 1. This is the correct number of trainers (or bikes) you need to own, with N being the number of pairs of trainers you currently own. However, do beware of this one as the cyclists’ rules (HERE)  also state ‘this equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.’ This is maths that you need to get right!

Related to this is what I call weekend long run maths. It can be summed up as: ‘I’m heading out for a run but I’ll definitely be back in time to go and do that important thing because I’m only going to run 10 miles and I’ll definitely average 9 minute miles’. This is a good plan on paper but it invariably falls down on one of the following factors: poor maths (see all of the above); poor pacing; it was really sunny and I just decided to go a bit further; I got lost; I stopped at the garden centre for a coffee; I met lots of really nice dogs and had to stop and stroke them all; I found out I was wildly optimistic about my level of fitness. Or sometimes all of these factors.

So runners, do the maths and get it right, but don’t tell me all your split times.


About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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