Friday, March 04, 2011

Running the Numbers

There are two kinds of runners: The jerks that beat me and the losers I beat.

I kid, I kid. I like to do that. Don’t get your compression shorts in an awkward snag.

Runner Spike is currently evacuating his training log bowels all over his last few posts. If you are in to the numerical scatology scene, it’s fantastic! There are maps, paces, distances, elevations, graphs, charts, Spam, and decimals as far as the eye can see! Oh my, clean up needed at La Casa Nitmospants. For a numbers nerd like me, it’s like heroin in the eyeballs….like watching a group of llamas get run over by a riding lawnmower…

Lurking underneath his numbers dump, there’s a deeper conversation about the importance numbers and statistics are to a runner. Or should be. And one of the things I do real well is take someone else’s post, modify the discussion slightly, and present it as my own original idea. Do you think those endless economic term papers I wrote in college came out of my own alcohol-addled brain? Mama didn’t raise many llamas.

I think he’s suggesting that it’s better to be one of those hippie runners, that wear tie-dye shirts and over-sized headbands and tell everyone how running is so great “because, like, you get to commune with nature, man, and that’s an awesome thing…especially after smoking a box of dried Gu Tri-berry while rockin’ out some Phish”, than a number/Garmin/third decimal place spreadsheet fanatic. The reason I think that’s what he thinks is because it would so conveniently set up the rest of my discussion. Plus, I’m hiding behind a pseudonym and general protection of critical commentary on the internet has already been defined by the courts.

There are two main types of runners: The numbers obsessed and the numbers indifferent. The numbers obsessed are usually meticulous training log jockeys, PR chasers, and/or time goal setters. If you’ve graphed your pace/distance over a period of time just for fun, you’ve given yourself away. The numbers obsessed usually track every run through a Garmin or Garmin-like device. They read the results like tea leaves searching for the magical secret to speed and/or distance. The thing that makes them happy are PR’s and more appealing times to plot on the log – even if they have to go to four decimal places to get it.

The numbers indifferent are hippies. (I kid, I kid. Don’t get your bong in a knot.) The numbers aren’t the scene, man. It’s about the feeling of the motion….the wind through the unkempt hair…the hard, rough pounding of pavement under bare feet…the tunes, man, THE TUNES. It’s all about pushing yourself based on how your body feels. It’s not about the digits, man, don’t harsh their vibe with your Stalinistic Garmin. If you’ve ever created a blog post and dropped in the runner cliché “listen to your body” more than once, you’ve given yourself away. The numbers indifferent just care about the FEELING running gives them. ..the endorphin release…the thrill and satisfaction from physical exertion. And Doritos, man.

To be clear, these aren’t disconnected categories. Within every runner, a little bit of both philosophical sides exist. The numbers geek (guilty!) truly enjoy the feeling of the run, the sweat, the fatigue regardless of the statistics. Like taking the occasional hit of recreational crack, they’ll unstrap the Garmin and toss aside the over-priced shoes The Man made them buy. They’ll shuffle China Grove to the top of the playlist. They’ll run just by feel letting the air rush through their sensibly styled hair. They’ll revel in the motion and the physical exertion. When the carefree run is over, they’ll feel happy and refreshed and wonder, maybe just a little, what their pace would have been had they had their Garmin. But then it’s back to business…training logs, pace charts, DATA.

Whether they care to admit it or not, the numbers indifferent runner also occasionally checks the stove clock – the Kenmore Ironman edition – when they return from a particularly gnarly run. Then they turn on reruns of Mama’s Family and get stoned. I kid, I kid. Don’t get your Nick at Nite in a huff.

Both sides exist in each of us but there is usually a predominant force. I’m numbers obsessed. I don’t care what self-proclaimed “purists” think about that. I reconciled long ago that I’m overly competitive. I once sent the Chutes and Ladders game piece of the Little-Blond-Boy-Frolicking-In-His-Striped-Shirt flying into the wall because, dammit, he would NOT STOP GOING DOWN THAT STUPIDLY LONG SLIDE ON THE #87 SQUARE. (I’m not allowed to play Chutes and Ladders anymore.) I derive enjoyment from chasing numbers. It’s a tangible, competitive goal I can pursue in my otherwise normal suburban life. No apologies to the numbers indifferent. I love me some numbers. I love ‘em violently.

There’s no right or wrong type of runner. YOU decide what role numbers play in your experience. One way doesn’t make you more PURE than the other. It’s all about whatever gets you out the door, feeds your soul, and keeps you moving. It could be Garmins and spreadsheets or bare feet and Doritos.

Eventually, for me, I could see the pendulum swinging back from the NUMBERS side to the FEEL side as I get a little older and tire of the PR chase. But, then again, maybe not. (Does one “lose” their competitive spirit??) If - or when - that time comes, I’ll still be a RUNNER in every sense of the word.

I’ll just have shaggier hair and a penchant for quaaludes.

Happy, like, trails, man.

Your turn to speak up.


Marlene said...

"Numbers indifferent" is just another way of saying "slow"!

Anonymous said...

I recently made a time vs. 5K PR graph:


The Merry said...

There's no option on the poll for those of us whose favorite color is plaid!
I like numbers when numbers like me, i.e. when they say I done good. When the lying stupid incompetent numbers imply that I'm slower than molasses in January, then I'm like, totally the hippie type, dude.

Al's CL Reviews said...

Yes, for as slow as I am, I probably shouldn't be so obsessed, but can't help it.

I need to get the shirt with the "If you see me collapse, pause my Garmin," on it.

Sun Runner said...

I now use both Garmy and my Runmeter iPhone app when I run. MORE NUMBERS!!!!!

Elizabeth said...

Ok so I guess I fit into the "filthy hippy" category. I never even wore a watch the first two years I ran, and now I only wear a watch with a timer on it. But I do like trying get to faster, and if someone gave me a Garmin, I would probably wear it and probably would synthesize the hell out of some data.

Thomas said...

LOL at Marlene's comment. Classic!

Graphed my pace/distance over a period of time ... tick

Garmin ... tick

PR = happy ... tick

more appealing times to plot on the log ... tick

wouldn't be seen dead in "bearfoot" shoes ... tick
I'm clearly an even mix, me.

Vava said...

Read my post from today and you'll see that I have almost zero of the one and nearly 100% of the other in me. I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to "not care" and "just run for the fun of it". The closest I come is not looking at the Garmin until afterward. I generally fail miserably in that endeavor.

Keep on truckin'!

Jess said...

I see most of the filthy hippies were too stoned to take your poll.

Jill said...

Beige ROCKS!

Spike said...

I'm a flip-flop, one day Emo, one day Rap. Or, maybe, I'm really all about numbers while I run but get all 'let's talk about our feelings' when I'm done.

Irene said...

What would you call someone in the middle? Is there a middle?

I have tie dyed Moeben sleeves AND a Garmin. Heh.

Ironman By Thirty said...

That #87 spot is a bitch.

Total Garmin slut here. It is part laziness though because I tracked next to nothing BG (before Garmin). I was simply too lazy to each pick up a pen and mark on the calendar that I ran period.

Haven't seen a comment by Booze Hounds yet. Maybe you offended him. Better send him a beer as a piece offering.

Word Verification: balls

Anne said...

Though the mix may not be even, I do have some clear signs of both.

Got a Polar watch with HR monitor about 1 month after I started running. A Garmin within 5 months and I wear it all the time. I do try for PRs and I follow a training program.

Although I'm now doing a progressive back to running program after injury, if I cross another runner, I postpone my walk break. :)

But, I wear "racers" that are pretty close to barefoot (though not vibrams). I don't use an ipod on most runs...and I've never made a graph.

Hmmm I guess I'm more of a numbers geek! Sheesh, this is like a whole post...I guess you got me thinking :)

Chanda M. DeFoor said...

What if I don't listen to Phish (prefer Widespread Panic or Dave)? God Bless the Hippie Runners.

Drea said...

Hippies are sluts too. They are actually the world's biggest sluts- the number huggers should be referred to as....well.....tight asses. I mean, just look at my ass!


Beth said...

I think you are right- it's all about whatever it takes to keep it all interesting. I like numbers and love the gadgets even more.

Ainsley Drew said...

Real talk, Nitmos: A year ago I found your blog while I was PASSIONATELY OBSESSED with running. It was a brief affair. Why? you might ask, especially since you seem to take to the running like Charlie Sheen takes to the crazy. Well, the numbers. I wasn't satisfied with seven miles, so I did eight. Then eight turned into ten. Then an hour and a half turned into two...and if I didn't constantly do better than last time, I felt like I'd failed. Although I never raced, I compared my 5K stats to the winners I read about on the Internet. Needless to say, I burned out. Now I hit the elliptical and weight train. Let me tell you, the numbers aren't any easier in the wuss section of the gym, but at least my toenails are growing back.

BrianFlash said...

Ironically, when I was younger and faster and actually ran competitively, I was less obsessed with time and distance. Now I'm old, slow, and totally all about setting new PRs at all distances each year.

Laura said...

Oddly enough, for just about everything else in my life, I am numbers-obsessed. My friends tease me about how I keep spreadsheets for my budget (makes sense), my Delta SkyMiles (I think it makes sense), and my Groupons and expiration dates (okay, admittedly that one probably doesn't require a spreadsheet). If something can be put into Excel, I put it there... except running data. Honestly, my Garmin may as well not even store my data, because I have never once looked at it post-race - only during for pacing. How much of a contradiction am I?