The art and science of the run

It was a beautiful, crisp, windy autumn morning. Again. And my 5-mile easy run felt glorious, in part, because I ignored the science of the day and ran how I felt, in gratitude and joy.

But that doesn’t mean the science of the run doesn’t have it’s place.

Today’s bit of running science news comes from one of my favorite sports information peeps, who passed along this press release from MIT media relations.

Seems that Benjamin Rapoport, an MD/PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, has calculated how to avoid hitting the wall in a marathon. Turns out, if you plug in the right numbers (mostly your estimated VO2Max) you can predict the pace you will run for a marathon without taking in any carbohydrates.

Now, say you want to faster than that pace? Well, the formula will also tell you how may calories of carbohydrates to consume to run that faster pace, again, without hitting the wall.

It’s a physiological model to help you run your best marathon as research shows that how fast you run is often dependent on how much fuel you have in your body and how efficiently your body uses that fuel.

But it’s only a tool.

As Rapoport points out, there are other factors — your mental toughness, the course terrain and of course, if you actually stick to your pace and nutrition plan.

Still, if you really dig the science of the run and like to play with numbers, it might be worth your time. (For more detail, you can read the research article published in PLoS Computational Biology)

Now for the art of running, which, as you might suspect, comes with no journal articles, just a small experiment conducted by myself on myself.

See, I like to collect the data of my workouts but from time to time I get too obsessed with the numbers. I think about where I want to be rather than where I am. And it feels like the ultimate contradiction to run slow in training in order to run fast during races.

To be fair, you don’t always run slow in training. Saturday morning’s track workout will take care of that piece, thank you (ugh!) very much.

But a big part of building up your run is building up your aerobic base. Only thing is, if I’m collecting the data on my Garmin watch, I’m glancing down, looking at my pace, wishing I was effortlessly running just a tad faster.

So for the past week, I’ve tuned the Garmin to only display distance. All I know is how far I’ve gone in my run. I don’t know my pace or time or time of day. Some days, I probably don’t even really need to know how far I’ve gone. But we’re talking baby steps here, folks.

What has happened is that I’ve started listening to my body again. I know when to push. I know when to pull back. I even know better how to fuel it before, during and after.

I’m much more in the moment of the run, rather than doing the math in my head and hence judging myself on the math.

Oh, I still have the data and talk about it with my coach.

But I’m getting better at combining the science with the art, using one to inform and strengthen the other, instead of trying to live by a formula only which sets me up for a downward spiral of self criticism.

The numbers will guide me, will be a tool to help me structure my workouts and plan my race. But my spirit will take me down new paths of adventure and give me the smile to succeed.

0 Comments on “The art and science of the run

  1. Cover the garmin with tape. Look at the numbers, including distance, only when the run is complete. I use “just” a stopwatch and will look at it at the halfway point and that’s it. Sometimes I’ll question if I remembered to start the watch. I’ll flash it up to my face super fast to be sure it’s running but prevent myself from reading the numbers!

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