December 3, 2015

How Nerdy Math Helps My Mindset While Running

This morning, I woke up and didn’t feel my best. I’m not sick, but I’m definitely exhausted after some nights up stressing about various things. Nevertheless, I put my gym clothes on and headed to Orangetheory Fitness for a class. Unfortunately, probably as a result of my exhaustion, the workout ended up feeling a lot harder than I thought it should have been.

Today was “endurance day”, which meant that we were doing just one 26 minute block each of treadmill and rowing/weights. On the treadmill, the incline was set to 3% for the entire time, and we alternated between base pace (for me, 6.5mph) and push pace (8mph) in equal intervals of 1-3 minutes each, with a few one-minute all-outs (10mph) sprinkled in for variety. There were no walk breaks, though, and I found that my base pace wasn’t really great for recovery… or at least not as comfortable as it usually is.

As an aside: I can’t be the only runner out there who is obsessed with the numbers on the treadmill screen while running, right? Even if we are only doing a one or two minute interval, I tend to stare at the display and do all kinds of computations in my head to feel better about how much time/distance I have left. When running on my own for distance, I try to calculate exactly how many minutes/seconds are left if I keep the pace the same, pick it up, slow it down, etc. And when doing short intervals in a class, I’ve decided that starting the interval at 20 seconds is better than, say, 50 seconds. When I start at 20 seconds, that means when I (finally) get to the top of the minute, I don’t have that much longer to run, and it feels a lot more doable. I end up breaking my “how much is left” calculation into “only 20 seconds left till you finish this minute!” and then “now only 20 seconds left till you’re done!” #CrazyRunnerProblems

This resonate with anyone else?

So anyway, after this morning’s workout, I was telling Adam about how it went, and I explained to him that I was a lot more tired than I felt like I should have been from the effort. That is, we weren’t doing much sprinting, and we weren’t setting the incline at a crazy level (i.e., Sunday’s 90 minute tornado where our instructor had us set the incline to 15% and then sprint for a minute… insane!). Today, I never got to a point where it felt like so much that I needed to drop to a walk, but I also felt like the workout should have been easier than it was. As I told Adam, a 1% incline is supposed to be the equivalent of running on flat ground outside with some wind resistance, so 3% wasn’t that much more.

But that’s where I was wrong. Adam showed me a fascinating post on how the oft-quoted treadmill effort study is often misconstrued, and then I went down a rabbit hole of checking out some sites on my own. In fact, the study says there is no difference in energy between running outside and running on a treadmill at 0% if you are going 8:00/mile or slower… which is normally about my speed). (This long science-y post by Hill Runner explains it all the best, if you’d like details.)

The most helpful thing I found, though, was a chart that attempts to equate running on an incline on the treadmill to running on flat ground. The text at the top contradicts the post about 0% treadmill being slower than 0% outdoors, which is kind of strange since it’s the same source. However, I’d guess that the relative difficulty between each grade would still be about right – so I’ll use it for approximations.

According to the chart, my “base pace” of 9:14/mile at 3% is the equivalent of running 8:23/mile on flat ground. No wonder that was a bit too fast for me to recover – that’s a pretty good clip for me. As for my “push pace” of 8:30/mile, doing that at 3% is the equivalent of running 6:58/mile on flat ground… so the fact that I was kind of tired doing those doesn’t make me feel bad. But meanwhile, I am incredibly proud that I was able to hold my “all-out” of 6:00/mile for 60-90 seconds at a time… that equates to 5:42/mile on flat ground! I do realize that holding it for 90 seconds is nothing like holding it for an entire mile, but that is a lot faster than I would have ever thought I’d be able to sustain even for a short sprint.

I guess there is more than one way for math to make me feel better about what I’m running 🙂


10 thoughts on “How Nerdy Math Helps My Mindset While Running”

  1. Here’s my nerdy treadmill math. I look at my phone every time a new song comes on and figure out what time it’ll be on the treadmill when the song is over. I literally have a hard time running on a treadmill if I can’t do this. (Though I’m fine outside!)

  2. I have my RunKeeper set to alert me every 1/4 of a mile so I can keep tabs on my pace. I choose for it to just tell me time/distance and leave out the “Current Pace” option. In my last 1/2 marathon, I did the math every time I got a 1/4 mile alert to figure out my current pace vs my goal pace. This kept me distracted while I ran and helped pass the miles quicker and was especially helpful for miles 8-11 when I was getting tired of running and the finish still seemed so distant.

    1. I like that idea! I am terrible about figuring out all the notifications and features on my Garmin, but I think my CardioTrainer app on my phone can do that.

  3. I only run on a treadmill when I’m traveling, and I haven’t had a chance to scope out Strava routes. I made it 2.5 miles a few weeks ago on a trip and got too bored/hot. The next day I checked out Strava heat maps and went outside. I have treadmill ADD 🙂

    1. That used to be me! Then last winter I trained for a marathon with a lot of my weekday runs on the treadmill (since it was dark out before work) and I got fairly used to it, even doing some high teens and low 20s on it. The trick for me was having good TV/movies to watch, and then trying not to pay too much attention to the screen 🙂

  4. Doing math in my head helps me get through swimming laps in the pool. I count each lap and as I decide how many laps per set I add up in my head how many more I need to do to reach my goal. I also usually swim 10 laps freestyle and 2 laps breast stroke ao it helps it go by faster thinking of how many laps I have until my 10th freestyle etc.

    1. I usually do alternating intervals in the pool too, but mine are shorter (and easier) than yours: 3 freestyle, 1 breast stroke. Next summer I need to try to pick it up a little bit more!

  5. Numbers Numbers Numbers!!! I’ve always thought the 1% thing too – until I read that article. Honestly, i’ve been using it as an excuse to not push the treadmill incline ever since!!

    That said, I’m totally a math guy. For me, it is all about fractions of how far I’ve gone. “yay! I’m now 2/7ths done!”

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