Thursday, November 15, 2012

Magical Numbers

It seems like one of the first questions people ask you when they find out that you run, you know, the one preceded by the obligatory, "How fast can you run the mile?" that's usually followed by, "Are you training for the Olympics?" always seems to be, "How many miles a week do you run?"

I freaking hate that question. It almost seems as though to be considered "competitive", you're obligated to at least blurt out a certain magical number. I never used to keep track of miles very closely, just minutes really, but I could throw out a pretty decent ballpark answer. However, at some fairly recent point, saying to myself "I'm running 80 minutes this morning," stopped being good enough. Now it's, "I need to run 11 miles this morning (or 7 or 8 or 10 or whatever)" and "I need to hit XX miles this week." There's not even a reason for needing to hit XX miles, just that it seems like the bigger XX is, the better.

So mileage....what is mileage? If you want to get really technical, the Romans decided a mile was 1,000 paces. But everyone has different sized feet, so then what's a pace? They must've wondered this too, because then "feet" came in, and it was decided that a "foot" was the length of one of the emperor's feet. Must've totally sucked when when he died though, then they'd have to re-do the whole damn thing. So if the Romans kept track of mileage, it would vary depending on who was emperor, but fortunately for them, they were too busy with gladatorial contests and vivisecting people to bother with running nonsense. And then there's the nautical mile, which is totally different than a land mile. This is getting complicated. All this is to say, a mile is pretty much some distance that we. Made. Up.

So back to the topic at hand. You could talk to any coach about what the best mileage is to train for a given distance, and some will say run as much as you can as hard as you can (the old, "throw a bunch of eggs against a brick wall and see which ones don't break and those will be pretty badass" method), others will say to run as a much as you can but only hard on the quality days, others put focus entirely on quality over quantity. At the Olympic 10k Trials there were women on the line who ran 65 miles a week, and others logging twice that. So that being said, I guess it's all just trial and error, because no one actually seems to know, but at least we're not Romans.

And I guess that I see a lot of the validity in quantifying by mileage: You have at least some way to know how much work you're doing. But then, the harder you run XX miles, the less time you spend running. The easier you go, the longer you run. But I think that you really have to be someone who doesn't compulsively feel the need to hit a certain number for this to be a good system, which "Runner" and "Not Compulsive" seems a little bit like the biggest oxymoron ever invented. Granted, the minutes-method has its drawbacks too: a progressively hard 90 minute run is completely different than an easy 90 minutes on the trails. But for me at least, thinking in straight minutes eliminates the need to run with a GPS (which I hate using) or run a certain measured loop in order to hit a certain number just to say that I did, and I guess the body has no idea what a "mile" is anyway, it just knows how long it's been going and how hard it's been working. So I think I'll revert to mix of those two ways of measuring work and combine them: say, 12 miles or 90 minutes, whichever comes first.

Since I think I'm going to drive myself to alcoholism if I think about this anymore, I'm going to change the subject to finish on a less confusing and more upbeat note. I know that this deviates a little bit from the topic at hand, but I figure that since blog readers are likely comprised entirely of people who are bored absolutely senseless, it's probably fine. So I'm going to teach you a little bit about my favorite food: Nutella. I will tell you about the history of Nutella and the pro's and con's of Nutella consumption, and why, if you haven't already, you should make the switch from generic Chocolate Hazelnut Spread to the real deal.
In the early 1940's, Italian pastry chef Pietro Ferrero was concerned about the limited supply of chocolate during World War II. With rationing, he had a serious chocolate frosting crisis on his hands. What's a pastry chef to do? Leave those eclairs naked? Heavens no! Instead, he cleverly mixed finely crushed hazelnuts with cocoa powder and viola'! The crisis was averted, the situation was nuetralized, and Nutella was born. Hooray for Pietro!

25 years later, the U.S. received its first imports of Nutella, and even though some dumbass decided to file a class-action lawsuit earlier this year because it's not "healthy enough" and Nutella had to cough up $3 million dollars, they're still doing just fine, and they continue to be THE top-selling chocolate hazelnut spread available. Unlike its generic counterparts, Nutella contains over 80% hazelnuts and is free of preservatives and artificial colors even if a single serving is about 3 tablespoons worth of sugar. Who's counting? Not to mention, it's vegetarian! So all you Boulderites can breathe easy.

So thank you Mr. Ferrero! And let's make everyday World Nutella Day!