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Running By Numbers

Difficult To Imagine

Published Oct. 13, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

It's 5:27 a.m. The radio turns on automatically. Jill wakes up. She takes her resting heart rate for 60 seconds. She counts 46 beats. This is normal. When it is above 50 beats per minute, it means that her body has not recovered from the previous day's workout. Jill listens to the 5:30 news and weather. The temperature is 64 degrees, the humidity is 78 percent and the wind is 9 miles per hour from the southwest. It is a warm and humid morning, so Jill dresses lightly.

At 5:50, Jill consults her running diary. Her schedule calls for a one-mile warmup, 40 minutes of lactic acid threshold run at 80 percent of maximum heart rate, followed by a one-mile cooldown. Jill is 28 years old, so her maximum heart rate is 220 minus 28, giving 192 beats per minute. At 80 percent, that gives 154 beats per minute. She programs her heart-rate monitor accordingly.

Jill is 5 foot 2.2 inches tall, and has 9.8 percent body fat. She checks her weight before the run. The scale reads 106.4 pounds. A treadmill test shows that she burns 78.6 calories per mile. Today's workout will burn 628.8 calories. Therefore, she drinks 18 ounces of Zlektra worth 112.5 calories before the run, both for an energy boost and hydration. Before leaving the house, Jill warms up with 136 sit-ups.

Thanks to a carefully measured course, a stop-watch with 100 splits and a heart-rate monitor with a wireless computer hook-up, Jill's workout goes as planned. During the cooldown, she joins a neighbor for an easy jog, and loses track of the distance of the jog. At home, she downloads her workout from the heart-rate monitor into the 200 Mhz Pentium MMX computer. It records the duration of the workout as 57 minutes 32.6 seconds, and 612.6 calories burned. She leaves the distance field empty. She checks her weight again. The scale reads 103.8 pounds. She types it into the computer.

Jill drinks 28 ounces of water, takes a 13-minute shower at a water temperature of 114 degrees, and drives to the local bagel shop for breakfast. A glass of orange juice at 84 calories, a plain bagel with fat-free cream cheese at 322 calories and a banana at 112 calories give her a good start to the day.

The day is not over until Jill measures this morning's course. After work, she rides her bike, equipped with a 6-digit Jones counter, over a local 1,000-foot calibration course. She notes the conversion factor of 9,352 counts. Then she travels this morning's course in both directions. She takes the average of the two trips, 8.143 miles, and records it in her log. This gives a weekly total of 48.635 miles.

Today's run is just another training run in preparation for Saturday's track meet. Jill's VO2max of 59.45 milliliters/kilogram/minute predicts a 1,500-meter performance of 4 minutes 48.3 seconds.

On race day, Jill finishes first in a time of 4:55.5. However, she is concerned about her time, and worries about the 7.2 second discrepancy between her predicted and actual times. Next week, she will take new treadmill and body fat tests. She will review her diet and training schedule, and she will run harder.

Jill is a semi-imaginary character that exaggerates a runner's obsession with numbers. Most runners maintain training logs and worship the numbers that fill them. We pay homage to miles and meters, minutes and seconds, pounds and ounces, and in the process, we risk losing the joy of running. We live for intervals, tempo runs, LATs, LSDs and total weekly miles. We look with horror at zeros in the training log, and dread their impact on performance.

This week, try something new. Lose your training log. Turn off your alarm clock and wake up when the birds sing. Leave your stopwatch and heart-rate monitor at home. Run a new route and watch the sunrise. Run within your body and get to know it better. You may enjoy the freedom from numbers.

Kamal Jabbour runs free of numbers, while he awaits the arrival of a new multi-lap watch. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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