2012 by the number

Posted: January 1, 2013 in CATCH-ALL, Year in Review

Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off. 
– Paul Brodeur


(© 1980 Arnie Levin, published in The New Yorker)

I love numbers.  As a scientist I genuflect at their altar, and I understand the power of their use and (maybe more so) abuse.  But I don’t so much love them in my running.  Sure, like most runners I’m constantly chasing my next PR.  But many of my training runs are unscripted, and I often leave my Garmin at home.  Admittedly I do track most of my miles, but the idea of counting my every step flies in the face of why I run in the first place.  I train, I train hard, and I try to get everything I can from everything I’ve got.  I’m not convinced more numbers will help me do that.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge and appreciate their importance for many runners, and I’ve now read several blogs that break down 2012 by the numbers: total miles run, races subdivided by distance, average finish times, average pace, even the number of GU packets consumed (ok, I might have made that last one up… but I’m betting it’s out there somewhere).  The head-spinning reams of statistics in the running blogosphere – together with lingering injuries – provide their owners with a clear, concise representation of their personal year in running.  Naturally all these blogs got me thinking about which of my own running numbers matter the most.

And I realized that, aside from personal records, the only number I really care about is this one: 91.  That’s my overall race percentile, meaning that I finished in the upper 9% of all runners at the ten races I ran in 2012.  If I were to combine my seven half marathons, two marathons and one 50K from this past year into a Pangaea-like super race, I would have crossed the finish line 5,433rd out of 61,281 finishers.  Or to turn that lemonade back into lemons, I finished in the top 9% of all losers.  That’s the number I’m most focused on surpassing in 2013… the five pairs of new running shoes I bought in 2012 notwithstanding.

I hope you hit and surpass your own numbers in 2013, running or otherwise.  I realize this blog, like running itself, is an inherently selfish act, and I appreciate your indulging my selfishness.  Except for you Mom, I know you’re only here to make sure I wear clean underwear on every run.

Happy New Year!


With a little luck, I should easily double my shoe collection in 2013
(© Matthew Diffee, published in The New Yorker)

  1. Dan says:

    I wish I had the same attitude towards running “free” of technology. I’d sooner forget my shoes than my Garmin and on the rare occasion that it dies mid-run, I curse loudly. But I keep going and just “guess” what my splits were afterward. But hey, at least I run without music, so I can still call myself a purist, right?

    GUs consumed, I’d say at least 24 (4 per marathon), but no more than 30. And pairs of shoes purchased, 5. Yes, sir, it was a good year.

    Best of luck in turning 91 into 92+. Keep it up!

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks for reading, Dan. Admittedly I do run with music, or at least try… I’ll often wear my iPod out on training runs, only to get lost in either thought or effort immediately and never turn it on. I’ve run for hours wearing silent earbuds. So thanks to my wandering mind, I frequently end up running with the technology but without the music.

    Hope your running and blogging shoes fit well in 2013!

  3. Jen says:

    91% is so impressive! (There, I’ve indulged you. ha) No seriously, it’s really great. I’m happy to finish in the top 1/3. Before it was the top 1/2. So I guess there’s been some progress. I have a suggestion for you to definitely get to 92% or higher: baseball bat. Yes, go Tanya Harding on all of the top runners and you’ll secure yourself a winning position for sure! That, or dig some “gopher holes” (a la Drag N Fly) and let nature twist some ankles for you. You can thank me in next year’s “by the number” recap.

    • Mike says:

      HA, thanks for ensuring my blog now shows up in any Google search for the name “Tonya Harding”… I owe you for that alone. Unfortunately, as enticing as your baseball bat strategy is (I did play several strong seasons of little league), if I tried going assailant on everyone running ahead of me I’d be exhausted by mile two. And next year’s number would be the number of races for which I’d received a lifetime ban.

      Look forward to following your continuing progress… here’s to reaching the 1/4 mark in 2013!

  4. Chuck says:

    You forget that one reason to track all these numbers is for later analysis. After a good race, or (the horrors) a really bad one you can look back and try and make sense of it. But I agree with you that it much more fun to train by how you feel rather than by what the numbers say.

    The main number I care about is the number of miles I ran that year. Races are great but the real reason I run is just for the running.

    But I have to say 91 is really good. Good luck beating that.

    May your race percentile and blog readership increase in 2013.

    • Mike says:

      You’re right of course about the analysis angle. I’m certainly no Caballo Blanco-type purist… I do track MOST of my numbers, I just haven’t found them to be consistently informative as to how I can improve. I’m impressed by runners who seem to be able to make sense of their numbers, but for me I find I improve by running farther and faster, and by listening to my body (except on the track, when I tune it out).

      As far as making sense of a bad race, only one sketchy performance comes to mind, and I didn’t need my Garmin to trace that back to the 90-degree temps on Diablo that day in April. And in fact, my subpar Diablo finish (57th percentile) is a major reason I stepped back from my better-than-92nd percentile showing in 2011. That said, I wouldn’t trade our day on Diablo for any other race I’ve run. Even WITH your race-day humor.

  5. Eric Doub says:

    Mike, or anyone reading: What is the FKT (Fastest Known Time) to run up Marin Ave.?

    I used to “run” up that thing when I lived in the Bay Area (up through 1993; went to Stanford, and my father is 5th generation Oakland, so lots of roots in the area), and was curious what times anyone has heard of.

    Fun website, by the way!

    • Mike says:

      Appreciate the kind words Eric, thanks for checking out the blog. My wife and I both have Stanford roots as well (her B.A./M.A., my Ph.D.), so it’s always cool to hear from someone who spent time on The Farm.

      Great question about the FKT up Marin, though sadly the answer is… I have no idea. I’m not even sure what my own fastest time is to the top. In fact, as many times as I’ve run it, I’ve yet to see another runner make it up more than one Marin block (out of 11 or 12 blocks total) at faster than a walk. But I’d love to know the answer, if you ever find out… I’ll certainly let you know if I do!

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