Measure 2018 in smiles, not miles

This year, we are going to get a new kilogram. The lump of platinum that defines the weight has been shrinking. I guess every time it’s handled, a few of its atoms get dislodged. The boffins are defining the new kilo based on its particle frequency, and that’s as far as I’m venturing towards physics in 2018. By rights, this new kilo will be a teensy bit heavier than the old one, and by implication, each one of us will weigh a bit less – good news if you’re struggling to avoid the remains of that tub of Quality Street. 

You’ll have spotted the flaw in my justification for eating chocolate. The standard might be changing, but that’s all, and most “standard” kilos don’t depend upon the original anyway. Like everything else in life, there’s a degree of variability. 

The metre is officially defined according to the unchanging speed of light but that hasn’t prevented numerous incidences of disputed course measurements and cancelled records. Early in 2017, I took part in an event where the course proved significantly shorter than billed. The time I’d been thrilled with as I crossed the line became irrelevant and the enjoyment of the competition – the race itself, and pitting myself against other the athletes – was eclipsed by annoyance at the organisers. I don’t count myself as driven by numbers, by times or targets, but clearly, I’m not immune. 

Sharing 2017’s Strava stats is big on social media at present. Some of those I follow have clocked impressive distances on foot, on their bikes and in the pool. But here’s my question: how do you know you’ve definitely covered a certain distance, and indeed, does it matter? Two people running together, tracking their activity with GPS devices can find themselves with different recorded distances, paces and splits. The differences might be small but if you’re obsessed with stats, they’re a big source of frustration.  

I don’t know my PBs for most distances. When I started running, results arrived in the stamped addressed envelope you sent off along with the cheque for your entry fee, and those scraps of paper were lost years ago. But even if I knew my best times, I couldn’t compare them to yours, other than in the broadest possible sense. We’re all individuals, and a lung-busting sprint for me could be a stroll for you. Does that make either one of us a better person? 

Then there are routes. While some are tough and hilly, others are fast and flat. Race organisers make a big deal of chip timing and PB potential. Is it just me, or is that ever so slightly weird? You’ll get a good time – and the bragging rights – but only because you’re heading downhill with the wind at your back. Why would that count as a great result?      

Technology has given us a huge amount of information, but we’re free to choose how we use it. If your goal of clocking 1,000 miles (or kilometres) in 2018 gets you off the sofa, great. If it causes you to aggravate an injury that needs rest to heal, not great. Not great at all.  

I believe that stats are useful for comparing like with like – my performance in June compared to my performance in August, in similar conditions on the same route – not for comparing me to you. If we want to do that, let’s forget the time on the clock and race. I am competitive – I’ll admit it – but I’m going to measure my running success in 2018, by the amount I enjoy it, not by whether I’m faster or slower than you and not by the distance I cover.  

On an LTR, runners often track the route, but I don’t imagine many pore over the stats and wonder if they could have cut a few extra seconds off their time on a descent. You don’t see people cursing the delay as the group negotiates a difficult stile, you see people helping each other across. No one is scoring points, and no one cares who makes it to the end of the route first. There’s only one measure that matters, and that’s the size of the smile. 

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