“Ode to a Runner’s Spreadsheet”
I’ve long wanted to write a lightly humorous, semi-regular essay about running, and when I say, “long wanted,” I mean since this morning, and when I say, “lightly humorous,” I mean I wish I were funnier. Honestly, I thought I still have 15 minutes a month that aren’t accounted for by family, work, running, commuting, paying bills, etc. – why not over commit that time, too? All I needed now was a title for the column that was 30% cuter than it was witty or original. Success!
Picking a first topic was daunting as it would set the tone for the entire feature. I felt intense pressure, but was comforted knowing this could be the only one I ever write. Hell, I may not even finish this one. Ultimately, I settled on a broad, sweeping topic – one I knew would be of interest to all runners everywhere: my personal Excel running spreadsheet.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, i.e., everyone, it’s elegantly simple. It lists all my finished races with dates, pace times and, when available, times adjusted for age, gender, altitude and dew point. The document lets me quantify an otherwise enjoyable activity and find disappointment everywhere.
I hate to admit how long I can geek out on my own stats. It’s the same fetishistic feeling I get reading Running Times’ new shoe guide. God forbid my wife walks in while I’m ogling the redesigned zero drop Brooks racer that weighs just 4.1 ounces. Oh, yeah, baby, tell me about the variable widths! Somebody hand me a tissue.
Now I know what you’re all thinking… why do a spreadsheet at all? Wasn’t it the Tao philosopher Lao Tsu who said, “To organize is to destroy?” Yes, but clearly Lao Tsu was not a runner. Being able to see my progress is one of the things that keeps me running. Where else in life do I have that kind of definitive validation? It’s not like my marriage is 8 seconds faster this year or my job 11% more efficient when I work negative splits.
I keep my races sorted by pace per mile. Since I like racing everything from the mile to the marathon, my shorter races tend to have the fastest pace times, but not always. For example, my recent marathon pace PR of 7:23 in Burlington, VT this May is identical to my race pace for the Scoops 5K on Martha’s Vineyard back in August of 2005. Clearly, I wasn’t as into running back then, but I’m sure when I crossed the finish line in 2005 I thought I’d totally nailed that sucker.
Curiously, my slowest race pace at 8:18/mile was not a marathon, half-marathon or even a 10K. It was the Scoops Vineyard 5K one year later in 2006. Clearly, this race is my Waterloo. I could tell you it was a hot day or I was sick, but that’s not recorded. My spreadsheet is just my results without commentary or pity – it’s the miles logged distilled to a single entry.
One of my favorite columns is AG%. I’ve read about what this metric represents, but don’t fully understand it, so there’s a certain mystical quality to it. My highest percentages are grouped around my shortest races, which I think suggests either I’m faster than other old farts in short races or no one my age bothers to run these events. While I’ve flirted with percentages in the high 70s – once even reaching 79.65%, I have yet to attain an 80% rating in any race. Again, I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I know I want it.
My spreadsheet serves a practical purpose, too. As I age, my memory is deserting me faster than my speed. (So you know, it took me 2 minutes to think of the word “deserted” for no good reason). I used to be able to rattle off my times for any race – even my old bib numbers, but no more. I had to create a second Excel tab just to list my PRs. For some reason, I can never remember my 10K PR. I’ll read about elite athletes running a 10K in under 30 minutes and think, is that good? Given how quickly I’m forgetting, it’s comforting to know I’ve got all this written down.
But what I like best about my list is the sheer volume of it. Earlier this year, River to Sea marked my 50th race as an adult. For many of you that’s nothing, but 47 of those races have been since 2008, so it feels pretty accomplishment-y. I like knowing I pushed myself at least for the last half decade.
So that’s my spreadsheet. Hope you all found it as enthralling as I do. How could you not? If you have your own race tallies, spreadsheets or logs I’d love to hear about them, but I warn you, don’t write an essay about them. Turns out it takes WAY more than 15 minutes.