05 June 2008

The Numbers Game

So what's in a number?

For me, I always am analyzing numbers. In part, I'm talking about times and splits and distances, but I'm also talking about just...plain...numbers. As in Bib numbers, and lucky numbers, and random numbers.

As I grew up playing on teams with kids my age, I could never wrap my mind around my teammates who would just pick a jersey number with no rhyme or reason. For me, it had to have a meaning. For example, my birthday is December 30th, so I have always loved the number twelve. I loved the word. I loved how "12" looked. According to wikipedia, it's a "sublime number" and also a "perfect number." It's the atomic number of magnesium. It's also how the duodenum (everybody's favorite part of the small intestine) got its name--"twelve" in latin is duodecum--because the duodenum is 12(ish) inches long! As you can see, it's a cool number. It was my number. Plus, I played point guard in basketball, and John Stockton wore number 12, as did Aaron Hutchins (a Marquette point guard at the time). It was a perfect fit. But the main reason I liked 12 was the whole duodenum thing.

When I reached high school football freshman year (I was a quarterback), there wasn't a "12" available. Because of my birthday, I picked "3." After all, it was part of "30" and divided evenly into "12." In football I was "3" and in basketball I was "12." And there were NO exceptions, whether it was a select team or a practice jersey. Those were MY numbers.

Then came varsity football sophomore year. The returning starting quarterback happened to wear "3." Uh oh. Despite attempts at bribery and flat-out threats at physical harm, he wasn't budging. I was forced to pick over again, and went with "5." This was a very traumatic event in my history (5 can't really compete with 3 or 12. In terms of atomic numbers, 3 is Lithium. 12 is Magnesium. 5 is BORON. I mean, come on!

Fortunately, I was able to get through this unwelcome but mandatory transition, and to this day "5" is an important number in my superstitious life. In fact, with some combination of the digit "5" and a certain word (which I won't mention because you RBFs are quite an untrustworthy bunch), one would be able to hack into any password I have, for some combination of "5," "12," and _______ (word) are my old reliable passwords for literally everything. Okay, that's not totally true. If I'm prompted to change my password for security reasons, it becomes a unique word relating to my favorite ski resort. But anyway, I digress.

So what's in a number, as it relates to running?

I knew I was going to have a great race in Madison. Not because I had trained great. Not because I was injury free. Not because I was simply due to run a good marathon. It was because my bib number was 1412. 1+4=5, and 12. Those were my numbers! It was inevitable!

I can still tell you my first marathon bib number, also. Chicago, 2004, #17131. All odd numbers. Relatively symmetrical. Very close to being a palindrome (+3 on the word score). It was going to be a good day.

I've even taken my respect for the bib number karma to the point of requesting specific numbers. In the Door County Fall 50 last year, Ellie and I were team "255," because I specifically requested to have "55" included in my number. If you haven't noticed, under the "About Me" portion of this page, you'll find "5:55." That's no coincidence, either.

I run marathons with the inspiration of a dear friend, Brock Hansen, in my heart. Brock and I are best friends from high school, where he played center and I was the quarterback on the football team. My number was 5. His? 55.*

We also worked a summer job together for a produce delivery company. It involved early mornings, and often we found ourselves on the delivery route together at 5:55 AM. We'd touch the clock for good luck, make a wish, and go on with our lives. This was before he was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, but the tradition continues to this day. If I'm in a car at 5:55, I text Brock "Fi Fiddy Fi" and he knows exactly what I'm saying. I still request "55" in every race I enter.

For those of you out there that give no thought to your bib number, I envy you. For my number is scrutinized and analyzed to no end. I hope, when I receive my bib for the Milwaukee Marathon this fall, it's something I can work with. Perhaps:

555 For obvious reasons...
179 I'm hoping to run a 2:59 marathon, or 179 minutes.
512 Duh. 5 and 12. Did you read this post?
259 Again, a reference to my goal time.

* I often tell people that a center and a quarterback have a relationship like no other. After all, my hands have been places I'm pretty sure no other men's hands have been!

In other news, I'm approaching a 50 mile week and am feeling great. The endurance base continues to build and I have high hopes for my peak races this summer. Ellie is looking at another 20 miler this weekend, so it'll give me a chance to put in another long slow run in preparation for my 24 mile Green Circle Trail Run and my 50K Ice Age Trail run. See, Ellie, even at the peak of your training, it's still all about muah! :)


Marcy said...

Dude you're a nut ;-)

I never had any issues with numbers. Honestly I don't even really look at my bib number LMAO. The only time numbers comes into play is when we're talking distance. For example, if I run 4.99 miles. The number 9 sort of annoys me so I'll go the extra .01 to make it an even 5. Other than that numbers are just numbers to me hehe.

keith said...

Wow. You take the numbers thing pretty seriously, don't you?!

I had no idea you could request numbers for races. The best one I ever got was "7."

Here's wishing you get some derivation of 12 or 5 for all your races from now on!

Nitmos said...

Everybody knows Boron can't throw the ball anyhow.

I had bib "100" when I BQ'ed a race. I thought that was apropos (+3).

*aron* said...

haha love this... i HAD to be 33 in high school basketball and since then everything revolves around 3's... dont know where the 3 originally came from, but was always VERY important to me.

and thanks, because of this i will probably start analyzing my bib numbers now, being a number person and a tad obsessive :)

Greg said...

Have you seen the movie "The Number 23" with Jim Carrey? I kept thinking of that movie when I read your post. If you haven't seen it, being a number nut, you might appreciate it.

Jess said...

Wow. That took not just a lot of math, but a lot of plain thinking. Way outta my league there!

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice post! And I'd LOVE to run a 179 marathon in 2 weeks....


My approach to the numbers game is to let "fate" pick it and then I search desperately for the meaning. I'm unsure as to which approach is more stressful.

Also, it's good to hear of the lifelong bond you have with your friend Brock. Regardless of illness or football it seems a rare thing.

Running To Stand Still said...

I can totally relate to this!!! I do this with numbers, except for the atomic numbers part, lol.