Friday, October 24, 2014

Running is like a Rubik's Cube

An analogy for running... bear with me :)

It was last weekend, I was with my wife and son at the in-laws. MJ and her mom were going through bins upon bins of old kid's toys that had been in storage trying to select a few to bring home with us. They were having a grand time reminiscing over long-lost treasures, I was bored out of my skull. Then I noticed a couple Rubik's cubes lying in and among the piles of hot wheels and barbie dolls. I picked one up, went downstairs, and spent the better part of two hours fascinated with it. I had the thought more than once in those two hours; 'well I got one side, almost got two, but I can't seem to solve the whole thing, I'd better just give up and leave it for someone else'. But those damn things have a way of gnawing at you, just one more twist, just a couple more minutes, I KNOW I can solve this thing! Well I did eventually get distracted away from it, seems I could solve a side or two at a time, making me feel partially successful, but I would never get the whole puzzle solved (proof of my mediocre brain-power). When MJ did finally come downstairs to pull me away from the Rubik's cube, even though I'd contemplated giving up numerous times, it was still with regret and a feeling of incompleteness that I finally set it down and walked away.

Fast forward a couple of days... I was driving to some high school cross country section meets in and around the Twin Cities, and had plenty of time on my hands to think. Well what do you think popped into my melon but that dang Rubik's cube again! This time though I wasn't trying to solve it, I was merely ruminating on the simplicity and genius of this excellent puzzle. It really was a stroke of genius for Emo Rubik, a simple cube that can be manipulated over 43 quintillion different ways. It has reportedly sold over 350 million copies according to Wikipedia. After wondering over the simple brilliance I got to thinking about what in particular made the Rubik's cube such a fascinatingly addicting toy. Part of the allure must be the ease of use. It fits in one hand, can be rotated with ease, requires no other accessories, can be picked up and worked on for hours or minutes and you can resume playing with it where you left off. Another part is that even though it's technically a 'toy' it feels more like a brain exercise. Of course the possibility exists, however incredibly remote, that a person could get lucky and blindly arrange the sides correctly. The rest of us will study it, try to learn from it and hope through that process to gain mastery of it. Lastly the objective of the cube is simple, obvious, and tantalizingly close. Its quite easy to arrange one or two of the sides correctly. You get your hopes up. You think, 'in one or two more turns I'll have this thing solved!'. Then you make a move, try something else, and all of a sudden you are back where you started. The hope still exists though that if you are patient enough, and focused enough, that you will eventually obtain the ultimate solution.

As I was following this mental rabbit trail, being a runner, I naturally began to sense some parallels between the Rubik's cube and the running lifestyle. It slowly dawned on me that the Rubik's cube is the perfect analogy for running. Running is such a simple activity; we don't need facilities, padding, fancy gadgets, we just go out and run wherever we are, whatever time of day it is. The objectives are necessarily simple: lose weight, get faster, go from point A to point B. Even though for most of us running is a hobby, it has great benefits for our mental and physical health. We recognize these benefits and try to learn from the activity to maximize it's beneficial aspects in our lives. As we pour more and more thought and energy into running, we realize that running is an activity that can be at times incredibly rewarding, and incredibly frustrating. The emotions involved are often fleeting and subject to rapid change. It constantly gets your hopes up, offers you the rewards of goals achieved, and entices you to branch out and try new things. Yet just when you think you're on a winning track, just when you think you've finally got this running thing figured out, you realize that while you've been solving one piece of the puzzle you have been simultaneously unraveling another. However there is always a voice in your head that maintains that progress is being made. So you keep on keeping on, doggedly pursuing your objectives and gradually more and more blocks fall into place. It may be that you never fully solve the puzzle. You may meet great success in one area of running and be totally stymied in another. As the saying goes, 'its not the destination, but the journey that counts'.

I haven't yet solved the Rubik's cube, but you can bet the next time I'm at the in-laws I will find that thing and try to get two or maybe three sides complete. Likewise I'll keep on shifting and changing things with my running, hoping that block by block I'll eventually arrive at a greater level of success than I have yet achieved.

1 comment:

  1. Just now seeing this post Tony - very apt metaphor indeed.