The 25.9 Mile Marathon: Running & Rounding
As you know by now, I’m quite methodical when it comes to tracking my running stats. I keep track of my time and distance with as much accuracy as I can manage, and it drives me nuts when my watch dies mid-way through a run or I forget to start it again after a water stop. Thus, when I tell you that I ran 11.78 miles, then you can be pretty darn sure that I did indeed run 11.78 miles. I didn’t run 11.75 miles, or 12 miles (if I’m feeling good), or 11.5 miles (if I’m feeling down). When I run a 5K, I want my watch to say 3.1 miles at the end, and when I run a marathon, I want it to say 26.2. However, my time is usually off by at least a little, most likely because I weaved a bit more than the person measuring the course. I can live with these errors. However, I don’t round my running numbers to the nearest ANYTHING. Perhaps its the internally competitive person that I am, or perhaps its just my OCD kicking in. Whatever the reason, I want my math to be perfect.
Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning this topic, especially since you could have probably guessed the nature of my approach based on my previous posts! However, its the end of the semester and I just finished submitting grades for the university courses I taught. Now, nothing brings out the ridiculous questions like the crunch of finals and the realization that you haven’t kept track of your grade as closely as you would have liked. Still, I’m always a bit blown away by the questions I receive from students (stay with me, this connects, I swear).
By now, I’m used to students asking to retake exams or resubmit papers. However, I’d never thought much about rounding. That is, until I made the crazy decision to give students the numerical grade they earned, without the aid of any curving or rounding. You would have thought I had invented a new teaching style! This of course got me thinking about the subject of grade inflation, but this is probably not the right forum for that rant 🙂 However, my favorite question of all time was delivered to my inbox this past week. For the purposes of this post, I’ve changed numbers but the principle is the same. A student emailed me to let me know that he read on the syllabus that the cut-off for a B (he read the syllabus…I was pleased!) was 83%. He currently had a grade of 82.4% and was wondering if I’d be rounding up.
OK. STOP. THINK. DO THE MATH. Seriously?!
It took all of the will power I had on that particular day not to unleash my particular brand of sarcasm and ask him to refer back to his elementary math lessons and then decide if he really wanted me to answer that question. I was, of course, polite and professional in responding to let him know that I would in fact not be doing any rounding and he would be receiving the grade he earned. However, this got me thinking about the subject of rounding and how much we “play” with numbers. Its one thing to be out for a run and stop at 15.6 miles when you were supposed to run 16 miles. You were tired, and honestly, the last .4 miles probably wasn’t going to make or break your training plan. However, would the President be content if the unemployment rate was rounded up? Would you be content if the purchase price of your next car or house was rounded up? Would it bother you if the doctor rounded up when you got off the scale or took off the blood pressure cuff (although I’m sure many of us have rounded down when we stepped off the scale ourselves!)? Does a triple get rounded up to a homerun in the World Series?
The fact of the matter is that sometimes the numbers matter and close really isn’t good enough. Close can’t be good enough. Granted, your 5K time may not be that instance (unless you are gunning for a PR of course), but I do think its still worth considering. When it comes to running though, you shouldn’t feel like you need to hide from the truth. The reality is that you are out there, bettering yourself, when so many people are sitting on the couch, rounding up to the next day as they make plans to head outside for a run! Now, please excuse me while I run around the block until my watch hits 10 miles.