For the past few days, a colleague of mine has been working on a Rubik’s Cube that we keep in the toy box for noisy or mischievous children (or both). He’s managed to make one side a solid color, but the other five are proving to be both elusive and difficult. I’ve toyed with it some too, but have encountered the same difficulties that stifled his efforts. One step forward feels like two steps back. Speaking of which, since this iconic toy is housed in a running shop, it seems fitting to study the parallels between the cube and my favorite cardiovascular activity of choice. What, if any, are the similarities between a Rubik’s Cube and running?
The first similarity I see is mental toughness. Solving a Rubik’s Cube the right way (more on this later) requires great patience and perseverance. Every turn deeply matters as it brings the puzzle solver closer to completion; an incorrect turn, however, can undo significant progress and lead to backtracking and revision. As a runner with an affinity for longer distances like the marathon, patience is a bedrock principle for the training process. Patience is mandatory for the days (or weeks) when an injury surfaces; patience is essential when running is pursued for the purpose of losing weight; and patience is vital at the start of a race when everyone else bolts off the line. Patience leads to even splits (or a negative split) and a strong finish time. In short, patience is paramount.
A second similarity between the Rubik’s Cube and running is that both are a strategic puzzle. The cube seems self-explanatory as the end result is to create a solid color on each side. Achieving that is certainly easier said than done. Running too is complex as there are numerous considerations to keep in mind. Injuries, for instance, are one of the most difficult puzzles to solve as a pain in the lower body can be traced back to old shoes, muscle tightness, pronation tendencies, or even a previous injury that hasn’t been adequately addressed. Furthermore, I’ve come to the realization that pain in one area of the body may only be symptomatic of the actual troubled spot (e.g. a painful IT band may stem from tightness in the hip flexors).
Nutrition and hydration are two other sides of the running puzzle. Should you eat bars, gels, chews, or beans during runs? That depends on caloric needs and the length and intensity of your run (or race). And what of hydration? Is water sufficient, or should electrolytes be incorporated too? Weather will further steer this conversation and simultaneously provide some insight for one more vexing puzzle for runners: what to wear.
Though there are others, a third and final connection between running and the Rubik’s Cube concerns cheating. Concerning the cube, I glanced the headlines of a few articles and discovered that many websites have detailed diagrams to help people solve the cube much quicker than what might take hours on end. One commenter at the end of one of the “cheat sheet” articles had this to say though: “Solving the Rubik’s Cube with good old-fashioned brain power is the only satisfying way to solve it.” Well put.
The prevalence of cheating in running has existed for many years like that of other sports, but it has seemingly come under greater scrutiny in the last five. Speaking of scrutiny, the prestigious Boston Marathon ended only a few days ago, and a week prior to this historic race, I came across a Runner’s World article about 47 suspected cheaters who entered the 2015 race by bib swapping, course cutting, recruiting a “bib mule,” or submitting fake results at their qualifying marathon. Cheaters damage the integrity of our sport – and everyone loses.
Like the famed Rubik’s Cube, running can be a tricky puzzle. It’s one worth solving though. Running can be maddening and hard and tedious, much like every new turn of the cube. But it is richly rewarding too. When every turn is one in the right direction, the run feels more effortless. Or so it seems. Consider this word by Baron de Coubertin: “The essential thing in life is not so much conquering as fighting well.”
This remark seems appropriate in light of the difficulty of solving a Rubik’s Cube as the task is a daunting one. I may not conquer every run or race – or the Cube – but I like to believe that I’m fighting well by doing all that I can to ensure that the outcome is as solid as it can be. Running is a puzzle, but when all of the pieces are in the right place – when all of the turns are correct – the result is fantastic. The final product is colorful and right and grand.