Do you speak in miles or kilometers?

I recently realized that I have a first language when it comes to understanding running, and I’m very weak in my second language. My first language is in miles and my weaker language is in kilometers.

I developed as a runner with a sense of pace and what various distances meant (in terms of runs and weekly mileage) at University. While there, we all spoke the same language: Miles. We talked about pace in minutes per mile and we tallied up our daily and weekly mileage in miles. Over those four years and beyond, I only ever thought in those terms and understood inherently what each number represented. I liken it to understanding temperature in Celsius as opposed to Fahrenheit. If you tell me it’s 14C out and I need to run 8 miles at 7:30/mile pace, I get it. If you tell me it’s 57F and I need to run 12 km at 4:39/km I have to enter all the calculations online and do the conversions (which I just did) in order to understand.

Normally I don’t have a problem with not being bilingual in my running. I’ve become fairly good at doing conversions in my head so that I can understand people who are speaking in kilometers. However, recently I miscalculated. You see my coach provides my training schedule in kilometers. Every day I read what I’m supposed to do in kilometers, I go out and run it in miles, and then I report back in kilometers. You’d think I’d adapt, and so would I, but I always tend to revert back to my first language. The other day I had a long run to do of max 24 kilometers. No problem. Quick calculations in my head: 6 x 4 = 24, 8 x 3 = 24, 6 x 3 = 18 ; therefore I should run 18 miles. (I actually have no idea how I came up with 18 miles when it should have been 15 – it was Saturday morning – give me a break!)

On top of my miscalculation, my GPS watch (which by the way, also records my distance in miles) was not linking up because it was raining, so I set out on an estimation of distance. At about what I figured was 11 miles, I thought to myself, “wow, 7 miles to go. I’m usually so close to home at this point!” But I was feeling good, so off I set on another 7 mile loop. It was in the middle of this loop that it dawned on me (when you’re running for 2+ hours you have time to think about simple math problems): “24 kilometers is only 15 miles!” By that point I was committed however. In reviewing my route it turned out that I actually ran 19 miles (30.5 kilometers, for the record).

They say the best time to learn a new language is when you’re young, which unfortunately I am no longer. I may pick up on running in kilometers one day, but for now I think I’d rather brush up on my math.