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The random run theory of economics
This newsletter was first published on Patreon on 7 February 2022
I went for a run! On Thursday, I managed 20 minutes without any back pain, which was great. But I’d done that a few weeks ago. The real test - in my two-month injury saga, in case you haven’t been totally gripped - would be the next run. Could I run again, just two days later, for 30 minutes?
The answer was an emphatic yes. And with zero back pain. Hallelujah! I don’t want to tempt fate yet and say that I’m cured, but the signs are looking good.
It’s hard to know what exactly has fixed me, as I’ve had Joe Kelly prodding me, twisting me, torturing me with some muscle activation, and wrapping me up with super-strong kinesiology tape. I also took two weeks off running completely, so it could have simply been the rest.
But more and more I’ve been focussing in on my Feldenkrais sessions with Jae Gruenke. After each session (or lesson, as they’re technically called) I can feel something somewhere in my body shift, and even just walking around afterwards I feel more solid and less glitchy. Sometimes the change is clear, like a twinge in the top of my right foot when I twisted my body to the right - not a serious pain, but always there - is now completely gone. And sometimes it’s a more subtle change, such as the sense that, just when standing still, my feet are making a more even contact with the ground, rather than having more of my weight in my heels, and more weight in one foot.
So my sense is that Jae’s patient help has been a key factor in my recovery. Even when it felt like it wasn’t working, about a week ago, and the pain had simply shifted around to my side, she calmly told me that this was a good sign, and to stick with the lessons, that she knew what the problem was and that we would get there. I liked the fact that she was also open to treating me in tandem with Joe, who was able to actually feel my back, and test my movements in real life - since Jae is based in California, all my sessions with her have been virtual.
Both Jae and Joe were also intrigued by a gait analysis I did a few years ago with a woman called Helen Hall, who has written a book called Even With Your Shoes On, and who was a recent guest on Rangan Chatterjee’s excellent podcast. Helen spent about four hours scanning my gait, head to toe, on her 3D body scanner, and found a small kink in the way my back moved even then, three years ago. She gave me some Anatomy In Motion movements to do, but, alas, not being actually injured, I did what almost every amateur runner ever has done when faced with daily exercises to help improve his running gait - I soon forgot about them.
The theory we have all come up with, Jae, Joe and I, is that this kink limited my body’s lateral rotation, which was fine (sort of) until I started playing football with my son during lockdown, and stressing it a little more than usual.
And the kink in my back’s rotation comes from a movement pattern I must have adopted at some point in my life - probably (and again, we only theorise) as a result of me breaking my wrist multiple times, leading to me changing my movements to avoid using my left wrist/hand unnecessarily.
The body is a complex and mysterious thing, and so perhaps all of this is nonsense, but whatever the reasons and process, I seem to be getting there.
It’s all a bit like economics theory, my brother tells me.
A economics lecturer at Kobe University in Japan, my brother says economics is known as the dismal science, because it’s almost always wrong. And he said he was laughing when he saw my 30-minute run on Strava on Saturday.
He says economists look at data to detect information that can help predict future events. And he said my run was a mighty fine example of the Random Walk pattern, a situation where for some unknown reason all the models fail and something completely random happens.
I was visiting my parents in Northampton where I grew up, and they live opposite a park I must have run around 10,000 times. But my brother says that if he had analysed all of those previous runs, the 30-minute run I did on Saturday, around the same park, would have been impossible to predict.
I ran paths I’ve never run, I took strange back and forth sections, and I skipped out all the usual bits. What the hell was going on, he wanted to know, shaking his head in dismay. The only explanation in economics is the Random Walk model, in which unexplainable forces prompt unexpected actions.
The funny thing is, and this made him smile even more (and perhaps I’ll form part of a ground-breaking economics theory one day), I could explain, afterwards, every single part of the run. And almost every turn had a reason.
I started with a particular loop in mind, chosen because it was short and flat; flat as I was worried that hills might aggravate my back, and small so that if I had to stop, I didn’t have far to walk home, since it was bloody freezing.
But then, on the second loop, coming to a particularly narrow section, I saw a mother and child coming towards me on the path ahead, while to the left there was a lovely wide path through a tunnel of trees, so I took that option. That led me around on a slightly different loop, which just happened to bring me back to the start after exactly 2km. Well, my plan was to run 5km, so I did those two loops again, and then to make up the last km, I headed up a road I used to run along with my running club every Tuesday night as a teenager, and so I decided to grab myself a sweet dollop of nostalgia while I was out. This little detour brought me back to the finish, as planned, at exactly 5km. But my back still wasn’t hurting, which was so exciting that I did one more small loop, just because I could.
So you see, it wasn’t so random if you had access to the inside of my head. I’m sure there’s a lesson for the world’s banking systems in that.
Picture of the week
Unfortunately I have almost no photographs of me running as a teenager, but here’s one I found at my parents’ house this weekend. I’m in the red shorts and black vest (and red socks!), and this was a 1500m race at Birmingham Alexander Stadium in about 1990 (so I was about 16 or 17). I'm impressed with my elegant running form - I wish it looked like that in photos of me running now!