Yesterday I ran my second 5 kilometer running race in about 7 years, causing me to contemplate the difference between causation and correlation. It was Bear Paw 5K causation or correlation?Classic inEagle River, Alaska (USA), the last day of my week vacation in Anchorage. Eagle River is a small town about 20 minutes north of Anchorage. My sister-in-law suggested I run it, practically driving me to Skinny Raven Sports (the local running/athletic store) to register, so we (my wife, her sister, our daughter and our daughter’s two cousins) could spend the day at the race, parade, renaissance festival and associated activities.

Come Saturday morning, however, one of my nieces had an upset stomach, and my wife and her sister were exhausted from spending hours waiting for the new Harry Potter book to be released atmidnight the night prior. My sister-in-law, Laurel, had subsequently pulled an “all-nighter” reading the entire book and finishing just minutes before we were supposed to leave for the race.

Needless to say, I left for the race alone. But I was looking forward to it as it was the second 5K race I had run in years. When my wife and I moved to Connecticut to work for GE Capital, work took over my life and I had little time for running and racing. I used to enjoy races as a way to test my fitness, build motivation and get in some speed work, so I’m trying that tactic again for getting back in shape. The week prior I ran the July 4th Bainbridge Island, WA (USA) 5K in a time of 21 minutes and 32 seconds so I was hoping for a RPR (recent personal record…my all-time PR is a 16:30 — many, many years ago — and now I’m just happy when I don’t get a stomach cramp during the run!).

causation or correlation, racing singlet versus t-shirt(Here comes the causation and correlation thought). As I lined up at the starting line, I had thought I should get close to the front of the race so I wouldn’t be trampled in the stampede at the start of the race. As I looked around I noticed that there was a difference in the way those at the front of the pack and those further back were dressed. Those in the front were wearing only racing singlets while many of those further back wore the race day t-shirts (the free t-shirts you get when you register for the race).

Assuming that those in the front were the “fast” racers (myself excluded), I couldn’t help but think: could racing singlets cause the “fast” runners to run fast? Or conversely, could race-day t-shirts cause those runners further back at the starting line to run slower? Or was it just a correlation (some relationship) between the factors? — like perhaps those who run fast usually want to ensure that they’re wearing a form fitting, breatheable racing top versus a cotton t-shirt?

Truth be told, if racing singlets or a lack of race-day t-shirts really caused people to run faster, I would have finished much faster than my 19:59 final time. Instead, I finished with a small stomach cramp and in second place to Harry Potter.

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