Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Running After Schrödinger's Cat

Last week I started training for my next marathon in four and a half months time. The first month will consist of hill training and strength workouts (a lot of stomach and glutes work) and then I'll start my serious running with three months to go.

I find the hill training incredibly hard. I set a 30-minute hill programme on the treadmill in my local gym that I cannot complete and every week I try and do an extra minute or an extra hill before I collapse. The aim is to build up my strength slowly and by the end of six weeks or so I can finish it.

This morning I was able to complete 22 minutes of the 30-minute hill programme, by this afternoon my leg muscles (quads and glutes specifically) were still aching. And that is when I had my small philosophical break through:

Running can explain the theory of Schrödinger’s cat and quantum physics.

First, the confession. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent guy who can get to grips with most theories and philosophical concepts in popular culture. I understand “Ockham’s Razor” and I can even bluff my way through a little discussion on Plato and the "Theory of Forms". But when it comes to Schrödinger’s cat in quantum physics I feel like a five year old trying to drive a car.

For those that don’t know Schrödinger’s cat is a way of illustrating (or disproving, depending on your point of view) the concept in quantum physics that “a particle exists in all states at once until observed”. Physicist Erwin Schrödinger created a thought experiment with a cat in a sealed box with some poison. In theory the cat is both alive and dead at the same time as long as the box remains sealed and is only alive or dead once the box is opened and you can look into the box. (For a more comprehensive explanation of the mind experiment click here).

This never made sense to me - that is until this afternoon and I was feeling my poor aching muscles.

Following hill training my muscles are weaker. For the couple of hours, and possibly even days, after a particularly grueling work out if I tried to do the same hill training I would be slower and be able to do considerably less than the 22 minutes I have been able to do so far. But I am also aware that following a hard work out I will become faster after a while.

This evening as I type this blog post my leg muscles are like Schrödinger’s cat in the box. I do not know if they are weaker or stronger than they were 24 hours ago. I don’t know if I would be able to run less or more than 22 minutes if I stepped on to the treadmill and attempted my hill programme. I feel my legs are both weaker and stronger at the same time. It's as if I’ve finally grasped the famous thought experiment because I’ve taken it out of the classroom and can literally feel it physically.

The next time I go to the gym, I will discover if my legs are weaker or stronger. I will be the scientist lifting the lid on the sealed box and finding out if the cat is alive or dead.

(The picture today is of a cute cat I found on the internet... Aside from a vague link to the blog post it is a blatant attempt to attract more readers).