Transcript: #MathsTrainsBrains - Steve Solomon with Eddie Woo

 

Watch this video at education.nsw.gov.au/everyday-maths.

Transcript

- Good morning. I'm Eddie Woo. Welcome to Education Live. Today we're at Fort Street High School, and I'm going to be speaking with a bunch of different people from all walks of life, about how mathematics comes into contact with their everyday work and the things that they love. And that's why this morning, I'm so delighted to have the privilege of speaking with Olympic runner, Steve Solomon. Good day, Steve.

- [Steve] God day Eddie.

- Hi mate.

- [Steve] I'm good.

- Thank you so much for joining us. A bit of an elbow bump here. Appreciate that. Thank you so much for joining us and spending some time with us. Now, Steve, you and I, even though people wouldn't normally think of a maths teacher and an Olympic runner having much in common. One of the things which I know comes to me all the time is, Oh, you must've been into maths from, you know, since you were really young and that's how you became a maths teacher. And I think people would assume the same of an Olympic runner, but you weren't always into running. Right?

- That's right. You know, I played all sports growing up, Eddie, and sports was something that I just loved and was passionate about. I played soccer, cricket, tennis, rugby, anything I could. And it was only later in life in high school. And towards the later end of high school that athletics and running really came to be something that I enjoyed, grew a passion for and then was able to turn into a career after school.

- It's amazing. It sort of makes sense that, you know, say for soccer, soccer pitch is massive. You're doing a lot of running just in a normal game. Right? So you already had the fitness and all that kind of thing. Yeah?

- That's right. Everyone knows a little bit about my story of coming really late into the sport. So like while I wasn't a runner growing up playing a lot of sports, I did a lot of running and that all kind of helped culminate to helping me become the runner where I've now enjoyed the last 10 years of representing Australia, which has been the greatest honor and privilege.

- [Eddie] That's amazing. Now, Steve, we did want to talk a bit about math. So I wanted to throw some numbers at you,

- [Steve] Hit me.

- but I'll just say numbers, numbers that do mean a lot to you. So here's one that I understand is kind of bittersweet for you. It's a time actually, and that's four hundreds of a second. This is a time that means a lot to you. Could you explain to us the significance of it?

- I can. So for hundreds of a second is a number that I don't think I'll ever forget. It was the number, the amount of time that I missed out on qualifying for the Rio Olympics by. So, yeah, so to rewind, I was able to place eight in the final of the Olympic games in London as a 19 year old and then four years later at the next Olympics in Rio I was coming back from a hamstring surgery injury. And you know, the way that we qualified for the Olympics at that point in time was by time. So we had to run a certain time and that time was 45.4 seconds for 400 meters.

- Right. And I crossed the line at this race up North in Brisbane and on the clock came up 45.2 seconds when I crossed the line, which is fantastic.

- [Eddie] Fantastic. Yeah.

- That's lower than the 45 40 I'd qualified for the Olympics. And then a couple of moments later that time disappeared on the board and 45 44 appeared.

- Wait a second. So they'd already registered you at 45.2, but then there was this, why was there a change in the time that was recorded for your run?

- Now this is going to sound crazy, Eddie, but you know, we're moving at such speed that the reason that the clock showed 45 two, when I crossed the line was actually my shadow triggered the clock to stop before my body, which is where they measure the...

- That's insane. Of course your shadow is just a teeny bit in front of you.

- Just that little bit in front of me.

- And we're talking about fractions of a second. So because your actual time for your body crossing was 45.44 you say?

- Four four.

- Which is not mean that time and that's why you had to miss out on the 2016 Olympics.

- That's why I know that four hundreds of the seconds and it's such a powerful number to me because it was what ultimately ended up being the difference between representing Australia again at my second Olympics and watching it from my home on the couch.

- Which I'm sure is now a big motivator for you as you head into the future. And I guess that's something I wanted to ask about in terms of being a professional athlete and, you know, continually having training as part of your everyday life. Like what role does mathematics and numbers take in monitoring and performance, knowing where you're at. Could you give us a sense of how, like apart from times, how do you keep track of all that?

- Definitely we use just a lot of numbers throughout sport. You know, one of the big numbers that I use quite on a regular basis is heart rate. So we do a lot of training and we measure how fast our heart's beating and typically the kind of colloquial measure of how fast can your heartbeat what's its maximum heart rate? It's about 220 minus your age. So that's kind of what we work off as professional athletes. And then we work off percentages of that maximum heart rate to tell if we're in different trainings zones. So heart rate's a big one for me.

- [Eddie] Perfect.

- The other modes of maths that we come into, or numbers that we care about in athletics is blood lactate levels. The story behind that is when you're running really fast, your body uses an energy system called the lactic energy system. Have you ever heard of lactic acid maybe, Eddie?

- Yeah. Right. Right. So this is like what's building up in your leg. It's why like your legs burn and they sort of feel like jelly, right? After a point and... cause you run 400 meters. So that's enough time for that lactic buildup to really matter, right?

- That's right.

- How do you measure that? How do the numbers come in.

- So the lactic is the limiting factor in the 400. It's why at the end of the race you're in so much pain and your body can't contract because it's just got so much lactic in it. So what we do is they take a little prick of blood from the ear or one of your fingers after each rep and they can actually measure how much lactic is in your blood at that given point of time. And the reason we do that is because we try and get a sense of understanding and teaching the body that it's okay to have all these byproducts in our system. It's okay to kind of have all this lactic, just learn to relax through it. So that's another one that we keep a close eye on.

- One of the reasons why I was so excited to speak with you, Steve, is that I myself enjoy running. I'm no athlete like you, but I guess that makes a lot of sense of like when you're at pace and your lungs are burning, your whole body sort of screaming at you, telling you, "Stop, rest." So you're talking about trying to train yourself to actually overcome that and become used to it. Is that the idea?

- That's exactly right. You know, running's hard, we all know that running's hard. Running 400 meters is really hard. Doing it really fast makes it even harder. And what we see is the body doesn't like hard things. Typically when something is hard, we kind of shield away from it. But what we're really trying to do on the athletic track is we're trying to tell the body, "No, it's okay. We want to continue to push through this." It's kind of like anything that we're doing and we find hard if we were doing pushups and we get to that point where we don't want to do another pushup. We kind of... It's the body's telling us that we don't really want to do another pushup. We know that we can do it. So we've gotta really force our way through. It's the same thing like I'm doing when I'm running at the later end of the races.

- Fantastic. Now... That is a very loud plane.

- Yeah.

- One of the things which I think we should just sort of go on record and say, it's a bad idea if you are not an athlete to ever compare yourself to an Olympic athlete. I really wanted to get a sense of, you mentioned before 45 seconds roughly that it takes you to run 400 meters. So I thought, "Well, I'd like to get a sense of this." How long would it take me to run 400 meters? So I gave it a go ran around and oval. My time was 92 seconds, which is more than double what it takes you. So maybe if you're home and you've got... get your runners on, give it a go, see how you would compare to Steve. But I thought to myself, okay, 400 meters, roughly 45 seconds. I'm trying to understand the maths of like how many steps you take over that time. Like that's cadence, the rhythm at which you run. Do you know how many strides you normally take over the course of a race?

- Absolutely. It takes me about 170 strides to cover the 400 meters.

- 170 strides, 400 meters. Okay. So I'm trying to crunch the numbers here, right? Now, what that means is those 170 strides over the 45 seconds, if you go at 400 meters, that means every second you're traveling roughly 10 meters. Right? Okay. I want to get a sense of this. So maybe if you could come over here with me, so it 10 meters, I mean my normal step's about one meter.

- Yup.

- So if I count out, one, two, three, four... Get further back. I'm going to get further here. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10. So Steve, where I started which is you are, that's how far you go in one second.

- One second.

- That's insane. Come on back for a second because I'm just thinking about your 170 strides and you do that over 45 seconds. So you're doing probably about four strides across that distance. Cause yeah, 170 divided by 45, that two and a half meters for every single stride. I mean you're tall, but that's crazy. Right? How do you feel, like how does your body feel as you're doing that?

- Definitely. You know, it's something that we teach the body to do. It's not something that I could roll out of bed without training. And that's part of the reason why we try and so hard, is to allow the body to run at that speed and to run at that cadence. To move our legs as quickly as we need to be doing at an Olympic level. So it's a lot to do with the training, Eddie.

- [Eddie] Absolutely.

- And you were talking about heart rate before, right? Your max heart rate must be in the high 190s, is my guess. What's your resting heart rate? Because your heart must be so strong that actually can powerfully pump blood all the time. Do you know what that difference is?

- Definitely. So at rest, kind of in the mornings when I'm waking up my heart rate's around 41 beats per minute.

- 41. That's so low. I guess it's got that power there all the way. Another loud plane. Okay. Now we've talked a bit about your past, your life as an athlete before running, and then what it's like to be an athlete every day. Well, now look forward, you miss out on Rio, but you are on track to head to the Tokyo Olympics next year. And because that got postponed, obviously the coronavirus, I think you've mentioned once that kind of shattered your world. Can you tell us what it's like to now be on the road to prepare for those Olympics?

- Definitely. You know, 2020 is a year that I've been thinking about for the last four years. The agony of missing the Rio Olympic games did ignite this motivation, this fire in me to make sure that I wasn't in that same position that I was in 2016 and make sure that I was qualified safely, comfortably, and really preparing to win a medal at the Tokyo games. So for the last four years, I've really been training for this year, knowing that this was going to be the thing that I think about every day when I'm awake and even again at night when I'm asleep. So with this year, obviously the coronavirus has meant that the Olympics has been postponed. What that really means for me is making sure that the plan that I had for the last three years we can modify and tweak to make sure that it's still relevant for the 12 months time when the Olympics will go ahead in 2021. So at the moment I'm still training six days a week, Eddie, I do three to four running sessions a week, two to three gym sessions a week, a Pilates session, a pool session, a bike session, a rowing session. So we're training really hard at the moment. I'll tell you one nice thing about training in the coronavirus period is the pressure's off a little bit. One of the things about being a professional athlete and competing so often is you're always being measured against your very best time. And you're always being measured against the very best other athletes in the world. So at the moment when there's no races going on, it is a chance for us to really just focus on the training, enjoy the training, have fun with the training and make sure that we have the amount of energy and motivation to continue us through for another year of brutal training ahead of the Tokyo games next year.

- I guess it's a bit of a silver lining that with the competition's a little bit sort of on the low down now. You can have that focus on just you as a runner. You kind of have to run your own race, right? Now, just to sort of to bring things to a close, you're the co-captain of team Australia. I always love sitting in my living room and sort of standing up as the race goes and getting to cheer on all the different athletes in every different sport. How can we at home be supporting the team in what they're achieving, especially as we head to Tokyo?

- It's a great question. For the next 12 months, and even further, and especially at the games, all support and communication is just adored by us athletes. There used to be a thing called Telstra Hero Messages, where you could send the Olympians a message. I'm not sure if that's still going to be the case next year, but we have now got other ways to contact athletes. There's Instagram, there's Twitter, there's Facebook, just send a DM, send a good luck message. It means like such a world to us athletes. And then the other thing that you can do is continue to build on the legacy that we're able to provide at the time of the Olympic games. And that's just enjoy sport. Get out there, stay active, find something that you enjoy, find your passions, Do a lot of different things. Cause you might be like me, you might find yourself not watching the Olympics in 2021 and then find yourself in the Olympic final four years later. So you just never know, enjoy sport, enjoy staying active, and make sure you keep supporting the Olympians by sending them lots of messages through the social media channels.

- That's amazing. Steve, thank you so much for your time. I think everyone out there can learn a lot from your journey through especially sort of how flexible you've been in realizing the opportunities you have at your disposal and also just enjoying sport. Like you said, all the way through your life. It's such a huge part of Australian culture. Steve, thanks again for your time, and hope you guys all enjoyed our little chat. Have a good one.

- Thanks, Eddie.