How do you know someone is a runner?  Don’t worry they will tell you. I will close out the blogging year on a lighter note than normal linking the topics of functional safety and marathon running and offering proof of my opening line.

Legend has it the first marathon was run by Pheidippides and that he died after running from the site of the battle of marathon to Athens to announce victory over the Persians. Therefore, some one could argue that marathon running isn’t safe, and a functional safety guy shouldn’t run marathons. However, I know one guy in a safety working group who is into cave diving which makes marathon running look very safe by comparison. There are several other guys on the IEC 61508 committee who run marathons and ultra-marathons. I have noticed a higher than expected number of engineers and computer people who run marathons, perhaps the same traits of persistence and not wanting to let something beat you that many engineers have is also useful for marathon training. At least none of the safety guys I know smoke or if they do, they hide it well.

Figure 1 - me at around mile 17 of the Limerick marathon some years ago

(I’m not winning but that is the 4-hour pacing group packing chasing me)

How marathon running is related to functional safety:

  • Both date back a long way – marathon running to the battle of marathon in 490 BC and safety to the laws of Hammurabi published around 1754 BC (see especially law 53 related to faulty dams and law 229 related to poor workmanship by a builder)
  • Both require a long-term plan and adherence to the plan
  • Both need to be able to cope with deviations from plan whether through injuries or an unforeseen failure mode coming to light
  • Both have a final exam – race day for the marathon runner and an external or customer assessment for functional safety. In either case no matter how well you have prepared things can go wrong. In theory you don’t have to run in an official race to prove you can do the distance, nor do you have to get you product externally assessed but external validation is a great motivator
  • Both need a careful assessment of any tools on which you depend (e.g. good runners and personally I like ASICs Gel Cumulus)
  • Both take a long time and you have to pace yourself. Move too fast and you may just fail to finish.
  • Reliability is important for both but not sufficient (good knees will take you only so far)
  • Systematic integrity is often the most common cause of failure for both – if you are born with poor knees or ankles perhaps cycling or swimming might be a better option
  • In both experience is important
  • For both a lot of training helps
  • Both face up hill and downhill sections

Figure 2 - Planning for functional safety and marathon running has parallels

Long distance runs are also a great time to think about functional safety problems. When your brain gets bored you would be surprised what pops into it.

Figure 3 - A motivation poster applicable to both functional safety and marathon running

If runs came with a SIL we might have something like this

SIL 0 – 5k, 10k

SIL 1 – half marathon

SIL 2 – full marathon and 50k

SIL 3 – a 100k or 100-mile races, the Sparathon (250k), Western states 100, UTMB

SIL 4 – The Barkley marathons,  Self-Transcendence 3100, The Badwater ultramarathon

This year I ran two full marathons and a 50k so nothing at the SIL 3 level. I had intended a 3rd marathon last week but it was cancelled. However, I have done SIL 3 in the past and therefore feel comfortable enough with the SIL 2 running.

In my role as functional safety person for our industrial products I travel a lot and it can be a challenge to keep up a training schedule. However, I have arrived home from Japan at 9 PM in the evening and completed a marathon the following morning. However, I have also seen an accomplished runner carried off by ambulance after arriving in on the Boston flight at 6 AM and running a marathon at 9 AM. If travelling long haul within 48 hours of a marathon, business class can make getting in and out of your seat a lot easier.

If travelling by yourself marathon training can also be a great way to pass the earlier part of the evening. Here is some advice:

  • Use Google maps to help choose a hotel with lots of footpaths so you don’t end up running circles of the car park
  • Choose a hotel with a 24-hour gym especially if travelling in the US where us Europeans are awake from 3 AM
  • Buy a pair of jet-black runners (ASICs Gel Cumulus have such a colour) that you can use for running but also under your work day pants in the evening and nobody will notice. It saves on the packing. 
  • Black runners also mean you can re-cycle the black socks you wore yesterday at meetings for your morning run. You have to pack smart to fit in the extra running gear.
  • Buy a running watch such as the Garmin Forerunner 235 with the ability to take you back to the start – this is handy if you get lost or you phone hasn’t a lot of charge.
  • Don’t put your room key and you phone in the same pocket.
  • Buy a pair of shorts with good pockets so you can carry your phone and room key.
  • Put Euro 10 of the local currency in your phone case in the event you get lost and need to take a taxi or a subway home.
  • Check before you go to see, do you need a hat, sunglasses, sun cream or mosquito spray? If you do you will need to buy the travel sizes if not checking your bag.
  • Don’t skimp on your stretches because you are away from home.
  • If tight for time don’t be afraid to split your run between morning and evening with 3 miles in the morning and 3 in the evening still being 6 miles.
  • Ask hotel reception for suggested running routes. Some hotels have them some don’t.
  • If you get a bad feeling about an area you have entered on a run turn around and go back or move swiftly along.
  • If possible, run outside as it might be the only chance you get to see the location – don’t be too pushed about your time on these sightseeing runs.
  • Be careful crossing the road as traffic might be coming from an unexpected direction.
  • As you get tired be extra sure to look the right way before crossing the road especially if the locals drive on a different side to at home.

 Finally, a video, I often use this one at the start of a functional safety training session. It is from Marathon man with Dustin Hoffman. He could be discussing an external assessment.

Another good running film to watch over the Christmas holidays is “Run Fat Boy Run”. If you want to be really inspired at what humans can accomplish I like this video which shows the 24 hour and 30 hour finishers at the class Western status run and have a look at the “Barkley marathons” (the documentary on it used to be available on Netflix and may still be) if you want to see some of the crazy things us humans will attempt.  

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