Algebra enjoys an uncomplicated relationship with running.
For example, Erik Reitinger averages a mile pace of 6:38, and he runs for three hours, 18 minutes and 49 seconds. Solve for x, the amount of miles he covered during his win in March’s unsanctioned race around Manhattan’s perimeter organized by Orchard Street Runners.
The back-to-back OSR30 champion teaches algebra at Brownsville Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, where he brings a competitive record to the front of the classroom. In 2013, Reitinger swam, biked and ran at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, the most famous triathlon event. He stood on the podium at Ironman Lake Placid the following year with a third-place overall finish, aided by a 7:23 pace during the marathon portion.
He devotes more of his time these days to the whiteboard.
“Before, that drive and that determination was specifically targeted at racing and training, and Ironmans,” he says. “Now, it’s targeted really toward my kids, the commitment to becoming the best educator I can be.”
That’s not to say he’s abandoned a win-first mentality, as the OSR30 proves. But Reitinger says the act of running has shifted slightly and perceptibly — a stride or two away from strict competition and toward building a community and connections.
“It’s brought a lot more meaning to my everyday life, being able to run around the city I live in and really get to know New York City on a ground-up basis.”
That renewal finds an application in school as well.
“I always try to bring something of my personal life to the classroom,” he says. “Kids are aware that, oh this guy used to run Ironmans. I find that it builds their teacher up as an actual person who has real-life activities outside of being their teacher, and on some level, gets them excited to do these things on their own.”
Reitinger moved into a hands-on role to stoke that motivation this past spring in his first season as the Brownsville track coach. Students who don’t consider themselves athletes still receive a dose of running in his class though. For instance, a graph for a math problem might show Reitinger’s splits from recent races.
With homeroom in the morning plus plentiful afternoon activities and meetings, Reitinger says he typically stays at school from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. That means he spends his nights on the streets of New York, particularly after a difficult week. Happy hour at the bar doesn’t hold as much appeal on a Friday night as the winding route to the Queensboro Bridge.
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“It’s a way of recentering myself after that long week of being in front of adolescents —all the challenges and joys,” Reitinger says. “That’s my reset: 15, 18, 20 miles.”
As for any overlaps between his two passions, Reitinger sidesteps the easy analogy of homework as the practice and tests as the race. Running and teaching share a more visceral bond.
“Both of those things require so much emotional and physical investment,” he says. “The people who are running and the people who are teaching — you know that both of those groups genuinely love what they’re doing.”