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Proving math is good for endurance sports

By Carol Clark | April 10, 2012

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Theoretical math and endurance exercise go together like paper and pencil, says math professor Ken Ono. "Each activity makes me better at the other."

Some people run from their problems. Emory math professor Ken Ono runs with his.

"I do the bulk of my creative research when I’m outdoors, running or cycling, and free of other obligations," says Ono, who studies long-standing problems in number theory. "Exercise clears my mind. That’s when I can really get down to the nature of a problem."

While Ono’s mind is getting down to math, his heart is getting pumped up. At 44, he has been named to Team USA for his age group by the USA Triathlon Federation. On May 19, Ono will be competing in the 2012 International Triathlon Union Cross Triathlon World Championships in Pelham, Alabama.

"I’m not going to win," Ono says, calculating his odds, "but I’m excited to compete against the best in the world, wearing the red-white-and-blue."

Set in Alabama’s Oak Mountain State Park, the triathlon involves a 1,500-meter swim across a lake, a 19-mile mountain-biking trail and a 10-kilometer cross-country run.

"Maybe it was a mid-life crisis," Ono says, when asked what possessed him to try out for a spot in the competition last year, his first triathlon. "Some people buy sports cars."

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