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12/21/08: Milestones and a Solstice

Posted by DaveVause on Dec 21, 2008 3:50:46 AM

yesterday:  22.25 miles

week: 35.25 miles


I'm beginning his piece an hour before the 2008 winter solstice.  As a morning runner, I can start looking forward to seeing dawn during my run.


I ran my long run yesterday in anticipation of the ugly winter's weather that has arrived this morning.  I ran it at Lake Artemesia on the Paint Branch Trail through the University of Maryland campus and to the north.  A 7.5 mile out-and-back, I ran it 3 times.


It was a grey day, grey clouds, grey trees, brown grass.  Breezy and 35 F, the windchill must have been around 30 F.


Two days prior, on a treadmill in my home gym, I passed 1000 miles on the year on mile 4 of an 8 mile run.  I don't think I've ever run 1000 miles in a year.  This was despite 14 weeks' of no running do rest my plantar fascia.  1000 miles does not mean much in the pursuit of a Boston qualifying time, but in our numerically-focused civilization, one can't let it come and go without notice.


I'm used to shorter loops on my long runs.  They are variously 1.25, 1.4 or 3.0 mile loops around lakeside strolling trails or my neighborhood.  The mental experience of Paint Branch Trail is very different.  Going north of campus, it gets much more isolated.  A shorter look brings the psychological support of repeatedly seeing people out enjoying the park, working in their yards, or even driving to and from errands.  On a 7.5 mile loop, repeated three times, you see no one twice.  North of the campus, in the woods, the runner becomes completely, anonymously, alone.  On my first loop this bothered me.  On the second and third loops, celebrating the increasing awareness of just how strong I was running, my awareness of isolation vanished.  Last quarter of the 3rd loop got pretty hard.  I found myself asking rhetorically: "Why does it always have to get so hard?"


Truth of the matter is, if you get really tired on your long run, you're probably running too fast.  Saturday was windy and cold.  My pace was probably a bit fast for me, but comfortably fast.  I held it for 20 or so miles with no problems, but then it caught up with me in the last mile or two.  I no longer supplement during the run to train my metabolism to use more fat as a source of energy while running at higher speeds.  I don't believe I've ever run quite that far without gels or Gatorade. 


While in college as a zoology student, I became convinced that human physical and psychic health are greatly dependent on living a life style that most mimicked the conditions and habits that under which humans evolved.  Medical, nutritional, and exercise science has largely confirmed this hunch.  The current popular belief that "it takes a village" to provide the necessary emotional support for raising our young and caring for our elderly also argues in favor of this notion.  Running not only provides the exercise for which humans are most optimized from an evolutionary stand point.  It also re-introduces the runner to the daily and seasonal rhythm of nature.  Some believe this external support for our own circadian rhythms is a necessary component of human psychological health.


I was able to catch glimpses of several of the more unusual local birds while running through the woods for such a long run.  Along the streams, a large heron stalked fish in the cold shallow.  There's a section of woods that were decimated in a tornado in 2001.  One sees fully mature trees with all large branches ripped from them by the winds.  There are also many insect-laden dead trees, still standing.  Among these, two large red-headed wood peckers flitted about on each of my loops through that part of the woods.  Finally, near Lake Artemesia, a large hawk screeched from a tree top as I finished the last lap.  While a zoology student at Florida in 1974, I was consciously very close to the fauna on campus around me.  That consciousness has receded greatly with the years.  The hours I spend outdoors doing 35 to 45 miles per week are bringing this consciousness back.  I think this is also an ingredient of psychological health.

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