Athleticism as the driving engine of positive health outcomes

She turns slightly as she faces the mirror, flexing her shoulder muscles, their underlying contours sharply defined on her now lean, lithe, muscular body. A hint of a smile crosses her face, she is pleased with what she sees. The work outs have been hard, but she can see the progress.

I look at her and see an athlete. The mirrors in the fitness center might have been placed there to ensure one is executing a lift with proper form, but the athletes therein know that the mirrors are there for posing. An athlete is concerned about their body, their appearance. They come to view their body as something that has to be cared for physically. The athlete learns from their performance, their sense of energy, that the type of fuel which goes into the machine matters. The athlete comes to care about nutrition. Their joy in their body form leads from working out to eating right which leads to improved health outcomes.

Marlin working out
Marlin working out

Micronesia is wracked by non-communicable diseases. Here in the FSM the 30% rate of diabetes in the adult population, the 80% to 90% of the population with body mass index over 25, is particularly devastating. Lives cut short, lives lived with horribly reduced quality of life. Kidney failure, dialysis, amputations, and death. As the Pacific Island Health Officers Association declared, this is the equivalent a natural disaster, a very real health emergency.

Yet the approach to solutions is typically health, nutrition, and maybe then fitness in that order. The largest health insurer in the nation pours money into health – treating the disease. As an insurance entity the insurer seems unable to grapple with the inevitability of the future collapse of a health insurance model that focuses on treating disease instead of preventing disease. There are too many with disease to be supported by the few who are healthy.

The insurer currently is responding to the crisis by raising rates, but eventually the rates rise to levels that the healthy are no longer will to pay. At some point the healthy members opt out, take the risk of being uninsured and paying their own way medically, and the company becomes fiscally insolvent. The health insurer disappears in sea of red ink.

Other organizations focus on nutrition and eating right. Some entities have been engaged in nutrition education for decades out here. Decades during which the national diabetes health profile has gotten worse, not better. These programs sound good, look good on paper, might even feel good, and ultimately have no substantive impact. Behaviors are not changed.

Shanalin working out
Shanalin working out

Only the athlete makes long term behavioral changes in their diet and moves on to positive health outcomes. First comes fitness, then comes dietary choice changes, and the result is health. The current approach focuses money on health, then diet, and a few crumbs are tossed to fitness and sport. Even the Compact funding is primarily in education (K-12) and health – with health being primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment-of-disease health care. Compact health sector funding might fund a hospital but never a fitness center nor a gym nor a track.

Shot on goal by Tristan
Shot on goal by Tristan

Yet only only money poured into fitness, exercise, and sport will make any long term lasting difference. Only fitness can save lives and improve the quality of life in the long haul.

What would a national plan look like that put fitness and physical exercise first? Significant, if not massive, increases in funding sport-supporting facilities, sports councils, active support for entities such as SHIP-HOOPS sports programs, and the FSM NOC. Funding at the state and national level for indoor fitness centers in each state, maintenance of existing facilities such as tracks, tennis courts, gymnasiums, and pools. An insurance program that incorporates incentives for a physically active life style. Partnerships between insurers such as MiCare, fitness centers, and facilities owners/operators. For example, the existence and continued operation of a swimming pool or publicly accessible track should be viewed as a benefit to an insurer such as MiCare; lack of maintenance of that facility should be seen as a loss.

Improved health care and health care facilities that focus on treatment will not reduce the disease burden. Increased nutrition education will not lead to changes in dietary choices that are contributing to the disease burden. Increased athleticism will lead to individuals making healthier dietary choices as they choose to value their physique. The result will be improved future health profiles.

Reading books

A quarter century ago I often kept a book around, sometimes lugging the book around and catching a page or two on a city bus or commuter train. Moving to Micronesia meant that I could not wander into a book store, rummage the shelves, and find a book of interest. Occasionally the library would acquire a book of interest to me, or more rarely I would request that a particular text be acquired, but these were rare events.

My taste in books is both eclectic and not best seller. Books on statistics, physics, and running tend to hold my interest – genres that even the largest bookstores would carry in limited selection only. By the turn of the century Amazon had come into existence and provided a potential option. The books I preferred, however, were often hardback, expensive, and shipping to these islands always carries a probability of loss. Not to mention that once here, books decay in the heat and humidity. There is no building up of a personal library in the equatorial tropics.

Back in September 2014 I upgraded from a Nokia Asha feature cell phone to an LG Android smart cell phone. A trip in October caused me to add a Kindle app and a book to read on the long flight, with little thought to use beyond the one journey.

Although the LG is a small screen relative to the size of a book or a monitor, I was pleasantly surprised at the readability. In 1999 Bill Hill wrote at length about the “magic of reading,” bringing together research on ludic reading, Optimized Serial Pattern Recognition (OSPREY), and generating the immersive flow that accompanies reading at length for pleasure. The paper delved into fonts and screen resolution.

In 1980 computer monitor resolutions were too low to support fonts, let alone sustained reading for pleasure. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced screens with resolutions that could support fonts. By the 1990s increasing monitor resolutions suggested that screens would eventually equal the resolution of print products. I recall being in conversations about whether screens could or would replace the printed book. As an over-generalization, older readers felt that screens would never generate the flow and magic of books.

The rise of social media after the turn of the century caused an ever increasing number of people to spend significant time reading via a monitor. By 2015 reading done from a screen around campus clearly dominated reading from a book.

The Kindle book on the LG was a one off experiment for the purpose of a long flight, I did not expect that I would find readability and flow on the small LG screen. Once I discovered that I could enjoy a book on my cell phone, I continued to read after I returned.

The books were not free, but each cost less than a single night of stone sakau. Reading only happens in the interstitial moments between other daily tasks, thus a single book can last me a month. That makes reading a less expensive habit than weekend sakau, a definition of affordability for me.

Books in Kindle
Kindle shelf

Reading on the cell returns the ability to spontaneously grab a page or two of reading here or there. While waiting for a meeting to start, or in a bank line, or while sitting in the car waiting for the shoppers to finish shopping. No need to lug around a book, I have a small library tethered to my hip. I carry my books even when I am running, they do not slow me down.

I was looking at the shelf today and thinking that thought that so many educators have thought before me: doesn’t this change everything? Is this not a change on the scale of the Gutenberg press making possible school text books?

I do not know where technology may take education, I only know that after a quarter century I am reading regularly again. Technology has again changed my habits and my personal quality of life, in this case enriching life on a small rock in the Pacific ocean.

Founding Day 2015

College of Micronesia-FSM Founding Day 2015 on Pohnpei was themed “Improving Learning Through a Cultural Lifestyle.” Ultimately the day is one on which the students have the opportunity to celebrate diversity and the unique cultures of Micronesia.

Kosrae culture since the late 1800s has been interwoven with the culture of the missionary Congregationalist church. One hundred years ago the Baldwin sisters still had their female students wearing Mother Hubbard style dresses. Over the years the church dress has evolved and changed. From left to right are dress styles that range from the 1960s to the present day. One of the changes that is less apparent is the choice of fabrics. Dresses were primarily plain colored cotton, now they are synthetic prints.

The Kosrae float would take first place in the float competition. This year the founding day working group opted not to attempt to judge the dancing and performances, a decision that I consider to be a wise one. Judging the dances and performances is fraught with difficulties and challenges both artistic and cultural. The float rubric was reported to be a simplified version of that used two years ago. This year I opted not to join the founding day working group, I also deflected an inquiry as to whether I wanted to head up the judging.


The Kosraean dress on the left is unusual. The fabric is a tie dyed fabric that would likely have become available in the 1970s. The style of the dress also suggests that the dress is from that era. The dress is evidence of the influence on Kosraean fashion of trends in fabrics  occurring outside of Kosrae.


The Kosraean princess dresses in a modern interpretation of a generic Pacific island look. This too is in part a result of the external influences on the islands of the other islands.


The parade up main street occurred under a mix of sun and clouds. Conditions were hot, humid as usual. Walking on asphalt in bare feet is not recommended. The students are keen to be as traditional as possible, but zoris are still a good idea.


The Yapese chose to carry a cement stone money piece rather than a cardboard replica. This proved to be a taxing undertaking. There was a water stop at center point, but the water stop ran out of cups. The young men were dehydrating, and were thirsty. They asked for water, but could not obtain any. I ran up to the field and found that the water containers in the tents also did not have cups. I did locate bottled water in the building used to stage the lunch and ran three bottles back down route to the Yapese stone money carriers. I was not as concerned about the short haul into the field, but the cumulative effect of overheating that might be a factor by the time they danced four hours later in the day.


Not being on the committee, I had not been around to pass along the recommendation that each float carry a case of bottled water in the event a marcher became dehydrated. Our students are not all physically fit. Some have underlying health issues, some are out of shape, some already have borderline high blood pressure.


Beverly Billy on the lead at center point, at the water stop.


Just before parade start another old dress style joined the parade.


The Kosraean women performed a dance up at the field.


The Kosraean outfits


Pohnpei dance group consisting of a mix of students and community members.


Jacoline Siba Palik.


Chuukese women performing a stick dance variation. The carpet was critically useful in insulating the students from the heat of the rubberized track surface. The program also did not take a formal lunch break, which was also a good decision given the temperatures on the field. While a couple people said to me, “They are islanders, they can take the heat,” I know that heat takes a toll on everyone. No one is immune to the effects of working out on a hot sunny day on the equator.


Outer island Yapese women performing.


Andrea Ewarmai.


The Yap proper dancers danced in the anchor position, last, as they have traditionally done each cultural founding day.

The float rubric used this year was:

Category Description Very strongly








Not at all


Theme How well the float fits the theme of the parade.          
Originality Creativeness and originality of the float.          
Craftsmanship Attention to detail and design, fit and finish of the float.          
Materials Effective use of local materials          
Difficulty Difficulty of construction, level of effort          
Movement Items that move are well used and coordinated          


Color Good and appropriate use of color on float          
Column Sums          

The “costumes” rubric used this year:

Category Description Very strongly








Not at all


Materials Effective use of local materials for traditional costumes          
Visualization Costumes can be seen clearly          
color Colors visible and coordinated          
Authenticity Costume is authentic to the culture          
Column sums          

Twenty minutes and two hours

When I am asked, “Ia romw wi?” I answer “Kelai” as one tends to do, but I do not actually know how I really feel on any one given day until I have been running for twenty minutes. A better answer to the question would be, “I do not know yet today, I have not yet run.”

Starting distance
Starting coordinates in time and space

Running for thirty-six years seems to have had an effect on my legs and body where the first twenty minutes everything is heavy and slow. And twenty minutes is the magic number, something I was reminded of by Haruki Murakami in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

The start point for a run
From where I start visually

“When I put on my jogging shoes in the morning and set out, my feet are so heavy it feels like I’ll never get them moving. I start running down the road, slowly, almost dragging my feet. … But as I keep on running, my muscles gradually loosen up, and after about twenty minutes I’m able to run normally. I start to speed up. After this I can run mechanically, without any problem.”

The road in front of the house. All adventures begin at one’s front door (Bilbo Baggins).

Only after that first twenty minutes does my body let me know how the systems of my body are functioning. Only then do I know if my body is up for running or is simply not feeling the need for speed. Or distance. Twenty minutes is
when I know whether I am actually “fine” or in a biorhythmic slump.

One km into the run
A kilometer into the run

One kilometer in eight minutes, a very slow start on a hot, sunny, equatorial afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky – a very forbidding sight indeed. Only the distant salt haze towards the horizon.

The view from one km
The view at one kilometer

Eight minutes into the run there is no sense yet whether I have a long run available in my legs. Everything is tweaking and twinging like metal expanding under the summer sun, the sensations of muscles and joints warming up.

Two kilometers

Two kilometers is another eight minutes down the hot road. Only now am I starting to make sense of what my body might be capable of in the 33 Celsius humid heat of equatorial Pohnpei.


At two kilometers is 4TY store, owned by an active octogenarian who joins local 5K fun run/walks as a walker. He is an inspiration to me on each and every run, and his store reminds me of my relative youth at 55 years old.


Seven minutes later I am aware that my legs are feeling good, there is strength and reserves on board. I am finally feeling warmed up and ready to go. I know that must seem odd to those who do not run – I have to run for twenty minutes before I know if I can run. I imagine that there are those sitting on their sofas who cannot run for two minutes, let alone twenty. With my legs now clicking over mechanically, automatically, I have trouble imaging what a body that cannot run twenty minutes must feel like. Just after a baby starts walking, the baby attempts to walk faster, to toddle, even to run if possible. There is a pure joy in running that every two year old knows without being told. Running is fundamentally fun. Or it was, when you were two. And is, when I am fifty-five.


The road ahead at three klicks into the run. Behind me to the right is Genesis hospital, on the left is the Pohnpei state hospital. Two emergency rooms within a hundred meters of my position. There is some comfort knowing that I pass these twice in a run to the river.

Dausokele bridge Nett

The bridge. The Dausokele bridge across the Nampil estuary in Nett. The bridge is often my destination on an evening run. On a late evening run I race to beat the loss of sunlight on the deck, a race to catch the last rays of the sun streaking down the surface of the bridge. Today I am early and the bridge is bright in the afternoon sun.


From the bridge the view south is of verdant mountains, tropical rain forests, mangrove and mountain tops.


The view north is back towards Kolonia. On a long run I will exceed the farthest point seen on the left shore of the estuary. Scattered clouds exist in the distance, but where I run the sky is clear, the sun piercing.

4 km

Just over the bridge at four kilometers and thirty-one minutes. Substantively slower than my usual five kilometer pace, but the heat and my thoughts of going long have me running at a go easy pace.


Further up the road in Nett and the view ahead remains tropical, green, and shadeless.


The cars that pass are not those of strangers. Some call out my name as they pass. A colleague and friend heads back up to Kolonia, possibly packing a few bottles of sakau. In Madison I never know who is driving the cars around me, where they are going, or what they have been engaged in doing for the past ten years. Around here that knowledge of those around me is not unusual. This is a different place. There are students who I have known since they were born, whose parents I have known longer than the student has been alive. I can look at one who lost a father and is letting their grades slide and say, “This is not what he wanted for you.” I get to see the cycle of life played out in my classroom, on the island around me. Some of my students are the third generation of their family who have been students of mine. When they bring their new baby to campus, I look and wonder if I might be around long enough to see this fourth generation at the college. Unlikely, but one never knows.


Six happens just shy of yet another bridge.


The bridge between the municipalities of Nett and U. The bridge seems a good place to turn and head back into town.


When I run I often become lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts come and go, flitting into my mind and back out again. I miss the seven kilometer mark as I come up on Palipowe junction at 7.17 kilometers.


Up that road once lay a number of small sakau markets I frequented some two decades ago. Some may still flit into and out of existence. Up that road are memories of evenings by the waterfront. Sakau sessions with friends, some of whom now gone.


Eight kilometers is part way back to the Dausokele bridge and also marks my crossing the sixty minute mark. The time from twenty minutes to just over an hour is a golden time of easy running, of my legs simply ticking over without conscious thought. That golden time is much longer, I have discovered, in colder climates. The heat of the equatorial tropics is always debilitating, even for a veteran runner.


Now the sun is starting to graze the bridge deck, reflect, and scorch the westbound runner.


At nine kilometers more familiar faces alongside the road – students seeking a shady place to sit and chat.


My shadow testifies to the continued lack of shading clouds. The few clouds that appear in the sky are small and far away. Even at 5:17 PM the heat has not left the day. Not yet. The temperature remains above 30 Celsius, the humidity hovers around 80%. Even as the temperature falls, the humidity climbs, offsetting the drop in temperature.


Ten kilometers at Ace Hardware, another friend heading from work in the shot. Here I stop to rehydrate with Gatorade at Ace Commercial grocery store.


Eleven kilometers.


The changing face of Kolonia at eleven kilometers. A major construction project.


Twelve kilometers puts me on the causeway out to the airport. My pace has slowed under the relentless sun.


The view across the water at 12 kilometers. The views I enjoy on a long run are wonderfully scenic.


Thirteen kilometers brings me to the airport, a place of hellos and goodbyes, some for only short time, some forever. The airport is the only hub of comings and goings on the island. If you want to leave, you have to use the airport. Only yachties have the ability to sail away. There really is no other way off of the rock, unless one counts the occasional boat to a neighboring island.


Sunday and the airport is closed. There is only one flight a day, and none on Sunday. There is a flight that lands in the small hours of Monday morning, having left Guam on Sunday evening. In general the airport is not a busy place, except at flight time.


Fourteen kilometers is up at Misko beach. This will mark the final turn-around on the run. I cross two hours of running in the sun and I am feeling the effects of the heat. Even at six in the evening the tropical sun remains hot.


The palms have a personal significance at Misko. The one on the right dropped a coconut on my wife, glancing past the side of her head and hitting her shoulder. Her shoulder still has issues that seem to stem in part from this time. A direct hit on the head by a large coconut would be fatal. One does not usually sit under a coconut tree, but this one had been deemed safe to sit under. No one saw that there was a coconut ready to fall.


At fifteen kilometers the sun has finally sunk low enough to cast tree shadows across the road.


The view from the causeway at the fifteen kilometer mark.


Farther down the same causeway I cross 16.1 kilometers. Now my legs are feeling less lively, less bouncy. At two hours and twenty-one minutes I can tell that my range is limited.


The golden hues of the setting sun color Nett point ridge line across the water at 16.1 kilometers.


The sun is behind distant Sokeh’s ridge beyond Spanish Wall ball park as I climb back up into Kolonia town.


Seventeen kilometers strikes on a main street directly in front of the post office.


Five year old Tristan called the newly repainted post office “milk and blue”


On my way up weather station hill, the family car whisks past me without pausing. The family knows that even though I have been on the road for two and half hours, I am fine and do not want a ride. I always feel I have to finish what I start. I put myself out there, I have to get myself back in under my own power. I suspect all distance runners have this sensation. We might be reduced to a limping walk, but we want to finish the run upright and self-propelled. I was still jogging along, running would be too generous a term, but the temperature was finally starting to slip and evening was beginning to settle over the island.


The weather station silhouetted against the rather cloudless evening sky.


Some distant clouds appear in the gap between Sokehs ridge and the ridge line that separates Nahnpohnmal from Palikir.


Eighteen kilometers appears seven minutes later. Horses know when they are near the barn and pick up the pace. I return to the seven minute pace with which I began my run.


Another few hundred meters up the road familiar children with familiar gear, my run is at an end.


The trip up the driveway includes babies being ferried by barefoot RipStik riders in matching long skirts, not necessarily an unusual sight around here.


The run ends 500 meters beyond the last kilometer mark, two hours and forty-three minutes after I started, but 22 minutes was in water and photography stops.


Night falls fast in the tropics, and though the sun is set for only six minutes, the light is already fading. Any longer on the road and the run would have become a night run. Near the end of a good run I do not want the run to end, and yet I am happy to be home. Thus a run ends with mixed emotions. A desire for the run to continue, a contentment at arriving home. A sense of joy imparted by the run, a sense of loss that the run is over.  All runs must eventually end, and therein lies a metaphor for life for a runner. A long run. The joy is not in the destination but in the journey. Enjoy this immediate moment here and now.

Will to run

The distance runner is a breed apart. The long hours of training for an event are not spent on a pitch in the companionship of teammates. Many days no one knows whether you trained. Or not.

A runner running along the causeway on Pohnpei
Runner: R. Saimon, Pohnpei

Rainy windy evenings the only pitch is that of darkness. The only companion your breath and heartbeat. The world dissolving into a gray blur, only your own focus on your effort remaining sharp.

There is an oft spoken about loneliness, moving too fast to connect with anyone even should one happen to pass someone. A disconnectedness even while running amidst people one knows. There is always that sense of being in a moving void, fully present, yet completely absent.

Nothing external compels a distance runner. There is no team to let down, only a singular self. Out on the road there exists only the individual will to run.


Although I returned to a written reprimand (non-attendance graduation) and docked pay (missed six non-teaching work days), three weeks off the rock in December and January refreshed me to my bones. By not consciously thinking about teaching for twenty-one days I find I have some new curricular ideas and a reservoir of energy with which to work.

Vacation, as in traveling to somewhere distant, is a curious activity. There is little to suggest that traveling into unfamiliar places with unknown dangers would have been a survival benefit to our ancient ancestors. Staying home almost always had to have been safer. Yet the deep allure of travel is present across cultures.

Micronesians arrived in these islands on voyaging canoes, long journeys over open ocean. That first canoe, or canoes, had to be traveling uncharted waters. The question “Are we there yet?” as unanswerable as “Where are we going?”

For those on a voyaging canoe the journey was only partially calculated risk, a gamble that what lay beyond the horizon was worth the risk. Yet as modern voyaging canoes have shown, capable navigators could hold courses and make return voyages. Navigators had skills in finding islands in the vast Pacific, reading swells and clouds. Those sailing lived off the sea as they traveled.

Arrival at a new island that was large enough to support life had to be thrilling. The new island would look strange and unfamiliar, and that would make the arrival all the more exciting. That aspect of travel is still there for my tropical island raised children. The “islands” they visited are not just different, they are exotic beyond their imagination.

Cloud Gate Chicago
Cloud Gate

One can see the Cloud Gate in a computer image, the skyline reflected by the gleaming curved surfaces. Being there is viscerally different. The brain suddenly comprehending the size of the Cloud Gate while not comprehending the scale of the buildings just across Michigan Avenue. The sound of the city, of traffic, distant sirens ever-present, cold air whipping across Centennial Park and past one’s ears.

Our brains adjust to the daily world around us and eventually treat the sights and sounds of home as background noise. Home is rarely exotic on a daily basis. For those who commute past a wonder of the world, the sight is a daily occurrence, an ordinary event. For children who regularly see the Cloud Gate, the structure is far less remarkable than for children raised on a rain forest island of coconut palms.


For a child raised in Alaska, snow is a given. For a child raised in Micronesia, a first meeting with snow is beyond magical. In that moment of discovery and joy one’s brain is completely flooded with wonder. That sense of wonder is contagious, even an adult can feel that sense of seeing the world anew.

Ancient humans undoubtedly traveled primarily out of necessity. The need for a new food opportunities, uninhabited lands for ever-expanding families, or to escape a deteriorating life situation. Survival sometimes favored those brave enough to move, to abandon the place in which they knew how to survive. The new environment presented new challenges and required a sharpness of mind. Today travel is recreational, but the sharpness of mind, the attention the new environment requires, is still there.

In that absorption of the mind with the new surroundings is a dropping away of the mental load of the daily ordinary which was left behind. The brain gets to do a reboot and reconfigure, a refresh of the brain circuitry. Upon return from the journey, the mind retains the benefits of the refresh. There is a sense of being recharged and re-energized. While constant, continuous travel likely becomes mentally exhausting – travel would be the daily ordinary for such a person – for those of us resident for years in one place, travel can be refreshing in a very deep sense.

Dark Loop

Shades of grays, muted dark browns, blacks are all I can see. Blurs that loom up and then rush past me. A twilight run in the forest on the shortest day of the year at 42 degrees North latitude.

The sun set two minutes before I hit the three kilometer loop through the woods and over the rolling fruitless zone prairie. A run racing the darkness down in the hollows. Forested ridge backs hide backside cliffs, the trail threading past them. In the gathering darkness widow makers loom over the trail, helping mark my path over the forest floor.


Amidst the trees I run at full open gait, time is against me. The dying of the light drives me ever harder in growing gloom.

At speed – alone in a chilling forest – I am on fire, my mind completely focused on the run at hand. Form is everything. Drag my feet for even a single stride and I pick up a branch with my foot. Tripping is not a useful option in darkness.


Sometimes you only have a single shot to get something right. Sometimes there is no second chance. Running reminds me of this. Running happens fast, raising children happens more slowly. There are still times in your relationship with your child when you have only a single shot at getting it right. At those times focus on placing your words as carefully as footfalls in a dark forest.


The run was not going particularly well. Pings and pangs in various odd and sundry leg muscles, no rhythm, no energy into the uphills. My tennis ball tosses lacked control, errant tosses being fumbled and lost to the ground. I was dragging bottom on the way home, still trying to find shards of shaft, pieces of power. As I headed up the final hill on my home stretch I saw a friend headed out on an evening run.

Despite my dysfunctioning form, I swung around to join him. As we headed down the hill I had struggled up, he noted that he was headed out for a run up Sokeh’s ridge. I had not run up that road, walked up a number of times, but never tried a run. The first section is a long, slow, climb up to a switchback. As we climbed I felt stronger and better than I had on the roads of Kolonia.

From the switchback up the road steps up the slope, like a treadmill gone way too high. I started at an uphill jog, and made it past the first couple gentle bends along the rock faces, but the hill eventually exceeded my ability to feed oxygen to my muscles, broke my pace, and I walked the final meters. Still, I felt fantastic, much better than at the end of my short little lower town loop right.

I had headed out the door to run a short out and back to Spanish Wall. I had no intention of seeing if I could run up to the top of the ridge. The presence of a fellow runner, however, caused me to push myself to see what I could do on a day when I was not running all that well. Good friends do that – they push us to do more, be more, reach farther. Good friends are encouragers. My thanks for the push I needed.

Running in unknown places

Two decades of living and running on an island, rarely leaving the rock, means that my running routes are well worn tracks. I know every twist, turn, and pothole. I know the distance and duration of the route, when sunset will occur, and when the road will go dark after dusk – year round. I know the houses and inhabitants I pass. I know the dogs that may give chase. There are very few unknowns after twenty years.

A rare chance to travel to somewhere I have not been is a chance to run with all the variables unknown. That first evening on which I arrived I immediately donned running shoes and headed out on a running trail I had identified only from Google Maps. The trail headed up into the Pisgah national forest along the Davidson river.

Trail in the Pisgh national forest

Dusk was settling on Brevard, North Carolina, the temperature was dropping below sixty Fahrenheit, and I had only tropical running gear. I did not know the trail, I did not know the time of sunset nor the duration of twilight after sunset. Every variable was unknown, including how my body would respond to the cold and elevated altitude.

Davidson river

As I headed into the forest a crash in the woods off to my left suddenly reminded me that these forests had animals in them. The forests of Pohnpei might contain a few escaped pigs, some miniature deer from the Philippines, and a few large lizards, but not much more. The forests of Appalachia undoubtedly include a broader variety of larger animals.

Skye drive to reserve road connector trail

Three nights later I had become accustomed to the longer twilight. On a visit to a home three thousand feet up on a ridge line I bolted out the door after sunset to push the my mental limits. The air was cold, frosty cold, the night falling fast on the ridge. My camera could capture only blurry images in the fading light. I was again on new terrain, this time not even a pre-designated trail. I started off on a wide trail littered with leaves that eventually dropped down onto a white gravel road.

Reserve road, Transylvania, North Carolina

The white gravel road first struck my brain as being coral, but running on the road I felt no round, cylindrical, rolling rocks. The gravel was some other white gravel. In the dark and the cold I did not stop to examine the road more closely. After a short trot along the road I came to a cross-country high tension power line and was rewarded with a vista view.

Power line on Reserve road

Runners get to see places others never do get to see. Running in a new place rewards the runner and reminds the runner that self-imposed limitations are just that – limitations of the mind and not the body. At three thousand feet up in a forest I was still running in tropical running gear as the temperatures slid towards 50 degrees and darkness fell in the forest around me. My host was more than gracious and I enjoyed a quick hot shower prior to rejoining the rest of the group.That is a run I will long remember and treasure.

Returning home I also had the opportunity to run a new route when the Australian embassy sponsored the Aussie Wombat Walkabout five kilometer fun run starting from Mangrove Bay. This meant an immediate opening climb from sea level up a hundred meters – 300 feet – by the time one reached weather station hill. The open few hundred meters was the steepest portion of the climb – slowing the runners from the get go.

Aussie Wombat Walkabout 5k

I ran the run in something over 30 minutes, forgetting to close the GPS track at the finish line. When I did close it, back at the car, I had covered 5.25 kilometers in 36 minutes.

Although the start and finish were new, much of the route was my daily route. Still, the new start added a challenge and made the run that much more fun.

Traveling long distances tends to leave one feeling less in control. The places one will sleep, eat, and work may be unknown, the foods may be different. Even one’s schedule and activities are often structured by others. While on the road running is sometimes the only activity where one can feel some sense of control over the activity. Running always helps bring a sense of balance, and a sense of connecting with a place more intimately. The result is a far more enjoyable road experience.

Each new place presents the challenge of unknown routes, durations, distances, and environmental elements. In the newness is a vitality that keeps one feeling young.

If I had any advice to give to the youth it would be to start running when you are young and to keep running. Run for your life, for the good life that running can bring.

Along the trail in Brevard

Running with numbers

An upgrade in cellular technologies has returned global positioning satellite capabilities to my joggling runs. Previous GPS technologies involved the use of hand held Garmin eTrex units. Running and juggling deprives me of the ability to hand carry a GPS unit. The recent acquisition of an LG Optimus II P715 has provided GPS capabilities while running and juggling. Arm mounting a GPS on a joggler produces a suboptimal antenna orientation, but given that the platform is a cell phone, the unit performs rather well. Google Tracks provides app support with maps, even out here beyond the outer edge of paradise.

NBFS Santiago run

By the GPS I did not return to where I started, but then a run does change one. One probably never does return to quite the same place as where one was where they left. Maybe the GPS unit is a philosophical unit, but more likely the GPS unit lost satellite signals under the trees up into Dolihner.

Elevation versus speed profile

Although the details are not accurate, the general elevation trend echoes the actual run. I start about a 100 meters above sea level, descend to sea level, and then return to 100 meters above sea level. The speed data seems overly optimistic.

Time and distance data

The third screen has a variety of numbers. The calories burned is rather meaningless, and the maximum speed is the result of loss and regain of signal. 18.09 kph is sheer fantasy – the spike can be seen on the earlier chart.

To say one went for an hour run does not have the sense of documentary reality that the LG screen shots convey. Underneath the images is a KMZ file with universal date time stamps, coordinates, and altitudes – some 3000 rows of data, of numbers:

<gx:coord>158.203917 6.954549 114.19999694824219</gx:coord>

The 3000 rows of numbers feel, to a numerophile, to be even more real than the images. Images can be photoshopped; generating 1500 coherent, correctly geolocated date-time-longitude-latitude-height in meters data points is a far more daunting task. Easier to just run the route and collect the data. And a lot more fun.

Near the end of the day ask yourself two questions. Have I seen any interesting numbers today? Did I run today? Did you?