Running time is often a time to think, to contemplate, to reflect, and to plan. Over the years I noticed that the runs which were the most relaxing, and post-run were often the most mentally productive, were runs where I had to focus so intently on my running and juggling that no other thought could be entertained in my mind. Runs where variable, gusting winds would shift my tennis balls in midflight as traffic slid past me. I had to focus only on the immediate instant. These runs were peculiarly relaxing, and afterwards I was filled with new ideas and solutions. Exactly when I hadn’t been thinking about them – when my mind had slipped into a state without random thoughts of anything else other than the immediate instant.
At some point I stumbled on the The Oatmeal and his citing the terrible and wonderful reasons he runs long distances: in order to the seek a void. The Oatmeal cited Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Murakami would note, “I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.”
Meditation is not exactly a mainstream behavior in my neighborhood. As ABC news correspondent Dan Harris has noted, back when I started running, running was unusual. Today running is no longer considered unusual, but meditation is still seen as something different. Harris explains that as science including new research using new technologies confirms the benefits of meditation, one day a family doctor is likely to recommend improving your diet, exercising, and meditation. There are a plethora of videos to help a first time mindfulness meditator get started – talking one through the basics. And as Mipham notes in his book, just as in running, start at an easy pace for shorter distances until you are accustomed to running. Start with brief daily sessions, let your body and mind adjust to meditating. And, at least in my house, do keep a sense of humor and avoid taking yourself too seriously.
I did not become a runner overnight. I became a runner gradually as days of running added up to months, months to years, and years to decades. At some point I went from being a 1970s exercise jogger to a runner. I deeply understand that regular meditation practice over the coming days, months, and years are the path to benefit. And that I might not see the benefits for some time. Running has taught me patience. I opted for starting with shorter duration meditation to start, which keeps manageable working meditation into my daily life. And, just as I am in running, I find I am an evening meditator. Although I am new to the discipline, I already look forward to my evening meditation much as I look forward to a chance to run. For now that is a good start.
I was a foot fall behind the runner in front of me. Narrow trail. No room to shift left or right. My stride was too long. 2003. High above Honolulu. A trail run with the Honolulu Runners. A runner directly behind me. I had to change my stride and gait to not clip the heels in front of me. Shift my balance. And still clear the roots underfoot. Suddenly something clicked and I was running differently. Smoother, shorter stride with enough lift to clear roots. I was now landing in his foot prints. The stride felt strange and yet smooth. I would play with the stride over the next few days while I was there, and in the years afterward I would still think of this as the Honolulu gait.
I became interested in gaits and stride length, picking up and reading Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running. I continued to follow research on stride and gait as the barefoot and minimal running trend gained steam. I also noted the other direction taken by Hoka One One. Sure, the Tarahumara can run barefoot, but the injuries accumulating among first time minimalist shoe users suggested that not everyone is built for barefoot running. Still, I grokked the logic in going flat. This summer I drank the flavored fruit punch and bought a pair of Altra Provision 3.0 shoes. Zero drop. I opted for the Altra Provision 3.0 as this shoe seemed closest to the ASICS GT 2000 series I had been wearing since the 1990s. Stability shoes with moderate cushioning.
The shoes came with a transition guide that explained proper form – which appears to be strongly similar to the form I encountered in Chi running. The Altra claims to enable better form, and with only a short amount of time in them, I concur. The stride, gait, and cadence changes I have been playing with over the past decade and a half are enabled by the Altra shoes.
The zero drop seems to encourage a flatter landing further forward, as the foot arcs down the heel clears the ground rather than catching the ground as in a shoe with rise. The foot lands flatter, and the extra stretch on the calf does seem to provide more spring back on lifting the foot.
The wide toe box is also different, and yields a sensation of stability on toe off. Wet pavement and uneven sand on wet pavement can be slippery here in the tropics, some shoes tend to slide on the surfaces here. I did not have that sensation with the Altra shoes. Perhaps the shorter, snub nose on the shoes also helps get my foot off the ground a little faster as I lift my foot. The physics eludes my comprehension, but I do seem to be able to move faster in these shoes even when I am not trying to do so.
The Altra shoes are exciting, and my pace was faster than I expected to in a routine run yesterday, overestimating my time of arrival at locations, causing me to have to shift around cars that I met too soon along the road.
Running is certainly my addiction. And running apparently has a positive role to play in preventing relapse among recovering substance abuse addicts. Running replaces some of the “feel-good” brain chemicals that are lost during substance abuse withdrawal and recovery.
John Ratey, M.D., has been preaching the lace-‘em-up cure for years. The associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston says that even a little bit of running can make a big difference. “What happens immediately when you begin to run is you get a boost in dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, just as if you were taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” he says. – The Runner’s High, Runner’s World.
I know the good feeling of running, and I concur with the author that not running has an effect that while technically not withdrawal, does not make me feel good. I too share his sense of being “sluggish, unfocused, sometimes irritable.” Hardly anything life shattering, but long time runners know that there is a withdrawal.
Using running, however, as an approach to reduce relapse rates among substance abuse addicts appears to require a social component. Social isolation delays the positive impact on the healing of the brain by running, according to a 2011 study. This reinforces the idea that addiction is intimately connected to social support and social connectivity.
As for whether a recovering runner is swapping one addiction for another, I would echo the words of Caleb Daniloff in the Runner’s High article:
“I can understand why people think I’ve merely traded one addiction for another. But ultimately I find this thought too narrow. Unlike boozing, running has never filled me with shame or regret, not once turned me into a monster. I have never stolen, lied, or cheated for running. I don’t need more miles to get the same effect. The trade that, literally, took place was sobriety for addiction, a dark central rhythm recast in light.”
Add to that the impact on cardio-vascular health, potential impact on obesity, preventative effects in terms of high blood pressure, diabetes, and perhaps heart disease. This is an addiction with a difference. A very positive difference.
Strava running app was the next shiny thing to attract my attention using Amazon Underground. I was nonplussed by Adidas’ Runtastic, and deleted ASICS’ RunKeeper as being redundant to Nike+ running but without the friends. I found no friends in RunKeeper space.
I tried UnderArmour’s MapMyRun but on install the app demanded to upgrade to a new version. Which failed. And then I could not log in. Deleted.
Using again the Amazon “Underground” app store for Android cell phones I installed one of the last independent mainstream running apps, Strava.
Knowing that my phone has limited capabilities, I ran a first test run with no pauses, no pictures. Nothing that might stall Strava.
I did not see a built in music controller such as Nike+ includes. The run included running under trees and ended in rain. I turned on auto-pause and voice options prior to the run. These options were not obvious as the settings appear only once one selects to start a run.
I was pleased with the post run data. Well laid out screens, logically located, with all of the data details. I had set voice to half mile notifications and was happy to see half mile split data. Nike+ provided only mile splits.
The Strava voice was quicker in cadence than Nike+, without the pauses I am familiar with in Nike+. I saw no voice choices, the default is female.
Elevation is notoriously inaccurate, but fun to see. And the continuous pace chart was noisy but informative.
I was impressed with the GPS track. The line was sharp and spot on.
I was shocked to see my ninety degree turn along the Spanish Wall basketball court. I do not recall any app catching that before.
My phone has limited resources. Nike+ uses 50 Mb while Adidas train and run uses 80 Mb. Thus seeing Strava only using 32 Mb was a pleasant surprise.
Strava, like RunKeeper, successfully posted to FaceBook, but then I did use FB as my log in for both, which I did not do with Nike+.
There are premium features for a subscription, but all of the basic run data is available in the free version.
If I run identical routes, Strava will apparently track the runs as “matched” runs.
I did see a few FaceBook friends listed in my Strava friends list, but nothing like the over one hundred friends I enjoy on Nike+.
Strava is intriguing enough to keep on my LG P715 Android phone for now. Still, Nike+ is where my friends are, and that is a big plus.
My own sense is that over the longer haul only the apps backed by major corporations will survive – Nike, Adidas, ASICS, UnderArmour. Strava too may one day be acquired, but for now its independence is attractive.
Grandpa is a kid in an app candy store at Christmas. Out here in Micronesia the Google Play store has a limited app selection. For running, my LG P715 Android rig has a choice of Nike+ running or Adidas train and run.
On a whim I downloaded the Amazon app store for Android phones which Amazon is marketing as “Amazon Underground.” To install one must enable installation of apps from unknown sources in the security settings of the phone. This has security implications and will make the phone vulnerable to malware if you have seven year old handling your phone. Enough said.
Amazon Underground picked up my Amazon credentials automatically, possibly from my Kindle app. This appears to make me a “registered” user. Using Amazon Underground I was able to download Runtastic, an app not in the Google Play store for Micronesia. Runtastic, however, then wanted to download a separate music app for in-run music. Nonplussed, I found I could download RunKeeper too! Runkeeper has no built in music player, but had a click- through to the Google Player. Good enough for taking RunKeeper out for a test drive. Interesting app.
First impression? Although minor, I have come to prefer the sequence and cadence of the Nike+ voice. Unlike Adidas train and run, RunKeeper seemed rock solid on hanging on to the GPS or interpolating losses seamlessly. Map was blank, but those sometimes load later. I will explore and see if Strata is an option too. Note RunKeeper is a two tier app, a free app with limited features and a premium pro app with all features on a subscription price basis.
By the way, my use of the FaceBook Lite app provides me the space to download the many apps I do use on my memory limited LG.
For me running is not about the elites. Never has been. The elites of any sport have never inspired me. That is perhaps an echo of my own youth. I was last picked in gym class. In all sports.
Except the term my high school struggled to newly implement Title IX fully coed phyical education classes. The coaches were unsure how far to go. So in gymnastics class the other male members of the class volunteered me to be the first boy to tackle the UNeven bars. I attempted some kind of flying hip catch, sailing from the upper to the lower bar. Then I fell to the mat, curled up into a ball, and saw the stars.
I was not just uncoordinated. I was a detriment to any team I was on. I did not mind, I disliked physical anything.
Running would arrive later in my life. After the last gym class. Long after.
Organized sports and athletic movements celebrate the sports elite. Fans and spectators celebrate the athletically elite. I do not. The support, the attention, is only on the winners. When an elite of any level crashes down, for whatever reason, there is a brief moment of sympathy for the fallen athlete and then the bright spotlight of attention and support moves on.
Whether the athlete simply stops winning, is permanently injured, is caught succumbing to the pressure to dope to stay on top, or is taken out by personal circumstances, the attention moves on. If this happens early in a promising sporting life, then the soul of the young hopeful can land in a very dark and lonely place.
I was never an elite. Never will be. I am still running. I am inspired by those who have fought their way from a couch to a 21 minute mile and on down to a 16 minute mile, and are still getting out there on the road to run. I am inspired by everyone who will never be an elite, who get no support, no attention, and who slog on. I am inspired by those who have crumpled and fallen, who can no longer even hope to be at the top of their sport, perhaps even feel disgraced or shame, but who pick themselves up and run on.
A successful runner is not one who wins, a successful runner is one who will tie their shoes again on some future day, head out the door, and run again. I am a runner is a present and future tense statement. Perhaps only old runners know that no matter how hard the fall in life, running is always there, the one touchstone.
A friend posted a screenshot of a fitness app I had not yet seen. Indulging my shiny object fascination of the moment, running and fitness apps, I had a look at the capabilities of the app. The app appears to be a good fit to what he is trying to do.
Some veteran runners like to keep running logs, track their running over the years. I ran for years without intentionally logging my runs. In 1998 Runner’s World sent a free running log, and I began to use the log to record fitness activities including running. I began to have data I wanted to retain. Data that has to be stored and conserved.
Some thirty-five years ago I had an Atari 800 computer. The simple programs I wrote had to be stored on a audio cassette tape. During that same era the 5.25 inch floppy disk provided removable storage for the Apple II computer. Within a few short years the 3.25 inch floppy disk would supersede the 5.25 inch floppy disk. This past week the last computer with a 3.25 inch floppy disk drive was retired from the division in which I work. I still have data on 3.25 inch floppy disks, but that data will never again be accessible.
In 1996 I created a web site in CompuServe. In 1998 the FSM lost the dial-up connectivity to CompuServe and switched on direct connectivity to the Internet. I had to recover the orphaned data from a hard drive mirroring my on line site, moving the data to GeoCities. Within three years I was again moving that data to college servers.
Over the years I have learned that with changes in technology come orphaned, abandoned, and sometimes unrecoverable data. Today data is often stored in cloud services, which is almost more vulnerable to sudden change than hardware based technology. A storage provider may suddenly decide to depart the storage market (Ubuntu One) or start charging fees for what was once free storage (Amazon Cloud Drive).
If the data is in a proprietary format, the loss of a software package may make the data unrecoverable.
When I first acquired a GPS enabled Android smart phone in late 2014, I looked for an app that could provide time, distance, and mapping capabilities for my running. Thirty years of rescuing and moving data is always on my mind when I make a data storage choice. I always want to know how a company plans to stay in business. If there is no clear way for the company to benefit from me or my data, then that is not a secure data storage choice. And the company should be big enough to fend off being acquired and taken apart by a competitor.
I opted for Google MyTracks reasoning that Google might just be big enough to not fail anytime soon. Google thrives on user data, MyTracks provides more information about me (where I am and where I tend to go) that has potential marketing value.
MyTracks provided only basic total time, distance, speed, and mapping capability.
During the summer of 2015 I became aware of a running app option that was functional in Micronesia, an option I had not seen in 2014. Although two of the market leaders, Runtastic and Runkeeper, are not available in the Google Play app store in Micronesia, Nike+ running was available. Runtastic and Runkeeper have a two tiered business model. The lower tier appears to be a lite version for free, possibly with advertising, and a paid subscription model with more features. Nike+ running is free – all features -and apparently an outgrowth of their abandoned fitness FuelBand.
Nike+ running provided data on splits, personal bests, and nice touches such as tracking total kilometers per shoe. All of the data a runner might want to access. Yet what of tomorrow? Nike has a business model that may be more sustainable than a small operation supporting a dedicated running app. Nike as a company certainly has the size and resources to survive. Yet the app is peripheral to their core business and could be shed like the FuelBand product. Whither one’s running data then? Where Google MyTracks could upload KMZ files to Google Drive, Nike+ has no clear path to data export nor extraction.
A dedicated app housed in a small independent software developer is equally insecure over the long haul. A company the size of a Nike or Google could buy the app or acquire the development team to enhance their own fitness apps should they choose to do so. Data may remain trapped in a proprietary format on cloud servers, inaccessible when the app no longer exists. A veritable 3.25 inch floppy disk of the modern era: without the drive the data is effectively lost. Without the app, the data generated by the app is lost.
Paper is not a particularly secure data storage option, but keeping a log in a notebook remains a viable option. I continue to echo run information into locally available composition notebook. That is the only way I have of knowing where my running data will be tomorrow. Where is your data sleeping tonight and will it be accessible tomorrow?
Having seen friends using the Nike+ running app here on Pohnpei, I thought I would give Nike+ running a spin. This blog pulls together a series of observations I have made over the past couple weeks in other places.
I have been using Google MyTracks since October 2014. MyTracks is not specifically a running app, more a general purpose track and trace route tool. Nike+ reports total time, calories, average pace, NikeFuel earned, splits, and maps the route one has run if outdoors.
I’m using Nike+ running 1.7.2 on an LG Optimus II P715 Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean rig. Note that the temperature reported in the screen above only appears after synchronization. I suspect that the temperature is the result of an online lookup on the server side, not a reading from the telephone.
The app also tracks total distance logged on each shoe, a statistic for which I have never had any information. I really do not know how many kilometers I rack up in a shoe before the shoe delaminates, and I always run a shoe until that delamination point. Way beyond loss of cushioning in the EVA foam.
Nike+ has running specific features including reporting of splits, a capability MyTracks does not have. Determining road splits in the past usually meant hauling a Garmin eTrex, a piece of paper, and a pen, to record the splits. Having them automatically available feels luxurious. I have used splits in my statistics class, data the students can use to calculate 95% confidence intervals and other metrics. This is also the first time I have known splits for joggling. When I run, I usually juggle three tennis balls. I cannot carry a GPS and juggle, so splits while joggling were completely unknown.
The LG P715 has an accelerometer, which the Nike+ running app can use when indoors on a treadmill to estimate distance based on steps. The app apparently uses a generic step distance to calculate distance. The uncalibrated app credited me with 1.83 km (1.137 miles) for 1.00 miles displayed on the treadmill (14% long).
I ran the treadmill mile at 5.4 mph. Note the mile measure is based on the treadmill as seen below, not the app. The app is set in kilometers, the default for Nike+ running is in miles.
1830 meters by the app for 1806 steps on the treadmill suggests the app was using 1.01 meters per step, or about a meter per step. If the treadmill is correct, then my actual stride on the treadmill was 0.89 meters. This difference is also roughly 14%.
On the fourth of August I attempted a calibration run with the Nike+ running app. In retrospect I suspect I should have done this with the settings set to miles not kilometers. I used a Garmin GPS to run 1.61 km on the track. I do not now recall the app distance, but the app was short at about 1.53 some kilometers. I used edit run to enter the correct distance, but on closing that screen the app reported a different value than I typed in. Eventually I found I had to enter 2.0 km for the app to report that I had run 1.61 km, as seen in the screen shot. I suspect some sort of faulty conversion process in the edit run module of the app.
The Nike+ running app feeds data to the nikeplus web site, providing another way to pull up data and statistics.
The full site includes an animation of the most recent run route.
A satellite view option is also available on the desktop version of the web site.
One feature of a running app is typically the awarding of badges and trophies, along with tracking personal bests. The awards for NikeFuel levels are based on Nike’s proprietary NikeFuel score. Nike wanted to be able to combine all possible athletic activities into a single metric. Working with Glen Gaesser, an exercise and wellness professor at Arizona State University, Nike generated a correlation between wrist acceleration and oxygen uptake. This was then turned into a dimensionless value referred to as NikeFuel. The original work was aimed at a wrist based accelerometer, but the cell phone based apps also generate NikeFuel scores. The Nike+ Fuelband is claimed to be a valid and reliable estimate of physical activity energy expenditure.
Whether the FuelBand is still available is unclear to this author. I suspect the $149 retail price, the same price as an Android phone that can run apps that also generate NikeFuel, was probably beyond what the market would bear for a dedicated fitness device. NikeFuel is an attempt to “gamify” fitness, find a way to generate a video game like score that one can then tout to one’s friends, but the “black box” nature of NikeFuel makes this hard to do. Runners talk in terms of distances run, times, pace, these are the “smack talk” of running. I have trouble seeing how an effectively dimensionless black box of a number will compete with existing physical metrics.
Sure, I cracked off 18 NikeFuel points per minute for thirty minutes three times in one week. But what does that actually mean? Even my children laughed at me when I tried to brag about being supersonic. Without a clear link to the physical world, NikeFuel is ultimately doomed to irrelevance.
Error and uncertainty are central to statistics and physical science. One cannot measure anything twice and get the same result.
I ran on the road with two GPS equipped devices on the same day as the calibration run above. A Garmin eTrex Venture HC held in my hand produced 8.18 kilometers. Nike+ said 8.94 km for my cell phone mounted on the same arm. Now I suppose that my upper arm could have traveled 760 meters further than my hand, but as both are still attached to me, I doubt it. Seven runs to the airport gate and back 2009-2010 average 7.898 km using a Garmin eTrex, the dock gate is a tad farther. Out to the dock and back has averaged 8.42 km on prior runs with my phone, which is reasonable in light of the 2009-2010 data. 8.94 seems a tad long.
Middle numbers are safer choices in measurements, thus I suspect the Garmin was short and the LG P715 was long. The trace from that day suggests that there was an error in measurement.
As noted in the caption above, the distance from two to three kilometers is longer than from six to seven kilometers. As I was running the same route out and back, that is a significant difference and an indication of some form of error. The Deketik gate out-and-back run is somewhere out around the 8.42 kilometer average.
By default I leave my GPS on, even when running inside. On the ninth of August I set Nike+ running to indoor. The next day I switched back to outdoor. At some point in this process the app must have switched off my always on GPS, as I discovered it was off after I came in from my run on the tenth. So switching from outdoor to indoor may inactivate the GPS, but switching back to outdoor does not reactivate the GPS.
The Nike+ running app can apparently disable the GPS but not re-enable the GPS. This makes sense as the GPS adds load to the battery – unloading the battery is less protected than loading the battery. Google MyTracks used to ask permission to re-enable the GPS. Noting that I did run a calibration of the Nike+ running app, the distance is in concurrence with other distance numbers for that route. Seven runs with a Garmin unit in 2009-2010 averaged 7.923 km on that route. Google MyTracks reported 8.47 km on 03 November 2014. This fits a pattern where the LG P715 is generating longer distances that the Garmin eTrex units. Lesson learned: manually re-enable the GPS in the Nike+ running app after running inside.
Note that the Nike+ running app cannot automatically post to FaceBook for those of us in the 691 telephone area code. The issues is probably the security and verification systems in FaceBook. FaceBook cannot send an account verification code to a 691 number, and thus the Nike+ app is blocked from automatically posting (no auto-post to an unverified account). That also means a 691 runner cannot post to FaceBook while running and receive cheers in return.
A runner in the United States with autoposting to FaceBook activated. If liked or commented on during the run, the app cheers for the runner.
There are some other caveats for the Nike+ runner in the Federated States of Micronesia. The app appears to award badges and count weeks of activity based on the time zone of Nike headquarters in Oregon. Thus I do not get a weekly based badge until Oregon gets over into the new week. I also earn Night Owl run badges for running between midnight and 0300 hours. I do not run at those times here in GMT +11, but the time over in Oregon at GMT -8 is the small hours of the night.
Meanwhile my children will laugh at me even harder when they learn that I have exceeded supersonic.
First light is an astronomical reference to the first light to fall on a telescopic lens or mirror. The article is an early days overview of the app, first use by the author.
Post-script: NikeFuel on the Nike+ running app might not be a completely black box. There are high correlations to the distance run (r = 0.9995, n = 22) and the duration of a run ((r = 0.9907, n = 22). Pace is not well correlated (r = 0.4724, n = 22), what correlation does exist can be explained by the distance and duration.
Distance is in miles, pace in minutes per mile, and duration is in minutes. NikeFuel values are on the x-axis. NikeFuel for the running app may be based solely on distance as duration is dependent on distance for a runner at a fairly constant pace. Note that some runs were done on treadmills. All but one treadmill run was post-calibration.
Post-script, three months of use, update on trophies only
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.