Long Walks On Leafy Streets

10/17/2017 Fenton Street, Takoma Park, MD.
Fall seems to have arrived, finally. Clearly the climate has changed and it has been a rather warm October so far, but yesterday and today we had the first couple of really fall like days. This morning I went running in 50-degree weather for the first time and it felt like such a long time ago in the past when that happened. It was quite bright and sunny outside, and all in all very beautiful, calming weather.

Todayís run was also one of the last before the Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday. The bib number is in hand and the hotel room has been booked for Saturday night just like last year. All three of us plan to stay in Crystal City not far from the start and finish. I have been preparing myself physically and mentally for this all year, especially the past 16 weeks. Starting in the first week of July I gradually increased the number of miles run each week until it reached 40 miles two weeks ago, with a Sunday run of 20 miles.
I had been following the schedule from a Runnerís World magazine issue religiously. That was the second time I ran 20 miles and it felt good. Nevertheless you donít know what will happen until you cross the finish line and so I will keep my fingers crossed. I look forward to running it, though. Last year the marathon itself felt like a celebration after the grueling months of training and it looks like it will be the same this year also. All this despite the fact that I only run three or four times a week! I do like running very much, and look forward to doing this every year.

Every time one goes running, whether it is 5 miles or 20 miles, one doesnít know what will come up. Sometimes the body starts hurting in unexpected places at unexpected times. On the 24th of last month I was running from my home to my good friend Alanís. He lives near Forest Glen metro about 6 miles from mine and the plan was to meet him at his home and run with him for about 11 miles. Alan runs several half-marathons a year and he usually runs 8 to 11 miles. I started from home around 6.45 and perhaps it was too early and the body didnít warm up properly, about a mile into the run my right thigh muscle started hurting. After that I could only run very slowly. I was hoping the pain would go away but it never did and so I didnít dare to run faster. It was one of my most difficult runs. Somehow I managed to run 14 more miles, ignoring the pain. It felt a little better when I slowed down and so I felt that there was no risk that anything had been torn. But I still wonder if it would have been wiser just to stop and take a cab home.

The problem is I love running so much that neither pain nor illness nor terrible weather can stop me from running. It has become almost like a drug. Over the past four months especially, at different times different parts of the body have been aching. There have been days when there wasnít enough time to eat or sleep well and somehow some time for running had to be squeezed in. But through it all I could never not miss one run from the schedule. Last year I didnít run the Tuesday after the Parks half marathon (which I ran with Alan again this year, both finishing at 1:48:46) because my legs were so sore. But this year after running it on Sunday I was able to run on Tuesday, albeit 2 miles less than scheduled.

Thanks to the grace of God my body has withstood all of that, so far. I am paying better attention to nutrition, pre-run warm-up and post-run stretching, and most importantly, sleep and rest in between runs. The bodyís ability to heal and get stronger is amazing, especially when all of those things are done properly. I have always listened to my body, and found it true from experience that the body can really tell you what is good for itself. There is an intrinsic intelligence in every cell of the body, as Dr. Deepak Chopra is fond of saying. Of all those things I have found sleep to be the single most important factor. On many nights after going to bed with several muscles and joints aching after a good nightís sleep the body would feel completely new in the morning. I know Hemingway meant it in a different context, but I am beginning to understand what it means to say ďstronger in the broken places.Ē Indeed, many of the aches and pains that I have experienced were only a beginning of the strengthening of the muscles and joints in the affected parts. What I earlier thought was due to structural flaws only turned out to be the part of the continuous process of exposure of weakness and gradual strengthening, starting with the calf muscles all the way to the muscles in the lower back.

Apart from the physical process the mental process has been even more rewarding. In previous posts you might have read about the role mindfulness plays in running and how they reinforce each other. One must also write about the joy of just being outside and enjoying nature and letting the mind wander through various events from the past week or year or decades, or even thinking about mathematics. Whether it is running in the early morning with a cool wind nipping at your body as you go through the colonnade of trees on Rock Creek Parkway or later in bright sunshine along the Potomac river along with crowds of runners, joggers, walkers and bikers; whether it is running along the towpath at mid-day while egrets and ducks watch or stretching at the Georgetown waterfront afterwards, I donít know if I would enjoy running at all if it were done solely inside a gym or on a track.

Occasionally I have also gotten great ideas for my research while running, or in the hours afterwards when the mind is fresh and relaxed and energized. Just as with running I try to enjoy the moment when it comes to research. I do have a specific problem I am trying to solve, and although every time I make some progress it only seems to transfer the difficulty of the problem from one area to another, I do enjoy it very much. Even if I donít solve the problem that I want to solve I may come up with some good and useful results along the way.

In the past month I have been inspired in my mathematical journey by reading about the lives of two great mathematicians of our time, Alexander Grothendieck and Vladimir Voevodsky. Both were true seekers of truth, great souls who sought to find truth and help the world through mathematics. Mathematics was a way for them to speak with God or the higher truth or higher beauty. I will probably be never able to even understand fully what they accomplished but reading about their lives has certainly woken me up to what is really true and meaningful for me in this life.

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