Long Walks On Leafy Streets

2/15/2020 Rock creek Park, Washington DC    
(Continued from previous post dated 12/28/2019 )

My 2019 Marathon Experience - Conclusion - part 1.

It has been a busy one and a half months since I wrote last time, just before the new year. I worked hard on my research during the holiday break and since semester started it has been back to the treadmill of daily life. So it is nice to finally sit down and write again, although I really should be going to bed.

This morning (2/15) I went on a nice run from my home to Dupont Circle and back, a distance of almost exactly ten miles. The temperature was just below 30 degrees, and I woke up with a scratchy throat and feeling chills. It seemed like the viral infection I caught from Prashant a week ago might be coming back.
Somehow, I managed to drag myself out of the house, albeit dressed warmer than usual. After about two miles the energy came back and I started feeling good and comfortable in the run, maintaining a slow but steady pace. I ran on the streets because the valleys of Rock Creek or Sligo Creek would have been even colder. It was nice to be able to enjoy the sunshine and the street scenery. It has been a bit cloudy during the past few days and I had been mostly indoors.

In Washington DC, being in the no-man zone between the arctic and the tropical zones, our weather changes capriciously every day. Now with climate change disrupting the Arctic vortex, it has become even more capricious. These past few weeks of "winter" we have had days when it was cloudy and rainy with temperatures in the fifties and sixties, and then yesterday it started in the teens and barely got above thirty during the day. In between we will have the winds blasting in from the north or the south, and that is when you know the weather is going to change drastically. Unlike places like Hawaii or even Montreal, you can never adjust to the climate slowly over a period of weeks. Instead you have to train your body to be ready for anything, anytime.

These days whenever I feel sluggish or tired or too weak to face the elements outside, I think about how I felt during the Marine Corps marathon last year. In the previous post I had stopped with the start of race. I mentioned how it was pouring hard as we walked to the start line and I cheered myself up by singing the Puffin Rock theme song to myself. It continued to rain as we started the first two miles of gentle uphill running. Unlike the previous year, I had started closer to the front of the crowd, so it was possible to run relatively free without weaving through masses of people. Everyone was running peacefully in spite of the rain. The intensity of the rain waxed and waned. At times it was just a drizzle, but mostly it was steady rain.

It was also very inspiring to see people out on the streets cheering on the runners. I expected to see fewer people running and even fewer spectators out on the streets but it shows the character and commitment of people in this area that they would come out even on a very rainy day. Just after the six-mile mark as we turned around on the Rock Creek Parkway, I saw my friends Alan and Manuel. I didn't even know Manuel was going to be there so that was a pleasant surprise. I was very grateful to have friends cheering me on and it gave me a morale boost as I continued on the run. Alan was there also for our friend Pulin who was running the inaugural 50K (about 32 miles). For the first time they were organizing a 50K concurrently with the marathon. Alan likes to bring people together and I met Pulin through him. Pulin and I had been on a practice run on the towpath earlier in the year. He is American born, of Indian origin, and was running to celebrate his turning forty. I had run my first marathon to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. The marathon is probably as far as I would go but I can see why he wanted to do the 50K given that he had already run a lot of races (at a good pace, too) including the marathon. Alan's goal is to run fifty half marathons before he turns fifty. He is becoming a really good half marathon runner.

The first eight miles went smoothly and as planned. I was running at a steady 8 to 8.5 minute per mile pace. After about seven miles my running and breathing seemed to settle into a rhythm and I was even starting to feel comfortable. In fact, running in the rain even felt liberating! We have a tendency (at least I do) to want life to be comfortable and without too many unexpected problems. We get annoyed when something doesn't go as planned and then keep hoping for things to return back to normal. We keep going by telling ourselves that we will somehow just get through this and everything will be fine again soon. But as we turned from West Potomac park to East Potomac park and the rain started pouring again, I felt a sudden sense of freedom. It is a feeling of being free from worry and fear, of not wanting or hoping for things to be in any particular way but just enjoying what is there at the moment. It is the feeling that a surfer gets when he glides underneath the wave, enjoying the wave instead of running away from it. Of course, I was not in any great danger, but the feeling of lethargy in the morning combined with the steady rain made it miserable to start with. That misery and discomfort dissolved and gave way to a feeling of freedom.

I carry that feeling with me to this day. That is what made me enjoy the run this morning in the cold weather. That has also been helping me through some turbulent moments in my life during the past three months after the marathon. Especially when faced with disappointments and failures in my research, I am able to pick myself up. Instead of sinking into despair I think about how I enjoy working on problems and thinking about problems at all times. The enjoyment is not just in finding the solution but in working on the problem itself. This is also what mindfulness is about. When you simply focus on enjoying the moment, seeing what there is instead of worrying about what you are missing or whether you will reach somewhere, that is when you really start getting somewhere. Of course, the point is to not worry about getting somewhere at all. In mathematics as in life, keeping an open mind and a fresh perspective is the key to discovery.

Around the 8-mile mark they give out orange slices courtesy of Wegman's. I have always enjoyed those. I eagerly grabbed and ate some of them. I had been drinking Gatorade and water that were given out every two miles and I also had some gel blocks (basically sugar) in my hand to chew along the way. As I wrote in previous posts, my main concern was not to run out of sugar. In 2017 I was just recovering from a cold and hadn't eaten much on the days leading to the race. After 13 miles I had serious trouble just continuing. My body just completely ran out of energy. This time I had made sure to eat well on the previous day as well as on the morning of the race. I was also worried about some soreness in my right thigh. Although it started aching at the beginning, the pain had more or less become unnoticeable after about 8 miles. (Continued in part 2).

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