Sunday, March 23, 2014


"I like to tell people, I don't know exactly what time is - but I can tell them exactly what a second is.  A second is 9,192,631,770 periods of oscillation of an undisturbed cesium atom.  And time?  Well, my definition of time is that it's a coordinate that lets us most simply understand the evolution of the universe.  But that is a circular definition." - Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist of the U.S. Naval Observatory's Time Services.  Responsible for keeping time for the world.

Running is all about time.  Most runners get obsessed about time.  They time themselves every day - even though they may have run the same route hundreds of times.  GPS watches have made this obsession even worse with some people.  They glance down at their watch every minute or two to make sure they are running the right pace.  I have rebelled against this a bit.  I almost never use my stop watch unless I'm running an unfamiliar route and I don't know the distance.  Although I do use my watch in the pool and I always use my GPS on my bike - so, I guess I'm only one for three in my rebelliousness against obsessing over time.

Life is to a certain extent all about time as well.  We are defined, if not by our age, then by what period of life we're in.  I can remember how unfair it felt as a child that adults didn't take me seriously just because I happened to be young.  The thoughts that keep us up at night many times are related to time.  "I need to get up early tomorrow morning."  "What's my schedule this week?"  This might seem like an obvious or banal observation - but it is interesting how hard it is to define something which is so central to our experience.

I thought about Dr. Matsakis' definition of time.  Isn't a second really about how we divide up one rotation of earth?  If somehow the earth started spinning slower or faster than wouldn't his definition of a second need to change as well?  But time isn't just about the rotation of the earth - it's also about how long it takes for the earth to rotate around the sun.  There aren't exactly 365 days in a year - which is why we need an extra day every four years.

Dr. Matsakis also talked about the problem of keeping good time the more sensitive his instruments become.  He says that at a certain point of sensitivity that Einstein's theory of relativity states that two clocks kept at different elevations will actually differ slightly in how long a second takes.

Today I ran with my friends in Ann Arbor.  Todd Snyder - who I ran with in high school; Ian Forsythe - the Canadian national record holder for masters (over 40 years old) 10k; and Nick Stanko - another Michigan grad who was pretty close to an Olympic caliber athlete.

Both Todd and Nick are not training much these days - but they still can probably run faster than me if we were in a race.  Ian is training for Boston - where he hopes to run under 2:20.  He ran 2:23 at Chicago last year.  Pretty amazing for a 41 year old.  He is proof that age really can be just a number.  If you are able to keep the passion for training and competition it's incredible what you can accomplish.  Of course he's very talented as well.  His accomplishments were so impressive in high school that his teammates gave him the nickname "The King."

This is not to say that we don't all feel our age in some ways.  I certainly will never get anywhere close to my times for 5k or 10k that I ran in college.  I probably will never beat my PR for a half-marathon or even for a marathon.  I guess that's why I keep finding new challenges.  I escape the inevitable long slow march to slowness by trying something new.

Our experience of time is marked by gaining and losing.  We experience loss our entire lives - even as children we experience loss.  But seeing some of my older relatives this weekend I realized that there is a certain age where it must feel like you only experience loss.  You lose friends and family - you lose the ability to function physically - you lose cognitive skills.  There is a reason why people of a certain age seem to live in the past.  The present is so painful and full of loss - wouldn't anybody want to focus on a time in your life when everything was possible?  When you could still call up a friend or sibling who has since passed away - when you had a successful career - or when your house was full of youngsters - the first time you fell in love - Christmas with your siblings as a child. 

I point this out not to be depressing - but to remind those of us who are still "young" that we won't always be this way.  We must take advantage of our abilities - because eventually we will lose them.  We must tell our friends and family how much we care about them - because eventually they won't be around.  We must be courageous enough to at least attempt to fulfill our dreams - because what is possible now won't always be possible.  Time will strip us of everything.  So, be bold - live life fully.

The slavish way in which we must focus on the present sometimes means we don't have the proper perspective to be courageous enough to live life fully.  A friend recently showed me this quote from Mark Helprin.  I've gone back and forth about whether fate exists or not.  Helprin apparently believes it does exist.  That time is merely how we experience reality.  This quote is from his book "Winter's Tale."

“Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishing frigid winter after another. Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one is certain.

And yet, there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined, it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given - so we track it, in linear fashion piece by piece. Time however can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was is; everything that ever will be is - and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we image that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but something that is.”  

How much "time" I spent training this week:

Monday - Morning: 3000y swim (1 hour)
 Tuesday - 36 mile bike (2 hours)
Wednesday - Morning: 3000y swim (1 hour)
Afternoon: 9 mile run (1 hour)
Thursday - 6 mile run (45 minutes)
Friday - 4 mile run (30 min)
Saturday -  10 mile progression workout (a little over one hour)
Sunday - 17 miles (2 hours)
Total - Swim: 2 hours Bike: 2 hours Run: 5.25 hours (9.25 hours)

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