Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Running in the Dry

As you may have figured out from a past post, I have recently gotten back from Tucson, Az. It was a fantastic experience on many fronts. First and foremost, it was exactly the same as time travel.

Here in the East Coast/ New England/ Great Lakes region of the world, autumn is firmly upon us. For those of you not from around here, fall brings changing leaf colors, death, unpredictable weather patterns, and falling temperatures. Highs in the 60s are considered pleasant. Overnight lows can dip near frost levels. Snow in October is unlikely but not unheard of. One thing is clear: summer is gone and things are slipping towards the winter abyss.

Now, checking the forecast for southern Arizona, you discover something that resembles the pic on the right. This is what the locals refer to as "unseasonably cool". Upon arriving in the greater Tucson area, the natives have actually donned their long-sleeved garb to combat the frigid high temps. We warm-blooded individuals are quite comfy in our shorts and t-shirts noting that their overnight lows are still higher than our daily highs. In a nutshell, flying to Arizona was exactly the same as traveling back in time to summer.

Having not really done the whole time travel thing in the past, I talked to some experienced season jumpers. They warned me that, despite appearances, there are subtle differences that clue you in to the fact that you are not in your own time.

For example, normally a 90º high would equal something near a 70-90% humidity rating. This type of atmosphere is so thick that you can actually swim through it. More naive people would refer to this act as flying, but that type of anti-gravity stuff is reserved for Superman, the Greatest American Hero, and certain Douglas Adams characters who have mastered the art of not hitting the ground.

In your case, you really are running, only you must actually move your arms and legs to separate the air/ water molecules which allows your body to readily move through. Of course, this takes extra energy on your part. This is part of the reason us Northerners look so ridiculous when running.

Not me, but close
When you are finished, not only have you gotten in a relatively good workout, but you are also significantly soaked in both your own sweat and atmospheric droppings. Every fabric of your existence is soaked. You could not be more saturated should you have actually jumped into one of the lakes that provides the colloidal water suspension. Your shoes are slushy. Your shirt has changed colors. There is a physical stream of liquid draining off of your running shorts. Let's not discuss the smell.

On the contrary, this same effect is not produced in the Southwestern United States. Here's how it went for me:

I awoke at 5:30 am. I piddled around in my hotel room a bit. This equals searching for my running clothes, hydrating, and making tinkle. In the real world, I would be sitting and reading while enjoying a cup of homemade mocha latte. The hotel room did not come equipped with an espresso machine, so I opted to skip the hubub and get started immediately on my run. I left the room by 5:45 am (note: I am not a morning runner.)

The temps outside were already in the mid-70s. I step outside and inhale some crisp, lean air. Something was amiss as the gaseous mixture went in smoothly and I did not feel the need to use a straw.

I started my jog just as the sun was arising. Which is another difference: The sun back home comes up at 6:30-ish. How the sun manages to wake up here a good 45 minutes earlier is beyond me. Anyway, I get to my jog. The plan was to run out for about 1.75 miles, turn around, and come back. I followed the plan to perfection.

Upon returning to the hotel, the air has risen to near 80º.  I went to wring out the bottom of my shirt and shorts, only because I felt the obligation to not drip all over the hotel lobby. Oddly, my shorts were still dry. Not a single drop of liquid after 3 and a half miles. My shirt had a small patch of moisture in the middle of my chest, about the size of a silver dollar. My shoes were silent as the 'squish-squish' sound was completely absent. My hair was in the exact same state as it was 25 minutes ago when I left the building (ragged and ugly, but dry). What happened to all of the sweat? I'm so not used to the rate of evaporation keeping up with the rate of perspiration.

I've never understood the whole "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" thing until now. To compare, I went on a 3.5 mile run after touching down in Western NY. The temps were sub 60º but the humidity was in the upper 70s. I started to sweat after about 6 minutes into the run and the body moisture ended roughly 12 minutes post-stopping. My shirt had a v-shaped sweat pattern that started at my shoulders and pointed towards my happy place. Only the sides of my top were their original hue. My shorts were thoroughly moist. My shoes smelled something terrible- although I'm pretty sure they always reek. (Note to self: Stop putting nose in shoes.)

Maybe it is the humidity after all. That, or time travel does some weird things to the physiology of the runner. This phenomenon needs to be studied more carefully. Now, I need someone willing to pay me to fly all over the place and run. Any takers?

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