Monday, 2 February 2015

Bang the Drum, Ringo

One of the things I enjoy in my leisure time is running, something I've been up to for 20 years now.  I try to mix up my routines a bit to add a little variety, but also attempt to have some day-to-day reproducibility to allow me to do some benchmarking.

I'm a mathematician by trade, and thus a significant chunk of my waking (and even some of my non-waking) mental energy is devoted to numbers.  To paraphrase Pooh-Ba from The Mikado:  "I cannot help it; I was born sneering."

Living as I have for the past couple of years in Paris, my courses are around some familiar icons, but a significant piece is around the nearby Parc Monceau.  It's a pleasant, English-style garden with a fake pyramid, Roman colonnade, huge, Palatine trees, and a loop course.  It works well, as one loop around the park is almost exactly one kilometre, and thus, I can run up to the park, a few laps around it, and then home to complete my 10k.

Parisians have taken to jogging - a surprising thing to say for someone who just a few years ago was laughing when Nicolas Sarkozy's running routine was derided as too Anglo-Saxon.

The French, despite being seen as avant-garde and progressive, in fact are quite a socially conservative, conformist lot.  I wrote last summer my observations that virtually everyone running in Parc Monceau ran the same direction, circling the park in an anti-clockwise sense.  When I headed the opposite direction, I was greeted with stares that ranged from bewilderment to shock to in some cases, disapproving angst.

It was almost like the scene from Midnight Express where Brad Davis decides to march against the direction of the other prisoners.

WELLL.... it turns out that there is. in fact, a method to the madness.

In the local Direct Matin this morning, the daily "Savez-Vous..." question and answer section asked about why in track and field, the runners always circle the track anti-clockwise.

According to the article, the direction is not par hasard, but instead, is rooted in brain physiology.  When the modern olympic games were revived in the late 19th century, the tracks ran clock-wise.  The athletes complained.

In the article, the brain's centre of balance resides in the left hemispheres, and thus the right side of the body for most dominates.  When running clock-wise, the eyes, legs, and balancing mechanism is thus turned opposite of where our internal gyroscopes are needed.

The article went on to note that, in events where people run clock-wise vs. anti-clock-wise, the body feels more stress, and times are slower by two seconds on average per 400 metres.  For a race like the "metric mile," (1600 m) this is a significant obstacle.

It also explains, I think, why open skate among other things also require skaters to circle anti-clock-wise.

So here, the French desire for conformity has science to back it up.

Now, if we could only answer why they always wear black and continue to see smoking as glamourous...

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