Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Marching to the Beat of Another Drummer: Round and Round We Go

Do YOU March to the Beat?

With the onset of spring and warmer, longer days here in France, I've adjusted to a degree my workout routines.  Paris sits at a surprisingly high northern latitude, at least to this US expat, which means darker winters and brighter summers compared to the States.  During the winter months, with darkness arriving at 430 in the afternoon, my running was exclusively on the sidewalks through the streets of Paris.  This has the up-side of some truly inspiring views; I alternated my routes to pass by the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde with its obelisk, the Musee du Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few.

Now that it is light until nearly 9 PM each evening, the parks are open and available later and later, which allows me to use the nearby Parc Monceau for much of my course.  I've found that running the loop around the bucolic park is a bit easier on the joints than the stone sidewalks, and it's defninitely a lot more efficient, and probably safer as well, than the streets, where I am forced to contend with traffic and pedestrians.  As an added bonus, the loop is almost exactly a kilometre around, which makes pacing and planning very easy.  The park is also quite nice, with many trees, flowers, a small lake, and a sprinkling of fake artefacts (a faux Roman pillar, a replica of an Egyptian pyramid) as pleasant distractions.

I'm decidedly middle-aged, and thus am careful to take measures to prevent injuries.  I have read that one should alter the direction of travel so as to distribute the impact of turning more equally between left and right.  Hence, on odd days, I run clock-wise around the park, and even days, anti-clock-wise.  Not sure if this benefits my knees, but at the least, there is a minor placebo effect.

The park is often full of other runners, which is a relatively new phenomenon in France, where running has taken a certain following, only a few years after former President Nicolas Sarkozy was jeered for his passion for such an "Anglo-Saxon" pursuit.  

What I've noticed, but had not thought of previously, is how uniform other runners are.  On my first foray into the park, I ran around the loop in the "standard," anti-clock-wise direction.  The same as virtually every other runner.  Only the people strolling the path headed the opposite direction.  However, the next trip into Monceau, I ran clockwise.  To my chagrin, this was decidedly against what every other runner was doing that day.  It's not an exaggeration that every other runner in Park Monceau was running anti-clock-wise.

In fact, several looked at me with a certain shock that I would be so heterodox to run clock-wise.

I wonder, is it peer-pressure, conformity, what, that results in such a uniform behaviour?  In competitive track, of course, the racers all must go the same direction, and that direction happens to be anti-clock-wise.  But why should casual jogging, and to be fair, the French may have taken to running, but they still are more or less plodding along at a pretty slow pace, be so uniform?

Horse racing is a bit more varied.  In the UK, typically, the horses run in a clock-wise (what in equestrian is called "right-handed") fashion.  But it's not uniform - there are both right and left-handed races in the UK, depending on the location.  In the US, of course, it's entirely left-handed, which according to this article came as a reaction to the predominance of right-hand racing in England, which was cast out along with King George III in the US revolution.  Over time, there had been attempts in the States to re-introduce right-hand racing, but each attempt failed, and as a bit of trivia, the very last right-hand race in the US was at Belmont Park, where the famous horse Man o' War won the final leg of his triple crown in 1920.

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