(The frosty visage of my muse, from my apartment.)
Early Wednesday afternoon I snuck out the door in between extensive sessions of reading peer-reviewed environmental research. I was earnestly attempting, but only marginally succeeding, to assimilate the methods and findings presented in Regulation of the nitrogen biogeochemistry of mountain lakes by subsidies of terrestrial dissolved organic matter and the implications for climate studies (Bunting et al., 2010). Right. Clearly, it was time to re-immerse myself in a medium in which I feel a little more adept, even proficient: the snowy slopes of Green Mountain.
After the day's second summit helped get my head straight, though, it was back to the books for more feelings of significantly befuddled inadequacy, courtesy of Nanus et al. 2008 (Evaluating regional patterns in nitrate sources to watersheds in National Parks of the Rocky Mountains using nitrate isotopes). However, during subsequent episodes on the trails I can't have helped but draw some parallels between alpine environment nutrient cycling and certain behaviors in my running.
One of the more important concepts to consider when studying the carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles--particularly in light of an objectively changing climate and increasing mean global temperatures--is that of feedback loops. Some feedback loops are negative and some are positive. When a feedback is negative, the system tends to equilibrate itself and become stable, which is most often the case. However, when a biogeochemical process operates as a positive feedback, the system responds by magnifying the amplitude of a given input or perturbation and can quickly result in a runaway situation, i.e. the amplitude of the system increases exponentially.
As a result, this decided instability means any scientist is usually quite interested in identifying any positive feedback loops in a given system. One such example of a hypothesized positive feedback is that of a loop involving atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), CO2 sequestered in permafrost, and increasing global temperatures. The thinking goes: warmer annual temperatures melt permafrost at high latitudes, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere from the now unfrozen organic material, which new atmospheric CO2 then contributes to further increasing temperatures, and so on and so forth.
(As an aside, over the past months I have been summarily impressed with the apparent level-headedness that seems to prevail at many of Boulder/CU's prominent scientific institutions---the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, the National Snow and Ice Data Center, NCAR, NOAA etc---with regards to the typically hot-button issue of climate change. I have heard a certain director, on more than one occasion, opine that they think Al Gore does more to hurt climate change science than to help it because he habitually overstates and hyperbolizes the case. Climate Research Unit (CRU) hacking incident and resulting scandal aside, I am very confident in the fact that there are lots and lots of dedicated climate scientists doing unbiased and extremely ethical work.)
Over the last few weeks, it seems as if my running has been under the influence of a similar positive feedback loop. It feels as if the consistent, reasonable workload of not having missed a day of running no less than two hours (let alone a Green Mt. summit) for the past two months has gradually helped to steel my body against injury. The longer I can go without injury and maintain such a routine, the stronger my body's various relevant musculoskeletal structures become, which means I can continue to be consistent, which means my body gets stronger, which means strength and fitness improves and chance for injury decreases, and on and on. The metaphorical snowball rolling down a hill.
However, I am not so sure that this is necessarily a true positive feedback situation where the amplitude of the output will necessarily progress in a runaway fashion. That is, by very gradually increasing my mileage and ultimately limiting it to a level that is less than maximal, I feel as if I've been able to reap the benefits of a positive feedback loop while enforcing the stability of a negative feedback system.
(Summits #63 and #64 this morning. It was gloriously bright.)
That, and acupuncture appears to not be a ruse, after all. This morning I set out to challenge my knee with a test that a month (and four acupuncture sessions from Allison Suddard) ago it failed: two consecutive laps on Green Mountain. The 2-3" of freshly fallen snow on the trails slowed my progress up Green's steep front side more than I would've liked (inefficient 37min ascents rather than the sprightly 35s I'd envisioned on a tacky, packed trail), but the most important fact was that I had zero knee pain on neither descents of Gregory Canyon nor on the 25 minutes of pavement I ran on the way back to my apartment to round out the three-hours and 5300'-of-vertical.
(Greenman trail: ~1mi and ~1000' vertical to go.)
(Lots of snow up there right now...typical trail conditions.)
By continuing to induce a little stability into my regimen, maybe I can be back racing a little sooner than I'd planned.