Saturday, July 14, 2007

On getting lost

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I have a phenomenally awful sense of direction. I am not sure quite how it comes about, it's partly a kind of inattention (often I am just thinking about something else) but it's also a kind of inability to notice and remember landmarks; where some people have a bump of direction, I have a small black hole, it is like being bad with numbers or incapable of carrying a tune.

(I have such a bad sense of direction that often the only way I get un-lost is to go the opposite way from what I believe must be the right direction! It is a strange kind of double-think, like something from Alice Through the Looking-Glass.)

This is a comical affliction when it comes to running! I had a lovely long run this morning, it really was good (low humidity, strong and steady legs, and I think I may have finally shaken off my stress-fracture-related muscle problems, the sports massage stuff has properly taken effect), and yet it also must be said that one of the other best things about this run was that I did not actually get lost until about mile 8 of 9.3. Mercifully late in the game!

I know Central Park reasonably well, I run there often, I looked at our little map (reproduced below, with some rather Gatoradish blots in the middle), and yet as soon as I wasn't running with anyone else I went completely astray. I had left the bridle path, I was trying to avoid the 10K race taking place on the main road, and I ran on a little path alongside the road in a direction that I was convinced was taking me towards the upper loop--it was with an extremely familiar sinking feeling that I suddenly realized I was coming upon Engineer's Gate (East 90th St.) from the north, when I could have sworn I was still running north up the west side....

However there are a number of positive things about this too.

1. At team meetings, it makes me feel like a character in one of Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers stories, where all girls have one or two distinctive traits that are alluded to as shorthand instead of character development. My character as far as the running class goes is that I am fast and once I start I will go forever without stopping--only perhaps not in the right direction...

2. More practically, I now have a lovely device that directly counters the ill effects of this problem! It's not GPS technology, you still can't get a Jetsonesque wrist unit that's as good as what you might have in a car, also it would be embarrassing if it spoke to you out loud on the street and GPS is fallible in the park in any case (this morning I was making a fervent mental note that if I ever have to get a car & start driving--i.e. let's say I go and teach at UCLA or somewhere like that--I will be damned to the expense and will definitely get the best GPS device imaginable, but that I had better keep a backup atlas in the car also because if the technology went down I would be hopeless), but it's got a great little thing that goes on the shoe & is called a foot pod which pretty much solves my difficulty, because once I realize I'm lost I no longer have to somehow find my way back to the correct measured course and then guess where I should stop so as not to exceed the training plan--the device tells me pretty much exactly how far I have run! And on this occasion, I headed back round the bridle path again and then up north in vaguely the right direction and in a happy coincidence hit the right mileage at the spot in the north-west corner of the park that's my preferred stop-start point. (The foot pod data is not 100% accurate, but it's quite good because you calibrate it on a measured track and give it an adjustment factor that takes your stride length into account.)

3. A wholly eleemosynary thing I also love about the device: the term "foot pod." It's irresistible! I tried to pin down what I found so funny about it, and realized that it reminded me of something from one of the Chronicles of Narnia, books that I read so often as a small child that they are pretty much engraved in the wrinkles of my brain. The Dufflepuds and the Monopods...


  1. I chuckled at this post, not least because the one thing I can say about myself - perhaps my sole gift - is that I can find my way anywhere. Naturally - there must be some law about this - the one time I relied on a GPS device in a hire car, I got thoroughly lost. Either I programmed the thing wrong or whichever waves it uses to communicate with the satellites frizzled the direction-finding cells in my brain.

  2. My sense of direction extends to up and down, and that is only because I doublecheck by dropping things.

    The first thing your Polar RS200sd link says is that it is for "competitive, goal oriented runners". ;-)

    Brit kid lit -> yeah, I can believe that it permanently encodes in the gross physical structure of the brain.

  3. Yes, gravity is helpful, it is a design flaw that we do not also have an internal points-of-the-compass calibration tool built in.

    The Polar description is pretty funny, isn't it?!? I am not sure "competitive" is exactly right, certainly "goal-oriented"...

    I was laughing at myself as I looked back at this post in that I really see that children's books have seriously shaped my entire understanding of the world!

    The part I forgot to write: in a way (to take an optimistic view) I am exactly the kind of person Central Park was designed for, you are supposed to be taken in by these trompe l'oeil landscaping-type effects & lose your orientation to the city!

  4. me too. i have a terrible sense of direction. i like maps but have a hard time connecting the abstract to the real, as i am more comfortable in the abstract. loved the picture from narnia book too.
    great to hear you're running well and feeling good. by the way, a tip i read today for athletes and others. cherries are a natural anti-inflammatory. someone is capitalizing on this by selling special cherry juice to the rangers and some other athletes, but i think it works just as well to buy any kind of cherry juice or just eat a lot of cherries. the guy who started this cherry pharm juice company discovered cherries helped reduce pain with his own injuries...

  5. Design flaw indeed.

    I will eventually find my way.

    But it helps if I have a map. ;-)

  6. Yes, and maps are good not least because they contribute to a sense of mental calmness that aids decision-making on directions.

    N., I've been eating a lot of cherry jam recently, maybe that counts! And dried sour cherries also, they are quite delicious (like a kind of all-natural Starburst, very good). Interesting, I had not thought of them being a remedy, but this is good...