Saturday, April 4, 2015

Running With the Night Sky

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
DOUGLAS ADAMS, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

This morning, as I usually do on a Saturday, I headed out to Oak Mountain for a long trail run. Those long runs have been more moderate (as opposed to challenging) as of late and I can't seem to get my groove back to grind out a good 3+ hour run just because. I understand that if I want to keep taking part (not saying the word "racing") in trail races and the Southeastern Trail Series, then I better keep my butt moving forward down the trail at a pretty consistent clip. But, working on my feet all day, running a couple of early morning runs each week, and running on the weekends takes a lot out of this old thoroughbred's giddy up.

But one of the things I really enjoy about running is that I've become a solid early morning runner. Now, it has it's downside. Like if I miss that early morning run, there's just about no way I'm going to make myself get it together to run after work. Put a zero in the books. End of story. That's unfortunate too, because the few times I have run later in the day, I find that run is much more smooth than the ones where the alarm goes off, I hop out of the sack, and 20 minutes later I'm bounding shuffling down the dark road. But, that's me, and that's what I do.

There is one big...make that giant...advantage to going out before the sun pokes it's head above the horizon. It's just me and the sky. Since I was a wee lad, I have always been enthralled by the immenseness of the universe. It has amazed me since long before I took field trips to the Hayden Planetarium in New York as an Elementary School student in New Jersey, that we are rather insignificant in the totalness of it all. Astronomy was always my favorite subject in all levels of school, and probably if I could have figured out a way for it to pay for life, I might have gone down that avenue instead of Physical Therapy. However, there never was that fork in the road, so a "decision" never had to be made, but the interest still fascinated me.

So, what the heck does this have to do with my running? Well, three things came to mind today as I had a ran around the beautiful Yellow, Red, and White trails of Oak Mountain:

1) At the beginning of fall, when the early runs are starting in the dark, the constellation Orion (“The Hunter”) hangs low in the eastern sky. It is unmistakable and nearly everyone recognizes it from the 3 classic stars that comprise his belt. When I first see Orion, I know the cold weather that I absolutely hate is right around winter's corner. But, Orion is like the Big Dipper, you've seen it since you were a kid, and he's as reliable to show up when it gets cold as snakes are to show up on the trails when it gets warm (hate cold, hate snakes). Orion's been with me once again all winter, every morning. Now, he hangs high in the sky, but soon he'll be gone for his summer vacation. I'll miss him because of his brightness and clarity...on his right shoulder is the red star, Betelgeuse, which is the 10th brightest star in the sky. On his left knee is Rigel, the 6th brightest star. And then just off his belt is Sirius, the very brightest star in the whole night sky! Hard to believe that light from Sirius took 8.6 years to reach my eyeball, traveling over 50 trillion miles (a lot longer than my run).

2) Being the closet sky nerd that I believe I am, I sign up for an email that will let me know when the International Space Station will be flying (?) over my home in Birmingham. The email will say something like "the ISS will pass over at 5:09am, at 58 degrees, traveling ENE to WSW and will be visible for 6 minutes". The first time I got the email this winter I knew about how far into my run I would be when I might be able to catch a glimpse. I've seen many satellites in my day...Good grief, I'm so seasoned I actually saw the Russian Sputnik in 1957!!...but when I saw the ISS for the first time, I was a kid again. It was, by far, the brightest object in the sky, and it was really moving fast! Actually, it's going over 17,000 MPH, which is fast, but IT LOOKED FAST! I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared at it until it was gone. How utterly cool! Over the winter, I've probably seen it about 20 times. I'm gonna miss that pre-dawn show. If you're interested in getting ISS alerts for your home area, click here

3) Finally, here's what prompted this post - this morning, I'm about to run at OM and I see the moon about to set in the west. Pretty, but no big deal, but then I noticed the shadow just didn't seem right... the left side of the moon was covered, and my semi-nerd mind realized that the sun was going to rise FACING the moon...there should be no shadow! Holy crap! It's a lunar eclipse! I had seen them before, but never unexpected. Unfortunately, right before it went total, this big frickin' cloud comes along and kills the moment. But what a cool moment it was.

As the days get longer, I won't miss running on those cold mornings, but I will miss running with the night sky.

I'll see you all on brighter roads and trails - Al


Anonymous said...

Good article. I figured you'd be jogging along, looking up at the stellar nursery in Orion's sword, and think to yourself "Wow. Look at those 3 visible stars. That reminds me that once was born a fantasy championship in Clint's league drafting Seabass as my kicker in the 3rd round!"

I should have asked NdGT to name his team The Pluto Killers and take your place! I still miss you, Al!!!

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