Saturday 27 May 2017

The race to measure the Comrades Route

The race to Measure the Comrades Route.

Runners measure everything to do with running and on the 4th of June 2017 runners from over 60 nations will reach the start-line of the Comrades Ultra Marathon.  

The race distance will be perfectly measured for us.

However, there was a time when measuring distances was more complicated.    Humans did not know the distance between the earth and the sun.

I am reading a brilliant book written by Andrea Wulf.  It is called, “Chasing Venus, the race to measure the heavens.”   It deals with an attempt to measure the distance between the earth and the sun.

I quote, “In 1716, British astronomer Edmond Halley published a ten-page essay which called upon scientists to unite in a project spanning the entire globe.   On June 6, 1761, Halley predicted, Venus would traverse the face of the sun – for a few hours the brightest star would appear as a perfectly black circle.  He believed that measuring the exact time and duration of this rare celestial encounter would provide the data that astronomers needed in order to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun. 

It was essential, Halley explained, that several people at different locations across the globe should measure the rare heavenly rendezvous at the same time.  

It was not enough to see Venus’s march from Europe alone; astronomers would have to travel to remote locations in both the northern and southern hemispheres to be as far apart as possible.  And only if they combined these results – the northern viewings being the counterparts to the southern observations – could they achieve what was hitherto been almost unimaginable. 

Halley’s request would be answered when hundreds of astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies `joined the transit project. “ 

To carry out this project in 1761 was incredibly difficult.  Astronomers had to undertake travel through difficult hostile and inhospitable terrains and on dangerous open seas for months at end to reach their destinations.  Nations at war had to cooperate in the name of science.  And from those dozens of locations, in South Africa, India, Siberia, Mauritius, Eastern Finland, Newfoundland and even on the remote island of St.Helena,  hundreds of astronomers had to point their massive telescopes to the sky at the exact same moment to see the transit. 

But what was hardest was that the data had to be shared.  No single result was enough.   Further complicating this was that in 1761 everyone measured everything differently:  Clocks were not accurate enough to measure longitude precisely.  Michelle Legro in Brainpicks explains, “A minute in India would be different than one in Halifax which would be different than one in South Africa.  The same for feet, inches, meters and miles”

“A ‘mil’ in Sweden was more than 10 kilometers, in Norway more than eleven. An English mile was a different length than a German mile.  In France alone there were 2000 different units of measurement.”

And yet, “On 6 June 1761, several hundred astronomers, all over the world pointed their telescopes towards the sky to see Venus travel across the sun.  They ignored religious, national and economic differences to unite in what was the first global scientific project. 

Chasing Venus, “became the perfect metaphor for the light of reason that would illuminate this new world and extinguish the last vestiges of the Dark Ages”

On June 4, 2017 Our voyages on that road between Duran and PMB will be perfectly measured by technology.   Everyone will all have trained in different environments, spread across all the corners of the world. 

Everyone will have measured their training precisely and yet differently. 

Some will have logged the training volume as kilometers in their logbooks, some will have logged them as miles.  Some will have measured the inclines and declines in meters, some in feet.   Some will have run through freezing temperatures, some through the extreme heat and humidity and some through rain.  Some will have measured the temperatures in Fahrenheit, some in Celsius.  We will have run at different times of the day and in different time zones.   Some of us will have trained on real hills, some on treadmills and some on staircases. 

Yet on June 4th as we will all unite to cover that one same sacred distance we will all be chasing our own unique dreams and our own unique heaven.    

And on that day, I will measure something much harder than the geographical distance. I may use all sorts of different yardsticks to measure my journey on that day: time spent on the road, overall ranking, gender ranking, friends made, enjoyment level, pain level or the kind of medal received.

But no matter which yardstick I use, I have no doubt that at some level, I will be measuring that which is the most difficult to measure:

I will be measuring myself against my idea of myself.