Nature’s cycles are self–sustaining and self-regulating. While the days are shorter in the winter and the temperature drops, we should remember that the earth’s energies are still busy at work. In order for the planet’s ecology to remain healthy, nature’s cyclical systems, such as the lunar, carbon and water cycles, the passing of the seasons, the seasonality of food, all need to remain in balance. Natural systems go through periods of decline and decay, as well as restoration and regeneration. Being aware of Nature’s cycles around us on a daily basis bonds us more deeply to our place in the world.
We also have biological cycles that are called circadian rhythms and are driven by an internal ‘clock’, which controls our patterns of sleeping and eating. These are chemical reactions that maintain life in every cell and are collectively known as the body’s metabolism. Outside of our bodies, we are also directly affected by the wider natural cycles, triggered by daylight and night. Everything we do fits in with these natural cycles.
Yet, many people are beginning to feel disconnected from Nature’s cycles, no longer eating seasonally or working in an environment regulated by the seasons. Climate change is bringing unusual weather patterns and in some cases, beginning to fundamentally alter traditional seasons; we are seeing nature’s cycles thrown off course. How does this affect our mental and physical wellbeing? And what is in store for the future? This is something the Harmony Project seeks to address, by looking at problems such as climate change through the prism of the Harmony principles, we can find new answers to the challenges we face.
Embarking on the training for the Trans Atlas Marathon, a 280km, 6 day ultra running race, which I am running in order to raise money for the Harmony Project, I have been particularly drawn to the principle of cycle, considering more in depth my own biological cycles of energy production, strength training, rest, and physical and mental development that will help me be the best runner I can be.
As I prepare for my upcoming ultra running race, I need to better understand how I will run about 30 gruelling miles per day over six consecutive days, up and over rugged Moroccan mountain terrain. For this, the most important biological cycle to understand is how energy is created within the body.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the organic chemical that provides energy to the body. As the body only stores a small amount of ATP within the muscle at any one time, the body must continually create new ATP in order to keep moving. This cycle of energy creation is highly dependent on the food we eat, needing the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in order to function efficiently. As a runner, thinking about my diet and how what I eat directly impacts my performance, and brings a new level to my passion for sustainable and healthy food!
When I am out running I also experience different types of cycles. You notice that the simple process of breathing becomes a meditative cycle, even when the mind has almost given up! The rhythm of breathing allows runners to maintain a steady pace. The self-regulation of temperature is another cycle; you feel the body react when you begin a run, then settle into a pattern as you maintain your pace. This issue will be particularly noticeable when running in the Atlas Mountains at a higher altitude!
There are macro-processes and longer-term cycles that I have also considered. The natural cycle of an athletic performance these days does not follow any specific rhythm. There are races all over the world, every weekend.
Personally, I always choose a big race each spring. I train during the winter time as a way to keep my mind and body active during the long winter months. Winter training makes for great spring racing.
April 2019: it’s springtime in Eastern Pennsylvania where I live and run, and there is no better time of the year to refresh my eyes to, “look at the world in a new way”. Greenery emerges from the dark ground, the spring tulips and daffodils arrive, cherry blossoms bloom, sunrise birds begin to sing again. My running trails become alive again with the riff of harmony, color, sound and smell.
My Harmony running mission to train for the Trans Atlas Marathon is now at the half way point with eight more weeks to go, to be ‘ultra’ ready. The toughest physical and mental training is yet to come.
This article was first published on the Sustainable Food Trust’s website on the 18th April 2019.
Photograph: Anthony Rodale