Thursday, August 1, 2013

Age and Experience DO Count...and Ultrarunning

Via Science Magazine, here, confirmation from the animal kingdom of what is generally also true among humans: age and experience DO count:

What good is an older female elephant to her herd, especially one in her 60s and well-beyond her prime reproductive years? She's the best leader and the one most capable of making wise decisions, according to a study of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Kenya's Amboseli National Park that was published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The oldest female in an elephant herd is always the leader.

But how did the researchers demonstrate this quantitatively, since this topic is mighty subjective?  A pretty ingenious experiment:

Researchers tested the decision-making skills of these matriarchs by playing recordings of lions roaring; they monitored the elephants' reactions to the roars of a single lion versus three lions for both male and female lions. Because of their size and heft, single male lions can pose a greater threat to elephants than do female lions. The oldest matriarchs proved best at recognizing a male lion's roar, as 66-year-old Joyce does in this video [Gary note: go to link, here, for the video]. When she hears the three male lions, she bunches her herd in a tight phalanx to ward off a possible attack. The study provides the first experimental evidence that the members of a herd benefit from an older leader—a discovery, the researchers say, that also shows how vital it is to protect the elders (who usually have the biggest tusks) from ivory poachers.

I like to think that as I've aged as an Ultrarunner, I've also gained the experience and knowledge that only years can bring.  Although I certainly recall as a young man thinking that old people thought they knew it all.

Turns out they did (at least to a point).

In Ultrarunning I've realized that it's the journey and not the destination.  I don't do dumb things anymore (usually!) such as not telling loved ones where I'll be and when I expect to get back.  Plus I always carry my cell phone on the trail , and more water and trail food than I think I'll need.

But mostly I just sorta listen to my instnincts and go with my gut in pacing, in adapting to weatehr conditions, whether, say, adding that loop makes sense today. 

My credo now--just like they told us in the 60s--is that speed kills. So take it easy and enjoy the trail.

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