Τρίτη, 30 Αυγούστου 2011

RunBlog: UTMB 2011 - Comparison of US and European elite trail runners

The 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (100miles - 9.400m of accumulated ascent) has produced a lot of discussion about the poor performance of elite US ultra mountain runners, compared to their European counterparts. In the same year, the Europeans did very well at most of the ultras they choose to participate in the US (Jornet at WS100, Heras at San Francisco 50miles...), leaving behind the favourite US runners. So it looks like there is a deficit of performance of the elite US runners compared to the Europeans!

I have finished some ultras of my own, including the UTMB in 2009. I am not an elite runner, but I like reading about the sport and I follow closely the US scene for the past 3 years, through specialized magazines, publicity and blogs. I have even tried to register for Hardrock 100 for 2010, but the limited number of accepted runners and the resulting lottery left me out of the starting field. I like to test my limits, and find out how far I can go, and then after how fast I can cover this distance. My approach to the sport is that there is nothing heroic about ultra running, and that increasing numbers of simple people, with no special equipment shoulf be able to excercise this sport out on the trails. I am not a big fan of elitistic events and elite athletes, since their professional sports background is not compatible with 99% of the rest of the field in a starting line of any mountain running event (ultra or not). But reality is that they are role models and they inspire more people to go out and run on the mountains. So they are usefull in a certain way! That is reason enough for me to look at them from time to time and evaluate their performance.

The US field of elite ultra trail runners, is not comparable to the European field in certain important aspects. These points (according to my opinion and experience) I analyze below. This does not mean that in some cases a top US mountain runner cannot win an event against top European runner! But statistics will always be in favor of Europeans as long as the following areas remain as they are today. I also think that most of these remarks, apply to all levels of trail runners if we try to compare them between the two continents. So here is my list of important differences for elite runners of mountain ultra running events:
  1. Number of runners at the start line - In UTMB and in many other wellknown European mountain and trail running events, the number of participants is thousands, or several hundreds. In the US most of the races are with a few hundreds of runners. This affects in two ways the runner: Emotionally - In European events you are always close to another runner. In ultras emotions are a big part of the strategy of the race. Seeing fellow runners pass you or fall behind because of different capacity or different race strategy is sending emotional messages to the runner, changing his mentality and emotions for his own effort. Take a look at Roes and Krupicka comments of the downhill break aways of Kilian Jornet at 2011 WS100 and you can now imagine what is going on in the head of a competitive ultra runner! They are not always running the race they planned (as done when in a lonely - not crowded event). They respond and adapt their race strategy according to the messages they receive from fellow competitors. And in crowded events like in Europe, this is happening a lot throughout the race. Pacing, Strategy - As explained in the previous point, for the emotional side of it, pacing yourself in a lonely event is a matter of focus and discipline. In Europe these two attributes of the ultra runner, have to be even stronger. Competitive runners react and adapt their strategy when another competitor is trying a break away. In the end, you do not run your race as you plan, but according to the dynamic field around you. Therefore an ultra runner, able to perform well at a consistent uniform pace throughout the race, must be able to stick with his plan, when he sees others speeding up at a downhill. One has to understand that there are many runners who can take the hammering of the downhill better than him/her but by following them you end up with burned muscles sooner than you should. On the other side, if you let go, most likely will catch up at a subsequent uphill!
  2. Support model - Mountain ultras in Europe follow the model of semi-autonomy for the support of the runners. There is no point in stressing the obvious importance of nutrition and hydration in any endurance event. The comparison of European with US ultras, is showing differences in the following two ways: No pacers are allowed in Europe - No one is allowed to help you carry water or food. No one can supervise on the course your calories and fluids intake. No one can push you a step further when you start feeling slugish and hit a low point. You have to carry all the food and fluids needed to get you to the next station which can be 2 or 4 hours away! Only for water this can mean an extra 1,5kgr of weight at your back! Plus equipment! The backpack - Mountain ultra runners in Europe are always with a backpack. The image of a mountain ultra runner without one a backpack does not exist! Most of the times you see them carrying walking poles as well, since the existence of a backpack at steep uphills is forcing them to have the sticks to support their back for the extra weight. Many races in the US are not like that at all.
  3. The terrain - Ultra trail running in Europe consists of 80% single track trails usually. UTMB is considered to be one of the moderate difficulty trail running events. Forest roads an wide trails have to be a small minority in these events. In the US the popular events, include long stretches of forest roads and easy going trails. Also the altitude profile in most continental events at first sight, is not runnable! Constant up and down without any flat parts or even with runnable incline. The hammering of the legs and the heart is without a break. This makes a big difference for the body and the mentality of the runners. Somehow we could say that European ultra trail runners, are stronger mentaly and physically, just because they evolve through this kind of races. There is also a very strong technical aspect in this element. I've noticed that it is very common in US mountain 100mile races to see finishers with achievements of less than 24 hours. This is very rare in Europe. Only the winners some times manage to finish in less than 24 hours. Running (or crawling when it comes down to it) on the mountains for more than 20 or 24 hours in most of your races builds different characters and approaches to the sport, compared to events lasting 17-20 hours for the winners. As Anton Krupicka wrote recently, following his injury, he came to realize the importance of fast walking during a mountain running effort! Elite US runners are used to ... basically run the whole event! Well, this is not feasible in the terrain of most European races!
  4. Professional approach to the sport - After 2011 UTMB I was walking around the streets of Chamonix and saw Geoff Roes and some friends of his trying to find a spot at an overbooked creperie to get their dinner fixed.
    At the same time Kilian Jornet and not only him, was with his Salomon Team specialists applying their recuperation plan in a nice hotel room. Most of the European elite runners, are supported by a sponsor - brand which is investing in them heavily (for the standards of this sport). Nutrition specialists, physios, doctors, trainers, training facilities, race-specific adaptation trips, and personalized equipment and training plans, are available to these runners. Some are commenting on details on the race calendar of athletes like Kilian, but it is not the specific details that make the difference. It is the fact that his support team, consisting of scientists and professionals, know him very well and can optimize the racing - training calendar according to his capacity, weaknesses and advantages! For example I was reading recently that many US mountain ultra runners, do not like interval training! Scientifically it is proven that this kind of training is an important feature of any running training plan! Elite runners not only should do interval training, but furthermore, be able to personalize and plan it in their race season accordingly. It is elementary! Intervals can address uphill or downhill skills, anaerobic threshold build up etc. No one should be proud of not doing his homework! Salomon team uses computers to analyze the performance of their athletes, as well as their most likely competitors in many events. They study the weaknesses of their opponents.
  5. Racing season, calendar - I read many comments about the high altitude training of most of the European ultra trail runners, and their advantage of leaving at high altitude. These are small details compared to the big picture of the full race season of any of these runners. After all, if one looks carefully on the top runners at UTMB for example, there are many runners who do not live at altitude of 1300m or have no clue of how to ski! Also Boulder Colorado and many other similar resources exist in the US as well. European racing scene consists of many events which are not so common in the US. I am reffering to events like vertical kilometer mountain runs (1000m of ascent within 5-6km of distance = average incline of 25%), or very technical uphill and downhill events of short distance (in rock gardens or in total absense of trails) or even at mountaineering ski competitions at Les Alps or Pyreneans at high altitude (which basically involve anaerobic effort at steep uphills at high altitude, carrying some equipment)! At these races, the starting line again consists of several hundreds of runners and competition is fierce. This side of the sport is available not only to elite mountain runners (who can participate in as many events as the need to because of their professional resources), but also to any level of mountain runner in Europe. These events are quite common and even if someone does not have access to mountain skiing he can make up with vertical kilometer runs during winter time. Planning a race season (always with the support of the specialists team) is an important but also common task for elite runners in Europe.
As I said at the opening of my post, I do not particularly like the professional and elite side of mountain running as it has evolved in Europe. I prefer the more casual and less "superman-like" approach and this is more close to the US ultra runner scene. I like the Anton Krupicka kind of runners with their worn out shoes and cotton t-shirts (if they are wearing any...). After all, the metnality of ultra running on the mountains is 85% about how far one can go, and only 15% of how fast! The field of runners and their admiration of finishers (and not only speedy ones) proves my point. But elite runners, are platforms for promoting the sport and the apparel - equipment that goes with it. Personally I care about the evolution of the sport in the direction of attracting more and more people in it. Human nature is such that we try to immitate those that we admire. Therefore, elite runners have a role in this scene as icons.

In my opinion, US elite runners in order to catch up with their European counterparts have to address these 5 areas of the sport. I believe that it will be a big help to the US field, if events like HardRock 100 open up to more entries and avoid the lottery system while adopting a point-system for overcrowded events. Also it will be nice to see more technical events (again like Hardrock) with no pacers allowed and a semi autonomy background. By increasing the number of participants, you make up for the safety issues that arise from the solitude of the top runners in these events (they will not be alone!).

Ultra mountain running, should involve technical terrain, discouraging uphills and knee-killing downhills, but I would like to see more people running these with cotton t-shirts, and sandwiches at their backpacks at the start line rather than "shop-window-dolls" like elite runners in white compression outfits, and hi-tech power-bars and space-like powders for their nutrition.

Σάββατο, 20 Αυγούστου 2011

Consumption and the hijacking of our lives

From the day we are born, some role models are imposed to us and we are trying to be like them. Society accepts those who have a car, own a house in a city, have a phone, a TV, a mobile phone. Society admires people educated to be lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers. Trendy clothes and brands have to be worn.

A contrast: What happens when you own a bike? (BBC News - Cycling industry gives economy £3bn boost http://bbc.in/qiwMpM) When you commute either with your own two feet, or with a bike, or using the public transportation for longer distances? How things would be if we did not own the houses we are staying in the cities, but we were renting (maybe as part of the taxes we pay) them from the state according to our income? What if phones and mobile phones were developed under certain standards and specifications and the focus was on the service provided by the operators through them? What if there was only one TV device per house? How about admiring farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, carpenters, palaeontologists and plumbers as much as engineers, mathematicians, doctors and lawyers? What if the clothes were picked according to their functionality and not according to the little label on the chest?

I bet the world would be a much better place! Lets try to imagine:

Houses built according to certain standards by the state. Maintained by the state and demolished and rebuilt  every 50-60 years by the state! Costs covered through taxes we pay. Families would not have to invest from their budget (usually taking 30-40% of the family income) for the housing project. Standards could be observed more closely. Speculation, price inflation and housing market bubbles would be unknown terms! After all, building a house, except for the brief period of the construction, it is not a very productive way to invest ones resources! This model would apply in all cities. Parks and public spaces could be organized better. Long term planning of the community would be much easier. Architecture would have unlimited space to develop new technologies. Energy consumption could be more reasonable, helping the environment. Resources and wealth beyond our imagination which now are being "frozen" in the value of bricks and walls and private swimming pools would be made available for investment to the productive economy!

The commuting vision: People would be able to move around in the cities on safe roads with their bikes or by walking or other human powered vehicles. For longer distances or when the circumstances are not favorable they would be able to use public transportation like trains, trams, electric buses. Accidents costing endless millions to state budget and cause unbelievable personal misery would be reduced! Public health would improve by having less obese citizens and better quality of air. Unreasonable social discrimination based on the kind of vehicle that someone owns would be unknown. Cities would have more public space. State would also save a big chunk of its' budget which goes to maintenance of the roads and for building new ones to accommodate the increasing number of cars and their parking needs. Automotive companies would be focused on engine technologies and not on pointless chassis design projects that offer nothing substantial to our lives. And finally, personal finance resources "blown in the wind" for a new car that is losing it's value as soon as you open the door for the first time, would find better ways of use. Public transportation would require increased budget from the state, but it would be way lower than the requirements for new avenues and their maintenance, or for addressing public health issues, created by the low quality of life in the cities, or by car accidents. 

Singers, dancers, painters, gardeners would be equally important with all the professions. Because the society would have available more free time and more resources to invest in the public welfare and culture. We would prevent the overpopulation in certain professions and allow personalities to develop better, through the education system. Universities and schools could be real cultural centers and not mass production facilities of brains that think in the same way and lose most of their capability to question and improvise!Social discrimination based on ones job title would be reduced, and social value would be attributed mostly to the quality of his / her skills. Excellence in personal level, would be encouraged and rewarded by the society according to the skills and not the perceived value of the profession.

Many more examples could be presented here describing this ideal world. The few, utopic-at-first-sight, cases I described above, highlight some simple imbalances  in our lifestyle. Automotive companies compete on the fields of chassis design and financial solutions (basically loans) for their cars, instead of engineering breakthroughs for the engines that move these cars. People get loans, which will last more than their productive lifetime, to buy bigger and more energy consuming houses than they need. They suppress their creativity and natural predisposition towards the development of skills, in order to be socially accepted. They end up serving non productive positions in multinational companies, without any clear view of the outcome of their day to day work, just because they are socially accepted (probably because of their 6-digit salaries, or collection of credit cards). Because of the intense social focus in certain sectors of economy, value inflation is making this endless pursue of the "dream" even more unobtainable. Consumption without any real need behind it, is the hollow foundation of the development of modern societies.

People need to open their eyes and realize what is the real value of the skills, items, services that they spend their time and resources in their ongoing effort to acquire. We are wasting our lives and resources in pursue of goals that we have not chosen! And we are dragging down with us the whole planet...

(by the way: The housing model described above, has been successfully implemented in Singapore for the past 30 years, the automotive model is the one under which this industry started more than a century ago, and was lost along the way)

Interesting to read: Was Marx Right? - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review
Interesting to watch: Surviving Progress

Interesting to watch: http://youtu.be/4Z9WVZddH9w

Τετάρτη, 3 Αυγούστου 2011

The need for vision and decisions

The European Union is facing a crucial crossroad. I am referring to issues which require action not only from the political leaders, but also from the citizens of the continent. I'm not an economist (in any way). I am just trying to think logically, stay informed and hereby I present a series of personal thoughts and logical conclusions.

Where we stand:
All sides (referring to these which envision a common European future), eventually agree on the need for a more stable foundation for the European Union in order to evolve and be able to compete in the forthcoming international fights. The big test of the near future will be on the global redistribution of access to natural resources (materials, energy, food) and economic influence from west to east (this in a later article).

The majority of production processes have been transferred to Asia due to labor costs initially but also because of the immense growth possibilities offered by the local population. The communities in these areas are upgrading rapidly their living standards, but soon will also begin to feel the pressure from the slow down of the demand for their products. This will be mainly due to a decrease in exports but will also gradually affect domestic consumption in these countries. Also the inevitable appreciation of their currencies will contribute even further to the trend. It is obvious that the present economic crisis in western economies will lead to consumption control affecting both the quantity as well as the origin of goods and energy. This environment will result to an obvious decrease of demand for the products of Asian countries, but also for Russia and Germany.

Historically speaking we can observe a swing between a market economy with state supervision (Bretton Woods 1944 agreement - social welfare state) and unlimited power to the forces of markets (President Nixon and abolition of the gold to dollar ratio in August 1971, Prime Minister Thatcher early 80s). The outcome of this balance was the foundation of euro in the early '90s. The markets (banking, funds, currency and commodities trading) have regained their dominant status, as held before the crisis of 1929, thanks to the almost unlimited trading possibilities to 2nd or even 3rd level financial products. Their tools are based on financial-economical products, processes and services and not on the real economy (Production). This was the foundation of the Euro and pushed the new currency to a frantic race taking advantage of these practices. Cheap interstate  and interbank loans were made available to all member states, with the turn of a switch!

If we step back and look from a distance, then the fact is that the European Union is facing two roads ahead:
  • Insist on testing the tolerance of the Euro as a currency unit for a union of heterogeneous sovereign states. The contradiction in this situation is that even though the Euro was born following the demand of the markets, these same markets are now predicting its' doom! This path assumes that any country unable to comply with the driving forces of the market will be either expelled from the common currency or at least placed under strict economic custody to minimize the influence.
  • Strengthening of the political foundations of the European Union, in order to achieve a centralized governance and backing of the common currency.
    Politics in Europe, since the era of Charlemagne, has been a balance between national or regional interests and efforts to unite the continent. Usually efforts to achieve the later have been resulting to wars.
      The path that was envisioned in the '50s leading to a united Europe, has been followed for 40 years with careful balanced steps, under state supervision. The political dipole of capitalism and communism, as expressed by the two leading formations of USA and USSR as well as the memories of the mistakes of the recent past were casting a shadow on every step in this direction. At the early '90s this procedure was put in fast forward! The new currency was the vehicle for this movement. Circumstances were such that the memories of the last world war were fading out, along with the last generation of politicians who have lived this. Also the political dipole missed the communist side after the diminish of the USSR.
        Basic rules of finance science dictate that a currency is the materialization of uniform policies governing state finance, taxation, labour regulations, social welfare, a central bank and in general common rules for the market. With minor exceptions, none of these principles has been applied in the case of the Eurozone since the day it was conceived and until today. The Euro was conceived as a "market" currency unit. It was the "product" of the markets, since it was obviously giving them the capability to expand their "debt" driven growth. This is the source of what we have gotten used to call the "debt crisis". Individual sovereign state financial problems are just tips of the same big iceberg.
          The result from the EU financial turmoil and the global recession is the slow down in consumption and trade which is normal under these circumstances. These facts are indicating the need for a change in the global balance, political and financial. The need for a "new deal".
            Below you can have a look at the change of trend for the EU trade balance, which is a clear indication of the forthcoming dead end.

            Source: tradingeconomics.com
              Also you can study the report issued by Eurostat for the trade balance of all member states of the union: April 2011 Euro area external trade deficit 4.1 bn euro 15.9 bn euro deficit for EU27
                Let's take a look at the two obvious paths which lay ahead of the European masterminds.
                  Insist on a common currency without the political union
                    To continue in the path of serving the magnified sovereign debts (both state and private) through the markets has become unaffordable for the majority of member states, due to the financial crisis of the banking and finance sector of 2008. The solution chosen back then was to refinance the banks using state funds. So the initial banking problem has transformed to a combined state debt and banking crisis! So nowadays, EU member states are forced to seek financial resources within the union mechanisms in order to serve their deficits. The markets are no longer easy on investing on bonds and are waiting for the big bomb to explode around the corner. And anyway, bonds should stop existing as vehicles to serve the indebted economies.
                      Common census in most member states, is against financial support of the fellow states that are in deficit. And this should be expected.
                        People of surplus countries cannot comprehend the need to transfer funds to other sovereign countries. Actually when presented like that, it cannot be accepted by anyone!
                          This line of thinking is leading to cross country tensions. Especially since state debts and deficit budgets cannot be reversed under the current world financial turmoil. Refinancing these countries will be a problem for many years to come.
                            So the most probable end of this path is the break up of the Eurozone as we know it during the last 12 years.
                              The co-existence of countries with deficits and surpluses within the EU is unavoidable and should be seen as the two faces of the same coin.  It is impossible for all member countries to be functioning with a surplus in the same way that it is impossible within a country, all it's departments to be equally wealthy. The problem is that in the case of the EU there has never been any planning of when, where and how these two conditions would be acceptable for its' members.
                                The evolution of the Eurozone under this senario, of lack of central governance, can be one of the following:

                                • Separate national currencies. This is the least probable scenario because the strong economies of northern Europe will suffer back to back blows in their competitiveness and exports. It will constitute a spectacular cancellation of the path followed since the '50s. I believe that the cost for the European economies to get back to this status, would be exceeding the cost to try to balance the current situation by supporting the deficit economies!
                                • Groups of countries with common currency. The groups would be formed by countries with similar structure and competitive levels. At the same time the peripheral economies would either join a different common currency, or more likely return to national currencies, since their needs are varying in many ways. This is a method to minimize the effect in the financial activity of the surplus countries.
                                • Intermediate situation where national currencies would be introduced but with locked margins of fluctuation to a central currency unit. Much like the situation with the ECU of the '90s. This way, local variations will be possible, while giving at the same time a central reference point for transactions and trading.
                                These 3 scenarios have as common ground that again some regions will be less "healthy" and as a result will encounter difficulties serving their financial needs. Also the markets would have lost their freedom to control at once the economies of a huge trading zone like Europe. It would be a matter of time till some national differences were exploited by political groups, and local conflicts erupt! And there are many causes - excuses for that!

                                It is naive to expect from nations like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and many more, with a turn of the switch to convert from deficit to balanced economies. These countries do not have even the culture or historical example of a period that their balance sheets were... balanced! It is enough just to look at what was happening with their national currencies in the past, and how many times they have been depreciated. Furthermore we should not forget that most of the production activities have been moved out of their territories and they are not likely to return any time soon (to a large extent the same applies for bigger economies like France or England).

                                It is quite safe to conclude that this scenario has an important factor of instability, and conflict of interests. Especially if we factor in the feelings of nations that had the experience of the eurozone, and then lost it! A violent correction would be very likely. And those in favour of such reshuffling, hoping that after the initial turmoil something better would emerge, should not neglect that this time there are external factors that probably will not make such a "rebirth" so likely. Lets not forget the pending re-arrangement of balances between the West and Asian economies.

                                Expedited completion of the unification process for the EU
                                The second path is about European Unification with common economic, labour, tax and trade policies. I will not get into details by trying to describe these policies since it is a huge subject by itself. What is certain is that they should be designed in an appropriate way to address the forthcoming "new deal" with Asian economies and their strong competition. They will most certainly involve changes in the way citizens of E.U. are consuming. It is utopic to believe that E.U. can keep importing products from Asia and rely on its' financial services system to produce the money to pay the bill.

                                All member countries should agree on a common set of rules. These will be supervised by the central government, since history has taught us that there is no alternative trustworthy method. Local petty political interests have always been undermining the rules at some point. This system should include methods to intervene and reform member states that are not conforming, bur also serve the need to preserve as much as possible from the European lifestyle and quality of life in a realistic way.

                                I must highlight here that we should not define as problematic only the financial deficit of some states, but also: increased private sector debts, the weakening of healthy social structures (like unions), the low birth rate (which is a bomb in the foundations of all the pension funds) and many other issues that need to be addressed on a European level.

                                All these issues must be addressed along with the financial figures which of course are important. Solutions must be provided not only to the economic problems but also to structural deficiencies. So this path involves:

                                1.  Agreement on social, political structures for all members
                                2. Local policies should be sacrificed to the common cause for European prosperity on sustainable foundations
                                3. Supervision of the proper application of the policies by a central government. This applies to all member states, even to the ones that are compliant to the agreed set of rules! No state/country should be considered superior to other.
                                4. Control of the central government by the people of the Union on a regular base through elections. The representation achieved through the elections should be such that would allow every part of the continent to express its' will in the central government.
                                This procedure in order to be accepted by the people of every members state, must be presented as a vision for a common, efficient and realistic future for the whole of Europe. Also the alternative path should be presented very clearly to all. These decisions require daring politicians with high sense of social responsibility in order to resist ethnic reactions and convince for their vision.
                                - Interview of Frank Walter Steinmeier to Bild (BILD-Interview mit SPD-Fraktionschef Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Politik Inland - Bild.de)
                                - Statement of Jean Claud Trichet (Jean-Claude Trichet calls for European finance ministry | Business | The Guardian)
                                - EU's Barroso warns about cost of splitting euro zone | Reuters
                                - The euro zone: Is this really the end? | The Economist

                                Time is a factor that is very pressing at this point and we cannot afford to overlook the reality that Europe does not have sufficient time to proceed with the necessary changes. My estimation is that the margin available to adapt to this new environment is no later than 2015! Also, other international interests are not compatible with this path and will not make it easy for the Union to work out the differences. We should be aware that in the past, when it came to reshuffling of power, it has always been between two (and not three or more) sides. Europe right now appears to be 3rd side in this tug war.

                                Citizens of member states should be presented with the necessary measures not as punishment for the past artificial prosperity, but as a evolution towards the common European future. The only future that can offer feasible possibilities to control our lifestyle and modify this where needed in a way that is as much compatible with our culture, as possible. Because the growth models as well as social and government models, as we know them today will have to be adapted to the new reality. To a large extent it has been based to a series of credit - financial products and anticipations that failed! But it is very important that austerity measures should be accompanied by with realistic and long term viable procedures for transfer of wealth, production and resources to weaker members. It is always better to teach the hungry how to fish instead of giving him ready made meals.

                                Examples in this direction could be, to establish production factories in Greece for aeolian or photovoltaic panels, instead of just covering wide areas of Greece with imported panels!

                                In the European political system, politicians must present the vision and prospects to the people. Politicians are obliged to serve the common interests of the European societies, according to their political beliefs, but also to analyze and adjust their path based on the knowledge they have access to from their position. By presenting the facts and the possibilities they should establish bonds of confidence and inspire the voters. This is the only way that our governments can guide the people and their lifestyles to wise choices. Because it is the duty of the politicians to dictate the lifestyle and guide the society to the path of survival and balance.