"Do you play for ZZ Top?" the passing cyclist asks me. "No," I reply, "but I wish I did!" With an hour to invest in a tempo run before daughter Gray's orchestra rehearsal finishes, I'm blasting along Northwest Branch Trail, long beard streaming. Today's trek begins near the Adelphi Manor Park cricket pitch at NWB's mile 4.5 marker. A few miles upstream a group of young men are digging for worms in the mulch while another fishes in the stream. Older gentlemen walk their dogs. A plump girl smiles as she sits on a log by her boyfriend.
I'm pushing hard on this cloudy-comfortable 75°F late afternoon. If the markers are correct my half-mile splits outbound come in at 4:20 + 4:16 + 4:09 followed by 9:08 on an unmarked segment to the end of the pavement. From there I "run"—taking baby steps, pumping arms furiously, panting Lamaze-fashion—to the top of the gravel Hill-That-Never-Ends in 3:47. The downhill return on the steep slope only takes 2:11. My inbound splits are then 9:43 followed by half-miles 4:25 + 4:17 + 4:01, with a heart rate after that final sprint of 180. Whew!