|"All field mark" is how Roger Tory Peterson describes the bald eagle in his Field Guide to the Birds. The Eagle Run is a chance to see a few of these dramatic creatures. The event is a traditional Virginia Happy Trails Running Club movable feast, a peripatetic party held mid-January around and about the Mason Neck peninsula in northern Virginia. Gary Knipling, one of the more "seasoned" members of the club, invites runners to his home there early Sunday morning. Those who brave the elements spend the day jogging through woods, looking for eagles, learning local history, eating pizza, and just having fun together.|
This year is Eagle Run XVII, comrade Kate Abbott's first and my second. Temps begin in the teens and rise to ~30°F by noon. Kate's braids freeze, as they did at the VHTRC "Red Eye" race on New Year's Day. Sweat drips down the sides of my head to form icicles on my sideburns. Brrrrrr!
Always-smiling Gary gives a frosty pre-race briefing near the fire ring outside his house, after which a gaggle of several dozen hardy souls takes off downhill through the woods. The Eagle Run course is informal and winding, marked by blue ribbons dangling from tree limbs, with plenty of alternative routes for those who want to go "short" (10+ miles), "medium" (20ish), or "long" (25+). We first head toward the southwest to overlook Belmont Bay, then loop back north past horse farms and stables to cross Gunston Rd and enter Pohick Bay Regional Park.
|Kate meets Caroline Williams, a lovely and voluble ultrarunner who tells us about her childhood and admits to having finished one 100 miler. She has another in her sights this spring. We chat and resolve to attempt some training runs together. In the fields beside us a cluster of horses commence running as they see us trot by, happy to find some unexpected company this winter morning.|
Along the shore of the Pohick Bay we trek eastward, pausing frequently to peer across the water at little dots on the surface. A few are large, dark-bodied, with white heads: probable eagles. Likewise other dots perch in trees on the far side of the water.
|Then surprise: an eagle sits on a branch near us! The group is spread out now, and a cluster of us creep cautiously past on the trail to circle around. I snap pictures furiously. The bird becomes nervous, shifts, then flies away.|
We continue uphill, inland to where a pick-up truck with munchies and drink meets us on a park road. I introduce myself to Karen Taber, a relatively new trail runner. She's US Air Force, born in Minnesota and until recently stationed in South Dakota. We talk about the Mount Rushmore Marathon that she's run and other local events worth checking out.
The path takes us down and up, cross-country through fallen leaves, over roots and rocks, across small streams, and along the edge of dry meadows. I devoutly try to follow the "short" signage as I lug my 35mm digital camera equipped with an obsolete manual zoom lens. Alas, Kate and Karen and Caroline shame me into doing at least one "medium" segment.
|We arrive early at Gunston Hall, the house George Mason built in the late 1750s on his plantation down the river from George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. From there we continue along steep paths to a point on the shore for a group photo, then gather again at Gunston Hall for a mini-lecture by a Park Service docent. This year's commentary focuses on the architecture and geography of the area.|
|A mass feeding-frenzy ensues upon the pizza's arrival. When that subsides Caroline decides to continue onward with the group for additional mileage. Kate and I run to the waterfront for another look at the bay. Then we head through the woods to Kate's car. On the way a lone eagle swoops low over us.|
|Today Kate covers 14.5+ miles according to her GPS; I log 12ish since I skipped several side trails she took. We pose for an experiment in self-timer photography with my camera propped crookedly on another car in the parking lot, then continue our conversation on the way back to her home, where I get to greet her three cheerful sons plus Xena and Knuckles, the family dog and cat. It's a great day; I only feel a slight soreness on the right kneecap after yesterday's long run. And I don't fall down even once!|
|Tights armor runners against cold.|
Beer armors runners against embarrassment.
(cf. Eruption of Birds for a fortuitous shot of gulls taking off from the icy surface of Pohick Bay during this year's Eagle Run; see  for a photo album of Eagle Run 2009 images that I took; see Thirteen Eagles for a photo essay on the 2008 Eagle Run) - ^z - 2009-02-07