A black creature darts from the underbrush toward Caren Jew's feet. "Eeee!" It's 4:10am on a sultry Sunday morning and we're running along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail surrounded by inky darkness. But the adrenaline moment soon passes: it's just a shadow cast by Caren's bobbing flashlight beam as she leads the way through a dewy meadow. I'm keeping her company, blathering away as usual about whatever crosses my mind—which when I realize it reminds me to tell Caren about an observation local runner Tim Ramsey made in his notes  on the Comus cross-country run last August:
... I was passed by a group of about 8 runners at about the 3/4 mile mark as I walked up a short steep hill. Included in this pack was Mark Zimmermann, who has to be about the happiest (and chattiest) runner I know. ...
Caren was with me on that run (2008-08-16 - Comus Run 2008) and testifies to Tim's accuracy. Today our trot through the woods is a peaceful one. We start at Brink Rd after an astronomy lecture in which I point out Venus brilliant in the east, Jupiter high in the south, and the summer triangle of first-magnitude Vega, Deneb, and Altair overhead. Caren kindly demonstrates for me how to run through the ankle-deep waters of Magruder Branch, far safer than tip-toeing on the rocks. My soggy shoes make squish-squish sounds for a few miles after the lesson. We trek northward to Damascus Regional Park where at dawn a deer eyes us from close to the path, then retreats to join her companion in the thickets. Our turnaround is at the two-hour mark, 7 miles upstream, and now that it's light we go ~3 min/mi faster in returning to the cars. A big rabbit poses for us, and a crimson male cardinal flits ahead.
After ditching our flashlights and refueling we continue briskly downstream to Watkins Mill Rd and add a little extra hillwork to make a 3 mile round trip. On this segment several trail girls greet us as we run—happily they don't spy us during a walk break. Caren recognizes some of them from past training and race-volunteer encounters. She points out that one of them was wearing a Bull Run Run t-shirt. I claim not to have noticed, since it would be impolite for a gentleman to stare at a lady's chest, or at least to admit doing so. A dead raccoon at trailside is a sad reminder of mortality in nature as enhanced by human automotive traffic. Back at Brink Rd again, 4.5 hours after our start, we wave at comrade Wayne Carson as he drives past.
^z - 2009-05-27