A pair of gleaming eyes peers at me through the drizzle. It's 4:30am and in the light of my headlamp a big deer stands near Rock Creek Trail milepost 3 as I pass by. A few dozen yards later three more deer on the other side of the path stare at me. Smaller beady gleams are rabbits in the brush. One darts out in front of me half a dozen miles later.
As in 2008 and 2009, I leave home a couple of hours before dawn to jog 10+ miles to Rockville where the MCRRC Parks Half Marathon begins. I'm a volunteer pacer, signed up to run steadily at 12:15 min/mi to help back-of-the-pack runners gauge their speed and run their race more effectively. The journey begins dry, but within a couple of miles sprinkles commence and grow into true rain. I take out my Marathon and Beyond magazine poncho, a glorified yellow trash bag with holes for arms and head. The hood doesn't seem necessary, so I let it hang behind me and fill with water.
My progress is steady after a brisk first couple of miles, with plenty of walk breaks and pauses to look around. I have to be careful not to stare upward, however, to avoid triggering my BPPV affliction. Poison ivy blisters on my arms, leg, and back aren't troublesome in the damp.
In Rockville I wait under the registration awning for a while, greet friends, head for the starting area, wave my "12:00+" pacer sign in the air, and eventually set off in the final wave-start group several minutes after 7am. It's an uneventful day; I hit my pace targets to within a few seconds and enjoy friend Gayatri Datta's company throughout the journey. Christina Caravoulias runs with us for a while, then slows her pace since this distance is a bit long for her right now. Other runners chat with me and progress. Near mile 11 I give a couple of S! salt capsules to an Asian lady who is cramping up. "You'll feel better in 10-20 minutes!" I promise her.
At the finish I turn in my chip and decide that the long lines to get food aren't worth the wait. Magically, however, comrade Rebecca Rosenberg materializes and charitably gives me her slice of cheese pizza. A volunteer offers us watermelons, but I decline the opportunity to carry one almost four miles. Instead I seek out Gayatri so she can use my phone to check in with her husband Atin. She then heads for her home, and I for mine. As a test I see what pace I can maintain. Even with pauses to cross Connecticut Av and visit a porta-john I manage to average a 10.3 min/mi pace for the 3.9 miles along the CCT and neighborhood streets.