Mile 8 of the recent "Riley's Rumble" half-marathon: volunteers at a roadside table hand out little flat metallic pouches of vanilla-flavored energy gel. Each contains ~100 calories of thick sugary syrup, maltodextrin and fructose, along with electrolytes and antioxidant vitamins --- quick pick-me-ups for tired runners. (Or at least for those who believe in the efficacy of such concoctions ... I'm skeptical.)
The next fifty meters of roadway is littered with partially-consumed gel packs, dropped by hasty racers. Some packets are stepped upon --- and the whitish goop that spurts out and pools on the pavement reminds me, unæsthetically, of an unmentionable bodily fluid. That metaphor again comes to mind, alas, as the course passes a corn field surrounded by tall weeds with phallic cattail-like flowers. They droop flaccid in the high humidity. (Sorry ... but distance running isn't always pretty; nor are psychoanalytic theory, or human physiology. Or maybe they are, and we're just too squeemish or too "civilized"?)
Bad air, heat, and tropical humidity has kept me off the roads for the past week. Some less unfortunate observations from three jogs before that ...
From home past Mermaid Fountain to Rock Creek Trail, south into DC to Park Police Hqs., west via Military Road to Friendship Heights (Mazza Gallerie) and on Western + River Road back to the Capital Crescent Trail and the usual 5 miles home from there (generally reversing the route I last ran in August 2003 --- see LoopCourse)... 8:45am-11:57am, already too warm and humid to be comfortable for much of the jog. I'm exhausted during the final measured miles on the CCT and average ~12:15 for that leg. I walk almost 50% of the last half hour.
A warm evening jaunt, with three measured miles in the middle at 10:40 pace. A handful-sized baby rabbit sits beside the path, cute enough to give a heady sugar rush to anyone who spies it. It wrinkles its bunny nose, twitches its whiskers, and fearlessly nibbles new-mown grass clippings as I jog past only a few feet away. Shortly thereafter a large doe crosses the trail in front of me and dives into the brush. Fireflies twinkle under the trees as the sun sets and I turn toward home.
Hilly and fun, on a day of optimal weather (cloudy, cool, slight drizzle). I finish breathing hard but in relative comfort, within seconds of an overall 10 minute/mile pace, and thus slice ~8 minutes off last year's result (see RileysRumble). This might not be a Personal Record, however, since I foolishly did the first half of the 2002 Marathon in the Parks (see Rocky Run) in about the same time before hitting the wall.
But today my pacing is far better, thanks to the pleasant companionship of Rene & Suzanne for the first several miles. We chat about training, family, work, vacations, marathon plans, etc. I reach the turnaround point in 68 minutes for a net "negative split". A big shaggy brown llama eyes us as we pass by, and I get into a small debate with a fellow traveler about how to pronounce the animal's name (and can't resist saying, "Como se llama?"). Aid stations are frequent, so I don't need to drink out of the water bottle I'm carrying --- instead I use it to pour liquid over my head for evaporative cooling. At the end of the race I feel strong and "sprint" as much of the final miles as I can, achieving a pace in the 8-9 minute/mile zone for that segment.