Winter running isn't always pretty --- particularly when moisture in one's breath condenses and freezes into farcical facial icicles.
(photo by Adam Safir, 29 Jan 2005)
The past fortnight outdoors is most memorable for low temperatures and high spirits along a variety of new pathways. Solo jogs are fun, and companions on the trail offer encouragement and conversation.
Yesterday's inch of snow is the perfect amount to "cool a hobbit's toes" and to display footprints that guide me during today's jog. I drop Paulette & Gray off at an anti-inaugural concert in DC, drive somewhat aimlessly toward Rock Creek, and find a nice parking space in front of a Mini Cooper near the eastern side of the Calvert Street bridge.
Local snowball-hurlers direct me to the Connecticut Avenue ramp down to the park, and I proceed southward, branching immediately onto a natural-surface trail that trends along the western side of the stream. I realize that I've forgotten to bring hat and gloves, and I note that nobody else seems to be bare-legged ... but with the sun shining and temperatures in the mid-30's I feel comfortable enough as long as I keep moving.
I pass by the NormanstoneTrail entrance and continue along the well-beaten path uphill and through a playground into the streets of Georgetown (near 30th and R). High fences around the Oak Hill Cemetery are either designed to keep the living out, or the dead in --- but either way create an impassible barrier. I jog past Dumbarton House and a kind cyclist points me down the steep hillside back into Rock Creek Park, on the other side of the Mount Zion Cemetery.
From there it's the usual paved route south to Thompson's Boat Center, where I hope to buy a candy bar. Alas, the building is closed for the winter. So I reverse course and soon spy the entrance to the C&O Canal National Park, 40 minutes into today's jog.
This end of the canal is new to me, so I turn west and follow the towpath, detouring at intervals where construction blocks the way. Melting snow makes some cobblestone slopes slippery, but less hazardous than the traffic at many of the road crossings. Under one bridge there's a bundle of blankets where a homeless person is camping out. The water in the canal is mostly frozen over. A couple of fast runners pass me as I plod upstream, pausing occasionally to walk and sip my red Gatorade.
At about the 1 hour mark I spot the mile #10 post on the Capital Crescent Trail (which here runs parallel to the C&O Canal, on the Potomac River side ~20 feet below me). I click my watch and continue past Fletcher's Boat House to CCT mile marker #8, where I turn back. I'm astounded to find my average pace for these four miles is 10:20, far faster than I can usually manage. But the towpath is nearly flat and cool conditions seem to be optimal for me to have a happy ramble.
Back at Lock 1 of the C&O Canal I turn northwards along Rock Creek and proceed briskly (since the winds have picked up and I'm starting to get a bit chilled again!). Just before the National Zoo tunnel I cross the parkway and clamber upslope until I reach the steps leading to Calvert Street, and thus return to my car. My left calf muscle (or achilles tendon?) feels a bit tight, but overall all systems seem ok.
With comrade Ken Swab the "Shooting Starr" MCRRC race goes smoothly. Temperatures are in the teens, significantly warmer than last January's running, and though crowds seem smaller (thanks to the looming blizzard) we still don't finish in the top ten of our age/sex group, and so we earn no points for the Club series tally. Many friends say "Hi!" before and after the run, and volunteer course marshalls are uniformly enthusiastic. Snow begins to fall during the race, at first hesitantly, then strengthening.
Near mile ~4 I pick up a weirdly shaped nail-clipper from the street, probably dropped by a faster runner (which doesn't narrow the list of candidates much!) --- anybody want to claim it?
The Sunday afternoon temperature is about 20°F, but northwest zephyrs gusting as high as 40 mph make it feel far colder. Running on a few inches of post-blizzard snow is fun but exhausting. Three measured miles along Rock Creek Trail (home to RCT 4 and back via Georgetown Branch) average a puny 12:30 pace. I try to follow the packed paths made by earlier skiers and runners, but windblown powder has filled them except in sheltered areas. Under the Connecticut Avenue bridge the frozen mud forms an ankle-wrenching lunar landscape. In the open meadows a billion ice crystals sparkle in the sunlight. The water fountain at Beach and Old Spring Road is frozen (though the tap on the side for dogs is ok). The fountain near East-West Highway works fine, but I discover after I get home a giant icicle on the side of my face from water that missed my mouth ...
I pick up comrade Adam Safir at 6am and drive to Riley's Lock on the Potomac River where we find ourselves alone in the predawn chill. Shortly before 7am Ed Schultze arrives; he chats with us about the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail  and today's training run. Ed directs the Greenway Trail Marathon in early March and has organized a series of training runs including today's to help get people ready for the event. We follow Ed back up the road to Poole's General Store, a splendid anachronism that sells Slim Jims, snow shovels, deer attractant, and chainsaw-carved totem poles. I invest $0.75 in a big cup of hot, fresh coffee plus a banana.
Then it's back to the river where we take a few photos, gather our gear, and pile into minivans for the ride upstream to Montgomery Village where our day's adventure begins. John, Joyce, and Angelo are with us in the back. They're experienced ultramarathon trail runners and offer us friendly advice on weather, clothing, electrolyte-replacement supplements, pacing, and falling down on ice.
The thermometer says 17°F at 8am as we park and get a prebrief from Ed, who has cached munchies and drinks at several points along the route. I've forgotten our map, but Adam and I figure that there's enough snow on the ground that we can follow the leaders' footprints and not get too badly lost. The trail is well-marked with blue blazes on the trees, so although we do go astray occasionally on the way, we always manage to get back on track within a few hundred yards or less.
Adam and I cement our hold on last place shortly into the journey, as we pause under a bridge to adjust his pack and for me to get rid of some excess prehydration. I slip and fall on a patch of ice, thankfully without major injury, and take more care thereafter. Jogging on snow costs significantly more energy than one might think, and soon both of us are well warmed up. We proceed under bridges and across small roads, through open meadows and under coniferous tree canopies, following the partially ice-clad Seneca Creek. A severed deer leg, bloody fur and hoof intact, adjoins the trail.
Shortly before the two hour mark we emerge from the woods at Riffle Ford Road where we spy a sewer pumping station. I think that I remember Ed Schultze mentioning it in his commentary, and so divert from the trail to circle the buildings, where I'm delighted to discover water and candy which he has prepositioned for the convenience of runners. I eat some chocolate and a fig newton cookie while I quaff the remainder of my first bottle of Gatorade. Adam refills his water bottles.
We continue comfortably for the next hour and a quarter, passing a half-eaten raccoon corpse with ribcage exposed. The icicles and rime along Seneca Creek are lovely to behold. A couple of fast runners heading the opposite direction greet us en passant. Soon we emerge onto Black Rock Road and see the scenic Black Rock Mill, where parts of one of the "Blair Witch Project" movies was reportedly filmed. Another runner is awaiting a comrade there, pacing about and trying not to freeze. We find Ed Schultze's next bag of goodies and I enjoy a couple of ginger snaps and another small chocolate candy bar.
Onward and upward and downward we progress, taking care not to slip into the creek during water crossings. Adam and I talk about a wide range of subjects including steroids, linguistics, and politics. Two and a quarter hours later, at about the five and a half hour point, we're back to River Road. We jog the final fraction of a mile to the car, where I'm happy to discover that I have brought the correct key with me, so we're not locked out. A couple of fellow runners, assigned to make sure nobody is abandoned on the trail, accept our thanks for waiting for us.
On the way out of the area we revisit the inimitable Poole's General Store, snag some more coffee, and chat with some nice people there. Generous Ed Schultze has given the cashier a considerable sum of money, in case hungry cashless runners show up in need of sustenance. Bravo, Ed!
Another delightful jog along the route for Ed Schultze's upcoming trail marathon , this time from the starting line in Damascus Regional Park following Magruder Branch to Seneca Creek, and thence downstream to Riffle Ford Road. Temperatures hover around freezing and the ground is 98% covered with snow and ice. A few muddy patches hinder progress on exposed southern slopes.
Experienced ultrarunner Carolyn Gernand sets a perfect pace for me to follow, ~15 minutes/mile, as she runs "sweeper" to ensure that nobody is left behind on the trail. Carolyn strides fearlessly through streams where the trail crosses water; I tiptoe on stepping stones and try to keep my shoes dry, not always with complete success. We chat a little, but mostly crunch along quietly, scanning for blue blazes on trees and following the footprints of those ahead. At one point we startle a cluster of ducks (and they in turn startle me). Icy spots on the trail are slightly scary, particulary when our course skirts the banks of Seneca Creek.
Carolyn keeps me from dawdling at the aid stops, near miles 7 and 11 where Ed Schultze has cached munchies and drinks. We get semi-lost only once, briefly circa mile 16 where the trail takes a detour to avoid a construction area. Carolyn and I retrace our footsteps to the last definitive blazes and discover that most of the previous runners also went astray there. We take the right course and see their footprints merging again with the trail on the other side of a wide clearing.