A few years ago I commenced a sporadic regime of jogging around the neighborhood behind son RadRob, mainly in support of some Boy Scout fitness activities. The initial path we panted along was a circuit roughly two miles in length. It meandered up and down a few gentle hills (see GlobalPositioningSystemRuns, 16 Feb 2002, for details). Perhaps two or three times a week Robin and I would go around our orbit, depending on weather and mood. We often would stop after twenty minutes to reward ourselves at a soda vending machine. Robin was a lot faster than I was. I remember feeling quite proud when I eventually got into good enough shape to finish the route without collapsing.
Since then a distance running virus has taken over my system. The motivation at first was to lose weight and get permission to stop taking some unpleasant high blood pressure medication. After a few months, however, the activity became its own reward --- as anything worthwhile should be.
Though today my pace today is scarcely any different than it was in 2001, the disease has now reached a point where I rarely bother to put on my shoes for less than a 45 minute outing. My weekly mileage is stabilized in a comfortable 20-25 zone. I take things slowly, with interludes of walking every 5-10 minutes as suits my fancy and the local scenery. If another runner (especially a younger one) is nearby, for instance, I may delay or skip a walk break; if heat, humidity, hills, or fatigue weigh me down I may extend an interval of strolling. I've become a bit less obsessive about measuring times and distances and speeds.
It remains to be seen how long my knees can hold up to this unnatural but enjoyable battering. Meanwhile, in a series of foolish fits I've signed up to do the Marathon in the Parks http://www.marathonintheparks.com this November and the Marine Corps Marathon http://www.marinemarathon.com in October 2004. Depending on winter weather perhaps I'll try for the George Washington's Birthday Marathon http://www.dcroadrunners.org/gwmarathon/ in February; it was preempted in 2002 by a record-setting blizzard. Hubris, thy worshipful servant's name is ^z ...
At first as my distances increased I was happy just to extend my jaunts along Rock Creek Trail, a lovely local pathway. I would go out and back along a section of the course, taking advantage of mile markers and water fountains. Eventually that got old, wanderlust set in, and I began to venture farther afield. Sometimes I would drive to a new point along a trail and do an out-and-back from there. Sometimes I would ask Paulette to drop me off and I would jog home, and other days I would arrange to rendezvous with her at a remote point and get a ride back. Those one-way runs were great fun.
But now my favorite courses are loops. There's a pleasant sense of progress in going around a circuit that one doesn't get from to-and-fro along a route. The scenery is different. There's a chance to meet new people at every spot along the way. And unlike a point-to-point excursion, a loop course means never having to impose on anybody else for a ride.
Loops also offer almost infinite variety. Last week I made up a new course: I headed west along the Georgetown Branch and Capital Crescent trails through Bethesda to River Road, then followed city streets --- River to Western to Military Road through northwest DC --- to Beach Drive in the middle of Rock Creek Park. From there I meandered back to home base almost three hours after I had started.
Yesterday I discovered another new route. I followed Sligo Creek trail southeast, cut over on Piney Branch Avenue to the Northwest Branch trail, and found my way along it north under the Beltway to Colesville Road, from which I circled south to my starting point. Along the way I passed the ill-fated rocks where I slipped and fell into the Northwest Branch three months back. (See ForestPrimevalPedestrian, 9 May 2003, for gory details.) That tumble produced a blood-bruise under my left index fingernail that now has almost crept out to the end of the nail ... a daily reminder of the experience, soon to be gone, like my purple toenails from the 2002 Marine Corps Marathon.
Loops are like life. Most days --- most years --- you go out, and you come back. Work, school, relationships. You're the same person you were, and yet you're changed by what you've seen and done.
Two years ago, when Robin and I started off on a little neighborhood jog of at most a couple of miles in circumference, I could not have conceived of circumnavigating loops 5-10 times longer. Four years ago when this ^zhurnal began I had no real idea of what it would grow into. Twenty-five years ago, when Paulette and I got married ...