... run a summertime race — such madness! Riley's Rumble, a low-key half-marathon held on 23 July 2006, is my slowest ever in spite of surprisingly mild weather for a mid-summer morn. Notes on that experience and other expeditions of the past few weeks follow ...
A small buck, proudly displaying velvet-covered antlers with only two points each, stares at me from the side of the path at Wheaton Regional Park, then retreats to join a larger doe (his mom?) as I pass by. Many unpaved trail segments are washed out after the deluges earlier this week, so I have to tread carefully on newly-exposed rocks and circumvent muddy sloughs. Sligo Creek Trail north from Forest Glen Road is almost unscathed, but as I cross Arcola and join Northwest Branch Trail the situation becomes worse. A quarter mile downstream I take a wooden bridge to the eastern bank and immediately lose the trail. My route is blocked by countless fallen trees, including some with official blue blazes. I follow deer paths through the soggy bracken and sporadically pick up the trail, only to misplace it again within a few hundred feet. My shirt is sweat-soaked after less than an hour in the Saturday morning humidity.
Crossing a hillside of wild pachysandra my foot plunges into a concealed pit. Shortly thereafter on another slope I slip and fall. I get nervous enough to check my cellphone, and am comforted to see that it has a strong signal here. Segments of trail near the creek have been undercut by the rushing waters, some to a scary degree. My technique for squatting and creeping under fallen treetrunks needs work — I repeatedly strain thigh muscles doing that. On two slanty washed-out spots I roll my right ankle. It doesn't hurt much during the jog, but gets rather sore a few hours later. At Colesville Road the flood control dam's parking lot is crisscrossed with yellow "Caution" tape. I take the shoulder of the street to the other side of Northwest Branch, where erosion is much less, and follow the trail upstream to Lockwood Drive, then proceed home via Dennis, Sligo Creek Trail, and Forest Glen.
The sign at the entrance to Lyndon Baines Johnson High School reads:
|Whether you're licensed to carry or not!|
NO WEAPONS ON SCHOOL PROPERTY
That admonition is followed by a long list of forbidden objects. I'm in Austin Texas, visiting family, and this warm and humid morning I arrive at the LBJ Jaguar ballfields after a 1+ mile jog. There's a nice springy-surface track here, which I have to myself until a couple of young señoritas appear to walk some laps and chat together. Half an hour later three señoras pile out of a minivan, walk a mile, and then return to their car and drive away. Large passenger jets cruise overhead as they depart the local airport.
My "speedwork" consists of eight 800 meter trots, average ~4:27, with half-lap (~2 min) recovery walks in between. My long shadow on the dew-coated grass displays a retroreflected halo aroung the head. Crows feed on the infield and a black dragonfly buzzes past. I take a Succeed! electrolyte capsule after the first few miles, and that plus sugar candies keep me moving. My Red Sox mesh shirt is sweat-soaked and I take it off for several laps, then don it again for the jog back to my Mother's home, where I lived from 1964 into the 70's.
My brother Keith drives me early Saturday to the parking area under MoPac Blvd. just north of the Colorado River. (This is the Colorado that flows through the middle of Austin Texas, not the one that waters much of the southwestern USA.) RunTex, a local sports supply store, has already set up water coolers at this corner of the hike-and-bike trail that circles Town Lake. We set off eastwards on the sandy dirt pathway. Hundreds, maybe even a thousand, folks are out this warm and humid morning, biking and jogging and walking and leading dogs. Their numbers diminish, however, the farther we progress. Signs explain how to recognize poison ivy, and dozens of the noxious weeds have individual tags labeling them. A fast runner pushing a stroller blitzes by us. My brother says that the baby must be pedaling; I speculate that there's a motor in there.
Keith is now a cyclist rather than a distance runner, so a few miles after we start at a too-fast-for-me-to-maintain ~10 min/mi pace he branches off, leaving me to proceed the length of the lake. The path here is not terribly well-marked but there are enough other joggers that I recover quickly when I take a wrong turn. A pair of big gray long-necked fuzzy water birds float next to a slightly-larger sleek-snow-white parent — swans, perhaps, or geese? Later, cute baby ducklings swim after their mother. Mile markers and water fountains are intermittent, as are fishermen and rowing club launch points. Bat viewing areas and informational displays appear at intervals.
At the Holly Street Power Plant I zig-zag onto Longhorn Dam and cross to the southern shore of the river. Dozens of memorial benches and markers are positioned by the trail, as is a bronze statue of the late musician Stevie Ray Vaughn with flowers at its base. A long downhill stretch on the sidewalk by Riverside Drive gives me a 10:14 split, but otherwise my frequent walk breaks keep me in the 11-12 min/mi zone. I miss the bridge over Barton Springs but the sudden narrowing of the trail and paucity of joggers leads me to ask directions, and I double back to rejoin the trail within a few minutes. A bit less than 2 hours later I meet my brother at his car.
Blessed sprinklers are running on the LBJ High School ballfields, so I tread cautiously over the swampy ground and soak my head after a few miles, and again when I finish my ten 800's on the tartan track. Wednesday morning dawns warm and humid here in central Texas, and as I did five days ago I jog/walk the mile-plus from my Mother's home and alternate double-laps with half-lap walks. Occasional southerly breezes rejuvinate me as the sun goes behind a cloud, but I age rapidly when the wind pauses and the sun comes out again. Today I'm significantly slower (~4:45 per 800m) than I was last week, but I do an extra couple of reps to make up for it. I find two coins, a 5 centavo and a 10 centavo, on the way to the track. The bottle of Gatorade I bring with me is so hard to open that I struggle with it for most of a recovery half-lap before succeeding in cracking the seal.
Our last day in Austin dawns warm and humid. I get up early and again jog to LBJ High School, past a field where 40+ years ago my brother and I launched model rockets. Shadows from distant trees stretch long across the track, but shorten rapidly as the rising sun hammers them, and me. I do a slow speedwork "ladder": a sequence of laps 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 with half a lap of recovery walk between each. My pace is a steady ~9:20 min/mi. A fragment of a Black Cat firecracker lies in lane 1, bringing back memories of unofficial Fourth of July festivities in years past. One water sprinkler irrigates a distant soccer field, so when I finish my ladder I trek there to wet my head before the jog/walk home.
At 3am I wake, check the clock, and try to get back to sleep. Repeat that at 3:20, 3:35, and further decreasing intervals until the 4 o'clock alarm goes off and it's time to eat breakfast, don my TrajeDeLuces, and go pick up Comrade Ken. Today's half marathon is a foolish experiment: I know I'm not a hot-weather runner. But the forecast is for unseasonably cool conditions so I decide to try my luck, further motivated by having done no significant exercise since Saturday a week ago.
Ken, who ran more than a dozen miles through sweltering heat and humidity yesterday, is ready to rumble when I reach his home shortly after 5am. He directs me along a new route and we arrive before 0530 at Riley's Lock on the C&O Canal, where Seneca Creek flows into the Potomac River. I wander about, register for the race, take photos, and chat with athletic acquaintances. Eventually I find myself behind several hundred fidgety folks awaiting the 7am start.
Way-No "Mr. Sandbagger" and Ken "Mr. Marathon" try to pull me along for the first half dozen miles, but their pace is a bit faster than I can maintain. We hear sirens, wend our way around rescue squad vehicles, and after the race learn that one of the fast runners has been hit, and knocked out, by a vengeful deer. (No joke!) A medevac helicopter flies in to pick him up. In contrast to 2003 and 2004 no llamas are present this year — unless they've had haircuts and are disguised as the horses that eye our passage.
In the final miles I lose track of distance, assume that I'm going ~12 minutes/mile, and tell several fellow-travelers that we've got 3 miles to go when we're really within 2 of the finish. I meet Scottie and play leapfrog with her: she speeds by me on the hills, and I catch up with her again on the downslopes. We finish together a bit over 2:20, slowest of my three Riley's Rumbles. Ken cheers me at the conclusion of the run, so I give him a ride back to his house even though he seems scarcely fatigued. Is it his good genes, or superior training, or spiffy equipment, or mental toughness, or injected steroids? No matter; I survive, sweat-soaked but happy and unblistered. See http://flickr.com/photos/zhurnaly for some silly pictures taken before, during, and after the run. Bravo! to Tom Temin, Race Director, and all the volunteers who made the event possible.
(cf. RileysRumble (27 Jul 2003), FreudianHalfMarathon (2 Aug 2004), HalfBeast (4 Jan 2006), GoldenTicket (6 Feb 2006), PawingTheEarth (12 Mar 2006), MarchApril2006JogLog (16 Apr 2006), TheAvenue (17 May 2006), DeathlyCold (5 Jun 2006), SpongeBath (29 Jun 2006), ...)