|The hills giveth (outbound) and the hills taketh away (on the home stretch). Goldfinches flit across the road as we set out on Riley's Rumble, a summer half-marathon. Today is thankfully cool and cloudy. Pace is too fast for the first few miles, and the result is a few minutes slower than last year's PB but still happily under 2 hours. I try to "Soften into Experience" and "Notice the Music", current mantras that seem to help. The Aloe Blacc song "Wake Me Up When It's All Over" is on heavy mental rotation. At mile ~11 a young guy passes me and comments on the hills ahead. "Don't say the H-Word!", I admonish him.|
Based on course markings painted on the road, splits are: 8.1 + 7.9 + 8.3 + 9.1 + 8.0 + 9.1 + 8.4 + 9.5 + 9.4 + 8.7 + 8.4 + 9.7 + 8.7 and a final ~0.1 mile fraction in 0.8 min. I finish behind 23 women and 93 men. Alice Franks, age 66, chats with me in the initial miles, then blasts ahead to finish 1:49:30. We start perhaps ~10 seconds behind the line.
^z - 2014-08-19
Four rabbits (others spy five) observe us on Hunting Av during the last mile. Amber and I warm up by attempting to spell "MIT" on the parking lot Etch-A-Sketch style; we run out of space and time before finishing "MITRE". Kerry and David lead us on neighborhood streets toward the south. In tiny Pimmit View Park Kerry takes a big spider web in the face for the group. Inspired, I demonstrate the hand-held-up salute used in the old silent movie Phantom of the Opera to keep an assassin's garrote, "The Punjab Lasso", from closing around one's neck, and explain how a similar pose can be used to intercept and deflect cobwebs. At 0630 we meet Ed and go another ~3 miles. I pause the GPS and divert briefly to open up the office for colleagues. Runkeeper and Garmin capture pace and map the meanders.
^z - 2014-08-17
Kerry spots several deer grazing in Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park as we trot down Great Falls Rd to Idylwood. A flattened snake lies by the pathway under the Toll Rd connector. Amber and Kerry set a brisk pace; Kristin (injured) and I hang back. David plans to do an Olympic triathlon on Sunday. Runkeeper and Garmin map the route.
^z - 2014-08-17
|"NO! This is WRONG! We have to turn back RIGHT NOW! We must find the BLUE Trail!" I shout at the three runners following me as we approach a chain across the gravel path, when suddenly I realize we're a quarter mile off course. Such language is extremely uncharacteristic of me. Ordinarily I'm Mr. Nuance and Sir Diffident, always trying to be non-judgmental. But at mile 30, with what I estimate is only a 10 minute margin of safety to make the final Catoctin 50k cutoff, it's time for decisive action. Commander Mark makes a brief appearance.|
Backtrack, running hard. Find the corner where we mistakenly branched onto the Yellow-blazed Trail, and turn onto Blue. Power-walk up the hills. Dance across rocks and risk a game-ending fall. Pause briefly to check and offer aid when a follower pukes. As soon as he says he's ok, race ahead. Shout back, "Push hard! We've only got a few minutes to spare now!"
It's a day of chasing cutoffs, perhaps the roughest Catoctin 50k I've experienced. 2014 breaks the even-numbered-year jinx of DNFs (I failed to finish in 2008 and 2010, and skipped 2012), but falls short of a 2009 PR (7:53, on a shorter and slightly easier course), a 2011 hot and humid result (9:04), and a 2013 feel-good trek that included pauses to take photos and hang out (8:35). Official result this year: 141st place of 144, time 9:10:25.
A mountain bike gear found on the trail at mile ~20 fits with the post-grunge song "Machinehead" that's stuck in my brain much of the day — esp. the lyrics:
|After Taiji before the start, the first dozen+ miles today are full of scary stumbles and negative thinking. I ponder dropping mid-course. I squeak under the first two time limits by only a few minutes. At mile ~10 there's almost a bad fall, but luckily I grab a sapling with my left hand and swing 180 degrees around it to make a miraculous save, suffering only minor scrapes to arms and legs. Then it's miles of go-slow on rocky slopes, as a deathly fear of falling grows. I compute that I'm likely to be too late at mile 16 to be allowed to continue.|
But just a few miles later, for reasons unknown, the old brain perks up and start to feel better. The ~1,000 foot descent to the Manor House aid station is a jolly trot. Maybe it's today's mantras: "Notice the Music" (esp. the sound of toes stubbing rocks and roots) and "Soften into Experience" (as I envision not-falling). Maybe it's the encouraging runners I meet, far ahead of me on their return trips, shouting "Looking good!" and "Keep going!", plus the ultra-helpful aid station crews. Maybe it's thinking of my friends working the finish line, whom I would be embarrassed to call and beg a ride back from. Maybe it's the fuel and electrolytes finally kicking in. Today's dietary staples: Pringles, Oreos, and Watermelon. Their initials = "POW!"
So at Little Hunting Creek I wade briskly across ankle-deep water, greet race officials cheerfully, and ask permission to go on. By my watch I'm a few minutes past the 12:15 cutoff, but they are merciful (or sadistic?) and just say, "Hurry up!" So I grab three grapes and head out. The sweeper sits by the brook putting on her backpack. I tell her, "If you see me ahead of you, please just scream at me!"
Then the ancient legs start to feel good. I catch up with and pass fellow sufferers as we climb back up the 1,000 foot hill to the ridge line. A few slower folk are still making the descent, victims of falls, bad cramping, blisters, or other woes. I offer sympathies.
|The return trip is actually rather fun. I hang for a while with Paul Sherlock, another Cat veteran with 10 finishes who has fallen and is taking every further step today as a pure gift. Bib #1 bearer, 70-year-old legend Gary Knipling, then catches up with us. Somehow in his 16th Catoctin race he went off course and lost half an hour. We tease that he must have been following some young ladies. He pleads innocent, then runs on ahead. I text-message friends, "5 miles to go!"|
Jon Busey, a young German-linguist-computer-scientist, introduces himself. We talk about Hadoop and modern parallel processing. The initials of his four kids' names spell out L.O.V.E. He guesses which of my children's names belongs to the girl on the second try. I send him ahead on rocky slopes, where he skips along like a mountain goat, but catch up and pass him on the ascents. He comes in with nanoseconds to spare before the air horn goes off.
At the finish line I get a cold wet washcloth on the head and a victory hug from dear friend Stephanie Fonda, who is a volunteer chef with daughter Haven and ultrarunner comrade Marshall Porterfield. Haven gets the prize of the day: the One Ring, which I discover on the trail at mile 25. It doesn't make me invisible, but perhaps it will work for her? Or maybe it's a dime-store plastic replica. No matter!
Team MITRE triumphs: office buddy Michael Hart and I come in within minutes of one another. Wendy Neupauer of Minnesota, whom I run with for a few miles, crosses the line ahead of us and adds another state to her ultra-log. Far in front is Sonya Bingham, whom I met here last year. She gets her revenge for that DNF. We fist-bump in celebration.
I bring home my fourth Cat Card, the only award for finishers. If I get one more I'll earn a free entry. Is that a masochist's dream or what?!
^z - 2014-08-13
3 McLean bunnies seen on a warm and humid trek with Kerry, Kristin, and David. Into the rising sun, we follow the natural-surface Pimmit Run Trail downstream to reach Westmoreland Av. Kerry leads at a brisk pace, taking spider webs to the face for the group. At McLean HS we search in vain for a water fountain near the track. Kristin does an extra half-mile and then leads me in <<ouch!>> stretches afterwards. Runkeeper and Garmin trackfiles capture data.
^z - 2014-08-10
Bright star Aldebaran twinkles close by an old crescent moon, low in the east at 0515. It's the last day of my visit to Texas. Thanks to Pam LeBlanc, "Austin American-Statesman" newspaper fitness columnist, I've got a mission. LeBlanc's essay yesterday was about the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, a bikepath that goes within a few miles of my Mom's home. Unaware, I ran past it on Saturday. Now's a chance to explore a segment.
First, though, jog to LBJ High School track for a brisk lap (1:50) to enhance the trackfile, swinging wide around puddles in Lane 1 and backtracking when done to wet the sweaty head with spray from infield water sprinklers. A cigarette lighter flickers a block away as the only other pedestrian in the neighborhood lights up. At the Loyola Ln onramp, join the trail.
The bikeway is a pale ribbon lit by skyglow, meandering parallel to the stream, dashed line barely visible down the center. Brushy weeds encroach from the sides. Occasional spiderwebs span the path and prove that I'm the first to pass through this morning. A gravel lane to one side leads to a sign. Read it by cellphone screen gleam: "Welcome to Burr Field". Big locked gates seem rather unwelcoming. After a golf course take the bridge over Walnut Creek and then turn onto a proper side trail to US-183 at a big YMCA near 51st Street.
Across the highway the real adventure begins: follow a dirt-and-gravel rutted track through Little Walnut Creek Park. Shoes gain a couple of pounds of mud in a boggy valley. Eventually the truck road climbs up to a water treatment facility, where fortunately a chain holding the barbed-wire-topped gate is loose enough to let a skinny person squeeze past. Final miles are fast, though soggy-shirt friction makes for blood on the chest and a wince in the shower afterwards. Route information is recorded by Runkeeper and Garmin.
^z - 2014-08-08
|Pause before dawn to photograph the iconic Austin water tower; see 2013-08-25 - Austin Morning Neighborhood Loop for a sunlit image. Refill bottle in Bartholomew Park, then stick head into the kiddie-play-fountain as shadowy homeless people go through nearby trash bins in search of aluminum cans to sell for cash.|
Trek alongside Interstate-35, US-290, and US-183, where sidewalks vanish but curb-ramps remain at corner crosswalks. Meander through local streets at the end of the loop to put both GPS units into double digits, add a little hillwork, and push average pace down below 11.5 min/mi. Do T'ai Chi barefoot in Mom's driveway to cool down, being careful not to tread on pillbugs and leaving sweaty footprints
^z - 2014-08-06
|Insomniac roosters crow in Mom's neighborhood. At the corner of Hog Eye and Blue Bluff it's light enough to read street signs. On Bloor Rd a singlet-clad lady with Texas-sized hair, bound up high with a pair of sweat bands, walks along the side of the asphalt. Her nose is buried inside a paperback mystery novel, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson. "Need anything?" I ask, and offer to share water or sports beans.|
"No thanks, I'm fine," she replies. "My truck's just up ahead." Must be some pinko-intellectual. Evidence, besides taking exercise and obvious literacy: she has an Obama sticker on her vehicle and the gun rack is missing.
Soon thereafter a big jackrabbit pauses to watch me pass. The liter of lime-flavored seltzer water that I carry is running out at mile ~10 when I spy a cyclist's squeeze bottle lying in the grass by the shoulder of the road. The water in it is a bit moldy, but in my dehydrated state tastes great.
On Desau Rd the School Zone speed limit is a brisk 50 mi/hr. I pause to photograph it, risking a $200 fine for using my cellphone there. One more photo op comes at mile ~16, plastic flowers on a memorial cross. It's in Davis White Northeast District Park, near Loyola Lane. Based on the word "EFREN" on the cross it's likely in honor of Efren Gonzalez-Rojas Jr, who died near here in a 2012 car accident when he was run off the road (see ).
Pace overall is steady, thanks to cool-for-summer weather and morning clouds. The route includes a circumnavigation of Lake Walter E Long. It was called Decker Lake 50 years ago, when my first and last attempt to learn to water ski took place there. When I get home, Mom is taking a nap, so I do some Taiji in the driveway for 20 minutes to cool down. A passing cyclist says, "He's doing T'ai Chi!" to his buddy. I wave at them.
^z - 2014-08-03
Three bunnies greet us this morning: first a pair spotted by Kristin and Amber at mile 1.5, then a scrawny singleton that Ed glimpses at mile 4. Lovely cool weather makes for a happy trek around Pimmit Hills ("David's loop reversed") for David, Kerry, Amber, Kristin, and me starting at 0600. At 6:30am Ed takes over for Kerry & David. I pause the GPS when inside a building mid-run. Runkeeper and Garmin gather data.
^z - 2014-08-01
Three rabbits appear, at miles 1, 3, and 5. I'm the rabbit for Kristin and Amber, as they do a self-calibration speed test on the McLean HS track, swinging wide to dodge walkers. I trot at ~2 min/lap, encouraging A & K to push. Amber kicks hard on the bell lap and finishes in 7:54. Kristin later confesses to keeping something in reserve, in anticipation of the next 3 miles of the morning, but still hits 8:25 for what may be a lifetime mile PB. Yay! Runkeeper and Garmin tell the tale.
^z - 2014-08-01