On Rock Creek Trail, attached to trees near mile 4.5, are posterboard signs bearing enigmatic verses of poetry hand-printed in big block letters. Perhaps they were placed there to encourage, or befuddle, members of the local girl's school cross-country team? I remember enough of the words to look up the poem when I get home and discover that it's "The Avenue" by Paul Muldoon. It begins:
Now that we've come to the end
I've been trying to piece it together,
Not that distance makes anything clearer.
It began in the half-light
... a perfect synopsis of my neighborhood jogging expeditions for the past three weeks:
A goose eyes me as I approach, then steps aside to let me proceed down the Anacostia River Trail. On my return trip there's a kitten taking a dust-bath. It dashes away to join its more cautious mother in the brush by the path. Bladensburg Waterfront Park then beckons to me from the other bank of the Anacostia River, so I cross the footbridge to investigate. The pedestrian bridge is less than a year old, too new to show up on Google Maps or Microsoft's Virtual Earth imagery. The park visitor center is locked, as are the restrooms there, but a water fountain on the backside of the building grudgingly dispenses a trickle of off-tasting H2O — enough to dilute the vile mixture of instant tea and salt that I'm experimenting with today as a Gatorade-substitute.
My daughter has to be at the University of Maryland for some hours this Saturday afternoon, so as her driver I take advantage of the opportunity and do a clockwise loop: across campus to Paint Branch Trail, downstream past Lake Artemesia to Northeast Branch Trail, and south thereon to where the Northeast and Northwest Branches merge and form the Anacostia. To add a few miles I do an out-and-back along the Anacostia River Trail, with the digression to the waterfront park, and then swim upstream through Hyattsville along the Northwest Branch Trail. I return to the UM campus via University Blvd. I pray for cool rain but get only a few unsatisfying sprinkles; temperatures are in the 60's and humidity is near 100%, so I'm sweating. My homemade electrolyte solution (a quarter teaspoon of salt and about half an ounce of sweetened instant tea mix, dissolved in 20 ounces of water) might not be bad if I had made it half as strong. Fortunately I begin the trip with two big bottles of real Gatorade, so my hydration remains adequate.
A cool front has just passed by and the weather is lovely, temperatures in the 60's with low humidity. At noon I drop a family friend's car off at the neighborhood mechanic's shop and set out without definite plans, just hoping to have a nice run on my day off. From Linden Lane I take the Woodstock Court route to Walter Reed Annex's forest trail, and just before the little bridge over Rock Creek (near RCT mile 2.3) I see a well-beaten path on the eastern side of the stream, one that I've never tried before. It leads me a mile downstream along Rock Creek and then merges with the "Inner Purple Line" which leads back to RCT. Southwards, past the temple and the stables and the first ballfield, and I leave the asphalt again on a woodsy pathway.
Soon I'm in DC and on the Valley Trail of Rock Creek National Park. I jog slowly with plenty of walk breaks, plus bonus pauses to take photos of oddly-shaped trees, dramatic vistas, trail markers, and whatever else catches my eye. Today is the day of birds — countless robins, quail, vultures, and others that I can't name. Butterflies also flit about in great numbers — tiny yellow ones, middle-sized white ones, and large blue and orange varieties with veined wings. Perhaps the birds are enjoying a feast? I see bumblebees too, gathering nectar. Alas, my camera (or its operator) is too slow to catch bird, bee, or butterfly.
The Valley Trail takes me past the park golf course, where an old water fountain behind one of the greens (maybe ?)tempts me to divert and investigate; it's nonfunctional, alas. After ~2.5 hours I reach the end of the Valley Trail and turn northward on the paved jogging path. It immediately passes the Jean Jules Jusserand memorial, a stone bench dedicated to the French ambassador to the US (1902-1925) in a part of the park that he loved. I take pictures of the monument and continue past another broken water fountain and Peirce Mill. I'm trying to find the Western Ridge Trail but have a hard time. Eventually a horse path leads me to a big equitation field where I spy some blue blazes and get back on course. After crossing Military Road at Oregon I detour to photograph Fort DeRussy , one of the Civil War era defenses of Washington. Only a plaque and some overgrown earthworks remain.
A bit shy of the four-hour mark I'm back in Maryland. Two calibrated miles (RCT 0-1 and CCT 0.5 to home) suggest that my pace is still 12-13 min/mi on level terrain — but allowing for all the walking I do on hills and all the pauses to take pictures my overall speed is more like 14-15 min/mi, implying a total distance in the 18-19 mile zone. En route today I consume two bottles of Gatorade, 20 oz. of experimental ^z mix (dilute instant tea + instant lemonade + 1/8th teaspoon of salt), a couple of root beer barrel candies, and a Clif Builder's Bar.
(see Ken Swab - Frederick Marathon 2006 for Ken's own report)
Since I feel some vague sense of responsibility for suckering Comrade Ken into running his first marathon, I go with him to Frederick to cheer and photograph him during the event. The course zig-zags enough that by brisk walking and a little jogging I rendezvous with Ken at miles 1, 3, 6, 11, 16, 23, and the finish, and manage to get some decent photographs. Ken in turn has a superb experience and — the rat! — finishes faster than my marathon PR by more than 6 minutes. (In my opinion this calls for a severe thrashing, the next time I get him alone in the woods.) The only excuses I can offer on Ken's behalf are: he had geniuses for coaches and training partners (i.e., C-C & RM & me); he took special "food supplements" that Barry Bonds gave him; he is blessed with good genes; he had near-perfect weather conditions; the Frederick course is "easy" (compared to some of those I have suffered on); he got beer at mile 18, without even being carded; he disabled the competition by explaining US sugar import-tariff policy to anybody who tried to pass him; he trained hard (no fair!); he paced himself near-optimally (~2:20 first half, ~2:23 second half); he's incredibly lucky. Maybe all of the above. Just wait until his next marathon!
As I approach the nexus of the Beltway, Grosvenor, Beach, and Wisconsin it's clear that the sun is setting, I'm getting tired, I don't have a flashlight, and if I proceed on to Old Georgetown Road and Comrade Ken's house (to snag the Thursday Nats tickets he has waiting for me) I probably won't make it home in time to pick up the kids from College Park. And the sushi and fried cheesecake (both yummy!) that I ate for lunch are reminding me that I should be cautious this afternoon, esp. in a wealthy suburban neighborhood where the natives may not appreciate any in extremis use of their bushes.
So after ~3 miles starting in downtown Kensington and trotting via Knowles to Beach, I return to Rock Creek Trail and head for home. My face-saving excuse: I still need to burn a CD of photos for Ken from his Frederick Marathon two days ago. Maybe I can get home before dark, do that, and then drive by his house to trade it for the baseball tix? Speedwork (or what I consider speedwork) also couldn't do me any harm, so I blast (so to speak) along RCT from mileposts 5-4-3 with splits of 9:41 (!) and 8:52 (!!) before slowing down to climb the final hills home.
"Top Ten Reasons To Stay Up Late With a Pharmacist". That's the headline on the back of the t-shirt that has just passed me, as I take a walk break after milepost 4 on Rock Creek Trail. A cold front has brought a blessedly cool, dry Sunday morning, so from 9am to noon I run the loop I last did on 4 Dec 2004, but this time in a clockwise direction: home to Rock Creek Trail, upstream to Randolph, eastward across Veirs Mill, Connecticut, and Georgia Avenue to Wheaton Regional Park, and then home via Sligo Creek Trail and Forest Glen.
I can't make out the Top Ten Reasons below the title, so for a few miles I keep the young lady pharmacist (or fan-of-a-pharmacist) in sight. She sets a brisk pace, ~10:30 minutes/mile, but occasionally slows enough for me to almost catch up, then speeds away. Approaching Ken-Gar I close the gap. We chat briefly, but I still can't quite read the fine print on her shirt while running, so I promise her that I'll look it up on the 'Net later. (It's a series of the usual double entendres, a few with a druggist-jargon twist, e.g., "We are Rx Rated" and "We do it PRN".)
I refill my now-empty Gatorade bottle at the Ken-Gar water fountain and trot northward. My pace lags a bit in the sun after I leave Rock Creek Trail to run along Randolph Road. I enter Brookside Gardens through the anti-deer gate with a car, and find it crowded with visitors. I thread my way past walkers and circle most of the perimeter inside the high fence before finding my way out through a gate to the Nature Center, from whence real (i.e., unpaved) trails lead me to Pine Lake. Shortly thereafter I'm in the midst of a 5k Dog Walk fundraiser, but soon escape that and am on Sligo Creek Trail. My tea-lemonade-salt homemade electrolyte drink does the job, and I approach the Beltway doing a few more ~10:30 miles.
It's the 16th annual run-two-laps-around-the-campus race, sponsored by the health services office at work. The event is advertised as a 5k but I suspect the course is a wee bit short of that (since I did it in 2004 in 24:30, suspiciously fast for me). This year I jog the first mile with a friend in 8:57 and decide then to pick up the pace a bit; mile 2 is 8:11 and mile 3 similar (no marker seen), for an overall 25:59 by my watch. It's a cool and cloudy day, with slight drizzles earlier in the morning.
About 5:40am I park at Lock 7 on the C&O Canal where C-C is already waiting for me. We start near milepost 7 and proceed southeast on the towpath past Chain Bridge to mile 4, chatting about family and movies and jogging. C-C has sharp eyes — she points out several great blue herons, including one which stands tall on the opposite shore of the canal, warily monitoring us as its breakfast fish flops on the ground near it. C-C also spots a big turtle lurking just below the water's surface. A pair of mallard ducks, male and female, are resting next to the towpath; we try to avoid disturbing them but they don't like our looks and march away as we approach. Half an hour later as we return they're back in the same location and repeat the ritual. The Potomac River is surprisingly loud as it cascades over Little Falls Dam. Honeysuckles scent the air and mists drift across the stagnant canal water.
Ken meets us near milepost 6 and we continue northwest past our starting point at the same steady 11-12 min/mi pace. I insist on taking a brief walk every mile, and sporadically we add additional breaks to peer at wildlife, which Ken like C-C is highly adept at spying. There are more great blue herons, possibly a great egret, a probable cormorant perched in a tree, additional ducks, and ubiquitous robins and cardinals. C-C has to get home early and so peels off at milepost 8. Ken and I continue under the Beltway to mile marker 12, along a beautiful section of the C&O that cuts through some hard rock ridges. When we get back to the parking lot Ken continues on as I punch out for home.
Daughter has a recital to attend at UM, so at about 8pm I park next to the Armory and set off, forgetting my headlamp in the car and not realizing the omission until half a mile later. As I cross Campus Drive a hasty car has to slam on its brakes to avoid threatening me (no great danger, as I had paused when I saw it coming) and the embarrassed young driver waves apologetically; she turns out to be a musician partner of my daughter rushing to hear the same concert. I reach Paint Branch Trail ca. its mile 1.4, proceed downstream to mile 0, then out to the trail's end at mile ~3.9, and back to my starting point with an extra lap around the Armory at the end to make sure I've done a full 9 miles. The twilight deepens as I go and it's rather spooky in the woodsy areas near the golf course, where geese honk and frogs clear their throats. At Lake Artemesia an elderly Asian lady smiles, waves, and blows kisses at me as I jog past her bench. Two big rabbits and a herd of half a dozen deer cross the path ahead of me.
(correlates: NanoRadians, 2 Comments on 2008-09-21 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon, ZelectrolyteFormula, ...)