In a box of children's toys, stored in our basement for a decade and a half, I find an old wooden train-whistle — amazingly loud — and a plastic viking-style helmet — rather too small for my head. During the Parks Half Marathon on Sunday (24 Sep 2006) I'm part of the crew at Water Stop #6, about 1.5 miles from the end of the race. To help the tired runners smile I tie the helmet on with a chain of rubber bands, looped over the horns and under my chin, concealed by my beard. The course follows an abandoned railroad track, and my manic tooting actually makes at least one racer think there's a train nearby. Other outdoor tomfoolery:
Ken invites me to accompany him during his Capitol Hill Running Club jog today, led by Marine Corps members as part of an MCM training program. A nearly full moon sets in the west as the red disc of the sun, haze-filtered, looms beside the Iwo Jima Memorial. I sit quietly while the group does stretches. "It's all about the running for you," a Marine colonel observes. "Nah, I'm just not a member of the club!" I respond with a grin. The colonel sets off with a "slow" group downhill past Arlington Cemetery to the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) — but since "slow" to him means sub-11 pace, after a few miles I deliberately lag behind. Ken is charitable enough to stick with me.
A helpful young corporal has set up an aid station at ~5.5 miles, where we catch up with a few compatriots and I refill a water bottle. In Alexandria we briefly zig-zag with some of the group to a dead-end waterfront wharf where construction has blocked the trail. Since this is only ~90 minutes out I'm sure we haven't reached the halfway point. Ken and I backtrack, detour, and continue below the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the "official" 9 mile cone. This still feels a bit short, so we take a side path and visit the southernmost DC Boundary Stone , placed at the Jones Point lighthouse on April 15, 1791 by surveyors Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker during an elaborate Masonic ceremony.
Now it's definitely turnabout time. The heat and humidity are slowly cooking me, and after two hours my singlet and shorts are totally drenched. I extend my walk breaks and increase their frequency; our pace slows to ~12 min/mi. When we arrive at mile ~13 the kind corporal there helps us refill our bottles and gives us banana and orange slices. Passenger jets roar overhead as the MVT takes us by the end of the main runway at Reagan National Airport. Ken and I notice the time and wonder how Caren Jew (on the Punxsutawney Groundhog 50k in Pennsylvania) and Ruth Martin (on the Marathon du Medoc in France) are doing now. We manage a final ~11-minute mile in their honor before branching off the MVT at Memorial Bridge. "I am a leaf on the wind," I say in an effort to feel lighter on my feet. (It's a line from the sf movie Serenity by Joss Whedon.) "Or maybe," I tell Ken, "I'm a wet leaf stuck to the bottom of somebody's shoe."
Cathy Blessing of the MCRRC organizes a get-together this morning at Gathland State Park on the Appalachian Trail. It's an area familiarization drill, designed to help folks who hope to do the JFK 50 miler in two months. Son Robin and I arrive early. We chat with fellow trail runners and then set off northward in proper ultra fashion: briskly walking up the first hill. Tarzan Boy and another fast runner soon race out of sight. After the rest have likewise zoomed ahead ultra-experienced and ultra-helpful Mike Broderick hangs back to keep an eye on me and Bernie, a young lady training for her first ultra. Mike gives us good advice on exercise, nutrition, general trail strategy, and JFK tactics. The conversation keeps me moving along comfortably, even though I'm a bit tired still from yesterday's warm and humid jog.
Three miles zip by in less than 45 minutes, and I'm startled when we to catch up with the bulk of the crew at the AT's intersection with Bear Spring Cabin Trail . Time to head back to the start. On the way we meet Robin, who has been taking photographs and is now hiking with a runner who strained his hamstring and wisely isn't stressing it further. At the cars we refuel and continue southward on the trail. I go to the top of the next ridge, 3/4ths of a mile, then reverse course and rendezvous with Robin at the car. The Appalachian Trail in this area is wide and well-marked, albeit a bit rocky in places. We'll see how it looks pre-dawn in mid-November, when today's segment will serve as miles 6-10 of the JFK!
After finishing the dangerously enthusiastic novel Once a Runner yesterday I'm energized to think long thoughts ... maybe jog 13 miles from home to Lake Needwood, do a 10k MCRRC race, and jog back? Fortunately I come to my senses and decide to start at Ken-Gar Park. At 6:30am Rock Creek Trail is dark under the trees, but I know the way. A pair of rascally rabbits tempt me to stop and take out my camera before they scamper away. Part of a Brandenburg Concerto, heard on the radio this morning, plays in my head. A couple of miles upstream I realize that I've forgotten my #333 "Half Beast" racing bib, and will have to get another temporary one. At mile six a cheerful woman greets me; she's training for a 60-mile 3-day walk. We stroll together for a minute and exchange tips on how to prevent blisters, as I try without success to persuade her to enter the race today.
The seven miles to Lake Needwood average 11:40 pace in cool but humid air. I arrive with 50 minutes to spare before the race — plenty of time to take pictures of cute kids and chat with friends. Way-No is volunteering today, since he's nursing what may be another broken bone in his right foot. Comrade Ken and his softball buddy Steve line up to run with me. We prepare by recounting our various injuries, illnesses, and pitiful lack of training.
At 8:50am the 10k cross-country race begins, and Ken, Steve, and I make it through the first half in 34:26, slightly before the winner finishes. A lady runner ("Masoomeh") falls in with us; she hasn't done this XC distance before, so she and I stick together for the rest of the race, walk the hills, and cover the remaining 5k in 34:03. Our overall pace is a hair over 11:00 min/mi, and I finish 23 seconds faster than last year. Ken and Steve are a couple of minutes ahead of us. We hang out, eat, drink, and chat. At half past ten I point my feet south toward Ken-Gar for a return trip at an average 12:30 pace in a light drizzle. Several chipmunks scamper across the trail. Various mystery twinges appear and disappear in my feet and legs. My cellphone in its plastic bag is decorated with crystals of dried sweat-salt.
Christina, Ken, and I meet at 7am in downtown Bethesda to put some miles on our feet. Chris is preparing for the Parks Half Marathon next week, while Ken and I have our near-term sights set on the Wineglass Marathon on 1 October. We trek northwest along Old Georgetown Road, vector east on Cedar Lane, and then return to our starting point via the final 5+ miles of the PHM course. Chris's hip is troubling her today so we do more walking than jogging, but that's perfectly all right: I'm still recovering from yesterday's long run, and Ken plans to do another dozen miles after we get back to our start. So we talk, greet fellow travelers along Rock Creek Trail (many of whom know Chris), and enjoy the relatively cool morning air — though as usual I'm sweat-soaked after half an hour, start to feel chafing, and pause to apply petroleum jelly to my nipples at the corner of Wisconsin and Cedar. When we've finished the loop Ken heads on down the Capital Crescent Trail, I buy beignets at Louisiana Express and Christina treats me to a strawberry-banana smoothie from Dunkin Donuts as we do a cooldown walk, dodging cyclists and dogs along the CCT.
Ken invites some young Capitol Hill friends to join us at Sligo Dennis Avenue Park early Saturday morning, and shortly after 7am Langston arrives; he's training for the Army 10 Miler next month. We proceed downstream at 10-11 pace (far faster than I usually train at) and arrive at Sligo Creek Trail's intersection with East-West Highway a few minutes past an hour en route. Less than a mile into the return journey another Congressional staffer, Dom, meets us; he's getting ready for his first marathon, Honolulu in December. We chat as we jog back to Dennis Ave., still averaging sub-11 min/mi, while twinges on the bottom of my left foot develop into a sporadic pain. Dom continues north on the trail as the rest of us cool down. This will likely be my last run before Ken and I try the Wineglass Marathon on 1 October, from Bath to Corning in New York state.