"Swindle!" That's how comrade Caren Jew describes her email campaign to persuade someone to do the "Run Through the Grapevine" race  with her. But in fact no subterfuge is required: what she lures me into is a thoroughly pleasant five-mile cross-country ramble around the Linganore Winery, plus a few bonus miles afterward to reprise some of the rustic segments of the course. Notes on that and other jogs of the past several days follow ...
At Caren Jew's home I greet her husband Walter and lovely daughters Ashley and Jenna. Walter, an extraordinarily strong amateur golfer, has an early afternoon tee time so Caren and I are on the clock. We carpool to Mt Airy in north central Maryland. Caren navigates unerringly as a maze of country roads leads through gently rolling terrain to a vineyard. She knows the way, having done this race for the past few years. Now I see why she recommends it: the course winds across grassy fields, over gentle (and not-so-gentle) hills, between rows of sere grapevines, and through sweet-smelling piney forests. There's a big crowd and even though I registered late I get a garishly-decorated but well-made shirt. Of the 483 finishers our pace of about 12.5 min/mi puts us 437th and 438th respectively, more than 10 minutes behind fellow MCRRC member Michele McLeod who ran with me two years ago along Seneca Creek (cf. MudDance, 5 Apr 2007). At the finish line we receive commemorative wineglasses. We snack and drink; there's no free wine, alas. At Caren's suggestion then we rerun the course but at a leisurely rate, starting a bit before mile 2 and chatting about life as we navigate and enjoy the scenery. We're back in plenty of time for Walter's golf and our respective household duties. Thanks, Caren!
I've been here before — cf. AnacostiaTributaries (28 Jan 2003), SlowRunSummaries (13 Feb 2004), ThisSpaceNotForRent (18 Dec 2004), TheAvenue (22 Apr 2006), DeathlyCold (18 May 2006), SharperImage (8 Dec 2006) — but it's always delightful to revisit a friend. Instead of Superman's telephone booth today I enter a portajohn as mild-mannered bureaucrat ^z and emerge as Half Beast, bedecked in shorts and technical shirt plus cheap cotton gloves. A water fountain in the Biomolecular Sciences Building fills my bottles. While fielding a phone call from Merle I walk the path by Parking Lot #11 toward Paint Branch Trail. Shortly after 2pm I pass PBT milepost 1.5 and click my stopwatch for the unofficial start. It's cool and cloudy, perfect weather for a jaunty journey, and at a 10.7 min/mi pace I skirt Lake Artemesia and arrive at the triple-point junction of Paint Branch, Indian Creek, and Northeast Branch Trails.
The trek down Northeast Branch Trail is similarly smooth. I throttle back, field a phone call from Paulette, and average 11.0 min/mi on the 2.5 measured miles to the next triple-point trail nexus where Northeast Branch, Northwest Branch, and the Anacostia River Trails converge. Then I start feeling frisky and accelerate upstream on the Northwest Branch Trail. Near the West Hyattsville Metro Station I spy a pair of pink striped panties (size 9, rather too small for me) beside the path. I hang them from the next bridge railing and trot onward. My average pace on NWB when I reach milepost 4.0 is a brisk 10.0 min/mi — whee! — and after climbing University Blvd back to the UM campus I weave among strolling students and sprint downhill to my starting point for a personal loop record of just under 1h55m. Whew!
To avoid the crowds at the start/finish area I park far up Beach Drive and discover, when I arrive to sign in, that I've forgotten my bib — arggghhh! Christina Caravoulias and Don Libes chat with me and take photos, and Don kindly lends me a pair of gloves, but with a dozen minutes to go before race time I decide to jog back to my car. I ditch camera and windshirt, pin on my #333, move the car closer, and rush back just in time to join Chris and Patricia Rich at the tail-end of the mob. Chris jumps up and down in place, reminding me of a gazelle pronking or stotting before springing into action. Both of us are among the few warm-natured souls here: we stand out in our short-sleeved shirts and running shorts among the crowd of tights, vests, hoods, and jumpsuits.
The turnout today is strong, 123 men plus 141 ladies. A full 16 seconds after the "Go!" signal we cross the starting line and I trigger my stopwatch. Chris runs smoothly and our first mile flows past in 10:16, after which we begin to take 20-second walk breaks every few minutes. Don greets us at the turnaround cone and as he photographs us I return his gloves en passant. Miles 2 and 3 are 10:51 and 11:14 respectively. With a strong kick we finish together in 33:27 by my watch, a modest sub-11 min/mi result.
Light rain begins to fall as I walk across the campus to meet comrade Christina Caravoulias. At 9am we have the University of Maryland track all to ourselves. Nearby a crew of workmen unloads (or reloads) chairs in preparation for (or cleaning up from) some unspecified event. We jog an initial easy 400m lap together (2:39) and then Coach Chris leads me through a 15-minute series of exercises: skipping, butt kicks, bounding strides, sideways scissor-steps, etc. They're strenuous and require significant arm-leg coordination and joint flexibility, neither of which have I. After we finish the warmup my hips feel unnaturally loose, but I'm definitely ready to run!
So now it's time for our gentle speedwork. I essay a 100m dash (0:19.66), walk to recover, then do a comfortable 1600m aiming for 2:20/lap but achieving that but only on the average (splits 2:05 + 2:28 + 2:27 + 2:19 = 9:20 total). We walk a lap together and then each do 800m (2:19 + 2:11 = 4:30 total), walk, then 400m (1:47), followed by a couple of smooth 200m efforts (0:53 and 0:57). Christina is gathering data on her pace at various distances for one of her trainers. My goal is merely to have fun and avoid injury before a longish run this weekend. Hundreds of birds descend upon the field and chirp at us as we finish the workout. New gel inserts that I'm experimenting with seem to shift around in my shoes, but I don't feel any metatarsalgia so perhaps they're helping; then again, the cushioned track surface may render them superfluous.
(cf. CrossedPaths (28 Jul 2007), RileysRumble2007 (30 Jul 2007), PiedBeauty (27 Aug 2007), Phone It In (21 Sep 2007), GunpowderKegFatAss2007 (24 Sep 2007), MatherGorge (9 Oct 2007), JFK 2007 Preparation (26 Oct 2007), Potomac Heritage 50k 2007 (4 Nov 2007), ...)