Barred Owls

At mile 15 of a hot and humid pre-summer training run Caren and I are jogging through the forest of Cabin John Regional Park. I stop short as a gigantic bird swoops out of a tree just in front of us. "Was that a hawk?" I ask. "No," Caren says quietly, "it's an owl! There are two of them!" She points out a pair of huge barred owls, and soon we spy a third perched nearby. We watch the family for a minute and marvel at their size, and at the fact that they're out and about this afternoon. "That makes the day!" Caren says.

Notes on that 1 June run and other recent excursions follow ...

2008-05-28 - SSIMS Speedwork

7+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

A cool midweek evening is an invitation to trot! A bit after 6pm I take Forest Glen Rd to Sligo Creek Trail and head south at a brisk-for-me pace (9:20 between mileposts) to the asphalt track at the former Blair High School, now Silver Spring International Middle School (SSIMS). Soccer players, little kids on bicycles, and walkers are roaming about the field. After my ~3 mile warm-up to get there I follow Wayne Carson's advice and do four quarter-mile fast laps with 2-minute walk/jog recoveries between. My "fast" laps average 1:43; if I could only sustain that blitz I'd be under 7 minutes for the mile! Alas, I'm far from ready to do that. I follow Dale Dr home. No walk breaks today, but a few pauses to cross busy streets.

2008-05-31 - Mary Shines, z Fades

4 miles @ 10.5 min/mi & 4+ miles @ ~16 min/mi

For Saturday morning Mary Ewell invites me to Reston where she's doing the Spinal Research Foundation's "We've Got Your Back" 4 miler. I arrive early and watch the crowds gather, meet Mary, photograph the start, and then fall in to jog a bit with her along the W&OD Trail. The first two miles go by at ~9.5 min/mi pace, but then we both begin to get seriously tired, probably due to the heat (temps in the low 80s °F) and high humidity (dewpoints in the high 60s °F). As Mary approaches the finish line I circle around and rejoin her. We sit, drink, nibble, then walk to her car to get ready for Act 2, wherein Mary introduces me to the Lake Fairfax Park.

The Lake Fairfax Trail is quite nice — a lovely mix of hills, rocks, roots, streams, trees, and open meadows. Mountain-bikers and horse-riders pass us as we jog and walk along. Alas, I'm seriously exhausted, probably from dehydration and loss of electrolytes during the 4 miler. (I also make the mistake of wearing a HAT Run hat for much of the way.) About 2 miles or so out we reach the restrooms and I take advantage of cool water there to douse my head and refill my bottle. Mary leads the entire way back, and not just because she knows the route: my bonked state begins to get worse and I lag far behind, even though she slows down and adds pity-walk breaks for me. "Next time," I tell her, "if I don't stay hydrated just pry my jaws apart and pour in water and electrolytes!" I experience mild dizzy spells afterwards, probably due to low blood pressure. After eating and drinking and napping I regain the 3+ lbs. I lost during the run and by evening I'm fine.

2008-06-01 - Caren Cracks the Whip

16+ miles @ ~17 min/mi (including ~30 minutes of breaks)

Early Sunday afternoon I drive from home to Cabin John Park on MacArthur Blvd near the Potomac River, where I descend the steep stairs, choose a distinguished tree, and behind it hide a gallon jug of water plus a plastic bag of goodies. Then I drive up Seven Locks Rd to River Rd where I repeat the ritual. Caren Jew has a 16 mile run on her dance card today, and I'm preparing our "aid stations". We're doing an afternoon run since Caren's husband Walter, an extraordinary amateur golfer, has a morning tee time today. At Democracy Rd and Seven Locks Caren and I park our cars, apply insect repellant, and gird our loins for the today's trek. My "girdle" today includes energy gels, electrolyte capsules, water bottles, grease, paper, and a cellphone.

We find the trail and at 2pm proceed cautiously downstream, walking the hills. The weather this afternoon is warm and humid, with scattered thunderstorms in the region which offer us no significant relief. I drink copiously, take in lots of sodium/potassium, and avoid the misery I experienced yesterday morn. Caren cruises comfortably. We reach Bradley Blvd in 28 minutes and River Rd in another 22, including time to pause at the cache I left there. The grass is high and the trail is muddy in spots as we proceed. I entertain Caren by chattering about family woes that various friends are experiencing, and recount how I used to think that 90% of people were fully functional; now I think it's more like 10%. A gigantic tree has fallen across the trail and we pause to help each other clamber over its trunk. At the top of a rocky hill we again view the mysterious Red Flamingo House Trailer in the woods, but today a man and a giant poodle are near it inside its fence. I greet the gentleman and while his dog barks at me he says that we're near Cabin Rd.

After 47 minutes we arrive at the end of Cabin John Stream Valley Trail. I retrieve my hidden supply of water and food and we climb up the 54 steps to the county park. There we enjoy a modest feast at a picnic table while kids play baseball on a nearby field, adults play tennis on the courts, and youngsters play on the swings and slides. A blister is forming on the edge of one of my feet, so I swap socks from foot to foot and apply grease, which somehow helps. Our return trip is at almost exactly the same pace as the outbound journey, but this time we bushwhack around the huge tree that blocks us. A small snapping turtle sits in the middle of the path; Caren moves it carefully to one side, for its own safety. Near Bradley Blvd we look for and finally spy the Frank Lloyd Wright house that Caren identified on our previous run here. Two young ladies race past us, looking amazingly chipper. "I hope they've just started," I tell Caren when they're out of earshot. "They look far too comfortable, compared to how I feel!"

When we reach our starting point we've finished 11.2 miles according to the "official" trail map — but I suspect we've actually gone a bit farther. We're tempted to punch out now, but there are another 4.8 miles on Caren's schedule, and the show must go on! So after a break to refuel, northward Caren and I proceed. The ballfields in Cabin John Regional Park are busy and we meet increasing numbers of off-road bikers and hikers. This part of the route is familiar to Caren and she directs me when, as happens frequently, I take a wrong turn. We arrive at Tuckerman Lane where Caren offers to go on with me to the upstream terminus of the CJT, so we can say "We've done it all, end to end and back!" But that would add an extra 1.3 miles each way, which I estimate would put us over 18 miles for the day, rather more than I feel comfortable with. Better to punch that ticket another day.

So we climb yet another steep slope to the CJRP area where the MCRRC "Hills of Cabin John" cross-country race begins and ends. I pause at a water fountain to wash my brow, and at the 34 minute mark from our cars we commence a fast roughly-a-mile loop, down from the parking lot, upstream to Tuckerman, and back to our start. We finish it in 14 minutes, but instead of letting me rest during the last leg of our journey, cruel Caren commands that we run back to our cars now. OK, M'Lady — as you wish!

We pass the ballfields and are back in the forest, and then we meet the trio of barred owls mentioned in the preface to this set of reports. After a respectful interval of observation we gallop onward. I lead for a while, then take a wrong turn and Caren captures first place. It's 23 minutes from the end of the loop when we touch our cars and stop our watches. Today's total journey was a bit over 4.5 hours — not at all bad, I think, given the heat and humidity.

Caren heads for home and I drive back to pick up the remnants of my hidden supply dumps. When I went back to get the "aid station" at River Rd it's still there, but at Cabin John Local Park the kids' baseball crew is having a cookout at our picnic table. A nice lady says she threw away the abandoned plastic bag water water jug. I thank her for doing clean-up, and then when she's not looking check the trash can nearby, where I rescue the Body Glide grease and NUUN electrolyte tablets and salty corn chips from my cache. They're clean, still sealed up, and I'm obviously a cheapskate!

2008-06-04 - Warm and Sour Soup

~8 miles @ ~11 min/mi

A line of powerful thunderstorms blasts through the region late Wednesday afternoon, and when I get home at 6pm another line is due to arrive in two hours. That gives me just enough time, fool that I am, to get a midweek evening run in! It's still warm and wet as I drop off a car for service at the local mechanic's. I discover a Snickers candy bar partially melted next to the driver's seat, so in hopes of it solidifying as the day cools I take it and place it under one corner of the car.

Through Walter Reed Annex and down Ireland Dr to Rock Creek Trail I'm feeling strong, so I trot upstream a couple of measured miles, times 11:06 and 10:48 respectively. Traffic lights are out along Connecticut Av and though the creek is high there the tunnel isn't too muddy to navigate, though it is a bit dark. A small crimson male cardinal and a tiny bright-orange-and-black bird flits across my path. I look the latter up later and discover that it's a Baltimore Oriole. Intermittent drizzle fails to cool me. The light at Cedar La is out so instead of pausing at the water fountain I turn left and go under the Beltway toward NIH. I turn left again and follow Wisconsin Av to Jones Bridge Rd, and take it to Rock Creek. A pair of friendly policemen direct traffic as I cross Connecticut Av. My final measured half-mile on RCT near the Audubon Society is 5:15. Back at the car I retrieve the now-hard candy bar and carry it the final quarter mile home.

2008-06-06 - Gaithersburg XC 5k

3+ miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

At the office I've just started a new assignment and have to work late this Friday. Fortunately I escape before 6pm, traffic flows well, and in about half an hour (thanks to Caren Jew's excellent directions) I arrive at Gaithersburg High School where the MCRRC cross country run will begin at 7pm. Using a modified Mary Ewell Beach Towel Technique, I change from work clothes to running togs in my car without getting arrested. At the race I tie an experimental sensor chip onto my shoe and chat with Caren, Wayne Carson, Don Libes, and Christina Caravoulias. We compare tonight's heat and humidity with the thunderstorms that preceded races here last year and the year before. A light breeze feels good, but it stops just before the event begins.

Wayne is running fast today; Caren and Don trot comfortably behind; Christina and I hang back, suffering together. I tell myself that I'm becoming acclimated to the weather, but maybe it's only a fantasy of mine. As we jog along I keep a sharp eye out for rabbits, but unlike last year none are to be seen. The midcourse water stop is out of water, much to our disappointment. I observe a cup on the ground with an inch of liquid still in it, but manage to restrain myself from picking it up to pour over my head. As we approach the finish line two photographers snap pictures. My official result: 5th out of 5 in my age/sex group at 37:57 total time.

2008-06-07 - Kabrena Comes to Town

6+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

A dead snake on the path startles us for a moment, but it's a lot less scary than some of the cyclists that blast along the trail and pass without warning. Comrade Kabrena Rodda is in the DC area for work, and I take advantage of the chance to run with her early Saturday morning. Kabrena is training for the San Antonio Marathon in November; she wants some fast flat mileage, and at 0600 we rendezvous at Thompsons Boat Center. (Each of us gets lost and takes an impromptu tour of downtown DC on the way.) Parking meters demand more quarters than we have handy, however, so we head upriver to Fletcher's Boathouse. I've never driven there before, but luck is with us and we arrive without incident and park in the empty lot.

Lt Col Dr K stretches before and after she runs. She's recovering from hip bursitis and gently corrects my form when I show her my idiosyncratic attempt to stretch my ITB. We trot downstream 3+ miles back to Georgetown on the C&O Canal Towpath, chattering about our friends and work and training and injuries and drugs and all the other things that runners love to discuss. At the end of the canal we circle through Thompsons Boat Center on foot, refill a water bottle, and begin a rapid trek back to our start along the waterfront and the Capital Crescent Trail. Fog is still thick over the Potomac river and the Virginia side is lost in the mists. Good luck is with us today: when a pack of MCRRC runners encounters us and greets me by name, Kabrena and I are running rather than taking a walk break. After a brisk final mile we arrive at our starting point, stretch, wish each other well, extricate our cars from the now-full parking lot, and head for our respective abodes.

(cf. Seneca Creek Stumble (2008-02-03), Comfortably Numb (2008-03-13), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), Sharp Focus (2008-04-30), Ducky Rock Creek Trail (2008-05-12), Catoctin Trail Trek (2008-05-19), Game SET Match (2008-05-27), ...))) - ^z - 2008-06-10

(correlates: PeripheralPunditry, 2008-06-11 - Rickety Ladder Speedwork, 2007-09-08 - Mall Rats, ...)