Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Cruise on Lake Tahoe.

And so the Lake Tahoe Relay race was run, if not won. We were all elated that we had completed it. We were 76th out of 97 teams. It was a great way to see the lake up close and personal, crawling around it in a support vehicle all day and even running alongside it for 10 fast, or at least difficult, miles. We went home and had pizza that night. (Below right: That's the hill I ran over. Photo credit Bex.)
The next morning B left to return to work. I drove A to the Reno airport. A few minutes after I dropped her off, she called to say she was standing in line with the recently crowned Miss Nevada, who was ostentatiously wearing her winner's sash. I told A to put on her Lake Tahoe Relay Medal and show Miss Nevada up. (Below left: K's last hill was 3 miles long.)

From Reno I drove into the hills to Virginia City, a rip-roaring silver-boom town in the late nineteenth century. It's perched on a hillside atop a mountain and at one time it had a population of 45,000. Now it is a sleepy tourist trap with wooden sidewalks on both sides of its mile-long main street. The town overlooks several open mining pits where silver barons took the ore out of fabulously wealthy silver lodes. (Below right: H points out her section.)

Coming back, I passed through Carson City, the state capital. I stopped in a casino for a $1.99 full breakfast, then returned to Lake Tahoe. I drove down K's route in the race, leg 2, and it just wound downward out of the hills forever. Remember, K was on foot and running up it. I also drove over my route of the previous day, leg 1, and tried to convince myself that the two major hills late in that section were pretty bad too. It's all relative. They would have been bad in any race in DC. They weren't so bad in that race. (Below left: E points out that his leg went from there to there.)

Bex had arranged for the remaining five of the seven Band of Outsiders to take a Happy Hour sailboat cruise on Lake Tahoe from Zephyr Cove in Nevada, the ending point of my leg the day before. The sailing was fabulous. We spent the ninety minutes pointing out "our" sections of the distant shoreline to each other and studying the contours of the rugged hills. The sinking sun shone brilliantly off the deep blue lake. (Below right: Bex had some varied terrain to run over.)

After we disembarked, we drove entirely around the lake, studying the race course for next year and stopped at a casino in Incline Village where we each had a $7.99 dinner of prime rib. Afterwards we were too tired to lay any wagers at the tables so we just went home and crashed. I left the next morning.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lake Tahoe Relay

The Race: The 43rd Annual DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay was held on June 9, 2007, a 72.3 mile race around the lake by 97 teams of seven runners each. Each team provided its own support. No traffic was stopped on the mostly two-lane mountainous road with narrow or non-existent shoulders. Running this unique, incredibly challenging race was an intensely emotional experience for all runners involved.

The Route: The race had seven legs of greatly varying difficulty. Legs one and three were the easiest, legs two and six were very difficult, and leg seven was the hardest of the remaining legs.

Leg One: 9.6 miles long starting at 6,250 feet in South Lake Tahoe, California at 7 o'clock in the morning. Flat for the first 5 miles, just inside Nevada at Stateline it encountered two significant hills, each one rising one hundred feet before its downhill finish at Zephyr Cove. Running past strip malls and tall casinos, it had few glimpses of the lake and was the least interesting leg by far. (Above: My first glimpse of the lake didn't come until the third mile on the first leg. My next view wouldn't be until the sixth mile.)
Leg Two: The shortest leg at 8.2 miles, it was essentially five miles of rolling hills followed by an unrelenting three-mile climb rising 700 feet which topped out at 7,000 feet. The stunning backdrop scenery that lasted most of the rest of the race started here.
Leg Three: 10.3 miles long beginning with seven miles of straight downhill, followed by three miles of flatlands. Picturesque panoramas. (Above: Typical scenery during much of the downhill third leg.)
Leg Four: The longest leg, 12.3 miles of mostly level running through villages back into California. It contained a nasty 220 foot tall hill in the third mile that afforded a towering view of the lake.
Leg Five: 10.6 miles of mostly flat running, it started out with an immediate mile-long uphill climb of 250 feet. The lake was often close at hand just to the left.
Leg Six: A nearly impossible 10.5 miles. Nine miles of sharply rolling hills which led to a monster hill rearing up 520 feet in the last mile and a half. Some hair-raising views.
Leg Seven: Drop-dead gorgeous, but dangerous too. 10.5 miles long, it ran downhill for two miles, then climbed 225 feet in the third mile to a narrow shelf road at 6,800 feet with no guard rails and a sheer drop off on both sides. A series of downhill switchbacks then led to a three mile flat run into town to the start and finish line.

The Runners: All from sea level, six hailed from DC and one was from LA. It was a team built upon loyalty, not speed. In the order of their legs:(1) Me, the team's "fast" guy, a mid-pack runner in my mid-fifties. (2) K, the team's indomitable will, a thirty-something runner who trained for the longest leg but was handed the shorter, brutally hilly second leg upon her arrival. She never complained. (3) H, the team's steady performer, a thirty-something runner ready to face the challenge of a seven-mile long steep downhill section. She got no respect because of the perception that her leg was the "easiest." (4) E, the team's athlete, a former major college varsity player now in his early forties who was doing the longest section of over twelve miles even though he had never run any distance greater than ten miles before. His longest training runs for the race were a couple of seven-milers. (5) A, the team's free spirit, a thirty-something photo journalist who kept the team loose and who neatly solved the logistical conundrum by suggesting using two chase cars instead of one. (6) B, the team's soul, a twenty-something California surfer dude who had prepared for the most grueling leg of the race by "visualizing" himself running with perfect form once a day. (7) Bex, the team's captain and organizer, its heart, a bustling dynamo in her mid-thirties who never backed down from any challenge and who impatiently waited all day to be let loose so she could start running down the runners who had gotten ahead of us.

The Running: I turned in a workman-like performance on the first leg, running a 1:19:37 (8:18). My early 7:40 pace gave way to something far slower on the late hills and I lost three places here, but then I was able to sprint the last half mile downhill to hold onto 43rd place for the team.

K ran the rolling hills in the first half of her leg but had to walk up part of the gargantuan, never-ending final hill. She kept exchanging places with another runner on the last hill who kept bragging to her that he had trained for his leg by running three miles, once. Every time he would utter this inanity, K would smile sweetly while telling him under her breath to go to perdition. She finished in 1:32:22 (11:16) with the team in 77th place. (Above: K is glad her leg is done while Bex has to wait all day for hers.)

H ignored the spectacular scenery of her leg as she steadily picked off nine runners on the long downhill portion, once having to duck under the protruding mirror of an oversize camper as it passed by her. The narrow or non-existent shoulders afforded no room to get away from passing cars. She finished in 1:30:30 (8:47) in 68th place. (Above: B and E form an arch for H to run through.)

E took the baton in Incline Village and ran steadily on his long leg, handling the long hill on his section without stopping. Running back into California near Tahoe City, he energized the team by a wild escapade. Hearing that Bex was in a nearby Subway Shop ordering her lunch, he mischievously deviated off course, burst into the restaurant and shouted out a greeting to her. Startled, she shouted back, "You can't stop for food now! Get back out there!" E made amends for his momentary wildness by picking off three runners in the last quarter mile and finishing in 65th place in 1:56:02 (9:26). (Above: Oh. My. God. What are you doing here!)

A immediately ran into trouble on her section, charging the uphill portion that her leg started out with while she was still full of adrenaline. Halfway up the mile-long hill she was breathing in ragged gasps and had to take short walking breaks. She later said she seriously wondered what, exactly, she had gotten herself into as her heart pounded in her ears. By the top of the hill her equilibrium was back and she ran steadily to her handoff point in 1:44:59 (9:54) in 71st place. (Below: A keeps Big Blue always to her left.)

There B was waiting. The rest of the team was nervous for this non-runner with the worst leg. "It's cool," he said. "I've got it covered. Hey, I'll do Bex's leg too." He ran the sharp hills of the first nine miles of his section at a steady pace, knowing what lay ahead at the end. Halfway up the terrific last hill, at a place where he could look half a mile above him and see even more of the steep roadway winding ever upward, he stopped, out of gas. While his very nervous teammates clustered around him, B coolly sucked down a Gatorade and a Gel. "Piece of cake," he said as he set off running again, to the top.

Bex was waiting at the top. She had nervously gone into the porta-potty for the third time when B came into sight far down the hill and someone yelled, "Here he comes!" A nano-second later the porta-potty door exploded open with a tremendous bang and Bex burst forth, flying across the dirt turnout and hurdling the rope into the starting gate. There she came to rest crouched in a sprinter's stance, hand extended to receive a tag. Puzzled because she was alone in the starter's chute, she looked around in ever wider circles until she finally spotted B still 100 yards off.

B tagged Bex at 1:53:45 (10:50) with the team in 84th place. As he limped across the turnout rubbing his sore hamstrings, he righteously said that he felt he had accomplished something incredible by overcoming the grotesque difficulty of his otherworldly leg. On a runner's high, he declared that it was a life-altering moment for him. The experience was so intense, B said, that he felt like crying. (Above: B tags Bex and off she goes to reel in some runners.)

Bex took off on a dead run and immediately started running people down. She was next seen on the wicked uphill portion of her course, crying dry tears of rage at her enforced slowness caused by the arduous climb while far below her the deep blue waters of Emerald Bay glittered in the late afternoon sun. Upon surmounting the hill, she ran furiously the rest of the way into town to finish in 1:34:45 (8:56). She had picked off eight runners to enable the team to finish 76th out of 97 teams. Afterwards what Bex remembered most about her run was seeing an open palm stuck out the window of a van travelling towards her at 30 MPH. As it went by she impulsively high-fived the extended hand. Oww! Although her own hand stung for the rest of the race, she insisted that it was a good sting.

The Result: The Band of Outsiders, flatlanders all, finished this hilly race at altitude in 11:32:00 (9:34) in 26th place out of 39 teams in the Mixed Open Division. The Lumberjack Warriors came in first with a time of 7:03:18 (5:51). Try keeping up with those guys. Another team was comprised of one man who ran all seven legs.

It was an intense emotional experience for all involved. For twelve hours we traveled around the lake together, ran our portion of the race to the best of our abilities, and helped each other out in a hundred different ways. Everybody gave their all to the effort. The intensity of the experience was best personified by the following post-race exchange between Race Director April Carter and B.

April came by and observed Fox, B's dog, busily licking the sweat off of B's arms as he sat there at the finish line. Indicating the white streaks of dried salty brine on B's face, April said to him, "You ought to have your dog lick your face clean next." (Below: B and Fox. View some more pictures of the Band of Outsiders here and here.)

"No," B said, "those lines are my sweat tears. I earned them in this race. I'm going to leave them there forever."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lake Tahoe Relay Preamble.

A week ago last Thursday, June 7th, after I drove overnight from LA to Sacramento, I picked up A and K at the airport there. We drove the scenic back route to Lake Tahoe where we were going to run a 72.3 mile relay race that Saturday as part of a team put together by Bex. We would be staying at her rented house in Homewood on the west side.

Our first view of the deeply blue alpine lake was an alluring one as we topped a mountain pass. We had to get out and take a picture, tourists that we were. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in North America, twelfth deepest in the world. Interestingly, although many creeks and rivers drain into it only one flows out of it, the Truckee River, which does not flow to the sea but rather, empties into Pyramid Lake in Nevada.

(Left: Big Blue.) Achieving the lake, we drove to Bex's house, passing a quarter of Saturday's course as we did so. It put our hearts in our mouths. The two-lane blacktop with narrow shoulders around this part of the lake was comprised of, among other interesting vistas, a twenty-four foot wide shelf road with sheer drop-offs on either side and no guard rails, huge winding uphill climbs and dizzying descents. Driving over these monstrous hills, passes really, we each became apprehensive about our own ten-mile section of the course, especially given the 6,200 foot base altitude and the fact that we were all coming from sea-level.

H was already there. Bex and E, the perfect hosts all weekend, took us to a restaurant on the waterfront for dinner. E grew up spending summers on the lake in Incline Village. At the restaurant, we stumbled upon a beer-tasting event which we crashed. It was a gay time. (Above: A has found something she likes. K is still sampling.) We returned home and watched Chariots of Fire for inspiration. (Below: Does that shoreline on the other side look far away to you? Do those hills look big?)

The next morning I walked around nearby Tahoe City for awhile, enjoying the early morning serenity of the still lake. Then I ran three miles with Bex and H to get acclimated to the altitude. We went on a beautiful hike to Eagle Lake in a high meadow above spectacular Emerald Bay. B joined us, having driven there the night before from Santa Barbara so he could run the sixth and most difficult leg on the morrow. The only team member under thirty, he was an equestrian, not a runner (although he had done a 10K or two). We all wondered about his training for this race, as he was given to pronouncements about him "visualizing" his completion with perfect form of demanding physical tasks like running ten difficult miles, as if that was the actuality of doing it. More darkly, we wondered if he would even show up at all. If I ever wondered that, clearly I didn't know the man yet. When I saw him strip to his bathing suit at the frigid mountain lake and plunge in, I could tell that this was a Californian who was up for any task. (Left: H (2d fastest time) and Bex (3d fastest time) were ready.)

That night we cooked a big spaghetti dinner and watched the movie Breaking Away to find strength in the Cutter method of overcoming adversity, and then went to bed. The big race started early the next morning and I was up first.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Yesterday was Father's Day

On Father's Day, June 25, 2003, my phone rang. It was my three children calling, from where they live with their Mother two miles away. She apparently was standing by listening.

I answered, "Hello, this is Peter."

"Hello Dad, this is Johnny."

"Hello Johnny, how are you?"

"Happy Father's Day."


"Here's Jimmy."

[Oldest son comes onto the phone.] "Ditto."

[Youngest son comes onto the phone.] "Ditto."

Click. Danny hung up the phone in my ear. I sat there, mouth agape.

That phone call lasted about twenty seconds. Even so, it was twenty seconds longer than any communication I have received from any offspring of mine on any subsequent Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthday.

My three children were all minors then. They are all adults now.

There is a body of people, mostly male and substantially made up of a growing number of estranged fathers of minor children in divorce situations, who absolutely believe that Parental Alienation Syndrome ("PAS") is child abuse. I am sorry for these children.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In the warm California sun

My trip to California to join the team running the 43rd annual Lake Tahoe Relay that Bex put together started at 4:30 in the morning a week ago Wednesday, June 6th. I'd gotten home at 10 pm the night before, so tired from wrapping things up at work that I went to sleep without packing yet for my 7 am flight. When I woke up in the wee hours the next morning with thirty minutes to spare before having to drive to Dulles, you can imagine my packing job. Two of everything went flying into two suitcases to make sure that I had one of anything that I might need. What woke me up, actually, was the beeping arrival of a text e-mail on my cellphone that Bex had sent to all team members saying it was v. cold in Tahoe and to bring warm pants. I had never received a text message on my new cellphone before. It was v. exciting.

I made my flight and landed in Long Beach at 10 am. That's an astonishingly small airport, right there next to LAX. We departed the plane directly onto the tarmac and walked across it to enter the terminal. Just like in the sixties. After a very short walk through the "terminal" we went out a door and were at the curb where our bags were waiting.

I picked up my rental car and drove to the Anaheim Angels ballpark for a 12:35 pm game. When I ran the inaugural Disneyland Half-Marathon in September, the race ran through the stadium at the ten-mile mark. I mean through the stadium. We entered through a portal along the right field foul line, ran around the warning track past home plate and departed via an entrance by the left field foul line.

For two minutes I was a big-leaguer surveying a new stadium. As I ran past the left-field foul pole, just before running out the passageway, I veered left, reached up, "caught" a line drive just as it was leaving the park, crashed into the padded wall, staggered and then righted myself as I squeezed the ball in my imaginary mitt. I had just robbed a big-leaguer of a home run. (At the crack of the bat, I turned my back to the plate and ran to the wall.)

After that fantasy catch, I just had to come back and see an actual game at Angels stadium. And a nice stadium it is, too. Originally one of those multi-use donut shaped stadiums they used to build for baseball teams in the sixties (most have since been torn down like in St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh), they sawed off some outfield walls, installed luxury boxes, restaurant areas and standing ledges, and made it into a real stadium you can actually see out of. I liked the stadium a lot.

Oh, the Angels lost to the Twins. After the game, I drove north on Interstate Five up the giant San Joaquin Vally, the breadbox for the world apparently, so I could get to Sacramento early the next afternoon to pick up two other team members who were flying into there. It's 400 miles from LA to SF, near where Sacramento is. I catnapped that night locked in my car in a rest area.

Running update: The tendinitis in my left leg is back with a vengeance. On Wednesday after I flew back to DC, I ran a hilly 7 miles (9:22) at noon in the heat. Thursday and Friday, inspired by the huge hills the relay team encountered at Lake Tahoe, I ran my hill in Falls Church, four miles each morning at a nine-minute pace. As if running up a half-mile hill would help you get ready the next year for a three-mile hill. Yesterday I did my long run, eleven miles on the Capital Crescent Trail at a nine-minute pace. I also hiked a difficult 3-mile trail along the Potomac known as the Billy Goat Trail. This greatly aggravated my injury, which already was sore from the mileage I had done earlier. This morning I started out on a run but quit after a mile because the pain in my left leg told me to stop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Club 10K Group Training Program

Last month saw the finish of my club's 10K Training Group Program (TKG) after twelve weeks of meeting on Saturdays for increasingly longer runs. I can't recommend participation in such group training programs highly enough, particularly if you are a newer runner.

Undoubtedly your local club has such group training programs. Check it out. Even if you're a more veteran runner, it might re-vitalize your running such as it did mine two years ago.

I want to thank the coaches of the TKG--Arnetta, Ashley, Bex, Bob, Gary, Kristin, and Not Born to Run.

Thirty-nine "paying customers" signed up on a frigid day in February on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was so cold the ink in the pens froze and sign-up applications were merely a bunch of scratch marks on paper. As a result, for the rest of the program I had no idea who was who. It was my impression that fewer and fewer people were running and the program was a failure. (TKG circling RFK Stadium getting ready for the goal race.)

I was shocked to discover that nineteen participants ran the goal 10K race. Another participant ran a 10K race the prior week (in under an hour). Still another participant was on travel who otherwise would have run the goal race. Two more participants ran the 3K version of the goal race instead (Ashley, who finished fifth (second woman), and Bex, who finished seventeenth (fourth woman)).

Four participants ran the 10K race in under an hour, and three more finished in the sixtieth minute. That's impressive and I'm proud of 'em all. Now it's on to the 10-Mile Group Training Program (TMG) in a few weeks. (TKG in week eleven, Stanton Square in DC near Union Station.)

Running update: Last Wednesday, a travel day that started at 5 am, I ran a neighborhood mile at 4 am in 8:25, inauspiciously slow. Friday I ran an exploratory 3 miles at altitude with Bex at an 11:00 pace at Lake Tahoe.

Saturday I ran the first leg (of seven legs) of the 72.3 mile relay around the lake, 9.6 miles at an 8:18 pace. Our team came in 76th out of 97 teams that finished, 26th out of 39 teams in our division. We were in the Mixed Open, and our mix was three men and four women, whereas most MO teams had four men and three women. That's not too bad for a bunch of flatlanders, a Band of Outsiders. More on the relay later. (Grabbing water on the run from H on the support team outside Harrah's Casino at Stateline at the Lake Tahoe Relay on Saturday. H was up third and picked up nine places for us. Photo credit A.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Where they're out there having fun

Well I'm going out west where I belong. Tomorrow I'm off to California to join Bex and five other athletes she assembled to run a relay race around Lake Tahoe on Saturday. The last three times I ran on a team with Bex, we won the competition. This time I think we're going to run into some real pros. It should be fun. I have the first leg of 9.6 miles, running through the town with casinos, with Big Blue always to my left.

Where the days are short and the nights are long. The elevation for my leg of the 72-mile relay is over 6,000 feet, with two hills in the latter part. That has me a little concerned as my training has fallen off recently due to an injury. My conditioning has seeped out of my body. I was sucking wind at the end of my 10-miler on Sunday and there was no altitude to contend with.

Out on the coast. Bex is already out west training at altitude. She ran a race in Taos on Sunday at over 7,000 feet and was sixth.

Wherever you go. This morning I ran over my hill here in Falls Church and back, two miles, in 18:40. My hill is the best hill in the DC area and it's only one half mile from my front door.

And I'll fly. Yesterday I ran two and a half miles on the Mall in 21 minutes, finishing off with a charge up Capitol Hill. The last time I went up that hill, at the end of a 10K race last month, was just awful. It felt like I was running underwater. Yesterday I was able to go up it steadily.

And I'll shimmy. I want to thank my anonymous benefactor who pledged two dollars per mile for my charity when I run Chicago in the fall. Until yesterday, the charitable total stood at pledges for A of over $700, the entire rest of the charity team zero. Now it's not quite so embarassing. Thanks, H.

Well, the girls are frisky. Jeanne is back to running. She went three miles yesterday. Go give her a hug. She commented on my last post about the best Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich and said, "Tofu." Huh. There is no tofu on the Geno's or Pat's menu links I provided. However, if you want to play tourist and go to Jimmy's on South Street in Philadelphia, there is a vegetarian offering on their menu link.

In old 'Frisco. I saw how they prepared that offering when I was at Jimmy's two years ago. They moved the mound of meat they were cooking on the grill over a couple of inches and plopped the tofu down right next to it. The tofu didn't stay vegetarian very long, simmering away right next to the running meat pile.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

And the Best Cheese Steak Sandwich Is...

Geno's or Pat's? Last weekend I went to Camden, NJ, to watch the National Scholastic Rowing Championship on the Cooper River there. My nephew, M, a sophmore at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, OH, was third oar in a heavy-eight boat there. Sorry, I don't know the rowing lingo.

His boat was eliminated in the semis. I'm proud of him for making it so far. I was watching him during their 2K race (it takes about five or six minutes) and he looked like a strong rower. Afterwards, he proudly showed me his heavily-calloused palms. Why don't they wear gloves, you're thinking? Hey, weren't you young and tough once?

Go to Passyunk. Afterwards, I went across the river into Philadelphia to find an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Two years ago when I ran the Philadelphia Race For The Cure, afterwards I had a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich at Jimmy's on South Street. My friends who went to Temple scoffed at me when I got back. That's tourist stuff, they said. There are only two choices, Geno's or Pat's in South Philly.

So I asked the toll attendant on the Walt Whitman Bridge, "How do I get to Geno's?"

"Get off at Broad, take a right and go up to Passyunk."

Wow. Do all natives know what and where Geno's is? I loved the way "Passyunk" rolled off his tongue. I had no idea how to pronounce it. (Above: Geno's!)

I found Geno's, all right, at 9th and Passyunk. Right across the street was Pat's. For locals, its like the Yankees and the Mets to New Yorkers. You love one and scoff at the other.

It was 2 pm. I had a late lunch at Geno's, the gaudier-looking restaurant of the two. I use the term restaurant lightly because seating is on the sidewalk and you have to know how to order at the two windows. The first one is only for ordering sandwiches. Don't try to order drinks or cheese-fries there. That's at the second window. There's always a line at both windows.

I was new to this so the attendant boredly took me through it. "Uh, I want a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich."

"American or Provolone." Notice he didn't even offer me the Cheese Whiz alternative.

"Uh, Provolone." What? I was being health-conscous at Geno's? I felt like a tree hugger.

"With or without."


"With cooked onions on the sandwich or not?"

Return to sanity. "Oh, with."

I was given a six-inch long dripping sandwich for seven dollars. It was cooked scrap meat on a soft hoagie roll with white cheese under the meat and a smattering of crunchy, under-cooked diced onions on top. (Above: Geno's offering.)

I ate it perched on a metal stool at a table along the curb. It was messy. I examined the brown meat drippings falling on my wax paper. Each blob had a perfect circle of a clear fat globule in the center. The sandwich sure tasted good.

Upon completion, I felt I had partaken in indigenous food. In Buffalo you find wings, and in Philly you find Cheese Steak sandwiches.

I eyed Pat's across the way. I speculated that I might never make it to 9th and Passyunk again in my life. I got up and walked around the block. Then I walked across the street for an early dinner at Pat's.

(Above: Pat's!) I walked up to the first of two windows. My observations at Geno's had taught me how to do this right. "Cheese Whiz wit." (Translation: Philly Cheese Steak sandwich with Cheese Whiz on it and with [wit] onions. "Witout" is how you say, No onions. Legend has it that if you muff stating your order, you have to go back to the end of the line and practice.)

For seven dollars, this six inch mess of a sandwich was a thing of beauty. A semi-hard hoagie roll with the familiar dripping meat in it, covered in gooey yellow Cheese Whiz with lots of fully-cooked onions on it.

Because I was such a tourist at Geno's, they didn't even offer me a Cheese Whiz option. But that, apparently, is the only way that locals get it. This horrible substance certainly made the sandwich tastier. (Right: Pat's offering.)

It was a lot to eat. I had a stomachache driving back to DC. But I had found my champion.

The two shops offer slightly different products. At Geno's the roll is soft and the onions undercooked. At Pat's the roll is hard and the onions are soft and drippy and more plentiful. Even allowing for the fact I mistakenly ordered Provolone cheese at Geno's, which did nothing for the sandwich, Pat's was the clear winner in my book. But that's a matter of fierce debate in South Philly. (Left: A quaint water fountain on Passyunk.)

Running update: Yesterday I ran a virtual DC Race For The Cure 5K in about 23:30, joining the actual race as a bandit arriving from elsewhere for the last half. Because the National race always has such a crush of people and is so expensive (but for a good cause, and I have paid to do over a dozen of these races in the past few years), I start at 8 am a mile and a half away in another direction and "join in." I know, I'm a bad person. Local running wonder Michael Wardian won the race in 15:27. (Right: Michael Wardian leads the DCRFTC5K at the midway mark.)

Good luck this morning to Bex, who is probably running a half-marathon at altitude in Taos as I write this, as she gets ready for the Lake Tahoe Relay on Saturday. This morning I ran 10 miles in 1:28:02 (8:48) as I get ready for my part in it. My splits were 8:11, 8:23, 8:37, 8:45, 8:44, 8:56, 8:58, 9:16, 9:28, 8:40. Here at sea level, I was definitely tiring greatly at the end and now my sore left leg aches again. I know, same old same old. But not a good sign for Saturday's race at altitude. I fly out Wednesday at 7 am. Anybody want to drive me to Dulles at 4:30 in the morning?