Friday, February 29, 2008

Hill Workout

It's been a busy week. Sunday I held a hill workout for the two Programs I coach. Only two runners showed up and they didn't run many repeats before they left to go on a long flat run.

(Left: One half of a boomerang.) Running up the steep part of Highland Avenue and then down short, steep Mt. Daniel (pictured) is 0.3 mile. Each really steep part is about 500 feet long. Because the hill repeat involves a right turn (left turn coming back), I call that way of running the hill a boomerang. The other way to run the hill is to just continue straight on Highland, down a gentler slope 0.4 mile to the bottom. Those repeats up and over Highland are half a mile long, with a short steep climb or descent on one side and a long gradual climb or decline on the other.

My six miles of hills in one hour left me sore for days. Because of the extreme slope, I was almost as slow going down each steep part (sixty seconds) as running up it (70 seconds). I need to do hills because Bex has assigned me leg six at the Lake Tahoe relay in June. It's five and a half miles of flat running followed by a five miles of hills. The last mile is a run up a mountain pass while gaining 500 feet in elevation. Leg two has a 700 climb, but that elevation gain is spread out over 3.5 miles. Hmm, I wonder what leg Bex has me penciled in for next year? (Right: My former running buddy Bex.)

Doing my first track workout in several weeks on Wednesday (8X400 at 1:45, 7:02 pace) didn't help my aches and pains. I worked out some soreness yesterday by going back to Yoga after a two-month layoff. This class is held at the community center, a mile from my house. I jogged there in 7:54 and then when I was all loose and relaxed from yoga, I ran the mile back home in 6:56. It was my first sub-7 mile in awhile.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I got tagged by my friends DC Rainmaker AND Jade Lady to come up with seven weird facts about myself that no one probably knows. Rainmaker is a longtime runner blogger (all right, he does some dark-side stuff too AKA biking) who is pretty accomplished, and Jade Lady is a newcomer to running blogging who is...pretty accomplished. (She also knows Shirley real well.) Okay, here goes.

7. I like number 7. Mickey Mantle's number. John Elway's number. When I was a boy, I used to hide two dollar bills in books on page 77, for later retrieval on that proverbial "rainy day." Why page 77? Because I could always remember it thanks to the then-current TV show 77 Sunset Strip.

6. The number of children my parents had. And no, we're not Catholic.

5. At one time all three of my sons wore number 5 at the same time for their select soccer teams. Jimmy was 5 on the McLean Sting, Johnny was 5 on the Arlington Force and Danny was 5 on the Arlington United Strikers. I had a little hand in getting those last two numbers assigned since I was the manager for the Force and the equipment manager for the US.

4. My social security number ends in 4. I like even numbers much better than odd numbers. It would be hard to get a social security number that was all even numbers, and I'm cool with that, but I was mightily pleased when my first two children got social security numbers that ended in even numbers. I was bugged when my last child got one that ended in an odd number.

3. The number of children I have. Although I was delighted with three boys, I always wanted a girl.

2. The number of children we had help in conceiving. We worked hard at it for a long time, you know, coming home in the middle of the day, that sort of thing, before we sought intervention in our thirties. Is it accurate to say that a child got conceived by a man with a cup in a stall in the men's room at a fertility center? I dunno, but those two look like me in many regards. The other child was definitely a surprise, at least to me. He looks nothing like me or anyone else on my side of the family.

1. I coached a team to first place in the recreational soccer league once. Danny's team, and Jimmy was an assistant coach and Johnny was an assistant to the coach on that team. This was harder than it sounds because we were a suburban team from Falls Church and we had to play urban teams from South Arlington with players who are immigrants from South America where they grow up with soccer and, apparently, they don't keep real accurate birth records. Some of those kids were shaving. And they were rough. The few times we got a breakaway going I winced because I knew what was coming. A brutal takedown from behind that was going to leave the kid writhing in the turf. But we went 7-1-1 one season and finished first. Danny was my rock on that team; booming kick, could score a little, pass a lot, and could and would go into goal.

Happy Birthday, Danny. I love you and miss you.

I tag...anyone who reads this and wants to continue the meme.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A New Start

Nineteen eager runners and walkers showed up Saturday for my club's twelve-week 10K Group Training Program, which I am directing. After checking in with the Half-Marathon Training Program in South Arlington at 8 a.m., I hot-footed it out to Falls Church (in my car) to greet the newbie runners of the 10K Program at 9 a.m.

There were some hesitant newcomers out there already when I arrived, sure they'd come to the wrong place, the top of a deserted parking structure. I set up the first meeting and sign-up site on the top level of the sole parking garage at the West Falls Church Metro Station. It is six levels, the tallest structure in Falls Church. I figured if a DC runner couldn't find his or her way there, well, the training group would probably do better without such a directionally-challenged person.

Last year we met for the first time at the Lincoln Memorial. Easy to find for DC residents, right? Think again. Most people were with the main group on the east side of the mausoleum, overlooking the Reflecting Pool (think, I Have A Dream speech). However, a mini-group was on the west side overlooking the Potomac, wondering where everyone was. (Above: Last year the Park Police kept a close eye on us. That's returning coach Bob on the right.)

That site was no good. It was so cold last year that the ink in the pens froze. When I looked at the sign-up sheets later all they contained were heavy scratch marks. I felt like I was examining hanging chads in Florida as I held each one up to the light to try and make it out. You can't collect money on National Park Service land so the Park Police were there watching us closely. Our cars were parked a quarter mile away. Did I mention it was freezing?

So I tried a new approach this year. If we met on top of the WFC parking structure, there would be plenty of room to park and stretch on the deserted parking deck. I could spot any renegade groups. There was a beautiful view overlooking, ahem, the picturesque George Mason High School athletic fields, which included the second tallest structure in Falls Church, the baseball diamond backstop. We could wait in our warm cars until we got underway. It was only half a mile from my house.

My friend D accused me of setting the meeting place there so I could make the runners run up the six levels of the parking structure at the end. I denied this but thought, What a great idea! (Below: The view from the top. To the right are the poles of the high school's quarter-million dollar backstop, designed to prevent foul balls from smashing into fast moving cars on the Interstate a mere sixty feet away.)

Six volunteer coaches came, the life blood of American recreational running. We took the elevators down to ground level and then ran to the W&OD Trail a mile away. There, some runners in a state of near-collapse returned with some of the coaches for a two-mile outing. The rest went down the trail half a mile and returned for a 5K run. And yes, a few runners ran up the ramps to their cars at the end, adding 0.6 miles of hill work to their morning.

It was a great start.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Jimmy

My oldest boy had a birthday recently. He's in his early twenties. Ever since he turned 21 I don't bother trying to contact him anymore. I don't want to bug him. On that day he changed his name to her name, so I guess that's how he feels. Divorce lawyers and domestic law mental-health "counselors" had a field day spoiling his childhood, in my opinion. Good job, Joe, Bill, Vic and especially you Meg, along with your allegedly intimate friend who "advised" you that your deep conflict in "treating" both mother and child concurrently was okay. I'm working hard on forgiveness in my heart for the likes of you all.

The plus side is he'll always be 14 in my mind, because really, that's the last time I knew him although he lives 2 miles away with his mother, still. He was a small, fast boy who was a superior although not gifted athlete. He made things happen for his team. Here's a "memories" piece I wrote 8 years ago when his rec basketball team rode him at guard and J at small forward to the championship game.

In the finals, no one thought HB had a chance. VT had a superior big man to counter J, and 3 good guards with size, including the league's best player, with which to overwhelm HB's smallish guards.

But J along with HB's very physical forward equalized the court down low for HB. Jimmy didn't panic when HB fell behind early and brought his team back evenly so they eventually forged ahead, with Jimmy neutralizing the play of the big guards and using his quickness and passing ability to move the ball around and control the tempo.

When Jimmy sat out the 2d period, the game became faster-paced and HB fell behind by 7. Then Jimmy re-entered the game and slowly HB caught back up and took the lead. Whenever VT mounted a charge, Jimmy shut them down by getting the ball to the shooting guard for a perimeter shot or to J down low for a short jumper. Although he was having an off night shooting, Jimmy put in some strategic points, knocking down a crucial J and scoring twice close in. He got some rebounds and kept the ball out of the hands of the stars on VT. He scored 7 points as HB won 54-40 going away because of HB's excellent chemistry, forced upon VT by Jimmy's methodical play and complemented by J's usual outstanding game and the solid contributions of every other teammate fulfilling his role.

It was a beautiful game to watch, seeing how the smallest (and quickest and maybe the sharpest, although not the best) player on the court delivered the championship for his team.
[Fatherly pride.]

I can still hear the sneakers squeak and see Jimmy leaning forward with the ball in his hands, about to do something with it.

Happy Birthday, Jimmy. I hope you're well.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Be Humble

I ran the free, informal, monthly noontime 3K race around the Tidal Basin on Wednesday. This short, furious race is a humbling experience.

I finished the 1.86 miles in 13:25 (7:12). I was pleased because I sliced 27 seconds off last month's time. I ran hard. (Left: L and G, two co-workers, ran the 3K with me this month.)

I was 36th out of 49 runners, a bottom-half showing as usual. A seventy-year old beat me. Eight other runners over the age of 50 beat me. Two women beat me.

Of the 13 runners I managed to finish ahead of, all but two were in the masters category. I beat two octogenarians, a septuagenarian and three sexagenarians, one being a woman. I held off three other women. (Right: Bill is still racing at age 84.)

In all, I beat one man under the age of 43. Sigh.

This is not a race for anyone with a self-esteem problem.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Poor Man's Marathon

I finished a marathon last Sunday in 3:33:30 (8:09 minutes per mile). Or in 3 years (41.8 days per mile). It all depends on how, or whether, you count it.

I first ran the Washington's Birthday Marathon in 2002 in 4:59:53 (11:27). It was my 3rd marathon and I had never broken 5 hours before. How big do you think my eyes got while I watched the seconds tick off the finisher's clock as I ran that last 100 yards? (Right: Last year I struggled running the anchor leg for the G-Force.)

This is a venerable race, a club marathon that runs through a rural nature research park in Greenbelt, MD. Three times. You go down this steep 3/4 mile hill to get into a forested bowl, run three 7.3-mile loops down there and finish by climbing the monster hill you ran down in the first mile in the last mile. After thinking about it for 25 miles.

This marathon is in its 47th consecutive year. It is known to be cold, windy and hilly. It is also dirt cheap, costing $25 (for which you get a technical shirt beforehand and a bowl of chili afterwards).

In 2006, L put together the G-Force to be a coed entry in the Relay part of the race. The three legs, being 9.7, 7.3 and 9.2 miles respectively, correspond to the three loops, obviously, with the first having a nice downhill and the last a nasty uphill. (Above: After the 2007 race with L and D.)

In 2006 I led off, L got the usual woman's leg and D anchored the effort. I ran my 9.7 miles in 1:17:23 (7:59), my first sub-eight effort ever at any distance over 10K. It was a breakthrough run for me. L ran her 7.3 miles in 1:01:55 (8:36) and D knocked off his 9.2 miles in 1:14:08 (8:03). We finished in 3:33:16 (8:08), 16th out 46 teams, or 6th out of 24 teams in our division. L picked up one spot for us after my 19th place effort, while D picked off two more teams. (Below: Volunteers at last year's race. This February marathon is often frigid.)

The next year D and I swapped positions. I didn't run very well. D put us in 15th place with a 1:18:35 (8:06), L knocked off two teams during her 1:00:49 (8:27) run and I went to pieces on the last big hill, losing one place while finishing in 1:17:32 (8:26). We finished fourth out of 12 teams in our division, in 15th place out of 29 teams with a 3:36:56 (8:17).

This year L dropped off the team and Sasha replaced her. I insisted on doing the short middle leg so I could "complete" the marathon by running all three legs in three years. D had to do the first leg since he wanted to do the full mary this year, so Sasha was given the hardest leg. She was imperturbable about it, shrugging off our warnings about "the hill." (Left: Despite suffering from an injury, D finished the marathon in under 4 hours, less than 12 minutes behind the team.)

D ran the marathon in 3:52:17 (8:52). Talk about consistency! He ran the first leg in 1:25:49 (8:51), passing off the red sash in 32nd place. Talk about guts! He was running with a stress fracture in his right foot, which has him sidelined indefinitely now after a visit with the doctor this week. (Above: Jessica and Ellen from the National Half Marathon training program, volunteering at this year's race. It's a long day for volunteers.)

I ran really well this year, doing a 58:35 (8:01) while trying to do sub-eights. Nobody passed me during the entire 7.3 miles and I picked up six places. Fresh, I ran by a lot of tired marathoners on their second loop. (Left: Finished with my poor man's marathon after three years!)

Then Sasha threw down a 1:16:35 (8:19), picking up a spot. We finished in 3:40:59 (8:26) in 25th place out of 43 teams, 17th out of 28 teams in the coed division. (Below: Sasha anchored the Gee Force this year.)

Marathon relays are a lot of fun.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


"Sir! Sir!"

If there is one thing I know, it is to not stop to speak with a cop who is calling out to you unless you have to. It's never a good thing.

I had run across the street down by the National Theatre on a stale yellow light. I managed to get one foot into the intersection before it turned red and I made a mad dash to get across, causing the cars waiting to go on green to have to pause to allow me to get all the way across on foot. But don't runners always have the right of way?

It was dark, and I was runnning from work to the Watergate to join up with a weekly evening Mall run. We were going to do seven and I didn't want to be late and miss them.

I had noticed a cop in the intersection as I crossed, and a squad car blocking the road leading to the National Theatre. The shouts for me to stop began as soon as I made it across, on red.

Uh-oh, I thought, here's my first jay-walking summons coming up.

But that was only if I stopped. I hadn't made eye contact with anybody. How did I know who they were shouting at? Ignorance is bliss, right?

I kept going without looking back, a little quicker now. I wasn't running towards any police that I could see. I figured the cop behind me was on foot, directing traffic, and wouldn't run after a runner. I wanted to get to the end of the block and vanish.

"Hey you! Stop!"

Pretty insistent. Clearly I hadn't done anything they could shoot at me for.

"Sir! Stop!"

The voice wasn't receding. It was coming after me. Alright, they were serious.

I stopped and turned. It was a female cop coming, on a bicycle. She skidded to a stop beside me.

"You speaking to me?" I inquired, in my best Alan Ladd imitation. I wanted to dispel any notion the policewoman might have of scienter.

"Yes! I told you to stop."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know." For once I wished I had headphones so I could really claim that I was oblivious to the command to halt.

"Street's closed. You'll have to go around."

Ah, no ticket. Must be a White House function. I ran off in the pointed direction immediately, before the conversation had a chance to develop further. Like I have said before, DC cops are wise enough not to uselessly ask runners to show an I.D.

Later I was relating this story to the small group of runners as we looped around behind the Capitol in the dark. "Closest I ever came to a jay-walking ticket," I said.

Another runner tossed off a comment that gave me real pause for reflection. "Probably closest you ever came to getting tasered, too."

I hadn't thought of that. That cop could have been priming that pump, charging that conduit, as she pedaled furiously after me. 1,000 volts of stored electricity just for me. It's a brave new world alright.

Don't tase me, Sis. Owww!

What did I do?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nine on the ninth.

Non-Runner Nancy runs a series of virtual races that relate to miles and the day of the month. This month it was to run nine miles on the ninth of February. Last year's inaugural event was to do eight miles on the eighth of December. Or something close to that around then.

They're well attended because you can do them anywhere anytime. Nancy collates the results (check out her February 11th post for this month's race) and many people post funny accounts about their run. My favorite was the guy from last year's event who took over eight hours to do his eight miles because he went inside and hung out all day between halves. I think he was trying to top some list--how about the slowest. It's a hilarious post. Check out Nancy's December 10th results post.

A week ago Sunday, a day after my 12K race, I went nine and a half miles with a friend from work, down by Mt. Vernon along the Potomac. We ran south from Belle Haven Marina on the eight-foot bike trail, south of Alexandria, . It's a lovely run, going through marshlands before you get into forested switchbacks in the little hills down there.

I wanted to use the seven and a half miles at an 8:16 pace from the race on Saturday but it got too complicated to figure out the next day's add-on. On Sunday we did our first mile at about 8:15, but then slowed down so we could actually complete the projected distance of ten miles. The nine and a half mile run took 1:29:29 (9:23), counting a few breaks to stretch and not counting our half-mile cooldown walk back to the cars. (Above: The Potomac from the Mt. Vernon Trail south of Old Town.)

I didn't know where the nine-mile mark was since we started at the comfort station between mileposts and turned around between mileposts. Aw heck, this thing isn't competitive, it's fun. Although some fast guys are starting to flock to this race. Nine (actually 9.5) on the ninth (actually Sunday the tenth) was 1:29:29 (9:57) for us.

I think Nancy is onto something here. For a "non-runner," she knows obsessed runners pretty well. Thanks for putting it together!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

All Things Must Pass

I was passed in a race a week ago.

What, you say? I've run over 200 races and I was never passed before?

Runners pass me in races all the time, of course. But last week's pass was something special, a personal milepost. (Right: I set a PR and got passed last week.)

You probably know I coach training groups. Currently I coach the Reebok Half-Marathon Program for the SunTrust National Marathon, coming up next month. Later this week I'll start coaching my club's 10K Training Program.

I have never had someone I coached beat me in a race. I coached the "fast" group in my club's 10-Mile Program in 2006. There was a group of young women athletes in that group that I had to push myself to stay ahead of each Saturday. H, who ran her first marathon in 4:07 (my first one was 5:05), M who ran her first 10-Miler in 1:19 (my first one was 1:29), and Sasha, who is currently a coach in the Program. At the end of our long runs, if one of them was still hanging with me half a mile out, I'd push and drop 'em off the back end.

At the target race, Army, I buried them all by uncorking a monster PR of 1:14. Nobody else in the group was under 1:20.

But since then I've watched them all keep progressing as I have slowed down. I focused on Sasha as the best of the bunch. Not by a lot, but quietly she usually beat them all. That's why I was so glad when she agreed to coach in the Program. She obviously has so much to give to others. (Above: Sasha on the right, with S on the left, before last Saturday's race where she turned out to be a giant-killer.)

The day after I returned from my vacation out west, I ran a club 12K (7.456 miles) race. It was a scheduled part of the Program. Sasha ran it as well. The women started five minutes after the men to alleviate congestion for bikers on the W&OD and Custis trails, where the race course was laid out. I finished ahead of Sasha. But I'd seen how she wasn't that far back at the turnaround.

When the results came out I saw that I had set a PR of 1:01:40 (8:16). Woo hoo! Then I checked the women's results. Sasha finished with a time of 1:01:02 (8:11), in the top twenty.

All things must pass. Congratulations, Sasha. (Right: Sasha running around the Capitol last Monday evening with S as part of the Program's weekly evening run, which she initiated. She exemplifies the dedication of volunteer coaches everywhere.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ugly ugly!

The endless headphone debate rages on. The RRCA came out with a No-Headphones icon to be posted at races. And a good-looking icon it is, too. It sort of looks like someone who has just come from a halloween party at the mansion on the hill in Psycho.

The headphones-in-running discussion never had any good come out of it. I used to have an opinion on it til I was misquoted on the subject and now I keep my own counsel about it.

In a post-race dinner-gathering of friends once, I spoke about how I thought it was ridiculous to wear headphones because it detracted from the experience of running-being outside and seeing and hearing things that you wouldn't ordinarily encounter. But since I believe in individual choice, I also said that headphone bans were ridiculous.

One of my good friends at that dinner is a reporter. In an article she published internationally that night about the subject, she quoted me anonomously as saying that wearing headphones was assinine.

If you ever see a comment of yours in print, always claim you were misquoted, no matter what. It gives you wiggle-room. But in fact I was misquoted. I never said that.

What I really said was that wearing headphones was asinine.

I wonder what shade of lipstick that garish icon is wearing?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Louisville Colorado

At 8 a.m. on Thursday I met my friend P, whom I hadn't seen for 22 years since I moved out of Colorado, atop Davidson Mesa in Louisville, a bedroom community for Boulder. Tiny Louisville has been ranked for years by Money Magazine as one of the top two or three places in which to live in the country.

When I called up P to say I was coming out west and would like to visit with him, I was delighted to hear that he had taken up running a few years back as he approached the half-century mark, to stay in shape. Now he loves it, running five miles three times a week. He ran the Boulder Bolder 10K last year and intends to run it every year from now on.

I immediately set up a running date with him, for my last day out west. I looked forward to it all trip.

We ran six miles at a 9:37 pace. The first half of the run we did on the mesa top, overlooking the front range. Those are the Flatirons behind me in the picture above, the distinctive rock formations which characterize Boulder and CU, where I went to college. As we ran atop the snow on the paths cutting through the tall grass in the open space, we talked about mountain lions, which were becoming prevalent along the front range. One had been spotted in Louisville.

A big cat attacked a boy in Boulder in 2006. I said it sounded like a problem for an Animal Control Officer with a telescopic rifle. Naw, this is Boulder County, P informed me. They're protected. We're encroaching on their environment. You know how liberal Boulder is. I did indeed, having been a State Trooper there for years. I lost lots of court cases, good busts, on technicalities. That judicial attitude bothered a lot of the Troopers but not me. Hey, it was part of the culture in that college town.

The last half of the run we did on trails that wound through the town itself. They were clear. I wondered if they plowed paved running trails in Boulder County.

P has three grown children. We talked about the problems and heartaches children present to their parents. P is a realtor. He knows all about divorces because he is always selling couples' houses so the entire proceeds can go straight to the divorce lawyers, as the man and woman glare at each other. He knew about my situation, the estrangement of my three children, and was a good listener.

I told him I had done a lot of introspective thinking on this solitary week-long car trip. People tell me to move on, get over it. How do you get over losing your children? But I was freshly working on something that was liberating. Forgiveness. Accept the past and forgive in your heart those that caused it. Then move on. Don't let yesterday take up too much of today. This attitude was really making me feel better. It's a work in progress. David once told me to look inside myself in relation to my bitterness and hurt, and this is a derivation of that good advice, I think.

This third magical run in six days came to an end. My friend stood for one last pose (even in DC, I am such a tourist!), with Louisville sprawling over the plains as the backdrop. I said goodbye and went back to the real world.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Las Vegas, Baby!

Last Wednesday dawned bright and clear, and there was no snow. I bid adieu to my sister's house in Santa Fe and headed for Denver.
I stopped for lunch in Las Vegas, New Mexico. You have to get off the Interstate to drive downtown now, but I had been there before, in 1972 when the major north/south 2-lane highway ran right through downtown Las Vegas.

Then I was in a station wagon full of of young men and women from CU-Boulder enroute to Nogales, AZ so we could cross the border and spend spring break in Matzalan, Mexico. We stopped to eat in Las Vegas, at a place on Main Street called Estella's. Back then the premises seemed menacing, full of hard, sun-burned rancher-type persons who certainly were different from the soft college boys and girls from New York and California that we were.

Now the downtown seems full of aged hippies. I got into a discussion with one store proprietor and found out that the 1969 movie Easy Rider had been partially filmed there, the scene where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper got arrested and met Jack Nicholson in a jail cell.

Here's the old Las Vegas Police Department, now a western art gallery called Tito's. The storefront is in the movie as the place where the police took the two Easy Riders after they joined a town parade around the public square riding their Harleys. The parade route in the movie is right up the street on the historic Las Vegas Plaza, where the trees are in the picture.

Go into Tito's and ask about it. They're real friendly in there. They'll show you the old town jail cells, mere drunk tanks really. People in town who know the iconic movie express sorrow that Hollywood used spacious jail cells with bars for the scene, not the jail cells from the olden days that are still there.

Directly across the street is Estella's Cafe. A shot of it, when the two bikers are being released and Jack Nicholson joins them prior to their eventual roadway execution by "southerners," is in the movie.

I ate lunch there, 36 years later. It was Ash Wednesday. Who knew? I had the Lenten Special, a delicious meatless Mexican combination plate of dough and vegetable preparations built around a salmon patty. Estella died just a few years ago but her memory is honored in that town.

I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch. Can you imagine me standing there as a 19 year old, slightly intimidated, instead of a 55-y.o. completely relaxed? Those were the divisive Vietnam days, different times. (Or maybe not.)

Once I got done re-visiting the past in Las Vegas, I drove the rest of the way to Denver. There were no adverse snow conditions, finally.
I arrived that evening in Louisville, CO, where I lived all those years as a State Patrolman in Boulder County before I went to law school. It's an old coal mining town. Here's the statue outside town hall. The next morning, the last day of my trip out west, I was going to run six miles with an old friend I hadn't seen in 22 years, who had recently taken up running just as I had. I couldn't wait.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Yes Virginia, there is a New Mexico

After arriving in Santa Fe last Monday, I relaxed on my sister's back porch until she got home from work.

She took me out to dinner where I saw her son and grandaughter for the first time in several years.

After dinner, I went out with her husband to run around on the hillside she lives on in the dark. He does this all the time apparently. We're both wearing headlamps. His is bigger than mine. Believe me, I can assure you that size does matter.

This is the hillside we scrambled around for an hour Monday night. I stepped out my sister's back door and shot this the next morning.

Then I went downtown to the Plaza. Santa Fe was a colonial capital before any settlers arrived at Jamestown. The Native Americans have been selling their wares here for hundreds of years.

Oh, yes, it started snowing. I was driving back to Denver the next day.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Going to New Mexico

A week ago Saturday I drove out of Montrose enroute to Durango and had a knee-knocking experience driving over Red Mountain Pass in snow flurries on the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, two old western mining towns. It is a two-lane roadway that clings to the side of the mountain (no guard-rails) in the best of times, which is July and August. In the worst of times, like when I was on it, it is a one-lane plowed path through a wintery white landscape where a driver keeps on the roadway by driving alongside the reflectors lining the side of the road, if they aren't buried in the six-foot high snowbank. Bring sunglasses for the reflected glare (which I didn't have). This roadside icefall greeted me on the way up.

Once I got to Bayfield, Colorado, where my cousin L lives, we went to see her Dad, my Uncle Harry, in Pagosa Springs. He's 88 and doing really well.

It snowed the next day of course. L stays fit by walking in addition to spending hours taking care of the animals on her small ranch before she goes to work each day. I walked with her a couple of miles in the fresh snow on her forest-access roadway at 7200 feet and she wore me out!

That night we watched the mighty Giants slay the Patsies in the Super Bowl, going outside several times to make sure the TV-dish was clear of snow. L's husband, W, a great guy, allowed me to choose watching the big professional football game over watching a Professional Bull Riding meet which he wanted to watch. That's the way it is in the mountains.
I was going to drive to Santa Fe on Monday to see my sister who lives there. It was snowing and all the passes were closed, although the back road into New Mexico via Chama was open. Here's what my car looked like on Monday morning. Those two white blobs in the background are the cars of L and W.

Here's what the main highway looked like.

So we "moved snow," as W calls it, for a few hours, using shovels, the snowblower and the snowblade on the tractor. (W hard at it so we could get the door open at least.)

And then I drove away. Here's what the road into New Mexico looked like. I went slow (doh!) and the drive to Santa Fe wasn't too bad. I arrived there mid-afternoon on Monday.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ventura Highway.

Last Friday's six-mile run at Washington Park in Denver with Cew Two was thoroughly enjoyable. Any glance to the west showed off the awesome beauty of nature in the form of a majestic view of the towering Rockies. What a backdrop for any run. A run at mile-high! (Left: Charlie and moi.)
You were a masterful host, Charlie. I owe you a great run on the National Mall. Come get it sometime.

Don't ever pass up a chance to run with a RBF.

Not even an hour later, I was negotiating these road conditions west of Denver. Yay for the Colorado State Patrol, out there in harm's way. (Below: The view around Vail Pass.)

Once I got past the pass, I visited with my 90-y.o. Aunt Betty in Parachute. She took me to lunch. (Below: Aunt Betty and moi.)

Here's the view outside her front door.

So I made it to Montrose on Friday night, and ran 2 miles in the deserted downtown at 3 am on Saturday in 23 degree weather. A real driving adventure awaited me later that day, on a shelf-road in a white-out on a mountain pass at 11,000 feet. My knees were knocking and I feared for my life.

But guess what, I made it. I even made it home eventually to DC. I had a couple of nice runs in the meantime, including Monday's night-time run on Sun Mountain in Santa Fe with my brother-in-law, which I already tole you about. After that, there was one more run before I left the west. Check out the preview of Thursday's run.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Running on Sun Mountain

In the light cast out by my flickering headlamp, I could see S's breath coming out in silver plumes about his head. I wanted to keep right on his heels because his lamp was more powerful than mine. In its illumination I could survey the depressions and obstacles which lay under two inches of powdery snow on the narrow mountain trail better than in mine.

I was trail running at night! On the slope of a hillside at 7200 feet. Snow was falling.

Santa Fe lay below us in a spherical orange glow. I paused once to drink in the splendor of the view and to calm my ragged breathing. Although I had run on trails a few times before, and even on a steep incline once, I had never done it at altitude, in the snow or at night.

S, who lives in Santa Fe on Sun Mountain, which is a popular daytime hiking destination, can run trails merely by walking out his back door. He runs trails at night, on hour-long runs. I had taken him out to run my "neighborhood mile" when he visited me years before, and now he was returning the favor by taking me out to run his trail.

Since the snow was powdery and unblemished except for some animal tracks, it wasn't too slippery. We had to take care not to trip on the innumerable granite rocks, with their sharp edges, which littered the hillside and trails under the snow. We also had to watch for above ground hazards such as waist-level cactus and the face-level branches of spruces. I had already poked my thigh on the sharp point of a yucca plant. (Left: Running into a yucca plant in the dark hurts!)

S was leading at a modest trot. He was forging a path by running along a slight concave concourse which wove between close-in pine trees, where snow had settled onto the trail differently than upon the surrounding hillside.

Running under a canopy of short evergreens in the deep darkness of the hillside, a blackness tempered by the brilliant shine of the stars overhead and the glow from the city lights below, was both liberating and exhilarating. The funk I was in from my fourth day in a row of driving for hours in wretched snowy conditions with low visibility, over mountain passes on snowpacked roads, fell away. I became suffused with the joy of physical performance applied to a heretofore untried strenuous challenge.

Two miles out we paused in a slight clearing just before the last row of trees lining the back quadrangle of St. John's College, which lay on the other side of Sun Mountain. We had skirted around the base of the small mountain along its slope in 23 minutes. We headed back, following our tracks in the snow. Halfway back, as I grew tired from my extreme exertions in the snow and cold, I paid the price of vanity for my supposed physical ability to do this novel and difficult task. I tripped or slipped and fell heavily upon the trail, banging my left knee upon a rock under the snow.

S hovered over me protectively while I applied a snow pack to my injured knee for a few minutes, and then we walked it in from there. We arrived back at S's and my sister's house at just over an hour's total time. This was a magical run unlike any other that I have ever done.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Western Slope

It was a cold, crisp morning in Washington Park in Denver yesterday morning. Crunching along atop the beaten-down pathways through the snow in the park, I ran just under six miles in just under an hour with RBF friend Cew Two and his dog Molly and friend Tom. It was a vacation pleasure. Although overcast, the western sky was deep blue and endless, unlike its eastern counterpart.

Two circuits around the park completed the task. Charlie is an interesting guy, a mountain biker, avid runner and lover of jeeping in the back country. We ran by a lifesize scuplture of Wynken, Blynken and Nod circumnavigating the celestial sphere in their dreamy shoe. It made me think of another time and three little boys from so long ago in my life.

I had many miles to go before I slept, so I bid adieu to my friends and headed west into the mountains. Charlie had already presciently pointed out to me that the towering snow-capped Rockies, ordinarily so easily seen behind the foothills, were invisible in the haze. Not a good sign, this Denver native observed. How true!

Passing by Golden, I drove through my old stomping grounds on I-70 as a State Trooper in Jefferson County from twenty-five years earlier, the Hogback, Evergreen, Chief Hosa, Buffalo Herd Overlook, Buffalo Bill's Grave. Each name conjured up a distant yet distinct memory of a stop, a motorist assist, a call for backup, or a spectacular wreck. At Georgetown the portent of what lay ahead manifested itself in swirling snow, white roadways and long lines of semis lining the shoulders whose drivers were putting chains on them to comply with the chain law in effect at Eisenhower Tunnel and on Vail Pass.

It took two hours of white-knuckle driving to get from there through Glenwood Canyon. The snow drifts piled alongside the guardrails from plowing this winter were the highest I had ever seen them, some almost completely engulfing precautionary signs placed alongside the roadways saying such things as "7% Downhill Grade Next 8 Miles."

I passed one accident scene where two cars had spun off into opposite borrow pits, with a State Trooper already on scene, and another site where a spooked driver was sitting behind the wheel off his vehicle pointing the wrong way on the Interstate, fresh shiny tracks in the icy mix of slush and hardpack that was the roadway showing how his car had gained too much speed, cut loose and swapped ends, and slid to a stop backwards. What a ride!

The heights of the Rockies successfully navigated, I visited my 90-year old Aunt in Parachute for a delightful two hours. She lives up there alone, hooked up to oxygen and reading her mail via an optical enlargement machine due to her macular degenerative condition, which makes her unable to see. She is a spry, remarkable person who is a true representative of the pioneer spirit that once infused most Coloradans. I left with regret because I enjoy seeing her and love listening to her interesting tales that span almost a century. They encompass observing her father, a plains-town dentist, swapping services for chickens during the Depression to listening to her neighbors complain about the current drilling going on for natural gas in the high country during these energy-starved times.

As the sky turned steel-gray in the late afternoon, I pushed on westward through Grand Junction. It was dark and snow flurries were falling by the time I arrived in Montrose on the western slope. I checked into a into a motel with the hope of seeing the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on the morrow if weather conditions permitted.

At 3 am, with my body feeling like it was 5 am because I was still on east-coast time, I arose and clocked off a mile with my car on deserted Main Street. I then ran up one side of this sleeping farm community's business district and back down the other, peering into storefronts and noting the old style western architecture on each block. The 5830-foot altitude made my breathing labored and my legs leaden, but the two-mile run in the 21 degree temperature was peaceful and gave me hope for my further travels. The snow had stopped.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Still Running

Sunday I ran 5K worth of the hills in my home town, with a stop in an open house I passed along the way. Inside the realtor, who spoke Swedish, French, German and Arabic according to her business card (she spoke English to me although it wasn't listed), offered me carbonated lemonade, which was refreshing. This house, selling for $990,000, was on my hill! The best hill in the DC area. I want this house!

Monday I ran from my agency's building in DC at noon to the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington and back, to honor my Dad's birthday of two days earlier. He was a Marine. I stopped at the statue to view the carvings in the base of the two battles he was in, Peleliu and Okinawa, which bookended the battle everyone knows, Iwo Jima. That was a 7.5 mile run.

Wednesday I took my agency's noontime group out on a run to Lincoln, Korea, WWI, MLK, Garfield, the Capitol, Cap Hill, Stanton Square and Union Square. Translated that means a run down the Mall of 6.5 miles.

Thursday morning I got up early and ran my neighborhood mile in the dark before packing to travel to Colorado on business and pleasure for a week. I thought I was working the mile pretty well but it came in at a slow 8:16. Then it was off to make my 7:45 am flight to Denver.

Which brings me to this morning at the Denver Tech Marriott. It's been snowing like crazy out here. At the airport I let the car rental folks talk me into paying $150 extra for a Toyota Rav4 all-wheel 6-cylinder for my eight days trip through the high country and to Santa Fe to see family. Now it better snow more to make the expenditure worthwhile. No, wait, I don't actually mean that.

I have just finished a month of posting every single day. 38 days straight, actually. I shoulda begun every entry, Dear Diary. I tried to be varied and interesting, but there is no more effective way to drive away any readership you might have away than to fill up your blog detailing the mundane. But with the passage of January that little daily challenge/grind is over and I'll go back to adhering to a truism I fervently believe in, Less is more.

Last night I saw my sister in Denver and wished her a happy birthday, which is this week. This morning it's off to a RBF meet-up with my friend Cew Two for a run in Washington Park. The temperature is a crisp 31 degrees. But that's a dry cold. I can't wait.

Then it's off to Parachute to see my Aunt before spending the night in Montrose. Tomorrow I'll go see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and then travel to Pagosa Springs to see my Uncle and his daughter, my cousin. After that, I'll go down to see my sister in Santa Fe to wish her a happy birthday, which is next week. Then it's back to Denver for one more run in the area with an old friend in my old hometown of Louisville before returning to the real world. At least that's the plan.