Friday, August 29, 2008

Dark Pleasures

I feel like I've been untrue. Less than a day after I took my first whirl on a Smart Bike in downtown DC, thoroughly enjoying the ride although wary of the dangers of riding a bicycle in the wild woolly west of downtown DC traffic, I checked the SmartBikeDC website at the end of the workday (it electronically keeps track of the current whereabouts of every returned bike), discovered there was only one bike left at Judiciary Square, the bike rack closest to my work, and hastened out the door and over to Judiciary Square, five minutes away. I fought off the urge to run there.

Wednesday's ride was an experiment, a breaking in period, a getting-to-know-you experience. Yesterday's rendezvous was a guilty pleasure. I didn't need to bike on the surface from Judiciary Square on the Red Line to Metro Center on the Orange Line during rush hour. Trains come every three or five minutes then so the transfer is swift.

The bike was still there at Judiciary Square. Telling myself that I was cross-training a little, I took 'er out for a spin. I didn't have my bulky briefcase hung over my shoulder like the day before so I felt more nimble as I made my way through the busy, broken downtown streets over to Metro Center, using muscles that haven't been worked out in decades (you know, the "bike muscles"). I thought about maybe riding over to the further Foggy Bottom Orange Line stop on the next outing.

I hope this doesn't get out of hand.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A ride on the dark side

I bought a bike. For forty dollars. It came with a lifetime service contract.

I signed up for Smart Bike DC for a forty dollar annual fee. As my brother the economist says, it's grossly underpriced. With my access card, I can go to any of ten bike racks scattered about the core downtown DC area and take out a bike for free for up to three hours. I have to return it to any of the bike racks before its appointed time. And if I lose a bike, or it gets stolen from me, it's $550.

The hours of operation are 6 am to 10 pm. I can go here and check on the availability of bikes at any particular rack or, equally important, whether I can drop one off there. Sure there are lots of rules (the contract was eight pages, mostly liability stuff. I think it said I am gonna die on a bike and it's not the city's fault) but basically it's that simple.

The possibilities are boundless. I can go bike riding on a weekend on the C&O Canal with my girlfriend. She hates it that I don't have a bike. Well, now I do. For three hours anyway.

That 2.5 mile jog to and from my monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K each way? I can pick up a Smart Bike on the way, bike there, run the race and bike back.

If I leave work at 9 pm and don't want to transfer from the Red Line to the Orange Line on the Metro (if I miss connections it can be a 35 minute wait), I can pick up a Smart Bike by walking to Judiciary Square on the Red Line (a 5 minute walk) and bike over to Metro Center (a 25 minute walk) on the Orange Line where I can drop the bike off.

That is, until I get killed. I had my first adventure yesterday. (The Program is one week old.) I walked to Judiciary Square at 6:30 pm, excited about the prospect of getting a bike to ride over to Metro Center. Hmm, no bikes, the rack was empty. Grumbling, I walked over to Gallery Place, still on the Red Line. There were six bikes there. Feeling like a child stealing a candy bar, I took a bike and rode the 3-speed contraption the eight further blocks to Metro Center.

It's illegal to ride on the sidewalks in the core downtown area. There were at least half a dozen idling double parked cars that I went by along the way, some with drivers on cell phones (they're as dangerous as drunk drivers) and some were taxis (they're deadly in this town). All waiting to do something impetuous as soon as I rode by like get underway suddenly or throw their door open or whip into a U-turn. With the ubiquitous downtown construction, there were little roadway bottlenecks all over the place for li'l ol' me to squeeze through on my bike. And me stop for red lights? Faghedaboudit.

I made it. It's a fabulous program, borrowed from a Paris model, and unique to this country so far. I love it already. But, we need more bikes, Mayor Fenty!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lauren & Rachel

I was gratified to receive the welcome email that came in last night.

It said in essence, Please forget my crazy rambling this morning. I'm all right now. I had a heat related illness but the coaches took me to the ER and now I have a clean bill of health. Thank you.

Who would have suspected heat-related problems yesterday morning? It was beautiful for running, cool and overcast with a low dew-point. A remarkable August morning for the nation's capital.

My club's ten-mile training program which I direct is more than half-way over. We ran eight miles on the flat W&OD Trail, a beautiful 40-mile long paved-over railroad bed that marches westward from near the banks of the Potomac to past the bucolic town of Leesburg.

This strong runner had led most of the way but pulled up, fatigued, a half mile from the end. She sat for awhile with the volunteer coach who had been running with her in a shaded glen beside the trail.

Then they returned the rest of the way where there was water, Gatorade and cool pops. It was so cool and breezy that as I stood there in my damp running tanktop after my 72-minute run, I wished I had brought along a sweatshirt.

This runner started talking oddly. She said she was going to ace the club's 15K race next weekend. She became mildly insulting, looking at me and saying, Last year I ran straight 7-minute miles there, although that's not in your league.

Well, straight sevens for multiple miles is known to be beyond my ability, and I knew this runner's bio. While she is strong and fast, she has never run straight sevens in a race.

The runner lay down in the grass and still talking non-stop, reached up and started rhythmically clapping her hands above her head. The volunteer coach kept her engaged in conversation. Soon that coach and another one had coaxed her into a car where they ran the A/C and gave her water. After checking that they had a cell phone, I left. She was in good hands with these two.

Coaches Lauren and Rachel are great boons to the Program. Not only do they commit their time to run with slower runners and endeavor to give them a quality, learning running experience, but they had recognized this runner's slightly erratic behavior and acted. They stayed with her until her situation was resolved, in this case, by a precautionary trip to the ER where she received an IV solution.

A simple run in beautiful conditions can be on the margin of catastrophe, or even tragedy, without anyone noticing.

My lifelong search for heroes? Here are two.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


At noon today I ran in the monthly Tidal Basin 3K race. There were about 60 of us mad dogs and Englishmen out there running in the midday August heat.

I haven’t been running too well this year so I have started doing track workouts. Last night I ran 8X600 at 2:50s (7:36 pace) with a 200M recovery jog. Those intervals about killed me so I wasn’t expecting to do well today.

I was thinking about the track workout as I passed by the half-mile mark in the 1.86 mile race. I was busy formulating in my mind how the prior evening’s routine had doomed today’s race so I could mentally quit and "walk it in" at an easy pace.

This monthly race has its own immutable rhythm. All of the regular males were ahead of me, along with at least one woman. Another woman, perhaps the second female, was practically on my hip. Suddenly my doppelganger, Peter, cruised by me.

Peter, who is about my age and about my speed, keeps me honest in this race. He is my conscience.

Usually he doesn’t pass me until late, after a mile and a half have been run. Then he puts me away with his finishing speed. Whenever I beat him, it’s always because I have built up too large a lead during the first mile and a half for him to overcome.

Today his pass was early. I passed him back. He passed me again. I passed him once more. Again he passed me. I returned the favor again.

This could seem to be a riveting battle if it didn’t merely involve a couple of middle-aged mid-packers in an obscure (but venerable–dating back to 1974) little noontime downtown race.

I passed by the mile marker in 6:55, about 10 seconds faster than usual.

I started casting covetous looks at the back of the septuagenarian who always goes by me early and beats me by a few seconds. Maybe today I would overtake the 71-year old and it would induce me to a sub-13 minute finish, a rarity for me.

This month’s race, unlike most months, didn’t stretch out interminably. It passed by swiftly and I was able to take deep breaths during its latter stages. Maybe the track work was helping, not hindering, me.

Two or three younger men passed me late, but the second woman didn’t, nor did Peter. The 71-year old finished five seconds ahead of me. I finished in 13:09 (7:03), a fifteen second improvement over last month.

Peter came in a few seconds later. I jokingly accused him of trying to disrupt the natural flow of this monthly race by passing me too early. He said he was trying something different, pushing it early so he could pass me sooner rather than later. It left him with nothing for the final stretch, he said. I told him his uncharacteristic appearance beside me so early in the race had induced me to run an extra-fast first mile.

He said earnestly, "You’re welcome," and we both laughed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Give Me Eight!

Eight on the eighth. The Olympics started on 080808, so Non-Runner Nancy cooked up the virtual race of 8 miles on 8/8. Except anytime over the weekend would do. Like all virtual races, the rules are flexible. If you cheat, you're just cheating yourself. The point is participation.

I got up early and headed out to the W&OD Trail, a paved-over 40 miles former railroad bed that runs right behind my house. I was going to go sans shirt (it's August in DC, after all) but, unbelievably, it was cool out. So I slipped on my shirt and off I set. Four uneventful miles down the trail, at 33:32 I turned around. But my stomach was rumbling.

I started reviewing the possibilities. Walk 4 miles home. Take Metro back to near my house (didn't bring money or a farecard). Go into the EFC Metro stop when I passed it and beg them to let me use their WC (fat chance). Call someone to come get me (didn't bring my cell, just a Cliffshot, which I was not interested in at the moment). Hitchhike home (someone would pick up a sweat-soaked runner to sit in their car alright). Cry.

There was another possibility. I would pass by the Ranger Comfort Station in half a mile at Bluemont Park, which has running water. But would it be open before 8 a.m.? The Ranger vehicle was out front. That was a good sign. There were tennis players on the public courts. And there was an Army squad in the pavilion, taking their annual physical standards. Success. The heavily-padlocked bathroom door was unlocked.

Some people like to know where water fountains are on their customary routes. Since I always carry a half-liter bottle of water, I don't care about that. I like to know where the pit stops are.

I stopped my watch for my "rest." I had my Cliffshot. I have never consumed one before and it was awful. But then, so are GUs, which I normally eat. I'm leery of Cliffshots though, because they are rice-based. But it settled pretty well.

I watched a soldier do his push-up review. The Sgt. got down on all fours right in front of him and spoke quietly to him as he performed. Sweet nothings, I'm sure. He did 57. The first 40 push-ups were great, the last 17 were, well, not so great. The soldier was happy afterwards though, because 57 got him a score of 90.

Break time over, I clicked on my watch again and set off, feeling much better. I finished the eight miles back at my house at 1:08:18, not counting my ten minute "rest' stop.

What do you think? Am I cheating by reporting 1:08:18? If you're a purist, mark me down for a 1:18:18. I don't care. It was a nice run. Thanks to Nancy for setting it up.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Been Running?

In case you're wondering if I have been running since I got back from my summer vacation a month ago, you're not the only one. I have been wondering too.

Clearly there was no running in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But what's my excuse since I got back?

I been running some, but not much. In all of July I ran 52.7 miles, and only one race (my monthly noontime 3K dash around the Tidal Basin). That's it. My one long run was ten miles of sightseeing I did along the Mall with a visiting RBFer.

When I'm not running much I cheat and get in my five times running per week by running solitary miles. I can always fit those in. Six of my "runs" in July were of the solitary mile variety. Although they were all under eight minutes, only one was under seven minutes, my desired goal.

Why the slackard month? Life is complicated. That's the sum total of my wisdom after 56 years.

I came back from my "trip of a lifetime" down the Grand Canyon and running suddenly seemed less important. I took greater pleasure in writing about the trip than in running on the roadways. All of my running buddies have moved away or gotten hurt. The ten-mile training program I direct for my club has started up and that keeps me busy, basically running with novices. I realize that people see me as a Johnny-One-Note, a running nut, so I have been working on being more variegated.

Yeah, my running currently sucks. I think life is intruding. It's either that or advancing age.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Mother's Older Sister

Good bye Aunt Betty. I'll miss you.

I remember visiting you as a boy at your work in Denver at the local Selective Service Board, and you giving me as a gag a mock Selective Service letter that started out with "Greetings." I used it a few years later as proof of age to purchase beer on Staten Island when I came home one weekend from boarding school. Those were simpler times. (Below: Aunt Betty bought me dinner in Denver in September. And she bought herself a drink.)

Thanks for helping me out when I went off to college in Boulder by giving me a place to stay in Denver whenever I needed it. Thanks for helping me out with Jimmy when he was a baby. Thanks for coming to visit me in Nantucket, Louisville, and Falls Church.

I loved visiting with you and Uncle Bob in Parachute in August 2001 with my three boys, the last time I ever had my sons all together with me. I loved visiting you last September in Denver, and in February in Parachute where you lived by yourself. Thanks for taking me out to lunch then. I hope you chuckled over the funny birthday card I sent you the next month for your 91st birthday. (Above: The view outside Aunt Betty's door in Parachute. How about you? Got view?)

My life was better for knowing you. We had a lot of fun together. I could always count on you. I loved you. (Right: You wouldn't believe how much fun you can have with a 90-year old. Love Peter.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day Eight of eight.

The Grand Canyon trip is over. Eight days in THE natural wonder of the world, with friends from 35 years ago. Incredible experiences. I am a terrible picture-snapper. So I have given you eight posts of photos snapped by my friends, much better picture-takers than me. If you don't take your own trip down the Canyon, shame on you! My freshman college roommate Jimmy (he's the one acting like a sumo wrestler in the photo below) was the glue that held the Sewell Hall Rafters together. He bridged all the differences. He said wisely at the onset, "Everyone is the same, only more so." Brilliant. In the photo below, I can see every person's personality shine forth for the camera--it's uncanny--but maybe you hadda be there and get to know these folks. Trip of a lifetime? Oh yeah. The company is the Arizona River Runners. The American heroes are Travis, Lindsay, Julie and Kelly, in the second picture below.

Photo credit Dennis.

Scotty, beam us up! Photo credit Jimmy.

Barry. Photo credit Jimmy.

Giving Birth. Photo credit Dennis.

Lake Mead. Photo credit John.

Thanks, Travis, Lindsay & Julie. Any one of you could share a foxhole with me. Photo credit Barry.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day Seven

Photo credit Jimmy.

Photo credit Barry.

Photo credit Barry.

Stairway to Heaven. Photo credit Barry.

Photo credit Barry.

Photo credit Dennis.

Photo credit Dennis.

Photo credit Harrie.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day Six

Day Six in the Grand Canyon: Running one of North America's most ferocious rapids, Lava Falls, waving goodbye to eight party members, a boat-to-boat running water fight, leaping off a cliff into the Colorado River and...

Vulcan's Anvil, the neck of an ancient volcano thrusting up into the river. Photo credit Barry.

Am I ever going to blog about running again? Photo credit Harrie.

A willow grows out of a crevice in a boulder in the river. Photo credit Barry.

We are not the first. Photo credit Dennis.

Andy, the musical prodigy. He & Barry played 60s river and traveling songs every night. A twenty-something that actually liked hanging with fifty-somethings, he was there with his Dad, CJ, over whom he kept a watchful, loving eye. In the background is Diamond Peak. Photo credit Harrie.

Dennis. Photo credit Dennis.

Evening comes to the Canyon. Photo credit Dennis.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day Five

On Day Five in the Grand Canyon, our party was down to thirty due to the tragic emergency that happened on the fourth evening. We would spend the fifth day on a long ride down the Colorado River to a campsite where we could get to a commercial helicopter landing pad the next morning by 8:30. There eight more passengers would leave. We would finish the eight-day trip with eighteen passengers plus four boatmen on the two rafts.

Travis reads a somber pre-launch invocation. Look at that sky. Photo credit Harrie.

Lindsay lets a waterfall cascade over her. Photo credit Dennis.

Harrie. In his late 50s with two hip replacements, he did everything us much younger folks did. Photo credit Barry.

Where magma once flowed into the Grand Canyon. Photo credit Barry.

Pondering the inexorable nature of life. Photo credit Dennis.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Grand Canyon, Day Four

Grand Canyon, Fourth Day.

Dear Lord, here on this river bank, before we launch today
Words credit Vaughn Short, photo credit Barry.

Trouble. Photo credit Dennis.

Big Horn Sheep. Photo credit Harrie.


Up... Photo credit Barry. ... Photo credit Barry.

...and out. Photo credit Barry.



Purple mountain majesty. Photo credit Dennis.


To Yvonne. Photo credit Barry.