Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Cook Salmon

Earlier this month I spent a week sailing the Florida Keys with 14 of my college friends or their S.O.s. in three boats. Two were 32 footers and the one I was on was 25 feet. Three persons in the group knew how to sail, one captain for each boat. There were two couples and myself on my boat, which was captained by Jimmy, my freshman roommate in Sewell Hall at CU in 1970.

(Right: Sunset in the Florida Keys.) Each boat had a low-powered diesel engine that would enable the boat to go about three knots. As a point of reference, in seven days our boat used three gallons of fuel. Jimmy was the best sailor of the lot, although the other two captains, Harrie (Jimmy's older brother) and Todd weren't slouches.

(Left: Jimmy. Behind him directly to the left of his head is the "oven" I used to cook the meal I prepared.) One night it was my turn to cook. Our kitchen was a portable two-burner alcohol stove below deck and a charcoal grill bolted onto the cockpit railing.

After getting the grill going with a layer of charcoal glowing red-hot, I spread out a long piece of aluminum foil on a bench and placed six half-pound salmon fillets on it in three side-by-side rows of top-to-bottom touching salmon steaks. Then I sprinkled it all liberally with McCormick Grill Mates Lemon Pepper with Herbs seasoning. I sliced two green zucchinis and two yellow long-necked summer squash into long thin diagonal slices and laid the raw pieces over the top of the seasoned fish. Closing the foil over the top, I wrapped another long piece of foil around the enclosed package and placed it on top of the grill in the charcoal grill unit, which I then covered and closed the vents on.

(Right: The meal I prepared.) Meanwhile I boiled about 18 small red potatoes on an alcohol burner. I'm a bachelor cook so I don't bother with salads, or appetizers, or anything that is hard to clean up.

Forty minutes later I removed the tightly-closed silver package from the grill, cut the red potatoes into slices and put the pieces on five plates , sprinkled them with squirty butter from a spritzer, put salt and pepper and lemon quarters on the table, poured the red wine (I like red wine, even if it doesn't supposedly go with fish), put a fish fillet, covered with vegetable slices, on each plate and set out the fare. The fish was soft, moist and barely flaky, and the skin stayed on the aluminum sheet as I slid the fillets onto the plates. The vegetables were similarly soft and moist but not overdone.

(Above left: The crew, l-r, Jeffrey, Maddy, Shelly, moi, Jimmy. We're standing next to our boat, Spring Tide.) I cook strictly by an innate sense of timing, and appearance, although I never peeked inside the closed foil rectangle. It was one of my standard meals, although I had never cooked it in a charcoal grill before. (At home I always prepare it the same way, pouring or sprinkling anything handy over the top of the fish, and cook it at 400 degrees in the oven for twenty minutes. With so much fish in the package, and having no clue as to what temperature it was in there, I doubled the time.)

(Right: Sure I can cook. You got any fish?) The other four persons seemed to like the meal and started spreading the word throughout the fleet that I was a gourmet cook. It was actually pretty easy, and it all came together at the end. One of the other boats also cooked salmon steaks a couple of times, but they actually grilled it on the grill each time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The 2009 Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Training Program was a great success.

You might know that I am in charge of training programs for the DC Road Runners, a duty I am about to turn over to fellow Board Member Kenny Ames when I assume the club presidency next month. There are exciting training prospects in store for the club during the upcoming year.

With the running of the fourth SunTrust National Marathon and Half Marathon last weekend, the race's second Reebok Training Program, "powered" by DCRRC, came to a successful conclusion (hopefully not for good--Reebok is having some issues in this economy like everyone else). Outgoing club club president Ed Grant was in charge of the Program and directed the Marathon part of it while I directed the Half-Marathon side. Both were well-run programs, if I do say so. (Right: Samia Akbar, last year's winner of the SunTrust National Half Marathon, addresses the Reebok Training Group on the first day way back in November.)

Including volunteer coaches, during the Program at least 63 Program participants came to at least one meeting of the half marathon group at Gotta Run, the normal meeting place for my part of the program. After 19 weeks of rigorous training stretching back to before Thanksgiving, with runs that ranged from the 6-mile opening day lumber up the C&O Canal Towpath to a couple of runs of about 14 miles on the Mall near the end, at least 38 Program participants ran in the SunTrust National Half Marathon on Saturday, March 21, 2009, with times ranging from 1:22:58 to just over two and a half hours.

Additionally, one HM Program participant ran the Full Marathon. Two participants served as race staff during the race. At least two more participants spent the morning cheering on the runners. Another participant ran a half marathon in Virginia Beach that weekend while another participant ran a half marathon in California. Yet another participant ran a club Marathon and took third in her age group. Another participant ran a 10-mile race instead while one more did a Marathon Relay. (Left: The very first track workout. Jon, the third runner from the right, ran a sub-1:40 half marathon five months later.)

In addition to the Program member who finished the half marathon in under 1:25 (coach Matt), two trainees finished in under 1:40. Yet another trainee finished in under 1:45 while four more finished in under 1:55, which is a sub-9:00 M/M pace. Two more trainees finished in under two hours. One coach (the beloved Ellen, her trainees love her), who was a trainee last year, took over 11 minutes off her PR.

The Program offered the normal Saturday group long runs, held at two different locations, one in Arlington and another one in the District directed by coach Sasha, and also offered regular Monday night runs of 6.5 miles on the Mall, regular Tuesday night runs of 4 mile runs on the Georgetown waterfront, track workouts every Wednesday evening in Arlington plus a weekly morning track workout in the District. Speakers came to lecture the runners before runs at least three times. There were two social get-togethers set up by coach Rachel, as well as a pre-race dinner in both Arlington and the District. Participants formed relay teams for a club Marathon one week and the schedule incorporated two other club races, a 10-miler and a 20K race. Several coaches regularly met with participants on informal runs such as other club races or various fun runs around town. (Right: The first Monday Night Footmall run. Jay, the second runner from the left, threw down a 1:40 half marathon four months later.)

The Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Program’s success was directly attributable to the dedication of its outstanding staff of volunteer DCRRC coaches. In addition to those already mentioned, they were John, Lauren, Emily, Bob and Jeannie. At least seven of the coaches have RRCA coaching certificates. One is a certified Fitness Bootcamp Trainer. Several coaches came from the ranks of trainees in prior Programs. Invaluable assistance was received from Full Marathon coaches Kenny, Ed, Andrew, Katie, Eric Phillips (the current director of DCFit Marathon training) and Ben.

(Left: Coach Ellen (looking at her watch) leads her group out on a Saturday morning run. Ricardo, the runner on the left, ran a sub-2-hour half marathon four months later.) Thanks to all, and especially to Reebok (Keith), the Greater Washington Sports Alliance (Britton), Fleet Feet (Shawn), the Georgetown Running Company (Max) and Gotta Run (Andre).

The club's 10K Group Training Program is currently in its fifth week, and the club's training program for the Army 10-Miler starts this summer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sag you too.

After we picked up T at Saturday's SunTrust National Marathon, we drove up in the Sag Wagon behind two women and followed them for awhile as we approached the DC waterfront. One was a lady in her 60s, always traveling with a running motion although going very slowly, and the other was a 30s-something woman who was running some and walking some. She was barely ahead of the elderly lady. No one else was in sight, as the juggler had surged ahead of these two.

By now the long lost Sag Wagon 1 had joined our procession. The convoy of race vehicles, street sweepers, police cruisers and sag wagons followed the two women for a short bit, past MP 18. I confirmed that they were several minutes behind the course closure time for that point in the race. There seemed to be no prospect that they would make up the time, given the painful nature of their shuffling gaits.

I popped out of the bus and ran up to the elderly woman and walked alongside her. I remembered her from when she passed by me at MP 15 while I attended to the course clock there. She was very dignified and distinguished looking.

I asked her what her name was and told her the bridge, more than a mile ahead, was going to be opened soon and that she couldn't get there by then. Without arguing that point she said, "But there's a sidewalk on it."

Meanwhile the other woman had come back to us and joined our conversation. I agreed the bridge had a walkway but said that the road by the waterfront also needed to be opened and the support people should be released. I said that both of them had had wonderful long runs of 18 miles, quite a feat, on a beautiful morning and asked them to please get on the bus for their safety and support. I sorrily informed them that they wouldn't get a finishing time, no matter what. The younger woman looked stunned.

The elderly lady wanted to continue on the sidewalk, but only if she had company. She still had to go through SE Washington, after all. She looked at the other woman for support, but that woman shook her head and glumly climbed aboard the bus. The first woman followed suit. It was over for them.

Once everyone was aboard, the tail of the SunTrust National Marathon started to move with a little pep. Gears ground and gas pedals were pressed down. We drove over the streets by the waterfront and then turned onto a broad cement walkway along the river. There we came upon the juggler, and the vehicular juggernaut snugged in behind him at 4 MPH.

B, the elderly lady, cried out that we couldn't pick him up. He is well known and a mainstay at many local races. Ominous thoughts of newspaper headlines about the juggler being jerked off the marathon course by the DCRRC president flashed through my mind. Fortunately the juggler was many minutes ahead of the rolling course closure time and seemingly traveling at a pace that would carry him to the finish line on time. It was going to be a long seven miles though, even with the distraction of watching a traveling vaudeville act for over an hour. (Above: The juggler at a 2007 race in Anacostia River Park.)

We crawled by the Nationals' ballpark and creeped over the Frederick Douglass Bridge into Anacostia River Park. The younger woman was seething at having her marathon ended, although she claimed not to be mad at me. She wouldn't talk, except to say that she'd run marathons before. B, however, was quite pleasant and loquacious.

She said she had done 64 other marathons, well, actually 66, because the one she did on the Great Wall of China didn't count ultimately and now there was this DNF. But she had started this morning's marathon as a long training run and she was okay with being swept off of it. She was hoping to match her age soon in number of marathons completed. She was actually training for a 50-miler.

She was fascinating to talk to. She had done marathons on all seven continents. I asked about the one in Antarctica, and she said that one was very dangerous. They had arrived in their cruise ship off the Antarctic peninsula and a lead party had gone ashore to set out the milemarkers. The support stations were going to be the various national research stations. I guess you don't just set up water tables in the Antarctic. But then a storm system had descended upon the area and a three-day whiteout ensued. They barely got their advance party back. When it came time to sail away, with the storm barely abated, they gave the runners this choice to complete their Antarctic marathon. 422 laps around the ship's deck. She took it.

She had raced in Rio, and run by the Pyramids in Egypt and over to Gaza. In China, the marathon had started on the Great Wall and then traveled through a long series of rural roads before winding back to the Wall for the finish. However, she arrived back at the Wall four minutes after they opened it up to tourists for the day and they wouldn't let her pass by to complete the marathon. That was her only prior DNF, before Saturday.

We passed by a water station at MP 22 staffed by enthusiastic young men and women. I asked them to bring fluids to our wounded warriors and these eager children swarmed over the buses, offering up water and Gatorade. I asked Sag Wagon 1 to complete the mission of succoring any remaining runners on the course and we drove our three weary runners back to the finish area.

B was upbeat about it all, very positive, taking the situation as it occurred with a positive frame of mind. That's why we run.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sag You

T was the first one we scooped up. We’d been following this late-40s runner for awhile.

Sag Wagon 2 was on task. It pulled out from the curb at MP 15, where it had sat idling for three and a half hours generating plenty of complaints from the neighbors (the driver kept the motor running to keep the heater going–it was cold!), and went off to find the tail of the SunTrust National Marathon.

Sag Wagon 1 was lost and never came by. Sag Wagon 2 was supposed to drive onto the course and start sweeping up slow and lame runners once it reached us. All the halting runners had already limped by us several minutes ago, followed by a procession of street sweepers, and nothing was coming down East Capitol Street now except for cars, which had been let back onto the road network by the beleaguered police who had been blocking off every street corner so far. If you want to hear a terrific argument, stand next to a policeman as he tells a local resident that the citizen can’t drive his car away from in front of his house for the next three hours because of some race.

We drove down to the Capitol where a Capitol Policeman stood next to his unit, eying us suspiciously. No buses are allowed to go by the Capitol. I got out to ask him where the race had gone, but he swept by me and hopped aboard the bus to look around. All he saw was the radioman and the driver. When he alighted again, satisfied we weren't the advance guard of the Taliban, I told him we needed to catch up to the end of the race, wherever it was. He waved us on.

Meanwhile, the race administrators were telling the radioman we should backtrack to find Sag Wagon 1 and pick up all the runners behind us. There were no runners behind us. And no one knew where Sag Wagon 1 was currently. This was getting to be like a typical military operation, all fouled up.

I told the driver to go on forward. The radioman looked dubious but reported my decision to base. We pawned responsibility for not following orders off onto the police, saying they had said there were no runners behind us. (They had said this. They apparently know everything.)

We turned onto Constitution Avenue and passed by MP 17. No walking wounded there. We turned into the Ninth Street tunnel which runs under the Mall, where we located T hobbling along, the tail of the race.

T was walking along with huge vehicular escort. He was being closely followed by a race vehicle picking up cones, street sweepers and several different jurisdiction police cruisers with their lights going. If I were T, all that commotion 12 feet behind me would have made me nervous. But he was ignoring it, I think in the hope that we would all go away.

I could see two women slowly moving along the tunnel up ahead, and way up ahead, the juggler. This locally famous juggler is actually a decent runner, but he apparently has to juggle so many seconds every minute during a race or else it doesn’t count. He was dropping a lot of balls because he was getting tired.

We followed T all the way through the long tunnel and down an exit ramp which led towards the Interstate highway. No one in the Sag Wagon knew where the race went but a printout of the race map showed a wicked hairpin turn where the course doubled back on itself. The two women were stopped here wondering whether the course went onto the Interstate or back down the other ramp towards the DC waterfront. There wasn't a race marshal here, merely a set of cones set haphazardly in the roadway. I waved the women down towards the water, figuring that no marathon would put runners onto an Interstate full of moving cars. The operative word here was FUBAR.

T limped down the ramp towards the waterfront and MP 18. The Sag driver could barely go slow enough to keep behind him. The radio operator confirmed that T was several minutes behind the rolling cutoff time for that section of the course. National has a qualifying standard of five hours to enter, and a course limit of six hours to finish.

The Frederick Douglass Bridge across the Anacostia over by the new ballpark was still another mile ahead, still closed down waiting the passage of these few runners before it could reopen.

I hopped out of the bus and ran up to T and fell in beside him. I asked him how he was doing. He said fine in a hopeful manner. I asked him his name, and then I lowered the boom. I said he’d run a terrific race, but I had to put him on the bus. He acted as though he didn't know what I was talking about. That bus there, I said, pointing to the shuttle bus twelve feet back, leading the slow moving convoy. He acted as though it was the first time he'd seen any of that back there.

I told T that an 18 mile run was a tremendous accomplishment which lots of people couldn’t do. He'd already had a beautiful run on a wonderful morning. But it was past time for Maine Avenue down by the waterfront to be reopened, and he wouldn't make the bridge before it reopened as well. He could continue by taking off his bib and becoming a pedestrian on the sidewalk, but he wouldn’t get a finishing time. I didn’t recommend this course, I said, because he would lose his support and it would be unsafe. Get on the bus, I urged.

I felt like a State Trooper again back in Colorado, trying to talk a recalcitrant motorist into doing something he didn’t want to do. A good cop operates by persuasion, not force.

My old fast-talking charm was still there. T got on the bus. I felt bad though, as for the next hour T resisted all my attempts to engage him in a conversation and merely politely answered my questions. He displayed neither anger nor resistance. I think he was mortified.

Directly ahead were the two women, moving very slowly. One of them was to prove to be very interesting, a seven-continent marathoner.

Monday, March 23, 2009

2009 DCRRC Banquet

Here's the speech I gave last night at the DC Road Runners Annual Banquet, when I was selected by the club to be the next DCRRC president.

I stand before you honored and humbled to be following up on the wonderful work of the outgoing President of the club, Ed Grant, and the sterling work of all the past Presidents of the club, and also the strong efforts of the outgoing board. I look forward to working with the new Board to continue this priceless legacy.

My first true association with the DC Road Runners Club was in the summer of 2005. I had been a club member for a few years, doing a little volunteer work at races once or twice a year, and running one or two club races each month, including the club’s monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K, a race which dates back to the 70s. But I had never truly taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by being a member of such an outstanding and renowned running club as the DC Road Runners. I’m not talking about the 10% discount offered to club members at Georgetown Running Company, Fleet Feet or Gotta Run (actually 15% there) and other local running stores, I’m talking about getting to know the people who make up the club.

I had been running since the year 2000 when, overweight, lazy and disgusted, I went out to the curb one morning when I was in my late 40s, sighted in on the end of the block, and ran to it. And walked back. One block! It was a start!

I was so proud of myself that I went to work that day and told all my workmates about my run. I didn’t know New Jersey Ed at the time, because he might have told me a thing or two in his inimitable fashion about the people’s perception of such a paltry beginning, but I did know someone from Long Island at work. Like fellow Board member Ian Clements, I’m from Staten Island so us Staten Islanders have a natural antipathy towards Long Islanders. And vice versa. To them, we’re provincial. To us, they’re stuck up.

This workmate looked me over after my announcement about my running feat and asked if I lived on the world’s longest block.

"No," I said, "it’s a regular block." Already, I didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

"What did you wear for this run?" she inquired.

I said, "I wore my white cotton t-shirt, a pair of hiking shorts, and some old Jimmy Connors tennis sneakers I found in the back of my closest." I didn’t tell her about the droopy white tube socks with the blue band around the top that I dug out of the back of my dresser drawer.

I think I sounded defensive.

She looked me over and said, "You got dressed for that?"

She was my best friend. What she was telling me was–Run More. Keep it up. Improve upon it.

And I did. I ran for 33 days straight, until my knees started hurting and Shawn Fenty up at Fleet Feet just shook his head when I came in there for shoes and said, "Throw away those old leather tennis shoes from the eighties, man!" He sold me a pair of Asics. Which I still wear. Not the same pair, but Asics nonetheless.

By 2005 though, running solitary, I had plateaued. My race times were going up and my motivation was going down. I took advantage of my DC Road Runners membership to revive my running. I joined the 10-Mile Training Group Program that summer.

I’ll never forget that day. That’s where I first met two people who have been honored here tonight, appropriately so, both examples of what makes our running club great. Two dedicated, bustling persons, Susan Hage and Ed Grant.

Susan was the President of the club at the time, and she was at the first meeting of the 10-Mile Group at the Lincoln Memorial on that sweltering July morning She addressed us, the nervous crowd of newbie runners, the wannabe runners, and she challenged us that day to keep coming back in the oppressive heat, Saturday after Saturday, until we met our goals. And many of us assembled there listening to her were inspired to do just that, and become active, different, people as a result.

Ed was also there, as a coach. He too spoke, don’t you know!

Ed spoke about what we were going to do, and how we were going to do it, and when, and how he had been there for an hour already to check on that day’s route, and how he had run around Roosevelt Island beforehand to make sure it wasn’t too muddy.

From this I gathered we were running around Roosevelt Island. ALL the way around Roosevelt Island.

I didn’t even know how to get to Roosevelt Island from the Lincoln! I didn’t think you could get there without a car. Now this man with the booming voice was telling us that not only were we going to run TO Roosevelt Island, and AROUND Roosevelt Island, but we were going to run back from there, too. I thought I was going to throw up.

Susan seemed nice but I was I was afraid of Ed! What would happen to me if I couldn’t keep up? Did Ed have a SAG Wagon waiting in the Roosevelt Island parking lot?

Incidentally, I have searched my memory for this detail and can’t remember exactly, but it’s likely he threatened to report anyone wearing headphones, even then!

Although I’m poking a little fun based upon my first impressions of them, these two wonderful, dedicated leaders were both truly impressive from that very first day. Susan was very supportive of the 10-Mile Training Program, which was new to the club thanks to Kristin Blanchat’s efforts, efforts which earned Kristin well-deserved recognition that year as club volunteer of the year.

By the way, I think I remember Kristin discretely slipping her earplugs out of her ears when Ed was speaking that first day.

Ed was a bulwark in coaching us that summer. He gave us impeccable training advice and ensured our safe, injury-free progression through the weeks of the Program as we built up our base, both on the training runs and at the track workouts. And my own growth, as a runner and as a responsible club member, started right there, thanks to those two, and others I encountered that day like Kristin, and Paul Ryan my coach, and Matt Pyle, another coach of mine.

I got to know Ed and Susan better as the years went by. I worked with Ed when he succeeded Susan as club President, and he entrusted to me the task of directing the 10K and 10 Mile Programs when Kristin gave over those duties in 2007. He came to some of the training runs and offered encouragement and valuable advice.

I worked with Susan in bringing guest speakers in to the Programs to motivate and inspire the novice runners we had. Actually, I worked with Susan in bringing ONE guest speaker to the Programs, as she had an inside track to one of the most famous runners in the area, the first back-to-back winner of the Marine Corps Marathon, local legend Jim Hage. Her husband, by the way.

Jim was so accomplished that I was afraid of him, too. But whenever I emailed Susan to ask if Jim could possibly come some Saturday morning to speak to the assembled runners, she always emailed me right back with, " Oh sure, He’ll be there."

She might have even asked him, although her responses were so quick that it hardly seemed possible she had time to ask him first.

I worked with Susan again at last year’s Turkey Trot race where she taught me a lot about putting on a big race. I worked with Ed last year as a Vice President on the Board and always marveled at how accomplished he was in running the club in a time of tremendous growth and change. Membership now stands at almost 1300 persons, and he has overseen a rapid and ongoing transition to modern race-timing equipment and internet applications.

I also benefited from getting to know at least two past club presidents, Paul Thompson and Bob Platt. Last year I went to the 50th RRCA Convention in Cincinnati where both of them were, Paul as the club representative and Bob as the RRCA representative from Virginia. To the best of my ability, I tried to pick their brains to tap the fount of knowledge they both have about the club. They too are knowledgeable and dedicated proponents of the club.

I learned much from my friends in the club, especially all of the Board members who helped me so much this past year. I am sorry to see some of them leave the board, but I am excited to welcome the newcomers to the Board like Mike Collins, Elizabeth Humphrey, my friend Kevin D’Amanda, and Sasha Sibert, who has always been a reliable and trusted coach in the Programs I direct.

In essence, I stand before you now as the recipient and the bearer of the sum of knowledge of all those past leaders who have gone before me, such as Paul and Bob and Susan and Ed, who have set such a high standard for me to try to maintain or even, God willing and with the help of a dynamic board and my many trusted friends, improve upon. Unlike the recent political process where the prevailing message was Change, I am trying to build upon the good work of those who have gone before and left such a valuable legacy.

I will work towards making the club even better during my tenure, building upon a solid foundation of past good works, and I look forward to your support as we all strive for this together. Thank you for the dedication you have all have shown for the club, and for the trust you have all placed in me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What a race

The National Marathon was run yesterday. This is a great race, a must-do. A comer. Even if they did run out of cups yesterday.

I ran the infamous seven hills of hell part of this course in PG County the first year when the race strayed beyond the confines of the District. Bex was doing her first marathon and I accompanied her the last six miles. They changed the course the next year to put it entirely within the District and eliminated these diabolical hills. I still go over to PG County once a year to run those seven hills on Central Avenue/East Capitol Street for hillwork. Whomever I talk into accompanying me never runs with me again. It's like being out on a LRRP patrol over there, they are not used to seeing runners on that vast highway wasteland and the locals do not react well to their presence. During the marathon, scores of motorists, angry at being delayed by road closures, drove alongside runners on the other side of the road and yelled and gave them the finger. When I last did this run one Sunday morning last fall, Redskins fans, obviously well into their cups already, honked and shouted at us for daring to be on the shoulder of their highway as they zoomed off to their hours-long pre-game tailgate rituals at FedEx Field.

The next year I set my marathon PR in this race. I will never forget running over the Frederick Douglass Bridge into the District proper from Anacostia (SE) in the early morning gloom and, when the mist suddenly parted, seeing revealed to me the steel skeleton of the new baseball park being built, arising out of the ground by the river shore. It was a magnificent sight, my most memorable marathon moment ever in this, my second favorite marathon race (NYCM is the best race ever) .

Last year I directed the 17-week Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Training Program and I felt I should run the half-mary in support of my trainees. Although a couple of trainees and a couple of coaches beat me, I was gratified to get my second best HM time on the course. I liked the course a lot, with it's challenging hill being in the middle (around the seventh mile) when you're still "fresh." Its long downhill run to its ending point at RFK from the course's high point near McMillian Reservoir (where the raucous Howard University band lifts your spirits with their brassy sound and extreme gyrations) takes you through parts of the District where runners rarely go otherwise.

This year I directed 20-week Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Training Program again. We had great turnout each week at our usual meeting place Gotta Run in Arlington, and incredible coaches. (Thanks Matt, Lauren, Ellen & John, and get better soon Emily!) I know a lot of the trainees ran the race and did well, and I know Ellen, at least, had an incredible 11-minute PR. Ellen, a trainee last year, developed an incredibly devoted following amongst her charges as a coach this year.

Since I had run the marathon and had a good HM race on the course already, I saw no need to run either race again. I wanted to learn more about administering a big race so I contacted the race administrators and asked for SAG Wagon duties. Racers know what the ominous SAG Wagon is. Those interesting duties will be the subject of a future post.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Tidal Basin 3K."

First mile:

[Heavy footfalls.]



"The race director said you're the volunteer coordinator for Saturday's National Marathon?"


What's your name?"


"I'm Peter. You must have a lot to do, with the race being in three days."

"The secret is to get other people to do the work."

"You done a 3K before?"

"No. I've been training to do a marathon, and everyone is going so fast in this race."

"It's a fast race alright. Good luck to you. I'll see you at the finish."

"Good luck to you too."

Second mile:

[Steady footfalls.]

"Hey again."

"Hi Peter. Finish just up ahead?"

"Yes, about a quarter mile. Your endurance training is showing. I thought I left you behind, but I heard you come up on me nice and steady this last straightaway. You're looking good."

"I got my wind."

"I've lost mine. There's two women further up ahead, but they're way up there. Good luck."

[More footfalls.]

"Well hello again. I thought you said you lost your wind, Peter."

"Gotta try. You're about my age. You can do it, I can do it."

"All right then. Good luck to you."

[Footfalls again.]

"Hey again. No good, I'm all done."

"You're doing fine, Peter. Just bring it in. "

Finish area:

"Congratulations, Gail. I did a 13:55. Thanks for pulling me in. How'd you do?"

"I was just ahead of you. About four seconds, I guess. Third woman."

"This is a humbling race. 7:28 pace, and 32nd out of 38 men. Now it's two and a half miles back to work. See ya."


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back from sailing but not back yet

I'm back from sailing the Keys on Cap'n Jimbo's boat, safe & sound. What a blast--perfect weather for a week, great company, sunny, breezy days filled with adventure and strenuous activity. Some of my friends will be heartened, but shouldn't get too hopeful, that I worked on the long-neglected (since college) leg of the hidden tri athlete in me, swimming.

I took to visiting the fleet in the mornings, swimming to the other two boats and begging a cup of coffee at each one while I rested up on board for the next swimming segment. Some swims involved about half a mile. I think the great salinity of the shallow waters on the inside part of the Florida Keys helped my buoyancy, but still, when you're a quarter mile off a boat in open water with nothing closer, there's nothing to do but keep going whether you'd like to quit or not. I perfected a back-floating flutter kick to cover the distances.

Mooring at Indian Key, going ashore on the kayak beach at the Lorelei, taking the Cowpens Cut, snorkeling at Hens & Chickens Reef, dropping anchor at Cheecha Rocks, running the trails on Lignumvitae Key, holding up an ambulance while we cleared the raised bridge at Snake Creek at 3 MPH (whoops! sorry), floating off with the tide after running hard aground in the Atlantic Ocean at mean low tide off Treasure Harbor, seeing a shark (a 3-footer) while snorkeling off Shell Key, going under the high arch bridge at Channel Five, it was a spectacular week. Hail to Cap'n Jimbo, Cap'n R and Cap'n Todd for providing an eventful but safe passage for the 14 of us.

I'll post more later but I'm not back from vacation yet, as I volunteered to be bumped from my flight out of Ft. Lauderdale this afternoon. So now I am 200 feet off of I-95 at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood, FL, miles away from anything worthwhile (I can barely see the tall buildings by the shore in the far away distance) while I await a 7 am flight. I am getting a free domestic flight for my troubles; perhaps I'll use it for next year's Bucket Trip. Already there's talk afoot of hiking a 14,000 foot peak and rafting in Colorado.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Florida Keys Here I Come

I received this email two days ago from Jimmy, my college freshman roommate.

Dear Shelly, Maddy, Jeffrey, and Peter,

The 10-day forecast for the Keys shows temps
near 80, 0-10% precip, winds E-SE 5-10mph.
Excellent sailing and snorkeling weather.

Tally Ho,

Captain Jimbo

~~__/) ~~~~~~__/) ~~~~~~~~~__/)~~~~~~~~~~__/) ~~~~~~~~~__/) ~~~~~~~__/)~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~

Oh yeah, leavin' tomorrow to spend eight days and seven nights traveling on a 28-foot sailboat along the Florida Keys from Plantation to Marathon and back. Two other similarly sized boats are coming along with, all told, 18 guys/gals.

Unlike the all-boys Grand Canyon trip last summer, this Bucket-List trip with my old college dorm mates has S.O's along. I've been charged by Jimmy with establishing and maintaining the bachelor's boat once we get underway. That way the guys can come over to our boat each evening for HH.

Jimmy claims he knows how to sail.

In other news, the 10K Group Training Program I direct for my running club, which program is entering its third week, made it into the Weekend Section of today's Washington Post. Here's the article. In the newspaper picture at the left (photo credit James A. Parcell For The Washington Post), all those runners stretching...I'm leading them off-camera in the stretches. Cool!

I've got to go home now and pack! Throw a bathing suit, a t-shirt and maybe some flip-flops into a bag. There's no runnin' on a 28-foot boat. See you on the backside!

Monday, March 2, 2009

In Atlanta

"Sir, that run is for the morning."

"What do you mean, the morning? I'm doing it now."

"But it's 8 p.m. You can't do that run now."

"Why not?"

"Sir, that's a morning run."

"I won't get lost in the dark. There's only one turn."

"Umm. . . . it's not safe."


"It's a morning run."


I had this conversation with the front desk clerk at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Atlanta early last week when I arrived on business at 8 p.m. Since I was leaving at 7 o'clock the next morning, I asked the clerk if she could suggest a 3-mile run I might do.

She showed me a route on a downtown map that took me from Peachtree Street, where the Ritz is, over to Centennial Park and back. Basically the directions were to run down the street, make a left, and then come back. Then this very nice clerk in effect forbade me to do it when I said I was going to do the run immediately.

I knew whereof she spoke. I have stayed on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta before, a few years ago. As in many American cities, the homeless are everywhere.

Homeless people don't bother me. But it is not safe to run in the dark in an unfamiliar area with no good alternative route in mind should problems develop.

So I went at 5:30 in the morning instead.

It was a memorable run. There is no better way to see a new city than to run in its downtown when there is no traffic on the streets to slow you down.

It was dark, and cool. Peachtree Street was well lit, and I ran from the Ritz past the Westin to International Boulevard, where I turned left and ran down a hill. Atlanta is hilly. (Right: Down a hill from Peachtree Street in Atlanta you come across Centennial Park in the bottom of a hollow.)

I passed well-lit hotels and empty parking lots. I ran by a tiny park where stood a bronze statue of a man extending his open arms in greeting, and stopped momentarily to shake his right hand.

Lights blazed all around me as I came into the square occupied by Centennial Olympic Park, commemorating Atlanta's hosting of the 1996 Olympics. It's an odd shaped park, sort of like a big checkmark plunked down upon the downtown streets that border on the Georgia Aquarium, the Coke Pavilion and Georgia State University.

I ran into the park and stood briefly in the middle of it, looking up all around me at the sea of lights I was at the bottom of. Tall buildings past the expanse of the park surrounded me, and on all sides of the park there were tall, lit columns on its borders.

Circling the outside of the park, I ran by a few homeless people on the move in the chill of the early morning air. The sky was starting to brighten with dawn as two runners went by me at a brisk clip. As sometimes happens when serious male runners pass by each other, neither runner acknowledged my presence as they ran right past me.

Having completed my trip around the circumference of the park, I eschewed running up International Boulevard again and struck off into the maze of tiny streets that slants off the park at a diagonal. I figured I'd hit Peachtree Street eventually.

I ran by a small theater on Luckie Street, then a 24-hour diner. Yes! I had brought some money.

Inside was the entire on-duty contingent of the Georgia State Campus Police apparently, taking advantage of the restaurant's warmth on a cold morning, and its ambiance. Dispensing coffee and easy banter was a stunning redhead, who poured me a cup to go.

Slowed by my sloshing, capped container, I loped easily to Woodruff Park on Peachtree Street, near where a Marta stop is. I slowed to a walk and perambulated around that park. Regaining Peachtree Street from Peachtree Center Avenue, which involved climbing another hill, I came back into the Ritz lobby feeling great after a 40-minute jog.

The rest of the day was anticlimactic after this delightful run. At 7 a.m. I drove up to Dawsonville (apparently the birthplace of NASCAR) for a deposition, and then returned to the Atlanta airport for a flight home. Dawsonville is in the mountains of northern Georgia so the car trip was pretty, but the running trip through Centennial Park in the early morning was magical.

I just wish my RBF friend Akshaye in Atlanta could have done the run with me. Next time when I have more time!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It Dropped Out of the Sky Spinning and Whirling

DC United is a powerhouse in MLS . The District soccer franchise owned the 90s, when Marco Etcheverry of Bolivia was United's best player. On 5/30/98 I wrote the following letter to Mr. Etcheverry:

"My son, Danny, plays U-9 soccer for both the FPYC Pumas (Select) and the Falls Church Tornado (House). Yesterday, you attended the Pumas practice and worked with his teammates for two hours. That was so nice of you.

You showed Danny how to put spin on his corner kicks. Today in a 0-0 game in the House League, Danny took a corner kick with only 8 minutes left. The ball came down at the near post, hit a Fullback on the shoulder, and spun wickedly into the goal. We won 1-0. My son said excitedly, "Marco Etcheverry taught me how to do that!"

Thank you for presenting such a great image of a professional athlete to these young soccer players.

Sincerely, the Tornado coach."

(Right: The elegant Marco Etcheverry. He gave back.)

At the season-ending team dinner, I presented to every team member a certificate I had created which noted a contribution that player had made to the team, and described the achievement in a sentence. For instance, B was "Winning Goal Keeper," R was "Mr. Everything," and G was "Mr. Versatile."

It is ironic for me to review this eleven years later because the Mothers of the last two boys, both fine young men who were selfless and critical to the success of our 3-4-1 team, came to the custody trial four years later in full support of Danny's Mother as she tried to judicially deprive me of my children. One of them testified that I was a sideline tyrant, who shamed the boys in front of everyone and caused them to cry. Her son was on the team for four years while she and her husband (an assistant coach) put up with this behavior, poor helpless things. The Court indicated what credibility it assigned to her testimony when it awarded me full joint legal custody.

At the dinner, the certificate I gave to Danny read, "Danny, Game Winning Scorer. 5-30-98. Took a corner kick and scored, unassisted, in a 1-0 win over the 4-1 Arlington Optimists."

I can still vividly remember Danny's ball, spinning wildly and making a whirring sound as it dropped out of the sky and landed on top of a defender's shoulder in front of the net. In the midst of the pushing and shoving melee of soccer players, the ball caromed wickedly off the boy's shoulder and slung straight into the goal like a pistol shot.

I missed Danny last month at the Elevation Burger in Falls Church at noon on his birthday. After I finished my cheeseburger, made from organically-raised, grass-fed, free-ranging cows, and waited around awhile, I ate his, so it wouldn't go to waste. It was delicious.

I hope Danny is well. Dating back to before he graduated from high school, his Mother has never told me a thing about him. She refuses to give me any of my children's addresses.

I worry that if any great happiness, or tragedy, ever befell (or has befallen) any of my children, no one would ever tell me, even though their Mother took every cent of on-time child support I ever paid, and more, and the children benefit from the full college tuition and fees which I provide for.

Maybe a nodding acquaintance will one day pass me in the street and say, "Congratulations," or most worrisome, "I'm sorry." How much of a shock would that be?