Last Saturday as we left Gotta Run on the training group run after I announced my retirement from coaching for the club, my Garmin as usual was slow to pick up any satellite signals. (Look in the sky, Dummy.) It asked me if I had moved 500 miles since the last reading. I snorted disgustedly and just started running, because I don’t know which of its four button and two bars to push to answer in the negative.
A quarter of a mile into the run we entered the long pedestrian tunnel running under an elevated eight-lane interstate highway that debouches into the South Pentagon parking lot. Charmin picked up the signal while inside that concrete tube. There must be powerful satellite signal boosters around the Pentagon.
I was following H and another woman, running alongside L while a third woman followed us close behind. We were the front running group, swiftly separating ourselves from the main body. With our two fast coaches absent, I pulled front running duty last week. I thought I could probably handle it, having run 1:14:34 (7:27) in my last ATM in 2006. (Right: Program Director Emily leads a discussion in front of a rapt audience. A Certified Outdoor Fitness Instructor in addition to being a certified running coach, this dedicated volunteer devoted half a year to designing, implementing and running an outstanding Program for my club, which also brought the club about $12,000 in revenue. She found the contract for us to be the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race and brought it to us. It would be a no-brainer for my club board to wholeheartedly support Emily's appointment to direct almost any club training program.)
The first mile was in the 10:30 range as we ran by the Pentagon and headed to the river bank along the Potomac. L kept right beside me every step. He had come the furthest in the Program. He used to run mid-pack but lately, although he never pushed the pace, he was always up front.
The two of us forged ahead of H and her companion as I slowly stepped on the gas to drag everyone along in my wake.
L told me that his goal for Army was 1:35 (9:30). He said he’d only done one other race, a 10K in June in 1:03 (10:10). He was running much better than that now and I told him he had an excellent chance of meeting his goal.
The three women behind us remained in sight but started to fall away. No one else was in view but I knew that by design, there were two coaches back there mid-pack with the main group, with yet two more further back acting as sweepers. My task was to lead the strong group out. (Left: Heading out past the Pentagon. This is the corner that was struck on 9/11/01.)
For the first time in sixteen weeks I was out in front and free. Being the Site Director, usually I rove and I always wind up running or walking back with a runner experiencing a problem that day.
We pushed a 9:20 second mile and L didn't get nervous when I announced it. We burned the third mile in 8:48 mile and he didn’t blanch then either.
As we approached the hill on the Mount Vernon Trail which surmounts the bluff leading up to Key Bridge, I explained my theory of hill running to L. Whenever I encounter a hill on a run I attack it in order to derive the maximum benefit from the expected or unexpected occurrence of a hill during a run. A hill is a place where you can take down a faster runner in a race, if you practice it.
L was game and we both labored up the sharp hill, a circular switchback concrete ramp that passes over the GW Parkway and goes up the bridge. We didn't exactly sprint up it but our effort was sharply elevated. We were both winded by the time we gained the bridge. We recovered our breath as we ran into Georgetown across the level expanse of Key Bridge as far below us the dancing azure water of the Potomac sparkled in the bright sunlight.
I coaxed some information out of the naturally taciturn L. A retired Navy officer who now works for a private contractor on a satellite integration system for battle groups, he has never been married. Stationed overseas most of his Navy career, he spent considerable time in Italy, Germany, Japan and the Mid-East, with Rome being his favorite post. He spoke some Italian and German. I love coaching small groups because it enables me to run alongside different people every week and chat with them. Everybody has an interesting story.
Once over the bridge, I ducked into the Georgetown Running Company to thank the proprietor there for opening his store early every Saturday morning to accommodate the Program runners who meet in Georgetown under Site Director Katie. Katie's trainees just adore her and she keeps up with every single one of them, both on and off the trails. Program Director Emily made an astute choice in picking Katie to be a SD. (Coaches Rachel and Jerry at one of two social hours planned by Program Director Emily and organized by by Rachel, who will replace me as Site Director at Gotta Run.)
With L in tow, I identified myself as club president and told the store owner who the club Vice President of Operations is, saying that she would take over if anything happened to my presidency. He looked at me curiously as we left the store.
Outside, we descended the steep hill going from K Street to the Georgetown Waterfront, passing over the C& O Canal halfway down. My last training run as a coach was halfway over. Counting our brief stop, we were at a 9:22 m/m pace for the run. The three Program women who had been trailing us were ahead of us now. I told L my theory of passing runners as we set out to reel them in.