Monday, September 17, 2012

The Run In

There's nothing special about a 9.6 mile run, and since "nothing" multiplied by any other number is still nothing, there's also nothing special about two 9.6 mile runs. On Mondays and Fridays, however, I have the privilege of being able to run to and from work on a 9.6 mile combination of bike paths, trails, and roads. All things considered, I love my 9.6 mile commute.

Actually, let me amend that a bit: I love that I have the opportunity to run that distance to/from work....the occasional 100 degree day with 99% humidity just makes the run home slightly less than lovable every now and then. Putting aside those 'Wrath of the Sunbeast' days, I can say with conviction that I love my run commute. Why is it so much fun? Here's how it breaks down:

5:15 a.m. - How do I know I still love my run commute after 4 months of doing it? I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. every Monday and Friday, but I always end up waking up before it goes off. On run-commute days, my brain is like an excited puppy with a full bladder that wakes me up super-early ..."Ok, Ok, I'm up! Quit licking my face, Over-Excited Brain!"

5:30 a.m. - You know you've got your routine down when, with essentially no lights on in the house, you can brush your teeth, get dressed, fill your Camelbak and head out the door in 15 minutes without waking up your wife or baby.

5:45 a.m. - Notice I mentioned nothing about stretching or eating before heading out the door. Such trivial things have proven to be unnecessary in my pre-run routine. Time wasters, the both of them. That said, you'll be kind not to point out that this 5:45 a.m. time-stamp marks the point 15 minutes into my run...precisely the amount of time it takes my legs to warm up enough for me to look more like a runner and less like someone wearing full leg casts.

6:00 a.m. - After a long downhill in the first mile, I bottom out on the Four Mile Run Trail, which for maximum confusion is neither 4 miles long, nor an actual trail. In reality it's a paved bike path that runs about 7.5 miles in total, about 3 of which I run to deliver me to the Potomac River where I can pick up the Mount Vernon Trail. If it's a cool morning like we've had the last two weeks, I hit the MVT right around 6:00 a.m. and start heading north to DC. If it's a morning like every other one we've had since April, I'm about a mile further back wringing out my clothes from the dryer-vent humidity I've been slogging through. During each of those nasty humid mornings this summer I made a promise to myself not to complain about running in the cold this winter. The motto I repeat: You can always put more clothes on, but you can never take off a coat of sweat. In fact, now that the weather is cooling off and I can actually touch a piece of paper without it immediately becoming translucent like a bag of french fries in my sweaty hands, I'm writing a letter:

Dear Summer,

We all hate you.


Every DC Runner, Ever

6:40 a.m. - So I have this stupid streak going on the Mount Vernon Trail: In the 5 years I've run on it regularly in training, I've never been passed by another runner (who, in turn, I did not eventually pass back). I actually credit this stupid rule with helping me learn to run ultras faster since my bread-n-butter Saturday run for many years has been a 40 mile out-n-back on the MVT. When you need to muster up enough speed to catch someone who just passed you at mile 35 (when you know the other dude is only running 3 miles), you learn a lot about digging deep and finding speed in the late hours of a 100+ miler. Or at least that's what I tell myself. More than that, you simply learn that your rule is stupid, and it never results in anything but pain...and stupid, pointless pain at that. Especially when you're running to work this early and you suddenly need to run mile or two at a split speed that's less than the current time of day. Sub 7s are not fun at 7:00 a.m.. Sub 6:30s are even less fun.

In conclusion: I hate you, Stupid Rule, and I hate you, Early Morning Speedsters who, for some random reason, feel the need to pass me this early. How about just pulling up along side me and chatting for a bit? "Nice morning, no?", "How 'bout them Redskins?", "Parlez Vous, Francais?"...I'd entertain any of these topics of conversation if you'd!

That said, when the speedsters behave themselves, I really enjoy the MVT, even on the short 2+ mile stretch I incorporate on my commute. Early on I pass a big tree that usually has a bald eagle or two perched in it, and shortly thereafter the first view of the Capitol Dome and Library of Congress appear giving me visual confirmation of my finish line, even if it's still 4 miles away. After that there's the always exciting section at the end of the runway at Reagan National Airport, a place where I get to experience all the excitement of seeing/feeling planes taking off and landing without having to stand in line for hours to be groped like those people actually on the planes.
The MVT winds around Reagan Airport's runway to reveal...

...the ground-shaking adrenaline rush of a plane landing just a couple hundred feet past you. This never gets old!
6:50 a.m. - In 1996 an unmanned weather station on an island off the coast of Australia measured a wind gust of 253 mph during Tropical Cyclone Olivia. This is the fastest recorded surface wind speed ever on Earth. The previous record-holding location was the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (231 mph). The Mt. Washington people put up a stink because their wind record actually occurred over continental land and not in the middle of the ocean on an uninhabited island during a cyclone. The fighting went back and forth for 14 years until the World Meteorological Organization determined the machine on the island to be in proper working order and the island's measurement to be the official fastest ever.

To everyone involved in the above debate, I say you're wasting your breath. I'm 100% certain that wind-speed record is broken every single day when I run across the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge. In fact, I will wager that on any given day the speed of the wind up there is blowing well over 300mph in all four directions at the same time. I've lost hats, sunglasses, been blown into the guard rail, and even watched a cyclist fly over the edge and get carried off into the clouds like Elliot and E.T.. Ok, the last thing never happened, but you can bet I've seen a good dozen cyclists get blown off their perch with a wicked cross-wind.  It's nasty up there.

Given the above, you can imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner up to the bridge last week on 9/11 and was greeted with the sight of hundreds of U.S. flags, zip-tied and duct-taped along the ~.5 mile span over the Potomac. Someone (or many someones) braved the elements to secure these flags in place to honor those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. The names of the fallen were individually written on a white tab below each flag. It was indeed a moving experience to run across the bridge that morning.

 14th Street Bridge on September 11, 2012. Photo by Kim Baker.

7:00 a.m. - As you can see from the photo above, from this point in I really have nothing to complain about in terms of monumental views (quite literally) for the rest of my commute. In the final 2.5 mile stretch to work I pass the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, the Southwest Fish Markets, and of course, the Capitol itself. It's also worth noting that the traffic (both vehicles and pedestrians) starts to pick up quite a bit here, so I get to flash a few football running back moves on the sidewalk to get through the crowds in L'Enfant Plaza (Curse you, 6:58 a.m. Amtrak train from Fredericksburg!).

7:10 a.m. - The final stretch to the Library is directly up Capitol Hill, where I never have the lungs to curse the people getting in my way as I do my best to finish in style by passing everyone in front of me out there doing hill repeat workouts (since it's the only hill within a couple miles in DC, everyone comes here to do their climbing repeat workouts).

I was going to attach a relevant photo of my finish line view, but I mistakenly linked this random photo from a track meet my freshman year in high school. This baby is too sweet to delete, so I'm just keeping it here for everyone to enjoy. My recollection is that I was running the 600m race, and the dude in lane one (behind me) was way too psyched for this race...All sorts of hopping around and yelling coming from his lane before the gun. In the end, I believe my lack of facial hair allowed for minimal wind-resistance and I pulled out the win by a few strides. Maybe the beard is why I'm currently much slower on the track than back then...hmmm.

Good ol' Taunton High bib number here is also my age!


Kim said...

That is a very great story but I am still puzzling out which three of the runners you were in the photo op!

Dan Rose said...

I know, right?! Apparently the interceding 21 years have changed my appearance just a bit! I'm the kid in the middle running for Taunton. Oh, to be young (and have hair)!!

Amelia said...

So much goodness in this post! Except for the part about when you reminded me about the existence of Mt. Washington, which you perhaps may have forgiven but I cannot remember without thinking of being lost in fog and then practically freezing to death. But the photos were awesome and you are a lucky duck for getting to cruise by the airport. So cool! Also, in unrelated news, I am in France right now and the conference actually offered escargot for lunch. I believe it was fried escargot on a stick?

Dan Rose said...

One thing my commute doesn't involve is me passing a street-meat cart selling fried escargot on a stick. I guess you're the lucky one...

Ric Munoz said...

I'm extremely envious, Dan -- that's a great route you get to run! The photo from the "old days" was an added bonus for all your fans (as you know). Thanks for sharing it.

scooping it up said...

I am catching up on old posts. And peed my pants at the final picture. Thank you, that made my night.