I wrote the following post on the road about a month ago and had given it up for lost as I had typed it out on my Blackberry which I replaced on that trip due to battery issues.
Before I left, I checked online to see if there were any good places to run near where I'm staying in Silver Spring. The first thing that caught my eye when I pulled up google maps was Rock Creek park, pretty much the only sizable chunk of green in the District other than the National Mall. The northern tip of the park was only about three-quarters of a mile from my hotel and the southern end includes the National Zoo and is close to the Adams Morgan/Connecticut Ave area. I immediately thought, "I should run that." I would set out from my hotel and run the length of the park down to about the zoo and then take the red line back. All told, a little less than 6.5 miles. No sweat.Never mind the Park Service warnings not to go through the park without a partner because of the risk of muggings. (They did find Chandra Levy's remains 9 years ago in that park) Never mind that I knew nothing of the trail and what kind of terrain or elevation there might be. Also never mind that I've never run that far before. NEVER. Not in my youth, not in the days when Andrea and I were regular gym rats, never. None of it mattered. It looked like fun, and that was the end of that. Anything that came up, I would just roll with it. I waited until 1, giving enough time for the temps to climb out of the 50s but leaving plenty enough time before dark in case my body imploded and I had to gimp my way out. I started out relatively slow, mindful of the personal best I would be setting in distance. Two minutes in I began to have doubts as I worked my way through the hilly neighborhoods on the way to the park. A series of climbs followed by what felt like never ending slow descents made me realize, "if the whole route is like this, I'm screwed." My quads would be fried easily by the half way mark, and once the fatigue set in I'd end up pounding my feet into paste as my form deteriorated. Thankfully the elevation settled down once I reached the park itself. And, aside from a few bastards who somehow managed to get their cars in, West Beach Rd., which runs the length of the park was closed to motor vehicles as it typically is on weekends. The wide open park road, coupled with the sad fact that I'd probably get my dumb butt lost if I ran on the actual trails, convinced me to stick to the paved road since I didn't want to be pulling my phone out every 20 minutes to make sure I was on the right path. I made the fool mistake of checking my distance about 1.5 miles into the park. After that, every step felt futile as doubt crept in and told me that I wasn't even a quarter of the way done and my legs were already starting to get tired. I made a deal with myself: run out a 5k and get a little break. I'm not sure if that made things better or worse as each step seemed to cry "are we there yet? Are we there yet?" I pushed myself through what felt like an eternity (but was in fact only one mile) and took a short breather walk. I checked my blackberry, answered a couple of messages from Andie and pulled up google maps. I was pleased as punch to discover that I was past the halfway point for my initially planned out route. I decided I could totally do the rest of the distance to the Zoo. I set off, and
about five minutes in things just started to click into place. I settled into a comfortable rhythm and began enjoying more of the scenery around me. I did a little people watching. Said "Hi" to all the black squirrels on the path. My feet seemed pretty comfortable just wheeling along under me. At one point, after stopping to check directions on my blackberry for a second time, I just figured "screw it, I feel like I can go all day at this pace." Either I would find the zoo or I would run out of park. Which happened first I didn't much care. I managed to keep moving until I reached one of the east entrances to the National Zoo and felt good enough to attempt to run through to
the Connecticut Ave. entrance. I failed, as it's basically one big hill, but managed to make it about half way for about 1/4 mile of extra unlogged distance before I had to walk the rest of the way. I grabbed some water and Gatorade and a Cliff bar to rehydrate and refuel a little before heading back. As I rode the Metro back to my starting point I took stock of the day's run: 6.74 miles, 1:19 at a 11:50 pace (according to my sportband at least). Not bad, although not great. We'll have to work on that pace. --- My ankles were sore for about 4 days after that run, and I didn't feel confident enough to run again for about a week after, a sure sign that
I totally overdid it (which I could have predicted before the run) but overall I felt pretty good. I have since done distances almost as long
and just completed a 10k on Thanksgiving which I followed up with a 5k job the following Sunday. Slowly but surely I'm increasing my distance. But more rewarding to me is that I'm learning to tune into the run, listen to my body and find the rhythm and the flow of that particular run, which dramatically increases the enjoyment. Still not very fast, but I'm praising myself for showing up and for finishing. That is enough for me right now.