Thursday, February 24, 2011

Deer Chaser

The Deer Hunter
With about two miles left in a scheduled five mile run, I picked my way over the Fairfax Cross County Trail, careful not to turn an ankle on a hidden root or ill-placed rock.  There was nothing special about this run, except perhaps to mention that the 2-5" of snow called for turned into a half inch, and did more to muddy the trail rather than add any other real hindrance.

My dog, Mattie, and I had just crossed the critical creep jump where she gets let off leash to go for an icy plunge and steal a few gulps of water while I tiptoe across the rocks.  Except this time, rather than hooking her back up, I decided to let her stay off leash with full knowledge that dusk had started to settle and the deer may be brave enough to step out into the clearings.  

Mattie generally does well off leash, only going a 100 feet ahead or so before waiting for me to catch up.  And this time, she stayed right behind me on the single track...until her jingling collar started to recede farther behind me. A new smell? I thought.  Something else's pee?  Only when I turned to call for her did I hear the sharp snap of branches and crunch of the brittle grass.  

Mattie was gone.

For the past two weeks, my dog and I have hopped into the car, driven the few miles down the road to the trailhead, and raced the sunset.  My wife and I have what we like to call "shelter moments" with the dog.  These are snapshots we mentally take of the dog doing outdoorsy things with us that we would -- in our imagination -- send to the shelter to show them what a good life we're giving Mattie.

I was not impressed.
However, these moments usually end in disasters that we wouldn't want the shelter to see.  For example, hiking down the backside of a mountain, feeling euphoric in the Shenandoah sunshine, we had one of these "shelter moments."  We let Mattie off leash, and true to the tale above, she stayed with us.  Life was good.  Until a deer got spooked and took off into the woods...and Mattie after her.  We had instant terrors of combing the woods for our dog...and never finding her again.  Of course she came back -- twigs hanging off her and prickers velcroed to her fur -- because let's face it, she's never going to catch the deer, and if by some miracle she did, well...then what?  And to add injury to insult, Mrs. Onthebusrunning sprained her ankle shortly thereafter.
Mattie's favorite things: chasing deer
and rolling in poop.
Cast against the brown landscape, she was still easy to see, her white coat flashing between the trees.  Then I saw the shock of white on the backside of the deer clustered on the creek's shoreline.  And those same shocks of white lifting and bounding deep into the woods. 

I became the moron yelling, "Maaaaaaatttttiiiiiie! Mattie come!"

Finally, with the deer out of reach, Mattie gave up the hunt and came trotting back to me, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth and head hung between her shoulders.  The look was not one of "I'm sorry I ran off," rather, "I'm sorry I didn't get them, Dad."

A very dirty dog.
Before she returned to me, I noticed that she was no longer the white dog I remembered just minutes ago.  Instead, she'd camouflaged herself with the mud, gravel, and grass native to the trail.  As I went to her, leash at the ready, she dove neck first into the grass to ground whatever deer, rabbit, or goose poop she'd found into her and her collar.  It should be noted that aside from being fed, these are Mattie's two favorite past times: chasing deer and rolling in poo.

"All right, you," I found myself saying out loud.  "I bet you're pretty proud of yourself aren't you?"  She snorted and rolled again.  I clipped the leash back onto her collar and we trotted back to the car...less careful about where we stepped or what we stepped in.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

GW Marathon (Relay) Redux

Ebo and Caroline don't need no stinking relay;
only the full marathon will do.
It was billed as a smaller marathon.  No crowds lining the side of the course cheering you on from start to finish.  A skeleton crew manned each of the three water stops, and at one point, asked if the relay runners waiting could help out.  The streets weren't closed off and runners flirted with oncoming traffic.  All this we knew going into it.

What we didn't know was just how hilly the three loop course was going to be!

As we clustered around the starting line, a simple chalk line drawn across a common neighborhood street, a man walked to the front of the crowd.  A collective shhh started from the line and traveled back.

"Ok," he began.  "We're going to get started here.  When you get just past the first mile marker, I need to tell you that the gate is closed, so you're going to have to go under it.  We tried to get it open and we'll keep trying, but for now.  It's closed."  

A murmur traveled through the antsy runners, shuffling from ankle to ankle.  But before the groans grew too loud, the man stepped aside into the grass, raised an arm, and cried, "Go!"

I've done plenty of major marathons and larger races in my day.  Been part of the sea of people that seems to stretch on forever.  At the Army Ten Miler this past year, I was rounding the Washington Monument on my way to mile 5 when my wife was just crossing the starting line.  This race, however, took less than 20 seconds to see the last runner cross the start line.

Those of us running legs two and three put our cameras away, looked at one another, and said, "Well, let's get to the exchange point."  And as we piled into one car, the urgency to get to the next destination upon us, thoughts of relays past came to the surface.

The 50th running of the GW Marathon meant different things to our group of friends participating, eight in total.  Two ran the full marathon, one as a training run for her upcoming IronMan, the other to cover his first 26.2.

Team Duck Tales
My wife, my running partner, and another friend, they did it simply to run, while for two others, their relay legs would mark the farthest they'd ever run.

For me?  I did it as a confidence-building run, to show that I could cover 9.2 miles on pavement without any knee pain and offer further evidence that my Boston training could progress.

So, you could say that we all came to the line for different reasons, but with the same ultimate goal: to cross the finish line.

When we arrived at the relay exchange point, the sun disappeared and reappeared from the clouds.  A cold breeze sent chills up and down and brought on wardrobe doubts.  What would be too heavy? Too light?  Too hot? Too cold?

That's when we were approached by a race volunteer, "If y'all aren't doing anything, would you mind helping us at the water station?"

We trotted over and started filling cups and handing them to the runners coming through.  That's when we spotted Rohan cresting one final hill and making his descent into the exchange point.  "Mark!" I called.  "Rohan's on his way."  And just like that, Mark was off.

"Dude," Rohan said, hands on his head.  "No one said this was a hill course!"  I laughed, while he started to stretch out.

"Mostly up or mostly down?" I asked.

"Up.  You should be fine."

You see, lately, it's the downhill that's hurt my knee, so while I hadn't done much in the way of hill training, I preferred to slog through that rather than wonder if every step would be my last on a downhill course.

I watched the clock and began a slow warmup that included more debate about what to wear.  "It's warm on the frontside and windy and cold on the backside," Rohan said.  

"And good luck with the last hill," our other friend Megan said.  

"Yeah, I thought that was never going to end."  Great, I thought.  "You want to do a quick warmup jog," Rohan offered.

"Nah.  Nothing hurts right now, so I want to keep it that way."  I had to calm myself down and not let the adrenaline get the best of me.  It's just a training run, I repeated.  No need to scald dogs today.

We yelled for our two friends running the full marathon as they ran by, still looking strong, and then I got ready to take my turn.  Mark came over the hill with a final burst of speed.  "Get after it," he said, handing me our green sash.  

And I was off.

My legs fell into a nice, easy rhythm, and before I could completely settle in, my watch beeped for the first mile marker. I glanced down: 6:10.  So much for a training run.  

But as the hills began to roll, I found a more realistic 6:30 pace and rode that for as long as I could.  I took each hill as it came and tried to absorb the views of the wheat-colored fields unfurled to each side.  At certain points where old stone walls lined the road, and windswept trees bent to the will of the wind,   I swore I was in the French countryside.  

As I ticked off each mile, I overtook runners who had many more miles on their feet that day than I did. I tossed a "Looking good," or "Nice work" to them as I went by, hoping that they'd see my green sash and know that I was in the relay.  I got raised eyebrows or grunts as a response.

Team 1 Life to Run goes sub-3 at the finish.
I came to the final mile and began to climb the cruelest hill: a half mile ascent that continued to rise around every bend.  I dared not peek at my watch to see the pace rising but instead trudged on, quivering hamstrings and all, until finally I reached the apex and shot down the backside.  A man waved an orange flag at me and I darted into the woods for the final quarter mile.  

When I could see the finish, my friends burst into shouts as I rounded the corner and made one final kick for the finish.  The clock read 2:55:35.  Team 1 Life to Run finished 7th overall and 5th in our division.  And not once did I think about my knee hurting.  

A volunteer tore the bottom of my bib number off and threaded it through a safety pin.  I made my way over to a cooler and filled a dixie cup with cold water.  

We gathered near the finish for our other relay team to finish and our full marathoners.  With each person rounding that final turn, we went crazy to reel them in over the final 100 meters whether they were on our team or not.

When the last person crossed the finish line, 3 hours 53 minutes had passed.  The afternoon had gotten warmer and there was still a full evening ahead of us.  But that smallness of the race carried with it an intimate charm.  Instead of being lost in the crowd, you were the crowd.  As we made our way back to the rec center, each of us hobbling to varying degrees, we exchanged war stories from our time on the course, both with each other and other runners, before settling for some final photos and a warm bowl of chili.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Too short? Or not too short? That is the question.

"I can see everything."  That's what Mrs. Onthebusrunning told me.  

Let me take you back about three years to what's come to be known as the "Tights Revolution" of 2009.  That's when I first slipped on my first pair of fleece-lined, pearl izumi black tights.  It was a revelation.  No more swishy wind pants.  No more M.C. Hammer.  Just a sleek, compressed, running machine.  

Only thing was, "[You could] see everything."

But the running world left little room for debate last week in RunDanRun's poll when he asked whether or not men should be in tights whilst running when not playing the role of Robin Hood.

While we're still bundled up for the cold and gray of mid-February winter, Mother Nature teased the D.C. area with a glimpse of spring: 68 today, 71 tomorrow.  I darted out of the house for a trail run tonight with little more than the dog's leash and a headlamp.  No hat, no gloves, no vest, no jackets.  

And this got me thinking about fun things like new spring/summer gear.  In fact, I've been in the market for a new pair of royal blue shorts to go with my dad's running singlet that I'll pull on for the Boston Marathon. What I found surprised me: the Nike 2" split tempo shorts.

One of my favorite parts about big races (and perhaps one of the most important) is the selection of the racing outfit.  A month or so out, I'll select the singlet, the shorts, and the pair of shoes.  They will be elevated to varsity, first string status and revered by all other clothes that didn't make the cut.  I'll wear it during all my speed workouts and long runs to not only get used to running in it but running fast and confidently in it.  It starts to take on an aura of invincibility, similar to the magic shoes.

But short-shorts?  I know the elites wear them.  I know my dad used to wear them (I made fun of him for it).  Could I be one of those guys?  Keep in mind that I'm 6'3", so racing shorts on me are going to, well, show a lot of leg.

I took my question to my running partner.  We met up for a seven miler last weekend, and after stretching, we started to strip down to our running wares, and it's as if he had read my mind: he had on a pair of Brooks racing shorts.

"Look at your shorts!" I interrupted.
"What about them?" He asked, looking himself over.

I told him about my internal debate.  As we trotted off to start our run, he cinched it for me...almost.

"I told my wife I'm bringing this look back.  Track shorts are going to be everywhere," he declared.
"Everywhere!  Why stop at running?  I'm going to be wearing this to the grocery store.  I've got nice legs.  I want people to know it."

Seventy percent in, I did some more prowling online.  Roadrunner Sports, Nike, Asics, Amazon, I checked them all out.  Not for the design this time, but for the reader reviews.  Ninety-nine percent were positive, often saying things like, "These are the most comfortable pair of shorts I've ever worn." And "It felt like I was wearing nothing."

I delivered this news to Mrs. Onthebusrunning.  She was less than thrilled.  "Oh, no!  You're going to be able to see everything!"

I'm 98 percent there now.  What I want to know is how the running community feels about the short-shorts?  

What say you?  How short is too short?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Of the many embarrassing things that one could get caught doing, I never thought stretching would top my list. Today, I had flashbacks to those precious high school years of awkward groping on some couch in the house where your parents aren’t. You know, you’re in the throes of unbridled teenage passion when you suddenly hear footsteps or a door open and your entire body blushes and it gets to be 100 degrees under your shirt (if you’re wearing one)….Wooo. Where was I?

Ah, yes. So, it’s no secret on my blog and for anyone who comes within five meters of me that I’m desperately trying to rehab a nagging knee injury. That’s meant stretching and “active rehab” exercises whenever I get a free minute. This isn’t relegated to home either.

My hamstrings are pulled tight like bow strings and one session of stretching per night isn’t giving me the results I’m after. I’ve been inclined to closing my office door to a crack and dropping down to the floor to get my stretch on. If smokers can have their 10 minute break however many times a day, why can’t I engage in a healthy activity that releases those compressed muscles that die more and more everyday while I go from chair to chair.

I’m also not above one legged squats while standing at the printer or stationary B-skips. In fact, one day recently, Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I were in some clothing store. While she thumbed through hangers, I started doing form drills to loosen up my hips. She did a double take when she noticed what was going on.

“What are you doing?”
“Form drills, my hip flexors feel tight.”
“Well, stop it. You look ridiculous.”


Ice is a constant. At times, I’ve felt like some sort of cold compress should be surgically sewn to my knee so I don’t have to keep getting up and going to the freezer…although that’s an opportunity for some lunges. I digress.

Last week, I stood in front of the freezer filling a zip lock bag with ice (can’t forget to use the cup or tongs, not your hands), which apparently is not common practice because it aroused quite a commotion.

“What are you doing?”
(Really?) “I need some ice.”
“For what?”
“For my knee.”
(someone else walks by)
“What do you need ice for?”
“His knee. Are you still running?”
“I’m trying to.”
“Even though you’re hurt? That doesn’t sound smart. I only run if someone’s chasing me…with a knife.”
(This is where I die a little inside.)
“It’s fine. Or it’s getting better…”
“Well, don’t forget to use the tongs.”


Trying to spring to action when icing your knee is tough as well. “Come on, we have to go the meeting.”

“Ok, I’ll be right there.”
“Oh, are you still icing your knee?”
“Hope you’re not trying to run on it.”  Everyone's an expert.

Beyond icing and stretching, I’ve taken to doing step ups on the stairwell. The beauty is that if anyone comes, you can just keep walking right on up the stairs. They’ll be so shocked that you’re taking the stairs and not the elevator that it won’t even be an issue.

Back to today, though. Going from meeting to meeting seems to be my new life. I finally got back to my office to sit in my own chair when I felt the cramp coming on in my hamstring. I stood up and just bent over to try and touch my toes (something I’ve never been able to do) and felt that tension start to fade away. I may have groaned, I can’t remember it felt so good. Until…my coworker walked by.

“What are you doing?”

Cue the startled, hot flash surging through me. My ears burnt, instant sweat.

“Oh, ah, I was, um, I was just having a stretch,” because apparently I become Canadian when I’m flustered and I have things instead of do things, like I might have a shower later tonight after the run I probably shouldn't be doing according to everyone who doesn't run.
“Whatever. You still icing that knee of yours?”
“When I can.”
“I hope you’re not sticking your hand in that tray.”


Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Night Lights

It wasn't your typical Friday night.  No out to dinner.  No movie.  Instead, my date tonight was with the track.  Normally the track means lactic-acid storms and lung-searing intervals.  Tonight was just getting through three miles pain free.  

All week I'd been aiming for this workout.  After my knee flared up again last week, I decided to take a few days, focus on some active rehab, and *gasp* not run.  Hell, it worked.  Suddenly I could go up and down stairs with no pain and wake up in the morning and not have to hobble to the bathroom, waiting for my knee to warm up.

Still, despite feeling better, I was nervous.  My Uncle and I spoke this week and he said, "You need to get to the point where you don't even think about it anymore.  That's when you know it's healed."  Something so simple, yet so right.  I find myself focusing on it, "Was that my knee clicking or my hip? Or ankle?  Does it hurt now? Should I stop? Did I just tweak it?"  And on and on.

Rather than retreat to the treadmill, I remembered that there are other flat, forgiving surfaces out there.  So tonight, I had a date with the track.  I had grand visions of running under the lights, turning quarter after quarter in front of a raucous crowd like I was at Hayward Field.

It was anything but.

First, I never realized that there were no lights around this football field.  Instead, it just became another winter run in the dark.  Or so I thought.

The track bumps up against the outer perimeter of the school's campus.  One side faces a hill that leads up to the lacrosse field.  The other faces woods.  Dusk settled.  The previous few days have been veiled in that flat February light.  Gone are the days when the cold and snow remind us of the holidays, ginger bread lattes, and egg nog.  Instead, we're mired in the gray winter hours that drag on, begging the question of when spring will come.  God, I need a run.  

Today was different.  The sun shone.  The thermometer broke 40.  Not a cloud around.  I laid on the track to stretch out, tilted my head back, and that receding blue sky seemed to reflect the bare black trees as if it were a lake.  

I shed my extra layers and started a slow trot around the track.  The pain I braced for never came.  Coming around the first turn, the ground looked like it started to move.  My heart jumped and I looked over at the pack of deer, more startled than I, leaping back into the woods.

Stars peeked out and though I didn't have the stadium lights, the sliver of half moon lit the path.  

After the first mile, my visitors came back.  Deer made their way across the track to the infield.  When they saw me coming around the turn, a surge of agitation shot the through the group.  Heads lifted, white tails sprung into action.  Some froze.  Others darted for the woods, while more still zig-zagged across the in field.  I thought there were eight to ten, but then realized that the herd was much larger.    Their brown hides were simply camouflaged by the dry, brittle ground.

Daylight disappeared with each lap and as I came to the end of three (relatively) pain free miles, I shut things down, took in the night, and listened to the steady traffic hum far off from the track.  

It had been about 22 minutes of running.  I probably took more time to warmup and cool down then actually workout.  But tonight, this was better than any movie or dinner out.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Runner's World Other Voices: Racing the Past

I recently submitted a piece to the Runner’s World blog “Other Voices” that just got accepted and published!

Titled, “Racing the Past,” it reveals a side of my father I knew little about. Though, I have a good grasp on him as a dad, I only recently discovered “my father, the runner” after uncovering an old training log he kept as a senior in high school.

That year, he set the school's record in the mile (one that still stands today) and signed with the University of Florida.

I hope you enjoy….

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Bruce Denton Track Club

Founding members of the
Bruce Denton Track Club
At a 5K not too long ago, I started to put the finishing touches on an already hurried warmup with one last set of strides across the elementary school’s soccer field. A trickle of runners began to gather around the start line when the call went up, “5K runners to the line!” I looked up and saw that that trickle had come together in a mass ready to be uncorked. I hurried over and squeezed into the front row.

I took a second to survey the lithe runners around me at the front, the odd mixture of shorts and singlets with winter hats and gloves. When I noticed the guy’s singlet next to me. In a small crest above his heart, it read: Bruce Denton Track Club.

While I’m usually not one for idle, nervous chitchat at the starting line, I just couldn’t help myself. “Bad ass jersey,” I said to him. “Where’d you get it?”

“Thanks,” he said. “A guy from college made ‘em up for us.”

Then the gun.

For those not familiar with Bruce Denton, he’s John Parker’s character in Once a Runner and Again to Carthage, who coaches Quentin Cassidy to the Olympics. As the book goes, Denton's reputation takes on mythical proportions.  Guys try to take up and train with him, hoping to glean "the Secret" only to find themselves mired in over training hell and that in fact "the awful truth is there is no Secret."

The more I thought about this, the more I wanted my own “Bruce Denton Track Club” apparel. So, somewhere in the middle of an easy 10 with my running partner Rohan, we started designing our own shirts and talking about “the Secret.” We agreed that it had to have an old school flare to it in the lettering, and the acknowledgement somewhere that the Secret isn’t really a Secret at all. It’s not reindeer milk or chia seeds. There’s no sports drink or magic tonic. It’s just hard f’ing work.

Inherent in a “running club” is the ability to go run with one another. But I found out this past weekend, it can be much more.

Rohan and I planned a 16 miler with our friend Ebo who’s preparing for his first marathon on Feb. 20. In my infinite wisdom, however, I decided to cover 42.5 miles over five days with no rest. Recovery runs are like rest days, right? Ordinarily during marathon training, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But when you go from 10 miles a week to 42.5 in one swoop, bad things can happen.

And they did.

Instead of soldiering through, I declared the weekend a rest weekend, for myself anyway. Rohan got in a cool five miler that morning while Ebo ran 17.5 miles in the rain from his place to meet up for lunch.

When I broke the news to Ebo that I couldn't run, his reaction was, "This is going to be like a meeting of the Justice League: Black Lightning [Ebo's nickname for Rohan] and the Flash [his nickname for me]."  And now the newest member of the Bruce Denton Track Club.

We spent the next 2.5 hours doing, in my mind, what was the next best thing to slogging one out in the rain along the Potomac: we talked about running. And we also ate our faces off.

From treadmill trials (tribulations and flatulence) and ITB anxiety to 2011 racing and our favorite/hated cross training excursions, we covered it all. It just felt great to talk about running and not feel self-conscious about it.

I had flashbacks to my hockey days of sitting around a table in the cafeteria, ragging on one another and telling stories. I guess I miss the camaraderie.

I still remember watching “The Soup” one night with Mrs. Onthebusrunning. In between clips, Joel Mchale said something to the effect of, “It’s about as boring as listening to your friend talk about his marathon training.”

Insert sad face here.

I discovered this summer that running with others can make you a better runner. And it can give you an outlet, a support network, a Justice League. Sometimes it’s just nice to know we’re not alone out there.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lost in Suburbia

It went down in my log as a 14 mile long run.  The weather: 35 degrees and partly cloudy.  The effort: 6.5 out of 10.

What it won't say is what a mental battle it was from the first few awkward strides or the moment I realized how freaking lost I was.

Let me back up a couple days.  On Tuesday, I took on an ambitious nine mile tempo run, one I thought I could use as a measuring stick for just what level of fitness I was at.  The results: not too shabby.  The only problem was the next day.  Something just didn't feel right in my knee.  A little extra ice, a little more ibuprofen, and I forged on.

Then the snow came.

I flashed back to last year when snowmageddon buried the D.C. area.  Running was like groundhog day (bing!).  Every day.  The same loop. Again. And again.  And again.  The same hills, the same straights, the same declines, the same ice patches.  I'm getting twitchy just thinking about it.  

The only thing worse would have been trying to tackle 14 on a treadmill...which I briefly considered, until I determined that I didn't have the mental ilk to go through with it.  So I took to the neighborhood.

The first few steps proved agonizing.  I thought I would have to stop.  Sometime later (days later) I discovered I had some tendinitis going on.  But for the time being, I believed I could run through it.  So I did.  Once I got off the downhill portion, things loosened up.  I uncurled my toes and felt the rest of my leg, from achilles to quad, release.  I could run again.

At first, I headed down familiar streets and cul-de-sacs.  The downhills still proved particularly cruel and I learned to relish the uphills.  But what I truly came to appreciate was my GPS watch.  I had a pretty good idea what the mileage was in certain areas of my neighborhood, but the watch took the guess work away.  Instead of relying on a four mile loop over and over and over again, I could simply run.

After the usual haunts, I remembered that a good friend told me that at the edge of our neighborhood, where new construction had begun, there was a trail that broke off and led to one of the main roads in our area.  In other words, uncharted territory.

I headed that way.  There was something exciting and adventurous about it.  I crested one more hill that normally marked the turn around point when I decided to suffer through my neighborhood.  But I kept going beyond the light post.  

I followed the road around and I swear I turned into New Hampshire.  Houses were no longer stacked on top of one another.  The terrain rolled.  Steep uphills, long declines, no sidewalks.  Homes were set off from the main road.  At one point I made a right turn only discover that it was someone's driveway...200 meters later.  I half expected to see cows.

While I took in my new surroundings, a wide grin plastered across my face, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was.  I can tell you I'd gone a total of eight miles at that point, but had been so transfixed by the scenery that I'd lost track of the turns and had left my breadcrumbs at home.  

I turned around and started looking for anything that might resemble, well, anything.  I took on steep hills and then even steeper hills.  Looked for street signs (another thing missing, which in turn reminded me of New Hampshire).  I almost stopped and did one of those movie poses where the character rotates 360, palms up, mouth agape.  Until finally I recognized an intersection I'd come through.  

I still wanted a couple more miles before heading down my four mile loop for the finale.  I got my bearings and pushed on.  Faced with another intersection, I headed left, crested another hill, and then saw the trail head.  

I forgot I'd even been looking for it.  

I gave the sign a tap then turned back and made my toward familiar ground and the rest of my run.

When I clicked my watch and returned to the house, I couldn't wait to download my run and check out the elevation profile.  If the route were a heart monitor, it was a massive heart attack.  Not bad for Boston prep...and a little adventure along the way.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...