Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fifth Overall

Today's joke was that if someone asked me how I did in this morning's 5K, I was going to respond that I was fifth overall. Of course, with a pace that was roughly half that of the fastest runners, I didn't really finish the race anywhere near fifth overall. I did, however, have bib number 5, and so my answer, while disingenuous, would have technically been correct. I really was fifth overall - to register, that is. My bib number last year was 1024, a good number for geeks, as it's a power of 2, but there's also something cool about a really low number.

This was my second year in a row running the Clarendon Turkey Trot 5K. The race is a benefit for two local charities and is run early Thanksgiving morning. My two experiences with the race were somewhat different. I don't run many organized races and so last year I didn't really know what to expect, while this year I knew the details and even all the turns (all 15 of them!). Last year I had been running pretty regularly and so felt well prepared for a 5 K; this year I've been doing a lot more rowing than running. Last year the weather was warm; this year it was cold (in the 20's when I left the house). Last year I started off the race with my friend Linda (a marathoner - I'm proud to have finished only a minute behind her), while this year I ran on my own. I did see Linda from a distance today during the race (she's easy to spot, as she runs the race every year wearing a pilgrim hat) and she and I bumped into each other at the end. I think I finished ahead of her teenage son, though - ha! Lazy teenagers. I also saw my neighbor Pancho there. Pancho's a fast runner. I'm sure he turned in a good time.

The cold weather was a little bit of a challenge for me. I'm picky about being dressed right for running. I hate being cold, but being too hot really affects my performance. Normally I dress so that I'll be a little chilly out the door, figuring I'll warm up as I run. Today, though, I knew that I'd be standing around for a while before and after the race and so I threw on an extra layer. The layering worked out well - I was able to keep at the right temperature the whole time.

Warming up before the run was different than my usual routine too. I did some stretching at home, then drove to the race (just a few miles from home). I got there about 15 minutes before start time, so I did some dynamic stretching there. Dynamic stretching is pretty strange looking - funny backwards walking, crwaling around like Spiderman, and the like, and so I got some interesting looks.

This year's Turkey Trot drew over 1,500 participants. That's good for the charities the race supports, but unfortunately the race is outgrowing its course, which runs through the narrow streets of Arlington's Lyon Park neighborhood and has, as I have already mentioned, a lot of turns. At the start and at a few other points during the race the crowd was clumped up enough that I had to walk rather than run. For a lot of the race you just had to follow the pace of the people in front of you, as there was no way to pass. The course gets even further clogged by people running with dogs and baby joggers. Between the challenges of the course and doing less running, I know I turned in a slower time than last year. The timer read 32:25 as I crossed the finish line, but I started way back in the pack, so my time is really a little shorter (official results haven't been posted yet). Last year I clocked in at 30:16, so even with some adjustment this definitely was a slower race for me than last year.

The race has a water station at the halfway point, which makes me chuckle a little - most people can make it through a 5K in late Autumn without a water break. What makes me chuckle even more is the house along the route that sets up a beer station - complete with people holding cans of Budweiser out for runners to grab as they go by. A cute touch.

Speaking of refreshments, the race ends at Lyon Park, where there was water, coffee, fruit and pastries - and door prizes (along with the winers' prizes). Alas, I didn't win anything. I availed myself of the refreshments then headed home in time to catch most of the Macy's parade on TV. After I rested and changed I got to work helping Valerie prepare the Thanksgiving meal. A great way to start Thanksgiving day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Birthday Paddling

I always like the idea of doing something outdoors for my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday falls in late November and so the weather is usually not particularly accommodating for outdoor celebrations - no pool parties for me. Today's outdoor birthday plan was to help our friends at Jack's boathouse move their docks downriver for the winter, then paddle back. The plan to move the docks got postponed, but I suggested going out kayaking this afternoon anyway. It seemed like a grand idea ... until I tasted the weather. It was pretty cold, and quite windy - prediction of gusts up to 30 MPH. I started to back out of the whole kayaking idea, but I couldn't reach my friends by phone or email, so I figured I'd better go down to the launch point and at least tell them I wasn't going. And just in case the weather seemed better than forecast, I figured it would be prudent to bring along the kayak. I tossed the Tempest on the car and off I went.

I arrived at Columbia Island marina to find Dave & Cyndi already getting changed to go out on the water, with their boats offloaded from the car. I expressed my doubts about paddling in today's conditions, but honestly the water didn't look too bad and they twisted my arm a little bit. Sooo ... the kayak came off the car, the winter gear went on and off we went.

As soon as we launched, before we were even out of the marina, we spotted a bald eagle. A cool way to start the trip. It was a pretty nice trip for wildlife. We saw herons, buffleheads, Canada geese, and even some deer on Roosevelt Island. Mind you, this is all within urban Washington, DC.

The wind was kind of fierce as we paddled up river, but the fetch of the Potomac isn't very long, so the waves were never more than a foot - and were in fact much less for most of the trip. It was, however, serious work paddling up into the wind - at least for me. A couple of gusts were strong enough that I could feel my paddle being lifted up - something I hadn't felt even on the windy Galesville trip a few weeks ago. Sustained winds at that speed could have ripped it out of my hands.

We paddled up as far as Three Sisters Islands before turning around. I'm not sure if the wind died off as we paddled back, or whether it was just that you notice the wind less when it's at your back, but it certainly seemed calmer on the way back - and a quicker ride too, having the remaining wind and the current with, rather than against us.

When we got back, Dave and Cyndi had birthday cupcakes for me! The wind made it impossible to light the candle they had brought, but we each quickly downed a cupcake (once we got off the river and got out of our paddling gear, we started to feel cold pretty quickly) and then all headed for home.

The thing that's most unpleasant for me paddling in the winter is cold hands. I have gone through several sets of gloves over the years, but none ever seems warm enough. Today I borrowed a set of pogies (mitten-like things that attach to the paddle). While pogies are not really perfectly suited to the Greenland style paddle, my hands were warm as could be. I may have to get a pair ...

One thing I can't figure out. The temperature was above freezing the whole time we were out. The thermometer in the car read 36 degrees, a value confirmed by the weather report on the radio. So, how is it that the river water froze onto my kayak as soon as I had it out of the water. Strange.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Foliage kayak trip

Way, way back in January my friend Tom and I put a Fall Foliage trip on the Chesapeake Paddler’s Association calendar. We set it up so long ago that we kinda forgot about it until just a few weeks ago. I did a quick update to the listing to say more than the “check back later for details” that had been there since January. We both fielded some calls. Then Tom headed out on a succession of business trips. With this smooth and thorough level of preparation, it’s completely surprising that we got only a small turnout. We got one last minute dropout, so the group turned out to be only five people.

We had judged the weather, if not the foliage, just right. It was a glorious day. I brought along my dry suit – normal gear for mid-November – but given that it was pushing up near 70 degrees, and that we were paddling a totally calm reservoir, I opted for lighter gear. Good choice – in the dry suit I would have been safe from hypothermia, but would probably have succumbed to heat stroke instead. As to the leaves, we were probably one weekend past peak. The trees were still colorful, though the drive down was actually prettier than the view along the reservoir itself. You know what was a beautiful foliage day? Election Day. Maybe it was just that I was in such a good mood anyway, but that really seemed to be a peak day, at least in Arlington.

We launched at about 9:20 AM and- paddled from Fountainhead up towards Bull Run Marina. As we approached Bull Run we saw a chaotic cluster of rowing shells. Imagine the battle of Trafalgar being reenacted in slow motion by high school students in 8 oar shells, and you’ve about got the picture. It turns out it was the first day of crew practice for a local high school and the coaches had the kids out on the water learning the basics. The kids had very little boat control or coordination but a lot of enthusiasm. Nobody swam, but it was a far cry from the powerful, well-tuned college teams we see in Georgetown.

After a quick break at Bull Run we headed back towards Fountainhead. I borrowed my friend Cyndi’s wing paddle for a while. Wing paddles, which were developed for racing, has a really peculiar feel - totally different from Greenland or Euro paddles. They require a totally different stroke. I’m not sure I’d want to use one on a regular basis, but I’ll tell you – when you execute a stroke just right it puts out a lot of power! I’m thinking that in the Spring I may borrow one for a while to play with.

The total trip was 10.5 miles. This wasn’t a stretch for four of us. Our fifth paddler, while pretty experienced, had never gone over five miles on a single outing before, and so doubled her max trip length! Good for her. She was slowing down at the end, though – I’m betting she consumed some serious amounts of Advil later in the day.

Once we got off the water Tom left quickly. He had gotten back the night before from a business trip to Barbados (the poor dear) and wanted to get home to unpack and unwind. Joan headed out too. Dave, Cyndi and I toyed with the idea of going out for lunch, but ultimately all admitted to each other that we were watching our pennies. Valerie and I already had plans to go out with friends for dinner, so I was just as happy to forego the socializing and keep a few extra shekels in my pocket.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Early Morning November Run

Having signed up yesterday for a Thanksgiving 5K run, I figured I should go out and try and run that distance. Over the past year I have my emphasis to other forms of exercise, so now running is just an occasional thing.

The neighborhood has a lingering aroma of Halloween. The cool morning air is punctuated with the smell of burnt pumpkin, emanating from the hundreds of jack-o-lanterns left over from last night's Halloween festivities. The air is just cool enough to make my breath visible, and the sky is clear and blue.

As I hit the trail I break into my usual leisurely running pace. I'm used to being passed not only by stronger athletes but also by toddlers taking their first steps, three-legged dogs, and, in the Springtime, energetic caterpillars. But I plug along.

Soon I come up on Ralph the Dentist. He's a walker and so is much slower than I am - I like that. He's ready with his usual gruff, gregarious "Good morning!" I don't know if Ralph is actually a dentist. In fact, I don't even know if his name is Ralph. I've never spoken with the man except to exchange greetings on the trail. His name and occupation were supplied to me by another of the W&OD trail regulars. I also saw Andi the Gazelle. I have actually spoken with Andi once - we met at a party hosted by a former CIA analyst (true!). I call her "the Gazelle" because she has a very fluid running style, as if gravity affects her a little bit less than it does the rest of us.

As I ran I also noticed the seasonal changes - leaves turning brown, Virginia Creeper dying back, and so on.

The run went without a hitch, as I expected it would. As usual, near the end I started bargaining with myself as to where to finish up. It's a fairly steep uphill climb from the trail to my house, some of which I do at a walking pace as a cool down. The variable is where to transition from running to walking. There's the bridge to the trail, the spot where I get to the sidewalk, the first and second cross streets. The lazy part of me always argues for the shortest run - just to the bridge. Today I overcame that lazy voice and ran as far as the first cross street - my usual compromise stopping part. A successful 5K - I didn't time it, though.