Marine Corps Marathon 2014 – Well, it Happened…..

Hi friends!  Addie here.  Well, Marine Corps Marathon was on Sunday, my legs feel back to normal human leg strength, and life is moving on.  Let’s recap the last two weeks.

When I last left you, I was getting ready to run the Baltimore Half Marathon.  I was running with a friend with the plan to run it nice and slow so that I didn’t blow out my legs the week before the marathon.  We accomplished that goal handsomely.  We enjoyed all of the handy treats and drinks the city of Baltimore brought out to share, and it was a really lovely time.  I’ve never run this race before, but it made me quite a fan!  Lots of spectators, clearly marked, easy enough to deal with, and so many unofficial beer stops!


Enjoying a delightful doughnut hole around mile nine!


Someone around mile 12.5 handed me this full, unopened beer. I very much enjoyed drinking it for the last half mile!

Baltimore – a city generous with it’s beer and its hills!  I wish this race was a few weeks earlier (or a few weeks later) so that I could race it for real.  I suppose any year that Marine Corps isn’t in the cards for me, this could be a solid back-up race.  It is put on by Corrigan Sports, who really do a great job.  They also put on the Frederick Running Festival and the Baltimore 10 miler, both of which I ran this year and enjoyed quite a bit (except for the hill at the end of the Baltimore 10 – eesh!)

The week between Baltimore and Marine Corps I only went on one run.  In hindsight, I was a bit too cavalier with this marathon training.  I let myself skip too many runs on the premise that no one follows their plans to the letter.  While that may be true, perhaps trying to stay within the 75%-80% sticking to plan range would be a better solution when gunning for a certain time.  But, I digress.

20141026_070412Marine Corps morning rolls around.  I meet up with a group of folks from the Metro Run & Walk store team at 5:30 at the metro to ride in together.  We enjoy each others company and chat about our goals.  There’s four of us hoping to finish around 4:20, one hoping for 4:00, and one looking to finish under 5:00.  We hopped on the metro, made it downtown, and hung out in the Pentagon parking lot, waiting for the sun to rise.

It was a chilly morning, but we knew the warm up was coming.  We made it over to the start line, got in our appropriate corrals, and off we went.  Our plan was to run even 10 minute miles, and for the most part we stuck to this well.  I had a secret weapon planted along the course – my new husband.  We had ended up with an extra bib for the race, and while he could not run the full 26.2, we knew he’d be good for at least ten miles.  He had been instructed to wait just after the water stops near mile 16 to join me and help me get through those last ten miles.

It warmed up quickly into the race – I didn’t even make it a mile in before I took off my jacket and tied it around myself.  The company couldn’t be beat and I was enjoying the sights of the spectators and the sounds of thousands of people in some crazy adventure together.   Shortly after mile ten I found my kids, my parents, and my husband.  I was super excited to see them and my mom even handed me a peanut butter sandwich, which is a wonderful treat while running!  I stopped for a few seconds to give hugs and then I was off again.  I caught up with our group and we headed down Haines Point.  Somewhere around mile 14 or 15 I fell a little behind.  Not far, the rest of our group was always in my sight, but just started to feel the need to go every so slightly slower.  On I ran….


See the cell phone in hand? I was calling my mom…

Finally I’m approaching the mile 16 water stop, and I’m scanning the crowds for Sean.  I stop to walk, drink, and regenerate while I look.  Then I find myself passing the water stop.    No Sean.  Hrm.  I start jogging again and pull out my cell phone to call him.  No answer.  I had been running with a high school friend and we stumbled upon his wife and kids, and she took a quick picture for us.  I call Sean again.  No answer.  I call my mom and ask if they are still together.  No, she tells me, he went to the water stop and he doesn’t have his phone.  Crap.  Now my husband is somewhere behind me, with no phone, no way to get home (my car was at the metro, and my mom drove in with him when the spotted me earlier – the plan being for he and I to metro home after finishing the race together), and perhaps worst of all for me – I’ve now fallen WAY behind the group and have these ten more miles to run, all alone.  I made the decision I had to make.  I went back.

Marine Corps is a crowded marathon.  And now I found myself running against the grain.  I tried to stay as far to the shoulder as I could, but I certainly confused a lot of people.  I ran about a quarter mile, back to the very start of the water stop and walked through again.  Searching, knowing that he just HAD to be here somewhere!  But no, he was not to be found.  I gave up, felt sad, and started to trot forward.  I was totally in my head now.  Not only was I starting to feel much more fatigued than I should for this point, now I’m totally alone, with ten miles to go, AND have to worry about a husband that will somehow have to get home at some point.  On I trot….

A bit after mile 17, my heart leaped.  SEAN!  There he was on the side of the road, waiting.  He ran in and joined me and I learned that when he saw the rest of the team from the store, he jumped in with them.  He learned I was just slightly behind so he jogged slower, thinking I’d catch him – not realizing that I had now gone backwards on the course.  When he still didn’t see me he pulled off at the side of the road where he waited, and thankfully, we found each other.

At this point, I couldn’t care less about the time I lost going backwards.  I was so relived I wasn’t running alone, that on we went.  Unfortunately, we didn’t go terribly far or terribly fast.  Shortly after the 18ish mile marker (maybe closer to 19, I really don’t remember), my calves cramped up terribly.  I was having to stop and walk, and I even hit to sit down to stretch and rub them out.  Sean was lovely (on his fresh legs) and would sit patiently and help me try to get moving again.  We carried on and then hit the bridge.

I hate that bridge.  That bridge is the worst of things.  My new goal in life is to run Marine Corps again next year and make that bridge my bitch.  This year, well, the opposite was true.  I wanted to cry.  Everything hurt so bad.  My calves were like rocks and I was hot and I watched all the runners around me also break down and walk and complain.  It was awful.  We walked most of it.  I sat (once?  twice?  I can’t remember).  I cursed myself for thinking this was a good idea.  I hate that bridge.

As we crossed the bridge and went into Crystal City, I got a brief second wind.  The crowds were great and I saw friends spectating.  I managed to keep up a jog through most of it until about mile 24, where again I had to sit and rub my calves.  At this point we happened to stumble upon my high school friend again, and decided we would get it done.  We set off again at a trot, and never stopped to walk again.  It was a slow trot.  It was a pained trot.  At one point, from some unknown source, Loryn Hill’s song “That Thing” was playing and I started singing as loud as I could.  I may have been delirious.  But then, the crowds got thicker.  People were lining both sides of the course and I realized we had to be close.

We bypassed the mile 25 water stop – I knew if I stopped again it would be damn near impossible to start again.  We kept moving forward, lifted up by the knowledge that we were SO CLOSE to it all being done.  I saw the 26 mile marker and suddenly, I was running.  I hit that hill, and I RAN.  I have no idea what my pace was, and to be honest, it was probably still slower than a ten minute pace, but in my head I was FLYING.  No stopping, no looking back.  Up the hill, across the finish line.

My final time?  4:58:07.  My A goal had been 4:15 – so, that didn’t go well.  My B goal had been under 4:30 – also didn’t go well.  My C goal – faster than last year.  And last year’s time?  4:58:11.  I beat my time by four seconds.  How do I feel about this?  Well, not great.

But, I finished my second marathon.  I was reminded, yet again, to respect the distance.  And you can bet your ass I’ll be trying again next year.


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Marine Corps Marathon 2014 Training – No blog since September??

Well, it was bound to happen.  The pile of things I’ve been attempting to do at the same time kind of imploded on themselves, and I have been remiss at updating the blog.  I’m going to be brief today, but I will fill you in on how things have been going (not great), and what my plans are going forward (keep running).

My last post was September 21st, and it had been not a great week.  But bad weeks happen, and I wasn’t too worried.  I knew I still had time.  That week was much better, ran my five miles on Tuesday-Thursday, and on Saturday I participated in the Clarendon Day 5k race.  My goal had been to get under 25 minutes (my previous PR had been 25:25).  The race weather was perfect, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the course, it is almost totally downhill.  The race went wonderfully and I finished in 23:39, destroying my previous PR.  I’m well aware that it’ll be hard to match that any time soon on a course that isn’t totally downhill, but I’m enjoying the PR!  Helen, our store owner at Metro Run and Walk had scolded me and told me it was too late in marathon training to be doing speed like that, and as always, I should learn to listen to others.

The week after the race I got my runs in again – five miles Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  On Saturday I spent my entire day trying to get my house ready for my wedding, which was to be the following Saturday.  And then on Sunday I was out the door bright and early with the plan of running 18-20.  The first 13ish miles I had company and it was absolutely lovely.  After they split off I was still enjoying the run, enjoying the mileage, and enjoying the beautiful Fall morning at Lake Accotink.  And then I got to about 16 miles and everything went wrong.  My legs completely cramped up.  My head was pounding and I felt dizzy.  I started walking.  After a few minutes walk I tried to start jogging again and I just couldn’t do it.  I walked out of the park and sat down at an elementary school where I rested until I was able to get a ride back to my car.

This was NOT how my last long run should have gone.  And, I am sad to say, that was the last time I ran.  And it was eight days ago.  Two days ago, I married my best friend, and it was the most wonderful thing.  The days leading up to the wedding were incredibly packed with things that HAD to happen, and trying to wake up even earlier to get in my runs seemed like a great way to end up sick or injured.  In hindsight, having the peak mileage weeks coincide with the first few weeks of the school year AND my wedding was a very bad idea.  But, I’m not throwing in the towel.  I’m just adjusting.

Marine Corps Marathon is two weeks from yesterday.  My new goal is 4:30.  While I haven’t put in as many miles as would be ideal, and that isn’t the speed I was hoping for, it would still be a perfectly respectable showing, and would be beating my previous PR by over 20 minutes.  As I sit here under my cuddly blanket on the couch next to my now husband, I’m looking out at the rain, and thinking it might not be a bad day to go shake out some miles.  I’m going rogue, pretty much off all training plans, and just going to work on putting some miles on my legs, and remember to enjoy running, not stress about it.  This Saturday I will be running the Baltimore Half Marathon with a friend.  It will be his first half and the plan is nice and slow.

My training will not be ending with Marine Corps, however.  I’m a crazy person and have decided that I just HAVE to run a 50k, because that’s the kind of thing I do.  So I will have a very brief recovery time before bringing my mileage right back up to train for the Everglades Ultra in February.  In the meantime, I’m staying focused and working on making sure I’m eating right and getting enough sleep to be prepared for Marine Corps, and we shall see what happens!

Until next week (because I will report back on the Baltimore Half!),


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Walk A Mile in My Shoes

John Faith has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004

John has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004 and enjoys being active!

If you’re a walker I’ve waited on at the store, you’ve probably heard me on my soapbox touting the virtues of walking. There seems to be a resurgence in the popularity of walking recently, and I’ve gotten into some very interesting discussions with my customers (particularly the runners) these past few weeks about the comparative benefits of walking.

It often takes the form of a gentle suggestion to a customer’s statement of “I only walk.”, to which I’ll always reply, “I want you to take the word ‘only’ out of that sentence – walking is one of the best things you can do for yourself.”  I’ll usually go on about how critical weight bearing exercise is to post-menopausal women and older men – how necessary it is to maintain necessary appropriate muscle and bone mass, which deteriorates with age.

Most of us are familiar with the oft-touted advice to walk 10,000 steps daily.  I was curious about the genesis of this philosophy, as it seems it’s been around forever.  Interestingly, this came about in Japan back in the 1960’s!

Originally, counting steps was facilitated by the old-fashioned mechanical pedometer, but there’s now a new generation of electronic pedometers, driven by a piezoelectric sensor, as in the Nike+ device, or a 3-axis accelerometer, as in the Garmin VivoFit  The question remains, however, as to just how beneficial walking 10,000 steps daily truly is – and, in the mind of many customers, how the benefits of walking compare with those of running.

I’ve always maintained that the benefits of walking are nearly as good as those derived from running.  My thoughts were affirmed in an article published on the “About Health” website which posits that the difference between the calories burned running a set distance or walking that same distance is very small.  Most interesting, according to the article, at higher walking speeds, there is no difference.

As you might imagine, there are benefits to walking and running beyond pure caloric expenditure.  If nothing else, both get one outside in the fresh air and sunshine – especially during these delicious Fall days.

I wanted a more scientific insight though, and a little research uncovered a fascinating US News and World Report article online that explains that the relative health benefits from walking are actually greater than those from running!  The caveat: “The runners and walkers had to expend the same energy to get the same benefits. That means you’d have to walk longer than you’d have to run for the same effect.”

Another excellent article on the benefits of walking can be found on “” at

If the above isn’t enough motivation to get you out and walking, I urge you to read another “” article on “Sitting Disease” that Helen passed on to me.

Sitting Disease Infographic  The statistics presented in the article are sobering: “20% of deaths of people 35 or older could be attributed to lack of physical activity.”, and “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smokers.”  On the more positive side, “2 hours sitting is as harmful as 20 minutes of exercise is beneficial.”  Pretty amazing, and well worth reading.

But back to the 10,000 steps.  Many people think they couldn’t walk 10,000 steps in a week, let alone a day.  Curious, one day I put on a pedometer during a five hour shift at the store.  I turned it on when I got out of the car at the beginning of my shift, and looked at it at the end of the shift.  The total – 16,000 steps!  My wife, who has a desk job, routinely walks 8-10,000 steps daily.  It’s not that difficult.  Park your car in the furthest parking slot from your destination.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Walk to work or the store, if possible.  There are innumerable other options.

It’s your heart, your health, your life – and your responsibility.

I’m still waiting for fireplace weather.  Have a great October.



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My Unintentional “Ultra” (Navigationally Challenged Adventure) in Cape Henlopen State Park

Co-owner, Metro Run & Walk, Certified Pedorthist, and Runner Walker

Co-owner, Metro Run & Walk, Certified Pedorthist, and Runner

As I have been doing for the last several years, this past weekend was my annual trip to the beach with girlfriends.  If you read my blog articles last year as I was training for a sub 4:00 Marine Corps Marathon, the beach was where I injured my right hip flexor which took me out of the marathon.  All is healed and I’m working on a strong base so that I can start training for a spring 2015 marathon.  As you can probably imagine, I was going to be so, so careful this year.  No walking in the surf, no running on uneven terrain, just regular running.

As the ladies headed out for a shopping trip to Lewes, Delaware, I decided that I would go for a run at the Cape Henlopen State Park.  My friends had been there yesterday on a bike ride and shared that the new Gordons Pond Trail would be a great run.  It sounded great and not being interested in shopping, I made plans to go.

cape henlopen state parkBefore leaving the house, I looked at the map of the park just so I could see what the park offers.  I left the house at 11:00am with my 16oz water belt and a pack of sportbeans in the back pocket.  Knowing that the trail had a lot of shade, I didn’t even think to put sunscreen on, nor did I think to put bugspray on.  After all, I was only going on an established trail and I would be running.  Its been my experience, that the bugs pretty much leave you alone when you’re running.


I drove to the park and parked at the entrance closest to Henlopen Acres.  This is the southern entrance.  The parking area is the Herring Point parking area.  Remember that.  I didn’t.

I located the Gordons Pond Trail and off I went.

Gordons Pond Trail, description from

  • Mode: Hiking and Biking
  • Distance: 2.65 miles (one way)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessible:Yes
  • Trailheads: Gordons Pond and Herring Point parking lots

From the Gordons Pond parking lot, the trail follows the edge of Gordons Pond for approximately 0.75 miles over a level packed crushed stone surface to a scenic overlook. The overlook provides a scenic vista and is popular among nature enthusiasts for bird watching. From the overlook, the trail takes users for another 1.2 miles around the pond, then transitions into an elevated boardwalk for 0.4 miles. Along the boardwalk are two additional scenic overlooks, allowing for views of the salt marsh and beach. The trail transitions back to packed crushed stone and continues through an upland pine forest for 0.3 miles before reaching the Herring Point parking area.

Cape Henlopen 3 miles inIt was everything the description said.  The day was absolutely beautiful with the sun shining bright.  The trail wasn’t overcrowded but there were a number of other bikers, runners, and walkers.  I was really enjoying myself.  I got to the end of the trail at what I later came to learn was just past the Bidens Center.  I should have just turned around and backtracked, but I didn’t.  When I said I looked at the map, I meant it.  I did look at it, but I didn’t commit it to memory and I didn’t have a copy with me.  From the end of the Gordons Pond Trail, I turned left.

There weren’t many signs but that didn’t worry me much.  A few hundred yards from where I turned left at the end of Gordons Pond Trail, there was a sign “Salt Marsh Spur.”  Oh, I thought, “I came through the salt marsh on the trail so the spur must be on the opposite side of the salt marsh and would bring me back to the parking lot.

Salt Marsh Spur

  • Mode: Hiking and Biking
  • Distance: 0.6 miles (one way)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessible: No
  • Trailhead:

The trail intersects the Walking Dunes Trail approximately at its midpoint. This 0.6-mile spur offers opportunities to see plant and wildlife and views of tidal marsh along its gentle path of packed and loose sand.

The key words in the above description are “one way.” I headed down the Salt Marsh Spur and yes I did see lots of plantlife, not much wildlife though.  I came to the end of the Spur and I was not back at the parking lot.  Surely, I thought if I just keep going I would pick up the trail.  Nope.  The trail really did end.  I discovered this after trekking through knee-high underbrush for about 10 minutes.  Ok, not a problem, I’ll just turn around and go back.  On my way back, I ran into a couple on the Salt Marsh Spur enjoying the trail.   “Do you know how to get back to the parking area?” I asked.  “Oh sure, just go down this trail until you come to the intersection of another trail, turn left and when you get to the paved road, turn left again.”  At least I thought that was what they said.

So, I turn left at the trail intersection, and turn left again on the paved road, go past the campground and after a bit come to a sign “Walking Dunes Spur.”  Hmmm… the couple didn’t tell me about this but I guess this will return me to the parking lot and according to the description below, it should have.

Walking Dunes Trail

  • Mode: Hiking and Biking
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessible: No
  • Trailhea10 mild: Herring Point parking lot

The trail travels through wooded uplands, traverses tidal marsh, and terminates at The Great Dune. It follows a gentle grade, suitable for all levels of hiking fitness, over sand, crushed shells, or pavement for 1.6 miles. In late spring, look along the trail for blooming Pink Lady’s Slipper and Beach Heather, with its abundant, tiny yellow flowers. Nature enthusiasts will also enjoy views of the tidal marsh and of the many birding opportunities available.

Please note: In summer, be aware of poison ivy growing along the trail.dunes1

The Great Dunes are pretty impressive.   I must not have entered the Trail at the right place or must have turned right instead of turning left because I never saw, smelled, or heard the ocean.  I followed the footsteps and tire tracks of people and vehicles that traversed this part of the park before me.   By now, I had traveled pretty close to 5 miles according to my Garmin Vivofit which I have taken to wearing every day as I like to see the distance I’ve covered on a daily basis.  I was down to about 2 ounces of water which I thought I should save because I didn’t know how long the Dunes Walking Trail was.  Remember, I only looked at the map… I didn’t commit it to memory. I was pretty much operating on assumptions that trails in the park would connect with other trails.

I walked the length of the Great Dunes still following footsteps and tire tracks.  I followed them right into the forest thinking that now I was getting closer.  After maybe a quarter of a mile, the footsteps and tire tracks stopped.  Surely that can’t be right!  I’m not back at the parking lot!  I wander about the forest for a few minutes thinking that the trail is just a few steps away.  When I finally admitted what should have been obvious, I was completely turned around.  I could find no trail, no footsteps, no tire tracks — just forest.  I hike through the forest for another 20 minutes or so, probably a mile and come to what appears to be a causeway.  Great!  I can stay on the banks of the causeway and it will either take me to the ocean or the bay.  Not only that, but I could hear a car in the distance on the opposite side.  So, I hike along the banks of the causeway until it become impenetrable.  Can’t go that way so I turn around and walk in the opposite direction taking care to keep the water in sight.  By now its coming up on 2:00pm and I had been in the park for nearly 3 hours.

Now, in retrospect, as I’m writing this I figure that by this time I’ve traveled 10 miles — 3 on the Gordons Pond Trail, 1.5 out and back on the Salt Marsh Spur, 1.6 on the Great Dunes, and likely 2 miles in the forest.  I am starting to get a bit nervous.  The last time I saw anyone was when I passed by the campground and that was a long time ago.  It was also then that I realized that in pushing branches aside, my Garmin Vivofit must be gotten caught on a limb and dropped off my wrist.  I did for a split second think about trying to find it, but quickly realized the futility of that.

I just stood for a few minutes trying to think this out.  I looked one way and the forest was thick.  Another way and the forest was thick.  I just kept circling trying to see if the forest thinned out at all.  I got a sense of the forest thinning out in a particular direction so headed off.   Excellent!  After another 15-20 minutes of tramping about, I was starting to see sand so I figured I was heading back into the Great Dunes.  By now, I was pretty thirsty and hungry, so I ate my SportBeans and drank the last of my water.

I did come to the Dunes and was able to pick up footsteps and tire tracks again.  Once again, like a bloodhound, I started following the trail left behind by other.  Unfortunately, like before, the footsteps and tire tracks once again entered the forest.  Being a little smarter now, I didn’t go as deep into the forest as before and after 10-15 minutes was able to turn myself around where I was once again at the base of the Great Dunes.  dunes2

I start my return trip on the Dunes and pass a few landmarks that I recognize, so now I’m not worried about being lost, but I was definitely feeling thirsty. skeleton I kept having those stereotypical images of finding a skeleton in the sand; a poor soul who got lost in the desert, ran out of water, and died leaving only sunbleached bones in the sand.  Speaking of sun, it was bearing down on me pretty strong and I was most definitely hot and thirsty.

After walking the 1.6 miles back to the road, I came to the campground.  I approached the campers and asked if they had any running water.  “Sure do,” they said “you just need to climb the fence to get to it.”  Are you kidding me!  Over the fence I go, through their campsite and refill my water bottle.  I drink a lot and fill it again.  Alright, let me try this again.  “Can you tell me how to get to the park entrance?” I asked.  “Oh yes, its very easy, walk to the left out this driveway until you come to the main road and turn left.  In a short while, you’ll come to the Rangers Office.”

Off I went down the yellow brick road — oh wait that is another story — driveway, out to the main road and within 1/4 mile or so did indeed come to the Rangers Office.  There was a line of about 10 people waiting to talk to the Ranger, so I asked the people in line “How do I get back to my car?  I parked at the entrance by Henlopen Acres and came over the marsh trail.”  A woman told me to go talk to her husband who was sitting in the car and he could tell me.  He instructed me to continue down the main park road and when I got to the divided highway, I would turn left.  So I did.

In about a 1/2 mile, I came to the divided road and turned left.  I walked a 1/4 mile or so before I realized that it was definitely not the road I came in on.  Arghhh… I turned around and re-entered the park.  Finally there were signs!  Fishing Pier, Nature Center, Youth Center.  I walked to the Nature Center and entered.  My first question to the park employee was to determine if they sold food and water.  Of course not.  That could be found at the Fishing Pier — the one I just passed a 1/4 mile back.  I then asked how to get back to my car — the one at the parking lot by Henlopen Acres.  I described where I had been that day so far and she exclaimed that “Well, you’ve seen just about everything the park has to offer.  You just need to see The Point.”  Yes, indeed I had seen quite a lot of the park and No, I wasn’t interested The Point.  I looked at the clock and saw that it was 3:15.  Four hours after my adventure started.

I backtracked to the Fishing Pier and bought a bottle of cold water and a popsicle.  They didn’t really have much more, only a selection of chips but that was the last thing I was interested in.  After eating my Popsicle, I started walking again and passed the Nature Center again.  I kept straight until I came across a sign for the Bathhouse.  There must be someone there who could tell me how to get back to my car!  I approached the Bathhouse looking for a park ranger.  Not there but I ended up following a man going to his car.  I called out to him and explained that I was “lost” and could he tell me how to either get to the correct parking lot or how to get back to the trail that would take me to the parking lot.  After 5 minutes of discussion, we agreed that I was looking for the Biden Center where I could pick up Gordons Pond Trail.  He offered to drive me to the Biden Center but I insisted that if he could provide directions, that would be sufficient.  At that point, his wife approached and I repeated my recitation of where I had been and where I was looking to go.  “Absolutely not!  I insist that we will drive you to your car.”

Turns out that last year, she and a friend had a similar experience of getting turned around in this same Park and they spent 2 hours trying to get back to where they started, so she had a lot of empathy for my plight.  As we were driving back to my car, I asked them where they lived.

“We live in Fairfax.”

“Oh, I live in Herndon,” I said.  “Where in Fairfax ?”

“You’ve probably never heard of it.  Its a little subdivision called Franklin Glen, right next to Franklin Farm.”

“No kidding!  I live in Franklin Farm!”

We all had a good laugh about that and then talked running, barefoot running, and running and walking form for the remainder of the car ride.  I didn’t realize that we exited the park in Lewes, a few beach towns down the road from where I entered.  I finally got back to my car and then back to the house by 4:30 — 5 1/2 hours after I left.

In calculating the distance I covered that day, I figure I traveled somewhere between 13 and 15 miles.  Not an ultra in terms of distance but certainly in terms of the “route requiring some navigational abilities.”

UltraRunning is devoted to covering the sport of long distance running, also known as ultramarathoning, or, as we prefer, ultrarunning. How far is “a long distance”? The standard definition is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. However, the shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles. Other standard distances are the 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 km, and a series of events that last for specified time periods such as 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 6 days.

Occasionally, we extend our editorial coverage to include shorter distances if they merit the tag of “something different;” such races might involve considerable difficulty involving severe terrain, or perhaps a route requiring some navigational abilities.  from

cape henlopen ultra

I cleaned up, met my friends on the beach for a cocktail and shared my story.  I figured my adventure was over.  Not quite over…

chigger rashchigger2Later that night, I noticed some very small red/brown somethings moving on the skin around my ankles and knees.  Shortly after that I started itching like crazy.  Chiggers!  Nasty little buggers.  I picked them up traipsing around the forest and the undergrowth.   By the next day, I had the characteristic chigger rash which is still progressing.  Both legs — front and back, back of my arms, wrists, shoulders, and behind my left ear.

I sit here now at the kitchen table with my legs covered in a mixture of Vicks Vapo Rub and salt. It is definitely quelling the itch and drawing the moisture out of the rash.  I’m hopeful the swelling in my legs will go down in a few days so that I can comfortably wear pants and go for a run.

Lessons Learned:  take your phone when running in an unfamiliar area, put on sunscreen, put on bugspray, have a compass, get and keep a map with you, make sure you can read said map.

Note:  As I was getting ready to include this article in our monthly newsletter, Mark challenged me on the use of “ultra” in the article title.  As I said several paragraphs up, I readily admit that my adventure is NOT AN ULTRA distance run!  It was a “directionally challenged adventure.”

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Marine Corps Marathon 2014 Training – Week 13 – Sometimes it’s no fun.

Another week down!  We’re inching ever closer to the big event, and this was probably the roughest week I’ve had as far as scheduling.  Today, as a matter of fact, was probably the absolute worst run I’ve had in all 13 weeks of training.  But – we’ll get there.
When I left you on Sunday the 14th, I was musing over how far I really wanted to run and when I would do it.  The result of all that hemming and hawing was that I did nothing.  Not a single mile.  I’m slightly consoled by the fact I did get in eight miles the day before, but skipping a long run all together at this point is ill advised.  Obviously, if I had been sick or injured, I would have taken the day off, but that’s quite a cop out.  No excuses, I just didn’t do it.  And this may be part of the reason that today was so terrible.

On Monday I didn’t run (it wasn’t in my plan), but I did have Back to School Night (remember – along with marathon training, wedding planning, working at the running store and juggling two kids – I am also a third grade teacher).  The result of this is my not even getting home from work until well after nine, and needing to smash in as much as I could before I absolutely HAD to sleep.  My sleep suffered.

On Tuesday I did get out after work.  Actually, I got to the gym.  I ran my five miles and then brought the kids over to the gym pool where I soaked in a hot tub to try to forget the fact that I would have another late night – this time I needed to attend back to school night as a parent for my 5th grade daughter.  Also, on Tuesday nights my daughter takes gymnastics in Burke until 9pm, and we live in Kingstowne.  This, of course, became another night of sacrificed sleep.

Wednesday seemed to be shaping up to be a better day.  I only worked a half day at school as I was due to pick up my wedding dress from being altered.  I put my dress on and found myself in the interesting problem of suddenly hating my own wedding gown due to some less than stellar alterations.  After about an hour of troubleshooting, we came up with a solution that worked (even though it ended up costing me some more money), and I headed to get my kids from my mom’s house.  Luckily enough, I had eight miles to run and it was lovely outside.  My parents kept the kids so I could enjoy my eight miles on the street and burn off some of the stress and frustration from my fitting.  The drawback to this, however, was that by the time I was leaving their house in Burke to head home it was almost 6pm.  I don’t even remember what we ate for dinner that night.

And then there was Thursday.  Thursday seemed like FINALLY I’d have a day where I caught a break.  My day at school was fine, and again we hit the gym for a five miler run after work.  Walking out of the gym I made the mistake of checking my work email and became aware of a particularly unpleasant situation.  The rest of my day was spent stewing and pacing and be generally aggravated with everyone and everything.  Catching on to the tone of my week?  Sleep deprived, eating less than stellar, and maybe feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the running/teaching/planning.  Didn’t even want to eat dinner, and was a big sullen jerk to my entire family and then went to bed pouting.  Nothing is worse than a pouting adult, and I gave my family many apologies when I recovered.

Friday finally rolls around – which is a rest day for me.  My kiddos were gone for the weekend, as was Sean who was away having his bachelor party weekend.  It was pretty wild to be alone in the house as it is just not something I’m used to anymore!  The result of this, of course, was I couldn’t sleep.  No rest for the weary!

Saturday morning I got up early to go run five miles at race pace before going to work at the store.  I was really feeling great (fresh legs will do that to you), so instead of running my hopeful race pace of 9:45, I ended up running my miles at a 9:20 pace.  I thought nothing of it, and went for my all day shift at the store.  Another night home alone meant another night of having a very hard time sleeping.

6:15 am this morning and my alarm goes off.  I’ve had maybe six hours of sleep and am slated to run 20 miles.  There is something daunting about that number.  I’ve only run it once before in my life (the last time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon).  When I ran in 2011, my longest training run was 18 miles, which I repeated two weeks ago.  The 18 felt great, so I was pretty sure 20 would go fine as well.  It did not.

It started off okay.  I was with a friend from the training group (the same friend who ran the 18 with me).  His schedule, however, had been altered due to a race he ran last weekend, which meant he only needed to do 13 today.  As we headed out I was enjoying the morning and the company, but not necessarily the running.  By about three miles in I just felt so much more tired than I should have.  When my watch beeped alerting me I was ten miles in I felt devastated.  How could I only be half way done?  This was a nightmare.  Not only was it feeling awful – it was also going much slower than the 18 miler had gone, and today I was on a time crunch due to my daughter started lacrosse and Sean being out of town.

The final blow to my ego was when we hit 13 miles and suddenly I was alone.  Moving forward became awful and it felt like there were bricks on my legs.  I stopped off at our training program coach’s car to fill up with some gatorade and water and sat down in order to get everything full.  Standing up was far more painful than it should have been.  I’ve gone out for much longer and faster runs without hurting the way I did and feeling so beaten down.  I knew that 20 was simply not in the cards.

I didn’t want to quit at 13, and I didn’t.  I toughed it out for 2.5 more miles before totally throwing in the towel.  There are a lot of factors that could have gone into today going so poorly.  I know I didn’t sleep enough this week.  My weekly mileage was WAY down last week (last week I ran a total of 23 miles, the week before had been 40, and I was attempting 43 this week).  I wasn’t eating wonderfully (Chipotle on Thursday, Chinese on Friday, and sliced prosciutto for dinner on Saturday night).  It was a little bit humid.  I ran a little too fast yesterday.  And the jealousy of watching someone else finish and knowing you are just no where near being done.  I don’t think a single one of these is to blame, but I think they were all contributing factors in today’s fairly impressive crash and burn.

All said and done, it wasn’t a total loss.  15.5 miles is certainly much better than none.  I’ve already passed 100 miles for this month, which is only the second time this year I’ve managed it (and last month I came in right at the wire, hitting 108 miles on the 31st thanks to a half marathon).  I also put in 39 miles this week, which is my second highest week of the year.  And, because I’m using a more challenging training plan than I have in the past, I will have another shot at the 20 miler in two weeks.

This week is a bit less hectic.  There are still cub scout meetings and gymnastics, but it should (hopefully) be less stressful on the whole.  This Saturday I am racing in a 5k to try to beat my PR (25:28).  I’d really love to get under 25 minutes, but that’s a pretty high bar to set for myself at the moment, so we shall see!  Sunday’s long run is only scheduled to be 12 miles, which will be a lovely reprieve from some of these long distances.

I realize this week’s post may sound a lot grumpier than a lot of my posts, but it is pretty reflective of my week.  I do realize, however, that one really bad run does not destroy all that I’ve built.  I’m looking forward to having the week ahead to shake off today and this whole week.  Until next Sunday – run healthy!  And get some sleep!!

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MCM 2014 Training – Weeks 11 & 12 – Back to School!


The obligatory first day of school picture.

Well, it was inevitable.  My incredible summer of hopping all over the place has come to an end, and on September 2nd, I was back at work as a third grade teacher.  My kids headed off to 5th and 2nd grade, and now life has a bit more predictability to it.  While I was sad to see my summer go, this predictability probably accounted for the fact that week 11 was my highest mileage week so far this year at 40 miles!  When school was ending last June I thought how great it was that I could get my runs in whenever I wanted to now that I wasn’t restricted by working.  The truth is, being restricted by work actually meant I had to create a schedule and a system that worked.  And it meant I would run immediately after work every day – either on a treadmill at the gym, or at my parent’s house where they could watch my kiddos.  Having unlimited freedom in my day really just meant that it was too easy to push running off until later, and then frequently it would be forgotten.  No more of that for me!

Tuesday, September 2nd – five miles on the treadmill after work.  I was feeling pretty good and had some nervous energy to burn off after my first day, so I was able to get this wrapped up at about a 9:30 pace.

Wednesday, September 3rd – This run SHOULD have been eight miles.  However, it was not to be.  The downside of running right after work is that if I don’t get to they gym on time, or if I have to loiter too much at work, I end up in a crunch where I really do need to get home and start making dinner to make sure everyone is fed.  This was a day where by the time I got to the gym, I only had less than an hour until I needed to be trying to head home, and I am not the kind of runner who runs eight miles in under an hour.  I did what I could (it ended up being right about four miles before my stomach insisted I hop off the treadmill).  When I first started running having things like this happen would just devastate me.  I would have wanted to take the four miles I missed and toss them onto the next day’s workout.  I’ve learned better than this.  Four out of eight miles is so much better than none, and even if it had been no miles today – one day of missing a run does not destroy what you are building.

Thursday, September 4th – Yet another day when my planned run didn’t go quite according to plan.  Today I was able to get my folks to watch the kids so I could run outside (which is almost always preferred).  It was kind of a nasty hot temperature out, but I thought five miles around Burke might feel good.  I decided to try a new route that ended up as a total flop.  There wasn’t sidewalk where I expected there to be sidewalk, and there were some huge hills where I expected things to be flat.  As a result I ended up going 4.5 miles instead of 5, and it was at an almost 11 mile pace.  Not the greatest.  Thursday tend to feel the worst for me these days, as three days in a row of running is the most I do (Mondays are rest or crosstraining, Tuesday-Thursday I run, Friday is a rest day, and then Saturday and Sunday are running again).  By the time I stopped today I was very happy to know that the next day would give me a break.

Saturday, September 6th – My training plan has a pretty evil factor to it, where it has me run a medium distance run the day before my long run.  The idea is that my long runs are on legs that are already a bit fatigued, so that I am a bit more prepared for the exertion put on my legs for the marathon.  While I understand the reason, it’s still pretty brutal in practice!  As such, this morning I headed out for eight miles.  I knew I had a long day ahead of me (both of my kids were working at the Burke Festival with scouts), so I was up early to get my miles in.  I ran my eight around my Kingstowne neighborhood and have no complaints.  Ran at about a 10:30 pace and even stumbled upon this beautiful view in a neighborhood I had never explored before.


Looks almost like it could be a National Park!!

Sunday, September 7th – Long run day.  Today I was slated for 18 miles.  This number intimidated me in a huge way.  18 miles was the LONGEST long run I completed while training for Marine Corps in 2011 and I remember it well.  I ran it alone, and because I am uncomfortable running too far away from my starting place when running alone, I ran it in loops aIMG_0673round Burke Lake.  Today was to be a bit different as I had a friend from our training group out to do the same number.  I warned him about my apprehension – he is faster than me, it’s been a long time since I’ve run 18, my longest long run so far this training season has been 16 and it didn’t feel great, and there was that whole “I just ran eight miles yesterday” thing.  It is amazing how many obstacles and fears can build in our head at the same time.  He said we’d just see how it goes, and off we went.  What a difference having a partner makes!  Every four miles-ish I made us stop to eat a little snack (this is my general race strategy when it comes to making sure I’m keeping myself properly fueled), and when all was said and done, we had conquered 18 miles of the Four Mile Run and W&OD trails.  To make it even better – thanks to having someone to help distract me, these 18 miles were done at a faster pace than my eight miles yesterday!  To the right you can see my “after” look.

That was week 11, now on to week 12….

Tuesday, September 9th – Another outdoor run in Burke, this time it went much better!  I did, however, forget my ipod, my headphones, and my garmin.  So I mapped out my route on google pedometer and went out for a completely unplugged run.  No beeping watch, no music in my ears, not even a water bottle on my hand.  It was absolutely lovely.

Wednesday, September 10th & Thursday September 11th – Two days, same workout.  Five miles on a treadmill right after work.  Nothing thrilling or exciting or silly to report – just steady building of mileage.

Saturday, September 13th – This was my first day without kiddos or work in quite a long time, and I kept putting off my run.  I had to wake up early to take care of some wedding things (don’t forget I’m also planning a wedding right now – with less than a month to go).  By the time I got home I was terribly unmotivated and took a nap until about 2:30 in the afternoon.  It was blissful, but not really the best way to train.  I puttered around the house for most of the day, when finally around 5pm my fiance announced it was time for us to go to the gym.  I won’t lie – I pouted and shuffled my feet around, and after mentioning how lovely the weather was, I was able to coerce him into running the eight with me outside.  It was supposed to be at race pace, however, we didn’t quite make it happen.  My race pace for my goal should be around 9:30-9:45ish, and our overall pace was about a 10:10 pace.  I typically make multiple goals for a races, and MCM is no exception.  My A goal – the thing that would just make me pleased as punch, but would require perfect scenarios would be to finish at about 4:15.  This would be more than 40 minutes faster than the last time I ran it, and is a pretty aggressive goal for me.  My B goal – which is the more reasonable goal and gives some room for error and imperfection is to finish under 4:30.  And my C goal – the goal at which I am allowed to be slightly disappointed, but not get too angry about it – is just to beat my time from the last time I ran.  If I am not able to do this, then something has gone terribly wrong.

Today is Sunday, September 14th and I should have run 13 miles today.  However, it is 10:21 and I find myself on my couch, under a blanket, writing this blog post.  I will be working at the running store from 12-5 today, but I do intend to do some kind of running at some point.  I’m not totally sure what my distance will be, but I’m certain it will be something.  I know this seems strange given how please I’ve been at my consistency, and I know I should not be skimping on long runs, but sometimes I just need a little extra sleep!  I’ll update next week to let you know what happens today!

Til next time!

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MCM ’14 Week 10 – Virginia Beach Half Marathon!

It is hard to believe, but here it is – September 1st.  That means I can now officially declare I am running a marathon next month.  That is a little scary!  Tomorrow marks the first day back to school, which is just as nerve-wracking for us teachers as it is for the kids.  In the next 55 days I will meet my new class of 25 students, run a 5k race, run a half marathon, get married, and run Marine Corps.  I suppose this is what they call crunch time.


Running at 4:00pm in direct sunlight on a warm day makes me red and disgusting.

This week marked the end of my summer of travel.  Teacher went back to work on Monday to attend meetings and prepare our classrooms for the school year ahead.  On Wednesday I went out for a particularly sweaty four mile tempo run through Burke.  On Thursday my parents let my kids spend the night, and for the first time since I was in Costa Rica schedules worked out enough for me to go on a quick two mile run with the fiance.  My week was also spent thinking about the half marathon I had schedule on August 31st, and struggling with a goal.  Before this week I had run three half marathons in my running career.  The first, which was my first ever race longer than a 10k, was the Shamrock Half Marathon in VA Beach in March of 2011.  I finished in 2:24, and was pretty sure I never wanted to do anything like that ever again.  Flash forward to March of 2013 and the DC Half Marathon.  I had not run a single mile since November of 2012.  This is the wrong way to attempt a half marathon.  I hit the ten mile mark right around two hours and then my body took a serious nosedive.  My finish time was 2:55.  

2014 has been my year to make my running comeback.  I committed to a race every month, and really buckled down and set to training.  I sat down with calendars and wrote in almost every run I should take for the entire year, which I realize sounds beyond insane, but was the kind of accountability I needed.  I had plans and goals, and if I wanted to meet those goals, I had to stick to these plans (or at least, stay kind of close to them).  In May I ran my third half marathon and beat my previous PR handsomely, even managing to break the two hour mark for the Frederick Half.  Official finishing time – 1:56.

I earned that time, and it wasn’t easy.  I finished that race feeling totally drained and ended up with some kind of silly cold that took me two weeks to shake.  When thinking about the VA Beach Half this week, I just couldn’t settle on a goal.  I knew I didn’t need to break two hours again.  I kept reminding myself that this was not my race.  Marine Corps is my race.  That is what all of my energy and focus is headed towards, and everything else is just to help prepare me.  I didn’t want to go all in on this race and then need multiple days to recover.  I spent the day before the race enjoying the water with my kids, and trying to come up with some kind of strategy, but even on race morning, I didn’t really have a goal time.  

This is what a girl with no plans looks like.

This is what a girl with no plans looks like.

We stepped out of our hotel room on Sunday morning and were hit immediately with the humidity.  Even at 6:15am, it was already 76 degrees and sticky.  Whenever I travel for races I try my best to get a hotel room that is about a mile away from the start line so I can take a nice walk/jog to help warm me up before the race.  Today we ended up walking the entire time due to my running companion wanting to grab a coffee, and we ended up at the start line right as they were firing the gun to start.  Not the BEST way to stumble into a race, but I was comforted again by knowing this wasn’t my race.  For my fiance, however, it was his race.  When we ran in Frederick it was his first half, so he didn’t go into it with a goal.  He finished that race at 2:01.  He ended up frustrated, as if he had known he could get that close, he was sure he could have gotten under two hours.  VA Beach was going to be the race where he tried to get there.  He went off in a corral ahead of me and I trotted off on my own.

By mile two I was drenched with sweat.  At each water stop I’d grab one cup to drink, and one cup to pour on my head, just trying to keep myself as comfortable as possible.  I have to applaud this race – the organization was wonderful and they had a ton of not just bands, but cheerleading and dance squads from the surrounding areas.  The locals really pitched in too – more than one person came outside with their hose to offer some relief to runners, and along the way I hit many unofficial aid stops.  Early in the race there was a beer table that we passed by twice (I only participated once).  Also were two separate skittles stops, and multiple places where people were out in their yards handing out icee pops.  Those icee pops appeared around mile 11.5, when it was already around 80 degrees, and were just about the best thing ever.  Early in the race there were kids handing out mardi gras beads and later in the race there was a neighborhood handing out plastic leis.  By the time I finished the race I had three strands of beads and three leis wrapped around my neck.

When all was said and done I crossed the finish line at 2:02.  It was fast enough to put me in the top 11% of runners in my division, but wasn’t so strenuous where I felt like I was totally spent.  Sean did indeed make his goal, finishing at 1:59.  I am currently involved in a serious debate with myself to shell out the money for marathonfoto as there are actually some pretty great pictures from this particular race, and if I break down I will certainly share them next week.  


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Post Workout Recovery

Coach Bruce, RRCA Certified Running Coach

Coach Bruce, RRCA Certified Running Coach

Ah …. the post workout recovery …  we all know it’s important but very few of us have developed and follow a well thought out recovery plan.  While we all want to run like the Kenyans, we can, in fact, all recover like elite runners.

Incorporating enough time into any training program to implement a post workout recovery is critical because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place. Without sufficient recovery you mitigate much of the potential benefit which can result from the hard effort of the workout.

Recovery allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Intensive exercise causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen) as well as fluid loss.  Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise, which can lead to over training. The more intense and longer the training workouts(for instance, during the 8 week period prior to a marathon) the more likely the prospect of over training… symptoms include general feeling of tiredness, staleness, decreased training performance leading to increased risk of injury.  Thus the importance of adhering to a recovery plan after each of your hard workouts; usually the track (speed) sessions, tempo runs and weekly long runs. A recent article in RunnersConnect outlined the components of a thorough recovery plan.  Below are the nine components of that post workout recovery plan.  Admittedly, this plan is comprehensive and time consuming, but if you want those 16 mile runs to prepare you better for those 20 milers, its time well spent.  And hey, you still want to run like the Kenyans …. right?

So, as closely as possible, you should be doing a recovery that resembles these components.

  1. Hydrate as soon after your run as possible with Gatorade or electrolyte drink
  2. Stretch major muscle groups and anything that is sore or tight. Roll out any nagging injuries or problem areas.
  3. Eat a small meal that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
  4. Take an ice bath
  5. Eat a decent sized, healthy meal
  6. Nap, put your feet up, or get a massage
  7. Take an Epsom salt bath
  8. Roll out on the stick and stretch well
  9. ​Get plenty of sleep​.

​Next month we discuss each component in detail.

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Keeping Our Lives in Balance – Literally

John Faith has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004

John has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004 and enjoys being active!

Keeping Our Lives in Balance – Literally

Many of us have elderly relatives or friends, and are probably aware of how balance becomes more of an issue as we age. I’m not talking about balance in one’s life, e.g., between work and play, diet and exercise, etc. (all topics for another article, I’m sure!), I’m talking about the ability of one to maintain a steady upright posture in our day-to-day activities.

There are several aspects of balance, and, interestingly, they become more intertwined and interdependent as we age. An excellent article on the subject can be found at:

The article presents some of the major causes of age-related imbalance, and offers a handful of very useful, easy-to-do exercises requiring absolutely nothing more than our own body and a chair. I’d like to offer another, one suggested and strongly recommended to me by my physical therapist.

As some of you know, I had a major running injury some years ago. After years of false starts and a series of misdiagnoses and incorrect and even harmful therapies, I underwent an investigational procedure and began working with a sensitive, compassionate, empathetic therapist to regain my physical health. The work involved a lot of very specific weight work, stretching, and, interestingly, balance work, as my therapist noted that I’d lost some muscle mass, flexibility, strength, and I was off balance during some of the early sessions.

The strength and flexibility exercises helped immeasurably, as did the specific balance exercises, but I think the one exercise that helped my balance the most was simply walking backwards! I don’t think either of us realized just how beneficial it would turn out to be, but as I continued with my rehab, it was obvious it was helping my balance more than the specific balance exercises.

I’ve since done some reading on the subject. There are a number of excellent articles out there, such as the one at:, which explains a couple of additional benefits – it burns more calories than walking normally, and improves our peripheral vision, both of which wonderful unexpected side benefits. Another fine article can be found at:

The one caution in most of the articles, and one I emphasize, is that when walking backwards, one can’t easily see where one is going! Several of the articles mention doing the exercise on a treadmill, which pretty much eliminates this danger, but many of us don’t have access to a treadmill. I’ve found a great place to do my backwards walking is on a local track. I have the benefit of having not only a high school outdoor track available, but also an indoor 1/8 mile tracks at one of the local Arlington middle schools. The only “danger” I’ve discovered when walking backwards on the middle school track is the jeers and looks from the kids who’s PE class coincides with my workouts!

School’s in session – please be careful out there, and watch out for the kids who won’t be watching out for you!

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A Cyclist’s Reflection on a Ride across the Country

Charles Simpson

Coach Charles


A Cyclist’s Reflection on a Ride across the Country 

On June 2, three friends – Ben, Sam, and myself – set out to tour the country by bicycle from Washington, D.C to Washington State, Seattle; East Coast to West Coast;




Washington MonumentPicture1 to Space Needle. pic2

We were wildly unprepared. We had packed the night prior. We had no physical maps charting our journey. The first 500 miles of our route from D.C. to Pittsburgh was based on second-hand knowledge of trails connecting the two cities. None of us had

much experience with bicycle touring. We knew how to ride bikes and how to read maps, and figured the rest would just be a matter of synthesizing the two concepts. Easy.

But in the first 15 minutes Ben had forgotten his cell phone. In 30 minutes we had gotten lost after taking a wrong turn to the C&O Canal Trail. In the next 45 minutes Ben had a flat tire, and Sam’s patch kit proved ineffective at mending it.

flat tire

flat tire

In the next week Ben would lose his wallet, Sam would begin developing Achilles Tendonitis, and I would have a concussion and a bloody shoulder from a 20-mile-an-hour crash.

At that point it was clear the journey would not be as smooth as expected. But like any journey from Odysseus to Huck Finn, it yielded life lessons that cannot be truly known until experienced affectively first hand. We finished the trip on Aug 1, and I have since tried to tabulate some of those experiences here: I hope you enjoy reading through them. We were three bikers, rode three thousand miles: here are three points of reflection, on politics, on life, and on home.

A Cyclist’s Reflection: On Politics

Leaving Washington D.C. set a mental agenda for observing our country: we were starting from the epicenter of partisanship, distortional rhetoric, and divisiveness. This was the city that – as the functional hub of a democracy – was supposed to represent the country around it. We cycled out of D.C. under fire: Republicans were attacking Democrats over the handling of the Bergdahl exchange; both parties were performing flanking maneuvers over the NSA and executive overreach; the left was pushing for EPA climate change regulation and the right was pushing back for intervention in Ukraine.

Escaping DC along the Potomac

Escaping DC along the Potomac

After about 40 minutes of riding we crossed under the beltway on the C&O Canal Trail, past the political battle lines and into the country that D.C.’s partisan leaders are supposedly representing. But from rural Maryland to inner city Pittsburgh, from Midwest cornfields to suburban Tacoma, and from sea to shining sea, the constituents did not reflect the divisiveness of Washington.

Universally, we witnessed people just trying to get by, living their lives, and supporting their families. In both blue Iowa and red South Dakota, there were farmers attending fields of crops. In blue Ohio and red Montana, there were retirees camping out and playing cards. In rural Indiana, a middle-aged woman stopped to ask to pray for us, and in a bar in Portland a young man bought us a round of drinks – different forms of well wishing but ultimately the same in its good will. In a trailer park in Illinois, an old man on a tractor offered us shelter from a tornado, and in suburban Tacoma a family opened their home to us as rain poured down – different settings, different political colors, but ultimately the same kindness and hospitality.

This is not to say there weren’t stark divides. Our country is wildly culturally diverse. Nowhere was it more visible than Washington state, where the Cascade Mountains split the state in two: the dry, arid, crop-growing east (and right-leaning voters) was delineated from the wet, green, service-based coast (and left-leaning voters). The division was tangible. But at no point did the roads we travelled on change color from red to blue. At no point did we feel the vitriol, polarization, or divisiveness political pundits spew forth in D.C. and on CNN.

Geographic / Political Dividers: East  Washington State

Geographic / Political Dividers: East Washington State

I wonder what would have happened if John Boehner could have ridden with us through deep blue Seattle? What if Nancy Pelosi had ridden through bright red rural Idaho? What if politicians knew each other’s constituents, and not just their leaders? Maybe it wouldn’t do much – but to humanize our politics would mean seeing the country as more than a binary colored map, and perhaps bring sense to our national debates. As Pico Iyer wrote in “Why We Travel”: “the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal.” Amen.

Geographic / Political Dividers: West Washington State

Geographic / Political Dividers: West Washington State






A Cyclist’s Reflection: On Life

My experience with bike riding is from racing. I competed in triathlons in college, won my age group at a few races, and completed an IronMan. Every time I get on a bike, adrenaline sets in. I methodically calculate the calories, ounces of water, and milligrams of caffeine I take in. I push my legs until they burn, and up the tempo until my lungs do too. Runners reading this can empathize – whether you’ve run a 5K or a marathon you know this racer’s mentality. It is focused, engaged, aggressive, and goal-oriented. You hear Nike slogans blaring in your head: Just Do It! Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body! Don’t Stop ‘Till You Drop! In your head you’re a champion, a winner. You set your goals, and you accomplish them one lap at a time.

Instinctively, I set out from Washington D.C. with this mentality. We had a short 60 days to finish our 3,000-mile journey, which meant we had daily mileage quotas to hit. We needed to take in around 7,000 calories a day to keep our body weight up and avoid fatigue. We needed a liter of electrolyte-spiked water each hour in the June heat. We needed regular stretching to prevent injury, and constant bike maintenance to prevent breakdown. But on day four this racer’s mentality was knocked out of my head, literally.

I was frustrated on day four. We hadn’t hit our mileage quotas. Sam’s Achilles tendons were sore from not having trained appropriately and from not getting his bike properly fitted. Ben’s shoulder and quads were sore from not training sufficiently. I was tired from not doing enough weight-loaded training rides. I hadn’t planned our route out in enough detail, and I had packed too much weight. And so when a bee flew into my helmet at mile 40 for the day, I found the proverbial final straw. I crashed, and the next thing I remember I was on the ground fixing a blown out tire.

repairing one of many flat tires

repairing one of many flat tires

Just a little concussion

Just a little concussion

After repeatedly asking Ben some simple questions I should have known the answers to, we both realized I had suffered a concussion and was experiencing short-term memory loss. 30 minutes later my memory returned, my shoulder was covered in Neosporin, and the tire was patched. We were on our way (and would finish the day’s 70 mile ride), but I was shaken.

The next day we arrived in Pittsburgh, nestled in a river valley with the gently sloping Alleghany Mountains rising up on all sides. The next day was cloudy, and we spent it relaxing, taking a breather: the weather and the city set a perfect tone for reflection. I realized my race mentality was active in more than just this bike trip. I often get tunnel vision on objectives, benchmarking success academically, professionally, and athletically. I move at a fast pace, achieve a lot, but forget to look down at the roses, much less stop and smell them.



Racer's Mentality

Racer’s Mentality

For many of us – not just me – this is deeply embedded in our culture. Modern American society has become overwhelmingly success driven, with success very narrowly defined. We have revved up Weber’s “Protestant Work Ethic” into overdrive with Starbucks double espresso shots in the mornings and Red Bull in the evenings. We work too long each day, too many days each year. On average, we spend a week of time each year stuck in traffic getting to jobs we don’t like for an end we don’t believe in. We try to be super workers, super athletes, and super moms or dads. We try to do everything, and thereby enjoy very little. It is not surprising that the United States is ranked #1 globally for GDP, but 105th for happiness (right after Belarus. Yes there are statistics for this, check the HP Index).

I was guilty of this attitude in biking: I was so concerned about meeting our mileage benchmarks and calorie counts that I forgot to enjoy the view. We spent two days in Pittsburgh, resting. We fell behind our mileage benchmark in that time, but that was okay. I sat and read a book in a quaint brick-walled café. I ate delicious Polish sandwiches and drank amazing craft beers that would not help my cycling performance, but sure were worth it. I ate ice cream, listened to street music, called my family to catch up, and chatted with Ben.

“What is the point of this trip,” he asked me rhetorically, picking up on my pensive attitude. “Is it to be able to say we crossed the country on bikes? No. You have quite a long list of very impressive athletic accomplishments, but I don’t think this is supposed to be one of them. This is about seeing the country. It’s about meeting people and experiencing places. It’s about spending time reflecting with friends. Maybe we don’t make it all the way, but that’s okay.” He was absolutely right. And on a deeper level than I think he realized at the time.

When we live our lives day to day it is important to check our mentality: are we in race mentality, striving to achieve a laundry list of objectives, or are we in an easy cruise mentality? Are we enjoying our journey, coasting from town to town, or speeding between them trying to hit our daily mileage requirements? Perhaps it is important to ask this question before we crash and suffer a concussion.

Pittsburg:  A place to slow down and reflect

Pittsburg: A place to slow down and reflect

We left Pittsburgh for Cleveland, rolling a little bit more smoothly. The sky was grey from overcast clouds, but to me the world hadn’t looked so vibrant since we left.

A Cyclist’s Reflection: On Home

The night before leaving Virginia I rode my bike to a cookout with a group of running friends from Metro Run & Walk. It was a wonderful send off, but as I showed them my bike fully loaded I realized it hadn’t occurred to me how strange it was to have all of my belongings for the next two months fit into two backpack-sized bags on either side of my rear wheel. “Where do you keep your shampoo and conditioner?!” someone bawled.

Two months supplies

Two months supplies

There was a lot more than just shampoo and conditioner I couldn’t pack. I couldn’t take my family and friends. I couldn’t take my bed, or an air conditioner. I couldn’t take the corner café or the bar in Boston I like to relax in from time to time. I couldn’t take good home cooked food, or comfortable cotton clothes, or a TV, or my daily routine. There is an irony about the sensation of “home”: it is the routine and ordinary nature of the place that makes it so wonderful. It is our daily routine, the family we see daily, and the friends we meet with regularly on the weekends, the coffee we prepare each morning, and the dinner we cook each evening that all give “home” its value. But we don’t realize the ordinary, and therefore cannot realize how comforting home is for the exact reason it is so comforting in the first place. It is only by breaking away that we realize the special nature of that place.

For Ben, Sam, and myself, our surrogate “home” during the trip would be three, small waterproof bivy sacks, basically mummy-shaped tents. We each had an inflatable ground pad, a sleeping bag to keep warm (and keep the mosquitos away), and an e-reader for nightly entertainment. We had Fig Newton’s for snacking, and two friends to talk to. It shouldn’t have felt like home, but over the 3,000 miles there were numerous times we actually felt pretty, well, “at home.” And it wasn’t because of our gear, it was because of the people we met along the way, and the company we travelled with.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

The first notable feeling of “home” was in Illinois when a tornado struck. We were riding through cornfields, noticing on Google Maps that there wasn’t a campsite anywhere near us: the sky darkened and it became clear a storm was quickly settling in around us. We rode up on a trailer park, and hoped that at worst we’d be allowed to lie low there under a tree until the storm passed. After briefly meeting the “co-manager” of the park, we were allowed to pitch our tents under a patch of trees to wait out the rain. But as the lightning picked up and the wind started pulling at the tent stakes, we began realizing this storm was a little bit more severe than we expected. From a concrete bathhouse across a clearing we saw a group of guys wave us over, and were more than happy to oblige. We took shelter in the men’s bathroom, Ben and I sitting on a stool outside the shower, with Sam watching the sheets of rain through an air vent behind the toilet stall. Awhile passed, but when the storm finally lightened we were able to check whether our tents were still around.

Stepping out of the bathroom we saw an old man, missing most of his teeth, but smiling ear to ear and sitting on a beat up tractor. He had the steering wheel in his left hand and a beer can in his right. “You kids still alive?” He shouted. “Well that was one hellofuh show wun’t! I tell you what, there’s a shed there you can clear out and make yourself at home, and oh! There’s beer in a cooler over there, help yourselves!” We thanked him, but kept our distance as he floored the tractor to clear a fallen limb, spilling beer out onto his lap.

Home, home on the range

Home, home on the range

He checked our tents. They were still staked to the ground but completely water logged – the old man’s offer of an empty shed was looking like a perfect place to call “home” for the night. That evening we got to know some of the town community while helping clear fallen limbs. They welcomed us, and we quickly forgot about our wet tents and sleeping bags as we sat around sipping cheap beer, moonshine, and talking about everything from the city folk in Chicago up north to the storm damage being reported by the little towns all around us. The locals told us funny stories, and we made them laugh with the “insanity” of our bike trip. We were comfortable, in every sense of the word.

There were these kinds of moments everywhere. There was the couple in Sandpoint, Idaho we met on a community moonlight bike ride that showed us the town and allowed us to pitch our tents right in their backyard because we had nowhere else to stay. There was the old hired hand in the central Montana plains that made us a pizza when there was no other food stops for 60 miles in any direction. There were the old retired women playing bridge in Hicksville, Ohio, who bought us lunch and shared the history of their town just as we were starting to get the feeling that we no longer knew at all where we were. There was the restaurant owner and wait staff in Tonasket, Washington who let us rest on their deck for two days, pitching our tents behind the restaurant, and sending along friendly hospitality as we waited for raging forest fires in the surrounding woods to be put out.

There were Ben’s aunt, uncle, and cousin in Seattle who took in three sweaty, tired, and hungry bikers, making us all feel like family too. There was also Ben’s co-worker in Portland, who made the city that flaunts its weirdness feel homey and welcoming. And there were the three of us friends, carrying on running jokes and lending support from the wilds of the Appalachian mountains to the middle of nowhere in the Cascades.

We realized a “home” is not built by brick, glass, and mortar but by an attitude generated from everyone living in it. It is a sense of belonging. It is a sense of security from the elements, but also from alienation and isolation. We thank everyone who built this feeling of home for us wherever we went.

My home is beyond place and name. It is with the beloved, in a space beyond space. I embrace all and am part of all.

~Jelaluddin Rumi, 1207 – 1273 AD

Some Last Thoughts

David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. I think the speech went viral because it touched a nerve in the modern American psyche, and I think has something to say about this bike trip. The speech began:

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

If at this moment you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish: please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

The idea for the bike trip was formed about six years ago, as a wild dream shared between Ben and I while sitting beside a fire pit. We went inside and looked at a U.S. map and decided: “Yeah, that country’s not so big, lets do it.” The rest was a matter of timing and opportunity – we didn’t put much more planning into it than we did that first inceptive evening. But that was okay, because the point was never to make the crossing in record-breaking time, or log a certain number of miles, or bragging rights that we had moved on our own steam from coast to coast.

The trip was truly meant as a two-month meditation – a chance to consider where we have been, where we are, and where we are going (in life as well as on the road; as a country; as people; as actors on the world stage). It was a chance to escape from the daily grind of driving a car, going to the super market, being surrounded by the familiar, and to see the world and our lives through a new, ever shifting lens. It was a chance to leave the fish bowl and think about water.

"What the hell is water?"

“What the hell is water?”

Novelist Tony Hiss reflects on the sensation of travel in his book In Motion, describing “an exhilarating state of mind that travel can evoke, when everything seems suddenly fresh, vivid, intensely interesting, and memorable. Because you focus on what you’re looking at and listening to, Deep Travel is like waking up while already awake; things have a way of seeming emphasized, underlined.”

But he also notes that “travel can sometimes summon this kind of awareness automatically – we can all remember times when the world came alive unexpectedly – but we can also bring it to vibrant life voluntarily,” with our conscious choice to look on the world as constantly changing, novel, colorful amidst daily routine.

Reflecting on water

Reflecting on water

We don’t all have the opportunity to leave the fish bowl: we may have fish kids to take to soccer practice, or a fish job at the bubble factory. But we can all take a moment to consider the water we swim in.  For the three of us, the bike trip set the perfect stage and established a perfect emotional state for reflecting on water. It made this process easier, but was not necessary. The Tao Te Ching argues:

“Without going outside his door, one understands all that takes place under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Dao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out, the less he knows.

Therefore, the sages got their knowledge without travelling, gave their names to things without seeing them; and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.”

In Wallace’s words, we can understand the water we swim in without ever leaving the bowl. But as a fish that has done some swimming, if you can get out to explore the ocean, please do.

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