Santa Monica

Santa Monica Mountains

One of the things I like about DC is that you have four distinct seasons of approximately equal length (3 months).  Nudge a little north and spring starts to compress into a smidgeon at the end of May.  Even just 3 hours north in State College, you never had a proper spring, just muddy cold tails of winter for most of March and April.  Drift a little south into Virginia and the Carolinas and you lose a proper winter.  DC is a little mid-Atlantic sweet spot where each season takes itself seriously.

Snow means winter slack-off time!

Snow means winter slack-off time!  (Dec 21, 2015 – White Grass resort, WV)

My body follows DC’s strong seasonality, with distinct fall and spring training cycles, and winter and summer off.  Maybe it’s a relic of the high school and college track and cross country cycles, with clear summer and winter downtimes followed by September and March buildups to marque championships in November and May.  Or maybe it’s just the tug of Miss Mother Nature, with the body’s natural drive kicking in with the cooling of summer heat or the budding of orchids.  Clover time.

This fall was peppered with works trips (Mexico, Taiwan, Florida, Virginia Tech), but I tried to squeeze as many races as I could between September and November (Big Schloss, Navy-AirForce Half Marathon, Ellen’s Run, MountainBackStone Mill 50).  After Stone Mill, I’d take some R&R and settle in for winter.

But sometimes different cycles collide.  A most overwhelmed uterus at Stone Mill smashed my little fall running plan to bits.  There was no crescendo.  Why would I take time off after covering a slow 27 miles at Stone Mill?  Physically I didn’t need a break.

I’ve noticed in Aaron’s UltraRunner magazine that there is a surging obsession with coaches for trail running.  Has anyone else noticed how many articles now are about professional coaching?  I’m so confused.  I thought the whole point of trail running was to get away from people telling you what to do.  After a youth drenched in athlete-coach tensions, the trails are my free space.  Part of the joy derives from knowing I can give two big middle fingers to anyone who starts to tell me what to do.  Aaron knows the line well.  Even Strava sometimes oversteps and has to be cut back.

But I will admit that in that one little moment after Stone Mill it would have been useful to have a coach, someone to whom I’m beholden, who could just affirm Marmot, take some bloody time off.

It felt unearned.  It felt stupid.  I wasn’t even sore.  Aaron reminded me that you can’t take a break from training when you haven’t been training to begin with.  But after Stone Mill I took a little vacation from running.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean no running.  It’s jut a hiatus from the almighty Strava.  No goals, no tracking miles. Whether I did 5 miles, 10 miles, or 40 miles over the course of a week, it was all the same.

Cue……Los Angeles.  Aaron’s brother Mark and his wife Amanda had just bought a new arts & crafts style house in Echo Park and were hosting Thanksgiving this year.  Aaron and I stayed with my aunt’s family in Santa Monica, and split time between the families.  Every day was sunny and cool and perfect.  The perfect place to kick off Operation KickBack.


Watching pelicans nose dive into the Pacific from the Santa Monica pier was my personal Thanksgiving highlight

Aaron and I indulged ourselves with a 22-mile loop in the Santa Monica mountains.  Remarkable how we could trot out the door from my aunt’s house in Santa Monica and zigzag a couple miles through some streets and find ourselves at Will Rogers Park and the entrance to miles upon miles of trails up into the mountains and overlooking the ocean.

Our Thanksgiving escape in the Santa Monica mountains

The West Coast version of Vicki’s Death March

Now, I am not a California girl.  (Maybe that’s not as self-explanatory as it seems to me, but I’m not diving into that here.)  But I do like to visit.  My aunt and uncle have a cabin in Mammoth, and Aaron and I would love to get out to California more, for skiing in the winter and running in the summer.  We’ve also deduced that the LA marathon starts within a mile of Aaron’s brother’s house, and ends within a mile of my aunt’s house in Santa Monica.  Will definitely need to do that point-to-point some time, maybe in 2017.

The Santa Monica mountains reminded me a lot of Stanford's foothills

The Santa Monica mountains reminded me a ton of Stanford’s foothills.

I continued Operation KickBack in Clearwater, Florida, where I flew directly from LA for a conference.  I made sure to escape from the conference for a sunset run along the beach that ended with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was my first time swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.  There’s something about floating in the dark salty water as the red fireball of the sun melts into the horizon that lets you forgive yourself of everything, past and present.

White sands of Clearwater Beach

White sands of Clearwater Beach

As soon as I touched down from Florida in DC, it was time for Magnus Gluteus Maximus.  Last year, I did the whole 50k.  And spent most of those miles griping about how Sean had ditched me that year.  This year was a social run.  Sean had a knee problem.  Our dear delicate flower Schmidty this time had horrible kidney stones.  Hellgate was the following weekend and Aaron could join but not go too far.  Evan was post-Pinhoti and rounded out our merry band of slackers.  The plan was to run 5-6 miles out with Brian, Sean, and Aaron, and then continue on with Evan to perhaps do the whole thing.  But Evan and I had split for a minute or 2 before I realized my stupidity.  I was missing quality social miles!  Evan and I quickly reversed and caught Sean, Aaron, and Brian to run the 6 or so miles back to Hemlock with them.  Evan and I then ran a couple miles upstream, to round out a BlackJack 21.  It was a splendidly sunny and warm day, and the most fun I’d had on the trails in a while.  Sean was limping horribly and I was a little concerned.  But you can’t be friends with Sean if you can’t handle watching him hurt himself.

One of the things I’ve never understood about MGM is why the pizza doesn’t arrive until 1:30.  The winner of MGM is not the person who covers the 50k the fastest.  If you run too fast, you just have to wait longer for the food.  Last year I was the real winner, arriving just 10 minutes before the pizza came.  Changed out of my wet clothes and Bingo, hot food.  But most years I don’t run the whole thing and end up leaving around 12:30, the utmost limit of my hunger tolerance.  There’s a Wegmans on the way home.  And an awesome pizza place we discovered in Clifton.

This year, by 12:30 I’d eaten my fill of Katie’s sugar balls and was starting to motivate towards the door, when I ran into Clapper.

‘You know Michele told me to order the pizza earlier this year,’ he began.  ‘But then I thought that would just reward all the people who went short.’

I tried to wrap my head around the notion that a marmot who’d woken up at 6am and run 21 miles should be food-deprived and punished.

‘Really?  You want your party to just be the blowhards that run the whole thing?’  I found my logic unassailable.  ‘We’re leaving, Joe.  We’re hungry.  I ran 21 miles and I want food.’

You could see the lightbulb flash.  Now here Joe gets a lot of credit for how quickly he changed course.  He dialed up the pizza guys right away to try to rush-deliver the pies.  Sure, it was still another 45 minutes or so before they arrived.  But his efforts were symbolic, and the hangry marmot was appeased.  Sean, Aaron, Brian, and I held on for several more hours of festivities, one of which involved me exercising my duties as a member of the ‘Stick Club’.  If you want to know what the Stick Club is, you’ll have to query me offline.  I’m confident that only very close friends will have made it this far in the blog anyway, and there’s nothing to worry about, but Aaron says people might get the wrong idea about me.

I’m not a very politically active person.  I’m not terribly active in the VHTRC either.  But I do try, with all my marmot powers, to make running fun for myself and others, e.g., Donut Runs and Beer Miles.  For the month of December I’ve made our WUS runs ZooLights runs, zigzagging through the National Zoo and stopping into the animal houses to see the critters.  Aaron and I have been painstakingly shepherding WUS back to its roots as a fun social run, not a sprint free-for-all.  So if I can get the pizzas to arrive at noon at MGM, instead of 1:30, it will be a subtle but symbolic victory for putting more weight on having a fun and social time out on the trails, and less on running insanely long distances.

I next took my crazy notion that running should be fun to State College, PA, where Aaron and I spent the Friday before Christmas.  I met up with old running buddies (pun intended) at the noon time run from Rec Hall.  Tom, Meira, Dave M, Costas, and two new young guys Seth and Mike Z headed out with me for a golf course loop that quickly devolved into a group effort to keep a semi-inflated ball with us that I found on the side of the path.  We’re runners, not soccer players, so there was a fair bit of retrieving the ball from woods and ditches.  We got bonus points for kicking the ball into someone’s butt (preferably Costas’s).  At some point someone declared, We should have a ball on all our runs!  The game ended to much consternation when Costas accidentally kicked the ball into someone’s fenced-in yard and Costas refused to climb the fence to get it.  You know, the fact that a beat-up old ball can bring so much joy to a group of runners kind of makes you wonder how fun-deprived runners must normally be.

Meyer Dairy: best there's ever been

Meyer Dairy: best there’s ever been, and ever will be

I’ve waxed on previously about the unexpected charms of State College, and my attachment to the place and people, so I’ll refrain from too much of that.  I’ll admit that I felt a bit guilty Thursday night when it was clear that post-Hellgate exhausted Aaron was straining to keep his eyes open as we drove up to PA.  But after 48 hours in State College I didn’t feel guilty anymore.  State College is a fix I need a couple times a year.  It might seem stupid.  There are ostensibly plenty of places to get a massage in DC, a fair share of fancy ice cream places, plenty of shoe stores, running trails, etc. etc.

But, ironically, DC is a tough place to be if you like people.  You have to work really hard at it.  You have to plan things in advance.  You have to wake up really early.  On Sundays.  You have to coordinate schedules, and fight rush-hour traffic.  Hanging out with people in State College is seamless.  You want to do a happy hour on Friday?  Tom sent out an email to the listserv and we had to yank all the tables together to fit everyone.  You want to jaunt with friends in the mountains?  You roll out of bed at 9am, drive 5 minutes, and head off into the hills at the sane hour of 10am.  And if you haven’t had enough of your buddies, you whine and chant until your friends agree to go to the Naked Egg for brunch.  It turns out it’s graduation weekend and things are crAzY packed.  And by crazy packed, I mean we have to wait 20-30 minutes.  That would be the shortest brunch line in the history of the District of Columbia.

Don’t get me wrong, I love DC.  I love my job, my apartment, Rock Creek Park, Cleveland Park, WUS, Vace Pizza, etc etc.  Life is good.  But you have to work hard to be a social cat.  You have to organize and plan, sometimes months in advance.  Sarah Wright is one of my very best friends, not just in DC but in the world, and I can’t actually recall the last time I saw her.  It’s neither of our faults.  It’s just DC.



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