Hoops, Sleep, Bike to DC, Bike Home, Nap, Repeat

The last couple of days have been killers. Our daughter’s college team is playing in an NCAA conference tournament. My wife and I watched the games. When I met my wife I was a very mellow marathon runner. Once I got behind the wheel of a car I became a raging maniac. She’s pretty much the same when watching college basketball. Her reactions to the game are as much fun as the game itself.

The games ended around 11:30 p.m. The morning after the first game, I got up before 6 a.m., skipped breakfast, and rode into a cold wind to Friday Coffee Club. It was worth it. Swings House of Caffeine once again has apple fritters. At 9 a.m. the festivities ended and I got to participate in the roll out. The remaining east bound club members ride across the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza in front of the White House then disburse to their homes and jobs. I think this was only my second roll out because I went west to my office after coffee.

I headed for home. I waited at Constitution Avenue at a red light. The Washington Monument stood to my right, encircled by flags on flag poles. All the flags were pointing straight out. Fortunately, they were pointing in my direction of travel. I still had to cross the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge. Long story short, I froze my ass off.

The 12 miles to home were blissfully wind aided.

I ate breakfast and took a nap.

Friday night I stayed up late again to watch Mrs. Rootchopper’s team get eliminated. This morning I awoke before 6, skipped breakfast again, and headed back to DC. This time I had a tailwind going to the city. I stopped at the Dyke Marsh bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail to renew my tradition of taking pictures of the early morning sun.


My Cross Check jumped into the picture.

I arrived at the start of the Rock N Roll Half Marathon. This was on Constitution Avenue from about 14th Street to 9th Street. There were so many people that I couldn’t possibly find anyone I knew. I decided to find a good point on the course to view the runners.

I picked 18th and C Streets NW.  The streets were closed to cars and it was early so getting around was simple. I stood on the corner where the runners turned west off of 18th onto C. And watched.

The lead runners were incredibly fast. These folk were not messing around. Then the field became more and more crowded. I kept looking for my friends Ursula and Grace. And looking. And looking. Trying to find someone in a crowd like this brings on a kind of runner’s blindness, akin to snow blindness. Your brain just can’t process this much visual information.

Then I realized that a runner was coming right toward me. It was Ursula. She was just a few feet in front of me before I recognized her. I flinched when she gave me a high five (it’s her thing) because my hand was frozen. Right behind her was her co-worker Doug.  Another feeble high five. And they were away. I managed to get their picture from behind. (She’s got a fanny pack on. Doug is to her right.)

I waited for Grace but I never saw her. On to Adams Morgan I rode, straight north on 18th Street.

I parked myself in the sun and waited as the runners turned from Calvert Street to go east on Columbia Road. It was still very cold, pretty much perfect for the runners. They were about a mile from running up the killer Calvert Street hill out of Rock Creek Park. Most of them had recovered, but Columbia Road was itself a bit of an incline.

Just as I began to get runner blindness again, I spotted Ursula. Yes! Then I accidentally shut off my camera. No! At least I got another high five. This time we made solid contact. Dang, it hurt. My hand was beet red.

I waited some more for Grace. She tweeted a description of her outfit (at my suggestion) so that her friends could pick her out of the crowd. I pulled out my phone to check the description and Twitter locked up on me. All I remembered from the tweet was that she was wearing gray tights (like a third of the field). Fortunately, Grace has red hair and tons of freckles. (I did too when I was a kid, so she gets bonus points in my book.)

And, sure enough, here she was. Her hair was pulled back and she wasn’t wearing glasses but she was easy to spot. And she was moving pretty fast despite the hill.

After she passed I rode across town to intercept the race again. This time I had to make my way through traffic jams. Drivers were now out and about and they were not happy to be hemmed in my street closures.

I made it to North Capitol Street. The runners were running south using the underpass to avoid New York Avenue. I had to use the side road and got stuck at a traffic light that lasted over a minute. I think the delay cost me a third shot at seeing Ursula. I set up camp at where the course turns east on K Street NE.

In just a few minutes Grace came cruising by. All smiles. She flashed a peace sign as she passed.

Grace Pooley

I turned and headed for the finish. This took much longer than I thought. At one point, on Capitol Hill I turned left where a police car was blocking off the road. My focus was in the distance and I didn’t see the yellow police tape strung across the road. I broke the tape with my helmet and apologized to the cop. He thought it was pretty funny and waved me on.

At the finish the runners were joined by family and friends. There was no hope of meeting up with anyone I knew so I decided to ride home.

By this time, I had come to realize that skipping breakfast was not the smartest move I could have made this morning. After I crossed the river, I had to contend with a strong headwind for the next 12 miles. Like yesterday, I had worn hiking boots instead of proper cycling shoes. The added quarter of an inch of sole made my knees very unhappy.

I pulled into home and ate all the things. The three cups of hot coffee could not have tasted better.

I had ridden 70 cold, windy miles in hiking boots on about 11 hours of sleep over two days. The coffee had no effect. I listened to my body and took a long nap on my bed in the warm afternoon sun.


Biking a Marathon: The Two-Wheeled Spectator

Last week my friend Katie Bolton asked me to talk to her about strategies for watching the up coming Marine Corps Marathon. Her article hit the interwebs over the weekend:

I met Katie through Friday Coffee Club. She is an unassuming soul who is infinitely more talented, likable, and bright than she’ll ever know. She is between careers and blogs about the travails of finding the sweet spot in the work/life world, a topic that seems to consume so many of my young friends in DC.

I used to run. A lot. One year I ran 3,000 miles. My marathon best is 3:04:29, good for 24th place at the Heritage Trail Marathon in Troy, NY. No brag. Just fact.


Then I hurt my left knee playing volleyball. Sad face.

I miss running, especially on days when it is just a little too cool for bike riding. That’s prime long distance running weather.

You might think that runners don’t appreciate the cheers from the crowd in a marathon. You’d be wrong. The energy boost that the crowd gives is potent. I’ll never forget the boost I got from the crowds in Newport RI during the final run through downtown in the Ocean State Marathon. (Too bad they weren’t around when I hit the wall three miles later!)

Of course, a great way to cheer your friendly marathoner on is to ride a bike to various spots along the course. In DC you don’t even need a bike. You can use the bike sharing system. Any bike will do.

I know a few people runing Marine Corps so I’ll ride up to DC to cheer them on. if there is a marathon in your neck of the woods, check it out. Make some noise. The runners will definitely appreciate it.

Losing My Mind

My co-worker Kelly likes to run. She always wears headphones to listen to music and audio books. I told her I used to run 70 miles per week and never wore headphones.

Kelly: “If I ran that far without headphones I’d lose my mind.”

Me: “That’s the whole point!!”

The best parts of my runs back in the day and the best parts of my bike rides today happen when I am on autopilot. It’s just me, the pavement or trail, and my body. My mind goes to another place. The sure sign of a good ride is when I have that “How did I get here?” thought. (This sometimes causes me to miss a turn. Then I actually need an answer!)

There are times (lots of them) when my brain goes round and round on a subject as I am rolling along. Work. Relationships. Plans. That jerk in the car that nearly killed me. More often than not, the rhythm of the ride short circuits the internal chatter and I go back to my trance.

Any time I read a decription of simple breathing meditation I am reminded of my bike rides. Which is why a yoga-loving friend of mine calls my bike commutes “your meditation.”

If you get bored while you are riding, go with it. Let your thoughts take a mini vacation. Just until the next intersection. Then do it again. And again. Your thoughts have earned it. So have you.

You won’t get lost, but you might get found.


Runner Blind

The plan was to ride my bike to the Army Ten Miler up in Arlington and DC and see three friends who were running. Megan was doing her last run before a triathlon in a couple of weeks. Kelly is my co-worker who underwent hip surgery earlier this year. It’s incredible to me that she’s well enough to run ten miles. I met Chris during the Cider Ride in 2013. He passes me occasionally on our rides to work. I rarely recognize him.

When I left the house the temperature was in the forties. Eeep! I broke out my long wind pants and some winter gloves. Who’s idea was this? The first five miles were shrouded in fog.

Not wanting to run afoul of Alexandria’s finest, I rode down Washington Street and endured the traffic lights. At the north end, an impatient driver coming from the north turned across my path. I yelled at him and he held his hands up as if to say, “It was the car’s idea.”

I decided not to ride to Long Bridge Park at the northern edge of Crystal City. This would mean that I could bypass the two mulch detours on the Mount Vernon Trail. Unfortunately, Crystal Drive was milled for paving. I managed to make it to the race course without losing any fillings.

I took up a position on the west side of Long Bridge Drive so that I could be in the sun. The runners were being directed to the left lane of the divided four lane road so I was right next to them. I watched as the wheel chair athletes came through. Then a pack of runners blew by. Then the mob came. Waves of runners. I looked for Megan who I expected to come through first. Since the start is staggered there was no way to tell when she’d arrive but I guessed that she would be the fastest of the three.

I watched as many Megan lookalikes came by. My friend Veronica is super fit with long curly red hair. Even woman with long curly red hair distracted me. Then came the occasional blade runner, amputees with a carbon fiber prosthetic. Dang. Just dang.

I started to think that I missed Megan then on the far side of the two lanes next to the center island I saw a woman in a lime green shirt. She looked at me and wave. Ay!!! GO MEGAN!!!

And then she was gone.

I waited and looked and looked and waited. Thousands of runners went by. After a while they my vision blurred. In winter you can go snow blind. At big road races you go runner blind.

The opposite side of the road was open to runners. Now I had four lanes of people to sort through. I realized that this was getting futile but I couldn’t leave because there were no breaks in the flow of runners.

I checked my phone. Chris had finished 30 minutes ago. I later learned that Kelly finished too. She was wearing long bright green socks. How I missed her is beyond me.

After waiting another 30 minutes the field thinned. I headed for home. It was no longer cold. In fact it was downright perfect.

I took my time enjoying the weather and the ride of my new Cross Check.

Once I got home, I took a book out on the deck and read in the warm sun, the air devoid of humidity. It is perfect sweatshirt and shorts weather. It is also perfect weather for a nap. I took full advantage.

Running Quilt

Most people think of me as a bicyclist or, maybe a hiker. That’s because they weren’t around when I was a runner. After losing 70 pounds and quiting a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, I had energy to burn. I bought a bike. Soon the days shortened and my bike without a light became dangerous to ride. So, I switched to running.

My first run lasted all of a quarter mile until I stopped gasping for air. Day by day, I added distance and speed. It helped that I was living in Providence RI and, for a summer, Berkeley CA. The weather in both places is ideal for running. More than half a lifetime ago, I ran my first marathon, the Ocean State Marathon in Newport RI. 3:10:18. Lord was it hard!

A couple of years later I ran a 3:04:29 in Troy NY. Then, I played a volleyball game and my left knee popped. I tried and tried to continue with running but my body no longer wanted any part of it.

The irony is that distance running, as hard as it is to do physically, is really not about the body at all. It’s all about the mind. Any meditation teacher will tell you that meditation is about calming the mind. Clearing out thoughts and mental restlessness. Getting rid of the monkeys (or squirrels) in your head. This is what happened to me on every long distance run. Once I trained my body to handle the task, my body would go on auto pilot and my brain would calm. I missed this aspect of it terribly.

The only thing left from my running days are a drawer full of t-shirts.  In the early years of our marriage, Mrs. Rootchopper took up quilting. We talked about creating a quilt out of my old running t-shirts but scores of other quilting projects took over, including quilts for Project Linus.

Night after night she quilts away at the dining room table. It’s such a common sight that I don’t pay attention and try not to interrupt her. This is pretty much what happened over the last month or so.

Little did I know that she was crafting the running quilt all that time. Here it is presented to me as the best 60th birthday present. What an incredible surprise.

Throwback Thursday: Like Yesterday

I bought my first bike as an adult (sort of) when I was 22. It was a Raleigh Grand Prix and it cost me an entire week’s wages. I rode it for a summer in Boston and then moved to Providence for grad school. My Raleigh was my only means of transport and it served me well (until its left front fork fell off during a ride, but that’s another story). After class I’d go for rides in Providence and its environs until, that is, the days grew short. Back in those days bicycle lighting was patheticly inadequate. How was I going to de-stress without my bike.

I had a pair of Jack Purcell tennis shoes so I figured why not try running. My first run lasted about a quarter of a mile before I stopped due to lack of oxygen. With each passing day I added a bit of distance. After a few weeks, my tennis shoes were nearly destroyed so I bought a pair of running shoes and kept at it.

Over the course of the next two years my mileage increased incrementally. I still rode my bike but only to run errands or go on the occasion long (usually well under 30 miles) ride. I hit the 1 mile barrier, the 3 mile barrier, and the 5 mile barrier. Getting past each barrier took major effort. 7 miles. 10 miles. Once I cleared 13 miles I was cooking with gas. I quietly entered the Ocean State Marathon in Newport.

About a month before I tried my first 20 miler. It nearly killed me. A week later I tried again and finished, to my uttter amazement, in a full out 1 mile sprint. Dang. The day of the marathon came and some grad school friends and I drove to Newport. It was November 1. About a third of the course traversed Ocean Drive, with winds off Rhode Island sound. It was cold. I wore a t-shirt and cheap gym shorts.

And I ran. And I ran. And I ran. At 20 miles I felts awesome. At 23 I felt awful. The kind of awful that simply can’t be described. I could barely bend my legs. I forged onward walking and jogging until I could run slowly. My legs were beaten to death by the crown in Ocean Drive and the incredibly hard surface of Belleview Boulevard, pretty mansions all in a row.

The last half mile involved the biggest hill of the course. I was so mad when I saw it I took off in a full out sprint. When I crossed the finish line the congestion of the runners ahead of me caused me to stop abruptly. I was given my medal (which I still have), memorized my time (3:10:18) and started to cramp up something fierce. My crew of grad school friends came to my side and help me walk away.

As the Brits say, I was chuffed and knackered. I remember that run like it was yesterday. I wrecked my left knee playing volleyball three years later and had to give up running. I miss it every day still. When I walk downstairs to my family room I pass a wall with framed certificates from four of my seven marathon finishes. Glory days.