Saturday, March 21, 2009

Running Through the Ages

Age is relative. At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve reached – and mind you, I’m not just talking about MY age. In relative terms, our nation is pretty new – around 233 years, in fact. It is also one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world and non-native communities have been around since the early 1600s. However, having lived in Europe for a number of years, that is still pretty new; it was not unusual to see communities that could trace their origins back to the first millennium after Christ. So what does this have to do with running? A couple of our recent runs have been back east in areas where these earliest communities were established. Delaware in November was one of these and such was the case with our most recent run, the B&A (Baltimore & Annapolis) Trail Run in Severna Park, MD. Both Baltimore and Annapolis trace their origins back into the early 1600s – as do a number of small hamlets on Maryland’s “Eastern Shore” of the Chesapeake Bay. This trip provided us the opportunity to step back in time again – this time into early American history. Although I had been to Baltimore many times – and thoroughly enjoyed Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor, and the National Aquarium, I had never spent any time in Fell's Point (old historic district) or visited Mount Vernon (heart of Baltimore's cultural community, large memorial to George Washington, Peadbody Institute, grand Hotels, and affluent city residences) or the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the Americas. Nor had I spent time on the Easther Shore to visit a very interesting Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, or historical Easton, both of which boast homes and businesses from the 1600s, not to mention a Third Haven (Quaker) meetinghouse that is the oldest frame meetinghouse in the country. Strolling along some of these streets was like walking through a museum. You won’t see these houses on the websites flaunting America’s most expensive residences, but they exude a rich heritage and attest to a bygone era, while capturing and preserving some of its history. We enjoyed our historical tour, but it was capped by a very current lunch at The Town Dock in St. Michael’s which, without a doubt, ranks as one of the best seafood dinners we have ever had.

The race itself was run along the old railroad grade which had been the Baltimore & Annapolis line – now a running, walking and biking path through the forests and suburbs between Washington, DC and Baltimore. It was a pleasant course, although not unusually scenic. The elevation changes were moderate and the race was pretty well-supported – notwithstanding the snow that fell the night before the race, making some of the wooden bridges quite slick and still snow covered. Otherwise, the trail was wet, with a few puddles, but generally free of snow. We feared this would finally be one of those races where we would, of necessity, run in pretty bad weather – but fortunately, it did not rain or snow during the race. It was chilly, but not windy – and we were grateful for the conditions that we knew could have been far worse. Karen and I both ran races pretty typical of our recent performance – perhaps a few minutes slower due to conditions – and we were impressed by a strong field that included the US Naval Academy Marathon Team and a large contingent of runners from the Annapolis Striders Running Club. All in all it was a good race and an interesting trip – State #29 in our quest for 50.

Post-race thanks to Jennifer for watching Rachel over our weekend in Maryland. It always feels strange when she isn’t with us, but we enjoyed our time together and appreciated knowing she was in good hands. And should you be waiting for my “race wisdom”, don’t forget to let history teach its lessons. (Because in this case, my deepest thoughts were actually BEFORE the race and consisted of self-talk basically designed to convince me that running in the cold and snow REALLY wouldn’t be all that bad. NOT!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Running Back in Time (Reprise)

Although we recently went through our semiannual ritual of moving our clocks forward, the last two races have done just the opposite – to some extent turning back time. Our February race was actually in Birmingham, Alabama, but a good part of our trip was spent in Huntsville. It was a great opportunity to visit with some old friends and see what 25 intervening years have done to the city. In the latter case, it was obvious that Huntsville has continued to grow and prosper – without sacrificing its heritage. On a more personal note, we checked to see if Dacia’s mortal point of origin was still there (it was, although we couldn’t find the commemorative plaque we expected to see); we drove by Chafee School, where both Alan and Emily began their formal education; and wanted to pay our respects to the fateful spot where Emily learned her first physics lesson about height, distance and falling objects – not to mention the frailty of small arm bones (the park was still there, but the slide was not). We had a good visit to the Space and Rocket Center (vastly expanded) – and even caught an IMAX movie. Later, we drove past our town home (Willowbrook) and first home (Randall Rd), then through some new subdivisions, where it was obvious the “home” owners have done VERY well, but the homes were no more impressive than those going on 200 years old in the historic district of beautifully preserved, southern-style manors. The city also now boasts a prospering research and business park, but the lake and the geese (yes, the ones that Alan and Emily were petrified of) were still downtown, providing the setting for the Von Braun Civic Center. In Cullman, we visited the Ave Maria Grotto, the handiwork of a monk over 40 years, who built the world's landmarks in miniature.

We stayed a couple of nights with Mo and Martha Brooks – friends from the “Huntsville Era”. Both are doing well; Mo is still immersed in politics; Martha is now teaching middle school math; and Rachel (who, we learned, also runs marathons) is married with an 18-month old daughter. Besides politics, Mo has burnished his skills on the ping pong table. Although I expected to get beat, I didn’t necessarily expect to get annihilated – and that was with him playing left-handed! (I took some consolation knowing he plays at the state championship level.) Also had dinner with Paul Todd and Wendy, who have lived in Huntsville several years; Paul and I grew up as neighbors in Logan.

As for the race and Birmingham – both were good. In Birmingham we visited Vulcan Park, which commemorates Birmingham’s industrial and iron-producing heritage, with the largest iron statue in the world. We also visited several sites of significance from the civil rights era – which we ran by again during the race. Although I wouldn’t classify much of Birmingham’s downtown as particularly scenic, the race was well-supported, there was a pretty large field, the race expo and post-race food were really good (what’s not to like about a full BBQ sandwich lunch??), and the finisher’s medal (a Mercedes Benz emblem from the main sponsor) is one of our favorites. One section of the race went through some older, historic homes – which was a course highlight. As for results, I was happy with them. Since this was only my second race since the hamstring injury, I wanted to ensure things were back to normal, so started a bit conservatively. However, by the end I was more confident and finished very strongly – and reasonably satisfied that The Thoughtful Runner is fully back and in stride.

As for deep or particularly noteworthy thoughts (was I ever OUT of stride….purely a rhetorical question, mind you) – I’m not sure I had any (anyone surprised?). However, there were some impressions left from this race worth sharing. One has to do with our civil rights heritage. Having lived through much of that era, I remember it being an often tumultuous and divisive time and, in many respects, not one we should be too proud of. However, much progress has been made and many people risked a lot to bring that about. Taking a few minutes to visit some sites in Birmingham was a good idea – and I would recommend any such sites when you are in a location where that is possible. The second impression concerns preserving our past. It is a fact that the years take their toll on what we remember and how we remember it. I believe it is also true that the past, in large measure, has made us who we are today. Although we can’t and shouldn’t relive it, we certainly need to continue to pull and learn from it. And efforts to preserve it – however difficult – should not be neglected or postponed – as there will not always be a tomorrow. Once and awhile, it’s a good thing to Run Back in Time.