What the Hill

On September 28, 2017 · 3 Comments

My wife keeps signing me up for running races. I guess she wants some company during her crazy pursuits. It seems harmless enough so I join her even if I’d rather be doing something less competitive. Those are the kinds of compromises one makes to keep peace in the house, and we’ve been together a long time so something must be working. Anyway she got a great discount on a whole series of races sponsored by a local running store because she bought them as a set. Wait, is this a geography blog or a running blog? Don’t worry, I’ll work geography into this. They’ll share equal billing while I examine an interesting overlap.

Clarendon Day


Clarendon Day 5K
Clarendon Day 5K. Photo by John Sonderman on Flickr (cc)

The Clarendon Day 5K in Arlington, Virginia came next in the series (map). My wife actually ran both the 5K and the 10K back-to-back, although as I mentioned, sometimes I question her sanity. Nonetheless, 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) seemed quite enough for me on Sunday. We could walk to the starting line from our house so I couldn’t find a reasonable excuse to skip it even if I tried.

Running came to me only recently — really the last couple of years — although I enjoyed hiking, biking and other outdoor activities well before that. I discovered pretty quickly that I could run decently well, at a respectable pace although not spectacularly, and I generally finished just barely within the top ten percent for my age group. Ditto for Clarendon Day, 4th out of 48 in the geezer man category.

I got a great time, shaving almost a full minute from my Personal Record, finishing in 20:46 with a 6:41 mile pace. I’d never completed a 5K with a time of 20 minutes in front of it nor managed to keep a pace with a 6 in front of it until then. How was that even possible? Gravity.


Clarendon Day Elevation
Clarendon Day 5K Elevation Elevation
via Pacers Running

Some readers might remember the race I described in Regurgitated. I ran down that same steep hill and then back up! This time the course only went down the hill. I wanted to finish with a sub-20 which is one of those iconic 5K milestone times. Sadly, I think I left any possibility of that behind me long before I took up running. I’ll have to be content with those age adjusting calculators. They said I might have finished sub-20 if only I ran a couple of decades ago.


St. George Marathon


Finish Line
Finish Line. Photo by Nate Grigg on Flickr (cc)

Using gravity seemed almost like cheating. However, those times counted just like any others certified by USA Track and Field and other organizations. People have long used terrain to boost their PR’s especially for marathons. I heard of a race awhile ago that went almost completely downhill, the St. George Marathon. This point-to-point race (map) ran from the Pine Valley mountains into the city of St. George, Utah. In this marathon, runners began at an elevation of 5,240 feet (1,600 metres) and finished at 2,680 feet (815 metres). Nearly eight thousand runners signed up for this event held each October.

I don’t know how they could do it. My quads felt tight after the steep mile of my little neighborhood 5K. I couldn’t imagine how one would feel after running downhill for a full marathon. They probably couldn’t walk for a week.


Mount Charleston Marathon


Mount Charleston, Nevada (35)
Mount Charleston, Nevada. Photo by billy kerr on flickr (cc)

Just a couple of weeks ago, someone I know told me he intended to run the REVEL Mt Charleston marathon next April in Las Vegas, Nevada. This one descended even more rapidly than St. George on its path from mountaintop to city streets (map). Runners began at 7,633 feet (2,325 metres) and finished at 2,507 feet (765 metres), dropping nearly a mile in elevation. Race organizers described it as "incredibly fast and remarkably beautiful."

Why would people subject themselves to such a sustained and drastic 4% downhill? The organizers left no doubt.

Featuring a smooth downhill slope and spectacular scenery in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, this race will be sure to help you set your PR and finally hit that Boston Qualifying time

They even offered a helpful chart that showed finishers at Mt. Charleston averaged 3:57:26 versus 4:28:54 for those at St. George. This race was all about people wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That was the exact reason why my acquaintance will head to Las Vegas too. His current times fell just shy of BQ and he needed that extra boost.


Apparently This is a Thing

Plenty of other downhill marathons hoped to scratch that same itch. It’s quite an honor to qualify for Boston and BQ times are brutal. A simple understanding of geography and terrain could make all the difference between running Boston next year or watching from the sidelines. Just the first page of search engine results produced a long list of possibilities.

I don’t have a burning desire to run a marathon. However, if I do someday, I doubt I could ever achieve a BQ time even with a sharply downhill course. Maybe I could age into it though. The 80 and Over BQ seemed reasonable if I can hold things together long enough.

C&O: Carderock to Georgetown

On August 31, 2017 · 2 Comments

I ride my bike most weekends and I like to switch-up the route whenever possible. Sometimes I complete a circuit. Other times I’ll go for an out-and-back. When I do that I enjoy playing a little game I call "how far can I get in an hour." We’re blessed with an abundance of well-maintained, scenic trails and I can make it a pretty far. One route takes me from my home in Arlington across the Potomac River into Washington, DC, and then straight up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail. Usually I don’t cover as much ground on this trail because the crushed gravel surface slows me down. Also I have to take my hybrid instead of my road bike for better traction. I still enjoy the challenge though.

For months, I’ve been telling myself I should slow down and enjoy some of the scenic and historic sites along the C&O. On Sunday I finally decided to do that, although the notion didn’t come to mind until I almost finished the hour. So I did a fast hour out, with a much slower return, stopping frequently for photos. I became the stereotypical tourist in my own backyard.

Someday I will ride all 185 miles of the C&O Canal trail from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. I’ve done stretches of it including the DC-area portion dozens of times. Until that day comes, however, I can now say I’ve recorded a small part of it. This accounting shouldn’t be confused with a trail guide though. A really good one already exists. Instead, I present a few things that I liked as I completed my return. Readers can click the arrows on the side of each photo to see additional images in the series.

Carderock; Mile 11.8


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Why did I stop and turn around at Mile 11.8? Because I looked at my watch and I’d finished the hour. I’m very precise like that. I needed to head back home. Actually I made it about halfway between Carderock and Great Falls (map) if I want to get technical about it. Whatever. The Carderock Recreation Area featured all sorts of outdoor activities, not just biking. Lots of people hiked its well-known Billy Goat Trail on the rough stony banks of the Potomac River. Others climbed its cliffs, some of the most easily accessible rock walls in the DC area.


Original Mile Marker; Mile 9.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

The geo-geek in me loved the marker at Mile 9.0, an historical artifact dating back to the operational days of the canal. Construction began in 1828 and builders didn’t finish it until 1850, although some sections started serving commercial traffic before that. However, railroads competed with the canal even before workers finished digging it. Floods devastated it several times too. The whole enterprise finally ended, abandoned, after the Flood of 1924.

That mile marker (map) stood sentinel all that time, passed by innumerable mule boats filled with cargo, and then into the present era. It read "9 miles to W.C." Presumably that referenced Washington City and not the nearest toilet facility. It took a boat pulled by a mule about a week to cover the entire length of the canal so this marker meant two or three more hours to go.


Sycamore Island; Mile 6.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Sycamore Island always intrigued me as I passed it on earlier rides. A private club owned the island, as it had since 1885, and tightly controlled access to it. Members took their own hand-pulled ferry across the narrow channel from the C&O trail towpath to the island. They rang a little bell when they wanted to cross and the permanent caretaker headed to the boat to pull it across. Only the caretaker lived on the island full-time.

The club didn’t offer a lot of amenities by design. Members could take canoes out on the water, enjoy the island’s natural setting, fish, swim, chat with other members, read books, or simply relax. It offered a little oasis of solitude in an otherwise complicated world. Lots of people seemed to want that opportunity, too. Applications were accepted only "between January 1 and March 31st on even-numbered calendar years." Even after that, by all accounts, it could take years for a prospective member to finally get to the top of the waiting list.


Lockhouse 6; Mile 5.4


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Locks required manual labor to open and close. However, miles of the canal crossed wilderness and few people lived nearby. Lock tenders couldn’t commute to their jobs from nearby towns. The canal company had to build homes for their employees on site. Many of these original lock houses survived and a few can be rented for overnight accommodations. The C&O Canal Trust restored Lockhouse 6, 10, 22, 25, 28 and 49 for that purpose, with each reflecting a different historical period. Lockhouse 6 (map), pictured above, represented the 1950’s when people finally started to think about preserving the canal. Lockhouse 6 was one of the few for rent with electricity, running water and heat.


River View; Mile 4.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I’d seen a little stub trail leading from the towpath somewhere around Mile 4.5 on several occasions. Kayakers seemed to portage to it from a nearby parking lot so I knew it lead to the river. I had a little time on my return trip so I followed the stub to its conclusion (map). It led to what looked like a parking area (clearly visible on satellite), which seemed odd because I couldn’t imagine a car ever driving down the towpath to get to the stub. Maybe it provided a way for emergency vehicles to access the river or something. People sometimes did get into trouble on this turbulent stretch of water. I don’t know. The terminus also included a viewing platform with some great scenery just upriver from Chain Bridge. Barely within the borders of the District of Columbia, it felt a world away from the rest of the city.


Georgetown; Mile 1.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I rather enjoyed the final slow meander towards home. Soon, way too soon, I arrived at Georgetown where I had to leave the C&O a mile before it ended (map). There I had to cross Key Bridge once again and head back into Arlington.

Heartland, Part 1 (Why, oh Why?)

On June 8, 2017 · 2 Comments

Here we go again! I just finished a drive through the Midwest, all the way out to Iowa and back, and returned on Saturday. We didn’t stay anywhere for very long and kept moving most of the time. We also stayed in different hotels seven of the eight nights, and covered about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) all told. Readers who enjoy Twelve Mile Circle’s road trip adventures will like the next several articles. The rest of you may want to return in a couple of weeks instead.

The Route and the Count


Route Into the Heartland
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

A simple map might be the easiest way to describe my trip. It seemed like a fairly straightforward route although I threw in a few twists to increase county counting opportunities. Light blue counties represented those I’d visited before. Readers with discerning eyes probably figured out the rationale of those earlier visits already. Major interstate highways ran through them, specifically the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes. My new captures, those marked in dark blue, represented efforts to shave off the next level of counties towards the south as well as fill in a couple of troublesome doughnut holes.

The revised tally reached 1,416 counties as I finished the trip. I also broke the 45% barrier of United States counties visited. I’m not sure if the results encouraged or depressed me though. I started doing a little math. My 1,000th county visit happened in June 2009 during a trip along the Great River Road. That’s when I crossed the border into Crawford County, Wisconsin. I should finish in about 35 years if I keep going at that pace. It’s doable although I’ll be really old when I’m done. I think I need to speed it up. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up 26 new counties on this trip and I’m proud of my effort.


There for the Races


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

New county captures served as a nice side benefit although they weren’t the primary purpose of my drive. Once again, the trip involved a Mainly Marathons event, this time the Heartland Series. We’ve done several of these before as I’ve recounted in previous 12MC articles (i.e., Dust Bowl, Riverboat, Center of the Nation, New England). This time things went a little differently. We participated in only four of the seven races because my runner didn’t need the other three states on a quest to finish a race in all 50. That’s how we found ourselves in Bryan, Ohio; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; and Clinton, Iowa. We skipped the Michigan race and headed into Indiana to capture more counties instead, and later went home after the Iowa race, missing events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I did things a little differently too. In the past I’d often been happy to stand on the sidelines while my runner finished a half-marathon each day. Most people selected the full marathon option and a few hearty soles selected the ultra-marathon. That made me feel downright lazy so I started doing some of the 5k’s. I did that again during most of the Heartland series. However, I also got talked into running a half-marathon for the Illinois race. I did pretty good for an old guy and I finished my first ever half-marathon at 1:53:29.

Now, however, I knew I could do better because I used all of the excuses. I’d never run that distance before, I had tired legs from races over several previous days, the course included a lot of hills, the wind blew pretty hard, and so on. Is this how addictions begin? I may try the occasional half-marathon in the future although I don’t have any plans to go overboard with the seven races in seven states in seven days thing.


Experiencing Nowhere



The drive didn’t follow a straight line all of the time. I also deviated for specific geo-oddities. For example I got to experience the Highway to Nowhere in person. I stumbled across a reference to it several years ago and featured it in a 12MC article. Feel free to check that one out if you want to learn how a town with fewer than 800 residents got its own interstate highway to its doorstep. The map showed it clearly; Interstate 180 appeared as an L-shaped spur south of Interstate 80 in central Illinois. Supposedly fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day used this highway. I drove its full length of course.

On my side of the road, along the entire distance, I saw only one car and one truck. The car passed me, doing something considerably faster than the posted 70 miles per hour.


A Tripoint Too

I also wanted to go a little out of my way for a state tripoint. It would be such a tragedy to drive within a few miles of such a spot and fail to reach it. So we deviated down a gravel road for this important oddity and stopped there for a few moments. It seemed only fitting to stand upon the singular spot where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all joined together (map). Tripointers called the marker INMIOH in the naming shorthand they liked to use.

Although where might it be, exactly?


INMIOH Tripoint

There seemed to be some controversy on the Intertubes. Did it fall within the middle of the road or off to the side a few feet farther east? Adherents seemed to take sides. I decided to go with Jack Parsell’s Tri State Corners in the United States. I’ve used that source plenty of times before and it generally seemed to be the most accurate. It stated that surveyors in 1999 placed a commemorative metal plate within a small crypt about a foot below the road surface, covered by a protective steel cover. Dutifully, I put my foot up to the cover to touch all three states simultaneously.


INMIOH Tripoint

Then, to hedge my bets, I also found the broken stone marker on the downward-sloping eastern embankment. Some people said that this spot actually marked INMIOH. However Parsell and others claimed that it was merely a witness post. Before something cut it down to a nub it once said something like, hey the tripoint is in the middle of the road. Anyway that’s what the old-timers said. I found those explanation more convincing than the counterarguments. That didn’t stop my from taking a picture of it anyway "just in case."

This seemed to be one of the lamer tripoint I’ve seen during my wanderings. I’ve hiked to other tripoints in much more obscure locations that put this one to shame. Sure, it fell within the middle of the road although someone should make a nice roundabout there with a better marker as its centerpiece.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Subscribe
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Categories
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
December 2017
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31