What the Hill

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.

Warp Drive

Somehow Warp Drive slipped past by attention in the recent Drive Me Crazy article, a collection of several creatively-named streets such as Line Drive for baseball stadiums, Disk Drive for an information technology company, and Doctor Drive which became a study in redundancy.

Reader Michael Hollinger rightly noted my omission of Warp Drive in a comment, and of course I deserved an additional "tsk-tsk" because of the proximity of one such prominent example located practically in my own backyard: "Not too far from you (in Sterling, off of 28), Orbital Sciences Corporation (they launch satellites) was able to name their road ‘Warp Drive.’"

Warp Drive, Sterling, Virginia, USA

This proved a couple of points. First, that I’m not very observant because I’ve driven past that spot numerous times over the years. Second, in spite of the 12MC article on Vulcan Beer, I’m not much of a Trekkie either. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never pass judgement on those who do identify as Trekkies. Anyone who’s ever read 12MC understands the geek factor here. Somehow Star Trek just never became one of my things.

Nonetheless, in honor and appreciation of those in the 12MC audience who may know more than their fair share of Klington phrases, I dug deep into the maps and discovered a veritable starfleet of Warp Drives. I selected three of the best.


Warp Drive et al., Turlock, California, USA

A small corner of a subdivision found in Turlock, California rose to the top of the list. It focused primarily on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" specifically. In addition to Warp Drive, I noted Picard Lane, Crusher Avenue and Ryker Court. Did the builders intentionally misspell Riker? Was that their attempt to instill a level of plausible deniability ("no, it’s not really named after Star Trek… see we named it Ryker not Riker"). I can’t imagine anyone with sufficient Trekkie bona fides allowing an error like that to slip by. I don’t think so. I blame the error a faceless clerk not knowing the difference and transcribing it incorrectly into the county records.


Warp Dr., N. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

I found another space-age company with a Warp Drive. They apparently had both kinds of employees, Star Trek and Star Wars. The designation of Warp Drive and Skywalker Way would serve as a natural solution to that dilemma.

Both roads led to the headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace.

Since 1999 our mission has been to provide affordable options for spaceflight to national space agencies and corporate clients. In 2006 and 2007, we launched our orbiting prototypes Genesis I and Genesis II… our plan is to greatly exceed the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost by developing our next generation spacecraft.

Star Trek and Star Wars seemed appropriate influences for a company hoping to moving the world towards either of those directions.


Warp Drive in Fairbanks Alaska
Warp Drive, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
via Google Street View, August 2011

Rural Alaska offered a bonus discovery. Notice the homemade street sign for Warp Drive in Fairbanks. The script looked familiar even to my untrained non-Trekkie eyes. A little Intertubes sleuthing identified this as the font from the Star Trek: The Next Generation logo.

I thought that was a nice touch.

The neighborhood contained several other interesting street names. Jack London Court seemed appropriate in recognition of the author of The Call of the Wild and other stories from the Klondike Gold Rush days (Alaska isn’t Yukon, although close enough for this purpose I suppose). I was less sure what to make of Amanita Road. That’s a genus of mushrooms, some varieties edible and some the most deadly on the planet. Which one did they mean? Pick the wrong one and our friend from Warp Drive might not Live Long and Prosper.

He Went Thata Way

One little neighborhood in Las Vegas, Nevada filled me with such joy.

Thata Way (zoom in one more level)

It first came to my attention for Supreme Court and then played a starring role as Curdsen Way in Little Miss Muffet. Now it’s inspired me a final time with Thata Way. It’s pure geo-oddity gold. I’ve pretty well exhausted the neighborhood, though. I’ll spare readers an article on its sole remaining street, Better Way.

Searches led to several distinct categorizations of the various Ways. I can’t guarantee I found every instance available, and in fact I’ll bet that I’ve missed piles of wonderful examples. Google Maps tried to outguess me by presenting results after geolocating my IP address. I suspected that people in other parts of the United States or in other parts of the world would see something different.

The idiomatic use of thisa and thata so reminiscent of vintage cinematic cowboy Westerns of generations past, fell into neat little neighborhood clusters, often combined with other unusual Ways.

Corner of Whicha Way and Thata Way in Hemet California
SOURCE: Google Street View, Hemet, California; May 2012

  • Silverado, CA (map): Thisa Way; Thata Way; Whila Way; Hidea Way and Bytha Way.
  • Hemet, CA (photo above): Thisa Way; Thata Way and Whicha Way.
  • Shelby, NC (map): Thisa Way and Thata Way, although it got extra credit for having a completely distinct and standalone Bytha Way more than a mile and a half removed!
  • Toledo, WA (map): Thisa Way, by itself.

These all formed into a category I called "cute and social." They were meant to be amusing and whimsical. I’m not sure whether someone living on Bytha Way would necessarily endorse that sentiment (by the way) although I believe the developers had good intentions.

I noticed a similar theme without the extraneous letter "a" appended — thisa became this and thata became that.

Corner of Which Way and Right Way in Houston Texas
SOURCE: Google Street View, Houston, Texas; June 2011

  • Houston, TX (photo above): This Way; That Way; Right Way; Same Way; Which Way; Straight Way; My Way and Any Way.
  • Knik-Fairview, AK (street view): This Way; That Way and the inexplicable Finally Here.
  • Pharr, TX (map): This Way, That Way, Any Way, Merry Way, Which Way, Every Way, Lovely Way, Funny Way, and then it started getting lame with a bunch of citrus-themed Ways. It also earned a bonus for the adjacent neighborhood to the south with the Wizard of Oz theme (Scare Crow; Tinman; Lion; Dorothy, and Yellow Brick).
  • Citrus Heights, CA (street view): This Way, by itself.
  • Santee, CA (street view): Our Way probably deserves at least an honorable mention.

I called this category "cute and social, with correct spelling."

Then the humor started taking a slightly standoffish tone and occurrences were more individualized than clustered.

Wrong Way in Salcha Alaska
SOURCE: Google Street View, Salcha, Alaska; October 2011

  • Wrong Way: The example from Salcha, Alaska (photo above) is actually Wrong Way Lane so I apologize in advance. I wanted to use Wrong Way in Cary, NC, however someone stole the sign and left behind only a bare pole (street view).
  • Getta Way and Hida Way: There were many of these and I didn’t feel like cataloging all of them. I guess I should be happy that I didn’t find Getoutathe Way, although I did uncover Outta Place in Anchorage AK (street view).

I didn’t find Sneaka Way or Slipa Way either. I’m able to make an exclusive offer to 12MC readers — be the first person to claim those street names!

Then came the category for hermits, survivalists, and misfits.

Keepa Way in Gorham Maine
SOURCE: Google Street View, Gorham, Maine; September 2011

  • Goa Way: I suppose Goa references could pertain to the state in India although most of the places seemed to be found in remote locations like Hedgesville, WV (street view). I think it’s more a warning to possible visitors than an allusion to Portuguese colonialism.
  • Keepa Way: The best example was found in Gorham, ME (photo above). Below the street name, notice the other sign that reads "private way." Another sign nearby specified that drivers should not enter the road because it was one way only. However, checking satellite images, I noted that there was only one way in and only one way out, and that was Keepa Way. Keep away, indeed!

I’ll wrap up with a complete oddball.

Walk This Way

Even better than Finally Here was Walk This Way. That’s right, someone in Great Mills, Maryland must have been a Classic Rock fan. What else could explain the naming of a street after Aerosmith’s 1975 composition, "Walk This Way," unless it was their 1986 collaboration with Run–D.M.C.? Now I have both versions stuck in my head, alternating, and taunting me.

AND last place goes to American Way, not because I have any issue with the American Way conceptually but because it was used so frequently as a street name that it become trite. It was right up there with Easy Street and Memory Lane.