You never know when you might see a penny-farthing

3 May

Riding along Mount Vernon Trail NOT in an old-timey bicycle

While biking on the Capital Crescent Trail yesterday, I saw a man riding a penny-farthing, AKA an old-timey bicycle.

Since I was pretty sure I hadn’t time traveled, I found this antique pastime amusing.  But what I didn’t do in that moment was snap a photo.  I had my iPhone in my pocket, I just wasn’t ready.

Just as the mysterious “they” always say that the only runs you ever regret are the ones you don’t go on, the only photos I have ever regretted are the ones I didn’t take.

Which is why I usually ride my bike with my iPhone either in my hand or in my pocket, set to open to my camera at a second’s notice.

Luckily, I did manage to get some shots last week during a long ride down to Gravelly Point, a football field-sized park across National Airport in Virginia.

One hand on the handle

Coming in for a landing

A couple watches from Gravelly Point the planes land

C&O Canal before crossing Key Bridge

Race to Stop the Silence 8K: Race Recap

26 Apr

Lace them up for another race

Anyone who has seen Drunk History’s take on the Edison-Tesla rivalry knows the best line from the spoof outside of “I’m inventing electricity… and you look like an asshole” is the following:

“This is hell. I’m in hell.”

This was the line I kept thinking about while shattering my 8K PR on Saturday morning in the Race to Stop the Silence 8K in downtown DC.

Positive thinking?  I’ll leave that for the yogis and New Ageists.

I’m Jewish.  I thrive on complaining.

So as my legs burned and my lungs heaved as I ran to break the 40-minute mark, that line was the only thing I thought about.  This is hell.  I’m in hell.

Because holy fuck balls, people.  It was hell.

Am I running a race in the 1920s?

I signed up for the race specifically because I love the 8K distance.  You run faster than you would at a 10K but without the lactic acid-burning horror show of a 5K.

My goal was break my previous PR — 41:32.  My secret goal, though, was to break 40 minutes, a lofty target I came up with shortly after running a 48:54 in the Marine Corps 10K in 2009, when I piggybacked my friend Heather’s jackrabbit pace and smashed a PR I still consider unbreakable.

But over the past few months, with knee injuries slowing me down and speed becoming a rarer and rarer feature of my running, the idea of ever breaking any PR started to creep in.  Maybe, I wondered, my fastest races were behind me.

Forget my opinion.  Let’s consider the facts:

Through the end of 2009, when running a race in which I had an opportunity to PR, I did so 9 out of 16 times.  This means I PR’d in more than 56% of the races I ran.

Since then, though, I have PR’d in only 2 out of 12 races I have run, good for a 16.7% PR rate.

In addition, I hadn’t PR’d at any major race distance since my last 8K, which was in May 2010.

Now I know that the law of diminishing returns dictates that of course I would PR less often over time.  Still, I didn’t think I had hit my ceiling so soon.

Race photographers could learn a thing or two from Epod

I woke up Saturday morning feeling good.  Epod and I biked down to Freedom Plaza with plenty of time for me to pick up my bib and packet.

With only about 600 people running the 8K, the race had a “small town feel” to it, which was great.  I was able to line up close to the starting line and only took me 12 seconds to go through after the proverbial gun went off.

Now, the course was a bit of a clusterfuck.  Though we were running southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue from 13th Street, we veered down and back up three streets before even getting to the 3rd Street turn.  If you had seen us from above, we resembled a saw.

This caused some groaning due to so many tight turns.  Still, I found myself running the first mile in the 7:30s and though I told myself I was going too fast and I might blow up, I felt strong so I allowed myself to keep going.

My usual game plan in any race is simple:  negative splits.  But as this race went on and I realized I was going faster than planned and the loop back would be slightly uphill, I threw the original plan out the window and came up with a new one, the Steve Prefontaine plan:  run like hell and hang on for dear life.  Which is what I did.

I tried to break the race into manageable thirds, starting out fast for the first third, cruising and conserving energy for the middle third, and then throwing caution out the window for the final third.  By the time I was in the final third, though, I was in serious pain.

But it wasn’t unmanageable pain.  It was all-out effort pain, which is what you need to go through sometimes when racing for a PR.  I kept chugging and chugging and was so happy to see Epod in the final stretch yelling my name but was too tired to even muster a head nod.

In fact, I didn’t even look at my watch to see if the elusive under-40 goal was in sight.  I just…ran.

When I crossed the finish line, I caught my breath and looked at my Garmin.  I couldn’t believe it.

This is hell. I'm in hell.

Epod came running over, knowing I had beat my PR.  She threw her arms around me and told me how proud she was of me.  I couldn’t even spare one second, I told her, trying to explain the situation while panting.

My splits looked like this:

Mile 1:  7:27

Mile 2:  7:59

Mile 3:  8:14

Mile 4:  8:10

Mile 5:  7:55

And the final 0.04 mile sprint to the finish line:  13 seconds, a 5:25 pace.

Now I know I still can break PRs once in a while.  Even if it means going through hell.

Back to basics

22 Apr

Taking a break by the Potomac River

While running down Rock Creek Parkway with my friend Ryan last evening, I stopped to admire the sunlight streaming through the trees on the C&O Canal.

Don’t worry, I did it all tough-like.

In the manliest way possible, I told him, “That light looks so good.”

He verbified, “Why aren’t you runography-ing, then?”

As much as I like to be aware of my surroundings while I run to get a good shot, sometimes it’s good to let go, to lose yourself in the moment, to not always be “ON”.

That said, I looked at him quizzically and said, “Oh, yeah.”  So I took out my iPhone and started snapping.

Ryan running toward Watergate...not staged at all; nope, not at all

The run itself wasn’t that great.  Ryan doesn’t usually run and my back was suddenly sore from manly stuff I do at work, like carry heavy shit around for other people.

We did take the time, though, to catch up and talk wedding stuff (he’s getting married in a month) and, of course, sports.  We went about 2.5 miles with a few walking breaks along the way.

Running steps by the Potomac

I was worried I might have ruined running for him (I wanted him to associate it with positive thoughts so he’d do it again) and so was pleasantly surprised this morning to wake up to an email that included this line:

“I think that I’ll survive and maybe even give that ‘running’ thing a shot again sometime.”

I’m so proud.  He’ll be completing marathons in no time.

Running like a tourist

21 Apr

Great DC memorial? Or greatest DC memorial?

There is a school of thought that scoffs at the notion that we can ever photograph a moment as it really was. We crop, frame, eliminate, and choose what we decide to photograph, in a way robbing the viewer of what we were truly experiencing.

I think about this whenever I see them.  You know…tourists.  They descend on Washington, DC — my city — pretty much all the time, but especially in beautiful weather.  Clamoring around the White House gate, standing on the left of Metro escalators (DC’s most tired cliche, FYI), and practically camping on my favorite site — the Lincoln Memorial.

Most people try to photograph DC’s monuments and memorials as if other people weren’t there.  We search futily for that unobstructed view, wishing people would just. fucking. move.

I know I do this.

South side of Lincoln Memorial

But tourists are part of the scenery.  Whether I’m running on the Mall or photographing what I see or doing both — like I did on Tuesday, a perfect evening for running — they are unavoidable.

Of course, there are still ways to find new viewpoints of the same old shots.

After coming up on Lincoln, I battled past tourists for a while before deciding to take some detailed shots of the columns and the shadows on the walls.  It forced me to find a new perspective of the memorial, perspectives that I don’t usually try to notice.

Meanwhile, I was having a great run, just one of those perfect spring runs where you feel like you can go longer than you had planned.

So I did.

I ran 7.1 miles in total, running to the Mall and then around Lincoln and then back up Rock Creek Parkway.  I ran at what felt like a comfortable pace but everytime I looked down at my Garmin, I was pacing in the 8:50s, much faster than an easy or long run should be for me.

But I went with it.  By the time I got home, I had clocked 1:04:44, a blistering (for a long run) 9:08 pace.

I guess I should visit Lincoln and his admirers more often.

Friday night race, Shmiday night race

18 Apr

I was supposed to race a 5K last Friday evening with Epod and MJ.  The Crystal Run 5K Friday series, where they host 5 consecutive races on 5 consecutive Fridays.

Unfortunately, the traffic gods (none of which are benevolent) saw fit to keep me from the event.  Even though I left work at 4pm, I was stuck on the highways and streets for 2.5 hours, unable to get to Arlington for the race.

Listening to This American Life podcasts calmed me down enough (mostly) and helped me not yell (too much) at the other drivers.  But after crawling along at a snail’s pace for miles and miles, I realized I wouldn’t make the race and called Epod to break the news.

Still, I had to run.

Running east on the Calvert Street Bridge

When I got home, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and headed out on a run.  I wanted to do something different, run somewhere new.  In a city where I feel I have seen nearly every inch of running terrain, this can prove difficult sometimes.

So I headed down to Rock Creek but veered off the beaten path and into the woods.  I ran along the dirt path, behind Oak Hill Cemetery, up hills I had never been on and jumping over ground I had never seen.  I ran up to Wisconsin Avenue and then down Reservoir Road, skipping along new streets and sidewalks.

It was exactly what I needed.

Rock Creek Park

I also decided to take a new photo app for a spin:  Pro HDR.

Camera+ — my replacement camera app — has a really good HDR filter.  But I wanted to see the difference using an app designed exclusively to capture high-dynamic photos.

The app works by taking one shot in low light and one in high light and then merging the two images together.  This requires the photographer to be absolutely still for a few seconds, a difficult prospect for runography since I’m usually moving when I take photos.

This requirement, though, was a blessing in disguise since it forced me to look for good shots.  It took away the spontaneity of shooting from the hip and made me really keep an eye out for attractive scenes.  Throughout my run, I was wholly conscious of everything I looked at, which made me enjoy the run actively rather than passively.

Rock Creek

The results were surprisingly outstanding.  The photos were vivid and full of light.

After taking the shots, I processed them through Camera+ anyway, but only to take advantage of the app’s new Clarity feature, which renders HDR shots even more dramatically.

I ran a little more than 4 miles on Friday, with a lot of stops to take some shots.  And while I still wish I had raced Crystal City, I at least remembered the benefits of stopping once in a while to take it all in.

Dumbarton Bridge overlooking Rock Creek Parkway

Rock Creek Parkway seen from Calvert Street Bridge

How I stopped worrying and learned to love race photos

13 Apr

Horrible race photos.  We’ve all been there.

Probably my worst -- and most comical -- race photo ever, at the Lawyers Have Heart 10K in 2009. Gimpy leg much?

Anyone who has run a good amount of races has inevitably felt the excitement of seeing race photos displaced by the disappointment of actually seeing the results.

Don’t think you’re alone.  Every single person I know who runs has complained about his or her lack of photogenic appearance in race photos.

I still have entire email threads between friends complaining about the latest round of torture.

After viewing a particular cruel round of photos from the GW Parkway Classic in 2009, my friend MJ reflected on one of her photos with this gem:  “Do I really run like this?  I look like I’m doing some weird toe thing…I look demented in most of these pictures.”

Is the earth tilting? No, that's just MJ running the GW Parkway Classic.

I responded to a photo of mine from the same race with, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

What the fuck, indeed.

Many of us don’t even like to look at our race photos anymore.  Emails from Brightroom, MarathonFoto, or ASI Photos now go unviewed since there will not, of course, be even ONE good photo for us to possibly even consider purchasing.

We often wonder why the photographer couldn’t takle flattering photos of us.

But the reason is simple.  And almost never the photographer’s fault.

"Oh, hi! I'm just here, running, punching the air for no reason. What?"

We don’t photograph well in races because we’re running.

Misplaced limbs, jiggling skin, faces contorted in nearly unrecognizable ways.

Race photos not only don’t capture our good sides, they render us looking like sweaty beasts who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In addition, most race photographers set up at the end of a course where they hope to get better shots thanks to a (hopefully)  thinned-out crowd.

But the end of a race is where we especially look the most tired, the sweatiest, and where our running form has broken apart the most.

So what’s the answer?

Epod speed-walking past a couple of perverts

To keep running and hope we get a good race photo once in a while?  No.

The answer is to try to look as awful as possible…on purpose.

Don’t smile.  Don’t pose.  Don’t pretend you’re at a Sears glamour shots studio.

This isn’t your prom or your wedding.  You are running, and an object in motion not only tends to stay in motion, it also tends to look awful doing so.

So the next time you’re racing and you see those blue-vested photographers, do the opposite.

Swing those limbs around like you’re losing at tetherball.

Where was I looking? And why is that kid so close to beating me (at the Jingle All the Way 10K in 2009)?

Strain your face like you just swallowed a whole pack of lemon drops.

Turn the race photos into a contest and try to look as ugly as possible.

Try being silly and jump in the air.  Ironically pint your fingers at the camera like I attempted to do at the NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon in January.  Make a face at the photographer.

Because the alternative is to try to look good.

And I’ve seen all your race photos.  Trust me, it’s not going to happen.

Shake it up

12 Apr

While walking around the palatial grounds of IKEA on Sunday, my legs buckled and I almost fell to the ground.  Twice.

No, it wasn’t IKEA’s naming conventions that startled me — what the hell is an Ektorp Tullsta, anyway?  A forgotten Jedi master?

It was my legs.  My dogs were barking.  And they were telling me to get some rest.

So I took a couple of days off.  Until yesterday. I hit the streets last night and did my White House tour.

The White House tour is a pretty typical weeknight run for me.  I start by heading south on 16th Street or Connecticut Avenue, run in front or behind the White House depending on how much distance I’m in the mood for, and then head back up to Adams Morgan, a solid 4 to 5-miler.

It’s a fun route, too, because of the sheer number of goofy tourists you see, especially on a warm evening like last night.

While I use Camera+ as my default iPhone camera, I decided to challenge myself by only shooting with the Shake It Photo app.  This would require me to be more alert of my surroundings and look for good scenes to photograph rather than rely on editing tricks after the run.

I like Shake It Photo as a photography app; it’s actually one of my favorites.  It creates square, even frames and produces a fairly vivid image without distorting lighting or colors.

For this reason, I think Shake It Photo makes for an ideal portrait photo app.  I never thought to use it for landscapes or snapshots.  Which is why it was fun last night to do something completely different and see if I could create non-portrait photos, to use it in a different way.

The results were encouraging.  So was my run.  Despite doing my first “hot” run of the season, I busted out 4.38 miles at 40:04 (a surprising  — for me — 9:09 pace).

I guess I’m ready to go back to IKEA.

Dammit.

Save the Clock Tower 5K and a cycling accident

11 Apr

When I read last week that WordPress employees were inviting the WP community to participate in a virtual 5K, I thought it was silly.

You KNOW you wish this race existed

But when I got home on Friday and saw my still-unworn homage to Back to the Future — a “Save the Clock Tower Hill Valley ’85 5K Run” t-shirt — I decided I would not only run the virtual race, I would make it a fictional race as well.

Back to the Future is not only my favorite movie of all time, it is, coincidentally, also the GREATEST MOVIE EVER.  Citizen Kane, Shmitizen Kane, that’s what I always say.

Really, I’m always saying it, ask anyone.

Of course, to prepare myself, I first downloaded the title theme from the movie to my iPod.  Priorities, you know.

I headed out in the rain and decided to take it easy since my legs were still sore from last Sunday’s Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler.  It was a “race” but I wasn’t “racing” it.  The route was simple:  south on 16th, down New Hampshire Ave. to Dupont, around the circle and east on Mass Ave., then retrace my steps.

I felt sluggish out there but when that movie soundtrack came on, I thought, If Marty McFly can save not only himself but the fabric of the universe itself, I can run these 3.1 miles.

I finished it in 29:57 (9:40 pace), far slower than my average 5K time (25:30) or PR (22:34).  And no, I didn’t hit 88 mph.

I followed that “race” with a long bike ride with Epod Saturday morning.

We started out winding up Beach Drive, dodging angry drivers yelling out their windows, and traversing some tough terrain on the trails before the Capital Crescent Trail.

If I know Epod, she was making sounds like "Vroom, vroom!"

We took a water/snack break in Bethesda and then headed home.  After a few miles, as we sailed down at 15 mph, I asked her if she wanted to see what it felt like to go 20 mph.

Just then, though, Epod’s shoelace got caught on the pedal, which forced her to move to her right and slide off the trail.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her spin out and hit the ground.

You'd have thought trying to get this photo would have caused the accident

I slammed on my brakes and threw my bike down and started running back to her.  It’s funny the things you think about in a split second, even during high-adrenaline moments.  Because the thought that went through my mind as I ran to her was, Hmm, so this is what it’s going to be like in the triathlon when I stop cycling and start running.  Interesting.

I got to her and she was alright.  A little shaken up, a couple of cuts and bruises, but overall OK.  She dusted herself off and, being the tough chick she is, got back on the bike and we pedaled home.

“It’s a good thing we weren’t going 20 mph,” I told Epod.  She agreed.

Still.  Imagine if we had had a flux capacitor.

Kayaks and shadows on the Canal

8 Apr
20110408-094345.jpg

Scott and me running on the C&O canal towpath

I run this planet

7 Apr
20110406-084229.jpg

Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

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