I probably had it right back when I first started running: if I ran at just the right pace (and that means SLOW), I could probably run forever. For a long time that’s how I rolled. I only wore a watch when I went out for a long one just to make sure I’d return before people sent Search & Rescue missions. All I knew about my pace was that it was slower than most, faster than a few, but I was often out there longer than everyone. Things changed a bit once I had two marathons under my belt. People would ask me what my goal was for the races, and my answer initially was “I just want to finish – I think that’s enough.” And it was for those first two. Then I started getting a little bit bored with the idea of “just finishing.” I wanted to see what I could really do.
The Racing Bug
It started with some speed work, often on a treadmill. Then it morphed into honing in on nutrition and cross-training. Then the last straw: Sarah Palin landed a 4-page spread in Runner’s World for running a sub-4-hour marathon in Anchorage, AK. Hell, if she could do it, so could I (and then some…)! I even recruited some like-minded runners onto my project: TBSP – Team Beat Sarah Palin. With the help of my running guru B and her husband, a group of us went down to Miami in January 2011 and got the job done! It wasn’t very pretty around mile 24 when I considered “tripping” off the causeway into the Atlantic Ocean (B was not amused), but I left SP in the dust by a good few seconds or so!
The racing bug only got worse for me. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy getting faster – I totally did, but it was different from those days when I just let my legs do exactly what they wanted to do. I had B right there with me, giving me tons of inspiration and advice about training that ultimately got me into a FAST Corral for the start of the Chicago Marathon (you get your own special port-o-potties in the faster corrals – that’s the jackpot at a race start)! Chicago was good to me – awesome race course, awesome crowd, another Personal Record (PR).
Born to Run
Then something interesting happened. I had the opportunity to go hear Christopher McDougall, author of “BORN TO RUN,” speak at the University Pennsylvania. Ironically, his talk came two weeks after Caballo Blanco, the main subject of his book, went missing and was ultimately found dead in the Copper Canyon of Mexico, home to the Tarahumara tribe, the super-athletes McDougall writes about. McDougall held a group run on Kelly Drive that afternoon before his talk. People were STOKED! Later at the talk, McDougall told us runners showed up to the run PUMPED, asking “Hey man, how fast are we going?” McDougall just chuckled – pace wasn’t the point. Running without stopping to look at the view – not the point either. Then I started to remember all of my runs back when I didn’t constantly look at my watch for pace. I remembered my Natural Prozac. After the talk, I stood in line to tell him how he reminded me of why I love running, and he signed my book:
So I thought I’d leave this post with another Top 10 list (only it’s a Top 12): My favorite Wild Runs
Top Twelve Wild Runs
12. New England in the Fall – Running early morning in North Conway, NH. The fog was so thick after a while, I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me. As I descended a very steep hill, I slowed it down, and eventually stopped – just in time to see the fog lifting up off of a beautiful lake RIGHT in front of me. It was like I walked into my very own John Irving novel.
11. Venice, ITALY – The church bells rang in the piazza outside of the hostel at seven AM. I laced up my shoes and ventured out, much like Julia Roberts in my favorite Woody Allen movie “Everyone Says I Love You” (I know I’m alone on that one), weaving in and out of the narrow pedestrian-only roads in this gorgeous old city – and you know what? I had the roads all to myself – it was a gift. And the gelato later that day was the tastiest!
10. The Rocky Mountains – WARNING – this will be indulgent. I can’t get enough of the Rocky Mountains. Snowmass, Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, take your pick. Last summer, though coming from sea level to over 8,000 feet elevation, I somehow had more air in my lungs on the breathtaking long run on the FLAT bike trail from Breck to Frisco than my sea level runs back home in hot and humid Philadelphia. Now, the Burro Trail up in the mountains of Breck – different story – hilly enough to warrant some walking.
9. TUSCANY – Basically – majestic. Beware of dogs. Refuel after the run with a nice fresh apricot right off the tree.
8. Kelly Drive and West River Drive – Philadelphia – Awesome in the early morning when you can catch the crew teams out on the Schuylkill, and mid day when you almost have the place to yourself or evening social hour. I’ve logged hundreds of miles here. Nice and flat, and wide enough to share with the other runners in the city. Get there from the Schuylkill Banks Trail or the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the Art Museum.
7. NAPA – So peaceful, and it makes me very thirsty for wine while I’m running. I could get used to those runs…
6. Forbidden Drive – Philadelphia, PA – Beautiful every season of the year, but particularly spectacular in summer because the shade from the tree cover is enough to let you squeak out a decent run early in the morning even on the worst hot and humid days. There’s a five-mile trail from Lincoln Drive to Northwestern Avenue, parking available on both sides (more so at Northwestern Ave). The Valley Green Inn is at the half-way point with a water fountain, restrooms and a snack bar. There is also a new coffee house at the Northwestern Ave end.
5. WASHINGTON DC – Hands DOWN my favorite running city! The C & O trail along the North Bank of the Potomac offers over 180 miles of trail from DC to Cumberland, MD. But my favorite all-time run in DC was New Year’s Eve – the Midnight Running of the Monuments with the Co-Founders of Team Racing for Veterans (R4V) (The Charity with which I ran the NYC Marathon. Read about the R4V mission in last month’s Runner’s World on Page 74 RW Article March 2014).
4. Redondo Beach, CA – I did a 14-mile long run here on an early morning in May, followed by some roller-blading, only to be interrupted by getting my henna tattoo. AWESOME PEOPLE WATCHING!
3. Mammoth Lakes – I’ve spent weeks of my life in the Colorado Rockies, backpacked in Yosemite, eight days on a glacier in Alaska, and I never saw a bear (outside of a zoo) until this fabulous run in Mammoth in September:
2. Torrey Pines – San Diego, CA – Time to get used to those hills! So worth it for this view. What I love about this one is you can start and/or end on the beach.
1. Central Park – NYC – I have a love affair with this place. I’ve logged hundreds of miles here, early mornings with just the other hard core nuts, Saturday mornings with the rest of the city – always good for people watching. Central park offers roughly a 10K perimeter on the Park Drives. Watch out for the wicked hills heading south from the top of the park, and north from the Boathouse, but smaller loops like the Bridal Path and the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir are relatively flat. This was my backyard when I lived in NYC.
I’m always on the look-out for new routes and trails; it’s my favorite way to get to know new places…Happy Trails!!!