A city dweller I am not. I live in the burbs, and have lived in the ‘burbs of one city or another since I was about 11 years old. Aside from those formative years from 6 - 11, I’ve lived in a house with a yard, a fence and no sidewalk. Yes, it’s a truth about suburbs, or at least, the ones I’ve lived in, that sidewalks are not part of my home running life. I’m accustomed to running on the street, and I prefer to be running on the street, only, on The Boulevard in RVA, you really would be taking your life in your hands. Really.
This weekend, I found myself in uncharted waters. On the Sidewalks, “alone”, and in-front.
This week I was running without T. I was alone, with DeNiece and 62 other runners. "Alone" isn’t something we do that often. Yes, we run alone all the time, but usually, if we’re going more than 6 miles and we’re in the same state, we’re together. When we run together, she’s the natural leader for a few reasons. One is that she’s been running about a year longer than I have so I deferred to her for a long time - i.e. - habit... and another is that she’s a head taller than I am and can see things I cannot see... like moving cars that are on the other side of parked cars.
On Sundays we always start our MTT runs from the Diamond, an aging baseball field island in an industrial sea. The wide spaces of the parking area, combined with the giant structure of the stadium, makes it a decent place to begin and end a run. Usually it’s breezy.
This week, as soon as we left the parking area, the breeze was sucked away, and the 85F airlessness began. We began the run as we always do, by crossing over the railroad tracks. It’s a giant overpass that allows a decent view of the industrial city where it blends with the museum district. The massive engines seem tired, moving in slow motion like ants in a line parading toward a crumb, and yet one can see that they’re deceptively fast and strong. I always find that watching the giant powerful trains inch along with their heavy loads gives me hope that I will finish my run with that same tired power.
On the other side of the tracks, we cross through a narrow section of sidewalk dotted with small trees. There is no shade, and the blazing sun bites down with force. The pack of runners is congested, and we all jockey for position, hopping down onto the road to pass slower runners, jumping back onto the sidewalk at the sight of a car. The cars are few and far between on this hot morning, and we’re left unmolested, running three across in the traffic lane. It’s only for a minute, but it’s a nice reprieve from the uneven sidewalk.
Crossing Broad, we’re herded to the sidewalks weaving through a cute neighborhood of brownstones and row houses on the upscale “west” side of RVA called The Fan. The roads are treacherous, with the early Sunday Church goers heading to and from their places of worship. The truly new running experience that I tasted this weekend was being the lead runner in the “PACK”. As a fellow student of mine in Anatomy would say, “Do WHA?” Yes, it’s true, my 10 minute per mile pace does not usually allow for me to be a leader in a large group. So, how did it happen exactly? Try this on for size.... the lead pack, the entire lead pack.... took a wrong turn. And there you have it. Me. The leader.
It was here that I lead the pack for a few blocks, and I quickly became disenchanted with the responsibility of screaming, CAR LEFT, CAR RIGHT, CAR BACK, HOLE!, HOLE!!, STEP UP!!!! as we crossed streets, dodged potholes and suffered with the uneven sidewalks. The seams buckled from the roots of a hundred hundred year old trees, jutting a few inches up and down as we stepped from one to the next.
From here we turned up near part of the marathon course and plugged east toward VCU. Our run skirted us around Monroe Park, where a large homeless population was gathering this Sunday morning. I am fairly certain that the Union Mission or some similar organization was opening their doors to allow them into an air conditioned location for breakfast.
The 8 miles went fast from here. We looped back around, passed a SAG, again through the park, now west through the city, over the sidewalks, cross the treacherous street, and up the overpass at the trains. It is here, as we finish, that we spot our friendly course photographer. A gentleman who donates every Saturday and Sunday morning to photographing the Richmond MTT runners. And it was here, that he captured DeNiece and I, on film, soaked and crusted with salt as we powered, strong and tired, toward the finish.
That's DeNiece one step behind me. Probably the only time in my life I'll ever "beat" her on a run.
This is a terrible photo of me. I'm "braking" for the end of my run. About 3 steps behind the photographer is the water "stop"/end of run sign out sheets. And yet, I'm willing to share it because it fully demonstrates how FREAKISHLY hot it was here in RVA. I argue that no one would look good after 8 miles in 85F heat with very high humidity. In fact, I'm weirded out a little by the fact that there are any dry spots left on the shirt.