The trail run was as close as I’d come to a “real” trail race within 10 miles of my new home. That’s a far cry from the half dozen that were available in the greater Ithaca area each season. I could pick and choose, and if I wanted to do a road 5- or 10-miler, that was easy. The C&O Canal, while a decent path, was basically as close to paved as possible without actually being paved. It wasn’t interesting or unique, especially compared to what was available 6 hours away.
And sadly, races in DC are almost all expensive. I was roped into more than one race by the $5 entry fee (hey, you gotta stock those aid stations with something). In DC, everyone wanted to distribute “goodie bags” and pass them off as something adding value to the event. Meanwhile, the number of entrants to these races was off the charts. Average cost per mile approached $5; that’s gone up to about $10 lately. And I know that a 5k race with a single aid station isn’t costing the group putting it on $10,000, especially when they get a dozen sponsors. It’s rather absurd.
All that made me feel like the racing scene in northern Virginia wasn’t worth the effort. I bowed out for the rest of 2007 and turned my attention to staying in shape.
As 2007 neared its end, my wife and I started looking for a house. We poked around, got a real estate agent, and were escorted to an up-and-coming neighborhood in Fairfax County, where we both liked the properties and prices. We bought and became homeowners about 3 blocks from where I used to park the car when shaving those 8 miles off the ride.
My commute shortened somewhat, I started riding to the office any day I could, including during the winter. And at the office I kept a pair of shoes and running kit, throwing them on to go out for a midday run every few days. I would sometimes run in the morning (I was used to it, and it was easier to work into the schedule most days), but as winter turned to spring, I had the burning desire once again to just do more.
A new strategy suggested itself. Instead of driving to park and ride, I would drive to park and run, using the W&OD trail as a utility trail. This was made easy by the many access points available along the way.
The first summer after our move, I established a completely non-routine routine. My training program consisted of running or biking each day, with no regard for what day it was or what distance was to be done. This was wholly dependent on how I felt. I also took an hour or two on one or both of the weekend days to disappear, usually to some exotic location like where two freeways meet and there’s no ready way across.
Really, it was more like exploring the area than maintaining any speed or strength. I guess at that point it was OK by me to give in to these meanderings because I didn’t have anything scheduled.
My office digs were a different story. That year I discovered the path down a gated dirt road (I think technically I wasn’t supposed to use it, but who was going to stop someone coming down a gated dirt road without first undoing aforementioned gate?). It was a single-track, poorly-maintained pathway through the woods along the Potomac, out of sight of pretty much everything. I loved that path, and in the summer of 2008 it became my de facto daytime run, in spite of the overgrowth that accompanied all those trips.
During the winter, I had also responded to an ad on Craigslist seeking players for an indoor soccer team. I jumped at the chance, though I hadn’t really played since college -- I’d done a couple outdoor games in Ithaca as a fill-in player and was recruited as a goalie for indoor, but my indoor experience was cut short when I cracked my wrist blocking a shot.
Anyway, the team that took me on for indoor was willing to have me on their outdoor club, and I ended up playing the following two years with them until childcare duties really pulled me out of it.
Regardless, 2008 was also the summer we started a workplace -- mostly in name only -- soccer team. One of my colleagues decided it would be a great plan to get a half dozen coworkers (plus some others) to start playing indoor. I signed on with the intention of playing goalie, but I missed the first game. That may have been a good thing: three of my coworkers came in the next day sporting career-ending injuries. But I would have a long and fruitful career as an indoor soccer player for my “work” team, which morphed from featuring 4-5 players from my office each season to (eventually) just 3, then down to 2 after I tore my ACL and 0 when the only other vested interests moved out of the area.
These digressions and progressions are killing the narrative. In summary: I was exploring but not training, and I’d started playing indoor soccer.
The indoor soccer venue was located a tolerable 6 miles from my office. That made it a perfect place to park on game days so that I could get in a short ride on the mountain bike. As for running, I found a parking spot about 4 miles from the office that included direct W&OD trail access on one side and easy access to the back side of a little-used and under-construction golf course.
I went through the golf course most days, sticking to the back 9 that hadn’t yet been built, or traversing the course and joining a series of paths by going under the highway into a forested yet-to-be-developed area near the local internet hub. I used that golf course for years, running it probably once a week until 2011; that year, the course’s grounds manager yelled at me for daring to tread on his otherwise unused paths, and I’ve been recommending people against the 1776 Golf Course in Ashburn, VA, ever since. As I now recommend you, reader, against it.
In addition, my employer was a cyclist, and he I went for a couple long trips through Northern Virginia. I would sometimes pass him on the trail on the way to the office, he on his Bluetooth in a conference call or something, me with the hammer down trying to get in before 9 a.m. I always envied that he could manage his business while riding a bike.
That’s how I spent 3 years. My wife got pregnant (I love that phrasing, as though she contracted a pregnancy from some unknown source, perhaps a rare equatorial fly -- or, rather, a not-at-all-rare equatorial fly, since it seems to strike so many women) in late 2008, and the next year we had our first daughter. My life changed, but many of my habits did not, and I was still on the lookout for something brand new to experience.
Next up: BABIES!
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.