I’m a road guy.
I’ll get on trails pretty regularly, but I have the most fun when I can just run and not focus as much on where I am stepping or thinking about the last time I tripped and bruised my ribs. Once I realized just how many people were exploring narrow trails when they started getting out of the house more, the roads, particularly in residential neighborhoods became more and more my bread and butter.
When the National Park Service granted Mayor Bower’s request to close Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park for more than half of April, I was thrilled, and I decided I was going to make the most of it.
If you aren’t as familiar with Beach Drive, it cuts 10k through Rock Creek Park from the bottom of Shoreham Drive up to the Maryland line, with a little more out to East-West Highway. Almost 4.22 miles has no traffic or limited traffic on weekends and holidays, with active crossings at Joyce Road and Wise Road. Over the course of the first 3.5 miles, you climb 142 feet before heading back downhill toward Maryland. Now that a long reconstruction and resurfacing project took care of potholes that were old enough to buy cigarettes, runners’ biggest concern is that a bike will whizz by too close. Before, a wrong step could easily break your foot or sprain your ankle. It’s a big running party most weekend mornings, with plenty of smooth, safe real estate for long runs.
In addition to preferring the roads, I also insist on a lot of variety where I run. I’ve never been able to understand how people could stand doing the same route nearly every day, mainly because I like seeing what’s going on all over the place when I run. Aside from track workouts most Wednesdays and a general tendency to run somewhere on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail on Fridays, I mix it up. But I decided that while taking advantage of the Beach Drive closure, I was also going to challenge myself to run the exact same route every day for a week and see what it did to me. How long until I crack? Will I end up hating it? Years ago, experts said a human being’s heart would explode from the effort needed to break four minutes in the mile and distance running would be dangerous for women. Surely I’ll survive a little tedium.
I have this tendency to run well, and frankly be able to eat what I want, at 85 miles a week and change, so 12.2 miles a day would give me that total. So my plan was set. Following Strava’s twisted logic that starts weeks on Mondays, I would start April 13.
Day one – I started out at 6:15, a few minutes after I got away from work. It was warm and humid after a long rain and the creek is a raging torrent along the 1.5 miles from the south end to the Park Police station. I don’t regret stopping to admire the water, taking my time to catch my breath and wondering if I even had it in me to run the whole way. Boy, it was uncomfortable. At the turnaround I wrung the sweat out of my shirt, but right when I took the shirt off, a cool breeze chilled me. I have no idea what the temperature actually was, I was just worried my central nervous system was going crazy. I started thinking that one-seventh through this, finishing was going to be a tall order. Was I already sick of it? I’ve been running here about once a week since moving nearby in 2012. Maybe I was sick of it. I told a friend what I was planning to do; she said I’ll never make it. I am defiant.
Day two – My fortunates changed quickly. I decided to add a wrinkle, starting these runs at the same time – 6:15 p.m. – for consistency’s sake. I start to worry I am developing bad habits, given these conditions, but I tell myself it’s okay because I can stop any time I want. But practically, starting this late helps me avoid a lot of people on the road, so everyone can get along without a mask.
I felt good the whole time and ran faster than I’d planned. I saw Daniel, running in sunglasses on a day that was never not overcast. I saw my buddy Towpath not too far from where I saw him the day before. Judging from how he got his nickname from running the majority of his mileage along the C&O Canal, maybe he’s also developing a light obsessive tendency. I listened to Brian Danza on Pace the Nation. On the way back, I turned a bend and saw Bobby Huang, who any other month I would have seen that night for the Pacers Shake Shack run seven mile loop. That was a huge thrill.
I dare say, this was one of my most enjoyable runs I can remember, where I felt like I could have kept going for a long time. I didn’t have to stop because of my breathing or my heart rate, just because I managed to tie my shoes poorly. I felt fantastic, and wondered if running earlier would have set the entire day on a better path. But I’ll never know, because I only run at 6:15 p.m. now, apparently.
Day three – I didn’t see Towpath, so that streak was over. I did a fartlek, 3:00 on, 1:30 off. It was my high school coach’s 75th birthday, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I was to have a coach who cared about the experiences every one of his runners had, fostering a culture that promoted bonding beyond traditional training groups, and stressing the development of everyone on the team, whether they realized it or not. I also wonder if he aged more in the four years that my class was there than any other stretch in his life, or if everyone thinks that about their own particular group of knuckleheads. Without Coach A directing my enjoyment of running into something more formal, I doubt I would have kept it up this long. In the end, the workout kept my mind off of the repetition, but it was a good day.
Day four – For the first time, Beach was as crowded as I’d heard. I felt like I recovered pretty well from the day before, and enjoyed my third consecutive day of relative mania after I finished the run. I’m definitely starting to anticipate some of the mile marks, and I am keeping track of where I hit 6.3 miles – on or after the crosswalk? Which tree is five miles? Will I hit eight miles at the sign post? I’m showing mild concern with these minor fixations, but I’m enjoying it all, nonetheless. What matters is that I’m having a great time. The weather has been wonderful – I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so comfortable this late into April.
Day five – I was dragging all day and actively dreading the effort of running 12 miles, and didn’t think I’d even make it down the hill to Rock Creek Park without stopping. Somehow I did, and ran the whole route without stopping. The road was mostly empty and without anyone to dodge I had plenty of time to consider the cumulative effect of the repetitiveness of what I was doing. The thing was, I was feeling great. The last time I enjoyed a week of training like this was October. I wasn’t bored by this at all. What’s happening to me? At least through five days, I was seeing the exact
Day six – Another workout. I’d run between Broad Branch and the state line and back, with about 0.8 miles of recovery between. The bread and butter of my half marathon training, 2×4 miles, was an adaptation of a 2×20 minute workout early in my college running career when I think I sweated out my last few drops and fell apart, 2×4.22 would be a little longer, but workable. As soon as I got started, I found myself behind two cyclists having a long argument. It kept my mind off of what I had ahead of me until I passed them a mile in. I saw my friends Chris and Patrick heading the other way, and those smiles, waves and shouts just made me feel even more excited to be out there.
Day seven – Only a stomach ache could bring this run, and this week, down, and I didn’t even feel the discomfort until mile nine. Maybe I should stop eating entire bags of clementines in a day. As I finished up, I didn’t feel like I was achieving any conquest of my inner demons, because it wasn’t hard at all. But I still didn’t know how I’d handle it. Turns out it was just fine. I didn’t end up hating Beach Drive, in fact, I love it even more. And I was rewarded with my most enjoyable week of running since October. I never thought I would reach that level of enjoyment covering just over six miles of road, but here we are!
I wondered if I would keep it up for the foreseeable future, but on day eight, I found myself sitting at my desk/dining room table waiting for a call from Colorado, with 16 minutes to spare before I was supposed to go. I was back to it on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and have started the week off back again on Sunday and Monday, with plans to keep it up. As of April 29, the National Park Service plans to keep the closure in place until May 15, which will then lead right into a weekend, so my plans are set through May 17. I’m still starting at 6:15, and I can stop any time I want to. I just don’t want to.