- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

It took years — until I was in high school — to drag my father off the town track and onto the neighborhood roads for his 3-to-5-mile runs. Then, to my dismay, he chose to repeat the same measured course for every single run.

For my dad, the engineer, it was the security and precision of his one route which made him happy. For me, it was pure boredom and monotony.

Now, in a given week of six workouts, I rarely can be seen on the same piece of real estate. My running shoes take me to local high school tracks, spectacular area parks, along the Mount Vernon bicycle trail and through the streets of my neighborhood.

Variety is what has kept my running career interesting and vibrant.

But at times, I get restless, and I need to explore new and exciting lands.

Yesterday I was in York, Pa., because there has been a 10-mile race for the past six years on a scenic and historic rail trail and my schedule called for a 10-mile training run.

That was just part of the reason. Since I do not race 10-milers, I needed to find a place where nobody in the field knew me and I didn’t know anybody. Thus there was no pressure to go out too fast because you cannot bear the thought of losing to somebody you should be dusting.

Oh yes, I remember now — this is a workout, not a race. And I am Mother Teresa’s younger brother. When you put a clock on it and post results, it does strange things to your workout. But being the veteran runner that I am, I am above such inane thinking. No race, just a timed workout with water on the course.

It’s a point-to-point deal, so the bus took us from the finish to the start. However, the trip seemed to take forever. Was this supposed to be a 10-miler or a 20-miler?

Milling around at the start, I enjoyed total anonymity, seeing none of the usual suspects who run 685 races a year in the D.C. area. But soon I am busted. Somebody recognized me from a mile road race in nearby Millersville a couple of months ago.

Elam, an old guy like me who has run this 10-miler once before, told me it is flat the entire way. He must have forgotten the 300-meter steep uphill, a 15 percent grade, just 200 meters from the start.

I tried to forgive him as I settled in for the first, second and third miles, right on my conservative pace. I had him in my sights, but remember this is not a race. I kept closing on him over the fourth and fifth miles.

The scenic Heritage Rail Trail, dozens of miles long, was indeed flat and on a packed gravel surface. This is not the kind of terrain conducive to personal bests, so thankfully I was not racing this day.

I caught Elam before Mile Six, but the heat was taking its toll on me. Maybe he had dragged me out too fast. Suddenly, I was praying that I misread the race application and this really is a 10K, not a 10-miler.

Sadly, I crawled to 10K and the field was still running. Must be a 10-miler. I slowed and walked a bit to cool down, I could feel my head pounding at 200 beats a minute.

Elam passed and like a new best friend asked whether I am OK. I told him I am fine. I figured if he could lie about the hill, I can lie about my failing health.

Somehow, I made it to nine miles, and while I was downing my 12th cup of water, the leading woman strode by. This hurt, not only because she is a woman but because she ran from the finish to the start and now back to the finish to make a 20-miler.

Since I am not racing, I let her go. But back on the trail, I tried to gun her down in the last mile. I came up just short.

The finish line was right in the middle of Yorkfest, a big crafts fair along the creek. I looked up and saw a sign with the magic words “Premium Ice Cream.”

Life was good again.

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