- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

Runners once again are under attack.

It’s not from neighborhood advisory councils shutting down courses through neighborhoods. Nor is it the government hiking levies on foreign-made running shoes with American logos.

It’s those red-eyed insects called cicadas.

It’s only every 17 years that we have to deal with this phenomenon, and that is a long time. Seventeen years ago I still had cartilage between my femur and my fibula. (For those of you who missed freshman biology, that’s thighbone and shinbone, respectively.)

My daughter asked me the other day if I remembered the last attack of the cicadas. I told her I cannot even remember where I left my car keys this morning. We’re talking 1987, which was so long ago that marathons weren’t trendy.

Sources say the first emergence of the noisy pests occurred in Indiana last week. Since then, there have been nearly as many cicada sightings in the metropolitan area as there have been Elvis sightings since his death in 1977.

Reports say that this year’s cicadas are from the Magicicada Brood X genus, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to me except that despite 17 years of sleeping, they sport some really bloodshot eyes.

So you may ask, how does this cicada invasion affect running?

I went straight to an expert, a certified arborist and a running partner, Mark de Oliveira of TreeSpeak. As we ran each other into the ground on the trails of Lake Accotink, de Oliveira offered some great insight.

Do cicadas bite? I inquired.

No they don’t bite, Mark said, but they might pinch slightly with the small claws on the legs.

Do they fly? I asked. Yes, he said, but not very fast and not very far from where they emerge.

Cicadas seem drawn to the sounds of lawn mowers, chainsaws, gas-powered weed whackers and gas-powered leaf blowers. They also seem to enjoy the whining sounds of a runner who has hit the wall.

But the biggest annoyance, according to de Oliveira, is that the cicada is like a Beltway tailgater: Once it gets on your back, you cannot get rid of it.

Some may find that a hindrance but being the positive person that I am, I see it as an opportunity. Imagine training for weeks with 30 pounds of cicadas on your shoulders and then lining up for a race cicada-free. Imagine how light you are going to feel.

I also see cicada-flavored GU and Gel hitting the markets soon.

Remember during the next six weeks, as you are cursing the little devils, that the reason for all this noise is really love. That’s true. It is the males who sing to attract the attention of females.

There are laws in this country barring humans from doing the same thing.

Not so free — For the past five years Jeff Reed of Fairfax Station has been co-directing a free 31-mile trail race in the Massanutten Mountains near Luray, Va. The race is named after the Catherine’s Furnace, which is along the course.

According to Reed, due to the popularity of the race and the increased costs to produce it, he will have to charge a nominal entry fee of $15, or 50 cents a mile for the July24 race.

Don’t worry, the cicadas should be gone by then.

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