Tag: running

Get Lost, Will Ya?

In my family and with other folks I know, I am notorious for my poor sense of direction.  If it wasn't so horrendously bad, I might have driven myself nuts over it a long time ago; as it is, however, the fact that my navigation skills are so poor just seems incredibly funny to me1.  I tend to quip "My sense of direction is so bad, I get lost in a walk-in closet."  But in truth, it's not all that much better, as you'll see by some of the most memorable incidents in my past below:

1Ironically, I was in charge of the navigation control segment of a fairly recent Navy ship's design at my old job.

Shortly after I got my drivers' license many years ago, my family was visiting my grandparents' house in Harrisburg, PA.  I volunteered to borrow my grandparents' car to return some soon-to-be-overdue movies to the video store, which was only a few miles (and about three traffic lights) away from their house.  I made it to the store just fine, but on the way back, I turned left one light too early.  

Not only did I not realize my mistake right away, I made matters worse by trying to figure out, on the fly, how to cut through some neighborhoods to get into my grandparents' neighborhood from the back way.  My first mistake?  Not knowing that my grandparents' neighborhood didn't HAVE a back way.  Second, and probably most fatal to my cause – not deciding to backtrack until after I had gotten myself completely lost and had racked up close to an hour driving "just a few miles there and back to the video store".  My family STILL won't let me live that one down.

As you might recall, I ran Cross Country back in high school.  One of our regular 5k races took place in a park in (I believe) Port Angeles, Washington.  I was the fastest runner on my team, and quite possibly the fastest at the entire race.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to find out if that was the case. 

At the gun, I took off and had a fantastic lead going into the second mile.  It was at this point that I realized that the well-marked trail I had assumed we were going to run on was not quite so well-marked.  There were people on the sides of the trail clapping and cheering as I ran by, and looking ahead, I saw that the path forked, but couldn't see any markings or indication of which way to go.  I shouted out at some of the people "Which way do I go?" but the few that responded didn't know.  I took the trail to the left, which was about twice the width as the one to the right, and seemed the more likely route.  

It still seemed the most likely route as I ran along the slightly sloping downhill trail…all the way to a dead-end lookout point overlooking the beach that was about 150 feet below me, down the steep cliffside.  I turned around and slogged my way back up the hill and off on the other fork of the trail.  The other racers and the cheering crowds had all passed by already, of course.  I ended up catching up to a few of the laggards near the end of the race, but my team that year joked that I was the only racer they ever knew who chose to run 4.5 miles in a 3.1 mile race.

My wife and I were put up by my company in temporary housing for a month when we first moved down to Baltimore.  We were already staying at a furnished apartment north of the city when the place in the Inner Harbor that we wanted to stay at opened up, so we packed our two cars and drove down into the city to the apartment high-rise…or at least, that's what we attempted to do.

I hadn't had a printer or internet accessible at the time to print out MapQuest directions, but the address of the place was on a prominent street, and I knew there were parking garages in the area.  I pulled out my trusty PAPER map and tracked the roads we needed to take to get there on it, and off we went – Dee in her Mitsubishi Montero Sport and me in my Honda CRV – each of us loaded to the gills with everything we needed and/or couldn't have the movers transport for us.  We had a pair of walkie-talkies to communicate with along the way.  Dee followed me, as I had the map and the address (you think she would have learned about my sense of direction by then, but I can't blame her for the horrific time yet to come).

Everything was going swimmingly until Dee realized that we had gone a couple miles through downtown beyond what we should have been – it turns out the street I was looking out for to turn onto didn't actually intersect with the road we were on – instead it went under our road via an underpass, and there wasn't even an indication that we had passed it by.  Whoops!  We were almost through the center of the city and out the other side when Dee called me on the radio and we pulled over at a gas station to look at the map.  We couldn't figure out what had gone wrong at the time, but realized that all we really had to do to get back on track was make a U-turn, then turn right a few miles back in order to get down to the Inner Harbor area, and then we could hit the street where our apartment building was located on the way back towards where we had come from.

We got back in the cars and back on the road.  All the intersections had "No U-Turn" signs, so I finally got tired and decided to turn left into one of the neighborhoods – I figured we'd turn around in a driveway or something, get back on the road going the other way, and be good to go.  Except the neighborhood I turned us into (my wife following along behind me) was a ghetto.  No, I take that back, not a ghetto.  If the neighborhood had had a sign out front, it would have said "THE GHETTO OF BALTIMORE".  As in, the last place my wife and I should have been driving slowly through, trying to figure out where/how to turn around and get the hell out of there.

There were about 5 or 6 guys swaggering down the middle of the street in the same direction we were going, not paying any attention that we were on the road behind them.  My wife came over the radio, "WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT HONK AT THEM!"  I radioed back, "Yeah, I wasn't planning on it.  I'm going to turn right at this street up here, it looks like I can make a right, then another right and we'll be back on the road."  I turned right.  And found myself at a dead-end about a quarter-mile up the road.  I quickly got on the radio and told my wife not to come that way, as we'd only both be forced to turn around.  She was freaking out about driving through the neighborhood at this point (essentially by herself, as I was still backing and filling on a 47-point-turn), and I could hear the panic in her voice.

She told me she was taking the next left-turn and trying to double-back around.  As I sped down the road to catch up to her, I heard her say over the radio, "Ohmigod Ross, the road splits ahead, I don't know which way to go which way should I go I'm going to freak out here WHY THE HELL DID YOU TAKE US BACK HERE AHHHHHHHH!" (Ok, maybe I'm embellishing a little, but you get the point.)  I caught up to her, told her to pull over and I passed her, took the left-split after I made sure this time that it actually DID lead back to the main road, and we got out of there under the dirty looks of some of the same guys that had been in our "welcoming party" to the neighborhood.

Of course, by the time we got into the Inner Harbor, the Orioles game traffic had started to pile up, and the traffic cops were in effect everywhere (yes, yes, my bad idea to move the day of an O's game, I know, I know).  We crawled through traffic until I saw the street we needed to turn onto to get to the apartment building.  We turned and made our way slowly up the street, trying to find the building.  And we went well past the address before we both acknowledged that there was absolutely NO WAY we had seen the building's name or address on the street.

At this point, nerves shot and tempers flaring, I made the decision that we'd go around the Inner Harbor loop again, and this time enter and park in the parking garage that was right near the turn onto the street the building was supposed to be located on.  I figured we would have better luck walking than trying to navigate the traffic, so 15 mind-numbing minutes later, we made our way around the block and into the garage.  We took a deep breath and strolled up the street to where the building should be…and found it.  Or rather, we found the SIDE of the building – the entrance (with the name, address, door, etc) was on the cross-street, and there would have been absolutely no way in hell we would have found it while in the car.  We went in, got the keys to the apartment, and I left Dee there to relax while I went and moved our cars into the building's parking garage, which ALSO was on the cross-street.  That evening we went out to eat, vented at the world, and had a pleasant meal with liberal applications of booze.  All in all, not a bad end to an otherwise horrific day.

For those of you screaming "GOD!  Get a GPS unit already!" – Well, I now have one (thanks Mom and Dad!) but it hasn't entirely solved the problem.  It seems my navigational difficulties transcend even the aid of technology in some cases.  Like the time my wife and I went out to eat in Hershey, PA, at the Hershey Grill.

We looked up the address of the restaurant online, and I entered the name (and checked the address) into my GPS, got the directions, and looked good to go.  In the mindset of "better safe than sorry" I had also copied down the phone number to the restaurant and brought that with me, just in case.  Off we went, proceeding cautiously due to the rainy weather and the increased traffic from the Dave Matthews concert that was playing at the Hershey stadium that evening.  I followed the directions into Hershey proper, and we were coming up on the final turn when Dee, who had been to the Hershey Grill once before said, "This doesn't really look familiar.  Where is the restaurant again?"

I said that the website gave the address shown on the GPS, and said it was on the corner of X and Y streets.  At which point she sighed and said that we had passed Y street about 4 miles back.  Although I had a sinking feeling in my chest, we were only a half-mile away from the GPS endpoint, so I decided to persevere.  I turned left at the prompted traffic light…and ended up in a large parking lot that looked like it pulled double duty for a train station and some of the corporate buildings that surrounded it.  Pretty sure at this point that my directional curse had rubbed off on the GPS, I parked the car, called the restaurant, and got explicit directions from the woman who answered the phone.  Sure enough, 4 miles back the way we had come, we turned onto Y street, and pulled into the restaurant parking lot soon thereafter.

My biggest problems, as you can probably see from the above, are usually not from trying to get from point A to point B, but rather when I try to forge my own path from somewhere along the way (call it point C).  When I do this, I usually end up at point Z, named as such because it's about as far away as you can possibly get and still remain in the same zipcode as points A and B.  Unfortunately, there's no effective way to get past this short of driving the route to familiarize myself with it, having a map (and GPS) with me, and taking the time to backtrack if need be.  Unless, of course, I can convince someone else to drive.  Anyone else.  Anyone at all.  After all, I can't be worse off with them than I would be on my own, right?

[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #25/30]

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The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe

When you were a kid, did you ever run so fast and so far that it felt like you were flying?  I did, all the time.

I don't remember when I first knew I was a fast runner.  Countless soccer matches, Phys. Ed. shuttle runs" (complete with blackboard erasers), pick-up footraces ("last one to the trees is a dork!"), and President's Challenge Physical Fitness Tests made the other students and myself hyper-aware that although I may not have been the most coordinated kid in school, it was a good thing to have me on your team if speed could give you an edge in the competition.

Running, however, for me, was almost never about competing (at least, not until I was a teenager and realized running might be my "calling" through the rest of school).  I embraced the joy of the fluidity of motion, arms and legs pumping in time as I flew across the field, around the track, or even up and down flights of steps.  When I ran, I wasn't the "me" that I was the rest of the time – I was both something more, and something less.  You could devote your mind, body, and soul to the run and leave everything else behind, for a few short, breathtaking minutes of unchecked bliss.

The first (but definitely not the last!) time I realized that you could actually keep this feeling AND compete while running will always stick with me.  Because of this epiphany, of course, but for another, more simple reason, as well.  I will always remember the first time I felt this way, because it was the race where my opponent was The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe.

The Girl's name was Kathy, and we were both in the 4th grade.  I can't recall if we were in the same classes most of the time that year, and I can't recall if we had ever participated in any kind of race against each other before that day in P.E. class.  All I remember is that day, we were running "THE MILE", and that I knew that Kathy was fast.  Fast enough, in fact, that there was talk of her being the fastest kid in the entire school – even faster than any of the fifth graders.  

Like any group of elementary school kids, the unguided pre-run "stretching period" quickly broke down into groups of kids gathering together to gossip and talk about anything and everything.  This time, the class noticeably split into two groups: the boys and the girls, each quickly announcing to each other that their "representative" in the gender war would be the victor in the upcoming race.  As I sat on the ground, stretching my legs, I started getting claps on the back from various boys in the class – all of whom made clear they were counting on me to keep that oh-so-important male honor from being tarnished by being "beaten by a girl".

As we all lined up on the white chalk-line marked on the grass by the start of the course, my only focus was on the butterflies in my stomach.  Kids jostled here and there for position on the line, sure that any extra half-inch they could cut off the beginning of the race would make all the difference in their finish.  Ironically, this was to be all too true for my own situation, seven minutes after the teacher blew his whistle and sent us all sprinting pell-mell across the field into the first of four laps around the quarter-mile course.

None of us knew the first thing about pacing ourselves; we all took off like the Devil himself was on our heels.  It was only after that first frenzied sprint that people slowed down and settled into their most comfortable, ground-eating strides.  And after that first madcap dash, I found myself at the head of the pack, Kathy right on my heels.

She trailed me doggedly for the first two laps, only a step or two behind at all times.  After that first turn, I wasted no time turning to see if she was still on my tail; I was flying across the grass as if the wind itself were carrying me along.  I could sense Kathy's presence behind me, but rather than imposing on the elation of the moment, it added to it.  When she passed me to take the lead at the beginning of the third lap, I hardly noticed the cheers of the other female runners, strewn by now all around the circumference of the race course.  Instead I was focused on the bouncing blonde bob of Kathy's hair and the small of her back, urging my tiring legs onward to new feats of strength and endurance.  I began to chase her, pursuing just as I had been pursued.

We began to run side-by-side as we entered the fourth lap.  Both of us were lagging now, winded and tiring from our lightning-fast dashes – those better suited to a much shorter race.  A crowd of kids had gathered by the finish line: other runners who had decided to delay their own last couple laps until after they saw how this epic struggle would end.  I started to sprint.  I pulled ahead of Kathy.

The shouts and cheers of boys and girls alike filled my ears as I flew towards the race's end.  Underneath the noise, I could hear my own harsh breathing, and that of one other.  Kathy had caught up to me, and was about to move past me.

With less than ten feet to go, my attention was pulled away from the focus of the finish line to something bizarre, something white, something flying through the air – a white Keds slip-on shoe.  One of the ones Kathy had been wearing.  Kathy's shoe crossed the finish line a mere second before she did.  It crossed the finish line a mere second and a half before I did.

As we collapsed on the ground near each other, gasping for breath and clearing the euphoric fog of our run out of our brains through our open mouths, I remember telling Kathy, "Congratulations.  I guess you won by a shoe."  At this, we both broke up in an attack of giggles so strong that by the time we were able to overcome them, Kathy was upright and mobbed in congratulatory hugs by what seemed to be about half the girls at the school.

As for me – I took my time getting up and dusting myself off.  I smiled ruefully at a handful of offered consolations of "You'll get her next time" and "Man, that was too close to call".  Inside, however, I was wearing a grin larger than any that had ever made their way to my mouth.  It was only then that I realized how much running really meant to me, and that I'd always be able to thank The Girl Who Beat Me By a Shoe for the amazing gift I received that day.

[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #4.2/30]

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QotD Followup: Pants on Fire

Note: I was going to post this in the comments of my QotD entry on the topic, but it turned into enough of an entry that I figured I'd put it in its own post.

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies….but ask me to tell a lie and I'll tell a half-truth…

    – I once ran a four-and-a-half-minute mile
TRUE – Back in high school, I was quite the runner.  My freshman year I ran a 4:50 mile.  My junior year, I was down to 4:30.  My senior year, I ran a 4:20 mile to win the regional championship and was seeded first for the state track meet.  The guy I beat in the regional meet ended up winning the state's mile competition.  I came in middle of the pack, definitely not my best race (story behind that some other time), but I'll always have my 4:20 mile to remember as I get more and more out of shape with the years :-)

    – I once broke both of my front teeth while sailing…on the 4th of July
FALSE – This is the half-truth.  It was actually MY BROTHER who did this.  He was out on the Chesapeake Bay taking part in a sailing class one summer, and he didn't duck when the boom suddenly (and surprisingly) reversed direction on a tack.  I was supposed to be there that day but I was sick.  He broke both of his front teeth, exposing the nerve on one of them.  If that wasn't bad enough, can you imagine how hard it is to find a dentist who is working on the 4th of July?!?!

    – I once drove a US Navy nuclear submarine
TRUE – My father was a captain in the Navy before he retired, and he happened to be the captain of a submarine at points in his career, too.  On a dependents' cruise, I got to sit in the Officer of the Deck's (OOD's) chair and steer, and on the Captain's orders of "Surface, Surface, Surface", I pulled back on the wheel and surfaced the boat from (I think) a few hundred feet underwater to the ocean's surface.  Pretty cool experience, and something I'll always remember.  It's not every day you're in control of a half a billion dollars worth of machinery!

Congrats to LaLatte for guessing correctly!!!!

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