Posts Tagged ‘running’

And So Endeth The Streak

Posted: 2016-05-12 in Running
Tags: , ,

483 days. Almost 1100 miles.

That’s how long my running streak lasted before I was forced to give it up.

A little over a month ago, while on one of my normal “1.5 mile minimum a day” runs, I had a stabbing pain in my ankle that shot down my foot and scared the hell out of me. I was able to walk on it, but running felt like someone was driving a nail into the top of my foot with every step. I limp/jogged my way through my last half-mile back to the house and iced my foot, hoping I just twisted something in a funny direction and it would be better a few days later.

As the days progressed, I still limped and I still ran. Nothing improved, and I had to go back out to Texas for work. Three weeks into my work schedule there (where I was on my feet at least 5-6 miles a day on top of whatever I was running), I decided it was time to seek medical attention before I did something really stupid and permanent to my foot/ankle.

The x-rays came back negative for stress fractures (what I feared was likely), but the Doc still was concerned and asked me to treat the injury just like a stress fracture, including 6 weeks of laying off the running, elevating and icing the foot as much as possible, and generally giving it time to heal itself before I screwed it up worse.

At one time, I would have said, “Screw it” to such advice, and kept my almost-16-months-streak alive. But older-and-wiser me started considering how I’d feel if I messed something up to the point where I’d be in agony every time I tried playing soccer with the kids, or hiking with the wife, or any of the million of things that are enjoyable but require you to be active on your feet. I decided, as disappointing as it would be to end my streak, it was a small sacrifice to make to get me back to normal.

So here I sit, icing my ankle & foot in the evenings, binge-watching Netflix and jealously glaring at random folks as they run past my balcony, carefree and happy, not knowing how good they have it. I was one of those people once, and hopefully in about 4 more weeks, I will be again. In the meantime, I’ll just try to make the most of the situation and keep my spirits up. (Sometimes, drinking the spirits down helps in that respect.)

So 483 days. It’s not a bad streak – over a year of running every day. Will I start a new streak when I get back into running? Probably not the same “run every day” type streak – that has proven to be a little too much for my bones to handle. But I’ll still keep running, and I’ll try to remember that each run is a privilage that not everyone gets to enjoy, and treat it as such.

Still, it would have been nice to hit 500.

Happy New Year! Ok, now that we’ve got the obligatory greeting out of the way, I want to address a topic near and dear to every UVA graduate’s heart: streaking.

Don't try this at home

No! Wait, not that kind of streaking, THIS kind of streaking:

Now THIS is how you streak!

That’s right, as of today, I’ve successfully run 1 mile or more, for 370 days in a row. That’s every day of 2015 and then some.  Hooray for me for keeping alive an unbroken chain of an arbitrary action!

Seriously though, I wrote a blog post approximately this time last year, where I discussed where my inspiration for a running streak came from. Since that day, I kept the streak going, and some great things came of it:

  • I managed to run despite a number of work trips (both domestic and international). I also saw some really amazing things because my streak forced me to get out and run where I might not have otherwise.
  • The logistics of travelling to China were one difficult (I ran at 11:00 at night the first night I arrived there, and had to impress air travelers in Dulles Airport with my running prowess on my way back, when I ran the length of C and D terminal until I completed my minimum 1 mile effort the day I returned to the States). But I was determined, and the smog/fog in Chongqing didn’t stop me the two days I was there, where I ran outside along the Yangtze River and even stopped to take a photo of some playful children:

Look, it's a bird, it's a plane - no, it's a statue pointing at a tree!

  • I also managed to have a much better set of runs in beautiful Genoa, Italy, where the weather was perfect and allowed me to explore part of the city. I even found a statue honoring Christopher Columbus in one of the town roundabouts (Columbus was reportedly born in the Republic of Genoa, a fact that the locals take great pride in):

They really like this Columbus dude

  • I certainly can’t forget about the time I ran in Plymouth after a giant snowstorm hit the Northeast. I ended up running laps around a Home Depot parking lot after the plows came through and cleared the snow – it was the only clear path in the area!

Iceberg, Goldberg, what's the difference?

  • A riverfront park in Linz, Austria also provided me with some great scenery. I was “stuck” in Linz for about two weeks, and took advantage of my time there to explore both the city and the surrounding countryside.

Even more comfortable than they look

  • Once you get a streak going, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to run, but when and where you’re going to run. I explored the parks and paths of Bahrain (thankfully, not during their hot season!), waved hello as I ran past a giant Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head at the Disney Resort my family and I went to for Spring Break, and jogged across cobblestone streets in Savannah on our one night “layover” on the drive home.

How can you NOT wave back?

Of course, it wasn’t all glamorous routes that could belong on the cover of a Runner’s World magazine issue. I had countless days when I slogged through my mile (or more, when I was on a training plan) doing half-mile laps around my neighborhood at 10pm when I realized I had forgotten to get my run in that day (or had just procrastinated doing so). I inhaled a bug on one run that I SWEAR was the size of my pinky-nail, and ended up in a horrific coughing fit for the next 5 minutes. I suffered from most of the typical runner’s annoyances at one time or another (no need to go into detail, this humorous video does just fine). But through it all, I kept the streak alive, which I am inordinately proud of.

I’m also proud of my TWO (that’s right, two!) half-marathons that I ran this past fall. The first was the Charlotte Thunder Road race, and after months of training, I ran a great race and set a new personal record. The second was a month later on Kiawah Island (coincidentally, the day after aforementioned bug-sucking incident). I didn’t do quite so well in that one, possibly due to the 70 degree temperatures near the finish. But finish I did! Two half marathons in one year is another new record for me, and you really can’t complain when you set a record, right? RIGHT?

Some of my coworkers have asked me if I’ll keep the streak going for 2016. After all, I’m already over halfway to 730 days in a row! For now, I’m just giving them a smile and say, “We’ll see.” But between you and me – that streak is calling to me, asking me to extend it, maybe even improve it. And thinking of all the fond memories that came from doing my 2015 challenge, I feel myself caving to the power of the streak. So 2016 will be the year where I do a minimum of 1.5 miles a day, every day. After all, I streaked 365 last year – how hard can it be to keep the streak alive for another year?

Anyone who interacts with me on even a casual basis probably knows that I enjoy running. Heck, my blog and email addresses let that cat out of the bag for folks who haven’t even met me! But as I joked to my friends some years back, there was a time after college when I more aptly should have used the nickname “RossUsedToRun” (despite it not rolling off the tongue nearly as nicely).  Between health issues and a general lack of motivation, I had seemingly interminable periods of non-running life interspersed between bouts of training, usually for a race, after which I tended to drop the habit pretty much cold-turkey the next time something came up.

Last spring was the latest of those dry spells, and my wife’s determination to run her first ever half-marathon this past December on our wedding anniversary was the impetus to get me going again. From my birthday in August until the day of the race in December, I was back on the wagon, training and loving it. We ran the race – Dee was amazing, and I? Well, let’s just say that this race set a new record for the slowest half-marathon I’ve run yet. Amazing race, I just didn’t turn out an amazing performance to match, but that’s completely off-topic and a story better left for another day.

I took some time off after the race to “recover” and could feel myself sliding into another bout of non-running-Rossness. I didn’t want that, but couldn’t figure out how to change it around. I could feel myself giving in to my personal version of Matthew Inman’s Blerch. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to institute a running streak to get me over my hump and turn myself around – in 2015, I plan to run a minimum of 1 mile a day, every day, adding on extra miles as training plans call for it. The “off days” may only be a mile, (as will any day I have to travel for work), but this kind of dedicated schedule may do more for me than any normal training plan could. Three days in and I’m doing great – I’m looking forward to my runs and no Blerch in sight.

Except that the streak isn’t really what is inspiring me right now. What’s got me so galvanized about running again is my tenacious little 7-year old who I invited out for a jog with me on Friday, who ended up running virtually the entire mile with a smile on her face, and who saved enough energy to “beat me” in a race to the “finish line” at the end of our second lap around the block. My daughter’s energy impressed me so much that Saturday I invited her to join me on another 1 mile jaunt around the neighborhood. This time? In the rain.

She took me up on my offer (really, what self-respecting 7-year-old wouldn’t jump at a chance to go running in the rain?), and we geared up to brave the elements. After stepping out into the rain-shower, she giggled at the raindrops dripping off her nose. We strolled over to the corner where we start our route, and as she took off, I actually had to speed up to keep apace her churning little legs.

I couldn’t help but keep looking over at my daughter, who laughed as she splashed through puddles and cut a swath through the raindrops. She ran so freely, so naturally, so happily. Her bangs plastered to her forehead, she told me, “I don’t care that it’s raining, I like it.” I agreed.

Near the end of our mile, we passed a decorative shrub that she calls “The Pretty Tree”, which happens to be our designated starting line for our last 50-meter-all-out-go-for-broke-race-to-the-finish. She took off, squealing with laughter as she cut directly in front of me and forced me to slow down or tangle my much-longer legs up in her own. Despite my “best efforts” to pull ahead, she managed to outpace me and tap the lamp-post a single stride ahead of my reaching hand, winning our race for the second day in a row. “I told you I’d beat you,” she said. “I know you did,” I replied.

As we strolled back to our house, still breathing fast but cooling down quickly in the remaining drizzle, I told The Bean how much I liked running with her. I didn’t mention how she had inspired me to get back out there and leave my lazy days behind me once again, but I’m pretty sure she’s got that one all figured out, already.

Me: *snoring*

Alarm clock @ 5:15: *Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz* WAKE UP. WAKE UP. *Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*

Me: Huh? Wha? Huh?

Alarm Clock: WAKE UP. Or I will continue to blare Top 40 Country hits until I wake up your wife and daughters.

Me: Huh? Wha?

Me: Wait, what is going on here?

Me: Does that clock say 5:15?  Who the hell set the alarm for 5:15?

Me: Oh wait, I set the alarm for 5:15.

Me: Why on earth did I set the alarm for 5:15 again?

Me: *slides out of bed, turns off the alarm*

Alarm Clock: See ya tomorrow, sucker.

My Body: Wait. What are you doing standing up? We should be sleeping right now.

Me: I’m not exactly sure, myself.  Brain, you want to weigh in?

My Brain: You’ve reached Ross’ Brain. I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message I’ll get back as soon as possible. Hahahaha.

Me: Umm.

Body: Seriously.  Get horizontal now, or I’m gonna do it for you.

Me: Wait. Running. I’m supposed to go running this morning.

Body: Are you kidding? There’s no way I’m going running this morning. Actually, I don’t know why I’m even having this conversation with you. I’m going back to bed.

Me: (weakly) No.

Body: Excuse me?

Me: (more strongly) Just give me a minute. Nap while I stand here and think for a second.

Body: Ok, get back to me when you decide to go back to bed.

Me: *shuffles to kitchen, makes cup of coffee and toasted english muffin w/ peanut butter*

Brain: Is that coffee?

Me: I think so.

Brain: *sniffs* GIMME.

Me: Hold on, it’s too hot.

Brain: DON’T CARE. GIMME.

Brain: Oof. Why am I so fuzzy?

Me: Because it’s 5:27?

Brain: Yeah, that’d do it. Ok, drink your coffee and I’ll check back in with you in 10.

Me: *sips coffee and eats breakfast in silence*

Brain: Hey, so, question for you…

Me: Shoot.

Brain: Do you really need me on this run? Or can I check out until you’re done?

Me: Um. As long as I’m aware enough to watch out for cars, I should be ok.

Brain: Cool, yo. Catch you later!

Me: *gets geared up, stretches, and heads out the door*

Me: *starts to jog down the block*

Body: WHOA. Whoa. WHOA. WHOA. What the hell are you DOING??

Me: Running. Or at least trying to.

Body: Who told you that you could do that?

Me: Um. I need to. I want to. I think.

Body: You could have asked me.

Me: You were off in dreamland. Next time, help me out when I’m trying to get up and I’ll ask for your input.

Body: Yeah, like that’s gonna ever happen.

Me: Asking for your input?

Body: No, me helping you out.

Body: I’ll have you know I’m doing this under duress.

Me: I know. BELIEVE ME, I know.

Body: I’m not going to like this, you know.

Me: Yes you will.

Body: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Me: Um, you like running.

Body: NOT AT THE BUTTCRACK OF DAWN I DON’T.

Me: Relax, relax. Look, we’re already a half-mile in to the run.  Don’t you feel better?

Body: Not really.

Me: Then why are you running a minute faster pace than you were when we started?

Body: Because the sooner I hit 4 miles, the sooner I’m done with this running crap.

Me: That’s the ticket. Stick with me, kid, and you’ll go far.

Body: Yeah, not the best way to convince me to keep going.

Brain: HEY GUYS! MAN, THESE ARE SOME MONDO ENDORPHINS! I FEEL GREAT! I’M FLYING! I COULD REPROVE FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM WITH NO PAPER RIGHT NOW! MAN, DON’T YOU STOP RUNNING, EVER!

Me & Body: Shut up. Shut up now, or I will watch reruns of According to Jim until you shrivel up and are left sobbing in the deepest recesses of my head.

Brain: (meekly) OK. Hey, look out for that car.

Me: Thanks.

Brain: Don’t mention it.

Body: Um, guys – next time, can you plan a route that doesn’t involve hills?

Brain: That’s sort of hard to do around here.  We can minimize ’em, but unless we make laps in the neighborhood or drive over to the middle school track, it’s hard to keep it level.

Body: Fine by me!

Brain: Laps around the neighborhood are only slightly more appetizing than watching episodes of Deal or No Deal. I will do everything in my power to sabotage you at work today if you force me to do that more than once a week.

Me: Ok, ok, settle down, guys.  Look, we’ll work out a compromise later.  Right now though, let’s just get through this last mile and then we can move on to something a little more fun this morning.

Body: Like sleep?

Brain: Like more coffee?

Me: How about – a shower, some yogurt, and a nice leisurely drive to work with air conditioning and some interesting podcasts to listen to?

Body and Brain: Deal.

Me: *sighs* And to think I’m crazy enough to consider training for a half-marathon this fall.

Body and Brain: WHOA. Whoa. WHOA. WHOA.

Me: *sighs*

14 years ago, I was a high school senior.  I was a straight-A student, a vocal-jazz singer, a bit of a nerd, but also a clearly defined runner.  Hell, my AOL account username was “RossRuns” (an affectation I have kept up through the years for nearly all of my new user accounts on various web services).  I had placed 8th in the Washington state Cross Country championship meet with my 15:24 5K time, and was seeded #1 going into the state track meet the following spring regional finish of 4:20 for the 1600m.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that running was an integral part of my life.

13 years ago, I was a walk-on to the UVA Cross Country team, qualifying with a 5 mile time of 25:25.  I had taken my running to the next level, racking up between 60-80 miles a week with the rest of the squad. I competed in a couple of invitationals but was sidelined with an injury during the winter and part of the spring – long enough to red-shirt my freshman year and leave me considering whether I wanted to continue with such a grueling training schedule in light of all the other college activities I was participating in.

10 years ago, after graduating college and beginning work in New York state, I occasionally ran on evenings/weekends, but I don’t recall it being according to any regular schedule or set training plan. I explained the “RossRuns” username to people as “Well, it’s a whole lot easier to remember than RossUsedToRun.”

8 years ago, I joined many of my coworkers in the “Corporate Challenge”, a 3.5 mile road race in NY.  I collapsed somewhere near/on/past the finish line (I don’t remember the finish to this race to this day).  Any notions of getting back into shape through regular running left me for a good while, after that.

3 years ago, while in India, I ran on the treadmill in the gym every morning before going to the factory, for 5 weeks straight.  I returned home and promptly failed to follow up with any running, whatsoever.

2 years ago, after “training” for a few months, I joined my wife in the Harrisburg NC YMCA 5K and finished 28th overall and 1st in my age group, with a 23:28 finish. My commitment to keep running ended just about the time it started to be 90 degrees and 90% humidity outdoors the following month.

Last year (Feb 2010), I ruptured my Achilles tendon and after surgery to stitch it back together, was banned from running until November 2010.  This restriction finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed to realize how much I was taking my own fitness and health for granted. I tentatively got back into training (as much as my poor leg would allow me) and started building up my endurance and strength again.

This past Saturday, I ran 5 miles (continuous) for probably the first time since my undergrad days 13 years ago.  Not only that, I ran it as part of a regular training schedule, on (or ahead of) pace and I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT.

Looking back on my running history above, it shocks me to see that the time I took off from running was over twice as long as the period where I had seriously considered myself a runner, prior to that (since Cross Country and Track in 8th grade).  I never realized the excuses and the inconsistency in my running history until I seriously sat down and charted my on-again, off-again habits.

I want to turn that statistic around, and proudly use the ID “RossRuns” because it is an indication that I’ve been running longer than I haven’t.  Sure, I’ll have little hurdles to overcome along the way, but I feel like I’ve revitalized my running spirit and my drive to stick with it. Only time will tell, of course, but already I’ve seen incredible benefits in my own life – everything from significantly reduced cholesterol levels to mental balance and acuity to increased energy and happiness – that make it well worth my while to try to maintain this lifestyle even if I’m feeling the running shtick on a particular afternoon.

I’m a Runner. I prove it by running. That’s all there is to it, and all I need to keep in mind.  And in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and further into the future, I hope I can look back and do another of these posts, and be inordinately proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’ve done in my running life.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
-John Bingham

This weekend held an exciting event for the wife and myself: a nearby city 5k race.  It was actually a pretty momentous occasion for a couple of reasons:

For Dee:

  • This was Dee's first race, EVER (excluding field-day activities in elementary school, that is).  Since she's training for a triathlon in the fall, she wanted to gauge her progress with a 5k and see how far along she's come since she started her training program.
  • Dee ended up finishing faster than she expected and she and I were very proud of her performance!

For me:

  • This was my first race in almost 6 years.  The last one involved me collapsing on/near the finish line and spending 6 days in the hospital diagnosed with rhabdomyolisis.  Needless to say, I was a little nervous about how this race would fare, given my last race experience.
  • I ended up winning an award for my placement in the race!

The weather was beautiful – sunny and about 60 degrees – about as perfect for a 5k as you could wish.  I was a little chilly at the start but knew I'd warm up as soon as things got going.  The race itself went really well – both Dee and I were very happy with our results:


Place Name                Guntime Pace  
===== =================== ======= =====
 28   Ross G              23:28   7:34 
147 Dee G 35:15 11:21

Dee said she was really happy with her time, as it was a lot faster than her normal training pace, and set a good goal for her next race.  I'm very proud of her for finishing so quickly and making so much progress on her training program.

As for myself, I finished more than 1.5 minutes ahead of my goal.  As I ran the race, I kept forcing myself to ease back and keep a little bit slower pace than I normally ran, but by 2 miles I was still well ahead of my goal pace, so I decided to just go with it as long as I could.  As I was winding up for the last third of a mile of the course, I went ahead and boosted to my full-out kick, passing an unsuspecting runner before he knew I was there and sprinted full-out for the finish line.  And because of my sprint, it turns out I ended up passing the one person who stood between me and 1st place in the Male 25-29 division!

Yes, I won a medal to go with my "free" race t-shirt.  Totally unexpected, but very satisfying to come back from 6 years away from any racing and feel like I was right back in the swing of things.

I'm not expecting to win any awards on any future races, but I'm definitely going to keep up my regular training and try to fit in a road race here or there when I can.  As I've said before, to me, the fun is in the running, not the winning.  But bringing home a medal will always bring just a little bit extra of a smile to my face.

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Running in Paradise

Posted: 2009-04-01 in General
Tags: , ,

I don't make New Years' resolutions, but I have been trying to make an effort to get back into running again since mid-January.  I was doing really well last year and then pretty much stopped all of a sudden at the end of November.  Now that my schedule has settled a bit, I'm trying to get back into running at lunchtime 3-4 days a week.  I can tell it's going to take a while to get back into shape, but I am making progress and both yesterday and today felt especially good, even though I wasn't able to run at anywhere near the pace I had worked up to last year.

Running today under the drizzly skies of North Carolina made me think back to my trip to the Mexico resort in January.  Every day I was there was a beautiful sunny 80 degrees.  The palm trees and lush green grass were everywhere, and there were wide, pleasant sidewalks to run on all around the resort area.  I took advantage of the locale I was in to help kick-start me back into the running schtick.  After all, when you've got weather like that and courses like the one below, how can you NOT want to run?*

*Ok, fine, I can totally understand that there are PLENTY of people that would see the above and not be inspired to run.  But trust me, if you were actually AT the resort, you'd be inspired to run.  Or swim.  Or lounge in the sun and drink the free booze and eat from the delicious and plentiful buffets.  Wait, what was my point again?

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  • No, I'm not dead (yet). 
  • Yes, I'm still super-busy.
  • No, I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.
  • Yes, vacation pictures from Mexico are still coming soon.
  • No, I didn't end up buying the Luchadore mask I was eyeing at the tourist trap in Playa Del Carmen (sorry, Mook).
  • Yes, I went running again today for the first time in almost a month.
  • No, it was not pleasant.
  • Yes, I feel better now for having done it.
  • No, I've never seen anything cuter than my girls, thank you very much.

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I'm not an overly big fan of the social networking and/or 2.0 websites, but I do use a few of them.  The big ones (Facebook, Last.fm, Delicious, Flickr, and Twitter) have already been rehashed in great detail, but there's a couple others that really do what I need them to do, and are worth a mention here – namely, Goodreads and RunningAHEAD.

Goodreads

Goodreads is my favorite book-related website.  In essence, it's a way to catalog and organize books.  You can use it any number of ways – as a way to log what books you read, categorize books in your library using "bookshelves" (essentially tags, so you can put one book on multiple "bookshelves"), review & rate books, and then add friends so you can view all of this information on other like-minded people's accounts.  I find it a great way to keep track of what I'm reading, how many books I'm reading a year, whether I already have a book in my library and whether I've read it, whether I'm borrowing/lending a book from/to someone else, and even my wish-list of books (hint: make a bookshelf called "wish-list" and then you can direct people to the books on it directly). 

In addition, everything is hyperlinked, so clicking on the author of a book will bring up a list of his/her works, clicking on the title of a book will show links to pages where you can read reviews and/or purchase the book, cover art is imported automatically, and you can subscribe to a feed and/or summary email of someone's activity, if you want to see what they've read/rated lately.

Goodreads is completely free, with no limit on the number of books you may have in your library.  They even have easy ways to import books from a spreadsheet or from ISBN numbers, if you already have them in some other format.  If you join or are already a member, be sure to add me as a friend – I love to see what other people are reading and how they rate the books they've read.  My profile is here, and it's easy to sign up and start keeping track of your own books!


RunningAHEAD

Recently, I've gotten back into running regularly for exercise, and as part of my efforts, I find it interesting and motivational to log my running activity.  Prior to signing up with RunningAHEAD, I used to keep all my runs in a spreadsheet on my computer.  The biggest issue with this was I never seemed to have a copy of the spreadsheet on the computer I was near after finishing my run.  Now I have a single, centralized location where I can enter my workout information, track my running shoes and the mileage I've put on them, and even map routes and add extra information about my run.  The website also has some decent graphing and trending tools to allow you to visualize any of the data variables you choose to record regularly.  The site even has capabilities to join or start a training group – all members that join are listed together under the group heading, and you can then chat in a separate group forum, share running reports, etc.  Overall, a very nice little site that does what it should do, and is free to boot.

If you want to see my RunningAHEAD info, my info is here.   Be aware I only update on a weekly/biweekly basis with all of the runs I did that week, once I download them from my Forerunner, so it may not show the most recent run status for me.


[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #29/30]

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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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