Friday, October 15, 2010

Running on Deer Isle: Part III

This fall, a series of four essays is running in the Island Ad-Vantages, the local newspaper for Deer Isle and Stonington, ME. After each of my essays appears in the paper, I will also post it here.

When I decided to run every road on Deer Isle, I initially planned to skip all the private roads, because I didn't want to trespass onto private property. However, as soon as I started running the roads, I very quickly learned that if I skipped the roads marked "PVT," I'd miss 90 percent of Deer Isle. One of the reasons for running every road on Deer Isle was to really explore the island and see all of it, and to do that I had to run the private roads.

To respect property owners while still being true to my goal, I came up with a few simple rules. First, if there is a "No Trespassing" sign, I turn around at the sign. Similarly, if there is a rope or chain across the driveway, I turn around there. These rules result in some rather silly behavior: I run about four feet down a road, turn around at the rope, and run four feet back out, just so I can "count" the road as one I have done.

Additionally, if the road ends at a house, I turn around about 100 feet before I get to the house. However, it's often hard to tell whether the road ends. Several times, when the road curved around the back of the house, it looked like it kept going, so I ran down the road past the house, only to stop short when I realized the road ended in a parking spot. Other times, the road looked like it stopped at a house, so I turned around, only to inspect the satellite images later on the computer and find that the road did continue past the house. When that happened, I went back and ran the road again, this time all the way to the end.

To my surprise and continual delight, I have never had any trouble running on private roads. When I am running on a private road and a car comes by, I am always afraid they will stop and question me – but I smile and wave at them, and every time they just wave back and keep driving. (My theory is that on a private road with multiple houses, everyone just assumes that I'm someone else's crazy houseguest or renter.) I have run past people sitting on the porch in their pajamas, people mowing lawns, people out for a walk. I wave to them, and they wave back. When running on the main road, I wave to every car that passes, and usually the driver gives me a two-finger wave. Everyone is friendly.

One time, I was running on the French Camp Road, and I was doing a workout: 15 seconds sprinting and 30 seconds jogging, repeated over and over. I was afraid that someone would come home to find me absolutely tearing out of their driveway at full speed, and they would make the logical deduction that I had burglarized their house and was making a getaway. Luckily, I didn't see anyone the whole time I was running there.

I did get caught trespassing once, but it was my own fault for being lazy and not following my own rules. Most roads on Deer Isle, I have to run twice: once on the way in and once coming out. This particular day, my map showed that two roads connected in a "V" shape, so I could run in one road and out the other. However, when I ran down the first road, I found that it didn't quite connect to the second one, though I could see the second road through the trees. I didn't feel like running all the way out the way I had just came, and then running all the way down the other road just to end up at a place that I could see from where I was standing, so I quickly walked through 100 feet of woods and started jogging out the other road – and found myself on the wrong side of an 8-foot-tall metal gate!

The bad news: the landowner was in the woods gardening, and sternly informed me that I was on private property, and then listened unsympathetically to my explanation about my map. The good news: it had been pouring rain for an hour, and I was thoroughly soaked, so when the woman asked me where I came from and I told her Ron's Mobil (at this point about three miles away), she evidently decided that I was crazy and simply said "good luck." Even more good news: there was an eight-inch gap between the bottom of the gate and the road, so I was able to slide under it and get out of there.

So thanks, Deer Isle and Stonington, for sharing your roads with me and for allowing me to enjoy their beauty as you do.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Running on Deer Isle: Part II

This fall, a series of four essays is running in the Island Ad-Vantages, the local newspaper for Deer Isle and Stonington, ME. After each of my essays appears in the paper, I will also post it here.

About a year ago, I decided to run every road in Deer Isle, and now I've nearly finished my quest. If you see a road with a green or blue sign, I will have run down it. I've run hundreds of miles now on little dirt roads, on the crumbling pavement at the edge of Route 15, at the edge of the ocean and in the middle of the woods.

Over Christmas vacation, with snow on the ground and no vehicles driving to summer homes, animal tracks covered some roads. Deer, squirrels, rabbits, birds – sometimes all in the same area, running in circles and crisscrossing the road as though someone had sprinkled seeds on the snow. Surprisingly, I didn't see much actual wildlife (although one day I ran down a road where all the trees had faces). I saw a few deer, of course, standing on the road and then dashing away between the trees. On Christmas, I ran past a house with ducks on the roof and a horse in the yard. One day, I had been running for less than a minute when a movement on the side of the road startled me and I realized I had just run past a sheep! It wasn't tied up, but it clearly stood in the same place all day, right next to the road. "You'll never guess what I saw today!" I told my family afterwards, in a tone usually reserved for tourists who have spotted a moose.

According to my map, it is possible to get from the Reach Road to the dump, because Quaco Road goes all the way through. One day, I parked on the Sunshine Road, ran up Fish Creek Road, and took a left where indicated on the map. It was a dirt road, and then it was two ruts, and then two ruts with grass in the middle. Soon, puddles filled the ruts and I couldn't run more than a minute without stopping to tiptoe my way around the edge of the puddle, or pick my way through the middle on conveniently-placed rocks, or take a few steps and then make a flying leap across the whole thing and hope the dirt on the other side was solid. As the dump got closer, I started seeing all kinds of junk discarded in the woods. Half of a car from the 1940s, a refrigerator, an old mattress – all kinds of stuff that I didn’t know was back there.

On Lowe Road, I wasn't quite as fortunate. On my map, Lowe Road also goes through to the Reach Road. Once again, I parked my car on the Sunshine Road, and my boyfriend and I planned a long loop: up Route 15, across Lowe Road, down the Reach Road to the Sunshine Road and back to the car. However, as we ran along Lowe Road, we discovered that (like so many roads on the island), it ended at a house. No problem! We would find it: the old road, or puddle-filled ruts, or trail, which would take us to the Reach Road. We followed everything we could find, pushing through thorn bushes, wading through puddles, going east in an attempt to find the Reach Road. We ended up finding a long path through fields, which we followed east for half an hour or so until it ended in a clearing and we were completely lost. Eventually, we crossed some sort of fence and found a dirt road. But which way was out? I spotted a "Private Property" sign and reasoned that it had to be facing out, so we ran that way and found ourselves back on Route 15, popping out at Dexter Farm Road, which we had run past an hour before!

Me running down a typical private dirt road in Deer Isle

One day in the winter, I found myself running down a road that kept going and going, nearly a mile long with just one house at the end. This road was beautiful, sweeping past large boulders until it curved down along a natural beach, a private beach in a small cove, hard to see from out on the ocean and not marked on any maps. In fact, I found several such beaches on the island: small deposits of sand that couldn't be seen from the main road or from the bay, perhaps enjoyed by the same family for generations. At one beach, the sand extended out towards a small island, forming a natural sand bar. Beach chairs were wedged into the bank.

Late in the summer, I ran past a secret lily pond. Perhaps someone took flowers from Ames Pond, tied their roots to rocks, and tossed them in. Another day, I ran down a road which (as usual) ended at a house, but in this case the house was surrounded by cars, cars from every decade, and trucks, and tractors, more than 50 of them in all, cars that should have been in the parade and cars up on blocks.

And the dogs! Big dogs barking and jumping behind tall fences, tiny little dogs yipping from enclosed screen porches, loose dogs that come out into the road and chase me, growling. Once, a man happened to drive by at just as a loose dog was coming for me. He slowed down, rolled down his window, called the dog by name and told it to leave me alone. Thanks to this kind man, whomever he is, I was able to pass the house and keep running. Thank you!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Red Rooster Ramble wrapup

The Red Rooster Ramble is a 24-week race series, a 5-mile race every Thursday night. Of the 24 races, I did 16 of them. I placed first in all 16 races I entered. I set course records in week #3 (30:57) and week #13 (30:32). (In the meantime, my record was broken in week #12 (30:45) which is why I had to get it back in week #13.)

There was a points competition, as follows: 5 points for showing up, plus 10 extra points for first place, 9 extra for second place, etc. down to 1 extra for tenth place. So each week that I won, I earned 15 points. I led the points competition for the whole series, but the second-place woman was always very close, and I knew that I had to keep showing up at races or else she would surpass me. I made a few trips to Providence to keep my dream alive, and in the end my 240 points was enough to win.

Over the course of the 16 weeks, I had various goals for the runs. Sometimes I wanted it to be a tempo run. The week before the half marathon, I wanted to practice my half marathon pace. The week after the half marathon, I wanted to survive the race and keep my winning streak alive. Many times in the summer, it was 85 degrees and humid, so I just wanted to finish without collapsing of heatstroke. Here is a graph of my finishing times this year.

It may be worth noting that only three females have ever run under 32 minutes on the course (mostly because no one else has bothered). I did that a number of times this year. Each of the other women has only done it once.

For all but two of the races, I kept track of my mile times for each of the five miles. (One of the times I didn't do it was my slowest one, the post-half marathon race.) I have a secret conspiracy theory that mile 4 is actually a little long and mile 5 is a little short, and I have persisted in believing this conspiracy theory even after Ray officially certified the course. This graph supports my theory.

This graph tells many stories. For instance, look at the orange curve. That was a hot summer night when I just wanted to get through the race and run under 7-minute pace. But in the last mile, there was a man just ahead of me, so I decided to pass him. He didn't want to be passed, so he sped up. In the end, I did pass him, but I had to run a 6:20 last mile to do it!

Another interesting thing to notice is that every mile I ran except one was a 6-something. I never ran 7:00 or over, and I only ran one 5:58. Every other mile was 6:00 to 6:57.

It's interesting to look at the difference between my two course-record runs. In Week #3, I didn't set out to run a course record; I merely decided (somewhat ambitiously) that 31:00 would be a good tempo run, so I set out to do it. Alan ran with me through a 5:58 first mile in which I harbored fantasies that he would let me take the overall win, and then I slowed down throughout the race until, at mile 4, it was clear that I had to majorly speed up in order to hit 31:00. I ran 6:01 for that mile, my fastest last mile of the entire series.

In Week #13, I actively set out to break the course record. I enlisted the help of a friend to set a consistent 6:06 pace. The graph shows that I managed to run a consistent pace.

Many of the curves show a significant speedup in the last mile. I attribute most of this to men. There were often men around me, and I often wanted to pass them, so I often accelerated in the last mile even though there is no specific prize associated with passing men.

At the end-of-season party, I received many prizes for all of this running. I received a trophy and some money for having the fastest overall time, a gift certificate for earning more points than any other women, a bottle of champagne for having the most points of anyone (men or women), and a shirt for running more than 8 races.

I had a good time and made lots of running friends, and I'm planning to do it again next year! I can't wait until March!