Running on Tilt

Short Shorts

22 mile run in D.C.

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On page 42 of the March 30 issue of the New Yorker, there is a cartoon of a runner in a visor, glasses, a singlet with a racing bib, and running shorts. He is being offered water by several onlookers. One lady has four cups on a tray. It doesn’t look much like the water stations at most races, but that’s part of the humor, underscoring the ridiculousness of the situation. The caption under the cartoon is “Thanks, but what I really need is some bigger shorts.” A second look at the runner, and he indeed needs bigger shorts.

That cartoon came to mind as I held up a pair of racing shorts that I recently ordered online from a company called RaceReady. I was tipped off to this running gear by a fellow Central Park track club runner when we were discussing eating during the marathon. My plan is to eat shot blocks, and I was thinking of simply carrying a packet in each hand during the race. She recommended the RaceReady shorts and singlets, which she said came equipped with pockets that are unobtrusive.

If I had seen these shorts in a running store and not on a website, I never would have bought them. The fabric in the middle of the shorts that connects the front to the back drapes in a peculiar fashion, hanging quite a bit lower than the short’s legs, which are indeed short. I had imagined pockets on the hips, but they were in the back and off to the side on the front. And the singlet that I ordered as an add-on was completely useless, as its primary feature was buttons for your race bib. Pins are fine, thanks.

I did need, though, to pack some clean running shorts for a trip to my wife’s parents house in Washington, D.C., and given that most of my running shorts needed washing, I decided to use the RaceReady shorts for my weekend long run.

Travel can be disruptive to training, but there are perks: When training outside of New York City, the air is generally fresher, and every travel destination seems to have at least one good running route. A friend of my wife’s says that he always brings running shoes when he visits his in-laws. His wife has five sisters, and his best strategy while they get caught up with one another’s lives is simply to get out of the house.

There comes a time during visits when, after the initial high of the arrival, the guests, fatigued from their travel; and the hosts, fatigued from the hosting, turn into puddles on a couch. Sometimes the comfort of home cooking makes it so. The television is turned on and the laptops come out. This is a good time to go for a run. Running keeps you from becoming a puddle until the run is over.

We arrived in Washington on Friday night. I wanted to do a 22-miler on Saturday, and my father-in-law suggested a course that would take me from the Capital Crescent Trail to the C&O Canal towpath. I planned to do the first half of the run in 8:30 per mile, then to return at marathon pace, or about 7 minutes per mile, if I could. The Capital Crescent Trail conveniently has mile markers. The fourth mile of my run was at 7:53 pace, a little fast. Somehow I didn’t realize that I was running downhill.

Along the Capital Crescent Trail I noticed a cherry colored hat atop a fence. On the towpath keeners in eighteenth century garb were congregating on shore in front of an old wooden canal boat called The Georgetown. After the towpath terminated, I ran along the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial and then past the Washington Monument to the Capitol building. Intermittently I fished shot blocks out of the pockets of my RaceReady shorts and sipped from my water bottle.

It was a foggy day, temperatures in the low 50s. Yet around the Washington Monument, which is encircled by a tight formation of American flags, many people were flying kites. How bizarre and positive spirited it seemed.

Despite the scenery, the National Mall is not ideal for running. The crowds can be dodged, but there are many busy and unavoidable cross-streets. People don’t jaywalk in D.C. they way they do in New York. At one intersection I noticed a car with a Maryland license plate that said DR on one side and AS on the other, for “doctor as,” or, as most would read it, “doctor ass”. Why a person would choose that particular vanity plate is a mystery, but smart people sometimes overlook these things. The publication for the National Academy of Sciences in D.C. uses the unfortunate acronym P.N.A.S., or “peenas” which is emblazoned on gift items such as tee-shirts and water bottles.

It had taken me an hour thirty-three minutes to get to the capitol, at which point I turned back. The Monument had taken on a more dramatic appearance, partially shrouded in fog. On the towpath, the keeners were still congregating in their old fashioned garb, as if finishing the sentences they had started when I passed them an hour beforehand.

Like the Washington Monument, the towpath was more dramatic on the way back. Silver clouds and the deep browns of the trees were reflected in the C&O Canal which stretched before me; the entire vista seemed out of an oil painting.

Back on the bike path, I slogged the uphill, clocking a mile at 7:25. Not the seven minute pace I was hoping for, but given the gradient, it was fine. The cherry hat still sat atop the fence.

I finished the out-and-back run in 2 hours and 58 minutes, so the second half took an hour, twenty five. I later learned that one of the minor miracles on the run—the kites—could be explained despite the foul weather, as it was the 43rd Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival, part of the larger Cherry Blossom Festival. Sadly, all those kites weren’t quite as miraculous as I had thought. That the running shorts actually worked though—that they weren’t too short, that the Shot Blocks in the pockets didn’t interfere with my stride, and that the shorts don’t look to obscene, as long as one doesn’t do any butterfly stretches in them—this was a miracle in itself.