Runs with tortoises

While the Condor was splitting a weekend marathon over two days and mixed terrain, I found myself in the Land of 10,000 Lakes without running shoes. After the unexpected discovery that Minneapolis has more to offer than the Mall of America, we decided to stay through Sunday, so I started looking for a local route to accommodate my once-a-week running regimen.

Long Meadow Lake was the one nearest our lodgings, so I scouted it while walking to the hotel pool. There was an entirely suitable crushed gravel path parallel to the water’s edge, leading into a tantalizing verdant tunnel. This sight was powerfully inviting.

I decided I wasn’t leaving the state without a proper run. I experimented with a few strides in my flip flops, but they were far too annoying and floppy to be of use. Back at the hotel I looked hard at my leather street shoes: they would do in a pinch. But on a later visit to the mall, I spotted a pair of New Balance Minimus in my size and grabbed them without even trying them on. That night I found it was hopeless. Stuffing my feet into socks and the extremely snug shoes left me too uncomfortable to even walk around.

The mall wouldn’t open until late on the morning of our return travel day, so I was back to the dress shoes. Then I thought to try the shoes on without socks. Not bad. They were still very snug in the heel and midfoot, but roomier in the toes.

I started plotting a route. A body of water seems to demand a circumnavigation of some kind, and I saw a bridge in the satellite view that I could use to cut across and loop around the northern half of the lake. Strangely, I could not map a route across the bridge, but got a rough estimate of the distance by requesting walking directions from one end of the crossing to the other.

This would be my first outing in any kind of minimal shoe, and I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the trails or my feet, but I was looking forward to trying both. I got up in the morning a bit later than planned, dressed for an overcast 60° day, and slipped out past the breakfast buffet, carrying only my phone, a credit card and the room key.

The shoes were amazing, completely comfortable even across the parking lot. I have never been able to maintain anything other than a heel-strike for more than a few strides; it just felt too awkward. But with these shoes landing on the ball of my foot felt natural, like I wasn’t adjusting my form at all. Perhaps all I needed was the minimal 4mm drop from heel to toe in the Vibram sole.

It wasn’t long before I got my first reaction to the aggressively-styled shoe. On the access road, I stopped to photograph a trail map and then met a local resident.

The snapper did not seem too impressed by my footwear, perhaps even threatened. But both animal and shoe were out of their natural element on this asphalt. A little farther on and I joined the Hogback Ridge Trail, feeling utterly light on my feet. I glided nearly silently along the lakeside, spotting dozens of red-winged blackbirds, geese, goldfinches, and the ever-present great blue heron.

Up ahead I took a fork in the trail leading to the bridge crossing. This turned out to be a mistake, taking me to a long highway bridge with unwelcoming hard shoulders. I considered running across but thought better of it. I decided to continue on a bit then turn around for a somewhat disappointing out-and-back route.

But I hadn’t gone much farther when I found the crossing I had planned for, though it wasn’t exactly what I had planned for.

Again I considered turning back, but something told me this was going to be the best part of the outing. The day before, a four-year-old had shamed me at an amusement park attraction. Sure, he cried once, getting stuck on a particularly tight spot, but I was sweating and gritting my teeth constantly once we reached the second level. I wanted to cross the cables and wobbly plank bridges unaided, with the same casual disregard he showed for the dizzying, multi-story drops below our feet, but it was impossible. I squeezed his hand in my sweaty palm and clung desperately to the safety rope. I imagined taking a photo looking down between my feet, balanced on bouncy two-by-four-topped parallel beams, to the concrete floor far below. The attendants had caught me trying to sneak my phone along and made me leave it in the locker, but I could never have managed to take a picture anyway. Just as well, since I will never forget that view. So I was prepared to disregard warning signs, squeeze past obstacles, and tiptoe over rusty girders poised over muddy swamp.

Once across the bridge, I was committed to completing the loop and started to make good time, hoping to get in before breakfast closed. I stopped to admire some more turtles, which were busy digging in the sandy soil and showing annoyance at my presence. A walking couple suggested that they were laying eggs.

The trip record would show that I covered almost eight miles. Other than some tightness in one calf, I felt great during the run, but it turned out to be far too much for a first experience in a minimal shoe. My feet were fine, but my calves were knotted and sore for days. By Tuesday I was reduced to about the speed of those turtles, but looking forward to the next time I’ll squeeze into those shoes and hit the trail.

Manassas Airport 10K

In a now-familiar pattern, the cat shattered all prior records of the condor, while finishing well behind the condor in the actual event. The Manassas Airport delivered the promised flat and fast runways and a personal best.

This modest show of alacrity was inspired not only by the increasingly distant tail of the condor, but also by a first and then second stroller-pusher. The first, bib #1449, was maintaining a prohibitive pace. While trying to keep up, the cat overheard another runner ask 1449 how fast he was without the stroller. “A little faster, but I donated a kidney recently, and since then it hasn’t been the same.”

A second stroller, possibly finishing the 5K, started creeping up from behind in the last mile. This, and a sudden flashback to the final scene in “Heat,” provided juice for a respectable finishing kick, leading to a minute of nausea after crossing the line. Time 47:47, pace 7:42 per mile.