08 February 2010


You’ve got to take it when you can get it. Sometimes that means taking it even when it’s hard to get. On those occasions, sometimes you just get it, but sometimes you win the lottery and get more than you’d expected.

Life and running don’t always work together harmoniously. For everyone the challenges are a little different, though for most, work is probably the biggest challenge. Fitting your run around your working day generally requires (a) the ability to rise at an ungodly hour, (b) a locker room and shower at the office and time to use it, or (c) a highly understanding family that doesn’t mind re-arranging dinner for your evening run. In the winter, you can pretty much rule out (a) and (c). Even if it weren’t pitch black by 4:45 PM, it’s just, well, damn cold. And don’t even talk to me about a treadmill. I’ve no desire to emulate a gerbil.

But I’m lucky. I’m blessed with a job that allows great flexibility in that when I’m not out with customers, I’m working from home. So long as I’m careful to aim the video camera high enough, and keep it just enough out of focus, my shaggy appearance isn’t too frightening to those on the other end of the never-ending conference calls that define much of my professional life. I can rise, work, and wait for those precious winter mid-day hours when the sun is high – relatively speaking for the northern latitudes – and the temperatures rise – again, relatively – then find an hour between calls and take my “lunch hour” (the actual hour swings wildly around the clock) on the road.

Except, of course, when I can’t, when my real work kicks in, which is to be on the road, seeing people, pressing the flesh, hoping to provide the engineering legs needed to sell our stuff. Then, it’s catch as catch can. And in a good news, bad news scenario, business is up. That’s good news for prospects of continued employment, but bad news for midwinter runs, which means I either start missing more workout days, or get creative. I’ll take creativity for $200, please.

This week I found myself in Portland, Maine, speaking to a conference. It was a morning engagement, so option (a), the cold dark quickie before work, wasn’t going to fly since I was out the door at 6:30 AM. It’s a two hour ride – about 120 miles – to Portland, so if I rapidly skedaddled out the door and raced for home, I could conceivably – if all went well – be in my ASICS by 3. (Fear not, the time is always made up late at night. Remember that working at home thing? It really translates into never leaving work.) But all was not so simple, as additional conference calls scattered through the afternoon closed most windows of opportunity. No, you can’t ask six people to move their conference so you can go running. Just not cool. Keep it invisible, don’t let it impede on the real work to be done, or else it doesn’t happen.

But the beauty of doing business by phone is invisibility. Once I’m done with the “in person” phase of the day, it no longer matters what I look like. So it occurred to me that if I can sneak in a lunch hour run at home, and if I can sneak in a lunch hour run when I’m in our local office – which thankfully is locker & shower equipped – what’s to stop me from doing it in Portland?

So I did rapidly skedaddle when the conference ended, but not back onto the freeway. Instead, it was to a spot in the far reaches of the parking lot behind one of those convenient New England Parking Lot Matterhorns, more commonly known as a big pile of snow, where I could discreetly slip on the tights and become Running Man. My boss recently restructured our group and asked me to double up with the other senior guy to become our “Batman and Robin” team. I laughed at the time and told him that would be easy, since I already wear tights.

And since this was no accident, it was all planned, I had the destination scoped. Portland is a city focused on the sea, and the New England coastline being never straight, provides all sorts of seascapes and opportunities for great runs. In Portland, an arm of the sea extends inland to a bay known as Back Cove, and the city has provided a fine path circling it and connecting to other routes as well. I’d never seen the route, but a little web surfing told me it was a promising option, easy to get to, and highly regarded. But my plan was nearly foiled when another call I had to take started and ran late, leaving me watching the clock, seeing my window before my next call getting smaller and smaller. At last we finished, at last, free to sneak in my run!

Small World Interruption – Not So Fast Department, or, you can’t go anywhere without being recognized somehow. I was eager to go, go, go! But first, I was stop, stop, stopped by Bob, the man parked in the next car over, who’d noticed my Appalachian Mountain Club window sticker and lobbied me a bit on his cause for protecting Maine’s North Woods. As an ardent hiker, environmentalist, and lover of national parks, I can’t fail to pass on the link to his editorial calling for a feasibility study for a new national park, but in fairness I must also point out that the AMC itself doesn’t (yet?) specifically endorse his view as policy. Perhaps they will. Meanwhile, you go, Bob!

At last! Free! Dashing counterclockwise from the parking lot at the south end of the cove, I figured I’d knock off the least attractive part – along the highway – first. Even that part was sweet. The trail hugs the water of the cove and is largely protected from the highway only a few feet away.

At the east edge of the cove, another trail departs for an out-and-back around the peninsula that forms downtown Portland. Once away from the dip under the highway and past the obligatory wastewater plant, this path winds through a strip park along the shore, past a tiny city beach, paralleling the tourist narrow gauge railroad before joining the downtown streets at the ferry terminal. Portland is, as I mentioned, a city of the sea, and from this path, the views of Casco Bay and the harbor islands and interesting bits like Fort Gorges, a civil war era emplacement, made up for the somewhat biting north wind off the water.

Returning to the main cove circuit, the trail takes a momentary rest from its peacefulness to cross Tukey’s Bridge on a pedestrian & cycle path separated from the interstate by a mere concrete barrier. The bridge portion of the trail is much maligned by local cyclists and is often overcrowded in the summer, but fully workable on a mid-day weekday in February, and quickly delivers you back to the Olmstead-designed cove path.

Since the path is marked every quarter mile, I couldn’t resist the fun of pushing a mile hard. While pounding out a 6:01, I raced past – who else? – Bob, who now has an advocate down south for his plan. I guess I was pretty easy to spot, but it was still fun to be recognized while on a run far from home. After that mile, I planned to slack back and finish the circuit, but there ahead of me was someone else moving at a hot clip, and, well, I just couldn’t resist that fun, either, so I hammered another one to catch him before finishing. Bonus! It made for a fine workout, on a fine trail – indeed, all in all far better than I’d expected.

A little sweaty on the ride home? Sure, but with nobody else in the car, just crank up that heat to about 80, and those sweat-induced post-run chills fade into the haze of another fine day on the road, brought to you by a little adventurous opportunism.

Grab it when you can.

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