31 January 2011

Tricks of Cartographic Geometry

Hump Day has come and gone, and it’s all uphill from now on. I can smell spring. I can smell it through the three feet of snow on the ground and the foot and a half that’s coming in the next two days. In my twisted logic of enduring the dark days of winter, which I call the 60 Day Challenge, January 30th is halfway home, Hump Day, spring is on the way. Of course this year I probably won’t see it when it gets here as the windows will be buried in white stuff. But no matter.

Yes, it’s been quite a winter, like the mythical white-out of my youth in Upstate New York when the snow piles were so high and it was miles to school uphill in both directions and so on, you know the drill. We’ve just wrapped up the snowiest January on record since the cloistered winter when my oldest daughter was born, a winter when it seemed to snow six inches every three days. This year, it’s more like a foot once a week whether you need it or not. Same result, we don’t need to travel to Utah, we live in our own version of Canyonland. The roads are narrow and visibility is nonexistent. Never mind the piles at the driveway corners, there are places where the simple roadside plow piles are higher than my head. I’m depending more than ever on the graciousness of local drivers, and I’m happy to say that their politeness is entirely unlike what you hear about New England drivers. Perhaps it’s pity.

And into this I blindly dove into my Run Marlborough 2011 quest. What was I thinking?

I was thinking of a grand tour of my city. And I’m getting it, though it’s tougher to plan good routes than I counted on. Besides daring death in the sinews of our streets, I’m hitting plenty of spots where the plows’ best efforts just haven’t cut it, no fault to them.

One characteristic of my city that’s become rapidly obvious is that eighty percent of all streets built in the last thirty years are cul-de-sacs. Sounds good in the real estate ad: quiet street, no traffic. Translate to Run Marlborough 2011: Must run each one out and back, double your mileage, and with no traffic on them, the snow hasn’t melted. Winging a circle at the end of a cul-de-sac sounds simple. It’s not. They’re all ice, and any running turn on ice shy of a quarter-mile radius brings about fears of a do-over of Robert Cheruiyot’s horrible fall at the end of the Chicago Marathon. OK,that’s a bit of a stretch, but suffice to say it’s dicey. And forget about your pace.

Ice aside, Marlborough’s plethora of dead ends adds to the geometric challenge of the quest. It’s easy to look at the map and say, oh, it’s about five miles to the furthest extent of the city that way, so I can hit the far end with a ten miler. But it doesn’t work that way. Ten miles gets you there and back, but unless you plan a lot of ten milers, (in itself not such a bad idea) you simply won’t cover many streets. A run a bit back served as a fine example. I targeted a few streets on the northwest edge of the city. Once there, about five miles out to reach and cover those two streets, I started wandering back. Being early in the quest with very little “blue space” on the map (I’m coloring in the roads I’ve run in blue), every road is an oyster, low hanging fruit. And every road is lined with cul-de-sacs.

So, do you run them now or skip them? The mission of the day accomplished, I’m just heading home. But if I skip them, well, there’s no way back to them – they are, after all, by definition dead ends – except to retrace the road I’m now running, which means the miles back home really aren’t very effective toward reaching my goal as I’ll have to cover them again. But if I run them now, well, there’s a lot of them, and as noted, each one gets doubled – out and back. Reality is I am not recovered from my nearly two month break, and I am certainly feeling these longer runs, so there’s a limit to what I can take. Not to mention that special treat of playing Cheat the Zamboni at the turnarounds.

Long story short (and since when have I ever made a story short?), or really, long story long, that mission to hit two streets on the far end of town – a ten mile jaunt – easily turned into a full half marathon, even skipping a ton of the ‘sacs. Likewise, Saturday’s run from the gym after the upper body workout, already feeling a little rubbery, saw dead ends and other various oddities of real estate turn a swoop through the southwest corner of the city into another thirteen miler.

I’m not complaining. Indeed, I’m celebrating. I’m seeing bits of town I’ve never seen. (Sadly, the newer bits are excessively boring, far too many in-your-face McMansions.) I’ve yet to run a single one of my ‘standard’ courses since the start of the year. And purely by these geographical accidents I’m stretching my distances back upward after that long break through October and November. Surprise, a hundred and sixty miles this month. Ba-da-boom. Eighty two of them ‘unique miles’ in the quest. It’s a cool adventure, a great motivation, and it even comes with the fun of an arts & crafts session afterward, coloring in the map.

Quest on, Wayne.

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