Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The unique perspective of the distance runner

For me running is not only about working out - it's about discovery and freedom. I sometimes imagine a map, only existing in my head, that has lines showing everywhere I've run. Of course the lines would be most heavily drawn in the places I've lived. The countless times that I ran through the Arboretum in Ann Arbor, on the Lakefront in Chicago, beside Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, along the Rhine in Mannheim, and on the magic path in Baltimore. Travel favorites would include a trail in Hawaii that ended at a waterfall, a run in the Smokies where I saw a bear, a sunny day in San Francisco running up to Coit Tower, and on the philosopher's weg across from Heidelberg.

Well, today I drew another line on that map that had as much to do with the day as the place. I had been debating whether I would go to the inauguration for a while now. I was supposed to do a hard run this morning - but, the roads were still too slick. I started watching the coverage and suddenly felt like I needed to be there. The major reason that I had decided to not go was that it was going to be almost impossible to get down there. But, if I were to find a place to park in Rock Creek park just south of Silver Spring - I decided I could run the ~6 miles down to the mall.

Believe it or not, 95 was pretty clear down to DC - I made it to Silver Spring by 10:30 or so. I drove down 16th street and entered Rock Creek Park - finding a parking spot near a picnic area. There was nobody around - it was odd that just a few miles away there was one of the largest crowds this nation has ever seen. I started down the path - running along the half frozen Northwest branch of Rock Creek. After a few miles I followed a few other runners over to 16th street. I headed downhill - the people multiplying as the blocks went by - finally at "R" street they blocked off traffic to vehicles. Eventually I passed St. Johns Church where the prayer service was held this morning. Then traffic was forced west at H street - I eventually made it to the mall just west of the Washington Monument.

The crowds were most thick around the giant TV screens. Since I was a child, the mall has always seemed incredible to me - today it was simply magical. I thought that I probably couldn't get much closer and I wanted to see everything from a different perspective. So, I made what might seem like an odd choice. With only 15 minutes until the swearing in I decided to run over to Arlington Cemetery. I remembered the last time I was there that it was a great view of the mall and I figured that I could listen to the inaugural speech later. So, I made my way past the Lincoln Memorial and over the Arlington Bridge - I obeyed the policeman who said there was no "jogging" in the Cemetery - and briskly walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

When I arrived they were just starting the changing of the guard. I hadn't really even thought about the fact that they would still be doing the changing of the guard at the tomb at the same moment that a different changing of the guard would be occurring across the Potomac. There were about 6 or 7 people at the Tomb - mostly family members of the servicemen I guessed. As they went through their motions I could actually hear Obama's voice from the huge speakers on the mall as he took the oath of office. After he finished there was a huge roar of the crowd - just as the sentinels walked off the mat. It was pretty cool.

Maybe it would have been more exciting to be down on the mall with the crowd at that moment. But, over a million people did that - only half a dozen saw the same thing that I did. Today running wasn't about the miles (although I ran about 16) it was about allowing me to experience something that I couldn't have done any other way.


RM said...

Ben, I'm really glad you go to do that. You've been so excited for the last few months, it would have been a travesty (yes, travesty) for you to not have gone down for that. And doing it while running gives you a story just about nobody else can lay claim to.

DC has been a source of inspirational runs for me throughout my life, and your run today sounds pretty darn cool.

fbg said...

This post, along with a few others, is why I read your blog.

I think you've proven that one of the primitive justifications for running still exists today: to get somewhere.

RM said...

Aww, look, that's some real praise from BG.

Stay away from Ben or Kendra will fight you.