"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Longing for an Average Run

People often give very detailed descriptions of races they run, but the courses they do every day just get listed as a distance and a time. I've run around Lake Phalen (or Phalen Lake, for those who didn't grow up there) at least 15000 times, yet I've never described it here. Perhaps everyone should do one post about their typical training run - except Diane; a minute description of the treadmill is not needed.

So, I started with a cold, then a sinus infection, then added a hamstring problem and now a knee's gone bad (and, no the hand is not healed either)... a lap or two around my lake is all I can manage.

I start at Larpenteur Avenue, the border between St. Paul and Maplewood, a major road that just dead ends at the lake, surprising at least one person each day. There's a stormwater sewer that empties into the lake here, where I startle herons (great grey in good weather, black-capped night herons in rain) every day. Sometimes a kingfisher rattles around as well.

Heading south, there's a short, fairly steep hill in the first quarter mile. Below the hill, along the shore, there's a dirt path that can be challenging to run, but too short to tempt a trail runner. Going down the hill, it's much steeper and the path divides; the lower path goes past the old sledding hill (now fenced off and replanted to stop erosion) and the lagoon, which is what I think of when I think of home. I run the upper path, which reconnects at Sandy Point, where people have gone swimming, illegally, forever; there's a steep drop-off on one side that's led to two dozen deaths in the past century - now the point is used mostly by people training hunting dogs.

At this moment, I think of Tank, the best hunting dog who ever lived, who died this spring of old age.

There's a house across from the point for sale ($1000000), but which will never sell. Next to it is a house that once housed the Weequah boating club; the steps leading down to the lake now end at the road, but it's an interesting sight still. The lake's less interesting in this section than the houses.

At Arlington, there's a stormwater pond with a red house behind it. I remember the furor when the house was built. Part of it was simple bigotry, as it was the first black family in the neighborhood. Mostly, people were just angry that there was prime real estate that they thought was park property... and they didn't get to buy it.

There's a ridge along the road where old railroad tracks used to be. It's now the Bruce Vento trail. Through a tunnel, one can glimpse an old working-class neighborhood (as opposed to wealthy lakefront); I can't imagine why no one's built houses that are higher than the berm, so they have lake views. It must either be impossible or illegal.

Mile 1

There's cottonwoods at the south end of the lake, then a parking lot and then a few palm-leafed willows planted at the park's dedication in 1894. If you look for it, you can see where Phalen Creek still runs, though it's entirely underground now.

The shore preservation project is oldest and looks best in the next quarter mile, but there's little else to say about this part, except the lake's shallow here (10 feet at most, as opposed to 90 feet at the deep end) and ducks, geese and gulls congregate in the shallows.

Just before the beach, there's a bunch of houses one might recognize from the Grumpy Old Men movies. The beach has me wonder if I ever knew a lifeguard here and my mind wanders. Mary. She's a physician now; how many women have I turned into doctors?! I can still recall watching her take sailing lessons on the Lake - but that's a quarter mile further. Back to reality.

There's a slight uphill to the beach parking lot and one starts to notice the golfers on the other side of the road (or, in winter, cross-country skiers). The hill continues for a while and one doesn't really appreciate it until one sees the downhill. The downhill runs parallel to where the old stone steps used to be - a WPA/CCC project that led to where there was a ski jump in the 1930's. This downhill is steep and causes sheer panic in rollerbladers who are used to the Minneapolis lakes.

The next quarter mile's along another parking lot and an area used a lot for large gatherings, like the annual Dragon Boat races. It's scenic, but it's hard to say why.

Mile 2

There's a short steep uphill to the Pavillion, where every race, walkathon and wedding reception is held. It's busy every weekend from spring until fall. Then one continues to the bridge dedicated to Karl Neid, a city-coucilman who died in office at the age of 30 or so; I remember when the road used to go around the lake and there was two-way traffic on this bridge - hard to imagine now.

After the bridge, one sees the island in Phalen Creek, where many notable events have occurred (the famous 1982 Winter Carnival Ice Palace was here). Well, notable events in my life have happened here, anyway. Some years, in the spring, the island's underwater. Many fishermen, especially whole Hmong families, can be seen here all year long. The crabapple trees here are very special to me.

Next, there's a turn-off to go around Round Lake. It's usually here that I see Barb, if I see her. She's undoubtedly done more miles in the park than I have, but I think I still lead in laps around the lake itself.

Continuing on, one runs past a waterfall, also WPA. It's only been turned on about once a decade. Behind it used to be a log house. Intersting story. When the park was dedicated, the Bohaty family lived in it; they were grandfathered in: as long as someone then in the house stayed there, they could stay there. No one expected the baby would be there 85 years. Indoor plumbing was added in 1950. Electricity in 1975. Mr. Bohaty was given a job with the parks department, taking care of waterfowl. I remember he hated us kids.

Then one comes to the public boat launch. There's warnings about milfoil and regulations on tiger muskies, which used to be stocked here. On the north end of the lake, there's an apartment complex, old, cramped and cheap. Behind it used to be a trailer park/cabins that catered to tourists; it's been torn down and senior housing is planned. Four stories. Hope it's less intrusive than it sounds.

I have stories about most of the people who lived in the last half mile, because I grew up here, but I won't tell them, because I have to live with them! The varied architecture here is remarkable and one of the things that make it feel like home to me. The art deco house is considered a landmark. There's one last gradual incline and one is back at Larpenteur.

3 Miles

I've done this lap thousands of times and every time I see something new. Today it was the first snowfall of the year.


Diane said...

Ironically enough, just last night I was looking through my digital camera and came across my "View from my morning run" pictures: a television, and a bunch of bikes up against the garage wall!

SteveQ said...

I just noticed that I spent the whole post saying what used to be there, not what's there now. Must've been feeling nostalgic - or snowblind.

Jean said...

Steve, I love the idea of doing a post about a typical training run. You are right; most running bloggers don't really go into any great detail about that. Excellent post, very descriptive!