midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “marathon”

Ridin’ Scared: Whistling Through America’s Most Murderous City Park

Tomorrow my daughter Rebecca will run the Baltimore Marathon for the second time, quite an accomplishment for a 19-year-old, a running career I documented here, along with a video of the most enthusiastic and devoted marathon fan.

But I didn’t tell the story of my offbeat and slightly harebrained adventure in 2014 to see Rebecca finish the race in the heart of Baltimore.

I didn’t want to jam into a light rail train car at 6 a.m. or get stuck trying to maneuver and park my own car among nearly 30,000 runners and their families, so I came up with the idea to ride my bike to the start/finish area at the Orioles and Ravens stadium complex. I studied the Baltimore City map and found what looked like the most scenic and direct route to enter the city from the west, where I live.

My wife Amy and Rebecca urged me not to ride my bike all the way through Baltimore to the city center, concerned about my safety. But as Amy knows all too well, the more she urges me not to do something, the more determined I become to do it (Disclaimer: This particular practice is not recommended for guys as a lesson for improving your marriage.)

I drove to a Park & Ride just outside the city, embarked on my bike, and soon reached the historic 17th century mill village of Dickeyville, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the adjoining historic mill town of Franklintown. After riding through these pastoral, historic areas with their old stone buildings and lush greenery, I entered Leakin Park. Leakin Park was serene and beautiful, an oasis of nature in the city with streams, trails and mature forest that stretched for miles. I thought I was in the countryside.

But as soon as I emerged from Leakin Park, I entered Baltimore’s West Side slums. I rode several miles through blighted streets dotted with boarded-up and vacant houses and dilapidated urban housing projects, which dominated the landscape until several blocks before the stadiums.

I had no idea about Leakin Park’s reputation until more than a month later when I told my story of urban cycling to my wife’s family at Thanksgiving dinner. “You rode through Leakin Park? What were you thinking!?” was their response.

It was then that I learned that Leakin Park is known as the Deadliest Park in America. It is the setting in the Serial true murder mystery podcast – a spinoff of This American Life radio show – and the site of a search for a dead body in HBO’s The Wire about the cat-and-mouse chase between Baltimore police and drug gangs. Serial features the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, whose body was found in Leakin Park. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted and is serving a life sentence for the crime.

Leakin Park’s reputation as a Dead Zone is well-deserved. It gained infamy in 1968, when four young boys were found dead in the park. Many believe that Leakin became a preferred dumping ground for bodies because of exactly what I experienced riding through it – it’s on the edge of West Baltimore’s crime-ridden neighborhoods, yet it feels a world away from urban blight.

Dead bodies discovered in Leakin Park have been documented as a research hobby of Ellen Worthing, who created the website Bodies of Leakin Park. Her research found that 67 bodies were discovered in Leakin Park since 1968 – a number that may actually be higher because of a six-year gap in Baltimore Sun library archives.

I was blissfully ignorant on my ride to the 2014 Baltimore Marathon. I was oblivious that Leakin Park was also leakin’ blood, leakin’ menace, leakin’ secrets and leakin’ revenge. I only saw one or two people during my ride through the park. Maybe I was lucky that it was 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Mayhem was sleeping in.

I enjoy telling the story now about my brush with death, my whistling journey through the graveyard, a 21st century Ichabod Crane on bike unwittingly fleeing the Headless Horseman. It’s a nice memory and a story that is ripe for great embellishments. But you won’t see me cycling through Leakin Park on Baltimore Marathon Day 2015. Body #68 will be somebody else.

DEAD BODIES IN LEAKIN PARK:

Leakin Park Bodies June 2011 jpg

The Marathoner: Coming a Long Way

I’m going to try to tear my 19-year-old daughter Rebecca away from college and sorority life for a night to see McFarland USA, the movie about a white coach at a predominantly Latino California high school who struggles to connect with students until he discovers a group of great runners, and builds a championship cross-country team with a long-enduring legacy from nothing. I figure it will have some shared meaning for us, with the importance that cross country has played in Rebecca’s life and my small role – at least I like to believe – in making it happen.

Rebecca was never a star athlete. She stuck with soccer longer than I thought she would, long enough to make an “A” team in eighth grade. But she never gelled with her new teammates, and after one fall season, she was done. In a soccer-mad county with intense competition, high school soccer was realistic only for the most talented and dedicated.

That summer before ninth grade I talked to Rebecca about considering running cross country in high school. I had done a couple of slow 5K road races with her before. Her mother is a big-time runner – not fast, but extremely disciplined and relentless – who has a number of marathons to her credit, so Rebecca always had that role model.

I played tennis through high school. After I saw my younger brother join the cross country team and enjoy the camaraderie and inspiration from the group effort and make long-lasting friends, I wished I had done the same. Remembering my brother’s rewarding experience, I thought Rebecca could benefit the same way.

But my periodic reminders that summer before ninth grade to Rebecca about the valuable experiences of cross country and if she was considering it at all, the need to train at least a minimal amount, seemed to be more annoying to her than helpful. Maybe that’s the inevitable reaction of a 13-year-old daughter to the advice of a father who claims wisdom from experience. Rebecca would respond anxiously that I was stressing her out with all that talk about going out for cross country and training, so I tempered my fatherly advice with backing off.

When mid-August came, I had no idea whether Rebecca would go to cross country tryouts. She did. I feared she wouldn’t survive a week in the humid, 90-degree heat with what little training she had put in. She did. There was a time-trial within the first week. I believe Rebecca missed the designated cutoff time, but not by much. But the great thing about cross country is there were no cuts. Perseverance, commitment and determination were rewarded, and whoever stuck with it long enough inevitably improved, and in almost all cases, greatly. That’s what Rebecca did.

I remember doing a few organized runs with Rebecca early in her high school cross country career, including one on a high school cross country course, where she would break down with a debilitating pain part way through, usually a cramp in the side, or have trouble breathing. I tried to be caring, but I was also frustrated when it happened. She should have kicked me in the ass for that. Sometimes the pains would happen at meets I attended.

But as her career went on and her body developed and got stronger and adapted to the rigors of the sport, those incidents faded. She became a top-10 runner on her team, a leader in spirit activities, and ultimately a captain. She improved her times for the 5K (3.1-mile) course by about 8 to 10 minutes from freshman to senior year.  Perhaps most importantly, she made great friends on the team who constituted her social circle for four years – all of them excellent students and the type of kids a parent would want their own kid to hang out with. Also importantly, I believe cross country played a major role in increasing Rebecca’s self-esteem, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation and work ethic.

This is what I couldn’t have predicted more than five years ago when I felt I was on the verge of badgering my daughter to do something she didn’t want to do: She not only persisted at cross country, but she has become an accomplished distance runner in an amazingly short time, while carrying a full load as a full-time college student.

She has quickly built up over the past two years by running 10-mile events, half-marathons (13.1 miles), and metric marathons (16-plus miles). Then, in 2014, she announced she was going to run the Baltimore Marathon in October. I thought it might be a little too much to undertake as a college student, but she persisted, training with a group of adult marathoners all summer.

She finished the marathon in just over four hours, a month shy of her 19th birthday. How many 18-year-olds have a marathon to their name? I was proud to see her coming into the homestretch, heading toward the finish at the Baltimore football and baseball stadium complex, looking strong. She wasn’t trudging, either. I ran down the sidewalk for a ways to parallel her, and the pace was fast.

So hopefully we will share McFarland USA together, and reminisce about where Rebecca started and her running journey since then. It seems selfish to want to take a small bit of credit, but that’s my ego talking. Sometimes I like to know I did something right as a father, and whether Rebecca really needed a little push from me or not, I’d like to think I had a positive influence that has helped her enjoy and benefit from one of the most positive influences in her young life.Dad-RebTurkeyTrot

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