The Last 20

Celebrating 100 Posts!  photo by hyrulebranch
Celebrating 100 Posts! photo by hyrulebranch

One of my favorite days of the year to run is New Years Day.  At 5 o’clock on that morning the city is the quietest it will be all year.  Few cars fill the freeways, no trucks bang trash bins around, dogs who usually get to see the other side of their fence are locked inside with their masters, the serenity in the neighborhoods is deafening and beautiful.  Those mornings I run without a headset and walk a few blocks just to enjoy the city as it takes a breath.

Valley Vista Blvd.
Valley Vista Blvd.

As I set out at 5:30a on the last 20 miler of the NY Marathon training schedule I thought about those runs.  How relaxing they are and what a great way it is to bring in the New Year.  The course I was running today I’d done twice before with moderate success – I basically finished.  I had decided this time was going to be the best.  The weather was perfect and I was well prepared.  Maybe it was where my mind was but as the first few blocks disappeared under my feet I seemed to be as alone as I am on that day in January.

Soon I was heading west down Ventura Blvd.  The remaining light of the full moon glistened off the dew splashed asphalt lighting my way and Harry Bosch closed in on another murder case.  Before I knew it I was passing mile three and heading up into the hills of Sherman Oaks.  Valley Vista Blvd runs parallel to Ventura but rolls with the landscape and provides several challenging inclines.  I’m usually met by more than one runner or dog walker coming the other direction but this morning I ran the street virtually alone – save for the paperboy.  Maybe it was the brisk fall air that kept people in their beds or maybe I’d hit the street just right, I didn’t care, it was me facing the miles alone.

As I came out of the hills and approached Sepulveda Blvd. twilight gave way to crisp sunshine and as Ventura Blvd welcomed me back to her flat and straight surface I could feel the city waking.  Sunday worshipers and early morning coffee seekers sat in their cars waiting at the stoplights.  Dogs were invited to come from behind their fences to join their masters in a daily walk.  And the miles beeped off on the Garmin.

Runner's Path between Balboa Golf and Burbank Blvd.
Runner's Path between Balboa Golf and Burbank Blvd.

Making a right on Encino Ave I made my way to Balboa Golf Course where the city has built a narrow two lane cement path around its entirety.  I crossed over the 101 freeway where the sun had just perched itself above what looked like an endless path of asphalt.  The park soon came into view and I could see the path was full of others reveling in the perfect weather.  Bikers, runners and kids all out for a Sunday morning workout.

The early sun’s rays were low and blasted through the trees catching my eyes under the bill of my baseball cap.  Behind the trees the shady portions were cold and I could see my breath. This is rare in October for Los Angeles and I noticed that other runners and some walkers also left vapor trails as they exhaled.  It became a game, in the shade there was vapor, in the sun, just hot air.  The path winds along between Burbank Blvd and the 18 hole course then rises over the 405 freeway and back into the urban/suburban valley.

Chandler Blvd near Van Nuys
Chandler Blvd near Van Nuys

I crossed over Van Nuys Blvd and wound my way to Chandler where the north side of the street hosts a bike path.  It’s a welcome respite from the sidewalks of Balboa Golf Course.  Chandler Blvd. is a four lane tree lined road with a grassy median strip that turns into a well groomed Busway.  For those of us who’ve been here for a while we remember the median was once a railroad with gravel and weeds growing on either side.  The new busway is highly maintained and I can only imagine how its helped the property values in the surrounding neighborhoods.  The only drawback is that at several places the bus line is impossible to cross because the painted metal fence that lines either side blocks your path.  Still, I prefer it to the trash magnet the railroad once was.

As I approached Colfax and the turn for home I realized I’d been running the last several miles at a less than 10 minute mile pace.  Excited I increased my speed even though my thighs had begun to ache and I was just about out of water.  It was now almost 9am and I’d been running for over 3 hours.  The sun was higher in the sky and had warmed the air but a light breeze blew across my sweat soaked clothing and cooled my body as I could see the finish line.  So far I hadn’t had to stop for traffic but with one mile to go and two major intersections to cross I feared I may be forced to stop. Could I start again? I crossed over Riverside against the light but there was no traffic.  As I approached Moorpark Ave. an SUV pulled into the left turn lane in front of me,  he had the light on his side as he waited for an approaching sedan to clear his path.  I darted out and slowed to a walk behind the SUV and waited for the approaching vehicle to clear and as the SUV pulled through the intersection I too crossed the street.  I never stopped but slowed to a crawl for a few seconds – if I had stopped I might have walked the rest of the way.

The New Year’s runs are great but as the city stirred to life this Sunday I finished the 20 miler with a little gas still in my tank.  NY get ready, I’ll be there primed to go!

Picture 2


tom lowe photo, llc

tacoma, wa 98406


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