SUNLIGHT hits my eyes and blinds me but only for a moment until I gather myself, tossed down my shades and try not to trip down the stairs. It's June in Afghanistan and I've just awaken but 20 minutes earlier for a workout and run before heading in to the office. It's 4:02pm and I have to be to the office in less than 2 hours. Just enough time to get a workout in, shower, hope the wi-fi is good enough to dial back home. The easiest thing about my morning will be the 150 yards give or take that I have to travel to make it to the gym. Sounds convenient, sure but it's been seven months since I've been able to wake up, hop in my car, play Drake too loud at 7am, park on Ohio Drive and head out for a run from there. It's been seven months since I've looked off to my right and seen the water. After 7 months of feeling boxed in, there's nothing I wouldn't do for a run in SW DC.
Back in DC before this trip to Afghanistan I had begun to take the space of the city for granted. Aside from my runs around the usual spots and familiar routes, my running routes started to become less & less. The thought of "Oh, I don't need to go there this time." just lead to more of the same run around the block before it became no running at all. I felt like I had left no corner un-run in the District. What was another run on the same road gonna do for me? This state of mind couldn't be further from how I felt on that day in June. To feel the sun and humidity on my face again while running along Ohio Drive on a muggy summer morning couldn't have been more desired. The smell (while not the best) of the Potomac, acts as a reminder of summer as the scent of the Wharf falls down wind. As I make come upon the gym, reach for the door and open it up to a packed house of the same faces I've seen and worked next to for the past seven months, my world shrinks small but again.
"To feel the sun and humidity on my face again while running along Ohio Drive on a muggy summer morning couldn't have been more desired."
It was a few days before I realized it but when i first arrived back home to the district, the only thing I could say when friends asked, “How’s it feel to be home?” was, “expansive.” A year straight of your gym and treadmill being 150 yards away, your office even closer and where you ate three meals a day, it's natural to feel like the world is actually that small. Of course, it's not and no the earth isn't flat I know but my world by that day in June was all over the above. There was no view. No clear road with miles ahead of me. The thing about Ohio Drive that I have always loved was from start to finish, it's a straight shot, all but for one curve around near the Jefferson Memorial. You have options, sidewalk along the water or bike lane. Aside from a few cars on the road, Ohio Dr is one of the most enjoyable roads for me to run on DC without the interruption stop lights and constant traffic, plus (and every runner in DC would agree) It's void of tourists in large gatherings. Back even when I used to ride bikes with a few buddies almost every other weekend night, we always made it a point to hit this same road. Again, such as Rock Creek Park I never knew this random stretch of road in SW DC would be a road I couldn't wait to get home to. Not to mention, for the mornings with nowhere to be, I almost opt for a the scenic route with a quick detour to run a stretch of the TIdal Basin.
"There is perhaps no circle or loop you can run in The District with views as good as this place."
The Tidal basin runs north of Ohio Drive and it's a place that is by far the most special to me. It's the first monument my fiance and I ever visited together. We named our cat after the Jefferson memorial and it's a place I've probably logged more miles around than any other location in The District aside from my own neighborhood. Some days it can feel like the longest loop and others, you're four laps in with energy for another dozen. Just a couple months before my time ended in Afghanistan, I started joining some friends for a group workout on Saturday. For part of the workout every week, it involved running a loop around the compound. This loop barely measure out to a quarter of a mile and went from pavement to gravel, to sidewalk back to gravel and sidewalk before the loop was done. I would always in those moment be so annoyed with myself for every thinking the Tidal Basin wasn't worth the trek. There is perhaps no circle or loop you can run in The District with views as good as this place.
In a lot of ways, some would consider the Tidal Basin and surrounding area an unenjoyable place to run. In the winter it's as cold as any place in the city. The winds cut across Hains Point with no regard for anyone. Though for me it's always been a place to find quiet. Plus up until recently, it was one of the only places near the mall you could park your car for free. These were all things being on a compound in Afghanistan for so long you start to miss. There's this one little bridge you hit just as you aproach the Jefferson Memorial that after a quick mile on flat road, always without fail throws me off my game. In fact if you ever run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler you're grateful they skip this part of the road. I was gone for that race in 2017 but couldn't help but miss it. The Cherry Blossom 10 miler was the first ever race my girlfriend, now fiance ever ran together. Yes, we dove right in to a 10 miler together. We took every stride together. It's 10 of the best miles I've ever had running alongside her. This year we are signed again but this time, she'll be my wife. Miles with her are always miles I enjoy, nevermind the fact sometimes I tend to run a little ahead. I always kept those miles in the back of my mind on that 1/4 of a mile loop around our compound.
I would always talk about The District while away with so much pride. I took every chance to rave about. I did more research on the city than every before while I was away. We were lucky enough to have access to Netflix at the office and when given the chance, I began cycling through The West Wing again. I used this round of watching to find new places not yet noticed by myself. There's one episode where they play basketball on Pennsylvania Ave just in front of the White House, which got me thinking one day. "Where did the actual Presidents workout? Which as you can imagine at 4am in Afghanistan could lead to some pretty epic rabbit holes. Lo and behold I found myself Googling, "Bill Clinton Running" which was incredibly entertaining. It was only when I stumbled upon this article of Clinton running along Hains Point in 1993 when it dawned on me just how much history these roads have. Even ones as "out there" as Ohio Drive along Hains Point. I knew then in Afghanistan that when I made it home, I'd run these roads with more heart than ever before. I had never looked at these roads I took for granted as such historical places. Sure, it's one road a President ran along but it's a road I could also run along.
There's a lot you can find to complain about on a compound a quarter mile wide on both sides. When everyday feels the same and different at the same time, there's nothing to energize you. There's no rain all summer. Just more dirt and dust in the air. It was on my to find the inspiration or motivation to keep going, every day. With more time on my hands some days than I knew what to do with, not finding the time to get my miles in was not something I was willing to do. At times, I found myself thinking back to those days back home when it felt like there was nothing to do or no one to see. The days it seemed like maybe I was getting over living here in the city. Moments when even in a city of hundreds of thousands of people, I could feel more alone and isolated than I did 7,000 miles away from home. Those moments of feeling isolated in the District were my own fault. The city is wide open and you can go anywhere. Nowhere has to feel alone. Throw a rock and you'll more than likely hit a piece of history (don't really throw a rock though) you've yet to see. Research a neighborhood before your next run and explore sites. Run the Exorcist steps and then get a cupcake at Baked & Wired. These were all things I told myself I'd do when I got home along with a hundred others. And for the most part I've kept that promise to myself. Never again, would I allow myself to feel like I had seen it all. Never again would I take a solo run for granted.
It's hard to really put in to words how much you can miss the feeling of a cold december day in The District along the water or the unmistakable scent of summer making it's way down Ohio Drive in the summer. How do you summarize the feeling of missing a road and a view so much, it gives you goosebumps? Where do you even begin to describe the feeling of finally getting to run that road again? Is it insane that just the thought of running that same road with my fiance again and one day soon my wife would move me to tears? These are such easily passable places in our daily routine. "Dammit, It's class field trips season again, let's go somewhere else." is an all to familiar feeling around this time of year. Yet, nothing keeps me from this place any longer. Since I've been home, I've kept up the trend of running no place (other than my own neighborhood) more often than Ohio Drive with the water view. I've run it with my best man. I've run it solo. I ran it for this project. Though irregardless of occasion or the weather, it was special. Nothing routine any longer. No longer will I take for granted the fact the bridge may very well get the best of me. Next time, I'll push harder. Next time, I'll think of the history and not just of others who have come before me but my own. This place has history to me now. There's something special about this part of The District to me and it will be this place that reminds me of so much. Here's to more miles, more views and never again feeling isolated along Ohio Drive & the water.