"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Favorite Runs Outside of Pittsburgh #3

Hickory Hill
I moved back to Richmond after graduating in 2004 expressly to live with Jon Lauder and Tim Caramore and train like beasts. I got a job in November and moved after Thanksgiving, which coincided with my taking a lot of time off of running hard. When I started up again, Tim was in relatively poor shape and Jon was pretty much training a lot because he didn't work steady jobs.
In the meantime, I became incredibly involved in my job. I was one of three reporters at a weekly paper based in Hanover County, all of whom were 22.
Our editor was hired to replace the late publisher who lead the Herald-Progress to prominence in local news reportage. The new editor was not quite up to the task of continuing the high performance of the paper, nor was the new management. After buying the H-P, management fired the photographer and wore down two reporters until they left. News coverage was in shambles, and the editor was in over his head.
After a few weeks of orientation and getting to know the county, I started getting more aggressive and ambitious about how the paper would work. With an editor who was a few months longer tenured than I, I didn't have the luxury of institutional knowledge on which to rely. I took bound copies of prior years' papers home with me to study in the evenings and on weekends.
I started experimenting with photography and found, for an amateur, that I had an eye for it and the patience to find the right shot. I dusted off my layout skills and started designing more dynamic pages for the paper. Before long, I was scouring the county, writing the news, shooting the sports photos and putting the paper together. In the face of 60-70-hour weeks, running wasn't a realistic pursuit, and what running I did manage was on my own and usually in Hanover.
Sometimes I'd run in Ashland, sometimes I'd run elsewhere while waiting for appointments, but it was almost always more as a chance to clear my head when the responsibilities I was taking seemed daunting. I didn't have to do all I did, but I found it hard to not try my best to make it a great paper. That's what the readers came to expect for years before. It was hard to hear people decry the drop in quality, even though it was true. It weighed on my self-valuation, and if I wasn't working hard enough to fill the paper with diverse and relevant stories, I was failing.
I immersed myself in the county, and luckily for my running, I saw how many viable routes there were to get away from traffic and people and just run.
Reber Dunkel, sociology professor at Randolph-Macon College, Green Party congressional candidate and limited-growth advocate brought to my attention the huge undeveloped 3,200-acre Hickory Hill property east of Ashland and the threat that it would someday be subdivided. I lacked the basic comprehension to figure out how big it would be based on numbers alone, so I had to see it for myself. On foot. Running. There was a train station there, for goodness sakes!
Chances are it's private property, though I think the signs refer to the land on either side of the road. People who have seen me running there haven't said anything to me, so they either don't care, don't have any authority, or else they wanted to try to take me by surprise.
Wickham and Hickory Hill Roads eventually degrade into gravel and dirt, so the footing gets softer.
From the Hanover County Information Officer Tom Harris: The Hickory Hill plantation spreads more than 3,000 acres between Ashland and Hanover Courthouse and is still owned by members of the Wickham family, who built it in 1820. Trees on the property are believed to have been brought from Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry as a result of his historic visit in 1854. General William H.R. "Rooney" Lee, son of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was captured by Union soldiers on the property but his younger brother escaped capture by hiding in the plantation's famous box hedges. The property is the largest still in the hands of one family in Virginia. The main house of this plantation includes an 1857 wing and an 1875 front section built to replace an 1827 section that burned.
I left the Herald-Progress in July 2005, to work at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I feel like I gave up a little bit, because I knew nobody would put in the kind of work I once did, and the readers would begin to accept, then expect less from their paper.
Sunday after the Monument Avenue 10k, I headed up to Ashland to run Hickory Hill with some changes to make it 18 miles before I took a train back to DC. I managed to get lost, however, taking the wrong turn on Wickham, and ran 19.6 miles instead.
Emily Ward was waiting for me at Ashland Coffee and Tea, planning to follow my route backwards if I did not make it back in a little more than two hours, so I'd be ready for my train. Realizing I was five minutes slower than I would have run the first nine miles at 7:00 pace, I stayed relatively on pace on the way back, not wanting to be scooped up by the sweeping car. I made it.
For 26 minutes as I ran along Old Ridge Road, I saw nobody- no walkers, no dogs, no cars. It was eerie, but great, because I could run down the middle of the roads.
Afterward I grabbed a copy of the current Herald-Progress. I was unimpressed.

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