Day291 Long run to high school

[long post] Back about a month ago, I went on ‘a walk‘, which was really a long run but I was very under-motivated at a time and was too ashamed to call it a run. All my races were being canceled at the time and my training for my biggest race of the year (June 13/Laurel race) was derailing faster than I can blink, since I want to train in the woods for that race but couldn’t do it because all the parks were closed (and we were supposed to stay at home) – led to no LH#4 trip. I know I could have sneaked into the woods and no one would care or be able to find me. Virginia has a lot of woods and national parks. Rangers can’t cover all of them. There are places no one would go to.

The walk ended up being a 24 mile run, but was short of a marathon which was what I truly targeting, since the last few runs earlier were virtual marathon runs. This one fell short and couldn’t be used as a virtual marathon.

The cool thing about it was I got to see my neighborhood – the big neighborhood what I normally don’t get to see when traveling in in a car. I experienced how big my community really is. It is a new perspective knowing it is big, yet also feeling good that I could walk around it. If you look at the map, the path I ran has a triangular shape.

Near the tip of the triangle, is where Main Street intersects Lee Hwy and becomes Rt 236, and I decided to turn back at the time because I never walked across that street before (crossing over to Main). I felt that was a new frontier. It was like in the Lord of Ring, when Frodo and Sam said after taking one more step, they would left Shire behind. I was there not daring to cross it that day, because it would have taken me outside my zone (neighborhood) and into Fairfax city.

Well, this past weekend, I crossed the street and continued on much further, in fact all the way to my former high school. I spent the afternoon exploring that new area, basically running up and down on Lee Hwy and Fairfax Blvd (same street but their name changes along the way).

I got to my high school. It was remodeled after I graduated. It looked a lot different. I have been back maybe once or twice to watch a play and at another time for a football game (something I didn’t experience while I was in school, it was all 20+ years ago). Funny how time flies. I felt it was just yesterday I graduated. I was feeling though, that this run was like the first time being back. I was wondering whether our senior class gift to the school is still there (most likely not). This moment was strange too since school is out due to the pandemic. There were a few people around. Some were running on the track. One father was taking picture of his daughter who was in her graduating gown. There were many signs posted along of the side walk congratulating the seniors because they were denied of a formal graduation ceremony.

Sadden that this year there won’t be a high school graduation celebration

At the time though, I wanted to see if I could run to my university, which was another maybe 5 miles away. In the end, I was hungry. It was about 6 pm in the evening. I scratched the plan to run to my college, since there are fewer restaurants near the college, because it is outside Fairfax City.

So I continued down on Rt 236. Got my dinner. There are a bunch of asian stores in that area, where I was. Annandale is known as Korean town (now Centreville has taken over that title; or has become K2, 2nd Korean town). No, I didn’t get to Annandale yet, but its influence can be felt.

The sun was hot. My pace became a walk. I walked for the next couple hours after dinner basically around a 6 miles block, by turning on Pickett Rd, and again on Fairfax Blvd, which took me back to my high school, after passing Fairfax Circle.

The rest of the journey was uneventful. I saw a beautiful sunset as I was heading west. Fairfax Blvd becomes Main St. I stayed on Main Street, which later becomes Lee Jackson Memorial. Once I crossed back onto Lee Jackson, the rest of the run was like the previous ones. I was in a familar territory, my neighborhood. Funny, a month ago I wouldn’t have considered that to be familar to me.

Why am I going into all these details? It can be a little dry even for those who know the geography. Get to the point, right? I passed through many sections of my “big town”. From Centreville, to Chantilly, to Government Center, and Fairfax Corner, into Fairfax City. Fairfax City is not small.

Centreville and the surrounding areas have been blooming like crazy for the past 20 years, even last 5-10 years, the place has become unrecognizable. They are still building it and transforming as we speak. To me that is very exciting, because I live in a dynamic city. For example, while growing up, Centreville was not a Korean town. There was only one Asian store there. Two actually, a Pho place. However, over the years, now almost every store has become Asian, mainly Korean, exaggerating a bit here. The best things are they stay open late into the night (pre-pandemic). There was once a Korean restaurant that opened 24 hours. I never went out that late, but my friends said it is typical in Korea.

Example of Asian influence. Bubble tea stores are popping up every where. Bubble tea was going to be my dinner, though I ended up with a bowl of Pho, from few stores down. By the way, Pho doesn’t taste good as a carry out. Regretted of getting it.

In contrast, Fairfax City, while is still ‘expanding’, as I ran through it, has kept in its historical state. There is of course much history behind, since it was established 1869, but has existed long before that. I would say, the residents or local government has put a halt on it being transformed too quickly, because in the 50s, the surrounding area was growing at 60% [wiki] in population. That is quite a scary number (from 299,000 to 489,000) of people for the region in 10 years time. I think Fairfax too struggled to keep up at that pace. Things have slow quite a bit, especially the heart of Fairfax (the city).

Note, we have Fairfax City which is inside of Fairfax County. Sometimes they seem to be synonomous, but Fairfax is self-ruled, I think (and is separate from the County). While many other municipalities like Centreville does not have self-ruled, and is under the County’s management.

I felt I have walked into the past as I traveled down Fairfax Blvd. It was how it look maybe 30 or 50 years ago. It was just a weird feeling. Having been living in Centreville, and also working in downtown DC, I have come to expect new buildings and the modern look. But as I ran, I was saying huh, how come there isn’t any tall building here or there. Or why is there a strip mall here? There were a lot of ‘huh’ moments. It seems the locale is 20-30 years behind time. It is changing, but it is not doing as fast as out in the extended suburb. There are not many buildings/houses over three stories. Most of them are single story, flat. There are a lot of “green space”. All the surrounding places around Fairfax City has exploded with ‘high density’ this and that, but it seems Fairfax City is still a low density area. The image I had in my mind was like New York City Central Park being surrounded by all the skyscappers. I’m not complaining though, but that is how it comes across to me. I get the residents’ sentiments. People want to feel their root, how things look when they were a child here.

I came across a ‘house’, but it was like a farm to me. It might have been one. They kept all the land and now zoned as residential. There is a house at the very far end of the long driveway. This is rare in a city. I have not come across a lot of houses with a driveway, and one that is long, where you almost couldn’t see it. I said wow, I never expected a farm to be inside a city. Centreville and Chantilly used to be farm land too but now you can’t find any. You could if you drive a bit out to the next division/county over, e.g. to Cox Farm, where my sister loves to bring her kids there. We still have the street name called “Centreville Farms Rd” or Franklin Farm Rd, but no farm there.

To me, it seems people don’t want their neighborhood to be changed too quickly. Yet it seems also they are being left behind.

I was thinking, how come our city is not like say New York, or LA. Of course no one wants to be like them, at least not to have their troubles. But there is a good side in how ‘efficient’ city is when it is planed or organized. I have spent most of my running time, running in DC, or around my house in Centreville, and I just love the inner city feel (at least the rich part). I felt Fairfax or Centreville is missing something. It seems they lack a ‘vision’ of having a coherent master city plan. DC is a planned city. Yes, we have ton of growth. And Yes we have people who don’t want changes. But as I ran through the city (Fairfax City), I felt things got built or placed randomly. We do have zoning laws, but it doesn’t seem being done right.

Another thing we lack is an identity. We don’t have something to make Fairfax City unique. We have a lot of streets named after Confederate Soldiers/generals. This little history too I think one day will disappear because there is a movement to push back anything that has to do with the Confederate because of its tie to slavery, and the negative aspect (white supremacy), as seen in recent years’ protests, and antiprotests, and racial killing.

In DC, we have a lot of statutes and monuments and museums and government buildings to showcase – a tourism magnet. But in Fairfax, when someone speaks of Fairfax nothing really comes to mind. People make fun of it by saying we have Bulgogi (Korean Bbq). There is a video out there on Youtube made a few years ago comparing Fairfax with Arlington. Arlington has Starbucks. I think we have more than that!

I felt the city should have visible symbols that they can be proud of. We have a Fairfax Museum. I have been there, but it is nothing anything close to being like a museum in DC. There is nothing we can be proud of. Our identity mainly stems from being a suburb of DC. Fairfax City is even less developed than its surrounding. The whole city is underdeveloped, which is not neccessary a bad thing.

It does have an university, which was actually built outside the city because it couldn’t find enough land in the city (or that people doesn’t want anything to change within), that was where I was going to run to, but changed my mind as I was heading there.

Our county too lack a distinct identity. We are known as having one of the largest school system. We are supposed to be a pretty rich county, something like top 10 or even higher. We have tons of trails, for which I am glad. We have couple well known towns, mainly Reston, Herndon, Tysons, Vienna, Centreville, and Annandale. I leave out Alexandria and Falls Church for a reason (they have their own thing – self rule). I felt we can do better in term of having the infrastructure to support ‘future growth’.

Another example: The county has now a place for all its adminstrative building (in Fairfax Corners). But it seems to be a half baked idea. Not all the government functions are located there. I felt they should. We zoned it as such, why not make it a full blown the seat of the government for the county there? But we have too much money. We have three or for four different locations for the county HQs (headquarters). Might be a good thing. We have divided the county into “areas” by number internally, e.g. Area 1, Area 2, Area 3. Is there area 4? There is the north county, and south county. The government center, is on the west county, but we don’t call it as such. Weird, it is neither north or south. Don’t ask me which area it belongs. The area number seems to be labeled as such by construction people or some engineers/city planners (internally) and was never a name supposed to be used by the public. Schools though are divided by area number (weird right?).

It brought to mind as I ran, that DC has Wards (political sub division). I felt our county would be better if we are divided into wards, like DC. I don’t know why it is better, but at least I felt each Ward then would have its own identity. Ward 1, vs Ward 10. It is a bland identity, but at least it is something. Yes, voting wise, we have district – I am belonging to the Springfield congressional district even though the actual Springfield area is 20-25 miles away! They gerrymandered my area into theirs for historical reason. Don’t remember how many years ago that was. It is meaningless. I don’t vote for Springfield issues. There is probably some wise man, saying I got this wrong.

Another similar thought on identity is we should bid for an olympic event in our area. This actually came up last year or the year before when we tried to submit a bid – I think Baltimore did, they tried to get the Washingtonians to join them, though a lot of people I talked to were laughing at the idea – horrible idea to bring an olympic here to DC with our high security concerns. But we should make the place ‘tourist friendly’, and a successful olympic bid would do that. Also we should have a stadium or two, with at least one for the university. We should help our university to get into div 1 for its football program. Yes everything is about sport, especially football, in our nation. We should have national standing, and even internationally if we have an olympic here. The Washington Redskins were looking for a practice facility. We should have built one for them. However, many people opposed it. Not in our backyard, they say. Imagine every weekend tailgate party; the noise and mess of 40,000-80,000 fans streaming through your quiet neighborhood. No way, they say. I have attended a ‘big’ school with a football program. Ya, you can’t sleep or study with a game on.

I have traveled to couple other countries. I saw how they arranged their cities. There is some desire for my local area to be like that. Fairfax county/city right now feel a bit of being in the backwater.

Bland architecture. I felt the whole city is like this. Having been in “better” places, this has a rustic feel in the middle of the city. Not that they planned it that, but time passes them by. Not making fun of it.

Those were just some silly reflections. Not sure if they will ever get any where. I am not a politician nor have plan to become one. I see it as quirks or wrinkles of my locale. No one has tried straighten them out. Maybe some did and failed.

I got home after the sun has set. It was a long 41-42 miles run. My watch battery was low and I had to stop the gps tracking 6 miles short.

Watch data. 35 miles. I stopped it 6 miles from home. I ran the remaining miles using Runkeeper to track. (not posted).
Destination: My former high school. It was recently renovated. Now it is a lot better looking. When I attended there, it was a flat ugly building, said to be built in 1936, like the shopping strip photo.

[a walk]



day260 random walk around the neighborhood

I took the suggestion of exploring some of the neighborhoods around me I am not familiar about.

Having been in the area for almost all my life, I am familiar with most places, or so I thought. There are indeed many neighborhoods that I have never been i , but only passed by in a car. We have mostly nice neighborhoods here in Northern Virginia because we are one of the top 10 or 20 richest counties in the nation, and probably the most dangerous neighborhood is the one I am in, because I am just more familiar with it with constantly hearing about crime reports on those neighborhood apps, such as Life360 or Nextdoor I’m part of.

Yesterday, having nothing more important thing to do, I got myself out the house, just to wander around. I wanted to run somewhere far. So I randomly started off in one direction without having a fixed route in my head. Normally I do have a route in mind – a practice of mine since college – like today we are doing Route Alpha, or Route Charlie, so forth. I gave my routes names. Well I was going to do the same route I have been doing the last few weeks, namely to run down on Stone Rd to Westfield, to Walney, Poplar, then Stringfellow, and turn on Lee Hwy, and back to Stone Rd. It is about a 10 mile loop and I usually add couple miles here and there and would do the loop twice to get 26.2 – a marathon.

This weekend though I didn’t feel wanting to do a loop twice. Having the confident in my ability that I can run anywhere under 50 miles and not get stranded midway, off I went. I didn’t bring water or food except an slurp bar (Science in Action); it is like yoplait but for endurance althletes.

The day was beautiful. I was not in a hurry. I got to Walney but instead of turning to Poplar, I went straight, to a strange road. I was feeling courageous today. The past two years, if I go off to a new route, I would first get into my car drive the route to measure the distance but more importantly to check the trails if it runable. Many times during halfway through a run, you discover that the sidewalk ends where you least expected. So having drive around first, kind of help you to make those safety decision of to turn around, like if the car traffic bad, the road/median does not have enough room on the shoulder, and how long do you have to be on the side of the road if you have to be on the road, stuff like that. Runners have to pay attention to those. Going into a place without first checking it out is not recommended.

Having lived in the neighborhood for 30 years did not really give me an edge. I was not a runner back then and was not much aware about whether a place is runable. This was actually the first time to have a boot on the ground even though it is “my neighborhood”. My impression of my neighborhood changed.

It was a joy to explore a new place. Being in the car in the past, did not give a sense of the how big the world is. I passed through ‘world’ upon ‘world’ today. Walney is a place where they would toll our cars to if we illegally park on the street or certain spots in my neighborhood. I had my car tolled to there once, no twice, couple years ago. I had bad feeling about the place. At that time, I thought it was so far away. My girlfriend drove me there to recover my car. As I ran past it, the light in my head light up. That where this place is. It was just 3-4 miles down where I live and I alway thought it was on the other side of town. 3-4 miles is no longer part of my vocabulary for far.

Then I got to the Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy and I said, oh, this is where we go to the airport. There were many beautiful neighborhoods I saw. One was the Fields of Chantily. I said as went I passed by, I didn’t know there a residence behind all these commercial buildings and shopping centers. Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy is a busy street.

Boy, no one was staying at home at all. Like on my previous three runs, today was no different. Lee Jackson was full of cars zipping by. I bet half of them or even three quarter of them were not essential workers. We were just enjoying being out for after lock-in for a full week.

I never ran on Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy before. I know where it leads, but running is a totally different ballgame. Luckily the entire way was mostly paved. There is a part where if you are not careful you could fall into an uncovered manhole and a 15 foot ‘ravine’, but it was obvious. Just don’t run there when it is dark outside. There is a neighborhood where they have their mailboxes across the street from their house and I thought that is the weirdest thing. Normally, people put their mailbox on their lawn at the curb and not the otherside of the street.

I think by 8 miles, I got to my old neighborhood where I lived during my highschool years. I haven’t been back there except for couple races I did in that area. Again, I felt proud of myself to have ran that far. All these years, I always thought this place is so far to get to. You could say I haven’t really been back to explore around.

The Safeway store is still around. There are many new codominium. They started building those when I moved out. I swinged by my own apartment. It was sad the church Centerpointe Assembly of God is no longer there. The mall across was closed due to the coronavirus. That was a disheartening sign, to see the big mall parking lot completely empty. I only see such a sign in the past when there was a snow storm, even then, usually they would clear the lot of snow by the next day.

As I continued on the run, I swinged by Fairfax Corner. This is a newly developed area. A misnomer. It is in the middle of the city and they call it the corner. More like a corner store, but man it is not just a store. They cleared the woods, hundreds of acres of land and built the whole neighborhood up during my college years. This place is huge. I came here the last couple years for my 5k races. It is a new development area, high density, mixed zone development. This has been a hip word here in our area. Instead of separating commercial, business, offices, now they build everything into one gigantic place – mixed zone – constant traffic – always people. You have high traffic shopping in the center. You build parking decks and condominium all around it. And they have towering offices surrounding that. It is a whole world inside. Funny thing is there is no school, post office, police station, firehouse in sight. I always wonder where are the schools. They cram maybe 5000-10000 residents in the place and have no school. I’m sure they have done their environmental studies. But if you build it, people will come indeed is true. People really like the place. So Fairfax Corner is like that – a busy place. I saw a lot of people around as I passed.

I continued and headed for my gym, getting back on the Lee Jackson Hwy. Gym closed of course even if the sign says open 24 hours. Note, normally I would be in my car in this stretch because this section of the highway is not runner friendly. It has overpasses and cars going 60 plus mph. There is just a lot going on here. I hated this place even if I am in my car. Yes, lived here all my highschool years and drove this section to school every day. I was thirsty at this time for not bring my usual runner pack. I opened my yoplait-like slurp. It was still wasn’t enough to cure my thirst. Luckily there was a gas station ahead. I stopped there and brought a Gatorade. Yup talk about violating social distancing. Gas station is a high traffic area for the spread of the virus.

I reached the end of the Lee Jackson Memorial and it became Main st. It became Main St after all those crazy overpasses. There was a sign that says 1.3 mile to city center, (Fairfax City that is). I did not continue to the city center. I hated crossing that big street Lee Hwy. We have so many St naming after Civil War generals. It was like a six street intersection there because the four roads coming together at an angle. You have such weird streets at many places in the Northern Virginia area and they created huge traffic mess. All these years, you wonder can’t they straighten out the street? So staying on myside of the street, I turn right on Lee Hwy without crossing it.

This part of Lee Hwy was also new to me. I had never ran here before. There is not a lot of businesses on Lee Hwy. No residence either. There are, but they are all hidden behind out of sight. Luckily they have sidewalks for most parts. I guess this is where the wealthier residents live. It reminded me of being in the redwood forest as I ran through this section of the neighborhood. Surprisingly this part was where I had a lot of uphills to climb. They were not as steep as in DC, but they gave me a decent workout.

Lee Highway was shorter than I expected. I reached back in Centreville around at mile 18. I was disappointed that I still had a bunch of miles left. At this point I hit my first wall (extreme tireness). This is the worst part because when you hit the wall, only thing you want to do is to stop running. And usually my goal is to push to the end. Today, there was no specific end point for me to focus on. Instead, I had to plan on where and how I get in another 6-8 miles. I am familiar with Centreville. From one end to the other is only 2-3 miles. So there were not a lot of running room so to speak. It is like the airplane being out of fuel and you can’t land yet but keep circling around. That what I had to do.

I made a turn into Trinity Center. This is a business park / residential area as well, and has been recently built maybe within the last 10 years. I have been in there once or twice. I was surprised how big it is. It is unlike Fairfax Corner. It is ‘high density’ – well in fact all Centreville is high density, but it was not high foot traffic unlike Fairfax Corner. Centreville back in the early nineties still believed in zoning. We zone all our restarants to one location (outside) and residential on one side separated by a highway. The corporate center though is something new. There were like four business parks in there – parks is really just large parking lots without trees. Large parking lot is like Pentagon large. You only have these kind of lots outside of the city. Oh, they have water fountains and manmade lakes. I am pretty sure they are manmade because those were not around in the past. Horay! It is beautiful though. I love looking at modern business buildings (way better than what you find in DC cement blocks – brutalism).

Centreville has one hotel, well probally two. Springhill suite. I had always wondering who would stay there. It is a nice place, but we do not attract enough tourists here. Not until I saw the corporate parks it dawned on me. Yup for them.

By this time, I still had six more miles. I made a figure eight loop. It might seem small on the map but that was like four mile run. I ran to my sister’s house on the other side of Centreville – also I rarely traveled there. She lives on the south side. I hate crossing the big highway, Sudley Centreville Road. Luckily, no one was home – or they kept strictly to the social distancing as they should and didn’t open the door – good for them. I shouldn’t even be tempted to go there, you know. They (general advice) say no visitation for nonhousehold member.

Then I headed back home as the sun was setting. I was thristy again. Sorry for myself of not bringing my own water. At that time, I was struggling with my second wall, and it was worse than the first. I couldn’t stand up at the moment. It felt as if ants were crawling on the back of my legs. I stopped to walk for a mile or so. It was only mile 22. The legs got better after resting. I almost thought I couldn’t make it home. Two miles away and can’t make it back is unbelievable after having run 22 miles.

I got better as I sighted the street Stone Rd on top of the hill. I did not want to get 26.2 miles so I stopped at mile 24.5. It was pointless to go for two more miles just to say I ran another marathon this weekend.

Something can be said about geography and its significant to us as we attached meaning to it. I ran about and saw various places where I grew up in. I saw the place where they impounded my car, the place where I had my first car accident, then the place where I had my second car accident. Is there any happy places? They are places where it leaves a strong impression in me. I love my car as you can tell! Yes, it was very nolstagia when I passes through places I hasn’t been to for long time. Or places where they changed so much in the past few years like the Fairfax Corner or the Trinity Center.

Map of my run in a pizza slice shaped. The left edge of the triangle is Stone Rd/Westfield/Walney – the same road changes name three times. The top edge slanting down is Lee Jackson Memorial. The Bottom is Lee Hwy. Fairfax Corner is the little notch near where the top edge crossing the bottom edge. The figure 8 (with three circles connecting) is part of the Trinity Centre. In Centreville, word center really messes me up – it spelled centre here to match the name of our city.