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home > community > viewpoint > oh my cod!

Oh My Cod!
Vacation training on the Cape…

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By Chris Russell
Posted Wednesday, 20 July, 2005

I recently spent two weeks ‘on vacation’ in Cape Cod. ‘Vacation’ is in quotes because I really spent most of the time working on a new house my wife and I bought. You could say my wife and I experimented with Latex, but you’d be talking about 30 gallons of wall and ceiling paint.

It was a nice change for me to get away from the laptop and back to my roots of wiring, painting, plumbing and spackling. Doing ‘real work’ has its Zen qualities. I also had to get some training in. The timing just happened to coincide with the last two hard weeks of my triathlon training. So, not only did I have to get some training in, it had to be some quality training. I didn’t know where or how I would fit it in, but, as usual, I found a way to feed my compulsions.

You might have guessed that I don’t vacation well, if you define vacation in the lay-around-sipping-cocktails sense. I filled two whole weeks with fixing stuff and working out. That’s my kind of vacation! The only low point was that it killed me not to have internet access. The only connection point I could find was a Subway shop. I am so sick of having to eat that food just to connect to their wireless! It could have been worse. It could have been a burger chain.

My new house is in Harwich, on the elbow of the Cape. It’s a vacation house in a beautiful place. (call me we’ll talk about a rental!) The weather is 10 degrees cooler than steamy Boston in the summer and there is always an ocean breeze. The whole place is one big sand dune with small rolling hills, scrub pine and scrub oak.

Running Chatham Light

Chatham Light is a state park that pokes out into the sandy breaks of Nantucket sound. I figured out how to ride there and what with getting lost and all managed to create a nice 40 minute beach run book ended by an hour of peddling on Fuji-san.

At low tide there is an broad stretch of beach that wraps around Chatham light with sandbars and spits. I ran barefoot. It was overcast and there weren’t that many bathers especially after a few minutes of running. They tend to stay within walking distance of the parking lot.

There is something mystical about the ocean. You can see how people create atavistic religions around the sea. Large trees, rendered to driftwood skeletons, crouched like the remains of ancient sea creatures stranded on the beach. Shells, rocks and the remains of unlucky fish washed in the tide lines. On a sandbar, a couple hundred feet off the beach, a crowd of harbor seals barked in a noisy pile. With the bare feet you can splash through the shallows to cool your hams.

I see how people can spend their whole lives happily running on the beach each day. It is peaceful and healing and good for the legs.

I came back with Buddy, my dog, the next day, only to be thwarted by numerous large and angry “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Instead we ran the roads until we could cut down a likely path to an unmarked coastline. In this case there weren’t any anti-canine sentiments, but there was a big “Private Beach” sign that we blissfully ignored. The private beach was deserted. I spent some time thinking up good lies about whose guest I was. Maybe the nephew of that famous plastic surgeon…, but, we were never confronted. We could probably just run away if we were.

Buddy took to the ocean right away. He ran right in. He took one sniff and was smart enough not to drink it. He’s a good beach runner.

Pleasant Bay

I had to get some swimming in too. A first stroke of luck was my wife showing up with a wetsuit that she found at the ‘Job Lot’ discount store for $28. Oh boy! Cheap functional protection form the Atlantic chills. It was not the old ½ inch thick behemoths we used to go lobster diving in off of Marblehead (in my youth). It was a real swimming sporty suit with the thin neoprene, short sleeves, short legs and a zipper up the back. I’m mortified to say that I had problems with hair getting stuck in the zipper, and sometimes required help to be freed from the wetsuit. I know those real swimmers shave their legs and arms, but do they shave their backs?

I tried swimming in Chatham with the waves and a rip tide along the beach. It was mostly like the perfect storm, where I played the part of the little fishing boat getting swamped. I began to think about a Discovery Channel show on boat people where they died from drinking too much sea water. I wasn’t pretty.

Then I discovered Pleasant Bay in Harwich, and it was quite,…well…pleasant. It is right on the line between Chatham and Harwich. A becalmed sanctuary with boats at anchor and clam diggers working the mud flats where a brackish river empties into the sea. No waves and a nice straight row of “Do Not Kill the Swimmers” pylons floating along just off the shore. Using my watch I discovered that I could do laps around these and it was about 2/3 of a mile.

I spent long afternoons swimming in the slanting sun. While my kids harassed the horseshoe crabs and built sand castles I washed the day’s grit from my hair. I got some tremendous work outs in, peaking out at a long swim of almost an hour. One afternoon I also terrified the vacationers by drawing a 75 meter course in the soft sand and doing repeat sprints. Great for leg strength, but sands a layer of skin off the bottom of your feet!

Found the local track

Of course I sought out the local 400 meter oval. I found it next to the bike trail behind the high school. When I pulled in some lady in an SUV asked me if I knew where there was another track, because this one was too hard? What? People are strange.

It turns out that the baseball field for the local Cape Cod League team was just on the other side of the bushes and I could listen to, and see, the game being played. The Cape League is a famous proving ground for college talent from across the U.S.A.

I had one good workout, but the next time I went down it was one of those muggy, oxygen-less days we get in the Northeast and I had to bail. I just couldn’t breathe.

The Cape Cod bike trail.

I also needed to get a few bikes in. This concerned me because there aren’t that many good hills to train on in Cape Cod. I looked at the map and found my way to the Cape Cod rail trail that runs from Dennis to Provincetown, from the Mid Cape to the Tip. Fuji-san and I took it up to Wellfleet and back from Harwich on our longest ride, maybe 50-60 miles all told.

On the day I found it I spent the morning painting the garage. I think I may have damaged my lungs and it felt good to stretch the alveoli out a little. They had just put the polyurethane coat on the hardwood floors and the whole house was exuding toxic vapors. In addition, the previous residents had evidently kept some sort of animal in the garage because it smelled like…well let’s just say it reeked. On top of this I spent the day spreading 3 gallons of ceiling white latex paint. At the end of the day I felt like taking my lungs out and hanging them on the clothes line, but went out to the rail trail and stretched them out instead.

It’s quite pretty. The trail doesn’t go by the ocean, but it does pass freshwater ponds and cranberry bogs. Except where you cross roads it is all in the woods and sheltered. It’s a little bumpy in places from the tar buckling, but overall it’s a worry free ride. I startled big coyote on two different occasions and saw all sorts of fauna including a baby skunk.

Since there were no real hills I did Intervals like my bike mentor taught me; up in the saddle to exhaustion, rest, repeat. I’m a terrifying site coming down the trail up in the saddle in high gear. I had one woman say “Dear God!” when I passed. Like a galloping Clydesdale, I scare the kids.

Taper out of vacation

I’m in my taper this week, back to airports and hotel rooms. This weekend we’ll see how I look in the tri. I really don’t know what to expect, but I sure had fun training my vacation away in Cape Cod.

When you’re out this summer, don’t waste your vacation lying on the beach. Get out and explore. That way you can eat more fried clams and feel good about it!



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