Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

The Power of ‘Thank You’

Over breakfast recently with my friend Maura, she mentioned there are times she sends hand-written thank you notes. This is a younger friend, a technology and public relations professional who can accomplish anything online and is completely savvy with social media. stock-photo-14310278-thank-you-message-handwritten-with-calligraphy-penStill, she feels that a dinner invite or those special things friends and colleagues occasionally do for one another are worthy of a hand-written thank you.

I recalled that conversation as I looked through the journal of a long-time running friend who recently passed away. For years, Charlie Laverty could be seen at weekend runs, either racing or volunteering. In the volunteer role, he was unflappable, friendly and patient, always with a sense of humor. I loved working with him.

Charlie & friends preparing packets for 2006 Harrisburg Marathon

Charlie & friends preparing packets for 2006 Harrisburg Marathon. Photo Credit: Andrew O’Donnell

The runner journal Charlie left behind was succinct, given the many years of racing and race volunteering behind him. Some newspaper articles, a photo or two, and select race results were among the few items carefully placed in a 3-ring binder.

One item stood out and as a race director gives me pause. I pulled a small envelope and card from its plastic sleeve; a 2002 handwritten thank you note from Mike Garmin, Race Director of the Harrisburg Marathon that year. Mike’s note thanked Charlie for bringing his time and experience to the marathon and helping to make it a success.

Charlie in bib#3441 enjoying the 1996 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in D.C.

Charlie in bib#3441 enjoying the 1996 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

These 14 years later, the note was there among the selected treasures that spoke of Charlie’s success and place in the running community.

Cherished running memories that would include PRs, news articles, and a hand-written thank you.

How will my thank yous be remembered? How will yours?

10K + Brandywine Art = Great Mini-Roadtrip

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2nd Floor atrium at Brandywine Art Museum

It’s travel Tuesday and I hope you’ll agree with me that a 2-3 hour road trip qualifies as travel. While running friends were scattered across the region at various marathons, I carved the weekend out for the Joy Hope Delaware 10-K, a qualifying race for the 2015 National Senior Games. I looked at this as a secondary opportunity to pay a visit to the nearby Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Speaking of art, there is an art to combining a day trip road race with sightseeing or shopping. It involves a dry change to street clothes, a tattered washcloth and towel from the bottom of your linen closet, a plastic bag, sunblock, and on a rainy day, a comb to run through your thoroughly drenched locks. Lotion, lipstick and mascara are optional as is a bathroom with running water.

The day’s 10K and art trek were equally successful. 6.2 rainy miles through neighborhood streets and rolling hills, slowing a bit on the uphill through Mile 5 and feeling the chill come on during Mile 6 ended with a finish time 55:08, meeting the National Senior Games qualifying time for W-AG 65-69.

Credit: ahungryrunner.com

Credit: ahungryrunner.com

After finding a corner of the crowded church bathroom, removing mud from my calves and practicing the art of the discreet wardrobe change, I found my way to the post-race food. I thanked the well-organized Delaware Senior Games volunteers, and chatted with some fellow senior  runners. I look forward to running with them again at the National Senior Games in 2015.

Through damp runners and spectator umbrellas, I made my way to the parking lot. A short drive took me past upscale outlet stores, Whole Foods, and a Trader Joe’s. I was tempted, but continued on to the nearby chosen destination for the day: Chadds Ford and the Brandywine Museum. The indoor/outdoor feel in the atrium welcomes the natural beauty that still abides in this valley.

Bucolic landscape and sculpture

Bucolic landscape and sculpture

The work of one or more generations of the Wyethe family is always found on display here, along with several temporary exhibits.

This is an art museum where you could spend the day, take a lunch break in the on-site restaurant (although the use of plastic dishes and utensils seems so at odds with the natural setting), enjoying a view of the Brandywine Creek through floor to ceiling windows.

Dining with a view

Dining with a view

A nicely kept secret, this nature and art stop-off can be found when driving near the Greater Philadelphia/Delaware area. From major highways, its easy to pop in, stretch your legs for an hour or so and be on your way, revived by the art, the natural setting and the sense of history.

Or, you can take a shorter break by simply walking down one of the many nature trails on the property. I did both.

Creekside Trail

Creekside Trail

If you have any tips on doing a road race day trip with other activities, please share. 

 

Hoofing it through Helsinki

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Nearing Helsinki’s harbor through Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea

It’s Travel Tuesday. Our cool autumn weather feels like an overcast Spring morning in Helsinki, Finland. The ship arrived in port and this traveler was oh so ready to set feet on the pier.

Helsinki is the perfect port for a traveler in need of room to breathe.  Three wonderful days of museums and magnificent buildings in Saint Petersburg, escorted by our guides and surrounded at every stop by dense crowds, those days of claustrophobic gilded beauty left me ready for some personal space.

A variety of day tours were available as well as a shuttle ride into the city. Me, I was hoofing it. A solo walk was on my personal itinerary. Besides, how much trouble could I find in Helskinki?

Out the gangway, I simply began a fast walk, assuming the view of steeples on the hill would take me to the old city sites. IMG_0392I assumed correctly and a 45-minutes walk found me at Market Square, again surrounded by other tourists and the downtown harbor.

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I crossed paths with a local runner, one of the few Helsinkians on the streets Ascension Day.

The town was quiet with many shops closed. We had arrived on Ascension Day, an official holiday in Finland. Fortunately, outdoor markets dotting the square with local foods and handicrafts were open with tourists giving them brisk business.

Around the block and the corner was Senate Square where I spotted a Hop-On Hop-Off bus stop. A couple of the outlying locations I wanted to explore suddenly seemed possible, especially since the buses ran until 5:00. I rode the Hop-On to the Rock Church, the Temppeliaukio Lutheran Church where architects had designed IMG_0409a building carved from the natural rock.

After a day mostly on foot enjoying a city full of parks and open space, I briefly visited the statue of Finnish Olympian Paavo Nurmi before engaging in my own run, a sprint to the last Hop-On bus scheduled. It was 4:00 p.m. when I learned the Hop-On bus was no longer going near my terminal. In fact after it dropped current travelers at Market Square, it wasn’t going anywhere. As it turned out, the claim that it was “running until 5:00″ actually meant that all buses would be returned to the barn no later than 5:00. Quickly throwing in with a couple of other travelers returning to the same ship terminal, we flagged a cab and made it back well before ship time.

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Nurmi photo taken on the run

A day on my own did wonders for my psyche. I was back aboard ship, ready to move on to the next port enjoying the company of my fellow voyagers.

My Melanoma Awareness Alert

 

Most 5Ks and 10Ks are associated with a cause, most frequently a disease or other health concern and less frequently a  human services charity. How deeply the race is steeped in information for their fundraising cause varies. At many a race, I’ve picked up my banana and bagel, stayed for the awards ceremony and left the venue only vaguely aware of the charity or cause.

Unknown

Credit: runnerunleashed.com

This was not the case at the Moving for Melanoma 5K. My purpose for seeking out this 5K in Wilmington was not to learn about Melanoma but to run a qualifying race to ensure my participation in the 2015 National Senior Games.

I hoped to come away with a qualifying time, but didn’t expect an education. I received both. Moving for Melanoma of Delaware focuses on building awareness and prevention of Melanoma, raises funds for research and provides support to those affected in the community in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

I picked up my race packet and checked in with officials at the Delaware Senior Olympics table. On a slightly muggy morning, I ran a 26:12, well under the maximum qualifying time allowed for the F65-69 age group.

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Moving for Melanoma pre-race warmup dance

Other runners were there to get a similar qualifying time and still others simply looking for a weekend 5K. With nearly 1,000 finishers, no doubt we were outnumbered by the multiple fundraising teams, some over 100 strong, running and walking for friends and family in treatment for Melanoma. Other teams participated in memory of a loved one lost.

At the finish line and beyond the bananas and bagels were multiple tents and kiosks with information on Melanoma prevention and ongoing research on the disease. Post-race speakers made their running audience aware of activity that will make any of us more vulnerable to Melanoma. I also became aware that this disease can strike even when we take precautions.

I got more than I came for. My love of running, hiking, walking, snowshoeing, gardening and generally enjoying the outdoors won’t change. But I realize my habitual application of sunscreen alone while important is not a guarantee.

This was a wake up call. The Moving for Melanoma 5K began my education process and its up to me to continue it with action.  And, what action do you take to protect your skin and save your life?

SuperSPF_infographic

Credit: Skinfo.com

Endurance on the Isle of Mousa

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Mousa Broch, Shetland Islands

This week, I was prompted to share a photo that reflects endurance.  To my surprise, the first visual was not another photo of yours truly crossing a marathon finish line, or a photo of friends during ultra trail runs.

It may have been that the prompt arrived on a day following Scotland’s vote on independence. At any rate, I immediately scanned through my collection for a photo of the Mousa Broch.

In early June with a comfortably brisk temperature and long sunlit days, we docked in the Shetland Islands in Lerwick’s port.

Entering Lerwick, Shetland Islands

Entering Lerwick, Shetland Islands

 

A small boat took us to the Isle of Mousa where we had the opportunity to enter the broch, climb the interior stairs for a view of the bay if we chose, and wonder how this 2,000 year old structure was used.

Was this a fort, a strategically placed island home, a storage facility? IMG_0608Brochs remain a mystery. Of the 500 or so brochs built through the Shetlands during the Iron Age, the Mousa Broch is the best preserved.

Interior wall Mousa Broch

Interior wall Mousa Broch

On an uninhabited island where Shetland sheep graze nearby

Shetland Sheep

Shetland Sheep

and seals find their way to the shore, the broch endures the wind, the sea, the years and even a few humans who continue to puzzle the details of its purpose and ensure its protection.IMG_0593

We’re all 1/2 (Marathon) Crazy

It’s the absence of the stifling humidity that has us giddy. And it’s that season. You see a leaf or two falling to the sidewalk, breathe that air with a barely distinguishable hint of autumn, and runners go 1/2 marathon crazy. Regardless of experience or pace, the half-marathon calls us. We’re helpless against its siren songuntitled.

We rationalize the usual explanations. It is a perfect tune-up for impending full marathons. The half is a great introduction to a longer distance for runners moving up from 5K and 10K distances. But really, we just want to be part of autumn and half marathons.

The Harrisburg Half Marathon has my first 1/2 and continues to be one of my favorites. It is convenient, mostly flat and mostly shaded. Still, after a summer of disappointing results in shorter races and in training, I held off signing up this year.

Has it been the humidity, the air quality, possibly age? Summer running and racing have been difficult. During my last 5K I felt like I was breathing through a mask. The legs felt strong, not so the lungs.

But the fever still strikes. On a hot sultry Saturday before race day while volunteering for packet pick-up, the energy and enthusiasm among runners pouring in for race bibs was palpable. I kept hearing the weather would change overnight, humidity would lift and we would have a cloud-covered cool(er) day.

Rivers Runners pre-race start

Rivers Runners pre-race start. Photo credit: Bekah Rundall

I bit. At the end of my volunteer shift and just before late registration closed for the day, hand went to wallet, signed waiver, picked up shirt and committed the rest of my body to a 13.1 race the following morning.

Overnight, the humidity did indeed clear out, but the cloud cover did not move in. Still, with temperatures in the ’60s and ’70s and those wonderful trees along the Susquehanna Riverfront, it was a beautiful day for a race.

I started near the back of the pack, unsure of what my pace would be. After the first two miles,  from City Island and south through Shipoke to the Greenbelt, runners finally spread out and I was able to move comfortably to an 8:55 pace.

Around miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo courtesy Stacey Cleary

Staying on pace miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo credit: Stacey Cleary

Surprisingly, the tight breathing experienced over the summer wasn’t a problem. I stayed on pace until Mile 13 where I drifted off by 20 seconds.

A solid finish coming in at 2 hours, 0 minutes, and 23 seconds, this pleasantly surprised runner was just over two minutes off PR placing second in age group.

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

The other pleasant surprise was the relatively large number of women in the 65+ age group. With a field of nine women, first place in AG went to a strong competitor from Virginia with a 1:55 time.

With a beautiful home course and well organized 1/2 in Harrisburg behind me, have I stymied the 1/2 marathon craziness? No. Next stop for me is the Runner’s World Half in October.

Looking at race calendars, over the next month there are roughly 15 scheduled 1/2’s within a two-hour drive. I expect wherever you are, race calendars are similar.answer-girl2

So, who else out there is 1/2 crazy? Raise your hand.

Backtracking the Baltics to Riga

I’m backtracking in my Baltic Sea saga to pick up on our brief stop in Riga, Latvia – my primary reason for electing the Versatile Baltics 3-day land trip while on the Iron & Ice voyage.

IMG_0241Although recent news coverage is offering more familiarity, Latvia came into closer view for our family in the early 1990s. A tall young man named Juris arrived to live and study with us for the better part of a year. I will forever thank his parents for entrusting Juris to us. Although we’ve kept in touch with the occasional notes and email exchanges, I didn’t anticipate an opportunity to do a return visit to his part of the world and meet his family. This itinerary made it possible. Twenty-some years later and with only 18 hours in Riga, it would be enough.

After making our way across Lithuania and into Latvia on a late afternoon in May, our tour bus crossed one of the many bridges into Riga. We were met by a lovely local guide knowledgable in the Art Nouveau architecture (Jugendstil) found on some of the most stunning streets in Riga’s city center. item_21202If you are a lover of Art Nouveau, I wish for you more time than we had to appreciate these beautifully constructed and preserved buildings. And do include some time for the Riga Art Nouveau Museum, housed in one of the many buildings designed by Konstantins Pēkšēns in the art nouveau style.

After checking in to the Radisson Blu Latvija and a quick turnaround, I met Juris and family in the lobby. After a brief exchange of gifts and the long-awaited meeting with his charming parents and wife Ilsa, we were off for a drive to the Bay of Riga and dinner. Enroute we traveled through an old and charming seaside cottage area and arrived at a restaurant with a spectacular view of the bay.

Dinner on Riga Bay

Dinner on Riga Bay

We reminisced about Juris’s time in the USA and caught up on their current family life. All of this over a wonderful dinner with fresh salad greens, seafood, and a beautifully prepared dessert.

 

On this pleasantly warm evening, DSC03638we took a walk along the water’s edge and spent some barefoot time cavorting at the shore before our drive back to Riga.

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A final photo with the Latvian National Opera House in the background before we say farewell.

Concerned that my morning tour of Old Town would not be sufficient in detail, Juris and his family walked with me over the cobbled streets and through the centuries of history that mark the sites. We were not alone in the late night hour. It seemed like a magical evening where crowds of people strolled by, or, well past the midnight hour sat drinking wine or coffee at outdoor cafes, chatting with friends.

There would be no morning run through Riga’s cobblestone streets for me as I was scheduled for breakfast at 7 a.m. and back on the tour bus by eight. The morning’s daylight tour of Old Town provided by the tour company was a wonderful review, but couldn’t hold a candle to the detailed and personal midnight walking tour.

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Freedom Monument

I barely scratched the surface of all that is this beautiful city of Riga, all the more reason to return. I left with the sense of a people who have thrived through a tumultuous history that does not dampen their love of life.

 

 

 

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