Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

The Outdoor Life – Western Style – II

It’s Travel Tuesday and having completed my assignments for the upcoming and wonderful Thanksgiving Day, I now take liberty to daydream back to a wonderful Wyoming hike at Vedauwoo. This and every day, I’m thankful that the natural beauty of this and many other sites are located within national forests and national parks – the forethought of earlier generations.

IMG_1631Late September at 8,200 feet already brought cool temperatures. We bundled up and joined our hosts with the Friendship for of Cheyenne who had packed up a wonderful picnic to sustain us as we explored this wonderful world of granite.



Located between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming the outcrops extend over a vast area. Arriving at the park, we find this mass of rocks is breathtakingly beautiful in its wildness and enormity and intriguing in varying shades of pink/gray. The Arapaho referred to the area as the Land of the Earthborn Spirit. The granite formation still brings out the creative spirit as performers bring dance, poetry and theatre among the rocks.

Window2Y (1)

Credit: J.W. Hasper

Like looking at clouds intently, you can see the shapes of animals or human in the formations of Vedauwoo, most visibly the appearance of a turtle and a giant human.



There is also something in those rocks that calls “Come climb me.” And climb we did.

IMG_1627We could see more experienced (and younger?) hikers and climbers on other areas in the outcrops and hoodoos (spires with varying depth). A couple of hikers who knew Vedauwoo well lead the way. 


Up, up, up. The climb was beautiful and aside from a couple of breaks to catch my breath in the thin air, not particularly difficult. It was mesmerizing to walk those beautiful rocks in the thin, clean air. Although the surrounding area is still primarily rural, from atop the outcropping the wonder of what life was like surrounding these rocks a couple of centuries ago when buffalo in the thousands moved in herds and the spiritual Arapaho people had not yet been removed to the Wind River Reservation.

IMG_1641.jpgOn reaching the summit of our particular formation, the view went for miles. As our eyes searched for a horizon, we celebrate our arrival on the windswept rocks with a deep breath and with appreciation for the experience. 



A Beautiful Day for a Marathon – but

But, not my day.

It began as a perfect day for a marathon. With temps starting in the low 40’s and clear skies, I lined up with friends for the Aspire Harrisburg Marathon. Everyone was looking forward to taking a spin on the new course, seeing fresh neighborhoods and finishing on Restaurant Row among early diners and cheering spectators.

Cruising over the bridge at Mile 2.

Cruising over the bridge at Mile 2.

The first 7-8 miles were well-paced staying around 9:30 – 9:40. At around mile 9, I took a sip of my Tailwind and soon after began feeling nausea and light in the stomach. I continued on pace, hoping it would pass, but it was not to be. It persisted with some side cramps adding to the mix.

I was holding my pace but after another couple miles, I knew it was time to take stock and make a decision to tough it out or call it a day. I had looked forward to running the new course around mile 16 – 20 through a small neighborhood and historic rural scenery along the river.


On Front St. with historic architecture backdrop.

Around mile 12, the internal discussion began.
Ego was firm. “You can do this. We’ve finished marathons through nor’easters, waves pummeling over breakfronts, 80 degree heat on asphalt roads. You’ve never dropped from a race of any distance for any reason. Why now?”
Body said “I’m really not looking forward to another 14 miles of this. Give me a break.”
Mind piped in: “Rationally, this is the time to run the new section of the course while it is safe and closed to traffic.”
Then Spirit spoke with a louder than usual authoritative voice: “We’re only doing the new section if Ego goes to sleep. Body is hurting and must have consideration. If we continue to the new section, we walk so body is comfortable.”

OK, so team decision, we walked miles 16 – 20 with Ego only once or twice trying to pump back up to a run but quickly brought into line. We walked past Fort Hunter, past homes in the Village of Hekton, and saw both again on a fast walk back to the turn into city neighborhoods.

At mile 19.75 having run and walked 3 hours, 30 minutes and 32 seconds, we completed the new section. We then left the course, diverting to the McDonald’s parking lot and my husband’s waiting car.

A ginger ale with ice followed  by a hot shower did wonders. I felt much better although still slightly nauseous. I have a body that is thankful, an ego that is quietly grumbling and ready for the next race, and a spirit that is thankful I’ve learned to listen.

The Outdoor Life, Western Style

Cheyenne sky at sunrise

Cheyenne sky at sunrise

There is no other way to say it. I’ve fallen in love with Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On a recent travel exchange with Friendship Force, I was introduced to this wonderful city and the surrounding area. The scenery, outdoor lifestyle, friendly people and food made for a memorable trip.

Our band of 16 travelers was hosted in the homes of Cheyenne Friendship Force club members. From my host’s home, after giving myself a couple of days to adjust to the 6,500 ft. elevation, I slipped out the door for some early morning runs. A nearby dirt road led me up a steep hill to the water tower and a ranch meeting the outskirts of the city.

Ranch sculpture at the crest of my gravel road run

Ranch sculpture at the crest of my gravel road run

I supplemented those runs with several hikes during the week. For our first hikes and sightseeing, we dressed in layers ready for weather changes and cooler temperatures as we would gradually climb to around 10,000 feet.

Our convoy route took us through Laramie, then slightly south dipping into northern Colorado for a few miles before turning north again. Along with fields of cattle and horses, we spotted antelope, mule deer, elk and goats. Sadly, we also saw fallen trees and others still standing but with dried dead limbs, evidence of the pine beetle destruction known as beetle kill. Enroute, the mostly brown flat land turned to hills, then craggy mountainous region.

With a stop and museum tour in Encampment, we enjoyed our first of several delicious picnic lunches eaten in the brisk, thin mountain air.

Aspen Alley

Aspen Alley

With fall weather changing from sunshine to rain to sleet and back to sunshine again, we  proceeded to  Aspen Alley and the Snowy Range. Making our way across Medicine Bow National Forest we appreciated the beauty of the gold leaves of the aspen where trees had not quite peaked, but were lovely nonetheless. Standing quietly at the edge of the forest, the aspen make a murmuring sound our hosts described as trembling.

Some of us decided to hike the road through the Alley and meet drivers on the opposite end. We then continued on driving by or making stops and short hikes at Silver Lake, Mirror Lake, Snowy Range Lookout points and Libby Flats at altitudes up to 10,800 feet.

As we hiked Aspen Alley, we spotted this ranch hidden from the road

Hiking Aspen Alley, we spotted this ranch hidden from the road

We stopped at the Continental Divide near Centennial (think James Michener’s novel by that title) where we later had stopped at the Old Corral for dinner. The building is authentic western with large tables and wooden walls. not to mention a worthwhile gift shop and a hotel, frequented by cyclists, hikers and sightseers.

Wyoming has a beautiful wide-open sky. This particular day, it put on a spectacular show with a morning rainbow that guided us through the first hour or so as we dipped south, closing our day with a distant evening lightning show during the dark drive back to Cheyenne.

Medicine Bow National Forest

Hiking Medicine Bow National Forest

So ends our first full day of this trip. So much more to tell on another Travel Tuesday.

Race Report – Blues Cruise 50K

Shortly after  a successful first ultra trail race at the Dirty German, I signed up for the Blues Cruise 50K in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Friends had described the race as challenging yet fun. I learned that both were true.

It’s good to see a familiar face at a race and I was fortunately to spot three. Near the bag drop, I ran into Rick and Jeremy both experienced ultra runners. Jeremy followed The Blues Cruise up with the Oil Creek 100K. I expect he will be writing about it in The Road to Trails.

An intense group at the start while I'm lined up in the back of the pack.

An intense group at the start while I’m lined up in the back of the pack. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Near the start, I heard Kristin’s voice, another ultra runner who blogs at Family, Food and Running. She was in a support role for this race and also recently ran the Oil City 100 Miler.

Unlike my experienced ultra friends, as a newbie ultra runner and trail runner, I am still making rookie mistakes. Assuming I would be one of the slowest runners on the trail, I lined up with the back of the pack. Runners stretched ahead as far as I could see with most of them starting at a walk. In addition to the typical rocks and roots, walnuts the size of tennis balls were falling from the trees and onto the single track trail. I bided my time until we arrived at the first aid station. It was packed with runners and with no early need for water or food,  I slipped through the crowd and finally found my pace.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Rain for several days preceding the race left portions of the trail with some mud, but certainly passable. Running on grass after passing a muddy spot helped to kick the weight of any lingering mud off my shoes.


Credit: Ryan Goverts

We were running the course counter-clockwise around Blue Marsh Lake. That placed the ski hill on the course at mile 10/11, my toughest – although not my slowest – mile.  The slowest pace came around mile 23/24 where the uphill/downhill pattern continued. I can also attribute the slowdown to my second rookie mistake letting a horseback riding group get ahead of me while I munched on a salted potato at an aid station. How was I to know they would saunter along for a period of time before again breaking out into a trot? Several of us walked the single track during that time rather than attempt to spook a horse as we shouted “on your left” to the rider. No, better to loose a few minutes and pick up the pace later.

I would tell you how lovely the scenery was, but honestly I was watching the trail underfoot very carefully. I did well until about mile 24 when the beautiful cloud cover gave way to a bit of sunshine. I recall thinking “gee, it’s a bit more difficult to see the trail detail with this dappled sunshine” when – boom – I was down. No harm done, I was back on my feet as quickly as I went down.

Pulling out of the the last aid station I was ready to be finished. I chatted with a couple of guys just behind me on the trail. Their delightful conversation helped me keep going.  Oddly, I have run shorter and mentally more difficult races, but I felt this was the most physically challenging race I have run.  I have done marathons through smoldering heat, nor’easters, angry ocean whipping over the breakwall, and sleet blowing across the Susquehanna. Still, the Blues Cruise was more challenging. And, of course, I plan to do it again, with tougher training built in before the race.


Credit: Ryan Goverts

Finish time? 7:03:11, thanks to a combination of Tailwind in my pack, potatoes with salt, an orange slice and a sip of Coke at several aid stations. I arrived at the finish of that beautiful, hilly, well-marked course in time to say good-bye to my friends who came through the finish much earlier.

Food was abundant, but my stomach said to settle for a grilled cheese. A grabbed a bottle of water, did a 5-minute mud removal cleanup and headed for home. My tired muscles were a strong reminder that I had met the challenge of a second 50K trail race.

Thank you Blues Cruise race directors and volunteers for making the race possible.

Chirunning in the Berkshires


View from Kripalu porch

Paging through the Kripalu catalog offerings this summer, I noticed a workshop for Mindful Chirunning. A yoga and health retreat center tucked away in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Kripalu has a wonderful location atop a knoll, a sparkling lake at the base and Tanglewood just down the road. With the classes at the Kripalu center, it was possible to slip into a few yoga sessinss and lectures on various mind and body topics between and after our workshops.

The program dates worked with some other New England stops on the summer agenda, so my opportunity was right for a  contemplative and studied approach to my running.

The loss of my trusted Garmin 305 which stopped working a week before the workshop was one less diversion from the Chi lessons.

Along with the great location and perfect timing, the Chirunning workshop continued me on the current path of working on some alignment issues. 

Most days, we participated in three daily sessions, resulting in multiple daily showers, a large laundry bag and many notes and helpful feedback to take home. We worked in large and small groups and received individual direction and correction from the corps of excellent Chirunning trainers. 

The Chirunning technique developed by Danny Dreyer and based on Tai Chi movement, uses the runner’s energy, or chi, for running efficiency and modeled to help reduce or prevent injuries. Some of the forms of the technique include a subtle forward lean assisted by gravity, a midfoot strike, engagement of the body’s core and a mind-body connection – doing an occasional check-in on form focuses while running. Increased speed is not a promised outcome, but some runners find that it just happens as a very nice side effect.

Analyzing our foot falls on sand.

Mike helps us analyzing our foot falls on the sand beach.

Individual film analysis has been helpful for me and I continue to work on my own to make the form focuses a habit. During my initial filming, the instructors identified some correction areas:

  • the ‘splay’ of my right foot. I had been working through some exercises to correct this and they offered more tips to eventually correct. A work in progress but it is coming along.
  • Shoulders hunched close to my ears (another work-in-progress correction).
  • Moderate heel strike.

By the final filming on Thursday, I had made progress (but not eliminated) the splay, improved relaxation in my shoulders, held the correct posture and was landing with midfoot.

Overall, my cadence and breathing are good and didn’t need much in the way of correction.

Each runner or walker in the workshop had slightly different modifications to make and it was interesting to watch how each of us was able to concentrate and improve during the five days.

The last session of the week included a 6:30 a.m. optional trail run. Behind Kripalu,  past Monk’s Pond to Olivia’s Overlook, there were plenty of rocks and roots to keep the mind focused and plenty of opportunity to put Danny’s tips for trail running into use.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, great trail and a beautiful view.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, rugged trail and a beautiful view.

Life crests another hill this year and I can see my seventh decade out in the distance. There is no sure thing, but my plan is to employ the Chirunning techniques and use the individual critiques to ensure that my running form will enable me to continue running far into the future.

Thanks to Danny, Lisa, Angela, and Mike for your guidance during the workshop.

National Senior Games 2015

After competition in more than 20 individual sports spread out across several cities in Minnesota with more than 12,000 senior athletes competing, the National Senior Games of 2015 are closed.

For those unfamiliar, the National Senior Games take place during the summer of odd-numbered years (this year Minneapolis & environs, Birmingham, Alabama slated for 2017). To participate in the National Senior Games, an athlete must be 50 years of age or older and must first qualify at state games held in even-numbered years.

Version 2

NSGA 5K – F65-69 top finishers. The 5K included runners in age groups 50-54 through 90-94.

This was my second competition with the Senior Games and once again I come away with renewed respect for fellow athletes and renewed ambition and a promise to myself to train more consistently.

Running is my sport and longer distance events are my friend. Still, I attempt to hang in there for the 5K and 10K, the longest running distances offered, for the opportunity to compete with some of the top senior athletes in the country.

Both events were held on the same course at the Minnesota fairgrounds, with a two-loop 10K held the first day of competition, July 4. My road-tripping sibling support group and I arrived the evening before with enough time to pick up my credentials prior to competition.

Version 2The morning air was muggy and the smoke from wildfires in Saskatchewan created a haze throughout the region. None of that seemed to slow down the competition. I managed to eek out a 4th place with a 55:20, just missing the podium. First place in the F65-69 AG was Jeannie Rice finishing nearly 10 minutes before me with a sizzling 46:43. A runner who can handle almost every distance, Jeannie holds the American record for fastest marathon for her age.

July 5 offered a day off to hang out with the sibs, returning in a downpour to the Fairgrounds for the July 6 5K. Fortunately, it tapered off to a drizzle and had stopped midway into the 5K. I finished hat-in-hand as the baseball cap I wore to shield my eyes from the rain became a heat trap.

There is an incredible amount of running talent for this event. Where else will any woman in the F65-69AG run a 5K when the top three finishers clock sub-23 minute times? The Senior Games acknowledge the top 8 finishers in each age group and podium spots to the top three finishers. I managed to sneak in at 7th place.

Many of the athletes were far more ambitious than I and had qualified and competed in several other sports. Some participated in the triathlon held on the day between the 10K and 5K, many others participated in Track & Field events held the week following. Still others compete in swimming and cycling competition.

With one of my AG running idols Nancy Rollins and fellow age-grouper Sylvia Halasz. Always an opportunity to chat with fellow athletes at the Games.

With one of my AG running idols Nancy Rollins and fellow age-grouper Sylvia Halasz. Always an opportunity to chat with fellow athletes at the Games.

If you by chance are feeling the AG competition on your home turf has gotten a bit thin, consider looking at the state senior games in your state or a nearby state next year to get your qualification for participation in the national games for 2017. It’s a wonderful reminder of what can be achieved.

And to that end – although I didn’t personally see this couple competing, I love the Runners World story and their formula for graceful aging and an interesting life.

Dipping my Toe into the Ultra World

Taking on a 50K trail race is something I have pondered over time, years of time actually since I am now solidly in the 65-69 AG. After canvassing opinions from experienced ultra running friends, I chose May as the month and the Dirty German Endurance Fest as the event.

The Dirty German has 25K, 50K and 50-Mile options through Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. It was billed as suitable for beginners yet offering enough challenge for more experienced trail runners. I found the description accurate. A more experienced trail runner could run this entire course. I chose to walk in some areas, staying conservative to ensure I could finish uninjured.

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

To test my trail legs, a couple of friends were kind enough to do a 21-mile run/hike with me on the Appalachian Trail prior to the race. With 2/3 of that 50K trail distance completed and still feeling strong, I was ready for the 50K.

Race morning dawned with high humidity and temperatures climbing early. Within the first mile, I could see shirts ahead of me already sweat-soaked. My ponytail provided a personal air conditioning system, sprinkling cool drops of water down my back.

The shade from huge trees and the bubbling of the creek offered physical and mental barriers to help ignore the mugginess of the day. The paths were soft underfoot with the expected rocks and tree roots mixed in here and there.

The toughest areas to run were 2 miles of paved bike path as well as a short section of rough dried earth that looked like leftovers of a tractor track, jarring enough that I walked the grass section beside that hard earth.

The course includes two creek crossings. I made it across the rocks, barely getting a toe wet. Making way through a flat single track switchback section I could hear the accordion and the start/finish activity. Beginning the second loop, it felt like luxury to run on those soft trail surfaces and listen to the creek bubble. There were enough other runners out there  to feel comfortable but also enough personal space to listen and watch nature unimpeded as my feet took me on this beautiful second loop tour.

The Dirty German was my first experience with a different type of aid station. For road marathons, I keep my food intake to a few energy beans and maybe a bite of an energy bar in the last few miles. Adding 6 miles on trail required more substantial intake.

At each aid station, a volunteer quickly filled my hand-carry nearly-empty water bottle. I reached for a chunk of potato, dipped it in salt and chased it with a glass of Coke. Fortunately, my stomach didn’t rebel & I was good to the next aid station.


Post race with running friend and 1st 50K Women Masters, Becky.

My loose goal was to complete the 50K course in 8 hours. As it turned out, my finish time was 7:05:58. I saw my friends Becky and Jeremy  (you can read about Jeremy’s ultra running exploits on his blog The Road to Trails). Becky had finished much earlier, placing 1st in the women’s masters category for the 50K and garnering a wonderful award – a cuckoo clock – for her efforts.

I took a short walk to Pennypack Creek where other runners and families with children were wading in the cool water. I washed the top layer of dust and sweat off legs and arms, did a quick change into a dry shirt, and made my way to the barbecue area for a sausage and German potato salad. We took a moment to thank Race Director Stephan Weiss for a great event and were on our way home.

Post-race, I was surprised that with the exception of some minor stiffness, my body was none the worse for wear. The softness of the trails and the changes of pace and stride seemed easier than the pounding on asphalt and cement road running hands out. That may account for some of the longevity of trail runners who have been at this for years and continue to run trails far into their senior years. A New York Times article titled Why Older Runners are Ultrarunners reached the conclusion that older runners are no more likely to be injured during trail running that younger runners.

Granted, they were not referring to women in their 60’s who decide for the first time to take up ultras (example #1 behind this keyboard). No, most of the runners in the cited study are men who have had decades of experience running distance on trail.


Long sleeve tech shirt and finisher hat.

After a first positive experience, I will be incorporating more distance trail runs and trail hiking. I’m not abandoning the roads, but they will be sharing my running time with the trails.


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