Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Calm Fjord Kayaking with a Run Chaser

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Photo Credit: Jerry Isenberg

One year ago, on my journey aboard the M/V Explorer, we made our way around the shores of Iceland, A cloud-covered sun was already bright in the sky that June morning as I felt the familiar shudder of the ship.

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On a voyage in and out of ports for 21 days, that sound clued me that we were either slowing significantly or about to enter a harbor. At 4 a.m. – yes, a  bright sun at 4 a.m. – I looked out the cabin window and saw the most beautiful site yet on this long and varied trip.

We were entering port at Isafjordur, Iceland. Down the gangplank, I looked for the tour bus marked for kayakers. To my delight, I learned that I would not be taking a bus but instead would walk just a few blocks to another portion of the harbor.

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And there they were, kayaks in every primary color lined up near the blue morning water.

My kayaking experience had been brief, most taking place on summer days and calm lakes in Quebec and the Adirondocks of New York, so a calm fjord sounded just right.

The day’s high temperature was 46F degrees (8C). Here, in the hands of West Tours, we kayaked on a beautiful flat surface of clear water. Those around me saw several seals; I saw the scenery directly ahead. Even though I was thoroughly skirted, the kayak was longer than any I had experienced and my center of gravity seemed a bit unstable.

Photo Credit: Jerry Isenberg

Photo Credit: Jerry Isenberg

My preference was to enjoy the morning above the water, a beautiful morning with quiet conversation between kayakers. Surrounded by the unspeakable beauty, this was a port to be etched in the mind.

Too soon, we were climbing out of the kayaks. Though my upper body had experienced a workout, I was totally energized. Returning to the ship for a snack, I changed into my running shoes before setting out to explore the town and find a trail to run a few miles.

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Side trails exit off the path leading to bus stops and boat piers across the highway

The small and efficient information office directed me to a path that would take me on a trail parallel to the highway and – if only time had allowed – to the next town up the road. My first miles were more of a walking pace, assessing my surroundings, breathing in the beauty while considering the safety of my on-foot journey.

The wired crib set off by a field of lupine is used to dry fish heads.

The wired crib, set off by a field of lupine, is used to dry fish heads.

I made my turnaround around mile 3.5, enjoying the return view toward Isafjordur. With the exception of a couple of cyclists and one walker, the path was mine.

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Melting ice flowing from the fjords under the path and into the bay.

Arriving back in town, I stopped in a restaurant for a delicious bowl of fish stew (more about this in a forthcoming food post). Before making my return to the Explorer, I did a quick look through some local shops, accommodating and friendly but not particularly tourist-oriented – a good thing.

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Typical residence near downtown shops and path.

Isafjordur is one of the dwindling authentic locations I have found on this earth and at the top of my list for a return.
Have you found authentic places and have you returned and found them to have remained authentic?

In Praise of the Small Marathon

I’m giving some thought to a Fall marathon (or two). Oddly, my last two marathons were at opposite ends of the marathon experience. Earlier, I posted a blog on the New York City (NYC) Marathon, the largest marathon in the world. Let me tell you about a follow-up to the New York Marathon, a wonderful early March small race about 5 hours south of New York. The Lower Potomac River (LPR) Marathon isn’t the smallest marathon in the world, but it’s close.

Sunrise start during mile 1 of LPM - Photo credit: Jeanne Larrison

Sunrise start during mile 1 of LPM – Photo credit: Jeanne Larrison

I hesitate to spread the word about this small gem for fear of losing out on registration another year. I’ll take that chance and share my large/small marathon comparison:

Entry Fee (depending on registration date/details):
NYC: $255
LPM: $50

Transportion to Start:
NYC: 2.5 hours approx. Subway, ferry, then bus to Start
LPR: 5 minute drive to start/finish at Paul Hall Center from the St. George Inn

Start Time:
NYC: 10:30 a.m. – 3rd wave
LPR: 7:30 a.m.

Women and Place in F65-69 Age Group:
NYC:121 in AG, 6th Place
LPR: 3 in AG, 2nd Place

Finishers:
NYC: 53,000
LPR: 180 (Race caps registration at 200) 

About as crowded as it got on the course. Photo credit:  Crystal Rapp

About as crowded as it got on the course. Photo credit: Crystal Rapp

Fantastic Women Race Directors:
NYC: Mary Wittenberg
LPR: Liza Recto

Personal Finish Time:
NYC: 4:28
LPR: 4:39 (I’ll save the excuses)

Scenic:
NYC: through portions of 5 boroughs, over Hudson River
LPR: along Potomac River, past lighthouse, horse farm, riverside cottages

Weather:
NYC: High Winds, cool & crisp
LPR: Clear, crisp, minimal remaining roadside ice and snow after a tough winter

Photo Credit: Jeanne Larrison

If you enjoy hearing early morning bird calls and the wind in the pines, this race is for you. If crowd support is a must, maybe not. Photo Credit: Jeanne Larrison

Time Change on Race Date (how odd is this?):
NYC: To EST – gained an hour
LPM: To DST: – lost an hour

Race Photos:
NYC: 3-Image Download, $49.95
LPM – Courtesy images at request from on-course photo-joggers of  Chesapeake Bay Running Club.

Perks:
NYC:
    Large Expo
    Seminars
    Photo Ops with Elite Runners

LPM:
Waterside dinner with local runners at the
                  Ruddy Duck steps away from Inn
      Indoor Bathrooms at Start/Finish
      Post-race Showers available in the Spa
      Buffet luncheon (no charge for runners) during awards

How do your large and small marathons compare?

Pre-race Dinner at the Ruddy Duck with local runners. Photo credit: Crystal Rapp

Pre-race Dinner at the Ruddy Duck with local runners. Photo credit: Crystal Rapp

Does the convenience and hospitality of the small marathon trump the celebrity, expo, and crowd support of the mega-marathons – or not?

Freddi’s Different Marathon

Are you one of us who go through life completing milestones in a slightly different order than most? If you veered to an alternate route somewhere on the map of your life, you will find a like mind in Freddi.

I first heard the name ‘Freddi Carlip’ in the early ’90’s when I joined my local running club. Freddi was a well-known runner and Eastern Director, then President of the RRCA. You may know her as the publisher/editor of Runner’s Gazette.

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Freddi – Miss RM (Road Manners)

I found Freddi to be a kindred spirit when I read her recent column. Although she moved on from our Age Group 65-69, she will complete her journey to become a woman later this month. She shares her journey below.

On the Verge of a ‘Different Marathon’

The image of a woman I used to know is burned into my mind. She’s the foundation upon which my life has been built. She helped me get to the starting line of the run that has become my life. Let’s see if I can describe her…

She entered college as an Elementary Education major in 1962 at Temple University. The joke on campus was that any college girl studying Elementary Ed was really going after her MRS. Degree. Her parents thought teaching was the best plan for the girl’s future. She really wanted to be a writer.

The young woman’s life was mapped out by her parents, by the Northeast Philadelphia Jewish community in which she grew up, and, of course by Doris Day and Donna Reed.

An aside: She had no interest in anything athletic, except her hometown sports teams. She was forever being told she was terrible at sports…and she believed the words she heard. Her classmates laughed when she had to run during gym. She was always chosen last for neighborhood pick-up games of any kind. She laughed when the kids laughed, but she hurt inside. She dreaded gym the way most kids dread calculus.

All proceeded according to plan – engaged in here senior year of college, married a month after she graduated, taught school, pregnant, first child, second child…Stop!

Here’s where life’s plan, as arranged by everyone but the young woman involved, had a mid-course correction, thanks to the Running Boom of the 1970s.

You guessed it. That non-athletic Donna Reed wannabe is now an athletic independent woman of – wow – 70. She has developed into the person I’ve become; a person I never dreamed I could be.

Freddi in 1981 - Run for the Diamonds with Andy Anderson

Freddi in 1981 – Run for the Diamonds with Andy Anderson

Running has given me the opportunity to explore my limits, to test my body, and to push myself. My running roots are planted in the first Boom. They’ve grown deeper and stronger over the years.

Through running I experienced the joy of my body in motion; I felt the sweat drip and reveled in it. It’s a cleansing, cathartic experience. I learned courage; courage to take risks, both in races and in life.

Our runs give us time to connect with friends or time for some much-needed solitude. We can look in the mirror and say to ourselves, Look at me. I’m strong. I’m fit. I’m ready for anything.

Ready for anything…I’m on the verge of a different kind of marathon which will take place on May 23.It all begins with the first step. Once we conquer our fear of that first step we are ready for anything. The life mapped out by my parents included going to Hebrew School and studying to become a bat mitzvah at the age of 12. A bat-mitzvah ceremony is similar to a bar mitzvah. It’s the girls’ version and, although it’s common now, it wasn’t when I was a kid. That was one stop on my parents’ map that I chose not to visit. My parents were disappointed, but didn’t push me.

Fast forward to maybe 10 years ago. The wisdom of age softens how we see the past. My parents were gone and the thought of a bat mitzvah played in my mind. I never followed up. The dream became dormant…until last summer. That’s when I began my “marathon.” This one, though, was about taking the first step—learning Hebrew, one letter and vowel at a time. It was as scary as committing to running 26.2 miles. As with all training, we proceed slowly, learning to run the distance a few miles at a time.

I can now see the finish line. I’ve learned the Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet), the vowels, and the prayers I need to know. I’m now working on my Torah portion and Haftorah (accompanying reading).

It’s been difficult at times. I became frustrated when I would stumble or forget the letters or vowels, and when I lost focus. Then there were the times I would read the prayers almost perfectly. My rabbi and teacher, Serena Fujita, a dear friend, has been understanding and patient. We meet once a week. I study almost every day.

Sometimes the thought of standing in front of friends and family, leading prayers, and reading from the Torah overwhelms me and I can feel anxiety kicking in. Other times, I revel in how far I’ve come and how close I am to making this dream come true. Anxiety and excitement—I felt that for my first marathon in 1983. I’m now preparing for a different kind of marathon. There’s a saying that when a boy becomes a bar mitzvah at 13, he becomes a man (“Today I am a man”) in the Jewish tradition. When I finish my “Bat Mitzvah Marathon,” I’ll become a woman…at 70.

Running is what prepared me to go after my dreams and conquer my fears, for all the marathons of my life.

(Credit: Freddi Carlip, Runner’s Gazette March 2015)

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run Rave Review

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Photo credit: Bill Bonney Photography

A perfect morning for a 10-mile run. Cherry blossoms freshly in bloom, barely perceptible wind and mild temperatures.

With heavy traffic on this beautiful weekend, we arrived in D.C. just in time to pick up my packet for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and catch the Q&A portion of Joan Benoit Samuelson’s presentation. She has that ability to take all the technical jargon out of running and bring it down to common sense. She is a treasure.

Sound advice from Samuelson at Cherry Blossom Expo

Sound advice from Samuelson at Cherry Blossom Expo

Race morning we skipped the metro and did a combo walk jog to the race start, getting a little warmup in on our way. Enroute, we happened upon a friend of elite runner Aliphine Tuliamuk (3rd place woman finisher this year) who came into town to support Aliphene. We chatted about running and about life in Kenya. As we arrived at the start, she went to find her elite runner friend and we parted company.

This year I applied to the Cherry Blossom through the seeded runner category. Finding myself in a corral with elite runners gave me a brief case of the nerves. A had a vision of every other runner taking off ahead of me, while I was out there at the tail end, running solo until the next corral caught up. My husband behind the barricade reminded me of Joan Benoit’s advice the previous day: “Run your own race.” Excellent advice. I did just that and held my own.

At the Memorial Bridge turnaround, I hear the voice of a young friend from my local running group as she flies by with her 7-minute mile. Always good to see a familiar face, however briefly. The course was beautiful with the cherry blossoms lining the road for miles, the Potomac sparkling in the sunshine.

Although there were 18,000 runners on the course, I had plenty of room with no need to zig or zag through runners. Only in the last mile did it become a bit congested. I crossed the finish line with a net time of 1:23:27, third in the Women’s AG 65-69.

The 10-mile run may be my favorite distance. I direct a smallish 10-mile run in late March, so I’m always on the lookout for a 10-miler to actually run. In addition to enjoying the run, I’m watching as well to learn what I can about how other races manage and operate. In this case, the Cherry Blossom staff had a very short timeline to determine how to work the course around a road emergency. The race was decisive in determining there wasn’t time to remeasure but clearly informed runners of the change in distance and where the mileage would vary. (The course was later measured to be 9.39 miles and results provided an estimated 10-mile finish time as well as the actual clock and net time.)

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Photo time with fellow River Runners from Central PA.

Thank you Cherry Blossom Race staff and volunteers for a wonderful run, a safe route and a great way to see almost ten miles of D.C.

It was a pleasant walk back to the Renaissance Hotel (great location and wonderful staff) from the finish. Tourists were now out on the streets en masse and unlike the course, here we did need to zig and zag among other pedestrians. We had talked beforehand about taking in a few museums before leaving town, but already on our feet since 5 a.m. we decided to do a post-shower exit and head for home.

Which brings me to my favorite food recommendation for the weekend. A mid-trip lunch stop in Timonium, Maryland took us to Jason’s Deli. A casual, cafeteria-style restaurant with fresh, beautifully seasoned dishes, it was the perfect post-race meal. I chose something called a salmonwich, sockeye salmon with guacamole and several fresh vegetable additions along with a side a fresh fruit and sweet potato fries. My husband ordered a bowl of gumbo with a huge green salad. I looked for Jason’s Deli on the web and learned this is actually a chain. Hey, Jason’s – please locate a deli in Central Pennsylvania. You will have a couple of regular customers.

A wonderful but brief weekend stay in D.C., a well-orchestrated and scenic race followed by delicious food as we were homeward bound. A weekend worth repeating sometime. Until next year’s blossoms …………….

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Photo credit: Bill Bonney Photography

Travel Theme: Energy

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The white geothermal pipeline snaking through the ruggedly beautiful countryside captures steam that is processed and provides much of the needed energy for the Reykjavik region.

 

My friends in travel over at Where’s My Backpack? have sparked memories of steaming streams, fumaroles and geysers. I’m flipping through photos of a beautiful, energy-efficient land. It’s a timely topic.

 

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Those of us living in the Northeast United States are growing weary of deep-freeze temperatures, comparing notes on fuel prices, watching the electric meter click away, and taking a deep breath before opening the utility bill.

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Here is my solution: Move to Iceland. Your energy bill will be $0 (or, um, 0 kr). The land under their feet and the technology aboveground sustains their energy needs. Here, no one will ask you to turn down the thermostat or hit the light switch as you leave a room.

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In a more low-tech and time-tested method, the energy from streams fed from the underground heat will bake your bread and cook your lunch.

 

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Finally, get on your feet. Use your personal energy and take a run or a walk in the Laugarnes area on one of the interlinking paths around Reykjavik. It will take you from the Videy Ferry Terminal toward the City Center and link in with other trails as well.

 

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