Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Dipping my Toe into Senior Games Track

I love a beautiful long distance run. But, I’m hedging my bets that my body will one day revolt against the marathon and ultra distances. So, why not learn a little bit about running some shorter distances?

I’ve learned some about track from friends who get together on the occasional evening and do a bit of speed work when a local track is available. Although I knew my skill and my knowledge was thin, I couldn’t resist when I saw the Pennsylvania Senior Games were being held within an hour’s drive from me.

I took a deep breath before taking the plunge to register online, then did a few speed sessions to gauge whether I would manage to qualify for the National Senior Games (NSGA) to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico Summer 2019.

Arriving at the Pennsylvania Senior Games, I saw that a number of track and field events were being held simultaneously. This gave me an opportunity to see a couple of non-running events and meet some other runners waiting for their events to be called.

The shot put clearly required strength, particularly in the upper body. The movement of those competing in the long jump is quite elegant, requiring  changes to gate or steps as they approach the pit.

But, back to the track where I would be lining up. I did a warmup mile while the race walk event was held. I learned from conversation among other competitors that there were some national record holders at the competition. There were also several people more like me, no track experience but interested in giving it a try.

Amongst those new to track, they included distance runners who were looking for a different running experience in the hopes it will improve their half-marathon and marathon times.

To participate in the state senior games and with NSGA, competitors must qualify at state games in the even-numbered year to participate in the national competition in the odd-numbered year. They must also be at least age 50. At the track events in Pennsylvania, runners ranged in age from 51 years to 91 years.

Track Times

Qualification times for NSGA 2019 are by 5-year age groups with specific minimum times. I had registered for three distances which I felt were within my reach.

In high humidity under clouds that threatened rain, we lined up for my first experience with the 1500-meter event. I was successful in finishing about 50 seconds ahead of the minimum performance standard. I could have pushed harder, but with two more events to go I just worked to come in under the standard.

My second event, the 800-meter, was also a success with a finish about 15 seconds ahead of the minimum  performance standard.

Then came the moment of truth at the 400-meter (can you hear the wah-wah-wah music in the background?).  In this shortest distance for me, I finished with a 1:55:78, missing the minimum performance standard for my age group and gender by nearly 20 seconds. I understand I would still be qualified because I finished second in my age group. (We had a light age group field (with me finishing second out of two in my age group. Even so, before I would take the 400-meter distance on at nationals I would need to do considerable training.

So, as Meatloaf tells us in his lyrics, two out of three ain’t bad. I will be preparing to run competitive times in the 800-meter and the 1500-meter distances in Albuquerque.

5 and 10K Rules Changes for NSGA:

I also plan to compete in the 5K and 10K events. And a tip for those of you who, like me, live in a state where the State Games do not currently include the 5K and 10K distances: there is now a process to submit your qualifying time (use their Limited Event Verification Form found with the Rules document on their web page) at a race that you have run at that distance in 2018.

Another rule change with these distances is that a running and qualifying time at either the 5K or the 10K distance allows you to compete in both distances at National Senior Games.

So, I’ll be sending off my application and hope to be in Albuquerque in 2019, expanding my participation from the 5K and 10K to include track competition.

Will I be seeing you in Albuquerque? If not participating in running events, perhaps in one of the 50 or so other sports offered, including three non ambulatory categories this year? A link to every state games site can be found on the NSGA website, so check it out! 

 

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Art in the Wild at Wildwood Park

What better way to spend a hot, steamy Independence Day Week than a walk (or run) on a shaded towpath and hilly perimeter around Wildwood Park. 

Using mostly natural materials, each year artists construct art that reflects the natural setting where a variety of flora and fauna have a happy home. Here is your preview:

 

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Forces

 

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Boundless Tabernacle

 

 

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Embracing Diversity

 

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Larger than Life

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Harmonic Convergence

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 Nature’s Gallery

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Birth of Mother Nature

 

 

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Natural Abstraction

 

So this week of July 4th, give us your independent vote. The official awards have been given, but we can still make choices right here. What’s your preference in art? Go Wild with your response!

 

 

 

 

15 Hours of Absurdity at Boston 2018

One of the Canadian runners staying at my inn pretty much summed it up.  “Absurd, just absurd.”

3 A.M.  Hard rain has started in earnest, pounding on the metal roof outside my Back Bay window. I  sleep off and on but finally give up.

6 A.M. I’m ready for coffee and  dress just enough to be presentable in the dining room. The inn has set out a 6 a.m. breakfast for marathoners. The speedy group assembled from Sweden, Canada and several points in the Western U.S. are enjoying bagels and yogurt before making a dash to their buses. I’m left to chat with a few early rising non  runners.

7 A.M. It’s back upstairs to get dressed for the battle with the weather. Assuming we will be running into the wind the better part of 26 miles, I tear a piece of dry cleaner bag into a rectangle, anchor one end in my running bra and the other in the waistband of my tights as an extra layer of protection on the chest. Then, I tear a small square for the crown of my head before adding my beanie and the yellow runner trucker hat that was a giveaway from Trackmaster. It turns out the hat is perfect for the weather with a bill large and wide enough to keep the rain directly off my face.

Finally, I ask myself whether a sane 70-year old woman would wrap herself in plastic to run in pelting rain for 26 miles. No one answers.

8:55 A.M. Left my inn for the short walk to meet my friend, Becky, on the Boston Common where we catch the bus to Hopkinton.

Given that it rained most of the day pre-Boston Marathon, I decided earlier to take one of the last buses out. You can get away with that when you are in the 4th Wave, 2nd Corral. I’ve been to wet Bostons in the past and could envision the condition of the Athlete’s Village.

Everyone in the bus line is ensconced in old marathon heat sheets, plastic bags, throwaway rain jackets with a few in some really solid quality rainwear. Anything that keeps the unrelenting rain off. The temperature is in the upper 30’s but feels colder with the wind and rain in our faces.

10:15 A.M. ish We arrive at the Athlete’s Village or what is left of it. Picture hours of pouring rain, a couple of large tents with shivering runners squeezed in for cover, a knoll at the edge of the field leading to the tent and portapotties that now resembles a mudslide.

Shortly after arriving, the announcer calls for the last of the 3rd Wave folks to find their way to the start, then encourages Wave 4 to begin finding our way as well.

Becky brought a change of shoes and headed down the mudslide to  the tent. I called after her “I’m not following” but I’m sure with the pelting rain she did not hear. It was a good decision to stay where I was and walk through the Village on the paved path. Wave 4 runners making their way up the knoll from the tents were slipping and sliding, some crawling to keep their balance.

I spotted a few porta-potties only steps off the pavement and joined the line. Volunteers  had devised boards and tarps to keep us out of deep mud and to protect what if anything was left of the grass and sod.

11:00:  We’re moving en masse to the start line. A man on my left runs by hurrying to his corral. His feet slip on the slick pavement and he is down. A couple of us around him try to assist, but he pulls himself up, left calf and knee bleeding and he continues on in a run. I’m sure the rain fully washed that blood away in minutes.

Near the start line, I remove my warmups and place them on a pile of clothing that would later be collected by Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My running skirt, compression socks and the thick layers of body lotion on my skin would have to do for lower body warmth.

11:20 A.M.  I’m looking for my corral and expect to be squeezed in like previous years, but no – they were releasing runners on arrival and we simply moved through the start.

Miles 1 – 3: Running more slowly than usual, getting a feel for the slickness underfoot I make my way through castoff clothing and plastic bags and try to get a feel for pace.

Mile 4: I move to the edge of the course when the rain subsides a bit and remove the throwaway warmup jacket under my rain jacket, then rebundle myself with arm hole vents open, every other zipper tightly closed. My fingers are getting cold and my gloves sopped so it is taking more time than I anticipated.

Mile 6: Why, oh way, didn’t I bring waterproof gloves? I find a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket, tear it in half and wrap pieces around each hand. It’s working. Not that my hands are warm, but there are degrees of cold and this was better. I see people wearing latex gloves and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this.

Mile 9: I take a moment to be thankful that I had the foresight to bring my North Face rain jacket. Not necessarily warm, but it was a nice layer against the wind and kept my upper body dry while rain ran down it.

Mile 14: Another thankful moment that my goddaughter Jess is out along the course and if I must drop (yes, it did cross my mind), she will be but a call away.

Mile 17: The strongest gale yet hits us head-on and I am lifted off my feet. I feel a hand on my back and for a moment think I am having a religious experience, but no. The hand belongs to a man running behind me. We continue to run, his hand on my shoulder blades, until the gale passes. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 19: Is that hale?  I try to convince myself it’s sleet but it is in fact little hale balls. It must be localized because within five or six minutes, I run out of it and back to plain, simple heavy rain and wind.

Mile 25: Turning right onto Hereford, the pavement is swathed in raincoats, plastics, everything the 22,000 runners ahead of me had used in attempts to keep warm and dry. I pick my way through the few spots of still bare street, understanding runners ridding those layers for that last drive down Boylston where they know finish line photos and dry clothing are waiting.

I ridded myself of nothing. Any sense of reasonable appearance was left behind many miles ago, and in fact was left behind as I left my room. I would not have identified myself in the finish line photo save for the yellow bill of that trucker hat.

Finish Line: My watch says 4:53:40. The shivering begins as soon as I stop running. A short and fast walk to my inn. water continues to stream off me as I enter. I reach for a hot cup of cocoa, hand still shaking.

After a long, warm shower, I cuddle into a blanket and pull out the various snacks (yeah, salty potato chips) from the finish bag, replenishing with additional snacks from home.

OK, I am done and not coming out from under this blanket.

Dinner invites declined.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATHLETIC COMPETITION THROUGH LIFE

Do you yearn for more physical activity in your life – perhaps a sport from your youth? You may have a secret passion for something you have not yet tried.  Opportunities abound at any age, so why not explore them?

There is a world of friendly competitive sports out there for the senior athlete, be you a novice or from the world of the elite. From alpine skiing to weightlifting, there is a sport (or two) for each of us.

Many organizations open opportunities to train and compete with those in our own age group. To offer you a smattering of those, let’s start with the Senior Games.

National Senior Games Association

The National Senior Games Association(NSGA) offers competition at the state and national level in 20 different sports categories for athletes age 50 or over.

Athletes compete in games at the state level in even numbered years, i.e., this year and meet the minimum performance standards shown on the website in order to qualify to go to the national games in the odd numbered years.

Contact information for each state is listed on the NSGA website. The 2019 national games will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June 2019. You will have plenty of company as the national games usually draw 10,000 – 12,000 participants.

Sound interesting? Take a look at the state game schedule. Not every state offers every sport and most states will allow qualifying for out-of-state athletes. For example, my state doesn’t offer road racing, so in past years I have participated and qualified at the Delaware State Games.

Huntsman World Senior Games

The Huntsman World Senior Games have been around for more than 30 years and hold competition in 20 different sports. Where NSGA changes the locations of the biennial games, the Huntsman Games are held annually and always in Utah. Again, they are open to athletes age 50 and over, through 100+ years.

The Huntsman Games use the NSGA minimum participation standards. Contact, registration and information on each of the sports offered is available on the Huntsman website.

USA Track & Field (USATF)

Where other organizations catering to senior athletes offer a variety of sports, USATF is specifically track and field events, which still provides a wide variety of venues.

The Masters category starts at age 30 with USATF. Keep in mind though that competition is held within 5-year age groups. Currently, I’m in the group Female AG 70-74.

USATF Masters events are held regionally and nationally. Information on international venues for Masters is also available on their website.

Beyond Athletic Competition

Travel Opportunity

Many organizations have events locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. If travel is one of your joys, sports make a wonderful excuse to take a second vacation.

After your competition or training, spend a bit more time in tourist mode, kick back and enjoy. And while you are busy preparing for your event, the rest of the family can take in some local color.

By example, several of my siblings accompanied me to Senior Games in Minneapolis one year where they happened across hundreds of bicyclists coming down the street in the ‘Freedom from Pants’ Bike Ride, which was pretty much like it sounds. We followed that up with a much more sedate evening with the Minneapolis Orchestra accompanied by a choir from Cuba.

Family & Friends Support

Get your family and friends into the spirit. I’ve seen two and three generations of families supporting their senior family members in competition.

After many seasons of freezing on the sidelines or sitting on hard grandstand seats in support of your children or grandchildren, give them the opportunity to be there to cheer you on. What an example you will set.

Senior Athlete Websites

Websites that cater to senior athletes offer inspirational articles about people like ourselves who have been late starters or recently renewed their interest in sports. Others offer information on training specific to the older athlete, in addition to health-related issues.

Join as a Spectator

If you are not yet ready to jump in as a participating athlete, attend and enjoy any of the above as a spectator. USATF has the most accessible regional competitions with many indoors where there is the opportunity to witness our counterparts sharing competition and camaraderie.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Have a chat with your health care professional and get the green light. If you have recently embarked on a new activity or participated in a senior competition, what was your experience? Please share it with us in the comments below.

This is an adapted version of my article previously published on http://sixtyandme.com.

 

Qualifying for Boston through the Ages and through Age Groups

As a young pipsqueak, age 58, and latecomer to marathons, I ran my first Boston Marathon in the W55-59 AG. At that time, Boston’s qualifying time for me was 4:15. I’m still making that trek to Boston every few years. While I’ve increased in age by 12 years, my qualifying time (70-74 AG) has increased to 4:55. Sound like an easy qualifying time? Think again.

I’ve begun following a new (at least new to me) blog, Mathematical runner.com. In a recent post, titled ‘Which Age Group has the Easiest Boston Marathon Qualifying Time?’ I learned that the easiest qualifying time does not belong to the group of persistent (mostly) white-haired ladies (mostly) lining up in the fourth wave.

In reviewing the data, Ray Charbonneau says that older women runners have the toughest qualifying times. Having debated this very point over a number of post-training run refreshments, I’ve found there are strong feelings about Boston qualifying times and their perceived equity. So, although they lost me in the finer points of the math, Mathematical Runners supported my view that qualifying times are a bit tough(er) for older women.

 

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Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, a decent finish but not a BQ. In fact, I was such a novice, I didn’t know anything about BQing.

 

Another point made in that blog is the scant number of women in the senior age groups. I have noticed the number of participants in my age group dwindles every few years, and seems to dwindle more rapidly than the number of men in the same age group. Still, no matter how few women are competing, there are some incredibly talented women in their sixties, seventies and beyond. If I can finish mid-pack in my Boston age group, I call it a victory.

A few years later I learned how difficult it was to BQ and that getting older didn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Those of you who enjoy exploring the math of all this will certainly enjoy other posts in Mathematical Runner as well, particularly those who are following all things Boston in the countdown to 2018 Patriot’s Day April 16.

Read on and run on.

 

Tending to avoid those Aging Issues

During a long drawn out January head cold that lingered into February, there was ample time to ponder issues I tend to avoid .

A recent exchange with one of my more responsible friends encouraged me to pass on some of their words of wisdom, along with my personal take.

It’s Too Powerful to Stop

If your stage of life is 60+ (I personally past that number several years ago), we are old enough to think about the finality of life. We will die eventually, but in the meantime, we have responsibilities to fulfill, challenges to face and new roads to travel (or run).

Magical Cures Can Be a Waste

I know you will try them, and I won’t say I told you so. From an early age, we have been sold on every form of fountain of youth, including magical cures, pills, potions and lotions. We’ve tried all the concoctions billed to help us run faster, ache less, recover more quickly.

If it makes you feel good, please continue to indulge. I’m ready to give it up. There is no magic. I’m thankful for every day of good health and will not waste time trying to turn back the clock. It doesn’t move in that direction.

Prepare for Aging: Financially, Physically, Socially, Emotionally and Spiritually

Any one of those five categories can seem daunting, but preparing for one of them makes taking on the next easier.

Financial Preparation

There is no day like today to look hard at your finances. Treat your money with respect. With any luck, you will need it for a while, and those race registration fees aren’t getting any cheaper.

Physical Activity

I don’t need to emphasize physical activity with most of my readers, but get that physical exam, take your doctor’s advice about exercise and diet, health-literate, ask questions. Learn what you can about any new condition that finds its way to your doorstep.

Avoid junk food – most of the time – and eat the good stuff. Those health problems will eventually come, but give them a run for their money.

Social Engagement

Be good to your friends. I expect some of you, like me, at this point in our lives have lost one or two. If a dear friend is having a bad time, plan a silly birthday outing, share joys together, go for a run or walk together, support one another at whatever ability level we find ourselves.

The Emotional Factor

Let go of the grudges, anger, would-haves, should-haves. If you still need help after venting this to a trusted friend, see a professional counselor or a spiritual guide.

Spirituality

Speaking of the spiritual, you may feel a need for a deeper spiritual experience, to spend time in prayer or meditation. Doing so may help make sense of your journey and offer a world of inner exploration.

Prepare for the End of Your Life

If we don’t do this, others will have to handle our assets and our end-of-life decisions. While we’re at it, let’s clean up what we no longer need or use. How about those worn out tights you keep around because you wore them that day in 1980 when you PR’d? Again, if we don’t purge it, someone else must – and really, isn’t that our responsibility?

Manage Life on Your Own When You Can, Accept Help Graciously When You Must

Even if it’s for a brief, temporary period, be willing to ask a trusted professional, friend or relative for their thoughts when difficult decisions must be made. Be willing to accept or reach out if it will help you through a tough period.

Having done the above, what’s left?

Live an Enjoyable, Active and Fulfilling Life

Finish strong. You’ve made the tough decisions, prepared this stage of your life in every way you can. You’ve done all the responsible things, now go do what your heart yearns to do.

You may want to explore literature in a deeper way – I’m looking at Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey. You may want to do some form of volunteer work in a field you always wanted to tackle, but didn’t.

You could help build something, literally or figuratively that will be there when you are not. You may want to just go have fun – dance, play, run, travel, laugh with friends and family. Go. Do it. You deserve it.

I can’t say I’ve conquered any of my suggestions, but I have nibbled around the edges and know this too is a continuing journey.

How many of the above categories to you tend to avoid? 

 

Best Intentions and Almosts

via Daily Prompt: Almost

I planned with the best of intentions. Barring bad weather getting in the way, I could get some rest after an 11-hour flight, then make an early morning drive to the eastern shore of Maryland for the 50K Pain in the Neck.

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My view from morning run before departure flight

Arriving home and with snow in the morning forecast, I pondered instead of an early morning drive, leaving several hours after my flight arrived, then spending the night near the race start. I almost followed through, but decided instead to unpack my bags and make my way through several weeks of snail mail.

As jet lag began to set in, my desire to do the race was offset by my desire for some sleep and downtime, so I considered a fallback to my almost.

My fallback was  The Last Mile, a race I enjoy doing with friends. It offers pottery age-group awards and the local fire company makes chicken corn soup for the runners. I always buy an extra container to take home when they have any to spare.

 

Last Mile (it’s actually 5 miles) AG award from a previous year when I did better than an ‘almost’

Well, I almost went. But, I slept in (jet lag, you know) and the snow coming down looked so pretty from my side of the window and the temperature was hovering around 15 degrees F. So, I almost went to my fallback race, but no.

By afternoon with the almosts behind me, temperatures had tilted up past 20 degrees. 

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24 hours after my tropical pre-departure run, I’m running along the frozen Susquehanna.

Out the door I went, running through some lovely light snowflakes. It’s good there are 24 hours in a day (sometimes more – or less – when you’re moving between time zones).

Wishing you a wonderful new year and courage in working around your almosts.