Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

A Fresh New Year Start with a First Day Hike

When I saw a January 1 mid-day hike at a nearby state park posted on Meetup, i signed up. I expected to meet with six or eight other hikers usually hiking with the group.

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Instead, the parking lot was filled with families, dogs, groups of friends, all ready to begin their new year following a trail through the woods of a state park.

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DCNR Secretary Dunn and park volunteers welcome hikers.

All in all, more than one hundred of us followed volunteers from Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park with Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn along the leaf-covered trail.

It seems I am a latecomer to the first-day hikes. State parks across the USA have been hosting hikes on January 1 for the last six years. In Pennsylvania alone this year, hikes were occurring at different times of day and night at more than 20 locations. That included a Last Night Hike in one park where they rang in the new year on the trail. Another park hosted a night hike that focused on owls in the park.

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Recent improvements to the Mountain Creek Trail include this bridge assembled by park volunteers.

My particular hike distance was just over three miles. That distance was fine for me as I’ve been nursing a minor injury. Leaders took us down a relatively flat and newly renovated Mountain Creek Trail.Although Laurel Lake at the start was frozen over, temperature at hike time was in the high 40’s. The hot chocolate and cookies at the mid-way point were an unexpected treat provided by park volunteers.

I’m thinking this will be a great new tradition. Probably not the same state park, but wherever I happen to be on January 1, I will be looking for a First Day Hike.

Tell me about your First Day. Any hikers who found yourselves in a state park?

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Mother Earth on a Resilient 2016

In spite of everything we throw at her, Mother Earth finds a way to cope and thrive. Regardless of how disappointing we humans can be in our actions, getting outdoors never fails to regenerate hope. Here are a few examples that popped up before my eyes during 2016.

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January hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) enthralled with the view of morning mist over the farm fields below.

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A clear February sky over the iced Susquehanna River.

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A March day along the Capital Area Greenbelt with fresh buds on cherry trees.

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April brings the strains of jazz murmuring through the trees as the ensemble waits the arrival of the Capital 10-Miler runners along this wooded stretch of Greenbelt.

In June, the Rhinebeck Marathon included some miles on a heritage trail. On a smaller scale, the baby turtles began making their treks out of hiding along Wildwood Lake.

 

A July run down a country road brings into view a fisherman knee deep in waders. The stone building abutting the bubbling creek demonstrates its own resilience having stood strong for over a couple of centuries.

In August, nature brings us a spider web glistening in the morning sun. While the web may not be resilient, its creator is.  A run brought me to an ambling creek flowing by temporarily abandoned lawn chairs.

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A September view of the River Thames. Over the thousands of years it has flowed, the course has been altered by time and by humans.

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Not as old as the Thames, this grape vine growing at Hampton Court is more than 230 years old. Alas, I arrived too late in September to purchase jelly from its abundant crop.

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October took me to the banks of the Chicago River where it flows into Lake Michigan, a lake that was formed billions of years ago. It will outlast the concrete buildings and bridges surrounding it.

 

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A November breakfast at a café in the 540 million year old Laurentian Mountains was enjoyed on the warm side of this window.

What have I found to be resilient in December? That we have made it through a trying year with one day to go may be the best description of resilient. Mother Earth is still holding her own and so should we.

If you would like to see the perspective of other writers and photographers, take a look at these ideas on the meaning of resilient.

 

 

Early Morning Runs Among the Homeless

B-B Mistletoe KissWe runners tend to have a rare view of the world. Most of us will have mornings where we are out the door and back while the household sleeps. Other times we are traveling, staying with friends and family or in a hotel. Again, and always with safety in mind, the most opportune time to get in a run is early morning before the day’s activities begin.

So it is that my view of the homeless on our streets and in our parks is through the sleepy eyes of an early morning runner.

Thinking back several decades to the 70’s, the homeless population seemed to be a smattering of men, usually along a skid row area viewed through a car window. By the ’80’s I was seeing more people on the very streets I walked and ran near my office. Because I moved from one city and state to another, I first thought the larger homeless population was a quirk of my new hometown. It didn’t take long to realize that the increase in homelessness was not just where I live, but was a national and international phenomenon.

Running offers time to think and question. Questions like, why do I see more of the homeless now, where do they come from, what occurred in their lives that brought them to this park, this riverfront this retail doorway this particular morning?

The news reports I occasionally hear identify certain percentages of homeless as military veterans, those suffering mental illness or plagued with addiction, LGBT youth estranged from parents, and young families suffering job loss. Whatever the percentages, I, and I’m guessing many runners, have witnessed those from every category above.

My travels abroad have affirmed we in the U.S. are not alone in a growing homeless population.

Several years ago on an early morning run along a river walk in Osaka, Japan, I was jolted, realizing I had come upon a homeless encampment, blue tarps spreading in the distance. I quietly turned and rerouted to avoid disturbing anyone’s sleep.

Versions of that experience have occurred during most of my travels. I used my softest running steps as I encountered the homeless sleeping in doorways along Avenue de Clichy in Paris. At dawn, I’ve side-stepped those “sleeping rough” under the display windows of Christie’s Auction House in London’s South Kensington.

If you’re expecting to find my recommendations or solutions, I have none. I’m just an early morning runner reporting my observations. I do, however, believe there are smarter and more creative people than me who have within them the potential to contribute to the resolution. Policymakers, counselors, non-profit agencies, maybe some from the homeless community; among you I believe there are answers. By example, Back on my Feet is a relatively (2007) new organization with an innovative approach.  In this wide world of creative, caring people somewhere there is someone, probably many someones, who have the beginnings of other solutions.

Personally, my meager contribution is to donate to organizations that are sincerely helping. When I travel, I make it my business to identify a local group with a proven track record. Since I have benefited a city by spending my tourism dollars in restaurants, hotel stays, and race registrations, it makes sense to also contribute to the population least likely to benefit from my stay.

Could 2017 be a breakthrough year? With hope and determination, who knows.

On this chilly December evening, I wish all of my readers the warmth of family, friends and most of all, a place to call home.

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A Walk through London Parks

Sometimes you just need to walk away. A park is just the place to temporarily escape. If you can’t physically get up and take that walk, it helps to remember a favorite trail or an unexpected quiet place. I’m taking my mental walk through some enchanting parks found in London. Come along with me.

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Let’s start with Holland Park. Entering through the gates at Kensington High Street, first notice the remains of a 17th Century castle named Holland House. It was damaged during World War II and that is still evident.

The park has multiple areas for exercise and sports, but it is serenity we’re looking for and it can be found here amongst the English gardens,

the Kyoto Garden,

and a natural children’s play area that may make you wish you were still a child.

Next, we’ll move to Postman’s Park. Located in the City near St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk through the unassuming entrance under the shade of its trees. The traffic and tourist noise diminishes. We are now in good company. The park is dedicated to memorializing ordinary people who died to save others.

Read the poignant stories of those honored on the plaques, or simply sit quietly.

Here, the clatter of those telling us of their greatness can’t compare with the brave and spontaneous deeds of those who would not otherwise be remembered. Their names will not appear on the side of a building, but here in this tiny park they are remembered.

We’ll finish with a walk across the Hampstead Heath. The Heath is there to enjoy today because forward thinking Brits of the 19th century fought to keep it common land. The Heath is made up of forests, ponds and heath, large scrubby grass areas. While it provides wonderful views of London, if our purpose is to clear the mind, then keep your eyes on the beauty of open space.  Do some people watching. The area is so vast, we have the company of others but can still feel as though we are in a wilderness of sorts.

There, now. Doesn’t our park walk improve your outlook? With patience and perspective restored by the memory of those beautiful green places, I hope your are  ready to return with me to today’s reality.

Where do you go when the world gets to be too much? I’m  open to finding new destinations to recharge.

 

 

 

 

A 10-Point Strategy to kicking back Post-Marathon

Seldom do I give advice, but for post-marathon days there is a process I believe is essential: Be moderately active, but as lazy as possible. Take for instance, my Chicago Marathon post-race day plan and execution:

1. Book a flight late in the day to provide some lazy morning time. This allows a runner to wake hungry during the night, dig into their goodie bag of miscellaneous bars and fruit, then fall back asleep until the sun peeks through the curtain.

(Too early in the morning for a goodie bag photo.)

2. Walk out of the hotel with no particular destination other than water and sunshine.

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The Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan

3. Learn something even though you didn’t intend to, such as Chicago’s use of solar compactors discovered on our stroll down the street.

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Chicago has used solar compactors in the downtown area since 2011, saving time and money. Several east coast cities are using these as well. 

4. Watch a fleet of sailboats patiently wait for one the drawbridges to open.

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5. Take a silly selfie.

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6. Observe Chicagoans outdoing us in the “kick-back” category as they spend their Columbus day kayaking the river, doing some toe-dipping in the fountains and napping in Centennial Park.

 

7. Find something you didn’t expect to see. For us it was a building that looked like it has always been in the South Loop, but  it wasn’t familiar to me.

We asked a couple of Chicago’s finest who happened to be waiting to direct traffic for the parade route (remember, it’s Columbus Day). We learned the building is the Harold Washington Library Center. After a peak inside (well, more than a peak, we stayed awhile and had to convince ourselves to finally leave), we learned it hasn’t always been here. A research librarian told us it was built in the 1980s and opened in 1991.

8. Enjoy the parade. Step back out in the sunshine, find a place to sit on the curb and watch as bands, politicians and vintage vehicles pass by. Yesterday, you and 40,000 other marathoners were the parade. Today, it’s their turn.

 

Although primarily Italian American, there was participation from every ethnic and cultural group and political organization I was aware of in this city.

9. Retrieve bags from the hotel, grab a cab for Union Station and wave your sister off on the commuter bus.

10. Depart like a real Chicagoan and take the El train to the airport. (Thank you strong young guy who offered to carry my bag up the two flights of stairs to the platform.)

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That’s my strategy for a kick-back post-marathon day. How does yours compare?

 

Race Report: Chicago Marathon

We interrupt the Running London series to report on the  Chicago Marathon. Chicago is the third of the World Marathon Majors I have run and by far the most logistically easy for a mid-pack runner to make her way through.

After checking into a downtown hotel on Saturday, we walked a couple of blocks to the closest pickup point for the free shuttle to the Expo at McCormick Place. We picked up my race bib and shirt, listened to a panel discussion offered by Runner’s World, made our way through the many exhibitor booths and said hello to Adrienne, a hometown River Runners friend . Although a large Expo, it didn’t feel overcrowded and we were in and out in a few hours.

 

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Race morning, I was awake at 5:30 with plenty of time to ease into the day. No need to catch a pre-dawn subway and then a ferry to wait several hours for a 10:30 start, no need to catch a 7:30 bus to ride 26+ miles to the start to wait for my 10:45 start time. Here in Chicago, at 6:30, I merely walked out of the hotel and joined a parade of runners wearing outer layers of throw-away clothing and walking/jogging down Michigan Avenue to enter designated gates to Centennial Park.

I heard the announcer calling runners to report to the the early corrals. That’s not me. I still had plenty of time to drop my post-run bag, get a photo of the sun rising over Lake Michigan and establish my place in a very long porta-potty line.

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Sunrise in Centennial Park over Lake Michigan race morning

As we lined up, the temperature was 52 degrees with a cool wind coming in from the lake. My corral was to close at 7:45 and at 8:13, to the rhythm of Chicago blues flowing from the loudspeakers, we were off to begin our run into a tunnel. We emerge on Columbus Drive  and the roar of the crowds begin, rivaling spectators on the streets of Boston.

With the exception of a few blocks of the course, enthusiastic people were on the sidewalks several deep along all 26 miles. At a nursing home along the way there were huge signs in the windows and faces of residents and staff waving and cheering. Chicago is that kind of town.

From Lincoln Park to Chinatown, the course moves through a number of neighborhoods, diverse in ethnicity, architecture, cuisine and music along the course to further reflect those distinctions. One of those was my neighborhood many years ago. Nostalgia hit as we moved past the beautiful old brownstones lining the course.

Making our way through the miles, we made more than 20  turns. It’s a plus to be familiar with the course or at least watching a block ahead or so to be ready to run the tangents efficiently. The course is primarily flat, offering enough up and down blips to keep legs from getting stale.

I had heard Chicago is a fast course so I decided to take it slower the first ten miles to avoid burning out. So it was that two minutes after Abel Kirui of Kenya won the 2016 Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:11:23, I was approaching the half marathon mark and moving on to the 25K point when Florence Kiplagat crossed the line as the first woman finisher for the second year in a row with a time of 2:21:32.

I did pick up my pace as planned but stomach cramps around mile 17 and quads tightening up around mile 19 slowed me considerably. Even with that, I was enjoying the race and being among the runners around me from all over the USA and a strong international contingent.

While Still a Runner was, well, still running, the first women finishers in my age group were battling it out with finish times under 4 hours. Barbara Wright of Germany finished at 3:46:02, nosing out hometown runner Nancy Rollins by a mere two second (3:46:04) and Yoko Nishi of Japan finishing 3rdat 3:54:57. Fantastic times in the F65-69 AG.

By the last four miles and after four hours, it was warmer than I like a marathon, but the cool wind off the lake helped. After walk/running for several miles, I ran the entire last mile to the finish for a time of 4:39:04, 14th out of 72 women in the F65-69 AG. The hill I had heard about near the finish was barely noticeable, and I was pleased to be done. I walked the gamut with other finishers, picking up snack bag, finisher medal, heat sheet and a wonderful cold crisp apple that I managed to drop after taking only two bites.

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Chicago Marathon finishers relaxing post-race

Goose Island had a cold glass of beer for every finisher and from there I picked up my drop bag, (again – no wait, everything very efficient) found a spot of ground to sit down and put on some warmups, munch on chips, enjoy the beverage and talk with runners doing the same. Everyone seemed to be taking their time before leaving the park and going to meet friends and family waiting outside the marathon finish area.

If you like large marathons (Chicago had more than 40,000 finishers), large crowds of enthusiastic spectators, a relatively flat course, and a conveniently located well managed race, you would like the Chicago Marathon.

Have you run Chicago?  What was your experience? How did it compare with your other large races?

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Photo credit: Inheritance of Hope

 

 

London Running – Take 3 (or first-timer at a park run)

I registered for park runs several years ago when I first learned of them from a British blogger. For anyone unfamiliar, park runs are free timed 5K’s run entirely by volunteers. They are not about racing, but about running for everyone. Each park run provides an accurately measured course and timing to allow the runner or walker to compare results against themselves over weeks or years.

So far, we have only a couple of park runs in the USA. Although none near my home, a runner need register only once and you are set to run a park run anywhere they are held. I registered with the organization and received my initial sheet of bar codes. Since receiving the bar codes, they have been sitting in my miscellaneous running folder. I thought to pull them out to travel with me to London.

London was a great location to experience my first park run. Since there are more than 100 park runs established within the 32 boroughs of London, I had a wide selection to choose from.

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I decided on one about five underground stops from me. Convenient, and I liked the sound of the name: Putney Green. The Putney Green stop is only a few blocks from the Fulham Palace Park RunThe 5K takes place in Bishop’s Park near the Fulham Palace, home to bishops since 700 (yes, that’s right – 700).

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River Thames near Putney Green and Bishop’s Park

The course is two and a half laps around the park, so runners are running along the River Thames for a distance three separate times during the 5K. One of the runners informed me that this portion of the river is the site of the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club  boat races, renowned in Britain.

Several hundred runners turned out for Saturday’s park run here. A friendly group, as are most runners around the world. I was putting in a medium hard effort but wanted to enjoy the run and the running company, having done a number of solo runs the previous couple of weeks.

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Runners find a queue to get their bar code scanned to ensure their time results.

With a total of 340 participants at this run, finish times were in a wide range, Several runners at the front of the pack did sub 18-minutes, with first place at 16:48. There were a number of walkers and several families running together. I fell somewhere mid-pack with a time of 27:07.

Along with the clock time, results also show each participant’s age-graded percentage, a nice plus. Within a couple of hours, participants received an email with their time and place. My email came with a nice congratulation on having run my first park run. If I do more park runs anywhere in the world, those results will be available along with my results at Fulham Palace.

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Following the event, runners were invited to join others at the Drawing Room Café in the Bishop’s Palace. The café offered a selection of coffees and teas along with wonderful pastries and artisan sandwiches. Although the interior of the cafe was lovely, so was the day. That brought most of the post-run group to outdoor tables overlooking an expansive green.

The park run morning offered an opportunity to visit a borough of London I had not yet seen. When and if the opportunity presents itself, I will return for the friendly company and historic sites that are a part of everyday life.

If you get a chance to do a park run while traveling anywhere, take the opportunity. You simply need to register with the organization prior to participating and remember to bring one of the bar codes (you will receive these in the mail after registering) with you.

I look forward to hearing about your next park run, especially if it is your first.

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