Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

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.



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.


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.


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?


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


London Running – Take 2

It started out as a 9-miler. I hadn’t yet seen Regent’s Park on my London visit. Roughly gauging the distance, I was off on a sunny 60-degree morning. Skirting the edge of Hyde Park, then down Oxford Street winding around people headed for their office and appointments, seriously talking on their cell phones with apparently a heavier agenda than me. Me, I’m just running.

Taking a left off Oxford, I find my way through several zig-zaggy streets to an opening to the park. I plan to do a half-circle and return back to my flat. As I pass the London Zoo entrance, I see a towpath below with a few people biking and walking. Hmm, better check this out.


View of towpath and canal near London Zoo entrance to Regents Park

Entering the towpath, I get a beautiful view of a few boats making their way down the canal.


Zoo aviary from towpath view. Who can identify the birds?

Then, I hear some beautiful birdsong. Looking up, I see a netting and discover an aviary overhead, my free look into the London Zoo (a senior runner has to be frugal).

Continuing on I see a sign that reads “Cyclists Dismount” and the path becomes a series of permanently harbored boats on the canal side and a variety of seating and gardening plots on the wall side.

Here the path ends, so I exchange a few greetings with owners, puttering about their boats and gardens.

Returning down the path, I decide to check out the opposite end of the canal, you know, just to see where it goes. After roughly a mile, an arched metal bridge ends the path and what do I come upon: Camden Lock Market.


Having told my traveling friend emphatically I wasn’t interested in seeing this market, here I am. And, it is a wonderful market. Pausing my Garmin, I make my way through the warren of hats, hand-made clothing, crafts, books and food. Oh, the food. Every ethnic cuisine you might want is here.


Spotting a cook stirring a huge, beautiful pan of paella I knew it was time to leave. With at least of 5-mile return trip, I dared not indulge.

Back to the path into Regent’s Park, across the road is Primrose Hill which gives an extraordinary view of the park and surrounding sites in London.


After a short but tough run up to take in the view and back down to the outer circle, this time I come across a side path to a beautiful track. Several casual runners are using it and I wouldn’t leave without doing at least one loop.


Again back to the outer circle, I see I can give a short visit to the inner circle and the Queen Mary’s Garden, then cut across for my return. Here, the flowers are still brilliantly beautiful in this unusually warm London September. Residents at ease with this day are enjoying a morning coffee in lawn chairs.

Seriously now, it’s time to finish this run. Routing through Marylebone to the Marble Arch and Hyde Park, I stopped at the open air cafe near the Senior Playground (in this case senior is not limited to seniors like your author, but anyone who is not a child),  I chose an energy drink for the cooldown.

My 9-miler had grown to a 16-miler with every mile enjoyed. I walk mile 17 back and prepare for something more sedentary for the remainder of the day.

Touristy Long Run through London

Come with me on my longest marathon training run through the streets and parks of London. The course I primarily followed was a 20-22 miler found online courtesy of the Serpentine Running Club.

It’s a cool, misting Saturday morning, perfect for a marathon training run. Pacing will be a problem on this route. We’ll just do the best we can and enjoy the route.

Let’s start just north of the South Kensington station making  our way on the street between the Victoria & Alfred Museum


This museum is a must-see devoted to decorative arts & design. The café is located in several beautiful rooms with a wonderful patio.

and the ever popular Natural Science Museum.


The Natural Science Museum is still on my must-see list. The queue some mornings tell me it is in high demand.

At Mile 2, we’re moving into Hyde Park.


This park has lots of greenery and activity. Cyclists, runners (about a 6-mile perimeter), equestrians, dog walkers and folks hanging out at the senior playground for tennis and lawn bowling.

At mile 3, we’re at the Buck Hill Gate of Hyde Park.


Buck Hill is one of several private lodges on the perimeter of the park.

Mile 4 & 5 takes us through Kensington Park past Kensington Palace and its gardens.


Queen Victoria watches over her subjects as they walk/run/cycle by.

By Mile 6, we are headed south looking at the Chelsea Kitchen restaurant across Kings Road.


Mile 7, just down the road we find the Chelsea Football Club.



Mile 8 brings us to Imperial Wharf. And here is where we get a bit confused, with traffic rerouted and pedestrian walkways closed. We’ll put on a couple of miles chasing in circles until a fellow runner helps us find our way to the Thames path.



Mile 10, the rain begins to pick up as we pass the beautiful small Cremorne Gardens. We’ll forego the photo since the rain is hampering the view.

Mile 11, here we go crossing the Thames River for the first of several times on this route. We take the Battersea Bridge across to Battersea Park.

At mile 12 through Battersea Park, there is plenty of open space and beautifully maintained playing fields as well as a fantastic track.


From Battersea, we head back across the Thames on the Chelsea Bridge. The sky in the photo below tells you we have more miles of sloshing to go.

Mile 13, we are passing Pimlico Park. and stopping a moment to enjoy this little jewel. The rain lets up a bit just in time for a photo.


It’s then time to cross the Thames again, this mile on the Vauxhall Bridge.


It’s also an opportunity to see the Thames at low tide.


Through Mile 14 & 15, the crowds along the river are so thick that anything more than a fast walk isn’t possible without moving away from the river and chancing getting lost. (Didn’t I warn about pacing problems earlier?)

It does provide the chance to do some touristy stuff  as we walk past the skateboard park


and get a photo with river traffic, Parliament and Big Ben in the background.


By Mile 16.5, we are at the Tower Bridge.


This bridge didn’t need the looming clouds overhead to make it appear scary.

Back in London at Mile 18, we’re making our way across through heavier rain and heavier tourist pedestrian traffic. They are  undeterred by the rain so we’re in for another mile or so of fast walk/jogging.


Most of the crowd is here to see London Tower which is worth seeing in any weather with probably 1500 years of history within its walls.


There is an incredible amount of history behind these walls. Leave yourself plenty of time to look around when you’re not on a run.

Now heading back to our start up Westminster, we are around Mile 19 and we hear church bells ringing as we edge along the perimeter of Saint James’s Park.

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Having picked up extra mileage through our mistakes on the course in Chelsea, we don’t complete the area around Green Park but as we approach Mile 20, we do get a chance to peer in to Buckingham Palace.


Finally around Mile 21, we pass by the Marble Arch and back into Hyde Park.img_2504-1

We run along it perimeter until it joins Kensington Park. Here, we will cross the street and cut around the amazing Royal Albert Hall with the rain still coming down.


Wet and weary, let’s finish up on the backside of the Natural History Museum and call it a day.


Although it was a bit of an unorthodox run, the miles are done. Thanks for joining me. It’s always good to have someone along putting in the miles.

A fiery & wet welcome to London

We had just arrived in London a day before, still getting our bearings in this wonderful town. Unaware of the festival of arts and ideas planned for that day in the City of London, we came across a volunteer suggesting we stick around for the falling of the breeze blocks. What?

With further explanation, we learned that we were in the area where, 350 years earlier, September 3, 1666, what was known as the Great Fire of London burned down the majority of the city. Now, what would become a moving sculpture, a line of breeze blocks, was being established in domino form.


It was an artistic representation, threading through the line the fire took as it tore through churches, businesses, homes, those many years ago.

Rain began to fall and we found cover under a parking garage ledge while still having a good view of the blocks. Excitement rose as each  block began falling in the next block.

The white rectangles became a moving sculpture as one by one they met the block in front with a crisp thud.


Some cyclists and a few runners tried to keep pace with the blocks as they fell domino style in a serpentine fashion past our vantage point. The entire route of the fire represented by the blocks was six kilometers.


Thirty feet or so from the block sculpture, sits a Roman wall that survived the 1666 fire. Ignore the incorrect photo date, this was taken on 9/3/16 (Although in the vast amount of time the Roman wall has survived, built around the second century,  almost makes the date of the photo inconsequential.

Watching the beauty of the white shapes in movement and contemplating the powerful fire they represented left me quietly trying to fathom the fast-moving heat and destruction of 1666. Since that serendipitous moment stumbling across this event, the many stories we have heard of the impact of that fire and the rebuilding that became the basis for the London of today have had a far greater impact than they would have otherwise. 


Next up: Let’s run London. Posts to follow.


Hell-bent on completing the Hellbender-Half Race Report

With all the fuss, fanfare and hi-tech most road races have adopted, there are thankfully still a few old school races around. The Hellbender Half Marathon & 5K is one of them.


Weiser State Forest near race start


How old school? No on-line sign-up available, but you can download a mail-in application from the race website. Race registrations are mail-in and day-of sign-up on-site only. No chip timing here with results based on gun time.

Having said the Hellbender is old school, it is  also as professionally and efficiently directed as any race in the region. Co-sponsored by the Susquehanna Ridge Runners Club, the course was accurately measured and timing was accurate. Results were available and awards announced in a timely fashion, even as race officials worked under tents in a strong downpour.

If you are a runner who has an interest in the cause supported by a given race, you probably won’t find another that specifically benefits the environment of the Hellbender, an aquatic salamander native to the area. These creatures breathe through their skin, so their survival depends on the health of the streams. The race benefits the work of the Roaring Creek Valley Conservation Association.


Replica of a hellbender (two feet more of less)

As was typical of this year’s summer, race morning was warm, 75 degrees at the start, and humid. The area is deeply forested and as I stepped from my car, I reached for the bug spray. After their initial greeting, the insects kept a distance. After a warm-up mile, I  lined up with a couple hundred runners who had found their way to this particular tract of the Pennsylvania Weiser State Forest. The surface was typical forest road, primarily gravel on  the hard-packed dirt surface. Roughly half of the out-and-back course is along a stream and a lake, the remainder tall forest on both sides, with the occasional state forest building back from the road.

Although the course  is primarily flat, there is a slight incline going out and, thankfully, a slight decline on the return.  I started out on pace, but by mile four the humidity was like an anchor tied to my ankles. Thankfully, water stops along the course were well placed and well stocked. By the time I reached the turnaround, I was doing my I-don’t-care-anymore-just-let-me-finish pace. It got better. On the return, the very slight loss of elevation felt good as did a few raindrops that spattered down. I picked up my pace even more during the final mile as the spatter turned into a full deluge with fat raindrops popping off the bill of my cap.

Well shy of my usual pace, I still was pleased to finish in 2:05 and change, earning first place in F65-69 age group. 


Photo-op during a break in the rain with fast 50-ish friends Sue and Kris

Post-race food was  ample with a variety of homemade sandwiches on fresh bakery rolls, cut-up fresh fruit (my personal favorite) along with chips, bananas and a few other treats.

Already drenched, I munched on the goodies while trying to keep the food dry and chatting with runners who do the Hellbender every year. On my walk to the car, I stopped by the massage tent  where they worked some magic on my tight quads.

Thanking myself for adding a large towel to the bag, I poured some extra water over my muddy legs before drying off and scurrying into fresh dry clothes. Thankful for another invigorating race experience, I was back on the road.

The sixth year of the Hellbender has come and gone, but if it sounds like your kind of race and you’d like a drive through rural Pennsylvania, pencil in the 7th on your August race schedule.IMG_2275

HARRC in the Dark runs under a Sturgeon Moon

Taking full advantage of long, beautiful days, this is the third outdoor event in the summer of full moons. This evening’s activity is payback for all the volunteers that make it possible for me to run races .


Credit: Farmer’s Almanac

Under tonight’s Sturgeon Moon, I am one of the volunteers, spectators, and cheerleaders.

HARRC in the Dark is a 7K race held at 7 p.m., maybe not actually dark but a beautiful sunset at dusk played with colors along the Susquehanna. And, when we finished with awards at the Federal Taphouse it was dark.

Organized by the Harrisburg Area Road Runners Club (HARRC), this 7K has become a staple of summer evening running and socializing. I joined other volunteers from Open Stage of Harrisburg and HARRC at the registration table.IMG_2204 (1).jpg

The race start and finish are on our linear Riverfront Park with the Susquehanna River along the path


and historic buildings across the street.


A smallish race with around 200 runners, participants run the gamut from elites to beginners and ages from under 12’s to 80+. 

Temperatures finally fell out of the 90’s for our race but the humidity still made runners work to get to the finish, conditions as we could expect for a late summer evening. Among old friends and new acquaintances, we ignore that humidity to spend time cheering one another on.

I encourage anyone who races a few local races a year to become more involved with your running community. Take a break from running a race to volunteer. You will learn the working of how a race is put together and likely make some stronger friendships in the process.


The race is run, awards are distributed and volunteers have packed up.

Good night, Sturgeon Moon. No fishing for me tonight, but you did light my way home.

(If you are interested in a bit more about the naming of that Sturgeon Moon hanging in our night sky, I found some interesting background over at cherokeebillie.)