Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for October, 2013

Exploring the Ozarks Post-Mother Road Marathon

A destination race like the Mother Road Marathon isn’t complete without getting a feel for the locality.  Joplin, Missouri is cemented in our memory for the horrendous EF 5 tornado that swept through in 2011. On my post-race shuttle to the hotel, the driver pointed out blocks and blocks that were totally decimated, saying the television coverage couldn’t convey the loss Joplin suffered in lives and neighborhoods.  New housing now stands and a hospital is still being rebuilt better and stronger, as temporary buildings are used in the meantime.


Newman Building now serves as Joplin City Hall

Joplin has rebuilt. This is an attractive city that has maintained its distinct personality through the loss.  While I was busy with packet pickup at Joplin City Hall, my big sister (BS) admired the facade of the 100+ year old structure.  Joplin has saved and repurposed the stately Newman Building, a department store built in the Chicago style by architect Austin Allen.

Joplin is clearly a city that loves sports and the outdoors. Along with multiple parks, the Joplin Athletic Center near the MRM finish line has rows of well cared for tennis courts, and fields for baseball and soccer invite activity.

As I ran the half through Galena, Kansas, I knew I had to return for a closer look.  Post-race shower, we retraced the race route and parked on the downtown street. Music, 1940-s style jazz, was piped in from somewhere on the square.  This was the quintissential lower Midwest small town, quiet on a Sunday with a few folks out for a stroll.IMG_1327A stop in Galena is not complete without hitting the former gas station.  At the building across the street, young women were giving tours of theHaunted Bordello.”  If you want Route 66 souvenirs and a great cheeseburger, this is the stop.


I pulled BS away from her Halloween costume prep to pose with my MRM goodies

Feeling there was more to learn about this town but knowing it was time to go, we veered off to the Arkansas Ozarks where BS has ensconced herself, renovating a turn-of-the-century home located in one of the many tiny towns with funny sounding names.  This was my first return to Arkansas since my brother lured me to the area to run the Mountain Home Marathon for Kenya several years ago. (Side Note:  This is now renamed the White River Marathon, with a flat, fast course. The year I ran it was quite hilly and beautiful. )

BS took me on a tour of the local sites and towns.  The area is known for trout fishing and beautiful scenery. It’s also good cycling territory with wide berms on the roadsides.


Yes, we really are in Flippin Arkansas

There is the appearance of many local businesses closing, but a number are being reimagined and reopened by a younger generation with hearts in rural and small town America.

No destination race review is complete without talking about regional food.  For this trip, it was all casual dining and home cooking.

Our first food stop was in Joplin at Pitchers Bar & Grill where I enjoyed a pre race day bowl of tomato basil soup.  BS spotted a lamb wrap on the menu and gave it a rave review.


All-A-Bout Eatery

We enjoyed a fantastic home-style meal at the All-A-Bout Eatery, ice cream stand and mini-golf near Mountain Home AR. Bonnie served her home cooking on paper plates,  followed by brownies accompanied with ice cream from the adjacent bar.

My final food stop was a zesty pre-flight breakfast at Laura’s Mexican Chicken in Yellville, located in the old bank building where food is now served through the teller’s window.

If you enjoy steep hills for your cardio, a wide berm for your bike and local eateries and motels you won’t likely find on a google search, this is a good place to start.ffl

Route 66 – Mother Road Half Marathon Review

Where does one begin the pursuit to run 66 miles on Route 66 at age 66? Somewhere in the middle of course, at the Mother Road Marathon.  I opted to save Oklahoma for another day and began the Half in Baxter, Kansas.IMG_1314

The Mother Road is a small marathon, 139 marathon finishers and 250 finishers of the half this year. Yet, it operates as smoothly as large marathons I have run and offers all the percs without the elbow-to-elbow start.

My Mother Road experience began at the Springfield/Branson airport where my sister greeted me and drove us to our first stop at Joplin City Hall for packet pickup.  There was a small expo with sponsor and organization information and product tables.

Next stop to the LaQuinta, the marathon hotel. Race morning, a light continental breakfast was available to runners beginning at 4 a.m. Volunteers were on hand to welcome runners on the shuttles to the Joplin Athletic Center. Shuttle service began at 5 a.m.  From the Athletic Center, we transferred to buses for either Baxter KS for the 1/2 start, or to Commerce, OK for the full. From a runner perspective, the shuttles ran smoothly, always departing and arriving as scheduled.

A light rain stopped as our shuttle arrived in Baxter. The morning was cool so I pulled a stowed trash bag over my head and placed my jacket in a carryall provided by the race.  I handed it off to at bag check and made my way to the start. The rain stopped and I passed the trash bag on to a shivering rain-drenched runner caught in an earlier downpour.  A few words from the mayor, a prayer, the anthem, and we’re off for our 13.1 miles.

Chart-Course-Elevation-2013-300x215The first few miles were flat roadway, with a short distance on a water-logged trail where we merged with full marathon runners. Back to the road, the wind was at 10 mph, in our faces and cool. In shorts sleeves and short tights, I was comfortable  but could have used a pair of light cotton gloves.

The road ahead was going up, up, up.  The first half of this marathon is relatively flat, changing to a slight uphill for the second half.

I can handle hills, but although shallow, these didn’t seem to end. The expected downhill when we peaked was nonexistent, only a plateau before the next hill.  Around miles 7/8, a snake-like bend through the town of GalenaIMG_1323was a colorful reprieve from that straight ribbon of highway. Cheering folks in lawn chairs lined the main street. Runners meandered through a section where paving was worn and cracked.

Original roadbed of Route 66

Original roadbed of Route 66

A sign cautioned to watch our footing – we were running on the original roadbed of Route 66.

Soon enough we were back out to the smoother but less scenic main highway. Plentiful porta-potties and water stations were staggered along the hilly route.

Approaching the finish, there was a sizable crowd and an announcer calling the names of first-time 1/2 and full marathoners. My finish was a 2:06, eight minutes shy of my 1/2’s in 2012.   This was my first race to rebuild distance, next working on my time to sneak back under that 2-hour mark.

It’s a short walk to the food tent where a variety of fresh fruit and energy bars were available.  The only thing missing was the hot cup of coffee that I crave post-run.

The atmosphere was festive with 5K participants mixing in.  Beer and pizza were available for runners and a live band played some classic rock numbers.

I retrieved my drop bag, picked up my AG medal and continued up a grassy hill for the hotel shuttle pickup.IMG_1312

From the runner perspective, this event looked flawless. The details required for planning a course through three states and multiple municipalities, synchronizing a marathon and half marathon with a 5K going off in Joplin takes a skilled and dedicated race committee. Congratulations to the Mother Road Marathon and all of the sponsors and volunteers that helped to achieve a seamless and historic race experience.

Next post, I’ll report on the travel, food and sightseeing that are the wonderful side benefits of destination races.ffl

USATF Masters Championship 5K

Funny thing about running, new experiences can occur after decades of racing the same distance.  Running a weekend 5K generally isn’t noteworthy.


Last weekend’s Syracuse Festival of Races was for me – for at least three reasons. It was:

1) a first experience running in a USATF Masters race (I’m a little late in starting, since I was age-qualified 26 years ago).  The Festival of Races hosted the USA Track & Field Masters 5K Championship Race for 2013.

2) a first experience standing within four feet of the Start line before the race start.  USATF Masters participants lined up at the Start in front of runners in the general 5K.

3) a first experience having my shoe come untied during a race, not just at a 5K but at any of the hundreds of races I have run.

Within 20 feet after crossing the start line, I felt the sting of a shoestring tip snapping against my shin.  My initial hope was the shoestring belonged to someone running beside me.  No such luck.  I was near the outside of the course and quickly hopped to the curb to avoid becoming a hazard to any of the other women running.  Within 30 seconds, my shoe was retied and I worked myself back into the moving stream of runners. but not before the Masters pack had left me far behind.  Now, I was where I usually start at a 5K – back in the middle of the pack.


F65-69AG awardees Sue Gustafson (24:32) , Jan Holmquist (22:08),  Lenore Webber (25:04) with USATF LD Runners Div. Chair Don Lein

That 2) and 3) would occur at 1) was a disappointment.  That I finished 5th out of 7th in my F65-69 age group with a 27:05 was not. The level of performance among the Masters runners was inspiring.  I felt honored to be running with such talented women.

Stumbling across this race was a gift to begin with. My travels were taking me through Syracuse NY and as usual I looked for a local running group or race.  I could have registered for the 5K without registering for the championship, but why not step it up?  I looked through the information on registering. To participate in the Masters 5K, registrants were required to be U.S. citizens (✔) , members of USATF ( ✔) but no performance standard required (✔).

I’m pleased I made that decision.  The USATF staff were welcoming.  At the reception room pre-race evening, I picked up training trips from other runners, both members of track clubs from around the country, including runner and author John Farah, and a few unaffiliated runners like me.

John Farah after a 23:47 finish in the 70-74 AG

John Farah after a 23:47 finish in the 70-74 AG

Race day, USATF had a tent for Masters runners offering water, coffee, bananas and a temporary dry space as sporadic rain came down. We left warmup clothes in that space as well. I could get spoiled with this treatment.

Awards were presented at an optional brunch following the 5K. I could rave about some of the finish times announced, but will instead leave you with a link to the results

If USATF membership and their races, Masters and overall, are of interest to you, take a look at their 2014 National Championship Series race schedule.ffl

Localeikki – An App for Active Travelers

What kind of a name is that?  That was my first question when I read about this app.  The second question was “what does it do?” Both are answered on the website, but I’ll offer my brief version of how it works.

The app is basically a national database of recommended locations and groups,

photoat this point limited to the activities of running, biking, walking and hiking. The user can benefit from and add to the database in two ways:

1) Use the app when traveling (or even at home), to determine 1) places or courses near you and 2) any groups that meet anywhere near you for outdoor activities. The group information may also include details beyond directions and time (moderate skill level, group runs at an 8-minute pace, all levels welcome, etc.).  There is a “search” category to plan ahead before visiting a locality.

2) Add local information, such as a favorite trail or running/hiking/biking route and/or add a “group” activity.  Input from local outdoor enthusiasts – that’s you and me – will be important since we usually know the terrain better than the average concierge or family friend sending the visitor out the door for some exercise.

As someone who rambles around this world a bit, I decided the purchase of this app on my iphone would be $2 well spent.

After making my purchase, I had a brief problem getting it to load. I emailed for help and co-founder Tracy McMillan responded, quickly resolving the issue.  I deleted the app and reloaded, which took all of about two minutes.

My first use of the localeikki app was to check out running trails and running groups close to home (see #1 above).  The app brought up running groups a hundred miles away.  Oh, we can do better than that Central Pennsylvania. I immediately moved into “add” mode (see #2 above) with a favorite course

Towpath at Wildwood Park

Towpath at Wildwood Park

in the “places” category. I talked with the group leader for a couple of my groups runs and we added those as well. Adding a place or a group was a smooth process.  Inserting a a photo and the map link was a breeze.

The app is still early in development. Unveiled in August, it may take a bit of time before the local information fills out. Localeikki is encouraging users to bring anything to their attention that would improve its use.

The name?  Well, “leikki” in Finnish means “play.”  The “loca” comes from use of the term in local movements such as purchasing food grown locally.  The app gives users information to play local, wherever they travel and where the locals have added information on their favorite routes and groups.

So, why use this app?  For me, it puts everything under one roof.  I don’t need to search multiple sites for trails or running clubs. After the prompt response from Tracy, and the ease I found in using this app, I volunteered to be an ambassador for localeikki. 

Do you look for local groups or trails when you travel? I’d love to hear whether you are using the localeikki app or what methods you use to find local trails, tracks, courses and how you find local groups for a casual run, ride or hike.

In the meantime, I’m out the door for a run, playing local.