Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for November, 2013

A Slow Farewell to Skiing

With the aftermath of what seemed to be a minor ski fall last winter, it was time to send the alpine ski equipment to a new home. It didn’t take much thought to get my priorities straight. imagesWould I take another chance on missing months of running, then work through the required slow buildup to return to my previous mileage and pace?  No. So, as soon as the drop-off schedule for the ski swap was announced, on my calendar it went.  Months later, the reminder popped up.

Day 1: Skis, poles, helmet, boots, ski pants all loaded up ready for the first day of a two-day window to deliver items for sale. I fully intended to be there at the opening bell.  Instead, errands and miscellaneous got in the way.  Too late, I realized I wouldn’t have time to do the ski drop and arrive on time to do speed work with my training group. The ski swap lost out.

Day 2: Better do this in the morning before the day slips away again and the equipment stored for another year. I started off for the ski swap, but decided to fuel up first. Back on the road my vehicle suddenly veered into the parking lot of my favorite ice cream stand, still open on this beautiful late autumn/early winter day.  What was going on that I found myself mid-week, mid-day, stopping at an ice cream stand when my window is nearly closing to drop off the never-to-be used-by-me-again ski equipment? I contemplated this question as I enjoyed my very favorite Caramel Turtle Fudge Sundae.

I arrived at the ski swap within an hour of the close for deliveries.  Opening the hatch, I placed the helmet on my head, skis and poles slung over one shoulder and ski boots over the other. Lifting the boots, I recollected that during my years of off-again, on-again skiing, the ski boots were too heavy, too awkward and ultimately uncomfortable. 4711_skiing_cartoonCarrying those ski boots one last time, I was at ease with my decision to divest. And quite frankly, skiing is my least-skilled sport.

The knowledgeable ski sale volunteer helped me determine a reasonable asking price.  The Susquehanna Ski Club has a great system where I could check online to determine whether my items had sold. If no sale the first day of the swap, I could return and authorize a markdown. An early Sunday morning online check indicated all my merchandise was sold. No need to return to the scene of ski equipment abandonment.

Transition time. My snowshoes are out and in use.

Grand Teton National Park, Jackson WY

Grand Teton National Park, Jackson WY

They weigh far less than my skis, take less storage space, are great for cross-training when surfaces aren’t great for running, and certainly travel better.

Wishing everyone an active December, whatever your sport.

Are we Playing by the Rules?

This week, I’m reblogging a post written by Rocket over at the Salty Running blog.  If you’re not familiar, Salty Running is a collaborative group of women runners.  Their blog serves as a resource for other women runners seeking to improve their training and racing.

Rocket tackled the issue of assistance to runners during a running event. Maybe a buddy hopping on the course to keep me on pace during the last long mile or a friend offering some of their energy stash shouldn’t mean a great deal to a mid-packer coming in fifth in the age group.  It may mean something to the person who because of my advantage slips to sixth in our age group.  We all have our reasons for being out there competing.  Races have rules and some of us may not even be aware of them.

I’m pleased that Salty Running raised this topic.  The text of their post along with some quality comments follows the link to their site: \

Don’t Drink The Gatorade: The Case Against Unofficial Aid

Written by  on November 18, 2013 · 21 Comments


Becki has written 5 posts on Salty Running.

2 time Olympic Trials qualifier in the Marathon, looking to make that 5. I’m a talker, and I’m loud, if you get embarrassed easily…don’t go into public with me. I laugh harder when trying to explain why I am laughing. A-Type, try to get things done before the microwave beeps sort of gal.

Want an orange slice?Want an orange slice? Just say no to the forbidden fruit!  (Photo credit: Lorianne DiSabato)

You’ve trained for months and it’s finally the big day: time to rock your goal marathon! It’s a hot day and you know it’s extra important to drink enough and it’s always important to take your gels. Lucky for you, your buddy has her bike and will bring your favorite bottle and favorite fuel along the course to hand to you when you need them. While everyone around you veers left and right and slows down at aid stations, you sail straight on through knowing your pal will be just ahead with whatever you need – and no worries about spilling overly strong gatorade all over your face in those flimsy cups: you’ve got squeeze bottles baby!

Sounds great right? What if I told you, you could and really should be disqualified for this?
On the surface, distance running is pretty simple: one foot in front of the other from start to the finish.  But in a race atmosphere that simple practice becomes complicated with rules designed to make competition fair and fun for all participants.  There is a USATF, RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) and official race rule of almost every marathon that many people do not know about (or ignore). It is the prohibition of taking aid, water, gels or even a hat from any place other than an aid station or from anyone along the course other than the volunteers that are at designated aid stations. The rules for the Spokane Marathon sum this up nicely:

One rule that many people aren’t aware of is the rule of illegal aid. This is true in all races where they give awards. Runners need to use the aid stations only for their aid (or carry what they need with them). If you are getting water, gel, or any other aid from someone other than aid station workers, you are actually getting illegal aid. You are getting help that others in the race aren’t able to get. Now, if you are just trying to finish, chances are people won’t notice that your spouse is meeting you every half mile and giving you the secret potion that you need. However, if you are vying for an age-group award, it may become an issue. Technically, according to USATF and RRCA rules (which are the rules we abide by), this is grounds for disqualification. The marathon committee’s hope is that everyone on the course will act with integrity and finish the race within these rules. We have had to deal with this issue once, and would rather not have to do so again.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent one athlete from having an unfair advantage over another.  Before races, the elites are often gathered for a race orientation where they are informed about rules and regulations. This is one of those rules that we are always reminded about. We are told to avoid doing anything that might appear like we’re receiving aid, like high-fiving people in the crowd or hugging a family member while out on the course.

Unfortunately, this rule isn’t always made clear to the rest of the field. This is most likely because the stakes are different for nonelites. For many, marathoning is fun and high-fiving and hugging loved ones along the way is par for the course. When there isn’t prize money on the line, most mid or back-of-the packers aren’t as concerned about the aid. Meanwhile, elites know that hugging someone mid-race, let alone taking water, gel or anything from a friend or family member could cost us hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and possibly qualification for something bigger like the marathon trials.

Elites are supposed to know this, yet I have been in a race and watched sisters grab bottles of fluid from their father as he biked along side them, while I was only able to grab the small cups that were available on the course.  It irritated me and when the race was over and I finished just behind one of them, but in front of the other. It bothered me to know that they didn’t play fair.  I chose not to say anything, but in all honesty I held a grudge. I find great joy in the rawness of our sport and for someone to be able to get 8 oz of fluid while I would be given only 3 oz on a hot day I knew they had a distinct advantage.

marathon aid station

Legal aid during marathons is often available every mile.

This fall, I went to a marathon to cheer on a friend going for her OTQ, and along the course, I witnessed a runner blatantly disregarding this rule.  I was just a spectator, but even so my knee jerk reaction was of disgust and anger. At mile 12 I saw the 2nd place woman’s coach dash onto the course, grab the runner’s water bottle off the table where it was sitting and hand it to her, so that she did not have to run to the side and use extra energy to get it herself. Meanwhile, every other runner had to veer to the side of the course and grab her own bottle.

I was uncertain of what to do, but it kept nagging at me.  Initially I decided to let it go, and made a mental note about it in case I ever raced this woman in the future. As the race progressed it bothered me to see her do so well and finish in 2nd place taking hundreds and thousands of dollars from other women that raced hard within the rules. The internal battle raged.

After the race, I was with my friend who qualified(!) and finished right behind the woman who cheated. When the cheating coach bumped into me in the hospitality room I mentioned that I saw her grab the water bottle for her athlete. I told her that what she did should disqualify her athlete and that she should not do it again.  She became angry and started yelling at me. The elite coordinator heard the yelling and asked what the problem was.  I didn’t know what to do for a moment, but then it became clear.

While I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that both the coach and athlete were well aware of the rules, they just didn’t care and were not going to stop doing it. So, I told the coordinator what went down during the race, which lead to talking to the race director and giving a statement on what I saw.  In the end, an elite bike escort also witnessed the cheating so the woman was disqualified from the event entirely.  I felt sad that someone who had undoubtedly worked very hard was disqualified, but in the end it was worth it to know the women behind her were given fair placement and awards. While I hope to never be in that position again, I know that when all is said and done I did the right thing.

So you see how this plays out in the front of the race, but what about for nonelites:should the rule against taking off-course aid apply to everyone?

YES. Here’s why:

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...Is this your style? Didn’t think so. Don’t take the off-course aid! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the masses this happens all the time, and while it is not regulated in any way, it is still an unfair advantage to the other runners in your category. The rule, while often not enforced, is still in effect for the entire field.  Getting aid from friends and family is an easy way to make sure you get everything you need, I understand that. However, it’s cheating. When a runner’s boyfriend hands her a water bottle and a gel so she doesn’t have to deal with paper cups at the crowded aid station or risk chaffing by carrying her own gel, it’s not fair to those that do need to go to the aid stations or carry their own gels. If she gets third in her age group, part of that is because she skipped aid stations and possibly because she was able to hydrate better and was more comfortable than other runners.  That’s not fair to the woman who came in fourth and everyone else behind her.

Additionally, what if you take aid from off-course and qualify for Boston? That Boston qualifier shouldn’t count. Part of racing a marathon is abiding by the rules and Boston requires you race a qualifying marathon in a certain time. Plus, nowadays faster qualifiers get into Boston before slower ones. If you get in because you cheated it’s not fair to someone slower who played by the rules. As far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t even use a race where you receive aid as a PR. It’s just not right and it’s not fair to the people who do play by the rules.

The fact is that almost every race these days offers water and sports drinks, plus there are many ways to carry what you need yourself.  You are running a race, a sporting event, so there are rules. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, and I understand that there is fun involved in hugs and high fives, so have at it, just do not take aid from people off course. Races need to do a better job of informing the masses about the rule against off-course aid, but now that you know about it, follow it, please!  While you may not be in the front of the race with money on the line, keep in mind that having an unfair advantage over others is just that: unfair.

What do you think about taking water or gels from spectators along the course?  Have you ever done it?  Did you know receiving off-course aid is grounds for disqualification? What would you have done in my shoes if you saw someone cheating?


How to (Re)Use a Marathon Heatsheet

After volunteering at a marathon last weekend I followed a trail of trash cans, photoeach topped off by silvery sheets left behind as the event came to a close.

Runners reach for their fuzzy, layered warmup clothes stashed in their drop bags or automobiles, relinquishing the heatsheet to a long life in a landfill.  What a waste.

There is useful life left in that shiny sheet. If your next marathon is in a few weeks – or months away – consider the following options for a post-marathon life for your next heatsheet.


One of many intricate knots to snugly secure your heatsheet.

Will you be looking for an extra layer of protection from wind and cold as you stand in line through the dark night for your chance to purchase concert tickets?  Or, will you perhaps be waiting for the early morning opening at your big box store on Black Friday? Tuck that heat sheet in your pocket or backpack and wrap over shoulders as needed.

You may need warmth when an auto emergency occurs (flat tire, stuck in a snowbank, out of fuel). photoUntil the emergency road service arrives, remember and reuse that refolded and compact heat sheet you smartly stashed in the trunk with the jumper cables and first aid kit for just such an occasion.


Need an extra layer of protection to keep weeds at bay in your flower garden?  It’s the heatsheet! Keep it well hidden under an extra layer of mulch. Exchange the time spent weeding with time getting some extra miles in.

Of course, there are heatsheets that should be retained but only repurposed to complete your memorabilia cache.


This heat sheet unfolded and reused only for bragging purposes


Have you run out of gift wrap at an inopportune moment? It happened to me just this week.


Dress up the silvery surface with a bow and you’re good to go.

A quick snip into one of this year’s heat sheets saved the day.

If I keep running marathons, I will soon exhaust my reuse list. Help me out. Who out there has found reuses for the  heatsheet that I haven’t yet discovered?

Farewell Joy Johnson


Credit: Jonathan Sprague for the Wall Street Journal

Joy Johnson. As I read the news from the New York City Marathon, the name was familiar. I pulled out the basket holding treasured hard copy articles, preceding the days before I began storing links on my laptop.

There it was: Page W1 of the Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal October 31, 2008, an article on marathon competition among runners 80 years and above. It included an interview with Johnson, then age 81. Matthew Futterman’s article contained a subtitle quote from Johnson: “I want to die running.”

I’d kept the article for its two intriguing aspects. The first was information on biological changes that occur in older runners. Futterman discussed the loss of efficiency in the circulatory system and some of the reasons senior runners are more prone to injury.

The icing on the cake in the article was a review of the training regimen Johnson adopted to lower her marathon time and place well in her age group. At age 81, she upped her running to 50-55 miles a week, ran the bleachers at the stadium, ran hills and increased her speed work.

The conjecture about her fall at mile 20 in this year’s NYC Marathon pales to me in importance. This was a woman confident in her decisions.

Twenty years younger than Johnson but older than most runners, I’ve had occasion to wonder when the need to test my ability may give way. For each of us, who knows when and if the drive for personal best and the love of running will cool, when we will be too sensible or too fragile to wait for a race start wrapped in a wind-protecting garbage bag.


Credit: Unknown. Facebook Photo

For Joy Johnson, the determination and drive didn’t subside at age 64 when she achieved a sub 4-hour marathon, it didn’t subside at age 80 when she upped her training.  It wasn’t the 2013 NYC Marathon, her last of many. Her love of running and willingness to work to her personal best were her companions to the end.

I’m scheduled to run the NYC Marathon in 2014. When I reach mile 20, I will be thinking of Joy Johnson, her love of running and her fellow runners, the drive and determination that brought her to the start and took her to the finish line. I’ll be reminded of what can be achieved and how to live fully while achieving it.

Well done, Joy.