Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Boston Marathon

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Destination Marathon: Running the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Marathon

Let me say it upfront: the Rhinebeck Marathon sits in the top three of the most beautiful marathon courses I have run. Tucked neatly into the Hudson River Valley the town of Rhinebeck, New York is worth a visit even without a marathon.

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Mile 8/21 running parallel to the Hudson River

Always looking for an opportunity to return to this region, the marathon was a good find. I selected this race for its small size and historic location near the Catskill Mountains, a sort of antidote to the throngs of runners and spectators at my Boston Marathon a month earlier.

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Runners begin to congregate at Fairgrounds start

In its inaugural year, Rhinebeck had 23 marathon finishers. This year it grew to 89 finishers with larger numbers running the half marathon. Among those running were many folks from other states, at least one first-time marathoner, a marathon maniac, and a runner working on her 50-state status. I expect the race will see continued growth as word of this little treasure gets out.

This is a 2-loop course, with a start/finish at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. I don’t generally choose loop courses, but I took a chance with this one and the scenery was so dazzling I looked forward to covering it again. The course is flat for the first few miles, then moves into rolling hills. Some of the route was open to traffic, but drivers and runners were carefully considerate and all was well.

Leaving the Fairgounds, the route moved through a residential area and then out in the countryside on a pastoral course. We were on a Heritage Trail for a good portion of the time, running past farms, cemeteries, historic estates, and the beautiful but hilly Hamlet of Rhinecliff with occasional views of the Hudson River over the left shoulder.

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Mile 5/18 – lane to  Wilderstein, historic home of the Suckley family. Daisy Suckley was archivist and confidante to FDR. Trails and carriage roads on property  open to the public

The majority of the route is shaded, a blessing on this unexpectedly warm day. Even on mile 23 as my pace slowed to a crawl, I was appreciating the sound of bird calls and the light breeze rustling through the trees. (Note to ponder: During a colder than normal Spring, how did I manage to select two Spring marathons that fell on what seemed like the only two warm days this season? Only the universe knows.) My finish time was a disappointment (a minute slower than my Boston finish) but the experience of running this course was not.

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Mile 7/20 – hilly Hamlet of Rhinecliff founded 1686

The Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Marathon is a USATF-certified course. Aid stations and porta-potties were well placed and spaced. Parking was simple and easily accessible from the start/finish.

 

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What makes an ideal destination marathon? Rhinebeck is close, offering a wonderful course in a location with a myriad of interests for family and friends who may want to come along for the ride (or the run). This is not Disney World, but a real experience of our American past. History buffs can explore the land settled before the Revolutionary War took place, outstanding arts and architecture with homes from the 1600’s and the region of the Hudson River School artists established in the 19th century. Within driving distance you will also find the family homes of several of our twentieth century presidents. Finally, if food is your interest, the area abounds in locally grown food served in restaurants. You can also get a tour and a superb meal at the Culinary Institute of America just down the road.

On to my next destination race. Any suggestions?

Acceptance – Boston Marathon 2016

Four weeks after Boston 2016 and I’m finally coming to acceptance that my days of finish times on the brighter side of 4:30 may be in the past. Having pondered and ruminated over disappointing Boston results, I’m ready to close the book on it. My conclusion is that the overused analogy “life is a marathon” is spot on. As with so many plans we make for our lives, many of them far more important, beautiful or devastating than marathon training, the results are sometimes not what we have worked for.

I had set a modest goal of sub-4:30. This was the first marathon training cycle where I managed to get in each and every scheduled run and speedwork session. I also did a couple of successful shorter races during the training. Those optimistic online calculators indicated that my 4:30 plan was conservative.

During the huge pre-race events that are part of the Boston experience, I managed to stay low key with only one quick whirl through the expo on Saturday. Sunday, I took up an offer from some non-marathoning friends and joined them at the Boston Film Festival. Sitting in a cushy theatre for several hours was a great way to avoid the temptation of spending too much time on my feet.

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The Athletes Village looking a bit like a beach party as my speedy friend Holly and I wait for our waves to be called.

 

Race morning, I timed my arrival at Boston Common to catch one of the later buses to Hopkinton. 

Not to worry about getting chilled while waiting in the village, the temperature was already at 70 degrees when I arrived.

I usually swing over to the water tables every 2 or 3 miles, not this year. From mile 2, I was a regular visitor. Generally, I don’t imbibe in gatorade until I have passed the 20-mile mark. Not this year. From about mile 7 on, I could feel my quads tighten in a way I don’t usually experience until the last couple miles. Pitifully, I trudged up the Newton hills with no pretense that I was still running this course.

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Trudging past friends along the course. Credit: Jessica Billings-White

About mile 16, there was a short-lived revival in energy level. Around Brookline, our overheated bodies met with the shock of a chilling wind in our faces. Where spectators at Hopkinton and the first several towns were in shirt sleeves and tank tops, as we journeyed toward the finish, those cheering along the way were in jackets and hats.

Finishing at 4:36, with cold fingers attempting to hold my banana and water, the wind took my much needed heat sheet.

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I continued through the gauntlet to exit at Arlington and saw my friends waiting just outside the barricade. They ushered me the short blocks back to my hotel and waited patiently while I luxuriated in a long hot shower. 

Off to a delicious dinner and conversation and time to begin the process from second guessing to acceptance.

2016 James Joyce Ramble Race Report

I’ve had my eye on the James Joyce Ramble 10K for awhile. With a USATF Master’s Championship designation, the words of James Joyce read at each turn of the course, and a mystery angel encouraging me near the finish, this year’s race did not disappoint.

A great t-shirt for the collection.

Held in Dedham, Massachusetts with the start/finish at the beautiful Endicott estate, the gently rolling hills of the course takes runners through a small downtown, picturesque neighborhoods and shaded park-like roads before returning us to the finish.

The weather was perfect for a run, low 50’s, low humidity and a slight breeze.

Readers in period dress stood on chairs, fences or tree stumps reading from the text of James Joyce as runners pass. A fellow participant described the race as the right mixture of highly competitive and campy.

This race has a two-wave start, with runners registered for the USATF Masters Championship in the first wave, going off several minutes before the open race. Nearly 200 masters runners participated, most with track club affiliations from across the country. I was one of a handful of non-affiliated runners.

With a time of 53:15, in the USATF standings I placed 5th of 10 in Women AG 65-69. This is an age group with strong runners including first place Edie Stevenson (45:08) who holds at least one age group record in another distance.

And what about that mystery angel?  Nearing the 6-mile mark, my quads were burning, still recovering from the  Boston Marathon six days earlier. A soft lilting voice was at my side, saying “Come on, finish with me.” I begged off, slowing a bit but staying near her heels. She continued to encourage me and several other runners as we drew near the finish. I believe she noticed my One Run for Boston shirt and said “You are my hero.” She was wearing a Team Hoyt shirt and I replied “And you are my hero.”

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Around 6-mile mark with my mystery angel urging me to stay with her.

I could hear names called over the loudspeaker as we approached the finish. Following the mystery angel across the timing mat, I hear the announcer say “Uta Pippig has finished the race.” I believe he also said she was the official or honorary starter for the race this year. It took me some time after the finish for it to register. That soft, persuasive but insistent voice beside me saying “Come on, finish with me” was the voice of Olympian Uta Pippig and 3-time winner of the Boston Marathon with a number of other marathon wins as well.

How is it that the runners who are the highest achievers and most talented are also the most gracious and encouraging?

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Accepting post-race congratulations from my youngest supporter.

Pining for the Trail

On these beautiful early Spring days, I’m longing to be leaving a trailhead and moving through soft dirt, rocks and roots. That I am longing for trail rather than running trail is due to my earlier decisions and time commitments. How was I to know that running a couple of trail 50K’s would spoil me for road training? I did sneak off for a couple of short hikes on the Appalachian Trail; wonderful but not the satisfaction of a distance trail run.

I committed this year as I prepare for Boston, barring sickness or family emergency, to complete every scheduled training session. How committed am I? Taking seriously the warning of our record-breaking January snowfall,

 

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City Island became the parking lot for snow removed from city streets

I shifted schedule and managed to run my long run the day before the mega-storm hit with full force, limiting runners to training in  yaktraks or snowshoes – and only after shoveling feet of snow from their doorways.

How committed? 1207301-An-image-of-a-bare-footed-women-running-with-some-thunder-and-lightning-in-the-background--Stock-PhotoLast week our  mid-week session of repeats was cancelled due to lightning flashing through the sky, I joined several other runners who sprinted to the nearby covered parking garage and completed the workout up and down the ramps.

Race director responsibilities for the Capital 10-Miler – a run for the arts – is the other wonderful commitment temporarily keeping me off the trails.  We are expecting some fantastic competitors and many runners who love the variety of this 10-mile course not to mention the camaraderie of returning runners. 

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Capital 10-miler course along the Susquehanna River. Photo credit: Bill Bonney Photography

 

While I love the excitement building to the race, It doesn’t allow much time to make my way out to the trails.

So, if you are anywhere near Central Pennsylvania, please join us for a great 10-mile race on Saturday, April 2nd. We have a number of runners coming in from neighboring states, so why not join them? If you do, please stop by to say hello to the race director.

Next up, I will see many of my readers in Boston, either running, volunteering or cheering along that historic course.

And after that, IMG_1938look for me running or hiking on the trails. I’m hooked.

Sketched-Out Running Plans on a Frigid Morning

As expected, dawn on this last day of January brought single digit temps, drifting snow and a windchill well below zero, I’ve rescheduled my long run and taken to the keyboard. It’s about time, since the draft version of my 2015 running plan is stale and outdated.

With the nagging ache of a 2-year old ski injury, I’ve taken a few pie-in-the-sky running adventures off the table for this year in order to concentrate on strengthening my knee and working on alignment, doing what I need to do now to assure that I can continue to say that I am still a runner.

So, what is left for the year? I plan to honor the races I have already registered for, but run them simply as training and enjoyment without a concern for time. By mid-year, I expect to be back full-throttle. In the meantime, here is a scaled back list of possibilities:

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Lakeside Trail Pinchot Park January 2015

February: First up is the Squirrely Tail Twail Wun, a 1/2 Marathon in the woods. I impulsively registered after a January trail run/walk tagging along behind a fellow race director and his cohorts mapping out the HARRC in the Park fall 15K trail race on some of the same trails. Conditions for Squirrely Tail were notoriously bad last year and this year will likely not resemble the snowy but reasonably passable trail of January. This may be a scratch.

March:

Lower Potomac River Marathon, a low-key, low cost Maryland marathon limited to 200 runners. I selected it as an antidote after running New York, the largest marathon in the world, a few months ago. Originally, I also selected it for the likelihood of a good finish time. Now, I’m planning to just take it easy and make it through.

Capital 10-Miler – a run for the Arts On March 29, I will be race directing the race but I love the course through the Greenbelt and across the Susquehanna bridges and will be running it with race committee members a number of times before race date.

Capital 10-Miler, mile 6 along the Susquehanna

Capital 10-Miler, mile 6 along the Susquehanna

 April:

Hmm, seems to be a drought here. A good time to continue working on corrections and rest. I will likely pick up a few 5K’s and 10K’s and find some trail runs or hikes in preparation for ……

May:

Dirty German 50K (really) I signed up for my first ultra, a well-established run and the course is a figure 8. If I decide a 50K is beyond my ability, this may be downgraded to the 25K. We’ll see.

June:

My big plans for June are scuttled by better judgment, with hope for that adventure next year. I’m sure I will find something to fill this space.

July:

National Senior Games in Minneapolis, MN. I will be racing the 10K on July 4 and the 5K on July 6. Qualification for national games is at the state level in even-numbered years. If you’re interested, take a look at your state – or surrounding states – for the competition schedule in 2016. This is a great opportunity to meet and watch some outstanding senior athletes in action. With a minimum age of 50 years, there will be 12,000 athletes attending and competition in more than 20 different sports.

Running with the big dogs. In 1st place on the AG podium is Jeannie Rice, fastest 66 yr. old Female marathoner in US, with Nancy Rollins, a decorated masters runner who placed 2nd in AG at Boston this year. Keep looking to the right, to the right - and there I am in 7th place just proud to be in the top 10.

2013 Senior Games 5K in Cleveland and running with the big dogs.1st place on the 65-69 AG podium is Jeannie Rice, fastest 66 yr. old Female marathoner in US, 2nd place Nancy Rollins, a decorated masters runner who placed 2nd in AG at 2014 Boston. Keep looking to the right, to the right – and there I am in 7th place just pleased to be in the top 10 of the outstanding field of women.

My last trip to Minneapolis was to a conference where my time in the beautiful city was mostly spent in meeting rooms. This time, I plan to enjoy family, the outdoors and some of the many arts venues.

August/September/October:

Nothing big planned here, so a great time to get in distance training and throw in a couple of half-marathons. Wild card – I may throw my name in the Chicago Marathon lottery, another opportunity to tie running in with a visit to the Midwest.

November:

Harrisburg Marathon In spite of tempting e-mails from the NYC Marathon warning me I have only xxx weeks left to claim my guaranteed entry before the February 15 deadline, with only a week between the New York and Harrisburg Marathons, I’m saying no. It has been several years since I ran the full Harrisburg Marathon and I want to get at least one in while in the F65-69 AG. This is a wonderfully organized marathon with miles of scenic riverside and neighborhood running.

Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, on the only non-scenic mile of the course.

Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, on the only non-scenic mile of the course.

When I’m not running the full Harrisburg, I volunteer and/or run with a senior relay team, all great alternatives. So, NYC, I’ll see you again another year.

December:

It depends – on where or if I’m traveling. Who knows what the future holds?

Well now, I see sunshine flowing in the window and temps have moved into the high teens. Maybe I’ll get in a mile or two.  Gotta run…………