Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Destination Races

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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ATHLETIC COMPETITION THROUGH LIFE

Do you yearn for more physical activity in your life – perhaps a sport from your youth? You may have a secret passion for something you have not yet tried.  Opportunities abound at any age, so why not explore them?

There is a world of friendly competitive sports out there for the senior athlete, be you a novice or from the world of the elite. From alpine skiing to weightlifting, there is a sport (or two) for each of us.

Many organizations open opportunities to train and compete with those in our own age group. To offer you a smattering of those, let’s start with the Senior Games.

National Senior Games Association

The National Senior Games Association(NSGA) offers competition at the state and national level in 20 different sports categories for athletes age 50 or over.

Athletes compete in games at the state level in even numbered years, i.e., this year and meet the minimum performance standards shown on the website in order to qualify to go to the national games in the odd numbered years.

Contact information for each state is listed on the NSGA website. The 2019 national games will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June 2019. You will have plenty of company as the national games usually draw 10,000 – 12,000 participants.

Sound interesting? Take a look at the state game schedule. Not every state offers every sport and most states will allow qualifying for out-of-state athletes. For example, my state doesn’t offer road racing, so in past years I have participated and qualified at the Delaware State Games.

Huntsman World Senior Games

The Huntsman World Senior Games have been around for more than 30 years and hold competition in 20 different sports. Where NSGA changes the locations of the biennial games, the Huntsman Games are held annually and always in Utah. Again, they are open to athletes age 50 and over, through 100+ years.

The Huntsman Games use the NSGA minimum participation standards. Contact, registration and information on each of the sports offered is available on the Huntsman website.

USA Track & Field (USATF)

Where other organizations catering to senior athletes offer a variety of sports, USATF is specifically track and field events, which still provides a wide variety of venues.

The Masters category starts at age 30 with USATF. Keep in mind though that competition is held within 5-year age groups. Currently, I’m in the group Female AG 70-74.

USATF Masters events are held regionally and nationally. Information on international venues for Masters is also available on their website.

Beyond Athletic Competition

Travel Opportunity

Many organizations have events locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. If travel is one of your joys, sports make a wonderful excuse to take a second vacation.

After your competition or training, spend a bit more time in tourist mode, kick back and enjoy. And while you are busy preparing for your event, the rest of the family can take in some local color.

By example, several of my siblings accompanied me to Senior Games in Minneapolis one year where they happened across hundreds of bicyclists coming down the street in the ‘Freedom from Pants’ Bike Ride, which was pretty much like it sounds. We followed that up with a much more sedate evening with the Minneapolis Orchestra accompanied by a choir from Cuba.

Family & Friends Support

Get your family and friends into the spirit. I’ve seen two and three generations of families supporting their senior family members in competition.

After many seasons of freezing on the sidelines or sitting on hard grandstand seats in support of your children or grandchildren, give them the opportunity to be there to cheer you on. What an example you will set.

Senior Athlete Websites

Websites that cater to senior athletes offer inspirational articles about people like ourselves who have been late starters or recently renewed their interest in sports. Others offer information on training specific to the older athlete, in addition to health-related issues.

Join as a Spectator

If you are not yet ready to jump in as a participating athlete, attend and enjoy any of the above as a spectator. USATF has the most accessible regional competitions with many indoors where there is the opportunity to witness our counterparts sharing competition and camaraderie.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Have a chat with your health care professional and get the green light. If you have recently embarked on a new activity or participated in a senior competition, what was your experience? Please share it with us in the comments below.

This is an adapted version of my article previously published on http://sixtyandme.com.

 

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.

 

Best Intentions and Almosts

via Daily Prompt: Almost

I planned with the best of intentions. Barring bad weather getting in the way, I could get some rest after an 11-hour flight, then make an early morning drive to the eastern shore of Maryland for the 50K Pain in the Neck.

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My view from morning run before departure flight

Arriving home and with snow in the morning forecast, I pondered instead of an early morning drive, leaving several hours after my flight arrived, then spending the night near the race start. I almost followed through, but decided instead to unpack my bags and make my way through several weeks of snail mail.

As jet lag began to set in, my desire to do the race was offset by my desire for some sleep and downtime, so I considered a fallback to my almost.

My fallback was  The Last Mile, a race I enjoy doing with friends. It offers pottery age-group awards and the local fire company makes chicken corn soup for the runners. I always buy an extra container to take home when they have any to spare.

 

Last Mile (it’s actually 5 miles) AG award from a previous year when I did better than an ‘almost’

Well, I almost went. But, I slept in (jet lag, you know) and the snow coming down looked so pretty from my side of the window and the temperature was hovering around 15 degrees F. So, I almost went to my fallback race, but no.

By afternoon with the almosts behind me, temperatures had tilted up past 20 degrees. 

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24 hours after my tropical pre-departure run, I’m running along the frozen Susquehanna.

Out the door I went, running through some lovely light snowflakes. It’s good there are 24 hours in a day (sometimes more – or less – when you’re moving between time zones).

Wishing you a wonderful new year and courage in working around your almosts.

 

 

 

 

Five-day Walk in Solothurn

An hour’s train ride out of Zurich took me to Solothurn, Switzerland. I was there to join 22 other walkers and hikers as well as a number of the Friendship Force Club of Solothurn/Swtizerland.

As a global journey, the majority of the hikers came from Friendship Force clubs located in Belgium, Canada, Russia and the USA.

Our itinerary included walks along river beds, in the Jura hills, to a mountain top and through several towns. During our stay, we were housed at a sports hotel where our adventure started each day. We became quite familiar with bus and train transport to our walk starts.

So with that introduction, let’s get started with …………..

Day 1 Walking with Swiss Friends

After a breakfast of meats, cheeses, yogurt and thick brown bread, we packed a similar combination for our lunch and met our Swiss friends at the Bus Stop.  We began our journey by bus to St. Niklaus.

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Hikers/walkers on the trail approaching the Gorge of Saint Verena

Our first day’s walk had a spiritual tone as we set off on foot through the gorge of Saint Verena who is said to have arrived in Switzerland in search of a relative, Saint Victor of the Thebes Legion. Saint Victor was martyred for specific religious beliefs sometime during the 500’s and Saint Verena lived out her life as a hermitress.

 

 

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Next we are off on a walk around Waldegg Castle. It’s a beautiful building in the French and Italian baroque styles, with many additions, including apartments and an orangery, during the years the Bensenval family owned the property (late 1600s – early 1800s).

The Bensenval family had a close connection with French royalty,

 

their son being a diplomat and officer in the French Swiss guards. After the French Revolution the family fell out of favor in France. These many years later, the property belongs to the  Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

We take leave of the wonderful setting around the castle, formal English gardens bordered by magnificent fields of corn, greenery and the Juras Mountains in the background.

 

After a lunch along the trail, we proceeded onto the Trail of Megaliths.

 

How these large stone came to be along this area isn’t known. They are massive and beautiful.

The day’s hike complete, we’re back catching the train from St. Niklaus to an early dinner in Solothurm. Enroute to the restaurant we got a first look at the town of Solothurn.

 

 

The ancient fountains with allegorical designs are still used today as thirsty visitors fill their water bottles before moving on. There are a total of 11 fountains in Solothurn, in fact almost everything in Solothurn is connected with the number eleven.

 

We dined outside under beautiful trees enjoying food from a Greek restaurant. Then, the option to walk the trail back to our hotel or hop on the bus. I elected for the walk, It was a beautiful evening and a good choice.

Thanks to our delightful Swiss hosts/friends/hike leaders Regina, Franziska, Andreas and Jürg for organizing this wonderful day.

Total walking/hiking distance for the day: 7.5 miles.

How do you like Solothurn so far? Have you expanded your walking or hiking to destinations previously unknown?

Stay tuned for Day 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 5-Mile Fresh Burst

With so few five mile races available, I took a drive to Lititz, Pennsylvania to check out this local race. The Freshburst 5 Mile Run/5K Walk has been around for 20+ years but just came to my attention recently.

Arriving near the race venue I saw runners moving to the start line. I quickly ran to the late registration table, then returned to my truck to drop off the registration bag. I sprinted to the start and joined the back of the pack as the race director was giving instructions.

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I am ready to vote this the most generous race registration bag of 2017

I had not run a short distance race for many months, so my goal for the race was to just pick it up a bit without concern for a specific finish time. In the first mile, portions of the road were adjacent to a pasture. As we runners came down the road in a line, the cows in the pasture formed a line of their own, pacing to the opposite side of their pastureland. Clearly they wanted no part of us.

Another pasture area brought some black-faced sheep into view. Beautiful, but I didn’t take the time to stop for a photo opportunity. You can guess from the pastureland description that the course was mostly flat, just a bit of rolling up and down and a few turns to take us back to the start.

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The race finish was old school with tear-off tags. With a finish time of 46:05, along with about 200 other runners, and 50 or so walkers, I sauntered back to the race venue where cool drinks, fresh fruit and ice cream awaited us.

The experience of the race staff and volunteers was apparent. Everything seemed to flow well. This fun, friendly and fresh 5-miler was worth the drive and one I hope to run another year. Proceeds of the race benefit the Harmony Playground, designed for accessibility for children of  all abilities.

Check out the Freshburst next July if you’re looking for a well-run small town 5-miler, or a 5K walk. Besides, I ask you, how many races have ice cream at the finish line?

Hiking the Versailles Forest with Power Hiking Paris

If you’ve traveled to Paris, it’s likely your agenda included the Chateau de Versailles and the Versailles Gardens. Was the Versailles Forest also on your agenda? No? Well, let me share my visit.

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The Chateau de Versailles and its perfectly groomed gardens in the far distance

I extended my stay after the Paris Marathon to absorb more of this wonderful city. Doing so, I needed to add a long hike to fit in some training for the upcoming Hike Across Maryland after my return home. I did a web search of hiking groups in Paris and found the a Meetup Group, Power Hiking Paris, just what I was looking for. They had a 35K hike scheduled for Sunday, my last day in France. I requested to join the group, and after exchanging a couple of emails with Victor (it turns out I was the 3,500th member to join the group), I was in.

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The trees were coming into bloom with a blanket of French bluebells across the forest floor.

Instructions were to meet at the Gare Montparnasse on the platform for the train departing to Saint-Cyr. I found the hiking group (not difficult to distinguish with backpacks and hiking poles) in the boarding area at this busy station and had the opportunity to chat with most of them enroute to our destination.

Departing the train at Saint-Cyr, we immediately began hiking out of town to the Versailles Forest. As promised, the pace was fast, a swift hike on the flats and ascents and running on the downhills.

We continued in and out of forest and between farms, orchards and through small towns.

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Because I packed light for my travels which had to include my marathon running equipment, trail shoes and poles remained at home. Thankfully, except for one descent that was a bit iffy, my marathon shoes held their grip and the poles weren’t needed.

We took a short break for lunch and conversation in a meadow, then off again. 

Thank you, Victor, Serge and Meet-up Power Hiking for giving me the opportunity to meet and hike with you. It was a pleasure to join you and the hiking group while getting in my training miles and enjoy a forest in France I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit.

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Do you attempt to meet the people who live in the city/country/region where you are visiting? Did you attempt to get a local point of view new to you? I have found several ways to do this, but it’s the first time I’ve done it through Meetup. If you’re interested in digging deeper in your travels than tour presentations or chats with your waiter, Meetup offers groups in a number of activities and interest areas. 

During your travels, do you have other means of getting to know people and explore your interests more in depth? If so, please share.