Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Destination Races

The Final Push – National Senior Games 10K

It’s the final day of competition for me and one of my favorite distances – the 10K.

On a gorgeous New Mexico morning I did my warmup with a balloon circling overhead. The venue is the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The facility itself is beautiful and worth a visit on its own.

Race morning, temperatures were in the low 60’s with the usual low humidity. I felt I was finally making the altitude adjustment as my breathing was closer to normal during my warmup.

At the race start, we transitioned from the parking lot and an access street, over a short walking bridge and onto the Paseo del Bosque Trail. The course was out and back along a canal that parallels the Rio Grande river.

For the first three miles, I felt as though someone had cut the anchor I had been dragging behind me during my New Mexico running. After the turnaround, we had a light cooling headwind. At mile 5, I realized my acclimation was not complete, as my legs were feeling as wobbly as mile 29 of a 50K. Never mind, I hung in there. I lost about 20 seconds off my pace the last two miles, but felt great when I finished.

Mariachi music as we waited for awards ceremony

Looking at initial results, I was surprised to see myself in third place for the age group – finally on the podium. That was short-lived as final results showed a very fast 70-year old added to the age group results. Well, easy come, easy go, race another day for that spot. For today, with 20 women in the 70-74 age group, it’s fourth place for me

In the top 70-74 AG spots, all from Florida, were Danuta Kubelik (54:02), Sue Herscher (56:12) and B.J. King (1:00:23).

Top 8 finishers 70-74 AG 10K – NSGA 2019

Running groups are always friendly, but today seemed even more so. I had the opportunity to meet in person an online writer/blogger I’ve followed for a couple of years and well as meeting people from almost every state I have lived in at various stages of my life.

All is well, It’s time to go home and join friends at a couple of my favorite July 4th weekend races.

Happy 4th weekend and happy running, everyone.

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NSGA 5K – running with Icons

With track events in the rearview mirror, the date for the NSGA 5K approached. Early Friday morning brought a smoke alert from NSGA. Wind from a forest fire in Arizona brought smoke into the Albuquerque region. NSGA recommended people with sensitivities take precautions. As I left my hotel to catch a 5:30 shuttle, there was only a faint odor. The difference was in the view of the Sandia Mountains as daylight came clear. The usual crisp outline was muted in a haze.

Never mind. If I can deal with the altitude I will deal with the smoke. We’re off to Balloon Fiesta Park to run a 5K.

After transferring among three shuttles, all running exactly on time, I arrive at the park with enough time to pick up my bib number and have the number “70” attached to my back. There was time for warming up, a couple laps around the parking lot followed by the porta-potty line. Then, it’s time to line up for the start.

It was 66 ℉ at the start, just over 5,000 feet in altitude with minimal wind. My legs, particularly the calves, were still feeling heavy. Later, I heard runners remarking on the difficulty of running the hill around mile two. I was barely aware there was a hill, one of the benefits of training in Pennsylvania. We may be only 300 feet above sea level, but we can’t go far without running hills.

As I completed mile two, I spotted the “70” on the back of another woman. I passed her easily. Then, came a terrible feeling of nausea. To finish with my pride intact, I backed off until I could see the finish line, then picked it up again. Other runners mentioned being struck with nausea during the race and I wondered if the smoke in the air may have been the culprit. My time was 31:03, more than two minutes slower than my recent 5K’s in flatlander country

When awards were called I barely snuck in at eighth place out of 27 women finishers AG 70-74. I was awestruck when running icon Kathrine Switzer was called at fifth place. As several of us gushed around her with praise and thank you’s, her message to us was to keep it moving forward. Yes, Kathrine, we can do that!

Top finisher AG70-74 was Jane Treleven with a time of 22:59, fresh off her record-setting performance in the 800 meters. Nancy Rollins with a 24:53 and Danuta Kubelik with a time of 27:16 filled out the podium.

Overall, although the 5K course itself was not particularly interesting, the race was very well managed. Registration pickup was efficient, results were available almost immediately, bananas, water and even a bagged breakfast (loved the yogurt and the hard-boiled egg) for each runner were provided post-race.

Again, thank you ABQ and NSGA. Next up the final event: 10K Road Race.

Newbie to Track Awestruck by NSGA Record Setters

There is something, maybe a few somethings, to be said about trying new activities. For me, that new activity this year is track. In addition to learning from more experienced athletes, there was also the excitement of participating in several events where new age group (AG) records were set.

I took on track for two reasons. One, if I was going to the senior games in Albuquerque for a 5K and a 10K competition, why not add a day or two of another competition? The other longer term reason was to consider that as I move into my 70’s, what are the chances I will need to cut back on or cut out those ultras, marathons, or perhaps even half marathons. What then? Would running around a track be my fallback?

So, with a week passing since the track competition at the 2019 National Senior Games in New Mexico, I’m finally settled enough to put thoughts in print.

University of New Mexico track with Sandia Mountains in the background

Competing in the national senior games doesn’t start there, but starts the year prior to national games with preparation for successful results that meet with the minimum requirements set by NSGA. For me, that was the Pennsylvania Senior Games in 2018.

In 2018, I qualified for the 1500 meter, 800 meter and 400 meter events. My finish times in ABQ didn’t come anywhere close to the qualifying times of 2018. This was a lesson in how travel, altitude and any number of factors can impact performance.

How not to run the 1500 Meter

48 hours after arriving in ABQ, I was standing on the track with seven other women in the 70-74 AG, ready to run 1500 meter. The USATF official emphasized that as we spread out those of us in the outside lanes could move to the inside so long as we did not hinder anyone else’s place or movement. In hindsight, I could have moved in earlier but was concerned not to make in error on my first time out.

Between that error, and the fact that I felt like I had gallon milk jugs tied to my calves, my fourth place finish time was a full minute slower than my qualifying time from a year earlier.

As I finished I realized they were announcing that first place Colleen Burns of New Mexico had set a new NSGA record for the distance and AG and later announced it was also a USATF record.

How to Crash and Burn in the 400 Meter

That same afternoon a preliminary was scheduled for the 400 meter. I had no high hopes for the 400, since as I did some practice runs on the track the weeks before, I just wasn’t picking up speed fast enough. So, with 98 degree temperature, I flamed out with a time I won’t even mention (but the scoreboard doesn’t lie) and definitely did not make the top eight places needed to move forward to the finals. Again in the preliminaries, Colleen Burns set a NSG record for our age group.

The 800 Meter – Hang in there

Two days later, feeling as though I have gained some knowledge, if not speed, I returned to the track for the 800. And again, this time Jane Treleven of Washington State, set a NSG record for the distance and age group with a 3:03:02 time. As for me, I was again slower than my qualifying time, finishing with a 4:40 and sneaking into 8th place.

So much to learn, so many to learn from

In spite of my newbie status, I did walk away with a fourth place ribbon and an eighth place ribbon. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be out on the track with record setters. I also appreciate meeting so many women athletes in and around my age group. Chatting before and after events with women who have a lifetime of track experience and willing to share is of incredible value.

So, will I take on the track again? Ask me when it’s time next year to qualify at the State Games.

Albuquerque, Altitude and Aspirations – a Week at the National Senior Games

In short, I went to the 2019 National Senior Games to participate with runners from across the country. I left having fallen in love with Albuquerque (ABQ).

In upcoming posts I will dig into the details of competition, but first permit an overview of this amazing region in New Mexico, different in topography, altitude (varying from 5,000 to 6,000 feet), historic interest, cuisine and overall culture from my region in the Northeast.

Forget the familiar sound of lawnmowers during your evening run. Instead, admire your first sighting of a roadrunner that flits in from nowhere and scurries away as you jog out of the parking lot. Enjoy the beauty of cacti that show their bloom in the morning hours and close up as evening approaches.


Forget the green of forests, other than the cottonwoods that accompany the Rio Grande on its trip south. Instead, tune your eye to the rustic reds of the high desert. Admire the peaks of the Sandia Mountains (orient yourself knowing the mountain chain is to the east).

In my brief stay in ABQ, I learned a few things about thriving in this alluring but very different climate. As an athlete or anyone who spends time outdoors, the drier air and change in altitude may or may not impact you personally. I witnessed athletes who seemed unfazed by those climate changes as they set new age group records. I also saw athletes who were impacted by slower pace, headaches, and other maladies.

Here are some suggestions for thriving in ABQ based on my experience:

Acclimation. Give yourselves at least a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. I arrived two days early, but I was into Day 7 of my stay before I felt like the ball and chain I was dragging on my runs had disappeared.

White long-sleeved shirt. I threw this item in my duffle at the last moment and am so thankful I did. It served as my morning warmup jacket, make-shift umbrella as I watched track events from the grandstand, an extra layer of sunblock for my arms and neck, and a lightweight coverup in the evening when temperatures began to drop.

Wearing the ubiquitous white long-sleeved shirt serving as post-race sunscreen for shoulders and arms, with Danuta Kubelik, who added 1st Place 10K AG 70-74 to her accomplishments

Lip Balm. Open that drawer where you keep those lip balms you have accumulated from previous race registration bags. Bring them all with you. Your lips will thank you as they chafe in the dry air.

Water. You’ve heard it before, but having a travel water bottle with you and drinking from it on a frequent basis is a necessity.

Next post, I will get down to business with competition details. In the meantime, thank you ABQ and National Senior Games 2019.

Dipping my Toe into Senior Games Track

I love a beautiful long distance run. But, I’m hedging my bets that my body will one day revolt against the marathon and ultra distances. So, why not learn a little bit about running some shorter distances?

I’ve learned some about track from friends who get together on the occasional evening and do a bit of speed work when a local track is available. Although I knew my skill and my knowledge was thin, I couldn’t resist when I saw the Pennsylvania Senior Games were being held within an hour’s drive from me.

I took a deep breath before taking the plunge to register online, then did a few speed sessions to gauge whether I would manage to qualify for the National Senior Games (NSGA) to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico Summer 2019.

Arriving at the Pennsylvania Senior Games, I saw that a number of track and field events were being held simultaneously. This gave me an opportunity to see a couple of non-running events and meet some other runners waiting for their events to be called.

The shot put clearly required strength, particularly in the upper body. The movement of those competing in the long jump is quite elegant, requiring  changes to gate or steps as they approach the pit.

But, back to the track where I would be lining up. I did a warmup mile while the race walk event was held. I learned from conversation among other competitors that there were some national record holders at the competition. There were also several people more like me, no track experience but interested in giving it a try.

Amongst those new to track, they included distance runners who were looking for a different running experience in the hopes it will improve their half-marathon and marathon times.

To participate in the state senior games and with NSGA, competitors must qualify at state games in the even-numbered year to participate in the national competition in the odd-numbered year. They must also be at least age 50. At the track events in Pennsylvania, runners ranged in age from 51 years to 91 years.

Track Times

Qualification times for NSGA 2019 are by 5-year age groups with specific minimum times. I had registered for three distances which I felt were within my reach.

In high humidity under clouds that threatened rain, we lined up for my first experience with the 1500-meter event. I was successful in finishing about 50 seconds ahead of the minimum performance standard. I could have pushed harder, but with two more events to go I just worked to come in under the standard.

My second event, the 800-meter, was also a success with a finish about 15 seconds ahead of the minimum  performance standard.

Then came the moment of truth at the 400-meter (can you hear the wah-wah-wah music in the background?).  In this shortest distance for me, I finished with a 1:55:78, missing the minimum performance standard for my age group and gender by nearly 20 seconds. I understand I would still be qualified because I finished second in my age group. (We had a light age group field (with me finishing second out of two in my age group. Even so, before I would take the 400-meter distance on at nationals I would need to do considerable training.

So, as Meatloaf tells us in his lyrics, two out of three ain’t bad. I will be preparing to run competitive times in the 800-meter and the 1500-meter distances in Albuquerque.

5 and 10K Rules Changes for NSGA:

I also plan to compete in the 5K and 10K events. And a tip for those of you who, like me, live in a state where the State Games do not currently include the 5K and 10K distances: there is now a process to submit your qualifying time (use their Limited Event Verification Form found with the Rules document on their web page) at a race that you have run at that distance in 2018.

Another rule change with these distances is that a running and qualifying time at either the 5K or the 10K distance allows you to compete in both distances at National Senior Games.

So, I’ll be sending off my application and hope to be in Albuquerque in 2019, expanding my participation from the 5K and 10K to include track competition.

Will I be seeing you in Albuquerque? If not participating in running events, perhaps in one of the 50 or so other sports offered, including three non ambulatory categories this year? A link to every state games site can be found on the NSGA website, so check it out! 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.