Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Destination Races

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.

 

 

 

Destination Race Report: Schneider Paris Marathon

In this City of Love, even the Paris Marathon gets a love story. This year, a young married couple would win the overall award and first place female award. Paul Lonyangata, with a time of 2:06:10 and Purity Rionoripo at 2:20:55 shared a blissful win.

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In the start corral on the Champs Élysées

Now, from a voice far back in the pack, what was I doing here? In a spur of the moment decision, I signed up for Paris shortly after 2017 registration opened. I may be getting soft, but I also bought a premium package which included a pre-race and post-race changing area, a bag drop and refreshments in the tent. And with a warm morning, 60 degrees F at the start, I removed my warmups and used the bag drop long before my corral was scheduled.

With close to 44,000 runners starting, groups were moved from Avenue Foch, around the Arc de Triomphe and into corrals on the Avenue des Champs Élysées. This cobblestoned boulevard is beautiful and wide, allowing runners space to spread out. We ran past the Place de Concord and the Bastille before heading into the Bois de Vincennes past the beautiful Château de Vincennes. The woods offered some welcoming dappled shade. We moved on to a long tunnel where the air felt thick, but out we came to the bright sunshine on the opposite side.

On the course, water is offered in small plastic bottles every 5K. Beware if you run this, stations are only located on one side of the street, and until you get there you don’t know which side. Midway through the race, stations included oranges and bananas, sugar cubes, and toward the end, some sort of nut mixture. Around mile 17, there was a station serving an energy drink I wasn’t familiar with. I knew better than to try it.

Limiting my intake to water and some quickly grabbed orange slices now and then, I depended on the endurolite capsules and honey stinger energy chews I brought with me. Gatorade is not easily found in Paris. I was pleased to see their booth at the Expo and picked up 3 bottles of the cool blue, one of which made the 26-mile trek with me.

Somewhere around Mile 14, I took my first fall in a road race. A woman a couple of feet ahead of me fell directly in my path. I tried to maneuver around her, but it was too late. We were packed in tight enough that there was nowhere for me to escape. Going down, I was sure the marathon was over for me, but managed to break my fall with my hands. We were both able to continue running. Other than a palm a bit swollen with road rash, all is well these days later.

Running along the Seine, the cafés were full of fashionably dressed Parisians cheering us on as they sipped their cappuccino and wine. We passed the Eiffel Tower, following  the Seine west through the strong crowds that were crouching in close on both sides of the course. There were sections where only two to three runners could pass through at a time. If that sounds odd, picture scenes from the Tour de France where spectators are pressing out in the road, only in this case it isn’t fast-moving bicycles but back-of-the-pack runners struggling to maintain pace through the spectator gauntlet.

Finally, we are  headed north toward Bois de Bologne. It is a beautiful wood but not many spectators, making it difficult for some runners to stay motivated.

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No doubt some exhausted runners thought they were hallucinating when up out of the woods pops Frank Gehry’s architectural creation for the Louis Vuitton foundation

Many were trudging along in a slow walk. Though my pace had slowed, my legs still felt good and I had to zig and zag through walkers to maintain any kind of a running pace.

Performers along the course were wonderful, but my favorite was the drag queen troupe at Mile 25. After passing them, we were soon moving around Port Dauphine to the cobblestones of Avenue Foch.

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The finish line was efficient and I moved quickly through: water, finisher medal, shirt and food. I found my way back to the premium tent where a wonderful array of hot and cold foods and some sweets were available. I nibbled on a few things and chatted with other finishers.

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My bounty: marathon shirt, finisher shirt, hooded poncho, shoe bag, energy belt and a finisher medal designed by Pierre Charpin, artist and scenographer

And my time? 4:46:59, the slowest in about 10 years. I could attribute that to the heat (79 degrees F as I finished), to lack of speed work or interval training while an injury healed, but age is probably the biggest factor.

I was surprised at the low number of women running this marathon, less than 25% of the total runners. Most marathons I run have been around the 50% range for men and women.

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The Paris Marathon get high grades for an interesting and scenic course, quality premiums, reasonable entry price and is well managed. There are metro stops near the start/finish making transportation convenient. If you’re looking for an international marathon, give it a try. Why not?

 

 

 

Put it in Writing – 2017 Race Plan

January is slipping away too quickly. It’s high time to take that 2017  roughed out race plan buzzing around in my head and put ink to paper. Here goes. 

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Trail system at Pincho Park where the Squirelly Twail is held. The photo is from a previous year when I was hanging out with the guys finalizing the route for the HARRC in the Park trail run.

FEBRUARY – Squirrelly Trail Twail Wun 1/2 Marathon – I register for this every year, but haven’t run it. Each year there is either a last minute conflict or the weather is brutal.  Maybe this year.

MARCH –Naked Bavarian 20-mile trail run. This will be a good opportunity to do some trail as one of my 20-miler marathon training runs, and to prepare for my May hike. I’m not sure how the name of the race came about. Since this is March in Pennsylvania, I doubt that I will actually see any naked Bavarians. If I do, don’t expect photos.

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Again, not the Naked Bavarian race, but a photo taken at a trail race on a similar course around Blue Marsh Lake

APRIL – Paris Marathon – my destination marathon for 2017. Say no more. The portion of the course on cobblestone may be tough, but I’m looking forward to the last few miles through the Bois de Boulogne. I’m working on my training plan and brushing up on fledgling French.

 

The Paris photos are from a rainy December visit to Paris several years ago. All are scenes along the marathon course and include the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.

MAY – Hike Across Maryland (HAM) This hike organized by the Mountain Club of Maryland has a 150 maximum registration and fills almost immediately. We will be hiking the Appalachian Trail from the Pennsylvania and Maryland state lines to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.The distance is approximately 40 miles. I’m expecting to do this with a combination of trail running, hiking and a lot of grit.

JUNE – Run for the Ages 10K Trail Chase – I spotted the race while adding HARRC races to the RRCA event list. It has an age graded start and runs through Nolde Forest. Oldest female runners start first. Will I be first at the start line and maybe the finish line?

JULY – likely a 5 or 10K on the 4th. We’ll see.

AUGUST – I’m not sure. Any suggestions for inspiration?

SEPTEMBER – This calls for something special to acknowledge my 70th year on this earth. Stay tuned.

OCTOBER – I’ll add in a 1/2 marathon or two. It’s not autumn without a 1/2 marathon.

NOVEMBER – Harrisburg Marathon – Whether I run the full marathon, participate on a relay team, volunteer or some combination of the above, this is a wonderful marathon that seems to have more energy and participation each year.

DECEMBER – This is the time to ease off and maybe add in a 5K for a very good cause.

So there is the plan, but subject to change. Suggestions are always welcome.

Now that I see it in writing, I’m more excited for the year ahead. Will you be running or hiking any of these upcoming adventures? 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Morning Runs Among the Homeless

B-B Mistletoe KissWe runners tend to have a rare view of the world. Most of us will have mornings where we are out the door and back while the household sleeps. Other times we are traveling, staying with friends and family or in a hotel. Again, and always with safety in mind, the most opportune time to get in a run is early morning before the day’s activities begin.

So it is that my view of the homeless on our streets and in our parks is through the sleepy eyes of an early morning runner.

Thinking back several decades to the 70’s, the homeless population seemed to be a smattering of men, usually along a skid row area viewed through a car window. By the ’80’s I was seeing more people on the very streets I walked and ran near my office. Because I moved from one city and state to another, I first thought the larger homeless population was a quirk of my new hometown. It didn’t take long to realize that the increase in homelessness was not just where I live, but was a national and international phenomenon.

Running offers time to think and question. Questions like, why do I see more of the homeless now, where do they come from, what occurred in their lives that brought them to this park, this riverfront this retail doorway this particular morning?

The news reports I occasionally hear identify certain percentages of homeless as military veterans, those suffering mental illness or plagued with addiction, LGBT youth estranged from parents, and young families suffering job loss. Whatever the percentages, I, and I’m guessing many runners, have witnessed those from every category above.

My travels abroad have affirmed we in the U.S. are not alone in a growing homeless population.

Several years ago on an early morning run along a river walk in Osaka, Japan, I was jolted, realizing I had come upon a homeless encampment, blue tarps spreading in the distance. I quietly turned and rerouted to avoid disturbing anyone’s sleep.

Versions of that experience have occurred during most of my travels. I used my softest running steps as I encountered the homeless sleeping in doorways along Avenue de Clichy in Paris. At dawn, I’ve side-stepped those “sleeping rough” under the display windows of Christie’s Auction House in London’s South Kensington.

If you’re expecting to find my recommendations or solutions, I have none. I’m just an early morning runner reporting my observations. I do, however, believe there are smarter and more creative people than me who have within them the potential to contribute to the resolution. Policymakers, counselors, non-profit agencies, maybe some from the homeless community; among you I believe there are answers. By example, Back on my Feet is a relatively (2007) new organization with an innovative approach.  In this wide world of creative, caring people somewhere there is someone, probably many someones, who have the beginnings of other solutions.

Personally, my meager contribution is to donate to organizations that are sincerely helping. When I travel, I make it my business to identify a local group with a proven track record. Since I have benefited a city by spending my tourism dollars in restaurants, hotel stays, and race registrations, it makes sense to also contribute to the population least likely to benefit from my stay.

Could 2017 be a breakthrough year? With hope and determination, who knows.

On this chilly December evening, I wish all of my readers the warmth of family, friends and most of all, a place to call home.

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A 10-Point Strategy to kicking back Post-Marathon

Seldom do I give advice, but for post-marathon days there is a process I believe is essential: Be moderately active, but as lazy as possible. Take for instance, my Chicago Marathon post-race day plan and execution:

1. Book a flight late in the day to provide some lazy morning time. This allows a runner to wake hungry during the night, dig into their goodie bag of miscellaneous bars and fruit, then fall back asleep until the sun peeks through the curtain.

(Too early in the morning for a goodie bag photo.)

2. Walk out of the hotel with no particular destination other than water and sunshine.

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The Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan

3. Learn something even though you didn’t intend to, such as Chicago’s use of solar compactors discovered on our stroll down the street.

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Chicago has used solar compactors in the downtown area since 2011, saving time and money. Several east coast cities are using these as well. 

4. Watch a fleet of sailboats patiently wait for one the drawbridges to open.

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5. Take a silly selfie.

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6. Observe Chicagoans outdoing us in the “kick-back” category as they spend their Columbus day kayaking the river, doing some toe-dipping in the fountains and napping in Centennial Park.

 

7. Find something you didn’t expect to see. For us it was a building that looked like it has always been in the South Loop, but  it wasn’t familiar to me.

We asked a couple of Chicago’s finest who happened to be waiting to direct traffic for the parade route (remember, it’s Columbus Day). We learned the building is the Harold Washington Library Center. After a peak inside (well, more than a peak, we stayed awhile and had to convince ourselves to finally leave), we learned it hasn’t always been here. A research librarian told us it was built in the 1980s and opened in 1991.

8. Enjoy the parade. Step back out in the sunshine, find a place to sit on the curb and watch as bands, politicians and vintage vehicles pass by. Yesterday, you and 40,000 other marathoners were the parade. Today, it’s their turn.

 

Although primarily Italian American, there was participation from every ethnic and cultural group and political organization I was aware of in this city.

9. Retrieve bags from the hotel, grab a cab for Union Station and wave your sister off on the commuter bus.

10. Depart like a real Chicagoan and take the El train to the airport. (Thank you strong young guy who offered to carry my bag up the two flights of stairs to the platform.)

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That’s my strategy for a kick-back post-marathon day. How does yours compare?

 

Race Report: Chicago Marathon

We interrupt the Running London series to report on the  Chicago Marathon. Chicago is the third of the World Marathon Majors I have run and by far the most logistically easy for a mid-pack runner to make her way through.

After checking into a downtown hotel on Saturday, we walked a couple of blocks to the closest pickup point for the free shuttle to the Expo at McCormick Place. We picked up my race bib and shirt, listened to a panel discussion offered by Runner’s World, made our way through the many exhibitor booths and said hello to Adrienne, a hometown River Runners friend . Although a large Expo, it didn’t feel overcrowded and we were in and out in a few hours.

 

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Race morning, I was awake at 5:30 with plenty of time to ease into the day. No need to catch a pre-dawn subway and then a ferry to wait several hours for a 10:30 start, no need to catch a 7:30 bus to ride 26+ miles to the start to wait for my 10:45 start time. Here in Chicago, at 6:30, I merely walked out of the hotel and joined a parade of runners wearing outer layers of throw-away clothing and walking/jogging down Michigan Avenue to enter designated gates to Centennial Park.

I heard the announcer calling runners to report to the the early corrals. That’s not me. I still had plenty of time to drop my post-run bag, get a photo of the sun rising over Lake Michigan and establish my place in a very long porta-potty line.

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Sunrise in Centennial Park over Lake Michigan race morning

As we lined up, the temperature was 52 degrees with a cool wind coming in from the lake. My corral was to close at 7:45 and at 8:13, to the rhythm of Chicago blues flowing from the loudspeakers, we were off to begin our run into a tunnel. We emerge on Columbus Drive  and the roar of the crowds begin, rivaling spectators on the streets of Boston.

With the exception of a few blocks of the course, enthusiastic people were on the sidewalks several deep along all 26 miles. At a nursing home along the way there were huge signs in the windows and faces of residents and staff waving and cheering. Chicago is that kind of town.

From Lincoln Park to Chinatown, the course moves through a number of neighborhoods, diverse in ethnicity, architecture, cuisine and music along the course to further reflect those distinctions. One of those was my neighborhood many years ago. Nostalgia hit as we moved past the beautiful old brownstones lining the course.

Making our way through the miles, we made more than 20  turns. It’s a plus to be familiar with the course or at least watching a block ahead or so to be ready to run the tangents efficiently. The course is primarily flat, offering enough up and down blips to keep legs from getting stale.

I had heard Chicago is a fast course so I decided to take it slower the first ten miles to avoid burning out. So it was that two minutes after Abel Kirui of Kenya won the 2016 Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:11:23, I was approaching the half marathon mark and moving on to the 25K point when Florence Kiplagat crossed the line as the first woman finisher for the second year in a row with a time of 2:21:32.

I did pick up my pace as planned but stomach cramps around mile 17 and quads tightening up around mile 19 slowed me considerably. Even with that, I was enjoying the race and being among the runners around me from all over the USA and a strong international contingent.

While Still a Runner was, well, still running, the first women finishers in my age group were battling it out with finish times under 4 hours. Barbara Wright of Germany finished at 3:46:02, nosing out hometown runner Nancy Rollins by a mere two second (3:46:04) and Yoko Nishi of Japan finishing 3rdat 3:54:57. Fantastic times in the F65-69 AG.

By the last four miles and after four hours, it was warmer than I like a marathon, but the cool wind off the lake helped. After walk/running for several miles, I ran the entire last mile to the finish for a time of 4:39:04, 14th out of 72 women in the F65-69 AG. The hill I had heard about near the finish was barely noticeable, and I was pleased to be done. I walked the gamut with other finishers, picking up snack bag, finisher medal, heat sheet and a wonderful cold crisp apple that I managed to drop after taking only two bites.

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Chicago Marathon finishers relaxing post-race

Goose Island had a cold glass of beer for every finisher and from there I picked up my drop bag, (again – no wait, everything very efficient) found a spot of ground to sit down and put on some warmups, munch on chips, enjoy the beverage and talk with runners doing the same. Everyone seemed to be taking their time before leaving the park and going to meet friends and family waiting outside the marathon finish area.

If you like large marathons (Chicago had more than 40,000 finishers), large crowds of enthusiastic spectators, a relatively flat course, and a conveniently located well managed race, you would like the Chicago Marathon.

Have you run Chicago?  What was your experience? How did it compare with your other large races?

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Photo credit: Inheritance of Hope