Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Half Marathon

A Muddled Report on a Muddy 1/2 Marathon

If you are feeling like you are too old to do something, I suggest you take a run in the mud, or help a younger generation make some mud pies, or get a mud facial. Any of the three can be healing.

It’s not that I wasn’t forewarned. I read the information on the Squirrelly Tail Twail Wun website. I heard numerous stories from year’s past. The trail can be icy or deep in snow. This year, the mud should not have been a surprise.

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Unusually warm weather and rain a few days before the race guaranteed a messy course. Race day temps were in the low 30’s accompanied by a brisk wind.

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We look far too clean. In hindsight, we should have done a post-race shot. 

After the traditional pre-race photo with my running group, I did a couple of warmup miles and saw what I was in for. I enjoy a fall run on the trails around Pincho Lake but winter/spring conditions are quite different.

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The course circles Pincho Lake

Although there were a few drier spots along the way, running through the mud was tough going. Attempting to stay to the edge of the trail out of the deepest muck, I found myself entangled in wild raspberry canes along the trail edge. 

Around mile 8 as we slogged along, a friend on the course made a comment about the joy of playing in the mud. That helped my state of mind and I decided to let my inner child come out and play. 

With some bloody splotches on my hand from the close call in the raspberry brambles and having landed on all fours at one point, I arrived at the finish line a dirty, happy runner.

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You know you’ve lost all sense of adulthood (or fashion) when a soft long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a cartoon squirrel warms your heart.

You won’t find overall finisher or age group awards at the Squirrelly Tail. You will find a memorable February challenge and a beautiful course, whatever its condition.

After picking up my finisher medal and enjoying some post-race chatter, I returned to the trail to get in another three miles to fulfill my 18-miles for marathon training.  Fortunately, I remembered to stash an extra pair of shoes and warmup pants in my bag for the ride home. Trail shoes are once again clean, only the memories and some dried mud on my floor mat remain.

What are your February memories to warm you through a blustery March? Did you let your inner child play, and did it involve mud?

 

 

Hell-bent on completing the Hellbender-Half Race Report

With all the fuss, fanfare and hi-tech most road races have adopted, there are thankfully still a few old school races around. The Hellbender Half Marathon & 5K is one of them.

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Weiser State Forest near race start

 

How old school? No on-line sign-up available, but you can download a mail-in application from the race website. Race registrations are mail-in and day-of sign-up on-site only. No chip timing here with results based on gun time.

Having said the Hellbender is old school, it is  also as professionally and efficiently directed as any race in the region. Co-sponsored by the Susquehanna Ridge Runners Club, the course was accurately measured and timing was accurate. Results were available and awards announced in a timely fashion, even as race officials worked under tents in a strong downpour.

If you are a runner who has an interest in the cause supported by a given race, you probably won’t find another that specifically benefits the environment of the Hellbender, an aquatic salamander native to the area. These creatures breathe through their skin, so their survival depends on the health of the streams. The race benefits the work of the Roaring Creek Valley Conservation Association.

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Replica of a hellbender (two feet more of less)

As was typical of this year’s summer, race morning was warm, 75 degrees at the start, and humid. The area is deeply forested and as I stepped from my car, I reached for the bug spray. After their initial greeting, the insects kept a distance. After a warm-up mile, I  lined up with a couple hundred runners who had found their way to this particular tract of the Pennsylvania Weiser State Forest. The surface was typical forest road, primarily gravel on  the hard-packed dirt surface. Roughly half of the out-and-back course is along a stream and a lake, the remainder tall forest on both sides, with the occasional state forest building back from the road.

Although the course  is primarily flat, there is a slight incline going out and, thankfully, a slight decline on the return.  I started out on pace, but by mile four the humidity was like an anchor tied to my ankles. Thankfully, water stops along the course were well placed and well stocked. By the time I reached the turnaround, I was doing my I-don’t-care-anymore-just-let-me-finish pace. It got better. On the return, the very slight loss of elevation felt good as did a few raindrops that spattered down. I picked up my pace even more during the final mile as the spatter turned into a full deluge with fat raindrops popping off the bill of my cap.

Well shy of my usual pace, I still was pleased to finish in 2:05 and change, earning first place in F65-69 age group. 

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Photo-op during a break in the rain with fast 50-ish friends Sue and Kris

Post-race food was  ample with a variety of homemade sandwiches on fresh bakery rolls, cut-up fresh fruit (my personal favorite) along with chips, bananas and a few other treats.

Already drenched, I munched on the goodies while trying to keep the food dry and chatting with runners who do the Hellbender every year. On my walk to the car, I stopped by the massage tent  where they worked some magic on my tight quads.

Thanking myself for adding a large towel to the bag, I poured some extra water over my muddy legs before drying off and scurrying into fresh dry clothes. Thankful for another invigorating race experience, I was back on the road.

The sixth year of the Hellbender has come and gone, but if it sounds like your kind of race and you’d like a drive through rural Pennsylvania, pencil in the 7th on your August race schedule.IMG_2275

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?

Pacing (OK, Chasing) Amby

 

I’m feeling a bit like that retro cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Credit: www.gopixpic.com Gonzales Pacon

Credit: Gonzalo Pacori

How is it possible to be in the running vicinity of a celebrated runner and not see him – twice? 

We’re talking about Amby Burfoot, a man who won the Boston Marathon in 1968 at the young age of 21 years. Since then, he has authored several books. I’ve seen his photos over the decades appearing with his columns offering advice and education on all things running for runners at every level. You would think I would recognize him.

My first known close encounter with Amby was at the 2014 Boston Marathon. It came to my attention after the race that we had been assigned the same corral. Granted, we’re talking hundreds of people in that corral, so yes, that I didn’t see him is understandable. Our finish times weren’t close, about four minutes apart. Still, we were likely in the same vicinity at the same time somewhere along that 26.2 mile stretch. But, I did not see Amby.

Less understandable is the near miss siting a few weekends ago at the Runner’s World Half Marathon. Upon approaching ArtsQuest the morning of the race, I saw the aging stacks of Bethlehem’s steelmaking past lighting up in the pre-dawn sky.

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Bethlehem PA pre-dawn skyline

But, I did not see Amby.

I did see a number of neighborhoods and a number of challenging hills. A beautiful long downhill at mile 12 let me stretch my legs for the best mile pace of the race.

I can attribute part of my lack of spotting other runners, be they friends or those who fit in the celebrity category, to a tunnelvision sort of focus  that automatically occurs as I run. 

That was the case when Keith, a Runner’s World staffer, pulled up beside me about a mile from the finish. I recall asking if we would be in before the 2 hour mark. He talked me through that final windy mile, pointing out the 2-Hour Pacer just ahead. My clock time was 1:59 39, chip time 1:58:49.

After the finish, I enjoyed the post-race festivities with my husband, chatting with other runners we met throughout the morning. Still, I did not see Amby.IMG_0976

Upon returning home, a friend emailed with a question. Did I realize Amby Burfoot finished six seconds ahead of me? Well, I did after looking at the results. Comparing clock times and chip times, surely we were again in the same vicinity at the start, probably near the runner who did a terrific job as the 2:00 Pacer. But, I did not see Amby.

When the race photo email arrived, I took a look through the selections for my bib number. The photo company watermarks made it difficult to see detail, but I guessed and finally took a flyer, ordering the magazine-style finish and hoping for the best. That’s me, third yellow shirt to the rear, wind jacket around my waist.13521552_1

I expect if we both continue to run,  (I’ll hold up my end to the best of my ability) my path may again (almost) cross with Amby Burfoot. My powers of observation are unlikely to improve and although I may not know it at the time, I will still be chasing, not pacing, Amby.

 

 

We’re all 1/2 (Marathon) Crazy

It’s the absence of the stifling humidity that has us giddy. And it’s that season. You see a leaf or two falling to the sidewalk, breathe that air with a barely distinguishable hint of autumn, and runners go 1/2 marathon crazy. Regardless of experience or pace, the half-marathon calls us. We’re helpless against its siren songuntitled.

We rationalize the usual explanations. It is a perfect tune-up for impending full marathons. The half is a great introduction to a longer distance for runners moving up from 5K and 10K distances. But really, we just want to be part of autumn and half marathons.

The Harrisburg Half Marathon has my first 1/2 and continues to be one of my favorites. It is convenient, mostly flat and mostly shaded. Still, after a summer of disappointing results in shorter races and in training, I held off signing up this year.

Has it been the humidity, the air quality, possibly age? Summer running and racing have been difficult. During my last 5K I felt like I was breathing through a mask. The legs felt strong, not so the lungs.

But the fever still strikes. On a hot sultry Saturday before race day while volunteering for packet pick-up, the energy and enthusiasm among runners pouring in for race bibs was palpable. I kept hearing the weather would change overnight, humidity would lift and we would have a cloud-covered cool(er) day.

Rivers Runners pre-race start

Rivers Runners pre-race start. Photo credit: Bekah Rundall

I bit. At the end of my volunteer shift and just before late registration closed for the day, hand went to wallet, signed waiver, picked up shirt and committed the rest of my body to a 13.1 race the following morning.

Overnight, the humidity did indeed clear out, but the cloud cover did not move in. Still, with temperatures in the ’60s and ’70s and those wonderful trees along the Susquehanna Riverfront, it was a beautiful day for a race.

I started near the back of the pack, unsure of what my pace would be. After the first two miles,  from City Island and south through Shipoke to the Greenbelt, runners finally spread out and I was able to move comfortably to an 8:55 pace.

Around miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo courtesy Stacey Cleary

Staying on pace miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo credit: Stacey Cleary

Surprisingly, the tight breathing experienced over the summer wasn’t a problem. I stayed on pace until Mile 13 where I drifted off by 20 seconds.

A solid finish coming in at 2 hours, 0 minutes, and 23 seconds, this pleasantly surprised runner was just over two minutes off PR placing second in age group.

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

The other pleasant surprise was the relatively large number of women in the 65+ age group. With a field of nine women, first place in AG went to a strong competitor from Virginia with a 1:55 time.

With a beautiful home course and well organized 1/2 in Harrisburg behind me, have I stymied the 1/2 marathon craziness? No. Next stop for me is the Runner’s World Half in October.

Looking at race calendars, over the next month there are roughly 15 scheduled 1/2’s within a two-hour drive. I expect wherever you are, race calendars are similar.answer-girl2

So, who else out there is 1/2 crazy? Raise your hand.

Hilly Half in Chambersburg

The Chambersburg (PA) Half Marathon has been around for 35 years, yet somehow I avoided running it. Friends talked of this race and I had heard it all: Chambersburg is hilly, it’s hard, it’s cold.  So of course as perverse as my running friends are, they return multiple times. course_map_half

The Georgetown 10-Miler was on the list in my Roughed-Out Race Schedule and was also scheduled for this weekend. I made the switch to Chambersburg, mostly to take on a tough course as a final test that my knee is ready for Boston‘s hills. It was also an opportunity to take along some registration applications for the Capital 10-Miler scheduled at the end of March.

And hilly it is at Chambersburg. What everyone describes as a “monster hill” greets runners as they climb several hundred feet beginning before mile 3, only to tackle that same hill on their return around mile 10.

It was refreshing to participate in an old-school race; no chip on the shoe or the bib, just an experienced and accurate team with a clock at the start/finish and an efficient crew pulling bib tags as you move through the finish line.

What I saw on the 13.1 mile course is beautiful farm country, cattle and barns so close to the road you can almost touch, deer running across the distant hills. It is a race open to road traffic with volunteers posted at several locations. However, it is a course where all of a runner’s senses must be engaged. Traffic isn’t heavy and drivers were patient and considerate, but dips between hills makes it difficult for vehicles and runners to see each other from any distance. 

Having scheduled a long run earlier in the week, my legs were not ready to give me a strong half-marathon time. I made the decision early in (even before the monster mile) to pace myself to run at goal marathon pace, using the race as a day of my training plan.

River Runner friends did well in AG awards and even one 1/2 PR.

Some of my running tribe – River Runners did well in AG awards and even one 1/2 PR.

Outcome? 2:06 & change and I did manage to place in the 55+ age group (as a senior runner at age 66, I should make that 55++). 

Not surprisingly, race officials prohibited strollers, dogs and headphones from the course, both in writing on registration applications and again verbally prior to the start. What was surprising was the officials’ swift action to disqualify runners who defied the prohibition and ran with listening devices. As a race director, I know it isn’t easy to enforce rules that may have runners deciding they won’t be back to your race. It was refreshing to see Chambersburg holding tough on this for the safety of all runners.

If you plan ahead and are into a hilly country course, Chambersburg has a race application for 2015 on their website, linked above. UnknownJust leave your music at home and bring your love of country roads.

How was your weekend running?

The Case of the Disappearing Road Races

As I look out my window at another mid-February snow, I’m wondering what plants will survive the ice storms and return anew in the Spring.  Was this the last year to enjoy some percentage of them that will now simply become memories?

The Colon Cancer Prevision 5K will not be returning in 2014 - my first 2013 race after 3 months off from injury

A favorite, the  Colon Cancer Prevention 5K will not be returning in 2014

I wonder the same about some of my favorite road races, which leads me to muse. Do road races have a timed-out life expectancy? What happens that well organized races with strong race directors and a loyal following disappear from the current year’s race listings? Is there anything that runners can do to keep their favorites alive?

This year, at least two of my favorite local 5K’s drawing 400 – 600 runners, a good number for our small city area, will not be returning to the race list.

The same is true of two marathons where winter brings news that their doors have closed.

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Mile 1 of the former Gansett Marathon

January 24th, the Gansett Marathon race director announced the dreaded news on Facebook. There would not be a 2014 race.  I wrote a post earlier about this wonderful marathon located in Narragansett, Rhode Island. This was a niche race, no fundraising entries, and requiring previous marathon times 5 minutes over the required Boston Marathon times.

I loved this marathon for the fresh sea air, wildlife spottings and beautiful neighborhoods with only a small section through a business/industrial area. Gansett had a loyal following, but apparently not large enough in number meeting the challenge of the required entry times. 

Another winter announcement came from the Mother Road Marathon. An email came to my inbox alerting me to its demise. The MRM website now reads:

We regret to inform you that the Mother Road Marathon has been cancelled indefinitely. The decision was made by the Joplin City Council due to registration declining consistently since the inaugural year. The City of Joplin is the primary funding source for MRM. We have truly enjoyed our runners over the past four years and we thank you for supporting our race.

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Galena KS on the route of the former MRM and the original Route 66.

With both Boston and New York on my race list for 2014, I’m thinking my 2015 plans will include a registration and support of some out-of-the-way marathons with a local flare. There are so many beautiful and interesting corners of this country and the world, I want to explore them on foot, and preferably on the run.

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to experience the Mother Road and Gansett Marathons before their cycles of life ended.

IMG_1538I wonder how many other local races are quietly closing their doors and mysteriously disappearing from the upcoming race lists. I’m hoping my shrubbery and all of our remaining favorite races will survive the ravages of winter and time. If you have favorite races that have recently disappeared, let’s hear about them.