Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Nature

What in the Blue Blazes??

The day began with a picture perfect Saturday morning. After a week of hot and humid days and today waking to a clear sky and 60 degree temperature, I chose whimsy over reason.

A more training-disciplined person would have used this day to continue increasing mileage, 17 miles on the schedule. Deciding to save that 17-mile run for a day or two, I opted for a 12-mile hike with my Meetup group.

We were to hike an area called Sand Springs, new to me, then connect and continue on the Appalachian Trail (AT) on Stony Mountain.

Within the first kilometer of the hike, came the cable bridge across Stony Creek. This was my second experience walking a cable bridge, and its actually fun if not just a little intimidating. Just maintain your concentration.

Next came a rather peaceful section with bubbling stream, rhododendron bordering the trail, fields of ferns, and as you would expect, stones.

That peaceful section was quickly followed by a steep climb up the Yellow Springs Trail through a boulder field. As we climbed up and over rocks my eyes scanned for the blue blazes identifying the trail, looking for each new blue blaze to ensure I was still on trail. The thought “what in blue blazes am I doing here” crept into my psyche. Then to stay positive and keep my mind busy as my body stretched over and found footing on each new rock, I pondered where that phrase came from, what does it mean, etc.

Finally, we crested the top of Stony Mountain with me being the last arrival. A brief flat respite of trail, then a steep descent down, although shorter than the journey up.

Several miles later, we hiked through what had been the Yellow Springs Village. I understand there are some remnants of the town off-trail but on-trail, nothing was left of the mining village.

In our last several miles, we hiked a long gentler, but still rocky descent. This is after all the Pennsylvania portion of the AT, referred to by hikers as Rocksylvania.

Along the way we spotted the oversized, beautiful mushroom identified by our hike leader as Chicken of the Woods. It is reportedly safe to eat (please check it out with someone who knows about these things before doing so) and is so tasty is can be used as a meat replacement.

So, another section of the AT I had not hiked before is in the logbook. I will rest up a bit before I take on that ascent again.

I don’t usually use poles, but today they were helpful both on the journey to the top and the steep downhill that followed. I also opted for my heavy, clunky hiking boots over the trail running shoes I had originally planned to wear. When I’m heading out for a hike, I generally bring a pair and a spare.

How is your weekend going? And, when is the last time (if ever) you heard the phrase “what in the blue blazes..”

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.

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.

Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)

Have you noticed that recently fitness and health magazines and on-line sources have finally picked up on the concept that spending time outdoors can improve your health and well-being.

They are a little late in coming to the party. Since the 1980’s, the Japanese have been at the forefront of integrating outdoor experiences, particularly those in forest areas, with other health care protocols.

Well, forest bathing has even come to my little corner of the world. I became familiar with a practice called Shinrin-Yoku (or forest bathing) during a presentation offered by our wonderful county park. The Japanese and other eastern cultures have found that integration of forest bathing into health care plans helps with a number of maladies, particularly high blood pressure and other diseases that chase us down as we age.

No! No, not that kind of forest bathing

I find it intriguing that the rest of the world has now caught up with the knowledge that being in the woods can lift your spirits. Most trail runners and hikers have been aware of this. It’s a part of what draws us to the trail.

So, to find out how this more scientific version of a walk in the woods developed I did a bit of reading and wrote an article for Sixty and Me.

Later, I saw an announcement for an opportunity to participate in Shinrin-Yoku at Detweiler Park. Detweiler Park is the perfect setting for Shinrin-Yoku , a location that is bare bones carry-in, carry-out, trails only for pedestrians and an eco-friendly environment.

The session I attended was specifically for seniors (there were other sessions open to families with children and a session for adults not yet in our golden age).

My session was led by the certified forest therapy guide, Suzanne Schiemer, who had done the earlier presentation. She explained the process we would use to experience the forest. We would be proceeding very slowly and observing the forest through all senses.

Let the Forest Saturate Into Your Being

We began by closing our eyes and exploring our location through senses other that sight. What did we hear? Could we taste the forest in the air as we cupped our tongues? What did we smell? We went through this process, rotating, making a quarter turn and repeating the process until we had experienced the differences in our forest environment through our senses by simply slightly turning our bodies. And, to our surprise, our senses did identify differences in smell, sound and taste as our bodies moved ever so slightly.

We began our forest walk after our leader first offered that there are plants in the forest that can be harmful and they generally will tell us so if we pay attention. Her example was the hairy exterior of poison ivy vines. She then issued an invitation to walk very slowly and identify a vine that we are each individually drawn to. The vine that called to me had managed to wind itself into the shape of a dancer.

We stopped along a bridge crossing the brook and took time to each find our comfortable place and quietly contemplate the forest world around us.

After our quiet meditation, we walked another short distance to a forest path. We were asked to each find a tree to become familiar with. Could we feel energy from the tree when touching it? Yes, I was surprised but I could feel it. I will keep this in mind on my next lengthy trail run, maybe take a break leaning against a tree to reinvigorate my body.

Our session ended with a tea ceremony, sharing our experience around a picnic table under a beautiful pine.

This was an intentional slow moving process. During our 2-hour session, we moved less than a half mile.

Each exercise, or invitation, we participated in, I have since emulated prior to picking up my hiking or running pace on the trail. I am finding it a worthwhile, relaxing process.

I would love to hear whether you have experienced anything in the realm of forest bathing or forest therapy? Would you be willing to give it a try?

Garlic Mustard Pull on the Appalachian Trail

If it is Spring in Pennsylvania, you can be sure the invasive garlic mustard plant is showing off its tiny flowers somewhere near your favorite running trail.

Joining a garlic mustard pull on an evening hike was my opportunity to give a bit of volunteer time to benefit the Appalachian Trail. I don’t see myself shoring up stream banks or carrying in lumber to repair bridges and walkways over swampy areas. I do have extensive experience in weed pulling. There is a volunteer job for everyone and this one suits me.

The Invader

The garlic mustard plant found its way to our shores and doesn’t have any plan to leave voluntarily. It rudely spreads itself in the undergrowth of forests and then becomes the dominant plant, muscling out native species. So, if you are looking for a beneficial but lightweight volunteer gig with your local trails, contact their leadership and ask if they are planning a garlic mustard pull. Then, join in.

Based on my experience, here is a preferred method to go about this task:

Place yourself in or near a full bed of garlic mustard so that you can reach several plants without changing position. Then, do a gentle squat (very beneficial mid-hike). Staying in the squat position, with each of the plants within reach, place your fingers around the base of the plant, then pull straight up. The plant gives way easily, especially if your weed pull is scheduled a day or so after a rain.

Keep pulling until your bag (or bags) are full. If you are near a road intersection, bags can go directly into the car trunk of one of the hikers. Then, good-bye garlic mustard.

Bag everything. Any weeded plant left on the ground is likely to reseed.

What’s for Dinner?

I won’t leave you with the impression that any plant is all bad. A fellow hiker informed me that she eats garlic mustard, adding it in her salad. I checked this out on a couple of sites and in seems that with certain precautions, the garlic mustard will provide a bit of zest to your table.

The most thorough site I found regarding eating this plant is the cleverly titled EAT THE INVADERS.

The article includes other edible options for garlic mustard, including preparation methods for a foods from pestos to stews, and even a cocktail.

The author also offers a reasonable list of safety precautions to consider before using the plant. Most are common sense items, but if you plan to forage, I suggest giving their article a read.

Spring offers wonderful opportunities for running the trails and for trying new things. Do you have experience foraging food? Have you participated in a mustard garlic pull or efforts to remove any other invasive species from our forest floors?

Beach Dreams on an Icy Day

February is a great teaser. One day, the afternoon brings balmy 50-degree temperatures perfect for a run. The following morning, a layer of ice clogs your doorways and walkways. You hope your yaktrax hold on for your brief stint in the out of doors.

There is nothing to do with February but enjoy the balmy days and dream of beaches on icy days. My beach memories this year are of the beautiful islands of Guadeloupe.

This is not a swimming beach due to the ruggedness of the coastline and an undertow. It is an enchanting beach where I became mesmerized by the ocean. Many visitors and residents take a hike to reach the cross atop the cliff.

If cliff climbing isn’t for you, stop by this lovely swimming beach, Place de Petit-Havre on Grande-Terre. Don’t worry about bringing your beach umbrella. When you emerge from the beach there are ample trees for shade

Anse de la Perle sits in a crescent of the shoreline. A beach for stronger swimmers that is rated by many as the most beautiful beach on Guadeloupe. Orange sand, coconut trees with a few beach bars sprinkled nearby, it’s no surprise this location was chosen for the series Death in Paradise.

If you’re interested in an authentic view of a pirate’s cove, stop at La Rhumérie du Pirate for some creole cuisine, casual outdoor dining and a beautiful view of the cove. Take a surreptitious peak around the side of the deck and you will see lobster pots bobbing in the water and staff preparing fresh seafood.

As I wrap up this post, snowflakes have again returned. So, I will return to my beach dreaming. If this persists I may take you on a future blog tour of our drive across the inland mountains.

Travelers hint: If you’re on the East Coast of the U.S., Norwegian Airlines now has affordable and convenient flights to Pointe-à-Pitre Guadeloupe out of JFK.

Ultimate Family Gift: A Themed Vacation

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season. Are you still looking for that perfect family gift to remember all year long? Consider a themed vacation in a sunny place.

Winter doldrums will hit, but there are a number of ways to benefit from the warmth of the Caribbean Islands and those in the Pacific as well. I’ve enjoyed a few days away now and then to simply read, enjoy friends and family, savor the local foods, and of course, run.

There are any number of resorts that will cater to your needs as you let the cares of the world wash away. There is another way to spend some time with family: dig deep into a topic they would find worthwhile or intriguing. I just experienced one of these on my first visit to the Caribbean in many years.

My recent week away on the French island of Guadaloupe included a study on the topic of the Slave Trade History in Post-Colonial Guadeloupe. 

Ruins of a colonial prison

I came away from my week in Guadeloupe with a deeper understanding of the complex, violent past of many of the islands in the area.

Historian interpets signage at a slave rebellion site 

I also learned some about the plant life and the topography of this beautiful island, much I would have overlooked had I chosen a more passive vacation.

We also had opportunity to enjoy the many beautiful and varied beaches of Guadaloupe

On a much earlier trip to Hawaii, just by chance I happened upon an announcement in a local windward side free newspaper. A local civic historic group was offering a tour of ancient sites in the area. I was surprised that with the myriad  of tourists on the island of Oahu, we were  the only non-residents of Hawaii taking the tour. It was a magnificent opportunity to learn about ancient fish ponds. sacred burial grounds and a drive to some cliff locations that mark the historical changes of power on Oahu.

As a proponent of both the get-away-and-be-pampered vacation and the thought-expanding vacation, I’ll provide my ideas on what makes the latter a success.

1.Prepare well for the subject or territory you will be exploring. In my recent trip, I sought out fiction and non-fiction literature to give me a basis for the history and a sense of place. Ask your tour contact for their suggestions for advance reading.

2. If you are not on a specific topic tour, keep an eye out for information, both on the web and in print, that may be offered by local groups such as the one I ran across in Hawaii. Generally they know their subject matter well and are eager to share their knowledge.

3. Consider a trip that includes a homestay, at least for a portion of the trip. My trip to Guadeloupe did. I stayed in the home of a professional young woman and came to understand much of family life, residential architecture designed for the lifestyle and the climate, and the favorite restaurants and home cuisine that are preferred by locals.

4. Learn in advance who will be your guide and who will be providing information of the credentials of your primary guide. If you are doing a study tour, the background of the leader should be available to you. Is he or she an educator, a resident or former resident, a frequent traveler to the area?

5. What is the maximum size of your group? A smaller group can move more efficiently and sometimes have access to venues not available to larger groups. It also offers more opportunity for individual questions and discussion, but may be a bit more costly. There are always trade-offs.

6. Will there be downtime to digest information and enjoy time with your host or fellow participants? Simply taking a drive for the mountain view, enjoying a warm walk on a sunset beach, or following up on a lead of a wonderful local eatery can provide a break and add to your memories.

7. Will the tour be age-appropriate and of interest for your entire family? Will there be recreational time for those less interested?  

Do you search for something more intriguing for family vacations? Is there a topic or activity your entire family enjoys? Have you tried a vacation exploring a specific topic or engaging in a home stay with a local? I’d love to hear your experiences.