Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Nature

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.

IMG_3279

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.

17021445_1587877997892379_2940648137344774269_n

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.

IMG_3280.jpg

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.

IMG_3300

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?

 

 

A Fresh New Year Start with a First Day Hike

When I saw a January 1 mid-day hike at a nearby state park posted on Meetup, i signed up. I expected to meet with six or eight other hikers usually hiking with the group.

img_3214

Instead, the parking lot was filled with families, dogs, groups of friends, all ready to begin their new year following a trail through the woods of a state park.

img_3210

DCNR Secretary Dunn and park volunteers welcome hikers.

All in all, more than one hundred of us followed volunteers from Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park with Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn along the leaf-covered trail.

It seems I am a latecomer to the first-day hikes. State parks across the USA have been hosting hikes on January 1 for the last six years. In Pennsylvania alone this year, hikes were occurring at different times of day and night at more than 20 locations. That included a Last Night Hike in one park where they rang in the new year on the trail. Another park hosted a night hike that focused on owls in the park.

IMG_3213.jpg

Recent improvements to the Mountain Creek Trail include this bridge assembled by park volunteers.

My particular hike distance was just over three miles. That distance was fine for me as I’ve been nursing a minor injury. Leaders took us down a relatively flat and newly renovated Mountain Creek Trail.Although Laurel Lake at the start was frozen over, temperature at hike time was in the high 40’s. The hot chocolate and cookies at the mid-way point were an unexpected treat provided by park volunteers.

I’m thinking this will be a great new tradition. Probably not the same state park, but wherever I happen to be on January 1, I will be looking for a First Day Hike.

Tell me about your First Day. Any hikers who found yourselves in a state park?

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Mother Earth on a Resilient 2016

In spite of everything we throw at her, Mother Earth finds a way to cope and thrive. Regardless of how disappointing we humans can be in our actions, getting outdoors never fails to regenerate hope. Here are a few examples that popped up before my eyes during 2016.

img_1936

January hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) enthralled with the view of morning mist over the farm fields below.

img_1963

A clear February sky over the iced Susquehanna River.

img_1997

A March day along the Capital Area Greenbelt with fresh buds on cherry trees.

12417786_1258737800807556_1475305736301228671_n

April brings the strains of jazz murmuring through the trees as the ensemble waits the arrival of the Capital 10-Miler runners along this wooded stretch of Greenbelt.

In June, the Rhinebeck Marathon included some miles on a heritage trail. On a smaller scale, the baby turtles began making their treks out of hiding along Wildwood Lake.

 

A July run down a country road brings into view a fisherman knee deep in waders. The stone building abutting the bubbling creek demonstrates its own resilience having stood strong for over a couple of centuries.

In August, nature brings us a spider web glistening in the morning sun. While the web may not be resilient, its creator is.  A run brought me to an ambling creek flowing by temporarily abandoned lawn chairs.

img_2453-1

A September view of the River Thames. Over the thousands of years it has flowed, the course has been altered by time and by humans.

img_2946

Not as old as the Thames, this grape vine growing at Hampton Court is more than 230 years old. Alas, I arrived too late in September to purchase jelly from its abundant crop.

img_3139

October took me to the banks of the Chicago River where it flows into Lake Michigan, a lake that was formed billions of years ago. It will outlast the concrete buildings and bridges surrounding it.

 

img_3189-2

A November breakfast at a café in the 540 million year old Laurentian Mountains was enjoyed on the warm side of this window.

What have I found to be resilient in December? That we have made it through a trying year with one day to go may be the best description of resilient. Mother Earth is still holding her own and so should we.

If you would like to see the perspective of other writers and photographers, take a look at these ideas on the meaning of resilient.

 

 

A Walk through London Parks

Sometimes you just need to walk away. A park is just the place to temporarily escape. If you can’t physically get up and take that walk, it helps to remember a favorite trail or an unexpected quiet place. I’m taking my mental walk through some enchanting parks found in London. Come along with me.

img_3002

Let’s start with Holland Park. Entering through the gates at Kensington High Street, first notice the remains of a 17th Century castle named Holland House. It was damaged during World War II and that is still evident.

The park has multiple areas for exercise and sports, but it is serenity we’re looking for and it can be found here amongst the English gardens,

the Kyoto Garden,

and a natural children’s play area that may make you wish you were still a child.

Next, we’ll move to Postman’s Park. Located in the City near St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk through the unassuming entrance under the shade of its trees. The traffic and tourist noise diminishes. We are now in good company. The park is dedicated to memorializing ordinary people who died to save others.

Read the poignant stories of those honored on the plaques, or simply sit quietly.

Here, the clatter of those telling us of their greatness can’t compare with the brave and spontaneous deeds of those who would not otherwise be remembered. Their names will not appear on the side of a building, but here in this tiny park they are remembered.

We’ll finish with a walk across the Hampstead Heath. The Heath is there to enjoy today because forward thinking Brits of the 19th century fought to keep it common land. The Heath is made up of forests, ponds and heath, large scrubby grass areas. While it provides wonderful views of London, if our purpose is to clear the mind, then keep your eyes on the beauty of open space.  Do some people watching. The area is so vast, we have the company of others but can still feel as though we are in a wilderness of sorts.

There, now. Doesn’t our park walk improve your outlook? With patience and perspective restored by the memory of those beautiful green places, I hope your are  ready to return with me to today’s reality.

Where do you go when the world gets to be too much? I’m  open to finding new destinations to recharge.

 

 

 

 

London Running – Take 3 (or first-timer at a park run)

I registered for park runs several years ago when I first learned of them from a British blogger. For anyone unfamiliar, park runs are free timed 5K’s run entirely by volunteers. They are not about racing, but about running for everyone. Each park run provides an accurately measured course and timing to allow the runner or walker to compare results against themselves over weeks or years.

So far, we have only a couple of park runs in the USA. Although none near my home, a runner need register only once and you are set to run a park run anywhere they are held. I registered with the organization and received my initial sheet of bar codes. Since receiving the bar codes, they have been sitting in my miscellaneous running folder. I thought to pull them out to travel with me to London.

London was a great location to experience my first park run. Since there are more than 100 park runs established within the 32 boroughs of London, I had a wide selection to choose from.

img_2887

I decided on one about five underground stops from me. Convenient, and I liked the sound of the name: Putney Green. The Putney Green stop is only a few blocks from the Fulham Palace Park RunThe 5K takes place in Bishop’s Park near the Fulham Palace, home to bishops since 700 (yes, that’s right – 700).

IMG_2905.jpg

River Thames near Putney Green and Bishop’s Park

The course is two and a half laps around the park, so runners are running along the River Thames for a distance three separate times during the 5K. One of the runners informed me that this portion of the river is the site of the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club  boat races, renowned in Britain.

Several hundred runners turned out for Saturday’s park run here. A friendly group, as are most runners around the world. I was putting in a medium hard effort but wanted to enjoy the run and the running company, having done a number of solo runs the previous couple of weeks.

IMG_2880.jpg

Runners find a queue to get their bar code scanned to ensure their time results.

With a total of 340 participants at this run, finish times were in a wide range, Several runners at the front of the pack did sub 18-minutes, with first place at 16:48. There were a number of walkers and several families running together. I fell somewhere mid-pack with a time of 27:07.

Along with the clock time, results also show each participant’s age-graded percentage, a nice plus. Within a couple of hours, participants received an email with their time and place. My email came with a nice congratulation on having run my first park run. If I do more park runs anywhere in the world, those results will be available along with my results at Fulham Palace.

img_2896-1

Following the event, runners were invited to join others at the Drawing Room Café in the Bishop’s Palace. The café offered a selection of coffees and teas along with wonderful pastries and artisan sandwiches. Although the interior of the cafe was lovely, so was the day. That brought most of the post-run group to outdoor tables overlooking an expansive green.

The park run morning offered an opportunity to visit a borough of London I had not yet seen. When and if the opportunity presents itself, I will return for the friendly company and historic sites that are a part of everyday life.

If you get a chance to do a park run while traveling anywhere, take the opportunity. You simply need to register with the organization prior to participating and remember to bring one of the bar codes (you will receive these in the mail after registering) with you.

I look forward to hearing about your next park run, especially if it is your first.

img_2879

London Running – Take 2

It started out as a 9-miler. I hadn’t yet seen Regent’s Park on my London visit. Roughly gauging the distance, I was off on a sunny 60-degree morning. Skirting the edge of Hyde Park, then down Oxford Street winding around people headed for their office and appointments, seriously talking on their cell phones with apparently a heavier agenda than me. Me, I’m just running.

Taking a left off Oxford, I find my way through several zig-zaggy streets to an opening to the park. I plan to do a half-circle and return back to my flat. As I pass the London Zoo entrance, I see a towpath below with a few people biking and walking. Hmm, better check this out.

IMG_2730.jpg

View of towpath and canal near London Zoo entrance to Regents Park

Entering the towpath, I get a beautiful view of a few boats making their way down the canal.

img_2763

Zoo aviary from towpath view. Who can identify the birds?

Then, I hear some beautiful birdsong. Looking up, I see a netting and discover an aviary overhead, my free look into the London Zoo (a senior runner has to be frugal).

Continuing on I see a sign that reads “Cyclists Dismount” and the path becomes a series of permanently harbored boats on the canal side and a variety of seating and gardening plots on the wall side.

Here the path ends, so I exchange a few greetings with owners, puttering about their boats and gardens.

Returning down the path, I decide to check out the opposite end of the canal, you know, just to see where it goes. After roughly a mile, an arched metal bridge ends the path and what do I come upon: Camden Lock Market.

img_2777

Having told my traveling friend emphatically I wasn’t interested in seeing this market, here I am. And, it is a wonderful market. Pausing my Garmin, I make my way through the warren of hats, hand-made clothing, crafts, books and food. Oh, the food. Every ethnic cuisine you might want is here.

img_2772

Spotting a cook stirring a huge, beautiful pan of paella I knew it was time to leave. With at least of 5-mile return trip, I dared not indulge.

Back to the path into Regent’s Park, across the road is Primrose Hill which gives an extraordinary view of the park and surrounding sites in London.

img_2786

After a short but tough run up to take in the view and back down to the outer circle, this time I come across a side path to a beautiful track. Several casual runners are using it and I wouldn’t leave without doing at least one loop.

IMG_2791.jpg

Again back to the outer circle, I see I can give a short visit to the inner circle and the Queen Mary’s Garden, then cut across for my return. Here, the flowers are still brilliantly beautiful in this unusually warm London September. Residents at ease with this day are enjoying a morning coffee in lawn chairs.

Seriously now, it’s time to finish this run. Routing through Marylebone to the Marble Arch and Hyde Park, I stopped at the open air cafe near the Senior Playground (in this case senior is not limited to seniors like your author, but anyone who is not a child),  I chose an energy drink for the cooldown.

My 9-miler had grown to a 16-miler with every mile enjoyed. I walk mile 17 back and prepare for something more sedentary for the remainder of the day.

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.

IMG_2242

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.

IMG_2240.JPG

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. 

IMG_2245

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