Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Nutrition

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?

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Thanksgiving Weekend Cocoa Bean 5K

It was great to come home to the Cocoa Bean 5K this year. Generally, I’m out of town Thanksgiving week, but some schedule changes this year made it possible to squeeze into registration at the last minute.

Rick Blood cheering on runners near the finish:
Photo credit: Paul Moretz

This 5K is worth coming out for on a frosty windy morning. Let me count the ways:

  1. Indoor bathrooms located near packet pickup at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center University Fitness and Conference Center.
  2. A race day registration fee of $23 (that included the race premium of gloves).
  3. Race announcer and overall time record holder for the 30-something year Harrisburg Marathon Rick Blood shouting words of encouragement near the finish line.
  4. Useful AG awards – choice of holiday decor or socks accompanied by a Hershey bar.
  5. Ample food – both healthy and plenty of the not as healthy sort for those of us with a sweet tooth.
  6. Great race directors and organizers Marge Lebo and Holly Bohensky bring their years of experience in running and race directing to the event.
  7. A traffic-free looped course following a sidewalk trail through the complex.
  8. AG awards for those under 10 right up through over 80 years.
  9. You will see most of your running friends there. If you don’t have running friends when you arrive, you will have made a few  before you leave.
Race Director Extraordinaire presenting age group awards.
Photo credit: Clare Flannery Gan

All in all, a wonderful finish to a Thanksgiving weekend.

Tending to avoid those Aging Issues

During a long drawn out January head cold that lingered into February, there was ample time to ponder issues I tend to avoid .

A recent exchange with one of my more responsible friends encouraged me to pass on some of their words of wisdom, along with my personal take.

It’s Too Powerful to Stop

If your stage of life is 60+ (I personally past that number several years ago), we are old enough to think about the finality of life. We will die eventually, but in the meantime, we have responsibilities to fulfill, challenges to face and new roads to travel (or run).

Magical Cures Can Be a Waste

I know you will try them, and I won’t say I told you so. From an early age, we have been sold on every form of fountain of youth, including magical cures, pills, potions and lotions. We’ve tried all the concoctions billed to help us run faster, ache less, recover more quickly.

If it makes you feel good, please continue to indulge. I’m ready to give it up. There is no magic. I’m thankful for every day of good health and will not waste time trying to turn back the clock. It doesn’t move in that direction.

Prepare for Aging: Financially, Physically, Socially, Emotionally and Spiritually

Any one of those five categories can seem daunting, but preparing for one of them makes taking on the next easier.

Financial Preparation

There is no day like today to look hard at your finances. Treat your money with respect. With any luck, you will need it for a while, and those race registration fees aren’t getting any cheaper.

Physical Activity

I don’t need to emphasize physical activity with most of my readers, but get that physical exam, take your doctor’s advice about exercise and diet, health-literate, ask questions. Learn what you can about any new condition that finds its way to your doorstep.

Avoid junk food – most of the time – and eat the good stuff. Those health problems will eventually come, but give them a run for their money.

Social Engagement

Be good to your friends. I expect some of you, like me, at this point in our lives have lost one or two. If a dear friend is having a bad time, plan a silly birthday outing, share joys together, go for a run or walk together, support one another at whatever ability level we find ourselves.

The Emotional Factor

Let go of the grudges, anger, would-haves, should-haves. If you still need help after venting this to a trusted friend, see a professional counselor or a spiritual guide.

Spirituality

Speaking of the spiritual, you may feel a need for a deeper spiritual experience, to spend time in prayer or meditation. Doing so may help make sense of your journey and offer a world of inner exploration.

Prepare for the End of Your Life

If we don’t do this, others will have to handle our assets and our end-of-life decisions. While we’re at it, let’s clean up what we no longer need or use. How about those worn out tights you keep around because you wore them that day in 1980 when you PR’d? Again, if we don’t purge it, someone else must – and really, isn’t that our responsibility?

Manage Life on Your Own When You Can, Accept Help Graciously When You Must

Even if it’s for a brief, temporary period, be willing to ask a trusted professional, friend or relative for their thoughts when difficult decisions must be made. Be willing to accept or reach out if it will help you through a tough period.

Having done the above, what’s left?

Live an Enjoyable, Active and Fulfilling Life

Finish strong. You’ve made the tough decisions, prepared this stage of your life in every way you can. You’ve done all the responsible things, now go do what your heart yearns to do.

You may want to explore literature in a deeper way – I’m looking at Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey. You may want to do some form of volunteer work in a field you always wanted to tackle, but didn’t.

You could help build something, literally or figuratively that will be there when you are not. You may want to just go have fun – dance, play, run, travel, laugh with friends and family. Go. Do it. You deserve it.

I can’t say I’ve conquered any of my suggestions, but I have nibbled around the edges and know this too is a continuing journey.

How many of the above categories to you tend to avoid? 

 

7 GIFT IDEAS FOR SENIOR FITNESS FANATICS

B-B Mistletoe KissDo you have a few blank spaces next to the names of friends and relatives who continue – or have begun – to pursue exercise or athletic endeavors in their senior years?

My suggestions here focus on gifts for runners, primarily women, but the same gift selection thought process and some of the items can be applied to men and to almost any other sport or activity.

In past years, I’ve done a gift list post or two on my blog and most of those manufacturers and categories still hold true.

In addition to my earlier finds, there is an array of items out there, from the economical and practical to the snazzy or cutting edge. So, let’s get started. Perhaps you will find just the thing for your senior runner or other athlete.

When it comes to gourmet gifts, here are some suggestions to consider:

Healthy Foods and Ingredients

By choosing healthy foods and ingredients you can pick up an economical gift for your runner/athlete host or hostess. They will make a nice addition to the healthy array of foods likely already in the athlete’s cupboard.

Organic food stores carry a number of packaged items and ingredients that can sometimes be difficult to find. Here is a list of organic food stores from across the geographic spectrum.

Organic Restaurants

Eating out can be a challenge for athletes who prefer healthy food, so here is a gift card opportunity. Spec out an organic or generally health-conscious restaurant that your friend or family member has not yet found – or one she particularly likes.

Cookbooks

On my personal wish list this year is Run Fast East Slow developed by Shalane Flanagan, recent winner of the New York City Marathon, along with chef, nutrition coach, friend and college track teammate, Elyse Kopecky.

The cookbook has been around for a year or two, and I have enjoyed some of the recipes prepared by friends who were among the first to purchase it.

Moving on to clothing choices, here are some interesting items that I would definitely consider:

Tights

When hiking, running, doing strength work or cycling, tights are almost essential. Although we all keep that one pair of black tights that can morph from the trail to looking quite nice under a dress or long sweater, the wild splashy colors and prints in tights are far more fun.

Don’t let age stop you from making these a gift purchase for your senior athlete. Join in this trend and go wild. Stop into any athletic store or browse around online, and you will find them.

Socks/Gloves/Hand Warmers

Does your favorite athlete have a favorite brand for socks, gloves and hand warmers? Then stick with that. Most people have worked out what fits best in their running and cycling shoes and what level of warmth is needed.

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Your fitness fanatic may appreciate compression socks. They’re a good gift choice – useful for long runs or when traveling soon after an endurance event.

Do you know what kind of gear your friend needs? Let’s look at the choices:

Reflective Gear

Reflective gear is always a nice addition and can be a stocking stuffer. It can be anything, from a reflective strip with a velcro back that can attach to any clothing item to something offering more coverage.

My very favorite gift received last year was the Tracer360. I can be seen in the dark, coming sideways,front or back.

Activity Timing/Tracking

Activity timing gadgets are very personal. I enjoy Garmin products for timing and pacing information on runs, hikes and swims. I also like to look back through the data over time. Seeing the maps of trails trodden in the past can bring wonderful memories, much like photos.

However, there are many technical products, and you will want to know your athlete very well, and perhaps get her input, before making this purchase.

Happy shopping!

If you are 60 or over, what is on your fitness fanatic gift list? If you are the new or experienced athlete, do friends and family encourage your activity with gifts, large or small? 

This article was previously published in early December on Sixtyandme.com

 

B-B Mistletoe Kiss 

 

Paw Paw Foraging

It all started with a church auction item – an opportunity to paw paw forage with an experienced forager. I had no idea what I would be foraging for, but it sounded like an interesting experience.

These many months later, the season for paw paw foraging had arrived. Instructions were to meet and come prepared with boots, bug spray and drinking water.

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I had, since my successful auction bid, done enough research to know that the paw paw is a fruit that grows as an understory plant in several states from the Atlantic through Ohio. As it turns out, Native Americans harvested the fruit, as did explorers following suit, craving the sweet juicy fruit in their diet. According to many sources including Kentucky State University, the paw paw is rich in nutrients.

Our foraging began in a forest section of the Susquehannock State Park. After walking down several trails and into the brush, our leader, Laura, identified the paw paw tree.

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The paw paw has large exotic-looking leaves unlike most trees in east coast forests. We spotted our first fruit overhead. 

When the paw paw is ripe enough, it can be ever so gently plucked from the branch. For fruit that is out of reach, a gentle shaking of the tree’s trunk will release the fruit that falls to the ground with a thump, or – if you are quick enough – into the bag you are holding. If you are not quick enough, you may get a surprise bop on the head (don’t ask how I know).

The taste of the paw paw was everything I had heard described. We gently peeled our first paw paws then stood enjoying the flavor of the pulp, somewhere between the sweetness of a banana and the wildness of a guava.

IMG_5522 (1).jpgThe kidney bean-sized seeds were spit out.

I also understood why the fruit is not cultivated to any great extent, as very few paw paws appear on a single tree and they are a delicate fruit, ripening in a short time window. I’m told you may find some farmer’s markets where a stand may have them available for short periods of time and at a very dear price.

Paw paws tend to grow in colonies, the largest reaching to the sky peaking out of the forest’s canopy, with less mature trees sheltering underneath and a myriad of newer growth along the forest floor.

After filling our bags and leaving a generous amount of paw paws for other foragers, we did some initial sorting and talked potential use. There are  recipes for everything from quick bread to beer.

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As for me, my paw paw cache will be frozen in small amounts to be used in smoothies along with some frozen slices of rhubarb. Those exotic summery tasting fruits will be perfect for adding nutrients and a sweet and sour taste to the post-run smoothie on chilled winter mornings.

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Do you have experience foraging in the forest? Have you used paw paws in cooking, baking – or brewing?

 

Hemp Hearts Discovery – they’re new-to-me

Like Columbus claiming to discover the Americas when thousands of people who lived here knew of its existence as did the Vikings who quietly arrived and left centuries before, it seems I am late to the discovery of hemp hearts.

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credit: istockphoto.com

Last week, I ran across hemp hearts as the final ingredient in a chopped salad recipe. Having never heard of it, I called my health food store and yes, of course they carry it. So off I went to pick up this new-to-me ingredient. I happened to buy the brand Manitoba Harvest.

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credit: kelownaceliac.org

With the intriguing name of hemp hearts, they are actually raw shelled hemp seed, with a moist nutty appearance, adding flavor and texture to the salad, but not overwhelming other ingredients.

While adding the texture and flavor, the hemp hearts also added a nutritional component: protein. For someone who eats many meatless meals, this was a great find. Two tablespoons of these little nuggets gets me 7 grams of protein. It also gets me lots of good fats.

Hemp hearts to my diet have become something like those surprise words that pop up. You run across that word the first time in reading not having been familiar with it, and then suddenly that word appears, looking back at you from many other sources.

So now, having made my ‘discovery’ of hemp hearts, they pop out at me here and there. Within a day of trying that salad recipe, I noticed pro triathlete Sarah Kim Bonner includes hemp hearts in her blog’s muffin recipe.

Then on a recent trip to the pharmacy,  I spot hemp hearts right there in the aisle near the energy bars and sunflower seeds. Clearly, I am among the last to add this wonderful food to just about everything – including a tablespoon or so on my morning cereal.

So, fess up readers. Am I the last to discover hemp hearts?

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credit: meganwallacerd.com

Dipping my Toe into the Ultra World

Taking on a 50K trail race is something I have pondered over time, years of time actually since I am now solidly in the 65-69 AG. After canvassing opinions from experienced ultra running friends, I chose May as the month and the Dirty German Endurance Fest as the event.

The Dirty German has 25K, 50K and 50-Mile options through Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. It was billed as suitable for beginners yet offering enough challenge for more experienced trail runners. I found the description accurate. A more experienced trail runner could run this entire course. I chose to walk in some areas, staying conservative to ensure I could finish uninjured.

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

To test my trail legs, a couple of friends were kind enough to do a 21-mile run/hike with me on the Appalachian Trail prior to the race. With 2/3 of that 50K trail distance completed and still feeling strong, I was ready for the 50K.

Race morning dawned with high humidity and temperatures climbing early. Within the first mile, I could see shirts ahead of me already sweat-soaked. My ponytail provided a personal air conditioning system, sprinkling cool drops of water down my back.

The shade from huge trees and the bubbling of the creek offered physical and mental barriers to help ignore the mugginess of the day. The paths were soft underfoot with the expected rocks and tree roots mixed in here and there.

The toughest areas to run were 2 miles of paved bike path as well as a short section of rough dried earth that looked like leftovers of a tractor track, jarring enough that I walked the grass section beside that hard earth.

The course includes two creek crossings. I made it across the rocks, barely getting a toe wet. Making way through a flat single track switchback section I could hear the accordion and the start/finish activity. Beginning the second loop, it felt like luxury to run on those soft trail surfaces and listen to the creek bubble. There were enough other runners out there  to feel comfortable but also enough personal space to listen and watch nature unimpeded as my feet took me on this beautiful second loop tour.

The Dirty German was my first experience with a different type of aid station. For road marathons, I keep my food intake to a few energy beans and maybe a bite of an energy bar in the last few miles. Adding 6 miles on trail required more substantial intake.

At each aid station, a volunteer quickly filled my hand-carry nearly-empty water bottle. I reached for a chunk of potato, dipped it in salt and chased it with a glass of Coke. Fortunately, my stomach didn’t rebel & I was good to the next aid station.

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Post race with running friend and 1st 50K Women Masters, Becky.

My loose goal was to complete the 50K course in 8 hours. As it turned out, my finish time was 7:05:58. I saw my friends Becky and Jeremy  (you can read about Jeremy’s ultra running exploits on his blog The Road to Trails). Becky had finished much earlier, placing 1st in the women’s masters category for the 50K and garnering a wonderful award – a cuckoo clock – for her efforts.

I took a short walk to Pennypack Creek where other runners and families with children were wading in the cool water. I washed the top layer of dust and sweat off legs and arms, did a quick change into a dry shirt, and made my way to the barbecue area for a sausage and German potato salad. We took a moment to thank Race Director Stephan Weiss for a great event and were on our way home.

Post-race, I was surprised that with the exception of some minor stiffness, my body was none the worse for wear. The softness of the trails and the changes of pace and stride seemed easier than the pounding on asphalt and cement road running hands out. That may account for some of the longevity of trail runners who have been at this for years and continue to run trails far into their senior years. A New York Times article titled Why Older Runners are Ultrarunners reached the conclusion that older runners are no more likely to be injured during trail running that younger runners.

Granted, they were not referring to women in their 60’s who decide for the first time to take up ultras (example #1 behind this keyboard). No, most of the runners in the cited study are men who have had decades of experience running distance on trail.

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Long sleeve tech shirt and finisher hat.

After a first positive experience, I will be incorporating more distance trail runs and trail hiking. I’m not abandoning the roads, but they will be sharing my running time with the trails.