Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Running

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?

 

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Accessorizing for Safety

 

Being prepared for our own safety is important for everyone. For those of us over 60 years of age, it’s imperative we stay active to maintain as much strength as possible.  We can also supplement our strength with accessories, which may or may not have a bit of flash and sash to them.

From high tech to low tech, we all have our favorite safety accessories. We may not think of them as such and while they are not appropriate or helpful for every situation, accessories they are.

For my lifestyle, safety when running the roads and the trails is where I most frequently rely on low tech devices. Whatever your lifestyle, for the majority of outings safety accessories are not needed. However, if we have one or more of them handy, it is one less thing for you or me to be concerned about. Then, we can concentrate on the beauty of the day on the trail or enjoying the sights in the city.

So, let’s look at a few low tech devices I have in mind to accessorize your look and your well being while out and about.

The Other People (OP) Strategy

Seriously, surrounding yourself in a group can be a safety accessory. Think penguins.  When penguins take that leap into the water, they do so as a pack. When penguins take that dive with the pack, they are less likely to be gobbled up by a seal. Take that swim alone and it’s nearly a sure thing the penguin won’t be returning to the safety of shore. It’s similar for humans. If we’re with a group, the OP strategy generally works. We are less likely to be hassled, intimidated or something worse.

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OP are an excellent safety device when hiking the Appalachian Trail. They’re also fun company.

Alas, we are not penguins. Many of us enjoy a  run or a stroll without OP. Are there times you want to take a solo run or see a movie or show that doesn’t appeal to friends and family? Here, the OP strategy doesn’t work unless you forego your own interests. Are you in this category? Well then, we’ll move to the next option.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?”

Your name is likely not Steve, but that was the advice from Lauren Bacal’s character to Humphrey Bogart’s character in “To Have and Have Not.” It’s a question for you if you want to stay safe. Can you whistle when your safety is in question? You can if you have a basic trail whistle. I have several models for the trail and usually wear one on a chain around my neck tucking the whistle into my running bra. Some people attach a whistle to their auto or home key chains.

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A whistle is also great for getting the attention of a crowd

Whistles can be less than a quarter inch in diameter and no more than a inch or so long, and yet make a loud, shrill sound. This is a wonderful passive device that can quickly be used if you become lost on the trail, are hurt and immobile and need help, or if you are in a dicy situation anywhere.

I’ve looked around and found that whistles now come in some elegant styles. You can find a variety on many websites, such as Etsy.

Carry a Big Stick

So said Teddy Roosevelt and so can we. There are variations of the stick that will work for your particular lifestyle. If it’s a run, hike or walk in the woods, a hiking pole will suit.

The citified version of this would be a cane or a walking stick. Whether or not you need it for strength or balance, it can be handy in self-defense and also  quite stylish.

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My friend Carol with her hiking stick maneuvers around a rough course and any unsavory humans or animals that come her way. 

The street and travel version can be the very elegant and decorative canes I have seen used among friends. They vary from rhinestones and animal prints, to classic wood business styles. You can find canes specifically for women at many retail stores or on lines at numerous websites such as this oneI haven’t taken this up as a safety accessory myself but if it is something you use as a safety ruse, please comment on how it has worked for you.

Who Are You?

If you are hurt and can’t speak for yourself, let your identification bracelet or necklace speak for you. It won’t keep bad things from happening, but it can quickly provide necessary information to medical or other professionals. Most outdoorsy folks will wear some form of identification that gives their name, at least one contact person and any other pertinent information.

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ROAD ID bracelet just happens to match running gear for the Harrisburg Mile.

Road I.D.is one of many companies where you can find them. Mine is on a wrist stretch band so small I sometimes forget I’m wearing it.

What’s That Odor and Why Are My Eyes Burning?

Pepper spray or mace can be a safety accessory. You can find these in most sporting goods stores. Models vary from handheld to clips.

Some sprays can be considered a weapon and are not welcome everywhere, so think twice before throwing one in your handbag or pocket when you visit certain office or government buildings, arrive for a flight or travel by any means to foreign countries.

That’s my list. Now it’s your turn. What do you recommend adding as a low-tech safety accessory?

(A version of this post was previously published on sixtyandme.com.)

 

 

My DWR’s (Daydreaming While Running)

Who doesn’t love that sensation of being in the zone during a run? My generally cautious nature of being aware of my surrounding goes by the wayside when running in the zone moves to a state of running in trance

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Industrial Road section of the Harrisburg Marathon course – not a good place for trance running

So far the most unsettling result of moving to the trance state occurred on a day I left my office for a quick lunchtime run. Somewhere along the riverfront on that beautiful afternoon, I slipped into the trance. Coming out of it, I was more than a mile past my planned turnaround point. After picking up the pace while rehearsing in my head the points I needed to make at the upcoming meeting I would be late for (or was it already happening), taking the fastest shower in history and silently slipping into a chair in the meeting room, disaster was averted. For some reason, my fellow attendees thought I had been at another meeting and were impressed that I rushed over to participate in their discussion. I don’t know what led them to that conclusion about my tardiness, although it may have been my red cheeks still flaring off/on like a stuck red traffic signal, still settling in from the effort of my sprint return.

Then of course, there was that finish line incident. Are any of my readers old enough to remember when road races used pull tags from race bibs and if the race was large enough, separate shoots were for set up for men and women? I was in that punchy-near-the-end type of trance when one of the shoot monitors was shouting “Miss, Miss – to the right – women to the right.” (I was young enough then to still be called a miss.) It didn’t register that he was shouting at me until somehow through body language, he redirected my trance-like brain state to do that simple thing – finish in the women’s shoot.

But enough about my tales of trance-like running state. Surely, you have some to share. Please tell.

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An unexpected running partner in her own trance. It’s a good thing one of us was alert.

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 a 40-Mile Meditation

I’ve had a draft playing around in my head for a month or two, a sharing of my experience at the Hike Across Maryland (HAM). I’ve come to think of this experience as a walking meditation. This morning, a radio program gave me the impetus to move ahead and put those thoughts to keyboard.

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was airing,  her topic being Running As Spiritual Practice.  A number of runners (including Olympian Billy Mills) share with her how running has taken them through dark times, lifted spirits, developed discipline and in many different ways become part of each runner’s spiritual practice.

I have felt many of those sentiments through my years of running. At the HAM, the closest I felt was the necessity to be mindful of every step I took as I ran and hiked the 40-mile distance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a single day.

The HAM is an incredible opportunity for hikers to test their endurance and pacing. From the 5 a.m. start at the Mason-Dixon line where Pennsylvania meets Maryland to the arrival crossing the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we were supported by volunteers and checkpoints providing refreshments and documenting our passage. While this event is not a race, we were required to reach specific locations by specific times or be asked to drop and accept transport to the finish.

Rain was heavy the previous day, making our May 6th passage on the trail muddy and slick. Temperatures at the start in the high 50’s would have been perfect if not for the cool rain. A love of nature and tests of endurance still brought out over 100 participants.

Off-and-on again sheets of rain came down as we ran a portion of an early mile. As water ran down her face, my friend said “Isn’t this great? We get to be in the woods all day.” She was serious and set a tone of optimism for me.

I realized early on that 40 miles of hiking, with running spurts where I was sure of my footing, would require concentration. I decided if I was to make it through with minimal injury, it would need to be a meditative endeavor.

I cleared my mind of any extraneous mumbo-jumbo thoughts that usually find their way into my thinking. Every step was a mindful step. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the rushing of the streams we crossed, the calf-deep mudholes, the occasional birdsong and the rustling of unseen critters in the woods. It’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the beautiful deep, deep green the rain was bringing out in an already lush area. And it’s also not to say that I didn’t listen to and acknowledge a number of fellow hikers talking through their love of the trail, concerns about and pride in their children, job and health challenges. Being on the trail is license to spew out to total strangers the things that really matter in life.

With any and all of that seeming to be on a separate track, my concentration was in each step of the trail, 40 miles of meditation. Even that concentration did not stop me from taking a face plant as we climbed  a rain-slick boulder. The bill of my cap and my glasses let me escape with nothing worse than a small goose egg on the forehead and a few scratches on the palms of my hands.

At our last major checkpoint, I turned over my headlamp and heavier raincoat to friends who volunteered support, exchanging that weight for a couple of quick chugs of Coke. Off then for the last few miles, still mindful in each step, my pace was quicker than the pace of my first few miles.

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Hello, West Virginia!

Although the towpath near the finish seemed unending, the stairs to the bridge a cruel trick and as we crossed to West Virginia the wild beauty of the rain-swollen Potomac breathtaking, I stayed mindful of each step on this wonderful earth.

 

There are no regrets I took up this challenge. Through this 40-mile hiking/jogging meditation, I treasured the company of good friends as well as strangers and the support of the organizers and personal hiking friends who made the day.

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Enjoy your weekend, dream of a new challenge and try taking a mindful approach. Gotta run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me Behind the Wheel

I like to drive. Not quite as much as I like to run, of course. But, sliding behind the wheel and heading on down the road engenders a similar feeling of freedom.

On a recent spur-of-the-moment road trip with my sister, we drove south out of Illinois on I-55. After a brief rest stop, I took my turn behind the wheel.

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You never know what you will find on a road trip. My sister spotted this interesting tree trunk at an Illinois rest stop. Can anyone identify the tree?

Moving through light traffic along the relatively flat plains, I asked my sister what to expect for traffic through St. Louis. “Nothing you can’t handle” was her response.

She was right. Normal to heavy volume, but calm enough to gawk for a moment to the right for a glimpse of the famous Gateway Arch.

Back into light traffic and continuing south toward Arkansas, I pondered aloud.  My cars, trucks and I have had our adventures while negotiating animal

 

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crossings on midwestern dirt roads, Pennsylvania logging roads in search of trailheads, dodging city potholes in towns all over the northeast, the Youngman Expressway on snow-covered commutes, the Dan Ryan Expressway bumper-to-bumper rush hour and the occasional venture through the tunnel into Manhattan. Nothing I couldn’t handle, as my sister said.

But what can’t I handle? Or perhaps a better question,  what don’t I want to handle? First, I don’t want to take the wheel in Italy. I have not yet been to Italy, but have heard enough of narrow curvy roads, drop-offs, excessive speed, and carefree drivers that sometimes end badly. No, no, no. When I get to Italy I won’t be driving.

IMG_4817Second, I don’t want to drive in the United Kingdom, or anywhere else where law and custom dictates I drive on the left side of the road. On roads through Exeter, Bath and London, I have many times taken my place in the passenger seat, squelching the scream in my throat while madly pumping an imaginary break in anticipation of a head-on collision. All the while my friend behind the wheel drives us calmly and safely to our destination. It’s best that I don’t try this.

Third, well there is no third I can think of. But I’m sure you can. Where would you absolutely not want to drive? Does your list compare with mine? Where is the oddest spot where you found yourself behind the wheel?

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?