Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Senior Runners

What makes a Successful Running Year

I suppose the answer to my title is this: Any year I can run is a successful running year. Whether you have met your goals or whether you had goals at all, the simple act of getting out the door and breaking into a run can constitute success.

That may sound like a low bar to qualify for success, but I will claim it as mine for 2018. There are years when events in life, happy or sad, expected or not, take precedent over any preset running plans for the year.

Having said that, there were a few highlights, like that crazy rainy Boston that made me question my sanity but in the end left me a decent finish place entitling me to this fabulous shirt

The photo doesn’t do it justice. It is merino wool and light as a feather.

So, yes, we will call this a success.

Trying something new in 2018, I ran in a track meet for the first time since 4th Grade. That effort qualified me for the 2019 National Senior Games, and who doesn’t want to go to New Mexico to compete and then do some sightseeing? So, we will put this event in the success category as well.

Then, there was the Sasquatch Adventure Run. It was a fun, scenic run through horse trails, lots of climbs, a few steep downhills and crossing a fast-running stream. What seemed like a minor trip turned out to be a deep cut to my knee resulting in stitches and time off from running for a few weeks.

I didn’t realize I had an injury until Photographer Clay Shaw, perched on the creek bank said to me “Did you fall? You’re bleeding.” With only a mile or so to go to the finish, I simply kept running.

This I would not call a success as much as a wakeup call. My success has been running and hiking trails over the last 20 years and never needing stitches until this event.

So what’s up for 2019? In my seventies I’m not anticipating any great breakthrough moments. But maybe I will find some fresh territory to run or some races I haven’t yet experienced. Any suggestions?

Advertisements

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.

304 Years of Wisdom

Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and there are four men in particular who are thankful to continue their running careers.

Tony Lee Jim & Brad Relay Hbg Marathon 18

At packet pickup on City Island, Tony, Lee, Jim and Brad bringing with them 304 Years of Running Wisdom, are ready for marathon morning.

Competing against 84 other relay teams at the Enders Harrisburg Marathon earlier this month, my favorite team, 304 Years of Wisdom, placed 69th, finishing ahead of 16 other teams.

My friends, Tony (age 73, Brad (age70), Jim (age 74) and Lee (age 87), displayed their 304 combined years of wisdom on this nearly perfect day for running. 

Believe it or not, there was not a category for a 70 & over relay division award. Our good friends on the Silver Streaks team took first place in the 60 & over category, the oldest designated category. Perhaps we can lobby for a 70+ category for 2019.

IMG_0926

Looking as fresh at the finish as at the start, 304 Years of Wisdom convene near the finish line for a congratulatory beverage.

I was honored to be one of two designated backup runners if any of the above had to drop due to any number of problems that people in our age category run upon. Alas (and good for them) I was not needed.

I had earlier deferred from the full marathon as a change in travel plans left little time for even a semblance of taper miles and had me returning home late in the week of the marathon.

So, while my brave 70+ running friends were challenging the course, my contribution was to stand near the finish line ringing a cowbell and shouting appreciative comments to finishers.

Lee ran the final leg for the team and crossed the marathon finish line with a total team time of 4:46:43 and an average pace of 10:57.

Enjoy that Thanksgiving dinner, my age-group friends. You have earned it.

DSC_0589

Added bonus for Lee, age 87. Two daughters from out of town surprise him at the finish line. He is planning for a repeat in 2019.

Dipping my Toe into Senior Games Track

I love a beautiful long distance run. But, I’m hedging my bets that my body will one day revolt against the marathon and ultra distances. So, why not learn a little bit about running some shorter distances?

I’ve learned some about track from friends who get together on the occasional evening and do a bit of speed work when a local track is available. Although I knew my skill and my knowledge was thin, I couldn’t resist when I saw the Pennsylvania Senior Games were being held within an hour’s drive from me.

I took a deep breath before taking the plunge to register online, then did a few speed sessions to gauge whether I would manage to qualify for the National Senior Games (NSGA) to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico Summer 2019.

Arriving at the Pennsylvania Senior Games, I saw that a number of track and field events were being held simultaneously. This gave me an opportunity to see a couple of non-running events and meet some other runners waiting for their events to be called.

The shot put clearly required strength, particularly in the upper body. The movement of those competing in the long jump is quite elegant, requiring  changes to gate or steps as they approach the pit.

But, back to the track where I would be lining up. I did a warmup mile while the race walk event was held. I learned from conversation among other competitors that there were some national record holders at the competition. There were also several people more like me, no track experience but interested in giving it a try.

Amongst those new to track, they included distance runners who were looking for a different running experience in the hopes it will improve their half-marathon and marathon times.

To participate in the state senior games and with NSGA, competitors must qualify at state games in the even-numbered year to participate in the national competition in the odd-numbered year. They must also be at least age 50. At the track events in Pennsylvania, runners ranged in age from 51 years to 91 years.

Track Times

Qualification times for NSGA 2019 are by 5-year age groups with specific minimum times. I had registered for three distances which I felt were within my reach.

In high humidity under clouds that threatened rain, we lined up for my first experience with the 1500-meter event. I was successful in finishing about 50 seconds ahead of the minimum performance standard. I could have pushed harder, but with two more events to go I just worked to come in under the standard.

My second event, the 800-meter, was also a success with a finish about 15 seconds ahead of the minimum  performance standard.

Then came the moment of truth at the 400-meter (can you hear the wah-wah-wah music in the background?).  In this shortest distance for me, I finished with a 1:55:78, missing the minimum performance standard for my age group and gender by nearly 20 seconds. I understand I would still be qualified because I finished second in my age group. (We had a light age group field (with me finishing second out of two in my age group. Even so, before I would take the 400-meter distance on at nationals I would need to do considerable training.

So, as Meatloaf tells us in his lyrics, two out of three ain’t bad. I will be preparing to run competitive times in the 800-meter and the 1500-meter distances in Albuquerque.

5 and 10K Rules Changes for NSGA:

I also plan to compete in the 5K and 10K events. And a tip for those of you who, like me, live in a state where the State Games do not currently include the 5K and 10K distances: there is now a process to submit your qualifying time (use their Limited Event Verification Form found with the Rules document on their web page) at a race that you have run at that distance in 2018.

Another rule change with these distances is that a running and qualifying time at either the 5K or the 10K distance allows you to compete in both distances at National Senior Games.

So, I’ll be sending off my application and hope to be in Albuquerque in 2019, expanding my participation from the 5K and 10K to include track competition.

Will I be seeing you in Albuquerque? If not participating in running events, perhaps in one of the 50 or so other sports offered, including three non ambulatory categories this year? A link to every state games site can be found on the NSGA website, so check it out! 

 

15 Hours of Absurdity at Boston 2018

One of the Canadian runners staying at my inn pretty much summed it up.  “Absurd, just absurd.”

3 A.M.  Hard rain has started in earnest, pounding on the metal roof outside my Back Bay window. I  sleep off and on but finally give up.

6 A.M. I’m ready for coffee and  dress just enough to be presentable in the dining room. The inn has set out a 6 a.m. breakfast for marathoners. The speedy group assembled from Sweden, Canada and several points in the Western U.S. are enjoying bagels and yogurt before making a dash to their buses. I’m left to chat with a few early rising non  runners.

7 A.M. It’s back upstairs to get dressed for the battle with the weather. Assuming we will be running into the wind the better part of 26 miles, I tear a piece of dry cleaner bag into a rectangle, anchor one end in my running bra and the other in the waistband of my tights as an extra layer of protection on the chest. Then, I tear a small square for the crown of my head before adding my beanie and the yellow runner trucker hat that was a giveaway from Trackmaster. It turns out the hat is perfect for the weather with a bill large and wide enough to keep the rain directly off my face.

Finally, I ask myself whether a sane 70-year old woman would wrap herself in plastic to run in pelting rain for 26 miles. No one answers.

8:55 A.M. Left my inn for the short walk to meet my friend, Becky, on the Boston Common where we catch the bus to Hopkinton.

Given that it rained most of the day pre-Boston Marathon, I decided earlier to take one of the last buses out. You can get away with that when you are in the 4th Wave, 2nd Corral. I’ve been to wet Bostons in the past and could envision the condition of the Athlete’s Village.

Everyone in the bus line is ensconced in old marathon heat sheets, plastic bags, throwaway rain jackets with a few in some really solid quality rainwear. Anything that keeps the unrelenting rain off. The temperature is in the upper 30’s but feels colder with the wind and rain in our faces.

10:15 A.M. ish We arrive at the Athlete’s Village or what is left of it. Picture hours of pouring rain, a couple of large tents with shivering runners squeezed in for cover, a knoll at the edge of the field leading to the tent and portapotties that now resembles a mudslide.

Shortly after arriving, the announcer calls for the last of the 3rd Wave folks to find their way to the start, then encourages Wave 4 to begin finding our way as well.

Becky brought a change of shoes and headed down the mudslide to  the tent. I called after her “I’m not following” but I’m sure with the pelting rain she did not hear. It was a good decision to stay where I was and walk through the Village on the paved path. Wave 4 runners making their way up the knoll from the tents were slipping and sliding, some crawling to keep their balance.

I spotted a few porta-potties only steps off the pavement and joined the line. Volunteers  had devised boards and tarps to keep us out of deep mud and to protect what if anything was left of the grass and sod.

11:00:  We’re moving en masse to the start line. A man on my left runs by hurrying to his corral. His feet slip on the slick pavement and he is down. A couple of us around him try to assist, but he pulls himself up, left calf and knee bleeding and he continues on in a run. I’m sure the rain fully washed that blood away in minutes.

Near the start line, I remove my warmups and place them on a pile of clothing that would later be collected by Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My running skirt, compression socks and the thick layers of body lotion on my skin would have to do for lower body warmth.

11:20 A.M.  I’m looking for my corral and expect to be squeezed in like previous years, but no – they were releasing runners on arrival and we simply moved through the start.

Miles 1 – 3: Running more slowly than usual, getting a feel for the slickness underfoot I make my way through castoff clothing and plastic bags and try to get a feel for pace.

Mile 4: I move to the edge of the course when the rain subsides a bit and remove the throwaway warmup jacket under my rain jacket, then rebundle myself with arm hole vents open, every other zipper tightly closed. My fingers are getting cold and my gloves sopped so it is taking more time than I anticipated.

Mile 6: Why, oh way, didn’t I bring waterproof gloves? I find a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket, tear it in half and wrap pieces around each hand. It’s working. Not that my hands are warm, but there are degrees of cold and this was better. I see people wearing latex gloves and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this.

Mile 9: I take a moment to be thankful that I had the foresight to bring my North Face rain jacket. Not necessarily warm, but it was a nice layer against the wind and kept my upper body dry while rain ran down it.

Mile 14: Another thankful moment that my goddaughter Jess is out along the course and if I must drop (yes, it did cross my mind), she will be but a call away.

Mile 17: The strongest gale yet hits us head-on and I am lifted off my feet. I feel a hand on my back and for a moment think I am having a religious experience, but no. The hand belongs to a man running behind me. We continue to run, his hand on my shoulder blades, until the gale passes. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 19: Is that hale?  I try to convince myself it’s sleet but it is in fact little hale balls. It must be localized because within five or six minutes, I run out of it and back to plain, simple heavy rain and wind.

Mile 25: Turning right onto Hereford, the pavement is swathed in raincoats, plastics, everything the 22,000 runners ahead of me had used in attempts to keep warm and dry. I pick my way through the few spots of still bare street, understanding runners ridding those layers for that last drive down Boylston where they know finish line photos and dry clothing are waiting.

I ridded myself of nothing. Any sense of reasonable appearance was left behind many miles ago, and in fact was left behind as I left my room. I would not have identified myself in the finish line photo save for the yellow bill of that trucker hat.

Finish Line: My watch says 4:53:40. The shivering begins as soon as I stop running. A short and fast walk to my inn. water continues to stream off me as I enter. I reach for a hot cup of cocoa, hand still shaking.

After a long, warm shower, I cuddle into a blanket and pull out the various snacks (yeah, salty potato chips) from the finish bag, replenishing with additional snacks from home.

OK, I am done and not coming out from under this blanket.

Dinner invites declined.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATHLETIC COMPETITION THROUGH LIFE

Do you yearn for more physical activity in your life – perhaps a sport from your youth? You may have a secret passion for something you have not yet tried.  Opportunities abound at any age, so why not explore them?

There is a world of friendly competitive sports out there for the senior athlete, be you a novice or from the world of the elite. From alpine skiing to weightlifting, there is a sport (or two) for each of us.

Many organizations open opportunities to train and compete with those in our own age group. To offer you a smattering of those, let’s start with the Senior Games.

National Senior Games Association

The National Senior Games Association(NSGA) offers competition at the state and national level in 20 different sports categories for athletes age 50 or over.

Athletes compete in games at the state level in even numbered years, i.e., this year and meet the minimum performance standards shown on the website in order to qualify to go to the national games in the odd numbered years.

Contact information for each state is listed on the NSGA website. The 2019 national games will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June 2019. You will have plenty of company as the national games usually draw 10,000 – 12,000 participants.

Sound interesting? Take a look at the state game schedule. Not every state offers every sport and most states will allow qualifying for out-of-state athletes. For example, my state doesn’t offer road racing, so in past years I have participated and qualified at the Delaware State Games.

Huntsman World Senior Games

The Huntsman World Senior Games have been around for more than 30 years and hold competition in 20 different sports. Where NSGA changes the locations of the biennial games, the Huntsman Games are held annually and always in Utah. Again, they are open to athletes age 50 and over, through 100+ years.

The Huntsman Games use the NSGA minimum participation standards. Contact, registration and information on each of the sports offered is available on the Huntsman website.

USA Track & Field (USATF)

Where other organizations catering to senior athletes offer a variety of sports, USATF is specifically track and field events, which still provides a wide variety of venues.

The Masters category starts at age 30 with USATF. Keep in mind though that competition is held within 5-year age groups. Currently, I’m in the group Female AG 70-74.

USATF Masters events are held regionally and nationally. Information on international venues for Masters is also available on their website.

Beyond Athletic Competition

Travel Opportunity

Many organizations have events locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. If travel is one of your joys, sports make a wonderful excuse to take a second vacation.

After your competition or training, spend a bit more time in tourist mode, kick back and enjoy. And while you are busy preparing for your event, the rest of the family can take in some local color.

By example, several of my siblings accompanied me to Senior Games in Minneapolis one year where they happened across hundreds of bicyclists coming down the street in the ‘Freedom from Pants’ Bike Ride, which was pretty much like it sounds. We followed that up with a much more sedate evening with the Minneapolis Orchestra accompanied by a choir from Cuba.

Family & Friends Support

Get your family and friends into the spirit. I’ve seen two and three generations of families supporting their senior family members in competition.

After many seasons of freezing on the sidelines or sitting on hard grandstand seats in support of your children or grandchildren, give them the opportunity to be there to cheer you on. What an example you will set.

Senior Athlete Websites

Websites that cater to senior athletes offer inspirational articles about people like ourselves who have been late starters or recently renewed their interest in sports. Others offer information on training specific to the older athlete, in addition to health-related issues.

Join as a Spectator

If you are not yet ready to jump in as a participating athlete, attend and enjoy any of the above as a spectator. USATF has the most accessible regional competitions with many indoors where there is the opportunity to witness our counterparts sharing competition and camaraderie.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Have a chat with your health care professional and get the green light. If you have recently embarked on a new activity or participated in a senior competition, what was your experience? Please share it with us in the comments below.

This is an adapted version of my article previously published on http://sixtyandme.com.

 

Qualifying for Boston through the Ages and through Age Groups

As a young pipsqueak, age 58, and latecomer to marathons, I ran my first Boston Marathon in the W55-59 AG. At that time, Boston’s qualifying time for me was 4:15. I’m still making that trek to Boston every few years. While I’ve increased in age by 12 years, my qualifying time (70-74 AG) has increased to 4:55. Sound like an easy qualifying time? Think again.

I’ve begun following a new (at least new to me) blog, Mathematical runner.com. In a recent post, titled ‘Which Age Group has the Easiest Boston Marathon Qualifying Time?’ I learned that the easiest qualifying time does not belong to the group of persistent (mostly) white-haired ladies (mostly) lining up in the fourth wave.

In reviewing the data, Ray Charbonneau says that older women runners have the toughest qualifying times. Having debated this very point over a number of post-training run refreshments, I’ve found there are strong feelings about Boston qualifying times and their perceived equity. So, although they lost me in the finer points of the math, Mathematical Runners supported my view that qualifying times are a bit tough(er) for older women.

 

010_7A

Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, a decent finish but not a BQ. In fact, I was such a novice, I didn’t know anything about BQing.

 

Another point made in that blog is the scant number of women in the senior age groups. I have noticed the number of participants in my age group dwindles every few years, and seems to dwindle more rapidly than the number of men in the same age group. Still, no matter how few women are competing, there are some incredibly talented women in their sixties, seventies and beyond. If I can finish mid-pack in my Boston age group, I call it a victory.

A few years later I learned how difficult it was to BQ and that getting older didn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Those of you who enjoy exploring the math of all this will certainly enjoy other posts in Mathematical Runner as well, particularly those who are following all things Boston in the countdown to 2018 Patriot’s Day April 16.

Read on and run on.