Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Senior Runners

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.

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NSGA 5K – running with Icons

With track events in the rearview mirror, the date for the NSGA 5K approached. Early Friday morning brought a smoke alert from NSGA. Wind from a forest fire in Arizona brought smoke into the Albuquerque region. NSGA recommended people with sensitivities take precautions. As I left my hotel to catch a 5:30 shuttle, there was only a faint odor. The difference was in the view of the Sandia Mountains as daylight came clear. The usual crisp outline was muted in a haze.

Never mind. If I can deal with the altitude I will deal with the smoke. We’re off to Balloon Fiesta Park to run a 5K.

After transferring among three shuttles, all running exactly on time, I arrive at the park with enough time to pick up my bib number and have the number “70” attached to my back. There was time for warming up, a couple laps around the parking lot followed by the porta-potty line. Then, it’s time to line up for the start.

It was 66 ℉ at the start, just over 5,000 feet in altitude with minimal wind. My legs, particularly the calves, were still feeling heavy. Later, I heard runners remarking on the difficulty of running the hill around mile two. I was barely aware there was a hill, one of the benefits of training in Pennsylvania. We may be only 300 feet above sea level, but we can’t go far without running hills.

As I completed mile two, I spotted the “70” on the back of another woman. I passed her easily. Then, came a terrible feeling of nausea. To finish with my pride intact, I backed off until I could see the finish line, then picked it up again. Other runners mentioned being struck with nausea during the race and I wondered if the smoke in the air may have been the culprit. My time was 31:03, more than two minutes slower than my recent 5K’s in flatlander country

When awards were called I barely snuck in at eighth place out of 27 women finishers AG 70-74. I was awestruck when running icon Kathrine Switzer was called at fifth place. As several of us gushed around her with praise and thank you’s, her message to us was to keep it moving forward. Yes, Kathrine, we can do that!

Top finisher AG70-74 was Jane Treleven with a time of 22:59, fresh off her record-setting performance in the 800 meters. Nancy Rollins with a 24:53 and Danuta Kubelik with a time of 27:16 filled out the podium.

Overall, although the 5K course itself was not particularly interesting, the race was very well managed. Registration pickup was efficient, results were available almost immediately, bananas, water and even a bagged breakfast (loved the yogurt and the hard-boiled egg) for each runner were provided post-race.

Again, thank you ABQ and NSGA. Next up the final event: 10K Road Race.

Newbie to Track Awestruck by NSGA Record Setters

There is something, maybe a few somethings, to be said about trying new activities. For me, that new activity this year is track. In addition to learning from more experienced athletes, there was also the excitement of participating in several events where new age group (AG) records were set.

I took on track for two reasons. One, if I was going to the senior games in Albuquerque for a 5K and a 10K competition, why not add a day or two of another competition? The other longer term reason was to consider that as I move into my 70’s, what are the chances I will need to cut back on or cut out those ultras, marathons, or perhaps even half marathons. What then? Would running around a track be my fallback?

So, with a week passing since the track competition at the 2019 National Senior Games in New Mexico, I’m finally settled enough to put thoughts in print.

University of New Mexico track with Sandia Mountains in the background

Competing in the national senior games doesn’t start there, but starts the year prior to national games with preparation for successful results that meet with the minimum requirements set by NSGA. For me, that was the Pennsylvania Senior Games in 2018.

In 2018, I qualified for the 1500 meter, 800 meter and 400 meter events. My finish times in ABQ didn’t come anywhere close to the qualifying times of 2018. This was a lesson in how travel, altitude and any number of factors can impact performance.

How not to run the 1500 Meter

48 hours after arriving in ABQ, I was standing on the track with seven other women in the 70-74 AG, ready to run 1500 meter. The USATF official emphasized that as we spread out those of us in the outside lanes could move to the inside so long as we did not hinder anyone else’s place or movement. In hindsight, I could have moved in earlier but was concerned not to make in error on my first time out.

Between that error, and the fact that I felt like I had gallon milk jugs tied to my calves, my fourth place finish time was a full minute slower than my qualifying time from a year earlier.

As I finished I realized they were announcing that first place Colleen Burns of New Mexico had set a new NSGA record for the distance and AG and later announced it was also a USATF record.

How to Crash and Burn in the 400 Meter

That same afternoon a preliminary was scheduled for the 400 meter. I had no high hopes for the 400, since as I did some practice runs on the track the weeks before, I just wasn’t picking up speed fast enough. So, with 98 degree temperature, I flamed out with a time I won’t even mention (but the scoreboard doesn’t lie) and definitely did not make the top eight places needed to move forward to the finals. Again in the preliminaries, Colleen Burns set a NSG record for our age group.

The 800 Meter – Hang in there

Two days later, feeling as though I have gained some knowledge, if not speed, I returned to the track for the 800. And again, this time Jane Treleven of Washington State, set a NSG record for the distance and age group with a 3:03:02 time. As for me, I was again slower than my qualifying time, finishing with a 4:40 and sneaking into 8th place.

So much to learn, so many to learn from

In spite of my newbie status, I did walk away with a fourth place ribbon and an eighth place ribbon. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be out on the track with record setters. I also appreciate meeting so many women athletes in and around my age group. Chatting before and after events with women who have a lifetime of track experience and willing to share is of incredible value.

So, will I take on the track again? Ask me when it’s time next year to qualify at the State Games.

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.

NO AGE LIMITS FOR MARATHON RUNNERS

I still occasionally find myself amazed by the accomplishments of women in my age cohort. A new study recently appeared in my inbox, once again confirming our tenacity.

The Runner Click Study

Researchers at Runner Click have compiled information on the makeup of marathon runners worldwide. They included information from a total of 784 marathons in 39 countries over three years, 2014-2017. Nearly three million runners participated in those marathons.

This survey excluded professional runners and the data gathered from some very young marathoners and others for various reasons. Participants represented 229 nationalities.

Here is my interest in the study: My eyes went immediately to data regarding senior women runners, specifically those 60 years and older.

Looking at the numbers in this study, we senior women runners may be a distinct minority, but by percentage, we are a growing marathon population.

Marathon Background Info

As background, the study has a great deal of other information including which marathons are growing in number and which have slowed growth, where the fastest and slowest averages are found and what parts of the world have the greatest and least marathon participation.

Most people who have run a marathon will tell you that it is a challenge to the body and the spirit, generally requiring several months of training. I will also add that before the 1970s women were not encouraged, and in many cases prohibited, from running the marathon distance.

Now, women marathoners are quite common. The marathons included in this study mark them up at about 34% of all runners.

I’m providing that background to explain my surprise at several numbers and percentages in the report.

The Stunning Stats

Although the largest age groups participating in marathons are 30-39 and 40-49, making up about 60% of all marathoners, those of us 60+ right through age 100 are holding our own and, percentage-wise, are actually growing.

  • Researchers measured the growth rate in number of runners participating in 10-year age groups. The highest growth was in the age group of 90-99 years of age, increasing in an overall participation rate of 38.74%.
  • While the percentage of participations dropped in most younger age groups, those in age groups (men and women) over 60 years of age had a percentage increase (60-69 – 3.81%, 70-79 – 1.14%, 80-89 – 5.10%, followed by the whopping increase in age group 90-99 – 38.74%.
  • Researchers found the following average finish times (rounded to minutes) for women in age groups over age 60: 60-69 – 5 hours, 19 minutes; 70-79 – 6:00 hours; and 80-89 – 6 hours and 44 minutes.

Looking at those times, you may be mentally comparing them to elite runners who have remarkable times of just over 2 hours. Remember, though, that this data was compiled on recreational runners with the elite data eliminated.

Given that the fastest age group, on average, over the 182 marathons included in the study was 4 hours and 42 minutes, the times listed above for women in the 60+ age groups are quite impressive.

When I began distance training for my first marathon at 56, I followed the methods in Jeff Galloway’s book Running until You’re 100. At the time, I took that as an inspirational figure of speech.

Now, it turns out that Jeff was right. Men and women are not just running until they’re 100 but running marathons to that age.

There are times when, as a marathon runner, I have felt as though I am among the very few women my age still pursuing this distance. That apparently is not the case, as older women continue to take on the marathon.

Are you seeing an increase in the number of participants, particularly women, age 60 and over? Are you one of them? Please share your observations.




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?

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.