Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Travel

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.

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.

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.

Ultimate Family Gift: A Themed Vacation

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season. Are you still looking for that perfect family gift to remember all year long? Consider a themed vacation in a sunny place.

Winter doldrums will hit, but there are a number of ways to benefit from the warmth of the Caribbean Islands and those in the Pacific as well. I’ve enjoyed a few days away now and then to simply read, enjoy friends and family, savor the local foods, and of course, run.

There are any number of resorts that will cater to your needs as you let the cares of the world wash away. There is another way to spend some time with family: dig deep into a topic they would find worthwhile or intriguing. I just experienced one of these on my first visit to the Caribbean in many years.

My recent week away on the French island of Guadaloupe included a study on the topic of the Slave Trade History in Post-Colonial Guadeloupe. 

Ruins of a colonial prison

I came away from my week in Guadeloupe with a deeper understanding of the complex, violent past of many of the islands in the area.

Historian interpets signage at a slave rebellion site 

I also learned some about the plant life and the topography of this beautiful island, much I would have overlooked had I chosen a more passive vacation.

We also had opportunity to enjoy the many beautiful and varied beaches of Guadaloupe

On a much earlier trip to Hawaii, just by chance I happened upon an announcement in a local windward side free newspaper. A local civic historic group was offering a tour of ancient sites in the area. I was surprised that with the myriad  of tourists on the island of Oahu, we were  the only non-residents of Hawaii taking the tour. It was a magnificent opportunity to learn about ancient fish ponds. sacred burial grounds and a drive to some cliff locations that mark the historical changes of power on Oahu.

As a proponent of both the get-away-and-be-pampered vacation and the thought-expanding vacation, I’ll provide my ideas on what makes the latter a success.

1.Prepare well for the subject or territory you will be exploring. In my recent trip, I sought out fiction and non-fiction literature to give me a basis for the history and a sense of place. Ask your tour contact for their suggestions for advance reading.

2. If you are not on a specific topic tour, keep an eye out for information, both on the web and in print, that may be offered by local groups such as the one I ran across in Hawaii. Generally they know their subject matter well and are eager to share their knowledge.

3. Consider a trip that includes a homestay, at least for a portion of the trip. My trip to Guadeloupe did. I stayed in the home of a professional young woman and came to understand much of family life, residential architecture designed for the lifestyle and the climate, and the favorite restaurants and home cuisine that are preferred by locals.

4. Learn in advance who will be your guide and who will be providing information of the credentials of your primary guide. If you are doing a study tour, the background of the leader should be available to you. Is he or she an educator, a resident or former resident, a frequent traveler to the area?

5. What is the maximum size of your group? A smaller group can move more efficiently and sometimes have access to venues not available to larger groups. It also offers more opportunity for individual questions and discussion, but may be a bit more costly. There are always trade-offs.

6. Will there be downtime to digest information and enjoy time with your host or fellow participants? Simply taking a drive for the mountain view, enjoying a warm walk on a sunset beach, or following up on a lead of a wonderful local eatery can provide a break and add to your memories.

7. Will the tour be age-appropriate and of interest for your entire family? Will there be recreational time for those less interested?  

Do you search for something more intriguing for family vacations? Is there a topic or activity your entire family enjoys? Have you tried a vacation exploring a specific topic or engaging in a home stay with a local? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Walking in Solothurn – Day 5 and Farewell

Our final day hiking began with a train from Solothurn to Deitingen where we walked through a lush forest to the lake of Inkwil.

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The pilings in this lake area are a Unesco world heritage site, originally houses on stilts now primarily underwater due to changes in environment over the thousands of years since the houses were built.

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After another hour of walking we came to a clearing in the forest where two Friendship Force of Solothurn volunteers Susan and Martin surprised us with a forest luncheon.

 

We learned how to properly score a sausage prior to placing over the fire.

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Jürg demonstrated the proper technique to score a sausage to achieve the desired appearance.

Bidding goodbye to Susan and Martin, we continued out of the forest and were again on open trail where we came upon the Lake of Aeschi, a lovely tourist stop suitable for swimming and having a beverage on the lawn that banks to the lake.

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A beautiful afternoon of sun and water followed by a farewell dinner with many thank you and good-byes, and of course music of the region. 

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Tomorrow, we leave this wonderful hive of hikers to cast ourselves to various destinations. Some will continue to travel in Europe, others like myself will be returning to our homes.

I will miss the door-to-door public transport that Switzerland offers. Among the first departures in the morning, I catch the earliest bus at our stop. The bus drops me at the Solothurn train station where I then board the train for arrival at the station in the Zurich Airport, finishing my morning commute with  a walk through security and on to my airline’s gate.

Many thanks, Friendship Force of Solothurn for a hospitable and healthy journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking in Solothurn – Day Three along the River Aare

 

Today, before our walk along the River Aare, we spend a bit of time with a historic walk through this lovely baroque town. There are three remaining gates to the city and we also see portions of remaining Roman wall jutting from the corner of a trendy shop.

 

The Solothurn Cathedral (Cathedral of St. Ursus, an early martyr of the church), was originally built in the early middle ages with changes over the centuries including a rebuild in the 1700’s. 

 

 

The detailed history and design is worthy of a guided tour when you make your visit to Solothurn. As is the Church of the Jesuits, a relative newcomer built in the late 1600’s with a stunningly breathtaking interior.

 

 

We don’t leave the town center before seeing some of the many clocks, including one representing the cycle of life/renewal and death, a musical clock, and an 11-hour clock (the number 11 having a special designation in Solothurn – 11 steps to the cathedral, 11 of almost everything with a historical significance).

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Leaving town, we follow the River Aare, passing cattle in pasture meadows, fields of crops as well as some industrial buildings along this lane.

 

The stork settlement at Altreu was a delight. In September, many of the young storks had already flown south. Those too old to make the trip stay to winter here.

 

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Having hiked just over six miles from Solothurn, we boarded a boat  on the River Aare for our return and to meet our dinner hosts.

Our day ended with small group dinners hosted by local Friendship Force members. My good fortune was to be included in a dinner in the neighboring city of Bern where we dined at the home of Urs and Ursula. We were treated to wonderful food, including dishes incorporating grapes, figs and apples from their garden. After enjoyable conversation and cuisine, we returned to Solothurn by auto. (Urs had rented an auto by the hour, a common practice when several people are traveling or large items must be transported. Otherwise, the order of the day is convenient bus/train combinations to get from town to town.)

Many thanks to our dinner hosts as well as day hosts Tamara, Kurt, Lucie and Jürg. Sleep tight and prepare for Day 4 – hiking up Weissenstein.

I came for the Paris Marathon and stayed for the cultural history

Writers and artists who made a home for themselves in Paris, particularly early and mid-twentieth century, are an intriguing group. You can’t poke around Paris too long before running into the haunts of writers, painters and entertainers of that time.

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A popular Left Bank  hangout over the decades for writers and artists

I love to walk or run the streets of whatever city I am in and the streets of Paris with their history are most inviting. In searching for their spirit, I found that using the Frommer’s do-it-yourself walking tours as a base and adding my own scattered knowledge and serendipitous finds to the mix worked well.

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The Shakespeare & Company Café serves a good lunch and has a great people-watching location, but is not affiliated with the bookstore

One of the favorite haunts of many of the creative ex-pats was the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore. I found the original site (after a couple of wrong turns) at 37 rue de la Bucherie and it’s current location at 25 Quai de Montebello in the same neighborhood. It’s a fun bookstore with corners and crevices to tuck into as you browse through books. I particularly like that two books on the topic of running are currently featured on its website.

 

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Ernest Hemingsway’s haunts and homes seem to be well documented. Here I include a photo of the building where he shared a 4th floor walk-up with his first wife. After successful sales of his novel, and moving on to another wife, his apartment (lower photo above) is in a more impressive building. New wife, new life.

 

 

 

 

 

My only formal walking tour during my stay was with Walk the Spirit, specializing in background on black intellectuals, artists, and musicians in the early 20th century and the their impact in Paris and beyond. Authors James Baldwin and Richard Wright, dancer and actor Josephine Baker (learned that she was also a spy for the French resistance), and many more moved to Paris for artistic and economic freedom where they did not experience the constraints of American society of the time. 

 

 

 

 

Artists migrated from other European locations as well. In his mid-20’s, Pablo Picasso found his way to Paris where he worked in the building photographed, reported to be the location where he created Guernica. I’ve wondered what Picasso would have thought of the street art/graffiti filling the walls of this former atelier.

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Not far away, the Picasso Museum sits back from the street where visitors line up in droves. (To find a Picasso exhibit near you, check the Artsy site.)

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And let’s not forget about the booksellers along the Seine who have displayed their wares through the previous century and do so to the current day, selling their miscellaneous literature and other merchandise, from the intellectual to the silly. 

The marathon brought me to Paris and the marathon route brought us near many of the streets above. What a joy to have a few extra days to backtrack and explore the twists and turns of streets walked by those artists of an earlier era.