Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

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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.

Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)

Have you noticed that recently fitness and health magazines and on-line sources have finally picked up on the concept that spending time outdoors can improve your health and well-being.

They are a little late in coming to the party. Since the 1980’s, the Japanese have been at the forefront of integrating outdoor experiences, particularly those in forest areas, with other health care protocols.

Well, forest bathing has even come to my little corner of the world. I became familiar with a practice called Shinrin-Yoku (or forest bathing) during a presentation offered by our wonderful county park. The Japanese and other eastern cultures have found that integration of forest bathing into health care plans helps with a number of maladies, particularly high blood pressure and other diseases that chase us down as we age.

No! No, not that kind of forest bathing

I find it intriguing that the rest of the world has now caught up with the knowledge that being in the woods can lift your spirits. Most trail runners and hikers have been aware of this. It’s a part of what draws us to the trail.

So, to find out how this more scientific version of a walk in the woods developed I did a bit of reading and wrote an article for Sixty and Me.

Later, I saw an announcement for an opportunity to participate in Shinrin-Yoku at Detweiler Park. Detweiler Park is the perfect setting for Shinrin-Yoku , a location that is bare bones carry-in, carry-out, trails only for pedestrians and an eco-friendly environment.

The session I attended was specifically for seniors (there were other sessions open to families with children and a session for adults not yet in our golden age).

My session was led by the certified forest therapy guide, Suzanne Schiemer, who had done the earlier presentation. She explained the process we would use to experience the forest. We would be proceeding very slowly and observing the forest through all senses.

Let the Forest Saturate Into Your Being

We began by closing our eyes and exploring our location through senses other that sight. What did we hear? Could we taste the forest in the air as we cupped our tongues? What did we smell? We went through this process, rotating, making a quarter turn and repeating the process until we had experienced the differences in our forest environment through our senses by simply slightly turning our bodies. And, to our surprise, our senses did identify differences in smell, sound and taste as our bodies moved ever so slightly.

We began our forest walk after our leader first offered that there are plants in the forest that can be harmful and they generally will tell us so if we pay attention. Her example was the hairy exterior of poison ivy vines. She then issued an invitation to walk very slowly and identify a vine that we are each individually drawn to. The vine that called to me had managed to wind itself into the shape of a dancer.

We stopped along a bridge crossing the brook and took time to each find our comfortable place and quietly contemplate the forest world around us.

After our quiet meditation, we walked another short distance to a forest path. We were asked to each find a tree to become familiar with. Could we feel energy from the tree when touching it? Yes, I was surprised but I could feel it. I will keep this in mind on my next lengthy trail run, maybe take a break leaning against a tree to reinvigorate my body.

Our session ended with a tea ceremony, sharing our experience around a picnic table under a beautiful pine.

This was an intentional slow moving process. During our 2-hour session, we moved less than a half mile.

Each exercise, or invitation, we participated in, I have since emulated prior to picking up my hiking or running pace on the trail. I am finding it a worthwhile, relaxing process.

I would love to hear whether you have experienced anything in the realm of forest bathing or forest therapy? Would you be willing to give it a try?

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?

Hapalua Half

After a phenomenal Hawaii wedding of two wonderful people (my son and daughter-in-law), a week of relaxation with friends and family, and a fun-filled birthday party for my new granddaughter, it was time to go home.

Well, almost time. Since this is a blog about running, as a mere footnote to all the larger and much more important events during my stay. let’s talk about the Hapalua. (But, if you’re interested in reading my thoughts on becoming a mother-in-law, you can find that over at Sixty and me.)

The day before my departure from the beautiful island of O’ahu, there just happened to be a 1/2 marathon, the Hapalua (translates ‘half’ in Hawaiian).

The Chase

Minutes before the start of the Hapalua, the Hapalua Chase begins. The Chase pits Team Hawaii, the best runners in Hawaii, with the professional runners who come to Hawaii for the Chase. Team Hawaii got a head start with the pros chasing down the locals. Local runners had handicaps anywhere from six to 24 minutes.

The winner of The Chase was Josphat Tanui from Kenya. Oahu’s Cindy Anderson was the last holdout, being passed within 50 yards from the finish.

The Start

As for those of us not in the elite field, the Hapalua start time was 6 a.m. The weather was pleasant with a 75 degree temperature and a soft wind blowing into our faces.

I was lined up quite far into the back of the pack of nearly 7,500 runners. Dealing with some leg pain over the past few weeks, I decided on an easy pace and to simply enjoy Kapi’olani Park, Waikiki and the view of the beautiful Pacific as I ran.

The Course

The soft breeze as we ran up toward Ala Moana was welcome, even at this early hour. The course, beautiful as it is, was crowded enough that I was at mile six before I felt like I could break out a bit.

I had a couple of good miles before reaching mile 10, where we headed up the steepest hill on Monsarrat Blvd. The climb left us with a nice downhill, then back up again for a shorter climb up Diamondhead Road. As we reached the top, the view over the cliff didn’t disappoint.

The Finish

The finish line awaited, followed by a line of sprinklers set up to cool off returning runners.

The result was a Personal Worst for a half-marathon time, by at least 12 minutes (2:23:10. With that time, surprisingly I placed 2nd in my age group (W70-74). The other pleasant surprise in looking at results was the high number of women – 38 of us – finishing in my age group.

Family joined me at the post-race festivities, where runners lined up for malasadas and shave ice. Waiting for award announcements, we enjoyed the best post-race music I can recall, provided by Mango Season.

With the day still young, we decided on a breakfast of crèpes at a nearby restaurant. More on that wonderful treat in my next blog.

Tell me about your most scenic race. How far have you traveled for a destination race? Did you find a nice running route or a local race when traveling to exciting family events?