Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Walking

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?

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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?

Tracking from Afar the Capital 10-Miler – a run for the Arts

Half a world away, I couldn’t help but rise early and watch first for Facebook posts, followed by results. It’s 3:00 a.m. for me, but the Capital 10-Miler runners in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are off at a 9 a.m. start, following an 8:15 early start for walkers. They come from seven states, ranging in age from 13 to 79 years.

Runners anticipating the Start

Portions of our existing course are being resurfaced, leaving no choice but to develop an alternative. Race committee members forged out a new course, extending further into the Capital Greenbelt. The alternative course was then shared with local runners in a preview run several weeks before race day. It passed the tough local runner test.

Even with the course changes, the race was a sellout this year, topping off around 620 runners. The alternative course should provide plenty of comfortable space for runners out and back. We’ve limited registration in previous years because of some narrowness to sections of the course. The upside for that course is there are no traffic crossings. In developing a course, there are always pluses and minuses.

For a mid-size race for our area, we have a significant number of competitive runners. Eleven ran the course at under a six-minute pace with Josh Sadlock placing first at 53:26:63. First place female Jenny Yonick finished in 1:05:59. First Masters Clem Aslan finished at 59:33:72 and Billie Jo Hesitant at 1:14:26.

You never know what the Pennsylvania spring whether will throw your way. 2019 brought near perfect temperatures for a 10-miler, 50 degrees at the start with no precipitation. With historic races of wind, sleet and rain in some past years, the kinder temperatures were too kind for some runners who found the warmer temperatures more difficult to deal with.

Portion of new course
Portion of new course

At its inception nine years ago, I served as founding director for Open Stage of Harrisburg along with other participating arts organizations. I missed the seventh due to a scheduled marathon, but finally ran the race myself in its eighth year. I hope to be back for the 10th. We’ll see if our original course is once again available.

Many runners find the Capital 10-Miler to be their Rite of Spring race, to keep them training through the cold days of winter. Those who were not running were volunteering and supporting friends with photography. I plucked photos for this post from various locations. If you are the photographer, let me know and I will add a credit.

Do you have a spring race you look forward to? Let’s hear about it.

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.

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! 

 

Art in the Wild at Wildwood Park

What better way to spend a hot, steamy Independence Day Week than a walk (or run) on a shaded towpath and hilly perimeter around Wildwood Park. 

Using mostly natural materials, each year artists construct art that reflects the natural setting where a variety of flora and fauna have a happy home. Here is your preview:

 

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Forces

 

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Boundless Tabernacle

 

 

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Embracing Diversity

 

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Larger than Life

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Harmonic Convergence

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 Nature’s Gallery

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Birth of Mother Nature

 

 

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Natural Abstraction

 

So this week of July 4th, give us your independent vote. The official awards have been given, but we can still make choices right here. What’s your preference in art? Go Wild with your response!

 

 

 

 

Favorite Month, Favorite Marathon

 

In spite of a lack of training, as in one 16-mile run over the last few months, in spite of zero (0) speed work since summer, in spite of a lingering ailment that I continued to nurse, November 12 dawned and I once again toed the line at the Enders Harrisburg Marathon.

This is my hometown marathon where the running community has more heart than anywhere else I have run. The marathon and the running community draw me in whether I am ready for it or not.

Most of the last 20 years or so, I have volunteered along its course, organized the Pre-race Pasta Dinner, and helped at packet pickup. All of those volunteer stints were a painless way to spend time with other runners, see old acquaintances and make new ones and, in a small way, pay back this wonderful running community in Central Pennsylvania that offers friendship, company along the training miles, and the beauty of watching other runners achieve their goals.

I could not stay away from that start, knowing my long term training would see me through 26 miles albeit at a much slower than usual pace. Or I could simply drop if it didn’t seem in my best interest to continue.

And so it was that I walked some miles,

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Photo Credit: Paul Moretz

and ran some miles through perfect marathon weather.

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Photo Credit: Adrienne Mitford

I wore my Garmin but avoided looking at the numbers, hugged a few good friends working as course monitors and cheering along the course and finished with a personal worst (PW) (5:23), which I prefer to think of as my Age 70 personal record (PR).

It wouldn’t be November without the Harrisburg Marathon, my favorite marathon during my favorite month. As it comes to a close, I try to avoid the garish lights rushing the holiday season and rushing the end of this beautifully sedate month of November which has its own lovely light. It occurs just before full darkness, the last of leaves hanging on to beautiful nearly-bare branches.

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Something about the November air says keep running, breathe deep, and be ready for a beautiful and possibly difficult winter of cold weather distance training and trail runs.

Goodbye, November. You have been lovely, as always.