Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Women Runners

A 5-Mile Fresh Burst

With so few five mile races available, I took a drive to Lititz, Pennsylvania to check out this local race. The Freshburst 5 Mile Run/5K Walk has been around for 20+ years but just came to my attention recently.

Arriving near the race venue I saw runners moving to the start line. I quickly ran to the late registration table, then returned to my truck to drop off the registration bag. I sprinted to the start and joined the back of the pack as the race director was giving instructions.

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I am ready to vote this the most generous race registration bag of 2017

I had not run a short distance race for many months, so my goal for the race was to just pick it up a bit without concern for a specific finish time. In the first mile, portions of the road were adjacent to a pasture. As we runners came down the road in a line, the cows in the pasture formed a line of their own, pacing to the opposite side of their pastureland. Clearly they wanted no part of us.

Another pasture area brought some black-faced sheep into view. Beautiful, but I didn’t take the time to stop for a photo opportunity. You can guess from the pastureland description that the course was mostly flat, just a bit of rolling up and down and a few turns to take us back to the start.

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The race finish was old school with tear-off tags. With a finish time of 46:05, along with about 200 other runners, and 50 or so walkers, I sauntered back to the race venue where cool drinks, fresh fruit and ice cream awaited us.

The experience of the race staff and volunteers was apparent. Everything seemed to flow well. This fun, friendly and fresh 5-miler was worth the drive and one I hope to run another year. Proceeds of the race benefit the Harmony Playground, designed for accessibility for children of  all abilities.

Check out the Freshburst next July if you’re looking for a well-run small town 5-miler, or a 5K walk. Besides, I ask you, how many races have ice cream at the finish line?

Hiking a 40-Mile Meditation

I’ve had a draft playing around in my head for a month or two, a sharing of my experience at the Hike Across Maryland (HAM). I’ve come to think of this experience as a walking meditation. This morning, a radio program gave me the impetus to move ahead and put those thoughts to keyboard.

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was airing,  her topic being Running As Spiritual Practice.  A number of runners (including Olympian Billy Mills) share with her how running has taken them through dark times, lifted spirits, developed discipline and in many different ways become part of each runner’s spiritual practice.

I have felt many of those sentiments through my years of running. At the HAM, the closest I felt was the necessity to be mindful of every step I took as I ran and hiked the 40-mile distance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a single day.

The HAM is an incredible opportunity for hikers to test their endurance and pacing. From the 5 a.m. start at the Mason-Dixon line where Pennsylvania meets Maryland to the arrival crossing the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we were supported by volunteers and checkpoints providing refreshments and documenting our passage. While this event is not a race, we were required to reach specific locations by specific times or be asked to drop and accept transport to the finish.

Rain was heavy the previous day, making our May 6th passage on the trail muddy and slick. Temperatures at the start in the high 50’s would have been perfect if not for the cool rain. A love of nature and tests of endurance still brought out over 100 participants.

Off-and-on again sheets of rain came down as we ran a portion of an early mile. As water ran down her face, my friend said “Isn’t this great? We get to be in the woods all day.” She was serious and set a tone of optimism for me.

I realized early on that 40 miles of hiking, with running spurts where I was sure of my footing, would require concentration. I decided if I was to make it through with minimal injury, it would need to be a meditative endeavor.

I cleared my mind of any extraneous mumbo-jumbo thoughts that usually find their way into my thinking. Every step was a mindful step. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the rushing of the streams we crossed, the calf-deep mudholes, the occasional birdsong and the rustling of unseen critters in the woods. It’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the beautiful deep, deep green the rain was bringing out in an already lush area. And it’s also not to say that I didn’t listen to and acknowledge a number of fellow hikers talking through their love of the trail, concerns about and pride in their children, job and health challenges. Being on the trail is license to spew out to total strangers the things that really matter in life.

With any and all of that seeming to be on a separate track, my concentration was in each step of the trail, 40 miles of meditation. Even that concentration did not stop me from taking a face plant as we climbed  a rain-slick boulder. The bill of my cap and my glasses let me escape with nothing worse than a small goose egg on the forehead and a few scratches on the palms of my hands.

At our last major checkpoint, I turned over my headlamp and heavier raincoat to friends who volunteered support, exchanging that weight for a couple of quick chugs of Coke. Off then for the last few miles, still mindful in each step, my pace was quicker than the pace of my first few miles.

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Hello, West Virginia!

Although the towpath near the finish seemed unending, the stairs to the bridge a cruel trick and as we crossed to West Virginia the wild beauty of the rain-swollen Potomac breathtaking, I stayed mindful of each step on this wonderful earth.

 

There are no regrets I took up this challenge. Through this 40-mile hiking/jogging meditation, I treasured the company of good friends as well as strangers and the support of the organizers and personal hiking friends who made the day.

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Enjoy your weekend, dream of a new challenge and try taking a mindful approach. Gotta run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Chicago Marathon

We interrupt the Running London series to report on the  Chicago Marathon. Chicago is the third of the World Marathon Majors I have run and by far the most logistically easy for a mid-pack runner to make her way through.

After checking into a downtown hotel on Saturday, we walked a couple of blocks to the closest pickup point for the free shuttle to the Expo at McCormick Place. We picked up my race bib and shirt, listened to a panel discussion offered by Runner’s World, made our way through the many exhibitor booths and said hello to Adrienne, a hometown River Runners friend . Although a large Expo, it didn’t feel overcrowded and we were in and out in a few hours.

 

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Race morning, I was awake at 5:30 with plenty of time to ease into the day. No need to catch a pre-dawn subway and then a ferry to wait several hours for a 10:30 start, no need to catch a 7:30 bus to ride 26+ miles to the start to wait for my 10:45 start time. Here in Chicago, at 6:30, I merely walked out of the hotel and joined a parade of runners wearing outer layers of throw-away clothing and walking/jogging down Michigan Avenue to enter designated gates to Centennial Park.

I heard the announcer calling runners to report to the the early corrals. That’s not me. I still had plenty of time to drop my post-run bag, get a photo of the sun rising over Lake Michigan and establish my place in a very long porta-potty line.

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Sunrise in Centennial Park over Lake Michigan race morning

As we lined up, the temperature was 52 degrees with a cool wind coming in from the lake. My corral was to close at 7:45 and at 8:13, to the rhythm of Chicago blues flowing from the loudspeakers, we were off to begin our run into a tunnel. We emerge on Columbus Drive  and the roar of the crowds begin, rivaling spectators on the streets of Boston.

With the exception of a few blocks of the course, enthusiastic people were on the sidewalks several deep along all 26 miles. At a nursing home along the way there were huge signs in the windows and faces of residents and staff waving and cheering. Chicago is that kind of town.

From Lincoln Park to Chinatown, the course moves through a number of neighborhoods, diverse in ethnicity, architecture, cuisine and music along the course to further reflect those distinctions. One of those was my neighborhood many years ago. Nostalgia hit as we moved past the beautiful old brownstones lining the course.

Making our way through the miles, we made more than 20  turns. It’s a plus to be familiar with the course or at least watching a block ahead or so to be ready to run the tangents efficiently. The course is primarily flat, offering enough up and down blips to keep legs from getting stale.

I had heard Chicago is a fast course so I decided to take it slower the first ten miles to avoid burning out. So it was that two minutes after Abel Kirui of Kenya won the 2016 Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:11:23, I was approaching the half marathon mark and moving on to the 25K point when Florence Kiplagat crossed the line as the first woman finisher for the second year in a row with a time of 2:21:32.

I did pick up my pace as planned but stomach cramps around mile 17 and quads tightening up around mile 19 slowed me considerably. Even with that, I was enjoying the race and being among the runners around me from all over the USA and a strong international contingent.

While Still a Runner was, well, still running, the first women finishers in my age group were battling it out with finish times under 4 hours. Barbara Wright of Germany finished at 3:46:02, nosing out hometown runner Nancy Rollins by a mere two second (3:46:04) and Yoko Nishi of Japan finishing 3rdat 3:54:57. Fantastic times in the F65-69 AG.

By the last four miles and after four hours, it was warmer than I like a marathon, but the cool wind off the lake helped. After walk/running for several miles, I ran the entire last mile to the finish for a time of 4:39:04, 14th out of 72 women in the F65-69 AG. The hill I had heard about near the finish was barely noticeable, and I was pleased to be done. I walked the gamut with other finishers, picking up snack bag, finisher medal, heat sheet and a wonderful cold crisp apple that I managed to drop after taking only two bites.

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Chicago Marathon finishers relaxing post-race

Goose Island had a cold glass of beer for every finisher and from there I picked up my drop bag, (again – no wait, everything very efficient) found a spot of ground to sit down and put on some warmups, munch on chips, enjoy the beverage and talk with runners doing the same. Everyone seemed to be taking their time before leaving the park and going to meet friends and family waiting outside the marathon finish area.

If you like large marathons (Chicago had more than 40,000 finishers), large crowds of enthusiastic spectators, a relatively flat course, and a conveniently located well managed race, you would like the Chicago Marathon.

Have you run Chicago?  What was your experience? How did it compare with your other large races?

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Photo credit: Inheritance of Hope

 

 

Touristy Long Run through London

Come with me on my longest marathon training run through the streets and parks of London. The course I primarily followed was a 20-22 miler found online courtesy of the Serpentine Running Club.

It’s a cool, misting Saturday morning, perfect for a marathon training run. Pacing will be a problem on this route. We’ll just do the best we can and enjoy the route.

Let’s start just north of the South Kensington station making  our way on the street between the Victoria & Alfred Museum

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This museum is a must-see devoted to decorative arts & design. The café is located in several beautiful rooms with a wonderful patio.

and the ever popular Natural Science Museum.

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The Natural Science Museum is still on my must-see list. The queue some mornings tell me it is in high demand.

At Mile 2, we’re moving into Hyde Park.

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This park has lots of greenery and activity. Cyclists, runners (about a 6-mile perimeter), equestrians, dog walkers and folks hanging out at the senior playground for tennis and lawn bowling.

At mile 3, we’re at the Buck Hill Gate of Hyde Park.

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Buck Hill is one of several private lodges on the perimeter of the park.

Mile 4 & 5 takes us through Kensington Park past Kensington Palace and its gardens.

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Queen Victoria watches over her subjects as they walk/run/cycle by.

By Mile 6, we are headed south looking at the Chelsea Kitchen restaurant across Kings Road.

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Mile 7, just down the road we find the Chelsea Football Club.

 

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Mile 8 brings us to Imperial Wharf. And here is where we get a bit confused, with traffic rerouted and pedestrian walkways closed. We’ll put on a couple of miles chasing in circles until a fellow runner helps us find our way to the Thames path.

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Mile 10, the rain begins to pick up as we pass the beautiful small Cremorne Gardens. We’ll forego the photo since the rain is hampering the view.

Mile 11, here we go crossing the Thames River for the first of several times on this route. We take the Battersea Bridge across to Battersea Park.

At mile 12 through Battersea Park, there is plenty of open space and beautifully maintained playing fields as well as a fantastic track.

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From Battersea, we head back across the Thames on the Chelsea Bridge. The sky in the photo below tells you we have more miles of sloshing to go.

Mile 13, we are passing Pimlico Park. and stopping a moment to enjoy this little jewel. The rain lets up a bit just in time for a photo.

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It’s then time to cross the Thames again, this mile on the Vauxhall Bridge.

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It’s also an opportunity to see the Thames at low tide.

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Through Mile 14 & 15, the crowds along the river are so thick that anything more than a fast walk isn’t possible without moving away from the river and chancing getting lost. (Didn’t I warn about pacing problems earlier?)

It does provide the chance to do some touristy stuff  as we walk past the skateboard park

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and get a photo with river traffic, Parliament and Big Ben in the background.

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By Mile 16.5, we are at the Tower Bridge.

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This bridge didn’t need the looming clouds overhead to make it appear scary.

Back in London at Mile 18, we’re making our way across through heavier rain and heavier tourist pedestrian traffic. They are  undeterred by the rain so we’re in for another mile or so of fast walk/jogging.

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Most of the crowd is here to see London Tower which is worth seeing in any weather with probably 1500 years of history within its walls.

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There is an incredible amount of history behind these walls. Leave yourself plenty of time to look around when you’re not on a run.

Now heading back to our start up Westminster, we are around Mile 19 and we hear church bells ringing as we edge along the perimeter of Saint James’s Park.

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Having picked up extra mileage through our mistakes on the course in Chelsea, we don’t complete the area around Green Park but as we approach Mile 20, we do get a chance to peer in to Buckingham Palace.

 

Finally around Mile 21, we pass by the Marble Arch and back into Hyde Park.img_2504-1

We run along it perimeter until it joins Kensington Park. Here, we will cross the street and cut around the amazing Royal Albert Hall with the rain still coming down.

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Wet and weary, let’s finish up on the backside of the Natural History Museum and call it a day.

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Although it was a bit of an unorthodox run, the miles are done. Thanks for joining me. It’s always good to have someone along putting in the miles.

Reaching New Heights in Olympic Viewing

This week I have found a way to do almost any chore while watching television. For someone who, with the exception of a movie or two,  can go for weeks without turning on a  television, this week I made a reach for new heights.

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This anomaly is a repeat of my behavior every four years, and every two years to a lesser degree. The Summer Olympics have captivated me for years. Part of it is nostalgia. I remember a year watching  the Olympics with friends who had such enthusiasm, it lit a fire under my mild interest. After another four-year span, I recall kicking back at the midnight hour with the wonderful women in my family watching the women’s gymnastics competition happening on the other side of our world.

Another year I watched solo sharing the big moments with friends and family who were kind enough to share those moments with me over a telephone line.

Then, there were the Atlanta Olympics. A colleague enticed me to join her in participating in security training for the Olympics, spending a week in Atlanta. That experience is worth a separate post, but I will say I learned more about security than I did the Games that year.

There are more than enough reasons to give less of my time to the Summer Games, but the draw to watch remains. It’s as though they reach to me through the screen.

Athletes find themselves competing in less than stellar water, as in Rio, or compete in polluted air, as in China. Still I watch.

Commentators covering the the Games make absurd comments about competitors. Still I watch.

Summer storms knock my satellite coverage out at pivotal moments in competition. Still I watch.

Some of the events are a puzzle to me and I have difficulty following the judges’ decisions. Still I watch.

And here I am with the television humming in the background, watching the last day of swimming, beautiful competitions to watch.

Tomorrow morning, you can find me along with many others watching more than 150 women compete in the Women’s Olympic Marathon.

And where will you be? Watching from an athletic center or health club? Watching at the home of hospitable friends with a large screen tv? Watching solo?  Wherever you are, we will be cheering together.

Acceptance – Boston Marathon 2016

Four weeks after Boston 2016 and I’m finally coming to acceptance that my days of finish times on the brighter side of 4:30 may be in the past. Having pondered and ruminated over disappointing Boston results, I’m ready to close the book on it. My conclusion is that the overused analogy “life is a marathon” is spot on. As with so many plans we make for our lives, many of them far more important, beautiful or devastating than marathon training, the results are sometimes not what we have worked for.

I had set a modest goal of sub-4:30. This was the first marathon training cycle where I managed to get in each and every scheduled run and speedwork session. I also did a couple of successful shorter races during the training. Those optimistic online calculators indicated that my 4:30 plan was conservative.

During the huge pre-race events that are part of the Boston experience, I managed to stay low key with only one quick whirl through the expo on Saturday. Sunday, I took up an offer from some non-marathoning friends and joined them at the Boston Film Festival. Sitting in a cushy theatre for several hours was a great way to avoid the temptation of spending too much time on my feet.

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The Athletes Village looking a bit like a beach party as my speedy friend Holly and I wait for our waves to be called.

 

Race morning, I timed my arrival at Boston Common to catch one of the later buses to Hopkinton. 

Not to worry about getting chilled while waiting in the village, the temperature was already at 70 degrees when I arrived.

I usually swing over to the water tables every 2 or 3 miles, not this year. From mile 2, I was a regular visitor. Generally, I don’t imbibe in gatorade until I have passed the 20-mile mark. Not this year. From about mile 7 on, I could feel my quads tighten in a way I don’t usually experience until the last couple miles. Pitifully, I trudged up the Newton hills with no pretense that I was still running this course.

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Trudging past friends along the course. Credit: Jessica Billings-White

About mile 16, there was a short-lived revival in energy level. Around Brookline, our overheated bodies met with the shock of a chilling wind in our faces. Where spectators at Hopkinton and the first several towns were in shirt sleeves and tank tops, as we journeyed toward the finish, those cheering along the way were in jackets and hats.

Finishing at 4:36, with cold fingers attempting to hold my banana and water, the wind took my much needed heat sheet.

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I continued through the gauntlet to exit at Arlington and saw my friends waiting just outside the barricade. They ushered me the short blocks back to my hotel and waited patiently while I luxuriated in a long hot shower. 

Off to a delicious dinner and conversation and time to begin the process from second guessing to acceptance.

2016 James Joyce Ramble Race Report

I’ve had my eye on the James Joyce Ramble 10K for awhile. With a USATF Master’s Championship designation, the words of James Joyce read at each turn of the course, and a mystery angel encouraging me near the finish, this year’s race did not disappoint.

A great t-shirt for the collection.

Held in Dedham, Massachusetts with the start/finish at the beautiful Endicott estate, the gently rolling hills of the course takes runners through a small downtown, picturesque neighborhoods and shaded park-like roads before returning us to the finish.

The weather was perfect for a run, low 50’s, low humidity and a slight breeze.

Readers in period dress stood on chairs, fences or tree stumps reading from the text of James Joyce as runners pass. A fellow participant described the race as the right mixture of highly competitive and campy.

This race has a two-wave start, with runners registered for the USATF Masters Championship in the first wave, going off several minutes before the open race. Nearly 200 masters runners participated, most with track club affiliations from across the country. I was one of a handful of non-affiliated runners.

With a time of 53:15, in the USATF standings I placed 5th of 10 in Women AG 65-69. This is an age group with strong runners including first place Edie Stevenson (45:08) who holds at least one age group record in another distance.

And what about that mystery angel?  Nearing the 6-mile mark, my quads were burning, still recovering from the  Boston Marathon six days earlier. A soft lilting voice was at my side, saying “Come on, finish with me.” I begged off, slowing a bit but staying near her heels. She continued to encourage me and several other runners as we drew near the finish. I believe she noticed my One Run for Boston shirt and said “You are my hero.” She was wearing a Team Hoyt shirt and I replied “And you are my hero.”

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Around 6-mile mark with my mystery angel urging me to stay with her.

I could hear names called over the loudspeaker as we approached the finish. Following the mystery angel across the timing mat, I hear the announcer say “Uta Pippig has finished the race.” I believe he also said she was the official or honorary starter for the race this year. It took me some time after the finish for it to register. That soft, persuasive but insistent voice beside me saying “Come on, finish with me” was the voice of Olympian Uta Pippig and 3-time winner of the Boston Marathon with a number of other marathon wins as well.

How is it that the runners who are the highest achievers and most talented are also the most gracious and encouraging?

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Accepting post-race congratulations from my youngest supporter.