Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Women Runners

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.

Senior Runner Records Falling

images-1So what were your running accomplishments in 2015? As the calendar year turned over, I asked myself that question. Reflecting on some personal running goals accomplished, I looked around to see what my fellow senior runners at the top of several age groups did in 2015. It’s impressive.

Given the number of records that fell this year, I zoomed in on looking only at women, those in my current age group (W65-69) and the AG I will move on to in a few years (W70-74).

In the 65-69 category, Edie Stevenson achieved a new 12K AG record with a time of 53:56.

Also in the 65-69 AG, setting a record in my favorite distance, the 10-miler, Sabra Harvey ran that distance faster than any previous woman in the age group – 1:14:15.

Moving on to the W70-74 group, the impressive Jan Holmquist managed to break records in three distance categories: 5K – 22:14, 8K – 36:37, and 10K – 45:19.

Finally, not an age group record, but a single age world record for the marathon was set by 74-year old Helga Miketta of Germany running that distance in 3:49:31.

These new record times are daunting, but also uplifting. They tell me what can be achieved. All of the record breaking women above are clearly talented, but for those of us with more modest goals but also interested in improving our own performance, it’s worth looking at similarities in women who make it to the top ranks of the Age Groups.

Care to take a humbling look at AG records for your age and gender? Here you can find age groups records for masters categories with USATF. At this link, you can find all single age world marathon records.

I’ll keep these incredible athletes in mind as I fine tune my goals for 2016. And you, are your running goals set?

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Chirunning in the Berkshires

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View from Kripalu porch

Paging through the Kripalu catalog offerings this summer, I noticed a workshop for Mindful Chirunning. A yoga and health retreat center tucked away in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Kripalu has a wonderful location atop a knoll, a sparkling lake at the base and Tanglewood just down the road. With the classes at the Kripalu center, it was possible to slip into a few yoga sessinss and lectures on various mind and body topics between and after our workshops.

The program dates worked with some other New England stops on the summer agenda, so my opportunity was right for a  contemplative and studied approach to my running.

The loss of my trusted Garmin 305 which stopped working a week before the workshop was one less diversion from the Chi lessons.

Along with the great location and perfect timing, the Chirunning workshop continued me on the current path of working on some alignment issues. 

Most days, we participated in three daily sessions, resulting in multiple daily showers, a large laundry bag and many notes and helpful feedback to take home. We worked in large and small groups and received individual direction and correction from the corps of excellent Chirunning trainers. 

The Chirunning technique developed by Danny Dreyer and based on Tai Chi movement, uses the runner’s energy, or chi, for running efficiency and modeled to help reduce or prevent injuries. Some of the forms of the technique include a subtle forward lean assisted by gravity, a midfoot strike, engagement of the body’s core and a mind-body connection – doing an occasional check-in on form focuses while running. Increased speed is not a promised outcome, but some runners find that it just happens as a very nice side effect.

Analyzing our foot falls on sand.

Mike helps us analyzing our foot falls on the sand beach.

Individual film analysis has been helpful for me and I continue to work on my own to make the form focuses a habit. During my initial filming, the instructors identified some correction areas:

  • the ‘splay’ of my right foot. I had been working through some exercises to correct this and they offered more tips to eventually correct. A work in progress but it is coming along.
  • Shoulders hunched close to my ears (another work-in-progress correction).
  • Moderate heel strike.

By the final filming on Thursday, I had made progress (but not eliminated) the splay, improved relaxation in my shoulders, held the correct posture and was landing with midfoot.

Overall, my cadence and breathing are good and didn’t need much in the way of correction.

Each runner or walker in the workshop had slightly different modifications to make and it was interesting to watch how each of us was able to concentrate and improve during the five days.

The last session of the week included a 6:30 a.m. optional trail run. Behind Kripalu,  past Monk’s Pond to Olivia’s Overlook, there were plenty of rocks and roots to keep the mind focused and plenty of opportunity to put Danny’s tips for trail running into use.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, great trail and a beautiful view.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, rugged trail and a beautiful view.

Life crests another hill this year and I can see my seventh decade out in the distance. There is no sure thing, but my plan is to employ the Chirunning techniques and use the individual critiques to ensure that my running form will enable me to continue running far into the future.

Thanks to Danny, Lisa, Angela, and Mike for your guidance during the workshop.