Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Appalachian Trail

Accessorizing for Safety

 

Being prepared for our own safety is important for everyone. For those of us over 60 years of age, it’s imperative we stay active to maintain as much strength as possible.  We can also supplement our strength with accessories, which may or may not have a bit of flash and sash to them.

From high tech to low tech, we all have our favorite safety accessories. We may not think of them as such and while they are not appropriate or helpful for every situation, accessories they are.

For my lifestyle, safety when running the roads and the trails is where I most frequently rely on low tech devices. Whatever your lifestyle, for the majority of outings safety accessories are not needed. However, if we have one or more of them handy, it is one less thing for you or me to be concerned about. Then, we can concentrate on the beauty of the day on the trail or enjoying the sights in the city.

So, let’s look at a few low tech devices I have in mind to accessorize your look and your well being while out and about.

The Other People (OP) Strategy

Seriously, surrounding yourself in a group can be a safety accessory. Think penguins.  When penguins take that leap into the water, they do so as a pack. When penguins take that dive with the pack, they are less likely to be gobbled up by a seal. Take that swim alone and it’s nearly a sure thing the penguin won’t be returning to the safety of shore. It’s similar for humans. If we’re with a group, the OP strategy generally works. We are less likely to be hassled, intimidated or something worse.

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OP are an excellent safety device when hiking the Appalachian Trail. They’re also fun company.

Alas, we are not penguins. Many of us enjoy a  run or a stroll without OP. Are there times you want to take a solo run or see a movie or show that doesn’t appeal to friends and family? Here, the OP strategy doesn’t work unless you forego your own interests. Are you in this category? Well then, we’ll move to the next option.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?”

Your name is likely not Steve, but that was the advice from Lauren Bacal’s character to Humphrey Bogart’s character in “To Have and Have Not.” It’s a question for you if you want to stay safe. Can you whistle when your safety is in question? You can if you have a basic trail whistle. I have several models for the trail and usually wear one on a chain around my neck tucking the whistle into my running bra. Some people attach a whistle to their auto or home key chains.

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A whistle is also great for getting the attention of a crowd

Whistles can be less than a quarter inch in diameter and no more than a inch or so long, and yet make a loud, shrill sound. This is a wonderful passive device that can quickly be used if you become lost on the trail, are hurt and immobile and need help, or if you are in a dicy situation anywhere.

I’ve looked around and found that whistles now come in some elegant styles. You can find a variety on many websites, such as Etsy.

Carry a Big Stick

So said Teddy Roosevelt and so can we. There are variations of the stick that will work for your particular lifestyle. If it’s a run, hike or walk in the woods, a hiking pole will suit.

The citified version of this would be a cane or a walking stick. Whether or not you need it for strength or balance, it can be handy in self-defense and also  quite stylish.

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My friend Carol with her hiking stick maneuvers around a rough course and any unsavory humans or animals that come her way. 

The street and travel version can be the very elegant and decorative canes I have seen used among friends. They vary from rhinestones and animal prints, to classic wood business styles. You can find canes specifically for women at many retail stores or on lines at numerous websites such as this oneI haven’t taken this up as a safety accessory myself but if it is something you use as a safety ruse, please comment on how it has worked for you.

Who Are You?

If you are hurt and can’t speak for yourself, let your identification bracelet or necklace speak for you. It won’t keep bad things from happening, but it can quickly provide necessary information to medical or other professionals. Most outdoorsy folks will wear some form of identification that gives their name, at least one contact person and any other pertinent information.

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ROAD ID bracelet just happens to match running gear for the Harrisburg Mile.

Road I.D.is one of many companies where you can find them. Mine is on a wrist stretch band so small I sometimes forget I’m wearing it.

What’s That Odor and Why Are My Eyes Burning?

Pepper spray or mace can be a safety accessory. You can find these in most sporting goods stores. Models vary from handheld to clips.

Some sprays can be considered a weapon and are not welcome everywhere, so think twice before throwing one in your handbag or pocket when you visit certain office or government buildings, arrive for a flight or travel by any means to foreign countries.

That’s my list. Now it’s your turn. What do you recommend adding as a low-tech safety accessory?

(A version of this post was previously published on sixtyandme.com.)

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put it in Writing – 2017 Race Plan

January is slipping away too quickly. It’s high time to take that 2017  roughed out race plan buzzing around in my head and put ink to paper. Here goes. 

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Trail system at Pincho Park where the Squirelly Twail is held. The photo is from a previous year when I was hanging out with the guys finalizing the route for the HARRC in the Park trail run.

FEBRUARY – Squirrelly Trail Twail Wun 1/2 Marathon – I register for this every year, but haven’t run it. Each year there is either a last minute conflict or the weather is brutal.  Maybe this year.

MARCH –Naked Bavarian 20-mile trail run. This will be a good opportunity to do some trail as one of my 20-miler marathon training runs, and to prepare for my May hike. I’m not sure how the name of the race came about. Since this is March in Pennsylvania, I doubt that I will actually see any naked Bavarians. If I do, don’t expect photos.

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Again, not the Naked Bavarian race, but a photo taken at a trail race on a similar course around Blue Marsh Lake

APRIL – Paris Marathon – my destination marathon for 2017. Say no more. The portion of the course on cobblestone may be tough, but I’m looking forward to the last few miles through the Bois de Boulogne. I’m working on my training plan and brushing up on fledgling French.

 

The Paris photos are from a rainy December visit to Paris several years ago. All are scenes along the marathon course and include the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.

MAY – Hike Across Maryland (HAM) This hike organized by the Mountain Club of Maryland has a 150 maximum registration and fills almost immediately. We will be hiking the Appalachian Trail from the Pennsylvania and Maryland state lines to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.The distance is approximately 40 miles. I’m expecting to do this with a combination of trail running, hiking and a lot of grit.

JUNE – Run for the Ages 10K Trail Chase – I spotted the race while adding HARRC races to the RRCA event list. It has an age graded start and runs through Nolde Forest. Oldest female runners start first. Will I be first at the start line and maybe the finish line?

JULY – likely a 5 or 10K on the 4th. We’ll see.

AUGUST – I’m not sure. Any suggestions for inspiration?

SEPTEMBER – This calls for something special to acknowledge my 70th year on this earth. Stay tuned.

OCTOBER – I’ll add in a 1/2 marathon or two. It’s not autumn without a 1/2 marathon.

NOVEMBER – Harrisburg Marathon – Whether I run the full marathon, participate on a relay team, volunteer or some combination of the above, this is a wonderful marathon that seems to have more energy and participation each year.

DECEMBER – This is the time to ease off and maybe add in a 5K for a very good cause.

So there is the plan, but subject to change. Suggestions are always welcome.

Now that I see it in writing, I’m more excited for the year ahead. Will you be running or hiking any of these upcoming adventures? 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Mother Earth on a Resilient 2016

In spite of everything we throw at her, Mother Earth finds a way to cope and thrive. Regardless of how disappointing we humans can be in our actions, getting outdoors never fails to regenerate hope. Here are a few examples that popped up before my eyes during 2016.

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January hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) enthralled with the view of morning mist over the farm fields below.

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A clear February sky over the iced Susquehanna River.

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A March day along the Capital Area Greenbelt with fresh buds on cherry trees.

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April brings the strains of jazz murmuring through the trees as the ensemble waits the arrival of the Capital 10-Miler runners along this wooded stretch of Greenbelt.

In June, the Rhinebeck Marathon included some miles on a heritage trail. On a smaller scale, the baby turtles began making their treks out of hiding along Wildwood Lake.

 

A July run down a country road brings into view a fisherman knee deep in waders. The stone building abutting the bubbling creek demonstrates its own resilience having stood strong for over a couple of centuries.

In August, nature brings us a spider web glistening in the morning sun. While the web may not be resilient, its creator is.  A run brought me to an ambling creek flowing by temporarily abandoned lawn chairs.

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A September view of the River Thames. Over the thousands of years it has flowed, the course has been altered by time and by humans.

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Not as old as the Thames, this grape vine growing at Hampton Court is more than 230 years old. Alas, I arrived too late in September to purchase jelly from its abundant crop.

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October took me to the banks of the Chicago River where it flows into Lake Michigan, a lake that was formed billions of years ago. It will outlast the concrete buildings and bridges surrounding it.

 

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A November breakfast at a café in the 540 million year old Laurentian Mountains was enjoyed on the warm side of this window.

What have I found to be resilient in December? That we have made it through a trying year with one day to go may be the best description of resilient. Mother Earth is still holding her own and so should we.

If you would like to see the perspective of other writers and photographers, take a look at these ideas on the meaning of resilient.

 

 

Looking for the Hay Moon

All of us folk who wander around in the outdoors seems to be particularly enticed by full moons this year.  In June, I was running a Summer Solstice Run under a Strawberry Moon. Last night, I had the option of joining my running club

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for a full moon run or joining my Meetup hiking group for their Trekkin’ Tuesday Workout Hike Full Moon Edition.

So, under this Hay Moon (aptly named as I see farmers putting up hay in fields along my  route to the trailhead) I opted for the workout hike, feeling a need to get back on the trail.

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Our day hiking group mingling with through hikers settling in at Scott Farm for the evening.

 

We hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail up Blue Mountain, then doing a turnaround before reaching the lookout. We then moved south along the Conodoguinet Creek to Scott Farm Trail Work Center.

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Boardwalk over the Conodoguinet Creek

We tried in vain to spot the Hay Moon on our return to the trailhead. Unfortunately, the moon was hidden by cloud cover.

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Homemade moonpies – what hiker could ask for more?

We didn’t have a view of the Hay Moon, but our trail leaders made up for it with homemade moon pies. It works for me.

 

The Appalachian Trail and Grandma Gatewood

Most of us don’t need motivation to get out on the trail, but if that is the case for you I have a film to recommend. This week, thanks to one of my local libraries, I had the opportunity to see a documentary film, “Trail Magic – the Grandma Gatewood Story.” Director Peter Huston was on hand for discussion.

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Credit alchetron.com

The tale of Emma Gatewood is intriguing; a woman raised in Appalachia who survived a 20-year marriage to a wife batterer while raising a large family. After raising her children, divorcing her husband and a chance reading of an old National Geographic article about the Appalachian Trail, she threw a few things in a bag and set off. Emma, known as Grandma Gatewood on the trail, became the first woman to through hike, making her way from Georgia to Maine.

That’s the overview of a woman who set out for a long walk and in doing so ultimately became a celebrity and then used that celebrity and knowledge to be a vital force for establishing trails in her home state of Ohio

Although the film is intriguing, I plan to pick up Ben Montgomery’s book “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” to learn more about this woman’s life.

I thought of her as I was on the AT for the first time since February. I joined a group for a fast-paced after-work hike up Blue Mountain. Her notoriety and eccentricities are a part of why that trail is there for you and me today, to through hike, go out for a trail run if we choose or simply put in a fast-paced after work hike.

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View from the AT Overlook on Blue Mountain

The film is being presented at a number of locations. Check the links on the Facebook page  for upcoming showings and discussion.

Would any of us complete a successful through-hike in a pair of Keds, know how to supplement food from the forest and have the gumption to knock on doors asking for a meal along the way? Not me. But I will take that after-work hike and the occasional trail run. Thanks, Emma.

 

 

 

Pining for the Trail

On these beautiful early Spring days, I’m longing to be leaving a trailhead and moving through soft dirt, rocks and roots. That I am longing for trail rather than running trail is due to my earlier decisions and time commitments. How was I to know that running a couple of trail 50K’s would spoil me for road training? I did sneak off for a couple of short hikes on the Appalachian Trail; wonderful but not the satisfaction of a distance trail run.

I committed this year as I prepare for Boston, barring sickness or family emergency, to complete every scheduled training session. How committed am I? Taking seriously the warning of our record-breaking January snowfall,

 

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City Island became the parking lot for snow removed from city streets

I shifted schedule and managed to run my long run the day before the mega-storm hit with full force, limiting runners to training in  yaktraks or snowshoes – and only after shoveling feet of snow from their doorways.

How committed? 1207301-An-image-of-a-bare-footed-women-running-with-some-thunder-and-lightning-in-the-background--Stock-PhotoLast week our  mid-week session of repeats was cancelled due to lightning flashing through the sky, I joined several other runners who sprinted to the nearby covered parking garage and completed the workout up and down the ramps.

Race director responsibilities for the Capital 10-Miler – a run for the arts – is the other wonderful commitment temporarily keeping me off the trails.  We are expecting some fantastic competitors and many runners who love the variety of this 10-mile course not to mention the camaraderie of returning runners. 

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Capital 10-miler course along the Susquehanna River. Photo credit: Bill Bonney Photography

 

While I love the excitement building to the race, It doesn’t allow much time to make my way out to the trails.

So, if you are anywhere near Central Pennsylvania, please join us for a great 10-mile race on Saturday, April 2nd. We have a number of runners coming in from neighboring states, so why not join them? If you do, please stop by to say hello to the race director.

Next up, I will see many of my readers in Boston, either running, volunteering or cheering along that historic course.

And after that, IMG_1938look for me running or hiking on the trails. I’m hooked.