Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Boston Marathon

15 Hours of Absurdity at Boston 2018

One of the Canadian runners staying at my inn pretty much summed it up.  “Absurd, just absurd.”

3 A.M.  Hard rain has started in earnest, pounding on the metal roof outside my Back Bay window. I  sleep off and on but finally give up.

6 A.M. I’m ready for coffee and  dress just enough to be presentable in the dining room. The inn has set out a 6 a.m. breakfast for marathoners. The speedy group assembled from Sweden, Canada and several points in the Western U.S. are enjoying bagels and yogurt before making a dash to their buses. I’m left to chat with a few early rising non  runners.

7 A.M. It’s back upstairs to get dressed for the battle with the weather. Assuming we will be running into the wind the better part of 26 miles, I tear a piece of dry cleaner bag into a rectangle, anchor one end in my running bra and the other in the waistband of my tights as an extra layer of protection on the chest. Then, I tear a small square for the crown of my head before adding my beanie and the yellow runner trucker hat that was a giveaway from Trackmaster. It turns out the hat is perfect for the weather with a bill large and wide enough to keep the rain directly off my face.

Finally, I ask myself whether a sane 70-year old woman would wrap herself in plastic to run in pelting rain for 26 miles. No one answers.

8:55 A.M. Left my inn for the short walk to meet my friend, Becky, on the Boston Common where we catch the bus to Hopkinton.

Given that it rained most of the day pre-Boston Marathon, I decided earlier to take one of the last buses out. You can get away with that when you are in the 4th Wave, 2nd Corral. I’ve been to wet Bostons in the past and could envision the condition of the Athlete’s Village.

Everyone in the bus line is ensconced in old marathon heat sheets, plastic bags, throwaway rain jackets with a few in some really solid quality rainwear. Anything that keeps the unrelenting rain off. The temperature is in the upper 30’s but feels colder with the wind and rain in our faces.

10:15 A.M. ish We arrive at the Athlete’s Village or what is left of it. Picture hours of pouring rain, a couple of large tents with shivering runners squeezed in for cover, a knoll at the edge of the field leading to the tent and portapotties that now resembles a mudslide.

Shortly after arriving, the announcer calls for the last of the 3rd Wave folks to find their way to the start, then encourages Wave 4 to begin finding our way as well.

Becky brought a change of shoes and headed down the mudslide to  the tent. I called after her “I’m not following” but I’m sure with the pelting rain she did not hear. It was a good decision to stay where I was and walk through the Village on the paved path. Wave 4 runners making their way up the knoll from the tents were slipping and sliding, some crawling to keep their balance.

I spotted a few porta-potties only steps off the pavement and joined the line. Volunteers  had devised boards and tarps to keep us out of deep mud and to protect what if anything was left of the grass and sod.

11:00:  We’re moving en masse to the start line. A man on my left runs by hurrying to his corral. His feet slip on the slick pavement and he is down. A couple of us around him try to assist, but he pulls himself up, left calf and knee bleeding and he continues on in a run. I’m sure the rain fully washed that blood away in minutes.

Near the start line, I remove my warmups and place them on a pile of clothing that would later be collected by Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My running skirt, compression socks and the thick layers of body lotion on my skin would have to do for lower body warmth.

11:20 A.M.  I’m looking for my corral and expect to be squeezed in like previous years, but no – they were releasing runners on arrival and we simply moved through the start.

Miles 1 – 3: Running more slowly than usual, getting a feel for the slickness underfoot I make my way through castoff clothing and plastic bags and try to get a feel for pace.

Mile 4: I move to the edge of the course when the rain subsides a bit and remove the throwaway warmup jacket under my rain jacket, then rebundle myself with arm hole vents open, every other zipper tightly closed. My fingers are getting cold and my gloves sopped so it is taking more time than I anticipated.

Mile 6: Why, oh way, didn’t I bring waterproof gloves? I find a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket, tear it in half and wrap pieces around each hand. It’s working. Not that my hands are warm, but there are degrees of cold and this was better. I see people wearing latex gloves and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this.

Mile 9: I take a moment to be thankful that I had the foresight to bring my North Face rain jacket. Not necessarily warm, but it was a nice layer against the wind and kept my upper body dry while rain ran down it.

Mile 14: Another thankful moment that my goddaughter Jess is out along the course and if I must drop (yes, it did cross my mind), she will be but a call away.

Mile 17: The strongest gale yet hits us head-on and I am lifted off my feet. I feel a hand on my back and for a moment think I am having a religious experience, but no. The hand belongs to a man running behind me. We continue to run, his hand on my shoulder blades, until the gale passes. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 19: Is that hale?  I try to convince myself it’s sleet but it is in fact little hale balls. It must be localized because within five or six minutes, I run out of it and back to plain, simple heavy rain and wind.

Mile 25: Turning right onto Hereford, the pavement is swathed in raincoats, plastics, everything the 22,000 runners ahead of me had used in attempts to keep warm and dry. I pick my way through the few spots of still bare street, understanding runners ridding those layers for that last drive down Boylston where they know finish line photos and dry clothing are waiting.

I ridded myself of nothing. Any sense of reasonable appearance was left behind many miles ago, and in fact was left behind as I left my room. I would not have identified myself in the finish line photo save for the yellow bill of that trucker hat.

Finish Line: My watch says 4:53:40. The shivering begins as soon as I stop running. A short and fast walk to my inn. water continues to stream off me as I enter. I reach for a hot cup of cocoa, hand still shaking.

After a long, warm shower, I cuddle into a blanket and pull out the various snacks (yeah, salty potato chips) from the finish bag, replenishing with additional snacks from home.

OK, I am done and not coming out from under this blanket.

Dinner invites declined.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Qualifying for Boston through the Ages and through Age Groups

As a young pipsqueak, age 58, and latecomer to marathons, I ran my first Boston Marathon in the W55-59 AG. At that time, Boston’s qualifying time for me was 4:15. I’m still making that trek to Boston every few years. While I’ve increased in age by 12 years, my qualifying time (70-74 AG) has increased to 4:55. Sound like an easy qualifying time? Think again.

I’ve begun following a new (at least new to me) blog, Mathematical runner.com. In a recent post, titled ‘Which Age Group has the Easiest Boston Marathon Qualifying Time?’ I learned that the easiest qualifying time does not belong to the group of persistent (mostly) white-haired ladies (mostly) lining up in the fourth wave.

In reviewing the data, Ray Charbonneau says that older women runners have the toughest qualifying times. Having debated this very point over a number of post-training run refreshments, I’ve found there are strong feelings about Boston qualifying times and their perceived equity. So, although they lost me in the finer points of the math, Mathematical Runners supported my view that qualifying times are a bit tough(er) for older women.

 

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Harrisburg Marathon, my first marathon, 2003, a decent finish but not a BQ. In fact, I was such a novice, I didn’t know anything about BQing.

 

Another point made in that blog is the scant number of women in the senior age groups. I have noticed the number of participants in my age group dwindles every few years, and seems to dwindle more rapidly than the number of men in the same age group. Still, no matter how few women are competing, there are some incredibly talented women in their sixties, seventies and beyond. If I can finish mid-pack in my Boston age group, I call it a victory.

A few years later I learned how difficult it was to BQ and that getting older didn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Those of you who enjoy exploring the math of all this will certainly enjoy other posts in Mathematical Runner as well, particularly those who are following all things Boston in the countdown to 2018 Patriot’s Day April 16.

Read on and run on.

 

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.

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.

Pacing (OK, Chasing) Amby

 

I’m feeling a bit like that retro cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Credit: www.gopixpic.com Gonzales Pacon

Credit: Gonzalo Pacori

How is it possible to be in the running vicinity of a celebrated runner and not see him – twice? 

We’re talking about Amby Burfoot, a man who won the Boston Marathon in 1968 at the young age of 21 years. Since then, he has authored several books. I’ve seen his photos over the decades appearing with his columns offering advice and education on all things running for runners at every level. You would think I would recognize him.

My first known close encounter with Amby was at the 2014 Boston Marathon. It came to my attention after the race that we had been assigned the same corral. Granted, we’re talking hundreds of people in that corral, so yes, that I didn’t see him is understandable. Our finish times weren’t close, about four minutes apart. Still, we were likely in the same vicinity at the same time somewhere along that 26.2 mile stretch. But, I did not see Amby.

Less understandable is the near miss siting a few weekends ago at the Runner’s World Half Marathon. Upon approaching ArtsQuest the morning of the race, I saw the aging stacks of Bethlehem’s steelmaking past lighting up in the pre-dawn sky.

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Bethlehem PA pre-dawn skyline

But, I did not see Amby.

I did see a number of neighborhoods and a number of challenging hills. A beautiful long downhill at mile 12 let me stretch my legs for the best mile pace of the race.

I can attribute part of my lack of spotting other runners, be they friends or those who fit in the celebrity category, to a tunnelvision sort of focus  that automatically occurs as I run. 

That was the case when Keith, a Runner’s World staffer, pulled up beside me about a mile from the finish. I recall asking if we would be in before the 2 hour mark. He talked me through that final windy mile, pointing out the 2-Hour Pacer just ahead. My clock time was 1:59 39, chip time 1:58:49.

After the finish, I enjoyed the post-race festivities with my husband, chatting with other runners we met throughout the morning. Still, I did not see Amby.IMG_0976

Upon returning home, a friend emailed with a question. Did I realize Amby Burfoot finished six seconds ahead of me? Well, I did after looking at the results. Comparing clock times and chip times, surely we were again in the same vicinity at the start, probably near the runner who did a terrific job as the 2:00 Pacer. But, I did not see Amby.

When the race photo email arrived, I took a look through the selections for my bib number. The photo company watermarks made it difficult to see detail, but I guessed and finally took a flyer, ordering the magazine-style finish and hoping for the best. That’s me, third yellow shirt to the rear, wind jacket around my waist.13521552_1

I expect if we both continue to run,  (I’ll hold up my end to the best of my ability) my path may again (almost) cross with Amby Burfoot. My powers of observation are unlikely to improve and although I may not know it at the time, I will still be chasing, not pacing, Amby.

 

 

A Breath of Fresh Air at Local Races

The perfect wind down after the beautiful big-race, big-city Boston Marathon is a local, scenic race. Or two. I rarely schedule two races in a weekend, or a week, but two local runs last weekend were not to be missed. A Saturday race with an 8 a.m. start took me on rural roads over Peter’s Mountain. Signs reading “stay in low gear” are a wake-up call on this winding early morning drive.

Millersburg Ferry

Millersburg Ferry crossing the Susquehanna

Arriving in the town of Millersburg, a turn toward the river takes you there, passing a swinging pedestrian bridge and the ferries, recently added to the National Registry of Historic Sites. The 5K benefits The Millersburg Ferry Boat Association. The Dick Fralick River Run 5K is a  winding loop primarily through a park located along the Susquehanna River. The team of Jeremy and Caryn Hand make this 5K a success with Jeremy organizing and directing and Caryn baking up a storm to provide delicious dessert door prizes photoand selling perfect-for-running hair band creations that stylishly hold back rebellious locks. My 25:54 finish gave me a first in AG 60+ and a $15 gift certificate to the Armstrong Valley Winery.

Post-race with AG friend Joy

With  AG friend Joy post-race

This calls for another trip over Peter’s Mountain to check out the winery and redeem my certificate.

 

 

Sunday brought the second not to be missed race, the Harrisburg Area Road Runners Club (HARRC) 40th Anniversary Celebration 5K/10K. 10341664_10203637338075484_3556217530479668456_nHARRC was created at the beginning of the running boom and has been there through the waxing and waning of interest in running. HARRC originated the Harrisburg Marathon and has held a club run, open to members and nonmembers, every Sunday for 40 years. Along with organizing it’s own races, HARRC continues to help other organizations raise funds by providing volunteers and has timed other races beyond count.

Under the direction of Kelly Spreha, it was a cool windy morning run on a loop of hilly tree-lined lanes on the former State Hospital Grounds  and through portions of the Capital Area Greenbelt. I chose the 10K and finished with a 53:33. The race  which raised funds for Owen’s Foundation had a strong turnout, good media coverage, great food plus a wonderful opportunity to see friends.

Happy Anniversary, HARRC

Happy Anniversary, HARRC

Some participants were charter members of HARRC and others weren’t yet born when the organization was founded but play an integral role in continuing its success and service to the running community. Here’s to another 40!