Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for half marathon

End of the Road Half (and that’s not the Half of It)

It was the sweatshirt that drew me in, hooded with both front and back emblazoned with scenes from the long abandoned Pennsylvania turnpike tunnels near Breezewood.

This seemed

The course is an out and back on an unused roadbed and through two separate tunnels, abandoned back in 1968 along with the roadway. I found the surface in the tunnels easiest to navigate as it was not exposed to weather as the concrete and soil surfaces of the roadbeds were. Total race distance in the tunnels is just under four miles.

In addition, it seemed like a fun way to do a non-serious run, a tourist run of sorts. This was an opportunity to get in a half-marathon distance and maybe add in a mile or two on each end amidst these eerily incredible tunnels.

I had a lot of company in my thinking as there were well over 400 participants. As I approached the pre-race group, I spotted my fellow River Runners from Harrisburg, clowning it up in the porta-potty line.

With a starting temperature in the mid-40’s and overcast skies it was perfect running weather.

Just a scenic, fun half-marathon run

The course begins with a slight incline for less than a mile before entering the first of two tunnels. Did I mention that runners were required to bring a headlamp or flashlight? I was wearing a headlamp and as a failsafe wore my newly acquired nuckle lights.

Shortly after the start, I saw someone take a hard fall on the broken cement that had been a Turnpike lane. It was a reminder that this was not a PR course. I reaffirmed with myself to take it easy and enjoy the run.

As we approached the first tunnel I felt my headlamp fall around my shoulder, something that had not happened before. It was simply a matter of resetting the clip, but not easily done on the run. I stuffed it in a pocket and turned on the knuckle lights. This was the inaugural run for the lights and they worked great.

Entering the tunnel, I saw bouncing beams of light in front of other runners, dancing off surfaces in the distance.

Photo Credit: Linda Bain Breck

As we entered and exited tunnels, race volunteers had the volume pumped up on appropriately spooky tunes, from Witchy Woman to Thriller. I don’t recall hearing the Monster Mash but it was probably playing somewhere along the course.

Photo Credit: Linda Bain Breck

Shortly after looping back through the second tunnel, a group of River Runners doing some serious tourist running passed and I hopped in a photo with them.

Photo Credit: Linda Bain Breck

It all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

The fun and games stopped for me at about 9.5 miles when I took a quick, hard fall. Pulling myself up, I could see where my toe made a divot in the gravely soil in front of a chunk of concrete. The race was over for me.

A couple of other runners checked that I was ambulatory and went on their way. I went on my way as well, walking, blood from my scraped hand running over my pretty new blue just-out-of-the-box nuckle lights, and my left arm becoming stiffer.

I pulled off a fast 3.5 mile walk, taking extra water at the water stop to rinse the gravel off my hands and knee. During that three-mile walk, I reconciled with myself that autumn races in the future will be on the road. The slightly goulish photo below is reminiscent of my trail race last year.

Photo courtesy End of the Road Half Marathon

No crazy autumn races in 2020, I promise myself. Happy Hallow’s Eve everyone!

We’re all 1/2 (Marathon) Crazy

It’s the absence of the stifling humidity that has us giddy. And it’s that season. You see a leaf or two falling to the sidewalk, breathe that air with a barely distinguishable hint of autumn, and runners go 1/2 marathon crazy. Regardless of experience or pace, the half-marathon calls us. We’re helpless against its siren songuntitled.

We rationalize the usual explanations. It is a perfect tune-up for impending full marathons. The half is a great introduction to a longer distance for runners moving up from 5K and 10K distances. But really, we just want to be part of autumn and half marathons.

The Harrisburg Half Marathon has my first 1/2 and continues to be one of my favorites. It is convenient, mostly flat and mostly shaded. Still, after a summer of disappointing results in shorter races and in training, I held off signing up this year.

Has it been the humidity, the air quality, possibly age? Summer running and racing have been difficult. During my last 5K I felt like I was breathing through a mask. The legs felt strong, not so the lungs.

But the fever still strikes. On a hot sultry Saturday before race day while volunteering for packet pick-up, the energy and enthusiasm among runners pouring in for race bibs was palpable. I kept hearing the weather would change overnight, humidity would lift and we would have a cloud-covered cool(er) day.

Rivers Runners pre-race start

Rivers Runners pre-race start. Photo credit: Bekah Rundall

I bit. At the end of my volunteer shift and just before late registration closed for the day, hand went to wallet, signed waiver, picked up shirt and committed the rest of my body to a 13.1 race the following morning.

Overnight, the humidity did indeed clear out, but the cloud cover did not move in. Still, with temperatures in the ’60s and ’70s and those wonderful trees along the Susquehanna Riverfront, it was a beautiful day for a race.

I started near the back of the pack, unsure of what my pace would be. After the first two miles,  from City Island and south through Shipoke to the Greenbelt, runners finally spread out and I was able to move comfortably to an 8:55 pace.

Around miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo courtesy Stacey Cleary

Staying on pace miles 11/12, unshaded but great scenery. Photo credit: Stacey Cleary

Surprisingly, the tight breathing experienced over the summer wasn’t a problem. I stayed on pace until Mile 13 where I drifted off by 20 seconds.

A solid finish coming in at 2 hours, 0 minutes, and 23 seconds, this pleasantly surprised runner was just over two minutes off PR placing second in age group.

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

Photo credit: Lind Brain Beck

The other pleasant surprise was the relatively large number of women in the 65+ age group. With a field of nine women, first place in AG went to a strong competitor from Virginia with a 1:55 time.

With a beautiful home course and well organized 1/2 in Harrisburg behind me, have I stymied the 1/2 marathon craziness? No. Next stop for me is the Runner’s World Half in October.

Looking at race calendars, over the next month there are roughly 15 scheduled 1/2’s within a two-hour drive. I expect wherever you are, race calendars are similar.answer-girl2

So, who else out there is 1/2 crazy? Raise your hand.

Hilly Half in Chambersburg

The Chambersburg (PA) Half Marathon has been around for 35 years, yet somehow I avoided running it. Friends talked of this race and I had heard it all: Chambersburg is hilly, it’s hard, it’s cold.  So of course as perverse as my running friends are, they return multiple times. course_map_half

The Georgetown 10-Miler was on the list in my Roughed-Out Race Schedule and was also scheduled for this weekend. I made the switch to Chambersburg, mostly to take on a tough course as a final test that my knee is ready for Boston‘s hills. It was also an opportunity to take along some registration applications for the Capital 10-Miler scheduled at the end of March.

And hilly it is at Chambersburg. What everyone describes as a “monster hill” greets runners as they climb several hundred feet beginning before mile 3, only to tackle that same hill on their return around mile 10.

It was refreshing to participate in an old-school race; no chip on the shoe or the bib, just an experienced and accurate team with a clock at the start/finish and an efficient crew pulling bib tags as you move through the finish line.

What I saw on the 13.1 mile course is beautiful farm country, cattle and barns so close to the road you can almost touch, deer running across the distant hills. It is a race open to road traffic with volunteers posted at several locations. However, it is a course where all of a runner’s senses must be engaged. Traffic isn’t heavy and drivers were patient and considerate, but dips between hills makes it difficult for vehicles and runners to see each other from any distance. 

Having scheduled a long run earlier in the week, my legs were not ready to give me a strong half-marathon time. I made the decision early in (even before the monster mile) to pace myself to run at goal marathon pace, using the race as a day of my training plan.

River Runner friends did well in AG awards and even one 1/2 PR.

Some of my running tribe – River Runners did well in AG awards and even one 1/2 PR.

Outcome? 2:06 & change and I did manage to place in the 55+ age group (as a senior runner at age 66, I should make that 55++). 

Not surprisingly, race officials prohibited strollers, dogs and headphones from the course, both in writing on registration applications and again verbally prior to the start. What was surprising was the officials’ swift action to disqualify runners who defied the prohibition and ran with listening devices. As a race director, I know it isn’t easy to enforce rules that may have runners deciding they won’t be back to your race. It was refreshing to see Chambersburg holding tough on this for the safety of all runners.

If you plan ahead and are into a hilly country course, Chambersburg has a race application for 2015 on their website, linked above. UnknownJust leave your music at home and bring your love of country roads.

How was your weekend running?

Destination Marathon – Why Not The Hamptons?

A marathon is all the better with travel to a country, region, or town I haven’t yet explored.  Experiencing a city, poking around a neighborhood, and enjoying the local scene can add to the wonderfulness of a marathon weekend.

So it was for the Hamptons Marathon in East Hampton NY.

The race is scheduled in off-season September when the ocean and beach grass wave farewell to late summer.

We arrived at packet pickup on an overcast afternoon and find some great schwag: beach bag, beach towel, flip-flops, lip moisturizer, and the obligatory t-shirt.

Race morning, I look around and observe that I am one of the few senior runners in the pack.  This is a younger crowd than some marathons with a large field of half-marathoners. The first few miles are nearly claustrophobic with runners packed around on all sides.  Soon, the half-marathoners split off and there is space to breathe and enjoy the scenery.  We run through neighborhoods with graceful gardens and shingled homes, through wooded areas, then along a rutted dirt road.  Aside from watching for auto traffic, the road is mine.  While there is always another runner or two in view, we are spread out, occasionally passing one another.  The course and climate are to my liking with a gentle mist to keep me cool and gently rolling hills to offer some variety in terrain.

Mile 24 opens a stunning ocean view and soon the course looks familiar as I approach the finish.  Chip time 4:22:00.

Not my best, but I’ll take it with gratitude.  I’m treated to coconut water, then with banana and bagel in hand we’re off to our guestroom for a refreshing shower.

Next, a post-marathon party in the picture-perfect hamlet of Amagansett at the funky landmark Stephen Talkhouse. Runners enjoyed a hearty appetizer and pasta buffet.

I’ve learned to stay light on food for several hours post-marathon, so I occupied myself with a cool beverage and runner conversation.

Sauntering back to the street, we scoped the Indian Wells Tavern for dinner.  It has a clubby feel, wood and brick, and a menu with choices described as classic east end.  We were seated at a window with a sidewalk view to soak in more of the local off-season life.

My husband chose a deliciously rich clam chowder and a wedge salad.  I was ready for something slightly more hardy but also mild, starting with zucchini chips,  then an orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and enough fresh vegetables blended in to please my palette and begin restocking my nutrient deficit. Following dinner, we explored downtown Amagansett, peaking in local shops and art gallery windows.

The following morning on my early coffee run to Gaviola’s I found a course monitor outside our door.  Was this a flashback to yesterday?  No, it seems we were directly on the bike route for the Mighty Man Montauk triathlon.  Today, it’s my turn to be the cheering spectator.

Off to breakfast at MTK Cafe in Montauk.  On this rainy morning, even with all tables indoors and on the covered porch spoken for, we were seated quickly, service was fast and friendly and the pancakes were delicious, comforting, and just what I needed for recovery.

One last stop as we drove through the string of villages: the Wolffer Estate.

After admiring the straight lines of lush green vines, we joined in a brief mid-day wine tasting then said good-bye to the Hamptons and the Hamptons Marathon.

Time to go home.

Thank you Race Directors Diane and Amanda for a well done marathon event at a great marathon location.