Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for River Runners

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!

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