Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Running

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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7 GIFT IDEAS FOR SENIOR FITNESS FANATICS

B-B Mistletoe KissDo you have a few blank spaces next to the names of friends and relatives who continue – or have begun – to pursue exercise or athletic endeavors in their senior years?

My suggestions here focus on gifts for runners, primarily women, but the same gift selection thought process and some of the items can be applied to men and to almost any other sport or activity.

In past years, I’ve done a gift list post or two on my blog and most of those manufacturers and categories still hold true.

In addition to my earlier finds, there is an array of items out there, from the economical and practical to the snazzy or cutting edge. So, let’s get started. Perhaps you will find just the thing for your senior runner or other athlete.

When it comes to gourmet gifts, here are some suggestions to consider:

Healthy Foods and Ingredients

By choosing healthy foods and ingredients you can pick up an economical gift for your runner/athlete host or hostess. They will make a nice addition to the healthy array of foods likely already in the athlete’s cupboard.

Organic food stores carry a number of packaged items and ingredients that can sometimes be difficult to find. Here is a list of organic food stores from across the geographic spectrum.

Organic Restaurants

Eating out can be a challenge for athletes who prefer healthy food, so here is a gift card opportunity. Spec out an organic or generally health-conscious restaurant that your friend or family member has not yet found – or one she particularly likes.

Cookbooks

On my personal wish list this year is Run Fast East Slow developed by Shalane Flanagan, recent winner of the New York City Marathon, along with chef, nutrition coach, friend and college track teammate, Elyse Kopecky.

The cookbook has been around for a year or two, and I have enjoyed some of the recipes prepared by friends who were among the first to purchase it.

Moving on to clothing choices, here are some interesting items that I would definitely consider:

Tights

When hiking, running, doing strength work or cycling, tights are almost essential. Although we all keep that one pair of black tights that can morph from the trail to looking quite nice under a dress or long sweater, the wild splashy colors and prints in tights are far more fun.

Don’t let age stop you from making these a gift purchase for your senior athlete. Join in this trend and go wild. Stop into any athletic store or browse around online, and you will find them.

Socks/Gloves/Hand Warmers

Does your favorite athlete have a favorite brand for socks, gloves and hand warmers? Then stick with that. Most people have worked out what fits best in their running and cycling shoes and what level of warmth is needed.

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Your fitness fanatic may appreciate compression socks. They’re a good gift choice – useful for long runs or when traveling soon after an endurance event.

Do you know what kind of gear your friend needs? Let’s look at the choices:

Reflective Gear

Reflective gear is always a nice addition and can be a stocking stuffer. It can be anything, from a reflective strip with a velcro back that can attach to any clothing item to something offering more coverage.

My very favorite gift received last year was the Tracer360. I can be seen in the dark, coming sideways,front or back.

Activity Timing/Tracking

Activity timing gadgets are very personal. I enjoy Garmin products for timing and pacing information on runs, hikes and swims. I also like to look back through the data over time. Seeing the maps of trails trodden in the past can bring wonderful memories, much like photos.

However, there are many technical products, and you will want to know your athlete very well, and perhaps get her input, before making this purchase.

Happy shopping!

If you are 60 or over, what is on your fitness fanatic gift list? If you are the new or experienced athlete, do friends and family encourage your activity with gifts, large or small? 

This article was previously published in early December on Sixtyandme.com

 

B-B Mistletoe Kiss 

 

Early Morning Runs Among the Homeless

B-B Mistletoe KissWe runners tend to have a rare view of the world. Most of us will have mornings where we are out the door and back while the household sleeps. Other times we are traveling, staying with friends and family or in a hotel. Again, and always with safety in mind, the most opportune time to get in a run is early morning before the day’s activities begin.

So it is that my view of the homeless on our streets and in our parks is through the sleepy eyes of an early morning runner.

Thinking back several decades to the 70’s, the homeless population seemed to be a smattering of men, usually along a skid row area viewed through a car window. By the ’80’s I was seeing more people on the very streets I walked and ran near my office. Because I moved from one city and state to another, I first thought the larger homeless population was a quirk of my new hometown. It didn’t take long to realize that the increase in homelessness was not just where I live, but was a national and international phenomenon.

Running offers time to think and question. Questions like, why do I see more of the homeless now, where do they come from, what occurred in their lives that brought them to this park, this riverfront this retail doorway this particular morning?

The news reports I occasionally hear identify certain percentages of homeless as military veterans, those suffering mental illness or plagued with addiction, LGBT youth estranged from parents, and young families suffering job loss. Whatever the percentages, I, and I’m guessing many runners, have witnessed those from every category above.

My travels abroad have affirmed we in the U.S. are not alone in a growing homeless population.

Several years ago on an early morning run along a river walk in Osaka, Japan, I was jolted, realizing I had come upon a homeless encampment, blue tarps spreading in the distance. I quietly turned and rerouted to avoid disturbing anyone’s sleep.

Versions of that experience have occurred during most of my travels. I used my softest running steps as I encountered the homeless sleeping in doorways along Avenue de Clichy in Paris. At dawn, I’ve side-stepped those “sleeping rough” under the display windows of Christie’s Auction House in London’s South Kensington.

If you’re expecting to find my recommendations or solutions, I have none. I’m just an early morning runner reporting my observations. I do, however, believe there are smarter and more creative people than me who have within them the potential to contribute to the resolution. Policymakers, counselors, non-profit agencies, maybe some from the homeless community; among you I believe there are answers. By example, Back on my Feet is a relatively (2007) new organization with an innovative approach.  In this wide world of creative, caring people somewhere there is someone, probably many someones, who have the beginnings of other solutions.

Personally, my meager contribution is to donate to organizations that are sincerely helping. When I travel, I make it my business to identify a local group with a proven track record. Since I have benefited a city by spending my tourism dollars in restaurants, hotel stays, and race registrations, it makes sense to also contribute to the population least likely to benefit from my stay.

Could 2017 be a breakthrough year? With hope and determination, who knows.

On this chilly December evening, I wish all of my readers the warmth of family, friends and most of all, a place to call home.

B-B Mistletoe Kiss

A 10-Point Strategy to kicking back Post-Marathon

Seldom do I give advice, but for post-marathon days there is a process I believe is essential: Be moderately active, but as lazy as possible. Take for instance, my Chicago Marathon post-race day plan and execution:

1. Book a flight late in the day to provide some lazy morning time. This allows a runner to wake hungry during the night, dig into their goodie bag of miscellaneous bars and fruit, then fall back asleep until the sun peeks through the curtain.

(Too early in the morning for a goodie bag photo.)

2. Walk out of the hotel with no particular destination other than water and sunshine.

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The Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan

3. Learn something even though you didn’t intend to, such as Chicago’s use of solar compactors discovered on our stroll down the street.

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Chicago has used solar compactors in the downtown area since 2011, saving time and money. Several east coast cities are using these as well. 

4. Watch a fleet of sailboats patiently wait for one the drawbridges to open.

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5. Take a silly selfie.

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6. Observe Chicagoans outdoing us in the “kick-back” category as they spend their Columbus day kayaking the river, doing some toe-dipping in the fountains and napping in Centennial Park.

 

7. Find something you didn’t expect to see. For us it was a building that looked like it has always been in the South Loop, but  it wasn’t familiar to me.

We asked a couple of Chicago’s finest who happened to be waiting to direct traffic for the parade route (remember, it’s Columbus Day). We learned the building is the Harold Washington Library Center. After a peak inside (well, more than a peak, we stayed awhile and had to convince ourselves to finally leave), we learned it hasn’t always been here. A research librarian told us it was built in the 1980s and opened in 1991.

8. Enjoy the parade. Step back out in the sunshine, find a place to sit on the curb and watch as bands, politicians and vintage vehicles pass by. Yesterday, you and 40,000 other marathoners were the parade. Today, it’s their turn.

 

Although primarily Italian American, there was participation from every ethnic and cultural group and political organization I was aware of in this city.

9. Retrieve bags from the hotel, grab a cab for Union Station and wave your sister off on the commuter bus.

10. Depart like a real Chicagoan and take the El train to the airport. (Thank you strong young guy who offered to carry my bag up the two flights of stairs to the platform.)

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That’s my strategy for a kick-back post-marathon day. How does yours compare?

 

Destination Marathon: Running the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Marathon

Let me say it upfront: the Rhinebeck Marathon sits in the top three of the most beautiful marathon courses I have run. Tucked neatly into the Hudson River Valley the town of Rhinebeck, New York is worth a visit even without a marathon.

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Mile 8/21 running parallel to the Hudson River

Always looking for an opportunity to return to this region, the marathon was a good find. I selected this race for its small size and historic location near the Catskill Mountains, a sort of antidote to the throngs of runners and spectators at my Boston Marathon a month earlier.

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Runners begin to congregate at Fairgrounds start

In its inaugural year, Rhinebeck had 23 marathon finishers. This year it grew to 89 finishers with larger numbers running the half marathon. Among those running were many folks from other states, at least one first-time marathoner, a marathon maniac, and a runner working on her 50-state status. I expect the race will see continued growth as word of this little treasure gets out.

This is a 2-loop course, with a start/finish at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. I don’t generally choose loop courses, but I took a chance with this one and the scenery was so dazzling I looked forward to covering it again. The course is flat for the first few miles, then moves into rolling hills. Some of the route was open to traffic, but drivers and runners were carefully considerate and all was well.

Leaving the Fairgounds, the route moved through a residential area and then out in the countryside on a pastoral course. We were on a Heritage Trail for a good portion of the time, running past farms, cemeteries, historic estates, and the beautiful but hilly Hamlet of Rhinecliff with occasional views of the Hudson River over the left shoulder.

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Mile 5/18 – lane to  Wilderstein, historic home of the Suckley family. Daisy Suckley was archivist and confidante to FDR. Trails and carriage roads on property  open to the public

The majority of the route is shaded, a blessing on this unexpectedly warm day. Even on mile 23 as my pace slowed to a crawl, I was appreciating the sound of bird calls and the light breeze rustling through the trees. (Note to ponder: During a colder than normal Spring, how did I manage to select two Spring marathons that fell on what seemed like the only two warm days this season? Only the universe knows.) My finish time was a disappointment (a minute slower than my Boston finish) but the experience of running this course was not.

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Mile 7/20 – hilly Hamlet of Rhinecliff founded 1686

The Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Marathon is a USATF-certified course. Aid stations and porta-potties were well placed and spaced. Parking was simple and easily accessible from the start/finish.

 

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What makes an ideal destination marathon? Rhinebeck is close, offering a wonderful course in a location with a myriad of interests for family and friends who may want to come along for the ride (or the run). This is not Disney World, but a real experience of our American past. History buffs can explore the land settled before the Revolutionary War took place, outstanding arts and architecture with homes from the 1600’s and the region of the Hudson River School artists established in the 19th century. Within driving distance you will also find the family homes of several of our twentieth century presidents. Finally, if food is your interest, the area abounds in locally grown food served in restaurants. You can also get a tour and a superb meal at the Culinary Institute of America just down the road.

On to my next destination race. Any suggestions?

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.