Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Running

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

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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.

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.

Senior Runner Records Falling

images-1So what were your running accomplishments in 2015? As the calendar year turned over, I asked myself that question. Reflecting on some personal running goals accomplished, I looked around to see what my fellow senior runners at the top of several age groups did in 2015. It’s impressive.

Given the number of records that fell this year, I zoomed in on looking only at women, those in my current age group (W65-69) and the AG I will move on to in a few years (W70-74).

In the 65-69 category, Edie Stevenson achieved a new 12K AG record with a time of 53:56.

Also in the 65-69 AG, setting a record in my favorite distance, the 10-miler, Sabra Harvey ran that distance faster than any previous woman in the age group – 1:14:15.

Moving on to the W70-74 group, the impressive Jan Holmquist managed to break records in three distance categories: 5K – 22:14, 8K – 36:37, and 10K – 45:19.

Finally, not an age group record, but a single age world record for the marathon was set by 74-year old Helga Miketta of Germany running that distance in 3:49:31.

These new record times are daunting, but also uplifting. They tell me what can be achieved. All of the record breaking women above are clearly talented, but for those of us with more modest goals but also interested in improving our own performance, it’s worth looking at similarities in women who make it to the top ranks of the Age Groups.

Care to take a humbling look at AG records for your age and gender? Here you can find age groups records for masters categories with USATF. At this link, you can find all single age world marathon records.

I’ll keep these incredible athletes in mind as I fine tune my goals for 2016. And you, are your running goals set?

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