Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for trail running

A Muddled Report on a Muddy 1/2 Marathon

If you are feeling like you are too old to do something, I suggest you take a run in the mud, or help a younger generation make some mud pies, or get a mud facial. Any of the three can be healing.

It’s not that I wasn’t forewarned. I read the information on the Squirrelly Tail Twail Wun website. I heard numerous stories from year’s past. The trail can be icy or deep in snow. This year, the mud should not have been a surprise.

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Unusually warm weather and rain a few days before the race guaranteed a messy course. Race day temps were in the low 30’s accompanied by a brisk wind.

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We look far too clean. In hindsight, we should have done a post-race shot. 

After the traditional pre-race photo with my running group, I did a couple of warmup miles and saw what I was in for. I enjoy a fall run on the trails around Pincho Lake but winter/spring conditions are quite different.

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The course circles Pincho Lake

Although there were a few drier spots along the way, running through the mud was tough going. Attempting to stay to the edge of the trail out of the deepest muck, I found myself entangled in wild raspberry canes along the trail edge. 

Around mile 8 as we slogged along, a friend on the course made a comment about the joy of playing in the mud. That helped my state of mind and I decided to let my inner child come out and play. 

With some bloody splotches on my hand from the close call in the raspberry brambles and having landed on all fours at one point, I arrived at the finish line a dirty, happy runner.

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You know you’ve lost all sense of adulthood (or fashion) when a soft long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a cartoon squirrel warms your heart.

You won’t find overall finisher or age group awards at the Squirrelly Tail. You will find a memorable February challenge and a beautiful course, whatever its condition.

After picking up my finisher medal and enjoying some post-race chatter, I returned to the trail to get in another three miles to fulfill my 18-miles for marathon training.  Fortunately, I remembered to stash an extra pair of shoes and warmup pants in my bag for the ride home. Trail shoes are once again clean, only the memories and some dried mud on my floor mat remain.

What are your February memories to warm you through a blustery March? Did you let your inner child play, and did it involve mud?

 

 

The Appalachian Trail and Grandma Gatewood

Most of us don’t need motivation to get out on the trail, but if that is the case for you I have a film to recommend. This week, thanks to one of my local libraries, I had the opportunity to see a documentary film, “Trail Magic – the Grandma Gatewood Story.” Director Peter Huston was on hand for discussion.

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Credit alchetron.com

The tale of Emma Gatewood is intriguing; a woman raised in Appalachia who survived a 20-year marriage to a wife batterer while raising a large family. After raising her children, divorcing her husband and a chance reading of an old National Geographic article about the Appalachian Trail, she threw a few things in a bag and set off. Emma, known as Grandma Gatewood on the trail, became the first woman to through hike, making her way from Georgia to Maine.

That’s the overview of a woman who set out for a long walk and in doing so ultimately became a celebrity and then used that celebrity and knowledge to be a vital force for establishing trails in her home state of Ohio

Although the film is intriguing, I plan to pick up Ben Montgomery’s book “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” to learn more about this woman’s life.

I thought of her as I was on the AT for the first time since February. I joined a group for a fast-paced after-work hike up Blue Mountain. Her notoriety and eccentricities are a part of why that trail is there for you and me today, to through hike, go out for a trail run if we choose or simply put in a fast-paced after work hike.

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View from the AT Overlook on Blue Mountain

The film is being presented at a number of locations. Check the links on the Facebook page  for upcoming showings and discussion.

Would any of us complete a successful through-hike in a pair of Keds, know how to supplement food from the forest and have the gumption to knock on doors asking for a meal along the way? Not me. But I will take that after-work hike and the occasional trail run. Thanks, Emma.

 

 

 

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.

Race Report – Blues Cruise 50K

Shortly after  a successful first ultra trail race at the Dirty German, I signed up for the Blues Cruise 50K in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Friends had described the race as challenging yet fun. I learned that both were true.

It’s good to see a familiar face at a race and I was fortunately to spot three. Near the bag drop, I ran into Rick and Jeremy both experienced ultra runners. Jeremy followed The Blues Cruise up with the Oil Creek 100K. I expect he will be writing about it in The Road to Trails.

An intense group at the start while I'm lined up in the back of the pack.

An intense group at the start while I’m lined up in the back of the pack. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Near the start, I heard Kristin’s voice, another ultra runner who blogs at Family, Food and Running. She was in a support role for this race and also recently ran the Oil City 100 Miler.

Unlike my experienced ultra friends, as a newbie ultra runner and trail runner, I am still making rookie mistakes. Assuming I would be one of the slowest runners on the trail, I lined up with the back of the pack. Runners stretched ahead as far as I could see with most of them starting at a walk. In addition to the typical rocks and roots, walnuts the size of tennis balls were falling from the trees and onto the single track trail. I bided my time until we arrived at the first aid station. It was packed with runners and with no early need for water or food,  I slipped through the crowd and finally found my pace.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course.

Pink ribbons flagged the well-marked course. Credit: Ryan Goverts

Rain for several days preceding the race left portions of the trail with some mud, but certainly passable. Running on grass after passing a muddy spot helped to kick the weight of any lingering mud off my shoes.

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Credit: Ryan Goverts

We were running the course counter-clockwise around Blue Marsh Lake. That placed the ski hill on the course at mile 10/11, my toughest – although not my slowest – mile.  The slowest pace came around mile 23/24 where the uphill/downhill pattern continued. I can also attribute the slowdown to my second rookie mistake letting a horseback riding group get ahead of me while I munched on a salted potato at an aid station. How was I to know they would saunter along for a period of time before again breaking out into a trot? Several of us walked the single track during that time rather than attempt to spook a horse as we shouted “on your left” to the rider. No, better to loose a few minutes and pick up the pace later.

I would tell you how lovely the scenery was, but honestly I was watching the trail underfoot very carefully. I did well until about mile 24 when the beautiful cloud cover gave way to a bit of sunshine. I recall thinking “gee, it’s a bit more difficult to see the trail detail with this dappled sunshine” when – boom – I was down. No harm done, I was back on my feet as quickly as I went down.

Pulling out of the the last aid station I was ready to be finished. I chatted with a couple of guys just behind me on the trail. Their delightful conversation helped me keep going.  Oddly, I have run shorter and mentally more difficult races, but I felt this was the most physically challenging race I have run.  I have done marathons through smoldering heat, nor’easters, angry ocean whipping over the breakwall, and sleet blowing across the Susquehanna. Still, the Blues Cruise was more challenging. And, of course, I plan to do it again, with tougher training built in before the race.

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Credit: Ryan Goverts

Finish time? 7:03:11, thanks to a combination of Tailwind in my pack, potatoes with salt, an orange slice and a sip of Coke at several aid stations. I arrived at the finish of that beautiful, hilly, well-marked course in time to say good-bye to my friends who came through the finish much earlier.

Food was abundant, but my stomach said to settle for a grilled cheese. A grabbed a bottle of water, did a 5-minute mud removal cleanup and headed for home. My tired muscles were a strong reminder that I had met the challenge of a second 50K trail race.

Thank you Blues Cruise race directors and volunteers for making the race possible.

Chirunning in the Berkshires

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View from Kripalu porch

Paging through the Kripalu catalog offerings this summer, I noticed a workshop for Mindful Chirunning. A yoga and health retreat center tucked away in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Kripalu has a wonderful location atop a knoll, a sparkling lake at the base and Tanglewood just down the road. With the classes at the Kripalu center, it was possible to slip into a few yoga sessinss and lectures on various mind and body topics between and after our workshops.

The program dates worked with some other New England stops on the summer agenda, so my opportunity was right for a  contemplative and studied approach to my running.

The loss of my trusted Garmin 305 which stopped working a week before the workshop was one less diversion from the Chi lessons.

Along with the great location and perfect timing, the Chirunning workshop continued me on the current path of working on some alignment issues. 

Most days, we participated in three daily sessions, resulting in multiple daily showers, a large laundry bag and many notes and helpful feedback to take home. We worked in large and small groups and received individual direction and correction from the corps of excellent Chirunning trainers. 

The Chirunning technique developed by Danny Dreyer and based on Tai Chi movement, uses the runner’s energy, or chi, for running efficiency and modeled to help reduce or prevent injuries. Some of the forms of the technique include a subtle forward lean assisted by gravity, a midfoot strike, engagement of the body’s core and a mind-body connection – doing an occasional check-in on form focuses while running. Increased speed is not a promised outcome, but some runners find that it just happens as a very nice side effect.

Analyzing our foot falls on sand.

Mike helps us analyzing our foot falls on the sand beach.

Individual film analysis has been helpful for me and I continue to work on my own to make the form focuses a habit. During my initial filming, the instructors identified some correction areas:

  • the ‘splay’ of my right foot. I had been working through some exercises to correct this and they offered more tips to eventually correct. A work in progress but it is coming along.
  • Shoulders hunched close to my ears (another work-in-progress correction).
  • Moderate heel strike.

By the final filming on Thursday, I had made progress (but not eliminated) the splay, improved relaxation in my shoulders, held the correct posture and was landing with midfoot.

Overall, my cadence and breathing are good and didn’t need much in the way of correction.

Each runner or walker in the workshop had slightly different modifications to make and it was interesting to watch how each of us was able to concentrate and improve during the five days.

The last session of the week included a 6:30 a.m. optional trail run. Behind Kripalu,  past Monk’s Pond to Olivia’s Overlook, there were plenty of rocks and roots to keep the mind focused and plenty of opportunity to put Danny’s tips for trail running into use.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, great trail and a beautiful view.

At the ridge overlooking Lake Mahkeenac with Chirunning cofounder Danny Dreyer and the early a.m. trail running group. Good company, rugged trail and a beautiful view.

Life crests another hill this year and I can see my seventh decade out in the distance. There is no sure thing, but my plan is to employ the Chirunning techniques and use the individual critiques to ensure that my running form will enable me to continue running far into the future.

Thanks to Danny, Lisa, Angela, and Mike for your guidance during the workshop.

Dipping my Toe into the Ultra World

Taking on a 50K trail race is something I have pondered over time, years of time actually since I am now solidly in the 65-69 AG. After canvassing opinions from experienced ultra running friends, I chose May as the month and the Dirty German Endurance Fest as the event.

The Dirty German has 25K, 50K and 50-Mile options through Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. It was billed as suitable for beginners yet offering enough challenge for more experienced trail runners. I found the description accurate. A more experienced trail runner could run this entire course. I chose to walk in some areas, staying conservative to ensure I could finish uninjured.

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

Entertainment at the Dirty German Endurance Fest

To test my trail legs, a couple of friends were kind enough to do a 21-mile run/hike with me on the Appalachian Trail prior to the race. With 2/3 of that 50K trail distance completed and still feeling strong, I was ready for the 50K.

Race morning dawned with high humidity and temperatures climbing early. Within the first mile, I could see shirts ahead of me already sweat-soaked. My ponytail provided a personal air conditioning system, sprinkling cool drops of water down my back.

The shade from huge trees and the bubbling of the creek offered physical and mental barriers to help ignore the mugginess of the day. The paths were soft underfoot with the expected rocks and tree roots mixed in here and there.

The toughest areas to run were 2 miles of paved bike path as well as a short section of rough dried earth that looked like leftovers of a tractor track, jarring enough that I walked the grass section beside that hard earth.

The course includes two creek crossings. I made it across the rocks, barely getting a toe wet. Making way through a flat single track switchback section I could hear the accordion and the start/finish activity. Beginning the second loop, it felt like luxury to run on those soft trail surfaces and listen to the creek bubble. There were enough other runners out there  to feel comfortable but also enough personal space to listen and watch nature unimpeded as my feet took me on this beautiful second loop tour.

The Dirty German was my first experience with a different type of aid station. For road marathons, I keep my food intake to a few energy beans and maybe a bite of an energy bar in the last few miles. Adding 6 miles on trail required more substantial intake.

At each aid station, a volunteer quickly filled my hand-carry nearly-empty water bottle. I reached for a chunk of potato, dipped it in salt and chased it with a glass of Coke. Fortunately, my stomach didn’t rebel & I was good to the next aid station.

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Post race with running friend and 1st 50K Women Masters, Becky.

My loose goal was to complete the 50K course in 8 hours. As it turned out, my finish time was 7:05:58. I saw my friends Becky and Jeremy  (you can read about Jeremy’s ultra running exploits on his blog The Road to Trails). Becky had finished much earlier, placing 1st in the women’s masters category for the 50K and garnering a wonderful award – a cuckoo clock – for her efforts.

I took a short walk to Pennypack Creek where other runners and families with children were wading in the cool water. I washed the top layer of dust and sweat off legs and arms, did a quick change into a dry shirt, and made my way to the barbecue area for a sausage and German potato salad. We took a moment to thank Race Director Stephan Weiss for a great event and were on our way home.

Post-race, I was surprised that with the exception of some minor stiffness, my body was none the worse for wear. The softness of the trails and the changes of pace and stride seemed easier than the pounding on asphalt and cement road running hands out. That may account for some of the longevity of trail runners who have been at this for years and continue to run trails far into their senior years. A New York Times article titled Why Older Runners are Ultrarunners reached the conclusion that older runners are no more likely to be injured during trail running that younger runners.

Granted, they were not referring to women in their 60’s who decide for the first time to take up ultras (example #1 behind this keyboard). No, most of the runners in the cited study are men who have had decades of experience running distance on trail.

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Long sleeve tech shirt and finisher hat.

After a first positive experience, I will be incorporating more distance trail runs and trail hiking. I’m not abandoning the roads, but they will be sharing my running time with the trails.