Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for USATF

Newbie to Track Awestruck by NSGA Record Setters

There is something, maybe a few somethings, to be said about trying new activities. For me, that new activity this year is track. In addition to learning from more experienced athletes, there was also the excitement of participating in several events where new age group (AG) records were set.

I took on track for two reasons. One, if I was going to the senior games in Albuquerque for a 5K and a 10K competition, why not add a day or two of another competition? The other longer term reason was to consider that as I move into my 70’s, what are the chances I will need to cut back on or cut out those ultras, marathons, or perhaps even half marathons. What then? Would running around a track be my fallback?

So, with a week passing since the track competition at the 2019 National Senior Games in New Mexico, I’m finally settled enough to put thoughts in print.

University of New Mexico track with Sandia Mountains in the background

Competing in the national senior games doesn’t start there, but starts the year prior to national games with preparation for successful results that meet with the minimum requirements set by NSGA. For me, that was the Pennsylvania Senior Games in 2018.

In 2018, I qualified for the 1500 meter, 800 meter and 400 meter events. My finish times in ABQ didn’t come anywhere close to the qualifying times of 2018. This was a lesson in how travel, altitude and any number of factors can impact performance.

How not to run the 1500 Meter

48 hours after arriving in ABQ, I was standing on the track with seven other women in the 70-74 AG, ready to run 1500 meter. The USATF official emphasized that as we spread out those of us in the outside lanes could move to the inside so long as we did not hinder anyone else’s place or movement. In hindsight, I could have moved in earlier but was concerned not to make in error on my first time out.

Between that error, and the fact that I felt like I had gallon milk jugs tied to my calves, my fourth place finish time was a full minute slower than my qualifying time from a year earlier.

As I finished I realized they were announcing that first place Colleen Burns of New Mexico had set a new NSGA record for the distance and AG and later announced it was also a USATF record.

How to Crash and Burn in the 400 Meter

That same afternoon a preliminary was scheduled for the 400 meter. I had no high hopes for the 400, since as I did some practice runs on the track the weeks before, I just wasn’t picking up speed fast enough. So, with 98 degree temperature, I flamed out with a time I won’t even mention (but the scoreboard doesn’t lie) and definitely did not make the top eight places needed to move forward to the finals. Again in the preliminaries, Colleen Burns set a NSG record for our age group.

The 800 Meter – Hang in there

Two days later, feeling as though I have gained some knowledge, if not speed, I returned to the track for the 800. And again, this time Jane Treleven of Washington State, set a NSG record for the distance and age group with a 3:03:02 time. As for me, I was again slower than my qualifying time, finishing with a 4:40 and sneaking into 8th place.

So much to learn, so many to learn from

In spite of my newbie status, I did walk away with a fourth place ribbon and an eighth place ribbon. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be out on the track with record setters. I also appreciate meeting so many women athletes in and around my age group. Chatting before and after events with women who have a lifetime of track experience and willing to share is of incredible value.

So, will I take on the track again? Ask me when it’s time next year to qualify at the State Games.

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.

USATF Masters Championship 5K

Funny thing about running, new experiences can occur after decades of racing the same distance.  Running a weekend 5K generally isn’t noteworthy.

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Last weekend’s Syracuse Festival of Races was for me – for at least three reasons. It was:

1) a first experience running in a USATF Masters race (I’m a little late in starting, since I was age-qualified 26 years ago).  The Festival of Races hosted the USA Track & Field Masters 5K Championship Race for 2013.

2) a first experience standing within four feet of the Start line before the race start.  USATF Masters participants lined up at the Start in front of runners in the general 5K.

3) a first experience having my shoe come untied during a race, not just at a 5K but at any of the hundreds of races I have run.

Within 20 feet after crossing the start line, I felt the sting of a shoestring tip snapping against my shin.  My initial hope was the shoestring belonged to someone running beside me.  No such luck.  I was near the outside of the course and quickly hopped to the curb to avoid becoming a hazard to any of the other women running.  Within 30 seconds, my shoe was retied and I worked myself back into the moving stream of runners. but not before the Masters pack had left me far behind.  Now, I was where I usually start at a 5K – back in the middle of the pack.

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F65-69AG awardees Sue Gustafson (24:32) , Jan Holmquist (22:08),  Lenore Webber (25:04) with USATF LD Runners Div. Chair Don Lein

That 2) and 3) would occur at 1) was a disappointment.  That I finished 5th out of 7th in my F65-69 age group with a 27:05 was not. The level of performance among the Masters runners was inspiring.  I felt honored to be running with such talented women.

Stumbling across this race was a gift to begin with. My travels were taking me through Syracuse NY and as usual I looked for a local running group or race.  I could have registered for the 5K without registering for the championship, but why not step it up?  I looked through the information on registering. To participate in the Masters 5K, registrants were required to be U.S. citizens (✔) , members of USATF ( ✔) but no performance standard required (✔).

I’m pleased I made that decision.  The USATF staff were welcoming.  At the reception room pre-race evening, I picked up training trips from other runners, both members of track clubs from around the country, including runner and author John Farah, and a few unaffiliated runners like me.

John Farah after a 23:47 finish in the 70-74 AG

John Farah after a 23:47 finish in the 70-74 AG


Race day, USATF had a tent for Masters runners offering water, coffee, bananas and a temporary dry space as sporadic rain came down. We left warmup clothes in that space as well. I could get spoiled with this treatment.

Awards were presented at an optional brunch following the 5K. I could rave about some of the finish times announced, but will instead leave you with a link to the results

If USATF membership and their races, Masters and overall, are of interest to you, take a look at their 2014 National Championship Series race schedule.ffl