Return to Competition

My husband and I started running in 2008, I think, as part of our weight loss/get fit idea (in which we lost a combined 200 pounds or so). It was his idea, but we both took to it right away, and that led to trying out the racing world.

Mostly we did 5K’s, although we did some 10K’s, the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia (twice) and a half-marathon (once). I found I was pretty good at running and I consistently won awards in my age group (50-59, me being at the time at the low end of the numbers).

Then, starting in 2012, things happened, and you have probably read about them if you have followed this blog: a fall, injuries to various body parts including my hand, an antibiotic resistant infection, two hand surgeries, four eye surgeries, hearing loss, a broken foot, complications from antibiotics, and so on. Each time, I would recover enough to start back to training but each time a new problem would arise, stopping me.

Nonetheless, I kept running, though not racing, until this last winter. When my husband had his fall at Christmas, 2016, that pretty much scrambled even getting to the gym; the final blow was a month-long giant bad cold in April, 2017.

Well, the point of all of this story is to say that my motto is never give up. I am one stubborn person. Once I got well in May, I decided to make returning to running a priority. But I needed to be realistic.

I am older now, I have some deficits from my various experiences, and I no longer have the motivation to run 6-8 miles a day, never mind if it would even be good for my bones and joints and… But, I think I’ve got some good races still in me; I just have to pick out my goals.

So, I worked out a week-by-week running plan based on walking/running. Started out with 2 minutes walking and 2 minutes running for about 2.5 miles. I am now up to 1 walking/9 running for 4 miles. I plan to keep that rest interval and get myself to 5 miles; then I will work out where I want to go next with it.

So far so good. I focus on persevering and not so much on speed (though I can’t help it, just a little). I want to stay injury-free and enjoy myself. But – I do like competition. That brings me to the subject of this post.


About seven or so years ago, we participated in a July 4 5K held at Norristown Farm Park (look here  and here for other events, such as orienteering, I’ve recently done in this park and its locality). I’ll tell you right now I won an award and did the course in 25 minutes something. And the course is a hard one – hilly, exposed to the sun, requiring endurance and speed.

This photo is from the Senior Games at Norristown Farm Park, not this race, but you get the idea.

Well, I got to thinking about that race last week, and I said, let’s look it up and see…Now, I had no business trying a 5K, not having run 3.1 miles straight in four years or so. So…

 

We arrived at the race site a little before 8 AM today, July 4. I had some stage fright about the whole thing. My husband is not able to run yet, so he took all the pictures.

I picked up my number, my swag bag, and my race T-shirt (I so love a 5K t-shirt!). Here are some attempts at an official race portrait.

Let’s try an action shot.

Remember that cheerful expression and compare it to the actual race photos later on. All right. The race starts at the entrance of Norristown High School, crosses into the park, makes a big square, and finishes right in front of the school. My first goal was to run the whole way, no walking.

And, I was hoping to do 33-35 minutes and I felt it would take every bit of pacing I had in me to make it work. I lined up at the back of the crowd (the first place finishers do about 16 minutes, for some perspective, so I needed to hang back, oh, yes).

The weather was about 75 degrees at 8:30 AM and very humid. Another reason to pace myself.

OK, we started the race to the sound of a police car siren. I’m the lady with the orange arrow chasing her.

No pictures from inside the race. I needed all my strength to run! We started off bunched up and then I got some space around me. My past experience told me that quite a few people would start off fast and fade, and that is what happened here. I was able to pass people all through the first part of the race, a little at a time. That’s how I used to run these things, I thought, feeling pretty good.

Everything held together until about the 2.5 mile mark. Then I started to feel it. In the past I had had the resources to speed up at the end. Today, I was measuring out the last little bits of energy. I crossed out of the park and across the street into the high school’s entrance. Only a few hundred yards to go, shouted the policeman holding back traffic for me.

Now I reappear on the radar. The orange arrow is back to highlight me.

I make it up that last hill and around the curve. The orange cones are what I am looking for.

It seems to me that inspirational music ought to be playing as I come to the finish, with crowd shots of cheering people, maybe with tears in their eyes. But then, it would not be real; it would be a television movie. I would not be running along and feeling very bad about now.

In real life, I heard my husband cheering for me; that was plenty good enough. I keep going and I get to the orange cones.

I keep going. By the way, I am wearing a brand-new pair of running shoes and they did themselves proud.

I’m going to finish this race, it looks like.

Well, a few years back I would not have believed I could run so slowly. Or be so happy about it! I was right. I needed a lot more training. I was not ready for this race. I had no business doing it. And, I’m really happy that I didn’t listen to any of that nonsense, because look! I did it!

the insubstantial

It is what holds the pieces of your life together.

Re-Orienting Myself

It’s early May, and that means that the Montgomery County Senior Games have rolled around again.

You may remember that last year I competed in several days of this week-long event. I did orienteering, running, and speed-walking. I wrote a whole series of posts about my experiences:

Let the Games Begin

Orienteering Myself

I Run as Fast as I Can on a Track

Walk This Way

In my introductory post for last year, I wrote about how I had set the goal of competing to help me start back into regaining my former fitness levels – I was a good runner and swimmer and loved doing those things, but my various illness, surgeries, bad antibiotic reactions, stress fracture in my foot – all of these had slowly stripped away my strength and almost all of my ability to pick myself up and try.

I wrote about how I hoped the event would be the beginning of returning to my old ways. Well, it wasn’t. I experienced more eye issues later in the year and then, when my husband had his accident in December, 2016, for the next four months I pretty much gave up – exercise came near the end of the list.

All right. Here we are today and I am saying the same thing – I hope that the Senior Games mark the beginning of returning to normality as far as my athletic activities.

This year, I decided to do just the orienteering and walking events. My motto was to be: Complete, not compete, meaning – finish the event, not try to bust a gut winning it.

With that in mind, I arrived at the Norristown Farm Park this morning, site of the orienteering event. My husband accompanied me – his new office is very close, and so this year he was able to attend. That was nice, to have his support. We had an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, a bit chilly, but just perfect for this event. Compare it to last year’s day and you’ll see why all of us at the event were thrilled. Here is 2016:

And now, 2017:

Last year I was a green newbie at orienteering, but I liked what I had experienced of it. If you don’t know much about it, you run around the countryside from point to point (called “controls”) following a detailed map, and you are timed. I am not really able to do trail running anymore because of my eyesight, so this sport really appealed to me as a substitute.

This year I am a slightly less green newbie, and I am game. Let’s go, I said. We got signed up at the pavilion and received the all-important T-shirt.

After some explanatory remarks, we headed over to the start. Now, how this works is simple. You get the map when you start, you take off looking for your controls, and you just keep going to the end. You have to go in order, but you can get from place to place any way you want to. You have a small device that you insert into a reader at each control – it keeps your time. The race starts for you when you click in at the start control.

In larger events, there are courses laid out for different difficulty levels over the same plot of ground. Competitors choose the level desired and get the map for that course. So, the people you see as you traverse your course may be doing a different course altogether – you don’t assume their control is one you want for your course.

This event, though, has only one course. So it’s possible to follow another competitor and get to the controls without orienting yourself on your own. Remember this point – it matters in my story!

Here I am at the start point:

And looking over my map, having just clicked the start. You can’t review it beforehand.

And, running off down the path.

The trick to this sport is to stay focused and continue to adjust and re-orient yourself as you go along. Watch your map closely. I try to plan out what next landmark or location I need to hit in a series of moves to get to a control point. A straight line is not always the best route!

Well, I was zipping along. And very quickly I realized that another woman near me was, well, she was watching my moves. Plain and simple. And given how the course was set up, I could do nothing about it. Several times it was clear to me that she would not have found the control if I had not led her there.

Well, complete, not compete, went out the window. I guess I wasn’t surprised. I’m pretty competitive. Yes. So I got a little aggravated and that put some speed into my feet. Down paved roads, dirt trails, crawling up a trackless hill – we did it all. She was ahead of me at the last control but just a little; that cranked up the aggravation level and I took off for the finish. Hard. And I got there first.

I’m the tiny black speck. I don’t know who that man is who was caught up in our drama.

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a small thing, but I felt as if I had done something big. I didn’t give up and I didn’t back down. Makes me feel that I am really on my way in this new start.

Thanks for reading. And Happy Orienteering, if you try it.

couldn’t reach it.

couldn't reach it.

couldn’t reach it

The oracle, speaking. The artist trading card, just the messenger…???

in her dreams,

atc-in-her-dreams-6-16-small
in her dreams,
I present these oracle-like artist trading cards for your review and possible edification! You remember such items from the past, maybe – here they are again.
I make these cards and then I give them a phrase cut from printed matter, chosen at random but maybe not. See if you get any kind of push or insight or set off on any train of thought from looking at and reading these, even if it’s just to say, “Whaaat?!”

Carwash Sign

This carwash is located next to the Pennypack Trail’s parking lot at Welsh and Terwood Roads. It’s closed today since they work on the weekends. The business does hand washing and detailing for cars. On a normal day you would see cars in various stages of being cleaned and lots of employees at work.

carwash-12-16-1-small

Usually the sign out by the road says something like “A clean car is a happy car”. Right now, though, this is what it says.

carwash-2-12-16-small

I could go on, but I don’t need to. The sign tells us the narrative the people at this business want us to know and to follow.

Off the Beaten Path

When we were in Reading, PA, a few weeks ago to visit the Goggleworks Center for the Arts, I noticed a small green building set in a tiny cemetery, right up beside the highway, as we were speeding along toward home. We’d never noticed it before, and we said – we have to try to take a look at that next time we’re here.

So, that next time was yesterday – we were visiting Goggleworks again, for their annual art festival. On the way home, we zipped off the highway exit and found the spot very easily – just a few yards down the road. We parked the car along the street and walked over – along a portion of the Schuylkill Trail that happens to pass by it.

 

Sure enough, there sat the brick building inside a stone wall along with an assortment of gravestones. Before we worked our way down the white-painted timbers that served as steps down the slight slope, we looked at the marker. Hmmm. Already we could tell this place had a story.

reading-cemetery-1-10-16-small

The gist of it was this: the Fix-Gerber-Bittner families established this cemetery in the early 1800’s. It was much larger than the present plot when it started out. But as time passed, it almost seemed as if this little bit of ground had a bull’s eye on it. Industrial developments all took pieces away from it. Graves were moved, somewhat carelessly, too, it seems. This small place is all that’s left. It’s essentially ownerless, now that the families are defunct.

So we went in for a closer look, down the steep steps.

reading-cemetery-b-10-16-small

We examined the building first. It had nothing to do with the cemetery – according to what I read later, it was built in the 1870’s or so by a friend of one of the families, to store dynamite (because it was outside city limits, where there was apparently a restriction on such a thing).

reading-cemetery-2-10-16-small

I examined the walls of the building – the layers of peeling paint speak to a long time it has been sitting out in all weathers.

It seems incongruous, at the least,  for such a destructive agent as dynamite to take up residence in a place full of the hopes for eternal rest. I reflected on this idea a bit as we walked around the cemetery.

Another factor mitigating against eternal rest is the highway’s neighborly presence. Neighborly in the sense of – a loud intruding kind of neighbor.

We walked around. The cemetery has friends – it is being cared for by the Oddfellows in Shillington, PA.

reading-cemetery-13-10-16-small

The grass is mowed and everything is neat. But the ravages of time are apparent. There are pieces of headstones separated from their graves, and my later reading told me that it’s suspected there are unmarked graves as a result of the carelessness of those who moved graves to accommodate the various canal and highway projects. Weather has also done damage – I have noticed that marble headstones do not stand up to the years as well as granite. Inscriptions fade and melt away.

This monument commemorates several people who served in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I know this because I checked the dates on the flags – these flag markers specify the conflict served in by each veteran as they are being honored.

reading-cemetery-4-10-16-small

This marker is the footstone to the grave of a very young person.

reading-cemetery-10-10-16-small

We left the cemetery and climbed the small hill, back up to the road. This little place gave me a lot to think about. For one thing, how unimaginable this world of today would have been to the founders of this cemetery, and what sadness they might have felt at seeing their family resting spot, thought to be forever, so vulnerable.

But I hope that they might have also seen that there are still people who care. This cemetery has friends – the Oddfellows, and the Berks County Association for Graveyard Preservation.  The grounds are neat and veterans are honored. There is talk of highway construction that could affect the cemetery, but people are sticking up for it, according to a recent article in the Reading Eagle. That made me feel good. So much has changed in 200 years for this cemetery, but people still think it’s important not to forget those who were here before us.

 

it was useless

it was useless

it was useless

Hope and Healing

This past weekend my husband and I made a kind of pilgrimage to see this art exhibit, Hope and Healing, held at the Baum School of Art in Allentown, PA.

Two years ago, almost exactly, I visited that year’s version of the exhibit. I was in the midst of my three years of illness and surgeries, and I was still going downhill when I viewed it. In fact, I’d say the low point of my journey occurred right after this trip, and I remember very well my state of mind and body. The art and the theme of the exhibit made quite an impression on me and I remembered it later on as I struggled to get better.

Now it’s two years later. After two hand surgeries (for a very rare and antibiotic resistant infection), three eye surgeries (retina and cataracts), a broken foot and hearing loss (due to medication complications), and depression and anxiety brought on by the uncertainties of my situation, I am doing well. When I got the information about the exhibit I knew I needed to go and see it.

It was held in two galleries at the Baum School of Art. The exhibit is an activity of Healing Through the Arts, an organization started by a local woman after her bout with cancer. The artists are all high school and college students and the purpose behind their art is to create a work that would bring hope and healing to someone who is ill. After the exhibit, the works go to various health sites and offices, free, so that they may be on view to the people who need them. Here is how the galleries looked, full of art.

Hope and Healing Room explanation 3-19-16 small

We spent quite a lot of time looking at each piece and reading the artists’ statements. I was struck by the heartfelt work that had gone into each piece – they were all thought out, with care, and with layers of meaning. Obviously the artists took the task very seriously. Some of them referred to their own experiences with illness and others mentioned family or friends. And, they also cited family and friends as a source of strength for them in hard times, as well as nature and a connection with a spiritual world.

The founder of Healing Through the Arts, Heather Rodale, tells her story on the organization’s website and she mentions the concept of being cured vs. being healed. I know this well myself. I have aftereffects from my own ordeal that are permanent, but – I am healed, and I keep on going. That is the message I took away from this exhibit, and I am really grateful that it exists to have shown me this, both in the past and now.

After viewing the rooms, I took pictures of artwork that particularly spoke to me. I spent lots of time in a lot of different doctor’s offices in the past three years and I often did not hear good news. I think these pieces would have certainly brightened my spirit in those circumstances. But I also want to say, I could not photo all the pieces, and honestly, I am sure that any one of them would have helped me along my way.

I have included these examples plus the words of their artists. Please forgive the photos, it was not always easy to do justice to the piece. Take your time to look them over and read the words, too, if you have time. I think you will see what I mean about the experience of viewing this art.

 

Sadness and Hope, All in One

The story of the chestnut oak acorn-growing attempts continues, and today’s chapter starts off with sad news. A couple of nights ago, we looked at the pot where they had been growing, set on our porch, and found – a pot of dirt. No acorns. Hungry squirrels had found the acorns and eaten them.

Shorn acorns 1-16 small

All that was left were the roots. I can’t tell you how upset I was about this turn of events. I felt I’d failed the acorns, who were depending on me. After all, I’d brought them home with me and put them in this pot. It sounds silly, with so many other things in the world so much more worthy of my distress, but – I felt it.

eaten acorn just roots left 1-16 small

Well, all right. The next day, my husband and I were out and happened to be near the park where we first picked up the acorns in the fall. I said, let’s go over there and see if we can find any still around and try again.

It had rained the night before and the weather has been so warm that the ground was soft. I thought there might be a chance. So we went back to the picnic area at the Fort Washington State Park, near the bird stand.

Guess what. Lots of little acorns still around on the ground! Now you may remember that these acorns don’t behave like the usual ones we see around here – these lie on the ground and send out a little shoot into the earth. The acorn then provides food for the root until spring.

We decided to try again and take some home. I felt it was all right, since these acorns would never get to be trees in this location – the mowers would come along in the spring and take them down. Now, we weren’t prepared for digging, so we had to improvise. We got an ice scraper and a plastic sheet out of the car and set to work.

We brought them home and put them in a pot. This time we made it more secure. I kept the original pot with the little roots still in the ground, too – maybe, against the odds, they might survive. Who knows? I am hoping for all of these little beings to grow.

If you want to read about this story from the beginning:

When we first picked up the acorns in October

An update from early January

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