Walking in Circles

Today is the last day of the Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) Senior Games, and that means it is time to walk.

This year, my plan was to accompany my husband on the course and go at his speed. We are celebrating his continuing recovery from his accident and knee surgery.

We arrived at Montgomery County Community College nice and early, about 8:15 AM. The day was cool but sunny, with clouds coming in for the rain tomorrow, but no precipitation today at all.

Montco, as it is nicknamed, is maybe 20 minutes from home and set on a spacious campus. I remember when the school was way out in the middle of nowhere, but 35+ years since I first saw it, it is now surrounded by houses and apartments. The event was taking place at the health sciences building, AKA the gym/fitness center. It’s recently been updated and it is beautiful.

We went inside for a few minutes, where the vendors for the expo were setting up.

Then we went back outside and got our names in for the event. The way things work, a group of contestants assembles at the start.

You take off down the walk, go out a bit (past the guy in the blue jacket to that lady in the green shirt, you’ll see her, just keep going), turn at the orange cone, come back, pass the start, go some more, follow that loop in the back of the building, and come back. Do that three times and the race is done. You went 1.5 miles. Oh, and to get your time, listen as you pass the finish line – the timer will call out the time. Remember that number and tell the scorer.

It’s all pretty casual, but it works. Here is my husband (left) waiting to start as a volunteer explains the deal to a latecomer.

Well, we got started on our way. I took this picture pretty near the beginning.

I am so happy and proud of my husband. All the hard work he has been putting in in therapy and in exercising on his own really shows. He was able to walk at a 17 or 18-minute mile pace, which I think is great. It is hard for me to believe that less than five months ago he was getting around with crutches and a brace, if he was able to move at all. Determination pays off.

Well, we finished. And then…you knew this story did not end here, didn’t you?

I had no intention of doing this, but I got to Montco and my competitive instincts kicked in. I can’t pass up a race. So before we went out on our joint tour of the course, I asked the officials if I could go around with my husband and then do one on my own. Sure, they said.

All right. My husband took these pictures. Here’s a quick commentary.

I went out with Group #2. Right from the start I identified my competition. And I don’t mean, for medals – there is no telling if these ladies are even in my age group. I just mean, right here, on this course. Let’s go. Here at the start it’s Pink Shirt, Blue Shorts, and me, in the black, behind them.

We zipped around the course. In Lap 2 Pink Shirt and I lost Blue Shorts. Here we are in Lap 3.

Well, I felt I could take this race and I planned my strategy. Soon as we came out of the loop, I put on some speed.

The drama builds. I’m ahead, but can I hold on? So much is at stake! The crowd is on its feet (there are only a few benches and they are filled up) and paying rapt attention (to the football throw going on in the next field, to the registration table, to the free shopping bags they picked up at the expo…you get the atmosphere). All right, my husband was paying rapt attention, and really, that’s all I needed.

At the finish, I prevailed. I have to tell you, I felt happy about it out of all proportion to the importance of the event.

Now, last year I practiced for this race. I had done none of that this year. Well, so what? It’s just walking. Now think about that and what a different context “just walking” is for me and for my husband. I have a lot of gratitude for what each of us can do in our individual ways.

Well, that’s the end of this year’s games. I have a lot of enthusiasm for next year, already!

(Take a look here for my other event in 2017, orienteering.)

 

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.

Exploring and Seeing A New View

My husband and I have taken Montgomery County, PA, where we live, up on its challenge. Its trail challenge, that is: visit five county trails, walk or run or bike on them, collect the symbol as evidence of your visit, and if you do this by September 4, you will get an achievement award, a medal.

Well, I don’t really need a medal, but I love the idea of visiting more trails. So I looked up the listing. We think we’re going to try to do all of them, if we can. So far we have collected two, pretty easily, since we visit them in our everyday lives – the Pennypack and the Green Ribbon.

Today we decided to try another one. The weather was hot and sunny, just beautiful, and a good day for walking. We chose the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, about 25 minutes from home, in Bala Cynwyd, PA. We had our reasons for picking this one, and I’ll tell you in a minute.

We drove to Bala (you say it Balla Kinwid, with the ‘a’ like the one in Al, although there’s a Philadelphia pronunciation sometimes heard – Balla Kinwood – and people often shorten it just to ‘Bala’). Our route took us into Philadelphia via the section called Manayunk – a former industrial area along the banks of the Schuylkill. We crossed back into Montgomery County over the Green Lane bridge, drove a short distance, and parked at the Bala Cynwyd Park. A Sunday morning baseball game was in progress:

Ball game small 6-16

Right away we were able to collect our symbol:

Cynwyd trail marker small 6-16

And we got on the trail. It’s the roadbed of an abandoned section of commuter rail, reclaimed as a trail through the efforts of a dedicated volunteer group, grants and awards, and a testament to the interest people have in our area in creating and expanding a bicycle/walking trail network. It begins at the Cynwyd commuter rail station and passes behind houses, parks, and even a tennis club. I also noted the mile markers; they are similar to old ones we see scattered around on major roads, made of marble, with mileage to Center  City Philadelphia carved into them.

The Cynwyd trail is not long, only 2 miles, but it’s well-used by local people, and it connects with a very popular trail, the Schuylkill Trail, that runs between Valley Forge and the city of Philadelphia.

Cynwyd trail small 6-16

And how it makes this connection is why we wanted to go on this walk.

Let me back up a bit. In Manayunk, just before crossing the river, we passed under an enormous railroad bridge, the freight line above us long abandoned. The bridge fell into such disrepair that chunks dropped off it and nets had to be set up to protect those going underneath it. As long as I can remember, that is how things have been.

Not any more. This bridge has now been repaired and repurposed as a bike/pedestrian bridge. An access to the Cynwyd trail was built. It opened not long ago. We’ve been wanting to make the trip over this bridge and today – we did.

We were able to see things from a perspective never before possible for us.

Here’s the bridge itself – it’s called the S bridge because of its curving shape.

S Bridge 6-16

We saw the Green Lane Bridge where we had crossed a short time ago in the car, and the Manayunk Canal.

And we got such a great view of Manayunk. This section of the city was filled with industry and packed with small rowhomes for the workers, all arrayed up the hill. Now industry is gone, but it still has many long-term residents – Poeple who live here stay here. And the area has become popular, especially for younger people and apartment dwellers – there is new construction, we saw, along the river (raised to avert flood damage).

And maybe my favorite view – the river, the expressway, a freight train on a rail line – all snaking along toward downtown. I’ve never had this view of things before and I was really taken by it.Schuykill Expressway 1 6-16 small

So, we walked back to the car. I’ll leave you with these photos of the S bridge from ground level, taken from the Green Lane bridge on our way home. You know, I’ve driven this route many times and seen this view of the intersection – but never having done it with the perspective of knowing what things look like from above, to add to it. There is new territory to be explored and new vistas opened – right under our noses! And all we had to do was – look.

Walk This Way

Today was the final leg of my Senior Games odyssey – the timed walk.

I’ll start by saying that I have never in my entire life been timed as I walked. I knew nothing about the event other than watching race-walking on TV, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to pick up that kind of technique any time soon. But, I did practice walking fast, several times a week, for the distance that we would be doing in the Games, 1.5 miles. And I studied race-walking a little to see if there were any tips I could adapt for my own use.

Because I’ll tell you, I wanted to win my age group. There. Now you know.

All right. My husband and I drove over to Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA, about 25 minutes from home. We planned that I would do my event and then we would continue on to Doylestown to set up for the Tile Festival this weekend. This was nice – I had a cheering section and photographer.

The course was the blacktop walk around the central quadrangle of buildings, starting at College Hall.

Here’s the view from the start.

The event was scheduled as a drop-in event, meaning that contestants could arrive anytime during those hours to compete. A group was assembled and set off on its way. Once those people finished, another group would do the same. Since I arrived before 9 AM, you can see I was eager to get going. A few others felt the same – our initial group was a small one, which was nice. Later groups were larger – more than 100 people competed in this event.

So we lined up, got our instructions, and took off. I am wearing the pink shirt and purple shoes.

The course was said to be 1.5 miles, but everyone agreed it was at least 1.75 miles, given our times. Everyone also agreed it didn’t matter. In any case, we went around 6 times plus 1 leg of the quadrangle plus 1/2 of the next. It was possible to lose count but the officials helped us out with splits and lap counts.

I have found walking fast takes focus. It’s easy to drop off in pace if you lose attention. Being in the competition with other people walking as well as the college students who occasionally wandered in was a little distracting. I tried to keep my mind on my feet.

Here I am in action at various points.

And at the finish. I did the course in 24:22.

finish walk 5-16 small

Then I waited and watched the next groups. Over the week I have met quite a few people and some of them competed today. I also ran into a friend I haven’t seen in some time, so I watched her race. And — I did want to see if I could achieve my goal of winning the event. I admit it!

At the end of it all, I did win. Both my age group, and – I was the fastest woman, as well. Now, let’s remember, I was also one of the youngest competitors in the race, so I had an advantage. Still, I was happy. I felt my planning and training had paid off in something I hadn’t done before.

I like this kind of walking and I think I’ll keep doing it as part of my exercise from now on. I’m glad I was introduced to the idea of trying it.

So, now the Senior Games are over for this year. I am thinking already about what I’d like to compete in next May. Guess I enjoyed myself, didn’t I?

I Run As Fast As I Can On A Track

Well, the title says it all. Senior Games, event #2 on my list – the running session. I did the 800 meters and the mile. Here’s what happened.

The event was held at Gwynedd-Mercy University in Lower Gwynedd, PA, about 15 or twenty minutes from my house. We arrived on time, 6 PM.

I checked in and looked around. There was a nice crowd gathered – runners from age 50 to 85+, and fans ready to cheer. One man’s family had all dressed in green (to match his running outfit) and carried a sign with his name, Tony, on it. As for me, I had my husband there to encourage me.

The first events were the 100 and 400, and there were quite a few heats. Six people ran at a time, from youngest to oldest, women and then men, filling the lanes in this order. Awards were given by age group but the actual races were run in mixed ages.

We stood by the side of the track, in the middle of one of the straight stretches. We fell into conversation with several women, one I knew from another competition, and others I just met. It turned out nicely because we could cheer for each other.

I noticed many more men competing than women. This fits in with my experiences with 5K’s – after age 50, men really outnumber women, though I think it’s the opposite in younger age groups. I don’t know why this is and I offer no opinions other than to say, I don’t plan on giving up until I give out, so I’ll do my part to keep the numbers up.

All right. Finally it was time for the 800. Only three women ran it along with 10 or so men, I think. So our heat included men and women.

I’ll tell you now, I haven’t run these distances since high school in the 1970’s. I am a 5K+ runner, and I had no idea how to do the race. So I just tried to start out strong and stay with it.

All right. I made it. I had hoped to be faster than 4:30 and I was – 4:20. So I was happy. I will say that it’s darn hard to start out running fast, though. I’m used to getting an easier start and building up! I ended up second in my age group (all the runners were in my age group) and that pleased me, too.

After a rest while the men finished, it was time for the mile. Once again, there were three women and more men. I had a better idea how to manage this race, since it was longer. I started off easier; my first three laps were virtually the same split. I was going along in 3rd place. By the 4th lap I had warmed up and I could see the second place runner was flagging a bit. I thought I could pass her – decided to make my move on the straight stretch before the final curve, so I didn’t have the extra effort of passing her on the outside and making things harder for myself.

The strategy worked and I felt very pleased with myself for thinking it through! My final lap was 15 seconds faster than the first three. That’s what training for 5K’s will do for you, I guess. My time was 9:31, meeting my goal of 9:30 or so. I ended up in second place and once again I was pleased.

Here I am finishing the mile.

I felt quite a bit of relief now that it was all over. All that remained was getting our awards.

And here I am, triumphant.

claudia sr games 2 5-16 small

Oops, let’s try that again.

claudia sr games 3 5-16 small

Now all that remains is the timed walk, tomorrow, at Montgomery County Community College. Until then…

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