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!

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.

Orienteering Myself

Senior Games, first event: orienteering.

This is the first year for this activity. No one knew what to expect. I drove over to the park, getting lost only twice. Please remember, I have lived in this area for 35+ years and have been to the park as recently as one month ago. This getting lost business is relevant, I think, when you remember I am planning to do an event that relies on me reading a map and interpreting terrain in order to arrive at designated points. Let’s just say that orienteering doesn’t play to my strengths, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I made it to the park and followed the signs to the picnic pavilion where the event was organizing itself.

Senior games sign small 5-16

About thirty of us were assembled. Most had no experience of the sport at all. But – that had been provided for – an explanation and demonstration was given. I was pleased to find myself a relative veteran.

Group explanation 5-16 NFP small

I got my map, went to the start, and I was the second one off onto the course. It was cloudy and cool, with a little bit of rain falling every now and then. The course consisted of eleven controls – I needed to hit each one in order while being aware of the time. The course was pretty straightforward, as the organizers wanted to make sure the first-year event was something people could find interesting while also being successful.

This park has a history. Norristown Farm Park, as it is called, used to be the farm attached to Norristown State Hospital, a mental institution. In the past, patients worked on the farm in various capacities as they were able. The hospital depended on the farm for food and for therapy. This arrangement was common before the era of medication – it was thought that the patients would be helped by being outdoors and occupying their minds. Patients also worked in other areas,  such as the kitchen, sewing, wood shop, etc. The hospital functioned as a somewhat self-sustaining community, in an era when people went into the hospital for extended periods of time rather than the limited stays of today. Changes to this treatment philosophy occurred with the advent of drugs and other therapies, with the different way mental patients came to be viewed, and in how funding for treatment was allocated.

Today the hospital still exists but the farm is a park. Crops are still grown on the grounds and the agricultural buildings are scattered around. There is even the remains of a fish hatchery, but we didn’t go in that area today.

Here is the park office of today. One of the controls was set near this area.

Park office area NFP 5-16 small

Much of the course went through fields waiting to be planted. It was also quite hilly. Most of it could be done on the farm roads.

NFP hill 5-16 small

At the end, I took a course across this field rather than taking the road.

field NFP 5-16 small

Here’s the finish area, back at the picnic pavilion.

finish NFP 5-16 small

I think this course played to my strengths. I am a good runner and with the unambiguous course I could make time. I also realized that while I am pretty good at reading a map, I am not good at translating it to the actual ground, something I’ve known in other contexts, such as trail running, and getting to the park today! For example, when I went through the field, I was not exactly where I thought I was, though I did realize it later and make adjustments. But, I didn’t get all the advantage I could have by taking that route. I plan to focus on this map/ground relationship next time I try an event.

Still, I have good news. I did the course in 38.02 minutes and I won my age group. Yes, there were two of us in it, so it was not by default! And I got my T-shirt.

Tshirt small 5-16

Tomorrow, I’ll be running on the track at Gwynedd-Mercy University. Until then…

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