BC IS ABOUT TO REVEL IN A NEW RACE

11.18.2018

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See what I did there? Revel. In a new race.

Yes, I just learned a day or so ago that Revel Race Series has announced a new race in Chilliwack, BC. I have far from run all their events, but I’ve done one, twice and another one once – Big Cottonwood and Mt. Charleston. Check this out for a course profile!

 

The main characteristic of a Revel race is that it starts up, way up, and then runs down – generally fast. The new event (August 17, 2019) follows the pattern. If anything, the elevation drop is less than most other Revel races, but it still pretty much meets the standard. For those who really want the details, you can go to the Revel Chilliwack web page and dig around all you want. However, the basics are that the Marathon drops 2,100 feet and the half marathon drops about 615 feet. Both are more or less constantly downhill and of a similar slope except that it seems the marathon has one much steeper downhill section that makes it look like the course is a steeper profile than the half marathon. As normal, the half is just the bottom of the marathon, therefore an integral part of the marathon course profile. The profile is not nearly as extreme as some Revel courses, and that may be a good thing. Running a steep downhill is not as easy as it might first sound. What seems to be on offer in Chilliwack (I think there is going to be a little drive in my immediate future) is a gentle steady downhill for both the marathon and half marathon. Such courses are far easier on the legs but give a wonderful boost to the time at the finish.

Nicely started! Mount Charleston Half
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

There already seems to be quite a bit of enthusiasm on-line and I am part of that. I would love to run another inaugural Revel race. I did Mt. Charleston in its first year (2016). One of my big running thrills (well, fun really, since I didn’t kid myself about what really happened), was winning my age group in the half marathon and therefore taking the age group record! I’ve never held the record for ANYTHING where it comes to running.

Revel Mt. Charleston Half Marathon (May 2016) – I do love me a podium finish -1st M70-74. Photo by Revel

I didn’t have any idea that I had even won my age group until I went to get my official finish stats and was pointed over to the WINNER table to claim my gold medal! I did have a pretty decent time, and was happy about that, but talk about a bonus. It caused me to think about running first time events and was surprised when I went back over the years, just how many I have actually done. Needless to say, when a few others found out about this great race just outside Las Vegas, my record lasted just 365 days, whereupon it was smashed – smashed, I tell you! Well, that’s OK. I wuz a contenda that first year.

I have a few personal REVELations from the Big Cottonwood Marathon too. First time was 2014 and then I did it again in 2015 (when my wife walked the half).

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Big Cottonwood happens just outside (and well above) Salt Lake City, Utah. First time the start was at about 8,000 feet. They adjusted the course (snarky out and back at the lower part of the course was shortened) by moving some of the lower part UP the mountain a bit more so the start was at 10,000 feet. If anyone tries to tell you Revel races are easy because they are seriously downhill, do ask if they have ever run a race that starts at 10,000 feet or if they have run one that drops 5,000 feet or so. Starting at 10,000 feet will immediately challenge your oxygen gathering and transferring capacity. Even though I knew, and stayed most of a week at Park City (near 8,000 feet) to acclimatize, I was seriously taken aback as I went through the first few miles. How could I be that tired when we had just started. OK, not really tired. I guess it was more how could it be that hard. Suddenly, it dawned on me just how high we were. I slowed down. It got better and as we continued down, breathing sufficient oxygen became less of an issue. It is a gorgeous route and both times I did it the weather was amazing.

Looking better than I was feeling on ‘net zero’ out and back.

The first time I ran Big Cottonwood we started lower and it was, I think, the last time I had a marathon time that started with ‘4’. Boy was that a big mess though. I do a bit of acting and had been cast in a commercial. Yay me! I was clear that I was supposed to be in Utah, but could/would rearrange my plans, do the filming and still get myself to Salt Lake City. Then, I found they changed the filming schedule and I was between a rock and a hard place. Long story short, I flew on Friday, arriving around 4pm, just in time to pick up my race kit, go to a Marathon Maniac pre-race gathering, grab a couple of hours sleep, drive down from Park City (to bus transport) only to drive back up to the race start and then RUN. Interestingly, we still started pretty high, around 8,000 feet, but I didn’t feel an issue with the altitude. I am told that you either have to give  yourself time to acclimatize, OR, run in and race before your body knows what you did. I guess that I unwittingly did the latter. From the time I landed in Salt Lake City until we started the marathon, was about 15 hours, maybe less.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – Racing CAN be fun!

I will always love that first Big Cottonwood. One of the photos included in the entry shows me getting big air! I am getting pretty old and slow and have never been a high knee lifter anyway, but that is a photo of which I am very proud.

Between marathons and half marathons, I have run a lot of races with various bling and features. Revel Big Cottonwood was the first where the photos (including a personalized video) was part of the entry. More are doing it now, but it was a first for me back then and appreciated.

I really don’t know what to do about Chilliwack. I would so very much like to do it. The problem is that after three years of trying (unsuccessfully) I got a team registered for the Hood to Coast Relay.

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987. My first Hood to Coast

It is a week later. Well, to be precise, six days later. This is my 10th Hood to Coast and with the combination of my age and the difficulty of getting a team into the relay, it may well be my last. Hood to Coast is amazing, but it is no joke to run plus or minus three 10Ks in about 18-20 hours with little or no sleep. For sure, unless something goes sideways, there is no choice. Hood to Coast it is for 2019.

All that said, I am seriously mulling the idea of running the half marathon at Revel Chilliwack, not for time, just for the experience. The race is so close to where I live that I would drive to the start mustering area on race morning. The only expense I would have is the entry and a bit of gasoline. I mean, I WILL need some extra distance training in support of Hood to Coast. The individual legs are short enough, but even if I take the shortest combo, that is more or less the distance of a half marathon. I am certain that 2019 HAS to be a better year of running than 2018, so done strategically Chilliwack could work out OK. Guess I will watch for a bit and see how registration is going, not to mention my own training and running.

I mean, I just signed up for the ‘new and improved’ Fir2018.M.Logo.Event.FirstHalf.VancouverMarathonst Half in February. That will take some training and if it goes well, I think my year will be set up nicely. At my age and stage, I am doing a lot more experiential races than any in which I am trying to podium or even nail a ‘good’ time (a relative term, to be sure). Sometimes it happens anyway. Doing the first Revel Chilliwack Half Marathon would fit the pattern quite nicely!

That said, regardless of my own decision, based on my appreciation of Revel races, this is the chance for local (Vancouver/Fraser Valley) runners to give one a try. I don’t think you will be sorry. So, off to the Revel Chilliwack web page with you for a look about. At time of writing and although I could not see how long it lasted, they seem to be offering an early registration discount (Code: EARLY), so there is that to consider as well. See you at the races!

 

THE REGGAE MARATHON BECKONS, CAUSING A LITTLE REFLECTION

11.13.2018

 

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

No posts for a month (you know why from my last one), now they come thick and fast! I wanted to get this one out because there is still time for you to get yourself down to Negril and have the best race experience EVER!

Next up for me is one of my very favourite events: The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. I am very excited to be going in 2018 because I was kind of resigned to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen. We live within the various pensions coming to my wife and I, but I make little bits and pieces of money from other sources and like to protect that money for special stuff, like traveling to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon. Well, after thinking our big 50th Anniversary trip to India and Nepal would take all the travel money for this year, didn’t a few crumbs fall into my run fund. Now, my 2018 Reggae Marathon trip is going to be probably the shortest one I’ve ever done, but do it I will. Ya mon!

The near miss got me thinking about the event and the country and friends and some of what makes it special, and special to me. I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Young Cummings at Negril 1969

Judi and Dan at Negril in 1969

As anyone who follows this blog and my posting around this time of year will know, my first time to Negril and the Reggae Marathon was eight years ago (2011). That would be my second ever trip to Jamaica, the first being in 1969 and funny enough also involved a visit to Negril, even though we were staying way over in St. Mary Parish. In fact, my involvement with the race and its organizers resulted from a photo I shared with the official blogger, Chris Morales. That photo was my pretty much new wife and me on the Negril Beach in 1969.

I had my eye on the Reggae Marathon for some time, but it was and still is on the same weekend as the California International Marathon, which was on my favourites list for several years. Long story, short, I decided that 2011 would be the year I gave Reggae Marathon a try. I had been running well through 2010 posting many recent PB’s (not bad for 65) and was looking forward to a great year in 2011. My big focus would be the Eugene Marathon where I had posted (in 2010) my third best raw marathon time and second best age graded. Best laid schemes of mice and men…………………. I injured my knee while training for Eugene, tried to run it and really completed the job by refusing to take a DNF. The rest of the year was spent in recovery. Negril and the Reggae Marathon was only going to be for the experience. Well, that was probably true regardless, due to the heat expected, but while I was recovered enough to do the marathon, I had no illusions I was running for a great time.

Got the coconut, now where’s that Red Stripe?

Perhaps it was the running gods looking out for me or something, but something conspired to keep me (and my wife) from getting to the start on time. I have described that in detail and referenced it more than a few times since. If you want to read the whole story you can find it HERE. Suffice it to say, arriving almost two and half hours late for the start, there was no way I  was doing a marathon. The RD, Frano Francis gave me permission to do the 10K and said they would fix my time later. I did, they did and that was my first Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. I think that probably sealed my fate for years to come (8 and counting). Debacle of planes, trains and automobiles, or not, the spirit of Reggae Marathon had got a hold on me and it still hasn’t let go.

Part of the reason for being so late to the start (which is conveniently located in the MIDDLE of the course) was where we stayed, a resort out between Green Island and Orange Bay. Funny enough, I had originally found an attractive little resort called Rondel Village and I think had even booked there. Then we found our time-share would let us book at this other resort, so we changed.

Breakfast time – Rondel Village, Negril

From 2012 onward it has been Rondel Village, including this year. It has become my home away from home when in Jamaica! No more excuses for being late to the start though! In fact one of the best parts of each year’s race is the walk to the start at Long Bay Beach Park. Logistically, you should know that the races all start at Long Bay Beach Park. They head toward Negril Town, turning back at around 5K at the round-about JUST after you cross the Negril River. Now, you are headed back to the start area and the finish of the 10K. Half and Full Marathoners continue on to just past the RIU resort complex and then they turn back toward the start finish, and naturally, when they get there the Half Marathoners peal off to their just reward at the big Reggae Beach Party. The Marathoners just do it all again. Now, I must say I am not a big fan of multiple loop courses, but in this case, it is strategically and practically, almost two different races. The first circuit is done in the dark or early dawn. The second is going to be in full sunshine. But, I get ahead of myself.

Getting ready for the Start – Reggae Marathon

The walk to the start is along a pretty quiet road in the dark or mostly dark morning (there ARE street lights). Other people are making their way to the start and the shuttles are running, but compared to what is to come after the start, it is pretty tranquil. To an old guy from the “Great White North” the air feels warm and soft. It is quite funny that us northerners are generally wearing shorts and singlets and nothing more, while many locals have jackets on to keep warm in the predawn ‘chill’! Everything is relative. Anyway, this brings me to my first point of contemplation.

Day dawning along the Reggae Marathon Route.

Historically, low temps in early December are about 21-24C. Highs are around 31C. Whatever the actual start temperature, it generally stays the same until the sun rises. That got me wondering what ‘hot’ would be in Negril. It seems that in July and August highs can easily reach 34-35C with the lows in the 25C range. That may not sound like much of a difference, but in practical terms, I would so much rather be doing this in December! And, in practical terms, considering that the race starts at 5:15am (sharp) and the sun rises around 6:30 am, most people can finish the 10K before the official sunrise and decent half marathoners can probably finish before the sun is truly up and getting warm. In fact, it is closer to 7:00am when that happens, notwithstanding meteorological absolutes. So if you can finish a half marathon in 1:45 or so, you only have to deal with startline conditions in terms of heat. Now, I’m not suggesting that these temperatures are ‘cool’, but they are not that hard to deal with if you take it easy and avail yourself of the hydration options along the route. According to the weather forecast for December 2nd, we are expecting mostly sunny, with a low of 24C and high of 28C.

Almost enough to halt you in your tracks. Almost.

This will be my 8th Reggae Marathon in a row (despite the fact that I have never actually run the marathon, even if it WAS my intention that first time). I would love to do the half again, but practicality says 10K. I haven’t really run in a month and 2018 has generally been a disaster for running and training, notwithstanding that this will actually be my ninth race of the year. There were good reasons for doing all of them, but maybe we can just say there were no recent PB times in 2018! I would like to run this year’s 10K smart and get a much better time than last year. That shouldn’t be hard. I imported some kind of nasty bug from Canada, but it really got to me after arrival. Although I was having a ‘good’ day on race day, I was still not great and basically dragged myself through the 10K (running-wise). Even under those personal conditions, the whole thing was great, and when I finished, my good friends looked after me at the finish.

One it is all done, the beach draws everyone to the sea!

Enough about me for now. This little gem of a race has a world reputation. The number varies by a couple of countries year to year, but there are usually some 35 countries represented at Reggae Marathon. There are three events and notwithstanding the event name, the marathon is no longer the BIG event. You can take it all very seriously. The course records are more than respectable for any race, but as things have evolved over the years, there are a lot of runners and walkers there for the experience rather than to set PB times. I’d love to know the stats but the returning participant ratio must be huge.

Chris Morales

Chris Morales

My friends and I (The Four Amigos) have been streaking for at least eight years. Chris Morales, the de facto leader in all this and official Reggae Marathon Blogger is going to be in Negril for his 10th year in a row. Collectively, we will represent 34 individual races (from 10K to marathon) over those years. Repeaters may not come every year, but it is harder and harder to find true first timers! As the slogans used to say: “Once you Go, You Know!” Another slogan that is ever so true is: “Come for the Run, Stay for the Fun“.

Pasta Anyone??

You could ask the Reggae Runnerz. Apparently THEY KNOW! I haven’t heard the numbers for 2018, but at least 500 can normally be expected. There are a good many other groups that have been coming for some years and continue to return. Reggae Marathon, Half Marthon and 10K is a race. Make no mistake. BUT, it is also an experience and that experience starts upon arrival at package pick-up and continues through to the Reggae Beach Party at Long Bay post race. A highlight is the best pasta party in the world! The WHOLE world? Possibly. I have never attended a pre-race pasta party to better it. They take the whole thing very seriously and if you think the competition begins on Norman Manley Blvd at 5:15am on December 2nd, you would be wrong. There is a big competition going on among the cooking teams, trying to make the best pasta dishes possible and we, the runners get the benefit. That, and steel-drum bands, dancers and sweet, sweet reggae music. This is the place where Reggae Marathon friends (who have no other connection) find each other and renew friendships and catch up on what has been happening. Either being too sick or fairly smart, I skipped the party last year. It was clearly a good decision health-wise, but I sure missed it.

Getting in the Christmas Spirit on Norman Manley Blvd!

As I mentioned, there are some serious racers out there in all events, but otherwise and even if you are running to do reasonably well, once the races start, it is a bit of a rolling party with reggae music blasting from sound systems all along the course, and then from the stage at the finish. The first part done in the dark just adds to the party atmosphere and it doesn’t hurt that resorts have usually started putting up Christmas decorations.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

Regardless of which event you choose and how long it takes you to complete it, inevitably everyone arrives at Long Bay Beach Park. Fun and refreshment and dips in the sea, coconuts, bananas, Red Stripe beer, massage on the beach and dips in the sea (oh, I guess I mentioned that before), Red Stripe (Hmmmm, that too). Oh yes, and true to the name of the event REGGAE MUSIC. The stage acts, often two different ones, are top quality acts, usually rising stars. Friends find each other and do whatever they do. People gravitate to the stage and just kind of dance to the music, with or without anyone else being involved.

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

Eventually, there are awards. They are definitely important to those who have won them, especially the school teams that compete for computers to enhance their schools’ resources. The winners of the marathon (male and female) are rewarded with a trophy: of Bob Marley for the men and his wife, Rita, for the women. The organizers have personal links to the reggae music industry and to the Marleys and the trophy statues were donated to the event by Rita. That said, very, very few of us are there for the placings (well, OK, I admit I like getting a podium finish in my age group, which is NOT that hard at my age). That said, and for whatever reason, a ‘podium’ finish is nothing more than a number beside your name in the official results. As much as I would love to be able to have some medals to show my placements over the years, it is also somehow fitting to the tone of the event, not to do this. There is some kind of great equalization across the event by which we are all just there as part of a kind of celebration of running.

Masters Women Half Marathon

On that note of a celebration, it is probably worth noting there is truly something to celebrate. I won’t get too deep into this because I am not fully versed in all aspects, but I know enough to flag the ultimate result. Reggae Marathon started in 2001 by the Jamdammers and under the direction of Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis and his team. There were a number of goals, but one was to promote distance running to Jamaicans. With the fabulous history of running in Jamaica (I am getting pretty old and I can’t remember when there wasn’t a prominent Jamaican sprinter on the world stage), ‘distance’ seemed to start at 400m! Those sprinters, men and women, could KILL up to 200m. All the kids want to be Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Longer running is not just competitive but part of a healthier life-style. Reggae Marathon was a nod toward making a shift. In the very first year, the marathon WAS the big race (Total finishers = 691, Marathon finishers = 401). While numbers were not huge the first year, the largest group was clearly those doing the marathon distance, and oh, there was no 10K back then. The 10K was introduced in 2008 when 227 took part. As time has gone by, there is now a whole race series of 5-10K events leading up to Reggae Marathon as the last event for the year. Thousands of Jamaicans are now training for and running the longer distances. The goal is not directly to put Jamaican distance runners on the world stage. That is for other sport bodies to do, but the movement has put distance running into the minds and legs of young Jamaicans and the rest will surely follow. Actually, back when he was a high school athlete, Usain Bolt did (I am told) run in the schools competition at Reggae Marathon.

I’m sure that most of the visiting people enjoying the fun on December 2nd won’t know of this back-story, but it is important. It is part of what has made this race grow from a few hundred to around 2,300 across the events over the last couple of years. Now, the marathon itself is the small event among the three (118 finishers in 2017) with the 10K attracting the most people (1282 finishers in 2017) and the half marathon quite popular (at 518 finishers in 2017). But, the big story in growth is at least as much the local numbers as the foreign. This is what the dedicated effort to get Jamaicans running longer distances has produced. As much fun as Reggae Marathon may be, this is going to be a lasting legacy, along with the boost in tourism fueled by all us ‘come from away’ folk who trek to Negril every year at this time.

Oxtail with rice and peas.

I could go on and on, but maybe this is the time to stop. Sure that last bit is kind of serious, but it is an important part of this gem of an international running event. Two weeks from tomorrow night, I am on that red-eye to Toronto, with early morning transfer to the Jamaica flight. By late in the day, I expect to be tucking into a dish of oxtail, or maybe curry goat, at Rondel village. Soon come, Jamaica!

Negril, JA West End Sunset

 

 

FROM NAGARKOT TO NEGRIL

11.09.2018

I’m sure you have all been wondering ‘Where can Dan the Blogger be???’. A couple of you? Nobody?

Well, I will tell you. I have been traveling on a trip of a lifetime kind of adventure with my dear wife of 50 years. The trip was a celebration of those 50 years, which technically and officially tallied up back in August. However, at that time the area we were going to would be experiencing the monsoon season, so we put off travel until October/November. No blog posting for the simple reason that there just wasn’t time to get down to it and do it properly.

Charlie putting the (surprise) move on Grandad!

We met up with all the kids and grandkids and in-law spouses in Victoria for the Victoria Marathon Weekend where I ran for the third time in the Victoria 8K with grandson Charlie and umpteenth time with his mom Danielle (Half Marathon). I expected Charlie to beat me (hoped he would – it is time) and he took off like the proverbial ‘scalded cat’, but a minor injury he has been suffering brought him back down to earth about 4K and I caught him at 6K. We finished together, except that I think he took me way too seriously when I said he was ready to beat me. Sore paw or not, he took off with about 100m to go and caught the old guy by surprise! I tried to turn it on and catch up, but he had me and did indeed cross the line looking a lot better than he actually felt, with me in hot pursuit. The one good thing about his surprise move is that our son, Cam caught us in full flight and ME getting air with less than 100m left in a race!  THAT never happens anymore! Thanks, Charlie/Cam!

What can I say? If you are going to pick one photo to represent a trip to India, I guess it has to be the Taj Mahal

No sooner was that celebration weekend over with, than we (Judi and I) were on a plane to India. I mean literally, as in later the same week, we were headed for India and Nepal (which is where Nagarkot – see title – actually is). We just got back a couple of days ago and I am planning the next trip – to Negril for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Don’t worry though. I am not going to recount every moment of three and a half weeks in India and Nepal. Unless, you want me to……………..??? No. I thought not.

Since this is about running, I guess we should start with my possibly unrealistic goals in that area. We lived in Malaysia for nearly two years and I ran something like 5 days a week. In other words, running in warm steamy places (including the last seven years at Reggae Marathon in Negril, JA) is not new to me. What I didn’t count on was the packed agenda of our trip and location of our hotels (where places to run were few and far between). Never mind.

My hope was to add two more countries to my list of 23 where I have run at least a bit. I also planned on adding one more country to my list of places where I have raced (much less impressive, at 5 countries). The first thing that happened was that just before leaving I was trying to sign my wife up to walk the 5K in the Run for Unity and Success (Oct 31 – in Delhi), when I discovered a conflict over dates. It appeared the race was either Oct 31 or Oct 28. The 28th was Sunday, which made more sense to this North American runner/racer, but the original date, including the date I had registered for, was October 31 (Wednesday). Long story short, when it finally got sorted out, they had to change dates and we were going to be nowhere near the race venue on October 28. Scratch the race in India. Very sad. They had a shirt and medal and everything. THAT would have truly enhanced my collection!

Just finished a very short, but very real run in Jaipur, India

From running as often as I could, I went to “I have to get a run in SOMEWHERE!”. That I did. It happened in Jaipur where there was a perfect place just outside our hotel. There was a promenade directly across the road along a lakeshore that was about 1km end to end and held no danger of getting lost on unfamiliar streets. So, that was where I added India to the list of countries where I have run. I suppose I could have run at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, but while ‘running with the bulls’ is a thing, ‘running with the tigers’ doesn’t usually work out that well for the human. I passed on that even though there were great roads/trails and the air was clear. I raise the latter point, because that was not always the case and truth be told, had the race actually happened as originally scheduled on Oct. 31, I am not at all sure I would have taken part anyway. The air conditions in Delhi had gone from pretty darn good when we arrived, to awful.

Sagarmatha from our Buddha Air flight

The trip was everything we hoped for and much, much more. Nepal offered its own wonders, like this mountain we went to see, taking a special flight that goes right by the Himalayas and its star, Mount Everest, or as it is known to the people, Sagarmatha. This is also where the place in the title, Nagarkot, comes in. We traveled up (almost 7,000ft) from Kathmandu to stay at a hotel where we could watch the sun rise over the Himalayas.

Sunrise view from observation deck at Club Himalaya, Nagarkot, Nepal

Everest made an appearance there too, but you had to know where to look and have a very sharp eye as the mountain range tails away from the view point and Everest is way in the distance (far to the right of this photo), unlike our flight on Buddha Air (yes, that’s right…………..Buddha Air). And also, unlike most flights you will ever take, while our plane had two seats on each side of the aisle, only the window seats were booked. The flight goes one way with the mountains to the left, turns around and gives the right side passengers the bird’s eye view going back. As we were near Everest, every passenger was invited to come to the cockpit and get some pilot’s eye views. Amazing, but no running! OK, except to get my turn in the cockpit.

Sadly, just as with India, no running in Nepal either. Same general reasons. I guess anybody with a Fitbit or similar was getting great numbers because we walked and walked and walked and very little of it was flat! So, there’s that.

OK, lets get back to talking about actual running and racing!

Nothing like a barefoot run on the beach, to start the day

Negril and the Reggae Marathon looms. Three weeks from this moment, as I write, I expect to be jogging along either Norman Manley Blvd or the Negril Seven Mile Beach, with my friend, Chris Morales. This will be my 8th year in a row in Negril and Chris’ 10th! The Four Amigos, Chris, Larry, Navin and Dan, will be raising a total of 34 fingers in our traditional and annual group photo, to indicate the total races we have done in Negril.

Four Amigos ride (run) again for a total of 30 Reggae Marathon events.

As much as I wanted to take on the Half Marathon one more time, unless I walk it start to finish, that just isn’t realistic. 2018 has been one awful year for my running. I won’t bore you with the details (already done that a few times, I think). Add the lack of ability to run while on our big trip and my decision that it will be the 10K this time, just makes sense. Besides, you get back for the beach party that much sooner!

While the memories of our India trip will be with us for the rest of our lives, I have some wonderful memories of Negril and as the reality of that trip coming in less than three weeks looms (depart on the red-eye to Toronto on Nov 28, for connection to Montego Bay), Jamaica is very much in the forefront of things.

Rise up in the mornin’

I have my room booked (as usual) at Rondel Village and already looking forward to early morning runs on the beach, followed by a breakfast of ackee and salt fish. I’m already wishing I could stay longer, for a bit more of that sort of thing, but the truth is that I am lucky to be going at all. The race has moved to Sunday this year as a matter of improved logistics. We’ll see how that works. For racers it probably doesn’t matter since once you are on Jamaica Time, things just have their own rhythm and the only important thing is to keep your departure date straight. OH! And the start time of the Reggae Marathon, because it will go off with military precision at 5:15am on December 2nd.

Negril River and fishing boats (what I saw for the first time on race morning).

There is nothing I have ever experienced to compare to that race start in the dark, feeling the air (kind of silky at that hour) and moving through the morning with a happy crowd of runners/walkers with absolutely nothing else to do for the next while, other than enjoy the moment of whichever event they may be doing. At my pace of the last number of years, by the time we reach the 5K turnaround at the Negril round-about, the sky is lightening. It isn’t dawn yet, but the sky isn’t fully dark. On the way back to the finish line (for the 10K) the dawn will begin. The sky will begin to change and colours will begin to paint the sky. For all but the very slowest, the finish will come before the sun actually rises. It is a magical time and that turn back to the finish chute is a great feeling.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

As you cross the line and get your medal (new design this year!), the Caribbean beckons. Reggae music is already playing and the fresh coconuts are being chopped open to yield refreshing coconut water to replenish you. Oh, and if you are ready at such an early hour, the cold Red Stripe is waiting too!

Let’s not forget the Half Marathoners (and Marathoners). As the 10K people turn back to the finish (you have to pass the finish area by just a bit to get in the full 10K distance), the longer distance runners continue into the rising sun. Of course, the faster ones will be seeing that lightening sky and dawn AFTER passing the start/finish area. Actually, some of the really fast Half Marathoners will be finishing about the same time I finish the 10K, so there’s that. The route continues along Norman Manley Blvd to just where the Negril Beach ends, just pass the RIU properties, where it turns back toward the finish and the first run through Bob’s Mile. As the Half Marathoners happily pull off to their reward, the truly gritty Marathoners begin the whole thing again.

Marathon finisher bringing it home. Wait! It is Navin, one of the Four Amigos!

Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that those gritty, dedicated runners aren’t going to experience a change of conditions. At the start, the temperature can be as low as 21C and up to 25C or so. But, it doesn’t change until the sun is up. When it DOES rise, so do air temperatures and the feeling of being hot is magnified by the fact that the sun is now shining directly onto you. This is when the smart running has to happen. The negative split is the goal of most distance runners. However, the Reggae Marathon is one race where ‘banking’ time makes sense. Running conditions are so much better prior to sunrise than after, that it makes sense to take advantage (if time matters). Once you are running in full sun, you need to be very strategic. The good news is how much support there is with both water and electrolyte solution available every mile. And, they are in handy plastic pouches that allow you to carry them with you rather than gulp down what you can and run on to the next aid station. Personally, I tend to drink the electrolyte and pour the water over myself for cooling. I have remarked before that this also serves as an early warning system for your well-being. The first time you mistakenly pour the electrolyte over your head is probably an accident – one you are unlikely to repeat – but the second time should be a warning that you aren’t quite on your game!!

It’s a Reggae Party!

Regardless of your chosen distance, the finish is kind of the same. Medal, music, coconut, beach, beer and PARTY. There are also misting tents and cold cloths for those who have really pumped it out. They look after us very well.

So, the final planning begins and arrangements are being made for meeting up and doing lots of fun stuff in and around the race. Four Amigos notwithstanding, every year there are more and more friends to greet. Expect more on this. I’m back and ready to roll on to my final race of the year and without doubt the one that is the most fun. Believe it or not, I also find it spiritually uplifting. Jamaica/Negril, I think I have said more than once over the years, is my ‘happy place’.

WHEN THE TERRY FOX STORY CAME FULL CIRCLE WITH RUNNING IN THE ZONE

09.01.2018

 

Who knew? When the original book, Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was drafted and crafted, one of the contributors, Doug Alward, wrote and provided his story on Terry Fox. While I am sure we can all relate some kind of story about Terry and how he touched us with his courage and Herculean effort, the Marathon of Hope, none of us was a boyhood friend, or the guy who drove Terry’s Van during the Marathon of Hope. Well, none of us EXCEPT Doug Alward.

That’s right, Doug’s Running in the Zone book contribution was entitled: Inspiration and Determination – A First-Hand Account of the Terry Fox Story.

And, first-hand it was. While I am always moved by any story of Terry, this one was truly unique. Doug and Terry knew each other from an age of about 13 and went through years of school together. Doug was in that van on the good days and bad days and really bad days. He was also there for a lot of other stuff too, long before the amputation and recovery and cross-country quest. His view was pretty much different from any other perspective. Terry was his buddy.

The 1st of 10 hand written pages submitted by Doug Alward for Running in the Zone.

It was co-editor Steve King who recruited Doug to write for our book, but I was the one who did the editing. At the time, either Doug did not have a computer or if he did, was not close friends with it. The original manuscript came to me hand-written on ten lined sheets. My fist job was to transcribe it into electronic form. I don’t think I have ever seen anything more powerful and pure. My job with every manuscript was to edit with a light hand, ensuring that the product was of high quality all the while taking care not to turn it into something essentially written by me, rather than by the actual author. The manuscripts we received were from professional writers like Joe Henderson and Rich Benyo, including Roger Robinson who is both a renowned writer on running as well as PhD Professor of English Literature; and at the other end of the scale, more than a few folk who, notwithstanding that they had a great story to tell, may not have recently written anything more significant than their grocery list. In no way did that diminish the power of the stories. It just made some work for your faithful editor. Let us simply say that at the time, Doug was closer to the latter than the former where it came to writing.

That said, I was reduced to tears every time I read/edited that manuscript as we worked it into shape for publication. It was neither his writing nor my editing that made that story so powerful, but rather the inspiration of Terry’s story as told in the purity of the friendship of his boyhood friend.

Now, what is that title about. What CIRCLE?

Just very recently, a situation arose here where I live (South Surrey/White Rock), that meant the organizer of many years for the Terry Fox Run found it necessary to withdraw. A call went out to individuals who had been regularly involved over the last few years and trust me, my involvement had only been as a runner and donor, but I guess I (along with several others) was on the Foundation’s list. Long story short, I am now part of the core organizing committee that will stage the 2018 Terry Fox Run on September 18. As they say, this is not my first rodeo. I chaired or co-chaired Terry Fox Run committees over the years in Summerland and Abbotsford and have interacted from time to time with the Terry Fox Foundation, but not since Running in the Zone was written. Thus, the concept of Full Circle.

Doug Alward (right)pushing up a fearsome hill near Okanagan Falls, on the way to a close second place in his first marathon.

I should probably give Doug a few more words of introduction, so you know who it is telling the story that follows. Here is a photo of Doug gutting it out at a marathon in Penticton. He fought fiercely for the lead and almost won with Terry’s message of courage and ‘never quit’, resounding in his head as he pushed through pain and strain. Not that it matters in regard to the Terry Fox story that follows, but Doug was second in this, the Peach City Marathon with a time of 2:45:46, and an age class record, just 6 seconds behind the winner. The book has four photos as part of the cover art. This is one of them.

I could go on at length about the worthiness of Terry Fox, his dream and the efforts of the Terry Fox Foundation, but I kind of feel that if the reader doesn’t already KNOW all or most of that, there probably isn’t much I can say that will be of great significance – not much that will move anyone more than they already are. So, I think that the best thing I can do is to reproduce Doug Alward’s Running in the Zone contribution. THAT just might give all of us a new perspective on something we all kind of think we already know. Here in Doug Alward’s own words, is his version of The Terry Fox Story.

 

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INSPIRATION AND DETERMINATION
A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF THE TERRY FOX STORY

Doug Alward

“Anything is possible if you try…..
Dreams are made when people try.”

Terry Fox, 1980

Terry Fox and Doug Alward – in Newfoundland. Where it all started.

The Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research began on a cold and foggy day in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Snow covered the roadside as winter still gripped the landscape.

Terry Fox dipped his artificial foot into the icy Atlantic Ocean, then turned landward to begin one of the most historic and inspiring runs ever. It was a run that would take him over 3,339 miles (5,373 km) across Canada through snow, wind, rain, and stifling heat before the cancer would strike again, killing his body but not his indomitable and enduring spirit.

It was a run that skeptics said was impossible. How could a boy who had lost one leg to bone cancer run a 42.2 km or 26.2 mile marathon EVERY day across hilly and mountainous highways, all the way across the second largest country in the world? Such a feat was considered impossible for most two-legged people. How could a one-legged person even think about it? Only one one-legged person, a man named Dick Traum, had ever tried a marathon on the primitive artificial legs available in 1980. Terry was going to try to RUN a marathon EVERY DAY for several months. It was a run that would carry Terry Fox into the hearts of a nation and inspire millions of people across Canada and around the world, then and for decades to come.

As Terry’s friend and driver on the “Marathon of Hope for Cancer Research” and as Terry’s best friend from the age of 13, I learned much about his character and dreams. By sharing what I was so blessed to be a part of I hope to inspire you to reach out for your dreams, regardless of your present age, condition or situation.

One step at a time! One telephone pole at a time! One Marathon Run on one leg, one day at a time! Over 5,300km across Canada through 100 km/hr wind, rainstorms, snow, -20°C late winter weather and searing 35°C summer heat; enduring freight trucks and inattentive drivers barreling along the Trans-Canada Highway at him; living in a small camperized van with the world’s worst cook (me) feeding him canned beans and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Terry Fox ran a marathon a day for over 130 days taking only a couple of days off. Those “off” days were spent doing publicity events, television and newspaper interviews and meeting politicians and Prime Ministers. For Terry, the daily fundraising speeches and interviews were often more exhausting than the run. Miraculously, Terry Fox did it. He proved it IS possible to do the impossible.

When Terry first mentioned to me his idea of running a marathon a day, EVERY day, for 200+ days in a row across Canada to raise money for cancer research I never doubted he could accomplish such an unbelievable feat. Terry was always a possibility thinker. Terry believed in reaching for dreams with the abilities he had, not dwelling on what he didn’t have or what he might have done. I believed Terry could do it. Terry believed he could do it. The rest would just be detail and hard work.

To understand how Terry and I could believe such a feat was possible you have to know something of Terry’s background. When I first met Terry we were the only two Grade 8’s on the school cross-country running team. The school’s huge football coach who was our Physical Education instructor, semi-threatened us into joining the team even though running was not something Terry particularly enjoyed. In the first race of the year Terry came a distant dead last.

Untrained and new to competitive running, Terry was glad just to finish that first race, but he would not quit. With the encouragement and direction of outstanding teacher and running coach Mr. Fred Tinck (five of the athletes he coached went on to make the Olympic Games in various sports), Terry worked hard every day through cross-country and track seasons. By the time Terry was 15 he could run a mile in under 5 minutes. In other words, were it not for events yet to come, Terry was at the threshold of becoming an elite runner. But, as we know, Terry was destined to be not just an elite athlete, but an elite human being.

Similar to his efforts on the track, Terry improved dramatically as a basketball player. By way of a daily plan of training, believing in himself and just plain working his butt off, Terry went from being the shortest least skilled Grade 8 player (possibly in all of Canada), to making the basketball team at Simon Fraser University 5 years later. Academically, Terry went from being a 55% student in Grade 8 to holding an 88% average in Grade 12. Believing he could accomplish each of these goals, then planning and working towards them was the key to Terry achieving his dreams.

When Terry was 18 years old he felt a pain in his knee, a pain that got progressively worse over the next three months. Terry was stubborn. To him, pain was not to be a barrier to achieving his goals. He would not go to a doctor until he could no longer walk. Finally, after the doctors had done a battery of tests, Terry’s right leg was amputated a foot above his knee. Such a drastic measure was needed to try to prevent the spread of bone cancer that had started in his knee.

After surgery, several months of sickening chemotherapy treatments followed to try to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other areas of Terry’s body. He lost his hair and vomited almost daily.

Terry did not dwell on his amputated leg and illness. He decided to get off his butt and show people what he could do. He said,

“I’m a dreamer, I like challenges. I don’t give up. I go all out…Nobody is ever going to call me a quitter.”

Terry focused on carrying a full course load of tough science and math courses at university. At the invitation of world wheelchair traveler “Man in Motion” Rick Hansen, he began playing wheelchair basketball. The British Columbia wheelchair team with Rick and Terry playing key roles, won the Canadian Championship three times.

After two years of treatment Terry vowed to do something to help all the kids he had seen suffering and often dying in the cancer clinic. He came up with the dream of running across Canada on one leg, doing a marathon a day to raise funds for cancer research. How could he accomplish such a feat on one good leg and a primitive artificial leg that was held on by air suction and a strap? The normal running gait was impossible so Terry invented a motion where he hopped with his real leg and swung the artificial leg through. Some people called it a triple jump and others appropriately called it the “Fox Trot”. One person said his running looked like that of a three-legged horse. To Terry all that mattered was that he was RUNNING. Problem number one had been solved by thoughtful experimentation.

The next problem to tackle was running a marathon a day. Terry had to come up with a training plan. He consulted everyone he knew who might be able to help him. Running and weight training coaches as well as nutrition experts helped Terry develop a plan. The first day Terry “RAN” just a single lap around the local dirt track and collapsed with an exhausted real leg and a bleeding stump, the result of the chafing of his stump in the bucket of the artificial leg. Terry went home with only one thing in his mind: a plan to do better the next day. The next day he ran two laps. After one week he was running a mile. By five months he was up to twenty laps a day. Terry said:

“I had some blisters man. It was like running on coals. I had some sores on my stump where the artificial leg was. They just rubbed raw and there is no protection. Sometimes the sores would bleed right through my valve in the bucket and the blood would run down my knee and my leg. I developed bone bruises. My toes and heel were totally blistered raw and I lost three toenails. I had shinsplints for two months…You have to get over a pain threshold. There were times where it really hurt, but I kept going.”

Then, with my crazy encouragement, Terry decided to pre-register for a 28km race in Prince George, BC on the Labour Day Weekend of 1979. He still had two more months to increase his mileage and train his body. Slowly and systematically Terry increased his mileage to 18 km a day. Also, three times a week intensive two-hour sessions of strength and conditioning exercises followed the daily running sessions. These exercises worked particularly hard on back, abdominal, and lower leg muscles. Finally, race day in Prince George arrived and Terry ran the entire 28km without walking a single step.

Terry had now made up his mind. He would begin planning his run to cross the country at a marathon a day pace. The run would begin in April of 1980, just seven months later. He prepared a letter to get sponsors to help him in his dream. Terry wrote:

“The night before my amputation I read an article on an amputee who completed the New York City Marathon. It was then I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me. But I soon realized that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the sixteen months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy I was rudely awakened by the feelings that coursed through the cancer clinic. There were faces with the brave smiles and the ones who had given up smiling. There were the feelings of hopeful denial and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop and I am determined to take myself to the limit for this cause…. I am not saying this will initiate any kind of cure for cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.

Signed,

Terry Fox (September 1979)

From September 1979 to Christmas Eve Terry ran 101 days in a row increasing his mileage from 10 miles (16km) per day to 20 miles (32km) per day by Christmas Eve. His mother ordered him to take Christmas Day off. Even when his wheelchair basketball team toured Washington and Oregon in early December Terry kept the streak of 20 mile days going by rising by 5 AM and running his miles.

Terry’s dream gave him amazing drive. He wanted to help kids dying of cancer. This dream kept Terry going through injury, lack of sleep and the pressures of university exams and term papers.

In his speeches Terry would often say that the pain he felt was nowhere near as bad as that of the pain the kids were feeling on the cancer wards. Some kids had tumors growing out the side of their head. Others had tumors throughout their body. Some would be there one week and dead the next. This suffering motivated Terry into action: one step at a time, one telephone pole at a time, one mile at a time. Now the dream was within reach. Running a marathon a day on one leg, across the second largest country in the world was just one step away.

On April 12, 1980 in St John’s Newfoundland Terry dipped his leg into the Atlantic Ocean. He filled a bottle with Atlantic Ocean water and tucked it away in the small camperized van we would share over the next several months. CBC television was there to capture the historic moment although much prodding was needed to convince CBC to have a film crew out to film such an impossible feat. A news reporter recorded the following quote from Terry:

“If it’s only up to me and my mind I‘ve got a lot of positive attitude. But you never know what might happen….I wanted to try the impossible…”

The first day fog limited visibility to fifty meters. The second day it snowed. The third day was sunny but with sub-zero temperatures that Terry said “Froze my balls off.” Seventy kilometer per hour freezing winds in his face made the running extremely difficult. On and on I watched Terry struggle. Day after day he accomplished the marathon goal. Day after day and step after step he captured the hearts of the kids and adults he spoke to at schools, receptions, and by doing countless interviews on radio and television. After three weeks he had run across the province of Newfoundland, a distance of 933 kilometers. By six weeks he had conquered Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. By seven weeks Terry had lost ten pounds, mostly due to my sub-par cooking. By eleven weeks Terry was through Quebec and at the Ontario border. Terry would say:

“I broke the run down. Get that mile down, get to that sign, that corner and around that bend.”

If I could describe Terry in one word it would be RELENTLESS.

Terry had accomplished what doctors, other amputees and skeptics had said was impossible. Terry Fox had proved them wrong. Now news editors hurried to record the story of the miracle boy who was capturing the imagination of people from coast to coast.

His story was simple. He had lost his leg from cancer. He had seen kids dying of cancer. He was determined to do something about it. He was asking people to donate to cancer research. A one dollar donation from each person was his goal.

His day would begin shortly after 4 AM. Before 5 AM he had to be at the spot on the Trans-Canada Highway that he had stopped the day before. In the pitch-black darkness Terry would step onto the highway under every conceivable weather condition. There were no excuses for taking a day off. Pain, blisters, and exhaustion were no excuse. A broken foot “MIGHT” be. Walking was NEVER allowed. He had to RUN every step.

Entering the province of Ontario in mid-July, temperatures soared upwards of 35°C. In major population centers thousands lined the streets to see and be inspired by Terry as he struggled onwards. Terry added several hundreds of kilometers to the run by heading south to Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, and London, Ontario. Terry wanted to go to large population centers to inspire as many people as possible to give for cancer research.

Terry relentlessly fought onward through the hot summer finally nearing Thunder Bay, Ontario. At mile 3,339 (5,373 km) the cancer struck again. The bone cancer cells that had spread from his knee had grown into tumors larger than baseballs in his lungs, causing one lung to collapse so that he could hardly breathe. The Marathon of Hope had ended on Labour Day Sunday, exactly one year to the minute that Terry had run his only race, on one leg, in Prince George.

The run was over, but the dream of raising funds for cancer research was not. Telethons and fundraising ventures spread like wildfire across Canada as Terry received treatment for the cancer that was now surely and steadily killing his physical body.

Terry died just before 5 am on June 28, 1981. Ironically, one year before at 5 am on June 28, 1980 Terry ran across the Quebec/Ontario Provincial border. Ontario was the province where the fundraising skyrocketed. It seemed as if Terry was asking us to continue his dream.

I was sad to physically lose my best friend, but relieved he was free of the horrible suffering cancer had caused. Spiritually, Terry’s attitudes and values continue to inspire me. Several times I have thought of giving up running as my aging body breaks down. Three years ago my doctor did a bone scan on my swollen feet and discovered the beginnings of arthritis. Muscle pulls, tendon problems and even a broker upper arm that sidelined me from any running for two months have slowed me down. Due to a modified training program, improved diet, the support of other runners, and Terry’s attitude to take “ONE STEP AT A TIME’, I have been able to achieve some of my best ever running performances. Recently, I ran a 1:17 half marathon at the age of 46.

Do you have a dream? Think of Terry’s perseverance against unbelievable handicaps: bone bruises, shinsplints and severe blister-like cysts on his stump that often bled into the artificial leg. Whether they be trivial or major, physical or mental, let Terry’s perseverance and spirit inspire you through your tough times and personal challenges.

Today, Terry Fox Runs are held in over 50 countries and have raised over $360 Million for cancer research. Terry is still running, still stepping one step at a time, one mile at a time. As Terry said:

“You only live once and if you want to get something done you have to do it while you have the chance.”

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Terry tried and his dream to find a cure for cancer lives on.

Why not find yourself a Terry Fox Run on September 16, 2018 and whether you run or walk, you can remember what Terry saw for the future and you  can do your own part by following this link to Register and Donate. If you are a South Surrey/White Rock resident, come on out to the South Surrey Athletic Park at 8:00am for a 9:00am Start. For more specific information and local updates you can check our Facebook Page. We have a longer route (just over 5K) and a shorter one (1.5K) to accommodate everyone. Run it or walk it. Your choice. You can register on site, but if you want to be one of the ‘cool’ kids, why not do your registration on-line. It will speed things up on Run Day.

THEY CAME, THEY WERE SEEN AND THEY CONQUERED

08.10.2018

A little play on the famous quote associated with Julius Caesar: Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Because Roger Robinson is so big on history, I figured this was an appropriate title for this little report of the recent visit of Roger Robinson (launching his new book: When Running Made History) and Kathrine Switzer (Marathon Woman). Two nights at Forerunners (4th Avenue first and then Main Street) thrilled many local runners (and a few visitors as well).

These two are master writers and speakers. Both have more than significant running resumes. We’ll get to that later. This is about the visit here in Vancouver. Roger did share that when the two of them married some 30 years ago, they debated what to do about living arrangements. At the time, Kathrine was a New York kind of girl (if ever home), while Roger called Wellington, NZ his place of residence. Apparently, Vancouver was high on the list of possibilities.

Vancouver ‘Running Family’ welcomes Roger and Kathrine

Roger has a very personal history in Vancouver, having come here in 1981 to set his marathon PB at the then Vancouver International Marathon, while also setting a masters record that stands to this day (2:18:44). It was also good enough for third place OA on a cold, wet day that seemed anything but conducive to record setting. Both Kathrine and Roger have an extensive list of Vancouver folks they can call friends, so are pleased to visit and see the locals, which humbly includes me. That was how the ‘party’ started, over lunch on False Creek. I suggested to Roger that the weather was always like that on Monday afternoon (see photo to the right) and he recalled that his 1981 Vancouver Marathon was perhaps, not exactly the same. I tried.

Running meets Art at the Vancouver Mural Festival.

I am going to veer off the main topic, for a very personal moment, because what happened after lunch was extraordinary. Our daughter Danielle is both a runner and an artist. Her running is pretty recreational, while her art is more than a little professional. She is widely known as The Jealous Curator and in her own right as an artist. As it happened, she was in Vancouver painting five (small, she said) murals as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival. There was a great hope that she could attend one of the two seminar presentations by Kathrine and Roger, but events conspired against that being able to happen. One of the big reasons for Danielle to meet Kathrine was the common interest they have in elevating women in their respective fields. Danielle Krysa is the author of three books on art, with a fourth about to be released officially on October 2nd. The new book is entitled: A Big Important Art Book: Now With Women. Yes, that’s right, women have not had a big place in art history, even if they may have been present. Danielle’s new literary offering is her contribution to changing that, even just a little. I was telling Kathrine and Roger about this over lunch and expressing how sorry I was that Danielle would not be able to come that night (she was also speaking), or the next evening either. I explained that, as we sat pleasantly eating our lunch, she was labouring in the hot sun to finish her fifth mural. The first question was “Where?“, the second “How far?” When I said “Not far”, the immediate response was “Well, let’s go see her.” So, when lunch was done, and with the aid of Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner, we drove the few blocks to the location of the art installation in progress.

The reason I had to include this is not to promote the kid or her work (OK, a little) but to point out that these iconic visitors with a jam-packed schedule already, wanted to take time to go to her if she couldn’t come to them. That is beyond special. It would have been easy and reasonable to just say something like, ‘Oh what a shame. Please wish her well and maybe next time we can meet up.’ That isn’t how these people roll. It is one of the reasons they are special.

Special is the operative word of the whole visit, I must say.

Katherine Switzer – 261 Fearless (261, her bib number from Boston 1967)

The people at their presentations obviously thought so. They bought up all the books available for the two evenings and more! Both presentations were sharp and witty not to mention inspirational.

Kathrine’s inspiration started on a cold wet road on the Boston Marathon course in 1967 and has been picking up momentum ever since, and right up to today. Last year, she ran Boston on the 50th anniversary of that first time when the race official tried to rip off her number bib and toss her from his ‘hallowed’ race. There was actually probably MORE fuss in 2017, but this time it was all good. It was a celebration and not just of an event, but of a huge change in attitude, and for women in distance running. As Roger commented, it wasn’t that cold soggy race in 1967 that was important, it was everything that happened afterwards, including the advent of the ‘261 Fearless’ movement, meant to empower women on a global basis, especially in places where what we take for granted, is not the norm. This has become Kathrine’s newest venture meant to support and encourage women globally: 261 Fearless.

Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler introduces Roger Robinson

Roger was the featured speaker in recognition of his new offering: When Running Made History. I reviewed it here quite recently, so will not get into a great discussion now. If you want to know more about the book, follow this LINK.

As I reported in the review and as he explained at the presentations, the book is not about ALL historical events related to running, but rather ones where he was eye-witness and could deliver a personal perspective more than an opinion. In the presentations he stated that rather than try to keep himself outside the situation(s) as an expert observer, he would own the fact that these were actually personal experiences. It is what makes the book special and his presentations too.

Roger and Kathrine are clearly a good team. The audience was amused!

I can say without doubt (I was there – it was a personal historic experience) that the audiences ate up everything Roger and Kathrine had to say. The audience included young and old, particularly one young woman of very tender age, visiting with her parents from Kentucky, who will treasure meeting K.V. Switzer, getting her own inscribed copy of Marathon Woman and the obligatory (today) ‘selfie’ with Kathrine. Because of her age and because I have no idea how to get permission, I have decided not to reproduce the photo here, but the joy on both their faces is an amazing and very moving thing to see.

Some of the audience waiting to have their book(s) signed.

The lines for both of them afterwards to sign books were long, happy and patient. None of the pretty common in such situations: Hello, what’s your name, sign book, thanks for coming – and NEXT. Both Roger and Kathrine took time to chat and learn something of the eager fan clutching their brand new book(s), thus making the inscription very personal. We even set up a production line with Margaret covering Kathrine and me, Roger, for the photo-op. Everyone has a phone these days, so as they came up to meet and greet and get their book signed, we would take their phone and snap a couple of photos for them as they chatted with the author of their choice. I’m pretty sure a lot of treasured souvenirs were created that evening, one that won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance.

Roger introduces ‘Russell’ his first bionic knee.

Then, Mark, his other knee, a todler really at just 11 months

At the end of my book review of a couple of weeks back, I kind of predicted that Roger may appear with his closest running companions, Russell and Mark. He did. ‘Russell’ is his right knee replacement, while ‘Mark’ is his much younger (just 11 months) left knee replacement. Their names derive from the surgeons who installed the hardware. Russell had set some fairly amazing PBs prior to the need for Mark to join the family. Roger reports that the sibling knees are getting along quite well and Russell mentors Mark, who now, and at a very tender 11 months of age, has a 5K PB of around 30 minutes. Roger has worked this into one of his major topics of historical aspects of running: the modern day refusal to quit just because some calendar claims you are ‘old’, or some physical condition alters your capability. Roger is 79 and while his existing masters record for the Vancouver Marathon is in no danger from future efforts by him (he also held masters records for Boston and New York at one time), he refuses to give up running and being as competitive as he is able. I am sure that strikes a note with many of the readers of this blog.

Between the two evenings, so many of Vancouver’s finest runners and members of the running community were in attendance. One of those was Dr. Jack Taunton, a member of the recent Super Seniors Seminar panel and a pillar of Vancouver running for decades, both as a runner and an organizer. Others included Geoff and Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless and Frank Stebner. Interestingly, all members of Lions Gate Road Runners one of the first and longest enduring Vancouver running clubs. Co-owner of Forerunners Main Street and two-time Olympian Carey Nelson also hosted the Tuesday event with Peter and Karen Butler. On Monday, Doug and Diane Clement participated, two more Olympians who have done outstanding service in the Vancouver sporting scene. With the exception of Carey Nelson, these folks are shown above in the Monday lunchtime photo. Carey (blue shirt on the right in the photo of the book signing line) spent the evening making sure everything was ‘just so’.

Ultra Runner Ellie Greenwood with Roger and Kathrine

In the audience was world ultrarun champion and record holder, Ellie Greenwood, and to show how the running community works, I believe Roger and Kathrine were as excited to meet Ellie as she was to meet them. I can’t think of another field of pursuit where people recognize each other so fully as in running, and that includes the contributions of those who support with volunteering and organizing and, ahem, even writing blogs.

So, the much anticipated visit is done and Roger has gone off to an event in Eastern Canada while Kathrine heads to Chicago, both to continue doing what they do. Here, we are left with the memories of a few days of something truly special and looking forward to the next time.

Thank you to all who made this happen!

 

WHEN RUNNING MADE HISTORY – SOME THOUGHTS

07.24.2018

If that title sounds familiar and you are worried I may be trying to slide through on the coattails of Roger Robinson, don’t be. I just finished reading Roger’s latest contribution to the world of literature and running and am anxious to share my thoughts.

Roger, along with all his very many credentials, is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes (The Seasoned Runner as Hero). That is how I first met and got to know him; first ‘electronically’ as we solicited and received his contribution and then edited his and all the other contributor manuscripts into the book from which this blog derives its name. Shortly after, I had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, along with his well recognized wife, one Kathrine Switzer. I believe that was at the Napa Valley Marathon in 2006. OK, I don’t just ‘believe’ it. That is a true fact.

When you come to either of the book launch events, THIS is the guy you are looking for: Roger Robinson

Some or all of us (including my wife, Judi) have met up from time to time at various events and look forward to another of those occasions coming August 6 and 7 when Roger and Kathrine visit Vancouver and attend Forerunners on 4th Ave (Aug 6) and Main Street (Aug 7) for brief presentations and the introduction of his new book: When Running Made History (Syracuse University Press). Details and a reservation form can be found at the end of this posting. Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler, may even share with us how he met Roger while running in Central Park as he prepared to compete in the 1986 New York City Marathon.

Over the years I have kept in touch with both Roger and Kathrine via e-mail and social media and through common friends. Roger has been so kind as to allow this blog to publish or re-publish specific articles of interest to readers of Running in the Zone. One of particular interest might be this ONE which includes a link to “Keeping the Fire of Youth: New Ideas for Older Runners” first published in Running Times.

It is hard to know just how much to say as background on Roger and his credentials as an academic, a sportsman, stadium announcer, TV commentator and writer.

Among other things, there is the matter of lifetime geographical living arrangements. He was born in England, but found himself in his professional work as a professor of English Literature, in New Zealand and since becoming Mr. and Mrs. with Kathrine Switzer, a resident of the USA. I note with more than a little envy, that unless forced by circumstance, they spend summer in the US and summer in New Zealand, meaning mostly they just do summer! I may exaggerate just a little, as both are generally found at the Boston Marathon festivities in mid-April and the New York City Marathon street party of 50,000 or so in early November, meaning they also do a lot of Spring and Fall in the US. That is, if they aren’t traveling who knows where doing just what they will be doing in Vancouver, or running, or commentating or, well, you get the idea. Both are extremely generous with their time and in support of the whole sport and general phenomenon of running, and the community of people that represents.

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Yakima River Canyon Marathon

A particularly memorable such event goes back a few years to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon (2014), run curiously enough down the Yakima River Canyon in Washington State. The race is the baby of Bob and Lenore Dolphin (aka Team Dolphin). Bob too, is a Running in the Zone book contributor.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself. Hey look! That’s me in the yellow Marathon Maniacs shirt over on the left.

The race is what you would call OLD SCHOOL. Nothing fancy. All about running and the people who do it. Just a few of the photos from that weekend should demonstrate both what I mean about an old school race and particularly the contribution of Roger and Kathrine, and for those who will recognize some of the other regular suspects, the community of running and runners. Many of those in attendance at that particular celebration of running (Frank Stebner, Marty Wanless, Margaret and Geoff Buttner) are part of the ‘family’ that will gather soon in Vancouver. Some who will not be present in Vancouver included Joe Henderson (another ‘RITZ’ contributor and prolific author on running) and several of the originators of the Marathon Maniacs including (going only be memory) Stephen Yee (aka #1) and Tony Phillippi. It was that kind of a party. It was to honour the Dolphins.

By now you must have realized this is no ordinary book review. I mean, other than the title, I am already 600 or 700 words into this blog post and haven’t said a word about the new book!

Well, let’s fix that right now.

My little collection of Roger and Kathrine books.

I love books on running and am a great fan of Roger’s writing. I have several of his titles in my small personal running library, not to mention several of Kathrine’s.

At the outset, Roger makes it clear that When Running Made History is a first person account for the most part. He also makes clear that these are historical events and phenomena to which HE can bear witness, and not a definitive list of all historic moments in running. He goes so very far beyond: “There was a race, people came, people ran, it was hot/cold/sunny/wet/windy and some people won.” When I say ‘first person’ I mean that we hear not just about the facts of the matter, but also the impressions and importance of each of the events involved.

I suppose that since Roger is only about 5 years older than me, I may relate to some of the events more fully than a younger person might. For example, I can remember standing beside a commemorative plaque in Whanganui, New Zealand, early on a bright New Year’s morning (January 1, 1990), the place where Peter Snell had set a monumental world record in the mile. I was the only one there and nothing was happening, but tears trickled down my cheeks just for being in such a place on such a day. I have to say that more than a few of the chapters of When Running Made History fell into a similar category for this reader.

I am not going to say the book and Roger’s writing will have the same impact on a much younger reader. I know full well that my response to his writing is partly about the writing and partly about me, but I suppose it is always so. Younger readers may not get the same emotional connection, but they will get a subtle up-close eye witness insight to many of the events Roger reports on and describes from his personal perspective. To appreciate how our sport got to where it is today, it is most helpful to know where it came from on the road to ‘here’.

Judi Cumming with her freshly signed copy of Marathon Woman, the author herself, and me with my brand new finisher medal.

Kathrine Switzer’s Boston experience is part of the book, to be sure. But, how many young women truly appreciate what Kathrine’s marathon on that crappy April day in 1967 has done for their personal experiences as runners? Never mind that historic Boston Marathon, how many appreciate everything that came after? By her own admission in Marathon Woman, Kathrine did not set out to revolutionize women’s running that day, but she soon realized she had dug herself a hole (of responsibility) she couldn’t get out of by disappearing into the crowd. The result has been a lifetime of positive activism in the field of running, not to mention a determination to become a very good runner as part of honouring what she did herself, and what others began to join with her in doing. It was never easy and there was some pretty firm resistance. Right to this very moment, she continues her activism for women’s running through 261 Fearless. All of that said, Kathrine will tell you she did not do it alone, and eventually the race director that tried to physically eject her from ‘his’ race, became a staunch ally to her cause. I love her account of lining up for the 1973 Boston Marathon, just behind Nina Kuscsik, defending champion from 1972 (the first year Boston officially invited women runners). Kathrine had been third in 1972. Jock Semple (the infamous Race Director who tried to expel her from Boston ’67) was known for his one man show at the start and his zeal for making sure no interloper got one place closer to the actual line than he or (by then, I suppose) she deserved. According to Kathrine (Marathon Woman – p217), Jock spotted her and rushed over grabbing her around the shoulders (causing her to fear an instant replay of 1967), putting his arm around her, pointing her toward the cameras and giving her a kiss on the cheek while saying: “C’mon lass, let’s get a wee bit o’ notoriety.” (Jock was a Scotsman).

Three Amigos at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon: Roger, Dan and BH Steve King – co-editor of Running in the Zone – the book. (Photo: M. Buttner)

Two really important aspects of When Running Made History are the advent and evolution of ‘mass running’ that pulled into the community, the most recreational of recreational runners and the literal explosion of women runners. It is probably hard for younger runners and younger women in particular, to really appreciate what has happened in the last 40 or 50 years. Remember, 50 years ago women were pretty much unwelcome in any marathon, not just Boston. When I started running, and particularly running marathons some 30 years ago, you were a bit ‘hard core’ if you were a marathoner. Many races had four hour clocks. FOUR HOURS. That was how long you had to complete your race. If you have never done a marathon as a true recreational runner, trust me, four hours is not a long time to get it done, male or female.

It is the first person nature of Roger’s tales that bring us inside what was happening. Because Roger was, in his own words “almost good”, he could, even in his 50s, run laps with some of the great athletes as they trained or warmed up. He could talk to them as a runner, rather than a reporter. That comes through again and again in the book.

In the early part of When Running Made History he talks about being witness as a kid sneaking under a fence or hedge to watch great runners at Motspur Park (London). He describes the horrible conditions of war-time and post-war London that he experienced as a child. He talks about being at major events as spectator (1948 London Olympics or the 1960 Rome Olympics) and being close enough to Abebe Bikila as he ran along the Apian Way,  to bear witness as he began his final barefooted surge to win the 1960 Olympic Marathon. Roger is a skilled writer and ‘paints’ word pictures as he describes events. When an author is that good, you don’t read the words, you see the scene and the action in your own mind.

A clutch of the Vancouver ‘family’ with Bog and Lenore Dolphin. Left to right: Frank Stebner, Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless, Bob and Lenore.

While I am not going to recount each historic event Roger includes in the 21 Chapters, I will say that some of the chapters include Roger’s own exploits because his self-categorization as an ‘almost good’ runner leaves a bit to be desired. He may have been a late bloomer, but the outside observer would likely rate Roger as a bit better than ‘almost good’. In fact, some evidence of his excellence remains to this day, right here in Vancouver. In 1981 Roger recorded a time of 2:18:44 at the (then) Vancouver International Marathon, setting a record for Masters runners that has not been bettered. In 1981, his time was also good for 3rd Place Overall. In addition, during a brief period he won the Masters divisions of Boston and New York, setting records at each event at the time. In fact, he did compete at World Level for England and New Zealand. The full story can be found on his web site.

All of this is to say Roger Robinson is more than a superb observer and eloquent scribe. He was and is, a true ‘insider’ where it comes to running.

Some of his stories are right from the track or road. Anyone who has run the least competitively will consume these passages like eating candy. All it really takes is a competitive spirit and the least opportunity to have raced even one other person, not for the win, just for an age group placement,  or even just to be one place ahead of that other competitor whoever he or she might be.

As I get older and slower, oh so very much slower, attrition has from time to time favoured my competitive nature with a podium and even gold medal place in my age group, one time even a course record (it was the inaugural race!). The big problem for any age group competitor,  as you find yourself buried inside a large race, relying on your chip to determine who did what, is that you are deprived of the joy and excitement of racing another individual head to head or stride for stride. Admittedly, in small local races, that may not be so true, as you will often know the ‘competition’. It makes a difference. In fact, a few years ago, I finally met a fellow runner who had a very similar track record to me and was but 13 days older. I’d seen his name on results (usually just ahead of mine), but did not know who he was. Then, one day I met him at the start of the race we were about to do. From that day forward we became friendly rivals, but he never beat me again! Some races were breath-takingly close, but that is what competition is about.

Entry Gates to Hayward Field, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

This is all just a set-up for the highly recommended Chapter 21 of When Running Made History (The Fire of Youth Under the Creases of Age). It is here you can run ‘with’ Roger in a classic race in Eugene, OR and learn secrets of the older runner where it comes to training and racing.

Competitiveness is rather timeless. It has to do with who you are and how you think about running and very little to do with the date on your birth certificate.

It is hard to know where to stop. If you don’t know Roger already I want to properly introduce you, but not leave you thinking I have told you everything you need to know! I will stop soon, but I must relate just one or two other things about this new offering.

Some of the peripheral or related events described within the stories, create essential context for his accounts of important running events. For instance, he talks about the Berlin Marathon, a fine event run by many and a source of a cascade of world record times. But his story is about going to Berlin to run the marathon just as the Berlin Wall came down and runners could pass through into the East. He fills us in with emotional stories and descriptions of the time and circumstances and I suppose because I am of an age, I could relate, including the fact that I worked in Europe (Brussels) for three years just after the wall came down. One of my daughter’s has a piece of that wall given to her by one of her best friends from that time. He also describes the 100th Boston Marathon done as a kind of internal inspector. As he notes, it was terribly enlightening to see such a race from the middle of the thing it is, not somewhere up near the pointy end or as a reporter sitting on the sidelines. Naturally, he did not leave out the cowardly bombing of this iconic event. I think most of have some kind of first person experience, or at least know someone who was there. Roger was not just there, he had a wife riding in a motorcycle side-car commenting on the elite women’s race.

I have just one more bit to add, before this ‘review’ gets longer than the book. Both Roger and Kathrine will be in Vancouver and at Forerunners to make short presentations, meet people, sell and sign books. Because space is limited, you are asked to go to the Forerunners web site and register. The local event(s) will be at Forerunners on August 6 at 5:30pm (4th Ave store) and August 7 at 6:30pm (Main Street store).

Normally, these two running icons would be more than enough to draw everyone out from the running community to meet and greet. HOWEVER, I have it on good authority that there will be a bonus. Roger’s two closest running companions, Russell and Mark, will attend and likely be introduced to the audience by Roger.

 

SO YOU RAN A SUB-3:00 MARATHON. NOW WHAT?

06.26.2018

 

Walter and Matt Murdoch exit ‘the tunnel’ Light at the End of The Tunnel Marathon

This is a continuation of my posts about Walter Downey, a definitely ‘seasoned’ athlete and thus of extreme interest on this blog. Well, to the blogger anyway. Oh, and for the record, this title represents a question I have never had to ask myself! It is also about how we approach what comes after a major achievement or breakthrough. Walter is the ‘hero’ of this tale, but it is intended to be taken more generally by all readers in context of their own pursuits and performances and what they hold important.

To briefly recap, Walter made a decision almost two years ago to make some big changes and set some big goals. To achieve his goals, he did a number of things but two of the biggies were losing some weight (a significant amount) and training much more seriously. The results began with doing well in age group placements in race distances across the board and then with a string of PBs at pretty well all distances he ran. Of late, it has become an expectation that he will score a podium place, if not win his age group. He has also continued to tweak those PBs. The original story is HERE.

Recently (earlier this month), Walter scored what I would consider a ‘double unicorn’.

What in the name of all that is running, is a ‘double unicorn’????

I’m so glad you asked.

And then they were done. Walter, Matt and Ray Barrett.

For many people, especially those who would be considered ‘seasoned’, running a marathon under three hours at age 57 is rather unicorn-like (that is, extremely rare)! To be specific, Walter went 2:58:58. Obviously, that is sub-3:00. And, most of us hitting age numbers like 57 are really happy to get raw times that AGE GRADE to 2:58. Let me just put that in context. At 57 the WMA age grading calculator says if you want a graded time of 2:58:58, you must run a raw time of 3:33:10, which is a time not to be scoffed at, but it does create some context.

Although it is probably less rare, the illusive ‘negative split’ is also unicorn-like in its rarity. Walter’s splits for his sub-3:00 performance were 1:32 and 1:26 (ish). The times are unofficial and taken from his gps, but with that much of a spread, there is no doubt that he did the negative split that we all aspire to achieve. I once ran a half marathon within less than 10 seconds of being a negative split. I still consider it one of my best managed races and very satisfying with respect to personal performance.

Walter continues to do very well in his races, still taking podium after podium, often in first place in his age category. For what it’s worth, and before I leave the specific topic of his last marathon, I would point out that it age grades to an adjusted time of 2:30 and a % Performance of 83.25%.

With all of this settled and duly reported, the question of the title: “Now what?” is of greatest interest. You never want to get to that feeling of “Is that all there is to a circus?

I sat down with Walter to explore what comes next in terms of goals and aspirations, short and longer term.

The first thing we had to establish is, there is still a lot of specific ‘work’ to do before the 2018 running season is over. I’m not even going to try to list all the races, but I know he is intending to run the BC Half Marathon Championship (at Victoria) and finish up with the New York City Marathon the first weekend of November.

We also quickly established that Walter considers he has been racing and training ‘smart’. A big goal for the future is to continue exactly that way. Purely as an observer, when Walter began ramping up to his present level of performance, losing weight, running harder and faster, knocking off PB’s, I was a bit worried that he was going so hard at it that an injury was surely in his future. The concern came partly from what he was specifically doing (running every race that caught his attention, running them hard and doing big training volume), AND from the generality of what happens to all runners who push the volume and intensity too high for too long. I am pleased to say, and as Walter reports, he is now building recovery into his plans, even when he races (some are all out, some strategic).

Souvenirs from a few notable and relatively recent marathons, including 3 of the Marathon Majors.

Let’s face it, if you are competitive nothing is better than a race to make you run with some intensity and focus. That said, some races are preparation for other more important races and they don’t all have to be run at PB pace. A perfect example was that Walter ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May with a time far removed from his present PB performances. It was intentional. “THE race” on which he was focused was the one where he did his Sub-3:00, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Vancouver was May 6 and the Tunnel Marathon was June 10. Vancouver was completed in a time of 3:23:37 and The Tunnel was 2:58:58. That is how it is supposed to work when you race and train smart.

This is just one example. There are others. And, while Walter has tasted the sweetness of victory (age group and outright), he is also choosing events wisely, ‘picking his fights’ so to speak. Most of the time he is top three but seldom outside the  Top 5 in his age category.

Still, it seems there isn’t a race he isn’t ready to run. I wondered if there might be an ultra in his future, especially after he is done with the PBs in the standard distances we all know and love. Apparently NOT. So, maybe there are some events he isn’t interested in doing. And, while I know he likes training runs on certain trails, he isn’t interested in classic trail races either, ultra or otherwise. So, I suppose you could say his future goals involve no ultras or trail racing.

One thing we determined more or less immediately, is that he has no intention of going out in a blaze of glory and stopping cold turkey once his running goals are met (assumed to be PB performances, he feels he could achieve).

I must admit to pondering, based on Walter’s example, how many of us ‘retire’ too soon from pushing the envelope. To be clear on that, there is absolutely no need to ‘push’, but for the highly competitive, well………………

Just to remind you, I have reported previously how he has been setting new PBs; actual, unqualified PBs, even though he has been running for something approaching 20 years, running relatively well over those years and is now in his mid-50s. A few years back, on the advice of a runner older than me, I started paying more attention to 5-year PRs. I re-examined all my five year performances and still keep annual as well as 5 year age group ‘bests’ or PRs. I have also reported that doing something a bit like what Walter has done (back when I was plus or minus 65), produced some very good results although FAR from all-time PBs. Maybe after Walter reaches his personal level of peak performance, he too will consider such record keeping, but for now he is still setting new, totally UNqualified personal marks!

OK, back to ‘what now?’.

Walter has completed four of the six Marathon Majors (New York, Chicago, Boston (X3) and Berlin). Remaining are London and Tokyo. I doubt I would surprise you by stating there is a plot afoot to complete these two ‘missing’ marathons. The lottery is not particularly reliable, so it seems money may be the answer. By that I mean using a travel package or a charity bib to attain the needed entry. We chatted about the fact that we have both (along with a few dozen of our closest friends) submitted our names to the ‘ballot’ for London. The odds are a bit better than Lotto-649, but only slightly it seems. Obviously, this is one answer to the title question: complete the Big Six.

Another specific race based goal is a better half marathon time. According to Walter, his Half PB is not proportional to other personal records for marathon and 10K. He feels his times for both those distances are much better than his half time. He is working on it and strategically eyeing the races in his future. As I began writing, the very next one was to be the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 24, 2018. Two things can mitigate against it being the race where Walter corrects this perceived ‘imbalance’. The Scotia Half (as it is known locally) purports, or at least appears to be a fast and easy course, but it has three difficult components, two of which (hills) come at awkward points in the race. Weather is the third factor and although it was warming up by the time he finished, was probably a minor factor this time. As it turned out, the Scotia Half yielded up yet another new PB to Walter’s relentless and persistent pursuit of excellence. His time was 1:2834, good for 4th place in his M55-59 age group.

I imagine he takes comfort (not much though) in the fact he was just 16 seconds out of 3rd and that truth be told it was the ‘graduation’ of Coach Carey Nelson into the age group that pushed him into 4th. Carey was first with a 1:23:58. What’s a body going to do?? At least it was a good friend who pushed Walter off the podium. I will have to consult to determine whether or not the new PB corrected the so-called imbalance at half marathon, but my first reading of it, suggests that while a PB is a PB, this particular one is still not quite what Walter would want. Never mind, there are two more half marathons in his immediate future with potential to deliver even better times (Victoria Half and the Iron Horse Half Marathon). The quest continues!

Finishing up at Blueshore Financial Longest Day 5K – a fixture in both race series.

Coming off his 2017 performances, Walter set his cap for doing well in two race series that happen in BC. One is the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the other is the BC Super Series (for readers not presently running, this was the Timex Series). Some races are common, but as the name suggests, the Lower Mainland series is limited to events in the Lower Mainland area, in and around Vancouver. Without getting into the weeds on series scoring (they are different) Walter is well positioned in both. In both cases you must complete a minimum number of events, but you only score your best results, discarding poorer results after you surpass the official minimum number of races. He has been working hard to achieve his best possible outcome and while there are several races remaining in both series, it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone in his age group to catch up (there are only three races remaining in each series). He has already completed the minimum for both series and has a significant gap on those coming behind. Just in case the wording of this description might be misconstrued to imply he will be sitting back on what is ‘in the bank’. He won’t. Anyone who thinks they have an outside chance of catching him is going to have to work for it.

Another related matter is the challenge of doing well at the BC Athletics Championship races at standard distances: 5K (2nd), 8K (1st), 10K (2nd), Half Marathon and Marathon (2nd). Only the Half Marathon Championship remains for 2018 (Goodlife Victoria Half Marathon in October). Walter has competed in all of the events so far and, as noted, has achieved age group first or second placements in all. Interestingly, there is no particular single rival. He has placed either first or second, but the others who were just ahead or just behind consist of four different runners. I guess that makes Walter a ‘man for all seasons’ where it comes to race distance and excellence. It will be interesting to see how much he can tweak his performance before getting to the BC Half Marathon Championship in Victoria in October.

A few momentos from Walter’s more recent races.

I always try to make these posts at least a little bit generic and instructive to a wider audience. In reporting the specifics, I hope to inspire the more general thoughts and aspirations among readers. In this instance, Walter Downey is doing what turns Walter Downey’s personal crank. It is admirable and to be celebrated, but just because he wants to and can, there is no reason it should be someone else’s dream. We all have, or should have, our own.

At an impromptu post-race brunch after the recent Scotiabank races (there was a 5K, too), Coach Carey asked me how many of the Big Six I had run. ONE. New York. That’s it. I guess that if I got silly lucky later this year when ballot results are announced, I could move that up to TWO by doing London next year. That still leaves four, one of which I would have to sacrifice a point of principle to do – Boston. You CAN do it with a charity bib, but I long ago decided that because it is what it is, and I am what I am, the only way to do Boston would be to Qualify. That seems a ‘bridge too far’ for this Ancient Marathoner.

Other than working hard enough to win or at least place at most of my races, most of Walter’s personal goals are off the charts for me. No problem. I have my own past glories and future plans. Same like everybody else! The point then, is that this article is intended to inspire you to THINK about what you might do (if  you haven’t already).

Pre-Race with Walter Downey – BMO Vancouver Marathon 2018

I do have to admit that I was anticipating a few more zen-like ideas from Walter. That was possibly naïve of me. His current performance level is way too high and a ‘work in progress’ to be seriously looking at hanging up the racing flats and contemplating long easy runs in pastoral settings. Good Lord, I’m 73, kind of broken and slow and I’m still not thinking that way! A common friend of Walter’s and mine, is Rod Waterlow. In about a month, he will turn 81. HE isn’t thinking about pastoral run-walks either. I don’t know why I thought Walter would go there at this point, so there is a lesson for me and for you.

I did pose the question “Now What?” And, I did get some worthy answers. I suppose we should just leave it at that. In the meantime, I shall pursue some of my own goals that have been inspired by watching Walter, studying and writing about the adventure he is on at this point in time.

A PARTING TRIBUTE TO RITZ CONTRIBUTOR, MAE PALM

06.13.2018

I learned today that Mae Palm has died after a battle with lung cancer. She will be missed. When we were putting together “Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“, co-editor Steve King told me we HAD to get a contribution from Mae Palm. You will see why when you read what follows. The only one who seemed to disagree was Mae, who felt, nay insisted, that she really didn’t have anything to contribute, and besides wasn’t much of a writer. Thankfully, WE insisted even more strongly, that she most certainly DID have something to say and told her not to worry about her writing – ‘just tell your story’, the editors will ensure it gets written. Following is her chapter, and (then) bio, direct from the book.

Mae Palm (Wilson)

Mae Palm with Frank Shorter

Born in South Africa in Johannesburg in 1939, Mae immigrated to England in 1956 and moved to Canada in 1966. Although she is also known by her married name, Wilson, Mae uses Palm for all her races in memory of her parents. Because of the apartheid problems in South Africa her father would often say “You are a Palm and you are Number One!” She is of mixed origin.

Mae started running in 1978 and started racing in 1980, at the age of 40. She only took up swimming at the age of 58 so she could compete in triathlons and has never looked back. She has not only completed over 100 marathons, but also regularly racks up a 1st place finish in her category! Known as “Marathon Mae”, Ms. Palm is a Canadian and North American record-holder and an inspiring individual to meet.

Mae is the mother of a son, Brendan and a daughter, Breanna and now a grandmother and even though she now resides in a seniors residence, she surely qualifies as the fastest senior in town!

One of Mae’s running highlights has been competing in the “Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun-run team event which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. For several years her partner was 1972 Olympic Marathon champion, Frank Shorter, shown with Mae in her photo, above.

Unfortunately, Mae finds the cost of entry fees, especially for international competitions prohibitive and in the past has had to pass up competing in events for which she has qualified, including the Boston Marathon and the Hawaiian Ironman due to the expense. She relies on sponsors to help offset the athletic costs involved with competing in triathlons and other events. Supported by Triathlon Canada, Mae was recently recognized with a grant from the Canadian Athletic Achievements of Women in Sport (CAAWS) and will use the WISE Fund for registration fees for upcoming competitions, including the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii. In 2005 Mae received an award from Sport BC, the Community Sports Hero Award (Sea to Sky Community Area) in recognition not only as a volunteer but as a motivator and promoter of sport.

[Ed. Note: Following is the un-edited text of Mae’s contribution, as published in 2005 (except that the original had no photographs, which have been added). No links were added, as is normal on the blog, as this is meant to be a faithful reproduction of what Mae gave us for the book. For more information, contact the editor at danbcumming@gmail.com]

They Call Me Marathon Mae!!

Mae Palm

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 26, 1939. At that time my family lived as ‘coloured’ in an area that became known later as Soweto, but at that time it was known as Alexandra Township. It was for Blacks and Coloureds only. My father had the pride and inner courage to open a business in a town for Whites called Ferndale, so we hid our true identity to be accepted as White. My Dad had the audacity to claim our darker coloured skin was due to Portuguese heritage! I credit this upbringing and my experience from that time with empowering me to be the best at whatever I do, whether it is working as a maid (something I did for a time) or competing as an Ultra runner.

When it came time for me to find work, my birth certificate had to be shown and it told the real story. In those days my options and opportunities were severely limited due to apartheid. In 1956 I immigrated to England, where I lived until 1966. I was able to do this thanks to my Mum, who saved any money she could in her special little “brown bag”. Mum and Dad ran two stores side by side called – you guessed it – Palm Stores. My Dad was a very proud man, and did not want to ‘yes sir’/ ‘no sir’ anyone. He went into business for himself and became his own boss. When you go through hard times I believe it makes a better person out of you. Dad would often tell us: “You are a Palm and you are Number One”.

For me running started when I was in my late 30’s. It was about the time when I started driving a car, walking less and noticing that I was gaining weight. Being just 4’11” in height, I didn’t want to wind up as wide as I was high! As a ‘stay at home Mum’ of two children, it didn’t take too long to realize that if I was going to do it, I needed to walk or run at 6am to have my then-husband at home with the sleeping children. For me, this was simply the best timing. I think most people will quit running if they do not choose the right time of day. When I began working in Whistler in 1982, I found that this early morning exercise schedule could be continued with good effect. It is when I became a “5-9” person. That is right: five to nine. It included my 9-5pm work schedule, something with which most people are more familiar. I would be up at 5am to go for a run and hit my bed at about 9pm, soon after the kids. That has been my routine for over 25 years now. For me, it’s now just part of life. I guess I run for the health of it!

My first race was in 1980 in Squamish, BC and was an 8km run. Maybe more to my own surprise than anyone else’s, I placed first in my age category – the rest is history! This first race hooked me on racing. As most of my running and training has been achieved by self coaching, I really have nobody to blame but myself when I don’t do well. Still, I strongly believe that I have managed to stay uninjured by listening to my body and backing off when I need to do so. That is to say, I have never missed a race that I have entered due to injury. I live by a personal rule to never bite off more than I can chew and that has been a key component of any success I have achieved. I run because I love it and if I manage to place first in any competition, well that is just ‘icing on the cake’.

I truly thrive on other peoples achievements, especially if they are older or are physically challenged. It is seeing and hearing success stories in the sport world that inspires me. Knowing what others can do, especially those with some kind of extra challenge to meet or overcome, helps me to grow stronger. I have a great appreciation for the volunteers at races and always try to let them know that in real terms. I once had a running friend comment, ‘If you would only stop thanking all the volunteers you would improve on your time!’ To me that is neither important nor possible. It just isn’t my way. I love the healthy friendly enjoyment of the run itself, the longer the better. It’s like being at a big party where you dance for 3 or 4 or 5 hours.

There was a time (age 13-26) when I used to smoke and drink but that was the limit of my use of any kind of drugs, and I have always stayed away even from pain killers. I want to know what my body is feeling and how it is doing. I stopped smoking when I was three months pregnant with my son Brendan, more than 36 years ago. And, while on the subject of family, I also have a daughter, Breanna, who is a seven years younger than her brother.

Quitting willy-nilly is not in my nature, so I always try to make sure I can finish whatever I start. Experimenting in a new sport is a real ‘high’ for me. That attitude has taken me to marathons, Ultra running and Triathlon. But, let’s start at the beginning. After running for a bit I found out that I had the mental strength to endure long distance running, so over time I went from running 2 miles every day in the first couple of years of my regular running, to the slightly further distance of 100 miles. That transition took until 1994 at the Western States 100 Miler. I did that run in a time of 29 hours 54 minutes and some seconds, only 6 minutes to spare before the cut off of 30 hours! But, I did it!

I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Klein. She actually passed me in the dark of the night – what an amazing woman – she was in her early 70’s at the time. Even though she only started running in her mid-50’s, she is a superb senior athlete and has held many age category records. She is a great inspiration and gives me hopes for my own endeavours in the 65-69 age category.

One of the happiest, most pleasurable, and OK –luckiest, parts of my running career came when I partnered with Olympian Frank Shorter (1972 and 1976 gold and silver medalist for the marathon) in “the Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun run which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. The “Duet” is a 4.6 mile marathon primer and with our combined ages we were placed in the 100-119 age category. In the four or five years we competed together, we always placed first because Frank was so fast. Frank, through the inspiration he gave, drove me to compete at my highest level and to work very hard for him. He was always so gracious. He came, this Olympic hero and fantastic runner, to pick up Breanna and me and to take us to all the events he had to attend. We met his wife and their baby girl. We went to the beach with them and were treated like old friends.

I found myself amused and amazed to be standing side by side with Frank (after the main event “the marathon”) while waiting for the results to see how we did and discussing the race. It seemed so strange to be there along side an Olympian who just treated me like a buddy (in between signing autographs, of course!).

A good example of how running makes her ‘beam’. Peach City Marathon (near Penticton, BC)

I love running. It is really that simple. It has brought me through troubled times and is a great stress release. It just always makes me feel like I am beaming and smiling not only on the outside but from within. What keeps me going is really quite simple. I want to continue setting the best example I can for anyone who might be interested. But most of all, now that I have a grandson, my dream is to be able to do a run with him one day.

Dag Aabye, a Squamish forestry worker, and locally well-known skier and runner, encouraged me to believe in myself and believe that I could become a long distance runner. He used to see me on my early morning two-mile runs as I would pass his house and one day he just came dashing out of his house, stopped me and said: “You are a runner and you should do a marathon!” It was his encouragement that sparked a personal and ongoing passion for marathons even though I little knew what a marathon was at the time. It was also what inspired me to compete in the grueling Whistler Marathon in 1982 and again in 1983.

During my Ultra running days, I was so pleased to meet Ann Trason, female winner of the 1994 Western States 100 Miler. This was a real highlight for me. Ann is an amazing woman and, I think, very shy. Two weeks after the 100 Miler race, I completed the North Shore Knee Knacker 30-mile ultra marathon (North Vancouver, BC) and won my division. As I crossed the finish line, race organizer Enzo Federico announced that I had run the Western States 100 Miler as a “training run” for the Knee Knacker. I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but……

In 1995, I raced again in the North Shore Knee Knacker wearing a pair of Nike racing flats and I elected to not carry any water. The bottom of my racing flats had slight ridges but no tread. I am pleased to say that I bettered the time of my previous year by over 1 hour and finished in 7:20:26, breaking my own race record of 8:21:33 which I set in 1993. In 1996, I was thrilled to be one of 10 trail-runners highlighted in the Discovery Channel’s show “Go For It!” The show followed the runners through the terrain of the 30 Mile Knee Knacker course and filmed the trail running experience.

Medals and ribbons and trophies are good, but my personal reward for running a marathon is Haagen Daz ice cream! Well, that is if I have done really well; actually any ice cream is good and originally my favorite treat was waffles with oodles of cream and blueberry sauce. Treats are rewards and not for all the time. I have to earn them. Of course, I am the only one keeping track, but that is the way it is.

As the clock and calendar tick away, I take nothing for granted. Even though I enjoy good health and do marathons and other such endurance races, I am grateful to be able to walk to the bathroom and just be able to be self sufficient. I feel very fortunate to be in good health, when I know that others are not and that there is no guarantee for any of us. I like to challenge myself, but not to the point of being ridiculous. I know my limits and run against my own times.

I think it was quite fitting and made a bit of personal history in planning my 100th marathon in Vancouver. Although I go by Mae Wilson for most things, I use my maiden name, Palm, for running. I do this as a memorial to my late mother who passed away in 1990 on the very date of the Vancouver International Marathon. When my good friend Steve King, announced this at the race, it was very special and heart warming. Steve always has a way of making one feel so good through his encouraging and nice words.

In September 2002, I was featured in the article ‘The Ages of an Athlete” in an issue of Sports Illustrated Women. The feature was on growing old gracefully and the changes an athlete experiences. I was the only Canadian featured in the article and represented the 60’s category. Like everyone, I have had lot’s of photographs taken by family, race photographers and even a reporter or two, but it was my first ‘photo shoot’ with a New York professional photographer. To say the least, it was a memorable experience and I felt truly honoured to be chosen. The article featured athletes from a 9 year old basketball player running through the decades to a 93 year old swimmer.

A local, internationally recognized triathlete, Bob McIntosh was tragically and brutally killed in 1999. In that same year, in recognition of him, the Bob McIntosh Triathlon was organized in Squamish, BC. While I didn’t know him well, he would joke with me about becoming a triathlete, little realizing that I could not swim with my face in the water or that when I first tried my hand at triathlon in 1989 in Whistler on a dare, I was the last one out of the lake. I did every stroke I knew (including the backstroke) to avoid putting my face or nose in the water. I concluded at that point that I was not triathlon material! So, I thought I would volunteer for the 1999 event. When the local paper called to find out if I would be entering, I laughed at the idea. Apparently, they didn’t know much about my swimming abilities either. After I put the phone down from the local reporter, I gave the race another thought. Why not try? Other people swim. I could take swimming lessons and I began to build my courage, telling myself that ‘you are never too old to try’. I still feel the swim is the scariest part of triathlons, but my determination and perseverance motivated me to take lessons, practice and force myself to swim more effectively and conquer my lifelong fear of swimming. I participated in the 1st Bob McIntosh Triathlon as a personal memorial to Bob.

IronMan Championship 2001 – Kona.

In 2001, I won, my age category, in the very windy and scary World Ironman Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. As far as I know, I was the only Canadian representing my age category at the World Championships. As someone who has always been content to finish each race this was an achievement I had never even considered. This win was definitely ‘icing on the cake’! Sadly, my family was unable to attend the race and celebrate that special victory. Still, it was a glorious moment to share the win with fellow Ironman athletes while sitting at the awards ceremony with an ‘all Canadian’ table. I will admit that there is some loneliness in being a long distance athlete, especially when you are self coached. However, the win in 2001 was a very proud moment that makes it all worthwhile. It was like a dream, but it encouraged me and makes me feel there still so much to learn and improve on with triathlons. More than that, it gives me the confidence to know I can achieve both the learning and the improvement.

The goal today is to remain healthy and injury free so I can enjoy having athletic fun with my grandson and the rest of the family. I sometimes dream of ‘finishing’ what my young hero, Terry Fox, could not do, at least in a physical sense. It is my dream and my ambition to do runs and events for a cause rather than just selfishly doing them for my own achievement and satisfaction. I often dedicate a given run to the memory of someone, but would like to be doing more. The inspiration of Terry Fox tells me there is something out there that is one day going to click with me and then I will know what my cause will be. I truly believe in being careful and listening to my body. With this attitude and approach, I think I could do a marathon a day for as many days as it would take.

 

Rest in peace, Mae. This marathon is done. We will miss you.

SOMETIMES IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS!

05.28.2018

What it was.

A ‘little thing’ has sure made my life miserable for the last 2-3 weeks! You can see it in the photo here.

It was lurking in my running shoe during the BMO Vancouver Marathon. By the time I was done, I had a major soft tissue bruise on my left heel and walking was extremely painful for a number of days. I did have my doctor look at it and pretty much confirm that it WAS a bruise. Recovery is now coming along and just prior to beginning this post, I went for a 2K run/walk, just to see if I could.

What it felt like!!

That little pebble found its way into my shoe, sometime, somehow. I have no idea if it was before or during the marathon. What I do know is that today, before starting out for my run, I was inserting an extra (gel) insole into my shoes just for a wee bit more cushion between me and the road. As I was starting to put the one in my left shoe I felt this hard little bump, right near the back of the heel section. I pulled the shoe’s own insole up and there it was!

Now, had the marathon not been a marathon (shorter race) or had it not been on pavement (it was), or had I run it in far less time (I normally would if I was actually trained), this all might not have happened. OR, I suppose, had I inspected my shoes before the marathon, I might have found that little guy. Well, that may or may not be true since I actually don’t know when it decided to hitch a ride. It may have flipped in there during the marathon, although I can’t imagine when.

Good news is that while my heel is still a bit tender, I think I’m close to the end of this little saga and ready to move on with coaching the Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic and my own training and racing – slowly and carefully, of course.

However, the impact of such a truly, physically small thing caused me to pause and think about how small differences can impact us in a huge number of ways, but since this is a running blog, I will try to keep my comments to things running.

Among the ‘little’ things that can become big might be a whole range of decisions and circumstances.

  • To skip a particular workout (more often a good thing than bad, since missing one workout generally does not lead to ruination of a training block, while doing a hard workout with a borderline injury could end training for a good long while, and maybe your race or performance)
  • In a strong race, to push just a little harder – a few seconds per kilometre or mile might be your BQ time
  • A degree or two of temperature or a few % humidity can make or break a performance
    • And deciding to push in such conditions can make or break you
  • At the pointy end of the field a decision to run for time might cost the win, when you should be racing to win without regard for time (see Boston Marathon 2018, Linden/Kawauchi). OK, so maybe this isn’t small.
  • Arriving at a race with time to spare vs rushing to the start with no time to prepare mentally or physically. The small part being paying attention to leaving home or hotel in good time.
  • Checking your gear to be sure there are no stones in your shoe! OR, that you are dressed properly for the day whether training or racing
  • Paying attention to hydration in a race – that is, NOT skipping water stations on a hot day
  • Paying attention to the condition of your shoes – uneven wear, or breakdown can lead to injury and problems, but wear is subtle and happens little by little over time.

Most of this comes down to mental processes and related decisions that then have a serious and significant influence on physical matters. I would imagine that we have all had times when we were guilty of ignoring or getting on the wrong side of one or more of the above examples. There are probably times too, when we consciously made the right decision and were handsomely rewarded.

I could have included the runner’s number one anthem “I went out too fast.” I could but that is not a small thing because we all KNOW about it and still DO it. The few times I have truly paid attention and executed properly, I have been richly rewarded.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

I think one of the biggest ‘little’ things is paying attention to the weather/climate and realizing that conditions are seldom static during a race, especially a longer race like a marathon. As anyone who reads this blog knows, one of my favourite events is The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, JA. I have written extensively about it, so will try to be succinct. It is HOT in Jamaica. That is not really news. However, on race morning everyone starts at 5:15am. It is dark. It is relatively ‘cool’ in Jamaican terms. I have seen it around 21°C, although the last couple of years it has been more like 25 or 26°C. As long as it is dark, the temperature stays down. Sometimes, it might even drop a degree. Humidity varies, but at that time of year (first weekend of December) humidity is relatively low – for Jamaica. For us Canucks from the Great White North (at least the part I come from) those temperatures are already full on SUMMER. You must start, by understanding and respecting that. THEN, when the dawn begins to glow in the sky, followed fairly soon by a blazing tropical sun, temperatures rise several degrees in a very short time. Now, you better really be paying attention. That means watching your pace AND getting hydration and cooling at each and every aid station. (The race does a wonderful job of providing the means, but you still have to do your part.) The difference will be having an amazing experience (although far from your fastest time) or having an awful race that could even wind up at the medical tent. Most people are smart enough to not have that happen, but it sometimes does, usually to the racers who want to score some kind of time or PR.

The same kind of thing happens at races where the weather turns out to be unusual compared to normal. Perhaps you go expecting to run a good time, but then it turns hot or cold despite all your training for ‘normal’. That was why I referenced Desi Linden and Yuki Kawauchi and the 2018 Boston Marathon. They won because they adjusted and ran appropriately for the day. Their times? Dreadfully slow for such a race. Their placing? First.

First Place M70-74 at Mt. Charleston Half Marathon and Age Group Record Holder.

Most of us are recreational runners, certainly most of the people who read this blog. We run for our own satisfaction and to meet our own challenges. That doesn’t mean some of us don’t win our age group from time to time. It doesn’t even mean that some of us don’t plan for and strive to win or at least podium in our age group. Being recreational doesn’t mean you aren’t serious, that you don’t train and plan your racing to do as well as you can. That said, for some of us doing our best still doesn’t produce any hardware and it doesn’t matter anyway. The truth is, that I do from time to time pick me up a podium finish, but that is relatively recent and since I’ve become more Seasoned. The photo shows the swag from Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. It was the inaugural race, so winning my age group also meant holding the record, at least until the next year when it was smashed by about 30 minutes. Fun while it lasted, though!

When I could run pretty well, particularly in decent sized races, I would still be closer to mid-pack in my age group than near the pointy end. I don’t kid myself: other people’s attrition is more responsible than my training, for my recent success. I suppose if collecting placement medals really turns your crank, then choosing races wisely can certainly help. You could even call it one of those ‘little’ things (a little race is great for coming first out of one, once you start getting up there in the age groups.)

I am struggling with defining things as ‘small’ because they may sound small initially, but the outcome is so big that when you look back you have to conclude that the ‘small’ thing was actually ‘big’ after all.

Running with daughter Janna at Victoria Marathon (half, actually), while pulling off constant effort, brilliantly.

Something I am thinking about as ‘small’ is running to a constant effort through a race. It sounds simple enough, but having the discipline to do it and the experience to know what it is in the first place, is really important. I mentioned the old ‘went out too fast’ earlier in this post. There is the stupid, caught up in the moment too fast, but there is also the miscalculated too fast. In other words you aren’t too fast according to your plan, but your plan was too fast according to your training. That is generally my ‘little’ mistake. If you can run to constant effort and you get it right to begin with, the chances of having a superb race are very good. I think people know what I mean when I say ‘effort’. Simply put, it means if  you can run comfortably at a certain pace on the flat bits, you try to maintain the feeling of the effort necessary to do that, whether climbing a hill (you will go slower) or running down the other side (you will go a bit faster). Where we get in trouble is when we decide to charge a hill and try to maintain pace regardless of the pain. Equally, scorching down a hill to bank time has its own drawbacks. Accepting that you will slow down going up a hill and will not run as fast as you can going down the other side, will often get  you a more even run and a better final time. I can count my own really, really good races on one hand. They were all done that way. I swear. The best (managed) race I ever ran was my first Vancouver Marathon. Quite possibly, the second best is the one shown in the photo, at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, where in addition to everything else, I came within seconds of a negative split in a race that was both managed well, and which produced an excellent time (for me, that is).

I have to go back at least 10, maybe 15 years to a June morning when the Scotiabank Half Marathon was being run on one of the hottest days of the year. The course started at UBC, just as it does now. Unlike the current course, we started in a similar location, but headed immediately for Marine Drive and down the hill to Spanish Banks. The result was that instead of being about 10K to the bottom of the UBC hill as it is now, it was more like 5K. I don’t know how many runners there were, but there were a lot. I was running around mid-pack, maybe just a bit ahead of that when we got to the water stop at 5K (I think it was also the first water station). No water. Well, there was water, but the volume of runners overwhelmed the ability of the volunteers to pour and supply. It was HOT (kind of like my description of the Reggae Marathon). I stopped. I waited. Many did not stop, but ran on through.  The second water station wasn’t much better when I got there. I stopped. I waited. I got water. I ran on. Many didn’t. After that we were stringing out and it was OK. However, in those days we ran through Second Beach, Third Beach and around Stanley Park Seawall to Lumberman’s Arch where we finished. While I am guessing a bit, since it was that long ago, I would say if you missed the first two stations, you would have run 10K before getting any water.

Jean spotting for Steve – Scotiabank Half 2011. It was hot that time, too.

As I neared the finish (maybe 1K to go) a chap I kind of knew and had been chatting with at the start was just in front of me, wobbling on his feet and about to go down. I got there just in time to catch him. About then, two young guys who had already finished and were coming back along the route in a bit of a warm-down, asked if I’d finished, to which I said ‘no’. They bade me run on and said they would look after our fallen warrior. I saw him a month or so later and asked how he was and how things turned out. He said: “Oh, I wound up in the hospital, you know! I was really dehydrated and collapsed on the course.”  I told him that was why I was asking, because I was the guy that caught him when he collapsed. He looked at me, thanked me and told me he had no idea as he had truly passed right out.

So, if you think missing a water station is no big thing. Just remember this little tale. It was kind of a big thing to both of us. I finished comfortably. He went to the hospital.

Wear Point Change over time and work with PT. Left is ‘before’, middle is ‘during’ and right is ‘after’.

Coming full circle, in a kind of way, I want to finish by talking about worn shoes. As I already said, most shoes don’t wear out catastrophically in a single run session. No, they crush down, they wear unevenly in key locations such that, as wear continues, it can throw off your form and even cause injuries to knees and hips. I am a particularly unique individual when it comes to shoes and wear. I mentioned my recent encounter with the 27th cousin of the Rock of Gibraltar and at least part of the problem was that because of nerve damage due to a ruptured disk long years ago, I come down hard on that heel and can’t help it. A number of years ago, I began seeing a personal trainer who helped me get a bit more life in my left leg. Because the nerve problem is in my calf, I tend(ed) to drag the left foot. (See the left-most shoe in the photo, marked with red.) It was getting pretty bad. I was tripping quite often and falling. After I had worked with the PT for a time, a lot of that was corrected. I was able to go from scrubbing off the ‘toe-kick’ because I dragged that foot, to having most of the wear on the ball of the foot. See transition to the right-most shoe, marked with green. The most substantial change took place over about six to eight months. I still have a wonky gait but not the trouble I once had. As I said, mine is a special case, but your shoes will wear and if you don’t pay attention and replace them you may well develop some serious problems. The value of really knowing how you wear your shoes and when to replace them is big even if the incremental wear is small within any short period of time. And while it is a whole different subject, it is a good reason why you want to get your shoes from a running store that has staff who know their stuff where it comes to shoes.

I think I am going to stop now. I’m sure anyone who has run much at all, will have their own similar stories about little things; about how the so-called little decisions can be the ones that impact us just as much as a little stone in your shoe during a marathon.

 

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A MARATHONER

05.17.2018

A strange title to be sure, but maybe not after you hear the story.

 

Boston. 6 Star Finisher (2018)

Running in the Zone (me) was very excited to sit down with a runner who had (as of Boston 2018) just completed the Big Six or Abbott Marathon Majors races to become what is known as a Six Star Athlete. I was primed with questions that all us eager runner types would find interesting: How long did it take (first to last)? Did you qualify, buy your way in, use charity entries, get lucky in the lotteries? Ummm, ……………. how much did it all cost???

OK, let’s step back for just a moment and get everyone on the same page. The Abbott Marathon Majors and the Big Six races that the mortal man must run to qualify to become a Six Star Finisher, represent quite a list of global running races! In annual order the events are: Tokyo (Feb), Boston (Apr), London (Apr), Berlin (Sept), Chicago (Oct) and New York City (Nov).

How it looks, approaching the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Recapping the general introductory stuff, just a bit more: it takes luck and/or money (and the will to spend it on running), if you expect to achieve this goal. I was also going to say a bit of speed since you generally need to qualify for Boston, but if you were right down to it and only had Boston left, there is the Charity Entry as an option. Some of the events will let you ‘buy’ your way in with a travel package that includes a guaranteed entry. After researching all six races, it seems like the two most certain ways to get in are to be fast enough to meet the qualifying standard for a guaranteed entry, or to buy the travel package with guaranteed entry. For most of them, the lottery is a pretty so-so option considering the odds of success.

OK, so now everyone is kind of in the same place here and should understand why I was so excited to sit down with someone who actually owns one of the NIFTY completion medals showing all six races.

What happened next is where the title originates and by which it was inspired. At first I was shocked, then amazed and finally realized I couldn’t agree more.

Our intrepid runner actually said he would prefer that his name wasn’t even used, because that isn’t what he wanted people to take from his experience or this write-up of the whole thing. I pointed out that while I understood his point, SOMEBODY actually went and ran those races! That said, I am going to do my best to stay true to his sentiments and intentions in talking publicly about this matter.

So! What ‘village‘ was responsible for bringing this marathoner along? Our Superhero, we’ll just call him Major Tom for obvious reasons, is a long time member of the Forerunners Marathon Clinics. As he puts it, the community of runners, coaches and supporters. That is the village to which our title refers. As he talked, I realized how many of us who are part of that community probably feel exactly the same way. I am particularly happy and humbled to try to convey his feelings and core message.

Let’s start at the beginning and see if I can do justice to the story and the information shared.

As for many of us, at first running was kind of a health and wellness thing for our Superhero. He would get up early before work, get the gear on and do a modest run of up to maybe 10K. Every three months or so he would enter a half marathon somewhere around Vancouver, but more as an excuse to justify why he got out of bed to go for a run when asked by his non-running friends. He was “Training.” Over the years he ran probably a dozen half marathons, before someone planted the seed in his mind one day: “You should do a Full marathon! It would be a great bucket-list item!” Like all good ideas, once it was planted, the idea grew over time until he decided to do something about it…

So, with a little bit of Dutch courage one night (all the best life decisions are made this way, right?) our Superhero decided to test his luck and put his name in for two race lotteries. If he was only going to run one marathon in his life, it had to be a good one! New York or Chicago were the obvious choices (apparently). He told me he forgot all about this after the evening, something about waking up the next day a little hazy, but a couple of weeks later he got the “Sorry, try again next year” email from New York (a common experience). He confided in me that there was even a little relief when the rejection came. He admits it may have been one of those “What did I just do?” kind of things. Then, a couple of weeks later, there was another e-mail. “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into the Chicago 2014 Marathon.

A sense of panic quickly set in! What was he going to do? He figured he’d continue to do what he had always done, get up and go for a run… but just a bit longer! This didn’t quite go to plan. He went for a couple of longer runs of 25km – 30km with what he called “horrible results”. He found out what “The Wall” felt like half way around Stanley Park one day and couldn’t get over the mind games that he kept playing with himself as well. You know the thoughts that sneak into your mind sometime around the 30- 35km mark of a marathon when everything is hurting? Yes those ones…

Where it began in 1986, Forerunners on Fourth Ave.

So he found himself in a bit of a dilemma. He knew that because getting into the race is pretty hard and a lot of people miss out, it would not be right to just blow off the entry. Still, he felt he couldn’t do this alone either. After a few conversations with a couple of other runners  and a little internet research, he walked to the Forerunners store on 4th Ave.

He recalls the first night that he showed up to the clinic. Butterflies in his stomach, he started to question his decision about joining when the Coach started talking about pace groups and times. It should be noted our Superhero has never worried about his times, but I’ll get to that later. He also recalls feeling like an imposter. Everyone was wearing marathon t-shirts from various events they had run. To his eye, they were all serious runners and he was definitely not. He mentioned that everyone seemed to know everyone else really well. People were hugging, joking and talking like they were all life long friends. He figured that all the people in the clinic would obviously be running Victoria, it is only a short ferry ride away after all, which meant he would be on his own for the Chicago Marathon. Oh well, it’s going to be a one and run event anyway he told himself, so, “Suck it Up”.

Major Tom nails the first one.

Shortly after, while doing a speed workout with the Forerunners folk, he began talking with one of the group leaders, She asked him if he was training for anything, the answer obviously being Chicago. Her response: “Me TOO!” Within a few moments, there were several more people in the group who revealed they were also running Chicago. He didn’t realise it at the time, but he would have a little “community” there with him and a group of people who would push him along the way through his little journey.

Some of the ‘Villagers’ that did Berlin together!

Once into the Forerunners group, and the various training options offered, he found himself part of a close-knit group of people of similar talent and ability as well as the larger community of all the people of various levels of talent/ability that make up the clinics. It felt good. It felt welcoming. It became a kind of stimulus to work at running and to challenge himself to improve on his own abilities. Now, our man is hardly a back of the packer, but he is still waiting to break three hours, soon probably, but not done yet. It doesn’t matter, but does give context.

Typical Saturday morning at Main Street. Pre-run, marathon clinic.

I don’t want to seem to be jumping on his personal band wagon, but as we talked I realized we couldn’t agree more on the community and encouragement side, and I AM fast becoming a back of the packer. It is part of what makes the magic in the running community. And, while we are talking here about a specific situation and a specific community of runners associated with Forerunners, it is a common experience in running groups whereby you do become part of a true community that supports and encourages.

Maybe this is a good time to get some basics of this particular story, out of the way. It is no secret that all SIX of the Big Six got done, so here is the sequence: (1) Chicago (2014), (2) New York City (2015), (3) Berlin (2016),  (4) London (2017), (5) Tokyo (2018) and (6) Boston (2018). It would be wrong to suggest he only ever ran these six. It isn’t so. Needing to qualify for Boston required hard work and a good race to ensure a time fast enough to meet the ‘fastest first’ policy now applied to the BQ. While there were a number of “Crash and Burn” events, he actually BQ’d twice in 2017. The first time was by 43 seconds, which was not fast enough to guarantee a spot, so he tried again and succeeded 6 weeks later. This time, finishing with time to spare.

London Marathon. Oh! Did we mention Major Tom is from Australia?

Once all this began, the ‘village’ kept him moving forward and for four of the six races, some of the ‘villagers’ came along for the ride. OK, nobody was just coming along. Everyone had their own reasons and goals, but the race(s) turned into something far more than a race with time goals and PR attempts. Far more. It was the experience.
One of the experiences related to me was the impression of finishing the London Marathon. Apparently, the vista before the runner as he approached the finish near Buckingham Palace was so amazing and perfect on the day, and knowing he would not likely see it again, he actually slowed down to take it all in and savour the moment. Would that we might all do that; experience such a moment.

Something I know about our Superhero is that he doesn’t much do ‘technical’. Oh, he has a sport watch with GPS that he uses, but is known in races to tape over the face so he can’t see it. I’ve seen him do it. I actually ran the first race at which he ‘just qualified‘ for Boston, and saw his watch. He just likes to run as his body tells him he should. After, he is quite ready to assess how well he did with it. Although I can’t personally say I’ve ever taped over my sport watch, I do understand his point and I know I get far more out of it post-run when I analyse what went right and wrong, than I do while running. Maybe I need to get that tape out myself one day soon. Whatever, his approach and success is inspiring.

NYCM is in the ‘books’.

We know that all six of these major marathons got done, but that wasn’t the primary message of the story. Before getting back to the community of the Forerunners training groups, I must relate one more anecdote from the roads.

As anyone who pays attention knows, Boston Marathon 2018 was one of the most brutal Boston Marathons in recent history. If you don’t know, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs, was very windy and was cold. With the wind-chill factor, the commentators of the elite races stated that temperatures never got above 0°C. Apparently it did warm up marginally later in the day but was still very, very cold.

Making it happen on one certifiably AWFUL day in Boston.

At the bottom of Heart Break Hill, there were nine runners going all about the same pace and had been for much of the race. That happens in big events. You often wind up in a small group that never seems to really break up, at least for a long way. One of the more assertive members of this intrepid little group said something like: “Right, three in front, three in the middle, three in back. We are going to do this thing together.” They took turns of about 200m, with the leaders dropping to the back and next row moving up, until they were through that section of the course. Amazing story, but yet another aspect of what runners do together.

Tokyo Marathon (2018). He looks pretty happy. Just one to go. Little did he know what Boston was going to be like!

Back to Vancouver now and the four years from 2014 to 2018, over which the Major series was done.

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to review every workout and minor race done over that time! What is important is that the clinics and run groups go pretty much year-round. You can do that in Vancouver, although some of the winter runs can approximate this year’s Boston Marathon, at least for wind and rain. What is special about that is not that we silly runners will go out in such conditions and run/train, but that our common coach, one Carey Nelson, has for more than 10 years been out on that course manning a water/aid station, waiting for each of us to make our way through. Some of the better runners, cover the distance pretty quickly on our long runs (usually Saturday mornings), but until I began coaching the Learn to Run 5K clinic, I was the pace leader for the slowest marathon pace group and trust me when I say we were a LONG way behind the fast kids!

Water station on NW Marine (UBC Hill).

Coach Carey was still there for us. He could have been out doing his own training, because although he is a one-time international elite runner, he is nonetheless very much an active and very good runner. He is not alone though. This is a bit of a norm with the founders of the store, Peter and Karen Butler do such duty when needed, and other coaches too, as the stores have expended from one to two, to three.

A few of “The Villagers” stop by to wish a local Olympian well. Major Tom is in the back right.

In what other world do you see Olympic athletes not just supplying truly expert and often personalized coaching advice, but also standing out in the rain so clinic groups can keep hydrated, providing tissues for runny noses and if necessary taking people off the course when something isn’t going right. This is the kind of thing that is meant by the community of runners.

Another thing is the encouragement and inspiration that comes when part of such a group. Before a race, clinic members support and push each other to improve. By push, it is not meant as the idea of cracking some kind of whip. No, nobody who runs (or plays other sports), always goes out, every time, feeling great and running to peak performance. It is on those days that the others drag us along (in a good way) when we just aren’t feeling it. Other times it is you who is doing the ‘dragging’.

In representation of “The Village”, Coach Carey symbolically ‘presents’ the Six Star Medal.

When it is all said and run, this community sits down after a workout or after a race over a coffee, beer, food to just kick it all around. Congratulations go along with the ribbing. Trash is talked, but heartfelt concern shown for those needing support. Individuals come and go as life dictates, but over the years a group seems to endure and to have the spirit that inspired this man who wanted me to write about that part of the experience that got him from a sometimes lonely early morning run to the owner of a fancy Six Star medal, supported by this amazing community made up of all its components, only some of which is described here.