TO (P)B OR NOT TO (P)B? THAT IS THE QUESTION

11.16.2014
Vancouver Finish May 1988- My first marathon.

Vancouver Finish 1988 – My first marathon.

And, an interesting question it is if you are the least competitive of spirit.

Get yourself around some runners for a bit and inevitably somebody starts talking about PBs (Personal Bests). Then of course, there is the PR (Personal Record). Some use them interchangeably and others don’t. I used to be one of the former but may be becoming the latter. Why? Because I’m getting old. Some might say I AM old. Some days I feel old, but others I feel remarkably young. STOP LAUGHING!

Where it comes to running – old, young or indifferent, I AM slower. Anybody who has read this blog more than a couple of times will know of my interest in, perhaps love of, Age Grading. Plus or minus, I have been running for over 30 years. There have been a few ‘down’ times in there where it was hard to get a regular run in and I definitely wasn’t racing. As a result of that I really have two distinct racing phases. When I got going at about 39 I did a couple of races, but over the next few years I ran a bunch of them (40 or so). As I ran more, I also ran faster. I kind of peaked when I was 43-44. Except for distances I didn’t run until later/recently, all my PRs came in that 18 month period in 1988-89.

I had back surgery in 1990 and missed some running before and a little after that, but by the next year I was racing again. While the back was actually pretty good, work and life just got in the way of much racing. I was still running, but did not have the time to really train for racing. Around 1998-99 I wanted to race again and wound up with a big focus race in October of 2000, my second marathon. From there I ran more and raced some. One strange thing was that I lived in Malaysia for most of two years in the early 2000s and ran maybe five days a week, but never raced in SE Asia. (Now, I keep asking myself: Why? Why? Why?) I started really picking  up the racing again in the mid-2000s and have continued steadily with some really big years of racing in the last few. Unless I quit in January with my next (70th) birthday (and why would I with a brand new age category to race in?) I see no great drop in races for the next while. That is, I expect to do 10-12 per year.

Who cares?

Why did I lay all this out?

Well, my main reason was to create context for the discussion of the PB/PR and because I try to use personal examples to illustrate my points. I have run for 30 years and while I am nearing 200 individual races ranging from 1 Mile to a 50K Ultra, my racing career is anything but a smooth or steady progression. Because it isn’t a smooth and consistent record, I have had a few relatively good years later on compared to earlier ones. I have had some very satisfying races such as my third best ever marathon run in 2010, 22 years after my first and best and 10 years after my second best. Age-Graded, that marathon comes pretty close to being #1. But, 2010 was a very good year. I was training hard and running well.

Some people say you can’t be trying to beat yourself of 20 years ago. For goodness-sake, that was the essential basis of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes. ‘Those people’, some of them anyway, like to use and cite 5-Year PBs. It does kind of make sense. Except that race record keeping is done on five year age brackets, there is actually nothing magical about specific five year groupings. It is convenient to use the ones the races use and I can’t generally think of a good reason to do otherwise, but if you wanted to, you could.

In my own case, I just happened to really start running when I was 40-44. Before I was 45 I suffered the back problem that required surgery. So, there I was with a nice neat personal five year package that just happens to fit with conventional groupings. I was even clever enough to get born in early January so I always get the full year (first/last) within these nice groupings and within the calendar year. As I said, I ran all my best times at conventional distances during that time. As a result, ALL my PRs came then, too. As previously noted, the only races where I had PB/PR results after that were of distances I had never run: a 30K in 2010 and a 50K in 2013.

I ran a few races in the 45-49 and 50-54 age categories, but only really started hitting it harder for 55-59, then really hard for 60-64 and most recently 65-69. Just this year I reworked all my race stats and broke out my 5-year PBs. I had kept a race result chart for years with a single category section devoted to PBs for given distances, which were really PRs as they were my bests ever at any given distance. Now, at the end of each 5 year age category I have recorded the regular distance PB stats for that age group.

When you have a competitive nature and the times gradually keep getting slower and slower it is not hard to feel like you are ‘fading away’, especially if you are comparing to the best you ever were. If you look at the last five years, the picture sometime looks a bit different. I have certainly found that in my personal performance. The ‘best’ year in the last five is not necessarily the first/youngest year. Within any given five years it can be a lot more about how hard you have trained, injured/healthy and how motivated you have been to race, at least where it comes to the PB result.

Young folk don’t really get this because sometimes, even though they may be getting older they ARE getting faster in absolute terms. I mean, I even did that myself when I was in my early forties. My earliest 10K times, when I was getting started, were just under an hour. By the time I was 44 I was at a 42 minute 10K time. Young folk often seem to think age-grading is funny and don’t really get it. Until you are around 35 it makes no difference. If you are younger than that the big issue is probably how hard you are willing to work at it. As noted above, within reason training hard even works at my age, but not in the absolute sense. The idea that I might run a marathon under my PR of 3:25 next year, when I’m 70, is just silly. The idea that I might run one that age-grades to a similar or better performance is something else, maybe something achievable. It would be far from a PR. In fact, on raw time it would be almost an hour slower! It would have to be just a wee bit better than the marathon I ran in 2010 and which is now my third best raw result. Clearly, that is not a PR result, but it would certainly qualify as some kind of recent PB and thus, we have the argument for looking at PBs and PRs a little differently.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Recent PB race.

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Recent PB race.

Simply to put the last comments into context, consider that my PR marathon was done at a time of 3:25 when I was 43. Age grading can help that time too and to make a fair comparison, both times should be age graded (if it makes a difference). So, that time grades to one of 3:15:08 (64.1%). My recent PB in 2010 at age 65 with raw time of 4:28:15 grades to 3:27:18 (60.3%). So now, and very much in theory, at age 70 I would need to run a raw time of 4:42:00 to grade to 3:27:21 (60.2%) and be as ‘good’ as in 2010. To be better than my absolute best race from 1988, I would need a raw time of 4:25:00 (which would also theoretically be a BQ). That would result in a 3:14:51 (64.1%) age-graded performance. Now you can see how I might set some realistic goals for a satisfying race result without being held back by a clock time that doesn’t look so impressive in absolute terms. To better my 2010 self, I would need to run only 8 minutes faster than my running time for my last marathon, done this past September. That sounds rather realistic, I think. Can I do it? Will I do it?  Will I even run another marathon? Those are all different questions, but it is good to know that if I decide to try, the goal is achievable. Is the twenty-five minute differential between my best ever age-graded performance and my last best marathon doable? Maybe. Would it be hard? Absolutely. Will I go for it? Well now, that is a horse of a different hue, as my wise old uncle used to say.

The only reason I have taken all this time to lay this out is to offer the concept to other seasoned athletes who may still be where I was even just a year ago. We all do what we do and look at things our own way, but separating your PR and PB performances into quite different things will give a new perspective. For the competitive, it also gives a more realistic goal to be achieved. In my own case, largely because of my birth date, the conventional five year categories work exceptionally well, but there is nothing to stop you from using “the last five years” and just keep it rolling forward. There is also nothing magical about five years for that matter. Unless you happen to be REALLY good and chasing single age records, it is all just for your own satisfaction in any case.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.

I was going to leave it at this point, but if you do get into age-grading your results, some feel (might just include me) the % Performance stat is more meaningful than the converted time. The age adjusted time is simpler to understand since we are used to looking at our finish times. If my raw 10K time is 59:30 and the age-graded time is 43:21, there is an easily understood relativity. However, if your best 10K time was 40:00, run when you were 40, it might come out at around 70% Performance. But, if you run 50:00 at the age of 70, your Performance might come out at 73%, indicating that in relative and competitive terms the ‘slower’ time is actually superior. In many ways that says a lot more about the relative quality of your performance than does the converted time. In fact, I now train and race to the %P standard and aim to get all my best results for any given year to be stable at the chosen level(s).

This turned out a bit longer than I intended, but hope it might help runners with a competitive spirit to put long-term performance into a meaningful and hopefully, satisfying context.

IS IT TOO SOON TO START HUMMING “ONE LOVE”?

11.07.2014
Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Of course not!

Besides, I am still hoping some running friends from Western Canada will be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm and decide to join me in Negril, Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K on December 6. Won’t help much if I wait until the day before I leave to post up this item

Chris (That Runnin' Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running 'Black Girlz')

Chris (That Runnin’ Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running ‘Black Girlz’)

Of course the title reference is to Bob Marley’s iconic song, but it somehow represents the feel of this event for me and many others. This is not some touchy-feely thing I’m talking about, but this event has a kind of ‘family’ vibe or something. It is why I keep going back. True, I have found a small and growing circle of Reggae Marathon friends that make it special for me, but it is quite clear when you get there, that many people are having the same experience. Black Girlz Run has been making an appearance for several years and say they will top the 150 or so that showed up last year.

 

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Easy Skankin’ (easy there folks, it is another Marley song reference) is back for maybe their fourth year. I could keep listing other groups (there are a bunch), but I think you have the idea.

Part of it may be that except for the very best runners, nobody expects a super great finish time (We’re here for a GOOD time, not a FAST time…..). The course is pancake flat, but it is normally pretty warm, moving on to hot if you take more than three hours to complete the marathon. Make no mistake, the record times are very respectable (Marathon: 2:21:05, Half: 1:08:32 and 10K: 29:55) , but most people are there for the experience.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the 'Black Girlz'

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the ‘Black Girlz’ (in green team shirt)

When you drop expectations and enjoy the moment everything changes. You see it from the time you pick up your package and head to (what just might be) the “Best Pasta Party in the World”  and right on through the early start (5:14 AM early!). Oh, and while Jamaica may have a bit of a ‘soon come’ reputation, that does not apply to ‘Frano’, Race Director, who WILL send everyone out exactly at 5:15 AM. The enjoyment just starts to increase from then as you run to the sound of Caribbean music including steel drums, but here – mostly reggae.

The start is usually around 22-23C, or about 70F, plus or minus. It stays that way until the sun actually comes up around 6:45 AM. Around 6:30 AM, the sky begins to brighten and colour and if you aren’t too busy dance/running to the sounds or talking to a fellow runner, you can’t avoid some deep feeling welling up. If you just happen to be running ‘alone’ and passing by someone blasting “One Love” or even “Three Little Birds” don’t be surprised if you are overtaken with emotion (the good kind). It has happened to me!

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

If you are doing the 10K you might just be finishing before the sun is peaking over the horizon, and frankly, the 10K section might be the most exciting and energetic part of the course, which starts and finishes ‘in the middle’ of the route. Everybody starts out heading for Negril Town which is about 5K down the road. At the round-about you head back toward the start and when you get there the 10K folk are done. This section has most of the smaller, ‘local’ resorts, shops, eating places and such. Despite the hour, there are lots of people on the street cheering you on and ever so enthusiastic volunteers to keep you hydrated and (if you needed it) your spirits up. Half marathoners carry on past the finish and into the sunrise. Depending on how fast you might be, this is probably where you are going to encounter that morning magic I talked about earlier. This section has more of the larger ‘top end’ resorts, but still lots of spectators and sometimes hotel staff with spray hoses to cool you or sometimes goodies from the cooking staff.

Turbojet Negril

Turbojet after the marathon!

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

Myself, I like the Half because even someone going at my pace will finish not terribly long after the sun is fully up and the beach is at its best. Yes, the beach. The finish (and start) is at Long Bay Beach Park. Regardless of which of the three distances you might choose, when it is time to finish you will slip off the main road at an angle, into the finish chute. The only thing ‘wrong’ with the 10K is you don’t get to run Bob’s Mile. Again, lots of Marley inspired music and signs every hundred metres or so with “Bob’s Wisdom”. Don’t be surprised, again, if Bob’s Wisdom hits you somewhere deep. This is not just a coincidence or ‘riding the coat-tails’ of the Marley legend. There is a very real connection between race organizers and the Marley family. The marathon winners’ trophies (male and female) were donated by Rita Marley.

Reggae Marathon Buddies - showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

Reggae Marathon Buddies – showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

TSweet Reggae Music (800x678)he finish area, no matter when you get there is a place many don’t want to leave. Oh sure, there is the fresh cut coconut, the bananas (nothing quite like the taste of a banana in the place where it actually grew), pineapple (same deal) and Red Stripe and the band and the massage tents, but again it is one of those places where everyone is just feeling good, the kind of good you wish you could bottle and take home. In a way, I guess you can, but not in a bottle – just in your heart.

Even pre and post-race times have a happy vibe. Regardless of the fact that there are shuttles to the start, many walk the relatively short distances if they are within a mile or so (I usually am). The ‘party’ starts right there on the road. After everything is done and you REALLY must leave the finish area, well there is nothing better than strolling back to your ‘home away from home’, bare-foot along the waters edge on that seven mile white sand beach.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

You might have noticed I didn’t say anything about the full marathon. That is partly because I have never done it. I intended to the very first time in 2011, but some transportation disaster struck and I wound up doing a very late starting 10K. I am still feeling I want to try. Will it be this year? Not according to my current registration, but they do allow you to change events. I don’t need to run another marathon, ever. Nothing says I must run the Reggae Marathon, still……………………….. A couple of my Reggae Marathon friends are encouraging me to ‘just do it’. Curiously enough they are both marathoners and Marathon Maniacs and pictured in this blog! They say you shouldn’t take advice from crazy people, but that has never stopped me in the past. It certainly isn’t that it can’t be done, heat or no heat. Of course, you do have to respect that heat if you are going come through in good condition. The race looks after you re hydration and such, but once that tropical sun is up (as it certainly would be for anyone at my pace) you must respect it. Reasonable running strategy and expectations help and they give almost anyone enough time to ‘Get ‘er Done’. We’ll see. Probably only decide after I get there and remind myself what running in tropical heat is all about. For that matter, my ego might make me drop to the 10K where I might just be able to score a podium finish in my age group!

The Challenge

The Challenge

 

Three Amigos at Ricks

Three Amigos at Ricks

Once that is all done, it will be time to have fun with all those old, and almost certainly, a few new Reggae Marathon friends. Some of us even have our own little mini competition going, called the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. Mostly it is about trash-talk and bragging rights. We have young(ish) and old, male and female, and all three distances involved. Through the miracle of the World Masters Athletics age grading calculator, we will be able to bring everyone to an age-graded half marathon time and determine the 2014 champ. Gee, I wonder if the Marleys would give us a trophy?????

 

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay

11.02.2014
Striking Finisher Medal

Striking Finisher Medal

Well, at least for another year. How do I know? Well, the super-bargain advance registration for 2015 is already ‘live’.

Of course, the Rock ‘n’ Roll I’m referring to is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and James Cunningham 10K, both were run October 26. They have billed the event as Vancouver’s newest half marathon and oldest 10K. The ‘new’ part is easy enough and definitely true until somebody else starts one. As for the Cunningham 10K (now 40 years) some might argue that it is also Vancouver’s newest 10K. You see, until 2014 the James Cunningham Seawall Race never was quite 10K, close but not quite.  Why? Because the Seawall is a few hundred metres shy of 10K. Newer runners who didn’t know that, used to get very excited about their 10K PB’s until they sadly found out otherwise. BUT, who is going to niggle? James Cunningham, staged by Lions Gate Road Runners is a Vancouver fixture and has been a  great event for every one of those 40 years. It was/is also a tonne of fun, coming so close to Halloween. Many people run in costume and just have fun with it, something we should all do from time to time.

[Before I go any farther, I should say this article took a bit longer than usual to post , but it was ‘one of those weeks’.]

As I made my decision to participate, I chose the Half Marathon, but then wondered if I did the right thing. The 10K James Cunningham race is every bit the great event I just described, but for some reason this VERY Seasoned Runner has never done it. Don’t know why really, but I haven’t. Well OK, one reason is that I haven’t lived in or near Vancouver for all FORTY of those years. Guess there have also been some date conflicts (personal and running) from time to time, too. Anyway, my not having run James Cunningham is no ‘statement’, just a sad fact. I should probably fix that next year!

Anyway, for better or for worse, I chose the Half. It was my second half marathon in two weeks (three weekends) and third race, with a leg of the Whistler 50 slotted in between the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon and this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half. It has been a busy Fall running schedule for me, with the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon (Salt Lake City, UT) in mid-September and then these three races in rapid succession. There have been a lot of firsts in there: first marathon in Utah, first screaming downhill marathon (same one), first time for Whistler 50 Relay, and first (guess it really had to be) Rock ‘n’ Roll Vancouver event. Although I would have to go back and check carefully, the two half marathons may be my first qualifying sequence required to be a Half Fanatic. Of which sort of people, there were PLENTY at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half.

As an old RD, I have a hard time running races without looking at an event from that perspective. One of the first things is the pre-race ‘conveniences’ (nice word for toilets). It was a big crowd at the Half start (the Cunningham race started in a different location), but there were porto-potties for miles. As we inched toward the actual start (and our wave’s turn to go, uh, RUN that is), I particularly noted that there was virtually nobody still waiting to use a PP. In other words, there were plenty.

The second thing I look for is an ‘on-time’ start. They got that too. That was not true of my last Rock ‘n’ Roll experience and a bit of a sore point as it spun out later in the race. It was also a positive in the long run. More on this a bit later.

I do hope that there may be a course revision. The first mile or so is great as you head to and through Gastown. The finish, although it was moved rather late in the game, was in a fabulous location in my opinion. I know that as I was coming around the last bit of the Seawall toward Devonian Park, it just felt right that as soon as I passed the “Zero” marker on the Seawall (yes, there is a marker) the finish was right there. You could hear it and see it for a good distance and knew you were about to arrive. Twice, I’ve finished races (marathon and half) that come around that last corner, but then continue on into the concrete and glass of downtown. There is something to be said for that finish, too, but having experienced both, I’m now a fan of Devonian Park!

They sure got it right taking the route onto the False Creek Seawall or Promenade. The Stanley Park segment (mostly on the road for the Half) is never wrong for any race. For visitors to Vancouver, (and from my casual chatting before, during and after, there were plenty of those) those parts of the route must have seemed amazing. From a very personal perspective I hope there can be a rethink of the bit from about 2-5K. It never enhanced the old Vancouver Marathon route (running the other direction) and it doesn’t match the rest of this particular route. I know part of it was a bit last minute in adjusting for the change to the finish. Given a year to work on it, I hope there might be a positive adjustment, but even if  it isn’t possible, this is still going to be one of the most scenic routes for Vancouver races.

Now, what was this thing about not starting on time in another Rock ‘n’ Roll race and why was that so big a deal? Briefly, I ran the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon almost one year ago. For reasons guys like me (old RDs) understand very well, they had a strict time limit and for marathons as run in these days, a somewhat restrictive one of 5 hours. More correctly, it was a 5-hour pace to three critical points on the course. If you got by those diversion points you could actually take a lot more than five hours to finish. BUT, if you did not pass the critical points, you would be diverted (or picked up and transported, if necessary). I had been running a lot of marathons last year and knew a five hour pace through 15 miles was fully feasible. I registered and made the travel arrangements. There were a lot of fine statements about how the five hour period was a chip based time and the ‘clock’ would only start running after the last marathoner chip crossed the start-line and all marathoners would start within a certain time.  And that is where it all started going wrong.

The race was about five minutes late starting the first wave. It seems nobody told the cop at 15 miles. When I (and about 20 other runners) hit that 15 mile diversion point, we got shorted about 8 minutes. Notwithstanding the talk of chips and related stuff, the cop on the road had apparently been instructed that 8pm was the diversion time. Nobody told him (I assume) to add five minutes for the late start. On top of that, and I don’t know why, he took out another three minutes, putting the diversion in at (satellite time) 7:57pm. The howls of protest were many and loud – some even tried to argue our case. Had I missed the time, there would be not a word of protest on my part, but I (and those other 20 and I’m not sure how many more that were behind us, but within that eight minute window) did not fail our part of the bargain. There were other issues, too, but this was the biggie. Nobody on the ground seemed to care. I finished, collected my medal and then I complained.

Yes, I complained. A lot of people might just go away mad and might tell people not to run the event, or maybe any Competitor Group event. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Series is already part of a bit of a love-hate relationship in the running community. I felt that if I did not tell the organizers what I thought, I could hardly expect them to explain, or do something about it for the future. The Rock ‘n’ Roll events are what they are, a commercial venture. If you don’t want to run such races, don’t. If you like what is on offer, enjoy. This series of races fills a market niche and the needs of a lot of people. I have no idea how many ‘first timers’ take part, but I’m guessing the proportion is high. The hype, the fun, the glitz and glamour and the bling are a big draw for those first-timers.  But, old or not, I am still competitive of spirit and running the race properly is important in my mind.

As I said, I complained. What I am getting to is that THEY LISTENED. I got real attention from Competitor Group, not just a stock letter saying they were sorry I didn’t find everything perfect, and thanks for your comments. I actually had direct meetings with representatives of the Competitor Group and serious discussions. I said there were also a bunch of lesser issues and they listened and considered all of them. Has anything changed in Las Vegas? Firstly, the race hasn’t run yet, so no proof one way or another. Do I think they won’t repeat the same mistakes? I’m pretty sure they won’t. Will anyone notice? Well, that is the hard thing. We tend not to notice things that go right. When something goes wrong, we definitely notice. Oh, yes! That is a big part of the reason I have decided to include this commentary.

People who follow this blog may have noticed that I wrote rather enthusiastically about going to Vegas and “Running the Strip at Night”, but when all was said and run, there was no follow-up. Well, now you know why. I don’t like to be negative, but sure wasn’t going to sing the praises of a race I felt had got it seriously wrong. That is why I am writing this now. I want to give credit where it is due. They really didn’t need to pay any attention to me, but they did. I felt it was important to take another look from the inside and what better way than to give the ‘hometown’ race a try. I have to say it was a very positive experience and I am definitely glad I did.

I had a lot of fun. Maybe part of it was the weather. Anyone who was in Vancouver on October 25 and remembers, will know what a disaster Sunday’s race could have been. Sunday turned out to be near perfect for racing, cool and mostly sunny. Part of the fun was beating my Victoria time by 15 seconds! OK, to be honest, I really wanted to beat it by more than that and maybe in terms of pure running, I did. According to my gps device I ran 21.5km. That is more likely a statement about my attention to running each and every tangent than about the accuracy of the course. Seems like I ran 21.37km in Victoria, but I know most of that route very well, having run it some 11 times in the last 15 years. Part of the post-race fun was comparing the two events, run so close together.  I could happily see the race Sunday was a better performance. I always like that. It is about the only thing a competitive  minded person like me can hope for at this point in my career.

The truth is that everyone runs for her or his reasons and therefore have individual perspectives. Is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half going to be one of Vancouver’s top races? All I can say is that I saw a bunch of happy faces around that finish area, and a lot of people appearing to have fun on the course. Sounds to me like a heck of a good start!

THEY GROW UP SO FAST!

10.13.2014
35 th Victoria Marathon

35 th Victoria Marathon

The title refers to races, daughters and blog posts!

We’ll start with the last. My most recent post was a bunch of small items that had potential to ‘grow up to be full blog posts’. Well, the one on the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, the first item of that last post, has grown up already! I suppose, considering the original post was made after the 2014 Race Expo had already started, that was a bit of a given.

The “Royal Victoria Marathon” is now 35 years old! Nice work, all those who have made that happen, but especially the crew that has been in place most of the time that I have known this event. The marathon goes back all 35 years. The other race weekend events have a bit of a different history, but are also what makes the whole thing work and drew some 10,000 participants this weekend.

Danielle Krysa and her Dad - that would be ME!

Danielle Krysa and her Dad – that would be ME!

Finally, there’s that thing about ‘daughters’. As I’ve said a number of times, Victoria is the family ‘go to’ race. The 35th Victoria Marathon Weekend was no exception. Our oldest, Danielle Krysa, ran her 10th half marathon on Sunday, showing the way to her old man. Still, this was a bit of a come-back for her, as she had taken a couple of years off from the half marathon. Ummm, and dare I mention it, she now runs in the W40-44 category. Talk about GROWING UP! How did that happen??? Why, I am barely out of that age group myself! OK, OK, maybe I’m a bit beyond that now, but sometimes it just seems that way. I really do feel like I am still back there about 25 years or so. As for the third member of the Cumming Family Runners, she is a bit busy ‘running for two’ just now, so not involved this time, except as a (distant) spectator.

Finishing up with family, we also got to celebrate our son’s (recent) birthday (he lives in Victoria) and visit with son-in-law and grandson. Speaking of ‘growing up’, Charlie (the grandson) is now eight. He already competes in kids triathlons. Pretty soon, grandfather and grandson are going to have to run a race together! Hmmmmm. Next year? 8K?  We could make this a really big family event. Janna, the other daughter mentioned above, called right after with congratulations and to say how she was missing this weekend. I’m seeing a big running celebration in 2015! I’ve run events with all three of our kids, with both my sons-in-law and my wife, Judi too. If everybody showed up in Victoria next Fall, we would make quite the team!  I think I have a new project!

Once again, Victoria put on a fabulous event. Part of the fabulousness (is that a word?) is the inclusiveness. There is everything from a kids’ run to the full marathon and abilities ranging from tentative first timers in the 8K to the swift elites bringing home both the half and full marathon events. When 10,000 participants show up to celebrate a weekend of running, you know you are doing something right.

The Victoria courses are interesting in that they are far from flat. Still, a lot of people turn in very good times, including PR’s and in the marathon a very high ratio of BQ times. Maybe it is the scenery (distracts you) or maybe it is the ‘rolling’ terrain that keeps different muscles working. Don’t know, but some of my own better times (half and full) have come from Victoria.

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

One of the big things about the Expo is the speaker series, which always includes top quality participants and plenty of them. This has been so, as long as I’ve been going to this event (15 years now). One of the key speakers this weekend was Roger Robinson. Roger never disappoints. He is also a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, and not infrequently a guest right here on the blog. It was good fun chatting with Roger on the sides and catching up on the latest news about him and his goodly wife, Kathrine Switzer. We had a moment with good friend, Bobble-Head Steve! Last time we were together was in Yakima, this past April for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Roger was just one of eight RITZ (book) contributors in Victoria this weekend. Of course, Steve King (the non-bobbling one) was there calling runners through the finish, as only he can. Also on site were Evan Fagan, working tirelessly as a volunteer until it was time to don his shoes and do his latest marathon (#145, I believe). Of course, Rob Reid was there greeting everyone at the finish, as he has done for years now. So great to hit that finish, hear Steve’s voice and get that handshake and/or hug from Rob. (He still doesn’t know how close he came to having me barf on him a couple of years back when I really pushed my half marathon finish. Well, ‘close’ only counts in horse-shoes!)

Joe Henderson of Runners World fame (one of the original editors, he was), took part in the half marathon himself, but also brought his group from Eugene for the event. Had a great talk with him and learned a bunch of stuff. Joe is a bit older than me (nobody is saying exactly how much) and has moved into a new approach that I should be considering, for marathons anyway – slower/funner. Apparently, we passed each other somewhere around the half marathon turn-around. I was ahead and didn’t actually see Joe going the other way. He said I was going so fast he only had time for a quick wave!  Joe is my new Best Friend Forever! Nobody has EVER said that about me.

Although I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to see him and chat, Maurice Tarrant was not only there, but took First Place in the Half Marathon for M80-84, with a chip time of 2:19:28. I am pleased to say I beat him. So what if it was only by 3 minutes and 11 seconds? Maurice is such an amazing athlete!

As I’m adding up all the names of all the Running in the Zone contributors, I really should go back to Danielle Krysa. In her other life (when she is not being a runner and a mother and wife and an artist and a writer) she is a graphic designer. She too contributed to both Running in the Zone (the book) and this blog site by designing the book cover and the look of this blog! So, I guess, although she didn’t actually write anything, she would be the ninth RITZ contributor present and accounted for in Victoria this weekend.

Finally, Doug Alward was also there. I saw him on the ferry going over. At that point he said he was just there in support of a friend. However, the friend was trying to tell him he should run! Apparently, she was convincing. He won his M55-59 age group and was 53rd OA in the Half Marathon with a time of 1:23:33. Well done!  Doug has one of the most powerful pieces in Running in the Zone with his recounting of his friendship with Terry Fox, and his life-long inspiration. Doug drove Terry’s van, but they were friends from the age of about 13, so the piece in the book was far more than the story of the Marathon of Hope itself. And, of course, Terry Fox now watches over the runners in statue form at Mile Zero (which also just happens to be about 3K to go to the finish)! Never fails to inspire this runner to dig down for those last few K’s!

There are a number of things I like about this event but one of the biggies is the out and back nature of the course that means the lead athletes in the Half Marathon loop back against the course so that many people will see them in Beacon Hill Park, and if not there then somewhere after the 9K mark. Because of the Marathon’s later start, the Half Marathoners will also see the lead Marathon runners as the Halfers head to the finish. And, the pack Marathoners also benefit from the counter-flow, albeit at a different part of the course, to glimpse and be inspired by the leaders.

So, I know there are nearly 10,000 individual and personal stories of this event. This is mine. Once again, Victoria has come through with a most memorable weekend! Thanks to everyone who made it so.

EDITORIAL CONFUSION ABOUNDS

10.10.2014

Ever have a blog and not know what to write about? More precisely perhaps, what to write about next.

Dad and Daughters 2007

Dad and Daughters 2007

I’ve got a race coming this weekend, the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (etc) – ETC  ’cause I’m actually running the Half this time. Clearly, I should have a lot to say about this because this will be the sixth time I’ve done the Half since 2000, not to mention the five times I’ve done the Full. I’ll be running with our oldest daughter, Danielle aka The Jealous Curator and internationally acclaimed author of Creative Bock and Collage. But, that feels more like a story for after the race. I actually have no idea how many combined races our family has at Victoria. The first in the string was the Marathon in 2000 when our second daughter Janna and I both did the Full Marathon. Her first and my second. Since then though, with maybe just one exception, Victoria has been done with at least one daughter, sometimes both. Sometimes we’ve run the same event, often not. Anyway, as I said, this feels like a post-race subject.

It took me years and years to run my first Haney to Harrison, mostly due to circumstances of time and place. Eventually, I did get into it running on various Pacific Road Runners teams, doing Leg #1 (twice), Leg #4 and Leg #5. And then it was GONE! The replacement event, the Whistler 50, is coming up soon and I am (for the first time) registered for at least one leg, running with the Semiahmoo Sunrunners. Logistics are still way up in the air, but there are really just TWO legs for that relay and I’m pretty sure they are giving me the long one. Something about “are you a Marathon Maniac or not???”. Again, while this seems pretty blog-worthy, I don’t know enough about the whole thing to say much in advance of the event. Guess that one goes into the “coming soon” list.

Nice Collection - Not Complete

Nice Collection – Not Complete

That, of course, makes a great opening for the “Soon Come” list. There is really only one event on that list – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Got my flights booked, got my hotel booked, even got my flashy new racing flats ready to go. Soon come, is Jamaican for ‘sometime, but we’re not really sure just when’. That doesn’t describe the organization of this event, which is one of the best organized and running events I’ve done, not to mention a tonne of fun! Guess that is why I’m headed back for the fourth year in a row. I’ve done the 10K (even though the original plan was the marathon – long story, way back in the archives or linked right here if you like). I’ve run the Half Marathon twice. I’m registered for the Half again, but I’m still debating. If I’m trained up and feeling strong, I might switch to the 10K and go for the podium finish. On the other hand, I’m still looking at that marathon I haven’t done. My medal collection isn’t really complete. My only issue with this event is 10-year age categories. Since my 70th birthday is exactly ONE month after the race date, I am almost certainly going to be the oldest guy in my category in any of the three races. Still, because I am not sure about getting there next year (some other priorities already looming) I might just need to tackle that marathon. I feel very shallow that one of the BIG reasons I wouldn’t is that I will miss too much of the finish-line party if I do. Oh well, there is still time to decide. The Half is kind of the ideal race when you travel that far. I’m still trying to convince Vancouver area people that they are missing something by not trying this one out!

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

I could talk about Hood to Coast Relay. Our team from 2013 didn’t get in for 2014, but so many were really wanting to try for 2015 that I have just sent off the entry papers. Still, not much to say there until we hear something about our success at getting into the race. My first time was 1987 and I have personally been a total of 8 times! Fingers crossed, big time.

And then, while talking lotteries or as THEY put it, ‘ballot’ entries: well, nobody wanted to run the London Marathon 2015, anyway! So, not much to say there. I tried (second time) but did not succeed in getting chosen. Only comment I would make is that I’m amazed at the number of people offended by not getting in when they made application knowing the chances were low and knowing that London holds a lot of places for residents (I would have a ‘good for age’ time if I was a resident), for charity runners, etc, etc. I am disappointed, yes, but can’t be offended. If I really, really wanted to go I would have ignored the ballot and contacted a marathon tour agent with entry spots.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

On a personal note, I have a problem that likely isn’t quite as personal as it might first seem. I am struggling with whether or not to call my last marathon my LAST marathon. Advancing age and slowing pace notwithstanding, I am still pretty competitive in my heart. Truth is that if I just keep going past January and my next birthday I can probably start taking home a few podium finish medals, but that isn’t the same thing. As a friend who just won his 75-98 age category said, ‘yeah, I was 1/1′. By competitive, I mean I seem to need to feel that I have done well, mostly in relation to my own standards and capabilities. My last marathon, the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon, fit that bill. The time recorded wouldn’t sound that good to some, although I also know it to be faster than many (and much younger) can even aspire to at this point. Whatever, I was happy with it and comparing to my marathoning over 26 years, using age grading, it was my sixth best. Six out of twenty-five. Twenty-five, a nice round number.  So, why not call it a day for marathons?

I love the vibe or feel of a marathon, especially destination races. Last year I got a feel of ‘just getting it done’ as I decided to pursue a higher level of Maniacal Marathoning. However, and although I would have said I was ‘just doing’ them, I know I was fighting myself and expecting more than I should. As a result, between April 28, 2013 and May 4, 2014 I ran 8 marathons and a 50K ultra and was happy with precisely ONE of them. The issue for me, and I suspect a good many others who have run to be the best they can (whatever that means) is HOW to transition to running just for fun. Being competitive IS part of the fun. Covering 26 miles or 42km is not that big a deal for me. Doing it ‘well’ is getting to be too hard, and it is not just the racing but the training required to race well. I’ve been trying to decide if I should just quit on a high note, as far as marathons are concerned, or change the name of the game completely. I truly haven’t decided. But, every time I hear of a fabulous destination race, or think about the Reggae Marathon, my heart tells me I don’t want to call it a day.

The question, the big question, is how to make that transition and be happy. So, you are hearing it here first, folks. I think I might have a plan that could work. Believe it or not, I consulted the Marathon Maniacs who do Facebook and got some really useful ideas. Remember that while there are some hot-damn runners in the Maniacs, you only get credit for the number completed and the number within specified time periods. If you run a marathon a week or four in four days (a Quadzilla) you are NOT going to run at PB pace. It isn’t the point.

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

I no longer care about how many Maniac stars I have (two at the moment, with 10 as the ultimate number), although it is probable that if I do what I’m thinking about I will accidentally get one or two more. But, I realized there might be a really fun project that would appeal to me, let me do more marathons and enjoy doing it. It has not escaped me that among the Maniacs there is a sub-group that are 50-Staters. That’s right, a marathon in each of the 50 States (and DC, usually). I personally have seven states to my credit. So, at my age I have no intention of trying to do 43 more. For one thing, I don’t have enough money! Besides, I’m Canadian. AHA, and there is the answer. MAYBE, I will become “Captain Canada” and do at least the 10 Provinces. If it goes well, there are three Territories too. That is a total of 13 and I have run 12 Canadian marathon/ultras already. Sadly (as far as this project is concerned), they have all been in BC. Oh well, that’s ONE. Just nine more to go.

In even barely contemplating this, I developed huge respect for the 50-State people. Never mind the running, the logistics are crazy. For BC (never mind, I’ve got that covered), Ontario and Quebec there are a fair number of choices. But, for the smaller Provinces there are often just one or two, and in at least two instances, just ONE marathon. If you are going to run that event, you MUST do it when it is scheduled. Can you combine it (reasonably) with one or two others? Not always. And, there you have the finances jumping up again. With a country like Canada, man you gotta’ do some flying, and maybe some hanging around too.

So, please don’t tell anyone I’m thinking about this. For now, it can just be between us. I have a bunch of stuff having nothing to do with running that is coming up in the next few months, much of which could impact training for what I see as a Spring launch of the plan. If we can just keep this on the down-low for now, I promise I will announce this project when I know I can get it started.

So, there you see my problem with knowing what to write about. Man, I hate it when I have nothing to say!

 

Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon a New RITZ Favourite

09.16.2014

 

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Well, I am sure that title will be a relief and even a thrill for the organizers! (sarcasm alert!!)

I was hoping to have a lot more to say about the event and all the things around it, but life caught up with me and plans changed such that I arrived late afternoon on Sept 12, went directly to the Expo for pickup and then to a Marathon Maniac (there were 117 of us signed up) carbo party, and then to our accommodation up among the Canyons Resorts. Up at some hour I don’t even WANT to remember, back down to the finish area to catch a bus and then back up the Big Cottonwood Canyon to the start at Brighton. So much for my plan of a couple of days acclimatization at altitude and a look at the course. First I saw of the course was as the sun began to rise on Saturday morning and then it was ON.

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Saturday was racing and resting, then Sunday I had a little time for tourism before jumping my flight home again. So, all of this is to say if I missed something, and I am sure I did, I am sorry.

With such a fast look and minimal experience, why did I put Big Cottonwood up there so high in my humble opinion? Well, even if the event itself didn’t get as much of my time as I wanted, I was already impressed with things before I even got there. I think the first thing that caught my attention as a race director was a very simple and generous transfer, withdrawal policy. Then, there was the matter of included photo records. Some would say ‘free’, but let’s be fair. Somebody paid those photographers and the folks who will process the files for us. It was us and the sponsors, but the race organizers clearly worked hard to put that benefit into the package price, and as such events go the Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon was not really expensive.

The nuts and bolts part of the Expo, namely package pick-up was quick and effective. I won’t say much more about it, because I really didn’t have much time to spend, something I tend to enjoy doing. It was well located, with lots of parking and plenty of space.

The Mountains Await us!

The Mountains Await us!

One of the things that did have me wondering was how effective the system would be in getting a few thousand people up the mountain to the start zones for each race. The races started 25-26 minutes later than intended. I am sure that by next year there will be an answer. For now, and without any inside information I am going to suggest that at least part of the fault lies with US, the runners. Just because they say buses will leave until 5:30/5:45 AM, it doesn’t mean everyone can show up to catch the last bus. One can count on human nature to do just that, but hey guys, we are part of making an event work. Some big races make you get there so early that you get to sit in the cold for hours before the start. Good on Big Cottonwood organizers for trying to minimize that mountain top wait. It was a pretty fun time up there once we all got huddled together and the music started!

Whatever went before, we really all came for the race. Personally, I love running downhill. My best race ever,  as I have said previously, was Leg #1 of the Hood to Coast Relay. It is actually steeper than Cottonwood Canyon, but is just less than 6 miles or 10K. As the light came up and the race began, I was both excited to get going and to see if my training had paid off (living in the Vancouver area, I have some nifty mountains to run down for practice). Much of my training effort on the mountain road was trying to figure out how to run slowly enough without braking and hurting myself.

As I followed the crowd down the road it was clear this was going to be a great event. Volunteers generally make or break these races and it is hard to say enough good about those people out there to make OUR DAY as good as it could be.

Canyon Views

Canyon Views

The only really good thing about not having a chance to drive the route before the race was the breathtaking impressions I got while in the race. I went back on Sunday to get some photographs, but I am really looking forward to seeing the official photographs which will include both the race and the scenery. I am hopeful that my photos will look as good as I tried to make them! You know: Photographer!  Lift knees, spring off, look like a runner!  After all these years I’ve actually got pretty good at it. Most people who see my photos think I am doing a lot better than is actually the case. Oh, did I mention that the reason I had to change travel plans was an acting job? OK then, maybe not.

I am not going to go mile by mile through the race. I will say that I got some parts right and some not so much. Still, I know most of what didn’t go so well was my own doing. I had a good race for me, placing well enough in my category (M65-69) and probably the oldest competitor in the group. When you apply age grading to the result (which you almost have to do when you’ve been running marathons for 26 years) this turned out to be my 6th best out of a total of 25.  That is right, 25 marathons. I really wanted this one to be a satisfying result. It was. I guess that helps with my feeling about the whole thing! Still, I only figured all that out well after I finished. Most of my positive opinions came way before then. It just felt good on almost every level.

Nice Finisher Medal!

Nice Finisher Medal!

The race shirt is nice.

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

The medal is one of the tops in my collection. But, the thing that I will likely remember the longest was that before I got my hard-earned finisher medal, a young volunteer had a cold towel wrapped around my neck! It wasn’t blazing hot at the finish, but it was plenty warm and I’d been running in the sun and the building heat for a couple of hours. They say that ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun’. Well you can now add old Canadian marathoners. Man, that towel felt good. It is the little stuff like that, that makes an event. The girl with the finisher medal wasn’t far behind the guy with the towel, but I can still feel that towel. Obviously, it made an impression.

Clearly, things aren’t over on this event. I’m still waiting for the official photographs to post and then later am eagerly anticipating my personalized video. I was pleased to get my results printed out right after the finish, and on a very nice keepsake card. This is not the first event where this has been available, but it ranks number one for presentation.

I haven’t said a lot about the course and the sights. I have included enough photographs taken on my post-race Sunday tour. The weather was similar, but some parts were more shaded than when I drove the Canyon.

Sunday - More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Sunday – More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Run right, this is a PB course. Not for me. My marathon PB dates back to 1988. Those times are NOT coming back for this cowboy, but even I managed a kind of recent PB. I need to go back to 2010 for a better time and since April  of 2010 I have run 13 marathons. The event web site gives good advice to train with a race specific program.

On a personal note, I also got to meet some runner ‘friends’ of the Facebook sort, in person. I do love it when that happens.

Now for the big question. Will I go back next year? The honest answer is that I’m not sure, but it has nothing to do with the event. If it was as simple as “Would you run Big Cottonwood again or recommend it to a friend?”, the answer would be definitely. I am already hatching a bit of personal plot in that direction, but 2015 promises to be a bit of hectic year so it just isn’t possible to say right now. Should YOU go? Guess you should get on over to the event web site and start figuring that out for yourself. I mean, can 117 Marathon Maniacs be wrong?

 

DOWN IS THE NEW UP

08.30.2014
Running Down Mount Seymour - Training

Running Down Mount Seymour – Training

Everybody likes a good downhill every now and then, especially in a marathon. Well, I do.

Some people really like downhill runs. I DEFINITELY DO!

My favorite ‘race’ has long been Leg #1 on the Hood to Coast Relay. I’ve done this fabulous event EIGHT times and five of those were Leg #1. It represents the fastest I have ever run over a significant distance. That was the very first time I did Leg #1 in 1989. It was slightly different from today (mostly where it finished – just a wee bit shorter than the current segment). Still, it was close to being a 10K and I sustained an average pace of 5:59/mile. In the dark. Start process was a bit different back then and we were a pretty good team starting in the second last group at 10:30 PM, as I recall. Did I mention it was dark? Boy was it dark. No fancy headlamps in those days, just a so-so hand-held flashlight. The road was not as nicely paved as today either. With only a very close perspective of what was around us, it felt like I was flying down that mountain! Between the relative speed and the risk (of stepping in an unseen pot-hole) that was the most heart pounding run of my life.

So what does that have to do with the title?

Well, anyone who has run a sustained downhill race or course will tell you that the fun part soon wears off and if not during the race, soon after many body parts will be informing you of their displeasure at what you have just made them do! Depending on the runner and his/her gait, you can pretty much start at the ankles and work your way up to the hips. Depending on the individual, quads and knees are almost sure to be #1 source of aches and pains.  A bit of down is fun. A LOT of down is hard work. And that dear reader, is whence comes the title.

OK, fair enough, but this can’t be about Hood to Coast because it is just finished for 2014 and this runner didn’t get a team in this year. It is about the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon in Salt Lake City, UT. When I heard about it from a friend and fellow Marathon Maniac, I only resisted for a day or two and then I signed up. (Me and 115 other Maniacs, as it turns out.) The race claims to be, and I believe them, the most down-running Boston Qualifier out there. From top to bottom there is an elevation loss of over 4,000 ft!

While the total descent is 4,200 ft, plus or minus, the slope is greater than that because there is a ‘flat’ out and back of about 7 miles, coming just around 15-16 miles, before runners finish the downward dash to the finish. Give or take, there is a drop of about 4200 ft over about 20 miles. That is a grade of about minus 4%, or a bit more than 200ft/mile. Oh Yes!  Bring it ON!!

But wait a minute old feller, that glory run down Mount Hood was a long time ago! Better get some training in unless you want your quads to seize up about half way down.  Good advice.

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Fortunately for me, there is a local mountain called Mount Seymour, which has a ski area up top and a road a lot like the Big Cottonwood Canyon road. The grade is very similar although the down section ends at just over 8 miles. Still, it is great for working on proper pace and technique and toughening up those lower limbs. The first time I tried it out I wanted to see what it felt like to ‘run easy’ down that slope. Wouldn’t you know it, I had forgotten to check the battery on my gps and it quit about half a kilometer into the run! Well, so much for keeping a close eye on my pace. I really did want to keep the pace easy and not push too hard even if that was what the conditions tempted me to do. Fortunately I had my trusty Timex Ironman sport watch, so I could time the run and happily, the Park authorities had thoughtfully provided a marker at every K. Wasn’t the same as glancing at my Garmin but better than nothing. The end result though, was pushing much harder than intended. Remember, I was trying to sustain a pace I might be able to do over the marathon, not a 10K. Felt good when I finished, but payback was only about 24 hours away. OW!

Next time, you better believe the Garmin was fully charged. Even still and although I did go slower, it was hard to hold back as much as I really should have. But, the aftermath was far less and I know that Big Cottonwood provides pacers that run ‘constant effort’. They even have a facility that lets you estimate constant effort pace for a particular finish. Even for a personal BQ, the pace on the long downhill will be almost 30 seconds/mile slower than what I ran. Yahoo! While I’m not getting my hopes up for the BQ, the race has a pace group that will be running to the standard for my age, so I should be able to forget my gps device and stay with them until we exit the Canyon. After that, who knows?

As may be obvious, I am pretty excited about this new adventure. If nothing else it will be my 25th actual marathon. I can then put my one and only 50K ultra over in its own category. And, BQ or not, I anticipate that a well run and strategic pace will give me a satisfying finish time. Stay tuned on that matter.

I do want to say some things about the race that already impress me before I’ve even done it. If they prove out as they sound, maybe a few other events could learn from them.

There are two races, the full and half marathon. They have a transfer, and withdrawal policy that is very fair. There is a modest cost, but you can change events, transfer your entry to another runner of even drop out should you need to do so.

Entry fees are comparable to other similar sized events and you get the usual souvenir shirt and finisher medal, but you also get race photos and a customized video with your images cut into the tape. No charge. (Well, OK, for the cynics out there, technically ‘no extra charge’ – it is part of the entry fee.)

Being a Marathon Maniac and a whole whack of Maniacs having decided this is a go-to race, there will be a TEAM of 116 Maniacs. More races are offering team status these days, but Big Cottonwood is right in there with things like a tent space at the finish (you have to provide your own tent) and an optional (modest cost) custom designed team shirt.

Talk about creating an experience! Will it live up to its potential? Only time will tell. I’m betting yes. It is a relatively new and fast growing event, so not sure how many to expect nor how well they can handle things like start-line transport, porta-potties, etc. Those are often issues as races grow rapidly.

As I write this, I have just completed my last long training run and the race coming in just two weeks to the day. Guess we won’t have to wait too long to see how this all goes.

Did I mention that I am pretty excited?  Oh yeah, I guess I did.

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN (OR GIRL)!

07.13.2014

This blog is about running, but I guess they figure football (soccer to some) players can log 10K in a hotly contested match, so I am going to stretch it just a little with this post.

Today, Germany won the World Cup in a 1-0 (ET) contest with Argentina. I saw the whole thing and while not particularly a fan of Germany (would have been cheering for Netherlands had they and not Argentina gone through), I think it was definitely the right outcome. So far, so good.

As with all professional sport, these guys, both teams, are well paid and very talented athletes. Playing well is what they do. It is their business, their career. This was the World Cup and one would hope we were treated to the best football that could be mustered at this point in history. The best.

The games were interesting, some shocking (yes, I am talking about Brazil’s collapse). Some individuals could probably be credited with changing the whole game, in particular a couple of goalkeepers who single-handedly held off a rampaging other side.

When it was over in Rio, there were tears of joy and sorrow, depending on perspective. Why exactly, I am not sure, but the Argentinian team, and particularly Lionel Messi looked like something had been taken from them. Maybe (I hope) in the next days, they will come to realize it was never theirs to lose, maybe to win, but not to lose.

As a lad, even a young man, I played football, OK soccer, as we always called it in those days. My brother played at a high level and kept playing old-timer (What?  Oh yeah, OK, MASTERS!) soccer until not all that long ago. Both our kids and my grandson – all played/play. I got as far as playing for UBC before getting a relatively serious knee injury which healed eventually, but became the reason I quit. That and too many other time pressures and, oh yeah, I wasn’t  really all that good anyway. All of this is just to say that I have a history with THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, and an appreciation for its finer points.

I guess the title could have something to do with this bit of personal history, but it does not.

A World Level Celebration - Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

A World Level Celebration – Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

Everything was going along as you might expect. German players, fans, officials and Chancellor all seemed pretty happy. The title of this piece comes from the moment when the whole German team was assembled at the podium and actually had the World Cup trophy in their hands. As each player fondled that wonderful trophy, each and every one raised it above his head and the whole team threw up their hands for the inevitable photograph. Again and again they did it, each time with the same apparent enthusiasm as the first. When they mounted that podium they were so many highly skilled professionals, justly proud of what they had done. And then in the pure joy of the moment, they turned into a bunch of 12 year-old boys! Right in front of our eyes. It didn’t matter that each and every one of them is likely a lot wealthier than when the game began. They had won the big game. Each one would have HIS photo with the trophy as if he had been the only one. They all played and re-played that photo-op game for each other! It is a moment from this World Cup that I will never  forget, no matter all the other amazing plays and sights.

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN!

PACIFIC ROAD RUNNERS RECOGNIZED BY VARIETY

06.25.2014
Award Stage - pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

Award Stage – pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

It was a great pleasure for me to join a core group of PRR/First Half friends at the Variety Awards Night. To put this absolutely correctly, The First Half Half Marathon was being recognized for its donation history and long-term support of Variety – The Children’s Charity. I suppose I really should make the disclaimer that I am writing this as a blogger, who just happens to be part of the story, but not as a spokesperson for PRR.

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Among the Pacific Road Runners in attendance were four of the five Race Directors who have overseen the event since Variety was made the primary recipient of the charitable proceeds of the race. It was unfortunate that Marco Iucolino, the longest serving of all of us, was unable to be there. I was there because it was my pleasure and privilege to have been one of those five RD’s.

Variety has a very important and special place in the community. Please, take some time to follow this link to Variety – The Children’s Charity and learn more about what they do.

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

David Parker, the current Race Director made the official acceptance on behalf of the club and the race, but all of us there knew that acceptance was also in recognition of all the club members over the years, volunteers, sponsors and runners who have so enthusiastically supported The First Half. In the last several years the annual donation has been about $50,000 and in 2014, the total passed $600,000.

The First Half and its annual donation to Variety is somewhat unique in our region. It is the largest race of its nature that is still 100% club run, using only volunteers. The running community knows the reputation of the event and eagerly joins the virtual waiting line on registration day. Within hours the race is sold out. Then, the work begins to deliver both a great race and among other things, another donation to the worthy work of Variety.

It is not really a secret how the race itself produces a significant donation without asking athletes or their supporters to personally pledge or donate. First, PRR puts hundreds of hours into the core organization. As race day approaches both club members and others from the community swell the numbers of volunteers needed at package pick-up, on the course, in the kitchen and around the start/finish area, and of course, once it is all said and run, to break the whole thing down and put everything away for next year. But, there is another key element and that is the generosity of the sponsors/partners who recognize the commitment of all involved and give their very best deals and unrivaled support to the race. It is tempting to try to name these partners, but there have been so many over the years it would be a mistake to try to do them all justice. That said, and speaking only as the editor of Running in the Zone, it cannot pass without mention that Forerunners has been a race partner since the very first First Half (1989), nor that the current athletic partner Mizuno has been a key player in keeping rising costs in check with their generous support. The First Half is able to offer a registration fee well within the range of similar races, while turning a ‘profit’ that is the donation given to Variety. As simple as it may sound, none of it happened overnight and none of it happens without ongoing meticulous attention to the detail of the race itself and management of relationships with our partners, the running community, and clearly our volunteers. The end result is a Race with a Heart – the Variety Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

It is an honour for all involved to be recognized by Variety with the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award and a pleasure to be able to continue supporting the amazing and dedicated folk at Variety as they provide key assistance to their Children and the parents of those kids.

I am sure I can say on behalf of my friends at PRR and on the Race Committee that this award is one to be shared with our many club members over the years, all those volunteers and the countless sponsor/partners that have stepped up with everything the race has needed, and finally to the runners who support the First Half year after year, including an illustrious list of elite runners who have appeared to race .

RUNNING IS PRIMAL

06.19.2014
Running the forest trails.

Running the forest trails.

Interestingly enough, this thought came to me while I was walking. But, I had been running!

Had to have a tooth pulled the other day and it was a big’un. Couple of stitches to close up the hole it left. I hadn’t run for a couple of days and was out with friends from Semiahmoo Sunrunners for the weekly Saturday Morning Run/Walk and Breakfast Bash. About 3K into this I realized my poor wounded gum was throbbing with each foot strike. I bade my running friends a fond farewell and assured them of my overall good health, and commenced walking back to our starting/meeting point. This run is pretty much always through forest trails and it is a truly inspirational route. Since I was neither worry about keeping up with the others nor about the twists and turns and rocks and roots, I was able to think deep thoughts. Out of nowhere came the title of this piece.

I hang out with a lot of very good runners and know many current and former elite runners. When we put Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes together I sent around a little survey to the contributors, just about the time when the book was released to the public. One of the questions was: “Why do you run?”  To my surprise, although the wording varied a bit, I got more or less one answer: “Because I love it!”

What each person loved was probably rather different, but cutting through everything was this one pure idea.

In some ways, running is what makes us what we are as humans. It was the key to our early hunting/survival in many instances, suggesting it is in our genes or that we are ‘hard-wired’ to run.

I know that when I’m not in deep hurt late in a race, there is a joy and peace in my heart. For that matter, even when there is physical stress you can be feeling deeply that you would not rather be anywhere but where you are. When you finish, even if (and maybe especially when) it has been hard, you feel immense satisfaction, elation even.

Manning Park Trail

Manning Park Trail

Many of my running friends who have taken to the trails, pretty much abandon the roads because of how it feels to ‘run the woods’. I only just this second recalled this, but I do remember long ago times when I was in the woods of Manning Park with friends for a camping/fishing/hiking trip.  I needed to go back to our camp-site to get something, so I ran. As sometimes happens, this has flashed back to me with amazing clarity. I was young (19?) and very fit. I ran easily and effortlessly with the smell of the pines and maybe wild berries or something in the air. It was magical then and almost as much in the remembering of it. I had a mission, but there was no watch on me and nobody to beat. I could have hiked, but I ran because I could and because I wanted to. That simple. It was MAGICAL.

Running the track or roads has a charm too and frankly, I’m still there more often than in a forest. Although I (and most of the people I know) do race, there is nothing that says you have to race to be a runner. A lot of the Sunrunners used to race but haven’t done so in years. Some of my friends in the Pacific Road Runners are the same. Haven’t raced in years. Don’t need to. BUT, they still run. They do it because they like it.

Dogs run happy, but mostly they are goal driven – chasing a ball or stick, maybe another dog (play version of the hunt) or a mail carrier (oh wait, they aren’t supposed to do that, cars either).  I have no idea whatever, why they chase their tails! The only animal that I’m pretty sure runs for the fun of it is the horse. At one time they may have had to run to escape predators, but not so much these days. That said, stand around and watch a horse or a bunch of them in a pasture and at some point one of them will just up and start to run. Often they will kick their hind legs and dash around in what looks to me like pure joy. I’ve never discussed the matter with a horse directly, but that’s how it looks. Jockey’s of big time race horses often describe it as the horse wanting to run and race, with them just up there to steer and help control the pace so the horses get to a finish-line set by the humans, not the horses.

There is a saying that when the African antelope wakes, he just knows he must run faster than the fastest lion and when the lion awakes, he knows he must run faster than the slowest antelope. I concluded that humans find running primal because we don’t have to do it, but we do it anyway and most of us will say it is ‘just because’, because we love doing it.

Eugene Marathon - Passing Hayward Field

Eugene Marathon – Passing Hayward Field

As already noted, you certainly don’t have to race to run, but lots do. So what about all those racers, from the top elites to the weekend warriors? I asked a couple of runner/coaches about racing to running ratios within the programs of a wide range of runners. Consensus seems to be about 2-5% racing, depending on level. For instance, an elite marathoner will likely only run 2-3 marathons per year, possibly with a 5 or 10K thrown in here and there largely as ‘speed training’. Those folk often run 100 miles (160km) per week while in full training mode. The percentage of racing is a measly 1.5%! Top age groupers often run about 40-50 miles (65-80km) per week and if they are marathoners, will also run 2-3 per year. That makes their racing (including a few shorter distance races as part of the program) something in the range of 4%. When you get into the group of runners where I live most of the time, we tend to run less total miles/km and may actually race just a bit more, coming out at around 5%. This wasn’t meant to be highly technical, or complete (all forms of racing) or even perfectly accurate. I just wanted to point out that most people who race spend 95-98% of their running time, NOT racing.

There is another subset of runners to which I belong that clearly loves to run – the Marathon Maniac. We are different though and you maybe have to create a new definition of racing when it comes to the Maniacs. There are a good many of the now almost 10,000 Maniacs who are very good runners (if you are counting time). That said, the Maniac goal is completion of marathons, lots of marathons. Your recognition in the form of ‘Stars’ and levels such as Bronze (1 Star), Silver, Gold…….Titanium (10 Stars) depends on how many marathons you’ve completed, not how fast. This race/run ratio thing I introduced above gets all out of whack when talking about Maniacs. Last year, while pursuing a mere 2 Star rating, my racing hit nearly 25%.  That’s right, I ‘raced’ nearly  25% of the total distance I ran. Part of the reason is that your races become your training when you do the Maniac thing. Even at the lower end of things where I was, it is all race, taper, race. Not much long distance training between the races. So, for the racing purist the question quickly arises as to whether or not you ran your very best in all those races. Well, I can say for myself that I ran the best I could under the circumstances, but can’t really say I did my absolute best. I didn’t train to that goal. Maniacs have a competitive spirit, but their prize is not one fast time, a new PR. It is a new level in the Maniac pecking order. It is a mighty undertaking, but just not in the sphere of racing as most define it. Still, how can you possibly run 4 marathons in 4 days (called a Quadzilla) or 52 in 52 weeks, and not love running?  How? Although the situation is different, I think my thesis still stands.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009

Of course, elite runners have a lot of motivations to train hard and run fast, but in the greater scheme of things only a tiny handful are making big money, so that can only be part of the driving force. When you consider the costs of following this path at the expense of other careers, few make back the difference through winnings. Here we are then, back at the question of ‘why do you run?’. I know a fair number of older, once world class runners, who with the perspective of time seem to look back on how running made them feel and the great experiences they had, even in defeat and hardship. And, before someone says: “Well it is the competition!”, I consider the competitive aspect to be part of the joy of running. It feels good to be fast, and for some, to be first.

It seems like the answer comes down to there being something (maybe even different for each person) that makes running satisfying and produces joy in us. We run because we can, and maybe for some, because we must! I tell you, it is primal.