Guh Haad n Dun!

08.09.2017
Proud Emblem of a Proud People

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

My Jamaican friends and friends of Jamaica will have little doubt about that title. It is inspired by the closing out of the active racing career of one Usain St. Leo Bolt.

I guess we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on that, as there is still the 4X100 Relay, but Bolt (or any of the other team members) can only do so much toward the success of the whole. He says his solo career is over. I tend to believe it. Personally, I think I wish he had decided the Rio Olympics was the time for that.

The literal translation of the title is “Go Hard and Done“. It implies (across a wide range of possibilities), a philosophy or approach. Put into ultimate practice, you could just translate it to “Usain Bolt”.

I’m not sure where to begin with my little tribute to this man who is without doubt, and with no intended diminishment of the achievements of so many other amazing athletes,  the best sprinter ever. There are some hard statistics that just take the statement from an opinion to plain simple fact. He holds a World Record at 9.58 for 100m that it is hard to envision being broken. If it is, I imagine it will be done by someone as yet unborn. His 200m record is 19.19, which averages to 9.59/100m, or essentially just ‘more of the same’. He has personally won double gold (100m and 200m) in three successive Olympic Games and a total of seven golds at 100/200m at IAAF World Championships. I am leaving out the Relay Golds, simply because they are team efforts that can’t be attributed to any one runner, and are always vulnerable to a bad pass, baton drop or a lane violation. Only the solo events are ‘pure’ in the sense that nobody else’s performance is involved except as head to head competitors. The record is pretty much undisputed.

Usain-700x400

Usain Bolt – London – IAAF World Championships

There was a sadness in seeing Bolt take ‘only’ a third place in the 100m event just a few days ago. But, he was THIRD, not LAST nor was he eliminated prior to the final! Let’s go just a bit deeper into this. To be clear, I am not saying he should have won. The winning time was 9.92, Bolt clocked 9.95. He was 3/100th of a second off of Gold, about 30cm or one foot. So, the sadness was more sentimental than reality based. Some would argue that Gatlin, who took the Gold should never have been in the race because of two drugging ‘convictions’ and suspensions. According to reports in the news at time of writing, one of those people is none other than Sir Sebastian Coe! As a Canadian, it isn’t hard to remember Ben Johnson, rightly disciplined for his transgressions, and yet we have Gatlin on the top of the Podium in London. How does that happen?

Still, there could easily have been someone else ready to lay down just as quick a time, even if Gatlin wasn’t competing. As a Canadian, the name Andre De Grasse kind of pops to mind, but in racing you just never know. And, regardless of such speculation, there is the small matter of Coleman who nipped Bolt by 1/100th of a second, mostly by getting his ‘dip’ just right. Bolt knew Coleman had him as they neared the line and clearly tried to out-dip the young speedster, but maybe did it almost a stride too soon. That is just my opinion on watching and re-watching the finish. Bolt could be seen/heard in his gracious congratulations, saying to Gatlin, “I didn’t see you!” Would it have made a difference? On that night, I personally don’t think so. The race was probably lost in the starting blocks. It was reported that Bolt’s reaction time was 0.044 slower than the rest (or at least the guys that mattered). Slower by 0.044. But look, 9.95 – 0.04 is 9.91. If he had just got an even start, I would be writing a different story. A bit more on this later. [Ed Note: My mother had a saying that covers this kind of speculation: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to pee, he’d have caught the rabbit!”]

As a ‘highly Seasoned Athlete’ of 72, it feels silly to talk about Bolt as ‘old’, but in terms of the kind of performance required of him, or any other elite sprinter, 31 is getting pretty long in the tooth and in his case, he didn’t just pop onto the scene. He has been competing hard since he was 15 years old.

There is no doubt that Usain Bolt has a physical advantage over many other sprinters, but it seems he also has a work ethic surpassed by few. Because he is a natural showman, some would say ‘clown’, it is easy to just see this guy who comes out, fools around, runs really fast, then fools around a bit more. We (well most of us) love the public personality of this man. He has brought a lightness and joy to the world of track and field that has not been there for a long time. When you combine his behind the scenes willingness to work, sweat, and suffer, with the physical advantage (his height and stride), you get Usain St. Leo Bolt, Champion.

It has been reported that Bolt generally takes about 41 strides over 100m. Most sprinters, even the best, need about 44 strides. Let’s look at that in the simplest terms. Every stride taken by Bolt averages 2.439m. Every stride taken by his competition covers 2.273m. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, just 0.166m per stride. But, it isn’t as simple as stride length. There is the driving power behind that stride. Now let’s assume that Bolt can match the turn-over of the others in any given race and that he can realize the differential built into his stride. That gives him something very near a 7m advantage. The assumptions are only valid if we accept there is a kind of ‘all things being equal’ aspect to his training relative to the others and his readiness to race on the day. As noted, Bolt does not have a lightning fast start. Reaction times from this last race showed that alone as enough to put him into First, had he only matched the field. The advantage in his stride, has made up for the ‘slow’ start in more than a few events. When we see him flowing down the track and shutting down with 10-20m remaining, it is probable that he did get a good start and was able to achieve full stride and power at an early point, more or less dooming the rest of the field.

Anyway, enough of this. My point is that it is going to take a special person to bring both the necessary physical stature and work ethic to the track, and in any way challenge Bolt’s achievements. It is not hard to see that his 9.58 100m record came on a day when EVERYTHING was just right. He had a fabulous start, was in top form and could capitalize on his physical stature; and weather conditions had to be right as well. To threaten the record someone would have to be able to deliver all these things at the same time.

Now, in relation to his career record, imagine some individual sprinter doing it for at least a decade in terms of winning virtually all the big races. Remember, Usain Bolt has dominated both 100m and 200m and there are specialists in EACH of those distances that are just a bit faster in one or the other. This unknown successor will have to dominate the specialists at BOTH distances – for about 10 years!

In ‘getting it right’ there is also the balance of effort when you must run heats to get to the race that counts, the final. Any runner must go just hard enough to move on, but not so hard as to risk injury or fatigue before the race that ‘counts’. In training and preparation, elite athletes are always on that edge. You don’t just walk up and register for a spot in the Olympics or Word Championships. You must win your way into such positions, which means you must race, and race hard just to be able to get into those ‘heats’. Andre De Grasse is a bright light on the Canadian sprinting horizon, but he isn’t there yet and even though he has been having a brilliant season, had to pull out of the World Championship due to a hamstring strain. Anyone wanting to be ‘the new Bolt’ has to deal with such potential situations too. Regarding De Grasse, and while it upset those who just wanted spectacle, withdrawing was the right decision for a young runner with a huge potential.

Soon Come? Rio Olympics - 200m

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m

I was personally saddened that the confrontation could not happen, not because I 100% wanted to see him defeat Bolt, but because I wanted to see the head to head race and to at least see our Andre with the chance to perform in competition with Bolt, as something more than the ‘out of nowhere’ up-start that he was at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Because of everything I said before about Bolt’s physical and other advantages, I can’t see De Grasse or anyone else of his physical stature breaking Bolt’s records. On the day, Andre might have been able to win a race. That, I was kind of 50/50 on as to whether or not I wanted to see Bolt lose. Of course, if someone was going to beat him in a race, then I would be all over it being our boy!

While I’m talking about Andre De Grasse, he provides an excellent example of everything having to be perfect on the day. It happened just weeks ago, in this track season. Clearly, Andre brought his A-Game to one of the Diamond League events earlier this year, and laid down a 9.69, but, it was wind assisted and did not count for the record books, other than as a win over those competing on that day. It was by far the fastest time by anyone this year, but IT DIDN’T COUNT.  That’s how it is. That’s just one reason records are so hard to come by!

So much for the mechanics. In some ways it is the least of what Bolt really means to the world of Track and Field and to a small country called Jamaica.

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

As anyone who ‘reads me’ knows, I have my own little love affair with Jamaica and will be continuing my attendance streak at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, with 2017 being seven years in a row. I admit part of it is how much I love the event and the people associated with it, but I also feel like Negril, JA is my ‘happy place’. I have no intention of analysing this, but there is no place that gives me such a feeling of calm and peace (and NO, I’ve never indulged in the ‘herb’). More than once, including this time, I have extended my stay beyond the core time of the Reggae Marathon. The extended stay is all about having time to feel that other aspect of being there. They say there are two kinds of Jamaicans: Jamaican by birth and Jamaican by association. I think I may be one of the latter!

Anyway, my point regarding Usain Bolt is that  you cannot go ANYWHERE in Jamaica without seeing his influence on the pride and mindset of the people. It is quite amazing and positive.  There is no doubt Usain Bolt ‘lif dem up’. Like many, he is just a boy from the country. From my perspective it isn’t just his running but more his spirit. Jamaica boasts a line of world level sprinters unequaled by any other nation. To name a few, the list includes Herb McKenley, Don Quarrie, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and these are only the men. Not only that, Jamaica has also provided other nations with top sprinters who can claim Jamaican heritage. That includes Canada, and our Harry Jerome, Donovan Bailey, Robert Esmie and Andre De Grasse. These names are just off the top of my head and I suspect some of our other top names have at least a little Jamaican blood flowing in their veins.

Jamaica is a young country. As I write, they are celebrating the 55th Anniversary of Independence. It hasn’t been easy. There have been struggles and the politics has been problematic. Many people hear Bob Marley’s music and for the most part are caught up with the rhythm and lilt of the reggae sound, but REALLY listen to his lyrics. They are powerful and political in the sense that he admonished the people of Jamaica to take control of their lives (Lively Up Yourself). Many of the songs talk of poverty and life (No Woman Nuh Cry) – his own early life. His ‘non-partisan’ political stands nearly got him killed and resulted in his self-inflicted exile for some time. He was so popular with the people that both the main political parties wanted his endorsement, yet really wanted him to just shut up. This is just a tiny bit of background as to why Usain Bolt means so much to Jamaicans. He represents hope and success. Marley was the voice of protest. Bolt is the vision of hope. At least that is how I see it.

I believe Bolt’s success can be explained without the need of PEDs; at least I hope so. I’ve often thought how devastating it would be for the people of my favourite island nation, if he fails a drug test and all of this turns out to be ‘dirty’. To his people he is so much more than just a world class sprinter. He sets an example and is truly ‘one of them’. He brings it home when he is not training and competing. Now that he can, he even makes sponsors come to Jamaica to make the commercials he does. He spends a lot of time in Jamaica and spends his money and dispenses his charity at home. He gives his time because he knows how it impacts his people.

For a nation that sometimes seems unsure, Usain Bolt answers Bob Marley’s question: Could You Be Loved.

Catching up on things and a little bit of FUN

08.02.2017
Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Keeping Track of What Readers Like

I wrote a post (the last one) entitled “Where There’s a Will……………….” about friend and seasoned athlete, Walter Downey. I felt it was a more than worthy post about a person who had made a decision to be a better runner at an age when most of us are avidly seeking out age-grading calculators to ensure ourselves that we are at least ‘holding our own’ if and when you can mathematically take age out of the equation. If you aren’t one of the folks who has taken the time to read the post, maybe you should think about having a look. Apparently it is quite inspirational! I was inspired when he set a marathon PB at the Eugene Marathon at the age of 56.

To give a brief recap, Walter decided at age 55/56 he wanted to dig down hard and see just what he could do. It turned out that what he could do was get better (real, not adjusted terms) than he had been before. And, good enough to get age group podium placings  in all his races since November of last year, including a couple of wins. While his running is a great story, the more interesting part was probably that he took on the challenge and did what he had to do (and is still going at this point).

One of the reasons I am intrigued (beyond the obvious) is that this post is now the second most popular I’ve ever written. That factoid caused me to see just what the subjects of other popular posts might be. Well, it turns out they are all about people and their approach or dedication to running, at least as much as the running itself. There is one post that I don’t have statistics on, which I suspect is at the very least a Top Five post, but whatever, it too fits that character.

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Bill Cumming - At Loon Lake, BC - his favourite place to be!

Bill Cumming – At Loon Lake, BC – his favourite place to be!

Two are memorial tributes to dead guys, Ed Whitlock ,who needs no introduction, and my own brother, Bill, who died way too young, but doing something he loved (playing soccer).

The top one (so far, with Walter’s piece still gathering responses) is sort of about me, but more as example than as the core subject. It was about being the best one can be. It covered a lot of territory about how one goes about ‘being your best’ as you get older and far from your best years. Of course, I guess I had a lot of experience since I really did not run in what should have been my ‘best years’, as a recreational distance runner.

Jetola Anderson-Blair models Reggae Marathon medals.

Jetola Anderson-Blair models Reggae Marathon medals.

The mystery post is about Jetola Anderson-Blair, a woman who went from not being able to walk a half marathon in three hours (2011) as a tribute to a recently deceased friend, to a BQ marathoner by about 2014. The BQs are now in double digits, but that was not the case when the blog piece was written. The only item that was not specifically about a person and their story of dedication, was one on the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K and I suppose that in a way, the event was presented as a special case because of its ‘personality’ and dedication to the runner experience.

All of this is just to say, this old blogger is going to be looking carefully at the kind of posts that attract and satisfy most readers. I don’t honestly care about numbers (OK, a little) except as they reflect on what pleases the people who take the time to look and read. Compared to other bloggers, my numbers are pretty modest, but people DO pay some attention. For example, the piece about Walter that is now #2 (and climbing) has a reach of over 1,000. The top one, on being the best you can be, hit 1,300. The others mentioned above were just under one thousand. In context, a good many posts hit a few hundred. So, you can expect more posts of the kind just described. We aim to please!!

Teaching People to Run

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

Recently, I posted about a new Learn to Run 5K program that I developed for Forerunners, and which I coach and lead. As I write this, we have just completed the 10th week (12 in total) and although it involves a mix of running, slow jogging and even a bit of walking, we are now covering the 5K and just a bit more. The big news, especially for participants, is that we just ran a steady 25 minutes, and with a short easy jogging ‘break’, another 10 minutes for a total of 35 minutes running. We are at or over 5K total distance now in each of the three weekly sessions and it is a total pleasure to see the looks on the faces of participants as they realize what they are achieving. And, it is THEY who are achieving this. The clinic program is just enabling the achievements. We have never said how fast anyone will go, so pace is personal and people are encouraged to just do what works for them.

I was thrilled at the last session and only a little mortified. I got us lost in some twisty streets and the result was covering somewhere between a mile and 2K more than advertised for that session. I decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to do the prescribed workout and then finish by walking back to the store where we started. (We weren’t lost by that point.) To my surprise and delight, about half the people decided they would like to continue their easy run. With a bit of a warning to keep it easy, I dropped back to assist the others who preferred my idea of walking the final bit after the prescribed workout was completed.

What the reader should know is that many of these new runners are truly just that: NEW. At our first session, after a good bit of a walk to warm up, we did 10 reps of 1 minute running (very easy) and 1 minute walking, followed by another walking session to finish up. Some found this difficult, or at least challenging. So, it is not hard to see why these people are now more than pleased at what they are achieving.

Changing Things Up

This is briefly about me. After finishing what might turn out to be my last marathon (Light at the End of The Tunnel) and knowing my primary focus would be the Learn to Run 5K program, I have adjusted my own goals. I look at 10K as the upper limit for the moment. My races will be 5, 8 and 10K for the next while. The only one I’m not sure about is the Reggae Marathon. I would sort of like to do the half marathon again, but it could morph into a 10K too. It did last time.

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) - Oct 2016

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) – Oct 2016

In the meantime, I am signed up for the Forever Young 8K, Goodlife Victoria Marathon 8K (a return engagement with my grandson, Charlie) and will be pacing the 35 minute group at the Fall Classic 5K. My first race pacing experience was last year at the Fall Classic Half Marathon. I know, because the decisions just mentioned will leave me unready for a half marathon, that I would not want to take on the responsibility to pace at half marathon. When contacted about 2017, I mentioned this and allowed as how I would be thrilled to pace the 35 minute 5K group. Boom! I was in and very excited about it, because our next Learn to Run 5K clinic targets this very race as an option for those who may want to take their newly developed running skill into a race environment.

I am very pleased with my decision and how it is all playing out. A little self analysis never hurts anyone! Will I race long again? Who knows? I may. At least up to half marathon. Will I NEVER run another marathon? It kind of feels like it, but temptations may arise and after I get through a year or so of ‘rest and recovery’, or if I can convince myself to run in a way (with having fun as my only race goal) that is less a strain. I am pretty sure I won’t run another one with a performance based goal.

The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village - Day 1

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village – Day 1

Yep, that one again! My hotel (Rondel Village) is booked and decisions are being finalized on just what the whole trip will look like. This will be my seventh year in a row. There was certainly no intention back in 2011, when I went for the first time, to be starting a ‘streak’. I still haven’t booked flights (because I don’t have the full trip figured out yet – there is some genealogical work I want to do re my Great Great Grandparents who were stationed in Jamaica from 1839 to 1844). I haven’t even registered for the race. I haven’t decided the distance yet!!!! What to do, what to do?

Well, one thing I DID do was to set up a Facebook page called the West Coast Reggae Runners to help other local folk thinking about this event. I’ve put a lot of info there for those wanting to know more about the race(s) and the logistics. If you wonder why I would be so attracted that I am heading back for the seventh time, you may want to check out the page (it is a closed group, but we are pretty welcoming to legitimate requests to join). Canada is the second largest international contingent behind the USA. Naturally, the largest block is made up of Jamaicans, but most years there are something around 35 countries represented across the three events.

There are some big new things ahead, with a registration cap (all events) of 3,000. While the race has never seen those numbers to date, distance running in Jamaica has taken a new life and there is a publicly supported program called Jamaica Moves that will encourage people to try one of the Reggae Marathon distances. So, with recent registrations of about 2300, a growing international recognition of this as a top level destination race, and Jamaica Moves on the rise, a total registration of 3,000 is not beyond a reasonable expectation. Guess I better get signed up!

WHERE THERE’S A WILL………………………..

06.30.2017
Captured live while running through Forerunners Cheer Zone (Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon)

Captured live while running through Forerunners Cheer Zone (Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon)

This post began last year when friend and fellow Forerunners group leader, Walter Downey ran the Berlin Marathon and we discussed a post on his experience. Walter ran with a group of friends and celebrated his FOURTH Marathon Majors event (New York, Chicago, Boston and Berlin), which was also a part of the story.

Well, as things go these days, and even though we got off to a decent start, the project got side-tracked.

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

As it turns out, that was a good thing because I think this post is going to be even better. While Berlin was a fabulous experience, by Walter’s own account, it was far from his best marathon. Perhaps it was that, or maybe it was just the ‘final straw’, but whatever, it got Walter onto a new course (sorry about the running pun).

I asked him about just what he was doing to bring about all this success, because Walter is definitely a ‘seasoned athlete’ having turned 56 the day of the Eugene Marathon, where he just came Second in his age group and set a new PB and not one of those age-graded PB’s that I am so fond of these days. Nope, this was an asterisk-free, honest to Steve Prefontaine (it was Eugene, and we did finish on Hayward Field) Personal Best!

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The title of this piece isn’t “Walter Downey gets a PB at age 56” it is “Where There’s a Will……….”.

As mentioned above, I asked what he was doing and it kind of boiled down to two fairly simple ideas. 1) he is running more and with more purpose, and 2) he is eating better. I guess there is one more thing that is really the essence of the title, he decided to dedicate himself to getting this done.

Fall Classic Half. Real heroes of the day - VOLUNTEERS!

Fall Classic Half. Real heroes of the day – VOLUNTEERS!

Walter has always been a pretty decent runner, but like most of us who can say that (I could at one point), being pretty decent doesn’t get you any hardware other than that Finisher Medal. Walter is on a streak following Berlin. It began with a local race in Vancouver, the Fall Classic Half Marathon (November). The ‘new Walter’ ran pretty well and came Third (M50-59) with a time of 1:36 – nicely done on a day that wasn’t. I ran that day, pacing the 2:30 finish group. It was very wet and let’s just say the best part of the race on that day was being finished!

To those of us who have known Walter for a while, he has clearly shed a few pounds (or Kilograms, if you prefer), some 25 of them since January.

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

It seemed that every Saturday, as we headed out for our prescribed clinic training distance, Walter would add on an extra 5K or sometimes more. As we made our way through one of the ugliest winters Vancouver has seen in some time, Walter was going longer and getting faster, it seemed (he also leads a group at the Wednesday night speed clinic). This has added up to a 2017 total distance run of over 1500km to date, sometimes running twice in a day .

I suppose the First Half Half Marathon in February would have offered a bit of insight into his progress, but for the first time since it began, the First Half was cancelled due to weather. (Did I mention the ugly winter we just had?) Not to worry, the Phoenix Pride Run Half Marathon in March was as good a place as any for an age group win (First M50-59) and a very tidy time of 1:31.

Forerunners at the Eugene Marathon (2016) - pre-race at Mazzi's

Forerunners at the Eugene Marathon (2016) – pre-race at Mazzi’s

Next race up was the Eugene Marathon. It is becoming a ‘go to race’ for a lot of Forerunners folk and I think there were some 40 or so of us, including significant others, that actually went down to Oregon to run the half or full marathon. The day could not have been much better. It bordered on spectacular. I wish I could say the same about my own run, but I think I psyched myself out on that one (the Half) before I even started. Anyway, I was lounging around with other Forerunners folks, on the grass in the post-race celebration area, when Walter appeared after finishing his marathon and just ‘floated’ right by all of us, looking like he could easily go another 10K! I mentioned this to our coach and Olympic marathoner (1996), Carey Nelson. His response was “the good races never hurt!”  Guess he knows whereof he speaks. Walter was celebrating his 56th birthday that day and had just set an all-time PB (3:14:02), come Second M55-59 and recorded a negative split while doing it (about as common as spotting unicorns).

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

After Eugene, came North Olympic Discovery Trail Half Marathon where he nailed another First in his age group and a time of 1:32:18, definitely not too shabby for a trail race, oh and good for 4th place OA (3rd OA male).

Which all brings us to the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon held June 25 in very warm conditions for Vancouver. Everyone, including race winners, turned in times well off race records and PBs, and not surprisingly. So, another Second in Age Group and a time of 1:32:25.

OK – so much for the impressive statistics. What is of importance here to the ‘seasoned’ running community is how some guy who is now technically a senior (in the eyes of some organizations that offer discounts on stuff), is doing such amazing things. (I know! I was shocked when offered a senior’s discount on my insurance because I was 55!)

Walter’s efforts and performances are admirable for anyone of any age. So what happened? I mean, that is what we all want to know now that you’ve got a picture of Walter’s recent running record.

 I guess it is all summed up in the title: “Where there’s a will…………”

I have to say that Walter does not look at this as being heroic in any way (which is not to say he isn’t thrilled to bits). He just decided he wanted or needed to do this and then he did. I am not sure if the right term is fortunate or not, but I’m going to use it because going too hard CAN produce an injury. In fact, Walter was injured much of last summer, although not from running. It was a calf injury resulting from playing softball. Doesn’t matter how it happened, it really put running on the side for quite a time and probably impacted his time in Berlin (not that 3:44 is an awful time).

What it clearly does tell us is that we can make major changes to how we are going about things. We talked quite a bit after the Scotia Half and I learned that while there have been some major adjustments to diet in particular, it is also not obsessive, nor highly prescriptive. Walter isn’t eating tofu for every meal or magic berries. Mostly he is eating sensibly with some attention to certain types of food and the amounts consumed. The odd slip or intentional indulgence does not spell doom or disaster because everything in general is headed the right way. I was a little taken-aback when he said beer had been removed from the menu. He quickly assured me he hasn’t gone ‘dry’, just more or less eliminated beer. [Ed. Note: This thing about beer is being taken under advisement.]

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Similarly, when you train for an event like a marathon, unless your only goal is crossing the finish line, there is work to be done. A lot of work! Getting the distance in is pretty obvious, but effective training also requires some quality in the form of speed work, hills and tempo runs. As much as the physical matter of being able to run up a hill is important, so is the mental assurance that you CAN run up it. When you are actually racing against something other than the clock, and then too, being able to pick up the pace is important. You do not master these things by simply running a long way at a modest pace (LSD). Again, it appears that Walter seized on that truth and went to work making it happen. He told me during our little ‘heart to heart’ that he thinks he will keep his weekly long run at 25K as a general matter, unless he is targeting another marathon. I think we all have some kind of ‘minimum’ training distance we try to hold even when we aren’t specifically preparing for an event. 25K sounds like a good solid goal for someone concentrating on marathon and half marathon racing. 

With regards to Walter’s new focus, the results are clear. Oh yes, one more thing: He is having FUN!

So, congratulations to Walter on his stellar achievements, and thanks for the inspiration to the rest of us. Maybe this little story will be what it takes for a few others to make the same personal resolve that they need to dig just a little deeper and ‘make it happen’!  Because, you know, Where There’s a Will……………….

TEACHING SOMEONE TO RUN – THAT SHOULD BE EASY

05.16.2017
Coach Dan - Your Run Starts Here

Coach Dan – Your Run Starts Here

Per the previous posting on Running in the Zone, I am about to head up a new Learn to Run 5K clinic at Forerunners (on Main). I’ve written the guide book/runner log and tentatively figured out suitable routes. I’ve even had experience at teaching people to run. Some we were teaching to run faster. I’ve been a pace group leader for Forerunners Marathon and Half Marathon clinics and often have people who are already runners but trying out a new distance, so beginners in that sense.

I’ve been doing some thinking on this and just like when you buy a car that is a little bit different, right after you buy, you see dozens of them all around. Same thing re this ‘learn to run’ initiative. Been seeing lots of commentary on the subject. That is probably what got me thinking about the thrust of this post.

Just for a moment, pause and consider: Exactly what would you tell someone who wants to learn to run?

Now remember, this is someone who is making a mental step forward to take on not just a pretty simple physical movement, but quite possibly a new lifestyle. We all run for the bus, from a bee (OK, I don’t run from bees. It just gets them excited, but you know what I mean.) after a straying kid, etc..  So when someone says they are going to sign up to ‘learn to run’, it is clearly something more than putting one foot in front of the other, rather faster than usual. They already know how to do that. It is natural and instinctive.

Half and Full Marathon training group.

Half and Full Marathon training group.

Although it CAN be just that, running is so much more than getting from Point A to Point B. Most people really mean learning how to run over some distance that represents a challenge in their present circumstances. That is why I included the pace group leadership as good experience. Those people already know they can run, but they aren’t sure if they can (or have what it takes to) run a half marathon, or marathon.

Just imagine now, that you have encountered a friend or relative, or stranger for that matter, who wants YOU to teach them how to run: How to run, in the sense that we runners run. What would you tell them? You know it will be something they will hold dear if they get it right from the very start, but what do you say and where do you begin? What are the essential points and what is extra?

Exactly!

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

That is where I am, or have been, for some while now. Our first official clinic session doesn’t start for almost weeks, but we are getting ready. OK, to be fair, I’ve already written the guide book and runners log each new runner will get, but there is still a lot of thinking to do. Words are one thing, actions are quite another.

I decided this post would be kind of fun to write because I don’t think I have so much more to offer than anyone else when it comes to training and inspiring people who want to learn to be runners. But, I thought it would be fun to stimulate other runners to think about what it is like to make that decision to BE a runner.

I have been running for something like the past 33 years. I also ran as a teen, but back then it was essentially ‘on track’ as they say. So, when I took up my later career in distance running, it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to do, or had all that much uncertainty about the mechanics. I’ve never really been the kind of ‘new’ runner I’m talking about here. Probably many of us runner types have a similar background. All of which brings me back to the core question of what would  you actually tell an aspiring runner.

It is somewhat of a critical decision. One of the biggest problems with people getting started is that they remember days when, as kids, they just ran. Twenty years later, they decide to take up running as a sport or at least lifestyle thing. They buy the shoes and other gear and off they go. Enthusiasm abounds. Right up until the muscles get sore or a knee starts to twinge. Mostly there is very little wrong, but suddenly it isn’t fun and then the I-Word comes up “Injury”.  Stiffness sets into those relatively unworked muscles. Some, and I do stress some, abandon hope and the nearly new running shoes and just forget the whole thing.

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

My personal goal as clinic coach, is starting easy and building slowly, assuring my charges all the way, that with just a bit of patience they will be running and enjoying it before they know it, and without injury.  Too much, too soon, we all know is the recipe for disaster. That is true even when you’ve been running for years but decide to ramp up the distance or rigor of the run. A big difference is that as experienced runners, we know the signs and (at least some of us) know that backing off a bit is mostly all that is required. New runners are sure disaster has struck or soon will – best to just avoid the whole thing.

There is another special challenge to be faced today, when teaching people to run – Social Media, and just plain old media too. As soon as someone ‘Googles’ Running, the fat is in the fire. “Ten top reasons you should never run!” “10 things that happen to your body when you start running!” “Running will ruin your knees!!!” “Running won’t ruin your knees, it will save them forever!” Why a newby would wind up on the Marathon Maniac or Half Fanatic Facebook page, I am not sure, but it could happen. If they do, it now seems that EVERYBODY is running several marathons a month! Medal Monday! Then there is all the chat about gear and what to eat – does pickle juice really stop cramping? Oh, and my personal favourite these days: “Six things that will make you poop!” What do you think is going through the heads of our new runners, and what is it doing to expectation and perspective?

My personal answer involves keeping it simple, easy and fun. If I could, I’d try to confiscate their smart phones until the clinic is over! Hmmm, maybe I could develop a “New Runner App”. It would be like the ‘N’ new drivers have to display on their cars. It would function to block internet content on running until they had enough experience to handle it.

For this specific clinic we have chosen a distance – 5K, and a training period – 12 weeks. All we are promising is that at the end of the time participants should be able to run the distance. No promise (or demand) of how fast. While running a race may be possible and can make a good motivating goal, we are not training to race. We will be training to run. What individuals do with it is up to them. Some may just keep ramping up the distance, others may decide that now they know how to run effectively and efficiently, they want to go faster. Some may indeed want to race.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

One of the things I will tell these new runners is that there are many great reasons to just make it part of  your life. You feel good and it can enhance your overall health. You will improve fitness, which in turn will make it possible to do other things easier and longer. And, if you play it right, you may meet a lot of nice people. You might even meet your future spouse!  Our daughter did. It happens. Good grief! We aren’t charging NEARLY enough for this clinic!!

Part of deciding what you would tell this mythical new running person, is deciding what you get out of it yourself. While I think that over-analysing things is often a bad idea, it still doesn’t hurt to examine our thinking and motives now and then. I am personally reaching a stage where my racing is not meeting my expectations. As (relatively) slow and lumbering as I’m getting, I’m still competitive in my heart, so not meeting my own standards where performance is concerned, is becoming a problem. This is causing me to wonder if it is just time to quit. Maybe, where it comes to racing, but running itself is just too important in my life to even think about quitting completely. That, I think, is what new runners have to get a glimpse of for themselves.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

I don’t mean to get all ‘religious’ and preachy about it, but to most runners I know, running is that important. The things it does for us are as varied as the runners who practice the sport. I’ve said this before, but it seems like a good time to say it again. When we finished the Running in the Zone book, I surveyed the 26 contributors who ranged from Olympians and World Record holders to avid recreational runners. One of the questions I asked was “Why do you run?”. In one form or another, pretty well every respondent said, “Because I love it.” By definition, we were all ‘seasoned’ runners (Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes). We all had decades of running under our sneakers. Still, the answer was ‘because I love it’. I’m sure we didn’t all love the same things. It was clear from the published pieces that the interests of the different contributors were quite diverse, just proving the point there are a great many reasons to run.

That is what I hope to be able to get across to our new runners. There is a prize available to you, if this running thing works within your life. And, it is a prize you could share, even with the Olympians!

BRAND NEW PROJECT AND A NEW ERA

04.30.2017
Coach Dan

Coach Dan – Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic

I’ve been waiting for some while to make this post. I am pretty excited about it, too.

I get to talk about something new to the Vancouver running community and a new challenge for me, that also marks the ‘new era’ of the title.

As I write this, Forerunners is in the midst of a SOFT OPENING of its brand new Vancouver store at 23rd and Main. That means there is the original store on Fourth Ave, the one in North Van and now this one on Main Street. The official opening is still a few weeks away and will include all sorts of celebrations, runs and I’m sure a few specials. They have taken advantage of a brand new space to do it just how they want, including facilities you don’t find in most running stores and lots of technology.

MY brand new project, because that is what the title is about, is a new running clinic focus that I have been asked to lead. Forerunners has always been about running for the whole running community, top to bottom. However, because of the accomplishments of the owners and staff, some people have felt it probably wasn’t ‘for them’. It always has been. As an older, not as quick as I once was runner, I am living proof of that.

Welcome to YOUR RUN BEGINS HERE – LEARN TO RUN 5K CLINIC. This is the direct link to the sign-up page.

That’s right, Learn to Run. No experience needed!

OK, so that isn’t quite true. Ideally, we’d like participants to be able to walk briskly for 30 minutes, but we won’t insist. Beyond that, we are going to start with the basics and go from there. When the clinic is done in Twelve Weeks, participants should be able to RUN 5K. Nobody is saying how fast. That will be up to each individual. For those that want to translate this newfound ability into something more, racing 5K should also be an option by the time the clinic is done. The clinic won’t stress racing, but we will provide enough of the basics to let the new 5K runner feel comfortable to give it a try.

Forerunners clinic training group (full and half marathon)

Forerunners clinic training group (full and half marathon)

I have been leading longer distance clinic pace groups at Forerunners for about eight years now. I am somewhat humbled by the fact that I’ve been asked to develop and direct this program. Must be my fatherly (OK, maybe grandfatherly) approach to new runners. Truth is that my pace group tends to attract people wanting to try moving up to the longer challenges of the half or full marathon. In many instances, having made the fundamental decision, they still aren’t always sure about whether or not they can actually do it. Breaking News!!! They generally ARE. I just help them realize it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the newbies arrive and then as confidence builds, run ‘right through’ my pace group into the quicker pace groups.

Before becoming involved with Forerunners as a clinic pace group leader, I spent five years as a Leader and Clinic Coordinator for the Sun Run InTraining program. I suppose that is where a lot of my experience with new runners originates. That was a most rewarding experience and at least part of the reason I am excited about this new opportunity.

First "Very Social" Run from Forerunners Main Street (April 2017)

First “Very Social” Run from Forerunners Main Street (April 2017)

NOW, before we go any further, you may wonder why a blogger who writes almost entirely for a community of people that are ALREADY accomplished runners, is talking about this as much more than a headline. Well, partly it is personal, but mostly it is because we all know or encounter friends and family, sometimes just acquaintances, who muse about learning to run. Well, for my regular readers, this is my invitation to you to pass this on or make these folks aware of what is happening at Forerunners on Main.

We are going to make this fun and definitely non-threatening. Without getting deep into the weeds on how it will all work, everyone will be able to run comfortably within their capacities, and progress at a personal pace. We’ll start slow and build as we go.  We are mindful that even if some people may not be runners, they could be rather fit and will progress quickly. We have a spot for them, but there are still important things to learn if you are just coming to running: things that will help with training in the long-term and prevention of injury.

I should be clear. This really is for people who consider they are just starting with running. People who maybe run a bit, jog for fitness, or used to be runners and want to come back, may want to consider some of the other clinic options available. There will be options at all three Forerunners locations. BUT, the Learn to Run 5K clinic is happening at Main Street. We are going to start at a very basic level. That said, everyone is welcome, as long as it is understood that the clinic is for new runners.

Most runners know that we do this because it is “FUN”. We enjoy it, and probably all understand why I put the emphasis I did on the term fun. We derive our pleasure from a great many aspects of this thing called running, and pounding through a tough hill repeat session may not look like all that much fun, at least not while in the middle of it. But, when it is over, it usually does feel pretty good to know you did it.

Whatever, my personal goal in developing this Learn to Run 5K program is to help people join this community called runners. My number one goal is to ensure that it is a good experience that is welcoming and comfortable. Big challenges can come later. At this point it is going to be more like: “Come on in! The water’s fine!”

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

As we all know, running is a lifestyle choice: a healthy lifestyle choice. Experienced runners probably don’t much think about it most of the time, but that makes it no less real. I doubt any of us runs to specifically achieve any of the health-based wonders touted on every internet home page you will ever land on these days. But, that doesn’t mean we aren’t achieving at least some of them as a bonus to what we love doing. One of the biggies is the mounting evidence that even relatively modest but regular exercise has huge health benefits. Running is one of the easiest of these to perform. Get yourself a decent pair of shoes. Dress for the weather and off you go. Of course, we all know there is so much more than that to a running life, but at the most fundamental level, that really is about all there is to it.

The Butlers: Peter and Karen (4th Ave Store)

The Butlers: Peter and Karen (4th Ave Store)

Now, let’s back up just a bit. As much as I have been asked to develop and coordinate this new program, it is really the concept of Forerunners owners and management. Peter and Karen Butler have been the founders and back-bone of the business from the beginning in 1986. The whole thing has been a passion and vocation for them from the very start. They have always supported the running community with high quality shoes and clothing and a rigorous policy on delivery of goods and services. From the earliest days, Forerunners has sponsored running events in Metro Vancouver. They have brought in accomplished runners as part of their staff and in more recent times as business partners. The Main Street Forerunners is no exception. “Coach Carey”, Carey Nelson, is now partnering with the Butlers and long-time manager, Todd Jangula in the new venture. For the past 10 years, Coach Carey has directed a range of clinics including the Saturday ‘long run’ sessions for various marathon and half marathon events as well as the mid-week ‘speed work’ clinics.

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

The ‘new kid’ in all of this is going to be the Learn to Run 5K program. The fist session will begin May 27, near the end of the Grand Opening Week for the store. It will be a 12 week program. Like each clinic session, there will be a ‘target’ 5K race for those who want to try out their new talent. Nobody has to race if they don’t want to. That isn’t the focus of this clinic. It is called the ‘learn to run’ not ‘learn to race’ 5K clinic. For those who don’t want to race, there will be a “Very Social 5K” from the store or close by, with refreshments after. (I’ve heard there could even be pancakes!) For this inaugural session, the primary focus race will be the PNE Do-Nut Dash (August 20). There is no official linkage and there may be other similar events around the same time. For that matter, one’s ability to run 5K is quite portable and the clinic will finish in mid-August, so a ‘new runner’ may want to take the show on the road to a favourite vacation site. Nothing like a destination race, I always say.

That’s it for now. As I said, I know this isn’t really for my normal audience, but we all know people who WANT to run, so pass this on to them. They’ll be glad you did!

IT’S NOT OFTEN I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY

04.10.2017
Dan Cumming - In case you forgot what I look like!

Dan Cumming – In case you forgot what I look like!

AND, this isn’t one of those times.

Nor is the recent past despite the fact I’ve been pretty quiet. It has actually been another one of those times when life has been getting in the way of running and talking/writing about running.

BUT, it is Spring running season! As I started writing we had just ‘Sprung Ahead’ into Daylight Time, and the true official ‘first day of Spring’ was just around a week away. And then, more stuff happened, including the death of Ed Whitlock, which clearly took precedence over anything else I might have to say. So good intentions and all, here I am finally back to writing a bit of my regular running stuff.

A couple of biggies are on the horizon, the London and Boston Marathons, and sometime in the coming weeks Nike is going to unleash its first attempt at getting one or more athletes under the magic and mystical TWO HOUR  mark for the marathon.

Here in Vancouver, the number of races on the immediate schedule is ramping up fast.  The Sun Run is almost upon us and before you can turn around, the BMO Vancouver Marathon, followed by a bunch of seasonal standards from the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the BC Athletics Super Series. This short list is just to mark a few of the dozens of runs that are right on the horizon. For me and quite a few local runners, an alternate race to Vancouver is the Eugene Marathon. Personally, the Vancouver Marathon is still way ahead on the count of times I have participated (11 I believe – 5 full and 6 half), but Eugene is a favourite and I think this is going to be my sixth time in the 11 years it has been in operation.

Getting back to the international stage, we may be looking at some spectacular marathon performances in the next while (none of which will be by ME). Boston does not meet the requirements for world records, but it can still turn in fast and exciting times. Among the runners will be a couple of notable Canadians, Eric Gillis (2:11:21) and Rachel Hanna (2:32:09)! London is known as a place to do a time, and it counts. There, Canadians should be keeping an eye on Krista Duchene (2:28:32). Of course, there will also be the totally ‘set up’ attempt by Nike and its three athletes, to run the track at Monza for that two hour time. A test run at half marathon distance demonstrated that the looped course and all the preparations could produce a fast time. It is going to be exciting to see what happens when they do it “For Real”.

The thing about insurmountable times is that once someone does it, everybody wants to do it!

Example? The four minute mile. It was once said that you would die if you went that fast. A humorous quote from Sir Roger Bannister highlights this belief:

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Bannister’s time when he broke through the physical and psychological barrier was 3:59.4. .High school athletes have now cracked four minutes with the official US High School record standing at 3:53.43!

Even if Nike is creating a completely set up situation, including designing a new shoe they claim can knock 3-4% off the elite runner’s time, IF any one of those boys breaks two hours or even comes close, like say 2:00:30, I predict times will soon drop in some race, to near that same time or even a bit faster. Pride may even push some people to drive through to an unheard of time, just to prove they are ‘better’ than the Nike team that has everything optimized for the performance. People are like that!

We seem to collectively adopt a belief about things like the four minute mile and the two hour marathon, and, until someone proves otherwise, it becomes the limiting factor. Who ever imagined that, Nike notwithstanding, the marathon record would be sitting at 2:02:57? It wasn’t that long ago that 2:05 was seen as rocket fast. Since we got to the 2:03 point there have been a number of results just over or just under that. Maybe we just need to know, really know, that something is possible for a whole lot of other people to become believers.

One record that has not proven to be that way is Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15 marathon time. The second best time to that is 2:17 and it was done by Paula herself. As a matter of fact, looking back at top women’s marathon times (not records, because once someone sets a new record, people who are faster than the old record, but slower than the new one, don’t show up in the records stats), out of the top seven times recorded by women, Paula Radcliffe holds FOUR of them: 2:15:25, 2:17:18, 2:17:42 and 2:18:56. The fastest woman in the Top Five (since Paula R became the record holder) not named Paula Radcliffe is Mary Keitany (KEN) with a 2:18:37. Paula’s record time was done at London in 2003. Wonder, fourteen years later, what London might have in store for us in 2017?

Based on my little theory about people showing the way, Radcliffe actually showed herself the way, posting one of her 2:17’s (breaking Katherine Nedereiba’s 2:18:47) before she recorded the 2:15:25. Looking at the ‘followers’, that makes Mary Keitany next at 2:18:37 or more than THREE full minutes off Radcliffe’s best. The men continue to steadily push the times down.  Come on ladies, how about giving us some excitement this Spring!?!

At least in American marathoning, we are witnessing a changing of the guard. Ryan Hall has said he is done, but decided seven marathons on seven continents in seven days was a fitting way to say goodbye to the distance. Meb has signaled he is done with competitive racing, although I notice he is registered for Boston, so we’ll see. There may be some newcomers on the scene, but none as yet that have signaled clearly they are here and ready to join battle with the best of the best.

Canadian distance running is being well represented by several runners on both the male and female side, but the big target in Canadian marathon running remains Jerome Drayton’s 42 year-old record. So many have flirted with it and the gap has been closed, but Drayton is still ‘the man’ at 2:10:09. A personal friend, Peter Butler, was second with 2:10:56 – for years! He has slipped now to the fourth fastest person, but sixth fastest time with two of the faster times being 2:10:55 or just one second faster. To give him his due, Reid Coolsaet owns three of the times that bested Butler and stands second-best only to Drayton with 2:10:29. The other guys slipped in between Drayton and Butler, without besting Drayton. Dylan Wykes (2:10:47) and Reid Coolsaet wedged between the other two. It is a bit ironic that Peter has not lost a second on Drayton but has dropped from second fastest Canadian man to fourth. Statistically, you would have to say that someone has to break the 2:10 mark and set a totally new standard for Canadian men, but just now it is hard to see who that might be. Eric Gillis is only just a step or two back of Butler’s time and still active. None of the above named (well, except Drayton and Butler) are completely out of the picture, but all three are on the down side of things, at least in theory. Wykes may or may not put himself back in that mix considering the injury issues he has had in the last few years. Just to be clear, winning races is different from posting times. All I am talking about here is those record times.

On the women’s side, Lanni Marchant has set a new Canadian standard (2:28:00) and runs well. However, some younger women showing promise, may or may not ever reach her level of performance. The good news is that there are probably three or four coming along, and you would not want to dismiss what Krista Duchene might do on the right day in the right company. I (and a whole lot of other people) will be watching Dayna Pidhoresky (2:40:38) and Rachel Hanna (2:32:08) because they both have a lot of future in them.

All I know with respect to Canadian distance runners, male and female, is that I am going to be watching for something interesting during the coming year. There are many who still have potential, notwithstanding theoretical analysis of potential performance. It always comes down to the right circumstances on the right day and look out!

I will also be watching me! I’ve hit what I really believe now is a critical point in my own running. I already mentioned Eugene on May 7. A big group is going down to do the Marathon or Half Marathon. I will be one of the people in the Half. I love the race, with the great route and above all, the finish on Hayward Field. I also have a score to settle from last year. Officially, you will find me listed 5th in my age group with exactly the same time as the chap who was 4th. Seems to me that is a tie, but even though I can’t see it in the results, they probably timed into the hundredths of a second. I don’t care! they gave us the same time. I calls it a tie!! Anyway, I was holding back a little bit last year because I had another half to run in just six days. No hanging back this time!  Going for a better time (and hopefully a better placing)!

Then, later in June, I will run what may well be my last marathon, The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. I am not going to say I will never ever participate in another marathon, but unless I trip coming out of the tunnel and roll all the way to the bottom in a BQ time, I’m pretty sure it is going to be my last ‘serious’ marathon, meaning with a time I can be pleased with as the best I could do. I do love marathons and everything about them except the training and hard work of running one for time, so I may do like a lot of people I know, and switch over to an experiential approach. By that I mean a slower time and less rigorous training program (which is really what is getting to me in terms of fatigue factors). There are a good many events in which I would like to take part, and today that is a huge ‘thing’ with a lot of people quite happy to run slower than I would, even on a slow day. I may need to become one of them. It is all relative, you know.

With that Tunnel Marathon behind me, my intention is to switch my focus to shorter distances, at least for the rest of the year. That may mean around 10K as the upper end, barring the odd 10 miler or 15K event that may or may not appear on the horizon. After I determine if not training ALL the time for the long races, gives me back some of the energy I now seem to find lacking, I may put some serious training back in for a Half Marathon now and then, but only one or two a year. This all fits with some other running challenges/opportunities coming up that I’m not ready to talk about just yet – soon, but not now. I’m very excited about this new personal ‘era’ and you will soon be able to see why when I can talk about it openly. Won’t be long now!

 

WE LOST A LEGEND – RIP ED WHITLOCK

03.16.2017
Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. (From STWM web gallery)

I suppose I was no more or less shocked than anyone else when we heard the news on the morning of March 13, 2017, that the inspirational Ed Whitlock had died. But, shocked I was. Many on social media posted things like: “I thought he was immortal!” An easy mistake to make, no doubt, about one so vigorous.

Ed had just banked a couple of new world records as recently at Oct/Nov of 2016. Had he dropped over with heart failure or something like that, I guess we could understand how he could run so well in October/November and be gone from us in March. In fact, he died of prostate cancer according to his family.

When a man of 85 (when he set the records) or 86 (his birthday was just a week before his demise), sets a running record there might be a tendency among the unfamiliar to think ‘OK, but at that age, he probably just had to show up’.  As all we runners know, that is definitely not the case! Even at that age, his performances on road and track would challenge people half his age. More on that later. To be clear, his marathon time in mid-October at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (one of his favourite races) was 3:56:33. Under FOUR hours, at age 85, pushing 86. The average finish time (male) for marathon is now somewhere around 4:20, just in case you were wondering.

When I heard the shocking news, my first instinct was to rush to my computer and write a tribute, but then I changed my mind. I did post a couple of heartfelt thoughts on social media and ‘shared’ one of the well written tributes. However, I thought it might be better to take a little time and be more thoughtful about exactly what I wanted to say. I did not know Ed personally and had not even met him, but like so many others I followed his exploits rather closely and with more than a little awe. Like so many others, I feel like I knew him.

I’m pretty sure that Ed inspired any runner who had heard of him and his achievements. There is no doubt he impressed and inspired the ‘seasoned‘ athletes among us! This is where I want to start, because Ed Whitlock’s achievements and records are so very hard to comprehend in their true context. Why? Because they are as extraordinary as you could imagine. The last time he raced, he was 85, so let’s start there.

His last race was a not often run 15K distance. I will just skip by it even though it was his last race and a world age group record. The distance is seldom run and times would need to be explained, whereas with marathons there is a more universal recognition of relative performance.

That brings us to October 16, 2016 and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon where Ed recorded that 3:56:33 World Age Group Record. Why you must be amazed at this time, which a lot of decent marathoners can accomplish, is because he was 85, nearly 86, when he did it. Think about it. Ed Whitlock was several years older than average Canadian male life expectancy AND he was running marathons! As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a great fan and proponent of age grading. Looking at Whitlock’s time through that lens, we find his time grades to 2:05:09 (according to the World Masters Athletics calculator). Yes!  Now I think I’ve got your attention.

Ed said he had a bad patch in the middle of the race, but then got it back. He also said he was not as well trained as he generally likes to be and with his usual training regimen, could have possibly gone a bit faster. Turning this thing around the other way, the current World Record marathon time is 2:02:57. Using age grading in a theoretical exercise to see how that translates to the necessary performance for Ed to equal that World Record, his time would have had to be 3:52:24. In other words and in theory, he was 4:09 (raw time) off matching the world’s best marathon performance. And that, with a ‘bad patch’ around half way.

He did not consider it his best race. No, that was the time he recorded at age 73 when he went Sub-3 with a time of 2:54:59. The number of people who could achieve that result, at any age, is quite small, let alone any masters runner, and of course NO runner in his/her eighth decade! The graded time comes out to be 2:02:54, or faster than the current World Record. Oh yes, and run about 12 years ago. Today, we speculate on a possible Sub-2 marathon, so I did the same calculation with his time at 73. Ed would have had to run a raw time of 2:50:50 to grade to 1:59:59. Funny enough, the raw deficit is also 4:09.

As noted, I wanted to do something a little different to pay tribute, so started researching facts and information about Ed Whitlock and his running history. It isn’t that hard to find, but as I dug up the bits and pieces it started sounding like ME!

OK, OK, Hang on!  It’s TRUE! (Well, up to a point.) I also have to say that the comparison is done with all humility and respect, and with a recognition that what follows might apply to a whole LOT of us. In so many ways and up to a point, Ed Whitlock was a bit of an ‘everyman’, up to a point.

Like a lot of people, including me, he started running as a kid in school, then shut it down when he got all grown up and educated and responsible. Yep. That’s me.

Later in life (into his 40s) he started up again with his running. Check. Me too.

He ran his first marathon at age 44 (this statistic is a bit mixed, but he claims not to keep any accurate records on his career, so it was a third party that contributed the age).  Again, pretty close. My first marathon was when I was 43. And, while his first (3:09) was a bit faster than my first (3:24), they weren’t all that different. Of course, his second at age 48 was his fastest ever at 2:31! I’m suuuure I could have done something similar, but I didn’t run my second until 12 years after the first and by then I was 55 and my time had floated over 4 hours.

NO, please don’t go look up Ed Whitlock’s time at 55!! Of course I’m just kidding about being able to come close to his time at age 48. What does seem similar is that there was a gap of four years between his first and second, reflecting possibly two common things: no particular urgency to run number two and the fact that in those days, marathons were not that easy to find and the time to train properly for them, even harder.

I didn’t intentionally wait 12 years. Life got in the way. I did start training a couple of times, but could never get to the start line. Whitlock apparently did, some 40 odd times in total, but once again, by his own statement, he didn’t recall exactly how many. That is where we differ in a big way! I know EXACTLY  how many I’ve done and could probably give a narrative of every one of them, kind of like the golfers that can remember what they did on the green at the 16th at Augusta in the Third Round of the 1991 Masters. Thankfully for you, I won’t. The parallel to the rest of us is that he only averaged about one per year from age 44 to 85. Among those of us who love running marathons, that is not a huge production rate. However, most of us don’t run for 40-45 years. I am personally at 33 years now, 29 years from the time of my first marathon. All I am saying is that even though he may have racked up something around 42, Ed Whitlock was not obsessed about running marathons. No, there were so many other distances where he could dominate the world in general, that he had to share himself around! And, there’s a point of difference, most of us (especially me) never have that problem.

In an interview he gave just after his last Toronto Waterfront Marathon he said he had never run Boston. Wow, what a coincidence – me too!  (OK, so there is a difference. He doesn’t like point to point races and never really wanted to run Boston. Me, I couldn’t care what kind of course it is, ever since I realized I wanted to run Boston, I have been unable to qualify.)

With the exception that at 72 I am still going, it seems that any kind of parallels have now been exhausted!

OH NO! There is one more. In discussing his most recent record in Toronto in October, he said he thought maybe his ‘bad patch’ there in the middle was a result of ‘going out too fast’.  Now tell me, who cannot relate to that??? Check!  Me too – in almost every race I’ve ever done.

So really, Ed Whitlock was a lot like the rest of us, well except for that one thing that he could run like stink! Perhaps it is why I’ve gone on with this silly personal comparison. As awesome as his record is, we mere mortals can actually relate to him.

Mr. Whitlock could obviously have run Boston anytime he wanted. Just to make that point clear, the current M18-34 BQ is 3:05. Pretty much through until he was 75, Ed could have met that standard including the ‘fastest first’ provision. And, until the recent chopping off of 5:59 from all BQ standards, his performance at the Toronto race last October would have easily qualified him in the M60-64, or a division more than 20 years his junior. As it was, with the actual standard of today, he only missed by about a minute or so.

BUT, Whitlock never ran Boston. He didn’t like point to point races. I probably should hate him for that, but I find a delicious irony in it! Also, there is a kind of clarity of mind and purpose. I’m sure he knew he could run it anytime, but he found no need to do so. There is a kind of integrity in that, from the perspective that he didn’t need to and didn’t want to and was not dragged along by it being the thing you must do, because everyone else wants to do it.

I began to wonder if Ed Whitlock was a true elite marathoner in terms of numbers of marathons run. Most of the world’s best only do a couple a year. If his first marathon was around 44 and his last at 85, pushing 86, then he has been doing them for over 40 years. When asked ‘how many?’, as noted above, he figured about 40 marathons, maybe just over, like 41-42. That stuff just wasn’t important to him. He did allow, and it is an easy calculation, that he averaged about ONE per year. WOW!  I just realized that I have done something he didn’t and couldn’t have, I qualified to be a Marathon Maniac and not JUST a Maniac but a Silver or Level 2 Maniac. Considering his training volume, I guess he could have done that anytime he wanted, but that was not his focus. By his own admission, he liked to break records.

His performances (no one-trick pony our Ed, he ran track distances through the marathon) speak for themselves, and loudly. But, his personality and humble attitude endeared him to the whole running community.

More than one analyst, including RITZ contributor Roger Robinson, hold suspicions that Whitlock may not have been human. Roger, has gone so far as to posit that his mother may have been abducted by aliens nine months before his birth, and well, you know………………….  Some, more scientific searchers of the truth, actually turned him into a lab rat for a time; poking, prodding, sampling and testing him. I won’t go into all the things they learned, but not surprisingly they determined that he was performing as if a much, much younger man! Had they just asked, we runners could have saved them a lot of time, but I guess they wanted to put real physiological numbers on it. Let’s just say those numbers were pretty amazing.

There was nothing ‘normal’ about our friend Ed, when it came to running at the level he did. He trained to the simplest possible routine. He had no special dietary secrets (unless eating everything is a secret). He had no coach and no special routines. I suppose there was a bit of Forrest Gump in him – he just ran. If he got injured he stopped until it healed. (Now, why didn’t I think of that??) His normal training run was at a comfortable pace for 3-3.5 hours, but he carried no timing or pacing device and used a relatively short loop route around a local graveyard. Apparently, he didn’t want to know if he was going fast or slow or if it was a good run or not. He once told Roger Robinson that he did no speed work, however given the amount of racing he would do at shorter distances, Roger was not 100% sold on that claim. But, in the sense that he went out to do a workout such as the “pyramids” in my schedule for this week, nope, not so much.

You can’t argue with his success. At 48 he ran 2:31. That was 1975. If you were to assume his best days, at least in theory, would have been some 15 years earlier, you have to wonder what he might have done around 1960. OK, I have to wonder. Apparently it wasn’t that important to him.  Again I consulted the age grading calculator. A time of 2:31 at age 48 grades to 2:17(ish). At the time, the World Record was 2:15:16 held by the legendary Abebe Bikila.  I cited the time to the second because the previous record was 2:15:17 and the one after was 2:15:15 (over a span of about 5 years). In other words, at least in theory, Ed Whitlock might have been ‘right there’. As an FYI point, the WMA calculator is an equation that allows you to decimalize age and to enter exact age rather than nominal age. For instance, Whitlock was 85 when he ran Toronto, but he was 85.67 if you get accurate about it, and as he said in an interview after the race, even six months, at his age, is a huge amount of time. As he put it, his speed would be ‘leaking away’ rather rapidly. I know neither how many seconds his 2:31 included, nor whether he ran it the day after his birthday or the day before (or whatever). Thus, the calculated time is expressed as 2:17(ish). It could easily have been in the 2:16s.

Since I began writing this, a few days have passed and the ‘news’ articles have slowed down. I’m sure the tributes will continue for a good long time yet. Although you never know for certain, there is a pretty good chance that we won’t see another ‘Ed Whitlock’ for some time to come, if ever. Remember that as he went from one age to the next, he didn’t just break the previous record, he made a shambles of it. His time in Toronto was some 30 minutes better than the previous best. Of course, while there may be another fleet-footed older gent come along, it can be said with absolute certainty that there will never be another Ed Whitlock. He was clearly one of a kind. He will be remembered and he will always be an inspiration.

[Editor’s Comment: I hope nobody is offended by my slightly light-hearted approach. I truly believe in celebrating life well lived rather than mourning the loss. I want to remember Ed Whitlock’s life as a runner, not his death. There is nothing unique about death. Sooner or later, we are all going to do it. The real issue is what we did with those years between being born and when the end finally comes. The example of Ed Whitlock is something to which we can all aspire. I know I do.]

THE EVER CHANGING WORLD OF RUNNING

02.06.2017

Before we even start, I have to say this got way longer than ever I imagined, and I didn’t even cover a lot of the finer details. I think it is all very  interesting and you may too, so I won’t really apologize for the length. I will try to make it easier for you to read if you don’t have time for the whole thing. I’m going to start with a kind of index and then put section headings into the body of the post. You can check out the bits you want to see the most and skim the rest.  Enjoy!

Introduction

Before Everyone Was Out Running

Big Races and How They’ve Changed

What? Women Running Marathons?

We’ve Got a Shoe For That

It’s All About the Numbers

It’s All About Your Time

Does It Really Matter What We Run On?

When It Really IS About the Time, Then How About the Timing?

Whatever! I Just Want to Finish.

And, I Want a Medal!

At Last, The Conclusion!

Introduction. We all have a tendency to unconsciously think that what we are currently experiencing is how things have always been. We do know that is not actually how it is, but as we look about at whatever may be going on, it is pretty common to have that ‘lens’ take over, whether we want it to or not. This is not limited to running, of course.

As an example, I wonder how many younger people realize that our present ease of communication through the internet and social media, in relative terms, has only just taken its first breath? Many of them know no other situation. C’mon, I’m in my 70s and have taken to this new technology to the point of having trouble remembering the days when a computer far less clever than my smart phone, took up a whole floor of a building at the University of British Columbia where I was studying back in the early 1960s. Not only that, but you had to learn to ‘speak’ the language of the computer (FORTRAN in my case) if you wanted to communicate with it at all, in hopes of getting it to do some computational heavy lifting. I stressed the word hope, because if you put a comma or period in the wrong place you would either get garbage (thus the term Garbage In/Garbage Out) or it wouldn’t work at all. Let’s face it, while some kind of computer dates back a bit further, practical computing isn’t as old as I am. It was mostly number crunching in the early days. There was no ‘Google search’ and no word processing capacity or any of the stuff we expect now, even on our smart phones.  Voice recognition technology? Only science fiction – see “2001 A Space Odyssey” (1968) where the computer ‘talked’. And, to make my point about how different things are, here I am writing on a computer, about to publish this blog piece, which if anyone would actually want to, could be read a micro-second later, anywhere in the world! Not only are my clever words going to be transmitted, but also a bunch of digital photographs and direct links to other parts of the magic interweb. But now, that is just normal. NORMAL.

OK, back to my original story. The changing world of running.

King Edward Track (1962) - Intrepid Author at the Centre Rear.

King Edward Track (1962) – Intrepid Author at the Centre Rear.

Before Everyone Was Out Running. To some extent this whole post was precipitated by a Facebook posting by Running in the Zone contributor, Joe Henderson. His post was about how (The) Runner’s World came to be in 1970 and how he became its first editor. One bit in the story was about how the originator of the publication wanted to expand interest in running and was discouraged that in the Eastern US, found little to no ‘post school’ running. And, just to be clear, ‘post school’ didn’t mean after classes, but rather that most competitive running was done within the context of college sport. Once that was done, people had to get on with life. Now there is a reason for this, probably several.

Percy Williams

Percy Williams – Olympic Champion

One of the big reasons was that nobody would pay you to run. There are all kinds of stories about how even Olympic athletes had to struggle just to get to the Games, including Canada’s own Percy Williams (Olympic Gold Medals 100m and 200m – 1928). Athletics had to be pure – amateur – no money or even prizes of value. Everybody was an amateur and even a bit of support was too much. Also, running was an ‘elite’ sport in that it was serious, far from recreational. Not that many people were doing it, and most of those who were, were men (we’ll get to that in a bit). I know there are many kinds of running from sprints to ultras, so I hope you will pardon me if a lot of my statistics flow around the marathon. I find it a good common ground considering how many people are now doing at least the ‘bucket list’ race as a personal challenge.

Boston Marathon - The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Boston Marathon – The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Big Races and How They’ve Changed. Let’s start then with some well known races and see how things stack up. Because I mentioned the marathon, we can go to the Boston Marathon. It has become some kind of Gold Standard for regular runners. You have to be good to get in and on top of that, even a bit lucky. Now, you not only have to meet the standard for your age and gender, but exceed it and then hope it was a ‘slow’ year so that you don’t have to post a time 5 minutes faster than your official BQ.

I suppose there is comfort in the fact that this huge race has changed little over the years. HORSE FEATHERS! Nothing could be further from the truth. Huge numbers now run Boston, despite the holy BQ, but the first Boston Marathon, run in 1897 had 18 entrants. EIGHTEEN. No, that can’t be right! Well, it may not be right, but that is straight from the official media guide.

Well, it is certainly a good thing there has always been some kind of standard to be met! More BALONEY! The “BQ” was first introduced in 1970 and was essentially, “any man able to run the marathon in four hours”. Yes, ladies, MAN. You will recall (you don’t?) that Kathrine Switzer crashed the party in 1967 by running the race ‘with numbers’. She actually wasn’t the first, first, but was the first woman to have a number bib and cross both the start and finish line. Even still, women were not welcomed into the race until 1972. There were many reasons for this and Boston was a symptom, not the cause. If you’ve forgotten ladies, it just wasn’t healthy for a woman to do. Lady bits. Falling out. That sort of thing.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Since we got ourselves all the way up to around 1970 and all, remember the opening re Joe Henderson and Runner’s World, lets try out some other statistics from around that time. Since I got onto discussing the Boston Marathon, there were an unwieldy 1342 entrants in the 1969 event which is what caused the institution of the qualifying time for 1970. That apparently had the desired impact of reducing the 1970 field to a more manageable 1174. Fortunately, letting women enter in 1972 didn’t cause much damage as there were only 1219 entrants. Believe it or not, except for the 100 year anniversary in 1996 when a totally unrestricted 38,708 entrants were accepted, it wasn’t until 1997 that the registration exceeded 10,000 (10,471). Oh, and that BQ? Yes, well it has changed a number of times over the years, including the most recent addition of the ‘fastest first’ policy of deciding who gets in or not. Prior to that, if you made the necessary qualifying time, it only depended on how fast you could get your registration in and accepted. Now, the BQ allows you to apply, but your time decides if you make it or not. At least, unlike the first BQ of four hours, the BQ standards take age (and gender) into account.

New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon – near the Start

Another really big marathon we all know about and a lot of people aspire to run is the New York City Marathon. Some 50,000 people line up for that one now and getting in via the lottery is becoming very, very difficult. In other words, 50,000 may run, but there are a bunch more who want to and can’t even get an entry. Ever wonder how that compares to 1970? Here you go. 1970 was the FIRST year of the NYCM. There were 127 starters and 55 who finished. Oh yeah, here is another gem! Entry was $1.00. OK, it WAS a US dollar, which certainly makes a difference for us folks from outside the USA! The first few years the NYCM was essentially laps of Central Park. In 1976 it moved to the Five Borough format. There was one woman entered in the first NYCM (Nina Kuscik) but she dropped out due to illness, so no female finisher. Still, it seems K.V. Switzer was having an impact. In 1971, Kuscik returned but came second to Beth Bonner, both women going under 3:00 (by four minutes). There were four women that time. And while in 1967 K.V. Switzer entered Boston simply to run it, Kathrine Switzer showed up in 1974 to win the NYCM.

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

What? Women Running Marathons? I guess that kind of points out how much change there has been, even over a fairly short period of time. 2017 will see a big celebration at the Boston Marathon with Kathrine Switzer returning (to run) on the 50th anniversary of the run of K.V. Switzer in 1967. Pretty sure she won’t have to sneak into the start area this time, wearing baggy sweats. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is NOT the 50th of women officially running Boston. That will come in 2022, still five years from now.

Here is one more little tidbit on women in official high profile marathons. It wasn’t until 1984 that the Olympic Games held its first Women’s Marathon. It was in Los Angeles and Joan Benoit-Samuelson won. By the way, this is a great running trivia betting question! Most people find it hard to believe how recent that first one was. Oh, and good old K.V. Switzer did a lot of chain rattling to help make that happen. You can read all about it in her book, “Marathon Woman“.

Typical 'Shoe Wall' display - Forerunners (Vancouver)

Typical ‘Shoe Wall’ display – Forerunners (Vancouver)

We’ve Got a Shoe for That! Another thing we kind of take for granted is technology and gear. Let’s start with the shoes. When we go to a running store for a new pair of speedy-go-fasters, we expect choice – lots of choice. We may even expect, after picking the brand and model, to then also be offered a choice of colour or design for the specific shoe (see photo example of Forerunners selection).

Anybody remember Bill Bowerman? How about Nike? Well, it wasn’t until good old Coach Bowerman from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!!) started messing around with his wife’s waffle iron (or so the story goes) that we got a ‘training shoe’ with a patterned rubberized sole. That first design was meant to take the strain off some of his top athletes while training, including his protégé, Steve Prefontaine. If it weren’t for those Nike Waffle Sole shoes, we wouldn’t have any of our modern running shoes, with all the built-in technology to correct and direct our landing while protecting our tender knees and such. We surely wouldn’t have a wall full of shoes in myriad brands, models, styles and yes, colours, to choose among.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Fueling for the race is another area of interest and change. I ran my first marathon in 1988. I did it on water. Oh yes, even then people had pre-race secrets and plans to create top performance, but the gels and such, as well as electrolyte drinks had not been invented, or perhaps more correctly, had not been turned into readily available products. I love telling my new running clinic group members about how I ran my first marathon just on water for on-course support. I give them enough time to think through just how ‘bad-ass’ that is before I tell them I did it because that other stuff hadn’t been invented. It was 1988. THAT is not very long ago. (Well, I don’t think it is so long.) Again, like the shoes, just think of the choices of product and even formats you have for both fuel and electrolyte replacement. Ponder this: the original Gatorade was more or less formulated as ‘artificial sweat’ and some of the early retail product even tasted like it! It was created for college football players toiling in the hot Florida sun.

It’s All About the Numbers. About those women (again), while there weren’t that many women running any distance back in the 1960s and 1970s, the truth is there weren’t that many PEOPLE, male or female, running anything in the sense we do today. Jim Fixx got us all out jogging and then died an early death, thus creating a whole industry for people trying to convince us running is actually bad for you! Anyway, he did get our attention and got a lot of people moving. He got a lot of men moving, actually, and particularly because ‘fat and forty’ was a kind of scary thing for men re early heart disease. It was certainly my early motivation. Why he didn’t get nearly as many women moving isn’t clear to me. It is complex and probably foolish to try to pinpoint the reasons, but the fact is that men way outnumbered the women out there training and racing. I don’t know, when it all started, maybe you women were still just a little worried that those fabled reproductive hazards might be real.

Well, that has certainly changed. Where it comes to racing, at every distance up to and including the Half Marathon, women outnumber men in the field. In many cases, waaaaaay outnumber the men. Gents, I’m sorry to tell you, our only remaining bastion is the Marathon (sorry, because it means you have to train for and run a full marathon if you want to be in the majority). We still own that one, but even at that, the women are catching up.

And then there is the matter of the quality of running vs racing. There is nothing like the motivation of a race to help you train, so once people commit to running, it is a short fartlek to deciding to enter a race. I feel personally, that even if you are near to last, there is something about being in a race that hooks you, maybe right from the first time.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Back in the day when I started, big races had 1000 entrants. Now, if you live in or near a fair population centre, local races can have that many. My first marathon was the Vancouver International Marathon (1988) and had about 1200 entrants. In 2016 it fielded just around 3800 and is capped at 5,000 entries. That particular ‘race weekend’ includes a Half and an 8K, with a total entry of 13,000 runners in 2016.

It’s All About Your Time! (Or, possibly it isn’t.) Motivation to run and race is different now. Many are doing it for what I call the experience. They want to participate in a race, but don’t care all that much how fast they go. People were intimidated by the whole idea of racing when I was first into running, and for good reason. The people in races may or may not have been super fast runners but everyone was pretty serious. By that, I mean we trained and wanted to get better than we were before. Running the marathon was hard-core. To give you an idea of what I mean, my first (since I’ve been using it for examples) had a time limit of four hours. At 4:00:00 the clock came down. It was said that if you couldn’t run a marathon in four hours you really couldn’t run a marathon. I had a time of 3:24 something. It got me a placing of 318 OA and 54th in M40-44. Those stats reveal a couple of interesting things. There were something like 1100 finishers, so there were a good 800 people behind me, but still under 4 hours. In the rather hotly contested age group of ‘young masters’ my time was only good enough for 54th place! Finally, I wrote my time as I did simply because I don’t actually KNOW what my ‘chip’ time was. Why? Same reason I ran with only water – there were no chips then. Funny thing is that I had my own watch, an early version of the Timex Ironman that so many have now, but far shy of being a Garmin or similar gps enabled device. I could have had my own unofficial version of a chip time, but we were so steeped in the idea of ‘gun time’ that I started the watch with the gun. I DID have the same time as the official clock though! That was 3:25:19. I am more than 100% sure it took 0:19 to cross the start line, so I claim 3:24 something. That is as close as I can get.

Once the ‘chip’ was invented, there was a good long time when you had to pay a deposit or face a charge of about $40 if you didn’t return it. Now, they are mostly built into the bib and are disposable. You had to wear them on your shoe or a strap around your ankle or they weren’t close enough to the ground to work. Now, we are warned to stay at least 3m away from the finish mat after completing the race, lest your chip get read again. The ever popular race photo is pretty recent too and while they do pre-date digital photography, it is only since it has become the norm that you have so many options, including finish line video. Most timing companies actually use finish line video now to back up the chips, ‘just in case’.

Does It Really Matter What We Run On? While I am now a road runner, there was a time as a kid when it was almost strictly track. Talk about change when it comes to the track! When I was a high school track athlete (see the photo near the beginning of this post), we were still running on cinder tracks. Sometimes you just dug little holes for ‘starting blocks’. Mostly I had a set of blocks (wood) made by my Dad, but wouldn’t be hauling them around if I was off for a practice after school. Even before my time, the runners such as the above noted Percy Williams (Canadian Olympian), actually carried a little garden trowel as part of their equipment so they could dig out exactly the little starting places they needed. A real gun that fired blanks would start us even at the smallest of track meets. Oh, and the running spikes we wore, really WERE. I still have scars on my knees from a couple of crowded 880 races, where things got a bit ‘close’ and intense.

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I clearly remember drawing for lane assignment by selecting one of the blank shells from the starter’s hand. I especially remember the time it gave me the lane next to Harry Jerome! The blank had a little cardboard insert on which would be written the lane number.

South Surrey Athletic Park - local track, but so high-tech compared to early days.

South Surrey Athletic Park – local track, but so high-tech compared to early days.

Compare those days of cinder tracks to now where the high tech tracks are normal and starting is electronically linked, up down and backwards. The blocks (in big competitions) are rigged to register the reaction time of runners (to detect false starts) and at the other end, high speed cameras take the photo-finish. Back in those early days, the starter determined a false start (by eye) while a bunch of people with stop watches stood at the finish (on a set of risers in the better equipped races so they could all be exactly in line with the finish). With the flash of the starter’s gun (light is so much faster than sound), each would start the mechanical stop-watch. Every position had at least one timer, at least every podium position. In larger meets there would be multiple timers and they would compare. Now, everything is electronic. Most of the time you would be timed to the tenth of a second although it was possible on the good watches to read in hundredths.

When It Really IS About the Time, Then How About the Timing? I am going to relate a story that I cannot now find the reference to corroborate, but tell it I will. It isn’t really about Harry Jerome as much as it is about our belief and technology limits. Harry was one of the athletes that straddled the time of transition to full metric distances. As a result, he ran both the 100 yard and 100 metre, 220 yard and 200 m events, not to mention the 4X110yd and 4X100m relays. He was fast in all and held (at the same time) the World Record for both 100 yards and 100m. He set (actually equaled) the World 100m record of 10.0 seconds at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 1960. But, the story was that when the timers looked at their watches, his time was under 10 seconds. With the electronic timing of today, you could imagine the real time had probably been clearly under 10.0. That was a time, like the marathon two hour dream, or the 4:00min mile (that, it was thought, would surely kill anyone who broke that time), a barrier time. The story that I cannot right now prove is that even though the timers had Harry under 10 seconds, because that was a barrier time and they couldn’t make themselves believe it, they rounded him up and gave him the (record) tie with Germany’s Armin Hary.

Whatever! I Just Want to Finish. Now, let’s get back to road racing where we come to the races of today packed with people who just want to finish. The biggest of these would likely be half marathons, but there are a lot of marathons that fall in the category, too. It is not unusual today to find a seven hour ‘clock’. It is also not unusual to hear of some people complaining that it is unfair to put that kind of a limit on someone working hard to just finish a marathon. This is pretty much a whole other blog post, but it is nonetheless real. This opens the subject of groups like Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics where the goal is completing lots of races within some period of time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty speedy people in both groups, but there is absolutely NO time requirement (other than months and days, as in in X marathons in Y months) to achieve one of the 10 levels related to your qualification to join or ascend the levels. Both groups have a walloping good time just doing what they do. But, the fundamental goal is completely different.

Some of this is directly related to my last post about competitiveness and changing away from always having to go hard.

The medals I got from my 10 events including one podium and a special recognition from a run with my grandson.

The medals I got from my 10 events in 2016 including one podium and a special recognition from a run with my grandson.

And, I Want a Medal! What about the medals? Yeah, what about that. Back when I was starting my (second) running career at just around the age of 40, the only way you got a medal was to win something. Sometimes it was the race (first, second or third, male and female). Sometimes there were age group prizes, but often enough the range would be 10 years, not five. Sometimes you still only got yourself a ribbon. As things began to change, if there was a finisher medal, it was only for races of half marathon or greater and not every race gave those out. I have run 26 marathons and one Ultra. That is a total of 27, for which I have 26 medals. The one race I did not get a finisher medal for was that first and best marathon I so like to talk about. It wasn’t because the race was ‘stingy’, but rather because it was the norm back then. Want a medal? Run fast and win something. Last year I ran 4 half marathons, 2 10Ks, 3 8Ks and the Hood to Coast Relay. That is 10 events, for which I got 9 finisher medals. Only one of the 5Ks, a small family oriented event I ran with my grandson, did not have a finisher medal. Funny enough, one of my favourite events, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K doesn’t give age group podium medals. I had a second in the 10K there in 2016 to go with my first at the Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Oh well, nothing beats my special “No 1 GRANDAD” medal!

Medal haul from the , Sage Rat races. Includes a first and second (red ribbons)

Medal haul from the , Sage Rat races. Includes a first and second (red ribbons)

And then, I have to say there are medals and there are MEDALS! Wow, I couldn’t believe the size of the finisher medal I got in 2015 at the Sage Rat Half Marathon. Actually, I got three: for the Half (left in the photo), for the Dirty Rat 25K (middle) and then a recognition medal for the Rat Deux (that is running both, back to back). All were huge, but the Half Marathon one was biggest. It is 6 inches (15cm top to bottom). If you measure it like a TV (corner to corner) it is 20cm. Funny enough, I came second in my age category in the Half and first in the 25K race and while pretty decent in size, the podium place medals are tiny in comparison. That race happens around Prosser, WA. Just up the road near Yakima, is the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. It is the oldest of old school races that I know about and when I ran it in 2014, I managed to come fifth in my category (considered a podium placing by that race) for which I got me a ribbon (as did the other four ahead of me in the category).  Is there a race today that people don’t expect to get a finisher medal? Sure, but the expectation has gone from zero, to “why not?”.

At Last, The Conclusion! I could go on, but I think I will draw this to a close. I will mention, in contrast to our (pristine) amateur athletes of yesteryear (I carried an amateur card when I ran in school), we now have millionaire athletes (and performance enhancing drugs). Some will tell you that the drugging isn’t new, just more sophisticated and effective, and by no means do I want to suggest that all today’s best are drugging . I have seen articles describing what the ancient Greek Olympians ate and rubbed on (all highly secret) in an effort to get an edge. I mean, short of actual doping, look at the endless advice we are bombarded with on eating this or that, including miracle foods (beet juice, pickle juice, caffeine, different forms of carbohydrates, timing of protein for post run recovery) that will enhance training and performance.

If you think I’ve missed something important, do let me know. All I am trying to say is that running is in a state of constant change, and I’ve given some examples. It is going to be interesting to see how it goes for the masses and if some of the ‘unbreakable’ records WILL turn out to be so unassailable. The two biggest are at almost opposite ends of the spectrum. Can anybody push the 100m record to, or under 9.5 sec? Is it even possible to see a two hour marathon? Is any woman going to be able to erase Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 marathon mark?

We can only imagine what technology may bring us. I didn’t even get into the miracle fibres that wick sweat, keep us warm in the cold and cool in the heat. Some shoes are now on the market that have their own little computer that adjusts the shoe to your foot strike, in real time. The gps devices that monitor our activities are also capable of delivering vital information about how we are performing in the physiological sense. They can tell us how to optimize our training and performance. Sorry coach. It’s all right here on my wrist!

I sort of wish I had another 30 years of running ahead of me. Can’t imagine how exciting it is going to be, especially if it changes as much as it has in the past years.

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO LET GO OF COMPETITIVE RUNNING?

01.29.2017
THIS?

THIS?

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Or, THIS?

 

I’m going to try to write this as a general interest ‘think piece’, but have to admit that it is pretty personal. I can’t believe it is unique to me, though.

This blog, and the book it is based on are aimed at the ‘seasoned’ runner. I suppose this question could apply to any runner, but it is more likely to be one that runners like me have to consider as we get longer in the tooth and slower in the leg.

First, let’s define ‘competitive running’.

I think I’ll go straight to the top of the old guy list and talk about Mr. Amazing himself, Ed Whitlock. Just a few months ago we all watched with gaping mouths as Ed completed a marathon at the age of 85 in a time of 3:56:33 What? That isn’t all that fast. In fact, in most marathons of significance it is kind of mundane. Well, mundane if  you are between 20 and 50 maybe, but Whitlock is 85! Age grading of his time and age puts him very close to the marathon record for best ever. If you don’t think his performance is competitive then you should stop reading now, because anything I have to say isn’t going to make sense to you.

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

Never mind Ed though, right here in the Greater Vancouver area we have a lady who sets a single age record almost every time she laces up her running shoes. That’s right local fans, Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh. A bit later in 2017, that young lady is going to turn NINETY (90). That’s right, 90 years young. When asked recently, how she might celebrate, she apparently said she would run a marathon. I’m guessing it will be the Honolulu Marathon, based on it being her family ‘go to’ event and her birthday not being until early November. We’ll be watching for that event and probably another new single age record.

Roger Robinson - runner, reporter, writer

Roger Robinson – runner, reporter, writer

At a much more ‘tender’ age of seasoned athleticism we might consider the just turned masters runner. One who wrote for Running in the Zone (the book) and who contributes here from time to time, is Roger Robinson. At the age of 40 Roger set the Masters’ record for the Vancouver Marathon (then the Vancouver International Marathon and now the BMO Vancouver Marathon) and around the same time New York and Boston. His time in Vancouver? 2:18:43. His placing? Third overall. The Vancouver record stands to this day even though the race was run in 1981. I could talk about runners such as Meb, or Haile Gebrsellassie as Masters runners, but when I say ‘competitive’ I want to talk more about the regular runner, not the elites and I want to emphasize that competitive is in the mind as much as the foot.

I know a pretty goodly number of formerly elite runners, some of whom still run and many of whom still race. I also know a whole lot more runners who have had far less noteworthy careers but who have run races for a long time and with a great deal of passion for the competition. In context of the subject of this article, they are no less competitive of spirit than some of the best. They care. It matters to them.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish - 3:54:44.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish – 3:54:44.

A good friend, Rod Waterlow, who has been the subject of, and contributor to, writings on this blog is an age-class local winner and has been at the top of regional age group performance from time to time. Rod is going to change age groups at his next birthday later this year. He will join the M80-84 crowd and I expect will continue his winning ways.

Rod is an interesting study because he has been out of active racing for something approaching 18 months due to an injury, sadly, one that had nothing to do with running and maybe quite a bit to do with ME. It was on an acting job I talked him into trying and just a silly mis-step on our ‘set’. He badly twisted his knee and that set the whole thing off. I won’t go into the whole sordid tale as it goes on at some length with other issues coming in, beyond the original injury. The end result is that Rod has not been fit to race for almost 18 months. He has been amazingly patient and we are both hoping this time he really is getting back to competitive fitness, as he would define it.

I’ve gone on about this because I know Rod well enough to understand how important ‘competitiveness’ is to him. If the objective was just getting out for a pleasant jog on the streets or tails, he would already be done. He can do that. However, his objective is being race ready and as good as he can be. Tell me that isn’t the competitive spirit shining through! His chronological age doesn’t matter in the least!

I’m going to throw my own considerations in here because it is the only thing upon which I can speak with authority.  However, I am pretty sure I’m not alone in the general sense. Let’s start by making it clear that I have never really been much more than a competent runner. I sometimes realize that in my day I wasn’t too bad. Not good, but not too bad! Like many, I only started as I was approaching 40.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - Racing CAN be fun!

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – Racing CAN be fun!

I always ran as hard as I could and from time to time would have a sparkling moment, like the infrequent ‘perfect stroke’ in golf. My times don’t actually matter. What does matter is that I always wanted to do better than before. As with all ‘new’ runners, there was a 3-4 year period when I was consistantly improving. I hit my peak at 43/44. All my actual PB times come from around that time. Then came a ruptured disk in my back and surgery. As is obvious, I did get back to running, but the upward trend came to an end. Maybe it would have anyway. Aging has a tendency to do that eventually. Careful study using age grading, suggests I did lose a step or two due to the back injury and residual nerve damage. It is hard to do direct comparisons because I stopped running races and training hard because of work more than anything. It was a good 8-10 years before I really got back into racing. Using the % Performance statistic to compare races (1989 vs 1991), I seem to have lost 2-3% post ‘back’ and that seems to hold over the long-term.

I ran on at varying intensity (as work and life dictated) for many years, but around the time I was turning 65, I went through another phase of hard training, improved times and (relatively speaking) ‘best’ performances. Using the marathon as example, I scored my second best age graded time at the Eugene Marathon. My first (Vancouver) turned out to be the best both as a raw and a graded time, but that one at 65, in Eugene, OR was second on graded time, even though I had run 11 other marathons between.

The interesting part was the sequence of four marathons where each was just a little better, both on raw and graded times. All of these were either at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon or California International Marathon. Of course, two things were happening simultaneously (when comparing graded times). I was actually getting faster (because I was training hard) and I was also getting older. Just for fun, here is the sequence of graded times and %P:

  • 3:33:47 [58.4%]   (CIM Dec ’08)
  • 3:31:51 [59.0%]    (Victoria Oct ’09)
  • 3:30:51 [59.3%]   (CIM Dec ’09)
  • 3:27:18 [60.3%]   (Eugene May ’10)

I was training very hard to make those improvements both near the beginning of my running in my early 40’s AND in this little window around being 65. It didn’t happen by accident and couldn’t have happened had I not taken a competitive attitude. THAT is the point.

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Did I actually beat anyone else in all of this? Well, I was 3/16 M65-69 at Eugene. So, yes, I guess you could say I did beat a few, but it was just icing on the cake. My real motivation was a BQ, and no, I did not achieve that. But, I tried. Boy, did I try!

What? You’re wondering how that very first one graded, just for comparison? OK at age 43 in May 1988 at Vancouver, my graded time was 3:15:08 [64.1%]. Again, this is all just an example of what having a competitive spirit does. You still have to put in the work, and when you do, the reward usually comes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who don’t ‘do’ age grading, there are two numbers of note: an age adjusted time and the % Performance (%P) value. There’s little benefit until about 35. If you want to compare the former you to the current you, you really should grade both times if you were over 35. For times recorded when younger than 35, you can just use raw times vs later graded times. I use the model of the World Masters Athletics. There are others now too. Some races actually provide an age-graded result, but mostly for personal interest. Men and women are graded on different models, so be sure you are using the correct calculator.

Over the many (early) years and every once in a very long while, I got me a podium finish, but as far as I can recall, until recently, never higher than THIRD. If placement is the sole criteria of success, then I’m doing way better now. At least once or twice a season I win my age group and usually manage a couple of other podium placements. Attrition has a lot to do with that, so I can’t get too excited. Still, using the logic that you can only race the guys that show up, my hand never shakes as I take my prize. I have had a few successes where there was a goodly field and my time was worthy. But, I suppose you actually have to be a ‘heavily seasoned’ runner to understand that coming first out of one still feels good because you know that YOU are still out there doing the races.

I continue to want to run the best I can, but at the rate I’ve been racing ( about 10-12/yr), my body isn’t holding up well enough to perform as I feel I should in a given race.  The mind is willing………………..etc. That said, I can probably keep on with my version of competitive running for a year or two yet, but in far fewer goal races. As I write this, I have just registered for two ‘serious’ races and intend to enter two more ‘just for fun’.

That brings us to the kind of race that requires a bit of a surrender of the urge to compete (even if only with myself) in exchange for the reward of participation and enjoyment.

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

Now and then in a race, I guess that I’ve given up hope for the original goal and switched to experiencing what is going on around me. Not often though. Usually, I still push on as hard as I can to the finish for the best time I can manage. Other than the several races I’ve done with my grandson, I don’t think I can say I have ever started any race with anything but the intention of going as fast and hard as I can, even if what I consider ‘fast’ is anything but! That is partly why I brought up the relativity of Ed Whitlock’s recent marathon time – a good raw time for most people and spectacular for someone his age. It crushed the previous single age record by 30 minutes or so. Context is everything.

I love age grading and when it comes into the picture, at least my picture, it is often more informative as a comparison to the former ‘you’ vs anybody else. It is certainly the way I tend to use it. In fact, while I do note the adjusted time (as above), for my own purposes I put more emphasis on the % P stat. It lets me see whether or not I am actually maintaining a comparable performance level.

I firmly believe that running should be fun even if it is highly goal oriented. If you are achieving  your goals, a little (good) pain may be what is needed. If achieving those goals is what makes you happy, it may be worthwhile. That said, working too hard and consistently not achieving your goals, is probably NOT worth it and surely can’t be considered fun. At that point a new paradigm needs to kick in and priorities change. That is when we all need to pause and consider the situation. If you haven’t already, that will be when you too begin to ponder why it is so hard to let go of competitive running.

While this is clearly still an open subject with me, I don’t think it has to be black and white, all or nothing. I’ve said I want to concentrate on just a couple of serious races in the next year and see if that let’s me enjoy running and racing more, maybe even perform better. The risk is that if I just pick out a couple of races, weather or other externals could mess them up. Then what??? Well, that is always a possibility. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances! It doesn’t matter your age or intentions or level of performance. From the perspective of achieving the goal, it doesn’t really matter if it was a world record or PB; it isn’t happening.

Evan Fagan - Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

Evan Fagan – Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

I know many older runners that ‘race’ because they like the feel of a race. It is one of the things that keeps me racing. I know I can go out and run 5K, 10K, 21K, but it isn’t the same as racing. I love the dynamic, the ‘vibe’, of the marathon. The tension in the air among runners maybe doing it for the first time, maybe trying to qualify for Boston, or trying to go just a bit faster, is intoxicating. It is a big reason I keep longing to do another marathon, yet not so much for the hard training required to do one well. Could I find myself a marathon with a long time limit and just cruise through it taking selfies, talking to people, maybe encouraging some of those first timers who are finding out what the marathon beast is really all about?  I’m not sure. I KNOW it is possible. I have friends like Evan Fagan, (way over 150 marathons) who do just that.

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

I am a Marathon Maniac, #6837 to be precise. While it seems that the Maniacs have been around for a long time, in relative terms that isn’t true. The formal group started around 2004, but languished for a number of years before people started getting ‘into’ the whole idea of doing lots of marathons vs just a few for time. I joined in 2013, even though I qualified in 2008. I had run the Maui Marathon in September, Victoria in October and CIM in very early December. Because the few Maniacs I actually knew at that time had huge numbers of races, I felt I wasn’t worthy. Those same people convinced me I had it wrong. After joining I decided I should show my respect and enthusiasm by at least moving from the bottom rung, to the second one. I am now, and may ever be, a Two Star (Silver) Marathon Maniac. The point is that many Maniacs just enjoy the heck out of the event and don’t worry where they finish or how long it takes.

It is something to consider. It would allow me (or anyone thinking as I am) to keep doing marathons. Performance pressure makes them hard and if anyone in their ‘Golden Years’ is still racing hard, the physical toll is something to be considered.

Marathons are a personal passion, but distance doesn’t matter in the sense that racing is what we must consider. In a way, I feel shorter races could be  tougher than a marathon done easy. Pushing hard in a 5K might kill you faster than taking it easy in a half or full marathon. At some point we all have to take our own decisions. I know that making sure the time limit is long enough and easing to the back of the pack is a reasonable way to continue with long races. For the shorter sharper ones, a person may need to change the type of event and go from the timed, serious races to fun runs. Put on a costume, embrace the charity aspect or do whatever it takes to participate, but not race. Do what it takes to stay involved, but take that ‘edge’ off.

Guess that is it for today’s sermon. Now, I better see if I can practice what I’ve been preaching. Don’t worry, I WILL let you know how it goes.

 

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BRAND NEW YEAR?

01.11.2017
Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Start of the First Half Half Marathon

OK, so 2017 isn’t absolutely brand new anymore, but I’ve been busy. That includes running a bit, visiting with some of the kids and one of the grandsons and even officially getting a year older.

[I kind of love having a really early January birthday. Keeps it simple when wondering what age group I’m in for any given year. This year doesn’t matter, but when I switch age categories, it is just sooooo easy. Unless I do some kind of New Year’s resolution run, I’m pretty much in the same age group for the whole year. I keep silly amounts of statistics on my running, racing and performance, so it is quite nice to have any given calendar year and any given age coincide almost perfectly.] But, I digress.

This post really isn’t about me except as it applies to me as a part of this group we call runners and as an example regarding the importance of planning that we do.

I am a firm believer that all runners need a plan for the year if they want it to be fun and productive, and especially, ‘injury free’. My own last year turned out to be a little too free-form and got a bit out of hand.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

In my humble opinion, it doesn’t matter if you are running at a highly competitive level, are just planning to run a few races (mostly for fun) or something in between. In my experience, even when racing ‘for fun’, the race mentality can take over, and planned  or not, there is a tendency to push at least a little. We obviously need to be ready for a competitive season, but we also need sufficient training to ensure that even those ‘fun’ races ARE indeed fun and not a source of sorrow.

Planning seems to be the key. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this subject, but I feel it is worth repeating. Context is everything, whether it involves being highly competitive or not, running 5Ks or marathons, or even hitting the track. You need to train for what you will do in terms of racing. If the goal(s) is long (ultras, marathon or half marathon), you need a longer build-up and certain kinds of training to ensure a sound performance. By ‘sound performance’ I include a wide range of actual outcomes. Even if you just want to participate, you still need to do enough training to run safely, finish happy and uninjured. It goes without saying that if the goal is a PB, the training is what will get you there. You must plan for the training as well as the racing.

Diane Palmason - 200m on track - Running in the Zone contributor, getting it done!

Diane Palmason – 200m on track – Running in the Zone contributor, getting it done!

I have some friends that run a lot of races and others that run a lot, but race sparingly. It is still necessary to build the races into the training. And, from the particular perspective of a ‘seasoned’ runner, this must include sufficient recovery time. Hey folks, there is a reason that the world’s best marathoners only run a couple of marathons a year. The largest number of races of any kind that I’ve done in a single year is 19. Back closer to when I started in the late 1980s I may have done more, but probably not, or certainly not a lot more (earliest records are a bit incomplete). I know a fellow who often runs at least two races in a weekend and when track season is on, will log 2-3 in an evening meet. Naturally, these are all relatively short distances. Since I’ve known him, I believe 10K is the longest he has raced.

Bob Dolphin Maniac #32 in his 300th Marathon - now at about 500

Bob Dolphin Maniac #32 in his 300th Marathon – now at about 500 and another RITZ Contributor

At the other end of the scale are the Marathon Maniacs. The most marathons I ever personally did in a calendar year was 7, but that extended to 9 in the associated 12 month period. Most Maniacs aren’t claiming speed or BQ times. The goal is completing the races, lots of them. Still, THAT is a very real goal AND it needs the appropriate planning and training. Most Maniacs (or Half Fanatics for that matter) going for a lot of races in a relatively short time, use the last race as the ‘long (training) run’ for the next and just cycle from one race to the next with a bit of recovery, some easy runs and then the next race. It works, too. Well, as long as you don’t suddenly decide you can do volume AND performance. I’m not saying that Marathon Maniacs are all just plodding through the events to get to a finish line. Some are turning in quite fine times, but probably not the best times they could with a different approach/goal. I’m also not saying they are always doing volume. Sometimes we diminish the number and go for the result in just a couple of races in the year. It all comes down to your plan.

It is probably kind of obvious that if you have a serious intention of either speed OR volume, you need to define it before you start and then build around it. I usually try to do just that, but last year I somehow seem to have messed that up a little (I think I believed I was reducing the intensity of my running by letting things come as they may). I have never been so tired at the end of a year of running. It has caused me to do some major reflecting on the whole idea of planning the year ahead for myself and is the inspiration for this blog post.

Since this blog is generally for the ‘seasoned’ runner, another wrinkle (if you’ll excuse the expression) is that any plan needs to recognize that as we become more and more seasoned, there must be some respect for the absolute amount of running done and within that total, the ratio of training to racing. Should you now be poised to learn the magic answer to this difficult balancing act?

NO. I don’t have the answers for anyone else. Based on the past year, I may not even have the answer for myself!

What I can do is to try to ask the ‘question’ in such a way that you find your own way to your own answer. It is going to be different for everyone anyway. I think the only real advice I can give is that you should take time with it and define carefully, those things that are important to you. For instance, if the goal for the year is a BQ marathon, you need to select the right race at the right time and put in both the training and foundation races (5K, 10K maybe a well timed Half) to get there.  Once you have some defined goals and a plan, you should try to stick with it as much as possible re things within your control, or you might find yourself like me in 2016, showing up for what is an important race to you, too tired to do it well.

Judi Cumming on el Camino, somewhere in the heart of Spain.

Judi Cumming on el Camino, somewhere in the heart of Spain.

The astute reader, well maybe almost any reader who hasn’t nodded off by now, will notice that I drifted into talking about a level of performance racing. Although the approach might be different, the general principles still apply to fun races and easy recreational running. I always believe you must ‘respect the distance’. Naturally, the longer the race the more critical that becomes. In other words, prepare properly for whatever you intend to do. My wife has done a couple of long segments of el Camino de Santiago. For those who aren’t familiar with “The Camino” it is a pilgrimage walk. The first time she went, it was the classic route through Spain as featured in the movie, The Way (as in The Way of Saint James). The second route started in France (near Lyon) and finished at the starting point of the first trek. Plus or minus, each segment is about 750km. On average, she and her small group covered 23km/day. One of the things she noticed was that in general and when it happened, it was the young people who had the greatest difficulty. Upon reflection, she concluded it was because they felt that being young and fit it was no big deal to walk 20-25km/day, when you have all day to do it. That is probably true if you are talking about ONE day. It is not true if you are talking day after day for some 30-35 days. Respect the distance! Do the training.

Even if  you are talking about a fun family outing at a 5K or 10K, a little preparation goes a long way. Here in Vancouver, we have the Sun Run 10K. Sports Med BC puts on a clinic called InTraining. I was involved for five years as a Leader and Clinic Coordinator. It is a 13 week program designed to help you learn to run (or walk or walk/run) 10K (at any speed that suits you). It is hugely successful, but please note, it is THIRTEEN (13) weeks, training 3 days per week). The focus is to help any given person complete the distance, happily and without injury. Pace? That is up to the individual. THIRTEEN WEEKS.

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

With any luck and a certain amount of perseverance, I will actually heed my own advice in 2017. At the moment, I’m still struggling with the big goals on which I’ll build my year. Until I decide on that, it is hard to pick specific races and hard to define appropriate training. For the next 3-4 weeks I am held captive (a good thing) by my role as a pace group leader for the Forerunners clinic leading up to the Pacific Road Runners’ First Half Half Marathon. I’m not running the First Half this year, but the training program is a kind of ‘place keeper’ that should let me do whatever I want as things move past race day. Once the First Half is done, the target of the program at Forerunners switches to the BMO Vancouver Marathon (and half marathon) in May. At the moment, it doesn’t look like there are any marathoners in my pace group, but that could still change. Probably not, based on previous experience. One of my own possible races under consideration is another marathon (Eugene) right in line with the Clinic schedule. So, I may wind up training for a marathon with or without others in my pace group.

The point is that I’ve got about 15 things whirling about in my mind and if I’m actually going to build a sound plan for myself, that list MUST narrow down. Other than to state that I feel I have some big personal decisions to make regarding my future as a runner, I won’t go on in detail about my thoughts related to my own running in 2017 and beyond. I bring all of this up because there is a pretty good chance I’m not the only one at or near a personal turning point. There is no question that things can change for better or worse, so a plan is only a plan. You make it. You try to follow it. BUT, you need to be ready to have it change if something comes up (and I don’t mean you suddenly find a new race).

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) - Oct 2016

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) – Oct 2016

One of my personal decisions revolves around new experiences vs tried and true events I’ve done before. While actually writing this post, I confirmed some race plans involving my daughter and the grandson I’ve started racing with over the last couple of years. That nails down some important anchor points for me and to my own surprise, has clarified some near term potentials for racing even though the race we talked about is way off in October.

I think that for a good race plan, you need to take time to build it around your aspirations and abilities, not to mention the available time you have to devote to it. Needless to say, a really seasoned athlete like me is less encumbered by little things like work, new babies and such! That CAN be a double edged sword though where it comes to execution of the plan. In the days when I had to fit my running into a pretty busy schedule it was easier to say I AM going to run today at 6am and that’s it. Now, as a retired person, it is pretty tempting and easy to say “It’s raining, hard; no need for me to run now. I’ll go later”. Generally, that works fine, but sometimes the day just seems to get away and the run doesn’t happen. Doesn’t occur often, but I’ve noticed that I do have to watch it. Maybe I better stick one of my birthday cards up on the wall somewhere. It says: Ignore the RAIN. Look for the RAINBOW! Interestingly, and maybe even significantly, it came from some runner friends.

I suppose a piece on planning would be incomplete if one did not slip in something about “Plan your work and Work your plan.” No matter how cliché or trite that may be, it is still very good advice. It is particularly good if you are just starting (though not many reading Running in the Zone probably fit that profile), or starting again. It can be hard to remember that to be effective, your training program must be steady and continue toward whatever  you have chosen to do.

Negril 2011 - Gratuitous photo from Jamaica, but a memory of the marathon that wasn't in the year of injury.

Negril 2011 – Gratuitous photo from Jamaica, but a memory of the marathon that wasn’t in the year of injury. The green ribbon signifies 10K not the marathon I intended to do.

Finally, it would be wrong not to mention the need to respect serious unplanned interruptions. You never know when life is going to come and throw something at you and it may not have anything to do with running. You CAN adjust your goals and plans. It is allowed. In fact, it is recommended when something major comes along. The first thing that comes to mind for most of us is an injury, and there is no doubt that can be a biggie. In 2011 I lost most of a year by not respecting an early in the season injury and finishing the Eugene Marathon anyway. But, there are lots of other things that can come along. Ill health is one. The new job or new baby I mentioned above, or maybe a promotion/move are others. If you have some big running goal but you suddenly can’t do the training, you may want to postpone that race (the distance) for a bit, or even to the next year (if your goal is event specific). I find that doing a race I have not trained properly for and coming up short is far more disappointing than knowing I have done my very best, even if the outcome is less than I hoped it might be. Things like unexpected heat can throw your plans. There is nothing you can do about it when it happens. If you are well trained and do the best  you can on the day, the time is not that important. I’ll just leave it there, because I think most runners know exactly what I mean.

So, I think that is it for now. Time for me to get back to making my personal plan for 2017. Hopefully, I’ve helped a few others to get started on their own plans.

Happy 2017, and Good Running to all!