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?


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!


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!


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!



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.]



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!


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.




Running at Coolangatta, QLD



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.



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!



Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

When 2016 started, I didn’t have any BIG plans. Well OK, maybe one or two, and therein lies a cautionary tale and some other musing(for later). First, the personal stuff and all about MY 2016 of running.

First up was running my very first First Half Half Marathon!  (I like writing “first First Half Half Marathon” because it drives the auto-correct feature crazy seeing the double repeat. FIRST FIRST HALF HALF MARATHON.   Bwahahahahaa!

For those who don’t know, the “First Half” as it is more popularly known in these parts, is one of Vancouver’s best half marathons (as in it usually sells out in hours) and I was the Race Director for four years and Stage MC for five more. Never able to run it – until this year, and let’s face it, there aren’t all that many things you can say are ‘firsts’ when you hit my age. The full title is The First Half, Half Marathon (which form calms the software amazingly – just one tiny little comma can DO that). Back in the dark, dark days of ancient (20th Century) running history, when pretty much ALL races were club organized, the Pacific Road Runners agreed with Lions Gate Road Runners that they would stage a couple of ‘training’ or prep half marathon races for runners aspiring to run the Vancouver International Marathon. Thus, in 1989 the “First Half” was born. As an aside, Forerunners was the first and ONLY run store sponsor of the First Half, continuing right up to today AND Peter Butler (co-owner with wife Karen) WON the first First Half. Anyhoo, it turns out that staging a really first class race is a fair bit of work and somehow, the “Second Half” never happened. EVER. Hint: There’s still time PRR! You could do it!

Giant's Head Run 2016 (so very, very HOT)

Giant’s Head Run 2016 (so very, very HOT)

The family that runs together!

The family that runs together!

I am always thrilled to be able to run with Charlie, our grandson. That was something I was able to do twice this year, once in June at the Giant’s Head 5.4K and again in Victoria at the 8K race included within the whole Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon weekend. It was a huge thrill to run with him in Victoria as his uncle and our son-in-law also ran as well. Charlie’s Mom (daughter, Danielle) was supposed to run the half marathon, but sustained one of those last minute injuries that just blew the possibility out of the water. She still gave it a brave try though. She started and was doing fine for some 3-400m until she had to make the first left turn. End of story for this year.

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

Also in attendance were all kids and related spouses plus our other grandson, Jonah, who isn’t quite ready for full on competition, although we did have a bit of a run together at Whistler in the summer. His legs are very short! But, that is changing fast and does he ever have form. Already gets ‘air’ when he runs and isn’t even two yet.

Almost ready for the Eugene Half Marathon. And, toasty warm, with Judi Cumming.

Almost ready for the Eugene Half Marathon. And, toasty warm, with Judi Cumming.

Most of my other 2016 racing developed kind of organically (as we like to say these days). I am a big fan of the Eugene Marathon and they favoured me with official designation as an ‘Ambassador’. It was a lot of fun promoting the race and then getting on down there to volunteer at the Expo and finally, actually run the half marathon.

My wife and I decided that we could gainfully employ a bit of time-share accommodation with the fact there was a brand new Revel race just outside Las Vegas, so we just kept going and a week after Eugene, I ran the inaugural Mount Charleston (Half) Marathon. It was a fabulous event and made all the better by the fact that I actually managed to win my age group.

Finishing up Mount Charleston Half, for the age group win! (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Finishing up Mount Charleston Half, for the age group win! (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I’ve been having a lot of fun telling people I am the age group course record holder for M70-74. Why? Well, because I am. I mean, whatever time a person might do, if you win your group and it is the FIRST race, you kind of have to hold the record. I’m not really planning on it holding up much past the next running, but we’ll see. I kind of doubt that I would go back to ‘defend’ my title. If I do go, it will be to give that ever so enticing marathon a try. Revel races are downhill events (big time) and I do love downhill racing. No promises, but stay tuned.

The traditional team with the Mountain photo (Canucks to the Coast - 2016)

The traditional team with the Mountain photo (Canucks to the Coast – 2016)

One of the really big deals for 2016 was getting a team into the Hood to Coast Relay. As usual, I was the captain and had so much fun with our intrepid group of Mixed Sub-Masters. Considering that Canucks to the Coast was strictly about the fun, we did OK, coming 26/107 in our division. Man, was it HOT though. Well, until we got to the beach! Friday was so hot it was a bit of a worry for runner safety. By the time we got to Seaside on Saturday it was cloudy, cold, breezy and not really that much fun to be sitting about a beach drinking beer. I didn’t say that we DIDN’T sit on the beach and drink beer, but we didn’t stay as long as one might otherwise do. We had a few veterans, but also quite a few newbies. Apparently most had a pretty good time because when I tried to assemble a team for 2017, it took almost no time to recruit enough runners to warrant the application. The unsuccessful application, that would be. I’m over it now, but it would have been my 10th Hood to Coast run on the 30th anniversary of my first. I suppose if it is really, really important I could still go hunting for a spot on a team. I could, you know!  We’ll see.

Looking a lot better than I felt at the finish of Forever Young 8K

Looking a lot better than I felt at the finish of Forever Young 8K

Too soon after Hood to Coast, I decided to run the Forever Young 8K in Richmond, BC (for a ‘time’). It is a kind of fun event for people 55+. That was a pretty warm day too, but I just hadn’t counted on how beat up my legs would be from the relay. Never mind, this one was also all about the fun even if it didn’t start that way. This is also the beginning of the ‘cautionary tale’ mentioned in the beginning.

Shortly after running Victoria with all that family around, I gave the James Cunningham 10K a go. Any excuse to run around Stanley Park is a welcome one. It was a beautiful day to run and lots of fun.

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

After that, I signed on for something I had never done in over 32 years of running. I took on pacing duties in the Fall Classic Half Marathon. I’m not going to reproduce things I’ve already written about, but was pretty amazed at how much pressure I was feeling to get it done right. There is a big difference between finishing on a target time and holding a particular, relatively steady pace to achieve that time. It was a real pleasure to assist people with THEIR goals rather than concentrating mostly on my own. In the end, I finished with only two of the people who started with me, still running with me in the last kilometre. One took off with a few hundred metres to go, for a slightly quicker finish and the other stayed with me to the bitter end. Most others had not kept up even though I was a bit slow on the specified time. I was so glad to have done it and would surely do it again.

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

As always (of late), the grand finale for 2016 was a trip to the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. I just wrote a really long post about that, even longer with the number of photographs, assuming you count each picture for ‘a thousand words’! In the end, I wound up running the 10K, mostly because ‘all the other kids were doing it’ and because it was just a wee bit extra hot/humid compared to normal. For me, nothing beats the Reggae Marathon and I even dragged a non-running friend along to experience the whole thing with me.

So, that concludes the brief annual recap of running, but if you think I’m done, you must be new to this blog!

One of the things I do love about running is the travel for racing aspect. I actually didn’t set out with any big goal to combine the two (racing and traveling) this year, but it happened anyway. I ran in 10 events in 2016. Five were ‘away’. In order, they were: Eugene Marathon (Oregon – May), Revel Mount Charleston Marathon (Nevada – May), Hood to Coast Relay (Oregon – August), Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (BC – October) and Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K (Jamaica – December). I also just noticed that I am a bit of a man of habit. Only one of those five races was new for me. I guess that when I find something I like, I stick with it. Here’s another little statistic – the number of times I’ve done one event or another at each of these places: Eugene (6), Hood to Coast (9), Victoria (12) and Reggae Marathon (6). No wonder I’m not getting far with ‘number of places raced’!

I said there was something of a cautionary story that evolved this year. It is something I need to pay some attention to and that maybe other ‘seasoned athletes’ can learn from. First, you need to know that I normally run to the best of my ability when I race. That doesn’t mean I’m fast, or that I don’t take into account that I might be running races pretty close together. For instance, Eugene and Mount Charleston half marathons were only six days apart. I ran Eugene knowing Mt. Charleston was coming right up, but then was able to run Mt. Charleston (the actual goal race) for whatever I could manage. It showed in the results. What I am generally not, is unconcerned about my performance. I run as hard as I am able.

I did run two races this year with Charlie, where the result was ‘whatever it would be’. He is not quite able to go my pace, not for the moment, but I count the days until THAT changes and then I’ll be shouting “Wait for me, Charlie!”. The reason I say all of this is that I realized, possibly too late, that after Hood to Coast, I was just too tired to go how I would have hoped. I was a bit upset and disappointed in my own performances until I realized that at some age, you just can’t keep pounding away and expecting things to carry on as normal. Apparently, for me, seventy-one IS that age!  Recovery becomes huge, both between races and as a part of rigorous training.

I have a number of older (even older than me) runners I quite admire and who turn in some pretty amazing times. Turns out that most of them don’t race all that much. I also know some admirable older runners who do ‘race’ a lot, but do it more as a participatory thing with just getting it done as the main goal. I am feeling like I may never run another marathon, and I have to admit that while there was no plan involved, there is something ‘poetically satisfying’ about having done 26 marathons. Get it? 26 miles. 26 career marathons. Still, if I can’t get my head around a deliberately slow time, just because I love the vibe of the marathon and WANT to do the event for the experience, then I think I should call it quits. And, even if one runs simply to finish, this is still one event you MUST respect and put in the training for, or pay a price.

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

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

All of that said, I kind of do like those podium finishes that come once in a while now (two in 2016), as I apparently age slower than the competition. Just for fun, I looked at a couple of the other races where my times were nothing like what I expected of myself, and at least one or two would also have resulted in a podium finish had I just done what I (reasonably) thought I could do.

BUT, I didn’t do those times because my legs were fatigued, something that was my own fault. You can’t really ‘train’ your way out of that situation. While you don’t have to stop running, you do need to stop pushing, at least for a time. For me, it isn’t just the racing, it is also the training for racing that is part of the issue. I see the real solution if I want times I can be proud of, is to simply be more selective about the races I do for personal performance. Up to this point I kind of fall in the category of a guy who has never met a race he didn’t like (ie wants to run).

Joe Henderson was waiting at the finish on Hayward Field, to congratulate this old slogger.

Joe Henderson was waiting at the finish on Hayward Field, to congratulate this old slogger.

While at Eugene, I had the chance to spend some real quality time with Joe Henderson (a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes) and a legend in the world of running. We had the time for a long coffee, just the two of us, well away from the event venue, where there is never really a quiet moment. I think Joe has already conquered the challenge when you can no longer do what you used to do and he had a lot of useful things to share. I think it must be time to put some of that into personal practice.

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

I’m not without some experience in creating perspective re my running efforts (even if I’m not really good at it yet). A couple of years ago, after becoming your basic Marathon Maniac, I decided I needed to get up, at least, to the second level. I set out a plan to run six marathons in six months. I knew it wasn’t going to look all that pretty, but the goal was becoming a Two Star Maniac. (Some of my friends and family will be very surprised that it is only ‘two’. They already think I’m way beyond two stars in the maniac department, but I think that’s different.) I pulled off that ‘level up’ fairly reasonably I think. Similarly, when I decided it would be good to join Half Fanatics, I looked at the challenges and set a goal to reach the Fourth Level (of 10), which involved running three actual half marathons and a 25K trail race in 14 days. Again, I was very aware of the challenge. It was to get those four races done, not to go fast or win anything. Well, there was something to win – my new HF Level, and I did that. And, it WAS fun. The best part was meeting me a giant Sage Rat on the weekend when I ran the Sage Rat Half Marathon on Saturday and the Dirty Rat 25K trail race on Sunday. Oh, and by the result of circumstances, I did get a second in the half and first in the 25K. We won’t go into how many ran though. I always say you can only race those that show up.

So, what does all this mean for me, and maybe for anyone reading this and wondering about their own goals and aspirations? Well, here is what I’m thinking. Sorry, you will have to consider your own situation for yourself!

A forest trail on Mount Frosty (Manning Park, BC)

A forest trail on Mount Frosty (Manning Park, BC)

Well, I aspire to keep on running, whether I ever run another race or not. That one is pretty darn firm. I will run as long as I can, and maybe when I really can’t run anymore, I’ll hike or walk.

Goals are another thing, and a lot more precise. While I don’t have anything specific that can now be graved in stone for 2017 I do have a few thoughts forming. First of all, I am going to reduce training volume on a year-round basis. If I decide to target a long race (full marathon) it will either be because I want to participate in some special event, or have decided I could run one more ‘quality’ race. Either way, I will target something specific and train for THAT race, that ONE race, not every race that could come along.

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

I am thinking I will soon pick out and settle on maybe three serious races (whatever distance I choose) and train seriously for them. I may pick out another three or so that will just be because I want to do them and will focus on finishing and having fun. Which ones? Not sure right now. A running buddy from the training clinic is organizing a BIG delegation to go to Eugene in May. Unfortunately, the one race that is beckoning to my competitive instincts is the Mount Charleston Marathon. Yes, marathon. The goal won’t be a BQ, but rather as good a time as I can manage. Eugene is the week after. I won’t be doing both. Wherever exactly it may happen, I do look forward to another race (or two) with Charlie and other family members. The Reggae Marathon has become such a tradition that while I can’t commit now, it certainly has my attention as a strong possible. Maybe the place to start is one ‘serious’ race in the Spring and one in the Fall, and then just go from there to fill in the blanks.

2017 is going to bring a new challenge in the coaching/mentoring aspect of my running. It will involve the new Forerunners store on Main Street in Vancouver and you can trust me when I say there is going to be more to say on that subject in the New Year. It will involve working closely with Carey Nelson and Peter Butler, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity. That is definitely going to create a major and welcome change of focus and I’ll need to factor that into the rest of my plans. I’m looking at it as a super positive opportunity, including for my own running.

So, that’s it for now. Planning is ongoing and at least you know HOW I’m thinking even if things are only just starting to shape up.

Thanks to those who follow my ramblings, give personal encouragement and support (especially my family).

And from Running in the Zone, all the very best for a wonderful 2017!


Celebrating Reggae Marathon #6 early morning, Dec 3.

Celebrating Reggae Marathon #6 early morning, Dec 3.

Well, I’m trying to ‘bask’ but it is a bit hard with the current weather in Vancouver.

Running in Vancouver a week later and 50F colder!

Running in Vancouver a week later and 50F colder!

Upon returning from a few days in Montego Bay, after the race time in Negril, I discovered that winter had come to Vancouver. While cogitating on this factoid, I got thinking about the contrast. When we left MoBay it was 82°F. That was Thursday afternoon around 3:30pm. Saturday morning, maybe 36 hours later, I led a small but brave pace group at the Forerunners marathon and half marathon clinic. The temperature was 32°F. You can do the math, just as I did. That is a difference of 50°F!  FIFTY DEGREES!!!!! And then, it got colder.

Undeterred, I am just letting warm thoughts of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K keep me in the Jamaican moment. You can tell how much you like a vacation experience by whether or not you start looking up real estate listings. I looked. Of course, I never do anything about it, but if the place has enough charm and good stuff to make you think about moving there, you know you must have had a good time.

That Runnin' Guy, runnin' the beach at dawn. Not sure why I didn't ask him to take my photo too.

That Runnin’ Guy, runnin’ the beach at dawn. Not sure why I didn’t ask him to take my photo too.

Negril is not a new experience for me, nor is the Reggae Marathon (regardless of which of the three races you actually run). 2016 was my sixth Reggae Marathon in a row. I guess you call that a streak. Speaking of ‘streaking’, that (or as close to it as you can reasonably come on a public beach) is what I love doing, at least as much as the actual race. Running the beach in the early morning with little more than a pair of shorts is magic. I have a rule that I don’t run barefoot until the race is over. It turns out that until you toughen up your feet a bit, shifting sand can work up a nasty blister in an amazingly short period of time. After the race though, the shoes stay behind and you just takes your chances. Most times out there, I will be with friend Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy). We’ve had some great beach runs over the years, including the time we, plus Jetola Anderson-Blair and Navin Sadarangani, put on a running exhibition for ESPN Latin America. They were doing a feature piece on the Reggae Marathon. We were ‘runners preparing for the big race‘. I’d love to put up the link but it seems to have been taken down for good and all. Too bad; they did a good job.

Negril 2011 - Judi and Dan, recreating the pose from 1969

Negril 2011 – Judi and Dan, recreating the pose from 1969

The first time I went to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, my wife Judi went too and we made a two week vacation of it, with a week in Negril and another in Ocho Rios. The first time I almost actually RAN the marathon.

Negril 1969 - Judi and Dan

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

I was registered and everything, but a little personal episode of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” conspired to see us arrive at the start about two and a half hours late. Some would say in Jamaica that was kind of normal, but it doesn’t fly at the Reggae Marathon because that event starts dead on time at 5:15. It was even four seconds early this year, according to satellite time. Anyway, in 2011 and after only a wee bit of begging, I was allowed to go run the 10K and get my time and race adjusted to be a 10K (officially). If you really want to hear the whole story, the link is right HERE.

Modeling UBC "Aggies" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggies” jackets (1966) YEP, That’s us!

After that first time, I have gone alone (until this year). Well, not really alone in the sense that all the usual crowd is there, including the Four Amgos who now count a collective 26 Reggae Marathon races. But, alone in the sense of traveling there with someone. This time I asked my friend Al Helmersen if he would like to come and see why this has become such a ritual with me. Al and I met in third year of University, way back in the last century! We have known each other for more than 51 years and have been good friends for all that time, even though we have but seldom actually lived in the same place. Sometimes, like now, not too far away, but sometimes on separate continents and once, nearly half way around the world. Our families are similar in structure with them having the first kid and then just alternating, although we did slip in one more than them. We stay close as family friends and while Al and I have known each other the longest by just a little bit, both our wives go back to the same era (as our then girlfriends). So the women have known each other almost as long. Anyway, Al jumped at the invitation and in due course, off we went to that Island in the Sun (cue Harry Belafonte). Al is not a runner, but thought maybe he would walk the 10K, since you can easily do that while all the rest is going on. It is one course, one start and one total allowed time (6 hours) for completion.

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming patiently waiting for final transport to Negril!

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming patiently waiting for final transport to Negril!

We decided it was too far to go for what might be a ‘long weekend’ strictly focused on the race. Some people who come from closer will often just arrive Thursday and depart Sunday or Monday. OK, those who live closer and those who are actually gainfully employed and have jobs to do back home. We departed Vancouver on a red-eye through Toronto to arrive in Jamaica about 2:00pm, with immediate transport to Negril. Because the transport service thought there were going to be a couple more passengers, there was nothing for us to do but wait patiently. That was when Al, got to have his first Red Stripe in the land of its origin! In the end, it turned out nobody else appeared and off we went in an over-large (for just two of us) mini-bus, with a very knowledgeable driver who was able to do a pretty good travel narrative as we passed through the outskirts of Montego Bay, past various notable locations, through the very old village of Lucea, then Green Island and Orange Bay, finally sweeping around a corner (just where the half marathon turns back toward the start) and the first of the Negril resorts. I have this very personal relationship with Negril and I always get a wonderful feeling of being ‘home’ when I get there. As a matter of fact, if you’ve been to Jamaica before (or a lot, like me) locals will often say “Welcome home!”. I think I’ve become what they call “100% Jamaican by Association”.

Early Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

I haven’t lived all this long without figuring out a few things. I was very aware that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder and therefore, a little worried that friend Al might not see it at all as I do. Jamaica and Negril both have plenty of warts. And, the ‘fun’ I have with my Reggae Marathon friends is somewhat unique to us. It is the main reason my wife, Judi, elects not to go (although I think there was a bit of last minute wavering this year). As it turned out, my worries were without foundation. While I’m not going to claim Al enjoyed Jamaica on the exact same basis that I do, he found his own high points and was very glad to have gone. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village - Day 1

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village – Day 1

Because I can, I like to take a few extra days and with my buddy along, they were well spent in getting our own experience going before the rest of the usual crowd arrived; the Usual plus others, this time. Rondel Village is, in my opinion, the perfect choice of local resort and we had some time to appreciate that with our early arrival.

Three 'Winterpeg' runners ready to rock the Reggae Marathon

Three ‘Winterpeg’ runners ready to rock the Reggae Marathon

While I expected a large group of familiar folk, at the very last minute there was a Winnipeg connection via a running friend who used to live in Vancouver and run with our running group where I live. Suddenly, there were three more who wanted to meet up and join us for fun and frolic. Funny enough, the ‘connection’ wasn’t among them!

Mmmmm. Escoveitch of fish with bammy!

Mmmmm. Escoveitch of fish with bammy!

I made good use of the early arrival to have a few short runs along the road (the route of the race) and also on the beach (with shoes). Al and I sampled the food and wandered about to get the lay of the land, so to speak. By Wednesday afternoon, That Runnin’ Guy was on the scene and I was able to make first introductions. It turns out that Chris’ current occupation and Al’s former professional interests revolve around the marketing of things. They were soon off and running without much assistance from me. Chris was soon explaining to Al, all the ins and outs of the social media promotion of the Reggae Marathon.

Friend Al, talks social media marketing with other friend, That Runnin' Guy

Friend Al, talks social media marketing with other friend, That Runnin’ Guy

By Thursday, we were over at package pick-up and started to meet runners arriving for the big event. Friday afternoon involved more of the same and MORE , many more friends (old and new). Friday night is the pasta party, which is normally right at the same venue as the package pick-up, but because of some ongoing construction, had to be moved across the road to Cosmo’s, a beach restaurant and day visit complex. I gather some liked it and some not so much, but I personally thought it was pretty darn good, with a very nice Negril sunset laid on to impress the visitors. Poor old Al was now starting to get a bit inundated by Reggae Marathoners, but he seemed to be coping.

Easy Skankin' 2016 (Karen, Larry, Candice and Charles)

Easy Skankin’ 2016 (Karen, Larry, Candice and Charles)

Easy Skankin’ showed up again, which itself is a given. What we are never sure of is ‘how many’. I think they hit a high at one point of about TEN. And, of course the newly-weds, Navin and Daivati were there ‘in the house’.

Chris and I had to slip away to the media briefing, which seems to get bigger each year. This year there was a team from China and a Japanese sister-city delegation which involved the winner of their marathon, competing in Negril with the Jamaican winner of Reggae Marathon heading for Japan to compete there.

Of course, this is all just the build-up to the main event: the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. As already mentioned that would be at a non-negotiable starting time of 5:15 AM, just outside the Long Bay Beach Park. One of the best parts of that start is the walk to the start from our quarters at Rondel Village. It is something like 2km and with the balmy temperatures, even at 4am or so, enough to get a little bit of a sweat going. After the usual ritual of dropping off a gear bag and finding your way to the line of porto-potties, there is not much left other than to find a place in the starting corrals. While I never really take the run time too seriously in an absolute sense, I do like to do my best in the circumstances and to get a decent placing if I can. Of course there is the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge.

RRHMC award day photo from 2014, when there was a big field.

RRHMC award day photo from 2014, when there was a big field.

THAT is serious business! All the bragging rights fall to the winner of that little event within an event. In a nutshell, it started years ago and not even at the Reggae Marathon. In Spring of 2012 Chris, Larry and I (the Reggae Runners) discovered we were all three running a half marathon in three different races, in three different places (Toronto, New Jersey and Vancouver) on the same day. We decided we would just age-grade the results and have a winner. We even had prizes! That was in May and because it was so much fun, we took the idea to Negril in December and have followed through ever since. Normally, because various people have been running different events through the gamut from 10K to full marathon, we ‘normalize’ the event to half marathon (you can do that with well known calculators) and THEN age-graded. However, this year everybody, with two exceptions, were planning to run the 10K. The two who were doing the half marathon agreed that as much as you shouldn’t theoretically run the first half a lot faster than the second, the practical reality is that it is usually significantly cooler before the sun comes up, so most people try to take advantage of that. There is a timing mat at 5.8 miles that everyone crosses, but where you get an official time. We agreed it would be a fair point of comparison and that we would just age-grade that official split time. Oh, what, you want to know how that turned out?  OK. Larry was FIRST, Navin was Second and yours truly, was Third (gotta love the age grading!). And, with me dropping down to 10K there MUST be a shout-out to Karen who stuck it out through the Half Marathon, just as she said she would. Bravo, Karen!!

Part of the race route when there isn't a race happening.

Part of the race route when there isn’t a race happening.

The race was shortened by an hour this year because it actually shuts down the main (only) road through Negril. Because of this the organizers instituted a rule that if marathoners did not pass the half point by a certain time, they would be diverted off the course to the finish, BUT would have their time switched over to the half marathon and would be given a medal for completing the Half. Not every race is physically set up so this can work so simply, but the Reggae Marathon is. Not only that, but it also works for the half marathon and 10K. So, they just said runners could voluntarily ‘Step Down, and Be Alright’. You just had to tell the official at the finish that you had switched races and provide your name and bib number. Well, long story short, even though I was registered for the half, for a variety of reasons, when push came to shove, I elected to cut off at 10K. I was probably not committed enough in the first place but as I was about 8k or so into the race, the humidity more than the temperature was getting to me. While I knew I COULD stumble through the second half of the Half, I was also pretty darn sure it was going to take quite some time and would NOT be a whole lot of fun once the sun was up and temperatures started to rise along with the high humidity. As it happened, there was a thunder storm in the later afternoon and once that passed the humidity dropped like a stone. Would have made a huge difference, but it is what it is.

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Friend Al discovered the Reggae Runnerz (about 350 0f them showed up this year). Several years ago they keyed on this event and have come in numbers ever since. Many (most?) are members of Black Girls Run, an American movement of empowerment and fitness. With those numbers (not including others who accompany but don’t run) they fill up a lot of resort space (including a fair number of rooms at Rondel Village). There is a fair component of walkers and walk/run participants among them so Al found himself walking and talking as he went along the way.

Proud first time Finisher

Proud first time Finisher

In addition to not being a runner, he is somewhat hindered even on the walking front by a bum knee that requires a brace and regular treatments to keep him going. He took it very easy and just enjoyed the experience. I KNOW he enjoyed the experience, partly because he told me so, but all you have to do is check his expression at the finish line!

As I said, I cut short on my race, so was there to greet him on arrival and introduce him to the joys of the fresh coconut, Red Stripes at dawn and a few other things like live Reggae music on a beach. We met up with various folk from our usual group as well as lots of others. Al got to meet Lawrence Watson, a fine runner who won his age group in the half marathon and who would soon be our host at his Castle Vue Bed and Breakfast  in Montego Bay.

To my surprise and chagrin (because I didn’t realize it until it was long over and done), a Vancouver runner – Karen Warrendorf, who I know, won the women’s marathon. Felt a bit sheepish about that! Well done, Karen!

Four Amigos demonstrating the 2016 'count', now at 26

Four Amigos demonstrating the 2016 ‘count’, now at 26

A big feature of each of the last five Reggae Marathons (big for the Four Amigos) is the official finger count of total races run. Three of us, Larry, Navin and I can count SIX, but Chris is now up to EIGHT. This year we hit a total of TWENTY-SIX (26). I think this is the first year in which all four of us is wearing the same coloured ribbon on our finisher medals. Navin usually runs the full marathon, so of his six, I believe five are marathons. Chris ran the full marathon his very first time at the event, but after that has been strictly a 10K guy. Larry has been almost 100% half marathon, except this year and I am even up at three each. So, that looks like about Six X Marathon, Eight X Half and Twelve X 10K. That is a lot of Reggae Running, 542km to be precise! And that doesn’t count the other people in our challenge who have not been there every year or participated every time.

Post-race playing on the beach with Larry, Daivati and Navin.

Post-race playing on the beach with Larry, Daivati and Navin.

For me, the Reggae Marathon isn’t really over until the beach experience is over. The white sand beach is just outside the finish venue and many people stay around to play in the sea and enjoy the sun, not to mention a Red Stripe or two! Once that part is done, the journey back to Rondel village is pretty much ALWAYS barefoot along the water’s edge at a slow stroll. The pace is partly because legs are tired from the race, but I think mostly to keep it from really being over. Imagine all of this happening, racing, partying, recovering, beaching and then strolling ‘home’, all to be at your accommodation for breakfast at about 9:30-10:00am!

Mwaka Kaonga (one of the Winnipeg crew) and Me in the West End

Mwaka Kaonga (one of the Winnipeg crew) and Me in the West End

Ove the last few years, the final, final part of the Reggae Marathon Experience has been the One Love bus tour of the West End of Negril. OK West End funky local bars! The object of the exercise is to be there for the sunset and usually, that is accomplished. Unfortunately, I think it was the only night out of seven that Al and I were in Negril that there wasn’t a sunset (just a bit too much cloud). The Winnipegers showed up for this part of the fun and showed that they know how to have fun in the sun!

Monday, the beach party was over many and we all started drifting in different directions. Chris had to head home and back to ‘real life’ while Al and I got to stay in Jamaica, but changed the venue to Montego Bay for a few more days. Conveniently we all managed to ride together as far as the airport.

My ‘Polish Connection: Malgorzata and Maciej at Castlevue

Al and I headed for Castlevue and a surprise meeting with a Polish couple who had also done the Reggae Marathon. In their case, they both really did do the Marathon. Lots of fun stories were shared. I really only know Lawrence Watson through running and the fact that I stayed at his BnB a couple of years ago. So, it was fun to meet up with a chap he worked with in the US and his wife and adult daughter. I know Lawrence as Lawrence or just ‘Watson’. I’m older than him so don’t have to call him ‘Mister Watson’ if I don’t want to! It was kind of funny (to me) when his friend and work colleague kept calling him ‘Larry’.

The Barracks - near Robin's Bay, JA

The Barracks – near Robin’s Bay, JA

As it turned out, we wound up hiring a car and driver to take us over to Ocho Rios for the day,  including lots of history and geographical stories from Sydney, our driver. We made a stop at Dunn’s River Falls (last time was 1969). It has changed. Had a great lunch in a little local backstreet restaurant and took a drive through Fern Gulley. In the end it was more a driving trip than anything else what with it being hotter than a couple of people liked and Al’s limited ability to walk and clamber about. The one thing I kind of hoped to do was make a return visit to the family related location near Robin’s Bay. That didn’t happen. It was a bit far and without doubt the roads near the site were pretty poor, so after some discussion we agreed it would have to be another time. Oh well, I have photos from the visit that Judi and I made in 2011.

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

Too soon it was time to head home, but not before a couple of walks through downtown Montego Bay and a couple of visits to the Pork Pit, a fine source of jerk pork and chicken and smoked sausage. Accompanied naturally, by a Red Stripe or two.

Castle V

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

ue sits high on a hill above the airport and we could watch the planes taking off, from above. Wonder if anyone up there watched us take off? Guess I’ll have to ask the next time!

Soon Come!





Well, maybe more like the gang’s all arriving for the Reggae Marathon weekend. Buddy Al and I are safely ensconced at Rondel Village, waiting for

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

That Runnin’ Guy to arrive. I mean, it doesn’t truly get going until Chris shows up to crank up the social media from Reggae Marathon action central in Negril. Thinking back, hanging out with Chris has got me into an ESPN (Latin America) TV piece on the Reggae Marathon and onto Jamaican radio (live). Wonder if anything amazing is going to happen this time? Well, of course ‘amazing‘ is going to happen!  The whole thing is amazing. What I meant to say was ‘unusual‘.

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred "Frano" Francis

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred “Frano” Francis (2015 media briefing)

It also doesn’t get going until the main organizers arrive from Kingston. As a runner, it actually kind of feels like Christmas and waiting for Santa. Last night there was a news blast that the trucks were on the road (full of race gear), headed for Negril. Had the feel of “Santa has left the North Pole with a sleigh full  of presents for good girls and boys!”

I’ve been good! I’ve been good!

We’ll soon be seeing Frano, Diane, Gina, Jessica and the crew. This is one of the best organized races I’ve ever participated in, over the years and the many places I’ve run/raced. These people (and others un-named) are the reason why.

This time, we are even going to be celebrating a marriage. Yes, Navin Sadarangani, the last of the Four Amigos has tied the knot. I think it wasn’t a done deal until Daivati did the 10K last year, but I guess it’s all good now. Big stuff happening when we all get together!

Speaking of getting together, it is Wednesday as I’m writing this and from experience I know that the bulk of Reggae Marathoners are about to start arriving, some today and lots more tomorrow. Negril is pretty quiet right now, but that is going to change – soon.

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Don’t forget about Easy Skankin’. Larry Savitch and crew (not even sure how many this time or who for sure) are headed this way again. Can’t really have a party without Easy Skankin’!

And then there will be the Reggae Runnerz, hundreds of them, under the able guidance of Lisa Laws.

Also starting to feel like a real veteran here! Coming down, I ran into Dave from Toronto, who apparently made a last minute decision to come. Met him a couple of years ago, and touched base again last year.

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson, I’ve known since the first time in 2011, but we will stay at his BnB (Castlevue) in Montego Bay when the running weekend  is done. He is a great host and even better runner, although he took pity (didn’t run his usual pace) on me the last time I stayed with him in 2014. He took me out for a Saturday morning run and post-run porridge (Peanut Porridge seemed to be the rage that day, but since it would have killed me, I opted for cornmeal). See how all this is intertwined? I met Lawrence because he is a friend of Navin’s, a running buddy from when Navin lived in Montego Bay.

Even the hotel staff, not to mention some of the vendors seemed to recognize me. Of course it is good for them to act that way, but when they know you are from Canada without being told, well, maybe they actually do know!!

Then, there are new people asking my advice and for me to help them get sorted with other people and activities. Yep, I think I’m almost an ‘old hand’!