THE EVER CHANGING WORLD OF RUNNING

02.06.2017

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

Introduction

Before Everyone Was Out Running

Big Races and How They’ve Changed

What? Women Running Marathons?

We’ve Got a Shoe For That

It’s All About the Numbers

It’s All About Your Time

Does It Really Matter What We Run On?

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

Whatever! I Just Want to Finish.

And, I Want a Medal!

At Last, The Conclusion!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Percy Williams

Percy Williams – Olympic Champion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

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

New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon – near the Start

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

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

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

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

Typical 'Shoe Wall' display - Forerunners (Vancouver)

Typical ‘Shoe Wall’ display – Forerunners (Vancouver)

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

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

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

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

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

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

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

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

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

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

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

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

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01.29.2017
THIS?

THIS?

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Or, THIS?

 

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

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

First, let’s define ‘competitive running’.

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

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

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

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

Roger Robinson - runner, reporter, writer

Roger Robinson – runner, reporter, writer

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

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

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish - 3:54:44.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish – 3:54:44.

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

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

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

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

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - Racing CAN be fun!

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – Racing CAN be fun!

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

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

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

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

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

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

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

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

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

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

Evan Fagan - Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

Evan Fagan – Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

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

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BRAND NEW YEAR?

01.11.2017
Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Start of the First Half Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2017, and Good Running to all!

 

WHAT A YEAR 2016 TURNED OUT TO BE!

12.28.2016
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!

STILL BASKING IN THE WARM GLOW OF JAMAICAN SUNSHINE

12.19.2016
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!

 

 

AND THE GANG’S ALL HERE

11.30.2016

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’!

ON THE GROUND IN NEGRIL (AGAIN)

11.29.2016
Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Six years. Sixth year in a row, this old (seasoned) blogger is in Negril, JA for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Interestingly, the only time I signed up for the actual marathon was the first time. That didn’t work out and if you really want to know why, well here is the link to that story. I ran the 10K that time. Then I ran the Half for three years. Last year I actually signed up for and ran the 10K.

Seems like there is something about getting around the full course (marathon goes twice around) that is special. The first and second halves of the Half Marathon are just completely different. The first 10K is done essentially in the dark, while the second 10K happens (for me anyway) after the sun rises and in full sunshine by the time of finishing. I have to admit that even with a slow time in respect both of advancing age and rising temperatures on the course after sunrise, it is strange to nonetheless FINISH somewhere between 7:45 and 8:00am!

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Anyway, all the race stuff can come later. Right now it is just about being here and settling in, getting used to the heat and humidity, and getting into the Jamaican vibe. Negril claims to be the “Capitol of Casual”. Probably is, too! Hmmm. If you are claiming ‘casual’ can you also use exclamation points? I’ll just leave that to you. I am just going to be over here relaxing.

Beach just outside Rondel Village - so glad - still there, just like last five times!

Beach just outside Rondel Village – so glad – still there, just like last five times!

Now that we’re here, we have a few days to just get dialed into Jamaican time, life and food. For five of the six years I’ve been coming to Negril for the Reggae Marathon weekend, I’ve stayed at Rondel Village. It is a local resort right on the beach and just has everything I want. I am really excited to show my friend Al, what it is that brings me back year after year. I do hope it works like I would like it to do, because we can never forget that one guy’s amazing can be another’s ho-hum.

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

We’ll start with the food and surely a Red Stripe (or two). You can get thirsty on a long flight and shuttle ride along the NW coast of the country. Fortunately that did not turn out to be a problem.

First and foremost, there was watching the sunset (see below). A Negril sunset is always a spectacular thing, even when it is kind of ordinary. Then, a wee drink and dinner.

Rondel has a nice mix of Jamaican and ‘other’ menu choices, but we got right into the Jamaican side with a little ‘stamp n go’, followed by red pea soup and curry goat. Got things off to a great start!

I am looking forward to a short run in the morning, just to start getting the feel of the place well before Saturday. Haven’t decided if the first run is on the road (well, the path beside the road) or on the beach. If it is on the beach, it will be WITH shoes. No matter how great it is to run barefoot, I’m not risking the sneaky, nasty blisters you can work up if you have soft tender feet like me! Anyway, that will be for a later report.

sunset-day-1

Later the same day!

WHAT DOES A BLOGGER DO WHILE WAITING FOR A RACE? BLOG, OF COURSE

11.25.2016
Bolting! - Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Bolting! – Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Here I am with just two ‘sleeps’ left to departure for Jamaica and one of if my #1 favourite races, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. If you want to be picky, it will be three sleeps until I’m in Negril, but there is no saying there will be much sleep on the red-eye I usually take to get from Vancouver to Montego Bay. From here, there is always the trip East, then the trip South. I usually go through Toronto or New York. This time it will be Toronto. I actually quite like the trip. It isn’t as hard as some might think, and let’s face it, when I get there it isn’t like I have to do much but rest and ‘recreate’ for the next several days.

img_2459In truth, the trip could be of much shorter duration if I just wanted to go for the race, but coming from so far and Jamaica being such a great spot to vacation, it seems wrong not to add some time before and after race weekend. This time I get to show my friend of more than 50 years, what I love about this whole thing. We may even have some time to go check out my roots in the more easterly part of Jamaica.

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Yep, my great-great grandparents were stationed in Jamaica for about 5 years just around 1840. He was a gunner with the Royal Artillery. Their oldest was born in Jamaica. The first time I visited and ran the Reggae Marathon event, my wife Judi and I visited the area and had a bit of a wander. One of the craziest things was that way back in 1969, we made our first trip to Jamaica and stayed in a village, Highgate, with a university friend of Judi’s who was teaching with CUSO. She took us to Robins Bay a couple of times for a cooling splash. Little did we know that we must have passed right by the ruins of The Barracks that we visited in 2011, and pictured here. I’m hoping for another visit this time, but not quite sure just yet, if it will happen.

Early Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

First and foremost will be Negril. Until the other racers start arriving later in the week, Al and I will have time to explore the area and for him to get a taste of the food. I’m not sure we are going to be there long enough to do the Jamaican cuisine justice, but we’ll do our best.

I know he loves fish, so escoveitched fish is on the list, maybe a steamed fish dinner, and since we arrive later Monday afternoon, there WILL BE ackee and salt fish for breakfast on Tuesday. You never just get the fish. There is always other stuff, so it is pretty likely a bit of fried plantain, maybe a bit of boiled green banana and a bit of festival will show up. Of course there is a range of jerk food, but particularly pork and chicken and while everybody and his brother seems to have jerk chicken on offer, I have one place in mind for the real deal, Ossie’s Jerk Centre. But, we need to leave time to get us some patties too! That may require a trip to Nallah’s or we could just let the ‘patty man’ come to us out on the beach. Wouldn’t be the first time!

Oxtail with rice and peas.

Oxtail with rice and peas.

A couple of my favourites include curry goat and oxtail. Mustn’t forget the ‘food’ though. You probably thought that was what I was talking about already, but you’d be wrong. Usain Bolt claims it is what fuels him and makes him fast. “Food” tends to be a whole range of starchy root vegetables. Some form of it will likely show up in the meal, whatever else may be there.  Hmmmm. Maybe that’s what I need for the race on December 3. Mind you, I expect to be running the half marathon and Bolt-like speed isn’t really what is required.

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

The beach outside our hotel, Rondel Village, is made for taking the sun and just relaxing, but it is also great for an early morning run, or just a stroll while it is still cool (relative term, probably about 25C) and relatively abandoned. Actually, the Reggae Marathon has extended the tourist season for Negril. It doesn’t officially start until a week or so after the event, so the beaches are relatively uncrowded and there are plenty of runner types around.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

If you can get yourself up early enough the sunrise is generally amazing. Early in the morning there tend to be a few whispy clouds around, just enough to catch the first sunlight and turn delicate pink against an otherwise ever bluer sky. At least in my experience, the seven mile beach is never a place of hectic activity. It is almost always laid back and easy going. Because there is a reef a mile or so off-shore, unless there is a serious storm, there is no big wave action. All you get is gently lapping waves sliding in over the blue of the Caribbean.

Chris Morales

Chris “That Runnin Guy” Morales

By Wednesday/Thursday I expect the other Reggae Runners will start showing  up. That’s when I expect to welcome That Runnin’ Guy, Chris Morales to the party and to get down to serious exchanging of stories. We keep in touch all year, but live far enough apart that we never see each other except in Negril. For Chris, it is not really a vacation since he is the social media guy for the Reggae Marathon and official blogger. He’ll get most of a day with little to do, and by Friday noon, he will be ‘on duty’, but by then things are starting to hop at package pick-up at Couples Swept Away, followed seamlessly by the pasta party. That may not be so seamless this time because of some construction at the package venue. The pasta party is across and just down the road at Cosmos. It will be interesting to see how that works. It is right at the beach and right beside the start/finish venue at Long Bay Beach Park. The pasta party is always fabulous and with this venue may be even more amazing.

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

Whatever, I’m looking forward to it. AND, I’m looking forward to meeting all the other people we may or may not have found by then, or just run into (literally)  by chance. I can’t tell you how many times Chris and I have been out for a morning run, just for the acclimatization, and bumped into other running friends we’ve come to know over the years. For sure, the Four Amigos will hook up again at the pasta party.

All of this is going to be new for my buddy, Al. He has a knee issue and while not a runner, was planning to walk the 10K on Saturday morning just for the experience of the whole event. We’ll see how that goes. I really hope he can do it. There is no time issue. Lots of people walk the 10K and there is plenty of time. As I told him, stop for a coffee or a chat as you go. I’m going be running the half marathon, so even in that, there will be plenty of time for him to do 10K and still get there about the same time as me.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

There is truly something special about the start in the full-on dark (it IS 5:15am!) and then being out there as the dawn comes up followed by the tropical sun. I mean, you can experience that anywhere, but doing it on the move with a crowd of happy runner/walkers and all the energy of the race is special. It is hard, as it often is for northerners to reconcile tropical nights with Christmas decorations, but all along Norman Manley Blvd. (the race route) the hotels are getting out the Christmas lights and decorations. So, as you break out in an almost instant sweat as you head toward Negril town, you are soon running by lots of bright and festive lights signifying the soon to come Christmas/New Year season.

Sweet Reggae Music - so hard to resist!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

After crossing the finish, the party is on with live Reggae Music, or as they like to say, sweet, sweet reggae music. The sounds are infectious and while some people intentionally get close to the stage and dance, you can look almost anywhere and see people moving to the rhythm without even realizing they are doing it! Of course once Navin, Larry, Chris and yours truly have finished our respective races, we will assemble for the traditional ‘race count’ photo. That’s the one where we all hold up the number of fingers to represent the Reggae Marathon events we’ve done. Everybody is going to have to go to two hands this time. Three of us will be on six and Chris will be showing eight race fingers.

Strolling 'home' for breakfast.

Strolling ‘home’ for breakfast.

Once the post-race party is done, I am looking forward to the stroll back down the beach to Rondel Village. Usually, that is without shoes, just at the water’s edge and at a very, very easy pace. I mean, nobody has anywhere to go. Notwithstanding what we get after the race, by the time we get back to our home away from home, we are usually ready for a full-on breakfast. After that, it is back to the beach and a lot of nothing but sunshine, Red Stripe and a cooling dip from time to time.

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

And, if the sunrise is delicate and sometimes almost a spiritual thing, sunset can be fierce and blazing to end the day. Well, it comes pretty early so maybe not the end of the day, but end of daytime and start of the Jamaican night. Saturday night, that is. Runners are sometimes pretty tired, but if anyone is looking for a party and lots of music, you don’t really need to go far. There are plenty of live music venues up and down the beach/road, for those who aren’t ready to call it a day so early!

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

While Saturday night could signal the end of the experience, it has become a Sunday tradition to take the One Love bus tour to the West End and to several off the beaten path restaurant/bars. It starts mid-afternoon, with the intent of hitting a number of establishments, ending with another spectacular sunset viewed from the cliffs of Negril West End.

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick's Post-Race - The original RRHMC Trio

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick’s Post-Race – The original RRHMC Trio

This is the last time our group is likely to be all together in one place and is usually when we announce the big winners in the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. That started years ago and actually didn’t have anything to do with what was happening at the Reggae Marathon but rather to three of the participants. It just happened that in May of 2012, Chris Morales, Larry Savitch and I were running three different half marathons on the very same day. We set out a challenge based on age-graded time. We even had custom medals and Chris got a prize of a pair of Puma shoes for the winner. So the title comes from three Reggae Runners, but the half marathon part was about the distance, not the race in Jamaica. After that (starting in December 2012), we switched the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge to Negril and included anybody from our greater group of friends. Because the Reggae Marathon also includes a half and a 10K, not to mention that some of  us were women and our ages covered folks in their 30s to one guy who at this point is well launched into his eighth decade. Yes, me. And this time, if he does walk the 10K, my  friend Al. We (OK, me) have a complex system of age grading and converting all times to a theoretical half marathon time. This time it may be easier because of all the people who may participate, at most there will only be two doing anything but the 10K. I am one of them. There is an official timing point at 5.8 miles (really the start mat, but you have to run back over it just before the turning back to the 10K finish, or as you head into the second half of the half marathon. We have collectively decided that this will be the official timing point and we will just age grade that time. Since I’ve never won (and don’t expect to this time) and because it is much cooler for the first 10K than the next 11K, most people do what you aren’t supposed to do, run faster in the first part of the race. This is one time it makes sense. Whatever happens, it is all just for fun and the trash talking opportunity anyway.

Negril, JA West End Sunset

Negril, JA West End Sunset

After Sunday, we start to drift away either actually going home or in some cases (because there are several of us with Jamaican heritage) off to see family. Al and I will head for Montego Bay and another part of our adventure. But, that is probably another story for another day.  For now, I’m counting down the hours to wheels-up on Sunday night!

ANOTHER NEW (HUMBLING) EXPERIENCE FOR AN OLD RUNNER

11.17.2016

 OK, first of all, that should be Seasoned Runner! We never use the term “old” around here unless talking about shoes. But, I guess I’ll make an exception this time since ‘new’ and ‘old’ kind of go together in a catchy sort of way.

Enough cleverness for now. What is this NEW experience, and even more importantly, why was it HUMBLING?

1988 - Long before this blogger could be called "Seasoned"

1988 – Long before this blogger could be called “Seasoned”

I am not 100% certain of the exact date when I started running. I do remember why. I was getting fat and far from fit. I was about 39, just coming up on 40. Since my birthday is in early January, I know I turned 40 in January 1985. I know the first modest steps were taken before that. I had been fairly athletic in my younger days, through into my second year of university, including playing soccer for one of the University of BC teams. I had a pretty bad injury to my knee near the end of the season. School was getting busy and I’d kind of reached the end of my abilities to be ‘good’, even with a sound knee. The injury wound up ending my playing days. The injury healed (sort of) and I went on about my business. I could run quickly if I had to, could walk forever, too. However, it turned out that I could not run at any kind of jogging pace (an honourable term back then).

I knew I should be doing something for health and fitness, but every time I tried this thing called jogging, I would get just over a mile and my knee would fire excruciating pain signals to my brain. It was pain of the ‘stop now or I will really make you sorry’ kind. This continued for years. Finally, after my awakening at the ‘dawn’ of my 40s, I decided that if I could go a mile, I would go a mile and maybe every day. I did that for some time and feeling no hurt, added a bit and a bit more until I could run 10K, and three years later, ran my first marathon. I still don’t know exactly how that happened, but it did. I figure I’m somewhere over 30,000 km of one kind or another of running. My Athlinks Profile (which has none of my old stats -only goes back to about 1998 and doesn’t include all events) says I’ve raced something close to 4,000km.

I can ‘hear’ you now as you wonder why he’s talking about all this old stuff, when the title says he did something NEW. I’m getting there. The point is that I’ve run well over 32 years, well over 30,000 km (in something like 23 countries) and raced way over 4,000 km (in 5 countries). Add to that five years of running clinic experience in the SportMed BC Sun Run InTraining program and something approaching ten years leading full and half marathon clinics with Forerunners (coincidentally, a sponsor of the Fall Classic). All that said, I realized what I had not…………….. never, ever …………….. done as a Seasoned Athlete.

I had never PACED in a race. I have used pacers to help my own cause from time to time and greatly admire them. I admire how steady they are and that if they are pacing, they really aren’t racing. They may be IN a race, but they aren’t doing their own personal best effort. You really must be well within yourself if you want to hold to a given pace without wavering. That is the ‘contract’ you make with the event and all the eager expectant runners that line up behind you, and your little sign that shows the goal time you will be achieving.

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

Recently, I was afforded an opportunity to take on the challenge. The Fall Classic, a Vancouver running fixture, was looking for pacers in all three events: 5K, 10K and Half Marathon. I suddenly realized all of the stuff written above and decided it was high time I took a turn with the stick and sign. I offered myself up to pace the half marathon for a 2:30 finish. That is a bit slower than the pace group I lead for the Forerunners clinic, so it seemed a good fit.

It was right about the time that I got confirmation they wanted me, that panic set in. Well more accurately, that happened right after I went out for a short practice run ‘at pace’. Just to avoid the reader needing to get out a calculator, that is a fraction of a second over 7:06/km. Fired up the old Garmin and off I went. As much as I was trying to hold the target pace, it was too easy to just (from time to time) slide into an easy, natural, not out to prove anything pace. When I got home after about 7K on one of my regular routes, my average pace was more than 12 sec/km too fast. Well, 12 seconds isn’t really that much, now is it?  Yes. Yes it is. If you take 12 seconds times 21.1 km, you find yourself more than FOUR minutes too fast. The idea is that the pacer hits the goal time very close to right on.

That was when the panic set in and the humbling began.

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

Fortunately, I had a bunch of other chances to get a bit more practice in and got the gap narrowed down to where on my last practice run I was around six seconds off, still too quick, but getting into a range I thought would be acceptable. That range? Probably 2:29 (7:04) to 2:31 (7:09) or anywhere between those two finish times. Of course, 7-10K does not a half marathon make, but I was still hoping that I could instill in myself a strong sense of a 7:06 average pace. If you want a taste of it, go out and set any pace you like, but whatever it is, make it significantly slower than your normal pace and hold it steady over a long distance. While you are at it, imagine a bunch of people relying on you maintaining that pace over a half marathon. You also have to remember that while you might quite reasonably go a bit faster on the easy bits, you can’t go a LOT faster. The people you pace may well be at or near their PB time. They may or may not be able to ramp up and down with ease.

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian - proving 'you must walk before you learn to run" (and WIN)

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian Race Walker – proving ‘you must walk before you learn to run” (and WIN)

Now, I should be clear. The Fall Classic route is not easy, but equally, it isn’t the hardest half marathon route I’ve ever seen either. But, it has it’s challenges and you have to do everything twice. My point is that I never intended to run exactly 7:06, K after K. At the start, I warned all those with me that we would run continuously and at what I felt was ‘constant effort’. In other words whatever 7:06 felt like on the flat, we would try to maintain that same feeling going up the hills or down. So, a bit faster going down and a bit slower going up. On average, this being a loop course starting and finishing in the same place with an overall balancing out of all the ups and downs, we would be aiming to run at 7:06/km.

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

That was the plan. I was still very nervous as I looked at the people lined up with me near the start. I couldn’t really tell how many were going to be running with me, so I decided to wait until we were out on the course and things had sorted out a bit, maybe somewhere around a kilometre into it. Near as I could tell at that point there was an obvious group of about 10 pacing with me. Might have been a few more that were not tagging right along close, but still watching my sign as it bobbed along above all those heads. Anyway, for my own purposes I’ve concluded we were about TEN as we headed out.

I knew it would be hard to be sure of our average pace until we had passed a few distance markers. The course has enough ups, downs and flats that the pace showing on your gps device varies if you use constant effort. I was feeling pretty good though as we passed specific distances and I could take the accumulated time and ‘do the math’ in my head. About 3-4km into it I felt more relaxed as we were pretty consistently on pace over longer stretches (see photo above).

Through the first ‘lap’ we were pretty bang-on for pace. Just 11 seconds over for 10K. This is good. Except for the rain and the wind and chilly temps, it was even kind of fun!

Real heroes of the day - VOLUNTEERS!

Real heroes of the day – VOLUNTEERS!

Somewhere after the trip past the finish………………………………..so close, but…………………………..  Never mind, we all knew that when we signed up for this race. Still, under the circumstances, that finish line looked awfully inviting! Let’s just say it was a challenge to head out on the second loop. We passed through the Start/Finish area JUST before the start of the 10K event and the thought crossed my mind “If we were in the 10K we’d be done!”  Of course, the other way to look at it was they were just starting and we were half finished.

Somewhere past the end of the first loop I took ‘inventory’ and realized we must have left a few runners behind (the photo above was from the first ‘lap’). I don’t think any had run on ahead, so a few had apparently not been able to hold the prescribed average pace. Not for me to worry about as long as I was doing MY job (which I was at that point). I seemed to be down to four (and me). We carried on and as always we could count off the ‘milestones’ (buildings, large trees, roads) that we would not see again. It began to feel we were that much closer to the finish, because we were. The distance markers increased as we ran: 11K, 12, 13………… You eventually start doing the reverse math. Only 7km to go, 6, 5…………….. Somewhere around 15km or so, one of my group decided she could go a bit faster, for a finish under the advertised 2:30. Now there were just three. On we slogged. OK, the slogging was actually later. Upon checking my Garmin download, we actually held steady and on pace right to the 18km marker.

We had made the final turn from the ‘out’ to the ‘back’ and into what I consider the most challenging part of this course. It is really just a fairly modest up-slope that would be nothing if it didn’t continue on for more than three unrelenting kilometres and wasn’t the second time to do it. That was when I lost #3. She announced she would walk from ‘here’. Now it was two and me. By that time I was realizing I had made a major mistake. I have been suffering a kind of exercise induced asthma in recent years, that seems to be sensitive to environmental conditions too. It comes and goes. Having been pretty good of late, I hadn’t been using the everyday meds and didn’t even bring my emergency puffer. By the time we were past 18K I wasn’t getting a good deep breath and the legs started feeling very heavy. Funny how muscles like oxygen to keep up the output.

I knew I was not going to keep the pace from that point so tried to shoo my two remaining charges off to their own finishes somewhere close to 2:30. Both informed me that their goal for the day was under-3:00 and one of them had said her PB was 2:45. Neither wanted to go any faster and both assured me they wouldn’t have done this well without the steady pacing. We were a team to the finish. On we slogged. Yes, by now it was slogging! Slow, cold, wet, determined slogging! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year’s Fall Classic weather was, well, CLASSIC!]

Long story short, less than 1K from the finish, one of my flock of two decided that yes, maybe she would like to pick it up just a bit, so off she went. The other runner stayed with me and we finished side by side, looking good (the last 2-300m is nicely downhill). We definitely picked it up down the final incline into the finish chute and across the line. I’m pretty sure we smiled for the camera, too!

Community Challlenge - Team CA5 (we didn't win but we were enthusiastic)

Community Challenge – Team CA5 (we didn’t win but we were enthusiastic)

My first experience as a Race Pacer was done. Even though I had lost most people because they couldn’t keep up with the proper pace I ran for the first 18km, I felt a bit like I had failed in bringing it home on the goal time. By mutual agreement, we had slowed a lot in the last three K or so and I was certainly NOT within my (personal) two minute window of acceptable time. At that point I did not know all the stuff about how well I had held pace for most of the way. That all came from post-race analysis. Even at the time, I did have the consolation of knowing that both the women who were with me to the end had more than achieved their goal for the day.

I did see a photo of Dylan Wykes (see pacer photo above), one of Canada’s best ever marathoners, just past the finish. There he was, just over the finish, soaked and with his 1:30 pacer sign sadly drooping down, all alone in the rain. Naturally, Dylan was pretty much dead on his time (16 seconds under to be precise) and with a half marathon PB of 1:02, well within himself. That is how it is supposed to be done – run the time, let the others do what they can do, faster OR slower. I guess part of my personal dissatisfaction there at the finish also had to do with another pacer I used twice at the California International Marathon. The first year (2008) she was 14 sec fast, the second (2009) she was 4 sec fast on her marathon goal time. Those are a couple of hard acts to follow! Maybe next time.

That is where, at least in part, the humbling aspect comes into the picture. I am so in awe of people who can be that steady and accurate, helping others make it through. I’d like to think on a different day and if I’d remembered to bring the puffer, I might have joined their ranks. But, it wasn’t (a different day) and I didn’t (remember the puffer) and I didn’t (join the ranks of the super pacers).

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

I did realize a great sense of satisfaction thanks to the few runners who kept up with me into the late stages of the race. They had a different perspective than I did. From my point of view, I only had one job and I did not do it. From their perspective though, I guess I gave them everything they needed/wanted. Frankly, I suppose that had I been able to keep my pace for that last 3 plus K, I might have found myself at the finish like Dylan, with a perfect time and all by myself. Yes. That was the goal/task I did not achieve, but looking back, it was more fun to finish it up with my two stalwart half marathoners who probably had a pretty darn GOOD day.

In closing I want to express my thanks to the Fall Classic for giving me this opportunity and my admiration for all those who take on pacing duties to help us all get where we are going and at the pace we have set for ourselves! If I never pace another race, I certainly have developed a new perspective on this thing called PACING.

 

JUST A MONTH TO REGGAE MARATHON TIME!

10.31.2016
Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

OK, to be fair, for this old blogger it is kind of always Reggae Marathon time. Over the years I’ve made a bunch of friends through this event and we are always in contact, mostly on social media because we are scattered thither and yon. (Like that? Thither and yon. I’ve never used it on the blog before. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever used it anywhere, but you have to admit it gives a bit of class to the proceedings!)

Anyway, back to the point. We keep in touch through the year and both support and trash each other as necessary and appropriate. The closer the actual Reggae Marathon weekend, the more we slide over to the ‘trash’ side of the ledger. I mean we do have to keep up some semblance of competitiveness, you know. All part of the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge! I do know right now that at least three of the expanded group have another little event on their minds, the New York City Marathon, coming up in mere days. They will be excused if that is taking priority just now.

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin' Guy second from the right.

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin’ Guy second from the right.

I started this way because while the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is an amazing and outstanding event in and of itself, it is this circle of friends that make it extra special, and I would imagine, keeps most of us coming back year after year. Each year, after the running is done, we have what has become our traditional Four Amigos photo, showing on our fingers, how many Reggae Marathons we’ve participated in over the years. Because I know that all will be present and accounted for on December 3, 2016, I can fairly confidently say that there will be 26 fingers on display, representing the number of races the four of us have run, or in one case, hobbled. Three of us will be showing six fingers, but Chris Morales, aka That Runnin’ Guy, aka the official Reggae Marathon blogger, will be holding up eight (8). While not immediately critical, Chris is running out of fingers! By 2019 he will need a new system! He may need to get a foot into it, or maybe he can convert one hand to “tens”. You know, maybe one thumb and one finger for 11 Reggae Marathons!  That should work for a little while anyway.

Easy Skankin'

One of many iterations of Easy Skankin’ (OK, so they are part of our extended group, but they are faithful to the Race)

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

I would be wrong to suggest that the Four Amigos and our extended circle of friends are the only ones so dedicated to the event. There are many groups that appear repeatedly, year after year. It is a rather unique part of this event and something I’ve never seen before at any other event. Oh sure, groups decide to go run a particular race somewhere but generally, that is a one shot deal re any particular race. The group may remain intact, but they will take on different events. Same group, same race is both special and unusual. The Reggae Marathon weekend attracts the same groups over and over and one, Reggae Runnerz, comes in the hundreds and takes over a couple of hotels!

The world comes together to enjoy the Reggae Marathon pasta party.

The world comes together to enjoy the Reggae Marathon pasta party.

The total count of foreign runners is always unknown until the races are run, but over the last number of years has involved participants from over 30 countries. If you think how far people have to come for this race, on this island in the sun, it is completely amazing. Something else that is amazing is the number of local runners that are now taking on the challenge. Jamaica has always been the home of sprint champions! Can you say Usain Bolt? Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price? Multiple gold medals at Olympics, World Championships and World Records, lots of World Records in the sprints. Maybe you can also say: Lennox Miller (1968), Don Quarry (1976) or Merlene Ottey (1984) just to mention a few. That is Jamaica – “Sprinters-R-Us“. Until recently, it just seemed Jamaicans tended to get tired right after running 200m! OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you know that you don’t see too many Jamaicans in the marathons. All this is to say what a major influence the Jamdammers running club and the Reggae Marathon have been in bringing Jamaicans, particularly Jamaican youth, into longer distance running. While a lot of us come from far and wide, thither and yon even, the registration numbers are growing fastest because the Jamaican ‘yute’ are showing up to the series runs across the country, throughout the year and then capping it off by taking on one of the events in Negril on the first Saturday in December at the Reggae Marathon weekend. Oh, and by the way, Usain Bolt himself participated (twice) as part of the High School Challenge. Don’t believe him when he says he’s never run a mile!  He did the Reggae Marathon 10K in those long gone early days.

Salmons! I caught all of them. Of course, Al made it happen!

Salmons! I caught all of them. Of course, Al made it happen!

I publish something around this time pretty much every year, extolling the virtues of the race and of Negril. I suppose it is part of my own preparation and anticipation. This year I’m doing something unique for me. I asked an old friend to come along and see what this whole thing is all about. “OLD” is the operative term. We are just about the same age (only months difference), so there is that part of old.

Modeling UBC "Aggie" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggie” jackets (2016) We’ve hardly changed!

Modeling UBC "Aggies" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggies” jackets (1966)

However, we met at the beginning of our third year of university. That is now well over 50 years ago! Even though we haven’t always lived particularly close together, we and our wives and kids have interacted one way and another for most of that time. OK, not the kids, but even they have been part of it for a long time. The oldest two (one each) are now in their mid-40s. He and I have done some fearsome fishing together and we have traveled far and wide as couples. I am very excited to show him what I love about Jamaica, Negril and the Reggae Marathon. Oh yes, and to introduce him to this crazy bunch of people who are an integral part of it all. Should be interesting, especially since he isn’t a runner. Even still, I’ve got him signed up to walk the 10K just so he can get the full experience.

Early morning on the Negril River

Early morning on the Negril River. The white dots in the trees are herons.

One of the highlights will be the pasta party on Friday night. Of course, even I don’t know just how that is going to be this time as the venue has changed for this year due to construction work at Couples Swept Away, and will be at Cosmos, right on the beach and right beside the Start/Finish area at Long Bay Beach Park. Then there is the magic of the actual start, the run along Norman Manley Blvd toward Negril Town and on the return, the dawning of the day. That is one of the big things for me. No matter how much fun and excitement and music and cheering is going on, there is still something mystical about the first light as it banishes the darkness. For me, that is usually happening just around the time I’m completing the 10K or shortly after. For my friend though, because he will be walking, it may come somewhere around the time he is crossing the Negril River just at the round-about, and what is super special about that is the waking of the roosting white herons that overnight in the trees about the river.

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Then, no matter how long it takes or which of the three events you might do, it all finishes up at Long Bay Beach Park where the party, the Reggae Party, is on. The sounds of live music are so infectious that you see people kind of just dancing with it, without really even realizing. Add to that that Caribbean Sea, just steps from the stage, a Red Stripe or two, fresh coconut and such —– well, it just doesn’t get much better. At least, I don’t think so.

Soon come!  See you in Negril. (There’s still time you know!)