IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A MARATHONER

05.17.2018

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

 

Boston. 6 Star Finisher (2018)

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

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

How it looks, approaching the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where it began in 1986, Forerunners on Fourth Ave.

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

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

Major Tom nails the first one.

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

Some of the ‘Villagers’ that did Berlin together!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYCM is in the ‘books’.

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

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

Making it happen on one certifiably AWFUL day in Boston.

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

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

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

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

Water station on NW Marine (UBC Hill).

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 YEARS OF RUNNING 29 MARATHONS

05.11.2018

Finishing my very first marathon.

As posted previously, the BMO Vancouver Marathon marked the 30th anniversary of my fist marathon and my first Vancouver Marathon. I guess if I had been paying closer attention, I could have figured out how to make it my 30th marathon too. Of course, I count ‘marathons’ like a Marathon Maniac. How’s that? For the purpose of your MM statistics and level qualifications, anything 42.2K or longer counts as a marathon. So, I actually have 28 marathons and one 50K Ultra. We’ll just call it 29 marathons.

It has been an interesting journey and nobody need worry that I am about to chronicle the whole thing.

A small part of the King Edward High School track team (1962). That’s me in the back.

Beginning at the beginning, I used to run (mostly shorter distance track) when I was a kid. I also played soccer finishing up on a UBC team before a knee injury put an end to that. For the next twenty odd years, I would try to do this new thing called ‘jogging’, but any distance at all at that kind of pace would produce a piercing pain in my knee. I could sprint for a short distance and walk forever, but I couldn’t jog. Over the years, I tried several times, but it wasn’t until I was 39 and getting too heavy and out of shape that I decided to MAKE running work. I figured that if I could run about a mile at a jog pace (I could) without pain, that is what I would do and I would do it more or less every day. I consulted my doctor about it, because under the circumstances of my motivation, age and relative current condition, you really should. I also mention it, because in the end it was Dr. Don’s fault that I even ran my first marathon.

The old at the new. Me and the shirt (old) and the posters at Expo (new)

As you might imagine, after a bit of doing a mile a day I began to wonder “If a mile, why not two?” About three years later, I ran my first marathon. It was Vancouver 1988. Not surprisingly, given the title, that was 30 years ago. It was actually May 1, 1988, so Vancouver 2018 was a few days past the precise anniversary but that is neither their fault nor mine. We came as close as the calendar would allow.

Did I pique your curiosity just a little when I blamed/credited my doctor for my decision to take on the marathon? As you might have guessed, he was a runner too. Living in a small town, we ran together fairly often. Why was it his fault that I ran my first marathon? Well, when he told me it was the second most exciting thing he had ever done next to his honeymoon, how could I resist??

Start of Vancouver Marathon 1988. Trust me, I’m in there somewhere!

Little did I know, but my first would be my best and fastest. After that first one, I was pretty sure I would do more. I had trained well and felt strong. I had run closely to my plan. There was nothing to make me swear off ever doing another. However, back in those days marathons did not happen every weekend. You had to hunt a little to find one. It didn’t bother me that much. I was pretty busy just around then. One would come along soon enough. Apparently, I ignorantly missed out on a lot for that attitude. Only a few years ago and because the magical and illusive BQ has remained out of reach, I sleuthed out the BQ time for my age in 1988. It turned out it was BQ-worthy. In my own defense, I must say that it was not as big a deal back then. Yes, you had to meet the standard, but if you did, you were in. While I was happy with myself for my time, I was not as impressed as I maybe should have been. I was hanging out and running with so many people able to go sub-3:00, that my 3:24 wasn’t that impressive (to me anyway).

Two years after my first marathon, almost to the day, I was in a hospital having back surgery (ruptured disk). While recovery was pretty good, I seemed to have lost the edge I had prior to surgery. It may have had something to do with the residual nerve damage in my lower left leg (old and well chronicled news).

All my PB times came when I was 43/44 and were still improving when interrupted by the disk problem. That included my half marathon time. A bit more than a year after my surgery, and while living in Brussels, Belgium, I ran the 20K of Brussels, which was as close to a half marathon as I did around that time. I trained well and seriously. My pace prior to surgery, at half marathon range was 4:26/km and after, 4:48/km on a slightly shorter course. That is only 22 seconds slower per kilometre, but it adds up and represents a time difference of 7:42 over a half marathon. I never got that back. Obviously, with that kind of loss, I was not likely to better my marathon time. Also, I was very busy with work and family and although I certainly DID run I didn’t race much for a good 12-14 years. That went on up to and through 2002. There were a couple of periods when I did run/race more, but not steadily. There were also a couple of aborted attempts at doing another marathon.

Janna Finishing RVM 2000

Dan Finishing RVM 2000

My second marathon was kind of a Year 2000 project. I resolved I would train for and run a marathon. I actually intended that it be Vancouver, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I finally pulled it off at the Royal Victoria Marathon in October 2000 (which has now morphed into the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon). The fun of that was running it with daughter Janna, who was taking on her first. I now found myself over four hours, never to dip under again. Not a lot over though, and still my second best raw time at 4:17. I mention this as a set-up for something coming ten years later. Oh, and Janna went sub-4:00 for her first time. Just to complete the family story re marathons, our oldest daughter, Danielle came out from Toronto to cheer us on and was so impressed that she went home, trained for and ran her own marathon a year or so later!

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon. That year we all three did the half marathon. My shirt was from the 2000 marathon, though.

So, you might think that having got #2 under my sneakers, I would be running more marathons. Again, life got in the way. About the time I got rolling again, we moved to Malaysia for almost two years. There were NO marathons happening over there (for me, anyway), even if I did run nearly every day. When I got back to Canada and settled into Vancouver it seemed time to get another marathon on the go. In 2004, I signed up for and did Vancouver again. It might as well have been a new race, because it certainly was a different route. Time and therefore my age was making a difference. In 2000, I was already 55 years old, not the spry young runner of 43 that I was in 1988.

Napa Marathon. It was a challenge!

I was not that inspired in 2005, but in 2006 I really wanted to do a marathon somewhere that wasn’t Vancouver or Victoria. I picked the Napa Valley Marathon. When you would read the web site description of weather and conditions, it was near ideal for marathon running. The day before and day after were pretty much as advertised. The day of the race was brutal. A storm rolled in and we were being threatened with wind gusts of up to 50 mph. That never happened, but we had steady rain, steady wind of about 15 mph (24km/hr) and gusts to 25 mph (40 kph). If that wasn’t bad enough it was also cold, probably never higher than about 4-5°C. Because it is a point to point route, we were lucky enough to have a headwind the whole way. While not quite as bad as Boston 2018, I had no difficulty understanding what those people were going through.

I just kept going slower and slower, but never did myself any major damage. I decided to use Napa as a training run and signed up for Vancouver again, where the outcome was far more satisfying.

Janna and Dan ready to start the NYCM. Shirt design courtesy of Danielle!

2007 saw me make the big move to run the New York City Marathon. After that one, I swore I would never run NYCM again. Why? Not because it was so awful, but rather because it was so perfect. Again, I ran with Janna (and SHE came home with the big BQ). Because I was then RD for the First Half I got in on a race directors’ special program and special it was, including grandstand seating to watch the US Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials the day before (Ryan Hall won). Day was great, had other friends there and made a last minute decision to bring my wife Judi along (originally she wasn’t going). Oh yeah, considering I was coming back from injury, the race was pretty good too! I actually passed and beat the whole cast of Star Wars and a lighthouse!

Vancouver 2008 (20th Anniversary). Nearing the finish! Again.

In 2008, I got right carried away with myself. Being big on anniversary things, I signed up again for Vancouver for the 20th Anniversary. Unfortunately and as chronicled in detail in a post prior to this year’s marathon, I hurt my back getting out of the shower about a week before the race. Long story short, I got it done anyway.

Later that year (September) we planned a vacation to Maui, where I was signed up for the Maui Marathon. That one was HOT. Bart Yasso (RITZ contributor and CRO for Runners World) ran it too and afterwards declared it officially brutal. By this time, I was chasing the illusive Boston Marathon ‘BQ’ again and was planning to run the California International Marathon in December. I was signed up for the Half at Victoria as a kind of preparation race for CIM. I didn’t do much damage to myself in Maui, as it turned out, so a bit on the spur of the moment (because Maui kind of amounted to the long slow run building up for Victoria) I switched to the Full. FWIW, Maui was the first marathon where I went over five hours. It wasn’t surprising, but I had some fun with it, telling running friends my time had been 4:66. That brought some strange looks, until they figured it out and had a good laugh (at my expense).

That began a string of races where my time got incrementally better as I chased after a BQ. It went Victoria (2008), CIM (2008), Victoria (2009), CIM (2009), Eugene Marathon (2010). As it happened, the Maui, Victoria, CIM sequence qualified me not for Boston, but as a Marathon Maniac! Still, it took several years before I joined, because all of the very few Maniacs I knew had dozens and even hundreds of marathons to their names. Thankfully, some of them told me, “That’s not what it’s all about- JOIN.”  I did.

Rolling by Hayward Field, about nine miles into 2010 Eugene Marathon.

Eugene in 2010 was a huge milestone for me. You may recall I mentioned something about my second marathon in Victoria in 2000 being second best raw time, but to wait for what was to come. Well, this is what was coming. Around this time of incremental, yet ever better results, I was working with the Forerunners marathon clinics and really driving my training. In Eugene, finishing on the fabled Hayward Field, I laid down my third best raw time, 10 years and 10 marathons after Victoria 2000. Those 10 years were important though, because my Eugene time was only about 10 minutes slower than the race in Victoria in 2000 and clearly, by some distance, my second best age graded result. Getting older does slow you down, but not nearly as much or as fast as you might think, if you are ready to work at it. I’m not sure if it was some kind of running karma or reward, but I got my first marathon podium (3rd M65-69, with 16 of us in the category). I nearly fell over when they handed me the slip of paper with my splits, finish and placement! But, I didn’t get the BQ. I did get a lot closer though.

Six of my seven Reggae Marathon medals.

I promise to ease back on talking about every marathon, but I have to say that with progress on the Boston time, I headed into 2011 with fire in my eye and planned a triumphant return to Eugene. Unfortunately, stepping in the most modest of potholes on a training run, I tore some cartilage in my knee, which I didn’t know at the time. It kind of came around a bit as the target race (Eugene) approached so I decided to go ahead and do the marathon, knowing full well the progression of better and better times had come to an end, at least for the time being. Bad decision. It cost me most of the rest of the year of racing. That said, as Fall came on I did have a diagnosis and regimen to deal with the knee and I began the seven-year love affair with the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K that continues to this very moment. (FYI – you can’t run Reggae Marathon and CIM – they are the same weekend, and starting this year, will be the same day.) I was signed up for the actual marathon in Negril, but miscommunication and unfortunate transport arrangements saw me reach the start line nearly 2.5 hrs late. I mean, it IS Jamaica, but even there, ‘soon come‘ just doesn’t cover that amount of time. Lucky for me, I was able to run the 10K and get credit. No marathon though. Not to this day and very unlikely to happen now.

I think somewhere around that point in time, I began to realize marathons just had to be for fun. I joined Marathon Maniacs at Bronze Level, but marathons #17 through #22, moved from the base level to Two Stars or Silver Level, by running 6 marathons in 6 consecutive calendar months. One of them was the Elk-Beaver 50K mentioned before.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – #gettingair – Racing CAN be fun!

I’ve done some seriously downhill races in hopes that I might trip and roll my way to a BQ, but that hasn’t worked yet either. I traveled to favourite races with favourite people (yes, I’m talking about Eugene and a LOT of Forerunners runners). That is always great fun. I ran the current BMO Vancouver course because it was relatively new and would mean that I had run Vancouver on three distinctly different routes. I’ve ‘Run the Strip at Night‘ in Vegas and through a tunnel (Light at the End of the Tunnel). I’ve run them cold (that would be Napa) and hot (Maui at 90°F, 90% RH and a bit of volcanic smog). I’ve run ’em dry (Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon, near Salt Lake City and ever so wet (Vancouver 2014). I’ve done them BIG (NYCM) and pretty small (Freedom Marathon – #3 in a Maniac Quadzilla four marathon weekend). Some were hard. Some were fun. All were satisfying.

That brings us to 2018 and the 30th Anniversary of the first time I ever ran a marathon or the Vancouver International Marathon. As I mentioned in the preview post, I really wasn’t trained. How I missed the point that it would be the 30th, I don’t know. Couldn’t be my age! Still, having done the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge (longer and hillier) in October 2017, I figured I could tough out a marathon on almost the same route, minus 5K and at least three major hills. I had signed up and was in the process of getting ready to train for the half marathon, but switched up to the marathon. I’m so glad I did.

Pre-Race with Walter Downey. You remember him, he was featured not long ago.

Unlike 2014 (wins for wettest ever), it was an absolutely gorgeous day in Vancouver. Spring has been late, so trees were still blossoming, flowers were out in profusion and the sky was largely blue. In theory, it was hot for ideal marathon running, but a high of 21°C is not really THAT hot. I knew a lot of people running and saw many on the course (not to mention before the race started). I guess it was warmer than ideal. While the first half of the race went almost exactly to plan (actually about 2-3 minutes ahead of the theoretical split times I had in mind), I will admit I was only able to run to my training. Funny how that seems to work.

A few steps from the finish! 30th Anniversary Marathon in the books. Coming in for a high-five with photographer, Mary Hinze.

The second half was a grind. That said, it was no surprise and there was no sense that things had gone badly off the rails. I expected most of what I got and in truth was only 10-15 minutes slower then my realistic prediction/plan. (We won’t discuss my optimistic plan.) I can even account for some/most of the extra time in terms of one PP stop, a pause for re-application of sun screen, another for re-application of Body Glide (yes, when it is hot and you keep pouring water over yourself, chafing happens) plus a brief self massage to loosen up a rapidly tightening ITB. None of it mattered except to point out that I got exactly what I expected. I’m not saying the finish line was not a very, very welcome sight. It surely was. So were the people I knew, still there and cheering us stragglers in, not to mention Judi and her friend Ann. The icing on that finish line cake was good friend and co-editor of Running in the Zone, Steve King, calling me home over the last stretch, with his magic commentary.

May 6, 2018: 30th Anniversary Marathon. Done!

Oh, and to save  you the trouble of trying to count them up (’cause I didn’t actually name them all), it was the 29th marathon, and my sixth running of the Vancouver Marathon.

 

AN ERA HAS ENDED, A NEW ONE BEGUN

04.27.2018

Pacific Road Runners

Although this is not quite ‘news’ to me, it has just become public. The Pacific Road Runners  “First Half” Half Marathon has become part of the RunVan stable of running events. It is no longer a club owned/operated event as it had been from the very first race, back in 1989 and up until the 2018 race. I hope and trust that RunVan will operate it with some consideration of First Half traditions, but once such a decision is taken, the old guard must step away and let what was, rest in peace. As good an event as the First Half WAS, who knows, it may be even better with a larger professionally managed format. There will be advantages and options not available to a club.

In the early days, there were PANCAKES!

I have known for a while that this change was being considered. As has been my custom since about 2004, I was again involved in the staging of the event in 2018. When I saw the complete list of the race team, it was a bit shocking to see that almost all the names were the same as when I was Race Director (2006 – 2010). PRR, like many running clubs, is made up of members who just run and organize as a hobby. Everyone has a job and other responsibilities. Staging races in a major city becomes more and more complicated every year. For a range of reasons, supporters become shorter term partners and then move on. The event still needs the support, so there is often a new crisis in finding the new/replacement partner. The energy required to keep this going is more than most will understand and apparently reached the point where a modestly sized running club could no longer muster what was needed.

We wrote a 20 year history while I was RD, but naturally, there is now almost another 10 years worth to add to that. I hope you will pardon me, while I dig out some of those memories. Some of the biggest names in Vancouver and Canadian running are part of the history of the race. I mentioned sponsors, or as it is more common to say these days – partners. There have been many, and generous partners over the years. That said, there was ONE partner who was with the First Half from the first race to the last: Forerunners. The founders of Forerunners are Peter and Karen Butler. Peter, just coming to the end of his elite running career in 1989, was the first winner of the first First Half.

Rachel Cliff for the WIN and new Record 2018)

Beginning with Peter, you can add an illustrious string of names over the years, women and men, who competed in and won the First Half. Numbered among them are Olympians, world level competitors and record holders; in summary, Canada’s best. There have been multi-year winners and the event records have been somewhat astounding when you realize the race has always been held around mid-February. Although the name of the race has nothing to do with it being the first half marathon of the year, in fact it pretty much is.

Of course, records are made to be broken, so it only makes sense to cite the current records, but it should not be lost on anyone that a number of the winners were also record breakers/holders at the time. The current men’s record is 1:o4:21, set in 2012 by, Dylan Wykes. The current women’s record is 1:12:21 set just a couple of months ago in 2018 by Rachel Cliff, breaking the 16 year record of Tina Connelly of 1:12:47.

Here are the winning women over the years. They are in chronological order (1989 to 2018) and any given individual is only listed once, but if she won more than once, the number is shown in brackets after the name. Check these amazing runners out:

Isabelle Dittberner (2), Carolyn Hubbard, Sylviane Puntous, Jackie Zwertailo, Lisa Weidenbach, Lucy Smith (2), Tina Connelly (3), Meghan O’Brian, Erin Heffring, Lisa Harvey (4), Janine Mofett, Leah Pells, Kirsty Smith, Cheryl Murphy, Ellie Greenwood, Natasha Wodak (2), Catrin Jones, Dayna Pidhoresky (2), Rachel Cliff.

On the men’s side, the list is also long and illustrious:

Peter Butler, Ashley Dustow, Art Boileau (3), Bruce Deacon (3), Phil Ellis (2), Carey Nelson, Norm Tinkham (2), Neil Holm, Jeremy Deer, Steve Osaduik, Ryan Hayden (2), Richard Mosley, Dylan Wykes (3), Rob Watson (3), Eric Gillis.

Art Boileau 3X winner, is still going in 2018!

There are probably a few asterisks to go with these lists. The biggest is that most of these winners, ran many more times than the winner lists suggest. As an example, Art Boileau won three times, but he was also second  and has run the race many other times, including in 2018. The same can be said of so many of these fine athletes. The Puntous twins were very well known in their time and famous for being right on each other’s heels. When Sylviane won in 1991, Patricia was in second, just 5 seconds back. In 1989, they were second and third (same order) with just one second between.

A little road clearing was needed before we could run in 2007

In 1992 Bruce Deacon set an event record (1:04:45) that stood until 2007 when Ryan Hayden posted a 1:04:44 on a very different course. Not only different, but ‘alternate’. 2007 was the year of the great wind storm that closed the Seawall for almost a year and forced the route to go up and over Prospect Point (on the road) rather than around the Seawall. It was my first year as RD. There was some furious conferencing as to whether or not we would recognize the new event record. The First Half has had a stable route for some time, but followed various routes over the years, so the record has always been an ‘event’ record. Notwithstanding the chaos and turmoil of that race, we knew we had the alternate route measured. (Everyone was also pretty sure it was a LOT more difficult than the normal route.) Calm and wisdom prevailed and the record was recognized and Bruce’s fifteen year reign was done.

If anyone decides to go check for themselves at the PRR race web site (while it is still there), they may notice that in 1989 Peter Butler recorded an event time of 1:04:23 and Isabelle Dittberner had a time of 1:10:45. You would have to ask yourself why those were not the records to be broken. It would be a good question. The answer was a slip-up either in the actual measuring or perhaps in course layout on race day. It was determined that somehow 21.1km had morphed into 20.3km. It was 800m short. Here is the story from Peter, himself:

“………the 1989 Pacific Road Runners “First Half” Half Marathon was effectively my 2nd last competitive run (the last being a 30KM event at UBC several weeks later) where I ran 1:33. The “First Half” race itself was between me and Kiwi, Ashley Dustow, with Ashley setting the pace at approximately 5:00 minutes per mile for the first 10 miles or so. I stayed with him most of the way, finally surging away with 5K remaining. The result (1:04:23) seemed too fast at the time and sure enough, it was discovered afterwards to be 2:30 or about 800 metres short. My personal best for the half, is a 1:03:30 (1985) but that was a few years earlier when I was in 2:10:56 marathon shape. I remember the 1989 race starting at the entrance to Granville Island and doing several loops in the False Creek area before finishing on Granville Island………………..”

I am told by Maurice Wilson (BC Athletics and long-time PRR club member), a fine runner in his own right back at the time of the first First Half, that rather than lead cyclists or police motorcycle escort, there was a lead runner team. I believe there were two runners (Maurice being one) who could go fast enough for up to about 10K, to stay ahead of the lead racer and warn pedestrians that the race was coming. At half way, they switched off. I don’t know how long this method was followed, but you surely don’t see it today!

It isn’t all about the elites! Mid-pack runners enjoying the day on the Seawall.

All of this said, the First Half has long been a race for a wide range of runners. The participation of anyone able to cover 21.1km in under three hours was welcomed and celebrated. As an insider, I can tell you that it has always been a challenge to keep people around post-race for the results and awards, because none of that part of the event was going to start until the last competitor crossed the finish line! Ways were found to speed up the process once awards ceremonies began, but that part of the program never happened until the race was truly over. Every runner was considered to be the same as every other competitor.

My first time assisting with the Variety cheque presentation, in 2007.

On a very personal note, my association with the First Half and the honour of serving as Race Director for a period of time stand out as highlights of my career in running. A big reason for that is the TEAM aspect of staging the event. One of the outstanding aspects of the volunteer team was the continuing presence of former RDs. On race weekend, almost all former race directors could be found doing one job or another (or maybe several). The only exceptions were two of the earliest who no longer lived in BC. PRR has been a group of people second to none that I’ve ever been associated with, where it comes to stepping up and serving. Former club members (people who have either stopped running or live too far away to actively participate in the club) come back each year to volunteer for the First Half. From the smallest to the largest job, there was always someone ready to step up. Sadly, I guess I have to add, until now.

Setting up at the Roundhouse and getting Course gear ready for Sunday morning. The part few see.

As I understand it, collectively, the club had just run out of energy to keep the race going to the current standard, and improving. Make no mistake, one of the hallmarks of the First Half is that it did constantly improve and innovate all through its almost 30 year history. I’m pretty sure the ‘easy’ decision would just have been to continue. I mean, after all these years and so much experience, it is not that difficult to turn the crank one more time. Not difficult, but with each turn, maybe just a little less special. I know the decision to ‘sell’ the race to RunVan and the Vancouver International Marathon Society was not taken easily. It remains to be seen over the longer term if it was the right decision. And, I must say that this is not a comment about RunVan that operates the BMO Vancouver Marathon, the Granville Island Turkey Trot 10K and Fall Classic  (and now the First Half), it’s about the decision itself and the other options that were necessarily rejected in the process. One thing I DO know is that when such a decision is taken, there should be no looking back. The King is dead! Long live the King!  That sort of thing.

The good news is that management has changed, but the race goes on! It will be quite exciting to see what the ‘All New First Half” looks like come February. Naturally, one hopes that the new owner will take the best of the best from the event, and augment with newer better ideas, maybe ones that a modest running club could not entertain. Anyway, that is MY hope. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the ‘new and improved’ event, but right now (and just this one time) please join me in a nostalgic look back at the “First Half”.

Back in the times when the race was inaugurated, most races were club organized affairs. The Vancouver Marathon was the baby of Lions Gate Road Runners and the Vancouver International Marathon Society. Running clubs indulged in friendly rivalry, but there was also plenty of support and cooperation among the clubs. Basically, if a club was prepared to put on a race for the rest of the community, that community needed to be supportive of the other guy’s race and vice versa. Although I do know some of the people who WERE there, I don’t know precisely what went on behind closed doors. As I understand it, there was agreement that it would be good to have a half marathon prep race leading up to the Vancouver Marathon (run in early May). I believe there was even talk that there should be two half marathons staged prior to the marathon. What emerged was the “First Half” Half Marathon. At least in some people’s minds (and maybe until it was learned how challenging it would be to stage two) there was supposed to be a “Second Half” Half Marathon. Eventually, the First Half became a major and prestigious event in its own right and very much under the management of PRR. However, there always was interaction between PRR and LGRR where it came to staging the First Half and the Vancouver Marathon. Gear was loaned and volunteer teams were swapped over many years.

2009 Lead Pack at 1 Mile on a cool and sunny morning.

For a race run in February, the First Half has had an amazing record of good weather. Even the storm that took down all those trees in Stanley Park (as a special treat and introduction to me as a new RD in 2007), was not on race day and gave us time to organize an alternate route and stage the race. The great snow storm of 2017 resulted in the only weather cancelation in the history of the First Half.

The sun is not guaranteed

There was one other cancelation in 2010 when David Lam Park was ‘ground zero’ for the in town celebration site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Roundhouse was the Italian HQ and celebration centre. We tried and tried to find a date and location that was not a direct conflict. Unfortunately, for certainty of venues etc., there was a rather large window around the actual dates of the Olympics and Para-Olympics, and while it was even admitted that our race could likely have been accommodated, a policy of NO events was adopted, no exceptions. Rather than push out and impinge on other local races, we eventually gave in and decided to cancel. That was my last year as RD (it was going to be anyway) and I think I may have worked harder NOT putting on that race, than I did as RD of the three we did stage!

Plaza of Nations, 1996.

You can’t write about the First Half and ignore the association with Variety – The Children’s Charity. There has always been a charity component to the race, but the affiliation with and support of Variety commenced in 1995. Arrangements had been made to stage the race out of the newly refurbished Roundhouse Community Centre. Too bad it wasn’t finished. What to do? In those days, Variety was using the Plaza of Nations area (and what became the casino) for its annual Show of Hearts Telethon. Arrangements were quickly made to use the Plaza of Nations and make a donation to Variety in return. From that time on, even though by the next year the Roundhouse was available, the First Half supported Variety with a charitable donation. In the most recent years, that donation has risen to an annual contribution of $50,000. From the very beginning and up to the 2018 First Half, the total donation to Variety has reached $790,000. Because of the generous support of partners, runners and careful management by PRR, not to mention huge volunteer hours, this money is realized directly from the race revenues. Runners were always encouraged to personally support Variety, but the race never took pledges or tried to keep track of such donations. And, while doing all of this, the registration costs were kept reasonable for a half marathon of its size and quality.

Rushing to the computers to register. Oh, no, start crowd 2018.

A big feature of the First Half was the rapid sell-out for races after about 2005 or 2006. Interestingly, the inaugural race in 1989 saw just 380 entrants. It was a different time though and half marathon races or longer were a good deal more ‘hard core’ than today. Still, registration numbers grew steadily until 2001 when they just tipped over 2000 (the permitted limit). For some years, the race sold out, but around 2005, the time involved became about one month after opening registration, then it became a week, a few days, a DAY and then hours. The last year I was RD (2009) for a race that actually happened, we sold out in 3:26 (hours and minutes). Your first challenge, if you wanted to run the First Half, had become getting to your computer and getting registered. For some time the actual hour of opening of registration was kept secret. The first time a decision was taken to reveal the time when registration would go live, the registrar’s computers were swamped!

I could go on (and on). As I have searched for the background photos and info, I have come across so many memories. But, you must stop somewhere. I guess this is it. As one of those who has had the privilege of being the Race Director, I believe I should thank all PRR members who made this race what it became. I want to acknowledge both club members and community volunteers without whom race weekend could not happen. If I have my count right there have been eight RDs who aren’t me. I want to particularly make mention of three. Marco Iucolino (RD for eight years) who preceded me and taught me everything I know about the race, and was singularly responsible for getting the whole thing wrangled into chewable pieces, with an operating manual for each sector. I want to recognize Nicki Decloux who took over from me and gave me the best advice I got as we struggled over the 2010 Olympic impasse: step away from the phone/computer/race, you’ve done all that can be done! Finally, I must recognize the last RD, Terry Bushnell, who probably had the most difficult job of all of us. He was the one who had to be responsible for turning off the lights. I’m glad it wasn’t my job. I’m not sure I could have done it.

To RunVan: we may be gone, but we won’t forget. We wish you all the best with the new RunVan First Half and I’m pretty sure that if you need any help, you won’t have a hard time finding someone.

 

 

SNEAK PREVIEW OF SUPER SENIORS SEMINAR

04.22.2018

(ON RUNNING AND AN ACTIVE LIFE INTO THE 7TH, 8TH, 9TH AND EVEN 10TH DECADE)

MAY 15, 2018 7:00pm AT FORERUNNERS MAIN STREET

NO COST Reservation at: https://forerunners.ca/event/super-seniors-at-forerunners-main-street/

 

Coach Dan (Forerunners Learn to Run 5K) and Moderator

How many wonder what it takes to be a “senior runner”? We see news on social media and on TV about amazing seniors doing amazing things. Some are in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. They are still out there, some are achieving quite unthinkable results, but even if they aren’t setting single age world records, a lot (more and more these days) are still active and more importantly, ENJOYING it.

Forerunners has drawn together a panel of speakers that epitomize what active, achieving seniors are all about. Forerunners’ “Coach Dan” Cumming was tasked with organizing and moderating the Super Senior Seminar. Rules were pretty simple: FOUR remarkable seniors, OVER 70. In Vancouver, the hard part is deciding on JUST FOUR! (And, FYI the average age of panelists and the moderator is over 77.) We hope you will be impressed with the following line-up (youngest to oldest).

Dr. Jack Taunton ready for some pole walking.

Dr. Jack Taunton (70s) Arguably, Jack is Dean of Running in Vancouver, with a best Vancouver Marathon of 2:25, completing 63 marathons in total, 30 under 2:30. Jack’s professional career is in medicine (40 years) and he served as Chief Medical Officer for the 2010 Olympics, attending 8 others as sport physician or CMO. He’s been the founder or co-founder of running clubs and events including Lions Gate Roadrunners, Vancouver Marathon, Sun Run and Cunningham Seawall Race to name a few.

Avril Douglas burning up the Track

Avril Douglas (70s) A track athlete, Avril is also a holder of Single Age World Records and National Age Group records at distances of 100, 200 and 400m. She is an active member of Kajaks Track and Field Club and the Forever Young Group centred in Richmond (the very definition of active seniors). Among other achievements, Avril coaches young runners. Like BJ McHugh, Avril’s non-running career is in nursing.

Rod Waterlow at California International Marathon.

Rod Waterlow (80s) Rod was a nationally and regionally ranked age group marathoner up to age 77, with sub-4:00 times, well into his 8th decade. The past two years he has been working his way back from a non-running injury, and showing the way through perseverance, while racing at shorter distances (for now). Hear how a fierce age group competitor has kept going so long and is fighting his way back to form. Be inspired, not just by the running, but by the perseverance and ‘never say never’ attitudes of both Rod and Jack.

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh near the Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh (90s) BJ is well known for her string of Single Age World Records, including her most recent W90 record (6:47:31) at the Honolulu Marathon (Dec 2017). We will try to get her to share her secrets. If you like Age Grading, consider BJ’s most recent record equates to a marathon time of 2:02:10! Also, keep in mind that BJ was a late starter in this running and marathoning stuff, as were both Rod and Dan.

This is not about how to BE a super-achiever, as is each of the panelists, but rather how to keep going and having fun with what you do. How to deal with the set-backs that come to all active people, not just those of us who are ‘Mature’ Athletes. The Seminar is BY Super Seniors, but not necessarily FOR seniors. If you have ever said “I want to be like her/him, when I grow up!” this is your chance to get in on the SECRETS of these SUPER SENIORS.

AM I CERTIFIABLY CRAZY, OR JUST A MANIAC?

04.20.2018

That is a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer! And naturally, Maniac refers to Marathon Maniac.

The answer to that is: MM #6837, or YES – Level 2/Silver, no less.

‘Why the question?’ might be a better thing to ask, though.

I will tell you. Or, I will tell you why the question is posed and you can decide, but please don’t answer, anyway.

Finishing my very first marathon.

On May 1, 1988 I ran the Asics Vancouver International Marathon. I even wore Asics shoes. But I digress. It was my FIRST marathon. I will admit, number two took a long time to get in the books (Royal Victoria International Marathon, October 2000, to be precise), but I have been busy since then.

My Marathon Maniac count is now at 28. I put it that way because they count anything longer than a marathon for your total, as long as the race meets certain standards for timing, measurement and participation. One of my 28 ‘marathons’ was a 50K Ultra. OK, this is just a bit of bragging since it actually has very little to do with the story. Now, if it was 29 marathons in the book, well, that would be a whole other matter!

In May 2008, I ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I also ran in 2004, 2006 and 2014. For anyone having trouble keeping track or not particularly caring at this point, that total is FIVE. I’ve also done the Half Marathon six times for a total of eleven Vancouver Marathon events.

Why did I mention 2008 first? Obviously, it was the 20th Anniversary of my first, in 1988.

Why did I just switch my registration for 2018 from the Half Marathon to the Marathon (even though I am far from trained to actually RUN a marathon)?

Of course!

Because it is the 30th Anniversary of the first one. It is also why, if I had already done 29 marathons, it would be an even bigger deal, as it would create great symmetry by being my 30th marathon, done on the 30th Anniversary of the first. I suppose that mark is still available should I do one more sometime this year, making it 30 in my 30th Anniversary year. I could do another one before Vancouver, too, but that WOULD be crazy!

If you were reading closely in the last paragraph, you would already have figured out why the title asks about being ‘certifiably crazy’.

I will now explain why I don’t actually feel this is crazy. Maniacal perhaps, but not crazy.

I do not intend to RUN this marathon in May. I plan to DO it. The great opportunity here is that Vancouver has a seven hour clock. I intend to train up to at least half marathon distance and to run some of the course and walk some.

Seventh and Final Summit – it wasn’t really that bad!

Last October, I took on Forerunners‘ Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge with about the same training as I will have by the time of the Vancouver Marathon. The route for the Seven Summits is amazingly similar to the Vancouver Marathon through quite some portion of the event. The Challenge started at Forerunners on Main and headed up over the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, or as we called it when I was a kid growing up in the neighbourhood, Little Mountain. The Marathon starts by Hillcrest Park at the north-side ‘foot’ of Little Mountain, no more than a mile from Forerunners. Both, using slightly different streets, wind up at the foot of the Camosun Hill (Marine Drive and Camosun). They go up that ugly hill, then over to 16th, out onto the UBC campus and eventually back onto Marine and down the big hill to Spanish Banks. While not exactly the same, both follow along the beaches until they reach and pass over the Burrard Bridge, continuing down Pacific until they get to Stanley Park. At that point the Marathon has only about another 10K to go, mostly on the Stanley Park Seawall. The Seven Summits Challenge heads up OVER Prospect Point, back down and up Pacific for another pass over Burrard Bridge, up and up until reaching “The Crescents” above 16th and Granville and down a little until making the last bit of ascent to the Forerunners store at 23rd and Main. Marathon = 42.2km. Challenge = 47km.

My strategy for the Challenge was to run the downs, walk the ups and decide when I got there, what to do about the flat sections. It worked well and in the end was a lot of fun.

Nearing the finish in 2008 – 20th Anniversary

Backing up a little, I have to say that I have never, ever, approached a marathon this way. I have run every marathon I have ever done, to the best of my ability. More than a few were less than stellar, but they were the best I had at the time. I ran one, Eugene, a bit injured (now that was kind of crazy). I ran a whole sequence a bit off peak, when I was trying to move up to Silver Maniac status (had to do 6 in six calendar months to qualify). But, they were strategic and actually the best I could do under the circumstances. Writing this reminds me that my 20th Anniversary Vancouver Marathon also belongs in this list. For that one, I was well prepared, but about one week prior to the race, I slipped getting out of the shower and wrenched my back. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my long-term back problem. I knew this was strictly muscular and not a serious injury, but it still hurt – a lot. I took it really easy through the week. I lived quite near the start in those days. I woke on Sunday, feeling OK, not great, but OK. I gingerly jogged over to the start. No issues. That was actually the deciding factor between starting and turning around and going home. I won’t say I then ran an amazing race. I didn’t, but it was quite OK and I got my 20th Anniversary Vancouver Marathon done.

So here I sit with my upgraded registration in hand, anticipating doing Vancouver on the 30th Anniversary of my first. More importantly, maybe, is that I am, for the first time, anticipating/planning to do it just to get it done. A few races may have kind of turned out that way, but they did not start with that plan.

My most recent marathon – Light at the End of the Tunnel

This is important on a lot of levels. Last year, I did the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon thinking it was possibly my last. It was a wonderful experience though not a wonderful time. I won’t rehash the story. It is HERE if you want to read it. I did train for it and did have a race plan. A number of things mitigated against the enterprise and I knowingly ‘shut it down’ well before the finish and just kind of enjoyed the day. I knew I would not attain my goal of under five hours, so figured why not just soak it all in and enjoy.

Since then I have been thinking about how much I love marathons. There is just something about that race/distance that is not matched in other events. I ran a bunch of other races since then, even winning a bit of hardware and posting reasonable times, but the marathon is still the love of my running life. What I need to learn from some of my fellow Marathon Maniacs and a couple of personal friends, is how to just DO A MARATHON. No goal other than getting from the start to the finish with a time that up until now, I can’t PERSONALLY feel good about. To be very clear, this is not a comment about others who are happy to take 6 or 7 hours, maybe more if the race allows, to complete a marathon. It is 100% about me and whether or not I can do it.

It is pretty clear that the heavy training essential to doing well is no longer something I can manage particularly well. The rest of the family seems to think I am getting old and decrepit and that marathons are too hard. They might be right where it comes to pushing to the limit of my abilities. BUT, it is so very hard to leave the event behind. I like to race, so maybe the answer is to keep the competitive attitude for shorter distances, but adopt a new approach to the marathon. I know I won’t be alone out there while taking it easy. The only question is, ‘will I be happy?’. The answer to that question may come from doing the BMO Vancouver Marathon slow and easy and just inside the seven hour time allowed. It will satisfy my anniversary race goal. It may also give me the courage to overcome ego and keep enjoying the occasional marathon that still ‘needs’ to be done.

YEAR-END MUSINGS AND MEANDERINGS

12.31.2017

Last Race for 2017. Reggae Marathon 10K, Negril, JA (photo by “Push”)

It has been an interesting year, personally, among friends, with family and in general.

Let’s start broadly and narrow down.

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m (Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse)

Usain Bolt brought his sprinting career to an end. He says it is (finished) and I hope he means it. I like my champions to finish on a high note. Meb and Mo are in a similar category it seems. It seems certain that Meb is done with competitive racing, but Farah is maybe going another way and out onto the roads. The list is actually quite long, of people who saw the World Championships as a logical finish point for their competitive careers with the next Olympics still two years off.

Justin Gatlin is in the news again re PEDs. Too soon to know, but if he is found to be at it AGAIN, it is my opinion that he should be stripped of every result he ever had anywhere, as it would confirm a likely lifetime use. I repeat IF he is found to have been abusing the system.

Whither Canada on the International Stage?

Canada seems to be in a transition time with some of our best reaching that point where the peak is somewhere near or behind. Our best female marathoners, yes you Lani and Krista, may not have what it takes to see the next Olympics, but the beauty of the marathon is that we have BIG annual races that provide huge international stages for performance. Melissa Bishop continues to amaze both with her out and out talent and her unbelievable grace in accepting the no-man’s (woman?) land she has found herself in where it comes to international competition. There are no brilliant answers to the dilemma of what is right and fair.

Andre De Grasse has huge potential and is a virtual pup. Can he break Bolt’s records? Maybe if he grows another 6-8 inches! Bolt is the whole package, but there is no doubt he had mechanical advantage over most of the competition. Can Andre win a lot of prestigious medals? Firstly, he already has, and secondly I think he can. Winning is being faster than anybody else on the day. That he can do. C’mon Andre, show us what ya’ got!!

In both women’s and men’s marathon we are seeing rising Canadian stars emerging. Actually, you never know until you know, but there are a few out there and the next couple of years will show us if there is more than a promise. I find it interesting that there is always big talk about the Canadian Marathon Record for men, when one of the youngsters turns in a decent result. Four decades later, Jerome Drayton still holds the Canadian Record (2:10:09). My friend Peter Butler was second for many years, and until quite recently, in fact. I believe Peter now has the fifth fastest time, but Drayton is still first. Jerome Drayton’s time was right up there when he ran 2:10:09 to win Fukuoka in 1975. The World Record at the time was 2:09:12. Peter’s time was less than a minute slower (2:10:56), although by that date the World Record had recently dropped to 2:07:12. The other times that now separate Peter Butler and Jerome Drayton all slipped in between, but that happened only in the last 5-6 years. You have to ask how that can be. Even when Peter did 2:10:56, the world’s best time was just over 2:07. Where are the Canadian guys? Huh? Where? And, more importantly, why (or why not)? Drayton, less than a minute off the record. Butler less than four minutes. Today’s best? More than seven minutes behind. AHEM! We’re going the wrong way, boys!

Start of the First Half Half Marathon 2015. Wykes leading. Race over.

I know one of the guys who slipped in between Drayton and Butler (Dylan Wykes – #3). At the height of his performance he may, on any given day, have been able to crack 2:10. The same can be said of Reid Coolsaet (2:10:28 – #2 and twice 2:10:55 – #4) and maybe Eric Gillis (2:11:21 for his best time and 2:12:29 for 10th place at the 2016 Olympics). They have all been right there, but they have NOT broken through. We who run distance, even if we don’t belong in the same sentence (paragraph?) as these guys, know that a great race requires that EVERYTHING must come together at the precise right moment. Training, health/soundness (not injured), the day itself and the mental attitude to win, probably even the competition. The last point might even be a key element in explaining Canadian performance. Our guys, in international elite fields, cannot run with the best, so they often wind up in a neither here nor there place within the race. It is hard to run your best when psychologically, the elite field has already handed you your ass and you aren’t much more than half way. As I began writing this, I decided that ‘winning’ might be the key to breaking through. Drayton won when he established the record in Fukuoka and I know Butler won his race about 10 years later (California International Marathon) when he became #2.  Wyke’s time in Rotterdam gave him 6th place and Coolsaet’s best was done in Berlin where he was also 6th. Today, in big races, the winners (leaders) are as much as five minutes (and more) ahead of Drayton’s time. It just may be, if the primary purpose of one of our guys is to break through that venerable old record, they may just have to pick a race they can win or at the very least, contend. That may keep both the HEAD and the FEET in the race. When you are near your limit, you need every bit of strength and motivation to push through the pain, mental and physical. Our guys just can’t run with the top elites for the first half of a marathon, then bring home a second half that matches.

Peter Butler, ‘elder statesman’ and super supporter.

For our current best (Coolsaet, Wykes and Gillis) age is creeping up. Gillis and Coolsaet are more or less the same age at about 38. Wykes is significantly younger (34) but his international racing days may be behind him (or not) as he tends to be injury prone when he trains to contend. The book is not closed on any of them yet. We will see what we will see. Butler is hitting 60, so I guess he is done and while fact checking for this article I learned Jerome Drayton is precisely four days younger than ME. We KNOW he has to be done.

Canadian men have a lot of talent, so it is tempting to question why they can’t seem to get it done. I guess population dynamics may have something to do with it. You could ask why California can’t get it done. It has about the same population as Canada. Maybe we don’t support our athletes well enough so they can train, or maybe we support them too well!  What? BLASPHEMY! Motivation to take your genetic gift all the way can involve dollar signs, but winning and the purse that comes with it (unless we are talking one of the truly big events) is not a financial motivation for our people. For certain, the available purses are attractive and useful, but for a Canadian in Canada, they are not life altering.

Boston Marathon (2009 – near half way), Lead Pack of Men. Kenyans and Ethiopians as far as you can see.

The East Africans can turn a modest purse into a life-changing outcome. In fact, there are a LOT of ‘low’ performing East Africans that spread out around the world to convert their undeniable talents into cash.  A good many come to Canada for their pay day. So be it. My question though, is how do we incentivize our athletes to go that one step further? There are said to be 300 Kenyans who can run through the Canadian Record, at any given time. Kenya’s population is about 49 million. At any given time, we MAY have two or three who could ‘see’ the Canadian Record from where they are standing. There is proof positive that for over 40 years, nobody has been able to break through. For a Kenyan, running fast is a door of hope. Same for Ethiopians, for that matter.

I’ve been watching for years. I love the marathon and the drama of it. I used to love to run them myself, although FAR, far from the times we are talking here – but everything is relative. I ran my first marathon in 1988, at age 43 and therefore, ‘over’ the hill before I even started climbing it! Getting back to the Canadian elites, I think part of the motivation issue is that in Canada we are blessed with opportunity to go in a LOT of different directions. You can make a good living, even a great living, without ever lacing up a pair of running shoes. Unless you are some kind of crazy, ready to put the rest of your life on hold, you may just not be ready to do what you must to break through that Canadian bugaboo marathon record. Maybe we are just too ‘fat and happy’, and I say that as a positive thing, except where it comes to running marathons (or other events) really fast.

Breaking Two and Other Unicorn Sightings.

One more big marathon thing just has to be discussed. The question of why Canadians can’t go faster than 2:10, pales by comparison to the TWO HOUR barrier. We know for a fact that a human can run just 25 seconds slower than 2:00:00. Oh yeah, I know, artificial and near perfect conditions, not a sanctioned race, silly pacing support…………………..and on and on, but A MAN, running on his OWN feet, missed going sub-2:00 by 26 seconds in 2017. Will Eliud Kipchoge be the man to go under two? I actually doubt it, but he will forever be the runner who showed it is possible. If you look at marathon records over the years there are many instances of plateaus where not much happens. Then, somebody breaks through and suddenly everyone is doing it.

I personally believe that with Kipchoge’s example, others will see it can be done and will have the courage to push just a little harder, strain just a bit more in that critical final 10K. Maybe in one of the races with the potential for achieving this result, there will be an elite collusion in which everyone who MIGHT be able to pull it off, will agree that there will be no racing until the last 5K (?). They will agree to work as a team to some point, with no ‘kill the competition’ moves before ??? when that kind of action might be what is needed to bring home the magic time. Maybe a bit of killer competition at the end is where they will get those other 27 seconds! Whatever, don’t be surprised in the next couple of years to see the marathon race time drop to 2:01. It will take a lot of right circumstances, including the right weather at the right race and everybody feeling good. That is why I’m not predicting it will happen at any given event or within a specific time, but I think we will see a legitimate race time nearing 2:01, within a fairly short period of time

Now for Something Closer to Home.

Some of the Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic Group (#2)

For me, it was a big transition year as I actually turned significantly to coaching and encouraging new runners. Oh, I did some of my own running and racing too (including a marathon that came as a bit of a surprise in the greater scheme of things). I did a couple of races with my grandson Charlie, at his pace, and I paced a 5K race (meaning you are almost by definition, going slower than you are capable of doing). By the way (until October), I have run with Charlie at a pace he could handle. That said, I’m pretty sure that sometime in 2018 our roles are going to switch. Of course, I don’t really want to have him wait for grandad. I want to watch him achieve his best outcomes, and to celebrate them, whatever they may be.

30 (Bradley Cuzen) and 35 (me) Minute Pacers, Fall Classic 2017

With respect to that pacing ‘job’ I did at the Fall Classic 5K, it was partly because it allowed me to help several people from the Learn to Run 5K clinic I coach, to achieve running a 5K race at a pace around what we targeted in the clinic. I’ve talked about this before, but I was thrilled to have several participants finish UNDER the advertised time of 35:00.

Seven Summits Finishers – October, 2017

My other non-competitive and learning experience was the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge. The BIG take-away is how much fun it was and the feeling of satisfaction involved in doing it as a challenge and NOT a race – to complete, not to compete, is harder than it sounds if you have a competitive spirit. I am very well aware that I am not even ‘fast’ in my own age group, but I still compete with myself to go as fast as I can. Pacing, whether it be my grandson in an 8K, or an official time at the Fall Classic 5K, and completing the Challenge, are different things. Meeting the challenge of going a distance (47km in the one instance) or running at an appropriate pace for someone else’s needs, is different from going as fast as you can and is actually very enjoyable. It plays havoc with your lifetime records on Athlinks, but whatever, my  best times these days don’t enhance my lifetime record much anyway. As far as Athlinks goes (because of how it works) none of my true PB times are there in any case!

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon (#27) – DONE

As noted, and written about previously, I did actually do one more marathon (#27, or #28 if you count like the Marathon Maniacs which would include my 50K Ultra). It was the Light at the End of the Tunnel. After I did it, I thought it might truly be my last marathon. But, after the Seven Summits Challenge (at 47K, more than a ‘mere’ marathon) I am wondering if I might just squeeze in another couple of special marathons, done as ‘challenges’ not races. It is funny, because I do not look down on people who just DO marathons in whatever time it takes, but to this point have not been able to see that approach as something I could do. Maybe it is that damn BQ! I’ve been close enough to think there is hope, although not close enough to drop everything else and make it happen. It means I have selected certain marathons for their potential and run on hope more than training sometimes. The last time I went under 5:00 was the Big Cottonwood Marathon (Salt Lake City) in September 2014. Could I still get under 5:00? I don’t honestly know. I have run two since Big Cottonwood, both well over 5:00. I am approaching one of those pivotal times when it is well ahead of an age group change, but in range of doing a BQ for the new age group. In my case it would be 4:40 for M75-79 and it all has to do with when my birthday is. After mid-September 2018 I am eligible to BQ at the M75-79 time. ELIGIBLE, that is. CAPABLE is quite another matter.

One of the big things that has happened in 2017 is that after the Light at the End of the Tunnel, I promised myself to really get the fatigue out of my legs by staying away from constant distance training. For years, literally, being a pace group leader at the Forerunners marathon and half marathon clinics and running a lot of marathons and halfs, I just never stopped doing longer runs. I know I’ve been dealing with this fatigue factor. I can honestly say that I am noticing the difference.

It is hard to say I can’t keep going when fellow Running in the Zone contributor Evan Fagan is now just one marathon short of 150 (Evan is in his 80s and a cancer survivor), and BJ McHugh just set a single age marathon world record for W90, with a time of 6:47:31 (breaking the old record by over 2 hours).

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan.

As a result of all this conscious determination, I am looking ahead to 2018. The next Learn to Run 5K starts the beginning of January and will run 12 weeks to the BMO St. Patrick’s 5K. For much of that time, I will likely work on building a 10K base and some speed. After that, I will be planning a half marathon, probably the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in early May. I anticipate training for it with long runs that go at least to 25K. It will be a test. A test? For what? Well, the possibility of trying that BQ in mid-September. Shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone. It is a secret! It will also involve some dietary modification and gym time (yuck and yuck).

Being a great believer in age grading, I have looked back at older results and minimum standards I need to achieve, to encourage me to think a good marathon might be possible. Failure along the way, (unless it is due to something like what just happened in Jamaica), will mean it is kind of pointless to think BQ marathon when you can’t do a Half in a decent time. If all goes well in May with a modest intermediate goal, I will run the Scotiabank Half in June with a very sharp time goal in mind, one that would justify hope for a BQ run at Tunnel Light. I was a bit surprised by the course as a first timer so will have the advantage of experience the second time around.

My training was so-so this year, and I knew it. When my wheels started wobbling or more accurately, seizing up, I accepted it in good spirit and just called it off, other than the goal of finishing (which I did). The course is deceptive. My Garmin said it was just as advertised (about a 2% steady downgrade after exiting the actual Tunnel). My eyes and my head told me most of the first half was actually uphill. I’m not the only one who thought the same thing. I have concluded it is an optical illusion, but I was sure and if it weren’t for the Garmin, would insist to this day, that the downhill part didn’t start until about half way. Not counting the over long washroom break (not MY fault), my pace was pretty much what I wanted/planned, up to nearly 25km. Could I have done the race faster? Yes. How much faster? No idea. I did walk (with another Maniac) when I could have run some. I still would have been well over 5 hours. But, all of that said, when age graded as completed, it was not the slowest marathon I’ve done. So, there’s that.

IF Vancouver (half marathon) goes to plan, I will continue with the idea of a much faster time at Scotia Half. If that goes to plan, then it is ON for Tunnel Light in September. I have some other shorter races I expect to do as part of the training. I may even do the Seven Summits Challenge again, to assist and encourage some friends who haven’t done it yet. While I expect the time will be pretty modest, 47km has to count for something in overall training.

Family Fun.

The entire family, post-race Victoria 2017

I’m sure there will be at least one race with Charlie, maybe a couple if we do as we have the last couple of years. I expect that in October, when we head for Victoria for our family race, that I may get a chance to ‘run’ with Jonah in the Kids Run. He was pretty sure he could run with us this year and truth be told, I think he could have done the Kids Run. He will be pushing four by next October. Yep, I think it is probable it will be my first official run with Jonah.

My active running will go to the time of the Goodlife Fitness Marathon weekend. I expect to run the 8K with Charlie and the Kids Run with Jonah (it can be done). After that, in celebration of 50 years of marriage, Judi and I will be off to India. I’m poking around for a race to maybe do, but holding out almost zero hope. I will add another country to my list of countries where I have run, maybe two if we add on Nepal (still in decision mode on that).

Friends Have Been Busy Too.

For the win! Forever Young 8K (2017)

I mentioned performances of friends, and right at the head of that pack is Walter Downey. I’ve written about Walter quite a bit, but there is one remaining big thing to add. Through hard work and determination, Walter (along with a whole bunch of Forerunners friends) headed off to Sacramento for the California International Marathon where he delivered a new marathon PB, a BQ and a time just under 3:05. I’m pretty sure I know what the next goal is set to be!

A couple of old winners celebrate Age Group wins (Rod and Dan)

It was great to see Rod Waterlow out on the roads again. His recovery is still coming along slowly, but it IS coming. He won his age group (M80+) at the Fall Classic 5K in November. Even though it was a modest time for Rod, he did it and it was more than good enough to take the Gold in his category.

I mentioned B J McHugh and her Honolulu Marathon W90 World Record and that Evan Fagan is one marathon away from 150. You just KNOW that one is going to happen sometime soon.

Reggae Marathon friends gathered again in Negril, JA earlier this month and leader of the pack, Chris Morales will do #10 in a row in December 2018. I fear I will break the streak this coming December, but a trip to India in the Fall is going to put a crimp in the old travel budget. Maybe I should start a Go Fund Me project! No, I think I just have to accept that it is what it is.

While Forerunners clinic people have long run together and gone off to events in groups (Athens, Chicago, New York, Eugene and in 2017 CIM), it seems in the last couple of years there has been a social bond develop such that it feels more like a ‘club’. People support each other and the PBs and BQs have just rolled in at a furious pace. The achievements are too numerous to list, but they are nonetheless real. Congratulations to one and all.

And with that, it is time to bring 2017 to a close and wish one and all:

A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I BI’D SICK

12.13.2017

Sick, sick, sick.

Faking that I was feeling good for a Sunday beach run.

You would correctly have expected a Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K summary or wind-up by now. Truth be told, the first three words above, pretty much sum things up. I’ve been running for 33-34 years and have no idea how many destination races I’ve done in that time. Lots. I guess I can’t complain much that this was the first time I truly got ‘struck down’ by some kind of bug. That is a lot of trips and races without incident of the infection kind.

I suppose the good news is I can blame my stupid slow time on ‘the bug’. Somehow it isn’t that satisfying. I was planning to run the Half Marathon in Negril because there is a much better than average chance that I won’t be going next year and if I get back in 2019, I will be less than a month from being 75. Who knows if I’ll still be running half marathons by then. So, I really wanted to do the half marathon this time.

As race day approached and I sank ever deeper into wheezing and coughing, I knew I had to downgrade to the 10K. I did that at package pick-up on Thursday, but it was not obvious that I was even going to be able to do the 10K. By Friday, when the Best Pasta Party in the World happens, I bailed on attending. I drank fluids and scoffed down over the counter meds Friday night. Saturday morning (really, really early Saturday morning) I got up and donned my running gear. In relative terms, I wasn’t feeling too bad. At the very least, I figured I could walk the 10K if that was how it had to be. I mean, after coming all this way, I couldn’t let my other Three Amigos down when it came to our annual photo.

I wandered around more or less alone (in a crowd), just keeping a low profile. I walked from Rondel Village to the start with Chris Morales, met up with Larry and Karen, Navin and Daivati at the start, but pretty much stayed away from anyone and everyone. Precisely at 5:15am the race(s) started. I put myself well back, so it took over two minutes to officially cross the start line. I figured to just do what I could and started out at a slow easy jog. For the first time in all the times, I was able to spot myself in the start-line video. I actually didn’t look as bad as I would have thought!!

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

I had planned on a regime of walking and running when intending to do the Half, so I just kind of started with that program. My intent was to walk one minute in every kilometre. That was good for a little while. The morning was pretty warm, but humidity was better than the last couple of years. With no expectations, I was actually feeling not bad and enjoying the morning. I realized when I got to the turn-around in Negril Town, that dawn was well advanced and I was seeing things I don’t usually see at that point (too dark). I’ve written about it in the past because I’ve been there on training runs at around that same time. It is magical to look down onto the Negril River with the fishing boats and white egrets still roosting in the trees along the river bank.

Soon enough, I passed the 5K point and knew I was half way home. A quick inventory showed I was feeling OK. Not, well let’s sprint a bit OK, but not falling down awful. I kept walking and running as seemed appropriate. It wasn’t long before I passed by Rondel Village and knew about how far I still had to go. I knew then that I would record another finish. The one HARD part of the 10K is that when you get to the ‘finish’ you aren’t finished! You must pass the finish chute and cheering folks, and keep going at least another 4-500m before you get to turn back and truly head for the finish line. Strangely enough, I actually felt like I was running stronger in this section and once I hit the turn-off and started trundling down the true finish chute I think I was smiling. Checking my gps report afterwards, it seems my last 2K was the fastest segment of the race! Not fast, just fastER than the rest. I guess I was feeling a bit better.

What happened next was a bit overwhelming! All my buddies started bringing me stuff. In the able bodied past, I had to get my own, but here I was with water, fresh coconut and lots of support from all these great friends. I managed to finish ahead of Larry who was having a great run in the Half and Lawrence Watson, also doing the Half and winning his age group.

Navin Sadarangani and me as the sun rises over the Finish Area.

The sun was rising over the trees and I was actually feeling pretty good (relative term, but to quote Billy Crystal – “Dahling, It’s better to look good than to feel good……………”). It was about then that I discovered my phone/camera had got drowned during the run. I put it in a plastic zip-lock bag, but I guess the bag leaked – may have ‘zipped’, but apparently it didn’t ‘lock’. I took the poor thing apart and tried to dry it out a bit, but nothing, nada, zilch. The good news was that I did get it dried out later without any further heartache or great effort. There was much talk of rice, but it wasn’t necessary in the end. Still, I got NO photos of my own from the finish party. Fortunately, a few others have shared, so I can show you how it was. The big deal, of course, was that the Four Amigos (Navin, Larry, Chris and Dan) got to take our annual photograph, showing a total this time of THIRTY fingers, representing the 30 events we have run collectively.

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

I spent more time on the actual beach this year than is my usual practice. It was so nice to just soak up the sun and dabble my toes in the sea. I wasn’t too active, but I felt pretty good. Eventually, Chris and I made our homeward (Rondel Village) trek along the beach at the water’s edge. It is so funny to run this race and wind up back at the resort in time for breakfast (not even a late breakfast) when it already feels like a full day’s work is behind us.

Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy) with a few Reggae Runnerz at Rondel Village

Unfortunately, it was shortly after that when I started to realize the ‘sinking feeling’ that was going to be representative of everything to follow for the next days. I was brave though. Chris does a lot of social media work with a lot of groups, one of which is the Reggae Runnerz. He was invited to their post-race “Green Gold and Black” party and I was invited as his ‘plus one’. I can’t say I was the life of the party, but was still grateful to be included with this vibrant group (a good many of whom were staying at our resort). They long ago outgrew the Treehouse! I mean, there are around 500 of them!!

Sunset from Xtabi Resort, Negril.

Sunday afternoon brought the traditional One Love Bus excursion. I went. I was quiet. I had a couple of beers and got some really great sunset photos. Last year, we had lots of fun, but the sunset was a big nothing (fairly unusual). This year it was spectacular and made up in spades for 2016. However, as the sun set in the West End of Negril, so it did on my remaining energy. I don’t think my run or other activities did me any more harm than if I had done nothing. It is typical (it turns out) of this bug that you think you are OK, then a day later, not so much. I guess I was lucky that one of my ‘better’ days was the day of Reggae Marathon. I won’t say it was like previous years, but it was a kind of quiet fun and a whole lot better than I thought it was going to be on Friday when I bailed on the pasta party.

Not much more to say. I’m still slowly recovering almost a week after getting home. Yesterday was the first time I thought running sounded like a good idea. Not such a good idea that I intend to do it anytime soon, but at least the thought crossed my mind.

Charlie and Grandad ready to run Victoria 8K

Reggae Marathon was always going to be my last race for 2017, so I can at least look back at my year of running and racing. It was an interesting year in that not all my races were meant to be all out efforts. Two of them were with my grandson Charlie and done at his pace. One was as a pacer for a time that was significantly slower than I know I could do. One of the ‘events’ wasn’t a race at all, but rather a ‘challenge’. That was the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge (47km), organized by Forerunners. I wrote about that a month or so ago, so won’t be repeating it here. Still, it was a highlight of my 2017. When all was said and done, and all five ‘Challenge’ days had come and gone, a total of 26 people had completed the challenge.

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon (#27) – DONE

I did manage to do one more marathon in 2017. My last? Maybe, but doing that particular race (Light at the End of the Tunnel) and the Seven Summits, gave me a bit different perspective on what I can maybe do in the future. There are some marathons I’d yet like to do and if the time limit is long enough, I could take all the time I want and just enjoy the experience. That said, I’m still in the middle of a plan (that this flu bug didn’t help much) to let my legs recover and get strong, relative to some serious training in 2018. IF I were to pick out a marathon for a decent time, I would need to truly train for it, no skimping on distance or speed. We’ll see. Marathon or not, I do plan to train to run as well as I can at whatever distance.

A really BIG thrill for me in 2017 has been the Your Run Starts Here – Learn to Run 5K project with Forerunners. We completed two clinic cycles just before the Fall Classic (where I paced 35:00 for the 5K). Several of my clinic folk ran and did really well. We were all thrilled. Somehow, running karma must have kicked in because even though I just did what was asked of me as 35 minute pacer, I managed to win my age group.

The entire family, post-race Victoria 2017

All in all, I ran eight actual races and did the Seven Summits Challenge. One of the races I did with Charlie was the Goodlife Fitness Victoria 8K and I could tell that while he was pushed to do the time he did, it was a six minute PB over the year before and a clear indicator that Grandad may be trying to keep up with the grandson in future races. Victoria is always the family event and 2016 was no different. All branches and members of the extended family were there. Daughter Janna ran the 8K, as did Charlie and I, while Danielle (Charlie’s Mom) ran the half marathon. The only unhappy team member seemed to be the youngest grandson, Jonah, who was pretty sure “I can run!!“. He demonstrated this to all of us. Next year, maybe he can enter the kids run.

2017 Finisher Medals (and a First). Remember when races didn’t DO finisher medals?

I mentioned running Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon and even though my time was quite slow, I was super pleased with the day. If it is my last marathon, it was a good one to be the last. Interestingly, even though three of my eight races were based on a different intention than going as fast as I could, I still managed three podium finishes in 2016, a nice symmetrical first, second and third. Mostly, it is a result of age and attrition, but I’ll take them anyway.

As usual for this time of year, I’ve started laying out potential races for 2018. Probably, I won’t be doing all of them, but it is still good to see them laid out in context. Because my wife and I will be celebrating 50 years of marriage in August of 2018, we have planned a trip to India (and maybe Nepal) to mark the event. While I doubt I can find a race to run (we won’t be sitting still much and you would have to be in just the right place at the right time), I will at least add one, if not two, countries to my total of places where I’ve run. Please don’t tell my wife I’m looking for a race. Aaah, probably doesn’t matter. She likely already suspects I’m poking around for possibilities. I mean, we aren’t talking marathon. A 5K would do fine, but how special would it be to do some kind of race? I’ve run in some 23 separate countries over the years but I’m way down on races (just five countries).

Just writing this is making me feel better. No, not good enough to go for a run, but that time IS coming. So good to actually feel like I want to, and CAN run.

THE REGGAE MARATHON ADVENTURE BEGINS AGAIN

11.26.2017

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani, the first time we all met at Reggae Marathon Pasta Party

I arrived yesterday (Nov 23) in Jamaica and am staying for a couple of days with fellow Reggae running friend, Lawrence Watson at his Castle Vue Bed & Breakfast in Montego Bay. I expect to soon see the guy who introduced us seven years ago, Navin Sadarangani, one of the Four Amigos. Navin and Lawrence know each other from the days when Navin lived in MoBay and they used to run together. Navin is also here for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. This is a great start to the vacation and running adventure that is the Reggae Marathon!

Of course, most of us (except Navin) never actually RUN the actual marathon. This year, that includes the ever intrepid Navin, who broke his leg earlier in the year in a (if you can believe it) non-running accident. 10K this year for Navin. The only other of the Four Amigos to have run the marathon is Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy) and it was his first time, nine years ago. I intended to at my first Reggae Marathon, but you’ve heard that story more than enough times.

First run, with Lawrence Watson in Montego Bay

I have started writing this at Castle Vue, but expect I won’t finish it and post until I get to Negril and my home for the remainder of the stay, Rondel Village. The only reason for waiting is largely because I have this personal THING about not really being here until I’m checked in at Rondel Village. Because I can (retired, doncha’ know?) I always lengthen my stay beyond the time needed to attend Reggae Marathon weekend (3-4 days). It is too far to travel, not to stay at least a week. Several times it has been more, including this time.

Sunday sun rising over Norman Manley Blvd

So, I am the ‘advance party’ and like to taunt my friends about getting here hurrying up to join me. I post a few photos like the ones here, just to get them fired up about their trip and the fun of the event. It doesn’t take much! While the “Four Amigos” remain the core, the list of other friends grows every year, and of course the Reggae Marathon ‘family’ of Frano, Diane, Jessica, and Gena is part of it.

This is the last year (it is said) that the race will be on Saturday. For a bunch of reasons, starting next year (2019), the race will happen on Sunday. It won’t much impact me (see above) but should help people who want to run but don’t have the time to take much more than a long weekend.

Quick stop for a ‘selfie’ during the first run in Negril

One of the first orders of business, usually my first morning in Negril, is a run in the early morning. It is both a celebration of being back (as they say here “Welcome Home”) and a bit of a safety measure. Safety? Yes, when you come from The Great White North (aka Canada) it has been some time since you will have experienced the everyday weather conditions of Negril. As hot places go, Negril is really not extreme, but if you can, some acclimatization is highly recommended. I can.

While I love running the beach, my first run is usually along Norman Manley Blvd (the race route). It used to be a bit dodgy running along the shoulder of the road, but a couple of years ago they installed a completely separated pathway that extends almost the whole length of the 10K route. I have been known to run the length of the pathway heading north, then cut over onto the beach for the return ‘home’. Best of both worlds!

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

Last year, Chris and I went running on the beach one delightful morning and since I had my phone/camera with me, he asked if I would take a few shots of him. I did. Stupidly (IT WAS MY CAMERA!!!) I never thought to say, ‘now you take a couple of me’. Doh. Going to fix that this year, but here is what ‘running the beach’ looks like just around sunrise.

Maybe I’ll get him to capture me going the other way. You know, don’t want to look too copy-cat. One thing I do know is that I won’t run the beach barefoot until the actual race is over. I am a real tender-foot and have more than once worked up an uncomfortable blister from the shifting sand under the toes on some beach or another, including Negril. So, just a word to the wise if you are anything like me, or don’t know for sure.

The locals know all about the Reggae Marathon, but for some my early morning runs are a bit like the first robin of Spring. At least, I like to think of it that way. “Oh man, it be dat time so soon?!” Of course, that is my idea. They may be thinking, “what is that stupid white dude doing running up and down and sweating all over everything?” No, I’m sure that isn’t it. First Robin, for sure. All I know is that I get lots of warm greetings, including a few that really do involve an element of “is it that time again, already?”

Negril River and fishing boats

There is a VERY good chance I won’t come in 2019 and I really want to do the half marathon this time. So, all the more reason to get some acclimatization runs in before race day. The race looks after us very well, probably couldn’t really do better, but it is still hotter here than the running guides suggest you should be out there racing, and especially shooting for PBs. I guess the local runners can go right ahead. For them this is just normal. And, there are getting to be more Jamaicans running distance.

Sunday morning and I have completed all the rituals of the first run, first breakfast of ackee and salt fish (even chatted up my waitress about the care and handling of fresh ackee!). First dip in the sea outside Rondel Village. Sunrise photo and the route of the race. I HAD to take a couple of photos from the bridge over the Negril River (boats and egrets) although most Reggae runners don’t see that early morning view (still dark when you get there). More than a few ‘selfies’ to chronicle the run and from an ‘album’ I’m thinking about from the trip. Take selfies now, decide later.

Egrets on the Negril River

So, I think that is it for ‘starters’. This won’t be my last post before Reggae Marathon, but it makes me feel good to be here and I’m looking forward to seeing all my Reggae Marathon friends as the week goes along. First one I expect to see will be That Runnin’ Guy!

Later in the week, I may even do a short post of Jamaican ‘food porn’, or maybe I’ll just eat what I find and you will have to come and see for yourself!  Soon come, Reggae Marathon!

IT HAS BEEN A BUSY FEW WEEKS!

11.18.2017

I promised myself I would write about this right after my last post on getting ready for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. The title says it all. It starts with the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (weekend), rolls through the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge put on by Forerunners, and then on into the Fall Classic, just this past Sunday, which also coincided with completion of the second ForerunnersYour Run Starts Here – Learn to Run 5K” clinic. Oh yes, and catching up one more time on our ‘road’ warrior, Walter Downey who has had a busy and amazing YEAR, never mind the last few weeks.

Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon

The entire family, post-race Victoria 2017

I have said before, because it is true, this is the Cumming family ‘go to’ event. While I may have missed counting one or two of our individual races, as a group, we have participated in at least 30 races at this event since 2000. Daughter Janna and I ran the marathon that year. It was my second and her first. In a way, it was my first too. The actual ‘first’ was the Vancouver Marathon in 1988, but that was more than 12 years earlier, not to mention one spinal surgery (something about a ruptured disk). I had made a couple of false starts after the surgery in 1990, but #2 marathon happened October, 2000. Since then, I have a personal total of 13 appearances at the Victoria Marathon weekend, including all three events, marathon, half marathon and 8K. The last two years I have run the 8K with grandson, Charlie. His Mom, daughter Danielle, specializes in the Victoria Half. I think registering is now part of her New Year tradition. Janna has run the marathon a couple of times and the half, several more, and joined us boys for the 8K this year. I have five marathons, six half marathons and the two 8Ks with Charlie. Throw in a son-in-law in the Half (Janna’s husband) and it all adds up to 30.

This year we had four runners (Janna, Charlie and me in the 8K, with Danielle running the half marathon). It was a fabulous day to run and 100% of the family was present, even if some didn’t run this time. Charlie had a PB by over six minutes! Danielle had her best time in years. That was especially sweet, after preparing in 2016, getting injured just before race day, trying to run and making it to the first turn when discretion became the better part of valour and she wisely shut it down! It was that kind of injury – straight ahead, semi-OK, anything else, not so much.

Biggest disappointment prize for 2017 went to the other grandson, Jonah. He is deemed to be too young to run yet (not quite 3 years). I use the term ‘deemed’ because Jonah does NOT concur. Maybe next year for him in the kids run.

Final note on Victoria, I also had another ‘family’ to run with. Two of the participants from the first Forerunners Learn to Run 5K clinic stepped up to 8K and apparently used me as an unofficial ‘pacer’. Both did great and we all four of us finished within seconds of each other.

AND THEN THIS HAPPENED!

PM Justin Trudeau in White Rock

So, as I was working on this blog piece I learned that PM Justin Trudeau was making a brief stop in town to support his candidate in a bye-election we are having here. Well, when your Prime Minister is coming to a place a few blocks from where you live, you just naturally go to greet him! There was a great crowd there and regardless of anyone’s political leanings the nearby schools did the right thing and brought the kids out to see the PM of Canada. What fun! I truly think that the PM was having as much fun as the kids and probably high-fived every last one of them. Selfies were taken (that was what was happening in this photo). I was as close as the photo implies and a nearby woman handed me her phone so I could take her and her child with the PM, just a moment after I took this shot. That was the kind of day it was. (Oh, and he is a runner, so I guess he belongs here on that basis too, although I don’t think that is why people came out to see him.)

OK, back to blogging!

Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge

You are forgiven if you’ve never heard of the Seven Summits Challenge. It is brand new this year and thus far just 22 people have met that challenge. The next and final chance is Sunday November 19. At this point, it isn’t clear how many will take it on, but I’m guessing that the final total won’t be far off 30.

What IS the Seven Summits of Vancouver?

Seven Summits Finishers – October, 2017

Since opening their new store on Main Street, Forerunners has been doing all sorts of fun based running activities to get people motivated. The Seven Summits, being a 47km route, is not exactly for the beginner. On the other hand, it is NOT a race, but rather an activity to be completed. There is a practical time limit that ensures everyone gets out and back in a reasonable time, but that is more than nine hours, almost ten, for completion. If you do the math and make very few stops, you could argue that the Challenge could be done by walking. To my knowledge nobody did actually walk it and the quickest ‘Challenger’, thus far, finished just around four hours. I don’t want to even know exactly what the time was, because there is NO recognition for speed, just doing. If you were cynical, you might harken back to the tried and true saying, “My parents went to XXX and all I got was this T-shirt!”. Yep. That is the reward for completing this Challenge, a T-shirt (and some awesome bragging rights). But, it is one VERY unique and EXCLUSIVE garment. The only way to get one is to start and finish the Seven Summits. As noted, so far there are just 22 of us can make that claim.

There were 5 opportunities, spaced roughly a month apart, with the final one for 2017 happening November 19. I took ‘the Challenge’ on October 22. I was not seriously trained (I’d done about half the distance, twice, in preparation and to try out my strategy). I never planned to try to run the whole thing, but had carefully considered how I would go 5K over the standard marathon distance of 42.2K. I was confident of my ability to finish, which is all that is required. How sore I’d be the next day was something to be discovered later.

Summit #1 – Top of Queen Elizabeth Park

Vancouver is kind of bumpy, so the ‘Summits’ were certainly high places in the landscape, but just possibly a little arbitrary. SEVEN became a key aspect of the whole thing: 7 summits, start at 7:07am, entry fee $7.70 (proceeds to Firemen’s Burn Fund), etc, etc. Thankfully, nobody got the idea the duration should be seven hours! The new store is located at 23rd Ave and Main Street. Not terribly far away is Queen Elizabeth Park, or as we called it when I was kid growing up in the neighbourhood, “Little Mountain“. Naturally, that was the First Summit. From there the route made its way to 37th Ave and a long easy downhill trend to 41st Ave and SW Marine Drive. That is just where Marine Drive starts through Pacific Spirit Park and the UBC Endowment Lands. This spot is also on the BMO Vancouver Marathon route. What is most significant about this location is that it is the bottom of the Camosun Street hill. And oh yes, a hill it is! When you reach to top of Camosun at 29th Ave, you have achieved the Second Summit. It is a little known fact, but when you reach 29th, you really haven’t reached the highest ground in the area. Nope. So continuing on around the edge of Pacific Spirit Park to 16th Ave and then West on 16th into the heart of the UBC campus, you turn North on East Mall to what is the Third Summit, somewhere near East Mall and University Blvd. (I realize none of this means anything to anyone who isn’t a local, so feel free to skip ahead, or just read on to get the general feel of how long and difficult the route is.) From that point the route slowly and then rather quickly heads down (you are actually back on Marine Drive again) to the beaches of Spanish Banks, Locarno, Jericho. All of this is pretty flat until you leave Jericho Beach. Eventually, traversing West Point Grey Road which morphs into Cornwall Street, you find yourself at the Fourth Summit, the Burrard Bridge. Immediately upon crossing over the bridge, you hang a hard left and continue down to the beach area of English Bay and into Stanley Park. This is where I would say ‘ignorance is bliss’ really kicks in for this Challenge. Following Park Drive, you make your way up and up and up (not the steepest but certainly the longest most gruelling climb of the Challenge) until you reach Prospect Point and the Fifth Summit. The down side is actually much shorter and sharper than the up side and when you hit the bottom of that hill, the route mercifully cuts through the middle of Stanley Park on Pipeline Road. Around the North side of Lost Lagoon and along the English Bay Beach Path until you are under that old Burrard Bridge again. You head up the stairs to Pacific and Burrard, back right and over the bridge again. Sorry, but there is only one ‘credit’ for the Burrard Bridge. Pretty much upon reaching solid ground on the West side, it is up Cypress to 16th, East to Granville and then a short sharp ‘up’ to the The Crescent, and the Sixth Summit. There is a quick whip around Crescent and back out onto 16th Ave headed for Main Street. Yessir! Main Street. At that point it is a mere 8 blocks UP Main to 23rd, the Forerunners store and the FINISH of the Seven Summits of Vancouver.

Summit #5 Prospect Point (I stopped for coffee!)

The whole thing was waaaaay more fun than I expected it would be (or it maybe sounds). Having just spent forever, talking you through the route, I am not going to talk you through MY experience of that route. What I do want to say is that because there was no pace requirement or hard finish goal, as you would have in a race, or even a training run, it was possible to look around and see what was happening. I even ran into one of my Learn to Run clinic members and stopped for a chat! I stopped for coffee (as do many, including the seven other people who ran the day I did). You could even stop for a quick lunch (as did the others). I had a kind of rolling lunch as I knew I had to keep moving if I was to finish comfortably. The others were much younger and much faster than me, so they took more and longer breaks, but we kept encountering each other along the way and funny enough, three passed me with just a few blocks left to the finish, while the rest finished just a few minutes behind me. As it happened, it was an amazing day. My strategy was to run easily on all down-hills and walk the ups. Flats would depend on how I was feeling at the time. Some were run. Some were walked.

Summit #7 – Forerunners on Main – I MADE IT!

You are to be self-supported with gels, your own water, and enough money to take a taxi if required. Completion was to be proved by logging the run into Strava and showing ‘selfies’ at the various Summits. I KNOW I wasn’t the fastest, but also not the slowest to complete. I also know how much satisfaction I got from doing it and how much fun it was to go that far with the only goal being to finish. Meeting my fellow ‘runners’ along the route was also fun. I guess the one unique claim I can make is that I am probably, by some years, the oldest to complete the Challenge! Would I do it again? Not for me, but I was intending to do it with one of my runner friends from the Forerunners clinics. It didn’t work out for her due to work demands (limiting training), but she wants to try it next year. We’ll see. Never say never!

Your Run Starts Here – Learn to Run 5K

I have written about this before and mentioned it previously, and will again. The Learn to Run (LTR) Clinic has been a general success and personal thrill this summer. We had two groups complete the whole program, the first starting in May at the time of the official opening of the Forerunners Main Street store. I wrote the manual and built the training program, then became the ‘Head Coach’ for the clinics. The biggest thing for me was the satisfaction of seeing people show up, very unsure that they could do this thing of running 5K, but ready to try, and then DOING it.

We start out very gently, but soon increase the amount of actual run time and eventually even pace. The process or system is set up so the individual is only asked to run at their own comfortable pace. Everything is based on time. So, in the first session there is a warm-up and cool-down walking segment, but sandwiched in the middle are 10 reps of run one minute, walk one minute. Some found that quite challenging. A bunch of weeks later, the same people ran 30 minutes without a break. Nobody is more amazed than they, themselves. The looks on those faces is what turns my crank. What happens next is up to them, but a significant number from each of the first two groups have seamlessly moved on into other run groups and are continuing. We specifically stress that it is a Learn to RUN, not Learn to RACE clinic, but several have actually taken on 5K, 8K and 10K events since the first two clinics ended.

We are taking a break now until the New Year, but will be picking it up again on January 6 for the next 12 week Learn to Run 5K clinic. It should be a great challenge for all those New Year’s Resolutions to be played out!

Fall Classic 5K

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

The Fall Classic has been around for a good many years. It has been under various organizers and has had a range of formats. The core race is the Half Marathon. However, at various times there have been 10K and 5K races too, which is the current format. As far as I know, it has always been located on the UBC campus. It has always been in November. It hasn’t always been nice weather, but maybe that is part of the charm and challenge! 2016 was definitely NOT nice. I know. I was the 2:30 Pacer for the Half Marathon. It was cold and wet. A picture, being worth a thousand words, I will just let the accompanying photo stand on its own.

When I was asked if I would pace again this year, I begged for the 5K and the time of 35 minutes. Partly, that was because I took a considered decision after the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon in early June, to really cut back on long runs and try to get the constant fatigue out of my legs. It seemed I was never truly recovered from my last run. When I raced, even much shorter distances, my times were nothing like what I thought possible. So, come November 2017 I was in no condition to pace a half marathon – no training. There was also a further method in my madness, because 35:00 for 5K was just about what my clinic runners were trained to do. If I paced that particular group, I could provide a friendly and familiar leadership for anyone who decided to give it at try. There were FOUR such people. It all worked a charm, with me coming in at 34:26 and all those following my lead as the pacer, being pushed in front, to finish just ahead of me. I had done a practice run on the route, finishing in 33:38 (was supposed to be 35:00), so I knew a) I could hit the pace and b) run much faster than 35:00, even if that was not the intention. I’m still competitive at heart!

Well, perhaps my good intentions and good deed of pacing and hitting my pace, was rewarded by what I call ‘running karma’. I wound up actually winning my Age Group! That is one of the prettiest gold medals I’ve earned (yes, they gave all age groups in all races, medals for their podium finishes). I don’t kid myself that it was a fabulous time for me or the age division, but as I now like to say (OK, maybe cling to) is that you can only race those who show up!

A couple of old winners celebrate Age Group golds (Rod and Dan)

Speaking of racing those who show up, the Forerunners gang had a fabulous day across the three races. Coach Tony from 4th Ave, WON the half marathon. Coach Carey from Main Street won his age group. Rod Waterlow (M80-89) and I won our divisions in the 5K, while Walter Downey took on the ‘double’ and came second in his age division in both the 10K and 5K. There were many more and I think the final total was around 11 podium finishes. Not a bad day’s work, I would say!

One final note on 5K clinic runners, in addition to the four in the 5K, three from the first clinic group (I call them The Graduates) decided to take on the 10K and did great!

Catching Up With Walter

Walter’s Year at the Races!

Readers may recall a blog piece I devoted to Walter Downey and his decision to dig down and go for it, entitled “Where There’s a Will…………….” If you don’t recall, well the link is there for you to check it out. The story was partly about his accomplishments, the biggest of which was the changes he made and determination he applied to his goal. The whole story of him getting podium finishes began with the Fall Classic in 2016. He scored a 3rd place age division win (the first proof of success in his quest). On November 12th, Walter scored two Silver Medals in the M50-59 division making those the 14th and 15th podium placings in a row. If you look at it as an annual cycle, he has to drop one race (last year’s Fall Classic Half Marathon) and the only 3rd Place in the bunch. All others have been Golds and Silvers with very high Overall placements and one or two outright wins. Walter is a speedy ‘senior’ (if you consider 55+ to be a senior!). Seriously though, his performances are not just a matter of showing up, which happens the older you get. I never kid myself about being First out of One, or as with this most recent ‘win’ First out of Two. However, I do stand firmly behind the claim that you can only compete against those who come to race. All the faster people who stayed home don’t count. Walter though, is a mere stripling in the world of us Senior runners and his fields are quite competitive. The main reason for emphasizing his accomplishments is to stress what you can do if you put your mind to it.

And Now, On To Negril and The Reggae Marathon

The next big thing and truly final running adventure for me for 2017 is the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. My last blog post was all about that, so I won’t repeat all of that. You’re welcome.

Funny enough, while writing this post, I got a call from the host of the BnB I’m staying at in Montego Bay (also a fellow runner, who I met the first time I went for Reggae Marathon) confirming arrangements, then upon getting off the phone, I checked e-mails and had a final confirmation from Rondel Village for my stay in Negril. Boom! Everything is in place. Now, I just need to patiently wait for ‘wheels up’ in less than one week. As the kids used to count down to Christmas – FOUR Sleeps! Soon Come!

Negril beach view. No worries here.

 

 

 

BRINGING MY 2017 RUNNING YEAR TO A CLOSE – ALMOST

11.14.2017

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Yes, it is almost time to put the 2017 racing season to bed. Almost!  But First, and as anyone who follows this blog even a little knows, there is one more bit of ‘business’ to take care of, if you can call it business!

That’s right, it is time for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, Jamaica.

Who would have thought in 2011 when my wife Judi and I headed for Jamaica to attend the Reggae Marathon, that in 2017 I would be heading down for the seventh year in a row? Well, not me! As a quick bit of background, it was not our first time visiting Jamaica. We had been there in 1969. We were married the year before and while we certainly DID have a honeymoon, it was not a long or exotic trip, so the visit to Jamaica in ’69 was a kind of ‘second honeymoon’.

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

I’d been eyeing up the Reggae Marathon for a year or two, but it conflicted with the California International Marathon (CIM) and still does. I ran CIM a couple of times in pursuit of the ever elusive BQ. It is a great event, but it was looking like time to move on and the beaches of Jamaica beckoned. I picked up on the official Reggae Marathon blog and Chris Morales (aka That Runnin’ Guy). We exchanged some info along the way, including the embedded picture of Judi and me on the Negril beach in 1969. One thing led to another and he asked me to participate in a feature called ‘Ask Dan‘, me supposedly knowing lots of stuff about running. At the same time, two other guys were also blogging and we all kind of loosely linked up through Chris and the Reggae Marathon blog. They were Larry Savitch and Navin Sadarangani. You will see the importance of this later.

I did not actually meet any of these people until we arrived in Negril in December 2011. How four so truly different people could hit it off so quickly, still amazes me. Anyone watching us torment each other on social media would never believe how much we actually like and respect each other!

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

I won’t recount each and every year between 2011 and 2017, but we (aka the Four Amigos) began a tradition back somewhere around Year 3, where each of us holds up fingers representing the number of times we have run one of the events of the Reggae Marathon. As of December 2nd, the annual photo will show the four of us displaying a total of 30 fingers! Except for Chris, we should all be showing seven fingers. Chris is two races up on all of us, so he will have NINE digits proudly held up. He has one more year to go, before running out of fingers! I suppose he still has both feet left, but that is going to make for a rather awkward pose, I would think!

Negril 2011 – Judi and Dan

2011 was meant to be the first time for me to run the Reggae Marathon, yes the MARATHON. I still get ribbed about the ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ debacle that surrounded getting to the start on time, and the fact that my marathon turned into a 10K. If  you want to know, you can check out the earlier blog account right HERE. What did come out of it, was a re-enactment of the original photograph that I sent to Chris as partial explanation of our intention to come to Negril in 2011. Negril has changed a lot in the intervening years, but our original photo from 1969 may very well have been taken somewhere near to where the 2011 photo was made, just outside Long Bay Beach Park (start/finish venue of the Reggae Marathon).

Anyway, let’s fast forward to 2017 and look ahead to this year’s Reggae Marathon!

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

Arrangements are made for travel, accommodation and race registration. Actual packing has not commenced, but the mental inventory is well advanced. Of course, as Chris noted in a similar anticipatory blog piece this morning, you really don’t need too much for sitting on the beach outside Rondel Village, running the beach in the early morning and the race on December 2. Mind you, being retired and all, I will be there longer so may need a couple more T-shirts to see me through. I have learned it is best to try for a somewhat unique race outfit, simply so I can differentiate the year with a glance at the many photographs that have, and will come home after the event! Neither background, nor people will necessarily tell the story!

Time for that ackee and salt fish breakfast!

I am taking two weeks this time. From the West Coast of Canada, it is too big an ordeal to just go for a few days. I always take a week, but every once in a while I will take a bit longer. Negril has become a kind of ‘happy place’ for me. You’d think that for an old retired guy, life wouldn’t have too much stress or hassle, but you would be wrong. I can’t seem to keep myself out of things that create demands on time and energy. I should be clear, most of them are ‘voluntary’ and of my own doing, but that doesn’t make them less demanding or time consuming. Negril is a great, quiet break from it all. Other than the day or two immediately around the race, the most pressing decisions tend to be -shall we go for a swim? Is it time for a Red Stripe? Should we run before breakfast? What shall we have for breakfast? OK, the last one is not actually a regular decision. It is really hard to find good ackee and salt fish when you aren’t actually IN Jamaica. Rondel Village serves up a nice ackee and salt fish breakfast, so it is pretty much a daily thing.

Has anybody actually noticed how little I’ve been talking about racing? Well, let’s fix that soon. However, I do want to stress that Reggae Marathon time is a ‘whole body’ (and mind) experience. The race is, without qualification, one of the best organized events anywhere. That is not just my opinion. Reggae Marathon has regularly won ‘best’ event accolades from various sources, especially as a destination event. There will commonly be as many as 35 countries represented, but one of the BIG stories is how many Jamaicans now participate. There is a big focus on high school teams, so that may explain the continuing involvement by many. Anyone familiar with track and field will know the reputation of Jamaicans (for decades) in the world of sprinting. Role models like Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce have every kid in the country striving to be like them. Careful work to encourage younger people to add some distance into the mix has seen a huge success, much of it spear-headed by Reggae Marathon Race Director, Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis and his team, along with the Jamdammers Running Club.

Morning run on Negril Seven Mile Beach

Once the others start arriving around November 29-30, the Negril vibe turns from a laid-back beach retreat into Reggae Marathon! If you go out on Norman Manley Blvd or the beach in the early morning, you will find runners out doing just what Chris and I are planning. You really do need to get a little acclimatization happening, especially if you come from The Great White North (Canada), like we do. Negril is a VERY pleasant place to be, with almost perfect vacation weather at this time of year. Lows will be 21-24°C and highs in the 30°C range. It will be sunny most days. Some years I have not seen rain the entire time. Others times the odd storm rolls through, but it is usually very quick and often very welcome. Frankly, it is not much warmer than some parts of Canada in full Summer season. The thing is, it is NOT Summer now and our lows are getting close to 0°C and depending on where you are, highs seldom break into double digits. Most of Canada has already had some snow, including Vancouver. That is one sudden change when you hit Negril and it is good to take an easy run or two before the race.

Easy Skankin’

For me, a big part of the Reggae Marathon experience is going to package pick-up and hanging around in full expectation of meeting friends from earlier years. Those you don’t encounter Thursday, you will surely meet on Friday at the “World’s Best Pasta Party”.

While I am not soooooo fond of the 3:30am wake-up, once we step out onto Norman Manley Blvd and are walking to the start (Rondel Village is just a bit over a mile away), the excitement of the other runners becomes completely infectious. You can take a shuttle from anywhere on the strip, but an easy walk is a good way to get ‘warmed up’, so to speak. The race starts promptly at 5:15am. No ‘soon come’ for Reggae Marathon! It is wise to give yourself time to check your bag, find one of the porto-potties (just in case), and of course connect with your run buddies.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

At 5:15am, when Bob Marley starts booming out (usually “Jammin”) the race has begun! It is still pitch black dark and temperatures are as cool as they are going to be. I describe the air at that time as ‘silky’. It really does seem to have a texture to it. Now, when I say it is dark, the sky is truly a night sky, but the street is quite well lit and many resorts already have Christmas lights. The range of pace of the many runners (could be a total of 3,000 this year) runs from the very, very speedy elite runners to those who will walk the 10K and more or less create their own rolling party. It all works and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more fun race crowd.

Early morning on the Negril River

Depending on your pace, sometime after the first 5K at the Negril Town round-about and the 10K finish, you will see the sky lightening and if there are a few clouds around, a dawn like you won’t experience many other places. Average runners doing the 10K will be at the finish around 6:15 to 6:30, before sunrise. However, the post-race beach party will be in full swing and as hard as it sometimes may be to believe, the elite half marathoners will be finishing too. I have some photos from the 10K finish, where you would think at first glance, it really isn’t a very nice day. Nope; look for sun on the tree-tops! It just isn’t full daylight yet. When the sun first pops over the horizon there is another short time of other-worldly light before it turns to bright blazing sunshine.

Afterwards, it is all about the beach!

As more and more people reach the finish, the party just gets bigger and better with live Reggae Music blasting from the stage. Fresh coconut, bananas and other post-race food awaits, as does the sea and beach. Some just go straight to the water and then come back for the rest. No Problem!

I plan to run the Half this year. I am 50/50 for Half/10K. I never have run the marathon. Being two and a half hours late to the start in 2011, and it being plenty sunny and hot, RD, Frano, took pity on me and let me run the 10K. I have realized that a guy needs to know his limits. At my advancing age and slowing pace, thinking about a full marathon in tropical conditions is probably just silly. Even the half marathon is going to see me slogging along in full sun for at least an hour. I know how that will be and will go prepared. Participants are well looked after on the course, so no worries there. What I AM worried about is that my ‘friends’ will drink all the Red Stripe and be having too much fun before I get back to Long Bay Beach Park!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Maybe they will get a massage on the beach or get into the crowd dancing to the music by the stage. We usually wait for Navin, who DOES like to do the marathon, but he broke a leg earlier this year (no, not running), so is only planning to run the 10K and not so fast. I won’t have the cover of him taking around four hours for that marathon distance. Oh well, it is important to me to do the Half this time. I am 99% certain I won’t be back next year – something to do with the fact that 2018 is our 50th Wedding Anniversary and we have some (even more) exotic travel planned. Anyway, by the time I could get back for Reggae Marathon 2019, I’ll be just a month shy of 75 and who knows if the legs will stand for even a half marathon. Yep, has to be the Half in 2017!

Stay tuned! You KNOW this isn’t going to be my last post on the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K!