So, here we are again. Big news on the athletic doping scandals front. In this case it is ‘athletics’, the apparently proper term for track and field. We know though, that this is just the latest scandal and doping goes to other sport as well.

[Ed. Note: There are no photographs, no links, no references. This is strictly a personal opinion and perspective.]

I am certainly not an apologist for athletes deciding to take that extra elicit step to gain that last little advantage that takes them from being just generally amazing, to the gold medal – especially the gold medal in one of the BIG events like the Olympic Games. However, a little study on the matter without our sparkling white purist robes of sanctimony, might provide an explanation. And, might just pull the rest of us into the vortex of this swirling mess, because we are complicit in certain ways.

I am getting on in years, as most of you know. But, that means that when I first started competing in Athletics in my teens, even I, a mere school age runner, had to have my Amateur Athletics card! I keep EVERYTHING, but apparently not that. Sort of wish I still had it as a momento of those ‘pure‘ times.

Now, lest you think I am pining for simple and as I have put it, pure times in athletics – I am not. They may have been pure in the sense that the crazy money that comes with success, was not tainting the approach of athletes to their sport and training. But, as with so many things, nobody seems to be able to find a middle ground. In the times I am talking about you could lose your amateur status for accepting a prize of any practical value. I am talking about $5.00 or a useful prize of any sort. Naturally, ribbons, medals and trophies were fine. I DO in fact, have a bronze medal I won back in those days from a clubs track meet. And, maybe as soon as I post this piece, I will find my amateur card lurking among my old school stuff (because my running in those days was part school and part running club(s)). With my brother having just passed away, I’ve been rooting through a lot of that old stuff looking for memorabilia of our early athletic lives. So, it could happen.

Someone I currently know and who is older than me by almost a decade, was an Olympic race walker in his day, but still talks about how his status was threatened because he went to the US for a weekend workshop to coach some younger ‘walkers’ and accepted expenses. EXPENSES! After much argument, it was agreed that it was acceptable as he was not profiting. That was how it was. It was not pure. It was stupid. And with all that, did anyone ever take money under the table? I imagine they did.

In those ‘pure’ days there was so little money that athletes trained in their spare time. If they wanted to eat, they had to have a job. Nobody considered their athletic development and performance to be their job. Nobody had shoe sponsors. You bought your shoes! Nobody paid your way to a meet other than maybe via a club organized fund-raiser of some sort, but it certainly wasn’t by a sponsor.

Some team sport was organized such that a team might be sponsored by a bigger company which could offer jobs to the athletes and which might also be prepared to allow the time needed to travel and/or play. And, these were sports where amateurism was not required. I am going to add something that I am not 100% sure about, but that seems to ring one of those ‘bells’. As I recall, if you wanted to be an amateur, say in Athletics, you could not be a ‘professional’ in another sport. Of course if you were an East Block athlete, you were in the military. Your work WAS training for your sport. So much for the actual amateur on the field of play. That said, if you were one of the military athletes, you’d better keep your performance up or you really WOULD become a soldier.

People remember Steve Prefontaine for his running prowess and related exploits, not to mention his ever quotable quotes, but he was a pioneer in demanding that the athletes be able to share in the profits of the ‘sport’ that were accruing to those that ran the show, while athletes scrimped and sweated and starved. It would be interesting to know what his place in all of this would have been in later years, had he not died so young.

Some might suggest that it was only right that athletes actually profit from their abilities to excel and from the entertainment they provide the rest of us. I would be one of those people. Without the athletes, the Olympics just become the opening and closing ceremonies. Speaking for myself, I feel those have become obscene spectacles pushed by the ego of the hosting countries.

“Profit” is a loaded word though. I feel it is good that the best and maybe the soon to be best, are encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to dig as deep into themselves as they need to, in order to produce what they are capable of producing in terms of performance on the field of play. The HUGE payday is something else. This is where it gets messy and complicated and a problem. I suppose this latest scandal with the Russians brings in another factor where the driving motive is the greater glory of the mother-land. We saw a lot of that in the Cold War days, when athletic prowess was conflated with the superiority of the political system.

Enter Performance Enhancing Drugs!

Actually, there is one more very important factor, whether it is a driving force in itself or the weak link to be exploited for profit. That is the competitive spirit of the elite athlete. Money, as such, may only be a way of keeping score. Winning is what it is all about. At one point some years ago, there was a psychological study done where the researchers asked a bunch of elite/semi-elite athletes if someone could hypothetically guarantee them an Olympic Gold Medal, but at the cost of five years of their lives, would they accept. As I recall, a huge proportion of them said ‘yes’. Now, asking a 20 year-old if a cost of five years off their life was worth it, might not be a fair question. No 20 year-old thinks he/she is ever going to die anyway. Also, it is hard to say whether it was the medal or the money that might follow, that drove the answer, but it was long enough ago that I personally feel it was the pure glory of being Olympic Champion. The really big money and sponsorships and endorsements had not kicked in the way it exists now.

I suggested the athletic desire to win is both a strength and a weakness. The big sponsors make money off the fact that the best of the best use THEIR product. If you want to be that guy/girl wearing the [insert brand here] gear and get paid the big bucks for doing so, you have to keep BEING the best of the best. Thus the ‘weakness’ to be exploited and the need for some to do whatever they have to do.

But what about the reference to the gear manufacturers? Even us weekend warrior runners buy shoes and other gear that will improve our performance. Shoe technology is just one, albeit very good example. The fabrics of our clothing are a factor too. If you happen to be a track athlete as opposed to a road or trail runner, would you even think about competing on a cinder track? If we want to be ‘pure’ maybe we should ban all these modern technological advances. What about some of the older (not even ancient, just a few decades) athletes and their records? How do you compare sprinters and their records from the cinder track era with today’s athletes. I often wonder what people like my hero, Harry Jerome, might do with modern gear, training and tracks. We are only talking about the 1960s. Maybe if we want to be pure, we should ban shoes completely, other than sandals and have the athletes compete naked, as was once the norm. But, I digress!

Many proponents of amateur athleticism did anticipate some of this modern stuff. However, there have been elements of this PED thing dating back to the ancient Olympics. Many of the early ‘games’ were military skills, and as such could be used not just for the warrior-athletes to prove themselves in a non-lethal way, but also for their  states to show their prominence. Not only that but the best of them were very much rewarded and idolized as we see today. I believe it was my old running/writing friend Roger Robinson who wrote a piece on the PEDs of the day. Yes! PEDs in the ancient games. Many athletes had secret potions, herbs and barks and special diets, that were reputed to give them extra strength or stamina. Did they? Maybe. Remember, a great many of our modern medicines are derived from natural sources. Once we know the active component, we no longer need to chew willow bark to cure our headache, we can just take an aspirin. We learn how to either extract or manufacture the active component and especially to manage and control the dose. Nonetheless, some of the stuff those ancient Olympians used probably did have some efficacy as a PED. Some, probably were more effective in making the athlete think HE was that powerful. I did learn that black magic was a no-no. Couldn’t hex your opponent, just wasn’t right.

Is it human nature to ‘do what it takes’? It seems that it is.

The Russian situation that has just come to the fore is one thing, but there have been rumours swirling for some time that Kenyan distance running may not be totally how it looks. We have seen individual athletes from almost everywhere get caught and punished. There are also stories that the US is as bad as any, where it comes to manipulating drug tests. I say these things only in the sense that the stories are out there, not that I am a believer or that I know one way or another. But, it is big business and big politics and big money for the best of the best.

Something we need to be clear on is that PEDs aren’t going to take a slug and turn him into a race horse. They aren’t like some kind of ‘nitro’ boost to the engine of a race car. That said, I have just had a sudden mental picture of the start of the 2028 100m Olympic final. Athletes are under starter’s orders. Each one approaches the blocks. A trainer is poised behind them with syringe in hand. The starter intones: “Runners, take your marks!” …… “Trainers, Inject Your Runner!” ……. “Set” – — Bang. Eight sprinters streak down the track to the finish in seven seconds, and those are the women. The men are up next to challenge the 5.31 second world record. Welcome to the All Drug Olympics.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. The root causes are terribly complex. I’ve touched on some of them here. I have tongue in cheek suggested here and elsewhere that we just let ‘er rip and go with full on drug enhanced sport and see just how far it will go. It will probably result in some spectacular performances, not to mention the odd in competition death, and let’s face it we do watch some sport not to actually SEE someone die, but with the delicious chance that the sport is dangerous enough that it could happen.

Personally, and I hardly think I’m alone, I do love to see dedicated athletes push themselves to their limit, but I’d rather see a slower record time for any given event if it was definitely the best anyone could do without external enhancement. Pure, in other words.

Something I do wonder about is whether some of the banned substances should actually be banned. What if we spent a bunch more money on determining whether certain substances really produce a significant enhancement in double blind tests? There is little doubt in my mind that there is a placebo effect in some cases. The substance works, mostly because the athlete believes it works, but in reality the enhancement comes because the athlete is inspired to dig deeper. I’m not saying that none of the so-called PEDs should be banned. There are a good many that should be banned, if for no other reason than the long-term harm they do to the individual who takes them. And, here we are back at the question about the guaranteed Olympic gold at the cost of five years of your life. BUT, if the banned list was short and absolute and the authorities were as smart and well equipped as the cheaters, we might be better off. Or not. Something to think about anyway.


A boy and his dog (Tiny)  1965

A boy and his dog (Tiny) 1965

This is a very personal post. It only has to do with running in an indirect way. If you aren’t into my musings about life and such, well maybe just read the first bit here and move on if you prefer. I will understand. Still, I need to write this for me, for my family and as you will soon understand, my ‘little brother’. My ‘little’ brother (by the way, he actually hated that term when we were much younger) died early Monday morning and very, very suddenly. And, for my own reasons I need to celebrate his life and share some of his/our story. It actually isn’t sad, but it does carry a lesson for all of us.

"Uncle Bill"

“Uncle Bill”

I suppose it is best to get the facts out of they way first. The preferred term is ‘younger’, not ‘little’, but today and just for a little while it helps me to think of him this way. His name: William Edward Cumming. He was supposed to have the name Edward, but then if he didn’t up and get born on our Uncle Bill’s birthday! Edward was another Uncle actually, but poor old Uncle Ted got shunted one name back and there he was, in April of 1949, William Edward Cumming. Interestingly, Uncle Bill was one of Vancouver’s premier soccer players in his day, and not surprisingly, taught both of us a whole lot of what we knew about the game, including skills and strategy.

Of course, around our house he was “Billy“. And, please don’t tell anyone, but at that time I was called “Danny“. I think we each made short work of that diminutive naming when we got to Secondary School. I became Dan and him, Bill.

For those trying to do the math and not having enough fingers and toes for the purpose, Bill was 66. Four years my junior.

There is a lot to say about somebody who lived for 66 years, but I will try to keep to some key things and get to where I am going as quickly as I can. As with all of us, Bill had those things he loved, top among those were his wife Hope and boys Ken and Chris. I am going to just leave that as a given.

He had the music in him!

He had the music in him!

He dabbled at various things, including music, when he was a teen. He had several guitars, including two solid body electric guitars made by our Dad (the guy in the background of the first photo at the top of this post). He has also had a more or less life-long love of fishing for the wily trout. However,  sport was his passion. I’m not sure he ever met a sport he didn’t like, nor one he couldn’t play better than average. We both did track in our teens and both dropped it after we left school. Pick the distance: he was faster than me when comparing age for age. Thankfully, he did not get into distance running later in life, so at least I had that all to myself. His energies went to baseball and soccer.

Baseball Beginnings

He had professional opportunities in both back in the days when he was at his peak, being drafted by a major league baseball team (to one of their minor ‘farm’ teams – think Bull Durham) and was invited to join the original Vancouver White Caps along with several players he came up with in Vancouver minor soccer. They all played for Grandview Legion and took the Provincial Age Group Championship at least a couple of times. Among them were Buzz Parsons and Sam (Silvano) Lenarduzzi, Bob’s older brother. In those days though, you had to be the top of the top to make any real money and he had just moved to Prince George where he had a real job that paid well. Even the best athletes usually had to have a ‘day job’ to make ends meet. That was pretty much it for a professional soccer career, but he played at high local levels for years.

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

While in Prince George, he learned the joys of lacrosse. So, that became the trio. Baseball, which he played early on and later coached, lacrosse, which he played until only a few years ago and Soccer. He played and coached and played again. Soccer was his game. He was fast and tricky and could shoot a ball so hard you’d swear it would take your head off. I recall one time we were ‘just kicking the ball around’ and taking turns being in goal and out shooting. Now, I played my share of soccer too, including a year with UBC, but I was nowhere near as good as Bill. So there I am tending to my goal and he yells something like “Hard One”. I swear that while I’ve heard smaller balls do it, that soccer ball made a whistling/hissing sound as it went by my ear. Oh Lord, could that guy shoot a soccer ball. Oh, and he did apologize for forgetting we were ‘just kicking the ball around’.

Well, flash forward to recent times with me running all over the place. Slower and slower to be sure, but still doing it and loving it. Bill was having his fun with lacrosse and soccer until a couple of years ago. Seems like we Cumming boys have some issues with our backs and it was getting harder and harder for him to play either of those sports due to a back problem. Long story, short, he too had an operation, about 18 months ago (mine was 26 years ago) and after suitable rehab and such, had just signed up to play soccer again. I haven’t seem him as happy in a very long time. I was thrilled because I knew how important it was to him. He had a couple of teams that wanted him and he picked one. I am almost certain that the game Sunday was only the second of the season, or maybe his second game.

So, as any of us might do heading off to work or a race, he headed out to his soccer game. I didn’t even know this specifically. I was sitting at this computer, having watched the elite women and men run the New York City Marathon, and now tracking several friends who were just the weensiest bit behind the elites. One of them, Deb Thomas (a friend from Reggae Marathon) was almost finished. The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law, very upset and with the news that Bill had collapsed at soccer and was being taken (in very bad condition) to a local hospital. We gathered ourselves up, swung by and picked her up as we headed to the hospital to meet their younger son, Chris. The older son lives/works in Edmonton and came in later on the earliest flight he could get.

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It's so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It’s so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

I don’t want to go on at length about all the details, because in the end they weren’t the most important parts. I will say he got the very best care, starting with players who ‘fell’ upon him immediately, doing CPR, followed by first responders/paramedics and then the Critical Care Cardiac Unit, at what I have since learned was not the nearest but rather the best hospital for his condition. More than the immense technical expertise and skill I saw, I want to talk about the ‘care’ that both Bill, as the patient, and the rest of us as his worried family, got from the health-care team. It started with the paramedic we first met in the hospital and continued through various specialized doctors, the trauma nurses and the other hospital staff that looked to our needs. After initial treatment, he was transferred to the ICU and our interaction began with one of the most amazing physicians I have met. As things went from bad to worse, he not only looked after my one and only little brother, he communicated, comforted and most importantly, INFORMED us, the family. He showed such immense respect for our right to know what was happening and yet compassion for our feelings. I don’t know how we could have been more informed than we were and although there were times when we were all excluded from ‘the room’, we were given as much access as possible. As things became more critical and certain as to where it was all headed, it was this man who helped us to understand. Never did he try to tell us what we SHOULD do, but rather supported our process.

I don’t care who you are, or how dire the situation, it is never easy or simple to make the all important decision about a loved one and then actually say: Stop. Just stop. At about 3:00am Monday morning that was the point we had reached. It was decided that all the many, and there were SO many, extraordinary measures should cease. As soon as the mechanical stuff was taken care of, removing lines and leads and turning off monitors, all five of us were allowed at his bedside where we could be with our husband, father, brother and brother-in-law. It would be very wrong to say more here about that very private time and situation. What I can say is that it was about 30 minutes until he left us. It was very peaceful and I was so terribly grateful that I was able to be there.

I felt it sort of necessary to share this bit of what went on over a pretty intense 16-18 hours, so I could get to the other more positive things to come.

Although it came later, we have learned from someone who was there at the time, Bill was ‘in full flight’ when it happened, tearing down the field to an open spot (and very likely pointing to just where he wanted the ball). It is my opinion, and I am going to believe it because I want to – I don’t think he even knew what hit him.

Another thing I plan to believe is based on what the first trauma nurse said the very first time I got to be with him in the ICU. She was explaining what had happened to this point in time. She began: “Your brother died on the soccer field, others began CPR………………………”  I don’t know if that was a slip of the tongue or a considered comment based on her trauma training, but I prefer to think that it was that neat and clean (for him). All the resuscitations (at least 8) and interventions were about keeping his body working until it was clear there was no point.

The DAY before and I do mean THE DAY BEFORE, I was talking to a running friend, older than me (better, too) about death. We both apparently feel quite the same on the matter. He had said, “I don’t fear death. What does worry me is dying.”  We agreed totally. So, my response was: “Well, I want to go of a massive heart attack as I finish a race somewhere!”

As you can surely understand then, while I am shocked and saddened at the sudden death of my only brother, there is no possible way I can be sad about how he died. I am sure he would see it the same way. As we all should, he made his wishes clear about what should or should not be done should the situation arise. Whether we liked it or not, it was apparently his time. We all felt it was too soon, but that is something else.

You may now forgive me if I continue to say things (as I think I have in the past) along the lines of doing something before it is too late, or while I can. I think whether you are young or old or somewhere between, it is always wise to do what you can, when you can. More than once when I have expressed such a thought I’ve had others pooh-pooh it as being foolish or alarmist or dramatic. You know: “You aren’t THAT old!” or “You aren’t going to die tomorrow!” (I guess my brother gives a new perspective on that.)  And, you know that it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as dropping over, all you need is a serious injury or major health problem and some things are off the table.

I don’t mean to be dramatic. I’m not looking for a reaction. I am just stating something I’ve believed for a long time. I’ve lived it for a long time, too. Not going to make a huge long list, but I have started cutting out things I don’t need to do and don’t find any pleasure in doing. We’ve done special and specific travel that might have seemed a bit expensive but it was something we wanted to and could do. I’ve run a 50K, not because anybody HAS to run a 50K, but because I wanted to do so. I joined Marathon Maniacs and took a year of running to ‘level up’. Same with Half Fanatics except that this Spring I pushed up four levels. I’m done with both of those things now in terms of pushing for even higher levels, but I’m glad I did them. I just ran two races I had never done, The Granville Island Turkey Trot and the James Cunningham Seawall Race. I have also taken a decision, that at least for this one year I will step down from the stage at the First Half Half Marathon and actually RUN the thing. I am very excited! I could leave it until the next year, but should I? Not a chance.

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

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

Oh, and one other thing I decided not to put off? Opening that bottle of Cardhu Single Malt Scotch that was given to me on my 70th Birthday. I have a wee dram at my right hand as I write. Cardhu is by “The Cummings of Cardhu- Distillers of Distinction – 1824″ The Clan beverage, so to speak. This seems as worthy an occasion as any!

Play on my brother. Play on!



Well, depending on what that means, then in a word: YES.

It might go beyond the title though. I love excellence in all things, but running is kind of simple and pure (yeah, I know, the drugs – I’ll get to that later). It is so easy to see a runner battle through a race to the win or a record. That’s it. Nobel prizes are recognition of something amazing, but so much more complicated! In fact, I even met a Nobel prize winner a number of years ago on a professional basis, and he was very nice and super helpful regarding the advice I was seeking. But, I digress.

Rob Watson leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

Rob Watson (in black and at centre) leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

At the most fundamental level of watchful awe, I specialize in Canadian runners and just to demonstrate that, I started writing this October 10th. One of my ‘faves’ is Rob (Robbie) Watson and he is running tomorrow in the Chicago Marathon, with one major goal in mind, to join Reid Coolsaet as a qualifier for the Canadian Olympic team. Should have the news on that before I finish this post. I ‘observe’ Reid, but have never met him. Same with Eric Gillis. Rob, I know through the First Half Half Marathon and Forerunners. [Ed. Note: Tracked Rob to a 2:17:21 time. I think he will be disappointed, but at this time I have no idea what happened out there.]

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Another of the guys I follow closely is Dylan Wykes and with the same connections as Rob: First Half and Forerunners. Dylan has had some injury issues and just recently ran himself a satisfactory half marathon in San Jose, CA. Satisfactory and wise. His time was OK (if you think 1:05 is “OK”), but considering what he has to say on his blog  I think you will agree it is a good outcome as he works back carefully to his full potential and a shot at a place on the Canadian Olympic Team.

Until Reid overtook Dylan (just a couple of weeks ago in Berlin, with a great time and placing – 6th OA and 2:10:28), Dylan was second best ever to Jerome Drayton, who has held the Canadian record of 2:10:09 for FORTY years! Almost 30 years ago or so Peter Butler took second with his 2:10:56 in Sacramento, and held it until just the last couple of years as the current crop of young bucks began an assault. One of these days, one of these guys or the others who are coming up from behind, are going to blow through that time, but you would have thought somebody would have done it before this, so we will see.

We have some pretty special marathon women too in the form of Lanni Marchant (Canadian record  holder at 2:28:00) and Krista Duchene (only 32 seconds behind her friend, in the same race, and both under the old record). And while it isn’t totally clear who else will emerge ‘from the pack’ there are several women coming up from behind and probably very inspired by these two. Note: at time of writing only Krista and Reid are holding 2016 (Canadian) Olympic qualifying times. Keep your eyes on Natasha Wodak, Eric Gillis, Dylan Wykes, Rachel Hannah and Lanni Marchant. A big opportunity is coming in about a week at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It is a fast course and if everything else is right, there may be some sparkling performances for men and women. In researching the details for this post, I came across recent and unhappy news that Krista will not run due to a broken bone. The good news for her is that she already has a qualifying time and mostly needs to concentrate on healing and then training up for Rio.

I suppose I concentrate on the athletes I’ve mentioned because of my personal running interests. That said, you would have to be just on a total other wavelength if you weren’t moved by Andre Degrasse’ performances this year in the sprints at the Pan Am Games and World T&F Championships. When The Man himself, Usain Bolt, gives you props when he didn’t even have to, you are in special company. Speaking of Bolt, it just doesn’t get more exciting. He has treated the world to something we just haven’t seen before, and aren’t likely to see again anytime soon.

Back to my good old marathon distance, and the latest world record of Dennis Kimmeto. Now that we are under 2:03, the question is very real as to when we might see 2:00:00. Some argue it isn’t possible, but their fathers/grandfathers said nobody could break four minutes in the mile without falling dead on the track. Now, high-school runners do that and you probably can’t get invited to a top meet unless you can go under 4:00. Is the Two Hour marathon out there? I think so. Will I see it? That is a different question. Conditions on the day must be perfect, the course ideal and just the right mix of competitors must be ready to race to that goal. You will not see that kind of time in a race where winning is the most important thing. That Olympic Gold Medal goes to the winner of the race. Time doesn’t matter. Winning does.

By now, somebody has to be thinking ‘Oh yes, but will chemistry be the reason?’  A fair question to be certain. A question I hate to even contemplate, but based on what we know, one that is unavoidable. The Kenyans and Ethiopians seemed to represent people less touched by the pressures of the Western ways, but that may just be a myth that people like me would like to believe. The positive tests are showing up. Runners, good runners, are getting sanctions. When you think about it, the pressure and temptation may be even greater in those countries than over here. I spoke above about the Canadian men striving to break an old record just above 2:10. It is said there are as many as 300 Kenyans that can go under 2:10. Then imagine what winning the race prizes that are out there today, especially the high profile races, can do for the financial well-being of a Kenyan athlete. Now tell me there is no pressure or temptation to do what you need to do to get that tiny edge that breaks you out of that pack of 300 sub-2:10 marathoners. I am not saying they are all doing it (as some commenters kind of do), just that there is an undeniable temptation. Personally, I hope not a single one is doping, even though we all know that not to be the case.

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Look how high Canada got when Ben Johnson won Gold and then the devastation when he was found to have cheated. It made it no less acceptable that (I believe) all but one of the finalists on that day were subsequently caught later and that very few believe that the ‘one’ was actually clean.  What would such a thing do to all those Jamaican kids who think Usain Bolt runs on water? He is a hero of immeasurable value in that country. He inspires (as do a number of others in the Jamaican running camp, male and female).

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I have met many of the best and most inspiring, including Kathrine Switzer and Dick Beardsley.

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

I ran as a kid with our own Harry Jerome, have worked with Lynn Kanuka (Williams) in Sun Run InTraining clinics and re her contribution to Running in the Zone (the book). I talk to Peter Butler and Carey Nelson pretty well every weekend. I consider myself lucky. The list is actually quite a bit longer, but you get the idea. I find myself personally inspired by all of them and can’t think of even one who isn’t a sharing person where it comes to others in our sport.

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Some who might be wondering, knowing me and knowing those I follow closely, why I haven’t mentioned Ellie Greenwood. Stop wondering. Ellie falls in a whole different category where it comes to excellence. She is an ultra (and trail) runner. It puts her in a completely different field of endeavour. To understand, you need to try to imagine the unimaginable speed of the world class sprinter covering 100m in 10 seconds or less, you have to see that as 1:40/km or 2:32 mile, which is of course impossible, but is the pace they travel for that short distance.

Now, consider the ultra race such as Ellie and her ilk who go the other way: slower pace but for most of us, unimaginable distance. Ellie is two time World Champion at 100km. She has won what is probably the World’s best known ultra-marathon road race the fabled Comrades Marathon in South Africa (which is effectively just over a double marathon). She seems, despite these amazing achievements, to like trails more than roads (where she has actually won a few standard marathons and half marathons, just in case you might wonder).

Trails can’t really be compared, not even one trail event against another. You can only compare performance in a given race, year over year. So, let us compare Ellie’s performances at one of the best known trail races in North America, the Western States 100 (miles that is). Her first time, she won, notwithstanding the encounter with that bear near the finish. Ed. Note: Lack of technical know-how meant it took me a little time to figure out how to get the video in here, but I’ve got it now!  [I wrote the lyrics because this just event and situation struck something within me. Our son is a talented musician and owns recording facilities. Everything you HEAR is him. He wrote the tune, played all the instruments and did the vocals, using multiple tracks to get all of this into the recording.] It is just for fun, but if you actually know Ellie, it might just be more fun. Ellie and the Bear Movie

Back to actual running. The second time at Western States, she knocked some 50 minutes out of the previous record, held by trail ultra legend, Anne Trason. I can assure you she was not traveling at anything resembling the pace of Mr. Bolt in the 100m, or even Mr. Kimmeto in Berlin. Think about it from a normal perspective though. Her pace at World 100km in Dubai was 4:30/km and at the Comrades Marathon where she won was 4:15. Apples and oranges to be sure, but now think about that 2:02:57 of Kimmeto in Berlin. Pace for the MALE record for 42.2km is 2:54/km. Now, remember that Ellie is a woman and the record for women at marathon is still held by Paula Radcliffe at 2:15:25 for a pace of 3:12/km and nobody but Radcliffe herself has come close. There is nobody who would be quicker than Ellie, to tell you that she is not in that category at marathon. She isn’t. I believe her marathon PB is 2:42. That is a pace of 3:49/km.

By now, I’m pretty sure you see where I am going with this. Although she, and other ultra-runners seldom have that ‘low end’ pace (if you can refer to a marathon as ‘low’), as the distance increases their pace does not diminish that much. To the just ‘pretty good’ runner, able to post a 3:00hr marathon, you need to imagine holding your pace (4:16/km) for a bit more than twice that distance if you want to keep up with Ellie at Comrades.

I’ve gone on at length about this because the ultra distance is just another world and times don’t resonate for most of us as do the times for shorter distances. It wasn’t really fair to compare Ellie to those amazing men, but it helps to illustrate my point about excellence regardless of distance from 100m to 100 miles. Besides, I know Ellie, but don’t know the ultra running men that outpace her quite significantly at these extended distances. I suppose one of the personal things that strikes me about Ellie is that in the time from when I met her some 10-11 years ago (when we were both members of Pacific Road Runners) she has gone from just a regular club runner to the world level athlete she is now. To my point of loving excellence, they don’t get a lot more excellent than Ellie, or real or modest. Or maybe they do. I’ll get back to that.

Those of us who do know her, also know none of this comes easy nor without hard work and pain. If you take the time to read Dylan’s blog post you will see what the real world of the elite runner is about. Striving to be the best possible athlete you can be is a costly affair and I am not talking about money. Today, I ran into Ellie at a local 10K. She herself, like Dylan, has been working back from injury and of late concentrating on her speed with her local running group and coach. Guess it is working. She won the women’s race in a time of 35:43 on a terrible day. In thanking everyone for their support and congratulations on social media, she talked about her approach this last while, as she has started her return to form.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Her mantra for training: “Be humble. Be fierce!”  She did admit though that with her race goal in mind, she found it necessary to drop the humble and just go with Be Fierce. When Ellie (and I suspect every one of the others I have mentioned in this post) get to Be Fierce, it gets pretty awesome to behold. Well, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of the Fierceness, but then, if you are actually that good, you will be Fierce too!

So, I think I’m done now on this topic, not that I couldn’t go on. One of my points (I realized as I was writing) is that while there are likely a few A-hole jerks out there, I’ve never met one. All of the elites (past and current) that I have met are wonderful giving people. What business do I, an aging, never was runner, have asking advice of any of these people I have the privilege to know? And yet, they have all shared advice and to my great amazement, have asked my thoughts now and then. I’m sure they are just being polite!

If you must be a ‘groupie’ in relation to something, well I think runners and running are just the best!



RM Finish 2015

Marathon Finish 2014

It seems I have a bit of a tendency to repeat myself when I like something. I have run the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (or half marathon) ELEVEN times since 2000. I have run either the half or full marathon in Vancouver at least eight times, running the marathon five times on three different courses. There are a number of other races, like say the Eugene Marathon (4) and California International Marathon (2), Big Cottonwood Marathon  (2) and Winthrop Marathon (2)  that I’ve done at least a couple of times.  All of these involve the marathon distance, but I have also run the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon maybe six or seven times. Clearly, I am a creature of habit.

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

I just signed on for my FIFTH Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K and that is fifth in five years. Obviously, that does not make this event anything like the most frequent. Victoria and Vancouver and the ‘Scotiabank Half’ (as we locals lovingly know it) are well ahead. BUT, five times in a row for an event that far away puts the Reggae Marathon in a class of its own!

Everyone, just calls it the Reggae Marathon, but there are three events from 10K to full marathon and I have personally never actually done the full marathon. I tried once!  Wrote at some length on this blog about the ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ issues that beset that attempt. That was actually the first time (2011). In the end, my race wound up being a 10K, thanks to the generosity and understanding of the Race Director, Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis. The next three times I ran the Half Marathon and while I am signed sealed and delivered for the 15th Reggae Marathon on December 5, 2015, the jury is still out on the final decision to go 10K (winning right now) or half (definitely ‘in the running’ and I could switch). I guess I really should do the marathon and complete the ‘set’, but the older I get and the longer it takes to run a marathon under any circumstances, the less I like the idea of finishing in the noon day sun. Jamaica in early December is generally ideal for a tropical vacation, but in relative terms when you are running a race, it is hot by mid-day (at least for this Northern boy, heading into our winter). Aaaand, let’s not kid anyone, this IS a ‘runcation’, not a shot at a new PB or something!!

Getting ready for the Start - 2014

Getting ready for the Start – 2014

I have described the feel of the start in glowing and (I think) poetic terms in other posts. It is quite amazing to feel the warm, almost silky air of the early hours as you await the 5:15am start time, or as you walk the road to the start. There are shuttles, but I have a favourite place to stay (Rondel Village) which just makes for a nice walk to the start and shake-out before the race. If you elect that option, you surely won’t be alone. Many people staying within about a mile of the start, opt for ‘the walk’. Once the race is started, and usually after having turned back at the Negril round-about

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

(5K), you will (depending on how fast you are) begin to see the first glimmer of the dawn. Eventually, that turns into the sunrise if you are running either the full or half marathon. If you can do 10K in anything near an hour, you will be finished before the sun has actually risen above the horizon, but even better, then you can watch it from the beach with your fresh coconut in hand, surrounded by other happy participants. That is what I’m thinking of for myself for this year. For those not aware of my beginnings with this race (or haven’t yet checked the link to my story of same), the first year my 10K started nearly two and a half hours AFTER the actual race start. So, I have never finished in the early morning dawn and I think this will be the year.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the 'Reggae Runnerz'

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

This being the Fifteenth Anniversary running, I am hearing the Reggae Marathon is going to be even more special than usual. Can’t wait to find out what THAT means. This is already such a well organized event, with what is described as the world’s best pasta party (I think it just might be) and a finish matched by few other races in a venue that is hard to best, I am practically holding my breath for what they will have on offer this time.

The Reggae Marathon is not the only race to start in the dark, nor is it the only one I’ve run, but there is something special about that kind of start and personally, I just love it. One other notable race I did with a pre-dawn start was the Maui Marathon in September 2008. Big Cottonwood almost qualifies, but it starts a bit later and the dawn is already breaking when the ‘gun’ goes. I think what is different about the Reggae Marathon start is that you are not alone. By that I don’t mean your fellow runners, but rather the spectators that line the road.

Getting in the Christmas Spirit on Norman Manley Blvd!

Getting in the Christmas Spirit on Norman Manley Blvd!

The course is Norman Manley Blvd, the main (well only, for much of the way) road along the seven mile beach. Whether it be your own cheering section of family or friends or hotel staff or random tourists who didn’t know what they were getting into when they booked the first weekend in December, there are people cheering you on pretty much from the beginning and it is almost Christmas, so lots of decorations. There is Reggae Music all along the way, some organized by the race, but some that just amounts to people who have set up their own speaker system and blasting out favourite tunes, often from a ‘boom-box’ on top of a car. You’d better like reggae and even more, Bob Marley, because you ARE going to hear it. I LOVE IT. Reggae beat or rhythm is so conducive to a running gait, you will have a hard time not getting the feel. The hard part is not stopping to dance sometimes. Well, I guess there is really NOTHING wrong with that if it is how you feel.

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

On a brief serious note, running anywhere that the temperature and humidity are even a little bit high, requires attention to hydration. You should have NO PROBLEM with that. Of course it is up to the runner to take the water or electrolytes on offer, but there is no shortage of opportunity. And, while not exclusive to this race, liquids are offered in plastic pouches. You just rip a corner with your teeth and squeeze the contents in or over, as you require. The beauty is that you get a substantial amount in these pouches (maybe 250ml or so) and you can easily carry it with you rather than gulping it all at once or spilling half of it, as we often do with paper cups. I even think it makes for a wonderful early warning sign of any trouble you may have. I feel that as long as I’m pouring the water over my head (that is what I do with most of the water pouches) and the electrolyte into my mouth, all is well. Should I ever start pouring electrolyte over my head I figure it is time to start thinking about my condition. OK, once could be a mistake, but twice and I think it would be time to stop!! Just in case anyone is getting the idea it is THAT extreme, this is just a little joke I like to make about the support on course. It is frequent and the volunteers superb. Nobody should get in trouble as long as they take advantage of the support on offer. In the later parts of the course you will find misting stations and I’ve even seen resort staff, out with hoses providing their own ‘misting’ stations. Of course, in most of those cases, it may be a bit more than a mist, but it is welcome once you find yourself running in full sunshine.

The last mile of the Half and Full Marathon is what is known as ‘Bob’s Mile’. At regular intervals you will see quotes and lyrics from Bob Marley and trust me, they are well chosen and quite moving. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the half or full marathon, you ‘mist up’ just a little yourself. Let’s face it, we are all a little emotional at that point.

Reggae Party Time!

Reggae Party Time!

Now, when your race, full, half or 10K is over, the real fun is just beginning. Fresh coconut, chopped open with a few skillful whacks from a machete, bananas, live reggae music, a Caribbean beach and oh yeah, Red Stripe, are just a few of the treats waiting. It is a huge celebration and party. You will find your friends again, if you didn’t actually run together and can welcome other runners as they finish. There is always top quality live music in keeping with the theme of the event: REGGAE! If you didn’t stop for a quick dance on course, now is your chance to channel your inner YAADIE. Nothing to stop you moving to the sounds from the stage and you won’t be alone! It is fun to watch as people just spontaneously break into a few dance steps, even as they move from one place to another.

"Four Amigos" add to the Reggae Marathon total - now 18 races.

“Four Amigos” add to the Reggae Marathon total (2014) – now 18 races, soon to be 22.

Somewhere along the way, you may well encounter me: Me and Chris Morales (aka ‘That Runnin’ Guy’ and the official Reggae Marathon blogger), and Larry Savitch (chief organizer of ‘Easy Skankin’, his team of mostly New Yorkers) and Navin Sadarangani, a citizen of the world and multiple Reggae Marathoner, for real, (Navin usually runs the actual marathon, and does it quite well). When you see us, we will look something like this photo, only we will all have one more finger held up. At this 15th Reggae Marathon we will collectively account for some 22 individual races.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up (2011).

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up (2011).

We probably won’t catch up to Chris, who is a couple ahead of the rest of us. The rest of us will be counting FIVE in 2015. I have to say that notwithstanding everything I’ve said about the race itself, it is this crowd, plus a few more that have now joined our own little private Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge, that keep me coming back. We use Age Grading and distance conversion models to have a ‘race’ involving young (Navin) through old (Me), all three distances, as well as male and female competitors. It is a little strange, but it works and we have fun.

Deb's a Winna! (That's her in the middle)

Deb’s a Winna! (That’s her in the middle.)

Speaking of female competitors in our group, Deb Thomas has become a regular in our Challenge and ever since, has been winning.  There seems to be hope from at least one of us to wrest the title from her this year, but I personally, am NOT holding my breath, Larry. This fairly tight little group has no other natural relationship, just the Reggae Marathon (and social media the rest of the year).

Lest you think I’m being a bit exclusive here, this is just an example of the groups that have made this event home. If you look around, you will find lots of small to medium to LARGE groups who return regularly. THE biggest is “Reggae Runnerz” (under the leadership of Lisa Laws). They show up some 150 strong, plus or minus, although a reliable source is telling me more than 500 Reggae Runnerz are planning to descend on Negril this year. I can also say from close observation (got invited to one of their parties in 2014), they not only RUN, they have FUN.  I guess they are just taking the race’s own headline to heart: Come for the Run and stay for the Fun. And, you can watch out for the “Reggae Rebels” out of Toronto, led by Bonnie Fowler. I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea. People come to the Reggae Marathon in bunches, sometimes BIG bunches!

Jetola (Turbo-Jet) Anderson Blair on the beach, post-marathon.

Jetola (Turbo-Jet) Anderson Blair on the beach, post-marathon.

One of the Reggae Runnerz, who Chris and I got to know almost by accident (because she was staying at our hotel in 2012) is Jetola Anderson-Blair. Turbo-Jet, as she is known in some running circles (Marathon Maniacs), has her own amazing story, previously presented on this blog, and since then has added significantly to it with multiple Boston Qualifier performances and Boston Marathons. Now, there is someone who loves running and loves to involve and inspire/encourage others!

OK. So that is it for now. You can probably tell that I am pretty excited about Reggae Marathon #5 (whatever distance I actually do). Obviously, this isn’t the last you are going to hear of it. That said, I do feel a bit lonely as a West Coast Canadian, so there is a bit of a selfish motive in writing now. Maybe I can inspire a few of my friends out here to give this race a try. However, I guess it is only a matter of responsibility that I should give that familiar warning: Caution – the Reggae Marathon may become habit forming.



Judi and me at Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Package Pickup.

Well, it has been a busy few weeks. Haven’t been writing about running much, but I HAVE been running, a marathon no less. It was kind of an accident. More later.

I’ve talked about this before, but I do need to stop life from getting in the way of my running stuff. Now some may not see a problem with a lower rate of production on this old blog, so we’ll just leave that part and carry on.

Grandad telling Jonah all about running

Grandad telling Jonah all about running

Also, one of the “interruptions” is sitting on my lap here and HE can get in the way any old time he wants!!! Have been having a wonderful visit the last couple of weeks. Even got in a run with his Mom!

I have spent a little bit of the ‘quiet’ time re this blog, getting registered for three more races between now and early December. Part of this post is about the thinking I’ve been doing on running now that I’m a septuagenarian. Two of the races I just registered for are ones, even though they are in Vancouver, that I’ve never run! First is the Granville Island Turkey Trot. That’s right, never ran it. We are usually in Victoria for Marathon Weekend or on our way back. The other is the James Cunningham Seawall Race. Never did it either. No idea why on that one. As for the third event, it is a perennial favourite – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, JA.

Will I run any others? Maybe. Not sure. Whatever, this plan would take me to 10 races in 2015, which isn’t too awfully bad: 1 marathon, 3 half marathons,  a 25K road/trail race, 2 10Ks and 2 5Ks, plus one more to be named later. At the moment I’m thinking to just take it really easy in Negril and do the 10K, but I usually do the Half, so we’ll just have to see how that goes.

Sun was up! Just so deep in the Canyon it looked dark. Photo Credit - Big Cottonwood Marathon

Sun was up! Just so deep in the Canyon it looked dark. Photo Credit – Big Cottonwood Marathon

The marathon (Big Cottonwood Marathon) was supposed to be a Half, but I’ve already talked on this blog about the possible switch. Long story short, I could not pass the opportunity to give it a go. So, I guess it wasn’t really an ‘accident’ when you come right down to it. Came 4th M70-74 but we aren’t much going to talk about the time. Even still, I have zero regrets. I probably could have had a very fine half marathon time in the 2:05 – 2:07 range, but the race has potential for an excellent marathon time and it is too far and costly to just keep going back. Also, at my age you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. As far as the time went I probably made two mistakes. I was not super well trained due to the on-off nature of my running this year, what with the interruptions for eye surgery and a bunch of travel. Not an excuse, just reality. Still, I thought I was close enough and it became a calculated risk. The other matter was that the organizers ‘seduced’ me by cutting the four toughest miles out of the euphemistically described ‘net zero out and back’ near the end, and pushing them higher up the canyon at the start. That was good from the point of view of making it nice easy downhill for the most part, but I think I may have underestimated the difference of starting at 9700ft vs 8000ft, and the not so nice mile at about 3 miles into the race and still at about 8000ft. It felt OK while I was doing it, but I did notice more huffing and puffing than I expected. I think the extra effort piled up in the later stages. I ran well to 20 miles, including doing that tough mile way up the mountain pretty much as planned, (yeah, yeah, I know – everybody says that about the first 20) but then in the next couple of miles I pretty much just seized up. The last three miles was all walking because even a couple of running strides was enough to start cramping in my calves. So, walk it was. It was a fabulous day and I knew it would either be an amazing time or exactly what it turned out to be. So, I walked it home and collected my 26th full marathon finisher medal, and smiled. OK, the smile might have come a bit later. Crossing the line might have been more of a grimace, but I was quite happy.

Gratuitous photo of Reggae Marathon, 'cause I'm going again!

Gratuitous photo of Reggae Marathon, ’cause I’m going again!

I learned a long time ago, not to make future racing plans in the last few miles of the current marathon, even if it is going fairly well, and especially if it isn’t. Life is just crazy busy right now with a whole list of things I’m not going to go into, but I have promised myself a thorough review of my big goals for running and the longer term future of what running will mean specifically to me. I suppose a decision to do the two ‘never been done before’ races is part of that. Maybe the plan to run the 10K at the Reggae Marathon is also part of it, although that is still under consideration, as I said.

I THOUGHT Big Cottonwood 2014 was actually going to be my last marathon because it had gone so relatively well. I wanted to finish on a high note. Had a long talk with myself before changing distances for Big Cottonwood 2015, because I refused to come away sad or upset if it didn’t go well (read better than last year). As noted above, I knew it had the potential to end exactly as it did, so had to promise myself to just be glad I stepped up and took my shot. Don’t get the totally wrong idea. Notwithstanding that I wasn’t thrilled with the time, it wasn’t my worst marathon and far from worst on age graded basis. Still, BCM 2014 was sixth best (Age Graded) and 2015 came nowhere near that.

I am writing about all this because I think we all come to it at different times, to different degrees and in different ways. One of the contributions to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was written by Herb Phillips and covered exactly this subject. One of the people who has been very supportive of my running these last years is our Forerunners Clinic coach, Carey Nelson. Carey is a two time Olympian and a two-time knee surgery guy. I realized that while I never was anywhere near his class, he likely very much understands where my head is at this point as I contemplate giving up marathons and maybe even half marathons (mostly). At least twice, he has had to face and deal with that ‘times they are a’changin” moment. You can never really take the competition out of the boy (or girl), but at sometime you have to take the boy out of the competition. Even today, Carey is a terrific runner and he still trains hard/smart to race, but he doesn’t win races outright anymore. At some point in time he had to come to grips with that reality. So, even though we are, and have always been on totally different performance levels, I know he gets where I am, at this particular moment. Funny enough, as I get older I am actually picking up the age group podium finishes now and then, but I don’t kid myself much about how that is coming to happen. They call it attrition! That said, I’m pretty proud of being one of the few still going in their 70s. At least, re the Big Cottonwood race, it counts as a marathon done when I was 70! It is kind of funny that in reality, when I ran it in 2014, I was almost 70 – 69 years, 8 months and 7 days to be precise, but it sounds so much better to be able to just say “I ran a marathon when I was 70.”

The decision to ‘move on’ comes for different people at different times. Some quit when they just can’t do it anymore. Some quit when they can’t do it as well as the standard they set for themselves. Some love the whole thing so much they just keep going until some-THING or some-ONE (tells them it IS over). Still, that doesn’t mean you can just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and that is kind of where I am. It isn’t so much that I can’t do a marathon, but to properly prepare for one is getting to be really hard work and maybe more than this seventy year-old body is up to. If you don’t do the training, what you get is what I got in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago. As much and all as that was a specific and unusual situation and I’m happy enough overall, it isn’t how I want to do marathons. I always tell new marathoners ‘respect the distance’. Clearly I must do the same. And that means if you can’t do the training, you really shouldn’t do the race.

For me, right now, five hours is some kind of personal standard or performance barrier. Over five, not good. Under five, OK. Well under five, good. Now this is totally personal. I have a friend who is a fabulous runner. He is 8 years older than me and for him, that barrier, or more accurately, dividing point has been more like FOUR hours.

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Everybody has his/her own personal ‘time’ and if you keep on keeping on, it has probably changed over the years. I belong to the Marathon Maniacs and I’m pretty sure some of them have never done a marathon under five hours. That is totally and absolutely fine. They do what they do (run a lot of marathons) and they are more than satisfied, and I’m happy for them. The goal those people set for themselves is different. However, I have – done marathons under five hours – way under (as has been noted here more than a couple of times). So, this is very personal, whether some of the Maniacs understand what I’m nattering about or not. I greatly admire people like another of our book contributors, Bob Dolphin (Maniac #32), who have completed literally hundreds of marathons. There is much to be said for the quantity goal vs speed. Taking Bob as an example, he was a pretty decent marathoner in much earlier days, but in recent years it has only been about the doing of it. I mean, Bob is in his 80s now. Good on him! Taking the other extreme of this line of thinking, most of the truly elite marathoners have only ever run a small handful of marathons. What they do is so hard, and the standard so terribly high, that a few is all they can really manage. Could they run more at times most of us would kill for? Of course. But, they can’t do what they aspire to for more than a few races.

I can’t imagine not running, but I can imagine racing a good deal less and maybe mostly the shorter distances. Full Disclosure: There is one marathon I may yet need to do. It is part of a project which I expect to start discussing soon. That one is more than a year away and it isn’t really MY project, so we will see what we will see.

How’s that for dangling something out there? For my part, it is more so you won’t all get all over me if Big Cottonwood 2015 isn’t actually my last. But, apart from that, I am seriously looking at maybe fewer races and shorter distances. I still have to decide whether part of that is pushing performance as I change my training and shorten the distances of the races. That is what I will give myself a bit of time to consider. That said, nothing is graved in stone. If the change works well, it is hard to say where it will lead. I may find that with fewer miles being logged, I have a lot more short-distance speed and might really bear down on the 5Ks. Or not. I might spend far less time racing and even more time volunteering and organizing. It could happen.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

What I do know is that I loved running my first race this summer with our older grandson, Charlie. Now, Jonah is only 8 months old, so it will be a while yet before we can run together! Must keep in decent shape for that day!



Well, yes. It is a blog and it is generally about running. However, the blogger has been a bit delinquent as it comes to the blogging duties.

Fortunately, he has been a little less so where it comes to the running part. To a degree, the blogger has been “running scared”. It has been, to say the least, an awkward year as far as running has been concerned. It has surely had its ups and downs, or more accurately, ons and offs.

March 11/15  One done, one to go!

March 11/15 One done, one to go!

2015 started out with a trip in January to Winnipeg to meet the brand new grandson, Jonah. It was a too short trip and while no attempt was made to run in the Winnipeg winter, along with the trip came a cold (caught on the flight) that may have even been some form of the flu going around last winter. Whatever, it took several weeks to feel OK enough to really run. Then came the first cataract surgery and three weeks of ‘no sweating’ during recovery. OK. That left just about enough time to prepare for the four half marathons run in the first two weeks of May (OK, three halfs and a 25K to be precise), followed by a couple of 5K’s, one being the first race with the other grandson, Charlie. It was a fairly productive set of races with an age group first, two seconds and a third. That was fun! It also proved out my strategy to just keep running until everyone else gets too old and quits.

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Big Cottonwood Marathon

THEN, came the second eye surgery and three more weeks off. The good news was that the surgery got moved up twice and in the end was almost five weeks earlier than originally planned. I had signed up to do the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in Utah, in September, but with the longer stretch for training, am tempted to give the full marathon another go. It was a great race last year with a very satisfying result for me. Had they not enticed me by taking four of the toughest miles out of a tricky ‘net zero’ out and back and put them up the mountain for even more downhill running, I’d have probably stuck with the Half. However, enticed I have been and am trying to see if I have the training to give that full marathon another go.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

So none of this really explains the absence from blogging. In addition to all of the above, we have been on a couple of weeks of family related travel which has included a birthday for Charlie, a wedding for a nephew and, well just another visit to the other grandson, Jonah, and his family in Winnipeg. That is where we are now. There has been a lot of driving and lots of great visiting/celebrating and there HAS BEEN running, just not much time to blog about it.

I thought I was going to write about the Pan Am Games, but that didn’t happen. Maybe there will be some reflections later, but for now it has passed as anything resembling news or being a current topic.

What is this “running scared” thing? Well, it is kind of strange. Over the years I have had lots of interruptions to training and racing and just worked my way back. This seems different though. As I get older there is a bit more urgency to certain things. Also, a bit more difficulty. Time off takes even more time to return to form and as I go along, sometimes it feels like I won’t be able to do so. (So far that has proven not to be the case, but it hasn’t stopped the worry.)

IMG_3343While other races are coming in the Fall, including an added bonus that the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics have chosen the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon as the first International Reunion, and if at all possible there will be a return to Negril for the 15th Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, the focus is on Big Cottonwood. I’ve kind of messed with my own mind on this. I am perfectly confident I can be ready for a good half marathon, but I have shifted focus to the marathon and whether I can do it or not. Certainty on that front is NOT a given and that is where the feeling of urgency and ‘fear’ is coming into the picture. The last thing I want is another mediocre result. I have all of those I really need. With the move of four of the toughest miles up the mountain for pleasant downhill running and true familiarity with the remaining out and back section (which I had none of last year), I figure there is a good 10-15 minutes to be had and a time of which I’d be super proud.

Running volume is OK and I’m only a little behind the schedule I need to keep in order to feel ready for the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon. The problem is that I am pushing a bit and finding it hard to get the runs in that I need to do, particularly the long ones. Weather has created some of the issues for good running and the locations (while  traveling) where I have very little idea of where I’m going. Thank goodness I have my trusty Garmin Connect route planner. Even still, and yesterday’s 20K run was a good example, there is a bit of stress in running a route you don’t know. You must pay a lot more attention to where you are and where you are going than when running a familiar route. In general, I was happy with the run, but not so happy with how tired I felt. Oh, I can explain a lot of reasons why it may have been more taxing than a body would hope, including the familiarity factor already noted and humidity that was actually shocking for where we are (did I mention the weather as a factor?). But, we tend to psychologically dismiss these factors when we think things should feel a certain way, well at least I do.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.

I know that I have four more clear weeks of training, plus a short taper between now and Big Cottonwood. I know it can be run with a minimal marathon prep (compared to what I would normally do). I know it is a wonderful course with the kind of downhill running I love. Finally, I know that if I’m not ready for a marathon, I’m actually registered to run the half anyway! BUT I WANT TO RUN THE MARATHON! The good news is that by next weekend we will be back in Vancouver and I will be back to my usual clinic routine with Forerunners and back on track to have a couple of 30K LSDs done before heading for Utah. And, this time I even have a week of high altitude acclimatization before the race (which will now start at something near 10,000 feet for the marathon).

Technically, since we will almost certainly be in Victoria for the race weekend, I could run the marathon there. It is, in fact, the target race for the Forerunners Clinic. While that is all well and good, I don’t want to run another marathon for the sake of it. I want to run one with a snappy time, even if it is almost all downhill. Hey! You still have to run it, and it isn’t as easy as I may make it sound.

I hoped yesterday’s run would be a) a bit longer than what it was (missed a loop I intended to do) and b) a bit easier than it felt. I hoped, even at about 22km, it would give me the confidence that the remaining training was going to get me where I want to go. Intellectually, I am still fairly sure that it will all be fine. Mentally, maybe not so much. Still, my prep for the early May half marathon extravaganza went through a similar phase where everything was HARD right up to when it wasn’t. Thing is, I had hoped to be there now. As I look back I can see I’ve pushed fairly hard since I was able to get back to running after the eye surgery and that combined with the age factor is probably the real reason I feel as I do at this precise moment. One bit of good news is that although I was pretty spent after the run yesterday, today I feel quite good. Recovery (speed of) has always been a tool by which I measure my fitness. Doesn’t matter how bad you feel running a long way or even up a tough hill, what counts is how soon you are feeling good again.

Nifty new Asics shoes.

Nifty new Asics shoes.

One thing that has disturbed me is that the old knees have been kind of tender. I’ve been messing with a couple of different brands and types of shoes (kind of an experiment) and lost track of how much distance I’ve put on my ‘go to’ shoes. When I sat down and really looked, it turns out I have put much more than normal on those shoes and a good close inspection even shows how ‘crushed’ they are. Time for a new pair as soon as I get home! I’m sure (because it always does) that will improve how the knees feel and for that matter, maybe the weariness I’m feeling in the rest of the leg. I’m always aware of issues with my left leg/knee that may result from overwork and such, but when both knees start bothering it is almost always the shoes. With all the on-off running this year, I sort of lost track of or discounted the actual amount of distance put on my main training shoe. As it turns out, the timing is probably pretty good to get into a new pair and break them in, just in time for Big Cottonwood (whichever distance I do).

Well, thanks for listening to my personal tale of woe. I always consider before writing blogs as personal as this one, whether or not it might ring a bell with others. Hopefully, recounting some of my feelings and thought processes will be helpful now or in the future, to at least a few readers!

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget, Running in the Zone is also available in e-format. Skip the shipping cost and time! And, you get the writing and wisdom of 25 other runner/writer types who aren’t me.


Running the High Country Trails

Running the High Country Trails

Someone was talking about wonderful and favourite places they’d run and I knew instantly that this post needed to be written. The hard part is going to be controlling myself and second hardest will be not kicking my own butt all over the place where it comes to missed opportunities to race. Well, here goes. [Oh, and this has to be the most ‘link heavy’ post I’ve ever written, but hey, if I’m going to entice with photographs and descriptions, the least I can do is tell you how to find these events for yourself!]

For me, there is a BIG difference between the places I’ve run and places I’ve raced, especially if we limit to countries. “Places” get more extensive if you include States and Provinces, of course. At last count I believe I had RUN in at least 23 sovereign countries. However, I have only RACED in 4 countries. I guess we can start there. Naturally, being a Canajun and all, I’ve raced in Canada. I have also raced in the United States, Belgium and Jamaica. I’ve raced in 3 Provinces (run in 9) and raced in 8 States. This is where I get all misty about the squandered opportunities because I’ve lived in more Provinces than I’ve raced in and spent three years in Europe and nearly two in Malaysia. Out of those five years, I only raced in Belgium, notwithstanding all the travel I managed to do to nearby countries. Oh, I got my runs done in some amazingly exotic places, but not races. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with ‘just running’, but I do race, so………..oh, never mind. What’s done is done. And, I guess when you get down to it, I’m not – done that is.

Inaugural BAA 5K - 2009 They let us borrow THE finish!

Inaugural BAA 5K – 2009 They let us borrow THE finish!

Now this isn’t about me and how many places I’ve run. It is about how many amazing places I’ve run. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, that doesn’t narrow things down all that much. Some of the “beauty” has to do with the physical location and some with the circumstance. For instance, one of my great unaccomplished goals is to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. Haven’t bagged that yet, but I did run the inaugural BAA 5K, back in 2009 while supporting our daughter Janna as she tackled the main event. That was really special for any number of obvious reasons, ‘borrowing’ the Marathon finish was definitely one of them. It may be the closest I come to crossing that hallowed and iconic finish.

Spring Running in Vancouver. Near Granville Island

Spring Running in Vancouver. Near Granville Island

To simplify this a bit, I’m just going to go with a few of the MOST amazing places I’ve run OR raced without separating into categories.

Something I do from time to time, since I have had a wonderful opportunity to travel is to look at my present location and wonder how a visitor would see it. We used to live on False Creek, just near Vancouver’s famous Granville Island. The seawall promenade is second to none, and that was my normal running area at one time. Even now, some of the clinic training routes I use with our Forerunners group goes along the same area. While we are at it, Vancouver offers several major races and even more minor races that use roads and paths that border English Bay, False Creek and the famous Stanley Park Seawall. On a nice day, the vistas are spectacular, both depending on where you are and regardless of where you are. In other words, what you are seeing may be different, but all equally amazing.

As amazing as it is, sometimes it rains.

As amazing as it is, sometimes it rains.

For anyone wondering how to get in on this, the major races include (by time of year): First Half Half Marathon (February – registration sells out in one day near beginning of November), Vancouver Sun Run (April), BMO Vancouver International Marathon [and Half and 8K](May), Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon [and 5K](June), Seawheeze Half Marathon (August), Oasis Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon & Cunningham 10K (two races/two days)(October). These are only the events with a few thousand to several thousand (Vancouver Marathon events now push a total of 15,000 participants). There are many many more smaller races ranging from 5K to Half Marathon. For information on those you can consult the BC Athletics Race Calendar or go to the Timex Series or Lower Mainland Road Race Series to find specific events. Many follow similar routes, or parts thereof, used by the named races above. A lot of events now use some part of Stanley Park and are not to be missed even in what might be considered ‘off season’. Running in the mists in the Park is special in and of itself, although I DO prefer the sunshine.

Daughter and Dad do Victoria Half - photo by Brightroom

Daughter and Dad do Victoria Half – photo by Brightroom

Before I launch off to more exotic parts, I would be terribly remiss if I did not give a nod to the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon [Half and 8K]. That one is in October (Canadian Thanksgiving). Much of the course runs through a big park and/or along the shore. It definitely rivals those Vancouver routes. For me, it has been a ‘go to’ event since 2000, when I ran my second marathon there. In the last 15 years I have run either the half or full marathon some 11 times. Guess I like it! A lot.

For that matter, so do the kids. I think only once in those eleven times have I run Victoria alone. One or both of Janna (in the picture to the left) and Danielle (big sister) have run the event with me. We don’t always run the same race with one of us sometimes doing the full and the other(s) the Half, but we have been there together more times than not. AND, while we are at it, Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was launched at the Victoria Marathon weekend.

OK, so what about some of these other more distant and exotic places?

Balinese Beach Path

Balinese Beach Path

I think I’ll start somewhere I’ve run, but not raced – Bali. You might have to ask if that is wise, since you might think it couldn’t get much more exotic. Well, I guess I will take a chance. There are a lot of large resorts in an area known as Nusa Dua, then past there along a narrow peninsula you will find many small resorts. The whole thing is a beach from one end to the other and from one end to the other there is a pathway. What a place for a nice lazy run. Warm? Yes, of course. You are practically at the Equator (south of, to be precise). The thing is, there really is no need to hurry, so just enjoy!

I guess this opens the idea of a few warm places where people tend to vacation, so maybe I’ll just stick with a few of those for the moment. The astute reader will notice there are a lot of beach running photographs in this grouping. What can I say? I love running on beaches when I’m on vacation!

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

I suppose I might as well jump right to my favourite exotic race, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, held the first weekend of December in Negril, Jamaica. It is so hard to select one representative photograph that does justice to the event as a race while ignoring all the other wonderful shots I’ve taken of Negril per se, the pre and post-race festivities and the ‘pure’ beach run done on all the other non-race days. I don’t often carry a camera while running, so action shots from the race are few and far between anyway. I decided that for this one, I would post a sunrise shot because the sun rising IS an integral part of the Reggae Marathon. All races start in the dark at 5:15am, so most runners are treated to this sight at some point in whichever race they have chosen to do. So far, I’ve run the Half three times and the 10K once.

Maui Marathon - 2008

Maui Marathon – 2008

But, the Reggae Marathon events were not my first tropical race. Nope, the Maui Marathon in September of 2008 has that honour. Like the Reggae Marathon, it starts early, in the dark. It is emotionally stirring to hear the sound of the drums and Hawaiian prayer just before the start. Running is both flat and not too bad as far as heat goes, until about the time the sun comes up. Now, depending how good a runner you are, full sun is only a factor after half way. However, the year I ran it was one of the hottest ever at 90F with 90% RH! OH, and some VOG (volcanic smog) thrown in to make it a bit more interesting, but what scenery, and most of the second half is, yep, near the beach.

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Australian beach run – Coolangatta, Queensland

It is hard to decide just what Australian beach to feature, but I think this photograph captures the essence of East Coast Australia. If you look really closely, that is Surfer’s Paradise way in the background. Soft powdered sugar sand is not ideal for running in if you want to go fast, but it sure is fun otherwise.

We have visited Australia a couple of times and I’ve yet to find a race that worked with our timing. Oh well. I am happy to report many great runs along the East Coast (and no, they weren’t all on a beach like this, but near, very near). And then there is the West Coast, where the most spectacular of the selection of runs was near Busselton, where again, there is a beach-side pathway for walking, cycling and running. One thing Australia has no shortage of is white sand and blue water.

But, not every suitable place to run in Australia is beside one ocean or another. In Sydney there is the botanical gardens and in Melbourne, many neighbourhood, riverside and park venues. Some of those were shown to me by a former club member from one of my Canadian running clubs, Pacific Road Runners. These are the hidden gems you will never find without a local to guide you. Yay for the locals!

Greenery at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Greenery at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Just a few of the MANY orchids in the Botanic Garden

Just a few of the MANY orchids in the Botanic Garden

I suppose that while in the area, I have to say I’ve enjoyed a good many runs in Malaysia. We lived there almost two years and I ran as many as five days a week, so indeed I have run in Malaysia. Of course that makes places like Singapore (where I ran my fist EVER tropical run) with its fabulous Botanic Garden where, in the very early morning, you will find walkers, runners and any number of tai chi groups. When I went looking for some great photos of the gardens, I was reminded how hard it is to ignore the scenery in the Garden. So, just enjoy these couple of shots and we will carry on.

It was while living in Malaysia that we made our first visit to Bali. Needless to say, we also used it as a jumping off place for more than one visit to Thailand. Thai’s are renowned for being polite, but the sight of this old geezer jogging along in the sunshine was too much for most of them. I KNOW they thought I was crazy! Not saying that isn’t true. They may have had a point, but I love running in the heat and long ago learned how to keep the pace reasonable and make sure I have water with me and a hat to cover my head.

Big Cottonwood Course

Big Cottonwood Course

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Well, so much for the exotic (by far off location and beauty of the beach). That is hardly where it begins and ends. Mountains go high up there on the list of amazing. As I think about it, I’ve run AND raced through a few mountain areas that rival any beach. My last marathon was the Big Cottonwood Marathon, just outside Salt Lake City, UT. The course provides one breath-taking vista after another (unless that was just the altitude – starts near 9,000 ft). As I was preparing to talk about this race, I recalled that one of my training runs involved the kind of scene you never forget! It is probably not the best photo I’ve ever taken, but it was one of the most delightful scenes with a doe and her young’un. This time, I had my cell with me for safety, so I also had a camera. A fortunate thing!

First Look at Mt Hood - from Leg #1

First Look at Mt Hood – from Leg #1

One mountain race that gets big marks for Spectacular (I’ve done it eight times) is the Hood to Coast Relay. Hard to beat this one. Starts on a mountain and finishes at a beach. Two of my favourite things! Like Singapore above, it is hard to pick the best photo. I’ve got lots of hand-offs and finishes and people drinking beer at the beach at the end, but it is so hard to capture everything about this race, so I just decided to go with a great photo of Mount Hood. This one is probably on the first Leg. (When you are running, you don’t see this. It is behind you, and I generally run Leg #1!)

Half Way to a DFL - Frosty Mountain

Half Way – Frosty Mountain Endurance Race

A mountain that I have hiked a number of times and raced a couple of times is Mount Frosty in Manning Park, BC. The area is truly spectacular and the Frosty Mountain Trail Race is both beautiful and challenging, with a 3800 ft vertical in the first half. I’ve run the race twice. At my pace, it is always worth the stop at the highpoint to take in the view!

Rocky Mountains above Fairmont Hot Springs

Rocky Mountains above Fairmont Hot Springs

Running in the mountains need not mean racing and for that matter, need not mean Summer either. Winter running is a ‘thing’ too. Having lived in places where Winter actually happens (doesn’t all that much around Vancouver), you learn to love the snow and cold (within reason). I’ve had a lot of enjoyable snowy runs, but selected a New Year vacation in the Columbia Valley of BC, with the Rocky Mountains rising majestically over the valley. Deer prints in the snow and what just may have been wolf prints too. Never saw either of the beasts that left the foot prints. Maybe I was too busy staring at those peaks.

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

Time to wrap this up before I wind up inserting a photo from almost every run I’ve done. However, I am going to say that running down the Napa Valley in the Napa Valley Marathon, or finishing your California International Marathon in front of the State Capital building, OR finishing the Eugene Marathon on Hayward Field, you get some pretty fine scenes to enjoy. How do you compare so many parts of the New York City Marathon to, well, anything?? And then, there is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas “Run the Strip at Night” party. A big surprise was the little park I found hidden in the heart of Kowloon, just across from Hong Kong. So pretty and with so many winding paths that you could get about 2.5km in on a single lap. If I was to start on some of the races that use Stanley Park or even just started talking about the training routes we use along the seaside paths and roads of Vancouver, it would take way too many more words and images and too much of your time. So, I am going to close by going back to something that is a big favourite: the early morning vacation beach run. The photo below was taken just a bit after I had finished my own run on the beach at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Enjoy!

Morning Joggers

Punta Cana just after sunrise



The 'ancient' form of "Run Naked"

The ‘ancient’ form of “Run Naked”

OK, we’ll get the obvious out of the way first. There is running naked (as in nude, as in ancient Olympics) and there is the current catchy term of “run naked” (as in no electronics, gadgets or similar).

Personally, I have done both; and while you can do the one just about anywhere, the other demands just a wee bit more discretion. Let me just say that if you aren’t clear which is which, you may want to go review your local civic bylaws before continuing here. I take no responsibility for anyone getting these two mixed up!

I’m not really sure who is hoping for what from this post, but the bulk of it is about the gadgetless form of ‘running naked’. If you were hoping for the other, maybe I’ll deal with it first and then you can go do something else.

Wreck Beach Bare Buns - Start

Wreck Beach Bare Buns – Start

I happen to live where there is an organized, timed, prized, nude race and in the interest of full disclosure, I have done it a number of times (5 or 6 I believe). This is the Wreck Beach Bare Buns Run. Because it is held on a tidal flat, the date and time depend on a suitably low tide to expose the course around the middle of the day. Generally it is near the beginning of August to max out the chance of warm sunny weather. The distance is 5K, but since the exposed beach is relatively small, it requires three laps of a somewhat zig-zag course. The sand is always a little bit different year to year. Depending on the winter storms, you may or may not encounter low spots and ‘puddles’ and in some areas there may be accumulations of sand that can dry out as the tide recedes, becoming interesting obstacles along the way. The wet sand is pretty firm and easy to run on. Wet spots (ankle deep’ish) are also easy enough, but hitting one of those sun-dried soft sand sections, or a deep ‘puddle’ can just kill your legs. Fortunately, it is all for fun, but it is timed and does attract some pretty fair runners. I think the record is about 17 minutes, which is pretty speedy over the course I just described with many tight turns thrown in just for fun. But, “You can leave your shoes on!” (Think Joe Cocker – You Can Leave Your Hat On.)

To run so, is quite liberating, not unlike the other kind of ‘run naked’ which I am about to get into. You can run ‘shy’ but you can’t win unless you go bare. Frankly, when everyone around is in their birthday suit you feel more conspicuous being clothed. A contributor to Running in the Zone (the book), Bart Yasso, has a fabulous chapter in “My Life on the Run” on running a sister race in Washington State.

OK. That’s it. Naked ‘naked running’ is done with now.

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Australian beach run – Queensland

Seems to be all the rage now to ‘run naked’. That is, to run without a watch or gps system, without music, or any other distractions from JUST RUNNING. One of my favourite vacation things is to run barefoot on a beach, so not even shoes!

Early Morning Beach Runners - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Runners – Negril, JA

I suspect there are a lot of relatively new runners out there who may not realize that you CAN run without a Garmin or other gps device. I’ve been thinking about this topic for some while now, but was moved to do something by two things that happened this weekend. One was my own inadvertent naked run, followed by a Facebook post about running naked. And no, it wasn’t from one of my BB Run friends, so it was the non-tech-naked kind of running naked.

I have, for years, been a pace group leader for the Forerunners half and full marathon clinics. Generally, I do run with my trusty Garmin to ensure that I am keeping a proper pace in relation to the group I am leading. It is important to keep the advertised pace, not the one I feel comfortable doing on any given day. These runs are on Saturday mornings. This past Saturday I was up in plenty of time, but somehow got rushing around as the moment of departure neared and off I went, sans-tech. I don’t live anywhere near Forerunners, so once I realized I did not have my little digital friend, there was no going back to get it.

Typical route view on our clinic long run.

Typical route view on our clinic long run.

As it happened, there wasn’t anyone needing my ‘expert assistance’. (Happens this time of year as races start coming fast and furious.) However, the owner of the store who was once Canada’s premier marathoner, wanted to run with me. Off we went with me more than a little apprehensive about how this was going to go. Peter is a lot younger than me and even though his competitive years are well behind him and he endures the aftermath of the rigours of elite racing and training, his comfortable pace is generally not MY comfortable pace. Off we went. We ran, we chatted, sometimes he chatted while I huffed and puffed up a couple of very sturdy hills at the beginning of our 15K route, but I kept up and we ran on.

He is a fountain of historical info on the elite running days of his prime, but he keeps a close eye on the youngsters currently emerging. He knows who they are and what they are doing, and who coaches them and how ‘healthy’ they are at any given moment. Even though I don’t have anything like his wealth of knowledge, I love that sort of thing and he doesn’t usually leave me wondering what he’s talking about. The point is, neither of us had any technology with us while running. We ran and we talked. We knew where we were starting and finishing and that was it.

While it is hardly the first time I’ve ‘run naked’, it really made an impression on me because it was just so free and easy, and kind of pure. Peter still trains to  goals and so do I, but not this past Saturday.

Then, on Sunday, while roaming about on Facebook, a young woman I know posted about how glorious it had been ‘running naked in the sunshine’ of a fabulous late Spring day in Vancouver. She also quickly clarified the tech-free nature of what she meant. Several people chimed in and that was probably when I decided I needed to write this piece.

I guess there are people out there who run naked all the time. Those people just run. They generally don’t race. It is much easier when the whole point is just running for the pure joy of it. With a goal, the dynamic changes. PR, BQ, Podium. Those don’t happen without some attention to detail. Technology can help. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

One part of technology enhanced running that I don’t understand is music. I have never run with music. I so much prefer the idea of listening to the sound of my surroundings, my own breathing, footfalls on road or trail. I gather that some use music for the very purpose of obliterating some of those things – a distraction. I judge not, but feel that where safety is involved (in traffic or crowded race fields) music represents a danger. ‘Nuff said on that, except that when it comes to running naked, the music needs to stay home too. If you must ‘tune out’ from what you are doing, trying letting yourself slide into a meditative state (my topic in the Running in the Zone book).

Even a watch is kind of a tech tool, but is not of much use if you don’t have external distance markers, or even milestones to use it against as a form of pace monitoring. I do know people who run for a pre-determined time rather than using a route or distance. They just run out for Xhr/2 and then turn around and run back. For that you need some kind of timing device, or you will actually be running to distance. Otherwise, these folks pretty much run naked.

Running the forest trails.

Running the forest trails.

For the most part, I have a bunch of known training routes, so if I’m running on those routes, I’m probably using my technology. When I want to ‘just run’, there are some really nice wooded trails near here and I will just go for a lope through that bit of “urban forest”. Nothing like a quiet forest for a peaceful run.

So, getting back to the time and pace technology as promised above, truth be told, (and I’m not sure how many others do this), I don’t much consult my gps while running but rather after I get home and download to the computer where I can review what I really did. There are two times I do watch my Garmin. One is when I am pacing the training group. The other time is early in a race where I have a terrible tendency to start too fast.

Finishing in front of the 'Leg'

Finishing in front of the ‘Leg’

We tend to think of ‘run naked’ as a non-race thing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The last best race I ran was the Victoria (Half) Marathon in 2012. I did have the Garmin, but I ran as much as I possibly could to a constant effort – that is, how I felt. When I reviewed the race later, I saw it was the closest I’ve ever come to the mythical negative split. Think there was maybe 10 seconds difference between the first and second half splits, and the time for last mile was almost identical to the first. This was probably as close as I come to “Racing Naked” these days! Got me thinking that maybe I should wear the gps unit in my next race (for the post-race records) but tape over the display and just run on feel. Hmmmm. Well, if I do, you will be the first to know.

So really, it is not hard to see how you can get caught up with your technology. As I said above, and just a little tongue in cheek, there are probably some relatively new runners that don’t know you CAN run without these things.

There is a school of thought that using the technology reduces our natural ability to sense pace. I’m not sure about that. At one point, I could ‘feel’ my pace very accurately. However, as I got older and well before we had gps devices to guide us, I started to feel that my inner sensor just wasn’t doing it. I kind of assume that when you can sense pace intuitively it is because you are fit and strong and know what it feels like to do a certain pace. As I have aged and as it gets harder to do the same things, abilities for sensing pace seem to diminish. One commentator on the running naked post on Facebook, a friend and good runner, offered that relying on technology may be stripping us of that inner sense. I’m sure there is some truth to that point of view, but I also think a lot of it is done on how it feels, so if it just becomes harder to do the same things, then you can’t go quite as accurately ‘by feel’. As you age, it seems there are more unexpected ups and downs that may not even be related to running as such, but which certainly impact how you ‘feel’ at any given time.

I often counsel my clinic charges that the best way to race a longer distance is to try to maintain a constant effort as I mentioned above re the Victoria Half Marathon. That isn’t quite the same as knowing your pace. For constant effort, use your comfortable pace on the flats. Maintain how that effort feels while going up a hill (you WILL go slower) and down the other side (you will go faster, but not as fast as you could). That is NOT even splits or pace, but rather even effort. Unless you are truly ‘one with your Garmin’ it can’t help you measure constant effort.

Another reason I use my Garmin is it represents an easy way to record and track my mileage. It also lets me chronicle my races for detailed review and instruction for future races. I am all for progress and modern technology as long as it enhances and doesn’t take over.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

As I have written this and thought about it, I probably actually run ‘semi-naked’ most of the time. Huh?

Unless I have a very specific reason for consulting my tech device mid-run, I do run a lot on feel, regardless of whether I am as good at it as I once was. I won’t say I don’t sneak a look sometimes to see how far I’ve gone and/or how far I have to go. Generally that isn’t necessary in races, as they have distance markers but on training runs it is sometimes good to know. One exception was about a week ago when I ran my first race with our oldest grandson. Charlie had never run more than 2km and he was stepping up to 5K, actually 5.4K. As we passed the 2K point I let him know he was in new territory and that I was very proud of him. As each K ticked off, I announced that he had now run 3K, 4K and even 5K, because we were still 400m from the finish as we went through 5K. I think it gave him motivation and we finished strong!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has discovered the joy of just running, but if you’ve been caught up in training and the technology to enhance it, including music, give a thought to getting out there now and then with just the bare minimum and run in the moment.

So. Who is up for a bit of naked running?

Your choice. Either kind. Actually, you COULD do both at the same time as long as you pick the right place. Now THAT would be liberating!!!


And, the first race IS done!

And, the first race IS done!

Welcome to Phase II of Charlie Runs With His Grandad!

Well, that wasn’t what the previous post was called, but this IS the report of my big FIRST race with my grandson, Charlie. I suppose I could keep this really short and say it went great and I am so proud of him and happy to have been able to do this. But, what would be the fun in that???

We were both ‘into’ it ever since the idea came up a few months ago. Frankly, because through school and his min-tris, Charlie had only ever run about 2-2.5km, I had been looking around for a 3K somewhere. Not so easy, because there aren’t that many in the first place and secondly because we don’t exactly live in the same neighbourhood. In any case, Charlie was sure he was good to do a 5K and the Giant’s Head Run was right where he lives. Bonus on that was that it was the first official race I ever ran in my adult or second running career. Seemed the perfect fit. Oh, and just as a little extra challenge, the Giant’s Head 5K is really 5.4km. As long as I’ve known the race, it has used this course, so I guess instead of shortening to a true 5K upon finding it was a tad long, they just decided to be honest and call it what it is – 5.4K.

As was not unusual in the Okanagan at this time of year, it was also hot and sunny. That is one of the reasons they run the race in the evening.

Package Pick-Up - Check

Package Pick-Up – Check

We started off the day with a visit to Action Fest and to package pick-up and learned Charlie was #18 and I had #20. Did they think we were elites??

Apparently, it was mostly to do with how eager we were to sign up online! It was fun to dream for a moment though.

As race time drew near, I think we were both a bit nervous. We had never run together and Charlie had never run so far. We had our customized race hats on, complete with autographed brims. We each signed our names to the hats so we would each have a souvenir of the momentous event. I’m not sure about Charlie, but I know mine is going on the wall with other racing memorabilia, never to be worn in a race again.

Soon enough it was race time. And, we were off like a bunch of jack rabbits. I was trying more of the turtle approach, but Charlie felt we should run ‘medium’ – not too fast (his Mom and I had drummed that into him) but not TOOO slow either. I understood that, so let him go a little bit for the first few hundred metres before I reminded him of our plan. You will be pleased to know that I do not intend to describe every step of the race. What I will say is that Charlie got the picture fast that by taking it “medium” and even walking at strategic moments, we were already passing a lot of those runners that had gone out like little bullets. This is far from a flat race and most of the first half of it is more or less up. It rolls, but it is generally going up. Charlie started to get the rhythm and soon enough it was him calling the walk breaks and the runs. He was good at it too, conserving energy in the hot sun and running easily and smoothly when we did run. I was so impressed! Charlie is not quite nine, so this was pretty mature action on his part.


Almost done and a nice fast down bit to finish!

It didn’t take long before we were in new territory (distance) for him. I was wearing my Garmin to keep track of distance and pace. I announced the milestones as we went. It also helped that we had our bike-mounted photo and cheering team  (aka Charlie’s Mom and Dad) that popped up hera and there along the course. One feature of this route is that with just around 1K to go, you get back about half of the uphill climbing you had to do in the first half!

It was a struggle but our personal papparaza made it to the finish in time to catch our triumphant dash to the ‘tape’!

Cool water and a run well done!

Cool water and a run well done!

After what was a long and very hot race, we enjoyed some cooling refreshments, toasting our accomplishment and very first race. Charlie is clearly a wise beyond his years runner. He began incentifying his effort around 4K with visions of the soft-serve cone he wanted post-race. As you can see by my face, it looked pretty delicious!

Tutti-Frutti, Orange Cone.

Tutti-Frutti, Orange Cone.

I debated quitting now, but this is my story too. Earlier in the day we ran into some old friends and running buddies from faster times (for all of us). Don and Linda were very good runners back in those days and it brought back lots of memories. Anyway, cutting to the chase, when all was said and done I was a bit surprised and a whole lot pleased to learn that Charlie had paced me to a Third Place M60+ and Don had taken Silver! I know one thing for sure, this podium sharing was not a part of the past!

Apparently, we are planning for the 10K next year!  I guess we’ll see about that, but you never know!


Running in the 80s

Running in the 80s

Well, that title sounds a bit profound and for me, it is. As you will shortly see, it refers to coming to the ‘end’ of something, but the beginning of something else.

Enough of the cryptic and weighty commentary. Let’s get right down to it.

Somewhere in the murky depths of the history of my life, I became shocked and distressed at my personal state of fitness and decided to do something about it. The murky part is related only to exactly how old I was (39, I believe). The moment of shock that got me doing something about it is quite memorable. I was at a dance in Summerland, BC giving it my all, to ‘Rasputin’. It is a) long and b) very energetic to dance to. I suddenly realized I was out of breath and my heart was pounding and I actually had to sit down.  AAAAAUUUNNCHCCH (supposed to be the sound of a loud buzzer, like in a sporting event or when you get the wrong answer on a quiz show).

What to do? I had been quite active and athletic in my younger days: baseball, soccer, track and field and kind of up for anything active in nature. Interestingly, one of my sports, soccer, gave me an injury that had made another (running) fairly impossible. I jammed my left knee very badly, ending my  career in soccer. Although I was playing for UBC at the time, I was not a future star of the game and life was demanding more of my time. The injury was kind of a punctuation point to something that was probably already in the works. After healing up I could sprint short distances and walk great distances. What I couldn’t do was what we then called ‘jogging’. After about a mile the pain in my knee was terrible and very sharp. I actually tried a number of times over the years, but right around that ‘mile’ mark there would be the pain.

Flash forward to the fateful dance. Once I caught my breath, I knew I had to do something. Since running is such an important base for so many other exercises, I decided I would start there. If a mile was my limit, I would just run a mile. Every day. And so it began.

I was pretty religious about. I have no idea how long I did this, but I would get to the mile and even though things were feeling fine, I would quit. It seemed better to get my daily mile in than to revive the injury. What if I tried maybe a mile and a half, a couple of Ks?  Hmmm. Nothing. Two miles ? Well, you get the picture. Whatever I had done, the knee was working just fine. I do wonder what might have happened (for my PBs) had I done this in my late twenties rather than being almost 40. We’ll never know.

Before moving to something more demanding, I decided I should really see my doctor, Don Williams, (for the info of any old time Summerlanders ). Well, Don was a runner and after a proper check, enthusiastically endorsed my intentions. There are other stories flowing out of that check-up, but we’ll save that for another post. The result was that I targeted my first race and began training. The race was the Giant’s Head 5K, part of the Summerland Action Festival.

THAT was the beginning. I believe it was 1985.

I soon got a bit like Forrest Gump and just kept on going, running my first marathon something like three years after that first GH 5K (first photo at the top of this post). Anybody who reads this blog or knows me doesn’t need a recap of the running I’ve done. By an informal count I am well over 200 races plus all the underlying training. Over 60 of those races are half or full marathons.

Start Line - Giant's Head Run (5K/10K) - 1986

Start Line – Giant’s Head Run (5K/10K) – 1986

This weekend I will return to Summerland to run the Giant’s Head 5K once again, completing the cycle some 30 years later. But, there is more, a lot more. This is also the beginning of something, far more than any kind of ‘ending’. On June 6, I will run my very first race with our grandson Charlie! I am very excited about this and so is he. Although he lives in Summerland with his parents and we now live near Vancouver, it is all going to come together on the roads of Summerland on Saturday evening.

Judi Cumming at the Finish

Judi Cumming at the Finish

Danielle (Cumming) Krysa - GH Run 1986

Danielle (Cumming) Krysa – GH Run 1986

Running is kind of a family thing and the Giant’s Head Run represents our collective entry point to everything that has followed. The accompanying set of finish photos (some admittedly, not the greatest photography) is from 1986 as far as I can deduce. From wife Judi, through all three of our kids, Danielle, Janna and Cameron, all are represented. Over the years, I have run with all of them, especially the kids, in our big Half Marathon Challenge, where I ran a half marathon with each offspring when she or he was half my age. I’ve run races with both sons-in-law too and can’t wait to somehow make it happen with the newest grandson, Jonah. Considering our relative ages, him being just five months old and all, that may have to be with him in a jogging stroller.

Janna Cumming - GH Run 1986

Janna Cumming (in pink) – GH Run 1986


Cam Cumming - GH Run 1986

Cam Cumming – GH Run 1986

But, the focus now is on me returning to Summerland to close the circle by running this year’s Giant’s Head 5K, and to begin an entirely new era of running things with Charlie. This is the first event, but I surely hope it isn’t going to be the last. I am hoping he will be gentle with his old Grandad and not kick my butt on the first outing. Charlie’s Dad, Greg, seems to like triathlon more than pure running. Charlie, considering his Dad a hero, as any boy should, has followed down the path of getting into triathlons. He has

My competition at the Giants Head Run - June 6!

My competition at the Giants Head Run – June 6!

been doing kids’ mini-tri events for a couple of years now. I’m not 100% certain of the final arrangement, but it may be that Greg will run the GH 10K, giving us a three generation presence in the Giant’s Head running events. Danielle was thinking about it, but her son quite astutely pointed out that SOMEBODY had to cheer and take photographs. He has a point! Sorry Danielle, maybe next time. I mean if somebody doesn’t do that, how will I be able to write the fully illustrated post-race story of how all this turns out?

Stay tuned then, for the report on the Giant’s Head 5K, both the end and beginning of an era of running in the life of the family of this old blogger and ‘jogger’.