IT HAS BEEN A BUSY FEW WEEKS!

11.18.2017

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

Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon

The entire family, post-race Victoria 2017

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

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

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

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

AND THEN THIS HAPPENED!

PM Justin Trudeau in White Rock

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

OK, back to blogging!

Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge

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

What IS the Seven Summits of Vancouver?

Seven Summits Finishers – October, 2017

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

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

Summit #1 – Top of Queen Elizabeth Park

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

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

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

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

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

Your Run Starts Here – Learn to Run 5K

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

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

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

Fall Classic 5K

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up With Walter

Walter’s Year at the Races!

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

And Now, On To Negril and The Reggae Marathon

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

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

Negril beach view. No worries here.

 

 

 

BRINGING MY 2017 RUNNING YEAR TO A CLOSE – ALMOST

11.14.2017

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

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

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

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

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

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

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

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

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

Negril 2011 – Judi and Dan

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

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

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

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

Time for that ackee and salt fish breakfast!

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

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

Morning run on Negril Seven Mile Beach

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

Easy Skankin’

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

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

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

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

Early morning on the Negril River

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

Afterwards, it is all about the beach!

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

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

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

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

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

THE FAMILY RACE WEEKEND AND OTHER EXCITING THINGS

10.06.2017
RVM Finish 2000

A few steps to go – RVM 2000

It should probably come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, because I talk about it often enough, but this is the weekend of the Victoria Marathon and the weekend when the extended Cumming family runs together.

Janna finishing Royal Victoria Marathon, Oct 2000

The first time was October 2000. I ran my second ever marathon and daughter Janna ran her first. (Oh, and don’t be fooled by the positioning of the photographs. Janna was about 15-16 minutes ahead of me.)

Just writing that caused me to do a bit of a double take. Let me tell you, there has been a lot of water under the bridge (or ferry) since then! Janna has run five more marathons, including New York City and Boston (two of the six Marathon Majors). In fact, she qualified for Boston in New York. My total is up to 27 actual marathons and one 50K Ultra. All but one of those marathons I’ve run since Victoria in 2000.

Danielle and Dan (her old Dad) after the run and ready for Brunch

Our daughter Danielle sees Victoria as her ‘go-to’ Half Marathon race. She has run it five times, tried once (a brave DNF last year) and will make it six this weekend. Last year I ran the 8K for the first time with Danielle’s son and my grandson, Charlie. We will be doing our second Victoria 8K together on Sunday, and Janna will do her first, rounding out her completion of all three events, full and half marathon plus the 8K.

Janna and me near Beacon Hill Park on a perfect race morning.

Janna’s husband Jason ran the Half last year and if indications hold, I am betting the other grandson, Jonah will be ready for the kid’s race next year. I suspect, he may think he is ready now, if he gets a look at all those kids running.

Our son lives in Victoria, but we’ve yet to get him to don a pair of running shoes and join us. And, even though he is an accomplished triathlete, we’ve yet to get the other son-in-law, Greg, out on this particular course.

All this adds up to a grand total, by sometime relatively early on Sunday morning, of 30 Victoria Marathon events since October 2000.

I’ve got another big thrill ongoing too, with a couple of the people from my first Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic, signed up to do the 8K. As far as I know it is a first race for both, one for sure.

Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was actually launched at the Victoria Marathon Expo, way back in 2005.

If you look at what all the extended family members have done in Victoria, I guess the half marathon takes the prize for most popular distance. It is a wonderful course with so many amazingly scenic views and surprisingly good times. In theory, looking at course profiles and all, it doesn’t look all that fast, but it is nonetheless an excellent runner’s course. By my count we have collectively completed seventeen to date, with one more to be added on Sunday. That makes 18/30 at Half Marathon. Guess I might as well complete the box score and report seven marathons and five 8Ks (after Sunday).

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

The big thrill these days is I am getting to run with Charlie, our older grandson. Last year we ran the 8K and have run a 5K event where he lives (three times now). One day soon, that lad is going to have to beat his old Grandad and the old Grandad will be happy for it to happen, but Charlie, you’re gonna’ have to earn it!! Maybe it will be Sunday? We’ll see, I guess.

I’m going to keep this really short or it will wind up being race report.

Sunday is looking like pretty good running weather from the forecast, but you never know and it is what it is.

This is always a great opportunity for the family since we have seldom all lived in really close proximity. While our son does actually live in Victoria, one daughter and her family live in the Okanagan and the other and her family live in Winnipeg, while we are ensconced these many years in South Surrey. While some of us see some of the others relatively often, it is not nearly as often that we ALL get to see each other.

Running in the Zone Contributors at book launch, Oct 2005

The other great thing about Victoria is that so many other friends both running and otherwise, will be there. I mean, you can’t keep hanging around the same event for so long and not get to know a lot of people involved with the race. My list will include at least three Running in the Zone (the book) contributors: Steve King, Rob Reid and Evan Fagan.

We have already booked the post-race brunch (a tradition). With the Half being the longest distance run this time, we should be good to go by no later than 10:30. If one of us is running the marathon (especially me, these days) there tends to be a good bit more waiting for everyone to finish. But, the last time that happened was 2013. You must have priorities and family brunch is right up there.

Ferry reservation? Made. Hotel? Booked. Race Registrations? Done. Brunch? Booked.

Let the Games Begin!

NEW PR SEEMS ALL THE RAGE THESE DAYS

10.04.2017

Random and gratuitous selection of race medals, including a couple of podium placements.

Well, at least one of my running friends thinks so. More on that in a moment.

First, let’s get clear on the whole ‘PR’ thing.

There is the PR (Personal Record) and the PB (Personal Best). For some, they are the same thing. Personally, I look at one (PR) as the best you have EVER done no asterisks for age or heat or terrain, or wind or whatever. The other comes conditions. I’ve started keeping that kind of statistic for myself. When you are at the pinnacle of performance you are on a kind of plateau of expectations. However, as you age (for instance), you may not be able to reasonably compare current performance with earlier performance (like something you did 20 years ago). I know people (me)who keep Five Year PB stats. I use the age divisions reported by most races.

When they start, most people tend to get better for as long as five years. They may then plateau, scoring similar results over a reasonably long period. Eventually, there comes a time when performances begin to decline and the pure ‘bests’ no longer happen. After that, the only way to get a career record is to run some distance you have never done before! (Which is how I have a 50K record set 3-4 years ago!)

It has also come to mind that there is a difference between winning or placing and running fast. You can score a PB and be last (well, in theory). If we look at the true front end of big races, it is shocking to realize that the fastest American marathoner (Ryan Hall) came fourth (Boston) while recording a 2:04 result. Then, look at “Meb” who truly knows how to race and win. His best times are literally minutes behind Hall, but he has the gold medals to show he knows how to be at the front when it counts. The same applies to us lesser lights, far back from the pointy end of any given race. The hard part for age group runners, especially in larger non-local races, is just knowing WHO you are racing. I mean, you can’t really apply your Meb-like wily race strategy if you don’t know who you are actually racing!

Getting back to the PR/PB discussion, it turns out there IS another way to get a PR (other than running some distance you’ve never done before) one that is not for the faint of heart. Not many of us can claim that after years of running, and running pretty well, that we are running faster than ever, especially those who have truly joined the ranks of the Seasoned Athlete.

Walter – For the Win! Forever Young 8K (2017)

I, and a good many others, can claim stellar events or even years as we go along. But, that is definitely a relative term and kind of an exception to the rule. That is why I talked about the Five Year PB. In my own case, my best running was about 3-4 years after I started and all my PR results came when I was 43-44 years of age. There were moments after that when I had a good race, but it took a bunch of years before I had one of those remarkable periods where everything was really good. It was leading up to and during the year I was 65. I had some excitingly (for me) good times, but they were totally ‘relative’. My best marathon in that 18 months or so, was my third best raw time and second best age graded, but far from the time of my best race. In fact, almost an hour slower in real time. The race was more than 20 years after the first and best. Still, it was a great year or so and in relative terms, good on almost any scale you want to use other than pure, raw results.

As I said, that just happens to be my story. I’m sure it isn’t unique. I know exactly why it happened. I worked my butt off and didn’t get injured. But, it still had that asterisk signifying “Best in Years”.

A few weeks back, I wrote a blog piece entitled “Where There’s a Will……………..”. It wound up being the second or third most popular piece ever published here. Apparently, it hit a chord with the ‘Seasoned Athlete’ readership. It was about fellow Forerunners clinic runner and group leader, Walter Downey. What follows is about the continuing adventures of ‘our Walter’, so I’m not going to reproduce all the background from the first post. If you want to know, just follow the link and it will take you right there.

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

Walter’s very good year began in November of 2016 and has continued unabated right up to this past Sunday. The original story was that Walter was getting podium finishes in every race he contested, starting with an Age Group third place in the Fall Classic Half marathon (November 2016). As of this past Sunday, the string has expanded to 10 for 10, with six firsts, three seconds and one third.

We all enjoy a podium finish (First, Second or Third), but Walter started getting mostly Firsts. About a month ago, he won outright at the Forever Young 8K, while setting an age group and event record.

As an aside, the Forever Young 8K is a unique event for runners and walkers who are 55 Plus!

This past Sunday, he set another age group record at the inaugural North Van Run 5K. OK, I’ve had one of those myself last year. If you win your age group in the inaugural race, you have to get the record. In my case, it lasted 365 days and was then crushed. In Walter’s case, he laid down a fine time of 18:39 and placed 17th OA, even though he turned 56 in May and this race uses a 10 year age group (50-59).

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

So, here is the magic. Walter has produced a pure career best at every distance he has run in the past year including 5K, 8K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon. Does that mean he is done? No, not necessarily. I know he has five other races lined up for 2017, so he may well improve some of those times that are current lifetime bests. I have it on good authority (he told me) that he still wants to do better yet. If he sticks with the plan, he will run 14 races in 2017. That is a lot, but maybe not so bad if you consider some of the shorter races as part of the training and build for the longer ones.

Dedication and determination seem to be the driving forces. Hard work can achieve amazing things. Walter went from being a competent but, by his own assessment,  lazy runner, compared to the ‘running machine’ we see at present. He was having fun and was more or less satisfied with what he was doing, but in his heart, he knew he could do better.

Coming off an injury unrelated to running (but which kept him FROM running), Walter started eating better (up to six times a day, but fewer carbs, more protein and fewer calories), and losing weight (28lb) as well as running farther (75km/week vs 40km/week), harder and smarter (from 3 times to 5 runs per week with targeted workouts, including a couple of gym sessions to work on strength). His workouts always have purpose, something we can’t always claim. He pushed his own limits and standards. We share a coach, Carey Nelson, who is very thoughtful about the programs he offers his runners and even though we may all do the prescribed runs and drills, there is still the degree of commitment that can be variable. Walter put the hammer down and pushed toward his own potential. He tells me that a lot of people have noticed his improvement and want his ‘secret’. Disappointingly for some (me?), the secret is pretty much self-discipline and hard work.

Running volume is hardly the only measure of a strong program, but if you are running marathons, volume does count re endurance. As already noted, Walter went from average weekly distance of 40km up to about 75km. Distance is one thing, but the other side of it is intensity. Not getting the two confused is the smart part. We are all just one awkward step from an acute injury, but all things staying even, I am expecting to see even more from Walter over the next several months. I’m pretty sure Walter is too!

In case you want to keep track of what he has done and how it goes over the next while, here is the record starting with the Fall Classic Half Marathon (2016). Note, all placings are for M55-59 or M50-59.

2016

Nov     Fall Classic Half Marathon    1:36:47      3rd

2017

Mar     Pride Run Phoenix Half         1:31:42       1st

May     Eugene Marathon                  3:14:37       2nd    PR

Jun      North Olympic Trail Half       1:32:18       1st

Jun      Scotiabank Half Marathon     1:32:25      2nd

Jul       Vancouver Pride Run 10K          39:09     1st      PR

Aug     Squamish Days 8K                    31:26       1st      PR

Aug     America’s Finest City Half       1:29:51      2nd    PR

Sept     Forever Young 8K                 31:50       1st      1st OA, Event Record

Sept     North Van Run 5K                  18:31       1st      PR  AG Record

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

Walter has another five events still to run in 2017: two 10Ks (Vancouver Turkey Trot and Fall Classic 10K), one 5K (Palm Springs Pride Run), one Half (Joshua Tree Half Marathon) and one Marathon (California International Marathon). Sounds like there may need to be another update in December or January! Walter has also run four of the six marathon majors (New York, Boston, Chicago and Berlin) and as I write this blog piece is waiting to hear if he will be successful at his attempt to run London next Spring.

Run on Young Walter!  Run on!

 

PERSONAL COUNTDOWN IS ON FOR REGGAE MARATHON

09.28.2017

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

You would have to be a first-timer to this blog if you didn’t already know that the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K is one of my favourite running events, and probably most favourite international event. This December will mark my 7th year in a row of attending.

At least part of the attraction is Jamaica itself. It is a favourite place of mine, including the people, the food and the vibe. Don’t ask why. It just is. I suppose there is a personal element in all of this. Maybe it is the time of the year. As old as I am, I still go pretty hard most of the time with projects and such. Maybe December is just when I get to ease back, and getting away tothe #HomeOfAlright, is the perfect way to get out of my normal surroundings and routine. I consider Negril my ‘happy place’. Of course, Negril does claim to be the Capital of Casual! Soon come, mon. Evry likkle ting gonna’ be alright!

Oh yes, and on the personal side, there are all the friends I’ve made over the years. We stay in touch through the year by social media, but the Reggae Marathon is when we get to meet up in person. More on that later.

As readers of a blog on running, you probably want to know more about the Reggae Marathon (short reference for the multi-part event, in which more people run the Half Marathon and more than that run the 10K). I’m even up on 10K and Half Marathon – three each. I shouldn’t be, actually. My first time was in 2011 and I was registered for the Marathon. It is an interesting and convoluted story. You can check the blog piece out HERE. Let’s just say the fates conspired to see me arrive at the starting line about 2.5 hours after the start, and completing 10K vs the marathon.

Where, besides the Capital of Casual, could you run anyway if you are more than two hours late?  Huh? Where?

Finishing it up 2011

Well, 2.5 hours after the start is about 7:45am. That doesn’t sound all that late, but by then the sun is up most of an hour. Starting a marathon that was going to take me more or less five hours just did not seem prudent. In those days, a marathon was not taking me anything like 5 hours, but I had prior experience with this kind of run (see Maui Marathon – 2008).

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

I begged to be allowed to do the 10K and Race Director ‘Frano’ Francis gave me the thumbs up and assured me they could adjust my time and event later. That leaves me with three 10K finishes and three half marathon finishes. What should I do to break this tie? Logic says suck it up and get that red ribbon (marathon). Sound thinking says that at the age of almost 73, that would be really STUPID! I’m registered for the Half. We’ll see how the training goes, but I do want to see that end of the course and Bob’s Mile, one more time.

What does all this mean for someone thinking about doing this event? For all events, the start and finish are the same time and place. The races start in the ‘middle’ of the course at Long Bay Beach Park. The course is actually the main and only road along the Negril Beach – Norman Manley Blvd. For the duration of the event the road is closed to regular traffic. In fact, well before start time (5:15am Saturday morning), the road is closed and only runner shuttles, race and emergency vehicles are on the road/route.

Negril Town Round-About – Day before race day.

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

Starting at Long Bay Beach Park, everyone heads south toward Negril Town. Plus or minus, it is 5K to the round-about, where runners turn back toward the start.

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

Upon approaching the start/finish area, 10K runners continue a few hundred metres and then make a 180° left turn back toward the finish, inside Long Bay Beach Park.

Unless it takes a person more than 1:30:00 for 10K, the sun may just be rising (cue Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds) as you finish. If you are closer to an hour for 10K, it will still be dark and you can watch the dawn break with a fresh coconut in your hands. Whatever, there WILL be Reggae Music!

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

If you are running the Half or Marathon, there is still work to do and you keep going. About 5-6km out, you will turn back toward the start/finish. By now, notwithstanding the start in complete darkness, regardless of who you are (OK, except if you are winning the Half), the sun should be getting up and the course will be transformed! The Reggae Marathon happens less than a month prior to Christmas and most resorts have some kind of decorations up. And, I must say as a boy from the far north, it is somewhat confusing to be running in a singlet and shorts, sweating like it was July, past all those Christmas lights!

Obviously, the route doesn’t change, the aid stations are still there, as are the spectators and music systems blasting inspiring Reggae sounds. The difference of ‘night’ and ‘day’ transforms the appearance of the course. Temperature too!  Now, don’t get me wrong. Negril is warm at all times for us folks from “The Great White North” (aka Canada), but as tropical places go, the start temps are often quite reasonable (21-25C). However, as soon as the sun rises, so does the temperature.

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

Again, it is a relative thing. Negril in December is not blazing hot, nor terribly humid. In fact, daytime temperatures are ideal for vacationing, ranging around 28-30C. It is also relatively dry at that time of year, so while there might be a sudden cloudburst (generally in the late afternoon), the rain does not settle in. Chances are good that you will run in bright sunshine with a clear sky. The start temperature usually doesn’t change until after sunrise. That means everyone gets about an hour and a half of running at starting temps. Many 10K participants and the quicker Half Marathoners will finish before sunrise.

This race has a brilliant hydration system. Water and electrolyte come in 250ml sealed plastic pouches. No spillage on transfer from volunteer to participant, and easy to grab one of each if you want. It is a mile between aid stations and you can carry the pouch as far as you like. No need to gulp down fluids, then hold on to the next aid station. Nope, just sip as you go. The pouches are kept very cold, so the contents are refreshing. When you want to, you just tear off a corner with your teeth. Because it is so warm and you are going to sweat, I generally drink the electrolyte and pour the water over my head. I often joke that this is a perfect early warning safety device as well. The first time you get it wrong, drinking the water and pouring the electrolyte over your head, is a mistake. The second time (there shouldn’t BE a second time), you should take it as a warning that you may need help!!

Getting it done at the Reggae Marathon

If  you are running the Half Marathon you will be done upon returning to Long Bay Beach Park, and will slide off to the right, into the finish chute. Because of course and traffic logistics total race time has been reduced to six hours. It was seven hours until 2016. If you cannot make it half way by about 3 hours, race officials will divert you for a half marathon finish, awarding an official half marathon time and medal. “No Problem!” In 2016, they allowed runners to self divert “on the fly”, including from full to half and really, any distance to 10K. It worked well enough from the runner side, but as an old RD, I’m pretty certain it was a logistical nightmare. The policy for 2017 is that if you feel weather conditions are looking too difficult or you aren’t well enough prepared for the distance you chose, you CAN “step down and be alright”, but you have to do it at package pick-up, not during or after the race.

Early morning on the Negril River

After the first loop, Marathoners do it all again: down to the Negril River, around the round-about, back to the start/finish, out to the north end of the course and back through Bob’s Mile to the finish line. OK, even if you are running the Half, you get to do Bob’s Mile (the final mile for both events). Marathoners get a double dose. It is one of the prettier parts of the course with lots of views of the sea, off to the right. In terms of on course music there is nothing you won’t have experienced already, but what there is, is a series of sandwich-board signs with lyrics from Marley’s music. To the casual eye, they don’t really look like much, but they aren’t random. I can tell you that. What I can’t tell you is how emotional some will make you as you finish the Half or Full Marathon. I’m just going to leave it at that. You should really experience it for yourself. One Love!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

As with the Half Marathon, once Marathoners reach the finish area, they too make that last dash to the finish line and the Reggae beach party that will be well begun before any marathoner reaches that point!

PARTY!  Did he say Party?? Well, yes. And, it was an oversight on my part, because the Finish Beach Party is the SECOND party, and true to the name of the area (Long Bay Beach Park), it IS a beach party. OR, maybe you could say it is the party of the SECOND PART! Which, of course, would make the Pasta Party, the Party of the FIRST PART.

What I forgot to mention was the pre-race events. The Reggae Marathon claims to have the best pre-race pasta party in the World. That’s right, THE WORLD! Now, I haven’t been to all the pasta parties in the WHOLE world, but I’ve been to my share, and have no evidence to refute the claim! In fact, I support the claim. How many of us have attended the standard ‘spaghetti with red stuff, a bun and some lettuce’, pre-race carbo/pasta party? Right.

Pasta Party just Getting Started – Couples Sport Complex

Pasta Anyone??

Just one of many pasta stations! Looks pretty – tastes great!

Package Pick-Up and the pasta party happen at Couples Swept Away Sport Complex, and catering is by many of the bigger hotel cooking squads along the beach strip. They set up their tents and cooking gear, and go to town on an amazing range of pasta dishes, salads, breads, even a few Jamaican twists on the whole thing, such as Rasta Pasta and for those who believe fast running requires “Food” (starchy root vegetables), some will have that, too.

Red Stripe, So Good at the Finish! (Even if this is from the pre-race party.)

There is Red Stripe beer. Of course there’s Red Stripe!! There is also lots of entertainment and that is where old friends meet up. And, where new friends meet for the first time. I have lost count of just how many people I’ve met at Reggae Marathon, a lot of them either at the pre-race or post-race parties. Some have become people I look forward to seeing every December and a good many, I now keep in touch with via social media.

Four Amigos (L/R Larry, Navin, Chris and Dan) demonstrating the 2016 ‘count’, now at 26

This is Reggae Marathon #7 for me and I can’t wait to see the other three of the Four Amigos who will be counting a total of 30 Reggae Marathons. There are many others who can’t quite claim our ‘streak’ of attendance,  but are regulars and even participants in the Reggae Runners’ Half Marathon Challenge.

The ‘hub’ around which a lot of this is centred is Chris Morales, the official blogger of the Reggae Marathon and “That Runnin’ Guy”. He is the one who knows all of us and a whole lot more.

Chris at Rondel Village restaurant by the beach. Ready for breakfast (ackee and salt fish).

Chris and I fell into housing ourselves at Rondel Village, a whole lot of years ago. Except for the first time when my wife and I stayed at a small resort between Orange Bay and Green Island, I have stayed at Rondel Village. Chris and I generally have a preview run on the road and at least one on the beach. I love running barefoot on the beach, but have learned the hard way, if you are a tender-foot, to leave that until post-race. You can work up a blister pretty fast from sand shifting between your toes. That said, I’ve never seen a better beach for running with hard-packed sand close to the water and a very gentle slope, so you are more or less on the flat as you run.

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

I can’t say how many times Chris and I have gone out for one of those pre-race shake-out runs and met up with people we know.  They either join up with us or we stop for a quick chat, making that first blast of warm tropical air a bit easier to deal with (Chris is Jamaican by birth but now hails from Canada too). We both need to acclimatize fast!

Total registration is nearing 2500 and in 2017, for the first time, a cap of 3000 has been applied. Since I’ve been attending (2011 through 2016) total finishers have gone from 1192 to 2060. One must remember that registrants will always be more than finishers. All runners know stuff happens and as much as we want to, we don’t always make it to the start.

Year after year Reggae Marathon garners recognition among the world’s best international marathon events and in 2017 has been named #1 by Men’s Running of the UK. Women’s Running gave the race special recognition, too!

Some of the school teams movin’ to de Riddim.

While boasting registrants from more than 30 countries, one of the big stories is how many Jamaicans now take part. Everybody knows Jamaica is about sprinting and sprinters! However, at longer distances there aren’t too many Jamaicans to be seen. Reggae Marathon is the fruit of much work by the JamDammers (Kingston running club). It started with the first race in 2001. Over the years, much has been done to encourage local participation and a big success has been the high school team challenge with winning teams being rewarded with computers for their schools. More recently, there has been development of a country-wide race series, of which Reggae Marathon is the final event. Series participation has grown steadily and now many of these people are traveling to Negril for the grand finale of the year. This year will see involvement of a corporate challenge of Move Jamaica that encourages even more activity.

How the race is run varies from the very serious (stay out of the way of the 10K School Challenge runners – female and male – they are VERY serious and fast), to strictly participaory for the shear joy and fun of it all (check out Reggae Runnerz, if you don’t believe me). How fast are those school kids? Well the fastest male recorded a 32 minute 10K in 2016. How serious are Reggae Runnerz? Admittedly, a bit slower mostly, but you can expect 500 of them at the start line, so you could say they are pretty serious – serious about having an amazing time! Check the official video on the Reggae Marathon web site.

Record times are very respectable, regardless of the warmer than ideal (for record times) conditions.

Marathon (M/F): 2:21:05/2:42:25,

Half Marathon: 1:08:32/1:16:12,

10K: 29:55/36:17.

Record holders come from St Vincent, Russia, Kenya (2), USA and Jamaica, making it truly an international festival of running. Although Canadians hold no records, Canucks have won individual races, and more than once. The two most recent were Karen Warrendorf of Vancouver taking the women’s marathon in 2016 and Heather Colasuonno of Ajax (ON) taking the Half in 2015. I was most interested to note that in the first year the Marathon was the big event! Of the total number running (625), 401 ran the marathon (there was no 10K in those days). Last year (2016) 157 ran the marathon, 599 ran the half and 1333 ran the 10K. I suspect that word is out on how much fun post-race is, so why not get there as fast as possible????

Doctor ‘One Drop’ Dread (my Reggae Name)

And, to the last point, the vast majority of people are really just there for the fun, before, during and after. It is a great opportunity to get your Jamaica on. Get some gear in the Jamaican green, gold and black, or add some red for Rasta reggae colours.

Take it from me, not everyone sporting ‘dreads’ actually grew them! And, if you just can’t help it, well stopping to dance a bit at one of the sound system locations is all part of Reggae Marathon. So is singing along as you run! Fun doesn’t necessarily mean slow, but time isn’t the first objective, either.

As they say: If you go, you’ll know!

FOREVER YOUNG – THAT’S US!

08.18.2017
Forerunners gang getting ready to run - 2016

Forerunners gang, getting ready to run – 2016

And, it is also an upcoming race here in the Vancouver area. Yes, Richmond, we know it is really in your yard, and scenic to boot!

Just three years old (almost), the Forever Young 8K will happen September 10, 2017. I missed the inaugural event because I was off somewhere running a marathon or something! Last year I participated and it was a great event to be part of, so I signed up for the “Third Annual”, happening in just under a month.

There really aren’t that many races geared precisely for the ‘Seasoned Athlete’, but this is one. You young folk can come out and volunteer, cheer or just watch in awe as there may even be a single age World Record set (it has happened before!). If you want to run (or walk) you will have to prove you are at least 55 years of age! YES! Personally, I will have no problem with such proof.

Ready to roll from Gary Point, 2016

Ready to roll from Gary Point, 2016 (Photo – Tamiko Young)

In all seriousness this is a top flight event and one to give a try. There have been some significant changes this year, mostly intended to improve and streamline the race. While the first two years saw the start at Steveston’s Gary Point, the third edition is going to start and finish at the Richmond Oval. The course is still on the dyke, but will now follow the Fraser River section, just across from YVR. Starting from the Oval, participants will go West to the point (where the dyke path turns sharply south), then turn around and come back. Simple. 4K Out. 4K Back.

The other major change is that organizers have made an arrangement with the Oval to handle a number of administrative matters, reducing stress and strain on the race team. Well, that is the theory, and I think in time will be a good move. One of the things involved is the registration process. I try to be honest in what I write and I must say that I personally found it a bit frustrating. Why? Because before you can go to the usual on-line registration page, you must set up a profile and account with the Richmond Oval. It is actually not that difficult, but if you are like me, you may find that unhelpful. I register for lots of races where you are given an option to ‘join’ that so-called community. These are usually large multi-event registrar systems where they keep your info and as soon as you get to your specific race page, they can automatically populate all the fields. However, they also give you the option to just skip on by and register as ‘guest’.

I am writing all this because as annoying as I found the process, I also think the race is worth the effort. So, if you are buying that the race is worthy, please don’t let the process deter you. All of that said, and as long as the event does not sell out (it did in year one and almost did last year), you CAN register at Package Pick-Up (Friday/Saturday), including on race day (IF, the event has not sold out all the entry spots. And, if you are willing to pay another $10) You can register by mail too, but time is getting short to pull that off and get the current price. Here’s the registration details in a nutshell: Current cost – $45, After August 20 – $50, Day of Race – $60.

I must admit, I am a little late getting this post out. Seems I was too busy watching the IAAF World Track and Field Championships, and writing other stuff. Besides, I registered well over a month ago. I say this because there is a fee increase coming at midnight August 20. You can save $5 if you register before then. Trust me, you will be glad you did, register that is, and probably that you saved $5.

As a long time runner, I feel it is really important to keep smaller local events viable. The mega-events are fun and we have a few notable ones in the Vancouver area, but if you want to have other options, we have to keep events like Forever Young 8K healthy and vibrant. So, here I am promoting it.

Finishing Strong - 2016. Looking better than I felt!

Finishing Strong – 2016. Looking better than I felt! (Photo – Forever Young 8K)

September in Vancouver is generally very pleasant, weather-wise. I know for sure it was great on race day in 2016, because I was there, but from the photographs on the web page, believe it was more or less the same in 2015.

The route is flat and off the road. The Richmond Dyke is packed gravel and pretty easy for running or walking. The views are spectacular, if you need something to take your mind off the task at hand.

I know I have something to prove this time. I had a plan in mind for last year, that did not come to fruition. Being ‘well seasoned’ I guess I sort of forgot that running three hard legs of the Hood to Coast Relay just two weeks before, might tire the old legs out (a lot). None of that happening this year. I won’t tell you my goals, but I am feeling good about being able to achieve them. No plans for a podium, just better than last year and more like what I think I can do. That is my approach to racing these days, anyway.

This race is good value for money, even if you pay full price. If last  year is any indication they pay close attention to all the important details. Come on out and join the fun! It is just 8K and some of us probably even remember that was once 5 Miles.

 

Guh Haad n Dun!

08.09.2017
Proud Emblem of a Proud People

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

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

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

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

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

Usain-700x400

Usain Bolt – London – IAAF World Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon Come? Rio Olympics - 200m

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m

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

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

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

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up on things and a little bit of FUN

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

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

Keeping Track of What Readers Like

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

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

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

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

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

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

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

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

Jetola Anderson-Blair models Reggae Marathon medals.

Jetola Anderson-Blair models Reggae Marathon medals.

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

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

Teaching People to Run

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

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

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

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

Changing Things Up

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

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

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

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

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

The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village - Day 1

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village – Day 1

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

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

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

WHERE THERE’S A WILL………………………..

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

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

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

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

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEACHING SOMEONE TO RUN – THAT SHOULD BE EASY

05.16.2017
Coach Dan - Your Run Starts Here

Coach Dan – Your Run Starts Here

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

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

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

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

Half and Full Marathon training group.

Half and Full Marathon training group.

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

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

Exactly!

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

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

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

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

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

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

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

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

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

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

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

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

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

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

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

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

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