DOWN IS THE NEW UP

08.30.2014
Running Down Mount Seymour - Training

Running Down Mount Seymour – Training

Everybody likes a good downhill every now and then, especially in a marathon. Well, I do.

Some people really like downhill runs. I DEFINITELY DO!

My favorite ‘race’ has long been Leg #1 on the Hood to Coast Relay. I’ve done this fabulous event EIGHT times and five of those were Leg #1. It represents the fastest I have ever run over a significant distance. That was the very first time I did Leg #1 in 1989. It was slightly different from today (mostly where it finished – just a wee bit shorter than the current segment). Still, it was close to being a 10K and I sustained an average pace of 5:59/mile. In the dark. Start process was a bit different back then and we were a pretty good team starting in the second last group at 10:30 PM, as I recall. Did I mention it was dark? Boy was it dark. No fancy headlamps in those days, just a so-so hand-held flashlight. The road was not as nicely paved as today either. With only a very close perspective of what was around us, it felt like I was flying down that mountain! Between the relative speed and the risk (of stepping in an unseen pot-hole) that was the most heart pounding run of my life.

So what does that have to do with the title?

Well, anyone who has run a sustained downhill race or course will tell you that the fun part soon wears off and if not during the race, soon after many body parts will be informing you of their displeasure at what you have just made them do! Depending on the runner and his/her gait, you can pretty much start at the ankles and work your way up to the hips. Depending on the individual, quads and knees are almost sure to be #1 source of aches and pains.  A bit of down is fun. A LOT of down is hard work. And that dear reader, is whence comes the title.

OK, fair enough, but this can’t be about Hood to Coast because it is just finished for 2014 and this runner didn’t get a team in this year. It is about the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon in Salt Lake City, UT. When I heard about it from a friend and fellow Marathon Maniac, I only resisted for a day or two and then I signed up. (Me and 115 other Maniacs, as it turns out.) The race claims to be, and I believe them, the most down-running Boston Qualifier out there. From top to bottom there is an elevation loss of over 4,000 ft!

While the total descent is 4,200 ft, plus or minus, the slope is greater than that because there is a ‘flat’ out and back of about 7 miles, coming just around 15-16 miles, before runners finish the downward dash to the finish. Give or take, there is a drop of about 4200 ft over about 20 miles. That is a grade of about minus 4%, or a bit more than 200ft/mile. Oh Yes!  Bring it ON!!

But wait a minute old feller, that glory run down Mount Hood was a long time ago! Better get some training in unless you want your quads to seize up about half way down.  Good advice.

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Fortunately for me, there is a local mountain called Mount Seymour, which has a ski area up top and a road a lot like the Big Cottonwood Canyon road. The grade is very similar although the down section ends at just over 8 miles. Still, it is great for working on proper pace and technique and toughening up those lower limbs. The first time I tried it out I wanted to see what it felt like to ’run easy’ down that slope. Wouldn’t you know it, I had forgotten to check the battery on my gps and it quit about half a kilometer into the run! Well, so much for keeping a close eye on my pace. I really did want to keep the pace easy and not push too hard even if that was what the conditions tempted me to do. Fortunately I had my trusty Timex Ironman sport watch, so I could time the run and happily, the Park authorities had thoughtfully provided a marker at every K. Wasn’t the same as glancing at my Garmin but better than nothing. The end result though, was pushing much harder than intended. Remember, I was trying to sustain a pace I might be able to do over the marathon, not a 10K. Felt good when I finished, but payback was only about 24 hours away. OW!

Next time, you better believe the Garmin was fully charged. Even still and although I did go slower, it was hard to hold back as much as I really should have. But, the aftermath was far less and I know that Big Cottonwood provides pacers that run ‘constant effort’. They even have a facility that lets you estimate constant effort pace for a particular finish. Even for a personal BQ, the pace on the long downhill will be almost 30 seconds/mile slower than what I ran. Yahoo! While I’m not getting my hopes up for the BQ, the race has a pace group that will be running to the standard for my age, so I should be able to forget my gps device and stay with them until we exit the Canyon. After that, who knows?

As may be obvious, I am pretty excited about this new adventure. If nothing else it will be my 25th actual marathon. I can then put my one and only 50K ultra over in its own category. And, BQ or not, I anticipate that a well run and strategic pace will give me a satisfying finish time. Stay tuned on that matter.

I do want to say some things about the race that already impress me before I’ve even done it. If they prove out as they sound, maybe a few other events could learn from them.

There are two races, the full and half marathon. They have a transfer, and withdrawal policy that is very fair. There is a modest cost, but you can change events, transfer your entry to another runner of even drop out should you need to do so.

Entry fees are comparable to other similar sized events and you get the usual souvenir shirt and finisher medal, but you also get race photos and a customized video with your images cut into the tape. No charge. (Well, OK, for the cynics out there, technically ‘no extra charge’ – it is part of the entry fee.)

Being a Marathon Maniac and a whole whack of Maniacs having decided this is a go-to race, there will be a TEAM of 116 Maniacs. More races are offering team status these days, but Big Cottonwood is right in there with things like a tent space at the finish (you have to provide your own tent) and an optional (modest cost) custom designed team shirt.

Talk about creating an experience! Will it live up to its potential? Only time will tell. I’m betting yes. It is a relatively new and fast growing event, so not sure how many to expect nor how well they can handle things like start-line transport, porta-potties, etc. Those are often issues as races grow rapidly.

As I write this, I have just completed my last long training run and the race coming in just two weeks to the day. Guess we won’t have to wait too long to see how this all goes.

Did I mention that I am pretty excited?  Oh yeah, I guess I did.

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN (OR GIRL)!

07.13.2014

This blog is about running, but I guess they figure football (soccer to some) players can log 10K in a hotly contested match, so I am going to stretch it just a little with this post.

Today, Germany won the World Cup in a 1-0 (ET) contest with Argentina. I saw the whole thing and while not particularly a fan of Germany (would have been cheering for Netherlands had they and not Argentina gone through), I think it was definitely the right outcome. So far, so good.

As with all professional sport, these guys, both teams, are well paid and very talented athletes. Playing well is what they do. It is their business, their career. This was the World Cup and one would hope we were treated to the best football that could be mustered at this point in history. The best.

The games were interesting, some shocking (yes, I am talking about Brazil’s collapse). Some individuals could probably be credited with changing the whole game, in particular a couple of goalkeepers who single-handedly held off a rampaging other side.

When it was over in Rio, there were tears of joy and sorrow, depending on perspective. Why exactly, I am not sure, but the Argentinian team, and particularly Lionel Messi looked like something had been taken from them. Maybe (I hope) in the next days, they will come to realize it was never theirs to lose, maybe to win, but not to lose.

As a lad, even a young man, I played football, OK soccer, as we always called it in those days. My brother played at a high level and kept playing old-timer (What?  Oh yeah, OK, MASTERS!) soccer until not all that long ago. Both our kids and my grandson – all played/play. I got as far as playing for UBC before getting a relatively serious knee injury which healed eventually, but became the reason I quit. That and too many other time pressures and, oh yeah, I wasn’t  really all that good anyway. All of this is just to say that I have a history with THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, and an appreciation for its finer points.

I guess the title could have something to do with this bit of personal history, but it does not.

A World Level Celebration - Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

A World Level Celebration – Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

Everything was going along as you might expect. German players, fans, officials and Chancellor all seemed pretty happy. The title of this piece comes from the moment when the whole German team was assembled at the podium and actually had the World Cup trophy in their hands. As each player fondled that wonderful trophy, each and every one raised it above his head and the whole team threw up their hands for the inevitable photograph. Again and again they did it, each time with the same apparent enthusiasm as the first. When they mounted that podium they were so many highly skilled professionals, justly proud of what they had done. And then in the pure joy of the moment, they turned into a bunch of 12 year-old boys! Right in front of our eyes. It didn’t matter that each and every one of them is likely a lot wealthier than when the game began. They had won the big game. Each one would have HIS photo with the trophy as if he had been the only one. They all played and re-played that photo-op game for each other! It is a moment from this World Cup that I will never  forget, no matter all the other amazing plays and sights.

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN!

PACIFIC ROAD RUNNERS RECOGNIZED BY VARIETY

06.25.2014
Award Stage - pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

Award Stage – pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

It was a great pleasure for me to join a core group of PRR/First Half friends at the Variety Awards Night. To put this absolutely correctly, The First Half Half Marathon was being recognized for its donation history and long-term support of Variety – The Children’s Charity. I suppose I really should make the disclaimer that I am writing this as a blogger, who just happens to be part of the story, but not as a spokesperson for PRR.

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Among the Pacific Road Runners in attendance were four of the five Race Directors who have overseen the event since Variety was made the primary recipient of the charitable proceeds of the race. It was unfortunate that Marco Iucolino, the longest serving of all of us, was unable to be there. I was there because it was my pleasure and privilege to have been one of those five RD’s.

Variety has a very important and special place in the community. Please, take some time to follow this link to Variety – The Children’s Charity and learn more about what they do.

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

David Parker, the current Race Director made the official acceptance on behalf of the club and the race, but all of us there knew that acceptance was also in recognition of all the club members over the years, volunteers, sponsors and runners who have so enthusiastically supported The First Half. In the last several years the annual donation has been about $50,000 and in 2014, the total passed $600,000.

The First Half and its annual donation to Variety is somewhat unique in our region. It is the largest race of its nature that is still 100% club run, using only volunteers. The running community knows the reputation of the event and eagerly joins the virtual waiting line on registration day. Within hours the race is sold out. Then, the work begins to deliver both a great race and among other things, another donation to the worthy work of Variety.

It is not really a secret how the race itself produces a significant donation without asking athletes or their supporters to personally pledge or donate. First, PRR puts hundreds of hours into the core organization. As race day approaches both club members and others from the community swell the numbers of volunteers needed at package pick-up, on the course, in the kitchen and around the start/finish area, and of course, once it is all said and run, to break the whole thing down and put everything away for next year. But, there is another key element and that is the generosity of the sponsors/partners who recognize the commitment of all involved and give their very best deals and unrivaled support to the race. It is tempting to try to name these partners, but there have been so many over the years it would be a mistake to try to do them all justice. That said, and speaking only as the editor of Running in the Zone, it cannot pass without mention that Forerunners has been a race partner since the very first First Half (1989), nor that the current athletic partner Mizuno has been a key player in keeping rising costs in check with their generous support. The First Half is able to offer a registration fee well within the range of similar races, while turning a ‘profit’ that is the donation given to Variety. As simple as it may sound, none of it happened overnight and none of it happens without ongoing meticulous attention to the detail of the race itself and management of relationships with our partners, the running community, and clearly our volunteers. The end result is a Race with a Heart – the Variety Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

It is an honour for all involved to be recognized by Variety with the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award and a pleasure to be able to continue supporting the amazing and dedicated folk at Variety as they provide key assistance to their Children and the parents of those kids.

I am sure I can say on behalf of my friends at PRR and on the Race Committee that this award is one to be shared with our many club members over the years, all those volunteers and the countless sponsor/partners that have stepped up with everything the race has needed, and finally to the runners who support the First Half year after year, including an illustrious list of elite runners who have appeared to race .

RUNNING IS PRIMAL

06.19.2014
Running the forest trails.

Running the forest trails.

Interestingly enough, this thought came to me while I was walking. But, I had been running!

Had to have a tooth pulled the other day and it was a big’un. Couple of stitches to close up the hole it left. I hadn’t run for a couple of days and was out with friends from Semiahmoo Sunrunners for the weekly Saturday Morning Run/Walk and Breakfast Bash. About 3K into this I realized my poor wounded gum was throbbing with each foot strike. I bade my running friends a fond farewell and assured them of my overall good health, and commenced walking back to our starting/meeting point. This run is pretty much always through forest trails and it is a truly inspirational route. Since I was neither worry about keeping up with the others nor about the twists and turns and rocks and roots, I was able to think deep thoughts. Out of nowhere came the title of this piece.

I hang out with a lot of very good runners and know many current and former elite runners. When we put Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes together I sent around a little survey to the contributors, just about the time when the book was released to the public. One of the questions was: “Why do you run?”  To my surprise, although the wording varied a bit, I got more or less one answer: “Because I love it!”

What each person loved was probably rather different, but cutting through everything was this one pure idea.

In some ways, running is what makes us what we are as humans. It was the key to our early hunting/survival in many instances, suggesting it is in our genes or that we are ‘hard-wired’ to run.

I know that when I’m not in deep hurt late in a race, there is a joy and peace in my heart. For that matter, even when there is physical stress you can be feeling deeply that you would not rather be anywhere but where you are. When you finish, even if (and maybe especially when) it has been hard, you feel immense satisfaction, elation even.

Manning Park Trail

Manning Park Trail

Many of my running friends who have taken to the trails, pretty much abandon the roads because of how it feels to ‘run the woods’. I only just this second recalled this, but I do remember long ago times when I was in the woods of Manning Park with friends for a camping/fishing/hiking trip.  I needed to go back to our camp-site to get something, so I ran. As sometimes happens, this has flashed back to me with amazing clarity. I was young (19?) and very fit. I ran easily and effortlessly with the smell of the pines and maybe wild berries or something in the air. It was magical then and almost as much in the remembering of it. I had a mission, but there was no watch on me and nobody to beat. I could have hiked, but I ran because I could and because I wanted to. That simple. It was MAGICAL.

Running the track or roads has a charm too and frankly, I’m still there more often than in a forest. Although I (and most of the people I know) do race, there is nothing that says you have to race to be a runner. A lot of the Sunrunners used to race but haven’t done so in years. Some of my friends in the Pacific Road Runners are the same. Haven’t raced in years. Don’t need to. BUT, they still run. They do it because they like it.

Dogs run happy, but mostly they are goal driven – chasing a ball or stick, maybe another dog (play version of the hunt) or a mail carrier (oh wait, they aren’t supposed to do that, cars either).  I have no idea whatever, why they chase their tails! The only animal that I’m pretty sure runs for the fun of it is the horse. At one time they may have had to run to escape predators, but not so much these days. That said, stand around and watch a horse or a bunch of them in a pasture and at some point one of them will just up and start to run. Often they will kick their hind legs and dash around in what looks to me like pure joy. I’ve never discussed the matter with a horse directly, but that’s how it looks. Jockey’s of big time race horses often describe it as the horse wanting to run and race, with them just up there to steer and help control the pace so the horses get to a finish-line set by the humans, not the horses.

There is a saying that when the African antelope wakes, he just knows he must run faster than the fastest lion and when the lion awakes, he knows he must run faster than the slowest antelope. I concluded that humans find running primal because we don’t have to do it, but we do it anyway and most of us will say it is ‘just because’, because we love doing it.

Eugene Marathon - Passing Hayward Field

Eugene Marathon – Passing Hayward Field

As already noted, you certainly don’t have to race to run, but lots do. So what about all those racers, from the top elites to the weekend warriors? I asked a couple of runner/coaches about racing to running ratios within the programs of a wide range of runners. Consensus seems to be about 2-5% racing, depending on level. For instance, an elite marathoner will likely only run 2-3 marathons per year, possibly with a 5 or 10K thrown in here and there largely as ‘speed training’. Those folk often run 100 miles (160km) per week while in full training mode. The percentage of racing is a measly 1.5%! Top age groupers often run about 40-50 miles (65-80km) per week and if they are marathoners, will also run 2-3 per year. That makes their racing (including a few shorter distance races as part of the program) something in the range of 4%. When you get into the group of runners where I live most of the time, we tend to run less total miles/km and may actually race just a bit more, coming out at around 5%. This wasn’t meant to be highly technical, or complete (all forms of racing) or even perfectly accurate. I just wanted to point out that most people who race spend 95-98% of their running time, NOT racing.

There is another subset of runners to which I belong that clearly loves to run – the Marathon Maniac. We are different though and you maybe have to create a new definition of racing when it comes to the Maniacs. There are a good many of the now almost 10,000 Maniacs who are very good runners (if you are counting time). That said, the Maniac goal is completion of marathons, lots of marathons. Your recognition in the form of ‘Stars’ and levels such as Bronze (1 Star), Silver, Gold…….Titanium (10 Stars) depends on how many marathons you’ve completed, not how fast. This race/run ratio thing I introduced above gets all out of whack when talking about Maniacs. Last year, while pursuing a mere 2 Star rating, my racing hit nearly 25%.  That’s right, I ‘raced’ nearly  25% of the total distance I ran. Part of the reason is that your races become your training when you do the Maniac thing. Even at the lower end of things where I was, it is all race, taper, race. Not much long distance training between the races. So, for the racing purist the question quickly arises as to whether or not you ran your very best in all those races. Well, I can say for myself that I ran the best I could under the circumstances, but can’t really say I did my absolute best. I didn’t train to that goal. Maniacs have a competitive spirit, but their prize is not one fast time, a new PR. It is a new level in the Maniac pecking order. It is a mighty undertaking, but just not in the sphere of racing as most define it. Still, how can you possibly run 4 marathons in 4 days (called a Quadzilla) or 52 in 52 weeks, and not love running?  How? Although the situation is different, I think my thesis still stands.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009

Of course, elite runners have a lot of motivations to train hard and run fast, but in the greater scheme of things only a tiny handful are making big money, so that can only be part of the driving force. When you consider the costs of following this path at the expense of other careers, few make back the difference through winnings. Here we are then, back at the question of ‘why do you run?’. I know a fair number of older, once world class runners, who with the perspective of time seem to look back on how running made them feel and the great experiences they had, even in defeat and hardship. And, before someone says: “Well it is the competition!”, I consider the competitive aspect to be part of the joy of running. It feels good to be fast, and for some, to be first.

It seems like the answer comes down to there being something (maybe even different for each person) that makes running satisfying and produces joy in us. We run because we can, and maybe for some, because we must! I tell you, it is primal.

ON BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE

06.10.2014
Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Funny how ideas come to you ‘out of the blue’.

Sunday, I was doing MC duties at the Sandcastle Classic 10K in South Surrey/White Rock, a race put on by Semiahmoo Sunrunners and part of both the Timex and Lower Mainland Road Race Series. [Speaking of 'bests': in one sentence I just plugged a race, a running club, two running Series, and two cities!] As I did what you do at post-race activities, stuff just kind of happened, but afterwards it also got me thinking.

The race was won by Solomon Rotich (Kenya), who has recently been tearing up the Western Canadian races, taking the Oasis Shaughnessy 8K on May 25, The Calgary Marathon 10K on June 1 and the Sandcastle 10K on June 8.  I guess his recent record pretty much speaks to my thinking on ‘being the best you can’.

It was my privilege and duty as MC, to announce the age group winners, and that is a major part of what this blog piece is about. It also got me thinking about other related matters that belong in this piece.

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

A common theme here at RITZ is love of running and the fun that must be part of it. One of our Sandcastle finishers definitely did not train hard and save himself for this race. Nope. As a matter of fact, said runner – one Gordon Flett, was showing the scars and scrapes from a trail race he did on Saturday, and that is normal (well maybe not the scrapes) because it is common for Gord to do two races per weekend, and if he can find himself a genuine track meet, to enter several events, often taking age class honours. Now, is Gord a great runner? No. But, I am certain he is having fun and just loving the living heck out of his running!  Oh, YOU BET! Is he being the best HE can be? I suppose only he can really say, but I would surely say he is. I single him out because I know his story. It won’t surprise me if he is not alone, though at the same time I am sure there aren’t a whole lot of folk like him.

This causes me to think of the marathoners who do run a bit like Mr. Flett. Regular readers know I am Marathon Maniac #6837. Not all Maniacs run a couple of marathons a weekend, but some do. Some run three or four marathons in the same number of days. The goal isn’t pure time based performance, but rather a different kind of performance measured in terms of quantity. Does that make it easy? Absolutely NOT. Different?  Yes, but not easy. And, don’t get me wrong. While the Maniacs do not consider time as any part of the criteria they use, some of the runners are very good and post excellent times as well as the aforementioned quantity. Not all Maniacs do this (keep doing more and more). For some of the rapidly approaching 10,000 members, I am reasonably sure it is a kind of ‘bucket list’ thing. There are a couple of standards you can meet to get in at the basic ”One Star” or “Bronze” stage. Some do that, join the Marathon Maniacs and put a big check mark on some kind of list of thrilling things to do. However, a good many do like to pursue the Maniac star system as a sign of personal performance. If you really want to know, go to the group web site and check out the criteria to qualify and then to attain the various levels right up to 10 Star status. You don’t become a 10 Star Maniac by running a couple of marathons in a year. No you don’t!

Another bit of ‘low hanging fruit’ where it comes to a discussion of being the best you can be is the age-classers who are young and up-coming, as well as the oldsters who go fast despite the ever more rapid flipping of calendar pages. I fit in the latter category – old (not fast). Of course, even that is relative. I am surely faster than all my age-contemporaries who are sitting on a couch somewhere and when you start getting into the seventh and eighth decades, and like one runner who was in Sunday’s race, soon to be in his NINTH decade and still going faster than some who are half his age, you ARE talking about the best you can be.

Lots of Medals!  (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

Lots of Medals! (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

The great thing about being the best YOU can be is that does not mean you must be better than everyone else, or anyone else for that matter. It means what it says: the BEST YOU. That makes for a lot of ‘winners’, even among those who aren’t getting medals. I know I’m not alone, but it is more important to me to know I ran the best I could than it is to win a medal. If it is important to win medals, you can surely find races with smaller fields, where if a medal is what you want, a medal you will get. I would rather come 10th in a big race and run a couple of minutes faster, than to run slower, but win my category because there were only two of us there.  (I am a strong proponent of age grading because it lets me compare ME to the ME I used to be.)

What follows is about me only in the sense of being able to quote statistical examples.  A recent online chat string was discussing Personal Bests (PB’s) and Records (PR’s). Some claimed it was wrong to claim a time you did 20 years ago as a PB. I fail to see the logic there. I am still me and if the fastest I ever went was that time I did 20 years ago, then it just was. Some said you should only have 5 year or age-group PB’s. I can see some merit in looking at your record that way, especially if you differentiate PB vs PR. Age grading lets you sweep away the years, so to speak, and kind of compare present day results with your ancient times. Anyway, thinking about the concept of only looking at five-year age category PB’s, just for fun and with a little age-graded input, I decided to see how my record looked.

When I started racing, my Age-Graded % Performance was fairly low, but over 3-4 years as I trained and raced, I got my average five year bests up to 71% (M40-44). Then, I suffered a ruptured disk in my back. I got it fixed; did what my doctor said, and by 1991 was doing a bit of racing again. However, life in the form of career, got in the way and I neither trained nor raced a lot. I did do some racing and under the circumstances, was thrilled to be doing anything in the form of running. So, the average for a very small number of races done in my M45-49 days, while living in Europe was 61.2%.  Yikes!  A full 10% drop from before,, but hey, I was running. After that work demands got even greater (not that I ever totally stopped running), until in the late 90′s when running and racing became part of my life again. I set a life goal to run my second ever marathon in the Year 2000 – a Millennium project. AND, I began racing more regularly, now in the M55-59 grouping.

M55-59 produced a 62.5% Performance. M60-64 came in at 62%, and while I am still in M65-69, I have a 63% Performance. Naturally, my absolute times are slower. That is where age grading is so helpful. The converted times can be compared, but using % Performance produces a more general and relative comparison. I was tracking along pretty well in the earlier days, getting up to an average of 71% (one race hit 79%). After the back problem, I ’fell off a cliff’ regarding times and % Performance. I can’t know if that was permanent or just part of the climb back. Almost all the results that make up my M45-49 performance came in one year, 1991. Had I continued to train and run and race actively through the 90′s, might I have reached a higher % Performance range? Never going to know.

The whole point of this is doing the best you can with what you’ve got.  In my own case I have gone from an average of 61% Performance, to 63% over some 23 years, which allows me to feel I’m at least striving to meet the goal of being the best I can be. This is only an example which shows how it can work for older runners who want to compare themselves to their former selves. I have pointed more than a couple of ’seasoned’ runners to this method of reviewing their performance and left them happier about the whole thing. Let’s face it, no matter how gradually, you ARE going to record slower absolute times. With work and diligence, you might just find that in relative terms, you are getting better!

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Speaking of being your best, I had a rather sleep deprived night on May31/June 1 as I sat glued to the live feed from the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. First, let’s get past the question of ‘how far was that marathon?’. This marathon was 89.28km! Runners, OK marathoners, have a bit of a nails on blackboard reaction to that question, having become solidly entrenched in the modern definition that a marathon is 42.195km or 26 miles, 385 yards. Pheidippides, the guy who started it all, did NOT actually run what we know as the Marathon.  In earlier modern day competitions the term marathon was used to describe an epic struggle. In that respect, Comrades IS a marathon, for sure.

I had a personal interest in the women’s race in the 2014 (Down Year) Comrades Marathon. One Ellie Greenwood, formerly a local club runner, a friend from our days with Pacific Road Runners (Vancouver), was in South Africa to contend for the women’s title. She ran in 2011 (4th), then again in 2012 (2nd, by just 72 seconds). In 2013 she was out with a serious injury. 2014 was to be the showdown. For those who don’t know, Comrades has been literally owned by Russian twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva. Between them, one or the other has won 10 times. In 2012, Olesya was home with a new baby. In 2014, they were both there, ready to run. Because this is about being the best you can be, not a race report, I will direct you to Ellie Greenwood’s own race account for the details on how it all went down in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa on June 1, 2014.

Ellie arrived ready to race, but the day seemed tougher than anticipated. The Twins (as they’re usually described) started fast, as they are known to do. Ellie didn’t, as she is known to do. Around half way, Ellie was four minutes back, which seemed OK, maybe even good strategy. Her style is to be conservative and close like a runaway freight train. Actually, she is quite tiny to be compared to a freight train, but I didn’t make up that saying. With 18km to go the gap had widened to 8 minutes. Only the Twins were ahead of her. Still, spectators had started to encourage Ellie with shouts that the Twins were slowing. As time went along and the distance to the finish diminished, so did the gap. With around 5km remaining, the runners are on a long straight hill section and Ellie could see the lead car just in front of Elena who had opened a gap on her sister. While the women were hard to see, there was no mistaking the meaning of the lead car, nor how close it was. Apparently, the commentators were not getting 100% up to the minute news, because they were declaring that Ellie had run well and was catching up, but was just too far back with the distance remaining, even if both of the Nurgalieva sisters were walking. A LOT. Just at that point they threw in a long shot from a helicopter and I spotted this tiny green runner (OK, her outfit was green, she was more or less the usual shade of sun-burned flesh). I actually pointed at the screen and exclaimed, “Ellie!”. She was running like a gazelle and closing like the aforementioned, metaphorical freight train. I have heard since that she ran the final 7km in the second fastest of all times on the day. The camera moved to the head-on leader shot and within seconds Ellie closed the final gap and passed Elena who had no answer to the challenge. Olesya was already well back and passed. With 2.5-3km to go, Ellie was leading and running like something was chasing her. From her perspective, I suppose that was true. Even though she appeared to pass the Twins with ease, it can never be forgotten that between them they had 10 victories to Ellie’s none. It all ended happily for Ellie and her many, many fans (taking the win by just over 5 minutes) .

Ellie had already known success. She was the two time winner of the epic Western States 100 (miles, that is) and record holder (having smashed the previous record by 50 minutes). She has won the Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary Marathons and was World 100km Champion in 2010. And, has won a good many other races on road and trail, along the way. As stated, she had been 4th at Comrades in 2011 and second in 2012. BUT, and it is a big but, she was seriously injured and missed pretty much all of 2013 competition. Even though she had recovered, trained well and prepared diligently, you never know whether you are really back after a year like 2013. Knowing Ellie, I am pretty sure all she wanted to be able to say, regardless of outcome, was that on June 1 in South Africa she had done her best, and here is some of what that means. With 18K to go, even her Nedbank team coach was saying the Twins were too far ahead and the woman in fourth was too far back to catch her. The implication? Just ride it in from here, there is nothing more to do. Well, the coach may have known the race and related logistics, but clearly did not know Ellie well enough. The more the spectators encouraged her with news of the Twins, the more she was energized. The outcome of all that is now history. Anyone can see at Comrades 2014, Ellie Greenwood delivered on being the best she could be. And, I guess it should be said in the interest of fairness, that as much as I am thrilled with Ellie’s win, The Twins were putting on a pretty good show themselves!

I think it must surely be time to stop. From elite to weekend warrior, I have given examples of what being the best you can be is all about, but the possibilities are without limit. Each of us has a unique way in which we can express the concept of ‘being the best you can be’. Sometimes with athletes like Solomon Rotich and Ellie Greenwood, that also turns out to be better than all others on the day. For a Titanium Marathon Maniac it may be being more tenacious. For most, it is simply meeting the former you head on and winning (including via age grading if necessary). Naturally, this is not limited to running. The concept works for anything, and in some instances where physical power is not involved, we might just be able to continue to be better than we ever were as we strive, each in our own way, to ‘be the best you can be’.

THE MARATHON – A REFLECTIVE PERSPECTIVE

05.30.2014

 

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

“I’d say that on any given outing you’re going to get in maybe 22K of glory. Then there is going to be 10K of blah, 7K of agony, 3K of…well let’s not talk about that 3K.”

Hands up, those who don’t think this is about right!

I didn’t create that opening quote.  For proper attribution, the opening is a quote by Rob Watson, taken from the print edition of ”Canadian Running” (May/June 2014).

But, I COULD have said it. I really, really could have!

For anyone who doesn’t know, Rob Watson is one of Canada’s pretty spectacular current crop of top flight marathoners and trains with the BC Endurance Project. Frankly, Canada may never have seen such a concentration of long distance running talent as we enjoy right now: Dylan Wykes, Eric Gillis, Reid Coolsaet, Kelly Weibe, and do not for a minute forget Lanni Marchant, Krista Duschene or Natasha Wodak, not to mention Kim Doerksen who just served notice of intent at the last BMO Vancouver Marathon.

But, let’s get back to Rob and his quote. Rob has lots of quotes to quote. Rob is colourful. Rob tells it how he sees it! If you watched the 2013 elite field of the Boston Marathon, Rob was the tall skinny white guy in the black New Balance gear who was in the lead for a LOT of the first half. When I saw him later, after congratulating him on his 11th place finish, I ventured a question to the effect of why didn’t you let some of those tiny dark hued chaps from Africa lead the way? His answer was something along the lines that they were all playing ‘silly bugger’ and messing up his pace. They were going slow, then fast, then weaving across the road. You know, racing. He said he just decided to run as he had trained and let things go as they might, remarking that inevitably he was “passed by eight angry Africans” and that was that. I don’t believe they were actually angry at all, but I doubt I will ever forget Rob’s description of the moment! Oh yes, he also describes his racing strategy as ‘Fade from the Front’.

Enough of that though. What about his description of the basic marathon?

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

The reason I was so taken with it is that a guy who I consider to be one of our best, described the marathon pretty much as I experience it. And, we all know I am nowhere near where Rob and his friends are running.

What struck me about his summary was that when you put everything into your training (in context), then take the race seriously and go out to do the best you can, THAT is pretty much what you experience. I’ve heard other elites express similar ideas. In a way, it seems to confirm that the marathon is mostly between our ears. Mostly, Rob describes feelings: glory, blah, agony. OK, agony could be physical but it is also a perception (as in “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”) and includes the raging self-doubt that kicks in when, as hard as you try, you can’t push any harder.

Reading the whole (relatively short) Canadian Running article on the marathon, he hits so many ‘nails’ on the head where it comes to the why’s of pushing ourselves to and through this possibly un-natural activity. It was so great to hear that mentally or psychologically, even this old back of the packer, perceives the marathon more or less the same way as a front runner, notwithstanding the two hour time difference. The relativity of our pace can never be denied, but the similarity of experience is amazing – to me, anyway.

What is it that draws or drives us to the marathon?

There is doubtlessly a mystique to it. It has symbolically become significant to legions of runners and even non-runners who take on a long-term quest to complete a marathon. I have run a 50K Ultra, mostly because I desperately wanted a new PB and at my age, there is no standard distance at which I could possibly go faster than I did some 25 years ago (whence come all my pure PB results). This only matters in that I vividly recall taking note as I ‘crossed’ the marathon threshold, into new territory. I felt a sense of elation as I recognized both that I WAS in said ‘new territory’ and that I had a mere 7.8km to go to reach the 50K finish. Even though I was running my first ultra, the marathon was still the bench-mark.

When first I started this relationship with the marathon, it was more for the serious runner. The clock in that first race came down at four hours. Before I ran my second, some twelve years had passed. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to run another one, as much as it was that other things got in the way and at least in the earlier years of those twelve, there just weren’t as many opportunities as we have today. I did start out to run #2 a couple of times, but failed to even reach  a start line until October, 2000.

Absolute finish time hasn’t generally been a big issue for me, as long as the effort was the best I could muster. I think a lot of people run that way. None of us controls the weather and no matter how hard we’ve trained, we can only optimize our outcome ‘on the day’. If you expect to run between 10C and 15C and it is 22C at the start, you are already into Plan B, maybe even Plan C. Courses are different too. When you have run for as long as I have, especially when you were already about 40 when you started, age becomes a factor. Your goals must reflect this reality, a primary reason that I love Age Grading. It allows us to make our performances relative over a long period of time. In that respect, it is more important for me to hold my age-graded % Performance constant than to run any particular time, pure or age-graded. Naturally, one can backtrack from the Performance Standard to a goal time for the purposes of pacing and such. As I said, I hardly think I am alone in this.

There is no doubt that it is legitimate to have a goal to simply finish a marathon. For various reasons at various times, I have had that kind of goal. Most of what I’m saying here though, is related to training well and running as well as you can, whatever that might be. At one time that meant 3:20-3:30 for me. Now, it means under 5:00.

Me, faking it in those "3km" at BMO Vancouver Marathon 2014

Me, faking it in those “3km”

Rob Watson and his marathon buddies probably can’t imagine ever running at that pace, maybe not even my best pace. Of course, I sometimes wonder when I could run 3:24 at the age of 43, what I might have done at 30! BUT, I wasn’t running at 30. That said, if I truly believe in the magic of age-graded results, I could estimate that my PB-30 would have been around 3:14, but that also assumes that my first marathon was actually the best of which I was capable (rather than the best I ever did), and while respectable, it is not amazing. That isn’t really the point anyway. The age grading tables, reversing the process, would then say for me to match what I did in 1988 would require that I run 4:24:45 today. Given that I have a (well documented in these pages) physical issue over and above simple aging, it is probably more fair to make the comparison to what I did in 2010 at age 65, which grades out as my 2nd best marathon effort. On that basis I need to run 4:40:20. That sounds more or less right, everything taken into account. And remember, at all times we compare apples to oranges because there are course and weather differences, both of which are outside our control. The assumption also includes good training, good health, good rest, good nutrition and race prep, or at least that all of these would be the same. Naturally, they never are.

Anyway, let’s get back to the deep subject of the ‘Meaning of the Marathon’. There is still this thing that makes us dig down for our best and dig so deep that we are willing to deal with 7K of agony and that 3K we aren’t even going to talk about. At the front end, we sometimes see races where the object of the exercise is to win and others where the object is to obliterate the course, national or world record. Our Rob was in one of those this past Sunday. It was the Canadian National Marathon Championship at the Ottawa Marathon. Rob came in as defending champ, but left #2 behind the above-mentioned Eric Gillis. If you want to read about it, Rob describes it at Le Blog du Rob #113. The marathon record BY a Canadian was never threatened by either, but the marathon record ON CANADIAN SOIL was not only challenged, it was hammered down to 2:06:53. However, the winner Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia had been aiming to go 2:05′ish. He seemed almost apologetic in his win and record. It wasn’t what he intended/hoped. In this case it was probably mostly weather – just too chilly for him in the early going. That’s racing!

Now let’s get back to ME!  By ME, I mean all the people like me, and by that I mean the me who could run under 3:30 at one time and who are now pushing the 5 hour barrier. I’ve gone through some real soul searching in the last 18 months or so on my marathoning and the future thereof. Rob will probably never know how much his little article in Canadian Running influenced my present state of mind. If the reader has followed this blog at all, it will be well-known that I spent 2013 ‘playing’ Marathon Maniac. By that, I mean I joined the Maniacs (based on a qualifying set of races in 2008), then decided it was insufficient to just sit there on what I did five years back. With a conscious decision, I set out to qualify to be at LEAST a Two Star Maniac. Although there are a couple of ways to achieve this, I elected the six marathons in six months route. I did it. I got my second star. Yay me!

You would assume that would make me happy, and you would be right on one level. I set a challenge and achieved the necessary goal. There is just one thing wrong with my friends over there at the Asylum”. They don’t officially care about time (a good thing re my Two Stars). Turns out, I DO.

Except the first marathon of 2013, which I guess I did run to my best on the day (turned out to be 7th best age-graded and under five hours), all the rest I did were something over 5 hours. I knew from the start that this was part of what would be necessary. No regrets at all. However, what I did learn through that stretch was that I do not like running below the standard of which I feel I am capable. At my most recent marathon in early May 2014 (BMO Vancouver Marathon) I REALLY experienced that 3K that shall not be mentioned.

On the day, I was incapable of processing two things that should have let me off the hook, at least a little. My ‘marathon mind’ wouldn’t have it. The weather was crappy (I believe that is a meteorological term). And, through some strange mental process of denial, I had magically erased 2013 from my memory (and the 8 marathons, 50K ultra and couple of each of half marathons, 10K’s, 8K’s and 5K’s I had done in the 12 months leading up to Vancouver). It had not been erased from my body. So there I was grinding out those last few kilometres toward the finish line, thinking I was glad it was raining so nobody could see my sad, frustrated tears as I thought about this as the last marathon I would even enter.

It only took a couple of days and a couple of kind friends to help me sort through it a bit, and then on Sunday at a race of a mere 8K, I ran into my ‘arch rival’ Ben. I think that really cemented everything in place in terms of context and expectation.  Of late, including Sunday, I have been able to outrace Ben, but on May 4 he nailed me by a good five minutes, but at a time that I couldn’t imagine he would be all that thrilled about. Was I ever wrong. I have no idea if he thinks he could run faster under different circumstances such as training or course difficulty, but in this instance he evaluated his realistic goal and then did better, and was thrilled! I (apparently) over-estimated my capability in the circumstances and ‘failed’, or at least thought I did. Thanks for the perspective, Ben!

The marathon is magical. It is demanding beyond the imagination of those who have never tried it, and can be cruel. It is rewarding beyond the imagination of anyone who has never finished one. It offers infinite possibilities to runners. We are only as good as we are. Running a marathon to our potential is always fulfilling (a word that is insufficient). I am actually now looking at my extreme disappointment re my run in Vancouver as a sure sign that I have not lost the mystique of the marathon in my heart and my soul, a sure sign that as slow as I might be now, I am still a serious marathoner. I have written this in hopes that others might ponder and be inspired by the words of Rob Watson that formed the lead for this essay and my perspective from the other end of the spectrum.

I think much of this just affirms my long held belief that: The marathon is more a state of mind than a distance. (Oh, and that one is mine!)

Good running!  Good marathoning!

 

SPIRIT OF THE MARATHON – The Challenge and the Journey

05.15.2014
Book Cover - Spirit of the Marathon (by Roger Robinson)

Book Cover – Spirit of the Marathon (by Roger Robinson)

When you aren’t actually running, what else can you do? Well, you can read about running. Watch movies about running. OR, both!

What follows is primarily a book review of Roger Robinson’s newest book: Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey (Humphries Books ©2014). I say ‘primarily’, because the book “….follows and expands on the film Spirit of the Marathon II ……. taking a journey in words and images through the astonishing phenomenon of the marathon, its history, and its meaning in the lives of millions of runners.”

This humble reviewer decided that it was important to understand the movie in order to understand the book. He started by watching the DVD – Spirit of the Marathon II, produced by Jon Dunham. Without giving anything away, the film is based on the Rome Marathon (2012) and the specific experiences of several runners, a pretty fair cross-section of all who participate in such events. As a runner, and particularly as a marathoner who has run marathons with fewer than 200 finishers and more than 40,000, it was a wonderful reminder of why – why I and so many others do this thing called the marathon.

Roger Robinson’s book comes good on its promise to ‘follow and expand’ on the film. The nice thing about a book is that it sits there and waits for you to take from it what you need. All that is necessary if you aren’t sure what you just saw, is to shift your eyes back a few lines or flip back a page or so. That is not to say I don’t know my way around a remote, but there is something nice about being able to pause, without having to “PAUSE”. You can stop and think and even debate, although it is admittedly going to be kind of one sided. And, Robinson gives us lots of reasons to pause and ponder his words, not so much because you might disagree (you might, of course), but rather that he has a knack for getting way under the surface and into the history or background of events. You will likely learn a things about the marathon, how it came to be, came to be what it is and how there is not only a history to the marathon itself, but also to Women’s Marathons.

As a book, with or without (better with) the film, I recommend it highly to anyone interested in running whether currently active or not. For that matter, I would recommend this combo to all those who support us somewhat addicted runners. It just might explain what we are about and why we do what we do.

Roger Robinson contributed to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, bringing his special talent for telling the tale of running as an activity as well as its history, modern and ancient. Again, this latest book gives perspective like few others on the modern sport of running as we know it today. For someone of my age, the truth of the modern phenomenon of running comes crashing in with the realization of just how NEW it really is. The true pioneers of modern (distance) running still walk, nay run, among us. This fine little book introduces us to a number of them, as does the ‘special features’ segment of the DVD.

We all run for our own reasons, with our own personal goals to be realized. Whether first time marathoners or elite runners striving for podium finishes, we all have personal goals. A dominating theme throughout, and in following the seven individuals profiled in Spirit of the Marathon II, is this matter of how personal the whole thing is. The luminaries who helped get us to where we are today are also profiled in terms of their contributions in this regard.

One of those leaders is Jeff Galloway. Although I never really forgot, seeing the words on paper reminded me that it was Galloway’s Book on Running that got me to and through my own very first marathon back in 1988 - me and so, so many others. From elite runner, Jeff Galloway became one of the trail blazers for modern training and running among the ‘everyman’ (and woman) crowd, where most of us live. He made it OK to take approaches different from the elites and more appropriate for us regular folk. It was Galloway who said it is OK to walk some of the time and actually created the whole ‘run-walk’ approach to distance running.

Another pioneer in the field is Kathrine Switzer. Yes, there was that single moment in time when she dared to intrude into the exclusive man’s world of the Boston Marathon, but that was truly only the ‘starting gun’ for what followed. Who can forget the images of a young woman being physically attacked by one of the angriest men you may ever see? The angry man was Jock Semple, Race Director. Yet, as Kathrine herself puts it, Jock was just doing what he thought was right and protecting his beloved race. Later, he became a good friend and great supporter of women’s running – it just took a while. On April 19, 1967, K. V. Switzer (#261) only intended to personally challenge the marathon and test her own ability. Little did she know as she stepped over the start line, the path and journey she had launched herself upon. Instead of a weekend adventure, she found herself embroiled in a life’s work, a mission that has changed running across the board.

We learn how women’s running may be an even bigger phenomenon than popular running itself. With the exception of the full marathon, women now out-number men as participants. Women were apparently too fragile to run even 800m in stiff competition. That only changed at the Olympic level in 1960. The marathon had to wait until 1984 for inclusion in the Olympics. I could not help thinking, as I read Roger Robinson’s coverage of all this, that none of these officials who felt women were too fragile for endurance running (ie anything more than 800m) had ever been witness to the process of child-birth – the very thing which they were apparently ‘protecting’ with their ban on women in hard competitive events.

We oldsters need reminding of the things brought out in this book. The ‘youngsters’ who take today’s running as a given, need it even more. The marathon as a mass participation event is a mere blip in time. It is far less than 50 years, probably not much more than 30 that we have seen the real growth and expansion to where 40,000 and more people take to the streets of one or another of our world cities and challenge themselves in the most profound manner. Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey will go a long way to putting these matters into context. It introduces many of the pioneers and heroines and heroes of modern running as well as expanding on the philosophy behind the film and the individuals featured as they take on the 18th Maratona di Roma. Here you will find context – the context that makes it possible for Mimmo, Ylenia, Cliff, Epiphanie, Julie, Vasyl and Domenico to take on their personal challenges.

While I have mentioned just one or two of our sport’s trail-blazers in this review, the book and the movie bring us the stories, thoughts and words of not only Galloway and Switzer, but also Shorter, Rodgers, Higdon, Wittenberg, Radcliffe, Waitz, Gebrselassie, Dixon, Gorman and Kuscsick, with a nod to Bingham (aka The Penguin).

Make no mistake, the story is still being written, but if you want to catch up fast and prepare yourself to watch it unfold, to be part of that unfolding, I would suggest that you get yourself a copy of Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey. And, if you want to meet the everyday heroes of Spirit of the Marathon II and the Maratona di Roma 2012, maybe you should get yourself the DVD too. I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry!

[Editor's Note about the Author: Roger Robinson knows a thing or two about running as well as writing. Among his running achievements are Masters records at Boston, New York, Canberra and Vancouver (at 2:18:43 a record that still stands). He ran competitively for England and New Zealand. He has often worked (and continues to do so) as stadium announcer and radio/TV commentator, and as an Olympic analyst. His career as Professor of English Literature has now come to an official end (retired) allowing him to concentrate on the world of running - something he still does himself, though strictly for personal enjoyment. Roger has many publications including his books on running: Heroes and Sparrows, Running in Literature, 26.2 Marathon Stories (with his wife, Kathrine Switzer), and he is a senior writer for Running Times, where you can regularly find his perspectives on running.]

STATUES MAKE ME RUN BETTER!

05.12.2014

Good grief, what is he talking about now?!?

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I realized lately when a Facebook page I ‘belong’ to posted a cover photo of the bronze statue of Harry Jerome in Stanley Park, that ‘Harry’ has inspired me a good many times, including in the closing stages of the just completed Vancouver Marathon. The way the ‘new’ BMO Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon courses go, both routes pass right by Harry in his eternal lunge for the tape. At that point there is about 3km to go to the finish of both events. It might be a bit early to be thinking about ‘chesting’ the tape, but it is a sure sign that you are almost there; a sure sign that it is time to dig down and put everything out that you have left.

When I had that deep thought, it made me realize there is another statue that has often given me a shot of courage to bear down to the finish of a race I often do.  It is Terry Fox, at ‘Mile Zero’ at the corner of Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. The distance to the finish of the Goodlife Victoria Marathon is coincidentally just about 3km from the finish, but when you are running the marathon, you are indeed ‘almost there‘.

Now, I don’t really care who you are or how fast or slow, when you are that close to the end of a long race (both the half and full marathon routes in both cities, pass by Terry and Harry), you do need inspiration to take it home to the finish. I have certainly had that inspiration a good many times.

Terry Fox - 'Mile Zero' at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC

Terry Fox – ‘Mile Zero’ at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC

Terry Fox is an inspiration to all, and although I never met him personally, I have met several members of his family (more than once) and I know Doug Alward, his friend who drove the van for Terry and who also contributed to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.

Harry Jerome is also an inspiration to a great many, but maybe less generally known and more a hero in running circles. The difference is that I did know Harry from way back in my own track and field days when we were both running with the same Track Club.

I don’t know how many others use these two guys (or at least their iconic images) the way I do, but if you don’t, maybe you should. Terry Fox has definitely helped get me to the Victoria finish a good many times. There is even a coincidental matter that the statue was officially dedicated the same day that the book, Running in the Zone, was officially launched at the Victoria Marathon Race Expo.

It is pretty hard to feel sorry for yourself as you pass that statue just off to the right and are reminded of what Terry took on with his Marathon of Hope, and what he has inspired afterwards. Still, when I go by that corner with muscles burning, back stiffening up and my head once again reminding me that only some kind of idiot would be doing this, seeing Terry there, ’frozen’ in the middle of his ’hop-step’ running technique, I have called out for his help to dig down for those last couple of K’s. It works pretty much every time!

Harry Jerome’s story is less known, especially to the younger folk, but if you need to brush up on his history, find the movie ‘Mighty Jerome’ and be prepared to be amazed. Harry also died young, but not in a similar way to Terry Fox. Still it was a shock. He also overcame severe physical trauma to run fast enough to set a world record. Doctors said, after basically ripping his quads to shreds, that he would never run again - maybe never walk properly. Although I truly did know Harry as a kid, I am not going to tell you I knew him well or that we were buddies. Still, watching him train and the work ethic he displayed, it was not surprising to see him refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and to come back so strongly that he did set another world record AFTER he recovered. Harry had another physical handicap. He was black. We don’t like to think that is an issue here, but watch the documentary ‘Mighty Jerome’ and you will understand how he was also an inspiration in the world of racial equality, in most cases with a quiet determined approach, yet relentless. Harry Jerome was a man who made a difference.

So, you can see that it is not difficult to find inspiration from that bronze sprinter, forever leaning into an imaginary tape alongside Coal Harbour. The location is very appropriate because while there is still a modest little track at Brockton Point, back in the days when Harry was ‘the man’ in Canadian sprinting, Brockton Oval was the place where it all happened here in Vancouver. My own school (King Edward High) had no track so we would find our way to Brockton Oval, one way or another, for track workouts. I have a long personal history with running in that end of Stanley Park, and apparently so did Harry, even if that is not where I actually ran with him on Club nights.

In any case, now that the BMO Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon (Seawall and road, respectively) pass right by Harry, I am thrilled to have another inspirational statue to get me through that last bit to the finish. It has certainly helped twice now (the Half in 2012 and now the full marathon just a few days ago, in 2014). That is not to say that I’ve not been motivated by Harry a good many times on training runs often done in Stanley Park, but a race is different!

These are just some personal ramblings, but I wanted to say something both about personal motivators and in this case about those who have provided me with that motivation. I wonder how many others are motivated exactly as I am by these same two memorial statues? How many have their own similar motivating symbols on these or other race routes? I guess you really don’t have to have a physical thing like a statue, it could be something in your head – a person, a memory, whatever, but today I’m on about emblems or images like the Terry Fox and Harry Jerome statues, which were actually not placed where they are to motivate anyone to a particular race finish, but now can serve to do so. And, just to be clear, those statues are the reminder. It is what/who they represent that is the source of motivation and inspiration.

Run on!

BMO Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon Preview

05.03.2014
Some of the 2014 Elite Runners (Full and Half Marathons)

Some of the 2014 Elite Runners (Full and Half Marathons)

A few days ago, I gave you my own race preview for my fifth running of the BMO Vancouver Marathon (on the third different course, of course). However, other than my family, some friends and naturally my coach from the Forerunners marathon clinic, Carey Nelson, not so many are going to care how fast I run. That is perfectly fine with me. In fact, in a way I’m almost more interested in what takes place up near the pointy end of the races than at my end.  ALMOST.

Let’s begin with the Half Marathon since the race will begin first and truth be told, the winners will have likely finished before I even start the full marathon. There is an hour between the official starts for the elites in each of the Half and Full Marathon, but because of the wave start, at the very least the elite men and maybe even the women will be basking in the glory of their race wins by the time I start my marathon.

At the lead end of the men’s Half Marathon there should be a pack of three to maybe six very capable runners. Personal stats are indicative of relative abilities, but we all know that on the day things will be what they will be. Some people may have raced hard recently and some may be coming off injury and some might have eaten the wrong thing the night before. Sometimes a younger runner will be on the rise and about ready to lay down something nobody expected. That is why they make everybody line up and race. Otherwise, you could just compare PB’s and hand out the medals!

I have run the Half Marathon course and at the speed I run these days, have had a great opportunity to study it. Done well, it really should be a quick course. However, when you have a bunch of people of comparable ability the race may become strategic and then the object of the exercise often becomes winning rather than setting a record.

On paper, we would expect Paul Kimugul to lead the way. He won last year in record time (1:04:18). His lifetime best is 1:00:15 (2005). However, he also just won the Vancouver Sun Run 10K, a mere seven days prior to the upcoming race. Was that just a good warm-up, or did it cost him? One person who is going to be there to find out is Rob Watson. He comes into this event on a PB of 1:03:22 (2013). Rob knows how to win at the Half Marathon and is closer to his best time with a trajectory toward faster times. Did his team-mate, Dylan Wykes, from the BC Endurance Project take some of the spring out of Kimugul’s legs at the Sun Run, or just give him a good tune-up? Oh, the drama!

But, a last minute entry by Aissa Dghoughi (Morocco) may have something to say about it with a PB of 1:01:27. He is training in Portland and was still enroute when the athletes were introduced on May 2nd.

If any of the anticipated leaders falter, it is pretty likely that Kip Kangogo, with his brand new Canadian Citizenship papers clutched tightly in his hand (OK, maybe not in his hand, but definitely all crisp and new) will be there to show them how it is done. Kip is a well known runner in Vancouver and turned in a fine time of 1:04:52 in this race in 2013. Watch, at the very least, for these four to set the pace and make any other ‘pretenders’ work for it.

On the women’s side, Allison Macsas (Texas) appears to be the top contender, but watch out for Lloudmilla Kortchaguina who is always ready to ‘bring it’.  Two others to watch on the day will be Lisa Brooking and Kate Bazeley.

AND, as already noted, all this is going to happen (in all probability) before this blogger gets a foot over the Marathon start line!

Met up with my coach Carey Nelson (Forerunners Clinics) and Ellie Greenwood at the Media Luncheon (Photo: P Cheung)

Met up with my coach Carey Nelson (Forerunners Clinics) and Ellie Greenwood at the Media Luncheon (Photo: P Cheung)

Well, never mind. That is hardly news. I have said some years ago, and I guess it has turned out to be true, that after having done it three times I would never run the ‘retired’ Vancouver course again. The one thing I very much liked about that route is that there was an ‘out and back’ section that brought the race leaders back past us runners who were pacing ourselves more modestly. Even though it was fairly early in the race, it was good to see what was shaping  up, and inspiring too. In 2008, the last time I ran Vancouver and the last time I ran the ‘old’ course I was headed out toward the turn-around and enjoying watching the leaders already heading back. Because the women just mix in with the crowd of speedy runners just behind the male leaders, I was trying to spot the top females and when I saw the third woman coming toward me, I couldn’t help think, “Wow! She looks like Ellie!”. Well, of course she looked like Ellie, because it was indeed Ellie Greenwood. At that point, she was a fellow member of the Pacific Road Runners and someone I ran ‘with’ every Tuesday night. Going on from there she has become a world class ultra runner and winner of the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 2012 where she laid down her PB of 2:42:16 on the brand new course.

What a clever way to slide over into talking about the women’s field for the Marathon! Giving Ellie something to think about will be Wayinshet Hailu of Ethiopia. Running Vancouver for the first time, she carries a PB of 2:38:39 (2011). Horses for courses may apply here. Vancouver is bumpy. Run well, it could give a good time. Misjudged, it could mess a person up. Ellie Greenwood knows the course. Will that and her particular expertise at running ‘bumpy’ courses (hint: she is a world class ultra trail runner) be enough to make up the difference of plus or minus three minutes that the Ethiopian seems to hold on her? I guess we will find out on Sunday. Although they would theoretically not really be in the mix, all having times around 2:48, Alisa McDonald, Bean Wrenn and Sally Daganzo will be lurking. I would particularly keep an eye on McDonald as her 2:48 PB was done in 2013. While it is ten minutes slower than the apparent favourite, she may be on the rise and ready to lay down something challenging. Kim Doerksen who has just been surprising everyone with the rate of improvement she is showing in her every appearance, will be trying out the Marathon. It is going to be really interesting to see what she does with this longer distance.

That brings us to the men. The favourite has to be Kenyan Thomas Omwenga, 2013 Champ and four time winner of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. Even though his PB time of 2:10:44 was done ten years ago, there is little doubt he knows how to race, and more importantly, how to race this particular race. Gilbert Kiptoo, also of Kenya, theoretically has a better and more importantly, more recent, PB of 2:09:50 (2011). As so often seems the case these days there will be a couple of Ethiopians intending to ‘crash the party’. They are Tsegaye Disassa and Berhanu Mekonnen. Will there be team running on Sunday? Maybe. Maybe not. Will it be a fun race to watch? Oh, I think so! Watching it up close will be Richard Mosely as the top Canadian. How he will run is hard to say. His PB of 2:19:57 (2010) is theoretically good enough to top Omwenga’s 2013 winning time of 2:24:09, so he cannot be counted out. How he runs and how strategic the race is, will be key. The weather in 2013 was warm for Vancouver. Right now, the forecast suggests cool (I would call it ideal) running weather, with the possibility of a few sprinkles of rain just to keep everyone cooled out.

Could there be some surprises? Always. Will there be? Likely no big surprises. I believe the winners of all four races are covered on this page, and now we just have to sort out the details. Of course, I won’t know until long after they have showered and had a good meal and accepted their justly deserved accolades. Because my projected time assigns me to the final start wave it is certain that the men will have settled all this well before I hit the half-way timing mat, and maybe the women too! Wow, maybe there is a goal for me: half way before the male winner crosses the line! I’ll have to check that later and for sure will have to do that on chip time, not the gun.

Eager registrants cruise the Expo looking for last minute advantages for the big race!

Eager registrants cruise the Expo looking for last minute advantages for the big race!

 

A wee bit of Canadian Olympic history here in these Expo participants!  L-R Peter Butler, Diane and Doug Clement

A wee bit of Canadian Olympic history here in these Expo participants!
L-R Peter Butler, Diane and Doug Clement

While this is mostly and unapologetically about the elite field, it can’t be forgotten or ignored that there will be literally thousands of others running either the Half or Full Marathon events (not to mention the 8K and Kids Run). Some will very seriously be gunning for age category podium finishes. Some will be looking to lay down a solid race in their personal development as runners. It will surprise me beyond words if there aren’t a whole lot of ‘first timers’ doing either their first Half or  Full Marathon. Above all, there will be a whole lot of us who just need to feel the satisfaction of taking on the challenge one more time and pitting ourselves against our own record. For some, that will be in the form  of finding a new Personal Best. For others, like me, who are getting well into the ‘Seasoned Athlete’ category it will be maybe a recent PB, or just a time that shows we aren’t fading (too fast), but rather still holding our own. As I often say, there will be as many stories and goals as there are runners.

To each and every competitor out there I say: Have a great race, enjoy your personal challenge and be proud of what you accomplish on the day!

QUADZILLA – PART 2

05.01.2014

JOURNEY INTO THE ASYLUM – BECOMING MARATHON MANIAC #8254/ HALF FANATIC #5819

[Editor's Note: We Marathon Maniacs (I'm one too - 2 Star/Silver) describe ourselves as 'members of the Asylum'. There are now something approaching 9,200 Maniacs (hard to keep up with, as so many are joining - I am Maniac #6837 and I only joined just over a year ago). Maniacs display various levels of crazy, starting with 'one star' or 'bronze'. Jordan decided to start in the middle by banging off a Quadzilla (4 in 4 days) for SIX Stars and an Osmium level. The top is 10 Stars and Titanium. Don't ask what you need for that!]

Only Real Maniacs Can Explain the Cat.

Only Real Maniacs Can Explain the Cat.

The Quadzilla is something I knew immediately that I could do. 4 marathons in 4 days… It’s like drinking 4 pints in a row immediately without stopping. You know its possible… but will likely be a struggle, and something not repeated in the immediate future.

Below are the hard #’s and very brief nuts & bolts of what transpired over 4 days. I decided to remove what I had originally written as I felt the performances could speak for themselves…

I wasn’t the fastest or the slowest… but am certainly proud to be part of the asylum as maniac #8254.

RESULTS: http://seattlequadzilla.com/2013results.pdf

TYPICAL QUADZILLA DAY [Repeat X 4]:

6:00-6:30    wake up, oatmeal & a cuppa

6:45             leave for the race

7:30             arrive at race

8:00             race start

8:15             1 mile [bathroom break] – I didn’t want to wait in lines at the race start

9:15             finding a comfortable spot in the race after passing a portion of the field for the last hour

9:30-45                 halfway

11:30-45     finish & proceed to stand in lake or ice in parking lot

1:00            shower, some food, bodywork, maybe a nap

2:30            out wandering | expo | random restaurants, beer?

6:00            dinner and beer

8:00            12hr to race, nothing new (food or booze]

9:00            asleep

 

MARATHON # 1 | Wattle Waddle – Thursday, Nov 28

  • http://www.wattlewaddle.com/home/results
  • 3:23:20
  • 3rd overall
  • Great first run, damp & foggy, gave it too much gas in the middle of the run, in part because of nerves, intentionally slowed at the 20mile from a 3:05 pace to “rescue’ the weekend, my favorite race of the weekend, most thoughtful shwag, it most felt like an ultra, and it was on [2nd] Thanksgiving. Enjoyed lots of turkey and beer

 

Finishing the "Wishbone"

Finishing the “Wishbone”

MARATHON # 2 | Grampa’s Wishbone – Friday, Nov 29

  • http://www.wishbonerun.com/results-1
  • 3:35:52
  • 3rd overall
  • Stiff in the morning, felt great as soon as I was moving, ran in brand new pair of shoes, pace felt awkward entire race,  Newton paced me for 10miles. Loved the fresh blueberry pancakes at the finish. Dropped into the Seattle Marathon Expo, saw friends, ate lots of random food, wasn’t following any of my own race advice I give to others or my plan

 

MARATHON # 3 | Ghost of Seattle – Saturday, Nov 30

  • http://www.nwultras.com/results/Seattle%20Ghost%202013%20Marathon%20Results.pdf
  • 3:28:11
  • 9th overall
  • “Groundhog day” by Saturday, beautiful but a touch windy, mentally my strongest and most rewarding day. Newton dropped in and paced me for 8km [5 miles] at 4:15/km at the 20mile mark, just enough to get me in under 3:30. Very happy with the effort & pacing, felt ready for Sunday. A well organized race – had an amazing dinner with family.

 

MARATHON # 4 | Seattle – Sunday, Dec 1

  • http://www.seattlemarathon.org/marathon/results.php
  • 3:32:18
  • 251st overall
  • Largest crowds, my Achilles was on fire after the first mile bathroom break. Questioned if I should run through the pain. Felt a bit weird to be running with so many people after 3 small events. The hill at mile 20, I was prepared for, the wind on the I-90, but especially on the last 5km destroyed me, lost 90sec for each of the last 3mi (5km), just over 3:30.

 

The "Evidence" of a Quadzilla

The “Evidence” of a Quadzilla

PARTING THOUGHTS

Some people think getting up with a coffee and cigarette in the morning is insane. For others, running seems ludicrous. Some runners might think sitting on a bike for 8 hours is just pain. Marathoners think people who run ultramarathons (over 26.2min | 42.2km) are slightly off-kilter…4 marathons in 4 days is just asking for an injury. Everything is relative.

There is always a line for people. Always something longer, tougher and more challenging… Norseman, Furnace Creek, Barkley… I’ve hoped would all draw my name [still do]… the point is, that most weekends, [this weekend, in this town], someone, somewhere, will be on a start line, & someone will do something they may not have thought possible… something powerful beyond measure.

Inspiration is cliché in endurance sports. We’re all looking for that boost to lace up our shoes, climb aboard the saddle or get to the pool/ gym/ Pilates and get out the door when the legs ache and the weather grumbles. But a group of 40 regular runners attempting multiple marathons in a single holiday weekend… shifting the paradigm of how a marathon goal is viewed, pushing their own personal boundaries— that’s inspiration. I consider myself inexplicably lucky to have joined the Marathon Maniacs I’m own journey into the Asylum. I left the Seattle Centre on Sunday with an incredible sense of inspiration — from the veterans like Steve Walters, Super Sabrina, and Brad, who I wanted to mimic, to the working moms and dads, retired couples who ran more that weekend than they had all year; from the support crews of the smaller races, to my family, which included Andrew, Janine, their kids Hailey & David, my folks who offered a place to sleep and familiar faces at the finish, to Turbo & Frenchy for kickin’ my butt at 5am 4days a week for 2 months with weights & yoga, and to the creative mind I bounced my run training off of, and paced me in two of the marathons, Newton Hoang.

Female, male, young, old, it doesn’t matter. Tackling 4 marathons or just over 100 miles in four days is a feat. Simulating many challenges I suspect Tour riders or multi-stage desert marathons have… and gave me a tangible perspective on what we ran, and furthered my belief that the current local talent like Ellie Greenwood, Gary Robbins, Rob Watson [& too many locals in a variety of sports to name in this blog], and veterans like Jack Taunton, Ean “Action” Jackson, & Jim Swadling, are, well… superhuman, and have my sincere respect. Jumping in head first into this challenge, travelling solo, despite not knowing anyone in the races, or knowing the courses, or who I could run with, the atmosphere at each start line every morning, and the finish lines midday, created a camaraderie that could not be simulated in any other capacity.

I hope the experience, that start line is a driving force for every athlete. Whether you’ve just bought your first bike to start commuting to work, or you’re thinking of riding your first century, or doing your first triathlon, or running your first marathon this weekend, or even those of us who have been around the block with multiple disciplines of racing, but never made it beyond “seasoned local” … no matter what your goals may be, they are possible. Whether you’re male or female, there is no real difference between the beginner and the elite in the grand scheme of it all. At the end of the day, it’s “all good compadre”, the time on that clock doesn’t matter… we can still enjoy a beer together…. intentional or not, the instances in which we come together, push each other, gasping for air, and ignoring the inevitable burning in our legs, are the pinnacles of the experience.

[Editor's Final Notes: Jordan Myers is far more than an athlete. He is thoughtful about it and always has interesting perspectives. He lives in the world of events, both officially and formally (making an income that way) but also as a frequent volunteer, as a competitor and sometimes both. More than a lot of people, he really seems to get that running, biking, triathlon are a continuum of effort/performance from the very best of the elites to the very last life experience participant. And, he openly and enthusiastically celebrates and supports all those levels of effort.

Jordan, like many others, is a "Double Agent", that is both a Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic. If you think you might be either/both and want to find out or set a goal for yourself, just follow the links. You can find out what all those levels and criteria are about, too. Although there are some excellent runners in both groups, there is a different approach. Nobody cares how fast you go. Let's face it nobody can do PB's AND volume at the same time.]