THEY GROW UP SO FAST!

10.13.2014
35 th Victoria Marathon

35 th Victoria Marathon

The title refers to races, daughters and blog posts!

We’ll start with the last. My most recent post was a bunch of small items that had potential to ‘grow up to be full blog posts’. Well, the one on the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, the first item of that last post, has grown up already! I suppose, considering the original post was made after the 2014 Race Expo had already started, that was a bit of a given.

The “Royal Victoria Marathon” is now 35 years old! Nice work, all those who have made that happen, but especially the crew that has been in place most of the time that I have known this event. The marathon goes back all 35 years. The other race weekend events have a bit of a different history, but are also what makes the whole thing work and drew some 10,000 participants this weekend.

Danielle Krysa and her Dad - that would be ME!

Danielle Krysa and her Dad – that would be ME!

Finally, there’s that thing about ‘daughters’. As I’ve said a number of times, Victoria is the family ‘go to’ race. The 35th Victoria Marathon Weekend was no exception. Our oldest, Danielle Krysa, ran her 10th half marathon on Sunday, showing the way to her old man. Still, this was a bit of a come-back for her, as she had taken a couple of years off from the half marathon. Ummm, and dare I mention it, she now runs in the W40-44 category. Talk about GROWING UP! How did that happen??? Why, I am barely out of that age group myself! OK, OK, maybe I’m a bit beyond that now, but sometimes it just seems that way. I really do feel like I am still back there about 25 years or so. As for the third member of the Cumming Family Runners, she is a bit busy ‘running for two’ just now, so not involved this time, except as a (distant) spectator.

Finishing up with family, we also got to celebrate our son’s (recent) birthday (he lives in Victoria) and visit with son-in-law and grandson. Speaking of ‘growing up’, Charlie (the grandson) is now eight. He already competes in kids triathlons. Pretty soon, grandfather and grandson are going to have to run a race together! Hmmmmm. Next year? 8K?  We could make this a really big family event. Janna, the other daughter mentioned above, called right after with congratulations and to say how she was missing this weekend. I’m seeing a big running celebration in 2015! I’ve run events with all three of our kids, with both my sons-in-law and my wife, Judi too. If everybody showed up in Victoria next Fall, we would make quite the team!  I think I have a new project!

Once again, Victoria put on a fabulous event. Part of the fabulousness (is that a word?) is the inclusiveness. There is everything from a kids’ run to the full marathon and abilities ranging from tentative first timers in the 8K to the swift elites bringing home both the half and full marathon events. When 10,000 participants show up to celebrate a weekend of running, you know you are doing something right.

The Victoria courses are interesting in that they are far from flat. Still, a lot of people turn in very good times, including PR’s and in the marathon a very high ratio of BQ times. Maybe it is the scenery (distracts you) or maybe it is the ‘rolling’ terrain that keeps different muscles working. Don’t know, but some of my own better times (half and full) have come from Victoria.

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

One of the big things about the Expo is the speaker series, which always includes top quality participants and plenty of them. This has been so, as long as I’ve been going to this event (15 years now). One of the key speakers this weekend was Roger Robinson. Roger never disappoints. He is also a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, and not infrequently a guest right here on the blog. It was good fun chatting with Roger on the sides and catching up on the latest news about him and his goodly wife, Kathrine Switzer. We had a moment with good friend, Bobble-Head Steve! Last time we were together was in Yakima, this past April for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Roger was just one of eight RITZ (book) contributors in Victoria this weekend. Of course, Steve King (the non-bobbling one) was there calling runners through the finish, as only he can. Also on site were Evan Fagan, working tirelessly as a volunteer until it was time to don his shoes and do his latest marathon (#145, I believe). Of course, Rob Reid was there greeting everyone at the finish, as he has done for years now. So great to hit that finish, hear Steve’s voice and get that handshake and/or hug from Rob. (He still doesn’t know how close he came to having me barf on him a couple of years back when I really pushed my half marathon finish. Well, ‘close’ only counts in horse-shoes!)

Joe Henderson of Runners World fame (one of the original editors, he was), took part in the half marathon himself, but also brought his group from Eugene for the event. Had a great talk with him and learned a bunch of stuff. Joe is a bit older than me (nobody is saying exactly how much) and has moved into a new approach that I should be considering, for marathons anyway – slower/funner. Apparently, we passed each other somewhere around the half marathon turn-around. I was ahead and didn’t actually see Joe going the other way. He said I was going so fast he only had time for a quick wave!  Joe is my new Best Friend Forever! Nobody has EVER said that about me.

Although I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to see him and chat, Maurice Tarrant was not only there, but took First Place in the Half Marathon for M80-84, with a chip time of 2:19:28. I am pleased to say I beat him. So what if it was only by 3 minutes and 11 seconds? Maurice is such an amazing athlete!

As I’m adding up all the names of all the Running in the Zone contributors, I really should go back to Danielle Krysa. In her other life (when she is not being a runner and a mother and wife and an artist and a writer) she is a graphic designer. She too contributed to both Running in the Zone (the book) and this blog site by designing the book cover and the look of this blog! So, I guess, although she didn’t actually write anything, she would be the ninth RITZ contributor present and accounted for in Victoria this weekend.

Finally, Doug Alward was also there. I saw him on the ferry going over. At that point he said he was just there in support of a friend. However, the friend was trying to tell him he should run! Apparently, she was convincing. He won his M55-59 age group and was 53rd OA in the Half Marathon with a time of 1:23:33. Well done!  Doug has one of the most powerful pieces in Running in the Zone with his recounting of his friendship with Terry Fox, and his life-long inspiration. Doug drove Terry’s van, but they were friends from the age of about 13, so the piece in the book was far more than the story of the Marathon of Hope itself. And, of course, Terry Fox now watches over the runners in statue form at Mile Zero (which also just happens to be about 3K to go to the finish)! Never fails to inspire this runner to dig down for those last few K’s!

There are a number of things I like about this event but one of the biggies is the out and back nature of the course that means the lead athletes in the Half Marathon loop back against the course so that many people will see them in Beacon Hill Park, and if not there then somewhere after the 9K mark. Because of the Marathon’s later start, the Half Marathoners will also see the lead Marathon runners as the Halfers head to the finish. And, the pack Marathoners also benefit from the counter-flow, albeit at a different part of the course, to glimpse and be inspired by the leaders.

So, I know there are nearly 10,000 individual and personal stories of this event. This is mine. Once again, Victoria has come through with a most memorable weekend! Thanks to everyone who made it so.

EDITORIAL CONFUSION ABOUNDS

10.10.2014

Ever have a blog and not know what to write about? More precisely perhaps, what to write about next.

Dad and Daughters 2007

Dad and Daughters 2007

I’ve got a race coming this weekend, the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (etc) – ETC  ’cause I’m actually running the Half this time. Clearly, I should have a lot to say about this because this will be the sixth time I’ve done the Half since 2000, not to mention the five times I’ve done the Full. I’ll be running with our oldest daughter, Danielle aka The Jealous Curator and internationally acclaimed author of Creative Bock and Collage. But, that feels more like a story for after the race. I actually have no idea how many combined races our family has at Victoria. The first in the string was the Marathon in 2000 when our second daughter Janna and I both did the Full Marathon. Her first and my second. Since then though, with maybe just one exception, Victoria has been done with at least one daughter, sometimes both. Sometimes we’ve run the same event, often not. Anyway, as I said, this feels like a post-race subject.

It took me years and years to run my first Haney to Harrison, mostly due to circumstances of time and place. Eventually, I did get into it running on various Pacific Road Runners teams, doing Leg #1 (twice), Leg #4 and Leg #5. And then it was GONE! The replacement event, the Whistler 50, is coming up soon and I am (for the first time) registered for at least one leg, running with the Semiahmoo Sunrunners. Logistics are still way up in the air, but there are really just TWO legs for that relay and I’m pretty sure they are giving me the long one. Something about “are you a Marathon Maniac or not???”. Again, while this seems pretty blog-worthy, I don’t know enough about the whole thing to say much in advance of the event. Guess that one goes into the “coming soon” list.

Nice Collection - Not Complete

Nice Collection – Not Complete

That, of course, makes a great opening for the “Soon Come” list. There is really only one event on that list – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Got my flights booked, got my hotel booked, even got my flashy new racing flats ready to go. Soon come, is Jamaican for ‘sometime, but we’re not really sure just when’. That doesn’t describe the organization of this event, which is one of the best organized and running events I’ve done, not to mention a tonne of fun! Guess that is why I’m headed back for the fourth year in a row. I’ve done the 10K (even though the original plan was the marathon – long story, way back in the archives or linked right here if you like). I’ve run the Half Marathon twice. I’m registered for the Half again, but I’m still debating. If I’m trained up and feeling strong, I might switch to the 10K and go for the podium finish. On the other hand, I’m still looking at that marathon I haven’t done. My medal collection isn’t really complete. My only issue with this event is 10-year age categories. Since my 70th birthday is exactly ONE month after the race date, I am almost certainly going to be the oldest guy in my category in any of the three races. Still, because I am not sure about getting there next year (some other priorities already looming) I might just need to tackle that marathon. I feel very shallow that one of the BIG reasons I wouldn’t is that I will miss too much of the finish-line party if I do. Oh well, there is still time to decide. The Half is kind of the ideal race when you travel that far. I’m still trying to convince Vancouver area people that they are missing something by not trying this one out!

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

I could talk about Hood to Coast Relay. Our team from 2013 didn’t get in for 2014, but so many were really wanting to try for 2015 that I have just sent off the entry papers. Still, not much to say there until we hear something about our success at getting into the race. My first time was 1987 and I have personally been a total of 8 times! Fingers crossed, big time.

And then, while talking lotteries or as THEY put it, ‘ballot’ entries: well, nobody wanted to run the London Marathon 2015, anyway! So, not much to say there. I tried (second time) but did not succeed in getting chosen. Only comment I would make is that I’m amazed at the number of people offended by not getting in when they made application knowing the chances were low and knowing that London holds a lot of places for residents (I would have a ‘good for age’ time if I was a resident), for charity runners, etc, etc. I am disappointed, yes, but can’t be offended. If I really, really wanted to go I would have ignored the ballot and contacted a marathon tour agent with entry spots.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

On a personal note, I have a problem that likely isn’t quite as personal as it might first seem. I am struggling with whether or not to call my last marathon my LAST marathon. Advancing age and slowing pace notwithstanding, I am still pretty competitive in my heart. Truth is that if I just keep going past January and my next birthday I can probably start taking home a few podium finish medals, but that isn’t the same thing. As a friend who just won his 75-98 age category said, ‘yeah, I was 1/1′. By competitive, I mean I seem to need to feel that I have done well, mostly in relation to my own standards and capabilities. My last marathon, the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon, fit that bill. The time recorded wouldn’t sound that good to some, although I also know it to be faster than many (and much younger) can even aspire to at this point. Whatever, I was happy with it and comparing to my marathoning over 26 years, using age grading, it was my sixth best. Six out of twenty-five. Twenty-five, a nice round number.  So, why not call it a day for marathons?

I love the vibe or feel of a marathon, especially destination races. Last year I got a feel of ‘just getting it done’ as I decided to pursue a higher level of Maniacal Marathoning. However, and although I would have said I was ‘just doing’ them, I know I was fighting myself and expecting more than I should. As a result, between April 28, 2013 and May 4, 2014 I ran 8 marathons and a 50K ultra and was happy with precisely ONE of them. The issue for me, and I suspect a good many others who have run to be the best they can (whatever that means) is HOW to transition to running just for fun. Being competitive IS part of the fun. Covering 26 miles or 42km is not that big a deal for me. Doing it ‘well’ is getting to be too hard, and it is not just the racing but the training required to race well. I’ve been trying to decide if I should just quit on a high note, as far as marathons are concerned, or change the name of the game completely. I truly haven’t decided. But, every time I hear of a fabulous destination race, or think about the Reggae Marathon, my heart tells me I don’t want to call it a day.

The question, the big question, is how to make that transition and be happy. So, you are hearing it here first, folks. I think I might have a plan that could work. Believe it or not, I consulted the Marathon Maniacs who do Facebook and got some really useful ideas. Remember that while there are some hot-damn runners in the Maniacs, you only get credit for the number completed and the number within specified time periods. If you run a marathon a week or four in four days (a Quadzilla) you are NOT going to run at PB pace. It isn’t the point.

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

I no longer care about how many Maniac stars I have (two at the moment, with 10 as the ultimate number), although it is probable that if I do what I’m thinking about I will accidentally get one or two more. But, I realized there might be a really fun project that would appeal to me, let me do more marathons and enjoy doing it. It has not escaped me that among the Maniacs there is a sub-group that are 50-Staters. That’s right, a marathon in each of the 50 States (and DC, usually). I personally have seven states to my credit. So, at my age I have no intention of trying to do 43 more. For one thing, I don’t have enough money! Besides, I’m Canadian. AHA, and there is the answer. MAYBE, I will become “Captain Canada” and do at least the 10 Provinces. If it goes well, there are three Territories too. That is a total of 13 and I have run 12 Canadian marathon/ultras already. Sadly (as far as this project is concerned), they have all been in BC. Oh well, that’s ONE. Just nine more to go.

In even barely contemplating this, I developed huge respect for the 50-State people. Never mind the running, the logistics are crazy. For BC (never mind, I’ve got that covered), Ontario and Quebec there are a fair number of choices. But, for the smaller Provinces there are often just one or two, and in at least two instances, just ONE marathon. If you are going to run that event, you MUST do it when it is scheduled. Can you combine it (reasonably) with one or two others? Not always. And, there you have the finances jumping up again. With a country like Canada, man you gotta’ do some flying, and maybe some hanging around too.

So, please don’t tell anyone I’m thinking about this. For now, it can just be between us. I have a bunch of stuff having nothing to do with running that is coming up in the next few months, much of which could impact training for what I see as a Spring launch of the plan. If we can just keep this on the down-low for now, I promise I will announce this project when I know I can get it started.

So, there you see my problem with knowing what to write about. Man, I hate it when I have nothing to say!

 

Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon a New RITZ Favourite

09.16.2014

 

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Well, I am sure that title will be a relief and even a thrill for the organizers! (sarcasm alert!!)

I was hoping to have a lot more to say about the event and all the things around it, but life caught up with me and plans changed such that I arrived late afternoon on Sept 12, went directly to the Expo for pickup and then to a Marathon Maniac (there were 117 of us signed up) carbo party, and then to our accommodation up among the Canyons Resorts. Up at some hour I don’t even WANT to remember, back down to the finish area to catch a bus and then back up the Big Cottonwood Canyon to the start at Brighton. So much for my plan of a couple of days acclimatization at altitude and a look at the course. First I saw of the course was as the sun began to rise on Saturday morning and then it was ON.

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Saturday was racing and resting, then Sunday I had a little time for tourism before jumping my flight home again. So, all of this is to say if I missed something, and I am sure I did, I am sorry.

With such a fast look and minimal experience, why did I put Big Cottonwood up there so high in my humble opinion? Well, even if the event itself didn’t get as much of my time as I wanted, I was already impressed with things before I even got there. I think the first thing that caught my attention as a race director was a very simple and generous transfer, withdrawal policy. Then, there was the matter of included photo records. Some would say ‘free’, but let’s be fair. Somebody paid those photographers and the folks who will process the files for us. It was us and the sponsors, but the race organizers clearly worked hard to put that benefit into the package price, and as such events go the Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon was not really expensive.

The nuts and bolts part of the Expo, namely package pick-up was quick and effective. I won’t say much more about it, because I really didn’t have much time to spend, something I tend to enjoy doing. It was well located, with lots of parking and plenty of space.

The Mountains Await us!

The Mountains Await us!

One of the things that did have me wondering was how effective the system would be in getting a few thousand people up the mountain to the start zones for each race. The races started 25-26 minutes later than intended. I am sure that by next year there will be an answer. For now, and without any inside information I am going to suggest that at least part of the fault lies with US, the runners. Just because they say buses will leave until 5:30/5:45 AM, it doesn’t mean everyone can show up to catch the last bus. One can count on human nature to do just that, but hey guys, we are part of making an event work. Some big races make you get there so early that you get to sit in the cold for hours before the start. Good on Big Cottonwood organizers for trying to minimize that mountain top wait. It was a pretty fun time up there once we all got huddled together and the music started!

Whatever went before, we really all came for the race. Personally, I love running downhill. My best race ever,  as I have said previously, was Leg #1 of the Hood to Coast Relay. It is actually steeper than Cottonwood Canyon, but is just less than 6 miles or 10K. As the light came up and the race began, I was both excited to get going and to see if my training had paid off (living in the Vancouver area, I have some nifty mountains to run down for practice). Much of my training effort on the mountain road was trying to figure out how to run slowly enough without braking and hurting myself.

As I followed the crowd down the road it was clear this was going to be a great event. Volunteers generally make or break these races and it is hard to say enough good about those people out there to make OUR DAY as good as it could be.

Canyon Views

Canyon Views

The only really good thing about not having a chance to drive the route before the race was the breathtaking impressions I got while in the race. I went back on Sunday to get some photographs, but I am really looking forward to seeing the official photographs which will include both the race and the scenery. I am hopeful that my photos will look as good as I tried to make them! You know: Photographer!  Lift knees, spring off, look like a runner!  After all these years I’ve actually got pretty good at it. Most people who see my photos think I am doing a lot better than is actually the case. Oh, did I mention that the reason I had to change travel plans was an acting job? OK then, maybe not.

I am not going to go mile by mile through the race. I will say that I got some parts right and some not so much. Still, I know most of what didn’t go so well was my own doing. I had a good race for me, placing well enough in my category (M65-69) and probably the oldest competitor in the group. When you apply age grading to the result (which you almost have to do when you’ve been running marathons for 26 years) this turned out to be my 6th best out of a total of 25.  That is right, 25 marathons. I really wanted this one to be a satisfying result. It was. I guess that helps with my feeling about the whole thing! Still, I only figured all that out well after I finished. Most of my positive opinions came way before then. It just felt good on almost every level.

Nice Finisher Medal!

Nice Finisher Medal!

The race shirt is nice.

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

The medal is one of the tops in my collection. But, the thing that I will likely remember the longest was that before I got my hard-earned finisher medal, a young volunteer had a cold towel wrapped around my neck! It wasn’t blazing hot at the finish, but it was plenty warm and I’d been running in the sun and the building heat for a couple of hours. They say that ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun’. Well you can now add old Canadian marathoners. Man, that towel felt good. It is the little stuff like that, that makes an event. The girl with the finisher medal wasn’t far behind the guy with the towel, but I can still feel that towel. Obviously, it made an impression.

Clearly, things aren’t over on this event. I’m still waiting for the official photographs to post and then later am eagerly anticipating my personalized video. I was pleased to get my results printed out right after the finish, and on a very nice keepsake card. This is not the first event where this has been available, but it ranks number one for presentation.

I haven’t said a lot about the course and the sights. I have included enough photographs taken on my post-race Sunday tour. The weather was similar, but some parts were more shaded than when I drove the Canyon.

Sunday - More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Sunday – More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Run right, this is a PB course. Not for me. My marathon PB dates back to 1988. Those times are NOT coming back for this cowboy, but even I managed a kind of recent PB. I need to go back to 2010 for a better time and since April  of 2010 I have run 13 marathons. The event web site gives good advice to train with a race specific program.

On a personal note, I also got to meet some runner ‘friends’ of the Facebook sort, in person. I do love it when that happens.

Now for the big question. Will I go back next year? The honest answer is that I’m not sure, but it has nothing to do with the event. If it was as simple as “Would you run Big Cottonwood again or recommend it to a friend?”, the answer would be definitely. I am already hatching a bit of personal plot in that direction, but 2015 promises to be a bit of hectic year so it just isn’t possible to say right now. Should YOU go? Guess you should get on over to the event web site and start figuring that out for yourself. I mean, can 117 Marathon Maniacs be wrong?

 

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.]