THE ALL NEW BOSTON MARATHON

04.16.2014
The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the terror filled tragedy of the ‘old’ Boston Marathon. TV and other news has been full of file footage of that terrible day and the anniversary ceremony at the finish on Boylston Street on April 15, 2014. We have also been seeing some amazing stories of the survivors and how they have coped and fared in the past year, and of the heroes of the day, doing what they could to help those who so desperately needed that help on April 15, 2013. Sadly, while it would be nice to put the horror behind and follow the idea of Boston Strong, the truth is the surviving terrorist is still awaiting trial. Even more sadly, so many people are going to live out their lives with the real physical consequences of that day and those acts of small-minded destruction. The story is not yet fully written.

The only thing I knew when I started writing this piece was that as a runner, a marathoner and an aspirant to one day be a Boston Marathoner, I had to say something. What I would say was another matter. Please do not get me wrong when I say I don’t want to ‘join the chorus’ of commentary and commemoration. Mostly, that is because so many have already said it so well. As I sat at the keyboard trying to order my thoughts enough to start writing, the title came to me. I believe it has meaning on a number of levels. Hopefully, what follows will do justice to the idea.

In a sad and awful way, the ‘OLD’ Boston Marathon ended, died if you will, last April. In what follows, there should be no confusion over the fact that a number of people and their families were personally and directly impacted by the events of the day and the several days following the actual bombing. But, beyond that and among those who had not a hair physically disturbed, there is a huge community that has suffered an emotional blow of great significance. I count myself among the members of that community even though I have never run Boston, and truth be told, likely never will, personal aspirations notwithstanding. For all marathoners, Boston stands iconically before us. I suppose that the closer we are to the Boston Qualifier line, the more special and iconic it becomes.  What I have been, is a spectator as I stood along the finish stretch on Boylston Street, waiting for my daughter to complete her first Boston Marathon. So, while I haven’t run Boston, I have definitely experienced it. Although I’ve never seen the need to plot out exactly where I stood relative to where the second bomb exploded, I just know that I was close enough to have seen the mayhem up close and way too personally.

Flashing back to even a moment before that first cowardly explosion, the ‘old’ Boston Marathon was in the process of continuing the happy and glorious tradition of delivering another Boston finish to thousands of people, including a great many who were about to become Boston Finishers for the first time. For well over 100 years the tradition had continued on fair days and foul, hot and cold, in sunshine and from time to time in sleet and snow. Of course, in the earliest days it was a runners’ race (as were all marathons), but since around 1970 it had become a mass event that caught the imagination of all serious marathon runners. There are people who have run the event multiple times. Among them are even past elites and winners returning for whatever personal reason, to do the race one more time. As with all such events, there are probably as many reasons and stories out there as there are runners. That said, I am ready to assume that in almost every case the motivation was/is positive and the fulfillment happy and satisfying.

The ‘All New’ Boston Marathon can no longer be that simple and innocent. It now exists in a different light and circumstance. Naturally, there is still the BQ to be achieved, a personal accomplishment worthy of satisfaction in its own right. In fact, if you are near the cut-off line, the BQ is no longer a guarantee of an entry, yet it is still a most satisfying achievement. That has changed only perhaps in the sense of a renewed resolve by so many runners to strive for that mark, and a desire to show we will not be deterred by a couple of cowards.

Although I have heard some non-running folk wonder how we can still aspire to run Boston, I have not met one marathoner who would not jump at the chance to go. And, even though I have no direct knowledge of what is happening on the streets of Boston, I get the impression that the City is not about to let the events of 2013 bow the spirit of this signature event.

And, speaking of marathoners jumping at the chance, I have a personal ‘tracking list’ of runners I know and will be following on Monday April 21, 2014. That list is the longest it has ever been. At least one of those is someone with whom I run in a training clinic and who was stopped just short of her finish after the bombs went off last year. She, like so many others, is going back to finish what she started. Clearly, Judy is NOT alone. Our coach here in Vancouver, BC, a Canadian Olympian at marathon and 10,000m, decided he would run and fund raise for the Boston One Fund. He and some eight or nine runners from our clinic will be running and Carey will be bringing a nice cheque for the Fund. And, perhaps in keeping with this renewed spirit, and notwithstanding that he is an Olympic athlete, this will be his first Boston.

Elite Male Leaders (2009) pass crowds of thrilled spectators near half way.

Elite Male Leaders (2009) pass crowds of thrilled spectators near half way.

Back in November I hosted a guest blogger, Jetola Anderson-Blair, who recounted her road to running in one of the most popular posts I’ve put up on this site. She will be running her first Boston Marathon on Monday. But, she and all those other people will run the ‘All New’ Boston Marathon. Usually, ”All New” goes along with “and Improved”. I cannot think there is any way to claim the enhanced security is an improvement to the nature and quality of the event. Even though the push-back and defiance of both runners and spectators will be inspiring, something will be lost. The whole thing must lose spontaneity. I remember watching for daughter Janna, near half way. As always, the members of the crowd watched and cheered for all who passed, but we also craned necks to spot our runners and inevitably, the sideline would push onto the course as everyone tried to see past the others standing ‘up-stream’ from us. The army reservists would order and push us back, yet always with a smile. The ‘order’ to move back was always good natured, firm but good natured and it was just a happy party with cow bells and balloons and lots of signs. Not so far down the road the runners would encounter the famous (infamous?) Wellesley Girls and all their whooping (a wall of high pitched sound that can be heard blocks before they’re seen) offering of kisses to worthy runners. The party at the roadside meant people had lawn chairs and coolers with snacks and beverages. Flags and signs abounded. That was the ‘old’ Boston Marathon. Near the finish, where I stood with her now husband awaiting Janna’s grand finale, there were virtual encampments of people, well supplied and settled in for the day to cheer every random stranger. I fear too that will now be part of the ’old’ Boston Marathon.

We are told there will be many, many more and new security arrangements this time including more soldiers on the course, CCTV surveillance of every inch of the course and strict rules about what both runners and spectators can have by way of ‘baggage’ to carry clothes (for the runners) and supplies for the day (for spectators). That alone is going to change the tone of the event. It has to. Will the participants and spectators let this stop them? Hardly. Will it change how things work? Most likely.

How the finish should be. Canadian flag, sign "Auntie Janna Rocks"

How the finish should be. Canadian flag, sign “Auntie Janna Rocks”

Remember those soldiers who were keeping us firmly yet gently under control out along the route? Do you suppose they will be feeling quite as relaxed this year? Do you suppose they will feel a huge sense of responsibility to be vigilant and in control? Do you think orders to ‘move back’ will be given in quite as good humoured a way as when I was there in 2009? Is there much of a chance of a repeat of 2013? Probably not. However, this is the very nature of the terrorist act. As awful as it was for those directly harmed, it is ultimately the impact on so many more going forward that is the goal. It is the loss of innocence and sense of comfort and well-being in our normal life. Every bag left on a curb while someone finds a washroom is now a threat. Every person looking out of place, nervous or uncertain is no longer a lost tourist, but rather a potential suspect. Still, organizers and officials cannot ignore the responsibility to ensure, as much as reasonably possible, the safety of everyone involved, and thereby will emerge the “All New Boston Marathon”.

For my part and (sadly) from afar, I will be concentrating on the positive human spirit that will certainly be on display. In time, I believe that spirit will triumph over terror. For 2015, I know there is going to be a tangible show of strength, a refusal to bow down or cower at home in fear of what might be. Oh yes, there will be visible and much expanded security provisions. That will be a reality that cannot and will not be ignored, but I am equally confident that the Spirit of the event and the determination of everyone involved will ultimately define the day. Not by choice (rather be there running) I will be home, glued to my computer screen as I follow the elite races and track my friends. While there is one Canadian woman with a chance to do well, almost all those I will be cheering for are just going to be running for personal satisfaction and their own moment of glory. I will be cheering for them as I watch and tick off each one as she or he finishes. I will not be alone, I know. I will watch the elite coverage and maybe almost as much as the amazing performances of the runners, I will take note of the crowds along the route. Those are special people and April 21 is going to be a special day.

QUADZILLA (PART 1)

04.14.2014

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Jordan Myers. The back story is mostly explained within his writings. Jordan does not really qualify as “Seasoned” in the context of Running in the Zone, but he will one day and so much of what he has to say, rings true for serious athletes of any age. Enjoy!

9 WEEKS TO RUNNING 4 MARATHONS IN 4 DAYS & BECOMING

MARATHON MANIAC #8254/ HALF FANATIC #5819

INTRO

Jordon Myers

Jordon Myers

I asked Dan several weeks ago about his current training progress on his long runs for the upcoming BMO Vancouver Marathon [or as I like to refer to it VIM not BMO]… which then resulted in a few interesting back and forth comments and questions regarding training… & even traditions in prep for a big event. It got me thinking about my own [somewhat] recent race experience and thought process approaching an event and thought I would contribute to the discussion with a guest blog post.

I was so excited to see so many familiar faces out this last weekend on the Sunshine Coast April Fools Run and to see Dan’s pictures from the Yakima River Canyon Marathon (& subsequent reports from marathon maniacs) I knew I needed to finish this tonight.

I’m dividing this guest blog now in 2 parts as I realized my thoughts rambled on way too long for a normal blog post and I rarely write… not that I have little say… far from it… the truth of the matter is I rarely write reports… and I think that’s because like many of the people I keep company with or admire, their deeds are in a bit of “a hermetically sealed world.” It’s not really the failure to get our deeds or names known to outsiders or that some of our best achievements athletically (or otherwise) were not recorded in a race (or recent race) or not searchable “online”…. I think because, there is a tribe of people that are the custodians of their own honor, their own record-book keepers, and don’t need the validation beyond their peers.

…runners (like the maniacs & fat asses), ultra-distance cyclists / triathletes I think pass down their stories and lore from race (or run/ride) to another – just like ancient myths – and we are content with impressing only one another.

 

BACKGROUND

Never met an event he didn't like!

Never met an event he didn’t like!

As some of you may know, I’m a “carny.” I work on special projects, concerts and events for a living, and some of those events are sporting related. I get the opportunity of seeing a lot of people at their best, or doing something they enjoy [concert, festival, ride, run, etc] and also the privilege of working with a lot of passionate event people [volunteer & otherwise]. Although my professional involvement in sporting events is usually with the larger scale marathons, triathlons, and cycling events, many of us in the industry, including myself, volunteer a lot of our spare time to support the community (sporting & arts/music), clubs, our colleagues and/or friends.

Quite often I don’t have the time or opportunity to participate in a sporting event I would like to do locally, as most weekends, especially from April-Oct I’m volunteering or working in some capacity on these events. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll be asked to be a pacer, and get to participate in an event… usually after I’ve been up really early [or through the night] setting up the course.

More often than not, I will take time to preview the event by running or riding the course… once in a while final decisions are made based on some of my input on where or how a course’s assets should flow… granted, I could just do this in a car, but there is a certain quiet sense of satisfaction of “doing” the event just prior and then seeing people’s faces on race day… knowing you’ve shared that course “experience” …you know how difficult the wind is in the afternoon… or that hill just past the aid station… you can empathize and relate to their struggle and that experience.

So basically all that background is to say November – February are my prime months to choose an event I want to “race” as it gives me time to prepare after I’ve thrashed myself over the event season. So while scanning the upcoming events in late November early December, just after the Eastside 10k, I saw a comment in a blog about a Seattle “Quadzilla”.

For those that don’t know (I didn’t) the “Quadzilla” is 4 marathons in 4 days. It’s an event put on by the Marathon Maniacs. There is also the “Quadzuki” 4 half marathons in 4 days if you’re so inclined …if you are unfamiliar with the Marathon Maniacs or , or if you’ve not followed Dan’s blog Running in the Zone, you wouldn’t know then that Dan spent 2013 pursuing Maniac fame & glory… through the trials of miles. The Fanatics & Maniacs are an amazing, fun group of runners who create, advocate, and support these challenges and track/ verify individual accomplishments as people push and pursue ever further horizons…events “for maniacs by maniacs. Getting into the “asylum” is a bit of badge of honor & there are a tremendous number of these individuals at races all over the word… making it happen.” For a full list of their criteria I’d suggest you check out their respective websites.

The Seattle Quadzilla happens on American Thanksgiving [or 2nd Thanksgiving as we refer to it in our household], conveniently a 4-day weekend for those south of the border.

Marathon #1 – Thursday, Nov 28, Wattle Waddle

Marathon #2 – Friday, Nov 29, Wishbone

Marathon #3 – Saturday, Nov 30, Ghost of Seattle

Marathon #4 – Sunday, Dec 1, Seattle

 

WHY?

Reaction of MCB to Jordan's plan!

Reaction of MCB to Jordan’s plan!

As soon as I came upon the Facebook page & read some of the comments and posts from Steve Walters, one of the marathon maniacs, it was something I wanted to see if I could do… & really I knew anything this foolish and on this condensed timeframe was a personal dare.

Would I be able to run four marathons in a row with an 8 week focused block of training and a week-long taper from my current fitness after a punishing event season? I knew I’d have to ask the advice of a couple veterans as well as friends I train with to understand the scope of my undertaking & the possibility of doing it without injuring myself… badly

…I think because these type of events are so hard to relate to for the vast majority who don’t compete in ultradistance races, athletes like myself that take on these experiences can seem masochistic, even nihilistic. But I think we keenly want to be understood as fully realized individuals… the sociological explanation for why ultradistance athletes do what they do goes something like this [this is summarized from a TIME article]: “…in our modern age-plugged in age, we yearn for authentic experiences where our courage must be summoned. One way we do this is by willingly undertaking extreme physical challenges. Through these experiences we drop our pretenses, ego, and arrogance in favor of truth and transformation… we fulfill our intention to be authentic.”

I would say it comes from an intrinsic pressure or drive…these experiences are sought out because they are when I feel most forced to be absolutely “present” …it’s because the absurd distance/ time/ elevation/ terrain & weather (combination of) requires all your mental and physical focus at the task at hand… you are laid completely bare… you are reduced to basic functions of survival & drive… a raw experience that really beats the bull shit out of you… and leaves you sometimes… beaten, but also richer for having the experience. Some claim to experience powerful spiritual moments of transcendence… all of this is to suggest I suppose that for ultradistance experience seekers like myself… the balance between pain and pleasure might not be as out of kilter as it first seems.

 

HOW?

Once committed to the idea/ goal, the mechanics of training for a longer endurance event are pretty straightforward. I think many seasoned athletes have their quiver of training protocols, training partners to consult, and they can truthfully look at themselves in the mirror and know what it will take to get them to the start line prepared… some focus, a lot of work, and on some days a large can of toughen up.

Many athletes are so obsessed with structure, the plan, and the number, whether it be power, heart rate, km’s completed or training cycles, that they forget the entire purpose of training is to be your best on race day. I enjoy these discussions with a handful friends and it really solidifies my shared belief that many athletes can get so caught up in the training process that they neglect a big-picture focus on the outcome… the experience or the race. 

Without getting into too many more details regarding my specific Quadzilla training I will simply diffuse my training habits into a handful of truths for Part 1 of this blog to add to the Discussion I started with Dan:

  1. Base everything on feel – always go back to how you’re feeling, not what a power meter, heart rate monitor, or other gadget is telling you… this goes for training and for racing. Training is the process, the preparation, for a race, but you must be able to be fluid with life demands or even your body from being tired or sore from the previous workout… always be mindful of the outcome/purpose of your training. This goes for racing as well… go with the flow… there is always a silver lining to having things not go “according to plan.” One of my most disheartening race experiences was also one of my most memorable… and still provides me with perspective and experience to know and feel how my race is progressing
  2. Trust the Grey hairs – pounding iron in the dungeon with Turbo & Frenchy every week, talking with my Dad regularly makes me realize I have another 30-40 years of adventures ahead of me. Ask the veterans for advice. Ask lots of questions & listen to the stories. There is nothing new under the sun… what is old is new again. Many training principles are variations of what was done in the past. Every BODY is unique and individual. Treat your race goals & body with that overall respect of balance and perspective that you always have more adventures ahead of you than behind you.
  3. Learn how to rest – sleep = naps are good - this has taken me years to realize as I burn it at both ends often. Respect it. Get sleep, at the very least 8 hours when training heavy and take naps… recovering from the workout or even knowing when you’re doing too much too soon and just going easier in a workout. Knowing not to schedule a long drive or flight right after a long effort (race or training). Too many people don’t trust in their experience or their own body feedback and come hell or high water, regardless of work/life commitments or the weather they’re getting the prescribed distance in… all of this is a game of balance, you need to put in the training, put in the time… but also be aware enough to know when you’re fried and your work is sub par & when you shouldn’t be in a car for 2hours after a 6hour ride. How do you know? If you’re grinding out a few days in a row of workouts, chances are you need to back off… being mentally “into” it [back to truth #1]
  4. Food = Be like a truck – If you eat garbage = you will perform like garbage… general nutrition is an obvious limiter to your fullest potential… I tend to keep things simple in terms of eating. Moderation. I have friends who eat healthier than anybody, but it takes them all day… everyday. And if they don’t have their sprouted, organic, gluten free whatever, they go into seizure…  I eat an Egg McMcuffin on big events when I’m up for 48hrs. Like always. Sure it’s a greasy, salty, toxic goodness wrapped in waxed paper from my friends at the golden arches, and sometimes I need a donut from Tim’s. I’m not always going to love that I ate it, but it won’t put me into toxic shock. I like bacon occasionally and am going to keep eating it. Food is supposed to be enjoyable… but food is definitely individual and each person’s diet and what they perform best on is often trial & error… it’s like if a car is too high-performance… then it’s sensitive to any kind of fuel. I like being more like a truck. If a little diesel gets in there, maybe a little water, it’ll cough and burp a bit, but it’s gonna keep running… that’s what you want in a race… and life. Espresso – Although not really food, it’s part of my routine. It makes me purr like a Ferrari… the tradition & artistry, the different styes and taste… just goodness. Two words: Mario Cippolini. [Italian. Cyclist = Style] Drinks espresso every day. Need I say more?
  5. Be scared but not afraid – Fear can be a great motivator but also freeze people in their tracks, especially a start line…you see it on faces of triathletes on a beach before a mass start. Understanding fear is important. If you commit to something it’s important to acknowledge that you’re scared, you respect the challenge. If you’re not scared you’re being ignorant of the risks and the mechanics of it all… nothing goes according to plan, and you must be prepared. However, fear cannot prevent you from entering the ring. You are powerful beyond measure.
  6. Volunteer for a race/ be a pacer &/or support crew – if there is one thing that will truly take your mental strength/ clarity-purpose of training and racing to the next level it’s volunteering and supporting others to reach their goals. Not only do you value and respect the race director/ organizing committee but you also gain tremendous insight into other ways to succeed in a race and you gain a sense of community… there are kindred spirits…tribes of people that seek and need these experiences to feel alive but also feel a part of a community. I know I’m one of those people. I have learned more about what it takes mentally to survive 24-36hr epic adventures by pacing someone for 12-15hrs and then volunteering at the finish line for another 5, than I ever have from doing any of my own workouts. To see the grace, the flow, the humor, the bonding and human connection, and the sheer tough as nails tenacity to overcome are all truly inspiring and reservoirs of hope I feed off of…
  7. Schedule/ Do workouts early, consistently… keep a minimum level – if there is anything I can tell people it is that getting to the gym, yoga, out for a run, an early swim or ride before your day starts, consistently, week in/ out is the single most important thing you can do. The ability to continue to keep a minimum level of fitness even when injured will provide tremendous confidence in considering your next goal. Many people want a 6 week program for this or 10 week program for that… quite often after a layoff. It’s the quickest way to burnout or worsen injury. Focus on the overall year and identify the ebbs and flows of your whole life picture to target races… true fitness will often come from being mentally strong more than physically… that comes from a quiet confidence of consistency.
  8. Can of Toughen Up – Training is going to be hard. Being consistent is going to be hard. The weather, work & family are all going to be unpredictable… open up a can of toughen up and deal. I have 3-4 quotes/ poems I reference for strength. Quotes by Churchill, Mandella & Muhammad Ali as well as the poem “If” by R. Kipling are my faves. The best & only race day advice I give is this: First Half – Don’t be an idiot/ Second Half – Don’t be a wimp.
  9. Smile – this is easier than grimacing, grunting, or straining… it’s a bit disheartening for your competitors or training partners (so I’ve been told)… but it’s also the easiest way to make all of those around you happier… including yourself… & when you’re 4 days into an event & hitting a “rough patch”… or coming around that corner to see that the hill just keeps going up into the mist with no end… you can control how you frame that moment… start it with a smile.
  10. Happy Place – You ever see that Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore? When Chubbs is telling him that he needs to find his “Happy” place? I think everyone needs to have a “Happy Place” or a mantra…I like to reference/ quote comedies: Caddyshack. Old School. Fletch. Breakfast Club. …just before &/or during an event… I like to recite these quotes especially out loud to others because it makes others laugh, which makes me laugh. The other thing I find I need is a song… I don’t ever run/ ride with headphones, but I do need a song or two focus on… I’m keen on James Brown & Johnny Cash, but have sung a wide range of complete albums to complete strangers over a 24-36hr event. Everything is better with a soundtrack… but having this arsenal of fun, helps me re-set & re-focus when the inevitable “rough patch” will hit.  

…to be continued: stay tuned same bat channel same bat time next week for the details on how I specifically managed my race. Thanks for reading.

Editor’s Note: Now that we know HOW Jordan handles his athletic (and life) challenges, stay tuned to see how he tackled his Quadzilla!

 

A NEW/OLD PERSPECTIVE ON RUNNING MARATHONS

04.09.2014
The Banner Says It All.

The Banner Says It All.

This past weekend I took myself and my lovely wife off to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. I’ve known about the event for years, but it never quite seemed to fit my schedule. The reason I have known of the event is that it is organized by Team Dolphin (aka Bob and Lenore Dolphin). Bob wrote for Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes and was the first to ‘introduce’ me to Marathon Maniacs. Every ‘Maniac’ has a number. For instance, mine is #6837. Team Dolphin is a bit unique in that it/they hold #32 and are the only twosome member(s). Long story, but the Maniacs accepted that Lenore’s contributions and support warranted recognition. When I first met Bob, he was already somewhere north of 350 marathons, but it was changing so fast it was hard to keep track. He both inspired me re the Maniacs and intimidated me. He was the only Maniac I knew then and my main response to his records amounted to: “I’m not worthy!”.  This weekend, Bob did #502. He is a bit easier to keep track of these days in regard to his totals. It seems at 84 he has slowed down a bit in events run per year, as well as pace.

Knowing there would be a gathering of people this year to celebrate the 14th Yakima River Canyon Marathon, I decided I would put it on my to-do list. Then, having decided that at least for now, Two Stars was enough for this Marathon Maniac, I resolved to not run as many this year as last (six marathons and an ultra). One or two – that would be it. Then I started leading a pace group with Forerunners (again), but the target race is the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 4. Timing was off re training for an early April marathon. I decided that maybe this wasn’t my year for Yakima. THEN, I got ’talking’ with Roger Robinson and realized I needed to find a way to make it work. Wouldn’t you know it, when something is supposed to happen, it just seems to work out. My clinic pace group is all half marathoners this time. I’m the only one training for the ‘full’. Our long run of 36km is next weekend. And, well, 42km isn’t that much farther (ok, yes it is) than 36km. I realized I could go enjoy Yakima and everything related, take an easy pace and call the race a training run (of sorts), then take an easy week with our half marathoners and slide back into the taper program for Vancouver. That was it then! Signed up and headed for Yakima.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

The route is precisely Canyon Road and it pretty much follows the Yakima River, starting just outside Ellensberg, WA and finishing near Selah. It is a beautiful route and the road is closed to pretty much all but very specific local traffic. Since you are going down river, naturally there is a net drop in elevation. The views along the river range from pretty to pretty spectacular. I would not say it is an easy course. There are two testing hills and the worst of those comes at about 22 miles or so. Good thing I was using this for training!  Don’t get me wrong. I paid the fee, ate the pasta, got the shirt and finisher medal and attended all the related events. Hey, the prizes go five deep in this race, so I even got a fifth place prize in my age group. All in all, a pretty good weekend, I’d say.

This is a bit of purist event and old school, too. It is a MARATHON. Period.  There is no Half, no 5K/8K/10K, kids’ fun run or anything else. It is a MARATHON.  Don’t get me wrong. There were a good many first timers. That said, there were a whole lot of Seasoned Athletes and because of the status and stature of Bob Dolphin as a multi-marathoner, there was a huge contingent of Marathon Maniacs and members of the 100 Marathon Club. The official Maniac count (according to the Race Calendar page) was 86. There were 395 finishers, so almost 25% of the runners were Maniacs. I have run a lot more marathons than a lot of people, but my effort this weekend was number 24, kind of puny in this company! Among those in attendance were Maniac #1 (Steven Yee, aka Main Maniac) and #3 (Tony Phillippi).

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

One of the big draws and a sign of the respect this event and these people garner, the featured speakers were Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Joe Henderson was there. Joe and Roger are also contributors to Running in the Zone (the book). A major contingent came in from Vancouver, with a couple of Lions Gate Road Runners, Frank Stebner and Margaret Buttner doing the honours to introduce Roger and Kathrine. The fearsome threesome of Frank, Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner were joined by Marty Wanless (all LGRR folk) who operated a major support team, especially for Kathrine and Roger. She, arriving from Mallorca and he from New Zealand just in time for the big event, and both jetting off to other distant locations the day after the race. The people in the room represented a rich cross-section of running people. Another notable was Martin Rudow, editor of Northwest Runner.

While I doubt there is anyone out there (at least who would be reading this blog) that doesn’t know who Kathrine Switzer is, it never hurts to understand her contributions to women’s running in particular, but the modern sport in general, by quietly taking a spot in the 1967 Boston Marathon. The young women running today, at all distances, but particularly marathons and more, probably have little or no idea what women faced, even in 1967 when it came to attitudes to the risks they faced should they DARE to venture beyond 800m of so. Roger talked about some of this in discussing his brand new book, “Spirit of the Marathon, which was launched at Yakima. The whole story can be found there but while women were running all over the world, it wasn’t until 1960 that the 800m was to become a turning point for women’s elite racing and was introduced to the Olympics after a one-shot trial in 1928. The women’s marathon was unthinkable. It did not make an entrance in the Olympics until 1984. Kathrine Switzer had no small part in bringing that about, but if you want more on that story, you’d best pick up a copy of Marathon Woman or visit her web site. She explained that she just wanted to run and meet the challenge of Boston. She did not intend to make a statement, but the furor her presence caused spurred her to make good (my words) on the promise of finishing that first Boston Marathon. And the rest, as they say, is history. But what a history. To be clear, the ‘girl’ that finished Boston in an unremarkable time of 4:20, went on to win the New York City Marathon and to record sub-three hour marathon times including a return to Boston to post a 2:51. Along with everything else, Kathrine Switzer is a serious runner in any context you want to apply.

It was fascinating to listen to Roger, the historian, renowned sport commentator and writer (and very fine runner in his own right, having set Masters records at Boston, New York, and several other races incuding my personal favourite, Vancouver, a record that still stands at 2:18:43) and Kathrine, very much a part of women’s marathon history. Any time you get a chance to hear either of these two, or even better, both at the same time, grab it. The audience was enthralled. We were all marathoners or friends and family of marathoners and we knew what we were being treated to in having this dynamic duo right there with us. Still, I can’t help think how normal it now seems for women to run and run long distances. Boys, in case you don’t know it, there are more of them than us these days. Generally speaking, the only event in which there are still more men than women is the full marathon. Kathrine warned us that while men still have the power factor and will be faster at the standard distances, women have an endurance factor that lets them keep going.

'Repeat Offenders' Being Gifted with "26.2 Marathon Stories" by Switzer and Robinson

‘Repeat Offenders’ Being Gifted with “26.2 Marathon Stories” by Switzer and Robinson

This did not start out to be a report on the main speakers, but it was something that could not be missed out either. The big story is the community of runners and supporters present for that weekend, and the unique nature of the Yakima Marathon. I would say that while many races lay on a full weekend of ‘action’, few are quite like this one. It is not to say the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is better than others, but it IS truly one of a kind. I posted on the Marathon Maniac Facebook page that this is not to be looked at as what you might call a ‘hit and run’ event. In other words, you really shouldn’t dart in, do your race, and dash off. You would miss too much. The Maniacs are renowned for doing lots of marathons and sometimes that means doing two per weekend! I’m sure there may have been one or two that did do the fast in and out, but most people in attendance knew this was a full weekend affair. There was even a Sunday breakfast where there were a good 50 or so of us still around.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself. (Photo courtesy of M. Buttner)

Now what of this “New/Old” thing in the title. Pretty simply, if you haven’t already figured it out, it was a ‘new’ look on my part at an ‘old’ or more traditional way of staging an event. In some ways it was kind of bare bones and purist in nature. Everything that had to be done right (safety, course measurement, traffic, volunteers, timing) was done right. That happens when runners organize the race. But, the shirt is cotton and the medal is basic with not a hope or intention of keeping up with the bling you get from some races today. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tech shirts and fancy medals as much as anyone, but the charm of the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is that it is by runners for runners and is community. This year was ‘bigger and better’ with Roger and Kathrine in attendance, but you could tell there were a good many regulars who would be there regardless. I believe there were some 17 who had done all fourteen of the races to date, but a relative few who were there for the first time. There were families with as many as three or more members doing the marathon, some of the younger of them running their very first. Finishers ranged from 15 to 86 and times from 2:47 to just over 9 hours. My own category of M65-69 had twelve finishers and the M70-74 included another twelve. In fact, nearly 11% of finishers were senior citizens (over 65). This event recognizes the spirit of the marathon and provides a big enough time window to let those who want to do so, to take on this distance at whatever pace they need to do.

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Bob and Lenore are not just the Race Directors, they are your hosts, and gracious/welcoming hosts at that. Lenore started it all off at the Friday pasta feed, giving out accolades and recognitions, and finished it Sunday with more of the same at the breakfast wind-up, not to mention the actual awards dinner on Saturday. Don’t think you are getting in and out of those events quickly either. How she does it, I’m not sure, but there is a story about each and every person mentioned. Talk about personal. Talk about family or community.

The race itself is as good as any, technically speaking, but the EVENT is unique and outstanding. If you want a marathoning experience that will really tell you what the heart and soul of distance running is about, put the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on your list. Do it NOW. The next race is scheduled for March 28, 2015. You need to be there. You need to plan to take the full weekend and experience all of it.

 

 

I QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!

03.20.2014

What fabulous good news! Anyone who knows me also knows how important a goal this is for me.

I Did Run The Inaugural Boston 5K

I Did Run The Inaugural Boston 5K

Unfortunately, there is equally horrible BAD news. I did it in 1988.  Do you think they would still let me in on that result?     No?       Yeah, didn’t think so.

OK, so what is this idiot babbling about now?

Here’s the scoop. I was fact checking something I was writing in another post that should have gone up before this one. I was trying to put marathon running into context and describing what things were like back in 1988 when I ran my first and, it turned out, best marathon. That was the Vancouver International Marathon, which has now morphed into the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which coincidentally I will be running again in just a few weeks. It will be my fifth time on three distinctly different courses, but I digress.

Boston Qualifying times have changed over the years and from time to time, starting with the fact that there was NO BQ at all until 1970. Well, OK, you had to be male, but other than that……  That’s right, it wasn’t until 1972 that women were invited to run Boston all legitimate like.

By 1988 they had age and gender based qualifying standards. Until a few minutes ago, I never knew exactly what my BQ was when I did that first marathon. I have always known my finish time had to be close. So, today, while looking for numbers of entrants for various major races run in 1988, I also came across the qualifying standards. There it was: M40-44  -  3:25. That is what I did.

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

I have often said (though I probably didn’t really mean it deep down) that what is most important to me is to be able to say “I qualified for Boston” (vs necessarily running it). Now, I CAN say it.  I qualified for Boston. I qualified for Boston. I ONCE QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess that this revelation has come rather late, because in 1988 I was more focused on just doing a marathon. Although a couple of my fellow running club members had gone to and run Boston, it surely wasn’t on my radar. Maybe that was partly because I was busy with work, had a young family and nothing like enough money for such frivolity. So, my one and only BQ just sailed away into the mists of time, unrecognized, unloved, unused.

Later on and even though I’ve tried to find out what the BQ times were back then, I could not confirm one way or the other my possible BQ, although I assumed I probably missed by a few minutes, . Until today. Today I got some kind of runner’s gift in the form of that bit of knowledge. It leaves me amazingly pleased and you might even say spiritually satisfied. We could get into the mystical matter of ‘why now?‘, but I’m just going with the basic fact.

Speaking of facts, I realized as I typed the last sentence that my current BQ is exactly one (1) hour slower than that one in 1988. There is something almost satisfying in that. BQ 1988 = 3:25, BQ 2014 = 4:25. Am I planning on making this whole thing really symmetrical and qualifying again in May? Wouldn’t I love to! However, should it happen I think it will be more an accident than a well executed plan.

I wrote this post partly because I am truly thrilled. In part it is about the fact that I know quite a few going to this most momentous running of the Boston Marathon after the horror of 2013. My mind is very much concentrated on the symbolic importance of it and that makes this unexpected revelation all the more important to me.

I also wrote it because it represents one of those great things about running, once you do something it cannot be taken away from you. A couple of years back I got a ‘new’ PB for 5K in much the same way. It was a result that I had not recorded and had more or less forgotten about. Old friend and fellow Running in the Zone Editor, Steve King put together a list of PB results for Penticton P0under members (which I was at the time). There was my result. I was surprised and went so far as to ask Steve about the accuracy of the course (I remembered thinking it was too fast). He assured me that it was no more or less accurate than any of the other courses we ran in those days and upon checking some other results recorded in close proximity it seemed the number was reasonable. And just like that, 25 years or so after the doing of it, I had a new 5K PB!

This blog (and the book) is slanted toward the interests of ‘seasoned’ athletes. Almost by definition, us seasoned athletes are past the days when we can knock off true PB results. There is always an asterisk. Nothing wrong with qualified triumphs when taken in context, but the pure ones just shine a little brighter. My philosophy has always been to celebrate your achievements and never despair over your loss of ability to repeat or better them. We all reach that point at some time. I know several people who set World single age records virtually every time they lace on a pair of shoes and walk up to a starting line, but while they are amazing and doing amazing things, they generally aren’t running faster – not over a reasonable time period. Race over race? Maybe, but for the most part, not season over season. The PB is well behind even these phenomenal folk. That doesn’t really matter though. I figure as long as we are getting out and doing what we love, we are still winning!

I hope my exciting little experience today and my story about it, will move others to discover something from their ‘good old days’ or just reflect on the fact that they actually HAVE those ‘good old days’.

PLAN OR HABIT, AND IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

03.13.2014
Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

A friend sent me a note regarding an upcoming long run and the event for which it was a training run. He was wondering about my pre-event preparation and pondering. It stimulated some interesting thoughts and this little essay.  It all started out innocently enough regarding rituals before runs and particularly races, then he tacked on some other suggested perspectives. All that got me wondering if I had really changed much over the many years I’ve been running and racing.

One of the first things that crossed my mind was that I really don’t have any MUSTS before a race (you know, things that must be done lest the sky fall or the earth open and swallow me). I never really have. However there are a bunch of things I like to have under control and to do before a race. I can’t recall heading to a race of any distance where I was knowingly gunning for a PR say. I plan to run all races to the best of my current ability – PR’s happen when they happen. I do go to races from time to time where I know my condition or preparation will NOT produce a great result and therefore take care not to anticipate the impossible or imprudent.

Lately, I suppose I have gone to the start with plans for either a recent PB, or age graded performance. A year or two back I decided I missed having actual (vs age graded) PB’s and the only way to get one would be to run a distance I’ve never done. Of course that is just a kind of a fun thing more than a serious racing goal. I must admit that running my first and so far ONLY 50K ultra may have caused a few pre-race jitters, but then I reminded myself I had a lot of marathons in the bag and 50K is just 7.8km, a mere 4.8372093 miles farther (but who is counting?).

One thing I certainly do now and have done for as long as it has been possible with all our modern on-line tools, is to PLAN my attack. By that I mean I study route maps (especially for new events). I pay particular attention to the profile maps, sometimes even cross-checking them with Google

Winthrop Marathon - Profile

Earth. Pacing is everything. I don’t have the reserves anymore to ‘pull something out’ late in a race. The most successful I’ve been at this recently was the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon in October 2012. This is a course for which I could probably draw out the route by memory, including the elevation profile, but I still study and plan. Planning or not, I often fail to execute, mostly by going out too fast. Long story short, just to illustrate what I mean, in 2012 I was able to manage my pace such that every split was plus or minus about 1-2%, except for two and they were the going down and coming back up of a particularly significant hill. As I hit the ’Mile to Go’ marker it was getting tough, but I pushed on. It felt like I was running in mud and was sure I was rapidly falling off pace. In addition to the planning I always do a large amount of post-race analysis. (Nobody gets their money’s worth from a race more than me!) The analysis revealed the even splits and more amazingly, the fact that the last mile was about 5 seconds faster than the first!  I just missed the mythical negative split by mere seconds! Oh, and I beat my goal time by at least a minute. I consider it one of the best races I’ve ever run, not because of the absolute time, but rather because of overall race management.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

If I am going to a race where there is an Expo (I love race expos – the energy and all) my ‘rule is to do it on Friday for a Sunday race, if at all possible.  I tend to hang around just too much when it comes to racing the next day. If I just can’t get that extra day in, then I do try to show some discipline and not spend too much time at the Expo. I definitely avoid tourism the day before if it involves walking about or me being in charge of making it happen.

For longer races I try to suck back a reasonable amount of electrolyte the day before/morning of the event. However, if it is just water I have no feelings of dread. Some races just seem to ’demand’ a pre-race pasta party, often with friends or family or both. For me, that is less about true carbo-loading and more about tradition. Except for the Reggae Marathon, my ‘pasta party’ will likely be more of a private affair and relatively small (say 2 to 20 participants). For the most part it is social and traditional rather than tactical. I try to load up for a couple of days prior to the actual race with the last big meal actually being lunch the day before the race.

I always like to be up and ready, way ahead of the start. Sometimes you are given no choice by race logistics, but even when you could walk out the door to the start (often the case in Victoria where there are lots of hotels near the start) I will still be up a couple of hours before race time. Since we are all runners here, there is one primary reason having to do with not needing a major porta-potty stop mid-race. Sometimes the magic works! For a Half, I generally won’t eat much (maybe a banana) but for a marathon or ultra I try to eat a bagel with that banana, maybe with honey or such, or possibly a bowl of oatmeal porridge with sweetener or fruit. This must be a couple of hours pre-race.

I also like quiet time -always have. I am only competing with myself, but most of the time I am very serious about that and expect nothing but the best of myself according to my state of preparedness. The exception to this expectation was the last running season when I was chasing two star Marathon Maniac status. I had to run a lot of marathons in a relatively short time, so I necessarily needed to adjust to that reality. One of the big ones was being able to accept times of five hours and more as part of the greater plan. At the time it seemed OK. Apparently, I was able to manage expectations in a positive way. Now that I’ve decided two stars is plenty, my race expectation is again going to be ‘the best I can do’. I am certainly hopeful that my best is still sub-five. So, before I run I like to get inside my own head and just try to prepare well for the day as it is being presented.  No matter how well you train or prepare, the circumstances on the day will dictate absolute performance. Let’s face it, a person (not me) could win the race and still have a relatively poor time if the weather was extreme. We have to make the best of the situation and that is where the quiet time pre-race helps. During that time you reset to accommodate conditions and adjust your basic race plan, especially your attitude. That is so important for me. When I can’t/don’t do it I usually pay the price. The Winthrop Marathon course profile above, is a good example. It kind of looks like if you tripped at the start, you could just roll all the way to the finish! If you are good with downhill running, it should be a good one. What wasn’t obvious is how hot it got after about half way and how unprotected from the direct sun the course is from about half way. It is a great event, well organized and just plain fun, but the weather factor made a huge difference to the outcome. So, the best laid plans and all that…………………….

My friend asked if things had changed over the years – polite way of asking if anything is different for an old guy (‘seasoned’ we like to say here). One BIG difference is the absolute time expectation. It would be just plain stupid for me to think I could run a marathon as fast as my PB done back in 1988. So yes, in that respect I certainly have made a change, as we all must eventually. For me, and many others, it is why age grading is of value. Age grading lets me see if I am holding my own, or even improving. I did actually go through a period of maybe 18 months when I was steadily improving in real time based on recent performances. On the basis of age-graded performance (grading all races), my second best marathon was run when I was 65 and was the fourth in a sequence of races that saw me chip away a few seconds here, a minute there and so on.

I have always run for pleasure. At times, some of the pleasure came from running relatively fast (for me). Still, training or racing, my attitude has never been too intense. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to lay claim to any really amazing results, even ‘relatively amazing’. Naturally, the older I get the more amazing it becomes to walk up to the start with every intention of getting to the finish on my own steam. Of course there are truly fantastic octogenarians out there that make my present age/achievements seem modest, and who serve to keep me humble.  That said, I have never had

Half Way to a DFL - Frosty Mountain

Half Way to a DFL – Frosty Mountain

a DNF (maybe should have) and only one DNS. I did score one DFL but I also won my age group (M60-69) in that race! So, my approach is only tempered by what is relatively reasonable. Writing this reminds me that I have done the Reggae Marathon weekend three times. Twice, I did not do the event for which I originally registered. The first time I registered for the marathon but due to a ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ situation never made the start line until over two hours after the start. With RD permission  I switched to the 10K. Last year I signed up again to do the marathon, partly because of my Marathon Maniac goal. But, when I learned I had misunderstood the criteria for my ‘two star’ goal and had already achieved it without doing the Reggae Marathon, I opted for the Half and partying with my many friends rather than sweating under the tropical sun for too many hours. Maybe that is a sign of creeping maturity! There was a time that if I said it, I would have had to do it. The one problem with having bailed twice on the full marathon is that my Reggae Marathon medal collection is still short one component.

Running is very much a pleasure for me. Racing is too, but to put that in perspective I must go back to a reflection I did some years back.  I really want to qualify to run Boston. I have physical issues which make that a difficult goal to achieve, though under truly optimal circumstances, maybe not completely impossible. I asked myself a sort of rhetorical/philosophical question: If the gods of running would grant me a BQ (and the race itself, of course), but after that I would have to stop running, would I take the deal? The answer was quick and easy: NO. Whether or not I can race for much longer, I want to be able to run for my own pleasure for a good long time yet.

I do have one critical race to plan. That will be one with our grandson. Charlie is going to be eight come the summer. He already races in short running events and kid’s triathlons. What we need now is a 3K or something like that where I can run with him. I don’t think anyone will let me run in the kids’ races he now does, even if some might think I AM in my second childhood.  I’ve raced with all our family members at some time or other: wife, all three kids and two sons-in-law. Surely, there will be a race for me and the grand-boy!

 

I WENT TO A RACE AND DIDN’T RUN

02.18.2014
First Half Start 2014

First Half Start 2014

Of course, I didn’t run! It was the First Half Half Marathon and I’ve never run it, ever. The Pacific Road Runners, who put on this fine event, count on club members to be the core of the volunteer group that makes it happen. The last few years I have had the pleasure

MC's First Half - Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

MC’s First Half – Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

of being one of the Stage MC’s along with Anjulie Latta. Before taking on MC duties, I had the privilege of being Race Director for four years.

My previous post was a preview of the upcoming race, so it seemed I should make a brief report.

Anyone who actually lives in Vancouver or the area knows how terrible the weather was leading up to the race, and I mean the night before, not a few days or anything like that. They also know how it was from about 2pm on in the afternoon of race day. BUT, anyone who was at the race knows how wonderfully the gods of running and weather smiled on the First Half.  OK, there were some breezes out there, but for the most part the 2000 participants ran in sunshine and under blue skies! Temperatures were cool, but not cold and the elites ran ‘singlets and shorts’ just showing that for mid-February it sure wasn’t bad!

Volunteers get post-race food ready while runners run

Volunteers get post-race food ready while runners run

Because I was pretty much stuck at the start/finish area, I took a lot of photographs and posted a First Half Album on Facebook on my personal page. Never tried linking to FB and so far, not so good. Will keep trying to create a working link. I particularly tried to show the ‘before’ ‘during’ and ‘after’ components generally not seen when we are out there running. In every race there are countless generous and selfless people working behind the scenes to look out for us runners. Courses get measured and then set out on race day. Safety considerations like barricades and signage must go out, along with water and electrolyte at the aid stations and the volunteers get out to ‘man’ the marshalling points and those water tables. Food gets prepared at the finish for when we are done, and the First Half DOES HAVE a well-earned reputation for the finish food. Stuff like race shirts, medals and the fabulous waterproof cover up jacket given out at the 25th First Half, must be ordered and received. When the race is done, results must be made available, prizes handed out to the ‘deserving’ and everyone’s accomplishment must be properly celebrated. But, it isn’t over until it’s over, and when the participants head home with their result, finisher medal, and great memories, the clean-up crew is just getting started. A big shout-out to those people because I was standing there when Roundhouse staff (the start/finish venue for the First Half) congratulated the RD on how fabulously we had swept in, swept up and swept out.

Races are what they are and you never know until they are done. I do know a lot of people achieved Personal Bests on Sunday – for some reason that is not unusual with this race, as noted in my last post. Almost everyone had a good race and a lot of fun. There sure seemed to be a lot of happy faces out there as we looked down from the stage. Maybe it was partly because of the amazing batch of give-away prizes we had as a result of race partner generosity. And speaking of generous partners, Variety – the Children’s Charity benefited with another donation of $50,000 this year. It is not my place to single out any of these partners (because there are so many), but it would be wrong not to mention Mizuno, Forerunners and Urban Fare. Mizuno has been with this race for a number of years now working in cooperation with PRR and Forerunners (involved since 1989 and therefore, all of the 25 years the First Half has run). Urban Fare is relatively new to the party, but I was told by race organizers that their inputs have been fabulous. One of my personal favourite partners (maybe because I like the generic product so much) is Ethical Bean Coffee. They haven’t been with the race since the First Half began, but they have been part of the event almost since Ethical Bean began. Coffee for 2000?  Sure, no problem.

Rob Watson - Wins 2014 First Half

Rob Watson – Wins 2014 First Half

The winner on the day was Rob Watson, who was defending champion. It may not have been the time he wanted, but perhaps just as well since he was coming off injury and Rob wound up running much of the race alone, notwithstanding the anticipated competition. Not bad for a guy who was ‘day to day’ prior to the race. The time looked pretty good to me at 1:06:39, and it not only took the win, but made Rob the BC  Half Marathon Champion for 2014. That goes nicely with the fact that he is the current Canadian Marathon Champion.

Natasha Wodak takes the Women's win.

Natasha Wodak takes the Women’s win.

The women’s race was won by Natasha Wodak (1:17:09). She was not defending champ from 2013 but took the win in 2012. The first place finish also makes her the BC Half Marathon Champ for 2014, so not a bad Sunday morning’s work!

I love excellence in almost everything and unapologetically celebrate our winners. However, there were nearly 2000 finishers this year and in their own way, each and every one is a winner, because for most of us it is about the being out there and the doing. I do love to run myself, but taking a turn every so often as I did this weekend to see it all from this other perspective is both enlightening and rewarding.  I have no idea how many first time half marathoners were out there or how many PB’s were run, but I know that those folks had something big to celebrate. Still, it is always personal and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The big advantage I had this Sunday was I got to glimpse the faces of all the winners who took part.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on February 15, 2015. PRR tells me you will need to be watching for the announcements on registration (hint – it will be early November) and that the free community seminar on running will take place October 29, 2014.

GEARING UP FOR THE FIRST HALF HALF MARATHON

02.13.2014

Logo 2014In just a couple of days, a stellar field of elites will line up just in front of 2000 eager and avid runners at the Start of the 25th First Half Half Marathon. Over the years this event has attracted some of our best runners, including many Canadian Olympic distance runners. A good many of them will be in Sunday’s field as well, some even contending for Masters and Age Group glory. It is interesting that there is a tie-in to the Olympics because this is the 25th First Half, but NOT the 25th ANNUAL First Half. That is because in 2010, Vancouver/Whistler’s Winter Olympics displaced the race.

As a former Race Director of this great Vancouver event, it became the decision of my 2010 Race Committee and me to cancel rather than cobble together a race. Instead we decided it was best just to celebrate the Winter Olympics with everyone else. I mean, our start-finish venue was at Ground Zero of Olympic celebrations!

IMG_3514 (800x431)The First Half began in 1989 on a very different course that started on Granville Island, near where the organizing club, Pacific Road Runners, held their regular running sessions – and still do. Since that very first year, Forerunners has been the sporting store race partner. Peter and Karen Butler have been a mainstay of the operation of this race. Younger folk may feel that this has always been a 2000 runner sell-out race, but that is not really so. For one thing, in 1989 (got to be careful here) running was a more ‘hard-core’ thing – no value judgement, it just was. To run a half marathon, you needed to be pretty serious about your running. There were 380 registered competitors and No. 1 among them was no other than Peter Butler, at the time, one of Canada’s top distance runners. In fact, and until just recently, Peter was our second fastest ever marathoner, less than a minute slower than Jerome Drayton, who despite the efforts of many young Canadian runners, several of whom have run the First Half, including a couple in Sunday’s race, is still our fastest marathoner. The current #2 marathoner, Dylan Wykes, has won the First Half twice setting a new record each time. Although he will not be running Sunday, it is his record that they will be gunning for and the race at the front end should be exciting regardless of whether Rob Watson (defending 2013 race winner) or Kelly Wiebe go for the speed or the win (ie they run a strategic race). Based on PB’s it should be highly competitive, but we all know the PB just sets the stage. It is what happens on the day that counts.

At time of writing (as I have been the past three years, I am the stage C0-MC) I do not have the final line-up of runners. However, I know that a good many former winners have registered and are expected to run. Included in that list of First Half men’s greats are: Bruce Deacon, Carey Nelson, Art Boileau, Jeremy Deere and Colin Dignum.

We are going to be treated to some fine running on the women’s side too, with Natasha Wodak returning, to do battle with Dayna Pidhoresky and former First Half winner, Ellie Greenwood. On paper at least, the talent is there to threaten Tina Connelly’s 2004 record time of 1:12:47. Again, many things will factor into how the race is run, but however they go about it, there is a good chance it is going to be entertaining!

Both Natasha Wodak and Ellie Greenwood are recent winners, and still able to contend. In addition, just in case any of these women really think they have a shot at Tina Connelly’s record, well, they will be able to discuss that with Tina herself as she, Lisa Harvey and Lucy Smith will be there Sunday and looking to make their own statement as (sorry ladies) Seasoned Runners.

If anyone, female or male, should break the existing record, there will be a little extra for them in the form of a $1,500 record bonus. That should buy a nice lunch, not that it will be necessary with the great food spread that awaits everyone at the finish.

The age group running will be of a high caliber as well, with a long list of speedy locals contending for age group honours. Every category, right out to the 75+ group will be fiercely contested. In fact, at least seven age group records stand to be broken on Sunday if everything is right, and of those seven, if the record goes it will almost certainly be a Canadian record. Lucy Smith, Jim Finlayson, Mark Bennett and Greg Meiklejohn are the runners in that stellar group of four, while Miriam Zderic, Bruce Deacon and Rod Waterlow round out the seven. Can’t help giving a shout-out to Rod as we have run a good many events together and both lead pace groups at the Forerunners clinics. Rod is particularly thrilled that the First Half has added one more age group 75+, so he no longer has to race those young 70-74 whipper-snappers (although he generally beats them too). Rod has previously written for Running in the Zone (blog) and over the years numbers among one of the most frequent First Half competitors.

All of this said and done, it would be a very small event if only these elite and ‘competitive’ runners were the only ones taking part. The First Half is very much about the personal goals and efforts of all 2000 runners who will start the race at 8:30am, and then later cross that Finish Line. Whether it is someone’s very first half marathon, or a PB attempt by a seasoned runner, everyone has his or her own story. For some reason, the First Half has given a lot of people a great story to tell. It is a fast course, being mostly flat, but it is also February and you would think not ideal for fast running, being early in the season and a wee bit cool in relative terms. Still, a LOT of people do record PB’s and the winning and record times are among the fastest times for BC half marathons. It may be partly that the race has an inspiring reputation that brings out our best, or maybe it is the fact that runners have taken a bit of a rest over the Christmas/New Year time and are coming to the event refreshed and well trained.

Maybe it is the fantastic volunteer crew helping runners to achieve their very best. Maybe it is the quality of the food and festivities at the end, and not wanting to miss a bit of it, that spurs runners on to a great time! Whatever, the race does bring forth some remarkable results.

MC's First Half - Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

MC’s First Half – Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

As one of the MC’s I know of some special stuff that will be on tap for participants, this being the 25th Running and all. Not giving anything away now though. Everyone will just have to wait until Sunday!

If you didn’t nab an entry, and aren’t already signed up to volunteer (one of the things that makes this one of Vancouver’s best), come on out and watch and cheer. Everyone appreciates a crowd cheering them in, and trust me, the closer you are to the back the more that counts! I speak from experience on that point. Once again, race partners have been extremely generous in their support enabling the First Half to make another donation to Variety – the Children’s Charity, in the 10′s of thousands. With the 2014 donation, the total to Variety alone is now over $600,000.

Having been associated, one way or another with the event, for over ten years I am still excited to be participating. Come see us at the stage on February 16 and say ‘Hi’! I will be up there with co-MC, Anjulie Latta.

 

TIME FOR A ROUND-UP OF NEW NEWS AND SOME MEMORIES

01.30.2014

The extensive and elegant offices (our spare bedroom) and archives (our condo storage unit) of Running in the Zone have been undergoing some cleaning and organizing of late. This has brought to light a whole range of items that I just think need some air. Some are historical in the true sense and some in a personal sense. Either way, I was struck by some of these as being pretty relevant today.

Ellen Lloyd

Ellen Lloyd

In Memoriam. I am going to get the sad one out of the way first and out of respect. BC sport lost a true champion in the last few days in the person of Ellen Lloyd. She was active in so many areas including swimming and life-saving, but I knew her through running and the organization of running. The big (collective) item for us was something called the Okanagan Express Relay. Way back in the 1980′s I lived and ran in the Okanagan. That was where I met Ellen and RITZ co-editor, Steve King as well as a good many others. We ran together including in the first Okanagan Express Relay. What, you say, is the Okanagan Express Relay?

It was an Expo ’86 idea. The very first running of the relay was in early June 1986. Fifteen teams of 26 runners, started just outside the Expo ’86 East Gate and ran to a downtown park in Summerland, in the heart of the Okanagan. No big deal. Only about 450km. Many people were involved, but Ellen was the heart and sole of it. It was all reviewed after the first running, which was won, as I recall, by a team from Lions Gate Roadrunners, notwithstanding that the LA Police Department sent a crack team along to bring home the inaugural hardware. As fun as it was, there were issues. Long race. Too many runners needed to make a team. Even with so many runners, very long legs.

Hood to Coast 1987

Hood to Coast 1987

The next year a bunch of us made up a team and headed for Oregon and the Hood to Coast Relay, to see how they did it, and to promote the Okanagan Express. Again, Ellen was a driving force for this team and she brought in another Summerlander, Bob Brown, who just happened to own a car dealership in Penticton and who strongly supported running activity in the area, including sponsoring our team, “Bob’s Border Busters”. We had a ball and learned a lot. The photo here is actually Bob, handing off to Ellen at the third leg exchange for each of them. I am sorry to say that Bob passed away a few years back, so we have lost him too. But, this tribute is meant to be positive and to celebrate these lives and their contributions. And, a funny little story that happened just moments after this picture was taken was that Bob, who ran some but never raced, had a burning question for the rest of the team (well, except Ellen who was busy running). Seems that even though it was his third of three legs, only on this leg and only just before the photo was taken, he had passed someone. He was very excited about that but was also quite concerned about whether he had exhibited proper running etiquette. His question was essentially, “What do you say to someone when you pass them? Do you say sorry?” What?” We assured him didn’t have to say anything and that he had broken no rules and had exhibited no bad runner manners.

We brought back what we had learned and realized we could make it much easier by reducing members on a team and running multiple legs, actually having each member run a longer distance, but not all at once. We also changed the route, making the run a bit simpler and maybe safer. Rivalry among those participating was fabulous and fun was had by all. Sadly, it seemed that although the initial relay had almost twice as many teams (15) as the first Hood to Coast (8), it never grew. The 1987 Hood to Coast Relay was only the fifth running and they already had 500 teams. Reluctantly, it was concluded that the Okanagan Express would not continue. I am thrilled to say that I was able to participate in all three runnings and to be a part of the planning and organizing  group.

Vic Emery (Olympic Gold 1964 - Four-Man Bobsled)

Vic Emery (Olympic Gold 1964 – Four-Man Bobsled)

RITZ Gets Around. While on the subject of the Okanagan, I was thrilled to get an e-mail from Steve King with a photo attached of a Canadian sport hero, Vic Emery (Canadian 4-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion from 1964). There he is reading his copy of Running in the Zone and we hope, being inspired to continue with his competitive cross-country skiing, the reason he was in the Okanagan and visiting with Steve. Vic is now 80 years of age and still enjoying an active life as evidenced by his ski racing.

First Half Anniversary. In just a few days, it will be the 25th running of the First Half Half Marathon. As many know, I was privileged to be a race director for this event and one of ‘my’ races was the 20th First Half. We put out a race booklet with all kinds of interesting photographs and memories from the past.  One of the big items in terms of sponsorship, or partnering, is that from the very beginning Forerunners has supported this event. Most people do not really recall the first First Half in 1989, but Peter Butler does. He won it. Actually, he won it in an amazing time - too amazing. Somehow, that first course turned out to be about 800m short of  a half marathon. Oops. Well, he still won it, but the time will have to have an asterisk beside it, forever.

Looking through the booklet, I saw a photo of Forerunners clinic coach Carey Nelson (a much younger fella then), as he won the 1996 event with a time of 1:05:12. To put that in context, it is not the record time, but it is less than a minute slower than the existing record, currently held by Dylan Wykes, Canada’s second fastest marathoner behind Jerome Drayton, an honour Peter Butler held since 1986 until only recently. With the expected field this year, there is a very real chance that the First Half record is going to drop again, but as always that kind of thing depends on the day and the contestants and whether it is an all-out speed fest or a strategic race. More on that at a later time. The record was held for years (from 1992) by Bruce Deacon, but starting with Ryan Hayden (2007) and then twice by Dylan Wykes (2011, 2012) the time has been pushed down to its current 1:04:21.

Personal Past Glory. Naturally, a lot of the historical material I unearthed is pretty personal. I came across a few publications that had features on Running in the Zone (the book) contributors, including Maurice Tarrant, Lynn Kanuka and Steve King. I even found a Penticton Pounders Newsletter (Jan 1990) with a profile on ME! It was one of these who are you, what do you do, and how well do you do it. One question was: What are your long-term goals? My answer was: Continue to run for fun and health for at least the next 20 years. Here it is January 2014. Guess I can tick that one off the old ‘to do’ list! But, that doesn’t mean I’m quitting. Maybe I should just declare my intentions of carrying on for another 20. Maybe. Hey, if I start from 2010, I’ve already got four years done.

Something else I noted with interest was that although I didn’t know it at the time I had run all my PB’s for all the common distances from 5K to Marathon. While not spectacular, they weren’t bad: 3:24 for marathon, 42:43 for 10K, 19:25 for 5K, but in one of my narrative responses, I referred to myself as a ‘back of the packer’. In truth, I may have been exaggerating just a wee bit, but surely was not more than a slower mid-pack runner in the Okanagan running community of the day. I celebrate the participation aspect of running today, but did find it interesting to compare then and now.

Whole Lotta Hardware

Whole Lotta Hardware

A Box Full of Medals. In respect to both past and continuing glory, I finally rescued my race medals from a shoe box where they have lived for many years, or at least as long as I have had them. I’ve been looking for a display rack, but having failed to find what I wanted, decided I could make one myself. In the end I made two and unfortunately, or fortunately some might say, there are still quite a few medals still in the box. Putting all my marathon, and one 50K ultra, medals up was a no-brainer. I have run 22 actual marathons and one ultra. Unfortunately, the PB mentioned above was run in 1988 and nobody was giving out finisher medals. That is the only one for which there is no medal and the one I would really LIKE to have. Oh well, I know it is there even if nobody else can see it.

These medals (marathon) remind me of a question I have been asked fairly often in recent times, especially by new or aspiring marathoners. What is your favorite marathon?  Truth is, I haven’t run that many different marathons, tending to return to the scene of the crime. The left-most set of medals represent my four Vancouver Marathons and the next set my five Victoria Marathons. When I look carefully and count up unique events, I have run eleven. So, I am hardly a world authority. As any marathoner knows, each event is special in its own way. Nobody would deny that the New York City Marathon is something special. Beyond that I guess you’d have to say the matter is very personal. I suppose by shear medal count, I have voted five times for Victoria and it was the scene of me proving (to myself, as much as anything) after 12 years and a bout of back surgery, that I could still do a marathon. No denying it is a great event. My medal collection represents quite a range of events from New York with about 40,000 to a couple like Winthrop where the number of finishers hit only around 100. I find it surprisingly hard to give a straight answer to my eager questioners. These events are all special in their own way. I guess the best advice is pick one you really want to do and do it. They are all 42.2km.

After the marathons, the next obvious set is for races where I had a podium place and for which medals were given (left side lower rack). Actually, the plaque hanging under the medals is a podium finish – Third Place M65-69, Eugene Marathon 2010. I’m pretty proud of that one because there were 16 competitors in that age grouping. Then, my 8 Hood to Coast medals had to have a place to hang, dating from 1987 through 2013. The rest of the hooks available are occupied by medals of which I am fond for one reason or another, including the three medals given to participants when I was Race Director of the First Half, my Reggae Marathon medals (still missing the actual marathon one, though) and finally a whole batch of races that are special for their own reasons in my personal history. The best of these is probably the one from the Willis Greenaway Half Marathon (Willis being the person who inspired me to keep running as long as I have), followed by my Boston 5K medal from 2009. That was the inaugural year of this event and the year I accompanied our daughter Janna while she ran the Big Race.

Scaling Performance When You Can’t Win. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about age grading as a means of comparing personal performance over the years. I do believe in, but don’t much advocate for, comparison with absolute performances by younger runners in any given race. Among the materials I came across was a piece entitled “The Big Leagues” from Runners World (February, 1990). It was all about heavy or “Huba Buba” runners, and by heavy I just mean people who are big, not overweight. It is a serious yet somewhat light-hearted look at running in weight rather than age divisions and has a table showing that someone weighing more than the feather-weight elite runners, is really disadvantaged by, even if they come by that weight just by being tall. In another article I once read that if you are a man and weigh more than 155 lb you need not apply to win anything, for the most part not even an age division in a competitive race.

The reason I found this interesting is that just recently I was alerted to a grading system from the University of Dayton that employs weight AND age to ‘adjust’ performance to some sort of common standard. The outcomes are interesting from my own perspective and study of the models. Using both the WMA age grading calculator of Howard Grubb and this new ‘double whammy’ system, I can say that age tends to create a bigger impact. Looking at both, results are pretty heartening for a guy like me. Even when I ran my PB’s, I was 43 or 44 and age had kicked in as a factor. Most of the time I have run, been healthy and well trained, my weight has been  185-186 lb or just under 85 kg. I’m not going to go into how wonderful all this seems to make me, but it sure provides an ego boost.  My main point is that some 25 years ago, people were very clear on the impact of weight and age on performance. Most of us run for the fun of it. We do what we do and that is just fine.

Well, I think that is it for today. You never can tell. Some of these things (well, the First Half, for sure) may become blog posts in their own right.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook For Seasoned Athletes is now available in e-book format from Trafford Publishing (see link).

A Late-Life Comeback to Racing

01.24.2014

He’s Back - on the Blog and at the races! Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes contributor, Roger Robinson has given us permission to re-produce his recent piece on a personal journey and personal miracle of mind over matter. This article is reproduced here with gratitude to Roger, a) for writing it, and b) Running Times where it was originally published.

Roger is a great supporter of Running in the Zone and frequently offers his writings for use on the blog.

This article should inspire and encourage every Seasoned Athlete, and I would hope, quite a few that haven’t reached that lofty perch just yet.

Thanks Roger!

Enjoy.

A Late-Life Comeback to Racing

Some ideas for older post-injury runners

       Published

January 23, 2014 (Running Times)

Roger Robinson's last run in 2006Sunday was my knee’s third birthday. Not my birthday, just my right knee’s. Three years ago, on January 19, 2011, I went under the knife for a partial knee replacement. (Or under the saw, more accurately. I was a little perturbed when the surgeon told me his father had been a carpenter.) It was surgery that I thought at the time had ended my running for ever. I was wrong. Three months after the surgery, I tried shuffling a few tentative steps. By the first anniversary, I had progressed – slowly, cautiously, stubbornly, to running for one exact hour. I happily celebrated that milestone in this column. (Small Steps, Big Strides, Roger on Running, January 2012).

[For five years, this 2006 newspaper photo (above, right) was captioned 'my last run'  - inaccurately, as things worked out.]

“You inspired me get back into running after my first baby,” commented one kind reader. “I loved your account of how deeply you missed being able to run. Most people don’t understand that sense of lack,” said another. “However injured and old you are, there’s always hope” – that was probably the one I related to best.

So, in mid-January again, another two years on, I thought I should provide an update.

After that first year of careful jogging, I consciously began to introduce more variety. I ran hills, working harder on the ups and barely jogging the downs. I added minutes progressively to the occasional longer runs, edging up to 90 minutes. Those long runs seem to get good results, but I don’t risk them often. I even began to run repeats. I’ve always done those by time, not measured distance, and always on changing terrain, never around a track, so it was easy to find a pleasant place, often an uphill slope where the impact is reduced, to run (say) 6 x 2 minutes, more or less equivalent to a session of 400s. Later I tried sessions like 3 x 4 minutes, or a mix of 2min/3min/5min, or other variations.

Who would have thought I’d ever runs 400s again? Even more amazing, who would have thought I’d ever race again? But I do. At first, it was all PW’s (personal worsts) and finishing dead last (see Summer Running, Roger on Running, July 20, 2011). Slowly it got a little better. I worked my 5km time from 10min miles down into the 8′s, enjoying some friendly mid-Hudson area races for oldies (over-50 or over-60), with slightly off-putting names like “Mommas and Poppas” or “Wheezers and Geezers.” It wasn’t the names that bothered me so much as the fact  that one course passed a retirement village at halfway and finished between two funeral homes.

And so I rediscovered the eternal triple reward of competitive racing: 1. the long-term friends you make among those who have been your short-term rivals, 2. the challenge (which includes an element of fear) of testing yourself against competition and time, and 3. (if all goes well) the sense of progress. In September 2013 I won my grade in the Dutchess County Classic 5km, in 23:55. That’s 7 minutes 42 seconds per mile. I never thought I’d hear the call “seven…” again. I won’t exaggerate and say it felt like winning the Olympics, because I know perfectly well that I used to warm up for a marathon at a faster pace than that. I’m no fantasist. I simply go around claiming an Over-70-With-One-Artificial-Knee World Record.

One of those new friends surprised me by writing an engaging first-person narrative of a race we both ran. Since it gives an outside view that complements my own, I asked his permission to include it here.

Roger the Rabbit by Christopher Kennan, Millerton, NY

Every once in a while, running brings you something marvelous and unexpected. Today, that happened at a five mile trail race called Bridge-to-Bridge, a fund-raiser for the Mohonk Preserve, near New Paltz, NY, which I intended as a training-pace run.

The route is on lovely carriage trails among the trees, and the field of 170 meant it wasn’t crowded. Right after the start I found myself just behind a guy who looked to be in my 60-69 age group, moving on the gradual ascent at a decent pace, wearing a 100th Boston Marathon singlet.  Must be serious. I decided I would hang out behind him for a bit before moving on. Despite my pre-race plan, the competitive juices were flowing. And this fellow’s pace seemed quite spirited. I revised my strategy, figuring I would easily catch him on the downhill.

So along we went, passing others, me holding a steady 15-20 yards behind him. When we came to the short but sharp uphill just before halfway, lots of people were walking, but my “rabbit” kept running. Soon we headed sharply back downhill, where the total focus had to be on roots and rocks.

On a long gradual descent, I decided to make my move. To my frustration, after a glance behind, he did too.  The distance between us was actually increasing. Grip! I needed to spend time in that region of effort where running moves from pleasure to pain. So at about four miles, I threw in a surge. But the pace just got faster. Now we were running well under 8:00min miles. Damn! This plan wasn’t working. But in sight of the finish line, we went sharply downhill, and I saw he was pulling up a bit. I let it fly, and finished just in front of him.

I turned around to congratulate him, confessing I had been on his tail. Very graciously, he returned the congratulations, but later in the conversation mentioned that at 74 his artificial knee couldn’t handle the downhills.

That was not what I wanted to hear. A 74 year-old with a knee replacement? And I only just caught him? Time to quit?

Well, not so quick. From other friends, I found the guy is a legend of running, and not just a local one. Even now, he showed me a thing or two about maintaining a wicked pace, and about the pleasures of chatting after the race is over. As I run my next big marathon, Roger Robinson will be the guy I’m thinking of.

Thanks, Chris. I like being Roger the Rabbit. My only dissent from Chris’s observant report is that when I took that glance behind, I was actually looking fearfully for my old friend Norm Goluskin, a much superior 70+ runner to me, who was unwell and had a bad race. I couldn’t believe my luck. I did see Chris, but he looked much too youthful to be relevant to my age-group.

I don’t claim to be a role model, but for other runners who may be in similar situations of recovery from long-term interruption, or are simply coping with being older, here are some things that have helped me in my late-life revival. I’ve discussed these ideas with other older runners, including the late British legend Chris Chataway, whose notable return to racing in his seventies was described in his obituary a few days ago (See Chris Chataway, Key figure in 1st Sub-4 Mile, Dies, January 20, 2014)

  • Progress by small increments. I wrote two years ago that my mantra comes from Joseph Conrad’s character Nostromo: “I must get rich very slowly.”
  •  Measure your runs by time, not distance. It saves a lot of worry about having a bad day or getting slower, and is very convenient on hilly terrain.
  • Keep variety. Change the shoes you wear, the terrain you run on, the total time of each run, sometimes the pace.
  • Even include repeats. The old principle still holds, at whatever age: you can’t expect to race at a pace faster than you ever run in training. And once you have a base of miles, repeats (whatever your age) are the surest and quickest way to strengthen your cardio-respiratory system and get faster.
  • However, if you do include repeats, allow more recovery between. Decades ago, I used to make the recovery about half the effort (ie after a 5-minute effort, jog for 2 ½ minutes). Now I take double (ie after a 5-minute effort, jog 10 minutes). You can do a 25-year-old’s training, I believe, if you take a 70-year-old’s recovery.
  • Also – here I’m sternly lecturing myself – don’t make repeats too hard. Twice in the last year, I’ve given myself minor leg injuries by pushing them. Old habits die hard. The problem for experienced runners is that our joints and musculature age faster than our cardio-respiratory system, so it never feels fast in terms of breathing.
  • Take rest days. I kept expecting to be able to build up to running every day, with easy runs as recovery days, like in the old days, but it hasn’t happened. Each time I’ve tried to increase the training days up to even six in the week, something has gone wrong. Four or five days a week seems best.
  • Find good off-road surfaces. The rate of wear on the knee prosthetic (and everything else) has to be related to the impact of each stride. That’s why there are so many ex-runners now cycling. I mostly avoid road and hard-sealed trails. I also avoid, or take great care on, tricky uneven surfaces. I used to love them, but at this stage any fall can be serious.
  • Enjoy the privilege. The secret to enjoying a rich and positive life after 50 is to stay active, all the experts say, and that’s true; but I think I’ve by chance found something even more crucial – give yourself a sense of progress, of improvement. Running can always give that, even though over time you’re inevitably slowing. Use a new come-back (like mine), a new target race, even simply a new season, to run more, or faster, or more often, or more purposefully. Measure your progress against the beginning of this season, not your times of 40 years ago, or even last year. The runner’s mindset is that if we do the work, we’ll improve. There are age-graded tables to give that a kind of reality, and my personal method is to list the several world records I hold  – fastest time ever recorded on particular courses. I retain those records by the simple device of not telling anyone else (especially Norman) where the courses start and finish. If the time comes when I can’t break those records, I’ll switch to a new course. Whatever works.

The anniversary run itself on January 19 was a nice one, 70 minutes in the sunshine of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, most of that time on a deserted long curving beach at low tide, the sand softly firm like the pads on a kitten’s paw. Perfect for old joints and phony knees. It was one of those runs, and there are many of them now, that seem like an unexpected and wonderful bonus. It’s not often in this world that we can enjoy dawn at twilight.

PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN

01.10.2014

I stole the title. I cannot tell a lie.

I even stole the idea. The shame, oh the shame!

When it comes to running there are many reasons to run and some actually don’t need much of a real plan – just do it (Oops, I did it again). However, if you are going to race/compete, then a plan is kind of important and this would be about the time of year when a serious runner intent on competing should look ahead to the new year and first, determine goals; then set out a realistic plan to achieve those goals. (Maybe not quite like the one to the left.)

Most of us aren’t elite runners who MUST set out a schedule that recognizes the timing of key events and the training, tune-up racing and recovery periods needed for peak performance. That doesn’t mean we can’t all benefit from taking that look ahead to what is personally important to accomplish and determine the road by which the ‘destination’ can be reached. When I use the term ‘serious’ I do not necessarily mean what most would call ‘good’. No, a serious runner is simply one who cares about his or her goals and commits the effort and discipline to pursue and achieve them.

SETTING GOALS. The nature of the goals you may set for yourself can vary widely and just like the many ‘reasons to run’ that runners may have, goals will be rather unique to the individual as well. I do think that to be effective, the goal must have some specificity. If you don’t know where you are going, it is hard to get there. Of course, the good news is pretty much any road will take you there. Or so they say.

Being specific, to the point that you can see what is required is important. By specific, I do not necessarily mean minutes and seconds on the time for a particular race. That can work for top level athletes who really know their pace and performance such that they could set a goal like a 29:30 time for 10K. For most of us, a realistic goal might be ‘a new PB for 10K’. You already know what you can do/have done and your goal will be to do better. For a lot of the readers of a blog meant for ‘seasoned athletes’, true PB’s may be harder to achieve, and in pure form, NOT even realistic.

CREATING A PLAN. In my own case I generally do develop a plan for my running year, even if it may be to take it easy and simply enjoy the doing of it. Still, I usually have some idea of what I’d like to do by way of running and racing and an idea of what I want to achieve by way of performance. Sometimes my primary goal is simply participating in the event – such as doing the Hood to Coast Relay. Sometimes the goal is to achieve a particular time for a particular distance, and consequently what might be an age-graded PB, or recent PB. Personally, I am too old to actually nail a pure PB, all of mine coming more than 20, make that 25, years ago.

Once you know what you hope to achieve, it is very important to build the plan to get there.

One of my clear goals over the last years is to use the Percent Performance value that the WMA calculator provides as an indicator of continued performance. Times mean less and less for me, but I like to try to keep all my Annual PB % Performance values up to standard with earlier performances. In my case I do have to recognize that I really have two racing periods, one before back problems and the eventual surgery, the other after that. However, for some 15 years now, when running uninjured and properly trained, I am thrilled to have achieved that steady performance level and will continue to use it as the mark to be met or exceeded. It is an excellent way to plan and measure achievements, particularly when your primary competition is a younger you.

THE REALLY BIG PERSONAL GOAL. A popular goal is the mystical Boston Qualifier. The nice thing about the BQ is it moves with us. It is not a single time, but rather a series of times based on age and gender. That doesn’t make it easy, just theoretically achievable. Some people can just run that fast, some can do it if they really work at it and push themselves to a limit that really stretches them. Being realistic about it, I have actually separated the BQ into two goals for myself. With the new ‘fastest first’ registration I count myself among those who might achieve the technical qualifying time for my age group (Goal #1) yet not achieve Goal #2, actually running Boston. Let me be clear: if I should ever qualify, I will do my utmost to register and run the race. However, I recognize that while Goal #1 is within my control, Goal #2 is far less so. I will take great pride in qualifying should that ever happen.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING PRACTICAL. We must take care about making our goals realistic in relation to our physical capabilities, capacity to train toward them and ability to commit the time needed. I would love to run a marathon at or very near three hours, unfortunately I have never done that, even at my best. So, that is hardly a realistic goal. I have also never qualified for Boston. All the speculation above notwithstanding, it isn’t clear that I am physically able to do so. However and for the reasons noted, that current qualifying time (4:25) is far more realistic than my example of a totally unachievable three hour time.

It seems that if I really want to set a goal of a BQ it would, for me, be almost as big as an elite runner setting sights on a national or even world record. It would have to be my 100% total goal for the year, maybe a couple of years. Everything I did would need to be part of the build toward my goal race. Even picking the right race would be part of the plan. In general terms, a BQ is not an insurmountable standard or hardly anyone would be good enough to achieve it. For me and everything that is me in 2014, it is that hard. I would never try to claim that the only reason I’ve never qualified is because I haven’t dedicated myself sufficiently to the cause, but equally I will say it is a very real factor. There are too many other challenges that appeal to this old road warrior. It is too easy to let one or more of those break the training plan.

ALMOST EVERYONE BENEFITS FROM A PLAN. I guess I got onto this subject because my run clinic coach just sent out his weekly message in which he strongly suggested we set out goals for ourselves as a part of creating a workable plan to achieve them. As I said, I’ve always sort of done this sometime early in the year. I can’t say that on January 1st I always set out the entire year’s plan.

As an example only, in 2013, at this time, I really had just one goal – run the best marathon possible, with the Eugene Marathon (late April) as the target race.

I had run Eugene twice before, once in 2011 when I was injured and recorded my marathon Personal Worst time, and the other time in 2010 when I had myself a recent PB, which turned out to be my third best raw and second best age-graded time. I was pretty sure that if there was going to be a good marathon time for this guy, Eugene was the place to do it. I sort of forgot that three years had passed since I had run a marathon well trained and injury free, and at my current age it seems each year is more a ’dog-year’ than human! I was a bit disappointed with the result until I started looking at circumstances and realized that it was my 7th best marathon (age graded) out of some 18 total at the time. And on the day, not everything worked totally to plan, so the result was actually very satisfactory. Oh, and by the way, based on my decades of experience, ‘on the day’ things seldom go 100% to plan.  Just sayin’.

FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT. This brings in another factor in planning - the back-up. If your goal is to run a particular race as well as you can, then you are stuck with the weather, your knees, stomach, head etc on that day. But, if your goal is to run a particular distance (like a marathon) as well as you can, then it can be wise to have a secondary goal race, just in case it is deluging frogs on race day.

Back to my personal example of 2013: I had one primary idea – run Eugene well. My secondary plan was to register for Boston if that plan worked superbly, and boy do I mean ‘superbly’. Failing a superb run on my part, the plan was to be under a specific time and then to assess the next goal from there, possibly moving to a Plan B or Plan C, both of which I had already laid out. I was indeed, under my ‘minimum’ acceptable performance time but not by a lot, so I then went to “Plan B” which was so far from the BQ plan that it turned things totally around re my training plan approach.

Plan B was to live up to the fact that I had joined Marathon Maniacs in March 2013, having met the base requirement back in 2008. I knew that the key to a lot of marathons per the Maniac approach is pretty simple, slow down and keep running. That was what I did and without boring the reader with all the details, I set out a series of races that would take me toward Silver or Two Star Maniac status. That worked OK until summer started and any marathons I could find were looking pretty warm. Besides, 2013 was one of those Hood to Coast years. I did not want to let my team down by being super slow because of fatigue based on too many miles of running. I stopped marathoning in July and started trying to find some speed for the relatively short legs of Hood to Coast.

Once that was done, I had to get back to marathon condition by end of September, so I went back to what was a rather unconventional training plan for my next marathon, using some longer runs and a couple of races, including a half marathon, to bring myself back to marathon shape. Truth be told, the first marathon in the second half of my quest was run as a training run and became my brand new PW for marathon. The weather didn’t help any on that one! Don’t think I’ve ever been wetter at the end of a race (did I mention the deluging frogs thing?). Whatever, I was back to the essence of Plan B and ready to take myself on out through the remainder of the year. When all was said and done I had run six marathons, one 50K ultra (first ever and therefore a PB), two half marathons, two 10K’s and a 5K, not to mention three legs of Hood to Coast. With the adjustment from Plan A to Plan B, I can honestly say the year was based on a set of goals and a plan to achieve them, which I did, including becoming a Two Star Maniac. Was it pretty? No, not in the sense of any stellar times, but other than maybe that very first race in Eugene, that was not the primary objective.

A PLAN PAYS OFF. Frankly, had I not plotted all this out in general terms, including the training required, I might well not have survived! I won’t say that every training run and every race was precisely according to my clever and rigorous plan. It would be a lie if I did. However, it was a good year and I can honestly say that other than the BQ (which was more a dream than a goal) I pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do. That is the point. Without knowing where I wanted to go and having a general idea of how I was going to get there, it would not have happened. I should be clear that I did not expect a BQ from Eugene. My realistic goal of running well enough to indicate the BQ was possible, would have taken me to Plan C rather then Plan B.

Plan C would have been to train single mindedly toward a Fall marathon where I might just be able to achieve that illusive BQ time. Besides, and this is part of the planning process, my realistic hope for a BQ would mean qualifying in the M70-75 category, and that could only have happened in the Fall of 2013 in time for the 2015 Boston Marathon.

One trick about setting goals and plans is to remember that flexibility is important. Sometimes things do go just as you imagine, but there can be minor injuries (which need to get attention before they become major), life can get in the way with conflicting events and demands, races can get canceled or weather can blow your intentions right out of the water with respect to any given race. Flexibility should not be mistaken for ‘wimpy’, but equally, stupid rigidity should not be mistaken for courage and strength.

ALTERNATIVES TO PURE TIME BASED GOALS. I have gone on at length about my own ruminations and processes simply as an example that any number of things can impact what you do. Some goals may be secondary, knowing that they will impact the running goals/performance. For instance, if the years have packed on just a couple too many pounds, a worthy goal might be to lose “X” pounds or kilograms. If that is a reasonable and healthy goal, combined with a training plan, it is almost certain that running performance will improve. I mean, you will be carrying far less weight from Point A to Point B and that just has to be a good thing.

Another secondary goal/plan might be to add at least one cross-training workout to the mix, or strength training. While not directly run related, the strong evidence is that when combined with a good running training plan, these types of activities will enhance running performance.

In a lot of regions there are race series which require completion of so many events to score points as a series competitor. Some award prizing while others just offer a special recognition of achieving the particular outcome of doing all or some specified number of the events.

I feel it important to stress that as one really begins to age the pure ‘gun time’ result is slowly and eventually going to slip. If you have just begun to run, you will likely see a good 3-4 years of improvement regardless of current age. However, over time most people just cannot continue to achieve new PBs. If performance is important to a person, it is at this point when we must look at other relative measures of that performance.  If true PB’s were set a long time ago, you can look at a recent/shorter period of time like the last three to five years. You can do as I like doing and employ an age-grading calculator to compare yourself with the younger you. Some races do that for you by including an age-graded result and ranking. While I will admit I always look, I only use the age related times or performance indicators to look at my own relative performance in the privacy of my own spreadsheet.

I guess that if you are the highly competitive type you could set a goal to win a race, a particular race, your age group, or even to beat one or more specific rivals. You could. Most people really don’t need this kind of goal, but some do. Wanna see my podium place medals?  Do you? I long ago realized that if I just kept running, a time would come when I could claim some of those winner medals. Of course now that I’m here I am realizing that when you are First out of One, the more important achievement is that you ARE the ONE (who is still out there), not that you got the first place medal.

MY ULTIMATE PERSONAL GOAL AND PLAN. Just keep on keeping on for as long as you can and as long as it is FUN!