Archive for September, 2010

Looking Forward, Looking Back


Just a day or so ago I bit the bullet and signed up for the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon.  Why is that news?  Well it is the tenth anniversary of another Victoria Marathon I did, and that marathon was, to me, a bit of a personal miracle.  I will let the following post tell the story.  I wrote it shortly after running that marathon.

I debated whether or not to publish it here, but we do put this blog out to the “seasoned” athletes among us and I am pretty sure I am not alone when it comes to the kind of challenge described.  I actually laughed at some of the things I said at the time, such as “an old guy of 55”.  Seems so young now!  Everything is relative I guess. 

There is another significance to it as well.  Although co-editor, Steve King, and I had known each other from times well before the events of the following story, we had not seen each other in years (as I lived a long way away from 1990 and on).  It was at this event, which Steve announced in his remarkable and unmistakable way, that we reconnected.  And, truth be told, may well have been the beginnings and stirrings of what became Running in the Zone – both the book and now the blog!  Finally, it was at the Victoria Marathon in 2005 that we launched the book.  The more I think of it and in light of the foregoing, I suppose the question of why this is news, is pretty easy to answer!

So here it is, exactly as I wrote it at the time:


I floated in a warm darkness until a sharp pain in my lower back forced me into awareness.  A female voice asked if I was in pain. I must have said yes. I felt a small prick in my upper thigh and heard the voice say, “You can have as much of this as you need.”  The dark closed in again.  I had been waiting for months to have this back surgery done and even as the mist of the anesthetic was still swirling in my head, I knew things felt better.  Not great, yet, but better.

Running had been an important part of my life for years.  I was no Olympian, just a 45 year old guy with an athletic background and a love of distance running.  When my back went I had achieved performances of which I was personally proud, regularly setting new PR’s for everything from 5K’s to marathons.  I wasn’t even the fastest guy in my age group, but since I was only running against me, I “won” almost every time.  Sometime in 1989 my back began to hurt and finally about October the disk ruptured. May, 1990 I went “under the knife”.  That is where my story begins – in a hospital bed in North Vancouver, B.C.

One of my most cherished accomplishments was running the 1988 Vancouver Marathon.  I had trained hard, run well (3:25) and finished right on schedule according to my own training and game plan.  I had seldom felt so good about anything.  I wanted that feeling again.  So, there in the hospital, I decided I would run another marathon.  When, where and how fast didn’t matter.

Atop a cliff in Victoria, on New Year’s Eve, greeting the Millennium with my wife and our good friends of 35 years, I resolved this would be the year I did my next marathon.  Ironically, there was more to the moment than I realized.  Although I was thinking of an encore at the Vancouver Marathon it turned out to be the Royal Victoria.  That course passes a few meters from where we were standing in the chilling cold of a December gale blowing off the Straights of Juan de Fuca. 

Our daughter, Janna, decided to do Victoria with me.  The whole family arranged to be there including my father-in-law from Ottawa and our older daughter from Toronto.  Our son was already studying in Victoria. Having our own cheering section was a key part of the whole experience.  We were there and we were really going to do it!

Race morning the anticipation grew as we awaited the start.  Then, the wheelchair athletes were gone.  I hugged Janna.  The gun went!  We were off!  Just 42.2 km to go! 

More accurately, the gun went and we stood there.  With 2700 people it takes a little time to get started.  At 1 km we were over a minute behind my projected time, but into a good stride, making everything up by 10km.  That was my first mistake.  At 5 km our cheering section and “official” photographers were there to speed us on, video running, shutters clicking! How different from my solitary training runs!

The weather was perfect.  At half way I was well ahead of schedule, even with an unplanned potty stop. I should mention that having gotten into the thrill of it, my goal had somehow gone from just finishing to doing 4 hours or less.  By 35 km, the wheels were coming off my wagon.  Actually, they didn’t come off; they seized up.  Lactic acid was building up rapidly.  Walking became essential.  I ran the flats and down-hills, saving brisk walking for the up-hills.  I focused on the few meters in front of me. The spectators cheered us on.  Quitting wasn’t a consideration.

RVM Finish 2000

A few steps to go - RVM 2000

Two kilometers – a mile- a kilometer!  I had done it!  Nothing would stop me now!  Suddenly, the lactic acid was gone.  I picked up my pace.  200 meters!  I kept my eyes glued on the finish line.  100 meters!  My time was not going to be under 4 hours, but it wasn’t so bad for an old guy of 55 with a wonky back.  As I crossed the line I remembered: “run and smile for the camera”.  Someone put a finisher’s medal around my neck.  Pride swelled over me, followed by an instant realization that the lactic acid in my legs hadn’t gone anywhere.  I was walking now.  There was no further need to run.  I had just finished the marathon I promised myself in a hospital bed 10 years before.

My wife was there with hugs and kisses.  Janna had broken 4 hours with a time of 3:58:53.  I was as happy for her as I was for myself.  Soon our other kids, our friends and my father-in-law joined us.

Then came one of the most amazing things of the whole marathon: Our older daughter said she was so inspired she wanted to do one too!  Know what?  Victoria couldn’t have been all that hard, because as I lay prostrate on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature, 20 minutes after finishing, trying to stretch the stiffness out of my legs, I heard myself say, “Sure, when?”

[Ed Note: She (Danielle) did her marathon about a year later in Toronto, but without me as I was temporarily living pretty much on the other side of the world.

And, for some years now Victoria, half or full marathons have become a family event with at least two of the three of Danielle, Janna and me participating.  2010 will see both of them doing the Half and me the Full, and once again the cheer team of wife, Judi and son Cam, will be there to encourage us and bring us home to the finish.  I include this because I am very proud of it, but also because it fits with one of the “goals” discussed in a recent post – making a family event out of something like this race weekend.]

Are You Ready to Go Sub-2:00:00?


I’ve done it lots of times.  Of course I was running the Half Marathon, not the “full Monty”.  But, you knew the question had to come up when the standard dropped below 2:04 for the marathon.

I guess that nobody reading this blog is in that league, but maybe there is something to learn for everyone.  Technique is technique.  That is the thrust of the link below.  We all want to get to that next level or some personal goal we have established.  I know that enjoyment of running is NOT linked to competitiveness for everyone, but it is for some, maybe a lot of us, even if the competition is just with our last best time.

At RITZ the Blog we do not endorse things like this video, but we do offer them up for readers to consider.  Steve says we need to share this with you!  Are you ready for a new PB?  Maybe this is the way to achieve it.

Sub 2 Hour Marathon on YouTube

Sub-2:00?  That reminds me of a quote from Sir Roger Bannister upon breaking the four minute mile, and which we used to open “The Competition Zone” in Running in the Zone.  Here is what he said:

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt.  Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.” 

Is it possible to go under two hours?  I don’t know, but it is going to be fun watching to see.

Age Grading Tool


For “Seasoned” athletes age grading is a means to compare current results with past results and give context to performances over time.  There are a few of these available, but the one I personally use is the model developed by Howard Grubb, the “WMA age grading Caculator – 2006“.  I won’t get into the technology, as that is well covered elsewhere, including at this link.  I will address the more general question of why you would consider age grading at all.

After many years and much data, we have progressed from static tables where you would find your closest approximation, to “calculators”.  The model is seamless.  You can enter your age as a part year and still get an age graded equivalent time and percentage performance.  Strictly speaking, that isn’t the way most races do it – they use “age on race day” in whole years.  However, for personal estimation of progress against your own goals, I believe that if you wish to enter your age as 65.5 or 48.3 then go right ahead.  The same is true for unusual distances, like relay legs which never seem to be exact race distances like 5K, 10K etc.  The calculator doesn’t care.  Put in exact age and distance and you will get your result.

I use the logic that I might run one race right after my birthday, and another just before my next.  Using “age on day of race” your age is the same, yet you may be almost a year older.  In your younger years, it makes little difference, but as you start hitting the 60’s, well…..  I sometimes tell my friends that after about sixty, you start aging in “dog years”!  Well, it seems that way.

It is no secret that as we age, raw times begin to fade.  At first it is subtle, but eventually, unless you switch to an entirely new event, the PB becomes a thing of the past.  For some, that is an issue and a concern.  That was one of the reasons we first wrote “Running in the Zone”.  Most of us aren’t, and never were, super athletes, so running has to be fun and enjoyable.  For competitive types, I suppose that is why they invented age divisions.  You may not be able to win the race, but you can win your division.  But, even that doesn’t much help most runners.

Age grading allows you to compare your performance with your younger self and earlier performances.  Done properly, you should apply the age grading factor to both events, assuming that the earlier/younger result came after you were about 35.  Prior to that, age grading has little or no impact.

There are two grading factors to consider.  The first and most obvious is the adjusted time.  For example, let’s say you are 50 and have just run a 3:45 marathon.  Gender is important too.  You have to enter that fact into the calculator, so we will say the mythical marathoner is male.  And, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll say he ran the marathon to celebrate his birthday as he turned the big Five-O.  The adjusted time is 3:21:32.   Well, that is nice, but how does he use it to monitor progress?

Our boy likes these “birthday challenges”.  It turns out he also ran a marathon on his 40th birthday, just to celebrate and see.  Naturally, he was a bit quicker over the course (fortunately, the same one, and a similar weather day too).  He recorded a time of 3:26:30.  Clearly, those 10 years took their toll (18:30 worth).  Or did they?  When you age grade his result for his 40th Birthday Marathon, the adjusted time turns out to be……..wait for it………. 3:21:31!  In other words, in his competition with the calendar and the clock, age grading shows he held his own for those 10 years.  Pretty good birthday present, eh?

OK, I fudged the numbers to get the result.  I could just as easily have given him a time of 3:42 on his 50th and then age-grading would have shown 3:18:52.  Nice!  Not only that, but it really happens.  These times are far from unusual.

Those who have run races with Age Graded results will probably not recognize this model, but rather the “Percent Performance” format used by most events.  This is simply a comparative result against the world age standard.  You can also compare those year to year.  In my example this value comes out the same at 61.98%.  That is not a given, as it is totally dependent upon the world standard for the age.  For this specific example, the world standard for age 40 is 2:08:00, while for age 50 is 2:19:50.

Percent Performance gives the competitive runner a way to compare to others within an event, and again, with his or her own historical record.  As a personal example, I have struggled with some physical limitations having to do with a 20 year-old injury to my back and have recently taken aggressive steps to correct some related issues.  It pleases me greatly to note that between 2007 and 2010, my yearly best performances from 5K to marathon have slowly improved from an average of about 58% to about 62%.  I’m not getting older, I’m getting better!

These are far from stellar performances in the greater scheme of things, but that is not the point.  This tells me how I am doing relative to my own efforts and my personal limitations.  For most people that is what counts.  Without age grading, I would be faced with more than an hour’s difference between my best and latest marathons.  Over some twenty-two years that is not surprising but it is a lot of time and without the AG tool, I would have no way to objectively compare.

So, if you aren’t an absolute purist, and aren’t already into age-grading, give it a consideration.  If you aren’t competitive in spirit, then you don’t need this, don’t belong here (in this article), and probably stopped reading long ago.  For everyone else, give it a try and enjoy a new perspective on your running!

Running in the Zone Table of Contents


This blog is based on the book, Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes and we regularly mention contributors to the book.  However, if you don’t already have a copy, well, you might not know a) WHO all these contributors are and b) WHAT they actually contributed!  So, here is a look at the actual Table of Contents and what our original group of contributors thought they should share.






INTRODUCTION – Dan Cumming and Steve King

Running in the Zone a poem by Steve King



The Seasoned Runner as Hero                            Roger Robinson



Inspiration and Determination – A First Hand Account

of the Terry Fox Story                                             Doug Alward

Will Power Can Make Things Happen                    Wally Hild

The Ancient Marathoner (Jack Foster)                    Joe Henderson

Trying Harder (Emil Zatopek)                                 Richard Benyo

Running: Reflections and Revelations                    Laurelee Welder

To Run or Jog                                                         Neville Flanagan



Persistence or Non-Existence                                  Moe Beaulieu           

A Friend for Life                                                     Jane Ballantyne

Goal Setting and Adjusting Expectations                Bob Dolphin



Putting Your Heart and Soul Into Running for the

Most Mileage Possible                                            Rob Reid

Time and Knowledge: The Experienced

Athlete’s Gift to the Community                           Evan Fagan



Meditation for Runners                                           Dan Cumming

Running for FUN in Retirement

(Fitness/Understanding/Nutrition)                         Maurice Tarrant

Age Group Athletes and the Search

for Fitness, Enjoyment and Better Health               Lorne Smith



Competing at the Top                                             Paula Fudge

A Question of Retiring at 65                                   Herb Phillips

The Competitive 50+ Runner:

Setting Goals, Training and Racing                        Jack Miller

How to be a Faster Master                                     Bart Yasso

Aging Slower Than Your Competition                     Earl Fee



Attitude and Energy                                               Steve King

Motivation: You’re in Charge                                  Lynn Kanuka

Back on the Wagon                                                Don Kardong

Being the Best Runner You Can Be

at Your Present Age                                                Diane Palmason

They Call Me Marathon Mae                                   Mae Palm

The Race                                                                Bernd Heinrich 



Age Class Tables

Web Sites


 So, there you have it.  Every contributor had something valuable to say whether they were Olympians like Kanuka and Kardong or world record holders like Fudge and Heinrich, or professional writers like Henderson, Yasso, Robinson and Benyo OR simply avid runners (of course that would be all of us).  Now, when these folk are referenced in other posts, readers can at least see what the original input was to Running in the Zone.