Archive for May, 2011


Dan Cumming - Co-editor

Editor gets all serious as he contemplates his "Choices"

In our book, Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, contributor Herb Phillips took a run at “A Question of Retiring at 65“.  Anyone who has read that piece or checked out his recent race results, will know Herb’s answer, at least regarding himself.  At 70 plus our Herb has definitely NOT retired.  His “real” times are very respectable regardless of age, but when results age-graded, as some events now do officially for prizing, Herb is often the overall event winner. Even still, it seems that he proposes adjustments to the training regimen, emphasizing more distance and less intensity.   Ed Whitlock professes the same, famously booking lots of easy training miles around a nearby cemetry and using his races (he does lots of 5-10K events) for speed workouts.

We had a Running in the Zone Blog report recently from Roger Robinson in which he began to explore training and racing for the older athlete.  Again, the theme was in the direction of less intensity.  That is not to say the elite seniors under discussion were not performing well.  One of Roger’s interviewee’s was none other than the above-mentioned Ed Whitlock who recently crushed the world record for M80, turning in a time of 3:25:43.  Of course, Ed admitted he was hoping to knock another 10 minutes or so off that later this year at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  The previous record?  A still admirable 3:39.  I also just recently saw an article in the Vancouver Sun, talking about Ed somewhat from the standpoint of an amazing and unusual specimen of a senior.  They noted his raw time at Rotterdam put in him the top 9% of marathoners. No asterisks, no age-grading – TOP 9% – Period. 

So, what is this about?  Choices?

I don’t pretend to be anything like the gents I just mentioned, or several ladies such as Lenore Montgomery and BJ McHugh that I could have mentioned.  That said, the birthdays keep coming and I keep running.  I do this for me, as is the case for many people. (Sorry Ed, BJ, Lenore, Herb, as amazing as you all are, there are way more of “US” than there are of you!) 

As any who regularly follow this blog will know, I do run with a bit of a physical challenge from an old back problem that has come forward to today in the form of a nerve damaged left leg that doesn’t do its full share of the work.  So, my pleasure comes not through achieving a bunch of wins or even placings in my age group but just from the personal satisfaction of competing at the best level I can.  I use age-grading to help me compare the old me to the current me and as long as there is a similarity, I am happy.

I have always tried to differentiate running and racing.  Currently, I do both.  When the time comes, I will reluctantly but willingly (is that possible?) give up the racing in order to continue running.  In a recent marathon clinic where I was leading a pace group, I mused as we ran about how I might deal with an iron-clad promise that I could achieve the (personally elusive) Boston Qualifier I have been chasing, including actually running Boston.  The price? – never running again afterwards.  Such a devil’s bargain is one I would not make.  Running is too important a part of my life to trade it for a moment of glory.

So, you might ask why I am writing about this topic now.  I reported my marathon result at Eugene, just a few days ago.  It wasn’t good.  It wasn’t good because of a knee injury that is nagging but thankfully not permanent.  That said, it gave an insight to what may be a future reality and caused me to do some reflecting.  On the trip there was plenty of time to chat with Rod Waterlow, who at 73 can still churn out a marathon time well under four hours (3:50:42 in Eugene) but who has also seen that time creeping up a few minutes every year or two.  Rod has completed 26 marathons, so he has a platform of perspective.  Although we didn’t discuss it and one should never say never, it seems to me that Rod may not ever be happy to turn in a marathon result over four hours as a norm.  There are always specific circumstances such as weather or minor injury where we just can’t fully control the outcome, but when Rod cannot any longer break four hours as a matter of course, it seems that could be a point of choice for him.  That said, upon reviewing his most recent time with the aid of age-grading technology, he discoverd that this was his second best marathon and by only fractions different from #1.  That certainly takes the sting out of a time that wasn’t 3:45 or 3:40!

I have put words in Rod’s mouth/mind regarding where his limit may currently be, because, even though it can change, I think we all have that kind of thing somewhere in the back of our minds.  “If I can’t keep my 10K time under an hour — keep my marathon time under 4:30, 5:00……., I will stop racing.”  You can substitute any distance or time, as it is very much personal.  What Ed Whitlock sees as an acceptable limit, or Herb Phillips or Rod Waterlow is their personal decision.  I have said when I can’t keep a marathon under five hours I will stop.  OR, at least I will stop pretending I am racing.  There is nothing quite like the energy around a marathon and there are still a few I would like to do, but not with the hope of producing a “good” time.  My recent result at Eugene was the second time I have gone over five hours.  The first time was in Maui in 2008 where the temperature was 90F with 90% humidity and a little VOG (volcanic smog) thrown in for good measure.  I did 5:06.  Since I had said I would never take more than 5 hours, I have generally reported that result as being 4:66, followed by a wink.  I had no real concern about that one, as no lesser a person than Bart Yasso, who also ran that particular event, deemed it “brutal”.  ‘Nuff said.  I have run several subsequent marathons, including one just a few months after Maui, at around and even below 4:30.  However, in 2011 Eugene’s weather was near perfect and the course invites a good time, whatever that is for any given runner.  OK, I was running with an injury and did hold my planned pace for the first 11K, slowing down intentionally rather than risking that I would probably have to quit.  And, once I took that decision there may have been unreliazed ways to have shaved a minute or two here or there, including taking account of an overly long wait in a porto-pottie line.  All of that said, my time would still be well over five hours, at the very least somewhere around 5:20.  What if I had held my opening pace?  The time would have been in the 4:30-35 range.  The point here is that I couldn’t do that.  Yes, it was due to this nagging knee injury.  BUT, as I ground out the finish at Eugene and afterwards while I have been recuperating and rehabbing, it raised the issue for me that this might just be a bit of a window on the future.  Sore knee this time, something else next time, etc.  I’m pretty sure I’m not there yet and with some care over the next while and a bit of work on this particular injury I can get back to getting back.

The reality is that at some point almost everyone has to face that decision about racing and pushing personal limits vs shifting to a different kind of running.  In practical terms the decision must be made while there is still a choice.  I have the privilege and pleasure of knowing a number of formerly elite runners, including several Olympians.  A couple of these pushed so hard in their best days that they can no longer sustain anything but easy running, if that.  It is possible to get beyond the point of real choice.  That is the reason for this admittedly introspective piece. 

For some, the blaze of glory will be more important.  That is fine, as long as those individuals realize it is the choice they are making.  For others, longevity of running will be more important and it is those people that may find this article thought-provoking, because there will clearly be a day or more likely a time of reckoning where you must take a decision or lose the option.  It may start with a decision to eliminate the distances which are hardest on you.  For some, that could be the longer events like the marathon (or ultra’s in some cases).  For others, me for instance, it may actually be the shorter more intense races from 5K to 10K.  Longer slower running is less a problem for me than shorter more intense runs, largely because of the residual effects of my old back thing.  Because of the imbalance of power side to side, it is much easier for me to sustain an injury in an intense race where you hold very little back for later.

In my own case, which is really the only one I can speak about with any authority, I am presently working on getting my knee right before taking on any more races (a choice).  Fortunately, there is nothing I really want to do until August or September.  Oh, there are plenty of things I would LIKE to do, but that is different (another choice).  Where will I be when I come back?  Well, that is something we will just have to see.  Will I do another “serious” marathon, or just “fun” ones? (yet another choice)  As Eugene was intended to possibly be my last best effort, all things coming right over the next while, I may just have to find at least one more of those “serious” marathons to do before settling into the fun ones.  My daughter and I have entered the London Marathon lottery.  We won’t know until October whether that is happening or not.  The list of possibles or wanna-do’s is quite lengthy and I have already started looking around for dates, places and times that work. All part of the fun and the choices.

In the meantime, there is plenty of time to think about what comes next and maybe at the age of 66, a good time to be doing so.



Great day for a marathon!  The weather was delightful and so was the course.  Sadly for me, the run wasn’t so good.  I learned a lesson already known by many but shared here for those who have yet to learn this truth.  IF YOUR KNEE HURTS BEFORE YOU START, MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T START. 

OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad.  On the morning of the Eugene Marathon, the nagging injury was feeling pretty good at the beginning and I held my planned pace for something over 10K.  After that……………………..not so much.  Turns out that training runs aren’t quite as punishing to injured bits as races.  Being a bear for punishment and maybe just a wee bit stubborn, I backed off and did what it took to finish.  Let us just leave it at the fact that I did not successfully defend my third place finish (age division) from 2010.

My running buddy and recently reported senior runner, Rod Waterlow, fared considerably better.  Rod came in with a time of 3:50:42 for a second place (M70-74).  He was bested by John Carter who was just 57 seconds ahead.  Neither knew who the other was, so what might have been an interesting foot-race never materialized.  The competitive spirit is always there and as soon as we saw Rod’s personal result print-out at the finish – Eugene does that – it was clear he was probably fairly close to his unknown rival.  Rod had been ahead at one point according to the several split times and placings that are found on the result report.  It was only later when full results were posted that we were able to see how close it had been and that there could have been a bit of head to head racing.  Oh well, next time.

Once again, Eugene put on a fine event weekend with a 5K on Saturday as well as the Full and Half Marathons on Sunday.  As an aside, I am pleased to be able to say that the winner of the 5K, in a time of 14:46, was Jeremiah (Jerry) Ziak of Vancouver, BC and a friend who coaches running clinics at Forerunners, the sport store where I personally attend running clinics, sometimes lead pace groups.  There were quite a few members of our clinics at Eugene, despite the fact that our home-town marathon (Vancouver) was holding its 40th running on the same day.  As a matter of fact, there were well over 150 runners from Greater Vancouver among the approximately 8000 that participated at Eugene 2011.  Despite my unfortunate experience this time, it still remains one of my favorite marathons.