Archive for December, 2011



I was just now brought to the realization that there have been too many recent news items to ignore, about remarkable runners in their 70’s and 80’s.  What got me going on this piece was a Facebook post about local (North Vancouver) phenom, Betty Jean McHugh (aka BJ).  She was interviewed on CTV about her new book, My Road to Rome.  So, that was the stimulus to get my fingers in gear and make comment.  This blog is about “seasoned” athletes and if 84 doesn’t qualify as seasoned, I’m not sure what does.

Diane Palmason - 200m on track

I suppose that at 84, if you are just out there running (especially marathons) you deserve some notice.  BJ McHugh more than runs them though.  Generally, she tends to establish some sort of record.  All told, she holds something like 30 records and not just at the marathon distance.  Knowing BJ a bit more than via the media, I was thrilled that she finally decided to tell her story in the form of a book.  She agreed to be quoted for Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes within an article written by Dianne Palmason (Being the Best Runner You Can be at Your Present Age). Like many women her age, BJ was discouraged from running – especially distance, when she was a young woman.  Her amazing career started around the age of 50 with her first marathon coming at about age 55.  It was interesting that one of the things BJ said to Diane (who is pretty remarkable in her own right), she repeated in the TV interview – “….develop young friends to run with…”.  As she noted, although one of the “girls” she runs with is 65, most are in their 50’s.

Not quite sure what it is about the Great White North, but some of the former records held by BJ have been broken by other local women, Gwen McFarlane and Lenore Montgomery (see an earlier post on Lenore’s 5K record at Carlsbad) – of course for some of those records, they were youthful septuagenarians!  Once you hit, oh say – 80, it tends to be hard to keep your age group records, as most events rather than sticking with 5-year groupings, tend to go with 70+ unless they are pretty big.  That is where the “single age” record comes in and gives recognition to our super-senior athletes.

I guess I might as well continue at home with my review.  The other recent news item that got this going was about Harvey Nelson, venerable
fixture in Lower Mainland racing.  Of course, Harvey is fairly young at 78.  He is the picture of determination and resilience although he admitted in the news article on him that he has had to slow down and take it a bit easier. While I have run many races with Harvey, having recently moved more to his neck of the woods, we are now both members of the same running club, the Semiahmoo Sunrunners.

Burt Carlson - Negril, Jamaica

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I was just in Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon.  Of all places you would think of finding truly senior runners, that would seem to me to be one of the last.  It is very pleasant near the start, but once the sun comes up it gets pretty warm if you are running in the open and particularly if you plan to run a full marathon.  But, if you agree with me that it is ‘no country for old men’, we would both be wrong.  There I met Burt Carlson (a 300+ marathoner), back for his 7th time, but ONLY doing the Half Marathon THIS time.  The presence of Horst Preisler of Hamburg put everyone else to shame as his count turned to a nice round 1250 full marathons!  With that kind of pace, putting an exact number on his total is kind of a waste of time since he will have probably run a couple more by the time I finish up and hit the “publish” button!  Horst is also a bit younger though – just 76.

Earl Fee

Earl Fee in Full Flight

One of our own RITZ’ers, Earl Fee, sees no reason to run marathons, so I will stretch it a bit and include him anyway, but at 80 Earl is out setting world records on the track.  Earl shared his secrets in a new book which was recently reviewed here (100 Years Young The Natural Way).

You may note that I have not quoted times as they can be deceptive, particularly in a tropical setting.  Also, some of the people mentioned have run for different reasons over the years.  The multi-marathon runners generally elect to set their goals on numbers and locations rather than time.  Whatever your goal at any age, it is valid.  Whether you are a BJ McHugh or Earl Fee, who do set records, including at the world level or if you have shifted your sights to destinations and quantities like Horst Preisler, Burt Carlson or Bob Dolphin (RITZ contributor who has well exceeded 400 marathons), you are doing something remarkable.

One of the women who has deservedly received much attention over the years is the amazing Helen Klein.  But even someone like Helen is mortal and BJ McHugh stepped up to surpass at least one of her marks.

I have left one notable gap in this nod to seniors’ running – Ed Whitlock.  In his case I will quote times.  At the age of 80 Ed Whitlock
dropped the 80 Single Age World Record from 3:39 to 3:25 (Rotterdam) and then to 3:15 (Toronto).  I would imagine that anyone reading this blog would appreciate the significance of this time, but just to create some context, this would qualify him to run Boston as a M40-44 competitor (new standards).  Looked at as an age-graded result his time would be adjusted to a hypothetical 2:01:36 (Ed Note: neither the open standard nor the age standard has been adjusted to the current records.)

The main reason to single Ed Whitlock out over these other amazing athletes is to put into context what they are doing as a group.  Ed may be the current best of the best, but what these oh so young seniors are telling us is that there is much we can do even as the clock and calendar moves on.  I will close this by going back to BJ McHugh and her TV interview.  When asked when she thought she would stop running, she replied it would probably be if she got hit by a truck.  Knowing BJ, I think that is likely what it would take too!  A truck.  Nothing smaller.



Finishing it up

Or, how I travelled to Jamaica for a marathon but only ran 10K!

[Warning: This is a long one, but decided on one big final post on this story instead of several smaller ones.  Get a coffee, or a coconut or better yet, a Red Stripe, and enjoy!]

So, you can already tell from the photograph that things weren’t quite as dire as the title might suggest. This is really more a story of “planes, trains, and automobiles” than extolling the virtues of CPR training.

First I must say, this is really a bit of a comedy of errors, at least some of which were probably my own, and that the race organizers did a fabulous job of putting on the event. Anyone following the blog has to know that we went off to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K.  I suppose that staying with the above scenario, the “planes” part was getting from Vancouver to Negril.  That went well enough.  We even had snow during our stop-over in Winnipeg to make the arrival in the lush tropical environment of Jamaica all that much sweeter.  To simplify matters and in a spirit of full disclosure, there were NO trains. But, there sure were automobiles of various sorts and therein lies the story.

Chris Morales - Social Media Guru

We got our race packets Thursday and did the pasta party Friday night.  I finally met Chris Morales, That Runnin’ Guy, who hooked me into actually blogging about the event.  Unfortunately, he had his own issues around getting to the race and despite original plans, only arrived on-site around 7:00pm Friday night.  He has had a major part in the on-line promotion of the Reggae Marathon and did a fabulous job of increasing the social media profile.  I also got to meet a couple of the other folk who have been involved as I was, interacting with the event blog and posting independently, Navin Savarangin, Larry Savitch and Bob Moore. Except for Chris’ unfortunate late arrival, things were going just swimmingly.

Things really started to go wrong long before we left home, even though I didn’t know it at the time. How so?  Well, we booked ourselves into a marvellous little resort that was a greater distance from the race start and course than I had realized.  Why is that a problem?  Well, the Reggae Marathon runs along the beach road and during the race it is closed to ALL traffic.  There are no parallel roads by which you can go along-side the course and then just cut over when appropriate.  This road is normally alive with taxis and shuttle buses, more or less day and night, but from 3:30am race morning until about 12:30pm that road is closed except for runners and official shuttles, and I DO mean closed.  Our first problem turned out to be getting from where we were to where the official race shuttles were running.  In the future, while I might very well return to the Rhodes Hall Plantation Resort for a vacation, it would be post-race not before.  Anyone thinking about the Reggae Marathon wants to find accommodation somewhere along the Negril beach road or close by.  There are lots of hotels of every level and type.

Once we arrived in Negril, It didn’t take long to realize we had a situation to manage.  Because of the early hour and the road restrictions I was fairly sure there would be few of the regular taxis.  We had to get to a certain location where the official shuttles would run, and by a certain time.  I was planning to book a car of some sort, but upon check-in at the media centre, was assured that there was a bus coming from a big resort even farther down the road and that arrangements could be made, and were, to pick us up in front of our resort at 4:15am. Superb!!  We were up and out at 4:00am.  I quickly realized that my instincts about very little traffic were good.  The gate-keeper, Norbert, dutifully stood with us first watching for our transport, and then when after just too long, it didn’t come, he worked hard to hail down anything moving.  Why the bus didn’t come is hard to say.  Several passed by and one could have been ours. Maybe they changed drivers. Maybe the message didn’t get to the driver. Maybe he forgot.  Maybe, because he was coming from way down the road, he got diverted by the alternate route going the (very) long way around the beach strip, right to Negril town.

As we stood in the dark and eventually watched the sky start to lighten, we ticked off the options open to us along with the time.  First, it was along the lines of ‘if it comes now, we can still get to “Point A” and the last on-course athlete shuttle to the start’.  Then, it was, if it comes now we can get to “Point B” the end of the course and make our way to the start somehow.  When the race start time of 5:15 passed and we were still waiting, thinking started to get a bit muddled.  All I knew was that I still wanted to get to the start somehow and run something.  Originally, Judi was to do the 10K and I was planning on the full marathon.  Maybe we would both do the 10K or the Half and 10K.

Finally, the magic began. A taxi going the wrong way, but empty, finally stopped.  Norbert knew the driver and off we went to get where we could go. As it turned out by that time – not very far! I still hoped that flashing my media badge I could get us some special dispensation.  Hah!  So much for my delusions of grandeur. The police had blocked the road a long way from the near end of the race route because it was the only reasonable turn-around spot.  We begged a police officer to help us with our situation.  Hotel staff shuttles were still being allowed to pass this location and we were able, with his help to beg our way onto the bus. It was already full, but as anyone who has travelled in similar places knows, there is always just a bit more room.  This phase got us as far as anyone was going that morning, but still shy of the actual race route.  I guess, this was “Point C”.  From here it was walking, even the staff (some of whom weren’t all that pleased).

The actual race course was still most of a kilometer away, but I figured that there may be race vehicles stationed along the way that could help us out – I did still have my media accreditation badge!  That idea didn’t work out so well.  There really was nothing much more than emergency vehicles and while WE figured we had an emergency situation, they sure weren’t going to be looking at it from our point of view!  Walking it was.  Poor Judi.  She is an avid and regular walker, but her legs aren’t as long as mine and I don’t think the adrenalin was pumping quite as hard for her.  I may have pushed her pretty hard.  She was a good sport though and pressed on.

Lead runner of the Half - early dawn.

We were about 3.5-4 miles from the start/finish when we started out.  Time-wise, it was already well into the race, to the point that shortly after we began our trek, the lead runners in the Half Marathon were passing by us on the way out the turn-around, and soon after, on the way to the finish. With nothing else to do, we cheered on the runners as they progressed and kept our own trek going toward the start. With each step it was now getting lighter – the sun officially rises around 6:30. We saw several people we had met over the previous couple of days and I took the opportunity to snap a photo or two.

We finally arrived at the start area, and by then, the finish for almost all 10K runners and more than a few Half Marathoners.  As a race director, I knew we had to stay away from the timing mats with our chips.  I searched for a member of the timing squad and finally made contact with Frano, the Race Director.  After a quick explanation of what had happened, or “hadn’t” actually, I told him I no longer had any interest in trying to run a full marathon, and was probably not even sure about the half, as the sun was growing hotter.  The 10K would be it.  Judi figured at that point he had already walked most of the 10K she planned to do and decided to just wait and be my official photographer.  Frano gave me instructions on how to get out on the course and over a timing mat that could later be used to give me a time.  Off I went. It was about 7:30am – just two hours and fifteen minutes behind!  Yea for chip timing!

The run itself was relatively uneventful and a lot fun once all the other stuff was behind us, but even doing that 10K in the full sun was taxing and I was quickly glad that I had not elected to do the Half Marathon, which was still entirely possible with the time available.  Reggae music is a big feature of the Reggae Marathon and I even kind of “danced” my way past a couple of particularly inspiring music stations.  It was a bit fun as well as a little embarrassing to see people being really impressed and cheering me on!  Impressed – why?  Well, for anyone who understood the system, I was still wearing my full marathon number bib. So here I was, this old guy rambling along at a pretty impressive pace and well past half way in a full marathon.  Of course my pace was impressive.  I was only doing 10K and when the first people took notice, I had just started and was no more than maybe 2-3km into the run!  Everybody looks good at that point and those that noticed thought I was at more like 25km in!  The embarrassing part was when I passed a fellow of around 40 or so, who WAS doing the full marathon and he thought he was being passed by this guy at least 20 years his senior.  I was afraid he was going to try to chase me.  Guess I would have told him my story, but even that is awkward because telling him he shouldn’t try to keep up to me would have been almost as bad as just quietly going by and let him wonder.  Thankfully, for both of us, he wisely held his own pace.

As I neared the finish area I had to consider what came next.  At first I thought it was just a hard left turn to the finish, but realized that my Garmin was telling me I would be quite short of the 10K distance.  I remembered that as we had approached the finish area on our long walk in, there was a coned turning point.  Nobody was using it and they were even starting to clear it away before I started but that was where I had to go before my dash to the finish line.  The problem was, that I wasn’t certain where it was and could see nothing on the road.  I used the Garmin to make my turn and at least by its reading was within a few meters of being right when I actually finished.

I realized as I headed down the finish chute and got a look at the clock, that for a 66 year-old full marathoner I was clocking a fabulous time – about 3:27, if of course, I HAD been doing a full marathon and not just a late starting 10K.  I never did that kind of time in my best running days, but here I was, in full flight with my full marathon bib headed for the finish line and a 3:27 clocking.  I yelled at the race announcer, who was calling names and the usual stuff, that I was only doing 10K, not the fullmarathon.  Thankfully, she must have heard me because there was no hoopla about this amazing marathon by “Ask Dan”!

Medal, coconut, Red strip - soon come!

Someone tried to put a marathon medal on me and I insisted they give me what I earned and what I think may have been the last 10K finisher medal.  It was the only one I could see in any case.  As disappointed as I may have been to not try the full marathon, I was also happy to have been allowed to run something and enjoy the experience of the race.  I had earned my coconut AND my Red Stripe, both of which I made sure I got – in that order.  I watched things happening in the finish area and could see what a fantastic vibe it had.  Running any race, bu particularly the longer ones, there is a well justified feeling of accomplishment.  Taking on the elements and the distance and getting home with a decent time is priceless and you could see it on so many faces.

Frano, the race director is a hard man to track down.  When I found him, I just wanted to thank him for making it possible for me to get out on the course, even for my scaled down race.  He was doing some announcements and presentations, so I waited for him to be done.  When I thought he was finished for the time being I went over to express my thanks.  I hardly had the words out of my mouth, when he had the microphone back at his own, thanking ME for taking part and being such a good sport about missing the bus, but still coming to run what I could.  Talk about gracious hospitality!  Of course, he did know who I was because of the blogging, so he informed everyone that he intended to make me into an ambassador for the Reggae Marathon.  Got a round of applause and everything.  After that, who could possibly say no??

While I’m not sure it is going to be 2012, there is a pretty good chance I’ll be back.  Either the Reggae Marathon owes me a maratho performance or I owe the Reggae Marathon one, but either way there remains a marathon as yet undone.  Maybe I will be like Chris Morales and collect the full set of events and medals. I will certainly recommend the Reggae Marathon to friends.  The 10K and Half Marathon pose far less challenge in terms of the sun, just in case I’ve painted too dire a picture.  Air temperature is not nearly the challenge that the direct heat of the sun is.  Even a two hour half marathoner will be done before the sun is really up and shining hot and bright.  If you intend to go for the full meal deal, you must account for the time you will be running after about 7:30.  Had I made the start on time, I would have been finishing the first half just around the time I started my customized 10K.  When I actually finished, I would have had another 11km to go in a full marathon.  Would that have been impossible? No. I always said I would run the first half and do what was necessary for the second. Anyone running more than about 3 hours has to have a plan to run well and stay safe. All of that said, if you want a really different and really special running experience, head on off to Jamaica in early December (Dec 1, 2012) for the Reggae Marathon.  Still, and obviously not quite as dramatically as the title suggests, the driver who didn’t pick us up may have done me a favor.  I already knew intellectually what was coming, but having experienced it first hand, I will be truly ready for the next time.  As much as I thought I was, I am not so sure I really was prepared for the full marathon on December 3, 2011.

Negril 1969 - Judi and Dan

Post Script: Although it had nothing directly to do with the race, the picture of Judi and me from 1969 had certainly got the connection going.  I was pretty sure it was taken somewhere near the location of the start/finish venue, so out we went onto the beach for the re-enactment.

Negril 2011 - Judi and Dan

We enlisted the aid of some other folks on the beach and in the end had several versions, including a few taken by Chris (as promised) from which to choose. The reader can decide if we got close and whether or not the subjects of the two photographs have changed in 42 years.  I know that Negril and the beach have.  Judi’s hair is shorter, as is mine, but otherwise……………………..