Archive for February, 2012


A HERO REMEMBERED

02.29.2012

Harry Jerome Statue - Stanley Park, Vancouver

Recently a movie was produced and released (2010) under the title “Mighty Jerome”.  As this is a running blog and we assume most of the readers are ‘seasoned’, it should come as no surprise that Jerome is Harry Jerome, one of Canada’s greatest sprint athletes.  On Monday, February 27 I was finally able to have my first viewing, although I had seen some clips from the film some time ago.  Firstly, I want to thank those responsible for making this wonderful film.  It tells the story of a real man, not a myth.

Percy Williams

Percy Williams - Olympic Champion

I have held Harry Jerome as a personal hero for most of my life.  I was just a kid (maybe 15 or 16) when I met Harry, but we both belonged to the same track club, the Vancouver Optimist Striders, and as strange as it might sound, shared the same coach – John Minichiello. I was there as Harry began to blossom from local phenom to international athlete (first indications coming at the then huge Vancouver High School Track Meet where he broke one of the famed Percy Williams records and but for the slip of a foot [cinder track in those days] at the start of the 100 yard dash, would probably have bettered both).  I was there to see the work ethic.  There to know the Harry that the media never knew or understood. There to see the difference between Harry Jerome and Harry Jerome the sprinter.  Nobody does what Harry did without focus and intensity.  When not wearing his ‘game face’ he was a quiet personable guy.  When the starter’s orders were imminent Harry became a tiger, a fairly fierce and nasty tiger.  Even in minor events, Harry was a serious competitor.

The latter statement reminds me of the only time I ever raced him (in a manner of speaking).  It was a Highland Games meet in Nanaimo.  There were so few athletes there that they put all the 100 yard sprinters into one race, so even though I was maybe four years his junior I found myself by the luck of the lane draw pounding my starting blocks into the cinders in the lane just to Harry’s left.  I had always been a big kid, so although skinny as a rake, I probably wasn’t much shorter, but I felt like I was about six years old.  I like to tell people that Harry and I were dead even at that race.  Dead even, right until the starter fired his gun.  After that, all I saw was flashing spikes and the arse of his shorts disappearing down the track.  OK.  No big deal that almost world class sprinter dusts skinny teen, but Harry never lined up on a start line just for the fun of it.  For him it was always serious.  The truth is that we were dead even twice on that sunny afternoon in Nanaimo, because JUST as the gun fired a pipe band (it was a Highland Games) began marching across the track at about 60 yards.  This is the part where the intensity comes in.  I thought as I stood up and stopped, a stride or two out of my blocks, on the second ‘false start’ gun, that I was about to witness the cruel murder of a set of pipes.  Harry, already several strides out when the second report from the starter’s gun was heard, kept running at almost full speed until he was within a few yards of the pipe section of this band.  I thought I was about to see those high flashing steel spikes slash through the tartan ‘bag’ of at least one of those skirling instruments.  But no, as I suppose he knew he would, Harry pulled up just short.  I am sure he just wanted them to know there was other business on the field that day. 

King Edward Track (1962) - Intrepid Author at the Centre Rear.

We formed up again.  I’m sure the starter took a couple of extra looks to be sure there were no more bands in the immediate vicinity.  Once again, Harry and I were dead even.  I determined that maybe we could stay dead even for at least one stride this time.  But not even that was possible, for one of the things that makes great sprinters great is the start.  By the time I reacted to the sharp crack of the gun, Harry was already out of the blocks and again my personal view from low down over the track, was his spikes flashing in the sun and the back of his shorts disappearing down the track.  It was a crazy circumstance that I ever got to be in that position but I cherish it as a fantastic experience to this day. 

At the film showing one of his closest friends, Paul Winn, was present to talk to the audience.  Paul was a fixture at the training sessions and track meets and although he didn’t remember me (I had no expectation that he would) he certainly recalled and related to my stories.  When I mentioned this Nanaimo Highland Games his face lit up and he commented (he was a serious and pretty darn good long and triple jumper) that he had to start in the tall grass to get his run-up to the jumping pit.  Sorry Nanaimo, that was a long time ago on a small track facility where we all went just for the joy of the competition.  We will just say it was a rustic setting.

The Mighty Jerome also reminded me of another track on which we both competed, or maybe I should say venue.  That would be Hayward Field in Eugene.  Many of Harry’s best early achievements including world record times were done there.  Both in 2010 and 2011 I was able to savour the finish of the Eugene Marathon down the 100m straight, “Running in the Footsteps of Legends”.  Yes, yes, my turn on Hayward Field was a few years behind Harry Jerome, but he was

Finish of Eugene Marathon

definitely one of the legends in whose footsteps I was running.  Hayward Field today is a modern composition track, but the scenes from the movie show that most of the tracks on which Harry Jerome ran, including Hayward Field were cinder tracks, subject to environmental conditions and all the more difficult when it came to top performance.

I knew a lot about Harry Jerome because I followed his career after those early days, but the movie told things I never knew.  It also reminded me of things that people have no concept of these days.  Top athletes tend to do reasonably well with sponsorship deals and the really top ones get endorsement deals, appearance fees and prize money well worth winning.  Not in those days of track and field.  To compete on the world stage you had to maintain amateur status.  BOY did they mean that.  Money in almost any form other than as a scholarship, could not cross your hand.  The AAU was brutal about it.  By my reckoning it was most of a decade after Harry did his best running that the stringent rules were challenged and began to break down.  Today, I know a man who was an Olympic race walker in his day.  He tells of being challenged for accepting expenses for travelling to a particular location to speak/coach a little on the subject of race walking.  No profit in it for him – just expenses.  It was so funny to hear some of the questions regarding ‘why didn’t Harry do this or that’ when times got hard.  The questions were sincere but the questioners had no idea of how it was in Harry’s time.  I never had a problem myself.  Nobody ever wanted to pay me to do anything or go anywhere!  I still had my AAU card though.  Until last night I had totally forgotten about it.

The movie is so worth seeing that I have no intention of trying to review or summarize it.  Rather, I am just using it to open my own subjects of discussion.  For me, as much as it had a great nostalgia value, it was at times a celebration of glory and greatness but also sad, frustrating and even made me angry at times.  I suppose you would think that is grounds for high praise.  I think so.

It was both sad and angering to see how Harry was treated as a black man.  At least some of the mistreatment he received at the hands of the media was partially based in racism.  In Canada???  Yes, in Canada.  One of the main reasons we didn’t see much of it when the lid was coming off in the US is that Canada just didn’t have that many people of colour in those days.  Around 1970-71 I got a personal taste of it.  I was studying for my Masters at the University of Guelph and had met a black Jamaican student, also doing his Masters, who became a good friend (who I last spoke with while in Jamaica in December 2011).  Between degrees I had worked in the R&D department of General Foods in Cobourg, ON, just east of Toronto.  I can’t even remember why, but because of something in my friend’s thesis work I arranged to take him to visit the GF Research Lab.  When we were done, I decided to fill up the gas tank before hitting the highway.  We pulled into a gas station and I waited for the attendant (no self-serve in those days).  Nothing.  I looked around to be sure the station was open.  As far as I could see, it was.  Because of where the gas cap was, I had pulled in with my friend sitting closest to the building.  By this time I had opened my door and stood up looking toward the building.  It was then that I saw the attendant staring out.  I looked straight at him for several seconds, and then he just turned away and went back to where I couldn’t see him.  Suddenly, I was 100% certain of what had just happened.  I was sick at my stomach and angry as hell.  Not in my Canada!  Sadly, my friend was not near as surprised as I had been.

The other upsetting part of the movie was that with my little personal knowledge of Harry I felt I understood why he got a bad rap as being aloof and uncooperative.  In those days, the press had virtually unlimited access to the track.  Whether they were just dumb or felt entitled, many couldn’t seem to understand how a world level athlete like Harry might need private time and space to get his head into the race he was about to run, or to come down from the one he had just finished.  Some seemed genuinely surprised that he would push them away in those critical moments.  As a result, many seemed to want to jump on his apparent failings, calling him ‘quitter’ at every opportunity.  Although he had a couple of spectacular failures in the most unfortunate times and places, they were injury related and in context it is not hard to see that it was his very competitive spirit that pushed him to where he put so much into his race that sometimes he would injure himself, once so catastrophically that most thought he would never run again, perhaps never even walk right.  The movie does bring out how it was his spirit that made him determined to come back to achieve some of his most recognized triumphs in terms of world records and medal finishes.

Finally, the sadness of knowing how young he was when he suddenly died was something of which the movie simply reminded me.  He was just 42.  At this very moment, he has been gone almost as long as he lived.

All of that said, I personally still hold Harry as one of my great heroes because he did what he did while also being very much an ordinary human being.  Most of us don’t have the enormous privilege of knowing such people, to the point of being able to see past the public image.  I think it would be wonderful if everyone did, because I believe if it were so then we might be less prone to ‘eat our own children’.  What do I mean?  Well, in Harry’s case I knew enough of him that ‘quit’ was no part of him. I also knew enough to know that he could only walk on water in winter when it was frozen.  It is even worse today because with the media tendency to create instant heroes and an apparent glee in knocking them off their pedestals as soon as possible, we have even less chance of putting things in context.  And, maybe the whole crazy “Amateur” thing, and it was crazy as practiced, wasn’t totally wrong when you see what happens to wet behind the ears kids given way too much money and way too much celebrity too fast.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to know a true sporting icon, take a look at Harry Jerome. One of the best ways to do that is to see Mighty Jerome just as soon as you can.

FIRST HALF HALF MARATHON A BIG SUCCESS FOR 2012

02.13.2012
Race Logo

"First Half" Half Marathon 2012

What can I say about the “First Half” that won’t show my bias?  Nothing.  OK – full disclosure: from 2007 through 2010, I used to be the Race Director for this event.  In the Vancouver or maybe BC running community it has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best and a race to do.  The first trick is getting registered as entries are limited by course and venue restrictions, but that still allows 2,000 avid participants to do the race each year.  The event has sold out for some years, at least since the 2005 race, but of late that has taken hours.  In my own last race as RD, it was just under three and a half hours, which is not a comment on me, but rather just a statement of fact about the event.  Again, the 2012 “First Half” took hours to fill.

OK, so a sell-out, even a fast one isn’t news.  So why the headline?  And, why, apart from the obvious and fully disclosed self-interest, is this a newsworthy item for the blog?

It is hard to know where to begin, but I think I’ll start with organization and volunteers.  There are lots of club run races which are put on entirely by running clubs or community groups where everything is volunteer.  These are the heart and soul of what brings so many out to the huge and even just big events we all hear about and know so well by their reputations.  The runners who go to the mega-events start somewhere, usually close to home.  Sometimes there is a worthy cause, but sometimes the race itself is the focus.  I have certainly run my share of such events and organized a few from time to time over the years.  The “First Half” grew from one such event and is now one of the largest such races still 100% club organized with absolutely no paid staff.  In its earliest days, numbers were in the few hundred category.  The race has always been organized by the Pacific Road Runners and from the first race in 1989, backed by one very faithful sponsor – Forerunners, a running store owned by Peter and Karen Butler.  Actually, Peter started his career as one of Canada’s premier elite runners, representing Canada at the Olympics, World Championships and other international events.  Peter was just nearing the end of his most productive running years when the First Half was inaugurated and was the very first winner of the “First Half” Half Marathon (something it has always been – a half marathon).  Peter set a blistering pace that would still be the event record to this very day.  It would have been, had the course not later been determined to be something like 800m short of the half marathon distance.  Sadly, that was the fact of life everyone had to live with, but was also the last time the course was not accurately measured and certified!  But, that is the situation sometimes when dealing with the small club run events – past and present.  It is what it is and you accept it.

First Half Start - Vancouver, BC

From that first running, Pacific Road Runners continued to develop and perfect the event, standardizing how it was organized and in later years building a series of race manuals that ensure every detail is covered.  Every detail means course, volunteers, start and finish, post-race food and awards, dealing with the City of Vancouver – because the “First Half” uses some Vancouver’s busiest streets and features, including Stanley Park.  The latter point, use of the fabulous Stanley Park Seawall, is one of the things about the course that brings runners back year after year.  The accurate and fast course attracts top athletes looking for that early season half marathon challenge to start their year and while it IS February, weather is not usually a major factor.  Most years, including 2012, the elites run in singlets and shorts.  Over the years, many Canadian Olympians and world level athletes, men and women, have graced the event with their presence and all-out efforts.

All of this makes the “First Half” a wonderfully successful event, but still doesn’t justify the headline.  Here is what does.

There were some fabulous performances, but for the organizing committee and club in general, what really stirs everybody’s juices is the post-race comments on e-mail and social media like Facebook and Twitter, saying how great the race, the volunteers, post-race festivities and food have been.  It is this kind of thing coming from every level of performer that keeps the club delivering this celebration of running, one that honors effort of every level.  The elites like the race because it gives them a good early season challenge and opportunity to perform.  The less spectacular among us appreciate the attention to every detail that makes it an event where everyone has a chance to do well against their own aspirations for the day and enjoy the result, whatever the outcome.  The 2012 race had it in spades!  One is tempted to tip the hat to Race Director, Nicki Decloux, but then you would have to acknowledge the other five RD’s that preceded her.  Yes, five.  Over the 23 runnings (and one Winter Olympic year cancellation) there have only been six race directors.  I won’t name them all, but it was the commitment of these half dozen individuals and their race committees, which themselves have had great continuity over the years (at least two of whom have been with the event from the first race in 1989, in one capacity or another) that make the organization side so effective.

There is another aspect of the race that is key to success – sponsors.  Over the years, the “First Half” has become a major backer of Variety – the Children’s Charity.  Generous sponsors understand that by supporting the race, they encourage health and fitness conscious individuals, as well as some of Canada’s top athletes, but also allow the event itself to support Variety in a most significant way.  In 2012, that partnership culminated in a single cheque of just over $54,000 to be presented to Variety, bringing the total donations from the race to just over $500,000.  And THAT, is one of the major reasons for hailing the particular success of the 2012 First Half.  It is tricky to name these sponsors because over the 23 “First Halfs” that have been run, with the exception of Forerunners (there from the beginning) there have been many big players, but these have changed from time to time, so those participating now aren’t the same as those of some years back.  But, since I am not the race, just a commentator and since I will give credit where credit is due relative to anything I report and will mention some of the others at other times, I do want to say that for the last several years, Mizuno had played a major part in making the “First Half” experience what it has been for all the participants, including working with the Pacific Road Runners to recognize the approximately 250 volunteers it takes to present this race.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I do love excellence and top performance in whatever form it may come.  I did save this for later because when you have 2000 finishers in a race, you have at least 2,000 special stories and singling out the most obvious should not take away from all the PB’s achieved or challenges overcome.  Here comes my take on what was special and excellent about some of the performances.

Wykes wins in record time

First and foremost, Dylan Wykes returned after breaking the event record in 2011, to knock another 18 seconds off by recording a time of 1:04:21. There is a bigger story with Dylan though.  This is an Olympic year and Dylan is “thiiiiiiis close” to meeting the Canadian team standard for marathon, of 2:11:30.  Just a few weeks ago he clocked 1:02:39 for a half marathon in Phoenix and in three weeks will go to the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan where he hopes to punch his ticket to London.  So, everyone who watched the “First Half” and watched his smooth finish, looking very comfortable at a record-breaking pace of 1:04:21, understood the context of that performance and during the awards he received thundering applause for his gracious comments.

That was exciting enough, but not so very far behind the overall winner came rambling one Kevin O’Connor to set a new Masters Men’s record of 1:08:47, eclipsing the record of 1:09:12, set by Bruce Deacon (2008), one of Canada’s foremost marathoners for many years and multiple outright winner of the “First Half”  (1992, 2001 and 2004).

Natasha Fraser takes women's title

On the women’s side we had to look to the more mature Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh for another amazing record performance.  How ‘mature’ or perhaps on this blog, we should say “Seasoned”, is BJ?  Just 84 years.  With her time of 2:27:01, she established a another new single age record by some 44:21 over the previous mark of 3:11:22.  It should be mentioned that the women running the “First Half” deserve plenty of credit.  It is just that back in 2004, Tina Connelly set a mark of 1:12:47 which is believed to stand as one of perhaps the Top 5 half marathon times by Canadian women.  So, all credit to Natasha Fraser who hit the line at a time of 1:16:18 to take the win.   Not so far back from her was Lisa Harvey in a time of 1:18:44 as top Masters woman, yet not up to the also very stringent standard set by Leah Pells in 2005, at 1:15:26.

So, there you have my account of what I consider a fabulously successful 2012 First Half.  It has been a real privilege to be associated with the event since 2004 and with Pacific Road Runners, the presenting club.  Even more it has been a privilege to be associated with the thousands of runners, elite and not so elite that have given this race its reputation and momentum over the years.  As one of the Co-MC’s yesterday with Anjulie Latta, it was a true thrill to watch, first the volunteers working in the early morning dark, to prepare the start, finish and post-race venue.  Then, to see those first early arriving runners, eager to get started. Athletes in every form of spandex, compression garment, warm and dry gear on the throng of runners filled the Roundhouse Community Centre by 8:00AM in anticipation of the race start just 30 minutes later.  Even more exciting was to see the faces of elite finishers – some ecstatic, some in pain as they exceeded, achieved and sometimes missed their goals.  I would have loved to see the later runners but our job was on the stage, keeping the crowd entertained with music and banter until the race was done and recognitions could begin.  And then, after a year of planning, days of preparation and a few hours of action, it was over.  Until next year.

 

 

QUITE THE WEEK FOR RUNNING IN THE ZONE

02.01.2012

Well, as I’ve been sitting here working up some worthy posts, the world has been going on with business and apparently, some of it relates to Running in the Zone, both the book and the Blog and well, your humble editor, too.

I’ve known for some time that Running in the Zone contributor, Roger Robinson, had an upcoming piece in Running Times relating to older runners and perspectives on running for a wide cross section of us.  When I say wide, at the front of the pack (normal spot for them) were Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe, and as near as I can tell, at the total other end of things – me.  Roger polled a number of people (generally runners and coaches) for their thoughts on the matter and then integrated the responses into something entitled: “Keeping the Fire of Youth – New Ideas for Older Runners”.  This is very much the idea and mission of Running in the Zone – how to keep the zeal and excitement in running as the calendar pages continue to turn over. He deals with all the issues that arise from the time when PB’s (and in some cases, World Records) are not easy to come by, through to where it is more a matter of keeping freshness in what you do and structuring your running to suit the times and personal needs.  For anyone who still likes holding their reading material in their hands, this article can be found in the Feb/March print issue.

New Balance Store - Victoria

No sooner had I laid hands on a copy of Running Times, than into my in-box came a picture of the New Balance Store window display(Victoria, BC) wherein you will notice a prominently displayed copy of Running in the Zone (the book).  Photo is courtesy of Rob Reid, also a book contributor and writer of the Foreword.  Many thanks to Rob for his support in promoting Running in the Zone, in so many ways since its inception.  Rob has been a mainstay of running in Victoria through Frontrunners and if you have ever finished the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, you have met Rob, because he would have been there greeting and congratulating you as you made that final surge across the finish line where he spends the day shaking as many hands as possible while RITZ co-editor, Steve King, calls out names and statistics from overhead!

Finally, my latest post was made as a regular guest blogger on the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K Blog.  As regular visitors to this blog will know, I got quite involved with the Reggae Marathon over the latter part of 2011 and even tried to run the full marathon, with limited success due to transportation malfunctions.  Did the 10K instead.  In any case, “Ask Dan” (the feature title) was posed the question of how one should prepare for a first marathon (or half or 10K for that matter, the key word being “First”).  In an unusual turn of writing character, I managed to do that in just over 500 words.  It has been a blast and a privilege to be a part of their blog and event and I certainly look forward to continuing through 2012, including (all things going according to plan) actually returning to Negril for a go at that marathon that didn’t happen in 2011.