Archive for May, 2013

The paths less taken: where do elite athletes run when they get older? – Contribution by Nancy Tinari


I won the Shaughnessy 8K in 2008 as a 48-year-old. It was my last good racing season.

When I read Dan Cumming’s post “Passion With Perspective” here on Running in the Zone, I  found myself nodding in agreement with many of Dan’s insights. At the same time, I was inwardly  comparing his experiences of being an aging runner with my own. I thought I’d like to explore the topic of aging from thepoint of view of an athlete who formerly competed at an international level.

As some of this blog’s readers might know, I had a successful career as a Canadian team member from 1978 to 1988, participating in the World Cross Country Championships seven times as well as competing in the Pan-Am Games, the World Student Games, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships, and the Olympics. I raced the 3,000m early on in a couple of these meets, but my best distance, the one I raced in the 1988 Olympics, was the 10,000m.

Competing (#82) in the 10,000m event at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul (CP Photo/COA/F.S. Grant)

I was also fortunate enough to be able to make a good income from road racing, during those years in the 1980s before African women began to race at the same levels as their male counterparts.

[* Note: The Olympic running photo in this post was taken from the Library and Archives website of Canada at, used with permission. You can view other photos of me running at the Olympics at .]

Dan explains that the title, “Passion With Perspective” refers to his attempt to answer the question of “how we manage the inevitable”—that is, aging, and the resulting decline in running performance. I would say that for an elite athlete, being able to put this decline into perspective is harder in some ways but easier in others compared to what an “average-but-dedicated” runner experiences.

When an elite athlete is past his prime, he can make three different choices about how to continue running (or not):

1)     Continue pursuing high performance by training all-out and competing in both open and masters competition at the highest available levels. This was the choice I made (though not without ambivalence) until a severe injury stopped me four years ago.

2)     Retire from competition entirely. An athlete who makes this choice may stop running completely, or may continue running recreationally.

3)     Continue running and racing but in a relaxed way, without running being the focus of one’s lifestyle and energy.

Although I chose path #1, I understand the reasons for each choice; all are valid, and all have their pros and cons. It’s not so much the path taken as the attitude brought to each choice that is important. In addition, regardless of which choice they make regarding their own running, many elite athletes choose to give back to the sport they love by getting involving in coaching, administration, officiating, public speaking, writing, or some combination of these. Some athletes turn their running passion and expertise into their livelihood by creating a running-focused business.
Others volunteer their time, often very generously.

I can think of many former elite athletes of my generation (and there are many more) who have become successful running coaches:
Brit Townsend, Cindy O’Krane, Richard Lee, Steve Boyd, Kevin O’Connor, Jerry Ziak, Art Boileau, Lucy Smith, and Marilyn Arsenault.

Pros and cons of each choice

1)      Continuing the pursuit of high performance


The runner who chooses to continue chasing high performance is going to have to make the same sacrifices he or she made as a younger runner—that is, devoting a lot of time and energy to training and racing. And for what? To achieve times that, predictably, will get slower and slower. This kind of runner is unafraid of facing the reality of physical decline. As Dan notes in his post, this is where age-graded results become the new goals. No elite runner who trained correctly when they were young will set PBs in their 40s and 50s—that is not physical reality. No, the  goal becomes “I was a 93% runner when I was young, so I’ll try to better a 93% age-graded performance each year.”


Here I am leading the 45-49 age group of the women’s 1,500m at the USATF Masters Track & Field Championships in Spokane, 2008. This was my last track race. Photo: Warren McCulloch

I think the positive aspect of making this choice to continue striving for excellence is the willingness to give one’s all; to affirm that the fighting spirit is worth a lot. It’s also very inspiring to see that the human body is indeed capable of performing amazing physical feats well into its sixth, seventh, or eighth decade. These performances can encourage middle-aged and older people to become physically active.


Older elite athletes have to accept that not only will they get slower, but they will not get the attention and hero-worship they used to. Even at a Masters World Championship, no one is watching—no one cares—except the other masters competitors. And that isn’t surprising. Athletic performance is not just about finding the limits of what the human body can do, but also about appreciating the beauty, aesthetic harmony, and power of the human body at its best; that is, in youth.


I paced the 1,500m stupidly by surging too soon and too dramatically, and ended up in second place when I should have won. Oh, the pain! Photo: Warren McCulloch

Masters performance can only be about finding what the limits of a human body are at a given age. Some older runners are still beautiful to watch: most are not. Masters runners need to have a good sense of humour about this. Go to a masters championship meet and what do you see? Bald heads, cellulite, lumps in funny places, and lots of wrinkles. Butt wrinkles! Even women with lean, girlish bodies, who look like teenagers from a distance, can’t escape the ravages of wrinkles. And these are the fittest old bodies on the planet!


I remember going to a US Masters Championship in Eugene when I was a “young” master of 35 (I was a bit injured and only ran in the 8K cross-country race). I remember laughing and cringing as I watched the men’s 60+ steeplechasers on the track. They were so pitiful! Some of them crawled over the hurdles; others fell in the water jump and waded slowly out. Now that I’m disabled and getting closer to age 60 (without ever having done a steeplechase), I have a lot more admiration for those runners than I did back then.


More cons

Masters athletes who are focused on elite performance run the risk of making unwise choices about balance in their lives, of not putting their athletic achievements in proper perspective. Are relationships (with a spouse or children) being neglected because of a single-minded devotion to running? Are careers stagnating, or (as in my case) not being started? My own particular set of life circumstances was complicated, but I have some regrets about not trying to start a writing career earlier, and I might have been able to do that had I not been so focused on running.


Also, I think it’s sad if older athletes are too focused on themselves. We expect older people to share their wisdom by coaching and encouraging young people. We expect them to be willing to “take a backseat role” and accept that young athletes should have the spotlight.


More pros

There are compensations to competing in Masters World Championships, even though the spotlights are lacking. First of all, Masters Championships differ from Open Championships because anyone can take part, as long as they pay. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie at these meets. I’ve found, generally, that masters athletes are tremendously supportive of each other. They have to be! In your regular life, everyone thinks you’re a crazy fanatic, but at a Masters meet, everyone is just like you!


Only other masters athletes can fully appreciate what a good performance is, and understand how age grading works. Only other competitors can understand the sacrifices and pain you accept, and the reasons you want to do this.


Dave Reed, Kim Ross, Nancy Tinari, and Warren McCulloch: Phoenix Running Club teammates at the USATF Masters Champs in 2008. Dave Reed ran the last race of his life here, to finish a very respectable 5th place in the 1,500m 50–54 division. Photo: Warren McCulloch


2)     Retiring from  racing (and possibly running) completely


Some elite athletes, when they are in their twenties or thirties, choose to retire completely from competition. Although I didn’t choose this route, I understand it completely. The rigours of hard training and the intense pressures of high-level competition can’t be sustained indefinitely, and they may force an athlete to delay or even miss other important aspects of life, such as attaining advanced degrees, getting married, having children, or advancing a career outside of running. I think it’s admirable and normal for people to decide to put the energy they once devoted to running into other pursuits.


Some elite athletes, after retiring, continue running casually for fitness, relaxation, or as a social activity.


A negative side to quitting running could happen if the former athlete decides to stop running and all other physical activities completely. Obviously, this could be bad for their health. Such athletes may have never enjoyed running that much and done it for purely practical reasons, such as a means of getting a university scholarship.


3)     Continuing to run and race, but at a recreational level


Quite a few elite athletes make this choice, which is probably the most “sensible” one. It allows the former elite runner to keep fit and maintain friendships and connections with the sport. Often, this is when the runner’s focus may shift from his own performance to helping others in the ways I mentioned above, such as coaching.


This choice is a healthy one both physically and psychologically. Decreasing the hours and intensity of training means the person has more energy to give to a job and/or family and friends. A runner who trains and races moderately is less likely to get injured.



Although easing off the intensity of running seems to be a “rational” choice, for many formerly elite runners (including myself), it is a difficult one to make. It means giving up income and travel opportunities that are possible if one races well as a master. It means giving up one’s “star” status and all the ego rewards that come with that. It may mean having to find a new career if running has been a full-time pursuit. It means redefining one’s sense of identity—what is my worth if I’m not a great runner?


In his “Passion with Perspective” post, Dan writes that if he asked serious runners the question, “Who would you be if you could not run?,” most would answer, “Someone who used to love running and now runs no more.”


Well, during the past four years I’ve been able to run little or not at all. And while it’s true that many runners would give the answer Dan suggests, I rebel against it. To me, it’s sad and defeatist if I can only define myself in terms of running. An elite runner who derives his entire identity and self-worth from his running performances is going to be psychologically in trouble, and maybe pathetic, if he is forced to stop running before he is ready.


For decades, I got much of my identity, and many rewards, from running. I wasn’t ready to stop when an ACL tear, followed by a fall and the resulting cartilage damage and advanced arthritis in my knee, forced me to stop.


But although it hasn’t been easy, I’ve started a new career as a writer and editor. And although I’m inevitably “typecast” as a runner, and my past as an elite runner has opened doors for me, I’ve known since I first learned to read that books and writing are a core part of my identity.


I’ve gone through many periods of depression and denial since the day I tore my ACL over four years ago. I had reconstruction surgery of the ACL done in January of 2010. However, I’d already fallen and damaged my cartilage, and further surgery to remove the cartilage a year later didn’t help. When I went for my post-surgery consultation, optimistic that my surgeon would tell me I’d be able to run more again, I received a nasty verdict. He told me I wouldn’t be able to run at all anymore, and the conversation turned to knee braces and ways to delay knee replacement.


Silver linings

However, both my body and mind have been able to adapt. In the past two years, I’ve discovered that I can run up to about 6K twice a week. Maybe this has been possible because I’m very light, or because I work consistently at strengthening my quads and other muscles around the knee, and do Pilates to keep my flexibility. I’m immensely grateful that I can run a little bit; it’s infinitely better than not being able to run at all.


But it took a huge change in mindset for me to accept that I’d never be able to run fast or far again. I miss my running friends and the hard workouts and races I used to share with them.


During the past two years, whenever I’ve tried to run further or more often, my knee has reacted badly and I’ve had to stop running for weeks. I’ve learned to accept these up-and-down cycles, and to curb my natural greediness to run more and my desire to improve.


The secret to be healthy psychologically is to always focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. I’ve discovered a host of “silver linings” inside my sometimes-depressing cloud of being able to run so little.

  • Every run is a fun run, because I’m never overtired.
  • I can choose to run when the weather is good.
  • If my knee cooperates, I can run at the “sweet spot” pace—fast enough to breathe hard and feel I’m running, rather than jogging, but not fast enough to be in distress.
  • I still work out every day, for about an hour on average. My training is varied and well-balanced: it includes running, cycling, swimming, weights and cardio machine workouts at the gym, and Pilates.
  • None of my workouts leaves me completely exhausted, as I used to be so often. Since my immune system isn’t stressed by extreme training, I virtually never get sick.

“The ultimate standard I have set for myself is that I must enjoy running.”

To me, this statement of Dan’s perfectly captures the healthiest attitude for an aging runner to take. It also captures the biggest silver lining for me about my demotion from elite runner status to that of a twice-a-week (if I’m lucky), pretty slow runner. I love and appreciate every minute of the 25- to 30-minute runs that are my norm.

In the past, there were many times I didn’t enjoy my running or my other workouts. Some people might not think about some of the sacrifices that elite athletes make. We all know they run fast, hard, and often. But for me, being an elite athlete also meant being totally exhausted four days out of seven, every week, all year long. It meant not being able to do nearly as much of the “enjoyable” kinds of running—such as doing
long trails runs—because they would have hindered rather than improved my speed. It meant doing anaerobic track workouts that I usually hated. It meant dealing with the disappointment and pain of frequent injuries. Because of these injuries, for most of my career I had to do long, boring workouts on exercise bikes to make up for the distance running my body couldn’t handle.

There were also the pressures of competition. I suffered frequently from insomnia, especially when I travelled, and often raced on little or no sleep. When you are at a big road race or an Olympics, you run whether you feel well or not—barring serious injury. I ran sick at the Olympics
and I remember racing the Lilac Bloomsday 12K race one year after spending most of the night in the bathroom with digestive problems. You just tough it out the best you can.

Of course, it was all worth it—and not just for the money—there are easier ways to make the kind of money that is possible for any runner but the top international superstars. Few experiences in life rival the elation and triumph of winning a race, or even racing well no matter what your finishing position. Nothing beats the endorphin boost and relaxation that follow a tough workout.

But now, like Dan, I will be thankful for whatever days, months, or years I am able to simply enjoy running.

Editor’s Note: I was thrilled when Nancy offered to augment my own thoughts on this topic. While I may be a good observer, there is nothing like the perspective of the person who has ‘been there and done that’.  Nancy modestly offers that she has taken up the writing that had to wait while she was too busy training and running. If you have enjoyed this piece, then you should make it a point to head on over to her own blog site: Nancy Runs & Writes, where you can find more of her insights and perspectives on life and running.



People who are good at anything generally have passion for it, whatever it may be. Sometimes people who aren’t all that ‘good’ still have tremendous passion for what they do. In my opinion, we runners rank right up there when it comes to passion for our ‘thing’.

So, what is this ‘Passion with Perspective’?

Not for one second am I going to suggest that you can excel without the passion that lets you dig down for what you need. Let? Maybe, MAKES you dig down for what you need.  Does anybody but me hate it when people tell you: “now just take it easy and don’t hurt yourself out there”? Right – that’s what I thought.

So that isn’t what I’m talking about when I say ‘perspective’. I suppose this could be written for any runner who has come to a sudden stop in his or her running career, including elites who suffer a catastrophic injury or health problem. However, I believe it more applies to athletes who are aging and slowing and all that stuff for which they made age grading systems to give comfort. (That would be me, of course.)

In this case, what I am talking about when I use the term ‘perspective’ is how we manage the inevitable. I am privileged to get up close to a lot of excellent athletes and observe their passions for the sport and see them live it. Many more are just people who take their running very seriously  (it could really be anything else, but this blog is about running and runners). Performance in absolute terms has little to do with it in the general sense, but I imagine that the better an individual is, the more acute the situation.

I have seen a fair number of individuals who seem to define themselves by their running and running performance. There are really two levels here: running as such and running well. The issue comes down to: who would you be if you could not run? For most, the answer is probably ‘someone who used to love running and now runs no more’. The same could be said for those who once ran well and can now only run recreationally or for general health benefits. I have seen some runners who have lost their passion or at least deny it, once they are no longer able to perform at peak levels. I have seen others who have turned that passion in a different direction, while still celebrating it and using it to drive something different such as coaching or promoting involvement in our sport.

I have faced this abrupt change once when my mediocre, but personally satisfying running was brought to a sudden halt by a ruptured disk in my back. I had not run while I was a young adult, only beginning (as is the case with many) as I hit 40. From that point, and for the next 3-4 years, my performances got steadily better. All my PB’s come from the 12-15 months just prior to my back problem. The trend was to better and better times, so had the back thing not happened, I’m not sure where my PB’s might have wound up, or for that matter, what I would be doing today in terms of running. But, it DID happen and I had to deal with it.

After I was repaired, I did run again but my times were never quite what they once were, and my body was no longer as it once was. The post surgery times actually weren’t all that bad or so much slower, but it was clear that I had seen my best running days, at least in absolute terms. In my best running days I got down to a sub-20 minute 5K and a marathon under 3:25 (no chips then so I have to estimate just a little) and all the relatively similar times for distances between. Maybe that was actually the best I was ever going to do anyway, but we will never know. It is what it is (or was).

That was the first time I had to put some perspective into my passion. I could have said I would never be as good as I was, so I might as well quit and feel sorry for myself. Instead, I accepted that loving running was bigger than running to any particular standard.  Frankly, the only real standard I have set for myself, was and is, running my best. More importantly, I guess the ultimate standard I have set for myself is that I must enjoy running. I can honestly say that I do love running for its own sake and as hard as a race experience may be I still love the competition part too.  I was never really good enough to make goals to beat anyone in particular or win races. The odd time there was a podium place, but that was never really what drove my passion. Loved it when it happened, but was always a bonus. I’m sure I’m hardly unique in that regard.

[As an aside, I should say that this article has taken some time to write as it is not particularly time-sensitive and I did want to be particularly thoughtful about it. I have let it stew a bit and had various thoughts along the way.

As I was out running yesterday, I was thinking about whether my running has EVER impressed anyone but me. I suddenly realized that it has, if not ‘impressed’ then definitely impacted quite a number of people. The interesting part is not that anyone has ever been that impressed with my blinding speed (cough, choke) but rather that the older I get and slower I go there are more and more impressed with the very fact that I do keep going as the weeks, months and years add up! It is gratifying to me that people openly show that recognition and pleasing to me that perhaps my exploits do encourage others.]

OK, back to the original story line. In my own case, other stuff got in the way of steady competition after I was healed and healthy, and while my first marathon was in 1988 and my second in 2000, there were other shorter distances that happened through summer of 1989 and picked up again in 1991-92 and then sputtered to life again in 1998, it was 12 years between my first and second marathon. Even without the back problem, twelve years is a LONG time between events you want to compare. Again, yay for age grading. Age, is the operative word. That is something that hits us all, Ed Whitlock notwithstanding, and when you get right down to it, Ed too. The question is really one of how we accept the inevitable, or experience ‘Passion with Perspective’.

I have known people who set some arbitrary time in their heads for a particular distance and consider running over that time to be failure. Failure of such import that it defines them, at least in their own minds. I had a small dose of that in a recent marathon in Eugene when I ran 4:55. I did achieve something that was part of a decision point, and that was going under 5 hours. However, once I got home and could play a rousing game of ‘fun with numbers’ it came out that using age grading for long-term comparison, that was my 7th best performance out of 17. When you take into account the calendar, that time was relatively better than some much quicker absolute times done at a more tender age.  Could I have gone faster? Well, in this instance, yes I think I could. I can easily explain away about 1.5 minutes from the finish time, and know that with better race management, maybe another 5-10 minutes could have been foregone. That said, it is a far cry from my 3:25 done in 1988.  Aaah, but you see, there is the point.  The 3:25 happened 25 years ago (almost to the day). So here is my second application of perspective to my passion for running. As I already said, this is one we will all face in relative terms.  Some may see themselves failed if they can’t do a 3:00, or 4:00 hour marathon (or 16 minute 5K).  Right now, 5 hours is kind of my magic number but then I realize I never achieved less than three hours and have no idea if I ever had the potential to go sub-three. I have documented proof that I could go sub-four, but even that is now a thing of the past. I feel just as passionate about running. I love it and I love competition. As long as I feel like it is a good thing for me, I will continue.  When I don’t feel competitive running is healthy, I hope I will still be able to just run for pleasure. Passion with perspective.

I am trying to set out some ideas without stooping to saying that we all just have to suck it up and face reality and stop whinging about what we can do now and letting that somehow define us.  I’m trying.  In truth there are some far worse things than not being able to run as fast as we once could.  Everyone has his/her own view. I wrote this because I have known a few who appear to me to be taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach. In my opinion that is an inevitable path to failure and serious personal difficulty.  Hopefully, in the end it all turns out in the “well, that was fun while it lasted, and I was pretty awesome even if I do say so myself” category.

My current ‘passion’ seems to have become trying out this whole ‘Marathon Maniac’ approach for the next while. Running a marathon and a 50K ultra in a period of 13 days certainly seems to qualify. I have another marathon scheduled for early June, but then life gets in the way for a bit, so may have to look at the Fall and plan a series of races that work on several levels. I’ll let you know how that works out. In the meantime, I hope this post has given readers something to ponder.


Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now available in e-Book format from Trafford Publishing.



New Ultra Marathon Runner

That is pretty easy. You just run something you’ve never run before!

So, I did.

Now, that isn’t quite as easy as I might have made it sound. I’ve been running for a long time and over the years have run almost every common distance from the mile to the marathon. I’ve even done some uncommon ones like 6K and 7K, a 19K and a couple of similar ones where the object of the exercise was to get from a particular Point A to an equally particular Point B, that just happened to be 19km or some similar but unusual distance apart. Among the fairly common distances I’ve run are the street mile, 5K, 5 mile aka 8K, 10K, 15K, 10 mile, 20K, Half Marathon and the Marathon. All of those were done for PB’s more than 20 years ago.

What’s a body to do? Well, I’d never run an Ultra! Until this past Saturday, that is.

I consulted on the matter with my amazing ultra-marathoning friend, Ellie Greenwood. Without going into the same story again, due to a back problem/operation some 23 years ago I have some residual nerve damage and when I get tired my left leg drags. That is not good on steep downhills with rocks and roots and stuff. So, I asked Ellie if she could recommend a relatively flat and uncluttered 50K Ultra. She could. She did. The Elk-Beaver Ultras on Vancouver Island, near Victoria, BC. There are some up-slopes and down-slopes but not a single hill and hardly a root or rock to speak of. Thanks Ellie!

Naturally, the 42.2km marathon being the longest distance I’ve run, racing or training, I was going for the first distance accepted as an ultra-marathon – 50K. Someone described it as a ‘gate-way’ ultra. Not sure I like the sound of that.

Anyway, THAT is how you score a PB at my rapidly increasing age. I’m not even going to tell you the time because it was slow and doesn’t actually matter. It was not embarrassing though and unlike a couple of recent trail runs I was not last. I finished ahead of two other finishers and three DNF’s, making me 21/26.  For me the whole point was the doing of it. The official race report can be found in this link and if you really insist on seeing results, they are at the bottom of the event page.

Just to make it a wee bit more interesting and in keeping with my recent ascendency to Marathon Maniac status, I ran the Elk-Beaver 50K just 13 days after the Eugene Marathon, which would be a major new ‘first’ for me (two long events so close together). For those who don’t know the Marathon Maniac qualifying standards, I had actually achieved the bottom rung, one star or bronze level, back in 2008 by running three full marathons in less than 90 days (85 to be precise). That said, there is another way to meet the base qualifier and that  is to run two marathons (or ultras) in 16 days. I did the original three more or less by accident, just running races I wanted to do and only found out later that those three gave me the qualification I need to join up with the Maniacs. Not that there is any need for it, but this time I was very aware that I would be doing the first level standard again. Although it all remains to be seen, I wanted to try out the technique (intentionally this time) of keeping the races close enough to use the last marathon as the ‘long run’ in training for the next one. So far, so good. I do have another race in mind which is four weeks away. I won’t sign up until I know I’m fully recovered from the 50K, but just a couple of days after Elk-Beaver, I am feeling good.

Now, about the actual first time ultra! I have to admit that having run a marathon as hard as I could go, just two weeks earlier, my goal at Elk-Beaver was just to finish and enjoy it.  The last statement, of course, proves without any doubt that I am a Maniac or at least a little crazy. I wasn’t sure about the format of running 10K loops around the two lakes, but at least up to the point of doing 5 laps, I found it comforting. I’m not sure how doing it 10 times (like the 100K folk) would feel – and I never will. Never having run that trail, the first lap was all new. Happily, I found Ellie was right on with her description. I trust Ellie, but knowing the sorts of races she does both in terms of distance and terrain, I had to see for myself what she thinks ‘flat and easy’ actually means. After finishing the first circuit, the running was fairly steady. By the last lap, I was thrilled I was on a loop course, because I knew at every step just where I was and what was coming. With about a mile to go, I think I felt a bit euphoric even. OK, well maybe I was just getting dizzy.

The 50K had the great advantage that it is really only a bit longer than a marathon. As my gps device confirmed that I was passing the marathon distance shortly after starting lap 5, I had the reassuring feeling that I was less than 8K from home – 5 miles. I won’t tell you it was a lark, or pretty. I had lots of issues, including nagging allergy symptoms which actually made lap four the worst of all of them. I was not running fast by any stretch of the imagination, but I was still going and there were lots of people being supportive, both fellow competitors and local runners/walkers/joggers and equestrians. (Oh yes, I did ask a couple of the latter if I could borrow the horsey for just bit. None were ready to accommodate and now I’m glad.)

At one point I was running with a fellow competitor from Alberta. He was a great guy and fun to talk to, but was insisting on running 10 and 1’s. I have nothing against that method, but I just don’t do it. Well, I did this time – once and a bit. That was about all I could manage. When we got into the second cycle I was not feeling like I was running my own race, so I bade him go ahead and took my own walk break. When I am running long distances and find myself needing to walk, right or wrong, I tend to take shorter breaks and try to do them when there is a hill or challenging section where I will expend even greater energy if I try to run, and where walking likely isn’t going to slow me down all that much anyway. It turned out to be a good idea because we did a couple of backs and forths over lap four and then in lap five, I passed him for good and actually finished some 12 minutes ahead. I doubt he walked more than I did, but I was able to better manage my energy, running faster when I did run. With a set 10/1 schedule you can sometimes wind up walking down a nice easy hill and then running on the up-slope. Elk-Beaver has no hills but it does have lots of slopes.

While we were still running together, a local runner/jogger fell in with us. He was a fairly big fellow running for fitness and wasn’t with us for a long time. Seeing our bibs he asked what we were doing and we told him, also about the other 50 mile and 100K events that were going on simultaneously. He looked at us for a bit, kind of sideways, and said something like: “So you just got up this morning and thought – gee I’ve got nothing else to do, I guess I’ll go run a 50K race.” We looked at each other and said, “Yeah, that’s about it.” I think it was at that point where he veered off on a side-trail and we carried on.

It was great to have a lot of people ask what we were doing and to hear their supportive cheers as I told them (on the fly) of our race. OK, ‘fly’ might not be just the word I’m searching for, but I didn’t stop.

I think the final points to make involve the race and its organizers, Carlos “the Jackal” Castillo (race director) and Carlos “C2” Castillo (assistant RD, and the Jackal’s son). They work very hard to make this a great and welcoming event. As a race director myself of events large and small, I was most impressed with how hard they work to give everyone a great experience. Carlos the Jackal actually ran the 50K backwards – in reverse direction, that is – to make sure everyone was doing OK. Every time he passed me (and everyone else, I’m sure) he had an encouraging word. It probably sounds like there would have been at least hundreds running with the four events (there was also a ‘my first marathon’ component), but in fact I believe the sum total was 68 starters. The largest field was the 50K.

Apart from it being my first try at any ‘ultra’ distance, it seems I was the oldest competitor. Interestingly, this was not a first. It is happening more often now. Not in the big events like the Eugene Marathon where there were 19 just in my M65-69 category. Maybe my plan to hang in until I start bringing home the hardware is on the verge of paying off! Oh, and while writing this piece and listing all the distances where I established insurmountable PB’s many years ago, I realized that one distance I have not done is 30K. That is not a common distance, but there is one race that happens not very far from here, each Spring – the Birch Bay 30K. That one is already finished for 2013, but I think I may just see another PB looming in 2014!

BMO Vancouver Marathon Weekend


Bart Yasso, Lynn Kanuka and Dan Cumming - BMO Vancouver Marathon

Wow! Could things be looking much better for a great race weekend. Some 17,000 runners will hit the pavement in the four events scheduled for Sunday May 5th, and if the weather lives up to the prediction there are going to be some amazed people out there.

I was pleased to be able to attend the BMO Vancouver Marathon VIP/Media luncheon and meet up with key players in the Full and Half Marathon events. It is going to be a stellar field to say the least. More on that later.

I do have to point out that much of my interest is in covering things related to ‘seasoned athletes’ so was pleased to see a number of our Canadian Olympians recognized, mostly seasoned ones. Dylan Wykes (Canada’s top active marathoner) doesn’t really fit the description I suppose, but Lynn Kanuka (Elite Athlete Coordinator), Carey Nelson, Doug and Diane Clement and Miki Gorman certainly do. I hadn’t realized that was happening when I sat down at our table, so was a little surprised when, Dylan and Carey rose on either side of me to accept the congratulations of the room. It sort of left me feeling like I was part of a real-life episode of ‘Wayne’s World’ – I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!

The other exciting thing was having four contributors to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes in the room at the same time. The photo above includes Bart Yasso (Runners’ World), Lynn Kanuka (BMO Vancouver Marathon) and yours truly. Unfortunately, when that photo-op came Steve King was elsewhere. Sorry Steve!  Maybe Sunday. Unless, of course, Steve is too busy doing what he does so well, announcing the arrival and victory of all those who have worked so hard to reach that magic finish line – some for the first time, and others once again.

In addition to all these folk, Tom Howard was there, a former winner of the Vancouver Marathon as far back as 1972 when, as he said “some 50 or 52 ran around Stanley Park five times”.  Tom is still going and plans to run the Half Marathon come Sunday.

An interesting part of the media session was a Q&A with the elites and stage personalities.  It seems that everyone has role models and our Kenyan and Ethiopian elite visitors are no different. Not surprisingly the names Paul Tergat and Kip Keino popped right up. Natasha Fraser gave a very nice nod to Lynn Kanuka as her personal role model for excellence. One of the people named is never thought of in terms of elite running, but has moved so many around the world, and that was Terry Fox mentioned by one of the Kenyan contingent.

Both the Full and Half Marathon events promise to provide some exciting racing with both defending champions returning to contest the marathon. A new (well, new to the current format) 8K is going to give participants a spectacular run through Stanley Park, borrowing the last 8K of the Half Marathon course for their run.

As to the field we will see on Sunday, we have returning champions in both the Marathon – Gezahgn Eshetu and Ellie Greenwood, and Half Marathon – Natasha Fraser and Kip Kangogo. These fine athletes are NOT going to be left alone to reclaim their first place status, at least not if a significant list of men and women from Canada, Kenya and Ethiopia have anything to say in the matter, with the likes of Omwenga, Kimigul, Kiptoo and Pedereski toeing the various lines.

During the media briefing section of the gathering, one of the major bits of advice coming from the elites seemed to ring true for any runner at any level. Kip Kangogo was the first to say it, but others including Thomas Omwenga quickly backed him up. In essence, the message was ‘trust your training’. It gives you confidence to actually run your race. When asked how a runner can get through the always hard last few kilometers, Dylan Wykes offered that you have to embrace what you feel and use it. I think he was talking about the pain! Benard Onsare said something that every runner can definitely use – ‘don’t think tired’.  How many times do we all seem to get to that stage in a long race, where everything is telling you it is just too much?  Apparently almost every runner, at whatever level deals with that. Our paces differ widely, but maybe what is happening to our bodies and in our heads is not so very different.  What just might be different is how deep our elites, and here I refer to all the top runners right up through the age groupings, seem to be able to go into that store of confidence and inner will, in order to get the job done.

All the best to every runner who will do any of the events at whatever pace it is going to take to do the job. For my part, while I will surely be taking note of everything, I will be concentrating on one runner in particular – our daughter Janna, who is running her first marathon since Boston – 2009. I was there to watch that one and will be closely following her tomorrow.

Go Janna!  Go Runners!


Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now available from Trafford Publishing in e-book format.



Vancouver Marathon - May 5

Eugene Marathon - April 28











Two big events in just a week, the Eugene Marathon (which your intrepid blogger ran) and the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which said same intrepid blogger will be attending, watching and commenting upon in due course.

Speaking of courses, these two events rival each other for attractiveness, that is if you like green trees and grass, blossoms and water views. So far, I have not had the experience of running the new Vancouver Marathon route. I did do the Half Marathon in 2012, but these are almost two totally separate courses (the Full and the Half). The start and finish  are in the same places but the two courses separate within a few hundred metres of the start and only come together again with a couple of K’s to go.  That said, being from Vancouver and having participated in a training clinic specifically geared to the BMO Vancouver events, I have run most of the route at one point or another, just not all at once and in a race.

The weather in Eugene was almost perfect for running a marathon and with the organization and the attraction of Hayward Field and the whole “running in the footsteps of legends” thing it would be hard to beat. But, Vancouver is promising spectacular weather for May 5th and with clear skies and sunshine, views from that course are going to be unrivaled. Participants better dig out the high potency sun-block, hats and sun-glasses! Usually we Vancouverites are looking for water-proofing compounds, but not this weekend!

I was personally thrilled to have made my third appearance at the Eugene Marathon and to have a lot of running friends there too, including my very own wife, Judi, who has not been a runner in a good many years, but is an avid walker. She decided a year or two ago that if she has to hang around waiting for me to finish my race, she might as well be doing something productive, so where the logistics work out she is now officially walking the half marathon events. In Eugene, she found out the meaning of ‘flat and fast’, setting more than a 10 minute PB on previous half marathon walks. One of our happy group and a contributor to this blog, Rod Waterlow, again won his age category (M75-120). Rod is at the low end of that pretty extended age spectrum!

Eugene has a personal pull for me, starting with the ‘running in the footsteps of legends’, plus my first trip there was, in terms of my modest running abilities and achievements, a spectacular success back in 2010. It was also the scene of a spectacular failure in 2011 when I foolishly ran injured, then didn’t have the sense to quit at either of the easy opportunities to basically step off the course and call it a day. Eugene 2013 was sort of the rubber match and I had several goals, not the least of which was to use it as a decision point for my continued running. This time I started well trained and un-injured. The run itself had its ups and downs, mostly ‘ups’ (and I don’t mean the elevation kind), yet my time tells me that one decision point is clear. Unless something totally unexpected happens in the next year or two, this blogger will only be attending Boston as a spectator – surprisingly, that feels OK. My time was not exactly pleasing relative to what I had hoped to do, but thank goodness for age grading, it actually turned out to be my seventh best out of 17.  Quite a few marathons run faster, but at younger ages, wound up behind this one. So, in a best two out of three series, I guess it is Dan – 2, Eugene – 1. There might be more on this, in a general way, at some later date.  For now, let’s just say it is all good.

I should add, by way of recognizing Eugene legends, our little travel group took a moment on Sunday afternoon to make a runner’s pilgrimage

"Pre's Rock" - Eugene, OR

to “Pre’s Rock”. It was sad in one way to be at the actual physical place where the spirit and brilliance of Steve Prefontaine came to a sudden end. It was also very inspiring. And, in truth, I guess it was only the physical being and brilliant career that ended so tragically that night, since his spirit has lived on to inspire countless others.

That brings us back to the present though and a look ahead at the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I have run Vancouver (the marathon) four times, but never on the new course. I did the new Half Marathon course in 2012 and we had much the same weather. As already noted, the route is very different from that of the Full. It was so amazing that I encountered a few visitors who were having trouble concentrating on their running in the face of the beauty of that course.  As I write this, I am still debating whether my recovery is good enough to let my newly minted Marathon Maniac self take over and see if I can sign up for a very slow (camera in hand) run at the marathon.  Stay tuned.

Things kick off on Friday with a media lunch to introduce the contenders and some key-note speakers, including our very own (Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes) Bart Yasso and defending women’s champ from 2012, Ellie Greenwood. What I will be on the watch for is masters and better runners. I believe that the ever amazing BJ McHugh will be taking on the Half Marathon and likely setting yet another world record for her age.  I am always interested to see how the Masters runners will make out trying to take the event record from another contributor, Roger Robinson. Roger’s mark at 2:18:42 has stood for over 30 years.  It was good enough for Third OA back when he did it and would likely be at least that good even now.  The new course looks like it should be fast, but it has some testing bits that if not run strategically, can easily jump up and get an unsuspecting runner.  We will see what we will see. At this moment, I do not know exactly who among the remarkable (Masters) locals will be running and then there are the out of towners that may show up.  Guess you will need to stay tuned on this one too.

What I do know is that our daughter will be running and I will be very interested to see how she does, even if she hasn’t yet reached the ‘masters’ age level. While she has done a few marathons, including New York and Boston, this will be her first time for Vancouver. Like me, she trained with the Forerunners marathon clinic and has seen almost all the parts of the course, just not all at once or in race mode.

So, I guess that is the preview.  I expect to have more to say, maybe after the media luncheon, but certainly once the whole thing is officially in the record books. For the quicker runners, the weather could be ideal. It should be in the range of 12-18C, with not but a breeze of wind, and as already noted, sunshine and blue skies from start to finish.

Here’s to great running for everyone involved, from the newly introduced 8K to the Full Marathon!