Archive for June, 2013



Winthrop Marathon and Half Marathon

I was always going to post something about my latest road-trip race. You know I was. But, what I didn’t know until it was all done, was what the main topic would be. So, let’s get some of the obvious stuff out of the way and then I’ll get to the main point, a point that is not exclusive to the Winthrop Road Marathon, but ever so important.

North Cascades

This was my second time to the Winthrop Road Marathon. You know there is something different when the name of the event insists on including the word ROAD. There is a reason for that. The Winthrop ROAD Marathon is organized by Rainshadow Running and is the only event in their considerable roster that isn’t a trail epic. Winthrop is a ‘small’ event in regard to total numbers of competitors in the combined marathon and half marathon events. This year the total finisher counts were 103 and 84 respectively. The distances are pretty standard so small only refers to numbers. It certainly doesn’t apply to the ‘heart’ of the race(s). The effort and care put into it by James Varner and his crew of volunteers is top shelf and as good as any. When you get to the finish, the post-race celebration and street party is up there with the best! There is plenty of fruit, baked goods, refreshing juices, lemonade and cold water. When you are ready there is a hearty lunch from Carlos’ 1800 Mexican Restaurant. Oh yes, and one other thing. Now what was that?

Old Schoolhouse Brewery

Right, beer on tap from the Old Schoolhouse Brewery (located, literally, mere steps from the finish line). They have live music too!  Finally, once you have eaten all you want and quaffed all the cooling beverages you need, just a short walk down the wooden sidewalk you can collect your ice cream from Sheri’s. All of this done in the warm afternoon sunshine of the Methow Valley in North-Central Washington State in the, wait for it ——  rainshadow of the North Cascades.

Rushing mountain stream marks the Start

The race starts well up the Chewuch River, interestingly enough pretty much 26 miles.  It used to start 3 miles farther up that road, but that involved doing those three miles on gravel. In order to keep the whole thing on pavement, the start was moved down a bit and a wee (didn’t seem so ‘wee’ at the end of the marathon) out and back was added in town to make up the difference. Having never done the original route, I can’t really comment on the difference, but I sure like the first half of the marathon course which is all in the forest, running beside the Chewuch River, which is often in plain view. I think I’d like a version of the route that would take me straight to the finish once we hit town, but hey, that’s just me. I have no experience on the former gravel section. I do know that both times I’ve done Winthrop the weather was warm, especially as you break out into the open just around the half way point. At the time it now takes me to run a marathon even on a good day, it is getting pretty ‘toasty’ by the time you are at the half mark. Three more miles in the shady forest seems like a good thing to me!

Regardless of my route commentary, this is a great ‘little’ event and one to give a try sometime, especially if you want something a bit different from the big city mega-event marathon or half marathon. Nothing wrong with those big races, but you do owe it to yourself to try a race like the Winthrop Road Marathon.

Now to “The Kindness of Strangers” part of the title. What happened was not really major and was surely not exclusive to this race or even the people involved, but it did make an impression on me and provided the major talking point for this race.

Very few runners, once they have cooled down, will not recognize the effort of the volunteers at any event.  Without ’em we would be in trouble trying to do what we do. We all recognize the nature of the running community and can tell stories of selfless kindness, including people halting their own race to help someone in distress. Everyone tends to be supportive of everyone else. For the most part, that is just how it is and one of the reasons people enjoy running as they do.

My story is really nothing major but was still pretty amazing to me. Here it is.  In 2012 I totally blew my hydration and electrolyte balancing. Did I mention it can be warm in Winthrop in June? Yes, I thought so.  Somewhere around 15 miles I started cramping up and started walking. It was largely my own fault, so in 2013 I vowed that was not going to happen again, and it mostly didn’t. Although I was tiring and slowing quite appreciably as the end drew near, I feel it was more attributable to the fact that this was my third marathon or greater racing event in a period of six weeks. Cramping or potential cramping (because I was only just feeling the first twinges) only happened in the last mile or two. I managed that and even shuffled across the finish line at what might have looked like a running pace. Haven’t seen the finish-line pictures yet!

I was pretty tired and my quads were pretty stiff, but I had improved on my time from 2012 and was pretty sure even at that point that I had moved up the finish order. I was feeling good because this was in context of all the recent running and the fact that if anything, the day was a bit warmer than 2012. I walked around a little within the restricted finish area and found out where the drop bags were. I wanted to get out of my sweaty running singlet and get into my new Marathon Maniac shirt so the many Maniacs in attendance could see I was one of them. As I stepped up maybe four inches onto the board-walk and put pressure on my right foot, my right calf just went into spasm right then and there. Being almost in front of the band, I grabbed one of the speaker stands just to take pressure off my leg. And thus began my own experience of “the kindness of strangers”. Two women who were runners (half marathon I think), were right there to steady me (and maybe try to rescue the speaker too, although it was really never in danger – really, it wasn’t). I hope I didn’t look as bad as they must have thought. Except that it hurt a lot, as anyone who has experienced such a post-run cramping episode would know, I was quite OK. Then a third woman, associated with the Carlos’ food service, got into it.  They convinced me to sit down in a chair that one of them quickly found for me and the restaurant lady was giving me a foot to brace against while I tried to stretch out my calf. One of the others offered to get me a big cold glass of lemonade, and then did. When she got back she asked if she could get me some fruit. Once more, she returned with a plate of grapes, cherries, watermelon and pineapple.  By then I had pretty much downed the lemonade, so she asked if I wanted more. I did. Off she went again.  Meanwhile the third of these angels of mercy offered me a high-tech cold towel thingy for my neck. Not sure I really needed that (I mean it was my calf that was in distress) but by this time I think I was kind of getting into all this tender attention.  I have to say, whether I really needed it or not, that cool towel did feel pretty good!

To "Strangers" and all the Volunteers!

In truth, all of this didn’t actually take all that long and I was soon able to go get my bag and get into a less race ‘damaged’ shirt. All three kept track of me for the next while. I thanked each of them each time they did something specific but my big regret was not being able to make a more expansive thank you to each of them after everything was done. It really was special how much attention they showered on this old guy.  Who knows, maybe I did look a bit scary after my effort in the noon-day sun, but other than being painfully cramped up for a bit, I was feeling pretty darn good. I do hope that all three see this somehow and realize I’m talking about them.  As I think about, maybe not being able to make some kind of pretty thank you speech to each of them, was a kind of blessing in disguise.  Because I have had to do it this way, maybe all those runners and volunteers who have done anything remotely similar at some place and time, will recognize themselves in more general terms and KNOW I am talking to them too.

As I recall, none of these women asked my name and I did not ask theirs. Before I realized it, they were all gone, as far as I could see. The whole encounter was entirely anonymous and maybe that was to the good. It was done person to person without ever becoming ‘personal’. It truly was a matter of “The Kindness of Strangers“.



Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I do love the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K which is run annually in Negril, Jamaica on the first weekend of December. In 2013, race day will be December 7.

There are so many things I like about the Reggae Marathon and I’ve covered them pretty extensively in earlier posts, so I’ll skip by much of that for the moment to get to the heart of this post.  I should stress that it is a non-commercial message and strictly one from me, motivated by a couple of things, one of the biggies being the desire to see some local friends enjoy this event for themselves.

A big feature of the event is groups that organize themselves to participate. The model I have in mind relative to this post, is ‘Easy Skankin’. They are a loosely affiliated group out of New York (and area) that has become a bit of a fixture now at the Reggae Marathon weekend. The de facto group leader is Larry Savitch, one of the three intrepid members of the “Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge”, chronicled here in 2012, complete with its own Facebook page and ever so much manly trash-talk. The other two “Reggae Runners’ being Chris Morales, the official Reggae Marathon blogger and myself. Oh, and just in case ‘Easy Skankin” is giving anyone pause for thought – it is a Bob Marley song! (But, you knew that, right?) They design a team shirt each year and make a fun presence at the Friday night pasta dinner and party, as well as in the three race events. Oh yeah, post-race too. Larry, shown in the picture here is modeling the 2012 team shirt.

Dan, Larry (Easy Skankin') and Chris at Rick's

There is a group coming from the Toronto area via the Runners Mark store and at least one other Canadian group of women, “Running Girlz”. In 2013, another group has laid down a marker that few will challenge! ‘Black Girls Run’ is returning to Negril with an unbelievable (at present count) 142 participants! They are going to be a force to be reckoned with and I know they are going to just enjoy the living daylights out of the event. And, last year the Morales clan showed up in numbers, some to run and some to cheer!

OK. That is all nice. So what?

Well, I have been quietly trying to organize something that would allow West Coast runners to form up a group and head for Negril. I can guarantee that for people who like destination running, this is going to wind up high on your list of favourite events. The motto: ‘Once you go, you’ll know’, pretty much sums it up. They back that up with “Come for the Run – Stay for the Fun” (A few seem to think it should be ‘Come for the Run – Stay for the Rum’, but we can leave that to personal taste, so to speak. The Red Stripe is always cold and refreshing!)

I worked with a travel agent to see if there was a ‘deal’ that can be put together to make it all easy, but for reasons to follow, that hasn’t worked out so well. Part of the reason is individual preferences and another part is the actual flight options.

Breakfast time - Rondel Village, Negril

My personal preference is a low cost option using a red-eye flight and booking into mid-range local accommodation with meals not-included. I have enough knowledge of the area that I am comfortable with those choices. Others may prefer a more packaged, even ‘all inclusive’ deal. Those exist and many are pretty spectacular, as long as you are willing to pay the price! The Reggae Marathon web site offers links for travel and accommodation, as well as flight discounts from American Airlines.  The good news is that the Reggae Marathon falls just outside the ‘high season’ so rates are more modest and weather is usually great.

2012 Medal - Half Marathon

I would love to offer myself as the core organizer of a group from the Vancouver area (or for that matter any blog reader who wants to join in) providing unofficial advice and personal perspectives on specific options as I know them, leaving it to each individual to make their own formal arrangements. I am happy to take a lead in organizing a running group both before departure and on the ground in Jamaica. Anyone remotely thinking this could be of interest can e-mail me at or send a PM on my Facebook account or just talk to me. Please feel free to contact me for more information, with no commitment required at this time. I have prepared a brief fact sheet, including what I know about flights and accommodations as well as on-the-ground details and can send that to anyone wanting more on the nitty gritty of it all. It might seem awfully early to be planning re an event in December, but if you are a bargain hunter or need to book time off work, it is certainly time to start thinking about it.

I have collaborated with a travel agent who worked hard at trying to build a specific group package, but airlines now have such strict rules for group fares that we agreed it would be virtually impossible to squeeze a diverse bunch of people into the single format demanded. There are deals and packages to be had at the individual/couple/family level and we agreed that for those wanting professional assistance, I would recommend contacting: Patti has worked in the travel industry for many years, and I have confidence in directing anyone to her that feels more comfortable in planning their travel via a professional.

Now for the ‘sales pitch’ on what is so great about the event and why any ‘destination runner’ should give the Reggae Marathon a serious look.

Just one pasta station! Looks pretty - tastes great!

Pasta, reggae, Red Stripe and friends!

Where else are you going to find yourself at what is justly billed as the best pre-race pasta party in the world, able to take over the whole road along a seven mile white sand beach, running to the sounds of sweet reggae music, supported by the most enthusiastic volunteers anywhere, finishing with a fresh coconut and a Red Stripe beer, more reggae music and finally, that refreshing dip in the Caribbean Sea? Oh, and start in the soft warm darkness, between a row of torches, to the sounds of – yes, you’ve got it – SWEET REGGAE MUSIC! Check out this VIDEO from the official Reggae Marathon Blog site and while you are there, make sure you look at some of the other posts! And, if you need any further information about Jamaica, try the Visit Jamaica site.

There are definitely serious runners, but most people are just in a different zone of total enjoyment of the situation and the event. The three distances give great options. Anyone able to run 10K around an hour will finish before sunrise. Two hour half marathoners will be finishing as the sun is just nicely brightening the day. Full marathoners are going to see the tropical sun most years. The hydration systems available from the many aid stations ensure a good run, but do bring that sunscreen, and make it the water-proof sport kind, because there is no question you are going to sweat! The three events make it possible for families to have choices and walkers are definitely welcome.

It is the tropics and while temperatures at that time of year are far from extreme, they are not conducive to PB efforts, but that just doesn’t seem to be the point for most people. Negril is billed as ‘the Capital of Casual’.  That and the fact that the organizers, led by race director Alfred “Frano” Francis, are doing everything they can to make it the best experience you can have, is what makes this event so appealing.

Larry and Karen Savitch in Negril - Photo: Chris Morales

While possible, I do not recommend jetting in and out unless you have no other choice. Don’t forget the race is actually Saturday, and that you DO NOT want to miss the pasta party and package pick-up Friday evening. A couple of days of acclimatization to local conditions isn’t a bad idea  and then you don’t want to miss the post-race beach time where you will surely meet/recognize many other Reggae Marathon participants. And, did I mention the Red Stripe? What about the jerk pork and chicken? Patties (chicken, beef, veggie) on the beach? Soon come, mon! This stuff takes time.

Beach Time

Negril is a place where you can just sit on a beach and watch the clouds and do no more, but Jamaica is a fascinating country and there are many historical and cultural things to see and do. I guess one ‘cultural thing’ could be sunset at Rick’s Café or other nearby watering holes. For reggae fans, there is the option of a pilgrimage to Nine Mile, the birth place and resting place of reggae legend, Bob Marley. The point is, that you may just need a little extra time, and of course there may be other options than spending the whole time in Negril, especially if you were to do what I would always do if I had the time and resources, which is taking about two weeks with the Reggae Marathon smack in the middle. Just one bit of advice on that – stay in Negril for at least one day post-race!

Jamaican Sunset - Negril

So, there you have my non-commercial, commercial message on the Reggae Marathon and my offer to be an informal organizer for a West Coast Canadian contingent! We will absolutely have to have a great name, but we can hold on that until we see how many are interested in becoming ‘Reggae Runners’.