Three-fer at Victoria 2007 Danielle, Dan & Janna

I sit here, feeling just the slightest symptoms of mara-paranoia (because in just 73 hours I will be toeing the line for my fifth go at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon. Back is a bit stiff, knee might be a bit tender and I’m kind of sniffling.  But, why are these things not scary-bad? Well, I wake up every morning with a stiff back, and a bit of congestion from allergies (I guess).  Oh yeah, and my knees always like a bit of motion to get the day started. In other words, if I wasn’t doing a marathon in a couple of days, it would just be normal.

Victoria has become my ‘go-to’ event it seems. It has also been the family event and unless somebody plans to sneak up and surprise me, this is probably the first time since 2000, that I will run alone in Victoria. In addition to five full marathons including the one this weekend (2000, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013), I have completed the half marathon five times as well (2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012), all of it starting with that first race in 2000. That is 10 times in 14 years. Not perfect attendance, but pretty darn good. In October 2000 I ran my second ever marathon.  It is one of the reasons, I think, that I have such a warm feeling for this particular event.  You see, my first marathon was in Vancouver in 1988 and in between I had required back surgery to correct a ruptured disk. While I had run fairly steadily and raced a bit over the intervening years from the surgery in 1990, the most I had done was a 20K race in Brussels, Belgium in 1991. I did not know if I could actually do a marathon when I headed for the start in Victoria that cool October morning in 2000. I had vowed as a Millennium project of my own making that I would do a marathon in the Year 2000. I had actually made that vow on New Years Eve, standing on a cliff near Dallas Road, mere metres from the Royal Victoria Marathon course, but my mind was on Vancouver  at that time, not Victoria. My first marathon was the Vancouver International Marathon and it seemed appropriate that if I was going to get back into marathoning, then Vancouver should be the starting place.

Nearing the Finish - Victoria 2000

Well, as with all such good intentions, there was a bit of a rocky road ahead and I elected to just go for the Half in Vancouver and press on for a marathon later in the year. That marathon, of course, turned out to be Victoria. The coming together of a lot of things is what has made that race one of the most significant in my own running career as well as having quite an impact in other areas. Both our daughters have run quite a bit. For the moment, one has ‘retired’ from running competitions, but the other presses on and at the moment is carrying the flag for Cumming family running achievements. It was quite the family affair at that first Victoria Marathon. Our oldest, Danielle, came from Toronto to witness both her father and younger sister, Janna, tackle the marathon. It was Janna’s very first full marathon and we had trained a bit together leading up to the big event. Our son, Cam, who still lives and works in Victoria (all three kids went to U Vic) came along as the camera operator while Danielle provided colour commentary!  Naturally, wife and mother Judi, was there as the Cheerleader in Chief. My father-in-law even came from Ottawa to see what this was all about, and we were accompanied by our old friends from just up the road at Brentwood Bay (who had been there on that windy cliff-top when I made my vow to run my second marathon).

For those familiar with my writing, and who may be starting to worry about now: be calm. I have no intention of describing the race in detail – even though I could!

If all of this wasn’t enough, it was at this event that I caught up again with Steve King, the long-time race announcer for Victoria. We had known each other and run together with the same club and in the same events, when we lived in the Okanagan. If that had not happened, it is probable that Running in the Zone, the book especially, and this blog would never have happened. It was the beginning of the beginning, so to speak.

There is no way to state how special it was to be running this oh so significant second marathon while Janna was running her first ever. I had run my first some 12 years before and as I tell all new marathoners, once you cross that finish line you ARE a marathoner and always will be. So it wasn’t that I was trying to do something I had never done before. I was trying to see (training notwithstanding) if I really could still race a marathon. Cutting to the finish, I can say that crossing that line was every bit as emotional as finishing my first. Only some while later did I really consider the time. In truth it wasn’t that important in the greater scheme of things. Truly, how can you meaningfully compare events twelve years apart? Yes, yes, you already know my answer to that, but in October 2000 I had not discovered the magic of age-grading, and besides, at that point it was not well developed nor particularly well accepted. Only later (several years) did I examine what I had done in 1988 in comparison with Victoria 2000. So, that was not the basis of my euphoria as I recovered on the lawn in the front of the BC Legislature.  Oh, but you ARE wondering how that age-grading thing worked out. OK, here it is, keeping in mind that it was 12 mostly non-competitive years and one back operation later. My AG time for Vancouver 1988 was 3:14:36 while Victoria 2000 came out at 3:40:28. In truth, I have run several better (age adjusted) marathons since then, including a couple at Victoria. That said, Victoria 2000 is still my second fastest raw time for marathon, so another milestone for that particular race.

Although I was several minutes behind Janna (we started together, but after 10K or so, it was clear that wasn’t working for either of us), it was pretty easy to see that she was very pleased with her own race, having done her first marathon in under four hours! I think I may have been more excited than she was, at least at the time. That was the start of something for her and she has now completed six of her own marathons, including Boston and New York (which we did together and where she qualified for Boston!). Her latest was just this year in Vancouver. I will be interested to see how she continues, or doesn’t, with marathons. I mean, I was 43 when I ran my first. She has years yet to go before she reaches that age and already has six to her credit!

I do know that our little performance inspired Janna’s big sister, Danielle to want to do her own marathon. That in turn resulted in the beginning of another family tradition, the Cumming Family Half Marathon Challenge. More on that later. As far as Danielle’s marathoning goes, she ran the Toronto Marathon a bit later on (her first and apparently last). Marathons are not for everyone, but as I say, no matter what, Danielle is and always will be a marathoner. One family with three marathon runners is pretty amazing I would say, and it all started in Victoria in 2000.

Family Challenge Complete

It was so special to have all that family there for our big event (and that includes our friends, who are family that just doesn’t happen to share any DNA). In point of fact, it turned out to be the last time we saw my father-in-law in good health. By the next Thanksgiving weekend he had passed away with cancer. We did see him in May, in Ottawa when I ran a promised race with Danielle – a half marathon. By this time, my work had taken me to Malaysia and training for a marathon was pretty much out of the question. I had originally said I would run a marathon with her, just as I had done with Janna. We agreed that a half marathon would have to do. As it turned out that Ottawa Race Weekend half was on Danielle’s 28th birthday. As I pondered the matter post-race, I realized I was 56 – that is, she was half my age. We had just run a half marathon together when she was half my age. That was a complete accident, but from there began the tradition of each kid running a half with me when he or she was half my age.  For our son, that was quite the undertaking because while he has run since he was a teen, it isn’t his thing and he doesn’t run often. The longest for him has been 10K’s, so it was a major undertaking to get ready for and run the half with me. That happened and we completed the Family Challenge in November 2011. I have the picture to prove it!

Running in the Zone Book Launch 2005

I started by saying that Victoria has been the site of so many races for the family. At least a couple of times Janna, Danielle and I have all run at the same time, although not necessarily in the same event. Other than this year, I believe at least two of the three of us have always run something in the 10 years I have been there. It was at Victoria that Janna and I completed the Family Challenge. It was at Victoria that Steve King and I first started musing about writing a book for ‘seasoned’ runners, and it was at Victoria in 2005 that we launched Running in the Zone: A Handbook For Seasoned Athletes and were able to actually have just over half of the 26 contributors present for the launch.

For some years, I had trouble finding enough time to train well, so my times were nothing to brag about. I was just running for the enjoyment of doing it and because I like competing regardless. However, around 2008 I started feeling more motivated to produce better (relatively, anyway) times. The first step on that road was a pretty good performance at Victoria on the way to one of my best at the California International Marathon in Sacramento. Over the next year or so, my marathons got incrementally better, with a good performance at Victoria setting up a better one at CIM. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the progress, which culminated in a run at the Eugene Marathon in 2010 that now stands as my third best raw time and second best age-graded time. As I wrote this I was reminded that last Fall I ran the Victoria Half as one of my best recent races. I was starting to feel like the wheels on my wagon were getting pretty wobbly. I run to my own standard, due to the back issues that continue to follow me even 23 years later – nothing drastic, but nonetheless limiting in absolute terms. So, when I ran Victoria last October and registered a time that was my best half in about three years I was pretty thrilled. When I got home and could analyse my splits (what else is a gps device for???), I was really thrilled to find I had hit my splits very, very evenly AND that my last mile was just slightly faster than my first!  Sure didn’t feel that way, but isn’t that how you are supposed to race? In fact, while toting up all the special stuff about the Victoria Marathon, I have to say this may rank as my second best managed race, with my very first marathon at Vancouver in 1988 ranking as first.  I’m not talking about time here. I’m talking about race management. I have run waaaay faster half marathons with or without age-grading if what you are counting is finish time.  At this point, I am (apparently) more thrilled when I can run well as opposed to fast, something I haven’t done for such a very long time anyway.

I have lately been playing in the Marathon Maniac league, doing more volume than pace. Victoria in 2008 was one of three marathons, that first qualified me (3 in 90 days) to actually be a Maniac. This coming marathon is #6 on the road to 8 in 365 days and a new level of Maniacal Magnificence! In truth, all going well and to plan, I will hit 8 in about 220 days, but I do not think I have any interest in going for the next level of 12 in 365 days. Mind you, somewhere around 1986 I said something to the effect: “Nobody actually needs to run a marathon.” At the finish on Sunday I will be at 22 marathons and if the other two (Las Vegas in November and the Reggae Marathon in December) come off as planned, then I will be at 24. Well, nobody wants to quit on a number like 24, when 25 is so close and has such a nice ring to it, so……………………

Marathons are special, every one. Each has its own particular charm or challenge. I love some because of the vibe (the Reggae Marathon probably ranks #1 for me on that score). Some are amazing just for shear spectacle (nothing I have done beats the New York City Marathon). Some offer opportunity for performance (for me that is probably Eugene). And then there is the one event that just seems to have something that stands out across the board. I love Vancouver, because it was my first, but that marathon event is long gone and of another era. The new Vancouver Marathon event is doing superbly and growing into something special (confession, so far I’ve only done the Half). However, when it comes to rating that best of the best marathon, my personal vote goes to Victoria, whether it be the old Royal Victoria Marathon or the present day, Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, it is hard to beat the attention to detail, the pre-race Expo and athlete activities, speakers and pasta party. The course is beautiful and pretty much second to none I have ever run, and for that matter and even though it is not the easiest course you will ever find, produces good times. Like all the best races out there, the volunteers are fabulous. Rob Reid and his crew turns in excellence year after year.

And now you know why I am so excited to head to Victoria this weekend!  To everyone else headed that way: Good Running!!!

Finishing in front of the 'Leg'

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