The First Half Half Marathon  (registration link) is about to run its 25th edition of what is arguably the hottest running ticket in town.  Oh yes, there are bigger or at least potentially bigger events, including the newest one just announced for October 26, 2014, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and the BMO Vancouver Marathon, but to date the only race of its size to sell out in less than a day is the First Half. It has done so for a number of years, starting with pre-race sell-outs some 10 years ago. As I write, registration is open and running. My job is to try to finish this post before registration closes!

PRR Running Seminar - Speakers

On October 28 Pacific Road Runners held the annual pre-registration running seminar at the Roundhouse Community Centre – aka the Start/Finish venue for the First Half. The race itself will take place on February 16, 2014. Today is when everything really officially kicks off, even if the race committee has been working behind the scenes to get things ready. Assuming a sell-out in the next hours (registration was at 50% of capacity before I even opened this file) the race organizing committee and pretty much the whole membership of PRR, plus a few notable others will begin the meticulous work to prepare another great running experience for all those able to participate.

It all began with the seminar where Race Director and MC, David Parker, welcomed a sell-out (can you sell out a free seminar?) crowd of about 250 to hear three speakers address some topics that might not be heard just every night of the week. We all love our ‘how to run a faster half’, ‘heel-strike vs mid-foot’ and ‘the secret training regimens of the elite’ topics. This year PRR took a different direction and judging by the questions, both tweeted and shouted out, suggested that the organizers hit it squarely on the head as far as worthy topics go.

Without rehashing everything each one said, the first speaker, Dr Jon Fleming got into the matter of sleep, including the when, how and how much of it all as it relates to realizing your best performance. The topic might have been about sleep, but I can assure you that nobody dozed off in this one, and it was clear that Jon had really just scratched the surface of the subject.

Second up was Larry Abbott who got into the matter of mental toughness and training the mind. I think we were all just a wee bit shocked as he slyly took us through a little Q&A on our training habits – number of runs, quality workouts, etc. Various hands went up at each query, until he got to the last one – mental training. Yep, he had almost all of us. In the proverbial nutshell, he got right down to the point that if your head isn’t ready to run that big race, your legs may not be able to do it alone. One of the great features of this talk and of all the speakers was that the comments applied regardless of the relative ability of the individual runner. Of course there are qualitative differences between elites and club runners, but that old head up there can stop all of us as fast or faster than tired legs. Preparing the mind shouldn’t be underestimated as an important racing strategy.

Finally, Ellie Greenwood, a PRR member who has gone from being ‘just one of the gang’ to elite ultra runner, shared with the audience the unfortunate but possibly inevitable matter of serious injury and what you do next when you really, really want to run, but can’t (shouldn’t). One can imagine that for someone like Ellie the frustration of going from a year in which she ran some 6000km to zero, or something relatively close, the strain would be almost unbearable. Even though Ellie runs in a whole different universe from most of us, this was again a topic that most could still relate to in a personal way. At some point, almost every runner, no matter her or his level of relative performance hits a point where something goes sideways. In many instances it is just minor and if respected and rested, is over soon, but often enough it is serious enough to threaten a whole year of running. I know I’ve been there a couple of times – once when the issue was not really a running injury, but the effect was the same (no running) and once when it was a true running injury, one that I did not accept, fix and move on, thereby ensuring that in the end I lost most of a year. Ellie talked us through what you do instead of running to keep both mind and body fit. Again, nobody in the house that night was drifting off in any way shape or form.

As always, the race sponsors including Mizuno, Forerunners, Ethical Bean Coffee, BC Athletics and PowerBar made the evening fun and rewarding in a tangible way for those winning the draw prizes on offer. One of the most popular of the prizes was the handful (big handful) of guaranteed entries for the First Half. Now that says something about this event! The entry was guaranteed – not FREE – just guaranteed, so you wouldn’t have to risk missing today’s registration scramble. It is actually a hard to pinpoint, yet easy to see, thing – the popularity of the First Half. Oh, you can list all the great things about the race: First longer race of the season, generous sponsors, fabulous and amazingly fast course (many people PR on this course, even if it is February), great attention to detail, by now maybe just the whole thing of ‘getting in’, the great post-race food, Variety, the fabulously deserving charity to which net proceeds have gone since 1996 and now mounting to a total of $550,000. All those things certainly count, but it would be wrong to suggest other races and organizing groups aren’t doing a great job. However, every year the feedback seems to be that the volunteers are the number one ‘praise-point’ (think I just made that up). And, as a former race director of the First Half I think I can say that by volunteers I would broadly include the entire membership of PRR as well as more than twice as many individuals from the community, some who have been with the race for years and years.

So, I’m almost done now and hope that I actually get this finished before registration is finished.

As mentioned, this is the 25th running of the First Half. It is not the 25th Annual, because another event became a bit of a conflict for dates and space in 2010 – yes, the Winter Olympics. So, for those who are trying to figure out how the whole thing kicked off in 1989 (with Peter Butler of Forerunners, winning the inaugural First Half Half Marathon), and yet this being the 25th, that is what happened. We are told, rather coyly I must say, that special things will happen, but we are just going to have to wait and see.  OK, I’m waiting!

Like most of the very small number of First Half former Race Directors, I will be there again on race day (more like race week, but that was what I was talking about before). Looking forward to seeing all those who are successful in registering today and hoping that some who can’t (because of one of those unfortunate issues Ellie Greenwood talked about) or just didn’t get registered, will become part of that fabulous volunteer crew that makes it all happen.

PS: Here’s a little secret for those who missed registering, Forerunners offers a running clinic with a (limited number of) race entry as part of the package. And, those clinics have prepared a lot of people over the years, and may just be part of some of those Personal Best performances too!

sorry, comments are closed