A NEW/OLD PERSPECTIVE ON RUNNING MARATHONS

04.09.2014
The Banner Says It All.

The Banner Says It All.

This past weekend I took myself and my lovely wife off to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. I’ve known about the event for years, but it never quite seemed to fit my schedule. The reason I have known of the event is that it is organized by Team Dolphin (aka Bob and Lenore Dolphin). Bob wrote for Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes and was the first to ‘introduce’ me to Marathon Maniacs. Every ‘Maniac’ has a number. For instance, mine is #6837. Team Dolphin is a bit unique in that it/they hold #32 and are the only twosome member(s). Long story, but the Maniacs accepted that Lenore’s contributions and support warranted recognition. When I first met Bob, he was already somewhere north of 350 marathons, but it was changing so fast it was hard to keep track. He both inspired me re the Maniacs and intimidated me. He was the only Maniac I knew then and my main response to his records amounted to: “I’m not worthy!”.  This weekend, Bob did #502. He is a bit easier to keep track of these days in regard to his totals. It seems at 84 he has slowed down a bit in events run per year, as well as pace.

Knowing there would be a gathering of people this year to celebrate the 14th Yakima River Canyon Marathon, I decided I would put it on my to-do list. Then, having decided that at least for now, Two Stars was enough for this Marathon Maniac, I resolved to not run as many this year as last (six marathons and an ultra). One or two – that would be it. Then I started leading a pace group with Forerunners (again), but the target race is the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 4. Timing was off re training for an early April marathon. I decided that maybe this wasn’t my year for Yakima. THEN, I got ‘talking’ with Roger Robinson and realized I needed to find a way to make it work. Wouldn’t you know it, when something is supposed to happen, it just seems to work out. My clinic pace group is all half marathoners this time. I’m the only one training for the ‘full’. Our long run of 36km is next weekend. And, well, 42km isn’t that much farther (ok, yes it is) than 36km. I realized I could go enjoy Yakima and everything related, take an easy pace and call the race a training run (of sorts), then take an easy week with our half marathoners and slide back into the taper program for Vancouver. That was it then! Signed up and headed for Yakima.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

The route is precisely Canyon Road and it pretty much follows the Yakima River, starting just outside Ellensberg, WA and finishing near Selah. It is a beautiful route and the road is closed to pretty much all but very specific local traffic. Since you are going down river, naturally there is a net drop in elevation. The views along the river range from pretty to pretty spectacular. I would not say it is an easy course. There are two testing hills and the worst of those comes at about 22 miles or so. Good thing I was using this for training!  Don’t get me wrong. I paid the fee, ate the pasta, got the shirt and finisher medal and attended all the related events. Hey, the prizes go five deep in this race, so I even got a fifth place prize in my age group. All in all, a pretty good weekend, I’d say.

This is a bit of purist event and old school, too. It is a MARATHON. Period.  There is no Half, no 5K/8K/10K, kids’ fun run or anything else. It is a MARATHON.  Don’t get me wrong. There were a good many first timers. That said, there were a whole lot of Seasoned Athletes and because of the status and stature of Bob Dolphin as a multi-marathoner, there was a huge contingent of Marathon Maniacs and members of the 100 Marathon Club. The official Maniac count (according to the Race Calendar page) was 86. There were 395 finishers, so almost 25% of the runners were Maniacs. I have run a lot more marathons than a lot of people, but my effort this weekend was number 24, kind of puny in this company! Among those in attendance were Maniac #1 (Steven Yee, aka Main Maniac) and #3 (Tony Phillippi).

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

One of the big draws and a sign of the respect this event and these people garner, the featured speakers were Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Joe Henderson was there. Joe and Roger are also contributors to Running in the Zone (the book). A major contingent came in from Vancouver, with a couple of Lions Gate Road Runners, Frank Stebner and Margaret Buttner doing the honours to introduce Roger and Kathrine. The fearsome threesome of Frank, Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner were joined by Marty Wanless (all LGRR folk) who operated a major support team, especially for Kathrine and Roger. She, arriving from Mallorca and he from New Zealand just in time for the big event, and both jetting off to other distant locations the day after the race. The people in the room represented a rich cross-section of running people. Another notable was Martin Rudow, editor of Northwest Runner.

While I doubt there is anyone out there (at least who would be reading this blog) that doesn’t know who Kathrine Switzer is, it never hurts to understand her contributions to women’s running in particular, but the modern sport in general, by quietly taking a spot in the 1967 Boston Marathon. The young women running today, at all distances, but particularly marathons and more, probably have little or no idea what women faced, even in 1967 when it came to attitudes to the risks they faced should they DARE to venture beyond 800m of so. Roger talked about some of this in discussing his brand new book, “Spirit of the Marathon, which was launched at Yakima. The whole story can be found there but while women were running all over the world, it wasn’t until 1960 that the 800m was to become a turning point for women’s elite racing and was introduced to the Olympics after a one-shot trial in 1928. The women’s marathon was unthinkable. It did not make an entrance in the Olympics until 1984. Kathrine Switzer had no small part in bringing that about, but if you want more on that story, you’d best pick up a copy of Marathon Woman or visit her web site. She explained that she just wanted to run and meet the challenge of Boston. She did not intend to make a statement, but the furor her presence caused spurred her to make good (my words) on the promise of finishing that first Boston Marathon. And the rest, as they say, is history. But what a history. To be clear, the ‘girl’ that finished Boston in an unremarkable time of 4:20, went on to win the New York City Marathon and to record sub-three hour marathon times including a return to Boston to post a 2:51. Along with everything else, Kathrine Switzer is a serious runner in any context you want to apply.

It was fascinating to listen to Roger, the historian, renowned sport commentator and writer (and very fine runner in his own right, having set Masters records at Boston, New York, and several other races incuding my personal favourite, Vancouver, a record that still stands at 2:18:43) and Kathrine, very much a part of women’s marathon history. Any time you get a chance to hear either of these two, or even better, both at the same time, grab it. The audience was enthralled. We were all marathoners or friends and family of marathoners and we knew what we were being treated to in having this dynamic duo right there with us. Still, I can’t help think how normal it now seems for women to run and run long distances. Boys, in case you don’t know it, there are more of them than us these days. Generally speaking, the only event in which there are still more men than women is the full marathon. Kathrine warned us that while men still have the power factor and will be faster at the standard distances, women have an endurance factor that lets them keep going.

'Repeat Offenders' Being Gifted with "26.2 Marathon Stories" by Switzer and Robinson

‘Repeat Offenders’ Being Gifted with “26.2 Marathon Stories” by Switzer and Robinson

This did not start out to be a report on the main speakers, but it was something that could not be missed out either. The big story is the community of runners and supporters present for that weekend, and the unique nature of the Yakima Marathon. I would say that while many races lay on a full weekend of ‘action’, few are quite like this one. It is not to say the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is better than others, but it IS truly one of a kind. I posted on the Marathon Maniac Facebook page that this is not to be looked at as what you might call a ‘hit and run’ event. In other words, you really shouldn’t dart in, do your race, and dash off. You would miss too much. The Maniacs are renowned for doing lots of marathons and sometimes that means doing two per weekend! I’m sure there may have been one or two that did do the fast in and out, but most people in attendance knew this was a full weekend affair. There was even a Sunday breakfast where there were a good 50 or so of us still around.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself. (Photo courtesy of M. Buttner)

Now what of this “New/Old” thing in the title. Pretty simply, if you haven’t already figured it out, it was a ‘new’ look on my part at an ‘old’ or more traditional way of staging an event. In some ways it was kind of bare bones and purist in nature. Everything that had to be done right (safety, course measurement, traffic, volunteers, timing) was done right. That happens when runners organize the race. But, the shirt is cotton and the medal is basic with not a hope or intention of keeping up with the bling you get from some races today. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tech shirts and fancy medals as much as anyone, but the charm of the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is that it is by runners for runners and is community. This year was ‘bigger and better’ with Roger and Kathrine in attendance, but you could tell there were a good many regulars who would be there regardless. I believe there were some 17 who had done all fourteen of the races to date, but a relative few who were there for the first time. There were families with as many as three or more members doing the marathon, some of the younger of them running their very first. Finishers ranged from 15 to 86 and times from 2:47 to just over 9 hours. My own category of M65-69 had twelve finishers and the M70-74 included another twelve. In fact, nearly 11% of finishers were senior citizens (over 65). This event recognizes the spirit of the marathon and provides a big enough time window to let those who want to do so, to take on this distance at whatever pace they need to do.

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Bob and Lenore are not just the Race Directors, they are your hosts, and gracious/welcoming hosts at that. Lenore started it all off at the Friday pasta feed, giving out accolades and recognitions, and finished it Sunday with more of the same at the breakfast wind-up, not to mention the actual awards dinner on Saturday. Don’t think you are getting in and out of those events quickly either. How she does it, I’m not sure, but there is a story about each and every person mentioned. Talk about personal. Talk about family or community.

The race itself is as good as any, technically speaking, but the EVENT is unique and outstanding. If you want a marathoning experience that will really tell you what the heart and soul of distance running is about, put the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on your list. Do it NOW. The next race is scheduled for March 28, 2015. You need to be there. You need to plan to take the full weekend and experience all of it.

 

 

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