Archive for June, 2014


Award Stage - pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

Award Stage – pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

It was a great pleasure for me to join a core group of PRR/First Half friends at the Variety Awards Night. To put this absolutely correctly, The First Half Half Marathon was being recognized for its donation history and long-term support of Variety – The Children’s Charity. I suppose I really should make the disclaimer that I am writing this as a blogger, who just happens to be part of the story, but not as a spokesperson for PRR.

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Among the Pacific Road Runners in attendance were four of the five Race Directors who have overseen the event since Variety was made the primary recipient of the charitable proceeds of the race. It was unfortunate that Marco Iucolino, the longest serving of all of us, was unable to be there. I was there because it was my pleasure and privilege to have been one of those five RD’s.

Variety has a very important and special place in the community. Please, take some time to follow this link to Variety – The Children’s Charity and learn more about what they do.

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

David Parker, the current Race Director made the official acceptance on behalf of the club and the race, but all of us there knew that acceptance was also in recognition of all the club members over the years, volunteers, sponsors and runners who have so enthusiastically supported The First Half. In the last several years the annual donation has been about $50,000 and in 2014, the total passed $600,000.

The First Half and its annual donation to Variety is somewhat unique in our region. It is the largest race of its nature that is still 100% club run, using only volunteers. The running community knows the reputation of the event and eagerly joins the virtual waiting line on registration day. Within hours the race is sold out. Then, the work begins to deliver both a great race and among other things, another donation to the worthy work of Variety.

It is not really a secret how the race itself produces a significant donation without asking athletes or their supporters to personally pledge or donate. First, PRR puts hundreds of hours into the core organization. As race day approaches both club members and others from the community swell the numbers of volunteers needed at package pick-up, on the course, in the kitchen and around the start/finish area, and of course, once it is all said and run, to break the whole thing down and put everything away for next year. But, there is another key element and that is the generosity of the sponsors/partners who recognize the commitment of all involved and give their very best deals and unrivaled support to the race. It is tempting to try to name these partners, but there have been so many over the years it would be a mistake to try to do them all justice. That said, and speaking only as the editor of Running in the Zone, it cannot pass without mention that Forerunners has been a race partner since the very first First Half (1989), nor that the current athletic partner Mizuno has been a key player in keeping rising costs in check with their generous support. The First Half is able to offer a registration fee well within the range of similar races, while turning a ‘profit’ that is the donation given to Variety. As simple as it may sound, none of it happened overnight and none of it happens without ongoing meticulous attention to the detail of the race itself and management of relationships with our partners, the running community, and clearly our volunteers. The end result is a Race with a Heart – the Variety Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

It is an honour for all involved to be recognized by Variety with the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award and a pleasure to be able to continue supporting the amazing and dedicated folk at Variety as they provide key assistance to their Children and the parents of those kids.

I am sure I can say on behalf of my friends at PRR and on the Race Committee that this award is one to be shared with our many club members over the years, all those volunteers and the countless sponsor/partners that have stepped up with everything the race has needed, and finally to the runners who support the First Half year after year, including an illustrious list of elite runners who have appeared to race .


Running the forest trails.

Running the forest trails.

Interestingly enough, this thought came to me while I was walking. But, I had been running!

Had to have a tooth pulled the other day and it was a big’un. Couple of stitches to close up the hole it left. I hadn’t run for a couple of days and was out with friends from Semiahmoo Sunrunners for the weekly Saturday Morning Run/Walk and Breakfast Bash. About 3K into this I realized my poor wounded gum was throbbing with each foot strike. I bade my running friends a fond farewell and assured them of my overall good health, and commenced walking back to our starting/meeting point. This run is pretty much always through forest trails and it is a truly inspirational route. Since I was neither worry about keeping up with the others nor about the twists and turns and rocks and roots, I was able to think deep thoughts. Out of nowhere came the title of this piece.

I hang out with a lot of very good runners and know many current and former elite runners. When we put Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes together I sent around a little survey to the contributors, just about the time when the book was released to the public. One of the questions was: “Why do you run?”  To my surprise, although the wording varied a bit, I got more or less one answer: “Because I love it!”

What each person loved was probably rather different, but cutting through everything was this one pure idea.

In some ways, running is what makes us what we are as humans. It was the key to our early hunting/survival in many instances, suggesting it is in our genes or that we are ‘hard-wired’ to run.

I know that when I’m not in deep hurt late in a race, there is a joy and peace in my heart. For that matter, even when there is physical stress you can be feeling deeply that you would not rather be anywhere but where you are. When you finish, even if (and maybe especially when) it has been hard, you feel immense satisfaction, elation even.

Manning Park Trail

Manning Park Trail

Many of my running friends who have taken to the trails, pretty much abandon the roads because of how it feels to ‘run the woods’. I only just this second recalled this, but I do remember long ago times when I was in the woods of Manning Park with friends for a camping/fishing/hiking trip.  I needed to go back to our camp-site to get something, so I ran. As sometimes happens, this has flashed back to me with amazing clarity. I was young (19?) and very fit. I ran easily and effortlessly with the smell of the pines and maybe wild berries or something in the air. It was magical then and almost as much in the remembering of it. I had a mission, but there was no watch on me and nobody to beat. I could have hiked, but I ran because I could and because I wanted to. That simple. It was MAGICAL.

Running the track or roads has a charm too and frankly, I’m still there more often than in a forest. Although I (and most of the people I know) do race, there is nothing that says you have to race to be a runner. A lot of the Sunrunners used to race but haven’t done so in years. Some of my friends in the Pacific Road Runners are the same. Haven’t raced in years. Don’t need to. BUT, they still run. They do it because they like it.

Dogs run happy, but mostly they are goal driven – chasing a ball or stick, maybe another dog (play version of the hunt) or a mail carrier (oh wait, they aren’t supposed to do that, cars either).  I have no idea whatever, why they chase their tails! The only animal that I’m pretty sure runs for the fun of it is the horse. At one time they may have had to run to escape predators, but not so much these days. That said, stand around and watch a horse or a bunch of them in a pasture and at some point one of them will just up and start to run. Often they will kick their hind legs and dash around in what looks to me like pure joy. I’ve never discussed the matter with a horse directly, but that’s how it looks. Jockey’s of big time race horses often describe it as the horse wanting to run and race, with them just up there to steer and help control the pace so the horses get to a finish-line set by the humans, not the horses.

There is a saying that when the African antelope wakes, he just knows he must run faster than the fastest lion and when the lion awakes, he knows he must run faster than the slowest antelope. I concluded that humans find running primal because we don’t have to do it, but we do it anyway and most of us will say it is ‘just because’, because we love doing it.

Eugene Marathon - Passing Hayward Field

Eugene Marathon – Passing Hayward Field

As already noted, you certainly don’t have to race to run, but lots do. So what about all those racers, from the top elites to the weekend warriors? I asked a couple of runner/coaches about racing to running ratios within the programs of a wide range of runners. Consensus seems to be about 2-5% racing, depending on level. For instance, an elite marathoner will likely only run 2-3 marathons per year, possibly with a 5 or 10K thrown in here and there largely as ‘speed training’. Those folk often run 100 miles (160km) per week while in full training mode. The percentage of racing is a measly 1.5%! Top age groupers often run about 40-50 miles (65-80km) per week and if they are marathoners, will also run 2-3 per year. That makes their racing (including a few shorter distance races as part of the program) something in the range of 4%. When you get into the group of runners where I live most of the time, we tend to run less total miles/km and may actually race just a bit more, coming out at around 5%. This wasn’t meant to be highly technical, or complete (all forms of racing) or even perfectly accurate. I just wanted to point out that most people who race spend 95-98% of their running time, NOT racing.

There is another subset of runners to which I belong that clearly loves to run – the Marathon Maniac. We are different though and you maybe have to create a new definition of racing when it comes to the Maniacs. There are a good many of the now almost 10,000 Maniacs who are very good runners (if you are counting time). That said, the Maniac goal is completion of marathons, lots of marathons. Your recognition in the form of ‘Stars’ and levels such as Bronze (1 Star), Silver, Gold…….Titanium (10 Stars) depends on how many marathons you’ve completed, not how fast. This race/run ratio thing I introduced above gets all out of whack when talking about Maniacs. Last year, while pursuing a mere 2 Star rating, my racing hit nearly 25%.  That’s right, I ‘raced’ nearly  25% of the total distance I ran. Part of the reason is that your races become your training when you do the Maniac thing. Even at the lower end of things where I was, it is all race, taper, race. Not much long distance training between the races. So, for the racing purist the question quickly arises as to whether or not you ran your very best in all those races. Well, I can say for myself that I ran the best I could under the circumstances, but can’t really say I did my absolute best. I didn’t train to that goal. Maniacs have a competitive spirit, but their prize is not one fast time, a new PR. It is a new level in the Maniac pecking order. It is a mighty undertaking, but just not in the sphere of racing as most define it. Still, how can you possibly run 4 marathons in 4 days (called a Quadzilla) or 52 in 52 weeks, and not love running?  How? Although the situation is different, I think my thesis still stands.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009

Of course, elite runners have a lot of motivations to train hard and run fast, but in the greater scheme of things only a tiny handful are making big money, so that can only be part of the driving force. When you consider the costs of following this path at the expense of other careers, few make back the difference through winnings. Here we are then, back at the question of ‘why do you run?’. I know a fair number of older, once world class runners, who with the perspective of time seem to look back on how running made them feel and the great experiences they had, even in defeat and hardship. And, before someone says: “Well it is the competition!”, I consider the competitive aspect to be part of the joy of running. It feels good to be fast, and for some, to be first.

It seems like the answer comes down to there being something (maybe even different for each person) that makes running satisfying and produces joy in us. We run because we can, and maybe for some, because we must! I tell you, it is primal.


Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Funny how ideas come to you ‘out of the blue’.

Sunday, I was doing MC duties at the Sandcastle Classic 10K in South Surrey/White Rock, a race put on by Semiahmoo Sunrunners and part of both the Timex and Lower Mainland Road Race Series. [Speaking of ‘bests’: in one sentence I just plugged a race, a running club, two running Series, and two cities!] As I did what you do at post-race activities, stuff just kind of happened, but afterwards it also got me thinking.

The race was won by Solomon Rotich (Kenya), who has recently been tearing up the Western Canadian races, taking the Oasis Shaughnessy 8K on May 25, The Calgary Marathon 10K on June 1 and the Sandcastle 10K on June 8.  I guess his recent record pretty much speaks to my thinking on ‘being the best you can’.

It was my privilege and duty as MC, to announce the age group winners, and that is a major part of what this blog piece is about. It also got me thinking about other related matters that belong in this piece.

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

A common theme here at RITZ is love of running and the fun that must be part of it. One of our Sandcastle finishers definitely did not train hard and save himself for this race. Nope. As a matter of fact, said runner – one Gordon Flett, was showing the scars and scrapes from a trail race he did on Saturday, and that is normal (well maybe not the scrapes) because it is common for Gord to do two races per weekend, and if he can find himself a genuine track meet, to enter several events, often taking age class honours. Now, is Gord a great runner? No. But, I am certain he is having fun and just loving the living heck out of his running!  Oh, YOU BET! Is he being the best HE can be? I suppose only he can really say, but I would surely say he is. I single him out because I know his story. It won’t surprise me if he is not alone, though at the same time I am sure there aren’t a whole lot of folk like him.

This causes me to think of the marathoners who do run a bit like Mr. Flett. Regular readers know I am Marathon Maniac #6837. Not all Maniacs run a couple of marathons a weekend, but some do. Some run three or four marathons in the same number of days. The goal isn’t pure time based performance, but rather a different kind of performance measured in terms of quantity. Does that make it easy? Absolutely NOT. Different?  Yes, but not easy. And, don’t get me wrong. While the Maniacs do not consider time as any part of the criteria they use, some of the runners are very good and post excellent times as well as the aforementioned quantity. Not all Maniacs do this (keep doing more and more). For some of the rapidly approaching 10,000 members, I am reasonably sure it is a kind of ‘bucket list’ thing. There are a couple of standards you can meet to get in at the basic “One Star” or “Bronze” stage. Some do that, join the Marathon Maniacs and put a big check mark on some kind of list of thrilling things to do. However, a good many do like to pursue the Maniac star system as a sign of personal performance. If you really want to know, go to the group web site and check out the criteria to qualify and then to attain the various levels right up to 10 Star status. You don’t become a 10 Star Maniac by running a couple of marathons in a year. No you don’t!

Another bit of ‘low hanging fruit’ where it comes to a discussion of being the best you can be is the age-classers who are young and up-coming, as well as the oldsters who go fast despite the ever more rapid flipping of calendar pages. I fit in the latter category – old (not fast). Of course, even that is relative. I am surely faster than all my age-contemporaries who are sitting on a couch somewhere and when you start getting into the seventh and eighth decades, and like one runner who was in Sunday’s race, soon to be in his NINTH decade and still going faster than some who are half his age, you ARE talking about the best you can be.

Lots of Medals!  (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

Lots of Medals! (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

The great thing about being the best YOU can be is that does not mean you must be better than everyone else, or anyone else for that matter. It means what it says: the BEST YOU. That makes for a lot of ‘winners’, even among those who aren’t getting medals. I know I’m not alone, but it is more important to me to know I ran the best I could than it is to win a medal. If it is important to win medals, you can surely find races with smaller fields, where if a medal is what you want, a medal you will get. I would rather come 10th in a big race and run a couple of minutes faster, than to run slower, but win my category because there were only two of us there.  (I am a strong proponent of age grading because it lets me compare ME to the ME I used to be.)

What follows is about me only in the sense of being able to quote statistical examples.  A recent online chat string was discussing Personal Bests (PB’s) and Records (PR’s). Some claimed it was wrong to claim a time you did 20 years ago as a PB. I fail to see the logic there. I am still me and if the fastest I ever went was that time I did 20 years ago, then it just was. Some said you should only have 5 year or age-group PB’s. I can see some merit in looking at your record that way, especially if you differentiate PB vs PR. Age grading lets you sweep away the years, so to speak, and kind of compare present day results with your ancient times. Anyway, thinking about the concept of only looking at five-year age category PB’s, just for fun and with a little age-graded input, I decided to see how my record looked.

When I started racing, my Age-Graded % Performance was fairly low, but over 3-4 years as I trained and raced, I got my average five year bests up to 71% (M40-44). Then, I suffered a ruptured disk in my back. I got it fixed; did what my doctor said, and by 1991 was doing a bit of racing again. However, life in the form of career, got in the way and I neither trained nor raced a lot. I did do some racing and under the circumstances, was thrilled to be doing anything in the form of running. So, the average for a very small number of races done in my M45-49 days, while living in Europe was 61.2%.  Yikes!  A full 10% drop from before,, but hey, I was running. After that work demands got even greater (not that I ever totally stopped running), until in the late 90’s when running and racing became part of my life again. I set a life goal to run my second ever marathon in the Year 2000 – a Millennium project. AND, I began racing more regularly, now in the M55-59 grouping.

M55-59 produced a 62.5% Performance. M60-64 came in at 62%, and while I am still in M65-69, I have a 63% Performance. Naturally, my absolute times are slower. That is where age grading is so helpful. The converted times can be compared, but using % Performance produces a more general and relative comparison. I was tracking along pretty well in the earlier days, getting up to an average of 71% (one race hit 79%). After the back problem, I ‘fell off a cliff’ regarding times and % Performance. I can’t know if that was permanent or just part of the climb back. Almost all the results that make up my M45-49 performance came in one year, 1991. Had I continued to train and run and race actively through the 90’s, might I have reached a higher % Performance range? Never going to know.

The whole point of this is doing the best you can with what you’ve got.  In my own case I have gone from an average of 61% Performance, to 63% over some 23 years, which allows me to feel I’m at least striving to meet the goal of being the best I can be. This is only an example which shows how it can work for older runners who want to compare themselves to their former selves. I have pointed more than a couple of ‘seasoned’ runners to this method of reviewing their performance and left them happier about the whole thing. Let’s face it, no matter how gradually, you ARE going to record slower absolute times. With work and diligence, you might just find that in relative terms, you are getting better!

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Speaking of being your best, I had a rather sleep deprived night on May31/June 1 as I sat glued to the live feed from the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. First, let’s get past the question of ‘how far was that marathon?’. This marathon was 89.28km! Runners, OK marathoners, have a bit of a nails on blackboard reaction to that question, having become solidly entrenched in the modern definition that a marathon is 42.195km or 26 miles, 385 yards. Pheidippides, the guy who started it all, did NOT actually run what we know as the Marathon.  In earlier modern day competitions the term marathon was used to describe an epic struggle. In that respect, Comrades IS a marathon, for sure.

I had a personal interest in the women’s race in the 2014 (Down Year) Comrades Marathon. One Ellie Greenwood, formerly a local club runner, a friend from our days with Pacific Road Runners (Vancouver), was in South Africa to contend for the women’s title. She ran in 2011 (4th), then again in 2012 (2nd, by just 72 seconds). In 2013 she was out with a serious injury. 2014 was to be the showdown. For those who don’t know, Comrades has been literally owned by Russian twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva. Between them, one or the other has won 10 times. In 2012, Olesya was home with a new baby. In 2014, they were both there, ready to run. Because this is about being the best you can be, not a race report, I will direct you to Ellie Greenwood’s own race account for the details on how it all went down in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa on June 1, 2014.

Ellie arrived ready to race, but the day seemed tougher than anticipated. The Twins (as they’re usually described) started fast, as they are known to do. Ellie didn’t, as she is known to do. Around half way, Ellie was four minutes back, which seemed OK, maybe even good strategy. Her style is to be conservative and close like a runaway freight train. Actually, she is quite tiny to be compared to a freight train, but I didn’t make up that saying. With 18km to go the gap had widened to 8 minutes. Only the Twins were ahead of her. Still, spectators had started to encourage Ellie with shouts that the Twins were slowing. As time went along and the distance to the finish diminished, so did the gap. With around 5km remaining, the runners are on a long straight hill section and Ellie could see the lead car just in front of Elena who had opened a gap on her sister. While the women were hard to see, there was no mistaking the meaning of the lead car, nor how close it was. Apparently, the commentators were not getting 100% up to the minute news, because they were declaring that Ellie had run well and was catching up, but was just too far back with the distance remaining, even if both of the Nurgalieva sisters were walking. A LOT. Just at that point they threw in a long shot from a helicopter and I spotted this tiny green runner (OK, her outfit was green, she was more or less the usual shade of sun-burned flesh). I actually pointed at the screen and exclaimed, “Ellie!”. She was running like a gazelle and closing like the aforementioned, metaphorical freight train. I have heard since that she ran the final 7km in the second fastest of all times on the day. The camera moved to the head-on leader shot and within seconds Ellie closed the final gap and passed Elena who had no answer to the challenge. Olesya was already well back and passed. With 2.5-3km to go, Ellie was leading and running like something was chasing her. From her perspective, I suppose that was true. Even though she appeared to pass the Twins with ease, it can never be forgotten that between them they had 10 victories to Ellie’s none. It all ended happily for Ellie and her many, many fans (taking the win by just over 5 minutes) .

Ellie had already known success. She was the two time winner of the epic Western States 100 (miles, that is) and record holder (having smashed the previous record by 50 minutes). She has won the Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary Marathons and was World 100km Champion in 2010. And, has won a good many other races on road and trail, along the way. As stated, she had been 4th at Comrades in 2011 and second in 2012. BUT, and it is a big but, she was seriously injured and missed pretty much all of 2013 competition. Even though she had recovered, trained well and prepared diligently, you never know whether you are really back after a year like 2013. Knowing Ellie, I am pretty sure all she wanted to be able to say, regardless of outcome, was that on June 1 in South Africa she had done her best, and here is some of what that means. With 18K to go, even her Nedbank team coach was saying the Twins were too far ahead and the woman in fourth was too far back to catch her. The implication? Just ride it in from here, there is nothing more to do. Well, the coach may have known the race and related logistics, but clearly did not know Ellie well enough. The more the spectators encouraged her with news of the Twins, the more she was energized. The outcome of all that is now history. Anyone can see at Comrades 2014, Ellie Greenwood delivered on being the best she could be. And, I guess it should be said in the interest of fairness, that as much as I am thrilled with Ellie’s win, The Twins were putting on a pretty good show themselves!

I think it must surely be time to stop. From elite to weekend warrior, I have given examples of what being the best you can be is all about, but the possibilities are without limit. Each of us has a unique way in which we can express the concept of ‘being the best you can be’. Sometimes with athletes like Solomon Rotich and Ellie Greenwood, that also turns out to be better than all others on the day. For a Titanium Marathon Maniac it may be being more tenacious. For most, it is simply meeting the former you head on and winning (including via age grading if necessary). Naturally, this is not limited to running. The concept works for anything, and in some instances where physical power is not involved, we might just be able to continue to be better than we ever were as we strive, each in our own way, to ‘be the best you can be’.