Archive for November, 2014


TO (P)B OR NOT TO (P)B? THAT IS THE QUESTION

11.16.2014
Vancouver Finish May 1988- My first marathon.

Vancouver Finish 1988 – My first marathon.

And, an interesting question it is if you are the least competitive of spirit.

Get yourself around some runners for a bit and inevitably somebody starts talking about PBs (Personal Bests). Then of course, there is the PR (Personal Record). Some use them interchangeably and others don’t. I used to be one of the former but may be becoming the latter. Why? Because I’m getting old. Some might say I AM old. Some days I feel old, but others I feel remarkably young. STOP LAUGHING!

Where it comes to running – old, young or indifferent, I AM slower. Anybody who has read this blog more than a couple of times will know of my interest in, perhaps love of, Age Grading. Plus or minus, I have been running for over 30 years. There have been a few ‘down’ times in there where it was hard to get a regular run in and I definitely wasn’t racing. As a result of that I really have two distinct racing phases. When I got going at about 39 I did a couple of races, but over the next few years I ran a bunch of them (40 or so). As I ran more, I also ran faster. I kind of peaked when I was 43-44. Except for distances I didn’t run until later/recently, all my PRs came in that 18 month period in 1988-89.

I had back surgery in 1990 and missed some running before and a little after that, but by the next year I was racing again. While the back was actually pretty good, work and life just got in the way of much racing. I was still running, but did not have the time to really train for racing. Around 1998-99 I wanted to race again and wound up with a big focus race in October of 2000, my second marathon. From there I ran more and raced some. One strange thing was that I lived in Malaysia for most of two years in the early 2000s and ran maybe five days a week, but never raced in SE Asia. (Now, I keep asking myself: Why? Why? Why?) I started really picking  up the racing again in the mid-2000s and have continued steadily with some really big years of racing in the last few. Unless I quit in January with my next (70th) birthday (and why would I with a brand new age category to race in?) I see no great drop in races for the next while. That is, I expect to do 10-12 per year.

Who cares?

Why did I lay all this out?

Well, my main reason was to create context for the discussion of the PB/PR and because I try to use personal examples to illustrate my points. I have run for 30 years and while I am nearing 200 individual races ranging from 1 Mile to a 50K Ultra, my racing career is anything but a smooth or steady progression. Because it isn’t a smooth and consistent record, I have had a few relatively good years later on compared to earlier ones. I have had some very satisfying races such as my third best ever marathon run in 2010, 22 years after my first and best and 10 years after my second best. Age-Graded, that marathon comes pretty close to being #1. But, 2010 was a very good year. I was training hard and running well.

Some people say you can’t be trying to beat yourself of 20 years ago. For goodness-sake, that was the essential basis of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes. ‘Those people’, some of them anyway, like to use and cite 5-Year PBs. It does kind of make sense. Except that race record keeping is done on five year age brackets, there is actually nothing magical about specific five year groupings. It is convenient to use the ones the races use and I can’t generally think of a good reason to do otherwise, but if you wanted to, you could.

In my own case, I just happened to really start running when I was 40-44. Before I was 45 I suffered the back problem that required surgery. So, there I was with a nice neat personal five year package that just happens to fit with conventional groupings. I was even clever enough to get born in early January so I always get the full year (first/last) within these nice groupings and within the calendar year. As I said, I ran all my best times at conventional distances during that time. As a result, ALL my PRs came then, too. As previously noted, the only races where I had PB/PR results after that were of distances I had never run: a 30K in 2010 and a 50K in 2013.

I ran a few races in the 45-49 and 50-54 age categories, but only really started hitting it harder for 55-59, then really hard for 60-64 and most recently 65-69. Just this year I reworked all my race stats and broke out my 5-year PBs. I had kept a race result chart for years with a single category section devoted to PBs for given distances, which were really PRs as they were my bests ever at any given distance. Now, at the end of each 5 year age category I have recorded the regular distance PB stats for that age group.

When you have a competitive nature and the times gradually keep getting slower and slower it is not hard to feel like you are ‘fading away’, especially if you are comparing to the best you ever were. If you look at the last five years, the picture sometime looks a bit different. I have certainly found that in my personal performance. The ‘best’ year in the last five is not necessarily the first/youngest year. Within any given five years it can be a lot more about how hard you have trained, injured/healthy and how motivated you have been to race, at least where it comes to the PB result.

Young folk don’t really get this because sometimes, even though they may be getting older they ARE getting faster in absolute terms. I mean, I even did that myself when I was in my early forties. My earliest 10K times, when I was getting started, were just under an hour. By the time I was 44 I was at a 42 minute 10K time. Young folk often seem to think age-grading is funny and don’t really get it. Until you are around 35 it makes no difference. If you are younger than that the big issue is probably how hard you are willing to work at it. As noted above, within reason training hard even works at my age, but not in the absolute sense. The idea that I might run a marathon under my PR of 3:25 next year, when I’m 70, is just silly. The idea that I might run one that age-grades to a similar or better performance is something else, maybe something achievable. It would be far from a PR. In fact, on raw time it would be almost an hour slower! It would have to be just a wee bit better than the marathon I ran in 2010 and which is now my third best raw result. Clearly, that is not a PR result, but it would certainly qualify as some kind of recent PB and thus, we have the argument for looking at PBs and PRs a little differently.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Recent PB race.

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Recent PB race.

Simply to put the last comments into context, consider that my PR marathon was done at a time of 3:25 when I was 43. Age grading can help that time too and to make a fair comparison, both times should be age graded (if it makes a difference). So, that time grades to one of 3:15:08 (64.1%). My recent PB in 2010 at age 65 with raw time of 4:28:15 grades to 3:27:18 (60.3%). So now, and very much in theory, at age 70 I would need to run a raw time of 4:42:00 to grade to 3:27:21 (60.2%) and be as ‘good’ as in 2010. To be better than my absolute best race from 1988, I would need a raw time of 4:25:00 (which would also theoretically be a BQ). That would result in a 3:14:51 (64.1%) age-graded performance. Now you can see how I might set some realistic goals for a satisfying race result without being held back by a clock time that doesn’t look so impressive in absolute terms. To better my 2010 self, I would need to run only 8 minutes faster than my running time for my last marathon, done this past September. That sounds rather realistic, I think. Can I do it? Will I do it?  Will I even run another marathon? Those are all different questions, but it is good to know that if I decide to try, the goal is achievable. Is the twenty-five minute differential between my best ever age-graded performance and my last best marathon doable? Maybe. Would it be hard? Absolutely. Will I go for it? Well now, that is a horse of a different hue, as my wise old uncle used to say.

The only reason I have taken all this time to lay this out is to offer the concept to other seasoned athletes who may still be where I was even just a year ago. We all do what we do and look at things our own way, but separating your PR and PB performances into quite different things will give a new perspective. For the competitive, it also gives a more realistic goal to be achieved. In my own case, largely because of my birth date, the conventional five year categories work exceptionally well, but there is nothing to stop you from using “the last five years” and just keep it rolling forward. There is also nothing magical about five years for that matter. Unless you happen to be REALLY good and chasing single age records, it is all just for your own satisfaction in any case.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.

I was going to leave it at this point, but if you do get into age-grading your results, some feel (might just include me) the % Performance stat is more meaningful than the converted time. The age adjusted time is simpler to understand since we are used to looking at our finish times. If my raw 10K time is 59:30 and the age-graded time is 43:21, there is an easily understood relativity. However, if your best 10K time was 40:00, run when you were 40, it might come out at around 70% Performance. But, if you run 50:00 at the age of 70, your Performance might come out at 73%, indicating that in relative and competitive terms the ‘slower’ time is actually superior. In many ways that says a lot more about the relative quality of your performance than does the converted time. In fact, I now train and race to the %P standard and aim to get all my best results for any given year to be stable at the chosen level(s).

This turned out a bit longer than I intended, but hope it might help runners with a competitive spirit to put long-term performance into a meaningful and hopefully, satisfying context.

IS IT TOO SOON TO START HUMMING “ONE LOVE”?

11.07.2014
Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Of course not!

Besides, I am still hoping some running friends from Western Canada will be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm and decide to join me in Negril, Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K on December 6. Won’t help much if I wait until the day before I leave to post up this item

Chris (That Runnin' Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running 'Black Girlz')

Chris (That Runnin’ Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running ‘Black Girlz’)

Of course the title reference is to Bob Marley’s iconic song, but it somehow represents the feel of this event for me and many others. This is not some touchy-feely thing I’m talking about, but this event has a kind of ‘family’ vibe or something. It is why I keep going back. True, I have found a small and growing circle of Reggae Marathon friends that make it special for me, but it is quite clear when you get there, that many people are having the same experience. Black Girlz Run has been making an appearance for several years and say they will top the 150 or so that showed up last year.

 

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Easy Skankin’ (easy there folks, it is another Marley song reference) is back for maybe their fourth year. I could keep listing other groups (there are a bunch), but I think you have the idea.

Part of it may be that except for the very best runners, nobody expects a super great finish time (We’re here for a GOOD time, not a FAST time…..). The course is pancake flat, but it is normally pretty warm, moving on to hot if you take more than three hours to complete the marathon. Make no mistake, the record times are very respectable (Marathon: 2:21:05, Half: 1:08:32 and 10K: 29:55) , but most people are there for the experience.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the 'Black Girlz'

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the ‘Black Girlz’ (in green team shirt)

When you drop expectations and enjoy the moment everything changes. You see it from the time you pick up your package and head to (what just might be) the “Best Pasta Party in the World”  and right on through the early start (5:14 AM early!). Oh, and while Jamaica may have a bit of a ‘soon come’ reputation, that does not apply to ‘Frano’, Race Director, who WILL send everyone out exactly at 5:15 AM. The enjoyment just starts to increase from then as you run to the sound of Caribbean music including steel drums, but here – mostly reggae.

The start is usually around 22-23C, or about 70F, plus or minus. It stays that way until the sun actually comes up around 6:45 AM. Around 6:30 AM, the sky begins to brighten and colour and if you aren’t too busy dance/running to the sounds or talking to a fellow runner, you can’t avoid some deep feeling welling up. If you just happen to be running ‘alone’ and passing by someone blasting “One Love” or even “Three Little Birds” don’t be surprised if you are overtaken with emotion (the good kind). It has happened to me!

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

If you are doing the 10K you might just be finishing before the sun is peaking over the horizon, and frankly, the 10K section might be the most exciting and energetic part of the course, which starts and finishes ‘in the middle’ of the route. Everybody starts out heading for Negril Town which is about 5K down the road. At the round-about you head back toward the start and when you get there the 10K folk are done. This section has most of the smaller, ‘local’ resorts, shops, eating places and such. Despite the hour, there are lots of people on the street cheering you on and ever so enthusiastic volunteers to keep you hydrated and (if you needed it) your spirits up. Half marathoners carry on past the finish and into the sunrise. Depending on how fast you might be, this is probably where you are going to encounter that morning magic I talked about earlier. This section has more of the larger ‘top end’ resorts, but still lots of spectators and sometimes hotel staff with spray hoses to cool you or sometimes goodies from the cooking staff.

Turbojet Negril

Turbojet after the marathon!

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

Myself, I like the Half because even someone going at my pace will finish not terribly long after the sun is fully up and the beach is at its best. Yes, the beach. The finish (and start) is at Long Bay Beach Park. Regardless of which of the three distances you might choose, when it is time to finish you will slip off the main road at an angle, into the finish chute. The only thing ‘wrong’ with the 10K is you don’t get to run Bob’s Mile. Again, lots of Marley inspired music and signs every hundred metres or so with “Bob’s Wisdom”. Don’t be surprised, again, if Bob’s Wisdom hits you somewhere deep. This is not just a coincidence or ‘riding the coat-tails’ of the Marley legend. There is a very real connection between race organizers and the Marley family. The marathon winners’ trophies (male and female) were donated by Rita Marley.

Reggae Marathon Buddies - showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

Reggae Marathon Buddies – showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

TSweet Reggae Music (800x678)he finish area, no matter when you get there is a place many don’t want to leave. Oh sure, there is the fresh cut coconut, the bananas (nothing quite like the taste of a banana in the place where it actually grew), pineapple (same deal) and Red Stripe and the band and the massage tents, but again it is one of those places where everyone is just feeling good, the kind of good you wish you could bottle and take home. In a way, I guess you can, but not in a bottle – just in your heart.

Even pre and post-race times have a happy vibe. Regardless of the fact that there are shuttles to the start, many walk the relatively short distances if they are within a mile or so (I usually am). The ‘party’ starts right there on the road. After everything is done and you REALLY must leave the finish area, well there is nothing better than strolling back to your ‘home away from home’, bare-foot along the waters edge on that seven mile white sand beach.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

You might have noticed I didn’t say anything about the full marathon. That is partly because I have never done it. I intended to the very first time in 2011, but some transportation disaster struck and I wound up doing a very late starting 10K. I am still feeling I want to try. Will it be this year? Not according to my current registration, but they do allow you to change events. I don’t need to run another marathon, ever. Nothing says I must run the Reggae Marathon, still……………………….. A couple of my Reggae Marathon friends are encouraging me to ‘just do it’. Curiously enough they are both marathoners and Marathon Maniacs and pictured in this blog! They say you shouldn’t take advice from crazy people, but that has never stopped me in the past. It certainly isn’t that it can’t be done, heat or no heat. Of course, you do have to respect that heat if you are going come through in good condition. The race looks after you re hydration and such, but once that tropical sun is up (as it certainly would be for anyone at my pace) you must respect it. Reasonable running strategy and expectations help and they give almost anyone enough time to ‘Get ‘er Done’. We’ll see. Probably only decide after I get there and remind myself what running in tropical heat is all about. For that matter, my ego might make me drop to the 10K where I might just be able to score a podium finish in my age group!

The Challenge

The Challenge

 

Three Amigos at Ricks

Three Amigos at Ricks

Once that is all done, it will be time to have fun with all those old, and almost certainly, a few new Reggae Marathon friends. Some of us even have our own little mini competition going, called the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. Mostly it is about trash-talk and bragging rights. We have young(ish) and old, male and female, and all three distances involved. Through the miracle of the World Masters Athletics age grading calculator, we will be able to bring everyone to an age-graded half marathon time and determine the 2014 champ. Gee, I wonder if the Marleys would give us a trophy?????

 

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay

11.02.2014
Striking Finisher Medal

Striking Finisher Medal

Well, at least for another year. How do I know? Well, the super-bargain advance registration for 2015 is already ‘live’.

Of course, the Rock ‘n’ Roll I’m referring to is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and James Cunningham 10K, both were run October 26. They have billed the event as Vancouver’s newest half marathon and oldest 10K. The ‘new’ part is easy enough and definitely true until somebody else starts one. As for the Cunningham 10K (now 40 years) some might argue that it is also Vancouver’s newest 10K. You see, until 2014 the James Cunningham Seawall Race never was quite 10K, close but not quite.  Why? Because the Seawall is a few hundred metres shy of 10K. Newer runners who didn’t know that, used to get very excited about their 10K PB’s until they sadly found out otherwise. BUT, who is going to niggle? James Cunningham, staged by Lions Gate Road Runners is a Vancouver fixture and has been a  great event for every one of those 40 years. It was/is also a tonne of fun, coming so close to Halloween. Many people run in costume and just have fun with it, something we should all do from time to time.

[Before I go any farther, I should say this article took a bit longer than usual to post , but it was ‘one of those weeks’.]

As I made my decision to participate, I chose the Half Marathon, but then wondered if I did the right thing. The 10K James Cunningham race is every bit the great event I just described, but for some reason this VERY Seasoned Runner has never done it. Don’t know why really, but I haven’t. Well OK, one reason is that I haven’t lived in or near Vancouver for all FORTY of those years. Guess there have also been some date conflicts (personal and running) from time to time, too. Anyway, my not having run James Cunningham is no ‘statement’, just a sad fact. I should probably fix that next year!

Anyway, for better or for worse, I chose the Half. It was my second half marathon in two weeks (three weekends) and third race, with a leg of the Whistler 50 slotted in between the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon and this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half. It has been a busy Fall running schedule for me, with the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon (Salt Lake City, UT) in mid-September and then these three races in rapid succession. There have been a lot of firsts in there: first marathon in Utah, first screaming downhill marathon (same one), first time for Whistler 50 Relay, and first (guess it really had to be) Rock ‘n’ Roll Vancouver event. Although I would have to go back and check carefully, the two half marathons may be my first qualifying sequence required to be a Half Fanatic. Of which sort of people, there were PLENTY at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half.

As an old RD, I have a hard time running races without looking at an event from that perspective. One of the first things is the pre-race ‘conveniences’ (nice word for toilets). It was a big crowd at the Half start (the Cunningham race started in a different location), but there were porto-potties for miles. As we inched toward the actual start (and our wave’s turn to go, uh, RUN that is), I particularly noted that there was virtually nobody still waiting to use a PP. In other words, there were plenty.

The second thing I look for is an ‘on-time’ start. They got that too. That was not true of my last Rock ‘n’ Roll experience and a bit of a sore point as it spun out later in the race. It was also a positive in the long run. More on this a bit later.

I do hope that there may be a course revision. The first mile or so is great as you head to and through Gastown. The finish, although it was moved rather late in the game, was in a fabulous location in my opinion. I know that as I was coming around the last bit of the Seawall toward Devonian Park, it just felt right that as soon as I passed the “Zero” marker on the Seawall (yes, there is a marker) the finish was right there. You could hear it and see it for a good distance and knew you were about to arrive. Twice, I’ve finished races (marathon and half) that come around that last corner, but then continue on into the concrete and glass of downtown. There is something to be said for that finish, too, but having experienced both, I’m now a fan of Devonian Park!

They sure got it right taking the route onto the False Creek Seawall or Promenade. The Stanley Park segment (mostly on the road for the Half) is never wrong for any race. For visitors to Vancouver, (and from my casual chatting before, during and after, there were plenty of those) those parts of the route must have seemed amazing. From a very personal perspective I hope there can be a rethink of the bit from about 2-5K. It never enhanced the old Vancouver Marathon route (running the other direction) and it doesn’t match the rest of this particular route. I know part of it was a bit last minute in adjusting for the change to the finish. Given a year to work on it, I hope there might be a positive adjustment, but even if  it isn’t possible, this is still going to be one of the most scenic routes for Vancouver races.

Now, what was this thing about not starting on time in another Rock ‘n’ Roll race and why was that so big a deal? Briefly, I ran the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon almost one year ago. For reasons guys like me (old RDs) understand very well, they had a strict time limit and for marathons as run in these days, a somewhat restrictive one of 5 hours. More correctly, it was a 5-hour pace to three critical points on the course. If you got by those diversion points you could actually take a lot more than five hours to finish. BUT, if you did not pass the critical points, you would be diverted (or picked up and transported, if necessary). I had been running a lot of marathons last year and knew a five hour pace through 15 miles was fully feasible. I registered and made the travel arrangements. There were a lot of fine statements about how the five hour period was a chip based time and the ‘clock’ would only start running after the last marathoner chip crossed the start-line and all marathoners would start within a certain time.  And that is where it all started going wrong.

The race was about five minutes late starting the first wave. It seems nobody told the cop at 15 miles. When I (and about 20 other runners) hit that 15 mile diversion point, we got shorted about 8 minutes. Notwithstanding the talk of chips and related stuff, the cop on the road had apparently been instructed that 8pm was the diversion time. Nobody told him (I assume) to add five minutes for the late start. On top of that, and I don’t know why, he took out another three minutes, putting the diversion in at (satellite time) 7:57pm. The howls of protest were many and loud – some even tried to argue our case. Had I missed the time, there would be not a word of protest on my part, but I (and those other 20 and I’m not sure how many more that were behind us, but within that eight minute window) did not fail our part of the bargain. There were other issues, too, but this was the biggie. Nobody on the ground seemed to care. I finished, collected my medal and then I complained.

Yes, I complained. A lot of people might just go away mad and might tell people not to run the event, or maybe any Competitor Group event. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Series is already part of a bit of a love-hate relationship in the running community. I felt that if I did not tell the organizers what I thought, I could hardly expect them to explain, or do something about it for the future. The Rock ‘n’ Roll events are what they are, a commercial venture. If you don’t want to run such races, don’t. If you like what is on offer, enjoy. This series of races fills a market niche and the needs of a lot of people. I have no idea how many ‘first timers’ take part, but I’m guessing the proportion is high. The hype, the fun, the glitz and glamour and the bling are a big draw for those first-timers.  But, old or not, I am still competitive of spirit and running the race properly is important in my mind.

As I said, I complained. What I am getting to is that THEY LISTENED. I got real attention from Competitor Group, not just a stock letter saying they were sorry I didn’t find everything perfect, and thanks for your comments. I actually had direct meetings with representatives of the Competitor Group and serious discussions. I said there were also a bunch of lesser issues and they listened and considered all of them. Has anything changed in Las Vegas? Firstly, the race hasn’t run yet, so no proof one way or another. Do I think they won’t repeat the same mistakes? I’m pretty sure they won’t. Will anyone notice? Well, that is the hard thing. We tend not to notice things that go right. When something goes wrong, we definitely notice. Oh, yes! That is a big part of the reason I have decided to include this commentary.

People who follow this blog may have noticed that I wrote rather enthusiastically about going to Vegas and “Running the Strip at Night”, but when all was said and run, there was no follow-up. Well, now you know why. I don’t like to be negative, but sure wasn’t going to sing the praises of a race I felt had got it seriously wrong. That is why I am writing this now. I want to give credit where it is due. They really didn’t need to pay any attention to me, but they did. I felt it was important to take another look from the inside and what better way than to give the ‘hometown’ race a try. I have to say it was a very positive experience and I am definitely glad I did.

I had a lot of fun. Maybe part of it was the weather. Anyone who was in Vancouver on October 25 and remembers, will know what a disaster Sunday’s race could have been. Sunday turned out to be near perfect for racing, cool and mostly sunny. Part of the fun was beating my Victoria time by 15 seconds! OK, to be honest, I really wanted to beat it by more than that and maybe in terms of pure running, I did. According to my gps device I ran 21.5km. That is more likely a statement about my attention to running each and every tangent than about the accuracy of the course. Seems like I ran 21.37km in Victoria, but I know most of that route very well, having run it some 11 times in the last 15 years. Part of the post-race fun was comparing the two events, run so close together.  I could happily see the race Sunday was a better performance. I always like that. It is about the only thing a competitive  minded person like me can hope for at this point in my career.

The truth is that everyone runs for her or his reasons and therefore have individual perspectives. Is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half going to be one of Vancouver’s top races? All I can say is that I saw a bunch of happy faces around that finish area, and a lot of people appearing to have fun on the course. Sounds to me like a heck of a good start!