AM I A RUNNING GROUPIE?

10.12.2015

Well, depending on what that means, then in a word: YES.

It might go beyond the title though. I love excellence in all things, but running is kind of simple and pure (yeah, I know, the drugs – I’ll get to that later). It is so easy to see a runner battle through a race to the win or a record. That’s it. Nobel prizes are recognition of something amazing, but so much more complicated! In fact, I even met a Nobel prize winner a number of years ago on a professional basis, and he was very nice and super helpful regarding the advice I was seeking. But, I digress.

Rob Watson leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

Rob Watson (in black and at centre) leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

At the most fundamental level of watchful awe, I specialize in Canadian runners and just to demonstrate that, I started writing this October 10th. One of my ‘faves’ is Rob (Robbie) Watson and he is running tomorrow in the Chicago Marathon, with one major goal in mind, to join Reid Coolsaet as a qualifier for the Canadian Olympic team. Should have the news on that before I finish this post. I ‘observe’ Reid, but have never met him. Same with Eric Gillis. Rob, I know through the First Half Half Marathon and Forerunners. [Ed. Note: Tracked Rob to a 2:17:21 time. I think he will be disappointed, but at this time I have no idea what happened out there.]

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Another of the guys I follow closely is Dylan Wykes and with the same connections as Rob: First Half and Forerunners. Dylan has had some injury issues and just recently ran himself a satisfactory half marathon in San Jose, CA. Satisfactory and wise. His time was OK (if you think 1:05 is “OK”), but considering what he has to say on his blog  I think you will agree it is a good outcome as he works back carefully to his full potential and a shot at a place on the Canadian Olympic Team.

Until Reid overtook Dylan (just a couple of weeks ago in Berlin, with a great time and placing – 6th OA and 2:10:28), Dylan was second best ever to Jerome Drayton, who has held the Canadian record of 2:10:09 for FORTY years! Almost 30 years ago or so Peter Butler took second with his 2:10:56 in Sacramento, and held it until just the last couple of years as the current crop of young bucks began an assault. One of these days, one of these guys or the others who are coming up from behind, are going to blow through that time, but you would have thought somebody would have done it before this, so we will see.

We have some pretty special marathon women too in the form of Lanni Marchant (Canadian record  holder at 2:28:00) and Krista Duchene (only 32 seconds behind her friend, in the same race, and both under the old record). And while it isn’t totally clear who else will emerge ‘from the pack’ there are several women coming up from behind and probably very inspired by these two. Note: at time of writing only Krista and Reid are holding 2016 (Canadian) Olympic qualifying times. Keep your eyes on Natasha Wodak, Eric Gillis, Dylan Wykes, Rachel Hannah and Lanni Marchant. A big opportunity is coming in about a week at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It is a fast course and if everything else is right, there may be some sparkling performances for men and women. In researching the details for this post, I came across recent and unhappy news that Krista will not run due to a broken bone. The good news for her is that she already has a qualifying time and mostly needs to concentrate on healing and then training up for Rio.

I suppose I concentrate on the athletes I’ve mentioned because of my personal running interests. That said, you would have to be just on a total other wavelength if you weren’t moved by Andre Degrasse’ performances this year in the sprints at the Pan Am Games and World T&F Championships. When The Man himself, Usain Bolt, gives you props when he didn’t even have to, you are in special company. Speaking of Bolt, it just doesn’t get more exciting. He has treated the world to something we just haven’t seen before, and aren’t likely to see again anytime soon.

Back to my good old marathon distance, and the latest world record of Dennis Kimmeto. Now that we are under 2:03, the question is very real as to when we might see 2:00:00. Some argue it isn’t possible, but their fathers/grandfathers said nobody could break four minutes in the mile without falling dead on the track. Now, high-school runners do that and you probably can’t get invited to a top meet unless you can go under 4:00. Is the Two Hour marathon out there? I think so. Will I see it? That is a different question. Conditions on the day must be perfect, the course ideal and just the right mix of competitors must be ready to race to that goal. You will not see that kind of time in a race where winning is the most important thing. That Olympic Gold Medal goes to the winner of the race. Time doesn’t matter. Winning does.

By now, somebody has to be thinking ‘Oh yes, but will chemistry be the reason?’  A fair question to be certain. A question I hate to even contemplate, but based on what we know, one that is unavoidable. The Kenyans and Ethiopians seemed to represent people less touched by the pressures of the Western ways, but that may just be a myth that people like me would like to believe. The positive tests are showing up. Runners, good runners, are getting sanctions. When you think about it, the pressure and temptation may be even greater in those countries than over here. I spoke above about the Canadian men striving to break an old record just above 2:10. It is said there are as many as 300 Kenyans that can go under 2:10. Then imagine what winning the race prizes that are out there today, especially the high profile races, can do for the financial well-being of a Kenyan athlete. Now tell me there is no pressure or temptation to do what you need to do to get that tiny edge that breaks you out of that pack of 300 sub-2:10 marathoners. I am not saying they are all doing it (as some commenters kind of do), just that there is an undeniable temptation. Personally, I hope not a single one is doping, even though we all know that not to be the case.

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Look how high Canada got when Ben Johnson won Gold and then the devastation when he was found to have cheated. It made it no less acceptable that (I believe) all but one of the finalists on that day were subsequently caught later and that very few believe that the ‘one’ was actually clean.  What would such a thing do to all those Jamaican kids who think Usain Bolt runs on water? He is a hero of immeasurable value in that country. He inspires (as do a number of others in the Jamaican running camp, male and female).

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I have met many of the best and most inspiring, including Kathrine Switzer and Dick Beardsley.

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

I ran as a kid with our own Harry Jerome, have worked with Lynn Kanuka (Williams) in Sun Run InTraining clinics and re her contribution to Running in the Zone (the book). I talk to Peter Butler and Carey Nelson pretty well every weekend. I consider myself lucky. The list is actually quite a bit longer, but you get the idea. I find myself personally inspired by all of them and can’t think of even one who isn’t a sharing person where it comes to others in our sport.

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Some who might be wondering, knowing me and knowing those I follow closely, why I haven’t mentioned Ellie Greenwood. Stop wondering. Ellie falls in a whole different category where it comes to excellence. She is an ultra (and trail) runner. It puts her in a completely different field of endeavour. To understand, you need to try to imagine the unimaginable speed of the world class sprinter covering 100m in 10 seconds or less, you have to see that as 1:40/km or 2:32 mile, which is of course impossible, but is the pace they travel for that short distance.

Now, consider the ultra race such as Ellie and her ilk who go the other way: slower pace but for most of us, unimaginable distance. Ellie is two time World Champion at 100km. She has won what is probably the World’s best known ultra-marathon road race the fabled Comrades Marathon in South Africa (which is effectively just over a double marathon). She seems, despite these amazing achievements, to like trails more than roads (where she has actually won a few standard marathons and half marathons, just in case you might wonder).

Trails can’t really be compared, not even one trail event against another. You can only compare performance in a given race, year over year. So, let us compare Ellie’s performances at one of the best known trail races in North America, the Western States 100 (miles that is). Her first time, she won, notwithstanding the encounter with that bear near the finish. Ed. Note: Lack of technical know-how meant it took me a little time to figure out how to get the video in here, but I’ve got it now!  [I wrote the lyrics because this just event and situation struck something within me. Our son is a talented musician and owns recording facilities. Everything you HEAR is him. He wrote the tune, played all the instruments and did the vocals, using multiple tracks to get all of this into the recording.] It is just for fun, but if you actually know Ellie, it might just be more fun. Ellie and the Bear Movie

Back to actual running. The second time at Western States, she knocked some 50 minutes out of the previous record, held by trail ultra legend, Anne Trason. I can assure you she was not traveling at anything resembling the pace of Mr. Bolt in the 100m, or even Mr. Kimmeto in Berlin. Think about it from a normal perspective though. Her pace at World 100km in Dubai was 4:30/km and at the Comrades Marathon where she won was 4:15. Apples and oranges to be sure, but now think about that 2:02:57 of Kimmeto in Berlin. Pace for the MALE record for 42.2km is 2:54/km. Now, remember that Ellie is a woman and the record for women at marathon is still held by Paula Radcliffe at 2:15:25 for a pace of 3:12/km and nobody but Radcliffe herself has come close. There is nobody who would be quicker than Ellie, to tell you that she is not in that category at marathon. She isn’t. I believe her marathon PB is 2:42. That is a pace of 3:49/km.

By now, I’m pretty sure you see where I am going with this. Although she, and other ultra-runners seldom have that ‘low end’ pace (if you can refer to a marathon as ‘low’), as the distance increases their pace does not diminish that much. To the just ‘pretty good’ runner, able to post a 3:00hr marathon, you need to imagine holding your pace (4:16/km) for a bit more than twice that distance if you want to keep up with Ellie at Comrades.

I’ve gone on at length about this because the ultra distance is just another world and times don’t resonate for most of us as do the times for shorter distances. It wasn’t really fair to compare Ellie to those amazing men, but it helps to illustrate my point about excellence regardless of distance from 100m to 100 miles. Besides, I know Ellie, but don’t know the ultra running men that outpace her quite significantly at these extended distances. I suppose one of the personal things that strikes me about Ellie is that in the time from when I met her some 10-11 years ago (when we were both members of Pacific Road Runners) she has gone from just a regular club runner to the world level athlete she is now. To my point of loving excellence, they don’t get a lot more excellent than Ellie, or real or modest. Or maybe they do. I’ll get back to that.

Those of us who do know her, also know none of this comes easy nor without hard work and pain. If you take the time to read Dylan’s blog post you will see what the real world of the elite runner is about. Striving to be the best possible athlete you can be is a costly affair and I am not talking about money. Today, I ran into Ellie at a local 10K. She herself, like Dylan, has been working back from injury and of late concentrating on her speed with her local running group and coach. Guess it is working. She won the women’s race in a time of 35:43 on a terrible day. In thanking everyone for their support and congratulations on social media, she talked about her approach this last while, as she has started her return to form.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Her mantra for training: “Be humble. Be fierce!”  She did admit though that with her race goal in mind, she found it necessary to drop the humble and just go with Be Fierce. When Ellie (and I suspect every one of the others I have mentioned in this post) get to Be Fierce, it gets pretty awesome to behold. Well, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of the Fierceness, but then, if you are actually that good, you will be Fierce too!

So, I think I’m done now on this topic, not that I couldn’t go on. One of my points (I realized as I was writing) is that while there are likely a few A-hole jerks out there, I’ve never met one. All of the elites (past and current) that I have met are wonderful giving people. What business do I, an aging, never was runner, have asking advice of any of these people I have the privilege to know? And yet, they have all shared advice and to my great amazement, have asked my thoughts now and then. I’m sure they are just being polite!

If you must be a ‘groupie’ in relation to something, well I think runners and running are just the best!

 

sorry, comments are closed