Archive for November, 2015


REALLY! WHAT IS THE BEST I CAN DO?

11.30.2015
The Best I can Do? This was the night I ran the fastest I've ever run: 5:59/mile for 6 miles!

The Best I can Do? This was the night I ran the fastest I’ve ever run: 5:59/mile for 6 miles!

Interesting title, and like more than a few, inspired by something I saw on social media. So many times we talk about just wanting to run the best we are able. I know I say (and believe) that is my core goal and philosophy. As I have been writing and editing on the go, a supplemental question popped into my mind. Who cares? Well, I can deal with that one straight off: ME. I’m the only one who cares about what I do and how I do it, as it should be.

So, what does ‘the best I can do’ really mean? What does it mean to all those other people who also say it?

I ask that because I am a member of both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics. The specific comment that got me started was a reply to someone worrying about how fast they were going in a marathon. The reply was along the lines of “well maybe right now, the best you CAN do is six hours”. Click! The light went on and I actually jotted this title down so I wouldn’t forget about it. That was a few days ago, but here I am ready to explore this.

I guess the first thing to say is that everything is relative. EVERYTHING!

I am very privileged to know a number of former and current elite runners. If you want to see excellence these are people of great note. Some of these people wrote for Running in the Zone, the book! Canadian distance runners are not at the moment, as fast as the best of the best. However, I am pretty certain that they are doing the best they can do. On any given day, even their ‘bests’ are not necessarily of the PB kind. That is racing. They ARE doing their best on that day under the conditions of the day and course, relative to the competition and relative to their physical condition (healthy/sick, a bit injured, in a build-up phase, etc.)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Naturally, I got thinking about myself and my own racing (and necessarily, training). What I do now on a best effort looks pretty lame compared to what I did at my peak, even to my best of five years ago. My best in 2015 is not, I feel, the actual best I could do under different circumstances, age notwithstanding. However, when you consider everything else in my life this year, maybe my race efforts have been my best under the circumstances. The funny thing is that I’ve had more podium finishes this year than ever before, but that has a lot to do with my ever advancing age and a new category. In 2015, I was the ‘young guy’ in M70-74. I also insist that after about 60, OK maybe 65, each year is more like dog years than human years. So, as a 70 year-old in that category, I am waaaaay ‘younger’ than some guy who is 74. Whatever, it has been fun, but I don’t kid myself that I’m getting better!

One of the things we all have to watch is comparing our ‘last race’ to our best ever. If your best ever was the race before last, well then, OK. However, if as is the case with me, your true best was some 27 years ago or so (see photo to the left), you are just silly to do anything but bask in the memory and let it go. That covers age, but there are a good many other factors that influence any given performance and whether or not you may have been doing the best you could in any given race. If you didn’t have to race until everything was just perfect, it might be easier to score PBs, but sadly, they insist on staging races on a given date, whatever the conditions and whether you or I are ‘ready’ or not.

And, the first race IS done!

And, the first race IS done!

If you will indulge me talking about myself for a bit, I want to use my last year as an example of how your ‘best’ fluctuates according to the conditions and situations. I suppose of the 10 races (actually, still have one of those 10 left to do) I did run one at someone else’s pace. That was my wonderful first race with my eight year-old (at the time) grandson. He even gave props to the old geezer when he told one of his friends that he ‘couldn’t have beaten me if he tried’. Trust me, that isn’t going to last much longer! We have already agreed to run the same race again in 2016. I imagine we might run our best efforts at just about the same pace, and then it will be done. Anytime after that, Charlie will have to wait for me.

So, what about 2015 and my string of races where I will claim I did do my ‘best’, even if the results don’t much look like it, taken in isolation?

Medals from the races that made me a Level 4 Fanatic

Medals from the races that made me a Level 4 Fanatic

The year started with a Half Fanatic goal to ‘moon up’ from the base level of ONE moon (Neptune) to FOUR moons (Jupiter). In both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, it is volume that counts not pace. All level criteria are based on X races in Y days or months. You can go as fast or slow as you want or are able. In my case, I selected four half marathons (actually, the last one was a 25K trail event) completed in 15 days. Two of them were back to back (Saturday for the Half and Sunday for the 25K). The races were BMO Vancouver (Half) Marathon, Eugene Half Marathon, Sage Rat Half Marathon and Dirty Rat 25K. First race was Vancouver on May 3 and the fourth was the Dirty Rat 25K on May 17.  I am pretty sure that anybody setting out to race four half marathons in that short a time would need to adjust pace a little. I know that anybody my age would!

Adjust I did. Oh, and because I knew that these four races had to be done with a little less aggression than normal, I had to be ready to accept that even the first result, would be much slower than the last half I had done only a few months before, in late 2014. Uuuumm, and then there was the ever so tempting first 5K, deliciously downhill, at the Vancouver Half. I intentionally raced for my split time (knowing full well that I would pay for it later, which I DID). Something that I did find interesting was that the first three actual half marathons were a week apart in each case and in each case I lost almost exactly four minutes on the previous race. We won’t count the 25K as it was longer and there was a 1000ft vertical in the first couple of miles on that one. Talk about apples and oranges!

In any case, I actually did a calculated ‘best’ effort in each race even if the times taken alone for each event would hardly look like it. Circumstances and a longer term goal.

2013 Marathons and Ultra for Silver Level Maniac Status

2013 Marathons and Ultra for Silver Level Maniac Status

I could go back to 2013 too, when I decided that the base level for Marathon Maniacs (one star or Bronze) was not quite enough and set my goals to run six marathons in six months to move up to two stars or Silver. (FWIW there are ten levels in both Maniac and Fanatic criteria.) In case you might be wondering, I am now done with seeking higher levels in either group, but I am officially a Double Agent, so there’s that. The point is that running six marathons (one was a 50K) in that period of time, again meant that each was a little compromised to the greater goal.

Moving on, later in June of 2015 I decided it was time to see how a shorter distance might work and ran the 5K associated with the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. I felt I had recovered from the half marathon crusade and could push my 5K effort. I feel I did give it everything I could, but it was a rather warm day. The time was decent but not as fast as it might have been in more ideal conditions. Circumstances.

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Oh, and just to make the year interesting, I had two bouts of eye surgery to remove cataracts, a fabulous thing, but each time it cost me three weeks of total inactivity where it came to training. In September I decided to get back to racing and that took the form of the Big Cottonwood Marathon. Now, the event had actually been booked way early in the year, but at half marathon distance. I do love me a downhill course and the Big Cottonwood Half just rolls down, the whole way. Everything was fine until my eye surgery got moved up by three or four weeks. All of a sudden, I had (minimal) time to train for the marathon. AND, they took some four (difficult) miles or so out of the lower part of the marathon course and pushed it about 1500ft further up the mountain! I won’t go into more detail. If you really want to hear more, you can look HERE. Anyway, I decided that since the race was so far away (Utah) and I probably wouldn’t be doing it again, I would go for the full marathon and accept whatever happened. I knew I could have an amazing half marathon result but wanted a really special marathon finish in this year of being 70. Didn’t happen. Combination of circumstances, conditions and situation, but I DID do my best and don’t regret the last minute switch. I knew I was taking a chance on the outcome. My actual half split was 2:21:13 and if I teased out my best 21.1K (because the official time includes about 5 minutes of porto-potty stop time), it turns out to be about 2:15, but run within the context of a marathon, i.e. with some constraint. In other words, my original plan for a good half was definitely justified and speculatively might have been around 2:10 or so. We’ll never know. I made a different decision, and that is part of this whole thing, too. We all make decisions from time to time, to run one race vs another, to run in less than ideal conditions, to run without optimal training, or with too many races already in our legs.

A little damp it was, this day!

A little damp it was, this day!

Well then I turned my sights to a couple of 10K races I’d never done before, starting with the Granville Island Turkey Trot. This one was OK for time (would have liked a minute or two faster) but there was that marathon done less than a month previous and the rain. The RAIN!!! I don’t know that I’ve ever been much wetter in a race. So, circumstances and conditions, and yet the best I could do on the day.

And, I’m not making excuses. I’m trying to point out that hitting that sweet spot of training, course and race conditions isn’t all that easy to manage. Still, I can honestly say I did my best in each event, and if you can say that, you can be satisfied with your result.

Enough of that, or at least, enough about me.

Going back to the on-line comment about the six hour marathoner (a ‘she’ as I recall), I don’t know much more about her circumstances or how she came to the race in terms of previous exertions (she is a Marathon Maniac) or even what her goal was. She could have been injured or just coming back from something (no such info was included). However the fellow who commented that maybe it was her best on that day hit it right on the head, at least from a philosophical point of view.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Sometimes the focus, moving now to the competitive racer (I was going to say ‘elite’ but it applies more broadly), is on winning. Time is something we all focus on in judging our results, but when you are competitive, winning can often be more important. When you find yourself in a relatively balanced field, in a race you want to win, race strategy is more important than time. Your ‘best’ becomes something else and judged on a different scale. As I noted earlier, my podium placements this year have been quite fun, but as a mid to back of pack runner, seldom do I know who I am actually racing. Most often I just have to lay down my best and let it be what it is. A few times over the years I have either known (or thought I did) who the competition was and could race head to head. Those races were kind of fun! The easiest example to understand the difference between PB or even record time and going for the win, is something like a runner chasing Olympic Gold or winning the Boston Marathon.  The WIN is everything. Running fast (relative term) is secondary. A heroic effort that leaves you second or even right out of the ‘money’ means nothing. Make no mistake though, strategic races do involve a best effort.

Everything is relative. At the top end we have the world elite runner. Results are pretty ‘pure’ and simple to understand. Everybody runs as hard as they can and somebody wins or sets a new World Record. What about the rest of us who will have an asterisk beside anything we do? I’m thinking of the best Masters runner. I’m thinking of Age Class winners or Single Age record holders. Raw time is not in the same class as the ‘Open’ elite runner, since we undeniably fade with time. What about an Ed Whitlock? He recorded times in his late 70s, early 80s that when age graded, rated higher than the then World Marathon Record. A friend and local runner here in Vancouver, BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh pretty much sets a new single age record every time she runs a half or full marathon. BJ just turned 88 and is gearing up to run the Honolulu Marathon in a few days. She will take more than five hours I would think, but remember how all this started? I was talking about a much younger woman wondering if her six hour marathon was OK. I’m pretty sure she was a long way shy of 88! The important thing is that BJ respects the events and trains and will turn in her best effort in Honolulu and I assure you that you can count on that regardless of what her actual time turns out to be. As I recall, last year it was 5:36. But, of course, last year she was only 87.

New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon

Some people run with disabilities. Some aren’t so very athletically made and just run for their own satisfaction. That doesn’t mean they aren’t being the best they can be. To me, that is what makes running so compelling. I don’t need to beat anyone else to know I’ve done my best. Some say you only need to ‘beat yourself’. That can be true, but when you reach my age and you are still going, you have to ask “which self would that be?”. It certainly isn’t the ‘self’ that recorded his PB marathon (OK, PB marathon, half, 10K, 5K) back when he was 43/44. Having decided to keep track of 5-year records, it probably will seldom be the ‘self’ that recorded records for the previous 5-year age grouping. It could be the self that ran the last half marathon or 10K or whatever race he did. It also isn’t totally impossible to better previous times. When I was 65 I was on a racing/training roll that saw me do my third best (raw) marathon and second best age graded. It was a stellar year because of good health and hard training and maybe, just maybe, doing the right race on the right day.

Personally, one of the main ways I keep up with a ‘better me’ is the % Performance value you get with age grading. I figure if my annual bests stay in the same range, I am doing well. This year was not great on that basis, but I don’t know if it was the circumstances described above, or just me getting older and more feeble.

I intend that next year’s racing be quite selective, so we will have to see if my performances improve or if the ‘fade’ continues. It should keep me amused, if no-one else.

 

(MY) ISLAND IN THE SUN

11.25.2015
Getting it done at the Reggae Marathon 2014

Getting it done at the Reggae Marathon 2014

I think I have been very disciplined this year when it comes to blogging about the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Until NOW.

I mean it is just one week until I arrive in Negril and I only have one big responsibility to take care of before going. Sadly, that one thing is the night before I leave, so no way to get it done and off my table early. Oh well, it will keep my mind occupied until I leave.

Just one of many pasta stations! Looks pretty - tastes great!

Just one of many pasta stations! Looks pretty – tastes great!

There are so many great things about the Reggae Marathon. There are the races themselves, the pasta party which still scores second to none I’ve ever attended, and then the post-race party on the beach. Then, there are all the friends I’ll see. These are people who I keep in touch with throughout the year, but NEVER see in person except in Negril. Finally, as well as first and foremost and all the time, there is just the charm of Jamaica.

Negril beach view. No worries here.

Negril beach view. No worries here.

Last year, I really needed a break and made my stay quite a bit longer than the few days it takes to go and enjoy the event. It was something like a total of 17 days in paradise, with the Reggae Marathon sandwiched pretty much in the middle. It was just what the Doctor ordered! That would be Doctor ‘One Drop’ Dread (my Reggae name).

By way of full disclosure, as a matter of brevity and general reference, I usually just call ‘the event’ “The Reggae Marathon“. The disclosure part is that I have never actually run the Marathon. I intended to once, but that turned out to be a 10K. If you really want to know, you can read about the whole thing HERE. The next three times, I ran the Half Marathon. This time I will really run the 10K, starting with everyone else and doing it in the early morning as dark turns to dawn! Well, to be fair, I ran the 10K that first time too, but I started about two and a half hours after everybody else! Pretty sure it will be a lot more fun doing it the usual way and probably a bit cooler.

Original Three from Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge (Dan, Larry, Chris)

Original Three from Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge (Dan, Larry, Chris)

From the first time and through to this year, a group of friends has been forming and we all have our own little ‘competition’ within the race. I’ve talked about it before but it is known as the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge (RRHMC). It started with just three of us and last year I think we hit something like twelve. It started when three of us met in Negril in 2011 and formed some kind of instant bond. Well, a trash-talking kind of bond, but a bond nonetheless! Early the next year, Larry Savitch (New York), Chris Morales (Ontario) and I (BC) realized we were all running a half marathon on the very same day, but all of us in a different location. Now, Larry is the young’un with Chris in the middle and me the old geezer. I mean, technically, Larry could be my son (if I had got started having kids just a bit earlier in life). How do you compare? Age Grading!

Deb's a Winna! And not just in the RRHMC!

Deb’s a Winna! And not just in the RRHMC!

That was a LOT of fun, so we imported the concept to the next Reggae Marathon and the three following. We added a bunch more people (male and female) and all three distances. The core group, although we are not all always there, includes Deb Thomas, Jetola Anderson-Blair, Court and Andrew Morales. There are more, but at the risk of leaving a few out, this is the list of longest and most frequent attendees and RRHMC participants. In short, with the magic of race calculators and age grading, we convert everyone to an age-graded half marathon time and find our winners from there. Well, actually, I think the term is WINNER. Thus far Deb Thomas has won each time. Larry Savitch keeps saying he is going to fix that, but so far ‘no cigar’.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up (2011).

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up (2011).

Not everyone comes along every time like the “Four Amigos”: Chris, Larry, Navin Sadarangani and me. Since Navin doesn’t drink and therefore isn’t afraid the rest of us will get all the Red Stripe, he doesn’t seem to mind being on the road a bit longer, so he actually DOES the Reggae MARATHON! In any case, Chris (aka “That Runnin’ Guy“, aka the Reggae Marathon Official Blogger) has been attending the longest and has run a couple more times than any of us. When we are all at the finish mid-morning on Saturday December 5 for what has become our traditional photo, there will 22 fingers proudly on display representing our collective total and the five races Navin, Larry and I have each done, while Chris will hold up seven!

ThatRunninGuy (Chris Morales) Reggae Marathon Finish

ThatRunninGuy (Chris Morales) Reggae Marathon Finish

Come to think of it, Chris actually has done the full marathon, but tells us that is a ‘one and done’ deal for any marathon anywhere, anytime. He loves a good 10K and now sticks with that. Oh yeah, and Navin decided to make the 2014 Reggae Marathon into the (unofficial) Reggae 50K. Before the official start, he logged another 8K/5 Miles to add up to a 50K. I suppose it goes without saying Navin is a Marathon Maniac; some would say, with emphasis on Maniac. Larry would say that. I wouldn’t, ’cause I’m one too.

I mostly intend to have fun, but will be respecting (respec’ mon) the race and running it seriously. I am curious as to how that is going to work out. The one time I did do the 10K, the sun was well up when I started and it was warm. I was basically running with the marathoners who were in their second loop of the course. The other times I was doing the half marathon, so my 10K split was slower than if I was just going 10K and done. You do need to work with the course and the climate and the support to make a good race for yourself.

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

This time I will start with everyone else at 5:15am. I love the feel of the air at that time and all going to plan, will finish before the sun is up, probably just as the light of dawn is beginning to show in the sky. A quick check of race day conditions says it will be about 26C at the start and 31C as a high for the day. Sunrise is 6:31am and in my experience the temps never really rise until the sun is up. Also, 26C is a bit warm for 5:15am and the longer range forecast suggests it will be a low of 21-23C just a day or two later, so we’ll see. In any case, starting at 5:15am with sunrise at 6:31, I feel it safe to say I should be done by sunrise.

Finishing it up

Finishing it up

Most times I finished after 7:30am and that first time I hadn’t even started at 7:30, finishing closer to 9:00am. It is going to be quite something different to be standing at the finish in the semi-dark, watching the sun rise rather than doing it while pounding down the road in the second half of the half marathon. I think I can manage it. A big advantage will be to see if Larry will be able to beat Deb this time. The suspense is killing me! OK, maybe just making me mildly excited. I may have to think up a new prize though. I mean, how many copies of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes do you suppose Deb wants?

THE LATEST ATHLETICS DOPING SCANDAL – AND ROOT CAUSES

11.17.2015

So, here we are again. Big news on the athletic doping scandals front. In this case it is ‘athletics’, the apparently proper term for track and field. We know though, that this is just the latest scandal and doping goes to other sport as well.

[Ed. Note: There are no photographs, no links, no references. This is strictly a personal opinion and perspective.]

I am certainly not an apologist for athletes deciding to take that extra elicit step to gain that last little advantage that takes them from being just generally amazing, to the gold medal – especially the gold medal in one of the BIG events like the Olympic Games. However, a little study on the matter without our sparkling white purist robes of sanctimony, might provide an explanation. And, might just pull the rest of us into the vortex of this swirling mess, because we are complicit in certain ways.

I am getting on in years, as most of you know. But, that means that when I first started competing in Athletics in my teens, even I, a mere school age runner, had to have my Amateur Athletics card! I keep EVERYTHING, but apparently not that. Sort of wish I still had it as a momento of those ‘pure‘ times.

Now, lest you think I am pining for simple and as I have put it, pure times in athletics – I am not. They may have been pure in the sense that the crazy money that comes with success, was not tainting the approach of athletes to their sport and training. But, as with so many things, nobody seems to be able to find a middle ground. In the times I am talking about you could lose your amateur status for accepting a prize of any practical value. I am talking about $5.00 or a useful prize of any sort. Naturally, ribbons, medals and trophies were fine. I DO in fact, have a bronze medal I won back in those days from a clubs track meet. And, maybe as soon as I post this piece, I will find my amateur card lurking among my old school stuff (because my running in those days was part school and part running club(s)). With my brother having just passed away, I’ve been rooting through a lot of that old stuff looking for memorabilia of our early athletic lives. So, it could happen.

Someone I currently know and who is older than me by almost a decade, was an Olympic race walker in his day, but still talks about how his status was threatened because he went to the US for a weekend workshop to coach some younger ‘walkers’ and accepted expenses. EXPENSES! After much argument, it was agreed that it was acceptable as he was not profiting. That was how it was. It was not pure. It was stupid. And with all that, did anyone ever take money under the table? I imagine they did.

In those ‘pure’ days there was so little money that athletes trained in their spare time. If they wanted to eat, they had to have a job. Nobody considered their athletic development and performance to be their job. Nobody had shoe sponsors. You bought your shoes! Nobody paid your way to a meet other than maybe via a club organized fund-raiser of some sort, but it certainly wasn’t by a sponsor.

Some team sport was organized such that a team might be sponsored by a bigger company which could offer jobs to the athletes and which might also be prepared to allow the time needed to travel and/or play. And, these were sports where amateurism was not required. I am going to add something that I am not 100% sure about, but that seems to ring one of those ‘bells’. As I recall, if you wanted to be an amateur, say in Athletics, you could not be a ‘professional’ in another sport. Of course if you were an East Block athlete, you were in the military. Your work WAS training for your sport. So much for the actual amateur on the field of play. That said, if you were one of the military athletes, you’d better keep your performance up or you really WOULD become a soldier.

People remember Steve Prefontaine for his running prowess and related exploits, not to mention his ever quotable quotes, but he was a pioneer in demanding that the athletes be able to share in the profits of the ‘sport’ that were accruing to those that ran the show, while athletes scrimped and sweated and starved. It would be interesting to know what his place in all of this would have been in later years, had he not died so young.

Some might suggest that it was only right that athletes actually profit from their abilities to excel and from the entertainment they provide the rest of us. I would be one of those people. Without the athletes, the Olympics just become the opening and closing ceremonies. Speaking for myself, I feel those have become obscene spectacles pushed by the ego of the hosting countries.

“Profit” is a loaded word though. I feel it is good that the best and maybe the soon to be best, are encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to dig as deep into themselves as they need to, in order to produce what they are capable of producing in terms of performance on the field of play. The HUGE payday is something else. This is where it gets messy and complicated and a problem. I suppose this latest scandal with the Russians brings in another factor where the driving motive is the greater glory of the mother-land. We saw a lot of that in the Cold War days, when athletic prowess was conflated with the superiority of the political system.

Enter Performance Enhancing Drugs!

Actually, there is one more very important factor, whether it is a driving force in itself or the weak link to be exploited for profit. That is the competitive spirit of the elite athlete. Money, as such, may only be a way of keeping score. Winning is what it is all about. At one point some years ago, there was a psychological study done where the researchers asked a bunch of elite/semi-elite athletes if someone could hypothetically guarantee them an Olympic Gold Medal, but at the cost of five years of their lives, would they accept. As I recall, a huge proportion of them said ‘yes’. Now, asking a 20 year-old if a cost of five years off their life was worth it, might not be a fair question. No 20 year-old thinks he/she is ever going to die anyway. Also, it is hard to say whether it was the medal or the money that might follow, that drove the answer, but it was long enough ago that I personally feel it was the pure glory of being Olympic Champion. The really big money and sponsorships and endorsements had not kicked in the way it exists now.

I suggested the athletic desire to win is both a strength and a weakness. The big sponsors make money off the fact that the best of the best use THEIR product. If you want to be that guy/girl wearing the [insert brand here] gear and get paid the big bucks for doing so, you have to keep BEING the best of the best. Thus the ‘weakness’ to be exploited and the need for some to do whatever they have to do.

But what about the reference to the gear manufacturers? Even us weekend warrior runners buy shoes and other gear that will improve our performance. Shoe technology is just one, albeit very good example. The fabrics of our clothing are a factor too. If you happen to be a track athlete as opposed to a road or trail runner, would you even think about competing on a cinder track? If we want to be ‘pure’ maybe we should ban all these modern technological advances. What about some of the older (not even ancient, just a few decades) athletes and their records? How do you compare sprinters and their records from the cinder track era with today’s athletes. I often wonder what people like my hero, Harry Jerome, might do with modern gear, training and tracks. We are only talking about the 1960s. Maybe if we want to be pure, we should ban shoes completely, other than sandals and have the athletes compete naked, as was once the norm. But, I digress!

Many proponents of amateur athleticism did anticipate some of this modern stuff. However, there have been elements of this PED thing dating back to the ancient Olympics. Many of the early ‘games’ were military skills, and as such could be used not just for the warrior-athletes to prove themselves in a non-lethal way, but also for their  states to show their prominence. Not only that but the best of them were very much rewarded and idolized as we see today. I believe it was my old running/writing friend Roger Robinson who wrote a piece on the PEDs of the day. Yes! PEDs in the ancient games. Many athletes had secret potions, herbs and barks and special diets, that were reputed to give them extra strength or stamina. Did they? Maybe. Remember, a great many of our modern medicines are derived from natural sources. Once we know the active component, we no longer need to chew willow bark to cure our headache, we can just take an aspirin. We learn how to either extract or manufacture the active component and especially to manage and control the dose. Nonetheless, some of the stuff those ancient Olympians used probably did have some efficacy as a PED. Some, probably were more effective in making the athlete think HE was that powerful. I did learn that black magic was a no-no. Couldn’t hex your opponent, just wasn’t right.

Is it human nature to ‘do what it takes’? It seems that it is.

The Russian situation that has just come to the fore is one thing, but there have been rumours swirling for some time that Kenyan distance running may not be totally how it looks. We have seen individual athletes from almost everywhere get caught and punished. There are also stories that the US is as bad as any, where it comes to manipulating drug tests. I say these things only in the sense that the stories are out there, not that I am a believer or that I know one way or another. But, it is big business and big politics and big money for the best of the best.

Something we need to be clear on is that PEDs aren’t going to take a slug and turn him into a race horse. They aren’t like some kind of ‘nitro’ boost to the engine of a race car. That said, I have just had a sudden mental picture of the start of the 2028 100m Olympic final. Athletes are under starter’s orders. Each one approaches the blocks. A trainer is poised behind them with syringe in hand. The starter intones: “Runners, take your marks!” …… “Trainers, Inject Your Runner!” ……. “Set” – — Bang. Eight sprinters streak down the track to the finish in seven seconds, and those are the women. The men are up next to challenge the 5.31 second world record. Welcome to the All Drug Olympics.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. The root causes are terribly complex. I’ve touched on some of them here. I have tongue in cheek suggested here and elsewhere that we just let ‘er rip and go with full on drug enhanced sport and see just how far it will go. It will probably result in some spectacular performances, not to mention the odd in competition death, and let’s face it we do watch some sport not to actually SEE someone die, but with the delicious chance that the sport is dangerous enough that it could happen.

Personally, and I hardly think I’m alone, I do love to see dedicated athletes push themselves to their limit, but I’d rather see a slower record time for any given event if it was definitely the best anyone could do without external enhancement. Pure, in other words.

Something I do wonder about is whether some of the banned substances should actually be banned. What if we spent a bunch more money on determining whether certain substances really produce a significant enhancement in double blind tests? There is little doubt in my mind that there is a placebo effect in some cases. The substance works, mostly because the athlete believes it works, but in reality the enhancement comes because the athlete is inspired to dig deeper. I’m not saying that none of the so-called PEDs should be banned. There are a good many that should be banned, if for no other reason than the long-term harm they do to the individual who takes them. And, here we are back at the question about the guaranteed Olympic gold at the cost of five years of your life. BUT, if the banned list was short and absolute and the authorities were as smart and well equipped as the cheaters, we might be better off. Or not. Something to think about anyway.

THINGS YOU NEVER EXPECT

11.03.2015
A boy and his dog (Tiny)  1965

A boy and his dog (Tiny) 1965

This is a very personal post. It only has to do with running in an indirect way. If you aren’t into my musings about life and such, well maybe just read the first bit here and move on if you prefer. I will understand. Still, I need to write this for me, for my family and as you will soon understand, my ‘little brother’. My ‘little’ brother (by the way, he actually hated that term when we were much younger) died early Monday morning and very, very suddenly. And, for my own reasons I need to celebrate his life and share some of his/our story. It actually isn’t sad, but it does carry a lesson for all of us.

"Uncle Bill"

“Uncle Bill”

I suppose it is best to get the facts out of they way first. The preferred term is ‘younger’, not ‘little’, but today and just for a little while it helps me to think of him this way. His name: William Edward Cumming. He was supposed to have the name Edward, but then if he didn’t up and get born on our Uncle Bill’s birthday! Edward was another Uncle actually, but poor old Uncle Ted got shunted one name back and there he was, in April of 1949, William Edward Cumming. Interestingly, Uncle Bill was one of Vancouver’s premier soccer players in his day, and not surprisingly, taught both of us a whole lot of what we knew about the game, including skills and strategy.

Of course, around our house he was “Billy“. And, please don’t tell anyone, but at that time I was called “Danny“. I think we each made short work of that diminutive naming when we got to Secondary School. I became Dan and him, Bill.

For those trying to do the math and not having enough fingers and toes for the purpose, Bill was 66. Four years my junior.

There is a lot to say about somebody who lived for 66 years, but I will try to keep to some key things and get to where I am going as quickly as I can. As with all of us, Bill had those things he loved, top among those were his wife Hope and boys Ken and Chris. I am going to just leave that as a given.

He had the music in him!

He had the music in him!

He dabbled at various things, including music, when he was a teen. He had several guitars, including two solid body electric guitars made by our Dad (the guy in the background of the first photo at the top of this post). He has also had a more or less life-long love of fishing for the wily trout. However,  sport was his passion. I’m not sure he ever met a sport he didn’t like, nor one he couldn’t play better than average. We both did track in our teens and both dropped it after we left school. Pick the distance: he was faster than me when comparing age for age. Thankfully, he did not get into distance running later in life, so at least I had that all to myself. His energies went to baseball and soccer.

Baseball Beginnings

He had professional opportunities in both back in the days when he was at his peak, being drafted by a major league baseball team (to one of their minor ‘farm’ teams – think Bull Durham) and was invited to join the original Vancouver White Caps along with several players he came up with in Vancouver minor soccer. They all played for Grandview Legion and took the Provincial Age Group Championship at least a couple of times. Among them were Buzz Parsons and Sam (Silvano) Lenarduzzi, Bob’s older brother. In those days though, you had to be the top of the top to make any real money and he had just moved to Prince George where he had a real job that paid well. Even the best athletes usually had to have a ‘day job’ to make ends meet. That was pretty much it for a professional soccer career, but he played at high local levels for years.

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

While in Prince George, he learned the joys of lacrosse. So, that became the trio. Baseball, which he played early on and later coached, lacrosse, which he played until only a few years ago and Soccer. He played and coached and played again. Soccer was his game. He was fast and tricky and could shoot a ball so hard you’d swear it would take your head off. I recall one time we were ‘just kicking the ball around’ and taking turns being in goal and out shooting. Now, I played my share of soccer too, including a year with UBC, but I was nowhere near as good as Bill. So there I am tending to my goal and he yells something like “Hard One”. I swear that while I’ve heard smaller balls do it, that soccer ball made a whistling/hissing sound as it went by my ear. Oh Lord, could that guy shoot a soccer ball. Oh, and he did apologize for forgetting we were ‘just kicking the ball around’.

Well, flash forward to recent times with me running all over the place. Slower and slower to be sure, but still doing it and loving it. Bill was having his fun with lacrosse and soccer until a couple of years ago. Seems like we Cumming boys have some issues with our backs and it was getting harder and harder for him to play either of those sports due to a back problem. Long story, short, he too had an operation, about 18 months ago (mine was 26 years ago) and after suitable rehab and such, had just signed up to play soccer again. I haven’t seem him as happy in a very long time. I was thrilled because I knew how important it was to him. He had a couple of teams that wanted him and he picked one. I am almost certain that the game Sunday was only the second of the season, or maybe his second game.

So, as any of us might do heading off to work or a race, he headed out to his soccer game. I didn’t even know this specifically. I was sitting at this computer, having watched the elite women and men run the New York City Marathon, and now tracking several friends who were just the weensiest bit behind the elites. One of them, Deb Thomas (a friend from Reggae Marathon) was almost finished. The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law, very upset and with the news that Bill had collapsed at soccer and was being taken (in very bad condition) to a local hospital. We gathered ourselves up, swung by and picked her up as we headed to the hospital to meet their younger son, Chris. The older son lives/works in Edmonton and came in later on the earliest flight he could get.

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It's so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It’s so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

I don’t want to go on at length about all the details, because in the end they weren’t the most important parts. I will say he got the very best care, starting with players who ‘fell’ upon him immediately, doing CPR, followed by first responders/paramedics and then the Critical Care Cardiac Unit, at what I have since learned was not the nearest but rather the best hospital for his condition. More than the immense technical expertise and skill I saw, I want to talk about the ‘care’ that both Bill, as the patient, and the rest of us as his worried family, got from the health-care team. It started with the paramedic we first met in the hospital and continued through various specialized doctors, the trauma nurses and the other hospital staff that looked to our needs. After initial treatment, he was transferred to the ICU and our interaction began with one of the most amazing physicians I have met. As things went from bad to worse, he not only looked after my one and only little brother, he communicated, comforted and most importantly, INFORMED us, the family. He showed such immense respect for our right to know what was happening and yet compassion for our feelings. I don’t know how we could have been more informed than we were and although there were times when we were all excluded from ‘the room’, we were given as much access as possible. As things became more critical and certain as to where it was all headed, it was this man who helped us to understand. Never did he try to tell us what we SHOULD do, but rather supported our process.

I don’t care who you are, or how dire the situation, it is never easy or simple to make the all important decision about a loved one and then actually say: Stop. Just stop. At about 3:00am Monday morning that was the point we had reached. It was decided that all the many, and there were SO many, extraordinary measures should cease. As soon as the mechanical stuff was taken care of, removing lines and leads and turning off monitors, all five of us were allowed at his bedside where we could be with our husband, father, brother and brother-in-law. It would be very wrong to say more here about that very private time and situation. What I can say is that it was about 30 minutes until he left us. It was very peaceful and I was so terribly grateful that I was able to be there.

I felt it sort of necessary to share this bit of what went on over a pretty intense 16-18 hours, so I could get to the other more positive things to come.

Although it came later, we have learned from someone who was there at the time, Bill was ‘in full flight’ when it happened, tearing down the field to an open spot (and very likely pointing to just where he wanted the ball). It is my opinion, and I am going to believe it because I want to – I don’t think he even knew what hit him.

Another thing I plan to believe is based on what the first trauma nurse said the very first time I got to be with him in the ICU. She was explaining what had happened to this point in time. She began: “Your brother died on the soccer field, others began CPR………………………”  I don’t know if that was a slip of the tongue or a considered comment based on her trauma training, but I prefer to think that it was that neat and clean (for him). All the resuscitations (at least 8) and interventions were about keeping his body working until it was clear there was no point.

The DAY before and I do mean THE DAY BEFORE, I was talking to a running friend, older than me (better, too) about death. We both apparently feel quite the same on the matter. He had said, “I don’t fear death. What does worry me is dying.”  We agreed totally. So, my response was: “Well, I want to go of a massive heart attack as I finish a race somewhere!”

As you can surely understand then, while I am shocked and saddened at the sudden death of my only brother, there is no possible way I can be sad about how he died. I am sure he would see it the same way. As we all should, he made his wishes clear about what should or should not be done should the situation arise. Whether we liked it or not, it was apparently his time. We all felt it was too soon, but that is something else.

You may now forgive me if I continue to say things (as I think I have in the past) along the lines of doing something before it is too late, or while I can. I think whether you are young or old or somewhere between, it is always wise to do what you can, when you can. More than once when I have expressed such a thought I’ve had others pooh-pooh it as being foolish or alarmist or dramatic. You know: “You aren’t THAT old!” or “You aren’t going to die tomorrow!” (I guess my brother gives a new perspective on that.)  And, you know that it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as dropping over, all you need is a serious injury or major health problem and some things are off the table.

I don’t mean to be dramatic. I’m not looking for a reaction. I am just stating something I’ve believed for a long time. I’ve lived it for a long time, too. Not going to make a huge long list, but I have started cutting out things I don’t need to do and don’t find any pleasure in doing. We’ve done special and specific travel that might have seemed a bit expensive but it was something we wanted to and could do. I’ve run a 50K, not because anybody HAS to run a 50K, but because I wanted to do so. I joined Marathon Maniacs and took a year of running to ‘level up’. Same with Half Fanatics except that this Spring I pushed up four levels. I’m done with both of those things now in terms of pushing for even higher levels, but I’m glad I did them. I just ran two races I had never done, The Granville Island Turkey Trot and the James Cunningham Seawall Race. I have also taken a decision, that at least for this one year I will step down from the stage at the First Half Half Marathon and actually RUN the thing. I am very excited! I could leave it until the next year, but should I? Not a chance.

At Loon Lake, BC - his favourite place to be!

At Loon Lake, BC – his favourite place to be!

Oh, and one other thing I decided not to put off? Opening that bottle of Cardhu Single Malt Scotch that was given to me on my 70th Birthday. I have a wee dram at my right hand as I write. Cardhu is by “The Cummings of Cardhu- Distillers of Distinction – 1824” The Clan beverage, so to speak. This seems as worthy an occasion as any!

Play on my brother. Play on!