Archive for February, 2016


WHAT’S IN A NUMBER?

02.28.2016
Runnin Guy takes a rest

That Runnin Guy takes a well deserved rest.

Well, so most of you have already jumped to the conclusion that I am going to talk about age. You are partly right, but this IS a blog for ‘seasoned athletes’. The truth is, this post is kind of about four numbers. It is also getting published today, in honour of my friend, Chris “That Runnin’ Guy” Morales, who has apparently got himself a new number – it is his Birthday today. You may recognize the name or blog handle as associated with the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. That was how/where we met, several years ago, and now where each December, we solve the problems of the world (well our worlds) over a Red Stripe or two and some good jerk pork!

OK, I said there would be numbers. Here they are:

First Number: Age (yes, you were right)

Second Number: Time for any given race distance

Third Number: Age graded time for any given race distance

Fourth Number: % Performance for any given distance at any given age

Many people like to say “Age is just a number.”  That is true. I like to say it. I know a lot of amazing ‘seasoned’ athletes and in this case I’m even going to use another ‘s-word’, senior athlete. As I am one, I’ve got to know a lot of such people. As a matter of fact, after the First Half Half Marathon which I just ran for the first time on February 14, I was standing with two other senior runners (on the day) and one who would have been running were he not working back from an injury (that did NOT happen while running). I was the youngster at 71, but together we added up to 305 years among four guys. I won’t class myself with these other three, but I am still going and they would put a good many younger people to shame at any given distance. But, they (we) all work at it. So, we definitely fit in the ‘age is just a number’ category.

Although I’ve enjoyed some podium finishes in the last year, I am the first to admit there was an element of picking the right races! I have never been fastest in a class field, but what I really care about is how I compare to the me I used to be. You certainly can’t make a 30, or more, year comparison to the Second Number above. That number is the time you recorded for any given distance on your best day. Naturally, we all run different paces on different days (depending on the circumstance), so rather than any specific race it is probably most reasonable to compare PB’s either outright or recent. I’ve started, on someone’s recommendation, to keep 5-year ‘bests’. For ease of keeping track, I use the usual 5-year age groups, so right now I am working M70-74. Even your best at age 70 can’t compare to your best at 43/44 (when I actually set my PB times).

To be clear then, my “Second Number” is your raw time at any age. It is what it is. You try not to let it slip too fast as the years and races roll by, but you can’t stop it forever. Best you can do is limit rate of change.

I also keep record of my annual PBs, so if I were to say run three or four 10Ks, I only include (for this purpose) the best one. Sometimes, it is the only one if you only run one race. For instance, last year I only ran one marathon, so that was the best, the worst and only. You get the idea.

Hood to Coast Start 2012

Hood to Coast Start 2012. Age grading will even work on the ‘random’ leg distances in a relay!

That leads us to the Third Number, the age graded equivalent (converted) time. I like this number and will talk about it in a bit, but want to bring in the Fourth Number now, as they do go hand in hand. The Fourth Number is the % Performance and in the last number of years, the one I keep track of the most. These standards are related but different. In essence, the age graded time is based on an ever-growing database of performances by age (and gender) for any given distance. The % Performance is relative to the single age World Standard for age and distance. I have learned that the calculator I use, put out by World Masters Athletics, is actually a bunch of equations and is not just a block of times for a precise distance (say 10K). As a result, it is actually possible to enter a decimal value for your age (I only do this for my own statistical records) and for distance too. There are some strange distances out there and if you are running relays, like my favourite Hood to Coast, the legs are what they are. They aren’t neatly divided up into familiar standard distances. The calculator still works. It also works on a decimal age. That is important to me because living in Vancouver where you can run, and race, all year and with a birthday that comes early in January, a late in the year race (like the Reggae Marathon) makes me almost a year older than my nominal age. As I said, I only use this for my own statistics, but at the higher end of the scale where I am now, a year makes a big difference.

Now, onto some specifics. After a not so pleasing 2:29:32 on February 14 at the First Half Half Marathon, I did as I always do and looked up my age graded results. To my surprise, my converted time for the half marathon was 1:48:20. That got me thinking about how it compares to my general achievements over a number of years. For the last good five years, my converted time has been in the low 1:40 range. This last race involved a number of issues and challenges for me (and some that included all runners – it wasn’t such a nice day). I don’t want to make excuses but am convinced I can do significantly better, and will as the season progresses.

Medal haul from the four in 15 day races (BMO Vancouver, Eugene and Sage Rat). Includes a first and second at Sage Rat weekend (red ribbons)

Medal haul from the four in 15 day races (BMO Vancouver, Eugene and Sage Rat). Includes a first and second at Sage Rat weekend (red ribbons)

As I looked back at all half marathons over the last few years, I could see how the raw chip time got slower, while the age graded time stayed relatively static (a good and satisfying thing). This is where the % P also comes in and is somewhat similar, because quite like the age graded time, it too compares favourably year over year. Circumstances always count, so care needs to be taken in the comparisons. As we are talking half marathons at this precise moment, I would point out that I ran three last year but all in 14 days, with full knowledge that on the 15th day I would be running a 25K so-called trail race (really more country roads). Anyway, all four of these races were run either with the intention of conserving energy for what was yet to come, or with the weight of what had just happened in the last week or two. So, while I was proud of the greater achievement and it got me to Level 4 in the Half Fanatics, the times are to be taken under advisement.

All of the above notwithstanding, as I look over a longer period of time and use the annual best time, the age graded result falls within quite a narrow range between 1:40 and 1:45, even though the actual times were getting slower. (For context, my half marathon PB is 1:33:40 which grades to 1:27:48 and happened in 1988. That first marathon PB was a 64% effort at age 43, while my marathon at age 65 was a 60% performance. Slippage? Yes, but not so bad I think.) But, notwithstanding that raw times were getting slower, that is kind of the point. My age was increasing, too.

As it turns out, aging is not really a straight-line sort of thing and neither is the age grading algorithm. Thusly, I had a graded time for the First Half that was not as bad as I thought it would be. The other number is the % Performance and is often my preferred standard. I have realized that if I can keep myself on a steady track, I can achieve around 60% on a reasonable day on a reasonable course. So, days like two Sundays ago, with the rain and all, should be taken in context. Situations like the four in 15 days should similarly be put in context. But, if you run races, you usually get a few each year when conditions are decent, not ideal necessarily, but decent.  Those you can reasonably compare and it pleases me that I find myself ‘holding my own’, as the pages of the calendar turn.

Reggae Party Time! Cool, refreshing coconut and the sea just a few steps behind the stage!

Reggae Party Time! Cool, refreshing coconut and the sea just a few steps behind the stage!

My personal approach to this is to use my best time for each distance in a given year. Sometimes, as already noted, that is just one race at a given distance, but sometimes there are several to choose from. Those ‘bests’ tend to fall in the target range I mentioned. That is what I use to judge my personal progress. You can’t do anything about things like the weather in mid-February or the heat in a race like my much loved Reggae Marathon (Half). Those results have to live on their own, but as I said, each season you probably get a good course on a nice day when you are well trained and feeling fit, and that will usually be the ‘keeper’ for that year. Here is another situation then were a number has meaning and not just for me. Some races actually do have age graded results and some even give prizing on graded times. There is always a little bit of shock among younger runners when some 70 year-old hot-shot wins.

As always, I write about my own experiences as the example to a larger point. What I have written about can be done by anyone at any time. You just need to know your age, your time and the distance. Plug it into one of the calculators and hit the button. There are a number of such age-grading systems out there now, but I stick with the one I started with just so the outcomes remain comparable over the many years. Because I started a long time ago, all I need to do now is plug in the latest race and add it to the rest. If you want to start your own record and don’t want to invest all the time it might take to go back to your ‘personal beginning’, you might just try to look up your five-year PBs to bring yourself up to some recent point in time and go from there. Word of warning, the age effect only kicks in around 35. Younger than that, you can save time and just use your actual result. It is fun to watch your adjusted performances as you go along.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Good Times (and a good time).

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Good Times (and a good time).

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

I have had times where my training and running were better than at other times. Sometimes it is life, sometimes an injury that impedes progress and sometimes everything is ticking along like you would hope it would. A good example for me was the year I turned 65. I was healthy, had the time and was training pretty well over an extended period of time through the year before and into that year when I was 65. I peaked (recent races) on results over all distances right up to marathon and found that my graded times and % Performance stats where better than they had been in some years. In fact, my first marathon is, was and probably always will be both my best actual time (that is an absolute at this point) and best graded time (most likely). BUT, the Eugene Marathon run in 2010 turned out to be my third best raw time and second best graded time. The difference was 22 years. Clearly, comparing the raw times makes the two look very different (was just over an hour difference between Vancouver (1988) and Eugene (2010)), but age grading narrowed the gap to a few minutes. It is still a highlight of my running career!

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin' Guy second from the right.

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin’ Guy second from the right.

Oh, and this picture of the Four Amigos is a testament to age-grading and its many uses. We use the technique to compare our times and even distances in a friendly competition, which includes a bunch of other  people who are also Reggae Marathon regulars. All those fingers in the air represent the number of times we have done one of the distances of the Reggae Marathon (full, half or 10K). Takes some doing because left to right (and through no fault of our own, we ARE arranged by ascending age) there are some 35 years separating youngest and oldest (me, of course). Maybe if some of you ‘seasoned’ athletes out there give this age-grading thing a try, you will find some surprising and very pleasing outcomes.  Have fun!

Oh yes, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!

Ho Hum to Banner Year in a Few Easy ‘Clicks’

02.01.2016
Getting ready to run the First Half, but won't be up with these guys!

Getting ready to run the First Half, but won’t be up with these guys!

Some of this isn’t new news, but I have been personally thrilled about things that have happened in the last while that have turned 2016 from a year where I intended to continue running but without much more of a plan than to ‘do it’.

Wow, has that ever changed!

I am already officially registered to run four of my favourite events of all time and committed to one more as soon as registration opens.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Good Times (and a good time).

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Good Times (and a good time).

In February, I will run the First Half Half Marathon, for the very first time. I’ve talked about this before, so we’ll just leave that for now. As noted here quite recently, I am a Race Ambassador for the Eugene Marathon. That comes up in May and is also a real favourite. (PS, don’t forget the Ambassador has a discount code to share!) Flashing forward to late August, after several years of trying unsuccessfully, I got a team accepted into the Hood to Coast Relay. Oh yeah! Registered, and recruited a full team already. The fourth event is the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon. This one is going to be a bit different because rather than the full or half marathon, I will (again, a first) be running the 8K with grandson Charlie.

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

So there you have it! Just like that, all registered in four of my favourite racing events. BUT WAIT (as they say on the TV ads) that isn’t all. I am committed to a reprise of the Giant’s Head Run with Charlie in June. That makes FIVE really special races in the schedule and it has only just turned February.

I’ve already made posts about the First Half and Eugene so let me dodge ahead to October and the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon Weekend. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that knows me, that I have a spot in my heart and race schedule for this event. My first ‘doing’ of this event was in 2000, when it was still the Royal Victoria Marathon. I made my marathon come-back there. Well, if you can call running  your second marathon a ‘come-back’.  In a way it was, since I ran the first one in 1988, wound up with a serious back problem and operation that happened in May of 1990. Then, later in that decade I just got so busy that I mostly didn’t race at all until about 1998. The time wasn’t totally without racing, but it was pretty sporadic. I ran but mostly did not race or train to race. I did actually start training for a marathon in 1991 while living/working in Brussels, Belgium, but it fell through for lack of training time.

Janna Finishing RVM, October 2000.

Janna Finishing her First Marathon. RVM, October 2000.

So, it took until October 2000 and a lot of serious intent to ‘get er done’, before Marathon #2 went into the books. Well since then I have run a total of six half marathons and 5 marathons and launched our Running in the Zone book, at Victoria. This year, as noted, I will run the 8K for the very first time and it will be special because I’ll be running with my new running buddy, Charlie. By October, it should be at least our third race together. I hope I will still be able to stay with him. In case it isn’t obvious, we are kind of going in opposite directions where it comes to running pace. I figure it is only a matter of time (and not much of it) until I’m saying “See you at the finish” and meaning “Please wait for me at the finish”. I suppose it isn’t that I’m losing ground at such a rapid pace, but I know Charlie is going to get faster, and soon. If I had to predict, it would be something like this. In 2015 in the Giant’s Head Run, I had to pace to Charlie’s current capability. In 2016, I am kind of betting we may be on somewhat the same level. By October, he may have to slow down for me. Maybe not quite yet, but soon. As I said, we are kind of moving in opposite directions, but that is a good thing.

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

If that wasn’t enough, it is going to be a full-on family running weekend! Out of the 11 previous Victoria appearances, most have involved one or the other of our daughters (Danielle and Janna) and sometimes both. And, while I was running my second marathon, Janna was running her first! That was a big event for all of us. Not only did Janna and I run our first marathon together, it inspired Danielle to take on the challenge of the marathon a year later in Toronto. I recently added up the total for the extended family and all together, counting kids and spouses of kids plus me, our full marathon count has now reached 36! Not even going to bother to check but our half marathons are probably pushing 100. The family that runs together……………….

Our son lives in Victoria and has agreed that he will get in the spirit and do the 8K too. Danielle and Janna and their families will be there. Both sons-in-law run and wife Judi is ready to take on a challenging walk. Right now, details are still being sorted. Danielle is registered for the Half and Charlie and I are registered for the 8K. Everybody else is thinking about the distance they might do. But, I do know hotels have been booked, so it is definitely on. I know one son-in-law is looking for another marathon to do, but not too likely this is going to be the one because of his schedule. We have one grandson too young to run and with race rules prohibiting strollers, is unable to ride. So, there still needs to be some sorting of who is running what and who looks after Jonah. However it works out, this is going to be one big family celebration of running! Going to be a highlight of my year for sure.

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

Backing up a bit, Hood to Coast will be a great event for me too. The first time was in 1987. This will be the ninth, but they were not evenly spaced. Number Two was 1989, but Number Three was in 2006. There have certainly been a lot of changes including numbers of teams and even the finish location, which naturally means the route too, especially from Portland onward. In the early days it was JUST the Hood to Coast Relay. The Portland to Coast and High School Challenge were added later. With more and more teams it got harder to get in and this last round, it took three attempts to secure a place. The nature of the race has changed too, from what might have been somewhat of a rolling party to something fairly tightly scripted. What hasn’t changed is the attitude of fun on the run. A big part of the fun for me is the planning.

Ready to Start Hood to Coast - 1989

Ready to Start Hood to Coast – 1989

Back in 1989 I ran Leg #1 and it is the fastest sustained pace I’ve ever run over a distance (about 5.5 miles). It was glorious and I bask in the memory of it. Now, I have fun with trying to get all the team members into the best leg set for both them and the team. It is getting to be time to start doing that, even if the relay is still many months away. Oh yeah!  Hours of Fun! Oh, and it looks a lot like I’ll be giving myself Leg #1 again. No, I’m not trying to relive past glory. If you don’t mind running steep, sustained downhill (the actual Leg One) then it is the right place for the oldest, slowest runner on the team. Funny enough, although the post-Portland Leg #1 route has changed and was a bit longer back in 1989, I ran it then because I was one of the slowest on our team, even if I did come down that hill at a pace of 5:59/mile. That’s right. On that team, I was one of the ‘slow’ guys. We came 19th in Men’s Open, and those were the days of crack teams put together by Nike and others, using the very best from their stable of distance runners. That included such people as Alberto Salazar. Today, the ‘pointy end’ of the relay still involves amazing runners, but not quite like those days. Did I mention we came 19th in Men’s Open?

There are several other races that are fairly special to me and I’m working on the plans to get them into the schedule. Some involve travel outside Canada and that is not inexpensive these days, so we will have to see what we will have to see. Guess you might think I’m being a bit greedy considering the great line-up of special races already ‘on tap’!

So, that is it for my plans for the moment. What does your 2016 look like? Hope you are heading for as special a year as I expect to have!