Archive for November, 2016


AND THE GANG’S ALL HERE

11.30.2016

Well, maybe more like the gang’s all arriving for the Reggae Marathon weekend. Buddy Al and I are safely ensconced at Rondel Village, waiting for

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

That Runnin’ Guy to arrive. I mean, it doesn’t truly get going until Chris shows up to crank up the social media from Reggae Marathon action central in Negril. Thinking back, hanging out with Chris has got me into an ESPN (Latin America) TV piece on the Reggae Marathon and onto Jamaican radio (live). Wonder if anything amazing is going to happen this time? Well, of course ‘amazing‘ is going to happen!  The whole thing is amazing. What I meant to say was ‘unusual‘.

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred "Frano" Francis

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred “Frano” Francis (2015 media briefing)

It also doesn’t get going until the main organizers arrive from Kingston. As a runner, it actually kind of feels like Christmas and waiting for Santa. Last night there was a news blast that the trucks were on the road (full of race gear), headed for Negril. Had the feel of “Santa has left the North Pole with a sleigh full  of presents for good girls and boys!”

I’ve been good! I’ve been good!

We’ll soon be seeing Frano, Diane, Gina, Jessica and the crew. This is one of the best organized races I’ve ever participated in, over the years and the many places I’ve run/raced. These people (and others un-named) are the reason why.

This time, we are even going to be celebrating a marriage. Yes, Navin Sadarangani, the last of the Four Amigos has tied the knot. I think it wasn’t a done deal until Daivati did the 10K last year, but I guess it’s all good now. Big stuff happening when we all get together!

Speaking of getting together, it is Wednesday as I’m writing this and from experience I know that the bulk of Reggae Marathoners are about to start arriving, some today and lots more tomorrow. Negril is pretty quiet right now, but that is going to change – soon.

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Don’t forget about Easy Skankin’. Larry Savitch and crew (not even sure how many this time or who for sure) are headed this way again. Can’t really have a party without Easy Skankin’!

And then there will be the Reggae Runnerz, hundreds of them, under the able guidance of Lisa Laws.

Also starting to feel like a real veteran here! Coming down, I ran into Dave from Toronto, who apparently made a last minute decision to come. Met him a couple of years ago, and touched base again last year.

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson, I’ve known since the first time in 2011, but we will stay at his BnB (Castlevue) in Montego Bay when the running weekend  is done. He is a great host and even better runner, although he took pity (didn’t run his usual pace) on me the last time I stayed with him in 2014. He took me out for a Saturday morning run and post-run porridge (Peanut Porridge seemed to be the rage that day, but since it would have killed me, I opted for cornmeal). See how all this is intertwined? I met Lawrence because he is a friend of Navin’s, a running buddy from when Navin lived in Montego Bay.

Even the hotel staff, not to mention some of the vendors seemed to recognize me. Of course it is good for them to act that way, but when they know you are from Canada without being told, well, maybe they actually do know!!

Then, there are new people asking my advice and for me to help them get sorted with other people and activities. Yep, I think I’m almost an ‘old hand’!

ON THE GROUND IN NEGRIL (AGAIN)

11.29.2016
Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Six years. Sixth year in a row, this old (seasoned) blogger is in Negril, JA for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Interestingly, the only time I signed up for the actual marathon was the first time. That didn’t work out and if you really want to know why, well here is the link to that story. I ran the 10K that time. Then I ran the Half for three years. Last year I actually signed up for and ran the 10K.

Seems like there is something about getting around the full course (marathon goes twice around) that is special. The first and second halves of the Half Marathon are just completely different. The first 10K is done essentially in the dark, while the second 10K happens (for me anyway) after the sun rises and in full sunshine by the time of finishing. I have to admit that even with a slow time in respect both of advancing age and rising temperatures on the course after sunrise, it is strange to nonetheless FINISH somewhere between 7:45 and 8:00am!

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Anyway, all the race stuff can come later. Right now it is just about being here and settling in, getting used to the heat and humidity, and getting into the Jamaican vibe. Negril claims to be the “Capitol of Casual”. Probably is, too! Hmmm. If you are claiming ‘casual’ can you also use exclamation points? I’ll just leave that to you. I am just going to be over here relaxing.

Beach just outside Rondel Village - so glad - still there, just like last five times!

Beach just outside Rondel Village – so glad – still there, just like last five times!

Now that we’re here, we have a few days to just get dialed into Jamaican time, life and food. For five of the six years I’ve been coming to Negril for the Reggae Marathon weekend, I’ve stayed at Rondel Village. It is a local resort right on the beach and just has everything I want. I am really excited to show my friend Al, what it is that brings me back year after year. I do hope it works like I would like it to do, because we can never forget that one guy’s amazing can be another’s ho-hum.

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

We’ll start with the food and surely a Red Stripe (or two). You can get thirsty on a long flight and shuttle ride along the NW coast of the country. Fortunately that did not turn out to be a problem.

First and foremost, there was watching the sunset (see below). A Negril sunset is always a spectacular thing, even when it is kind of ordinary. Then, a wee drink and dinner.

Rondel has a nice mix of Jamaican and ‘other’ menu choices, but we got right into the Jamaican side with a little ‘stamp n go’, followed by red pea soup and curry goat. Got things off to a great start!

I am looking forward to a short run in the morning, just to start getting the feel of the place well before Saturday. Haven’t decided if the first run is on the road (well, the path beside the road) or on the beach. If it is on the beach, it will be WITH shoes. No matter how great it is to run barefoot, I’m not risking the sneaky, nasty blisters you can work up if you have soft tender feet like me! Anyway, that will be for a later report.

sunset-day-1

Later the same day!

WHAT DOES A BLOGGER DO WHILE WAITING FOR A RACE? BLOG, OF COURSE

11.25.2016
Bolting! - Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Bolting! – Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Here I am with just two ‘sleeps’ left to departure for Jamaica and one of if my #1 favourite races, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. If you want to be picky, it will be three sleeps until I’m in Negril, but there is no saying there will be much sleep on the red-eye I usually take to get from Vancouver to Montego Bay. From here, there is always the trip East, then the trip South. I usually go through Toronto or New York. This time it will be Toronto. I actually quite like the trip. It isn’t as hard as some might think, and let’s face it, when I get there it isn’t like I have to do much but rest and ‘recreate’ for the next several days.

img_2459In truth, the trip could be of much shorter duration if I just wanted to go for the race, but coming from so far and Jamaica being such a great spot to vacation, it seems wrong not to add some time before and after race weekend. This time I get to show my friend of more than 50 years, what I love about this whole thing. We may even have some time to go check out my roots in the more easterly part of Jamaica.

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Yep, my great-great grandparents were stationed in Jamaica for about 5 years just around 1840. He was a gunner with the Royal Artillery. Their oldest was born in Jamaica. The first time I visited and ran the Reggae Marathon event, my wife Judi and I visited the area and had a bit of a wander. One of the craziest things was that way back in 1969, we made our first trip to Jamaica and stayed in a village, Highgate, with a university friend of Judi’s who was teaching with CUSO. She took us to Robins Bay a couple of times for a cooling splash. Little did we know that we must have passed right by the ruins of The Barracks that we visited in 2011, and pictured here. I’m hoping for another visit this time, but not quite sure just yet, if it will happen.

Early Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

First and foremost will be Negril. Until the other racers start arriving later in the week, Al and I will have time to explore the area and for him to get a taste of the food. I’m not sure we are going to be there long enough to do the Jamaican cuisine justice, but we’ll do our best.

I know he loves fish, so escoveitched fish is on the list, maybe a steamed fish dinner, and since we arrive later Monday afternoon, there WILL BE ackee and salt fish for breakfast on Tuesday. You never just get the fish. There is always other stuff, so it is pretty likely a bit of fried plantain, maybe a bit of boiled green banana and a bit of festival will show up. Of course there is a range of jerk food, but particularly pork and chicken and while everybody and his brother seems to have jerk chicken on offer, I have one place in mind for the real deal, Ossie’s Jerk Centre. But, we need to leave time to get us some patties too! That may require a trip to Nallah’s or we could just let the ‘patty man’ come to us out on the beach. Wouldn’t be the first time!

Oxtail with rice and peas.

Oxtail with rice and peas.

A couple of my favourites include curry goat and oxtail. Mustn’t forget the ‘food’ though. You probably thought that was what I was talking about already, but you’d be wrong. Usain Bolt claims it is what fuels him and makes him fast. “Food” tends to be a whole range of starchy root vegetables. Some form of it will likely show up in the meal, whatever else may be there.  Hmmmm. Maybe that’s what I need for the race on December 3. Mind you, I expect to be running the half marathon and Bolt-like speed isn’t really what is required.

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

The beach outside our hotel, Rondel Village, is made for taking the sun and just relaxing, but it is also great for an early morning run, or just a stroll while it is still cool (relative term, probably about 25C) and relatively abandoned. Actually, the Reggae Marathon has extended the tourist season for Negril. It doesn’t officially start until a week or so after the event, so the beaches are relatively uncrowded and there are plenty of runner types around.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

If you can get yourself up early enough the sunrise is generally amazing. Early in the morning there tend to be a few whispy clouds around, just enough to catch the first sunlight and turn delicate pink against an otherwise ever bluer sky. At least in my experience, the seven mile beach is never a place of hectic activity. It is almost always laid back and easy going. Because there is a reef a mile or so off-shore, unless there is a serious storm, there is no big wave action. All you get is gently lapping waves sliding in over the blue of the Caribbean.

Chris Morales

Chris “That Runnin Guy” Morales

By Wednesday/Thursday I expect the other Reggae Runners will start showing  up. That’s when I expect to welcome That Runnin’ Guy, Chris Morales to the party and to get down to serious exchanging of stories. We keep in touch all year, but live far enough apart that we never see each other except in Negril. For Chris, it is not really a vacation since he is the social media guy for the Reggae Marathon and official blogger. He’ll get most of a day with little to do, and by Friday noon, he will be ‘on duty’, but by then things are starting to hop at package pick-up at Couples Swept Away, followed seamlessly by the pasta party. That may not be so seamless this time because of some construction at the package venue. The pasta party is across and just down the road at Cosmos. It will be interesting to see how that works. It is right at the beach and right beside the start/finish venue at Long Bay Beach Park. The pasta party is always fabulous and with this venue may be even more amazing.

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

Whatever, I’m looking forward to it. AND, I’m looking forward to meeting all the other people we may or may not have found by then, or just run into (literally)  by chance. I can’t tell you how many times Chris and I have been out for a morning run, just for the acclimatization, and bumped into other running friends we’ve come to know over the years. For sure, the Four Amigos will hook up again at the pasta party.

All of this is going to be new for my buddy, Al. He has a knee issue and while not a runner, was planning to walk the 10K on Saturday morning just for the experience of the whole event. We’ll see how that goes. I really hope he can do it. There is no time issue. Lots of people walk the 10K and there is plenty of time. As I told him, stop for a coffee or a chat as you go. I’m going be running the half marathon, so even in that, there will be plenty of time for him to do 10K and still get there about the same time as me.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

There is truly something special about the start in the full-on dark (it IS 5:15am!) and then being out there as the dawn comes up followed by the tropical sun. I mean, you can experience that anywhere, but doing it on the move with a crowd of happy runner/walkers and all the energy of the race is special. It is hard, as it often is for northerners to reconcile tropical nights with Christmas decorations, but all along Norman Manley Blvd. (the race route) the hotels are getting out the Christmas lights and decorations. So, as you break out in an almost instant sweat as you head toward Negril town, you are soon running by lots of bright and festive lights signifying the soon to come Christmas/New Year season.

Sweet Reggae Music - so hard to resist!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

After crossing the finish, the party is on with live Reggae Music, or as they like to say, sweet, sweet reggae music. The sounds are infectious and while some people intentionally get close to the stage and dance, you can look almost anywhere and see people moving to the rhythm without even realizing they are doing it! Of course once Navin, Larry, Chris and yours truly have finished our respective races, we will assemble for the traditional ‘race count’ photo. That’s the one where we all hold up the number of fingers to represent the Reggae Marathon events we’ve done. Everybody is going to have to go to two hands this time. Three of us will be on six and Chris will be showing eight race fingers.

Strolling 'home' for breakfast.

Strolling ‘home’ for breakfast.

Once the post-race party is done, I am looking forward to the stroll back down the beach to Rondel Village. Usually, that is without shoes, just at the water’s edge and at a very, very easy pace. I mean, nobody has anywhere to go. Notwithstanding what we get after the race, by the time we get back to our home away from home, we are usually ready for a full-on breakfast. After that, it is back to the beach and a lot of nothing but sunshine, Red Stripe and a cooling dip from time to time.

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

And, if the sunrise is delicate and sometimes almost a spiritual thing, sunset can be fierce and blazing to end the day. Well, it comes pretty early so maybe not the end of the day, but end of daytime and start of the Jamaican night. Saturday night, that is. Runners are sometimes pretty tired, but if anyone is looking for a party and lots of music, you don’t really need to go far. There are plenty of live music venues up and down the beach/road, for those who aren’t ready to call it a day so early!

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

While Saturday night could signal the end of the experience, it has become a Sunday tradition to take the One Love bus tour to the West End and to several off the beaten path restaurant/bars. It starts mid-afternoon, with the intent of hitting a number of establishments, ending with another spectacular sunset viewed from the cliffs of Negril West End.

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick's Post-Race - The original RRHMC Trio

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick’s Post-Race – The original RRHMC Trio

This is the last time our group is likely to be all together in one place and is usually when we announce the big winners in the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. That started years ago and actually didn’t have anything to do with what was happening at the Reggae Marathon but rather to three of the participants. It just happened that in May of 2012, Chris Morales, Larry Savitch and I were running three different half marathons on the very same day. We set out a challenge based on age-graded time. We even had custom medals and Chris got a prize of a pair of Puma shoes for the winner. So the title comes from three Reggae Runners, but the half marathon part was about the distance, not the race in Jamaica. After that (starting in December 2012), we switched the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge to Negril and included anybody from our greater group of friends. Because the Reggae Marathon also includes a half and a 10K, not to mention that some of  us were women and our ages covered folks in their 30s to one guy who at this point is well launched into his eighth decade. Yes, me. And this time, if he does walk the 10K, my  friend Al. We (OK, me) have a complex system of age grading and converting all times to a theoretical half marathon time. This time it may be easier because of all the people who may participate, at most there will only be two doing anything but the 10K. I am one of them. There is an official timing point at 5.8 miles (really the start mat, but you have to run back over it just before the turning back to the 10K finish, or as you head into the second half of the half marathon. We have collectively decided that this will be the official timing point and we will just age grade that time. Since I’ve never won (and don’t expect to this time) and because it is much cooler for the first 10K than the next 11K, most people do what you aren’t supposed to do, run faster in the first part of the race. This is one time it makes sense. Whatever happens, it is all just for fun and the trash talking opportunity anyway.

Negril, JA West End Sunset

Negril, JA West End Sunset

After Sunday, we start to drift away either actually going home or in some cases (because there are several of us with Jamaican heritage) off to see family. Al and I will head for Montego Bay and another part of our adventure. But, that is probably another story for another day.  For now, I’m counting down the hours to wheels-up on Sunday night!

ANOTHER NEW (HUMBLING) EXPERIENCE FOR AN OLD RUNNER

11.17.2016

 OK, first of all, that should be Seasoned Runner! We never use the term “old” around here unless talking about shoes. But, I guess I’ll make an exception this time since ‘new’ and ‘old’ kind of go together in a catchy sort of way.

Enough cleverness for now. What is this NEW experience, and even more importantly, why was it HUMBLING?

1988 - Long before this blogger could be called "Seasoned"

1988 – Long before this blogger could be called “Seasoned”

I am not 100% certain of the exact date when I started running. I do remember why. I was getting fat and far from fit. I was about 39, just coming up on 40. Since my birthday is in early January, I know I turned 40 in January 1985. I know the first modest steps were taken before that. I had been fairly athletic in my younger days, through into my second year of university, including playing soccer for one of the University of BC teams. I had a pretty bad injury to my knee near the end of the season. School was getting busy and I’d kind of reached the end of my abilities to be ‘good’, even with a sound knee. The injury wound up ending my playing days. The injury healed (sort of) and I went on about my business. I could run quickly if I had to, could walk forever, too. However, it turned out that I could not run at any kind of jogging pace (an honourable term back then).

I knew I should be doing something for health and fitness, but every time I tried this thing called jogging, I would get just over a mile and my knee would fire excruciating pain signals to my brain. It was pain of the ‘stop now or I will really make you sorry’ kind. This continued for years. Finally, after my awakening at the ‘dawn’ of my 40s, I decided that if I could go a mile, I would go a mile and maybe every day. I did that for some time and feeling no hurt, added a bit and a bit more until I could run 10K, and three years later, ran my first marathon. I still don’t know exactly how that happened, but it did. I figure I’m somewhere over 30,000 km of one kind or another of running. My Athlinks Profile (which has none of my old stats -only goes back to about 1998 and doesn’t include all events) says I’ve raced something close to 4,000km.

I can ‘hear’ you now as you wonder why he’s talking about all this old stuff, when the title says he did something NEW. I’m getting there. The point is that I’ve run well over 32 years, well over 30,000 km (in something like 23 countries) and raced way over 4,000 km (in 5 countries). Add to that five years of running clinic experience in the SportMed BC Sun Run InTraining program and something approaching ten years leading full and half marathon clinics with Forerunners (coincidentally, a sponsor of the Fall Classic). All that said, I realized what I had not…………….. never, ever …………….. done as a Seasoned Athlete.

I had never PACED in a race. I have used pacers to help my own cause from time to time and greatly admire them. I admire how steady they are and that if they are pacing, they really aren’t racing. They may be IN a race, but they aren’t doing their own personal best effort. You really must be well within yourself if you want to hold to a given pace without wavering. That is the ‘contract’ you make with the event and all the eager expectant runners that line up behind you, and your little sign that shows the goal time you will be achieving.

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

Recently, I was afforded an opportunity to take on the challenge. The Fall Classic, a Vancouver running fixture, was looking for pacers in all three events: 5K, 10K and Half Marathon. I suddenly realized all of the stuff written above and decided it was high time I took a turn with the stick and sign. I offered myself up to pace the half marathon for a 2:30 finish. That is a bit slower than the pace group I lead for the Forerunners clinic, so it seemed a good fit.

It was right about the time that I got confirmation they wanted me, that panic set in. Well more accurately, that happened right after I went out for a short practice run ‘at pace’. Just to avoid the reader needing to get out a calculator, that is a fraction of a second over 7:06/km. Fired up the old Garmin and off I went. As much as I was trying to hold the target pace, it was too easy to just (from time to time) slide into an easy, natural, not out to prove anything pace. When I got home after about 7K on one of my regular routes, my average pace was more than 12 sec/km too fast. Well, 12 seconds isn’t really that much, now is it?  Yes. Yes it is. If you take 12 seconds times 21.1 km, you find yourself more than FOUR minutes too fast. The idea is that the pacer hits the goal time very close to right on.

That was when the panic set in and the humbling began.

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

Fortunately, I had a bunch of other chances to get a bit more practice in and got the gap narrowed down to where on my last practice run I was around six seconds off, still too quick, but getting into a range I thought would be acceptable. That range? Probably 2:29 (7:04) to 2:31 (7:09) or anywhere between those two finish times. Of course, 7-10K does not a half marathon make, but I was still hoping that I could instill in myself a strong sense of a 7:06 average pace. If you want a taste of it, go out and set any pace you like, but whatever it is, make it significantly slower than your normal pace and hold it steady over a long distance. While you are at it, imagine a bunch of people relying on you maintaining that pace over a half marathon. You also have to remember that while you might quite reasonably go a bit faster on the easy bits, you can’t go a LOT faster. The people you pace may well be at or near their PB time. They may or may not be able to ramp up and down with ease.

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian - proving 'you must walk before you learn to run" (and WIN)

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian Race Walker – proving ‘you must walk before you learn to run” (and WIN)

Now, I should be clear. The Fall Classic route is not easy, but equally, it isn’t the hardest half marathon route I’ve ever seen either. But, it has it’s challenges and you have to do everything twice. My point is that I never intended to run exactly 7:06, K after K. At the start, I warned all those with me that we would run continuously and at what I felt was ‘constant effort’. In other words whatever 7:06 felt like on the flat, we would try to maintain that same feeling going up the hills or down. So, a bit faster going down and a bit slower going up. On average, this being a loop course starting and finishing in the same place with an overall balancing out of all the ups and downs, we would be aiming to run at 7:06/km.

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

That was the plan. I was still very nervous as I looked at the people lined up with me near the start. I couldn’t really tell how many were going to be running with me, so I decided to wait until we were out on the course and things had sorted out a bit, maybe somewhere around a kilometre into it. Near as I could tell at that point there was an obvious group of about 10 pacing with me. Might have been a few more that were not tagging right along close, but still watching my sign as it bobbed along above all those heads. Anyway, for my own purposes I’ve concluded we were about TEN as we headed out.

I knew it would be hard to be sure of our average pace until we had passed a few distance markers. The course has enough ups, downs and flats that the pace showing on your gps device varies if you use constant effort. I was feeling pretty good though as we passed specific distances and I could take the accumulated time and ‘do the math’ in my head. About 3-4km into it I felt more relaxed as we were pretty consistently on pace over longer stretches (see photo above).

Through the first ‘lap’ we were pretty bang-on for pace. Just 11 seconds over for 10K. This is good. Except for the rain and the wind and chilly temps, it was even kind of fun!

Real heroes of the day - VOLUNTEERS!

Real heroes of the day – VOLUNTEERS!

Somewhere after the trip past the finish………………………………..so close, but…………………………..  Never mind, we all knew that when we signed up for this race. Still, under the circumstances, that finish line looked awfully inviting! Let’s just say it was a challenge to head out on the second loop. We passed through the Start/Finish area JUST before the start of the 10K event and the thought crossed my mind “If we were in the 10K we’d be done!”  Of course, the other way to look at it was they were just starting and we were half finished.

Somewhere past the end of the first loop I took ‘inventory’ and realized we must have left a few runners behind (the photo above was from the first ‘lap’). I don’t think any had run on ahead, so a few had apparently not been able to hold the prescribed average pace. Not for me to worry about as long as I was doing MY job (which I was at that point). I seemed to be down to four (and me). We carried on and as always we could count off the ‘milestones’ (buildings, large trees, roads) that we would not see again. It began to feel we were that much closer to the finish, because we were. The distance markers increased as we ran: 11K, 12, 13………… You eventually start doing the reverse math. Only 7km to go, 6, 5…………….. Somewhere around 15km or so, one of my group decided she could go a bit faster, for a finish under the advertised 2:30. Now there were just three. On we slogged. OK, the slogging was actually later. Upon checking my Garmin download, we actually held steady and on pace right to the 18km marker.

We had made the final turn from the ‘out’ to the ‘back’ and into what I consider the most challenging part of this course. It is really just a fairly modest up-slope that would be nothing if it didn’t continue on for more than three unrelenting kilometres and wasn’t the second time to do it. That was when I lost #3. She announced she would walk from ‘here’. Now it was two and me. By that time I was realizing I had made a major mistake. I have been suffering a kind of exercise induced asthma in recent years, that seems to be sensitive to environmental conditions too. It comes and goes. Having been pretty good of late, I hadn’t been using the everyday meds and didn’t even bring my emergency puffer. By the time we were past 18K I wasn’t getting a good deep breath and the legs started feeling very heavy. Funny how muscles like oxygen to keep up the output.

I knew I was not going to keep the pace from that point so tried to shoo my two remaining charges off to their own finishes somewhere close to 2:30. Both informed me that their goal for the day was under-3:00 and one of them had said her PB was 2:45. Neither wanted to go any faster and both assured me they wouldn’t have done this well without the steady pacing. We were a team to the finish. On we slogged. Yes, by now it was slogging! Slow, cold, wet, determined slogging! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year’s Fall Classic weather was, well, CLASSIC!]

Long story short, less than 1K from the finish, one of my flock of two decided that yes, maybe she would like to pick it up just a bit, so off she went. The other runner stayed with me and we finished side by side, looking good (the last 2-300m is nicely downhill). We definitely picked it up down the final incline into the finish chute and across the line. I’m pretty sure we smiled for the camera, too!

Community Challlenge - Team CA5 (we didn't win but we were enthusiastic)

Community Challenge – Team CA5 (we didn’t win but we were enthusiastic)

My first experience as a Race Pacer was done. Even though I had lost most people because they couldn’t keep up with the proper pace I ran for the first 18km, I felt a bit like I had failed in bringing it home on the goal time. By mutual agreement, we had slowed a lot in the last three K or so and I was certainly NOT within my (personal) two minute window of acceptable time. At that point I did not know all the stuff about how well I had held pace for most of the way. That all came from post-race analysis. Even at the time, I did have the consolation of knowing that both the women who were with me to the end had more than achieved their goal for the day.

I did see a photo of Dylan Wykes (see pacer photo above), one of Canada’s best ever marathoners, just past the finish. There he was, just over the finish, soaked and with his 1:30 pacer sign sadly drooping down, all alone in the rain. Naturally, Dylan was pretty much dead on his time (16 seconds under to be precise) and with a half marathon PB of 1:02, well within himself. That is how it is supposed to be done – run the time, let the others do what they can do, faster OR slower. I guess part of my personal dissatisfaction there at the finish also had to do with another pacer I used twice at the California International Marathon. The first year (2008) she was 14 sec fast, the second (2009) she was 4 sec fast on her marathon goal time. Those are a couple of hard acts to follow! Maybe next time.

That is where, at least in part, the humbling aspect comes into the picture. I am so in awe of people who can be that steady and accurate, helping others make it through. I’d like to think on a different day and if I’d remembered to bring the puffer, I might have joined their ranks. But, it wasn’t (a different day) and I didn’t (remember the puffer) and I didn’t (join the ranks of the super pacers).

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

I did realize a great sense of satisfaction thanks to the few runners who kept up with me into the late stages of the race. They had a different perspective than I did. From my point of view, I only had one job and I did not do it. From their perspective though, I guess I gave them everything they needed/wanted. Frankly, I suppose that had I been able to keep my pace for that last 3 plus K, I might have found myself at the finish like Dylan, with a perfect time and all by myself. Yes. That was the goal/task I did not achieve, but looking back, it was more fun to finish it up with my two stalwart half marathoners who probably had a pretty darn GOOD day.

In closing I want to express my thanks to the Fall Classic for giving me this opportunity and my admiration for all those who take on pacing duties to help us all get where we are going and at the pace we have set for ourselves! If I never pace another race, I certainly have developed a new perspective on this thing called PACING.