Archive for January, 2017


WHY IS IT SO HARD TO LET GO OF COMPETITIVE RUNNING?

01.29.2017
THIS?

THIS?

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Or, THIS?

 

I’m going to try to write this as a general interest ‘think piece’, but have to admit that it is pretty personal. I can’t believe it is unique to me, though.

This blog, and the book it is based on are aimed at the ‘seasoned’ runner. I suppose this question could apply to any runner, but it is more likely to be one that runners like me have to consider as we get longer in the tooth and slower in the leg.

First, let’s define ‘competitive running’.

I think I’ll go straight to the top of the old guy list and talk about Mr. Amazing himself, Ed Whitlock. Just a few months ago we all watched with gaping mouths as Ed completed a marathon at the age of 85 in a time of 3:56:33 What? That isn’t all that fast. In fact, in most marathons of significance it is kind of mundane. Well, mundane if  you are between 20 and 50 maybe, but Whitlock is 85! Age grading of his time and age puts him very close to the marathon record for best ever. If you don’t think his performance is competitive then you should stop reading now, because anything I have to say isn’t going to make sense to you.

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

Never mind Ed though, right here in the Greater Vancouver area we have a lady who sets a single age record almost every time she laces up her running shoes. That’s right local fans, Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh. A bit later in 2017, that young lady is going to turn NINETY (90). That’s right, 90 years young. When asked recently, how she might celebrate, she apparently said she would run a marathon. I’m guessing it will be the Honolulu Marathon, based on it being her family ‘go to’ event and her birthday not being until early November. We’ll be watching for that event and probably another new single age record.

Roger Robinson - runner, reporter, writer

Roger Robinson – runner, reporter, writer

At a much more ‘tender’ age of seasoned athleticism we might consider the just turned masters runner. One who wrote for Running in the Zone (the book) and who contributes here from time to time, is Roger Robinson. At the age of 40 Roger set the Masters’ record for the Vancouver Marathon (then the Vancouver International Marathon and now the BMO Vancouver Marathon) and around the same time New York and Boston. His time in Vancouver? 2:18:43. His placing? Third overall. The Vancouver record stands to this day even though the race was run in 1981. I could talk about runners such as Meb, or Haile Gebrsellassie as Masters runners, but when I say ‘competitive’ I want to talk more about the regular runner, not the elites and I want to emphasize that competitive is in the mind as much as the foot.

I know a pretty goodly number of formerly elite runners, some of whom still run and many of whom still race. I also know a whole lot more runners who have had far less noteworthy careers but who have run races for a long time and with a great deal of passion for the competition. In context of the subject of this article, they are no less competitive of spirit than some of the best. They care. It matters to them.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish - 3:54:44.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish – 3:54:44.

A good friend, Rod Waterlow, who has been the subject of, and contributor to, writings on this blog is an age-class local winner and has been at the top of regional age group performance from time to time. Rod is going to change age groups at his next birthday later this year. He will join the M80-84 crowd and I expect will continue his winning ways.

Rod is an interesting study because he has been out of active racing for something approaching 18 months due to an injury, sadly, one that had nothing to do with running and maybe quite a bit to do with ME. It was on an acting job I talked him into trying and just a silly mis-step on our ‘set’. He badly twisted his knee and that set the whole thing off. I won’t go into the whole sordid tale as it goes on at some length with other issues coming in, beyond the original injury. The end result is that Rod has not been fit to race for almost 18 months. He has been amazingly patient and we are both hoping this time he really is getting back to competitive fitness, as he would define it.

I’ve gone on about this because I know Rod well enough to understand how important ‘competitiveness’ is to him. If the objective was just getting out for a pleasant jog on the streets or tails, he would already be done. He can do that. However, his objective is being race ready and as good as he can be. Tell me that isn’t the competitive spirit shining through! His chronological age doesn’t matter in the least!

I’m going to throw my own considerations in here because it is the only thing upon which I can speak with authority.  However, I am pretty sure I’m not alone in the general sense. Let’s start by making it clear that I have never really been much more than a competent runner. I sometimes realize that in my day I wasn’t too bad. Not good, but not too bad! Like many, I only started as I was approaching 40.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - Racing CAN be fun!

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – Racing CAN be fun!

I always ran as hard as I could and from time to time would have a sparkling moment, like the infrequent ‘perfect stroke’ in golf. My times don’t actually matter. What does matter is that I always wanted to do better than before. As with all ‘new’ runners, there was a 3-4 year period when I was consistantly improving. I hit my peak at 43/44. All my actual PB times come from around that time. Then came a ruptured disk in my back and surgery. As is obvious, I did get back to running, but the upward trend came to an end. Maybe it would have anyway. Aging has a tendency to do that eventually. Careful study using age grading, suggests I did lose a step or two due to the back injury and residual nerve damage. It is hard to do direct comparisons because I stopped running races and training hard because of work more than anything. It was a good 8-10 years before I really got back into racing. Using the % Performance statistic to compare races (1989 vs 1991), I seem to have lost 2-3% post ‘back’ and that seems to hold over the long-term.

I ran on at varying intensity (as work and life dictated) for many years, but around the time I was turning 65, I went through another phase of hard training, improved times and (relatively speaking) ‘best’ performances. Using the marathon as example, I scored my second best age graded time at the Eugene Marathon. My first (Vancouver) turned out to be the best both as a raw and a graded time, but that one at 65, in Eugene, OR was second on graded time, even though I had run 11 other marathons between.

The interesting part was the sequence of four marathons where each was just a little better, both on raw and graded times. All of these were either at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon or California International Marathon. Of course, two things were happening simultaneously (when comparing graded times). I was actually getting faster (because I was training hard) and I was also getting older. Just for fun, here is the sequence of graded times and %P:

  • 3:33:47 [58.4%]   (CIM Dec ’08)
  • 3:31:51 [59.0%]    (Victoria Oct ’09)
  • 3:30:51 [59.3%]   (CIM Dec ’09)
  • 3:27:18 [60.3%]   (Eugene May ’10)

I was training very hard to make those improvements both near the beginning of my running in my early 40’s AND in this little window around being 65. It didn’t happen by accident and couldn’t have happened had I not taken a competitive attitude. THAT is the point.

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Did I actually beat anyone else in all of this? Well, I was 3/16 M65-69 at Eugene. So, yes, I guess you could say I did beat a few, but it was just icing on the cake. My real motivation was a BQ, and no, I did not achieve that. But, I tried. Boy, did I try!

What? You’re wondering how that very first one graded, just for comparison? OK at age 43 in May 1988 at Vancouver, my graded time was 3:15:08 [64.1%]. Again, this is all just an example of what having a competitive spirit does. You still have to put in the work, and when you do, the reward usually comes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who don’t ‘do’ age grading, there are two numbers of note: an age adjusted time and the % Performance (%P) value. There’s little benefit until about 35. If you want to compare the former you to the current you, you really should grade both times if you were over 35. For times recorded when younger than 35, you can just use raw times vs later graded times. I use the model of the World Masters Athletics. There are others now too. Some races actually provide an age-graded result, but mostly for personal interest. Men and women are graded on different models, so be sure you are using the correct calculator.

Over the many (early) years and every once in a very long while, I got me a podium finish, but as far as I can recall, until recently, never higher than THIRD. If placement is the sole criteria of success, then I’m doing way better now. At least once or twice a season I win my age group and usually manage a couple of other podium placements. Attrition has a lot to do with that, so I can’t get too excited. Still, using the logic that you can only race the guys that show up, my hand never shakes as I take my prize. I have had a few successes where there was a goodly field and my time was worthy. But, I suppose you actually have to be a ‘heavily seasoned’ runner to understand that coming first out of one still feels good because you know that YOU are still out there doing the races.

I continue to want to run the best I can, but at the rate I’ve been racing ( about 10-12/yr), my body isn’t holding up well enough to perform as I feel I should in a given race.  The mind is willing………………..etc. That said, I can probably keep on with my version of competitive running for a year or two yet, but in far fewer goal races. As I write this, I have just registered for two ‘serious’ races and intend to enter two more ‘just for fun’.

That brings us to the kind of race that requires a bit of a surrender of the urge to compete (even if only with myself) in exchange for the reward of participation and enjoyment.

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

Now and then in a race, I guess that I’ve given up hope for the original goal and switched to experiencing what is going on around me. Not often though. Usually, I still push on as hard as I can to the finish for the best time I can manage. Other than the several races I’ve done with my grandson, I don’t think I can say I have ever started any race with anything but the intention of going as fast and hard as I can, even if what I consider ‘fast’ is anything but! That is partly why I brought up the relativity of Ed Whitlock’s recent marathon time – a good raw time for most people and spectacular for someone his age. It crushed the previous single age record by 30 minutes or so. Context is everything.

I love age grading and when it comes into the picture, at least my picture, it is often more informative as a comparison to the former ‘you’ vs anybody else. It is certainly the way I tend to use it. In fact, while I do note the adjusted time (as above), for my own purposes I put more emphasis on the % P stat. It lets me see whether or not I am actually maintaining a comparable performance level.

I firmly believe that running should be fun even if it is highly goal oriented. If you are achieving  your goals, a little (good) pain may be what is needed. If achieving those goals is what makes you happy, it may be worthwhile. That said, working too hard and consistently not achieving your goals, is probably NOT worth it and surely can’t be considered fun. At that point a new paradigm needs to kick in and priorities change. That is when we all need to pause and consider the situation. If you haven’t already, that will be when you too begin to ponder why it is so hard to let go of competitive running.

While this is clearly still an open subject with me, I don’t think it has to be black and white, all or nothing. I’ve said I want to concentrate on just a couple of serious races in the next year and see if that let’s me enjoy running and racing more, maybe even perform better. The risk is that if I just pick out a couple of races, weather or other externals could mess them up. Then what??? Well, that is always a possibility. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances! It doesn’t matter your age or intentions or level of performance. From the perspective of achieving the goal, it doesn’t really matter if it was a world record or PB; it isn’t happening.

Evan Fagan - Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

Evan Fagan – Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

I know many older runners that ‘race’ because they like the feel of a race. It is one of the things that keeps me racing. I know I can go out and run 5K, 10K, 21K, but it isn’t the same as racing. I love the dynamic, the ‘vibe’, of the marathon. The tension in the air among runners maybe doing it for the first time, maybe trying to qualify for Boston, or trying to go just a bit faster, is intoxicating. It is a big reason I keep longing to do another marathon, yet not so much for the hard training required to do one well. Could I find myself a marathon with a long time limit and just cruise through it taking selfies, talking to people, maybe encouraging some of those first timers who are finding out what the marathon beast is really all about?  I’m not sure. I KNOW it is possible. I have friends like Evan Fagan, (way over 150 marathons) who do just that.

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

I am a Marathon Maniac, #6837 to be precise. While it seems that the Maniacs have been around for a long time, in relative terms that isn’t true. The formal group started around 2004, but languished for a number of years before people started getting ‘into’ the whole idea of doing lots of marathons vs just a few for time. I joined in 2013, even though I qualified in 2008. I had run the Maui Marathon in September, Victoria in October and CIM in very early December. Because the few Maniacs I actually knew at that time had huge numbers of races, I felt I wasn’t worthy. Those same people convinced me I had it wrong. After joining I decided I should show my respect and enthusiasm by at least moving from the bottom rung, to the second one. I am now, and may ever be, a Two Star (Silver) Marathon Maniac. The point is that many Maniacs just enjoy the heck out of the event and don’t worry where they finish or how long it takes.

It is something to consider. It would allow me (or anyone thinking as I am) to keep doing marathons. Performance pressure makes them hard and if anyone in their ‘Golden Years’ is still racing hard, the physical toll is something to be considered.

Marathons are a personal passion, but distance doesn’t matter in the sense that racing is what we must consider. In a way, I feel shorter races could be  tougher than a marathon done easy. Pushing hard in a 5K might kill you faster than taking it easy in a half or full marathon. At some point we all have to take our own decisions. I know that making sure the time limit is long enough and easing to the back of the pack is a reasonable way to continue with long races. For the shorter sharper ones, a person may need to change the type of event and go from the timed, serious races to fun runs. Put on a costume, embrace the charity aspect or do whatever it takes to participate, but not race. Do what it takes to stay involved, but take that ‘edge’ off.

Guess that is it for today’s sermon. Now, I better see if I can practice what I’ve been preaching. Don’t worry, I WILL let you know how it goes.

 

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BRAND NEW YEAR?

01.11.2017
Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Start of the First Half Half Marathon

OK, so 2017 isn’t absolutely brand new anymore, but I’ve been busy. That includes running a bit, visiting with some of the kids and one of the grandsons and even officially getting a year older.

[I kind of love having a really early January birthday. Keeps it simple when wondering what age group I’m in for any given year. This year doesn’t matter, but when I switch age categories, it is just sooooo easy. Unless I do some kind of New Year’s resolution run, I’m pretty much in the same age group for the whole year. I keep silly amounts of statistics on my running, racing and performance, so it is quite nice to have any given calendar year and any given age coincide almost perfectly.] But, I digress.

This post really isn’t about me except as it applies to me as a part of this group we call runners and as an example regarding the importance of planning that we do.

I am a firm believer that all runners need a plan for the year if they want it to be fun and productive, and especially, ‘injury free’. My own last year turned out to be a little too free-form and got a bit out of hand.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

In my humble opinion, it doesn’t matter if you are running at a highly competitive level, are just planning to run a few races (mostly for fun) or something in between. In my experience, even when racing ‘for fun’, the race mentality can take over, and planned  or not, there is a tendency to push at least a little. We obviously need to be ready for a competitive season, but we also need sufficient training to ensure that even those ‘fun’ races ARE indeed fun and not a source of sorrow.

Planning seems to be the key. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this subject, but I feel it is worth repeating. Context is everything, whether it involves being highly competitive or not, running 5Ks or marathons, or even hitting the track. You need to train for what you will do in terms of racing. If the goal(s) is long (ultras, marathon or half marathon), you need a longer build-up and certain kinds of training to ensure a sound performance. By ‘sound performance’ I include a wide range of actual outcomes. Even if you just want to participate, you still need to do enough training to run safely, finish happy and uninjured. It goes without saying that if the goal is a PB, the training is what will get you there. You must plan for the training as well as the racing.

Diane Palmason - 200m on track - Running in the Zone contributor, getting it done!

Diane Palmason – 200m on track – Running in the Zone contributor, getting it done!

I have some friends that run a lot of races and others that run a lot, but race sparingly. It is still necessary to build the races into the training. And, from the particular perspective of a ‘seasoned’ runner, this must include sufficient recovery time. Hey folks, there is a reason that the world’s best marathoners only run a couple of marathons a year. The largest number of races of any kind that I’ve done in a single year is 19. Back closer to when I started in the late 1980s I may have done more, but probably not, or certainly not a lot more (earliest records are a bit incomplete). I know a fellow who often runs at least two races in a weekend and when track season is on, will log 2-3 in an evening meet. Naturally, these are all relatively short distances. Since I’ve known him, I believe 10K is the longest he has raced.

Bob Dolphin Maniac #32 in his 300th Marathon - now at about 500

Bob Dolphin Maniac #32 in his 300th Marathon – now at about 500 and another RITZ Contributor

At the other end of the scale are the Marathon Maniacs. The most marathons I ever personally did in a calendar year was 7, but that extended to 9 in the associated 12 month period. Most Maniacs aren’t claiming speed or BQ times. The goal is completing the races, lots of them. Still, THAT is a very real goal AND it needs the appropriate planning and training. Most Maniacs (or Half Fanatics for that matter) going for a lot of races in a relatively short time, use the last race as the ‘long (training) run’ for the next and just cycle from one race to the next with a bit of recovery, some easy runs and then the next race. It works, too. Well, as long as you don’t suddenly decide you can do volume AND performance. I’m not saying that Marathon Maniacs are all just plodding through the events to get to a finish line. Some are turning in quite fine times, but probably not the best times they could with a different approach/goal. I’m also not saying they are always doing volume. Sometimes we diminish the number and go for the result in just a couple of races in the year. It all comes down to your plan.

It is probably kind of obvious that if you have a serious intention of either speed OR volume, you need to define it before you start and then build around it. I usually try to do just that, but last year I somehow seem to have messed that up a little (I think I believed I was reducing the intensity of my running by letting things come as they may). I have never been so tired at the end of a year of running. It has caused me to do some major reflecting on the whole idea of planning the year ahead for myself and is the inspiration for this blog post.

Since this blog is generally for the ‘seasoned’ runner, another wrinkle (if you’ll excuse the expression) is that any plan needs to recognize that as we become more and more seasoned, there must be some respect for the absolute amount of running done and within that total, the ratio of training to racing. Should you now be poised to learn the magic answer to this difficult balancing act?

NO. I don’t have the answers for anyone else. Based on the past year, I may not even have the answer for myself!

What I can do is to try to ask the ‘question’ in such a way that you find your own way to your own answer. It is going to be different for everyone anyway. I think the only real advice I can give is that you should take time with it and define carefully, those things that are important to you. For instance, if the goal for the year is a BQ marathon, you need to select the right race at the right time and put in both the training and foundation races (5K, 10K maybe a well timed Half) to get there.  Once you have some defined goals and a plan, you should try to stick with it as much as possible re things within your control, or you might find yourself like me in 2016, showing up for what is an important race to you, too tired to do it well.

Judi Cumming on el Camino, somewhere in the heart of Spain.

Judi Cumming on el Camino, somewhere in the heart of Spain.

The astute reader, well maybe almost any reader who hasn’t nodded off by now, will notice that I drifted into talking about a level of performance racing. Although the approach might be different, the general principles still apply to fun races and easy recreational running. I always believe you must ‘respect the distance’. Naturally, the longer the race the more critical that becomes. In other words, prepare properly for whatever you intend to do. My wife has done a couple of long segments of el Camino de Santiago. For those who aren’t familiar with “The Camino” it is a pilgrimage walk. The first time she went, it was the classic route through Spain as featured in the movie, The Way (as in The Way of Saint James). The second route started in France (near Lyon) and finished at the starting point of the first trek. Plus or minus, each segment is about 750km. On average, she and her small group covered 23km/day. One of the things she noticed was that in general and when it happened, it was the young people who had the greatest difficulty. Upon reflection, she concluded it was because they felt that being young and fit it was no big deal to walk 20-25km/day, when you have all day to do it. That is probably true if you are talking about ONE day. It is not true if you are talking day after day for some 30-35 days. Respect the distance! Do the training.

Even if  you are talking about a fun family outing at a 5K or 10K, a little preparation goes a long way. Here in Vancouver, we have the Sun Run 10K. Sports Med BC puts on a clinic called InTraining. I was involved for five years as a Leader and Clinic Coordinator. It is a 13 week program designed to help you learn to run (or walk or walk/run) 10K (at any speed that suits you). It is hugely successful, but please note, it is THIRTEEN (13) weeks, training 3 days per week). The focus is to help any given person complete the distance, happily and without injury. Pace? That is up to the individual. THIRTEEN WEEKS.

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

Finishing my very FIRST First Half! February 2016

With any luck and a certain amount of perseverance, I will actually heed my own advice in 2017. At the moment, I’m still struggling with the big goals on which I’ll build my year. Until I decide on that, it is hard to pick specific races and hard to define appropriate training. For the next 3-4 weeks I am held captive (a good thing) by my role as a pace group leader for the Forerunners clinic leading up to the Pacific Road Runners’ First Half Half Marathon. I’m not running the First Half this year, but the training program is a kind of ‘place keeper’ that should let me do whatever I want as things move past race day. Once the First Half is done, the target of the program at Forerunners switches to the BMO Vancouver Marathon (and half marathon) in May. At the moment, it doesn’t look like there are any marathoners in my pace group, but that could still change. Probably not, based on previous experience. One of my own possible races under consideration is another marathon (Eugene) right in line with the Clinic schedule. So, I may wind up training for a marathon with or without others in my pace group.

The point is that I’ve got about 15 things whirling about in my mind and if I’m actually going to build a sound plan for myself, that list MUST narrow down. Other than to state that I feel I have some big personal decisions to make regarding my future as a runner, I won’t go on in detail about my thoughts related to my own running in 2017 and beyond. I bring all of this up because there is a pretty good chance I’m not the only one at or near a personal turning point. There is no question that things can change for better or worse, so a plan is only a plan. You make it. You try to follow it. BUT, you need to be ready to have it change if something comes up (and I don’t mean you suddenly find a new race).

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) - Oct 2016

Running with #1 Grandson at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (8K) – Oct 2016

One of my personal decisions revolves around new experiences vs tried and true events I’ve done before. While actually writing this post, I confirmed some race plans involving my daughter and the grandson I’ve started racing with over the last couple of years. That nails down some important anchor points for me and to my own surprise, has clarified some near term potentials for racing even though the race we talked about is way off in October.

I think that for a good race plan, you need to take time to build it around your aspirations and abilities, not to mention the available time you have to devote to it. Needless to say, a really seasoned athlete like me is less encumbered by little things like work, new babies and such! That CAN be a double edged sword though where it comes to execution of the plan. In the days when I had to fit my running into a pretty busy schedule it was easier to say I AM going to run today at 6am and that’s it. Now, as a retired person, it is pretty tempting and easy to say “It’s raining, hard; no need for me to run now. I’ll go later”. Generally, that works fine, but sometimes the day just seems to get away and the run doesn’t happen. Doesn’t occur often, but I’ve noticed that I do have to watch it. Maybe I better stick one of my birthday cards up on the wall somewhere. It says: Ignore the RAIN. Look for the RAINBOW! Interestingly, and maybe even significantly, it came from some runner friends.

I suppose a piece on planning would be incomplete if one did not slip in something about “Plan your work and Work your plan.” No matter how cliché or trite that may be, it is still very good advice. It is particularly good if you are just starting (though not many reading Running in the Zone probably fit that profile), or starting again. It can be hard to remember that to be effective, your training program must be steady and continue toward whatever  you have chosen to do.

Negril 2011 - Gratuitous photo from Jamaica, but a memory of the marathon that wasn't in the year of injury.

Negril 2011 – Gratuitous photo from Jamaica, but a memory of the marathon that wasn’t in the year of injury. The green ribbon signifies 10K not the marathon I intended to do.

Finally, it would be wrong not to mention the need to respect serious unplanned interruptions. You never know when life is going to come and throw something at you and it may not have anything to do with running. You CAN adjust your goals and plans. It is allowed. In fact, it is recommended when something major comes along. The first thing that comes to mind for most of us is an injury, and there is no doubt that can be a biggie. In 2011 I lost most of a year by not respecting an early in the season injury and finishing the Eugene Marathon anyway. But, there are lots of other things that can come along. Ill health is one. The new job or new baby I mentioned above, or maybe a promotion/move are others. If you have some big running goal but you suddenly can’t do the training, you may want to postpone that race (the distance) for a bit, or even to the next year (if your goal is event specific). I find that doing a race I have not trained properly for and coming up short is far more disappointing than knowing I have done my very best, even if the outcome is less than I hoped it might be. Things like unexpected heat can throw your plans. There is nothing you can do about it when it happens. If you are well trained and do the best  you can on the day, the time is not that important. I’ll just leave it there, because I think most runners know exactly what I mean.

So, I think that is it for now. Time for me to get back to making my personal plan for 2017. Hopefully, I’ve helped a few others to get started on their own plans.

Happy 2017, and Good Running to all!