Archive for February, 2017


THE EVER CHANGING WORLD OF RUNNING

02.06.2017

Before we even start, I have to say this got way longer than ever I imagined, and I didn’t even cover a lot of the finer details. I think it is all very  interesting and you may too, so I won’t really apologize for the length. I will try to make it easier for you to read if you don’t have time for the whole thing. I’m going to start with a kind of index and then put section headings into the body of the post. You can check out the bits you want to see the most and skim the rest.  Enjoy!

Introduction

Before Everyone Was Out Running

Big Races and How They’ve Changed

What? Women Running Marathons?

We’ve Got a Shoe For That

It’s All About the Numbers

It’s All About Your Time

Does It Really Matter What We Run On?

When It Really IS About the Time, Then How About the Timing?

Whatever! I Just Want to Finish.

And, I Want a Medal!

At Last, The Conclusion!

Introduction. We all have a tendency to unconsciously think that what we are currently experiencing is how things have always been. We do know that is not actually how it is, but as we look about at whatever may be going on, it is pretty common to have that ‘lens’ take over, whether we want it to or not. This is not limited to running, of course.

As an example, I wonder how many younger people realize that our present ease of communication through the internet and social media, in relative terms, has only just taken its first breath? Many of them know no other situation. C’mon, I’m in my 70s and have taken to this new technology to the point of having trouble remembering the days when a computer far less clever than my smart phone, took up a whole floor of a building at the University of British Columbia where I was studying back in the early 1960s. Not only that, but you had to learn to ‘speak’ the language of the computer (FORTRAN in my case) if you wanted to communicate with it at all, in hopes of getting it to do some computational heavy lifting. I stressed the word hope, because if you put a comma or period in the wrong place you would either get garbage (thus the term Garbage In/Garbage Out) or it wouldn’t work at all. Let’s face it, while some kind of computer dates back a bit further, practical computing isn’t as old as I am. It was mostly number crunching in the early days. There was no ‘Google search’ and no word processing capacity or any of the stuff we expect now, even on our smart phones.  Voice recognition technology? Only science fiction – see “2001 A Space Odyssey” (1968) where the computer ‘talked’. And, to make my point about how different things are, here I am writing on a computer, about to publish this blog piece, which if anyone would actually want to, could be read a micro-second later, anywhere in the world! Not only are my clever words going to be transmitted, but also a bunch of digital photographs and direct links to other parts of the magic interweb. But now, that is just normal. NORMAL.

OK, back to my original story. The changing world of running.

King Edward Track (1962) - Intrepid Author at the Centre Rear.

King Edward Track (1962) – Intrepid Author at the Centre Rear.

Before Everyone Was Out Running. To some extent this whole post was precipitated by a Facebook posting by Running in the Zone contributor, Joe Henderson. His post was about how (The) Runner’s World came to be in 1970 and how he became its first editor. One bit in the story was about how the originator of the publication wanted to expand interest in running and was discouraged that in the Eastern US, found little to no ‘post school’ running. And, just to be clear, ‘post school’ didn’t mean after classes, but rather that most competitive running was done within the context of college sport. Once that was done, people had to get on with life. Now there is a reason for this, probably several.

Percy Williams

Percy Williams – Olympic Champion

One of the big reasons was that nobody would pay you to run. There are all kinds of stories about how even Olympic athletes had to struggle just to get to the Games, including Canada’s own Percy Williams (Olympic Gold Medals 100m and 200m – 1928). Athletics had to be pure – amateur – no money or even prizes of value. Everybody was an amateur and even a bit of support was too much. Also, running was an ‘elite’ sport in that it was serious, far from recreational. Not that many people were doing it, and most of those who were, were men (we’ll get to that in a bit). I know there are many kinds of running from sprints to ultras, so I hope you will pardon me if a lot of my statistics flow around the marathon. I find it a good common ground considering how many people are now doing at least the ‘bucket list’ race as a personal challenge.

Boston Marathon - The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Boston Marathon – The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Big Races and How They’ve Changed. Let’s start then with some well known races and see how things stack up. Because I mentioned the marathon, we can go to the Boston Marathon. It has become some kind of Gold Standard for regular runners. You have to be good to get in and on top of that, even a bit lucky. Now, you not only have to meet the standard for your age and gender, but exceed it and then hope it was a ‘slow’ year so that you don’t have to post a time 5 minutes faster than your official BQ.

I suppose there is comfort in the fact that this huge race has changed little over the years. HORSE FEATHERS! Nothing could be further from the truth. Huge numbers now run Boston, despite the holy BQ, but the first Boston Marathon, run in 1897 had 18 entrants. EIGHTEEN. No, that can’t be right! Well, it may not be right, but that is straight from the official media guide.

Well, it is certainly a good thing there has always been some kind of standard to be met! More BALONEY! The “BQ” was first introduced in 1970 and was essentially, “any man able to run the marathon in four hours”. Yes, ladies, MAN. You will recall (you don’t?) that Kathrine Switzer crashed the party in 1967 by running the race ‘with numbers’. She actually wasn’t the first, first, but was the first woman to have a number bib and cross both the start and finish line. Even still, women were not welcomed into the race until 1972. There were many reasons for this and Boston was a symptom, not the cause. If you’ve forgotten ladies, it just wasn’t healthy for a woman to do. Lady bits. Falling out. That sort of thing.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Since we got ourselves all the way up to around 1970 and all, remember the opening re Joe Henderson and Runner’s World, lets try out some other statistics from around that time. Since I got onto discussing the Boston Marathon, there were an unwieldy 1342 entrants in the 1969 event which is what caused the institution of the qualifying time for 1970. That apparently had the desired impact of reducing the 1970 field to a more manageable 1174. Fortunately, letting women enter in 1972 didn’t cause much damage as there were only 1219 entrants. Believe it or not, except for the 100 year anniversary in 1996 when a totally unrestricted 38,708 entrants were accepted, it wasn’t until 1997 that the registration exceeded 10,000 (10,471). Oh, and that BQ? Yes, well it has changed a number of times over the years, including the most recent addition of the ‘fastest first’ policy of deciding who gets in or not. Prior to that, if you made the necessary qualifying time, it only depended on how fast you could get your registration in and accepted. Now, the BQ allows you to apply, but your time decides if you make it or not. At least, unlike the first BQ of four hours, the BQ standards take age (and gender) into account.

New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon – near the Start

Another really big marathon we all know about and a lot of people aspire to run is the New York City Marathon. Some 50,000 people line up for that one now and getting in via the lottery is becoming very, very difficult. In other words, 50,000 may run, but there are a bunch more who want to and can’t even get an entry. Ever wonder how that compares to 1970? Here you go. 1970 was the FIRST year of the NYCM. There were 127 starters and 55 who finished. Oh yeah, here is another gem! Entry was $1.00. OK, it WAS a US dollar, which certainly makes a difference for us folks from outside the USA! The first few years the NYCM was essentially laps of Central Park. In 1976 it moved to the Five Borough format. There was one woman entered in the first NYCM (Nina Kuscik) but she dropped out due to illness, so no female finisher. Still, it seems K.V. Switzer was having an impact. In 1971, Kuscik returned but came second to Beth Bonner, both women going under 3:00 (by four minutes). There were four women that time. And while in 1967 K.V. Switzer entered Boston simply to run it, Kathrine Switzer showed up in 1974 to win the NYCM.

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

Kathrine Switzer at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon

What? Women Running Marathons? I guess that kind of points out how much change there has been, even over a fairly short period of time. 2017 will see a big celebration at the Boston Marathon with Kathrine Switzer returning (to run) on the 50th anniversary of the run of K.V. Switzer in 1967. Pretty sure she won’t have to sneak into the start area this time, wearing baggy sweats. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is NOT the 50th of women officially running Boston. That will come in 2022, still five years from now.

Here is one more little tidbit on women in official high profile marathons. It wasn’t until 1984 that the Olympic Games held its first Women’s Marathon. It was in Los Angeles and Joan Benoit-Samuelson won. By the way, this is a great running trivia betting question! Most people find it hard to believe how recent that first one was. Oh, and good old K.V. Switzer did a lot of chain rattling to help make that happen. You can read all about it in her book, “Marathon Woman“.

Typical 'Shoe Wall' display - Forerunners (Vancouver)

Typical ‘Shoe Wall’ display – Forerunners (Vancouver)

We’ve Got a Shoe for That! Another thing we kind of take for granted is technology and gear. Let’s start with the shoes. When we go to a running store for a new pair of speedy-go-fasters, we expect choice – lots of choice. We may even expect, after picking the brand and model, to then also be offered a choice of colour or design for the specific shoe (see photo example of Forerunners selection).

Anybody remember Bill Bowerman? How about Nike? Well, it wasn’t until good old Coach Bowerman from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!!) started messing around with his wife’s waffle iron (or so the story goes) that we got a ‘training shoe’ with a patterned rubberized sole. That first design was meant to take the strain off some of his top athletes while training, including his protégé, Steve Prefontaine. If it weren’t for those Nike Waffle Sole shoes, we wouldn’t have any of our modern running shoes, with all the built-in technology to correct and direct our landing while protecting our tender knees and such. We surely wouldn’t have a wall full of shoes in myriad brands, models, styles and yes, colours, to choose among.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Fueling for the race is another area of interest and change. I ran my first marathon in 1988. I did it on water. Oh yes, even then people had pre-race secrets and plans to create top performance, but the gels and such, as well as electrolyte drinks had not been invented, or perhaps more correctly, had not been turned into readily available products. I love telling my new running clinic group members about how I ran my first marathon just on water for on-course support. I give them enough time to think through just how ‘bad-ass’ that is before I tell them I did it because that other stuff hadn’t been invented. It was 1988. THAT is not very long ago. (Well, I don’t think it is so long.) Again, like the shoes, just think of the choices of product and even formats you have for both fuel and electrolyte replacement. Ponder this: the original Gatorade was more or less formulated as ‘artificial sweat’ and some of the early retail product even tasted like it! It was created for college football players toiling in the hot Florida sun.

It’s All About the Numbers. About those women (again), while there weren’t that many women running any distance back in the 1960s and 1970s, the truth is there weren’t that many PEOPLE, male or female, running anything in the sense we do today. Jim Fixx got us all out jogging and then died an early death, thus creating a whole industry for people trying to convince us running is actually bad for you! Anyway, he did get our attention and got a lot of people moving. He got a lot of men moving, actually, and particularly because ‘fat and forty’ was a kind of scary thing for men re early heart disease. It was certainly my early motivation. Why he didn’t get nearly as many women moving isn’t clear to me. It is complex and probably foolish to try to pinpoint the reasons, but the fact is that men way outnumbered the women out there training and racing. I don’t know, when it all started, maybe you women were still just a little worried that those fabled reproductive hazards might be real.

Well, that has certainly changed. Where it comes to racing, at every distance up to and including the Half Marathon, women outnumber men in the field. In many cases, waaaaaay outnumber the men. Gents, I’m sorry to tell you, our only remaining bastion is the Marathon (sorry, because it means you have to train for and run a full marathon if you want to be in the majority). We still own that one, but even at that, the women are catching up.

And then there is the matter of the quality of running vs racing. There is nothing like the motivation of a race to help you train, so once people commit to running, it is a short fartlek to deciding to enter a race. I feel personally, that even if you are near to last, there is something about being in a race that hooks you, maybe right from the first time.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Back in the day when I started, big races had 1000 entrants. Now, if you live in or near a fair population centre, local races can have that many. My first marathon was the Vancouver International Marathon (1988) and had about 1200 entrants. In 2016 it fielded just around 3800 and is capped at 5,000 entries. That particular ‘race weekend’ includes a Half and an 8K, with a total entry of 13,000 runners in 2016.

It’s All About Your Time! (Or, possibly it isn’t.) Motivation to run and race is different now. Many are doing it for what I call the experience. They want to participate in a race, but don’t care all that much how fast they go. People were intimidated by the whole idea of racing when I was first into running, and for good reason. The people in races may or may not have been super fast runners but everyone was pretty serious. By that, I mean we trained and wanted to get better than we were before. Running the marathon was hard-core. To give you an idea of what I mean, my first (since I’ve been using it for examples) had a time limit of four hours. At 4:00:00 the clock came down. It was said that if you couldn’t run a marathon in four hours you really couldn’t run a marathon. I had a time of 3:24 something. It got me a placing of 318 OA and 54th in M40-44. Those stats reveal a couple of interesting things. There were something like 1100 finishers, so there were a good 800 people behind me, but still under 4 hours. In the rather hotly contested age group of ‘young masters’ my time was only good enough for 54th place! Finally, I wrote my time as I did simply because I don’t actually KNOW what my ‘chip’ time was. Why? Same reason I ran with only water – there were no chips then. Funny thing is that I had my own watch, an early version of the Timex Ironman that so many have now, but far shy of being a Garmin or similar gps enabled device. I could have had my own unofficial version of a chip time, but we were so steeped in the idea of ‘gun time’ that I started the watch with the gun. I DID have the same time as the official clock though! That was 3:25:19. I am more than 100% sure it took 0:19 to cross the start line, so I claim 3:24 something. That is as close as I can get.

Once the ‘chip’ was invented, there was a good long time when you had to pay a deposit or face a charge of about $40 if you didn’t return it. Now, they are mostly built into the bib and are disposable. You had to wear them on your shoe or a strap around your ankle or they weren’t close enough to the ground to work. Now, we are warned to stay at least 3m away from the finish mat after completing the race, lest your chip get read again. The ever popular race photo is pretty recent too and while they do pre-date digital photography, it is only since it has become the norm that you have so many options, including finish line video. Most timing companies actually use finish line video now to back up the chips, ‘just in case’.

Does It Really Matter What We Run On? While I am now a road runner, there was a time as a kid when it was almost strictly track. Talk about change when it comes to the track! When I was a high school track athlete (see the photo near the beginning of this post), we were still running on cinder tracks. Sometimes you just dug little holes for ‘starting blocks’. Mostly I had a set of blocks (wood) made by my Dad, but wouldn’t be hauling them around if I was off for a practice after school. Even before my time, the runners such as the above noted Percy Williams (Canadian Olympian), actually carried a little garden trowel as part of their equipment so they could dig out exactly the little starting places they needed. A real gun that fired blanks would start us even at the smallest of track meets. Oh, and the running spikes we wore, really WERE. I still have scars on my knees from a couple of crowded 880 races, where things got a bit ‘close’ and intense.

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I clearly remember drawing for lane assignment by selecting one of the blank shells from the starter’s hand. I especially remember the time it gave me the lane next to Harry Jerome! The blank had a little cardboard insert on which would be written the lane number.

South Surrey Athletic Park - local track, but so high-tech compared to early days.

South Surrey Athletic Park – local track, but so high-tech compared to early days.

Compare those days of cinder tracks to now where the high tech tracks are normal and starting is electronically linked, up down and backwards. The blocks (in big competitions) are rigged to register the reaction time of runners (to detect false starts) and at the other end, high speed cameras take the photo-finish. Back in those early days, the starter determined a false start (by eye) while a bunch of people with stop watches stood at the finish (on a set of risers in the better equipped races so they could all be exactly in line with the finish). With the flash of the starter’s gun (light is so much faster than sound), each would start the mechanical stop-watch. Every position had at least one timer, at least every podium position. In larger meets there would be multiple timers and they would compare. Now, everything is electronic. Most of the time you would be timed to the tenth of a second although it was possible on the good watches to read in hundredths.

When It Really IS About the Time, Then How About the Timing? I am going to relate a story that I cannot now find the reference to corroborate, but tell it I will. It isn’t really about Harry Jerome as much as it is about our belief and technology limits. Harry was one of the athletes that straddled the time of transition to full metric distances. As a result, he ran both the 100 yard and 100 metre, 220 yard and 200 m events, not to mention the 4X110yd and 4X100m relays. He was fast in all and held (at the same time) the World Record for both 100 yards and 100m. He set (actually equaled) the World 100m record of 10.0 seconds at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 1960. But, the story was that when the timers looked at their watches, his time was under 10 seconds. With the electronic timing of today, you could imagine the real time had probably been clearly under 10.0. That was a time, like the marathon two hour dream, or the 4:00min mile (that, it was thought, would surely kill anyone who broke that time), a barrier time. The story that I cannot right now prove is that even though the timers had Harry under 10 seconds, because that was a barrier time and they couldn’t make themselves believe it, they rounded him up and gave him the (record) tie with Germany’s Armin Hary.

Whatever! I Just Want to Finish. Now, let’s get back to road racing where we come to the races of today packed with people who just want to finish. The biggest of these would likely be half marathons, but there are a lot of marathons that fall in the category, too. It is not unusual today to find a seven hour ‘clock’. It is also not unusual to hear of some people complaining that it is unfair to put that kind of a limit on someone working hard to just finish a marathon. This is pretty much a whole other blog post, but it is nonetheless real. This opens the subject of groups like Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics where the goal is completing lots of races within some period of time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty speedy people in both groups, but there is absolutely NO time requirement (other than months and days, as in in X marathons in Y months) to achieve one of the 10 levels related to your qualification to join or ascend the levels. Both groups have a walloping good time just doing what they do. But, the fundamental goal is completely different.

Some of this is directly related to my last post about competitiveness and changing away from always having to go hard.

The medals I got from my 10 events including one podium and a special recognition from a run with my grandson.

The medals I got from my 10 events in 2016 including one podium and a special recognition from a run with my grandson.

And, I Want a Medal! What about the medals? Yeah, what about that. Back when I was starting my (second) running career at just around the age of 40, the only way you got a medal was to win something. Sometimes it was the race (first, second or third, male and female). Sometimes there were age group prizes, but often enough the range would be 10 years, not five. Sometimes you still only got yourself a ribbon. As things began to change, if there was a finisher medal, it was only for races of half marathon or greater and not every race gave those out. I have run 26 marathons and one Ultra. That is a total of 27, for which I have 26 medals. The one race I did not get a finisher medal for was that first and best marathon I so like to talk about. It wasn’t because the race was ‘stingy’, but rather because it was the norm back then. Want a medal? Run fast and win something. Last year I ran 4 half marathons, 2 10Ks, 3 8Ks and the Hood to Coast Relay. That is 10 events, for which I got 9 finisher medals. Only one of the 5Ks, a small family oriented event I ran with my grandson, did not have a finisher medal. Funny enough, one of my favourite events, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K doesn’t give age group podium medals. I had a second in the 10K there in 2016 to go with my first at the Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Oh well, nothing beats my special “No 1 GRANDAD” medal!

Medal haul from the , Sage Rat races. Includes a first and second (red ribbons)

Medal haul from the , Sage Rat races. Includes a first and second (red ribbons)

And then, I have to say there are medals and there are MEDALS! Wow, I couldn’t believe the size of the finisher medal I got in 2015 at the Sage Rat Half Marathon. Actually, I got three: for the Half (left in the photo), for the Dirty Rat 25K (middle) and then a recognition medal for the Rat Deux (that is running both, back to back). All were huge, but the Half Marathon one was biggest. It is 6 inches (15cm top to bottom). If you measure it like a TV (corner to corner) it is 20cm. Funny enough, I came second in my age category in the Half and first in the 25K race and while pretty decent in size, the podium place medals are tiny in comparison. That race happens around Prosser, WA. Just up the road near Yakima, is the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. It is the oldest of old school races that I know about and when I ran it in 2014, I managed to come fifth in my category (considered a podium placing by that race) for which I got me a ribbon (as did the other four ahead of me in the category).  Is there a race today that people don’t expect to get a finisher medal? Sure, but the expectation has gone from zero, to “why not?”.

At Last, The Conclusion! I could go on, but I think I will draw this to a close. I will mention, in contrast to our (pristine) amateur athletes of yesteryear (I carried an amateur card when I ran in school), we now have millionaire athletes (and performance enhancing drugs). Some will tell you that the drugging isn’t new, just more sophisticated and effective, and by no means do I want to suggest that all today’s best are drugging . I have seen articles describing what the ancient Greek Olympians ate and rubbed on (all highly secret) in an effort to get an edge. I mean, short of actual doping, look at the endless advice we are bombarded with on eating this or that, including miracle foods (beet juice, pickle juice, caffeine, different forms of carbohydrates, timing of protein for post run recovery) that will enhance training and performance.

If you think I’ve missed something important, do let me know. All I am trying to say is that running is in a state of constant change, and I’ve given some examples. It is going to be interesting to see how it goes for the masses and if some of the ‘unbreakable’ records WILL turn out to be so unassailable. The two biggest are at almost opposite ends of the spectrum. Can anybody push the 100m record to, or under 9.5 sec? Is it even possible to see a two hour marathon? Is any woman going to be able to erase Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 marathon mark?

We can only imagine what technology may bring us. I didn’t even get into the miracle fibres that wick sweat, keep us warm in the cold and cool in the heat. Some shoes are now on the market that have their own little computer that adjusts the shoe to your foot strike, in real time. The gps devices that monitor our activities are also capable of delivering vital information about how we are performing in the physiological sense. They can tell us how to optimize our training and performance. Sorry coach. It’s all right here on my wrist!

I sort of wish I had another 30 years of running ahead of me. Can’t imagine how exciting it is going to be, especially if it changes as much as it has in the past years.