YEAR-END MUSINGS AND MEANDERINGS

12.31.2017

Last Race for 2017. Reggae Marathon 10K, Negril, JA (photo by “Push”)

It has been an interesting year, personally, among friends, with family and in general.

Let’s start broadly and narrow down.

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m (Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse)

Usain Bolt brought his sprinting career to an end. He says it is (finished) and I hope he means it. I like my champions to finish on a high note. Meb and Mo are in a similar category it seems. It seems certain that Meb is done with competitive racing, but Farah is maybe going another way and out onto the roads. The list is actually quite long, of people who saw the World Championships as a logical finish point for their competitive careers with the next Olympics still two years off.

Justin Gatlin is in the news again re PEDs. Too soon to know, but if he is found to be at it AGAIN, it is my opinion that he should be stripped of every result he ever had anywhere, as it would confirm a likely lifetime use. I repeat IF he is found to have been abusing the system.

Whither Canada on the International Stage?

Canada seems to be in a transition time with some of our best reaching that point where the peak is somewhere near or behind. Our best female marathoners, yes you Lani and Krista, may not have what it takes to see the next Olympics, but the beauty of the marathon is that we have BIG annual races that provide huge international stages for performance. Melissa Bishop continues to amaze both with her out and out talent and her unbelievable grace in accepting the no-man’s (woman?) land she has found herself in where it comes to international competition. There are no brilliant answers to the dilemma of what is right and fair.

Andre De Grasse has huge potential and is a virtual pup. Can he break Bolt’s records? Maybe if he grows another 6-8 inches! Bolt is the whole package, but there is no doubt he had mechanical advantage over most of the competition. Can Andre win a lot of prestigious medals? Firstly, he already has, and secondly I think he can. Winning is being faster than anybody else on the day. That he can do. C’mon Andre, show us what ya’ got!!

In both women’s and men’s marathon we are seeing rising Canadian stars emerging. Actually, you never know until you know, but there are a few out there and the next couple of years will show us if there is more than a promise. I find it interesting that there is always big talk about the Canadian Marathon Record for men, when one of the youngsters turns in a decent result. Four decades later, Jerome Drayton still holds the Canadian Record (2:10:09). My friend Peter Butler was second for many years, and until quite recently, in fact. I believe Peter now has the fifth fastest time, but Drayton is still first. Jerome Drayton’s time was right up there when he ran 2:10:09 to win Fukuoka in 1975. The World Record at the time was 2:09:12. Peter’s time was less than a minute slower (2:10:56), although by that date the World Record had recently dropped to 2:07:12. The other times that now separate Peter Butler and Jerome Drayton all slipped in between, but that happened only in the last 5-6 years. You have to ask how that can be. Even when Peter did 2:10:56, the world’s best time was just over 2:07. Where are the Canadian guys? Huh? Where? And, more importantly, why (or why not)? Drayton, less than a minute off the record. Butler less than four minutes. Today’s best? More than seven minutes behind. AHEM! We’re going the wrong way, boys!

Start of the First Half Half Marathon 2015. Wykes leading. Race over.

I know one of the guys who slipped in between Drayton and Butler (Dylan Wykes – #3). At the height of his performance he may, on any given day, have been able to crack 2:10. The same can be said of Reid Coolsaet (2:10:28 – #2 and twice 2:10:55 – #4) and maybe Eric Gillis (2:11:21 for his best time and 2:12:29 for 10th place at the 2016 Olympics). They have all been right there, but they have NOT broken through. We who run distance, even if we don’t belong in the same sentence (paragraph?) as these guys, know that a great race requires that EVERYTHING must come together at the precise right moment. Training, health/soundness (not injured), the day itself and the mental attitude to win, probably even the competition. The last point might even be a key element in explaining Canadian performance. Our guys, in international elite fields, cannot run with the best, so they often wind up in a neither here nor there place within the race. It is hard to run your best when psychologically, the elite field has already handed you your ass and you aren’t much more than half way. As I began writing this, I decided that ‘winning’ might be the key to breaking through. Drayton won when he established the record in Fukuoka and I know Butler won his race about 10 years later (California International Marathon) when he became #2.  Wyke’s time in Rotterdam gave him 6th place and Coolsaet’s best was done in Berlin where he was also 6th. Today, in big races, the winners (leaders) are as much as five minutes (and more) ahead of Drayton’s time. It just may be, if the primary purpose of one of our guys is to break through that venerable old record, they may just have to pick a race they can win or at the very least, contend. That may keep both the HEAD and the FEET in the race. When you are near your limit, you need every bit of strength and motivation to push through the pain, mental and physical. Our guys just can’t run with the top elites for the first half of a marathon, then bring home a second half that matches.

Peter Butler, ‘elder statesman’ and super supporter.

For our current best (Coolsaet, Wykes and Gillis) age is creeping up. Gillis and Coolsaet are more or less the same age at about 38. Wykes is significantly younger (34) but his international racing days may be behind him (or not) as he tends to be injury prone when he trains to contend. The book is not closed on any of them yet. We will see what we will see. Butler is hitting 60, so I guess he is done and while fact checking for this article I learned Jerome Drayton is precisely four days younger than ME. We KNOW he has to be done.

Canadian men have a lot of talent, so it is tempting to question why they can’t seem to get it done. I guess population dynamics may have something to do with it. You could ask why California can’t get it done. It has about the same population as Canada. Maybe we don’t support our athletes well enough so they can train, or maybe we support them too well!  What? BLASPHEMY! Motivation to take your genetic gift all the way can involve dollar signs, but winning and the purse that comes with it (unless we are talking one of the truly big events) is not a financial motivation for our people. For certain, the available purses are attractive and useful, but for a Canadian in Canada, they are not life altering.

Boston Marathon (2009 – near half way), Lead Pack of Men. Kenyans and Ethiopians as far as you can see.

The East Africans can turn a modest purse into a life-changing outcome. In fact, there are a LOT of ‘low’ performing East Africans that spread out around the world to convert their undeniable talents into cash.  A good many come to Canada for their pay day. So be it. My question though, is how do we incentivize our athletes to go that one step further? There are said to be 300 Kenyans who can run through the Canadian Record, at any given time. Kenya’s population is about 49 million. At any given time, we MAY have two or three who could ‘see’ the Canadian Record from where they are standing. There is proof positive that for over 40 years, nobody has been able to break through. For a Kenyan, running fast is a door of hope. Same for Ethiopians, for that matter.

I’ve been watching for years. I love the marathon and the drama of it. I used to love to run them myself, although FAR, far from the times we are talking here – but everything is relative. I ran my first marathon in 1988, at age 43 and therefore, ‘over’ the hill before I even started climbing it! Getting back to the Canadian elites, I think part of the motivation issue is that in Canada we are blessed with opportunity to go in a LOT of different directions. You can make a good living, even a great living, without ever lacing up a pair of running shoes. Unless you are some kind of crazy, ready to put the rest of your life on hold, you may just not be ready to do what you must to break through that Canadian bugaboo marathon record. Maybe we are just too ‘fat and happy’, and I say that as a positive thing, except where it comes to running marathons (or other events) really fast.

Breaking Two and Other Unicorn Sightings.

One more big marathon thing just has to be discussed. The question of why Canadians can’t go faster than 2:10, pales by comparison to the TWO HOUR barrier. We know for a fact that a human can run just 25 seconds slower than 2:00:00. Oh yeah, I know, artificial and near perfect conditions, not a sanctioned race, silly pacing support…………………..and on and on, but A MAN, running on his OWN feet, missed going sub-2:00 by 26 seconds in 2017. Will Eliud Kipchoge be the man to go under two? I actually doubt it, but he will forever be the runner who showed it is possible. If you look at marathon records over the years there are many instances of plateaus where not much happens. Then, somebody breaks through and suddenly everyone is doing it.

I personally believe that with Kipchoge’s example, others will see it can be done and will have the courage to push just a little harder, strain just a bit more in that critical final 10K. Maybe in one of the races with the potential for achieving this result, there will be an elite collusion in which everyone who MIGHT be able to pull it off, will agree that there will be no racing until the last 5K (?). They will agree to work as a team to some point, with no ‘kill the competition’ moves before ??? when that kind of action might be what is needed to bring home the magic time. Maybe a bit of killer competition at the end is where they will get those other 27 seconds! Whatever, don’t be surprised in the next couple of years to see the marathon race time drop to 2:01. It will take a lot of right circumstances, including the right weather at the right race and everybody feeling good. That is why I’m not predicting it will happen at any given event or within a specific time, but I think we will see a legitimate race time nearing 2:01, within a fairly short period of time

Now for Something Closer to Home.

Some of the Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic Group (#2)

For me, it was a big transition year as I actually turned significantly to coaching and encouraging new runners. Oh, I did some of my own running and racing too (including a marathon that came as a bit of a surprise in the greater scheme of things). I did a couple of races with my grandson Charlie, at his pace, and I paced a 5K race (meaning you are almost by definition, going slower than you are capable of doing). By the way (until October), I have run with Charlie at a pace he could handle. That said, I’m pretty sure that sometime in 2018 our roles are going to switch. Of course, I don’t really want to have him wait for grandad. I want to watch him achieve his best outcomes, and to celebrate them, whatever they may be.

30 (Bradley Cuzen) and 35 (me) Minute Pacers, Fall Classic 2017

With respect to that pacing ‘job’ I did at the Fall Classic 5K, it was partly because it allowed me to help several people from the Learn to Run 5K clinic I coach, to achieve running a 5K race at a pace around what we targeted in the clinic. I’ve talked about this before, but I was thrilled to have several participants finish UNDER the advertised time of 35:00.

Seven Summits Finishers – October, 2017

My other non-competitive and learning experience was the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge. The BIG take-away is how much fun it was and the feeling of satisfaction involved in doing it as a challenge and NOT a race – to complete, not to compete, is harder than it sounds if you have a competitive spirit. I am very well aware that I am not even ‘fast’ in my own age group, but I still compete with myself to go as fast as I can. Pacing, whether it be my grandson in an 8K, or an official time at the Fall Classic 5K, and completing the Challenge, are different things. Meeting the challenge of going a distance (47km in the one instance) or running at an appropriate pace for someone else’s needs, is different from going as fast as you can and is actually very enjoyable. It plays havoc with your lifetime records on Athlinks, but whatever, my  best times these days don’t enhance my lifetime record much anyway. As far as Athlinks goes (because of how it works) none of my true PB times are there in any case!

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon (#27) – DONE

As noted, and written about previously, I did actually do one more marathon (#27, or #28 if you count like the Marathon Maniacs which would include my 50K Ultra). It was the Light at the End of the Tunnel. After I did it, I thought it might truly be my last marathon. But, after the Seven Summits Challenge (at 47K, more than a ‘mere’ marathon) I am wondering if I might just squeeze in another couple of special marathons, done as ‘challenges’ not races. It is funny, because I do not look down on people who just DO marathons in whatever time it takes, but to this point have not been able to see that approach as something I could do. Maybe it is that damn BQ! I’ve been close enough to think there is hope, although not close enough to drop everything else and make it happen. It means I have selected certain marathons for their potential and run on hope more than training sometimes. The last time I went under 5:00 was the Big Cottonwood Marathon (Salt Lake City) in September 2014. Could I still get under 5:00? I don’t honestly know. I have run two since Big Cottonwood, both well over 5:00. I am approaching one of those pivotal times when it is well ahead of an age group change, but in range of doing a BQ for the new age group. In my case it would be 4:40 for M75-79 and it all has to do with when my birthday is. After mid-September 2018 I am eligible to BQ at the M75-79 time. ELIGIBLE, that is. CAPABLE is quite another matter.

One of the big things that has happened in 2017 is that after the Light at the End of the Tunnel, I promised myself to really get the fatigue out of my legs by staying away from constant distance training. For years, literally, being a pace group leader at the Forerunners marathon and half marathon clinics and running a lot of marathons and halfs, I just never stopped doing longer runs. I know I’ve been dealing with this fatigue factor. I can honestly say that I am noticing the difference.

It is hard to say I can’t keep going when fellow Running in the Zone contributor Evan Fagan is now just one marathon short of 150 (Evan is in his 80s and a cancer survivor), and BJ McHugh just set a single age marathon world record for W90, with a time of 6:47:31 (breaking the old record by over 2 hours).

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan.

As a result of all this conscious determination, I am looking ahead to 2018. The next Learn to Run 5K starts the beginning of January and will run 12 weeks to the BMO St. Patrick’s 5K. For much of that time, I will likely work on building a 10K base and some speed. After that, I will be planning a half marathon, probably the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in early May. I anticipate training for it with long runs that go at least to 25K. It will be a test. A test? For what? Well, the possibility of trying that BQ in mid-September. Shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone. It is a secret! It will also involve some dietary modification and gym time (yuck and yuck).

Being a great believer in age grading, I have looked back at older results and minimum standards I need to achieve, to encourage me to think a good marathon might be possible. Failure along the way, (unless it is due to something like what just happened in Jamaica), will mean it is kind of pointless to think BQ marathon when you can’t do a Half in a decent time. If all goes well in May with a modest intermediate goal, I will run the Scotiabank Half in June with a very sharp time goal in mind, one that would justify hope for a BQ run at Tunnel Light. I was a bit surprised by the course as a first timer so will have the advantage of experience the second time around.

My training was so-so this year, and I knew it. When my wheels started wobbling or more accurately, seizing up, I accepted it in good spirit and just called it off, other than the goal of finishing (which I did). The course is deceptive. My Garmin said it was just as advertised (about a 2% steady downgrade after exiting the actual Tunnel). My eyes and my head told me most of the first half was actually uphill. I’m not the only one who thought the same thing. I have concluded it is an optical illusion, but I was sure and if it weren’t for the Garmin, would insist to this day, that the downhill part didn’t start until about half way. Not counting the over long washroom break (not MY fault), my pace was pretty much what I wanted/planned, up to nearly 25km. Could I have done the race faster? Yes. How much faster? No idea. I did walk (with another Maniac) when I could have run some. I still would have been well over 5 hours. But, all of that said, when age graded as completed, it was not the slowest marathon I’ve done. So, there’s that.

IF Vancouver (half marathon) goes to plan, I will continue with the idea of a much faster time at Scotia Half. If that goes to plan, then it is ON for Tunnel Light in September. I have some other shorter races I expect to do as part of the training. I may even do the Seven Summits Challenge again, to assist and encourage some friends who haven’t done it yet. While I expect the time will be pretty modest, 47km has to count for something in overall training.

Family Fun.

The entire family, post-race Victoria 2017

I’m sure there will be at least one race with Charlie, maybe a couple if we do as we have the last couple of years. I expect that in October, when we head for Victoria for our family race, that I may get a chance to ‘run’ with Jonah in the Kids Run. He was pretty sure he could run with us this year and truth be told, I think he could have done the Kids Run. He will be pushing four by next October. Yep, I think it is probable it will be my first official run with Jonah.

My active running will go to the time of the Goodlife Fitness Marathon weekend. I expect to run the 8K with Charlie and the Kids Run with Jonah (it can be done). After that, in celebration of 50 years of marriage, Judi and I will be off to India. I’m poking around for a race to maybe do, but holding out almost zero hope. I will add another country to my list of countries where I have run, maybe two if we add on Nepal (still in decision mode on that).

Friends Have Been Busy Too.

For the win! Forever Young 8K (2017)

I mentioned performances of friends, and right at the head of that pack is Walter Downey. I’ve written about Walter quite a bit, but there is one remaining big thing to add. Through hard work and determination, Walter (along with a whole bunch of Forerunners friends) headed off to Sacramento for the California International Marathon where he delivered a new marathon PB, a BQ and a time just under 3:05. I’m pretty sure I know what the next goal is set to be!

A couple of old winners celebrate Age Group wins (Rod and Dan)

It was great to see Rod Waterlow out on the roads again. His recovery is still coming along slowly, but it IS coming. He won his age group (M80+) at the Fall Classic 5K in November. Even though it was a modest time for Rod, he did it and it was more than good enough to take the Gold in his category.

I mentioned B J McHugh and her Honolulu Marathon W90 World Record and that Evan Fagan is one marathon away from 150. You just KNOW that one is going to happen sometime soon.

Reggae Marathon friends gathered again in Negril, JA earlier this month and leader of the pack, Chris Morales will do #10 in a row in December 2018. I fear I will break the streak this coming December, but a trip to India in the Fall is going to put a crimp in the old travel budget. Maybe I should start a Go Fund Me project! No, I think I just have to accept that it is what it is.

While Forerunners clinic people have long run together and gone off to events in groups (Athens, Chicago, New York, Eugene and in 2017 CIM), it seems in the last couple of years there has been a social bond develop such that it feels more like a ‘club’. People support each other and the PBs and BQs have just rolled in at a furious pace. The achievements are too numerous to list, but they are nonetheless real. Congratulations to one and all.

And with that, it is time to bring 2017 to a close and wish one and all:

A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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