Archive for April, 2018



Pacific Road Runners

Although this is not quite ‘news’ to me, it has just become public. The Pacific Road Runners  “First Half” Half Marathon has become part of the RunVan stable of running events. It is no longer a club owned/operated event as it had been from the very first race, back in 1989 and up until the 2018 race. I hope and trust that RunVan will operate it with some consideration of First Half traditions, but once such a decision is taken, the old guard must step away and let what was, rest in peace. As good an event as the First Half WAS, who knows, it may be even better with a larger professionally managed format. There will be advantages and options not available to a club.

In the early days, there were PANCAKES!

I have known for a while that this change was being considered. As has been my custom since about 2004, I was again involved in the staging of the event in 2018. When I saw the complete list of the race team, it was a bit shocking to see that almost all the names were the same as when I was Race Director (2006 – 2010). PRR, like many running clubs, is made up of members who just run and organize as a hobby. Everyone has a job and other responsibilities. Staging races in a major city becomes more and more complicated every year. For a range of reasons, supporters become shorter term partners and then move on. The event still needs the support, so there is often a new crisis in finding the new/replacement partner. The energy required to keep this going is more than most will understand and apparently reached the point where a modestly sized running club could no longer muster what was needed.

We wrote a 20 year history while I was RD, but naturally, there is now almost another 10 years worth to add to that. I hope you will pardon me, while I dig out some of those memories. Some of the biggest names in Vancouver and Canadian running are part of the history of the race. I mentioned sponsors, or as it is more common to say these days – partners. There have been many, and generous partners over the years. That said, there was ONE partner who was with the First Half from the first race to the last: Forerunners. The founders of Forerunners are Peter and Karen Butler. Peter, just coming to the end of his elite running career in 1989, was the first winner of the first First Half.

Rachel Cliff for the WIN and new Record 2018)

Beginning with Peter, you can add an illustrious string of names over the years, women and men, who competed in and won the First Half. Numbered among them are Olympians, world level competitors and record holders; in summary, Canada’s best. There have been multi-year winners and the event records have been somewhat astounding when you realize the race has always been held around mid-February. Although the name of the race has nothing to do with it being the first half marathon of the year, in fact it pretty much is.

Of course, records are made to be broken, so it only makes sense to cite the current records, but it should not be lost on anyone that a number of the winners were also record breakers/holders at the time. The current men’s record is 1:o4:21, set in 2012 by, Dylan Wykes. The current women’s record is 1:12:21 set just a couple of months ago in 2018 by Rachel Cliff, breaking the 16 year record of Tina Connelly of 1:12:47.

Here are the winning women over the years. They are in chronological order (1989 to 2018) and any given individual is only listed once, but if she won more than once, the number is shown in brackets after the name. Check these amazing runners out:

Isabelle Dittberner (2), Carolyn Hubbard, Sylviane Puntous, Jackie Zwertailo, Lisa Weidenbach, Lucy Smith (2), Tina Connelly (3), Meghan O’Brian, Erin Heffring, Lisa Harvey (4), Janine Mofett, Leah Pells, Kirsty Smith, Cheryl Murphy, Ellie Greenwood, Natasha Wodak (2), Catrin Jones, Dayna Pidhoresky (2), Rachel Cliff.

On the men’s side, the list is also long and illustrious:

Peter Butler, Ashley Dustow, Art Boileau (3), Bruce Deacon (3), Phil Ellis (2), Carey Nelson, Norm Tinkham (2), Neil Holm, Jeremy Deer, Steve Osaduik, Ryan Hayden (2), Richard Mosley, Dylan Wykes (3), Rob Watson (3), Eric Gillis.

Art Boileau 3X winner, is still going in 2018!

There are probably a few asterisks to go with these lists. The biggest is that most of these winners, ran many more times than the winner lists suggest. As an example, Art Boileau won three times, but he was also second  and has run the race many other times, including in 2018. The same can be said of so many of these fine athletes. The Puntous twins were very well known in their time and famous for being right on each other’s heels. When Sylviane won in 1991, Patricia was in second, just 5 seconds back. In 1989, they were second and third (same order) with just one second between.

A little road clearing was needed before we could run in 2007

In 1992 Bruce Deacon set an event record (1:04:45) that stood until 2007 when Ryan Hayden posted a 1:04:44 on a very different course. Not only different, but ‘alternate’. 2007 was the year of the great wind storm that closed the Seawall for almost a year and forced the route to go up and over Prospect Point (on the road) rather than around the Seawall. It was my first year as RD. There was some furious conferencing as to whether or not we would recognize the new event record. The First Half has had a stable route for some time, but followed various routes over the years, so the record has always been an ‘event’ record. Notwithstanding the chaos and turmoil of that race, we knew we had the alternate route measured. (Everyone was also pretty sure it was a LOT more difficult than the normal route.) Calm and wisdom prevailed and the record was recognized and Bruce’s fifteen year reign was done.

If anyone decides to go check for themselves at the PRR race web site (while it is still there), they may notice that in 1989 Peter Butler recorded an event time of 1:04:23 and Isabelle Dittberner had a time of 1:10:45. You would have to ask yourself why those were not the records to be broken. It would be a good question. The answer was a slip-up either in the actual measuring or perhaps in course layout on race day. It was determined that somehow 21.1km had morphed into 20.3km. It was 800m short. Here is the story from Peter, himself:

“………the 1989 Pacific Road Runners “First Half” Half Marathon was effectively my 2nd last competitive run (the last being a 30KM event at UBC several weeks later) where I ran 1:33. The “First Half” race itself was between me and Kiwi, Ashley Dustow, with Ashley setting the pace at approximately 5:00 minutes per mile for the first 10 miles or so. I stayed with him most of the way, finally surging away with 5K remaining. The result (1:04:23) seemed too fast at the time and sure enough, it was discovered afterwards to be 2:30 or about 800 metres short. My personal best for the half, is a 1:03:30 (1985) but that was a few years earlier when I was in 2:10:56 marathon shape. I remember the 1989 race starting at the entrance to Granville Island and doing several loops in the False Creek area before finishing on Granville Island………………..”

I am told by Maurice Wilson (BC Athletics and long-time PRR club member), a fine runner in his own right back at the time of the first First Half, that rather than lead cyclists or police motorcycle escort, there was a lead runner team. I believe there were two runners (Maurice being one) who could go fast enough for up to about 10K, to stay ahead of the lead racer and warn pedestrians that the race was coming. At half way, they switched off. I don’t know how long this method was followed, but you surely don’t see it today!

It isn’t all about the elites! Mid-pack runners enjoying the day on the Seawall.

All of this said, the First Half has long been a race for a wide range of runners. The participation of anyone able to cover 21.1km in under three hours was welcomed and celebrated. As an insider, I can tell you that it has always been a challenge to keep people around post-race for the results and awards, because none of that part of the event was going to start until the last competitor crossed the finish line! Ways were found to speed up the process once awards ceremonies began, but that part of the program never happened until the race was truly over. Every runner was considered to be the same as every other competitor.

My first time assisting with the Variety cheque presentation, in 2007.

On a very personal note, my association with the First Half and the honour of serving as Race Director for a period of time stand out as highlights of my career in running. A big reason for that is the TEAM aspect of staging the event. One of the outstanding aspects of the volunteer team was the continuing presence of former RDs. On race weekend, almost all former race directors could be found doing one job or another (or maybe several). The only exceptions were two of the earliest who no longer lived in BC. PRR has been a group of people second to none that I’ve ever been associated with, where it comes to stepping up and serving. Former club members (people who have either stopped running or live too far away to actively participate in the club) come back each year to volunteer for the First Half. From the smallest to the largest job, there was always someone ready to step up. Sadly, I guess I have to add, until now.

Setting up at the Roundhouse and getting Course gear ready for Sunday morning. The part few see.

As I understand it, collectively, the club had just run out of energy to keep the race going to the current standard, and improving. Make no mistake, one of the hallmarks of the First Half is that it did constantly improve and innovate all through its almost 30 year history. I’m pretty sure the ‘easy’ decision would just have been to continue. I mean, after all these years and so much experience, it is not that difficult to turn the crank one more time. Not difficult, but with each turn, maybe just a little less special. I know the decision to ‘sell’ the race to RunVan and the Vancouver International Marathon Society was not taken easily. It remains to be seen over the longer term if it was the right decision. And, I must say that this is not a comment about RunVan that operates the BMO Vancouver Marathon, the Granville Island Turkey Trot 10K and Fall Classic  (and now the First Half), it’s about the decision itself and the other options that were necessarily rejected in the process. One thing I DO know is that when such a decision is taken, there should be no looking back. The King is dead! Long live the King!  That sort of thing.

The good news is that management has changed, but the race goes on! It will be quite exciting to see what the ‘All New First Half” looks like come February. Naturally, one hopes that the new owner will take the best of the best from the event, and augment with newer better ideas, maybe ones that a modest running club could not entertain. Anyway, that is MY hope. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the ‘new and improved’ event, but right now (and just this one time) please join me in a nostalgic look back at the “First Half”.

Back in the times when the race was inaugurated, most races were club organized affairs. The Vancouver Marathon was the baby of Lions Gate Road Runners and the Vancouver International Marathon Society. Running clubs indulged in friendly rivalry, but there was also plenty of support and cooperation among the clubs. Basically, if a club was prepared to put on a race for the rest of the community, that community needed to be supportive of the other guy’s race and vice versa. Although I do know some of the people who WERE there, I don’t know precisely what went on behind closed doors. As I understand it, there was agreement that it would be good to have a half marathon prep race leading up to the Vancouver Marathon (run in early May). I believe there was even talk that there should be two half marathons staged prior to the marathon. What emerged was the “First Half” Half Marathon. At least in some people’s minds (and maybe until it was learned how challenging it would be to stage two) there was supposed to be a “Second Half” Half Marathon. Eventually, the First Half became a major and prestigious event in its own right and very much under the management of PRR. However, there always was interaction between PRR and LGRR where it came to staging the First Half and the Vancouver Marathon. Gear was loaned and volunteer teams were swapped over many years.

2009 Lead Pack at 1 Mile on a cool and sunny morning.

For a race run in February, the First Half has had an amazing record of good weather. Even the storm that took down all those trees in Stanley Park (as a special treat and introduction to me as a new RD in 2007), was not on race day and gave us time to organize an alternate route and stage the race. The great snow storm of 2017 resulted in the only weather cancelation in the history of the First Half.

The sun is not guaranteed

There was one other cancelation in 2010 when David Lam Park was ‘ground zero’ for the in town celebration site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Roundhouse was the Italian HQ and celebration centre. We tried and tried to find a date and location that was not a direct conflict. Unfortunately, for certainty of venues etc., there was a rather large window around the actual dates of the Olympics and Para-Olympics, and while it was even admitted that our race could likely have been accommodated, a policy of NO events was adopted, no exceptions. Rather than push out and impinge on other local races, we eventually gave in and decided to cancel. That was my last year as RD (it was going to be anyway) and I think I may have worked harder NOT putting on that race, than I did as RD of the three we did stage!

Plaza of Nations, 1996.

You can’t write about the First Half and ignore the association with Variety – The Children’s Charity. There has always been a charity component to the race, but the affiliation with and support of Variety commenced in 1995. Arrangements had been made to stage the race out of the newly refurbished Roundhouse Community Centre. Too bad it wasn’t finished. What to do? In those days, Variety was using the Plaza of Nations area (and what became the casino) for its annual Show of Hearts Telethon. Arrangements were quickly made to use the Plaza of Nations and make a donation to Variety in return. From that time on, even though by the next year the Roundhouse was available, the First Half supported Variety with a charitable donation. In the most recent years, that donation has risen to an annual contribution of $50,000. From the very beginning and up to the 2018 First Half, the total donation to Variety has reached $790,000. Because of the generous support of partners, runners and careful management by PRR, not to mention huge volunteer hours, this money is realized directly from the race revenues. Runners were always encouraged to personally support Variety, but the race never took pledges or tried to keep track of such donations. And, while doing all of this, the registration costs were kept reasonable for a half marathon of its size and quality.

Rushing to the computers to register. Oh, no, start crowd 2018.

A big feature of the First Half was the rapid sell-out for races after about 2005 or 2006. Interestingly, the inaugural race in 1989 saw just 380 entrants. It was a different time though and half marathon races or longer were a good deal more ‘hard core’ than today. Still, registration numbers grew steadily until 2001 when they just tipped over 2000 (the permitted limit). For some years, the race sold out, but around 2005, the time involved became about one month after opening registration, then it became a week, a few days, a DAY and then hours. The last year I was RD (2009) for a race that actually happened, we sold out in 3:26 (hours and minutes). Your first challenge, if you wanted to run the First Half, had become getting to your computer and getting registered. For some time the actual hour of opening of registration was kept secret. The first time a decision was taken to reveal the time when registration would go live, the registrar’s computers were swamped!

I could go on (and on). As I have searched for the background photos and info, I have come across so many memories. But, you must stop somewhere. I guess this is it. As one of those who has had the privilege of being the Race Director, I believe I should thank all PRR members who made this race what it became. I want to acknowledge both club members and community volunteers without whom race weekend could not happen. If I have my count right there have been eight RDs who aren’t me. I want to particularly make mention of three. Marco Iucolino (RD for eight years) who preceded me and taught me everything I know about the race, and was singularly responsible for getting the whole thing wrangled into chewable pieces, with an operating manual for each sector. I want to recognize Nicki Decloux who took over from me and gave me the best advice I got as we struggled over the 2010 Olympic impasse: step away from the phone/computer/race, you’ve done all that can be done! Finally, I must recognize the last RD, Terry Bushnell, who probably had the most difficult job of all of us. He was the one who had to be responsible for turning off the lights. I’m glad it wasn’t my job. I’m not sure I could have done it.

To RunVan: we may be gone, but we won’t forget. We wish you all the best with the new RunVan First Half and I’m pretty sure that if you need any help, you won’t have a hard time finding someone.







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Coach Dan (Forerunners Learn to Run 5K) and Moderator

How many wonder what it takes to be a “senior runner”? We see news on social media and on TV about amazing seniors doing amazing things. Some are in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. They are still out there, some are achieving quite unthinkable results, but even if they aren’t setting single age world records, a lot (more and more these days) are still active and more importantly, ENJOYING it.

Forerunners has drawn together a panel of speakers that epitomize what active, achieving seniors are all about. Forerunners’ “Coach Dan” Cumming was tasked with organizing and moderating the Super Senior Seminar. Rules were pretty simple: FOUR remarkable seniors, OVER 70. In Vancouver, the hard part is deciding on JUST FOUR! (And, FYI the average age of panelists and the moderator is over 77.) We hope you will be impressed with the following line-up (youngest to oldest).

Dr. Jack Taunton ready for some pole walking.

Dr. Jack Taunton (70s) Arguably, Jack is Dean of Running in Vancouver, with a best Vancouver Marathon of 2:25, completing 63 marathons in total, 30 under 2:30. Jack’s professional career is in medicine (40 years) and he served as Chief Medical Officer for the 2010 Olympics, attending 8 others as sport physician or CMO. He’s been the founder or co-founder of running clubs and events including Lions Gate Roadrunners, Vancouver Marathon, Sun Run and Cunningham Seawall Race to name a few.

Avril Douglas burning up the Track

Avril Douglas (70s) A track athlete, Avril is also a holder of Single Age World Records and National Age Group records at distances of 100, 200 and 400m. She is an active member of Kajaks Track and Field Club and the Forever Young Group centred in Richmond (the very definition of active seniors). Among other achievements, Avril coaches young runners. Like BJ McHugh, Avril’s non-running career is in nursing.

Rod Waterlow at California International Marathon.

Rod Waterlow (80s) Rod was a nationally and regionally ranked age group marathoner up to age 77, with sub-4:00 times, well into his 8th decade. The past two years he has been working his way back from a non-running injury, and showing the way through perseverance, while racing at shorter distances (for now). Hear how a fierce age group competitor has kept going so long and is fighting his way back to form. Be inspired, not just by the running, but by the perseverance and ‘never say never’ attitudes of both Rod and Jack.

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh near the Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh (90s) BJ is well known for her string of Single Age World Records, including her most recent W90 record (6:47:31) at the Honolulu Marathon (Dec 2017). We will try to get her to share her secrets. If you like Age Grading, consider BJ’s most recent record equates to a marathon time of 2:02:10! Also, keep in mind that BJ was a late starter in this running and marathoning stuff, as were both Rod and Dan.

This is not about how to BE a super-achiever, as is each of the panelists, but rather how to keep going and having fun with what you do. How to deal with the set-backs that come to all active people, not just those of us who are ‘Mature’ Athletes. The Seminar is BY Super Seniors, but not necessarily FOR seniors. If you have ever said “I want to be like her/him, when I grow up!” this is your chance to get in on the SECRETS of these SUPER SENIORS.



That is a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer! And naturally, Maniac refers to Marathon Maniac.

The answer to that is: MM #6837, or YES – Level 2/Silver, no less.

‘Why the question?’ might be a better thing to ask, though.

I will tell you. Or, I will tell you why the question is posed and you can decide, but please don’t answer, anyway.

Finishing my very first marathon.

On May 1, 1988 I ran the Asics Vancouver International Marathon. I even wore Asics shoes. But I digress. It was my FIRST marathon. I will admit, number two took a long time to get in the books (Royal Victoria International Marathon, October 2000, to be precise), but I have been busy since then.

My Marathon Maniac count is now at 28. I put it that way because they count anything longer than a marathon for your total, as long as the race meets certain standards for timing, measurement and participation. One of my 28 ‘marathons’ was a 50K Ultra. OK, this is just a bit of bragging since it actually has very little to do with the story. Now, if it was 29 marathons in the book, well, that would be a whole other matter!

In May 2008, I ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I also ran in 2004, 2006 and 2014. For anyone having trouble keeping track or not particularly caring at this point, that total is FIVE. I’ve also done the Half Marathon six times for a total of eleven Vancouver Marathon events.

Why did I mention 2008 first? Obviously, it was the 20th Anniversary of my first, in 1988.

Why did I just switch my registration for 2018 from the Half Marathon to the Marathon (even though I am far from trained to actually RUN a marathon)?

Of course!

Because it is the 30th Anniversary of the first one. It is also why, if I had already done 29 marathons, it would be an even bigger deal, as it would create great symmetry by being my 30th marathon, done on the 30th Anniversary of the first. I suppose that mark is still available should I do one more sometime this year, making it 30 in my 30th Anniversary year. I could do another one before Vancouver, too, but that WOULD be crazy!

If you were reading closely in the last paragraph, you would already have figured out why the title asks about being ‘certifiably crazy’.

I will now explain why I don’t actually feel this is crazy. Maniacal perhaps, but not crazy.

I do not intend to RUN this marathon in May. I plan to DO it. The great opportunity here is that Vancouver has a seven hour clock. I intend to train up to at least half marathon distance and to run some of the course and walk some.

Seventh and Final Summit – it wasn’t really that bad!

Last October, I took on Forerunners‘ Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge with about the same training as I will have by the time of the Vancouver Marathon. The route for the Seven Summits is amazingly similar to the Vancouver Marathon through quite some portion of the event. The Challenge started at Forerunners on Main and headed up over the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, or as we called it when I was a kid growing up in the neighbourhood, Little Mountain. The Marathon starts by Hillcrest Park at the north-side ‘foot’ of Little Mountain, no more than a mile from Forerunners. Both, using slightly different streets, wind up at the foot of the Camosun Hill (Marine Drive and Camosun). They go up that ugly hill, then over to 16th, out onto the UBC campus and eventually back onto Marine and down the big hill to Spanish Banks. While not exactly the same, both follow along the beaches until they reach and pass over the Burrard Bridge, continuing down Pacific until they get to Stanley Park. At that point the Marathon has only about another 10K to go, mostly on the Stanley Park Seawall. The Seven Summits Challenge heads up OVER Prospect Point, back down and up Pacific for another pass over Burrard Bridge, up and up until reaching “The Crescents” above 16th and Granville and down a little until making the last bit of ascent to the Forerunners store at 23rd and Main. Marathon = 42.2km. Challenge = 47km.

My strategy for the Challenge was to run the downs, walk the ups and decide when I got there, what to do about the flat sections. It worked well and in the end was a lot of fun.

Nearing the finish in 2008 – 20th Anniversary

Backing up a little, I have to say that I have never, ever, approached a marathon this way. I have run every marathon I have ever done, to the best of my ability. More than a few were less than stellar, but they were the best I had at the time. I ran one, Eugene, a bit injured (now that was kind of crazy). I ran a whole sequence a bit off peak, when I was trying to move up to Silver Maniac status (had to do 6 in six calendar months to qualify). But, they were strategic and actually the best I could do under the circumstances. Writing this reminds me that my 20th Anniversary Vancouver Marathon also belongs in this list. For that one, I was well prepared, but about one week prior to the race, I slipped getting out of the shower and wrenched my back. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my long-term back problem. I knew this was strictly muscular and not a serious injury, but it still hurt – a lot. I took it really easy through the week. I lived quite near the start in those days. I woke on Sunday, feeling OK, not great, but OK. I gingerly jogged over to the start. No issues. That was actually the deciding factor between starting and turning around and going home. I won’t say I then ran an amazing race. I didn’t, but it was quite OK and I got my 20th Anniversary Vancouver Marathon done.

So here I sit with my upgraded registration in hand, anticipating doing Vancouver on the 30th Anniversary of my first. More importantly, maybe, is that I am, for the first time, anticipating/planning to do it just to get it done. A few races may have kind of turned out that way, but they did not start with that plan.

My most recent marathon – Light at the End of the Tunnel

This is important on a lot of levels. Last year, I did the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon thinking it was possibly my last. It was a wonderful experience though not a wonderful time. I won’t rehash the story. It is HERE if you want to read it. I did train for it and did have a race plan. A number of things mitigated against the enterprise and I knowingly ‘shut it down’ well before the finish and just kind of enjoyed the day. I knew I would not attain my goal of under five hours, so figured why not just soak it all in and enjoy.

Since then I have been thinking about how much I love marathons. There is just something about that race/distance that is not matched in other events. I ran a bunch of other races since then, even winning a bit of hardware and posting reasonable times, but the marathon is still the love of my running life. What I need to learn from some of my fellow Marathon Maniacs and a couple of personal friends, is how to just DO A MARATHON. No goal other than getting from the start to the finish with a time that up until now, I can’t PERSONALLY feel good about. To be very clear, this is not a comment about others who are happy to take 6 or 7 hours, maybe more if the race allows, to complete a marathon. It is 100% about me and whether or not I can do it.

It is pretty clear that the heavy training essential to doing well is no longer something I can manage particularly well. The rest of the family seems to think I am getting old and decrepit and that marathons are too hard. They might be right where it comes to pushing to the limit of my abilities. BUT, it is so very hard to leave the event behind. I like to race, so maybe the answer is to keep the competitive attitude for shorter distances, but adopt a new approach to the marathon. I know I won’t be alone out there while taking it easy. The only question is, ‘will I be happy?’. The answer to that question may come from doing the BMO Vancouver Marathon slow and easy and just inside the seven hour time allowed. It will satisfy my anniversary race goal. It may also give me the courage to overcome ego and keep enjoying the occasional marathon that still ‘needs’ to be done.