category : ‘Backgrounders’


BRAND NEW PROJECT AND A NEW ERA

04.30.2017
Coach Dan

Coach Dan – Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic

I’ve been waiting for some while to make this post. I am pretty excited about it, too.

I get to talk about something new to the Vancouver running community and a new challenge for me, that also marks the ‘new era’ of the title.

As I write this, Forerunners is in the midst of a SOFT OPENING of its brand new Vancouver store at 23rd and Main. That means there is the original store on Fourth Ave, the one in North Van and now this one on Main Street. The official opening is still a few weeks away and will include all sorts of celebrations, runs and I’m sure a few specials. They have taken advantage of a brand new space to do it just how they want, including facilities you don’t find in most running stores and lots of technology.

MY brand new project, because that is what the title is about, is a new running clinic focus that I have been asked to lead. Forerunners has always been about running for the whole running community, top to bottom. However, because of the accomplishments of the owners and staff, some people have felt it probably wasn’t ‘for them’. It always has been. As an older, not as quick as I once was runner, I am living proof of that.

Welcome to YOUR RUN BEGINS HERE – LEARN TO RUN 5K CLINIC. This is the direct link to the sign-up page.

That’s right, Learn to Run. No experience needed!

OK, so that isn’t quite true. Ideally, we’d like participants to be able to walk briskly for 30 minutes, but we won’t insist. Beyond that, we are going to start with the basics and go from there. When the clinic is done in Twelve Weeks, participants should be able to RUN 5K. Nobody is saying how fast. That will be up to each individual. For those that want to translate this newfound ability into something more, racing 5K should also be an option by the time the clinic is done. The clinic won’t stress racing, but we will provide enough of the basics to let the new 5K runner feel comfortable to give it a try.

Forerunners clinic training group (full and half marathon)

Forerunners clinic training group (full and half marathon)

I have been leading longer distance clinic pace groups at Forerunners for about eight years now. I am somewhat humbled by the fact that I’ve been asked to develop and direct this program. Must be my fatherly (OK, maybe grandfatherly) approach to new runners. Truth is that my pace group tends to attract people wanting to try moving up to the longer challenges of the half or full marathon. In many instances, having made the fundamental decision, they still aren’t always sure about whether or not they can actually do it. Breaking News!!! They generally ARE. I just help them realize it. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the newbies arrive and then as confidence builds, run ‘right through’ my pace group into the quicker pace groups.

Before becoming involved with Forerunners as a clinic pace group leader, I spent five years as a Leader and Clinic Coordinator for the Sun Run InTraining program. I suppose that is where a lot of my experience with new runners originates. That was a most rewarding experience and at least part of the reason I am excited about this new opportunity.

First "Very Social" Run from Forerunners Main Street (April 2017)

First “Very Social” Run from Forerunners Main Street (April 2017)

NOW, before we go any further, you may wonder why a blogger who writes almost entirely for a community of people that are ALREADY accomplished runners, is talking about this as much more than a headline. Well, partly it is personal, but mostly it is because we all know or encounter friends and family, sometimes just acquaintances, who muse about learning to run. Well, for my regular readers, this is my invitation to you to pass this on or make these folks aware of what is happening at Forerunners on Main.

We are going to make this fun and definitely non-threatening. Without getting deep into the weeds on how it will all work, everyone will be able to run comfortably within their capacities, and progress at a personal pace. We’ll start slow and build as we go.  We are mindful that even if some people may not be runners, they could be rather fit and will progress quickly. We have a spot for them, but there are still important things to learn if you are just coming to running: things that will help with training in the long-term and prevention of injury.

I should be clear. This really is for people who consider they are just starting with running. People who maybe run a bit, jog for fitness, or used to be runners and want to come back, may want to consider some of the other clinic options available. There will be options at all three Forerunners locations. BUT, the Learn to Run 5K clinic is happening at Main Street. We are going to start at a very basic level. That said, everyone is welcome, as long as it is understood that the clinic is for new runners.

Most runners know that we do this because it is “FUN”. We enjoy it, and probably all understand why I put the emphasis I did on the term fun. We derive our pleasure from a great many aspects of this thing called running, and pounding through a tough hill repeat session may not look like all that much fun, at least not while in the middle of it. But, when it is over, it usually does feel pretty good to know you did it.

Whatever, my personal goal in developing this Learn to Run 5K program is to help people join this community called runners. My number one goal is to ensure that it is a good experience that is welcoming and comfortable. Big challenges can come later. At this point it is going to be more like: “Come on in! The water’s fine!”

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

As we all know, running is a lifestyle choice: a healthy lifestyle choice. Experienced runners probably don’t much think about it most of the time, but that makes it no less real. I doubt any of us runs to specifically achieve any of the health-based wonders touted on every internet home page you will ever land on these days. But, that doesn’t mean we aren’t achieving at least some of them as a bonus to what we love doing. One of the biggies is the mounting evidence that even relatively modest but regular exercise has huge health benefits. Running is one of the easiest of these to perform. Get yourself a decent pair of shoes. Dress for the weather and off you go. Of course, we all know there is so much more than that to a running life, but at the most fundamental level, that really is about all there is to it.

The Butlers: Peter and Karen (4th Ave Store)

The Butlers: Peter and Karen (4th Ave Store)

Now, let’s back up just a bit. As much as I have been asked to develop and coordinate this new program, it is really the concept of Forerunners owners and management. Peter and Karen Butler have been the founders and back-bone of the business from the beginning in 1986. The whole thing has been a passion and vocation for them from the very start. They have always supported the running community with high quality shoes and clothing and a rigorous policy on delivery of goods and services. From the earliest days, Forerunners has sponsored running events in Metro Vancouver. They have brought in accomplished runners as part of their staff and in more recent times as business partners. The Main Street Forerunners is no exception. “Coach Carey”, Carey Nelson, is now partnering with the Butlers and long-time manager, Todd Jangula in the new venture. For the past 10 years, Coach Carey has directed a range of clinics including the Saturday ‘long run’ sessions for various marathon and half marathon events as well as the mid-week ‘speed work’ clinics.

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

The ‘new kid’ in all of this is going to be the Learn to Run 5K program. The fist session will begin May 27, near the end of the Grand Opening Week for the store. It will be a 12 week program. Like each clinic session, there will be a ‘target’ 5K race for those who want to try out their new talent. Nobody has to race if they don’t want to. That isn’t the focus of this clinic. It is called the ‘learn to run’ not ‘learn to race’ 5K clinic. For those who don’t want to race, there will be a “Very Social 5K” from the store or close by, with refreshments after. (I’ve heard there could even be pancakes!) For this inaugural session, the primary focus race will be the PNE Do-Nut Dash (August 20). There is no official linkage and there may be other similar events around the same time. For that matter, one’s ability to run 5K is quite portable and the clinic will finish in mid-August, so a ‘new runner’ may want to take the show on the road to a favourite vacation site. Nothing like a destination race, I always say.

That’s it for now. As I said, I know this isn’t really for my normal audience, but we all know people who WANT to run, so pass this on to them. They’ll be glad you did!

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.

ON THE GROUND IN NEGRIL (AGAIN)

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

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

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

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

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Garden scene at Rondel Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunset-day-1

Later the same day!

WHY DO WE DO THIS THING CALLED RUNNING?

09.08.2016

Why indeed!

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

The question is totally loaded. There are probably as many reasons as there are runners. Maybe I’m writing this for all the people who don’t run or don’t know why YOU run. This is a problem, of course, since people who don’t run probably aren’t reading this blog. Maybe I should just stop. Well, no. Little things like this have never stopped me before!

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

Since the blog is called “Running in the Zone” and comes from the book of a similar name, perhaps I’ll start with the answer I got when I asked this question of the 26 contributors. And, while some were just like me, avid mid-pack runners, many were Olympians and world record holders. All were past their main competitive days, thus the second part of the book title: “A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“. Seasoned was kind of code for ‘old’, but so much nicer.

I did a little survey about a bunch of things among the contributors and one of the questions was, “Why do you run?” While the words were all a bit different, they all pretty much boiled down to: “Because I love it.”

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

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

People start running for a lot of reasons, some start young and never stop, while some start much, much later in life and keep going for years. Just a few examples include the pictured “BJ” McHugh, Ed Whitlock and Fauja Singh (still running at 100 years of age). Usually the ‘later in life’ people start doing it because of weight issues or health. I was certainly one of those. Like many, I had run in school, but then stopped when school ended. Without going into a lot of detail, I picked up again when just shy of 40. I had been quite athletic in my younger years playing baseball, running track and field and the biggie (for my family), playing soccer. I played ‘at’ lots of things, but those three were the real deal. Soccer was the last to go. I played for UBC and only quit after a fairly serious injury and some heavy academic time commitments. Oh, and because I had found my limit regarding skill and ability. Unfortunately, the injury (knee) was something that seemed to linger through the years. Forty was not my first time of trying running. Every time I did though, after a mile or so of what you could call a jog pace, the knee would start screaming. No problem to walk forever or sprint from point A to point B, but that longer distance ‘jog’ pace just wasn’t happening. Finally, I figured that if I could run a mile without pain, I would do that, often. Surely, for health reasons, it was better than not running a mile. After doing this for a little while (few months) I decided maybe I could go a bit longer. Tried 2 miles without problem, then a bit more and a bit more and about three years later, trained for and ran my first marathon. All my PBs came in a period of about 18 months in 1988-89. I was 43/44 at the time. I must admit the competitive side of me wonders how fast I might have been able to run had I tried my ‘mile at a time’ experiment sooner. We will never know. Oh well, I suppose if you really, really believe in age grading, we could estimate some times. And yes, I have done that.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Anyway, that is how I came to my (second) running career that now spans well over 30 years. Racing was not always part of it, but for the most part I did keep the legs and feet moving, racing or no racing. Why? Because for a range of reasons, in terms of what it gives me – I love running.

Some of the elite contributors to Running in the Zone obviously started young and kept going. When I said that ‘Seasoned’ was another term for old, I should make clear that the youngest contributors to the book were only about 46 when they wrote their piece, but for unrestricted elite running, 46 IS old. Some continued with age group or masters running to satisfy their competitive nature and some just run and don’t compete at all. In most of those cases, the individual isn’t interested in racing when they can’t do what they used to do, but they still want the running part.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

For the elites, I suppose a major reason for running is that they are good at it. And, being competitive of spirit, there isn’t much more to say. Knowing a fairly significant number of competitive elite runners, and knowing how hard they work to BE competitive, you also just have to know there is something fundamental driving them. Exactly WHAT it is they love is another matter. Being the very best they can be, winning, delving into the depths of their own endurance are all possibilities for the reason any given individual might put him or herself through what elites and even sub-elites do to be that good.

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership. (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership.
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I am a member of Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, a Double Agent so to speak. There is a whole different dynamic at play in these groups, both of which are now counting over 14,000 members. While there are some fast runners in these groups, being fast gets you nothing. Elite marathoners generally run 1-4 races per year, two being pretty common. Not one of them could qualify to join Marathon Maniacs. The qualifying standard is ‘how many’ in a period of time; same for Half Fanatics. There are ten levels in both groups and attaining those levels depends on running a certain (generally large-ish) number of marathons (or halfs) in a specified period of time. I can say with certainty that members take pride and pleasure in attaining these goals. I am sure that among other reasons for running, they enjoy meeting similar minded maniacal (or fanatical) people. They enjoy traveling to run, because there just aren’t enough local races to run to realize the group achievement standards. And, just as running fast is a true athletic goal, so is running a lot. It is a different form of our sport and the people who do a LOT of marathons often don’t train much. Let’s face it, if you run a marathon every weekend, you don’t need to do a lot beyond loosening the old legs up between races. For those who neither think nor behave this way, if you did run a marathon every weekend for a year (some Maniacs do that) and took not another running step between races, you would cover 1,362.4 miles, or 2,194.4km. Of course, these numbers require that you cut every tangent perfectly, too!

I know a lot of people with busy lives or stressful jobs who use running to dissipate the tension that builds up. Some refuse to race (even if they run a lot and may actually be quite good runners) precisely because competing at running when the rest of their life is filled with various forms of competition, just becomes another stress. Who needs that? But, if running is a stress buster, what’s not to love?  It has certainly been one of my personal reasons, more-so  at some times than at others.

bottomofhill

Speaking of mentoring, this is my grandson, Charlie, and me racing.

One of the things I love about running is being able to coach or mentor others who are just coming to it. I have been involved in leading running clinic groups for at least a dozen years. I know many who feel the same way and find great pleasure in being able to help and support others as they come to the sport for the first time or to improve their performance, whatever that may mean. While I have coached/mentored true beginners, in the clinic group I lead now I am often encountering people preparing for their very first half or full marathon. It is great fun to be able to help those individuals realize that major life goal.

I know many competitively spirited people who still want to ‘win’ in various senses. I am definitely one of those people. Winning has different meanings. I sometimes point out (usually to new runners, just getting into racing, and maybe feeling that they just aren’t good enough) that any race has precisely ONE winner. That is the guy (usually) who crosses the line first. Steve Prefontaine  described being second as ‘First Loser’. It was mostly a statement of his personal standard for his own aspirations, but puts a nice context into this idea. I have had some flack for that statement, usually from people who feel the effort involved in doing something hard makes them a ‘winner’. It makes a good conversation starter though, and gives me a chance to point out that I am really saying the same thing. I just use the shock value to get other people’s attention.

Revel does good 'bling'! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Revel does good ‘bling’! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Winning can mean winning your age group, and I know lots who avidly pursue this goal. Often they don’t so much want to beat anybody else (OK, sometimes they do), but rather, like Pre, they want to meet a standard they have set for themselves. Since I’ve never really been that good, I take my age-group podiums, including golds, when they come and enjoy them, but for me ‘winning’ means maintaining my performance either in raw times for any distance or in age graded times or performance. It is inevitable as you start counting off the years, that around my age, you are going to be slower. You can only forestall that slowing. You cannot stop it. So, holding steady on personal performance is a win for me. If that gets me a medal now and then, that is a bonus and gives me pleasure, but the real ‘win’ is being out there and doing it as well as I can. My big (being just a little facetious) thrill and claim to fame just now is that I am the age group record holder at the Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Somehow, I managed to win my age group. 2016 was the inaugural running of the event. I have to be the record holder. Still, I’m having fun for now!

Another rewarding thing for runners can be pushing to some new level – a half marathon, marathon or maybe that first ‘ultra’. Finding yourself able to do something you never thought you could is hugely rewarding. In my opinion, it is also a fine reason to run. Actually, never mind the marathon, the first 5K.  Or, as the Vancouver Sun Run proves on an annual basis, the first 10K completed at any pace, amounts to a wonderful and pleasing accomplishment.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

Parts of running can be a part of the ‘why’ of running. I run marathons in particular, at least partly because of the energy or ‘vibe’ of  such races. There is something about being around people doing a marathon. There is a mix of fear and determination along with anticipation that is not much like any other type of race. There is nothing certain about stepping to the line to start a marathon, not even for the elite runners at the head of the field. You NEVER know how it will go. The best runners have to drop out (sometimes) while the slowest, with dogged determination, finish. To be fair, you really can’t compare those speedy elites at the front with the rest of us, especially if you are running a big race like New York City Marathon, Chicago, London, Berlin, but we all run the same race, the same course, on the same day in the same weather.

Actually, one of the big thrills of those major marathons is that I can run in a race with the best in the world. Name another sport where the mere mortal is allowed to be in the same event as the very best. I play golf now and then, but I can’t just trundle down to Augusta and book myself a tee-time for the Masters. Granted, some of those marathons are hard to get into, but that is a matter of weight of numbers, not restrictions based on ability. Yeah, yeah, I know – Boston, but even Boston only requires that you be pretty good for your age.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

I have somewhat let myself drift into equating running with racing. It isn’t. When writing/editing our book, Running in the Zone, I was faced with the question of what I would actually write for my own contribution. I mentioned earlier, the concept of stress busting being facilitated by running. I decided that maybe a few words on running meditation would be in order. What I wrote was a bit of a formalized description of what a lot of runners do whether they recognize it or not. I was quick to point out that this may require a certain fitness and ability level that would let a person just ‘run easy’. I mean, when you are first starting out, there may not be any such thing as an easy run. Truly though, it really doesn’t take that long to have a differentiated pace that can be described as ‘easy’. The essence of what I wrote was just a bit of a guide on getting your body and mind into the right place for a very meditative kind of running. It is wonderfully peaceful and rejuvenating. As I said, most experienced runners have probably done this with or without consciously knowing they are doing it. When that sort of option is available anytime you want to do it, what’s not to love?

I suppose I could go on at somewhat greater length, but as with many of my posts the intention is to get the reader thinking. I hope I have done that. I’d love to hear what others hold as their reasons to run.

THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF RUNNING

03.22.2015

Jamaica Sunset - Copy

From time to time I’m known to drift off into this ‘thinky’ kind of writing. Actually, this particular post was inspired by something on social media, in which an individual was talking about running her first marathon with her husband (also a first). She had lots of questions about what to do and how to do it. Among others, I got into the conversation, but soon realized the most important advice was to remember that no matter what, it was their FIRST marathon and should be enjoyed as such because there would never be another one. Seems like I hit a ‘chord’ because a lot of people quickly agreed that they should soak in all the good stuff about a first marathon, especially that one and only FIRST MARATHON FINISH.

That was what got me thinking about the emotional side of running. The more I thought, the more I realized it could be the topic for a book rather than a puny little blog post. From my perspective, here are some top of mind aspects of the emotional part of running.

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Since the only stuff I really, really know about is my own stuff, we’ll start with MY first marathon. I know that not everybody has done a marathon and that there is no need to ever run one. Still, for those who have or might be thinking about it, the first one has a special place in a person’s running history. For some, it may be special in their life experience.

There are a lot of mechanics to running a marathon whether you are an elite runner stepping up to that first competitive marathon, or a back of the packer taking on a personal challenge. Not having much first hand knowledge about the elite end of things, I will concentrate on the mid to back of the pack folk. Not to beat a good horse to death, I will mention once again that my first and best marathon was run in 1988 when I was 43 and was at a time just under 3:25. No chips then, so I’m rounding down a gun time of 3:25:19. Age grading would give me a theoretical time of about 3:14. I’m trying to squeeze this down to the very best time I can, at least partly to show I was an OK runner but certainly not sub-three hour, which a lot of people see as some kind of dividing line. I do.

I trained hard for that race, as hard and well as I’ve ever done. At the time, I was hanging out with a bad bunch of hard-core runners. Being weak, felt I had to do what the ‘other kids’ were doing. I ran six days a week, fitting in all the hills, speed work and intervals you might imagine as well as long runs, including doing the marathon distance twice in training. Naturally, races were done as part of the preparation and it turned  out that I ran my half marathon PB a couple of weeks before my target marathon (while holding back – at least I think I was). When the race got really near, I worked out a personal pacing plan. All this is to set the stage for my first marathon, the Vancouver International Marathon (1988). I can honestly say it was my best ever race. Best in the sense of management of my performance against my race plan. I ran exactly as planned, finishing within seconds of my target time and just as importantly, hitting my split times. I felt spent, but not exhausted. I could have run farther if the finish required it, but when I stopped I was done and could hardly even step up over the curb.

Vancouver Finish 1988 - My first marathon.

Vancouver Finish 1988 – My first marathon.

The big thing I remember about the last part of that race was the ‘bargaining’. Originally I planned that if I felt good with 5K to go, I would –  GO that is. Well, I did feel good, but at 37km, 5K seemed a lot longer distance than it did while plotting all this out on paper. “OK, 3K then.” That would be fine.

At 3K the discussion was repeated. I was still feeling pretty good, but did not feel a kick waiting to happen. “Carry on carrying on!” At a mile to go, it would be put it all out there time. When I saw the Mile to Go sign my brain said to my legs, “OK, let’s DO IT! Pick it up and take it home!” The reply from legs was something along the lines of: “Fine brain, you come on down here and do just that!” In fact, I pushed as hard as I could, but suspect that rather than faster, I just didn’t go slower. Remember in 1988, not only were there no chips, there were no gps devices to download your race to a computer for post-race analysis. I just know it was a strong finish and the best I could muster.

The last mile was quite respectable. I was definitely running, probably faster than I can right now on a good day at any distance. When I came to the finish, the precise location wasn’t as obvious as it is now with the timing mats, so I decided to run through the finish, just to be certain. I still remember the finish line official grabbing me and yelling “Stop! You’re done!!!”.

One reason I admonish first timers, or ‘marathon virgins’, to really enjoy the moment is that I had been so wrapped up in running to a high standard that I didn’t have that sense of great achievement until later. Oh, I was pleased with myself and had no doubt in my mind as to what I had done. The thing is that most of the marathoners in my club were those ‘sub-three’ people. I hadn’t got anywhere near that so was feeling more satisfied than ecstatic.  It was only later, a few days actually, that it began to dawn on me what I had done in a personal sense. It was only then that I had a feeling of great joy. Maybe because it took that long, it was the ‘best managed race ever’ idea that filtered through first and of that I was terribly proud. As I let that emerge, so then did the powerful feeling of knowing I was a MARATHONER. I guess nobody says that must happen at the finish line or it doesn’t count!

Most people do ‘get it’ when they cross the finish line, and the finish area can be a pretty emotional place. Oh yes, there ARE tears. I love to be there, especially when it is one of my charges from the running clinic where I lead a pace group, who is completing that first marathon. People start as runners and finish as marathoners. It is a magic thing.

For the moment I am mostly going to stay with my own examples and the marathon, because there can be a lot of emotion attached to a running achievement depending on circumstance, quite independent of performance.

Completing Victoria Marathon (October, 2000)

Completing Victoria Marathon (October, 2000)

I didn’t run my second marathon until 12 years later. I wasn’t planning on being a ‘one and done’ marathoner, but they weren’t as common as they are today. I was busy with work and family and frankly had no sense of urgency to do another one. My running was steadily improving and if I had any kind of a plan, it was to do the next one in 1990. Sadly, about a year after my first marathon I ruptured a disk in my back. It wasn’t until a good year after that when I was back to running of any kind, never mind being trained to do a marathon. In 1991 I did start training with a chap from work, but it was just too difficult with the work schedule, related travel and all. Fast forward to 2000 when for a bunch of reasons I just decided a marathon needed to be done. It turned out to be the (then) Royal Victoria Marathon. Did I run it well? I don’t know, but I finished and with the history of the back problem, this one may have been more emotional than the first one! It was interesting that even though I had trained pretty well and knew I should be able to finish, there was more uncertainty about how well I would do and even about finishing if I raced the distance.  There was an added bonus to this one, as I ran it with daughter Janna. Well, not exactly ‘with’ if you get my drift! Crossing the finish of my second marathon may have been more what the first should have been (on the day). Let’s just say it was pretty emotional. I had overcome a physical barrier and proven a point, to myself. AND, it was the first time I’d run a marathon with one of the kids! Running with our kids has been a big thing for me, and soon I can number a grandson along with the kids!

Family Half Marathon Challenge Complete

Family Half Marathon Challenge Complete l-r Danielle, Dan, Janna, Cameron

I think my MOST emotional marathon finish came by complete surprise. And no, I’m not going to describe every one of the 25 marathons I have run. What I am trying to get across is how we can be emotionally impacted by our achievements for reasons not directly related to the running itself. Number three was back in Vancouver in 2004. By this time, the idea of running a marathon was not quite the big deal it had been. I knew I could do it.

Until late in 2003 I had been very personally and professionally invested in a company that had huge problems. Foolishly I see now, I had put a lot into trying to ‘fix’ the unfixable. I pulled the plug in September of 2003. Training for Vancouver 2004 was never attached in any way to my career decision. It was just something I had time to do and wanted to do. So, cut to the finish of a so-so marathon that was kind of OK at the time, but which now rates only as my 8th best overall and 14th when age graded.

I was pleased to finish, but expected that I would. In those days Vancouver Marathon meant it when they said “Finisher Shirt“. You only got it when you were done. I wandered along through the athlete area of the finish and eventually collected my shirt. I decided to sit down and change into my new, hard earned and most importantly, DRY shirt. As I peeled off my soggy race shirt it was as if it somehow represented the difficulty of the last several years. I just dissolved in tears. I was literally sobbing for a couple of minutes. Good thing nobody was really near because they would have figured something was seriously wrong. The truth was, at that moment, things had become seriously RIGHT. It was completely emotional and symbolic, but it seemed like finishing that marathon had become emblematic of my new freedom. I knew right away. I just knew and let it wash over me until it was done. Frankly, it is making me a bit misty just writing about it.

I’ve had other marathons that were thrilling or satisfying – New York (2007), CIM (2009), Eugene (2010) finishing on Hayward Field and finding I had come third in my age group, but they were not like those first three with their important underlying reasons for being emotional. I suppose I should be honest and admit that emotion can go the other way. My last BMO Vancouver Marathon (May 2014) qualified as a super low. It was all me, not the event, although I’ll admit the weather didn’t help.

Chris Morales at the Reggae Marathon Finish

That Runnin Guy – Reggae Marathon Finish 2009

I said I would stay mostly with my own examples, but my friend Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy) has a moving story about his first (and to this point, ONLY marathon). He had powerful personal reasons and motivations to take on the marathon challenge. I am not going to attempt to explain them, but if you want to know more, you can read about it in his own blog post. Because of his heritage he chose the Reggae Marathon for his goal (he was born in Jamaica, but now lives in Toronto). At the left, he is finishing that epic race in 2009. And, if you don’t want to actually go read about it for yourself, you can just trust me that this WAS a very emotional moment for him.

All of this is to point out that running can bring us a lot of soul deep satisfaction if it is significant to the individual. I suppose for runners good enough to challenge the field, it might be a first win. In my case, the second marathon was the completion of a come-back from a physical challenge. That physical issue could be anything depending on the individual. The third marathon finish was emotionally powerful because it marked a huge milestone in my life having nothing at all to do with running, but was just symbolized by finishing that race. I would hope with these examples, many people can relate to something that rings a bell in their own life.

A forest trail on Mount Frosty (Manning Park, BC)

A forest trail on Mount Frosty (Manning Park, BC)

Personally, and I know as I write this that it is likely true for most runners, I find that the circumstances of certain runs, runs not necessarily races or finishes, can lead to highly emotional feelings. As you run a forest trail or through a field or over a mountain on a sunny morning, temperature right, birds singing, you may suddenly be filled with a sense of joy or peace: the feeling that it just doesn’t get any better. You almost don’t want to breathe lest it pass from you, it is that deep. Tell me, if you have been running for any amount of time at all, that this hasn’t happened to you. You can’t make it happen. It just does, but when it does it is deeply emotional.

I was going to qualify the previous point with something like ‘unless you are an absolute beginner, just getting through those early days when everything seems hard’ but realized that completing some of those early runs when you are just starting, can be extremely satisfying, fulfilling and emotional. As a clinic leader I’ve seen it so many times. It happened quite recently when one of my ‘charges’ stated with brightly glittering eyes after a longish training run: “That is the longest I’ve every run!”

Some events might have strong emotional meaning or impact in their own right. There are a few that mean a lot for me. When I am there, doing whatever it may be, it just feels right in an ‘all is right with the world’ kind of way. I feel that way most of the time when on the Hood to Coast Relay. There, it is the people and the oneness of the team as much as anything, but I’ve done other relays and have never felt any of them to be as ‘right’ as Hood to Coast. It’s just me, but that is the point. The event doesn’t matter. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter. Still, the feeling is powerful and IT does matter.

At the Start - 1989  Hood to Coast Relay

At the Start – 1989 Hood to Coast Relay

Speaking of Hood to Coast reminded me of another specific time when the feel-good factor can kick in for a runner. I know that not everyone runs in a competitive way, but I do and so do a lot of others. To be clear, the term competitive does not necessarily mean fast or out to win. It means not being happy unless you are striving to be the best you can, even if the only person you can beat is yourself. Hood to Coast has a rocketing downhill on the very first leg. Since my first time in 1989, Leg #1 has changed only a little. The road has definitely improved and nobody runs it in the dark now. The fastest I’ve run over a sustained distance (5.4 miles) is Leg #1. I came down Mt Hood, in the dark, at an average pace of 5:59/mile (3:42/km). I felt like I was flying. I felt like a ‘winner’. I think for a moment I got an idea of what a really good runner must feel like. As hard as I was running, it felt easy and fluid. Like I said, I was flying! If something like that doesn’t hit you where you live, I kind of feel sorry for you.

"Four Amigos" add to the Reggae Marathon total - now 18 races.

“Four Amigos” add to the Reggae Marathon total – now 18 races.

Sometimes it is the vibe around an event that makes you feel it is ‘just good’, and I don’t mean technically. The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is that way for me. It is the people for sure – see the picture to the right with four friends who met through this event. We span almost 35 years, are of clearly different abilities, come from a wide range of home places not to mention ethnicities and we have gelled as a close group of friends even though most of the rest of the time we are separated by many miles.  But regarding the event, it is more too. I’ve described some of that in other posts about the Reggae Marathon, and it doesn’t matter anyway because it is just a personal perception. If I’ve got you thinking about it, you will probably already be contemplating some event that makes you feel the same way.

Another personal thing is EXCELLENCE. I love to witness excellence happening. Once in a while I even know the person displaying that excellent performance, people like Ellie Greenwood, Dylan Wykes, Rob Watson and Harry Jerome (as a kid, I was in the same track club and trained ‘with’ him). It thrills me to witness the act of taking some aspect of running to a new place. I suppose in a negative way I am pretty emotional about what doping does to the purity of elite performance, even if it is just the doubt factor it creates.

It must be time to wrap this up, if it is going to remain a blog post and not turn into the book mentioned near the beginning. I hope I’ve got across that what causes a deep emotional response or impact varies across a huge spectrum. It is so very personal and while it could be performance based, it need never have to do with performance as such. Completing an event when you weren’t sure or never thought you could, might be the trigger. Coming back from a downturn can be huge. Well, you get the idea.

Maybe, on your next easy run, mull these ideas over and see what comes to you about the emotional side of your running experience.

[Ed Note: Upon review before posting (oh yes, I do review and edit these things) I realized it could easily have a sub-title along the lines of: “Or Why I Will Keep Running Just as Long as I Am Able”]

SPIRIT OF THE MARATHON – The Challenge and the Journey

05.15.2014
Book Cover - Spirit of the Marathon (by Roger Robinson)

Book Cover – Spirit of the Marathon (by Roger Robinson)

When you aren’t actually running, what else can you do? Well, you can read about running. Watch movies about running. OR, both!

What follows is primarily a book review of Roger Robinson’s newest book: Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey (Humphries Books ©2014). I say ‘primarily’, because the book “….follows and expands on the film Spirit of the Marathon II ……. taking a journey in words and images through the astonishing phenomenon of the marathon, its history, and its meaning in the lives of millions of runners.”

This humble reviewer decided that it was important to understand the movie in order to understand the book. He started by watching the DVD – Spirit of the Marathon II, produced by Jon Dunham. Without giving anything away, the film is based on the Rome Marathon (2012) and the specific experiences of several runners, a pretty fair cross-section of all who participate in such events. As a runner, and particularly as a marathoner who has run marathons with fewer than 200 finishers and more than 40,000, it was a wonderful reminder of why – why I and so many others do this thing called the marathon.

Roger Robinson’s book comes good on its promise to ‘follow and expand’ on the film. The nice thing about a book is that it sits there and waits for you to take from it what you need. All that is necessary if you aren’t sure what you just saw, is to shift your eyes back a few lines or flip back a page or so. That is not to say I don’t know my way around a remote, but there is something nice about being able to pause, without having to “PAUSE”. You can stop and think and even debate, although it is admittedly going to be kind of one sided. And, Robinson gives us lots of reasons to pause and ponder his words, not so much because you might disagree (you might, of course), but rather that he has a knack for getting way under the surface and into the history or background of events. You will likely learn a things about the marathon, how it came to be, came to be what it is and how there is not only a history to the marathon itself, but also to Women’s Marathons.

As a book, with or without (better with) the film, I recommend it highly to anyone interested in running whether currently active or not. For that matter, I would recommend this combo to all those who support us somewhat addicted runners. It just might explain what we are about and why we do what we do.

Roger Robinson contributed to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, bringing his special talent for telling the tale of running as an activity as well as its history, modern and ancient. Again, this latest book gives perspective like few others on the modern sport of running as we know it today. For someone of my age, the truth of the modern phenomenon of running comes crashing in with the realization of just how NEW it really is. The true pioneers of modern (distance) running still walk, nay run, among us. This fine little book introduces us to a number of them, as does the ‘special features’ segment of the DVD.

We all run for our own reasons, with our own personal goals to be realized. Whether first time marathoners or elite runners striving for podium finishes, we all have personal goals. A dominating theme throughout, and in following the seven individuals profiled in Spirit of the Marathon II, is this matter of how personal the whole thing is. The luminaries who helped get us to where we are today are also profiled in terms of their contributions in this regard.

One of those leaders is Jeff Galloway. Although I never really forgot, seeing the words on paper reminded me that it was Galloway’s Book on Running that got me to and through my own very first marathon back in 1988 – me and so, so many others. From elite runner, Jeff Galloway became one of the trail blazers for modern training and running among the ‘everyman’ (and woman) crowd, where most of us live. He made it OK to take approaches different from the elites and more appropriate for us regular folk. It was Galloway who said it is OK to walk some of the time and actually created the whole ‘run-walk’ approach to distance running.

Another pioneer in the field is Kathrine Switzer. Yes, there was that single moment in time when she dared to intrude into the exclusive man’s world of the Boston Marathon, but that was truly only the ‘starting gun’ for what followed. Who can forget the images of a young woman being physically attacked by one of the angriest men you may ever see? The angry man was Jock Semple, Race Director. Yet, as Kathrine herself puts it, Jock was just doing what he thought was right and protecting his beloved race. Later, he became a good friend and great supporter of women’s running – it just took a while. On April 19, 1967, K. V. Switzer (#261) only intended to personally challenge the marathon and test her own ability. Little did she know as she stepped over the start line, the path and journey she had launched herself upon. Instead of a weekend adventure, she found herself embroiled in a life’s work, a mission that has changed running across the board.

We learn how women’s running may be an even bigger phenomenon than popular running itself. With the exception of the full marathon, women now out-number men as participants. Women were apparently too fragile to run even 800m in stiff competition. That only changed at the Olympic level in 1960. The marathon had to wait until 1984 for inclusion in the Olympics. I could not help thinking, as I read Roger Robinson’s coverage of all this, that none of these officials who felt women were too fragile for endurance running (ie anything more than 800m) had ever been witness to the process of child-birth – the very thing which they were apparently ‘protecting’ with their ban on women in hard competitive events.

We oldsters need reminding of the things brought out in this book. The ‘youngsters’ who take today’s running as a given, need it even more. The marathon as a mass participation event is a mere blip in time. It is far less than 50 years, probably not much more than 30 that we have seen the real growth and expansion to where 40,000 and more people take to the streets of one or another of our world cities and challenge themselves in the most profound manner. Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey will go a long way to putting these matters into context. It introduces many of the pioneers and heroines and heroes of modern running as well as expanding on the philosophy behind the film and the individuals featured as they take on the 18th Maratona di Roma. Here you will find context – the context that makes it possible for Mimmo, Ylenia, Cliff, Epiphanie, Julie, Vasyl and Domenico to take on their personal challenges.

While I have mentioned just one or two of our sport’s trail-blazers in this review, the book and the movie bring us the stories, thoughts and words of not only Galloway and Switzer, but also Shorter, Rodgers, Higdon, Wittenberg, Radcliffe, Waitz, Gebrselassie, Dixon, Gorman and Kuscsick, with a nod to Bingham (aka The Penguin).

Make no mistake, the story is still being written, but if you want to catch up fast and prepare yourself to watch it unfold, to be part of that unfolding, I would suggest that you get yourself a copy of Spirit of the Marathon – The Challenge and the Journey. And, if you want to meet the everyday heroes of Spirit of the Marathon II and the Maratona di Roma 2012, maybe you should get yourself the DVD too. I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry!

[Editor’s Note about the Author: Roger Robinson knows a thing or two about running as well as writing. Among his running achievements are Masters records at Boston, New York, Canberra and Vancouver (at 2:18:43 a record that still stands). He ran competitively for England and New Zealand. He has often worked (and continues to do so) as stadium announcer and radio/TV commentator, and as an Olympic analyst. His career as Professor of English Literature has now come to an official end (retired) allowing him to concentrate on the world of running – something he still does himself, though strictly for personal enjoyment. Roger has many publications including his books on running: Heroes and Sparrows, Running in Literature, 26.2 Marathon Stories (with his wife, Kathrine Switzer), and he is a senior writer for Running Times, where you can regularly find his perspectives on running.]

‘TIS THE SEASON

12.20.2013

Christmas in KL

Yep, as I look out the window from my computer station I see a lot more snow than us West Coasters are accustomed to seeing. I also see the Christmas lights I just got put up this afternoon.  I know, I know!  I had STUFF to do.

I pretty much HATE political correctness, so: Merry Christmas! And, since I am not planning on writing another post before 2014, Happy New Year!

Now, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then let me wish you the peace and joy of this season. As I write this, I am reminded of living for nearly two years (2001-2) in Malaysia (in case you haven’t looked or don’t know), a Muslim country. The year we arrived, Ramadan fell just before Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Divali hit near the beginning of Ramadan, then we had Christmas, then New Year, then Chinese New Year! Each one, got its due in turn. It was an amazing time and experience. Not so long ago (2010) we visited Malaysia with some very old friends, and it being not too far ahead of Christmas, were surprised, in tropical heat to see the biggest Christmas tree I’ve seen in a very long time, and SNOW.  OK, it might have been artificial, but it was there! At the appropriate time, when we lived there, everybody wished everybody else the appropriate greeting for the season. It was great!

What has this got to do with running?  Nothing. What does it have to do with the time of year and celebrations? Everything!

One of the things I do love about running is how it evens things out, and maybe, just maybe goes a long way toward the “Peace on earth, good will toward men” thing. As most will know, I was just in Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon weekend. My buddies for the weekend included Christians, Jews and Hindu’s cross-hatched with Americans, Indians, Jamaicans and Canadians; black, white and brown. Had it not been for some serious and unfortunate illness, there would have even been a couple of Rastas! What brought us together is running. What keeps us together as friends is the bond that real people form when they forget all the other stuff. I only use that one example because it is so perfect. The concept and experience is not new to me, but other examples will take a lot more explaining.

As is evident from some of my recent posts, I have been reflecting on our community and its strengths and beauty. I guess, although I will be out running tomorrow and a good many more times before January 1, 2014, I have ‘shut down’ for 2013. I ran my last race in Negril, so I am now just enjoying an easy/quiet time while recharging the battery for the coming year. I think I am far from alone. I will be running in a clinic group a couple more times before the New Year and realized a long time ago that even though the range of abilities is huge, we all share something and that I feel really, really good when I am around those people!

Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!  Seasons Greetings!

WHAT MAKES A RACE AN EVENT?

12.14.2013

I was just at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, Jamaica. Unless this is the very first of my blog posts that you are reading, you know this race is one of my favourite events. I am not going to start over again and describe all the wonderful aspects of the Reggae Marathon, but while taking part for the third time I pondered the difference between a race and an EVENT. It is not hard to pick out the big ones like New York and Boston, London and Berlin, as well as many others, but smaller races qualify too.

My question relates more to special, not necessarily large, races that have gone beyond putting on a technically sound running contest, to create what I have chosen to describe as an event. In my mind anything that might be called an event goes beyond the basics and has a magic that makes people want to be part of it, and not just once. I want to be careful about naming specific races because I quite frankly have only done a limited number and probably haven’t gone near some very fine ones. Everyone will have their own special races that they would put in my event category. Even so, I will name one particular name, largely because I know more about it than any other race and that is the First Half Half Marathon in Vancouver, BC. It is coming up in February but unless you are an elite runner you may as well forget the 2014 edition as it sold out a couple of months ago, in just a few hours. It is not a small race so a sell-out is a rather significant indication that this is an event in my terms.

Limiting myself to these two specific examples with a wander from time to time into the world of the truly major races, I want to explore what makes some special and others kind of basic. I repeat: not naming certain races with which I am quite familiar is not an indication that I do not think they qualify as events in their own rights. I just don’t want to create an impression that only those I name qualify, at least in my opinion.

So here we go! I would really like to hear feedback on this too.

Staging a race requires a bunch of basic technical stuff. In fact, not paying attention to those core matters probably takes any given contest out of both the event and race category! I fully endorse and applaud the participatory running contest, but if you call it a RACE it better be on a properly measured course with proper timing and results recording. Today, that latter aspect generally means a chip timing system, but need not be that high-tech. If you want to stage a race, you had better offer proper support consistent with the nature and distance of the race (trying not to be too specific re 5Ks vs marathons vs trail ultras) as well as security for runner safety. And, when all is ‘said and run’, there had better be effective results reporting.

Some might think my list is pretty basic and not hard to do, but to deliver all these things in a proper way takes lots of effort and planning.

Getting to ‘event status, as I describe it, requires going to another level, maybe a couple of other levels. As great as a race may be, I’m not sure you can attain this level in the first running. A particular new race might have the indications it will be an event, but the opinion of participants is so much a part of it (in my mind) that the debut running can only be a preview. Following are my thoughts on the elements of what creates an EVENT. They are not in order and it is probably not necessary to have every element in each and every case.

Going back to the Reggae Marathon, the event I just did (in fact, as I start this post, I am actually on my way home), I can say this race is hitting some very high notes. Numbers were up this year quite significantly – some 33% on recent overall finishers and up in each of the three races. To get people to travel all the way to Jamaica (as nice as it is for a vacation) to run one of the three distinct races is a remarkable feat. Why would people do that? Why would they do it more than once? Reputation and delivery of the ‘goods’ are big parts of the answer. Some 34 countries were represented, including 130 people from Canada.

The serious destination aspect of some races, Reggae Marathon being a prime example, certainly gives a leg up. When people travel to, and then can mingle with other participants over a couple of days, you are well on your way to staging an event. On the other hand, notwithstanding that people do come from a range of places for the First Half Half marathon, it is pretty much a local event, but no doubt at all that it does qualify for event status. So, you do not have to start by being a Caribbean island in December. You can be a major city in Canada in February. Location is big, but not necessarily the whole answer. The main point is that people have to really WANT to be part of the event.

Competitor care seems to be a key element. All who participate (I use the word competitor in the broadest sense) must feel that they are being well looked after on every level. Both the two events I am using as examples do this in spades.

Detail is another critical matter. It is hard to define this because it cuts across every aspect of the race or races, as the case may be. No part of the program takes a back seat to any other. The good races do this.

Equal consideration for everyone is so important. Whether it is the elite pointy end of the race, or the person who is doing the race as personal challenge or in an experiential way, all must feel the organizers are looking out for them. I have recently been to an event that disappointed hugely in that it has just decided to be a commercial spectacle, homing in on the biggest possible paying demographic and offering more pizazz and bling than substance, leaving the actual running component to fend for itself.

Speaking of elites, the EVENT may or may not have elite runners, whether that be world level like New York or Boston (did you recognize Kiprop, Goucher and a few of the ‘girls’ from Boston 2009?) or national/regional level, even local level as long as those runners are clearly faster than most of the other competitors in the race. All races will have serious/competitive runners.

The event likely has amazing sponsors and sponsor cooperation and support.

There may be a worthy and well-supported charitable cause, and while I think this is an important aspect of being part of the greater community, I don’t believe it is essential to any given race being considered an event (by me anyway).

The great events stay with the participant needs and maybe get ahead of them. I am skirting around the matter of things like race souvenirs (shirts and such), finisher medals, pre- and post-race activities. The reason for the skirting is that I don’t think there is any particular formula or specific list of musts. The main issue is that whatever any race chooses to include, it is done well. For instance, the pasta party at the Reggae Marathon is billed as “the World’s Best”. Now, it could very well be, but since I haven’t been to all the pre-race pasta parties in the world, I can’t say for sure but I feel pretty safe saying the claim is not without merit. The same with the First Half post-race food spread. It is above and beyond the norm and is remarked upon each year by participants.

Volunteers (and their organization, training etc) are an absolute must in the assessment of the great event. I can say from experience that the Reggae Marathon volunteers are super, and I can say from direct knowledge that the First Half, year after year, gets the greatest number of positive comments on the volunteers; volunteers who stand out on the course regardless of weather (and in February, even on a nice day, it isn’t warm) to make sure participants are well looked after. Volunteers are the world’s best people. We runners would be nowhere without them, but the best events have well trained volunteers that know what their job is and how to do it. All the good will in the world doesn’t help much if the course marshal doesn’t know which way you should go! And, the volunteer has to be in charge when there is an important decision in the balance. That means the individual must have been well instructed so they can be firm and decisive in their direction. In many instances this is a matter of safety for the particular runner and all others around. I could go on and on about the importance of the volunteers and how they make or break a race, but this should suffice for anyone who races regularly. The best Race Director in the world cannot be everywhere on the course or around the event, before during or after. It is the team effort, including and especially the volunteers, that makes it happen in a way the keeps everyone happy and wanting more.

You can run out of some things (you shouldn’t, but sometimes it happens), but there are some things you must never be short of and water is one of them. There is no place where this is more true than at the Reggae Marathon and this is well understood. I have to also give a nod to something specific within that race, which is the form in which water and electrolyte are offered. Both are in pouches in amounts of about 200-250ml. You rip open a corner and can then take either as  you choose, but more importantly, carry it with you for a time if you prefer, sipping as you go. How many times do we get a cup of liquid, half of which gets spilled in the exchange, much of the other half spilled while trying to drink? A sealed pouch isn’t going to spill a drop until I open it with my own teeth. I can slow to a walk or keep running or whatever I choose. I can drink all the water or half and pour the other half over my head. You can do the same with the electrolyte although I prefer not to pour it over me, but whatever works. This is a bit of an aside, but the point is that this system is race appropriate and part of the careful behind the scenes thought that makes a race an event.

Talking about cups and pouches and the fact that at some point they are going to get discarded brings to mind the responsible actions of the race in the community. Any good event has got people ensuring that these materials are cleaned up and properly disposed of or recycled. This is just one aspect of fitting in with the community. Notices must be given where necessary, access to local residents must be considered and managed on race day. Permits must be respected and where restrictive, participants must have clear communication on what those restrictions are. If there is a cut-off time, everyone must know. If that time is going to be strictly adhered to, then the race must start on time so that the organizers keep their side of the bargain.

When participants have something to say, there should be a way for them to say it, either an open forum such as a social media page or via a post-race survey with some open questions where people can comment in any way they wish. We all like to hear nice things but it is just as important to also  hear and be aware of the not so nice things. So much happens during a race that nobody can know everything. Organizers need to know if there is a weak point and what better way than to get runner feedback. I have even seen it that when something has gone not quite right, the matter is diffused by the fact that the individual can tell his or her story. They know somebody cares. If the situation was more than a one-off unfortunate incident, the organizers have the opportunity to fix it for next time and in the races called events, they do.

I have kind of decided that it is getting close to time to bring this to a close. I also know I could go on and on, but I also know that if I did, I would just be providing examples of something I already mentioned and that is great events take care of the smallest details. In the end, that is pretty much what it is about. Big respect for the participants and total attention to detail.  Hey, that sounds easy!

THE MAGIC OF THE DESTINATION EVENT ATTRACTS THE NICEST PEOPLE

12.09.2013

Reggae Marathon Post Race Party

OK, so I admit right off the top that this is another post about the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K in Negril, Jamaica. The title still applies: maybe even more so. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are lots of the kind of people I’m talking about at every race, but because the Reggae Marathon is a destination event with ‘the world’s best pasta party’ the night before, there is more chance for direct encounter, before, during and after the actual race. I suppose the fact that this is my third time increases the chance of seeing some of the participants over a period of time and forming some relationships and bonds.

Social media is helping more than ever in letting us keep in touch between events, too. I belong to a bunch of Facebook groups involved with running, which allows me to keep up on news and with individuals. In any case, this weekend in Negril has been a great chance to meet up with people who are becoming far more than ‘virtual friends’. I also get to observe things going on outside my own personal sphere, all of which just seems to confirm my feelings. It seems that a lot of runners will form groups and travel to specific events, or at least loosely pull together once they know others are planning on going.

Beyond my own ideas as an outsider to the actual organization of the Reggae Marathon, I don’t know why it is happening, but this event is attracting more and more running groups. These groups range from four to five individuals up to something like a group of 160 or so that came into the Capital of Casual (that’s Negril) for this year’s edition of the Reggae Marathon. There is only a loose personal connection among the individual members of some of those groups, yet a huge spirit of togetherness and identification. I belong to Marathon Maniacs. There were several Maniacs officially running the actual marathon but there were others, me included, that were there but not running the marathon. As soon as you see the Maniac gear there is a recognition and a bond. I suppose this is true of a number of other organizations.

All around the resorts it is easy to strike up a conversation with the other runners and I believe there is a genuine interest and concern about how each has done. Quite a few people I encountered were first timers and just a little concerned about a tropical race, and everywhere you wanted to turn, the veterans were sharing assurances about the course support and how it might be out there. Respect, mon! as they say here, but in this case I’m talking about respect for the conditions. That is the key to any warm-weather run. You can tell the race is organized by runners for runners, because that respect is there and goes both ways. I guess that is part of what the title means too.

All of this said, I really don’t want to get into some deep philosophical discussion here. I just want to acknowledge and remind that we are part of a special group of people. I already posted on this recently and my trip to Jamaica just brought all the ‘community’ ideas right back to the fore.  I could list off the names of ‘my’ Reggae Marathon community, but that too is not the point. Just in the small hotel where I am staying there were a LOT of Reggae Marathoners. Runners aren’t that hard to spot and every time I looked around there were animated conversations about the race either specifically or in general. Although not totally unique to this event, I think there is a difference that is at the core of the community of runners and the whole experience.

The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is a superbly run event in its own right. That gets people here, or causes them to return. However, a key element of interaction among participants is the Negril is quite small and the Reggae Marathon kind of takes over for a few days that first weekend of December. You can’t just dash in and dash out (and who would want to?) unless you are local. It means people stay at least a few days, thus leading to the opportunity to interact as mentioned already. Frankly, a lot of races want you to enjoy the event, but through necessity, want you to move on fairly soon from the race venue. Long Bay Beach Park is party central as long as people want to stay, to meet and to greet. Once the Reggae music starts it is soooooo hard to head away!

I do love the destination event. The ‘vibe’ is so different when people have come from near and far to be part of something special. As I said, I do know that the Reggae Marathon is not totally unique, but it does give us a fabulous view of the essence of the attraction of the destination race.

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!

12.01.2013

Jetola (Turbojet) Anderson-Blair

Today we have a brand new Guest Blogger, Turbojet by name. Actually, Turbojet by Marathon Maniac ‘handle’, but actually known most of the time as Jetola Anderson-Blair. Although there is some coincidence in the timing with the running of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, it is mostly because it was at that event in 2012 where your faithful blogger met Ms Jet and because she professes it to be her favorite.

Here’s the formal stuff. Important, I think, because we so often only know each other as runners. Jetola Anderson-Blair was born in London, Enlgand of Jamaican parents.  She grew up in Manchester, Jamaica and Westchester County, New York.  She ran track in high school as a sprinter but did not begin long distance running until she was 48.  She trains with a hybrid Hal Hidgon and Jeff Galloway training plan. She enjoys encouraging and helping other runners achieve their personal goals.  She’s a former ambassador for the Houston Chapter of Black Girls Run!  She’s a member of the National Black Marathon Association, Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  When she’s not running or engaged in running-related activities, she spends her time taking care of her family and giving back to her community through projects with her sorority and her church, Friendship Community Bible Church.  Her favorite marathon is the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica.  In addition to running the Boston Marathon, her goal is to run all the world majors and maybe a half marathon in all 50 states.  Her dream job is to be Bart Yasso’s Bag Carrier.  [Ed Note: Bart, are you listening? Bart is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.]

A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. Lao Tzu

In January 2009, I lost a dear friend to leukemia two days after she was diagnosed.  Her death left a gaping hole in my heart and a raging sense of helplessness.  Sometimes I would start crying abruptly when I thought about how I never got to say goodbye to her.  For months following her death, I just had this sense of sadness and a desire to honor her memory in some meaningful way.  The problem was that I had no idea how to do that. For the next year or so, I just went through the motions of living while hurting so deep inside that I couldn’t even describe my pain.

In the spring of 2010 I noticed that a friend was fundraising on her Facebook page for Team in Training (TNT) as she trained for the Rock N Roll San Diego Half Marathon.  I was unfamiliar with the organization but her posts were so inspiring and it felt good to know that there was an organization dedicated to raising funds for leukemia research.  (TNT is the fund raising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.)  When she posted the pictures from the race, I was smitten and a light bulb went off in my head.  I started thinking that maybe I too, could do a half marathon.  The operative word here is “do” as running was not a part of my lifestyle.  The year before, I had started an exercise regime using Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home DVD’s in my living room and eventually took it outside. By the time I first considered the notion of a half marathon, I was walking regularly on my neighborhood trail and my longest walk was 8 miles….not exactly 13.1 miles.

I reached out to my friend and shared what I was thinking.  She told me more about the organization and raved about her experience.  Basically, each participant signs a contract to raise a certain amount for TNT.  In exchange, the organization provides a coach, nutritionist and training program with regularly scheduled group runs.  My interest was genuine but I was also intimidated…both by the thought of fundraising under contract and completing 13.1 miles.  I filed the idea in the back of my mind but every now and then it would pop up to the forefront.  One evening when I got home from work, there was a TNT post card in the mail announcing an interest meeting in my area.  I told my friend about it and she encouraged me to attend the event.  She also said, “Don’t think about it.  Go ahead and sign the contract.”  Throwing caution to the wind, I signed the contract to raise $1,900 in exchange for a slot in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January 2011. 

When we started training, I could only make it to the Saturday morning group runs so I trained by myself during the week.  At the group runs, I was always at the very back of the pack walking as fast as I could, trying to keep up.  The miles were not as intimidating as I initially thought they would be, but the pace was another issue.  In order to count as a finisher in the event, the race required participants to maintain a minimum pace of 13:44 with a finish time of at least 3:00 hours.  My biggest problem was that I could not reach that pace, no matter how hard I tried.  On the few occasions when I did, I could not sustain it and consistently fell back to the 14:10 – 14:14 range.  One morning I voiced my frustration and discouragement to my coach and she uttered these magic words. “Try running for a minute of each mile and that should improve your pace.”  The woman was a genius!  I followed her advice even though it was like climbing Mt. Everest in the beginning. 

By adding the run intervals, my pace increased dramatically; so much so that I ran a 5K at my job and clocked 36:00 with an 11:35 pace.  I was beyond excited!  At last, I felt that I would be a qualified finisher. I found that I really enjoyed running and so the run portions of my intervals were getting longer and longer.   I continued training and fundraising with new zeal.  The fundraising was successful beyond my wildest expectations.  In fact, I raised $8,000 and was recognized as a top fundraiser by TNT.  Race day was fast approaching and I was nervous, scared and excited.

On the morning of January 30th 2011 (two days before my 49th birthday), I stood at the starting line near the back of the pack with my heart pounding like a drum.  It was chilly and drizzling and I was woefully overdressed.  (I had not learned the dress for 20% warmer than start line temperature rule.)  It took about 10 minutes to make it to the starting mat and that was more than enough time to second guess myself.  The start line excitement was electric.  It was equally easy to spot the pros and the nervous newbies like myself.  I was so grateful that a friend who’s a doctor stopped by to check on me, give me last minute advice and pray with me.

The going was very slow at the beginning because of the crowd.  My primary focus was foot placement and making sure that I did not trip and fall in the mass tangle of feet.  I ran for as long as I could and when my breathing became labored, I walked until I felt better.  At mile seven I saw one of my friends who came out to cheer for me.  I ran over to hug her and she told me that I was looking strong.  I wasn’t sure how strong I was feeling, so I was grateful for the encouragement.  I kept going and reminded myself of why I was participating in the madness.  At mile 9, the marathoners split off from the half marathoners and we were now headed in the direction of the finish line.  My friend popped up again at mile 11.  By then, I was hurting and exhausted but my only option was to keep going and I had to tell myself I only had 2 miles to go. 

I was dragging for the last mile but when I entered the finishers’ chute and heard the roar of the cheering crowd, my energy was renewed.  I crossed the finish line in 2:43:01.  When they hung the medal around my neck, I felt like an Olympic champion.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life because I had gone up against a scary monster and prevailed.  By the time I met up with my family and made it to the TNT booth to claim my finisher’s pin, I was hurting all over but I was floating on adrenaline. It was the most difficult yet most exhilarating physical and mental challenge I had ever faced.  I think I fell in love with running and racing at that moment.

Thankfully, I had scheduled two vacation days for recovery because the next day I felt like I had been run over by a truck.  Every inch of my body hurt and I could barely walk but I could not stop grinning.  When I returned to work on Wednesday still walking like a cowboy, I sported a black turtleneck and my medal.  I regaled anyone who dared to comment on it with the endless details of my amazing feat.  One of my clients asked me if I’d do it again and without hesitation, I declared, “Oh, yeah!”  She then told me about another half marathon coming up in a few weeks in one of the area suburbs.  I thought about it for a few days and registered shortly after.

On March 27, 2011, I stood at the start line of the Sugarland Half with my heart pounding but not as badly as it was the first time I attempted such a challenge.  Completing my first race provided an amazing source of self-confidence and greatly reduced the fear of the unknown.  My new mantra was, “You’ve done this before so you can do it again.” That race changed my running life forever.  How? I met a lady who was doing the Galloway Method (i.e. Run/walk intervals with scheduled walk breaks.)  I started running with her at about mile 4 because she was moving at my pace.  We were having a good time chatting and getting to know each other but then she stopped abruptly.  When I asked what she was doing, she explained the technique to me.  I decided that I’d hang with her and see how it went.  We ran/walked the next 9 miles together and I crossed the finish line with a whopping time of 2:18:27!  I was absolutely floored but I did not have time to ponder the miracle that had just occurred.  I hurried to my friend’s house, showered and made it to church before the praise team took the stage.

My bigger surprise was yet to come.  The next day I woke up and nothing hurt!!  I went to work like it was just any other ordinary day.  I wasn’t as obnoxious with the second medal.  I hung it my office and only discussed it if asked about it.  Galloway proved to be the miracle that my running needed.  Instead of running to the point where I felt like collapsing, I started to schedule my walk breaks and take them faithfully, even if I don’t feel like I need them.  It was no longer just about coping with my grief. I was truly having fun.  Both running and racing became a healthy addiction for me. 

Over the summer, I ran several shorter races (including the Peach Tree Road Race in Atlanta) and I was steadily getting faster.  I decided that I wanted to run a marathon before my 50th birthday.  I was on vacation in Italy when the lottery for the Houston Marathon opened so the time difference and limited internet access created a challenge. Things had just gotten real so I had to put my fingers where my mouth was and make the commitment.   In the middle of the night, I used my friend’s laptop to register while praying that I would score one of the coveted spots.  I kept training as if I were already confirmed and at the end of June, I received the e-mail confirming that I was in.   I had 7 months to prepare for my debut in January.    In the fall, I ran 2 more half marathons, a metric marathon (26.2K) and a 30K.  My personal best time for a half was down to 2:02.  While I was impressed with my improved pace, I was fascinated by my fast recovery after each race.  Nothing hurt, so no more Cowboy Stagger for me.

The big day was approaching fast and I was nervous but I had put my heart and sole(s) into my training and I was as ready as I was going to be.  Ironically, I remember having lunch with a runner friend a few weeks before the race and he said, “One day you’re going to qualify for Boston.”  I laughed and told him that Boston was for the Bosa Nova runners, not mere mortals like me.  He did a little Zen Meister smirk and said, “Just wait; you’ll see.”

Race day came and things started off well enough but by mile seven I started to feel a dull pain in my right hip.  With each mile, the pain escalated a little bit more.  By the time I reached the half way mark, my hip felt like it was on fire.  I made a classic rookie mistake and took a Tylenol with codeine which didn’t help very much.  I had fleeting thoughts of quitting but I told myself there was no way I was giving up after working so hard.  The second half was marked by more walking and crying than running.  I was hurting bad and it was hard to miss my agony.  The sag wagon kept hovering by my side like vultures waiting to attack the carcass of a dying animal.  I told them to leave me alone because there was no way I was going home without my medal and finisher’s shirt.  I prevailed and made it to the finish line with a time of 5:00:24 but ended up in the medical tent in distress.  That spring I ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon as a redemption race to see how I would do if I were injury-free.  I finished in 4:42 and felt pretty good about it.  I took home my first age group award at a local half marathon.

 Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2012 and my story changes.  I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with the simple goal of beating Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (a very popular goal among marathoners) but instead of just beating her, I came within 7 minutes of qualifying for Boston!  I was bug-eyed for days.  That race gave me the confidence to believe that I really could BQ (i.e. qualify for Boston) so I set out on a relentless pursuit of said goal.  On February 24th, 2013, as I approached the finish line at the Rock N Roll Marathon in New Orleans, my knees almost buckled when I saw the clock because I knew that the moment I crossed, I’d have a new identity as a runner….a Boston Qualifier.  Somewhere the Zen Meister was smirking with that knowing twinkle in his eyes.

In September, I endured the agony of the registration process and the ensuing waiting game to see my name on the confirmed entrants list.  When it happened, it was an incredibly surreal moment.  Once again, my running identity had changed.  I was no longer a Boston Qualifier; I was now a Boston Entrant.  I’ve had friends and other loved ones try to discourage me from registering because of the bombing at this year’s race.  I had to explain to them that if I didn’t go, then the bombers would win.  That may be hard for non-runners to understand but I know that the running community understands, even though it seems crazy.

In addition to qualifying for Boston, I had a few other running goals, including reaching Iridium status in Marathon Maniacs, completing a 50K, running a 1:43 half (i.e. shave an hour from my first half) and running 1,013 miles.  I am thrilled to say that I have achieved all these goals.  By the end of 2013, I will have completed a total of 13 marathons (including 5 BQ’s) and 28 half marathons.  What is my motivation for continuing to run? The answer is a combination of different factors.  I still do it in honor of my loved ones who are no longer here so I dedicate every run and every race to them.  I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself physically and mentally to achieve new goals.  I enjoy traveling and spending time with my running friends from all across the country.  I love cupcakes and often reward myself with the delicious treats.  Most importantly, I truly enjoy the mind-clearing physical act of running.  I was recently paired with a running buddy through www.whoirun4.com and she is now a new source of inspiration for me.

To sum it all up, I am glad that I found a technique that helps me to get faster while remaining injury-free and having fun.  How long will I keep running?  When it’s no longer fun, that’s when I’m done.

 

Editor’s Summary. There you have it. A very personal account of something quite amazing. Jetola is a very humble person and while I know she loves and revels in her running, I’m not 100% sure she yet grasps what she has accomplished in just a few short years. It has been a pleasure to be able to present her story. I hope it inspires everyone who stops to read it, especially anyone who has ventured here wondering just as she did, whether a half marathon or marathon, or any other challenge is possible.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now also available in e-book format through Trafford Publishing.