category : ‘Heroes Big and Small’


WHEN THE TERRY FOX STORY CAME FULL CIRCLE WITH RUNNING IN THE ZONE

09.01.2018

 

Who knew? When the original book, Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was drafted and crafted, one of the contributors, Doug Alward, wrote and provided his story on Terry Fox. While I am sure we can all relate some kind of story about Terry and how he touched us with his courage and Herculean effort, the Marathon of Hope, none of us was a boyhood friend, or the guy who drove Terry’s Van during the Marathon of Hope. Well, none of us EXCEPT Doug Alward.

That’s right, Doug’s Running in the Zone book contribution was entitled: Inspiration and Determination – A First-Hand Account of the Terry Fox Story.

And, first-hand it was. While I am always moved by any story of Terry, this one was truly unique. Doug and Terry knew each other from an age of about 13 and went through years of school together. Doug was in that van on the good days and bad days and really bad days. He was also there for a lot of other stuff too, long before the amputation and recovery and cross-country quest. His view was pretty much different from any other perspective. Terry was his buddy.

The 1st of 10 hand written pages submitted by Doug Alward for Running in the Zone.

It was co-editor Steve King who recruited Doug to write for our book, but I was the one who did the editing. At the time, either Doug did not have a computer or if he did, was not close friends with it. The original manuscript came to me hand-written on ten lined sheets. My fist job was to transcribe it into electronic form. I don’t think I have ever seen anything more powerful and pure. My job with every manuscript was to edit with a light hand, ensuring that the product was of high quality all the while taking care not to turn it into something essentially written by me, rather than by the actual author. The manuscripts we received were from professional writers like Joe Henderson and Rich Benyo, including Roger Robinson who is both a renowned writer on running as well as PhD Professor of English Literature; and at the other end of the scale, more than a few folk who, notwithstanding that they had a great story to tell, may not have recently written anything more significant than their grocery list. In no way did that diminish the power of the stories. It just made some work for your faithful editor. Let us simply say that at the time, Doug was closer to the latter than the former where it came to writing.

That said, I was reduced to tears every time I read/edited that manuscript as we worked it into shape for publication. It was neither his writing nor my editing that made that story so powerful, but rather the inspiration of Terry’s story as told in the purity of the friendship of his boyhood friend.

Now, what is that title about. What CIRCLE?

Just very recently, a situation arose here where I live (South Surrey/White Rock), that meant the organizer of many years for the Terry Fox Run found it necessary to withdraw. A call went out to individuals who had been regularly involved over the last few years and trust me, my involvement had only been as a runner and donor, but I guess I (along with several others) was on the Foundation’s list. Long story short, I am now part of the core organizing committee that will stage the 2018 Terry Fox Run on September 18. As they say, this is not my first rodeo. I chaired or co-chaired Terry Fox Run committees over the years in Summerland and Abbotsford and have interacted from time to time with the Terry Fox Foundation, but not since Running in the Zone was written. Thus, the concept of Full Circle.

Doug Alward (right)pushing up a fearsome hill near Okanagan Falls, on the way to a close second place in his first marathon.

I should probably give Doug a few more words of introduction, so you know who it is telling the story that follows. Here is a photo of Doug gutting it out at a marathon in Penticton. He fought fiercely for the lead and almost won with Terry’s message of courage and ‘never quit’, resounding in his head as he pushed through pain and strain. Not that it matters in regard to the Terry Fox story that follows, but Doug was second in this, the Peach City Marathon with a time of 2:45:46, and an age class record, just 6 seconds behind the winner. The book has four photos as part of the cover art. This is one of them.

I could go on at length about the worthiness of Terry Fox, his dream and the efforts of the Terry Fox Foundation, but I kind of feel that if the reader doesn’t already KNOW all or most of that, there probably isn’t much I can say that will be of great significance – not much that will move anyone more than they already are. So, I think that the best thing I can do is to reproduce Doug Alward’s Running in the Zone contribution. THAT just might give all of us a new perspective on something we all kind of think we already know. Here in Doug Alward’s own words, is his version of The Terry Fox Story.

 

*****************************

INSPIRATION AND DETERMINATION
A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF THE TERRY FOX STORY

Doug Alward

“Anything is possible if you try…..
Dreams are made when people try.”

Terry Fox, 1980

Terry Fox and Doug Alward – in Newfoundland. Where it all started.

The Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research began on a cold and foggy day in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Snow covered the roadside as winter still gripped the landscape.

Terry Fox dipped his artificial foot into the icy Atlantic Ocean, then turned landward to begin one of the most historic and inspiring runs ever. It was a run that would take him over 3,339 miles (5,373 km) across Canada through snow, wind, rain, and stifling heat before the cancer would strike again, killing his body but not his indomitable and enduring spirit.

It was a run that skeptics said was impossible. How could a boy who had lost one leg to bone cancer run a 42.2 km or 26.2 mile marathon EVERY day across hilly and mountainous highways, all the way across the second largest country in the world? Such a feat was considered impossible for most two-legged people. How could a one-legged person even think about it? Only one one-legged person, a man named Dick Traum, had ever tried a marathon on the primitive artificial legs available in 1980. Terry was going to try to RUN a marathon EVERY DAY for several months. It was a run that would carry Terry Fox into the hearts of a nation and inspire millions of people across Canada and around the world, then and for decades to come.

As Terry’s friend and driver on the “Marathon of Hope for Cancer Research” and as Terry’s best friend from the age of 13, I learned much about his character and dreams. By sharing what I was so blessed to be a part of I hope to inspire you to reach out for your dreams, regardless of your present age, condition or situation.

One step at a time! One telephone pole at a time! One Marathon Run on one leg, one day at a time! Over 5,300km across Canada through 100 km/hr wind, rainstorms, snow, -20°C late winter weather and searing 35°C summer heat; enduring freight trucks and inattentive drivers barreling along the Trans-Canada Highway at him; living in a small camperized van with the world’s worst cook (me) feeding him canned beans and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Terry Fox ran a marathon a day for over 130 days taking only a couple of days off. Those “off” days were spent doing publicity events, television and newspaper interviews and meeting politicians and Prime Ministers. For Terry, the daily fundraising speeches and interviews were often more exhausting than the run. Miraculously, Terry Fox did it. He proved it IS possible to do the impossible.

When Terry first mentioned to me his idea of running a marathon a day, EVERY day, for 200+ days in a row across Canada to raise money for cancer research I never doubted he could accomplish such an unbelievable feat. Terry was always a possibility thinker. Terry believed in reaching for dreams with the abilities he had, not dwelling on what he didn’t have or what he might have done. I believed Terry could do it. Terry believed he could do it. The rest would just be detail and hard work.

To understand how Terry and I could believe such a feat was possible you have to know something of Terry’s background. When I first met Terry we were the only two Grade 8’s on the school cross-country running team. The school’s huge football coach who was our Physical Education instructor, semi-threatened us into joining the team even though running was not something Terry particularly enjoyed. In the first race of the year Terry came a distant dead last.

Untrained and new to competitive running, Terry was glad just to finish that first race, but he would not quit. With the encouragement and direction of outstanding teacher and running coach Mr. Fred Tinck (five of the athletes he coached went on to make the Olympic Games in various sports), Terry worked hard every day through cross-country and track seasons. By the time Terry was 15 he could run a mile in under 5 minutes. In other words, were it not for events yet to come, Terry was at the threshold of becoming an elite runner. But, as we know, Terry was destined to be not just an elite athlete, but an elite human being.

Similar to his efforts on the track, Terry improved dramatically as a basketball player. By way of a daily plan of training, believing in himself and just plain working his butt off, Terry went from being the shortest least skilled Grade 8 player (possibly in all of Canada), to making the basketball team at Simon Fraser University 5 years later. Academically, Terry went from being a 55% student in Grade 8 to holding an 88% average in Grade 12. Believing he could accomplish each of these goals, then planning and working towards them was the key to Terry achieving his dreams.

When Terry was 18 years old he felt a pain in his knee, a pain that got progressively worse over the next three months. Terry was stubborn. To him, pain was not to be a barrier to achieving his goals. He would not go to a doctor until he could no longer walk. Finally, after the doctors had done a battery of tests, Terry’s right leg was amputated a foot above his knee. Such a drastic measure was needed to try to prevent the spread of bone cancer that had started in his knee.

After surgery, several months of sickening chemotherapy treatments followed to try to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other areas of Terry’s body. He lost his hair and vomited almost daily.

Terry did not dwell on his amputated leg and illness. He decided to get off his butt and show people what he could do. He said,

“I’m a dreamer, I like challenges. I don’t give up. I go all out…Nobody is ever going to call me a quitter.”

Terry focused on carrying a full course load of tough science and math courses at university. At the invitation of world wheelchair traveler “Man in Motion” Rick Hansen, he began playing wheelchair basketball. The British Columbia wheelchair team with Rick and Terry playing key roles, won the Canadian Championship three times.

After two years of treatment Terry vowed to do something to help all the kids he had seen suffering and often dying in the cancer clinic. He came up with the dream of running across Canada on one leg, doing a marathon a day to raise funds for cancer research. How could he accomplish such a feat on one good leg and a primitive artificial leg that was held on by air suction and a strap? The normal running gait was impossible so Terry invented a motion where he hopped with his real leg and swung the artificial leg through. Some people called it a triple jump and others appropriately called it the “Fox Trot”. One person said his running looked like that of a three-legged horse. To Terry all that mattered was that he was RUNNING. Problem number one had been solved by thoughtful experimentation.

The next problem to tackle was running a marathon a day. Terry had to come up with a training plan. He consulted everyone he knew who might be able to help him. Running and weight training coaches as well as nutrition experts helped Terry develop a plan. The first day Terry “RAN” just a single lap around the local dirt track and collapsed with an exhausted real leg and a bleeding stump, the result of the chafing of his stump in the bucket of the artificial leg. Terry went home with only one thing in his mind: a plan to do better the next day. The next day he ran two laps. After one week he was running a mile. By five months he was up to twenty laps a day. Terry said:

“I had some blisters man. It was like running on coals. I had some sores on my stump where the artificial leg was. They just rubbed raw and there is no protection. Sometimes the sores would bleed right through my valve in the bucket and the blood would run down my knee and my leg. I developed bone bruises. My toes and heel were totally blistered raw and I lost three toenails. I had shinsplints for two months…You have to get over a pain threshold. There were times where it really hurt, but I kept going.”

Then, with my crazy encouragement, Terry decided to pre-register for a 28km race in Prince George, BC on the Labour Day Weekend of 1979. He still had two more months to increase his mileage and train his body. Slowly and systematically Terry increased his mileage to 18 km a day. Also, three times a week intensive two-hour sessions of strength and conditioning exercises followed the daily running sessions. These exercises worked particularly hard on back, abdominal, and lower leg muscles. Finally, race day in Prince George arrived and Terry ran the entire 28km without walking a single step.

Terry had now made up his mind. He would begin planning his run to cross the country at a marathon a day pace. The run would begin in April of 1980, just seven months later. He prepared a letter to get sponsors to help him in his dream. Terry wrote:

“The night before my amputation I read an article on an amputee who completed the New York City Marathon. It was then I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me. But I soon realized that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the sixteen months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy I was rudely awakened by the feelings that coursed through the cancer clinic. There were faces with the brave smiles and the ones who had given up smiling. There were the feelings of hopeful denial and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop and I am determined to take myself to the limit for this cause…. I am not saying this will initiate any kind of cure for cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.

Signed,

Terry Fox (September 1979)

From September 1979 to Christmas Eve Terry ran 101 days in a row increasing his mileage from 10 miles (16km) per day to 20 miles (32km) per day by Christmas Eve. His mother ordered him to take Christmas Day off. Even when his wheelchair basketball team toured Washington and Oregon in early December Terry kept the streak of 20 mile days going by rising by 5 AM and running his miles.

Terry’s dream gave him amazing drive. He wanted to help kids dying of cancer. This dream kept Terry going through injury, lack of sleep and the pressures of university exams and term papers.

In his speeches Terry would often say that the pain he felt was nowhere near as bad as that of the pain the kids were feeling on the cancer wards. Some kids had tumors growing out the side of their head. Others had tumors throughout their body. Some would be there one week and dead the next. This suffering motivated Terry into action: one step at a time, one telephone pole at a time, one mile at a time. Now the dream was within reach. Running a marathon a day on one leg, across the second largest country in the world was just one step away.

On April 12, 1980 in St John’s Newfoundland Terry dipped his leg into the Atlantic Ocean. He filled a bottle with Atlantic Ocean water and tucked it away in the small camperized van we would share over the next several months. CBC television was there to capture the historic moment although much prodding was needed to convince CBC to have a film crew out to film such an impossible feat. A news reporter recorded the following quote from Terry:

“If it’s only up to me and my mind I‘ve got a lot of positive attitude. But you never know what might happen….I wanted to try the impossible…”

The first day fog limited visibility to fifty meters. The second day it snowed. The third day was sunny but with sub-zero temperatures that Terry said “Froze my balls off.” Seventy kilometer per hour freezing winds in his face made the running extremely difficult. On and on I watched Terry struggle. Day after day he accomplished the marathon goal. Day after day and step after step he captured the hearts of the kids and adults he spoke to at schools, receptions, and by doing countless interviews on radio and television. After three weeks he had run across the province of Newfoundland, a distance of 933 kilometers. By six weeks he had conquered Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. By seven weeks Terry had lost ten pounds, mostly due to my sub-par cooking. By eleven weeks Terry was through Quebec and at the Ontario border. Terry would say:

“I broke the run down. Get that mile down, get to that sign, that corner and around that bend.”

If I could describe Terry in one word it would be RELENTLESS.

Terry had accomplished what doctors, other amputees and skeptics had said was impossible. Terry Fox had proved them wrong. Now news editors hurried to record the story of the miracle boy who was capturing the imagination of people from coast to coast.

His story was simple. He had lost his leg from cancer. He had seen kids dying of cancer. He was determined to do something about it. He was asking people to donate to cancer research. A one dollar donation from each person was his goal.

His day would begin shortly after 4 AM. Before 5 AM he had to be at the spot on the Trans-Canada Highway that he had stopped the day before. In the pitch-black darkness Terry would step onto the highway under every conceivable weather condition. There were no excuses for taking a day off. Pain, blisters, and exhaustion were no excuse. A broken foot “MIGHT” be. Walking was NEVER allowed. He had to RUN every step.

Entering the province of Ontario in mid-July, temperatures soared upwards of 35°C. In major population centers thousands lined the streets to see and be inspired by Terry as he struggled onwards. Terry added several hundreds of kilometers to the run by heading south to Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, and London, Ontario. Terry wanted to go to large population centers to inspire as many people as possible to give for cancer research.

Terry relentlessly fought onward through the hot summer finally nearing Thunder Bay, Ontario. At mile 3,339 (5,373 km) the cancer struck again. The bone cancer cells that had spread from his knee had grown into tumors larger than baseballs in his lungs, causing one lung to collapse so that he could hardly breathe. The Marathon of Hope had ended on Labour Day Sunday, exactly one year to the minute that Terry had run his only race, on one leg, in Prince George.

The run was over, but the dream of raising funds for cancer research was not. Telethons and fundraising ventures spread like wildfire across Canada as Terry received treatment for the cancer that was now surely and steadily killing his physical body.

Terry died just before 5 am on June 28, 1981. Ironically, one year before at 5 am on June 28, 1980 Terry ran across the Quebec/Ontario Provincial border. Ontario was the province where the fundraising skyrocketed. It seemed as if Terry was asking us to continue his dream.

I was sad to physically lose my best friend, but relieved he was free of the horrible suffering cancer had caused. Spiritually, Terry’s attitudes and values continue to inspire me. Several times I have thought of giving up running as my aging body breaks down. Three years ago my doctor did a bone scan on my swollen feet and discovered the beginnings of arthritis. Muscle pulls, tendon problems and even a broker upper arm that sidelined me from any running for two months have slowed me down. Due to a modified training program, improved diet, the support of other runners, and Terry’s attitude to take “ONE STEP AT A TIME’, I have been able to achieve some of my best ever running performances. Recently, I ran a 1:17 half marathon at the age of 46.

Do you have a dream? Think of Terry’s perseverance against unbelievable handicaps: bone bruises, shinsplints and severe blister-like cysts on his stump that often bled into the artificial leg. Whether they be trivial or major, physical or mental, let Terry’s perseverance and spirit inspire you through your tough times and personal challenges.

Today, Terry Fox Runs are held in over 50 countries and have raised over $360 Million for cancer research. Terry is still running, still stepping one step at a time, one mile at a time. As Terry said:

“You only live once and if you want to get something done you have to do it while you have the chance.”

*******************************

Terry tried and his dream to find a cure for cancer lives on.

Why not find yourself a Terry Fox Run on September 16, 2018 and whether you run or walk, you can remember what Terry saw for the future and you  can do your own part by following this link to Register and Donate. If you are a South Surrey/White Rock resident, come on out to the South Surrey Athletic Park at 8:00am for a 9:00am Start. For more specific information and local updates you can check our Facebook Page. We have a longer route (just over 5K) and a shorter one (1.5K) to accommodate everyone. Run it or walk it. Your choice. You can register on site, but if you want to be one of the ‘cool’ kids, why not do your registration on-line. It will speed things up on Run Day.

WHEN RUNNING MADE HISTORY – SOME THOUGHTS

07.24.2018

If that title sounds familiar and you are worried I may be trying to slide through on the coattails of Roger Robinson, don’t be. I just finished reading Roger’s latest contribution to the world of literature and running and am anxious to share my thoughts.

Roger, along with all his very many credentials, is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes (The Seasoned Runner as Hero). That is how I first met and got to know him; first ‘electronically’ as we solicited and received his contribution and then edited his and all the other contributor manuscripts into the book from which this blog derives its name. Shortly after, I had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, along with his well recognized wife, one Kathrine Switzer. I believe that was at the Napa Valley Marathon in 2006. OK, I don’t just ‘believe’ it. That is a true fact.

When you come to either of the book launch events, THIS is the guy you are looking for: Roger Robinson

Some or all of us (including my wife, Judi) have met up from time to time at various events and look forward to another of those occasions coming August 6 and 7 when Roger and Kathrine visit Vancouver and attend Forerunners on 4th Ave (Aug 6) and Main Street (Aug 7) for brief presentations and the introduction of his new book: When Running Made History (Syracuse University Press). Details and a reservation form can be found at the end of this posting. Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler, may even share with us how he met Roger while running in Central Park as he prepared to compete in the 1986 New York City Marathon.

Over the years I have kept in touch with both Roger and Kathrine via e-mail and social media and through common friends. Roger has been so kind as to allow this blog to publish or re-publish specific articles of interest to readers of Running in the Zone. One of particular interest might be this ONE which includes a link to “Keeping the Fire of Youth: New Ideas for Older Runners” first published in Running Times.

It is hard to know just how much to say as background on Roger and his credentials as an academic, a sportsman, stadium announcer, TV commentator and writer.

Among other things, there is the matter of lifetime geographical living arrangements. He was born in England, but found himself in his professional work as a professor of English Literature, in New Zealand and since becoming Mr. and Mrs. with Kathrine Switzer, a resident of the USA. I note with more than a little envy, that unless forced by circumstance, they spend summer in the US and summer in New Zealand, meaning mostly they just do summer! I may exaggerate just a little, as both are generally found at the Boston Marathon festivities in mid-April and the New York City Marathon street party of 50,000 or so in early November, meaning they also do a lot of Spring and Fall in the US. That is, if they aren’t traveling who knows where doing just what they will be doing in Vancouver, or running, or commentating or, well, you get the idea. Both are extremely generous with their time and in support of the whole sport and general phenomenon of running, and the community of people that represents.

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Yakima River Canyon Marathon

A particularly memorable such event goes back a few years to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon (2014), run curiously enough down the Yakima River Canyon in Washington State. The race is the baby of Bob and Lenore Dolphin (aka Team Dolphin). Bob too, is a Running in the Zone book contributor.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself. Hey look! That’s me in the yellow Marathon Maniacs shirt over on the left.

The race is what you would call OLD SCHOOL. Nothing fancy. All about running and the people who do it. Just a few of the photos from that weekend should demonstrate both what I mean about an old school race and particularly the contribution of Roger and Kathrine, and for those who will recognize some of the other regular suspects, the community of running and runners. Many of those in attendance at that particular celebration of running (Frank Stebner, Marty Wanless, Margaret and Geoff Buttner) are part of the ‘family’ that will gather soon in Vancouver. Some who will not be present in Vancouver included Joe Henderson (another ‘RITZ’ contributor and prolific author on running) and several of the originators of the Marathon Maniacs including (going only be memory) Stephen Yee (aka #1) and Tony Phillippi. It was that kind of a party. It was to honour the Dolphins.

By now you must have realized this is no ordinary book review. I mean, other than the title, I am already 600 or 700 words into this blog post and haven’t said a word about the new book!

Well, let’s fix that right now.

My little collection of Roger and Kathrine books.

I love books on running and am a great fan of Roger’s writing. I have several of his titles in my small personal running library, not to mention several of Kathrine’s.

At the outset, Roger makes it clear that When Running Made History is a first person account for the most part. He also makes clear that these are historical events and phenomena to which HE can bear witness, and not a definitive list of all historic moments in running. He goes so very far beyond: “There was a race, people came, people ran, it was hot/cold/sunny/wet/windy and some people won.” When I say ‘first person’ I mean that we hear not just about the facts of the matter, but also the impressions and importance of each of the events involved.

I suppose that since Roger is only about 5 years older than me, I may relate to some of the events more fully than a younger person might. For example, I can remember standing beside a commemorative plaque in Whanganui, New Zealand, early on a bright New Year’s morning (January 1, 1990), the place where Peter Snell had set a monumental world record in the mile. I was the only one there and nothing was happening, but tears trickled down my cheeks just for being in such a place on such a day. I have to say that more than a few of the chapters of When Running Made History fell into a similar category for this reader.

I am not going to say the book and Roger’s writing will have the same impact on a much younger reader. I know full well that my response to his writing is partly about the writing and partly about me, but I suppose it is always so. Younger readers may not get the same emotional connection, but they will get a subtle up-close eye witness insight to many of the events Roger reports on and describes from his personal perspective. To appreciate how our sport got to where it is today, it is most helpful to know where it came from on the road to ‘here’.

Judi Cumming with her freshly signed copy of Marathon Woman, the author herself, and me with my brand new finisher medal.

Kathrine Switzer’s Boston experience is part of the book, to be sure. But, how many young women truly appreciate what Kathrine’s marathon on that crappy April day in 1967 has done for their personal experiences as runners? Never mind that historic Boston Marathon, how many appreciate everything that came after? By her own admission in Marathon Woman, Kathrine did not set out to revolutionize women’s running that day, but she soon realized she had dug herself a hole (of responsibility) she couldn’t get out of by disappearing into the crowd. The result has been a lifetime of positive activism in the field of running, not to mention a determination to become a very good runner as part of honouring what she did herself, and what others began to join with her in doing. It was never easy and there was some pretty firm resistance. Right to this very moment, she continues her activism for women’s running through 261 Fearless. All of that said, Kathrine will tell you she did not do it alone, and eventually the race director that tried to physically eject her from ‘his’ race, became a staunch ally to her cause. I love her account of lining up for the 1973 Boston Marathon, just behind Nina Kuscsik, defending champion from 1972 (the first year Boston officially invited women runners). Kathrine had been third in 1972. Jock Semple (the infamous Race Director who tried to expel her from Boston ’67) was known for his one man show at the start and his zeal for making sure no interloper got one place closer to the actual line than he or (by then, I suppose) she deserved. According to Kathrine (Marathon Woman – p217), Jock spotted her and rushed over grabbing her around the shoulders (causing her to fear an instant replay of 1967), putting his arm around her, pointing her toward the cameras and giving her a kiss on the cheek while saying: “C’mon lass, let’s get a wee bit o’ notoriety.” (Jock was a Scotsman).

Three Amigos at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon: Roger, Dan and BH Steve King – co-editor of Running in the Zone – the book. (Photo: M. Buttner)

Two really important aspects of When Running Made History are the advent and evolution of ‘mass running’ that pulled into the community, the most recreational of recreational runners and the literal explosion of women runners. It is probably hard for younger runners and younger women in particular, to really appreciate what has happened in the last 40 or 50 years. Remember, 50 years ago women were pretty much unwelcome in any marathon, not just Boston. When I started running, and particularly running marathons some 30 years ago, you were a bit ‘hard core’ if you were a marathoner. Many races had four hour clocks. FOUR HOURS. That was how long you had to complete your race. If you have never done a marathon as a true recreational runner, trust me, four hours is not a long time to get it done, male or female.

It is the first person nature of Roger’s tales that bring us inside what was happening. Because Roger was, in his own words “almost good”, he could, even in his 50s, run laps with some of the great athletes as they trained or warmed up. He could talk to them as a runner, rather than a reporter. That comes through again and again in the book.

In the early part of When Running Made History he talks about being witness as a kid sneaking under a fence or hedge to watch great runners at Motspur Park (London). He describes the horrible conditions of war-time and post-war London that he experienced as a child. He talks about being at major events as spectator (1948 London Olympics or the 1960 Rome Olympics) and being close enough to Abebe Bikila as he ran along the Apian Way,  to bear witness as he began his final barefooted surge to win the 1960 Olympic Marathon. Roger is a skilled writer and ‘paints’ word pictures as he describes events. When an author is that good, you don’t read the words, you see the scene and the action in your own mind.

A clutch of the Vancouver ‘family’ with Bog and Lenore Dolphin. Left to right: Frank Stebner, Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless, Bob and Lenore.

While I am not going to recount each historic event Roger includes in the 21 Chapters, I will say that some of the chapters include Roger’s own exploits because his self-categorization as an ‘almost good’ runner leaves a bit to be desired. He may have been a late bloomer, but the outside observer would likely rate Roger as a bit better than ‘almost good’. In fact, some evidence of his excellence remains to this day, right here in Vancouver. In 1981 Roger recorded a time of 2:18:44 at the (then) Vancouver International Marathon, setting a record for Masters runners that has not been bettered. In 1981, his time was also good for 3rd Place Overall. In addition, during a brief period he won the Masters divisions of Boston and New York, setting records at each event at the time. In fact, he did compete at World Level for England and New Zealand. The full story can be found on his web site.

All of this is to say Roger Robinson is more than a superb observer and eloquent scribe. He was and is, a true ‘insider’ where it comes to running.

Some of his stories are right from the track or road. Anyone who has run the least competitively will consume these passages like eating candy. All it really takes is a competitive spirit and the least opportunity to have raced even one other person, not for the win, just for an age group placement,  or even just to be one place ahead of that other competitor whoever he or she might be.

As I get older and slower, oh so very much slower, attrition has from time to time favoured my competitive nature with a podium and even gold medal place in my age group, one time even a course record (it was the inaugural race!). The big problem for any age group competitor,  as you find yourself buried inside a large race, relying on your chip to determine who did what, is that you are deprived of the joy and excitement of racing another individual head to head or stride for stride. Admittedly, in small local races, that may not be so true, as you will often know the ‘competition’. It makes a difference. In fact, a few years ago, I finally met a fellow runner who had a very similar track record to me and was but 13 days older. I’d seen his name on results (usually just ahead of mine), but did not know who he was. Then, one day I met him at the start of the race we were about to do. From that day forward we became friendly rivals, but he never beat me again! Some races were breath-takingly close, but that is what competition is about.

Entry Gates to Hayward Field, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

This is all just a set-up for the highly recommended Chapter 21 of When Running Made History (The Fire of Youth Under the Creases of Age). It is here you can run ‘with’ Roger in a classic race in Eugene, OR and learn secrets of the older runner where it comes to training and racing.

Competitiveness is rather timeless. It has to do with who you are and how you think about running and very little to do with the date on your birth certificate.

It is hard to know where to stop. If you don’t know Roger already I want to properly introduce you, but not leave you thinking I have told you everything you need to know! I will stop soon, but I must relate just one or two other things about this new offering.

Some of the peripheral or related events described within the stories, create essential context for his accounts of important running events. For instance, he talks about the Berlin Marathon, a fine event run by many and a source of a cascade of world record times. But his story is about going to Berlin to run the marathon just as the Berlin Wall came down and runners could pass through into the East. He fills us in with emotional stories and descriptions of the time and circumstances and I suppose because I am of an age, I could relate, including the fact that I worked in Europe (Brussels) for three years just after the wall came down. One of my daughter’s has a piece of that wall given to her by one of her best friends from that time. He also describes the 100th Boston Marathon done as a kind of internal inspector. As he notes, it was terribly enlightening to see such a race from the middle of the thing it is, not somewhere up near the pointy end or as a reporter sitting on the sidelines. Naturally, he did not leave out the cowardly bombing of this iconic event. I think most of have some kind of first person experience, or at least know someone who was there. Roger was not just there, he had a wife riding in a motorcycle side-car commenting on the elite women’s race.

I have just one more bit to add, before this ‘review’ gets longer than the book. Both Roger and Kathrine will be in Vancouver and at Forerunners to make short presentations, meet people, sell and sign books. Because space is limited, you are asked to go to the Forerunners web site and register. The local event(s) will be at Forerunners on August 6 at 5:30pm (4th Ave store) and August 7 at 6:30pm (Main Street store).

Normally, these two running icons would be more than enough to draw everyone out from the running community to meet and greet. HOWEVER, I have it on good authority that there will be a bonus. Roger’s two closest running companions, Russell and Mark, will attend and likely be introduced to the audience by Roger.

 

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A MARATHONER

05.17.2018

A strange title to be sure, but maybe not after you hear the story.

 

Boston. 6 Star Finisher (2018)

Running in the Zone (me) was very excited to sit down with a runner who had (as of Boston 2018) just completed the Big Six or Abbott Marathon Majors races to become what is known as a Six Star Athlete. I was primed with questions that all us eager runner types would find interesting: How long did it take (first to last)? Did you qualify, buy your way in, use charity entries, get lucky in the lotteries? Ummm, ……………. how much did it all cost???

OK, let’s step back for just a moment and get everyone on the same page. The Abbott Marathon Majors and the Big Six races that the mortal man must run to qualify to become a Six Star Finisher, represent quite a list of global running races! In annual order the events are: Tokyo (Feb), Boston (Apr), London (Apr), Berlin (Sept), Chicago (Oct) and New York City (Nov).

How it looks, approaching the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Recapping the general introductory stuff, just a bit more: it takes luck and/or money (and the will to spend it on running), if you expect to achieve this goal. I was also going to say a bit of speed since you generally need to qualify for Boston, but if you were right down to it and only had Boston left, there is the Charity Entry as an option. Some of the events will let you ‘buy’ your way in with a travel package that includes a guaranteed entry. After researching all six races, it seems like the two most certain ways to get in are to be fast enough to meet the qualifying standard for a guaranteed entry, or to buy the travel package with guaranteed entry. For most of them, the lottery is a pretty so-so option considering the odds of success.

OK, so now everyone is kind of in the same place here and should understand why I was so excited to sit down with someone who actually owns one of the NIFTY completion medals showing all six races.

What happened next is where the title originates and by which it was inspired. At first I was shocked, then amazed and finally realized I couldn’t agree more.

Our intrepid runner actually said he would prefer that his name wasn’t even used, because that isn’t what he wanted people to take from his experience or this write-up of the whole thing. I pointed out that while I understood his point, SOMEBODY actually went and ran those races! That said, I am going to do my best to stay true to his sentiments and intentions in talking publicly about this matter.

So! What ‘village‘ was responsible for bringing this marathoner along? Our Superhero, we’ll just call him Major Tom for obvious reasons, is a long time member of the Forerunners Marathon Clinics. As he puts it, the community of runners, coaches and supporters. That is the village to which our title refers. As he talked, I realized how many of us who are part of that community probably feel exactly the same way. I am particularly happy and humbled to try to convey his feelings and core message.

Let’s start at the beginning and see if I can do justice to the story and the information shared.

As for many of us, at first running was kind of a health and wellness thing for our Superhero. He would get up early before work, get the gear on and do a modest run of up to maybe 10K. Every three months or so he would enter a half marathon somewhere around Vancouver, but more as an excuse to justify why he got out of bed to go for a run when asked by his non-running friends. He was “Training.” Over the years he ran probably a dozen half marathons, before someone planted the seed in his mind one day: “You should do a Full marathon! It would be a great bucket-list item!” Like all good ideas, once it was planted, the idea grew over time until he decided to do something about it…

So, with a little bit of Dutch courage one night (all the best life decisions are made this way, right?) our Superhero decided to test his luck and put his name in for two race lotteries. If he was only going to run one marathon in his life, it had to be a good one! New York or Chicago were the obvious choices (apparently). He told me he forgot all about this after the evening, something about waking up the next day a little hazy, but a couple of weeks later he got the “Sorry, try again next year” email from New York (a common experience). He confided in me that there was even a little relief when the rejection came. He admits it may have been one of those “What did I just do?” kind of things. Then, a couple of weeks later, there was another e-mail. “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into the Chicago 2014 Marathon.

A sense of panic quickly set in! What was he going to do? He figured he’d continue to do what he had always done, get up and go for a run… but just a bit longer! This didn’t quite go to plan. He went for a couple of longer runs of 25km – 30km with what he called “horrible results”. He found out what “The Wall” felt like half way around Stanley Park one day and couldn’t get over the mind games that he kept playing with himself as well. You know the thoughts that sneak into your mind sometime around the 30- 35km mark of a marathon when everything is hurting? Yes those ones…

Where it began in 1986, Forerunners on Fourth Ave.

So he found himself in a bit of a dilemma. He knew that because getting into the race is pretty hard and a lot of people miss out, it would not be right to just blow off the entry. Still, he felt he couldn’t do this alone either. After a few conversations with a couple of other runners  and a little internet research, he walked to the Forerunners store on 4th Ave.

He recalls the first night that he showed up to the clinic. Butterflies in his stomach, he started to question his decision about joining when the Coach started talking about pace groups and times. It should be noted our Superhero has never worried about his times, but I’ll get to that later. He also recalls feeling like an imposter. Everyone was wearing marathon t-shirts from various events they had run. To his eye, they were all serious runners and he was definitely not. He mentioned that everyone seemed to know everyone else really well. People were hugging, joking and talking like they were all life long friends. He figured that all the people in the clinic would obviously be running Victoria, it is only a short ferry ride away after all, which meant he would be on his own for the Chicago Marathon. Oh well, it’s going to be a one and run event anyway he told himself, so, “Suck it Up”.

Major Tom nails the first one.

Shortly after, while doing a speed workout with the Forerunners folk, he began talking with one of the group leaders, She asked him if he was training for anything, the answer obviously being Chicago. Her response: “Me TOO!” Within a few moments, there were several more people in the group who revealed they were also running Chicago. He didn’t realise it at the time, but he would have a little “community” there with him and a group of people who would push him along the way through his little journey.

Some of the ‘Villagers’ that did Berlin together!

Once into the Forerunners group, and the various training options offered, he found himself part of a close-knit group of people of similar talent and ability as well as the larger community of all the people of various levels of talent/ability that make up the clinics. It felt good. It felt welcoming. It became a kind of stimulus to work at running and to challenge himself to improve on his own abilities. Now, our man is hardly a back of the packer, but he is still waiting to break three hours, soon probably, but not done yet. It doesn’t matter, but does give context.

Typical Saturday morning at Main Street. Pre-run, marathon clinic.

I don’t want to seem to be jumping on his personal band wagon, but as we talked I realized we couldn’t agree more on the community and encouragement side, and I AM fast becoming a back of the packer. It is part of what makes the magic in the running community. And, while we are talking here about a specific situation and a specific community of runners associated with Forerunners, it is a common experience in running groups whereby you do become part of a true community that supports and encourages.

Maybe this is a good time to get some basics of this particular story, out of the way. It is no secret that all SIX of the Big Six got done, so here is the sequence: (1) Chicago (2014), (2) New York City (2015), (3) Berlin (2016),  (4) London (2017), (5) Tokyo (2018) and (6) Boston (2018). It would be wrong to suggest he only ever ran these six. It isn’t so. Needing to qualify for Boston required hard work and a good race to ensure a time fast enough to meet the ‘fastest first’ policy now applied to the BQ. While there were a number of “Crash and Burn” events, he actually BQ’d twice in 2017. The first time was by 43 seconds, which was not fast enough to guarantee a spot, so he tried again and succeeded 6 weeks later. This time, finishing with time to spare.

London Marathon. Oh! Did we mention Major Tom is from Australia?

Once all this began, the ‘village’ kept him moving forward and for four of the six races, some of the ‘villagers’ came along for the ride. OK, nobody was just coming along. Everyone had their own reasons and goals, but the race(s) turned into something far more than a race with time goals and PR attempts. Far more. It was the experience.
One of the experiences related to me was the impression of finishing the London Marathon. Apparently, the vista before the runner as he approached the finish near Buckingham Palace was so amazing and perfect on the day, and knowing he would not likely see it again, he actually slowed down to take it all in and savour the moment. Would that we might all do that; experience such a moment.

Something I know about our Superhero is that he doesn’t much do ‘technical’. Oh, he has a sport watch with GPS that he uses, but is known in races to tape over the face so he can’t see it. I’ve seen him do it. I actually ran the first race at which he ‘just qualified‘ for Boston, and saw his watch. He just likes to run as his body tells him he should. After, he is quite ready to assess how well he did with it. Although I can’t personally say I’ve ever taped over my sport watch, I do understand his point and I know I get far more out of it post-run when I analyse what went right and wrong, than I do while running. Maybe I need to get that tape out myself one day soon. Whatever, his approach and success is inspiring.

NYCM is in the ‘books’.

We know that all six of these major marathons got done, but that wasn’t the primary message of the story. Before getting back to the community of the Forerunners training groups, I must relate one more anecdote from the roads.

As anyone who pays attention knows, Boston Marathon 2018 was one of the most brutal Boston Marathons in recent history. If you don’t know, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs, was very windy and was cold. With the wind-chill factor, the commentators of the elite races stated that temperatures never got above 0°C. Apparently it did warm up marginally later in the day but was still very, very cold.

Making it happen on one certifiably AWFUL day in Boston.

At the bottom of Heart Break Hill, there were nine runners going all about the same pace and had been for much of the race. That happens in big events. You often wind up in a small group that never seems to really break up, at least for a long way. One of the more assertive members of this intrepid little group said something like: “Right, three in front, three in the middle, three in back. We are going to do this thing together.” They took turns of about 200m, with the leaders dropping to the back and next row moving up, until they were through that section of the course. Amazing story, but yet another aspect of what runners do together.

Tokyo Marathon (2018). He looks pretty happy. Just one to go. Little did he know what Boston was going to be like!

Back to Vancouver now and the four years from 2014 to 2018, over which the Major series was done.

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to review every workout and minor race done over that time! What is important is that the clinics and run groups go pretty much year-round. You can do that in Vancouver, although some of the winter runs can approximate this year’s Boston Marathon, at least for wind and rain. What is special about that is not that we silly runners will go out in such conditions and run/train, but that our common coach, one Carey Nelson, has for more than 10 years been out on that course manning a water/aid station, waiting for each of us to make our way through. Some of the better runners, cover the distance pretty quickly on our long runs (usually Saturday mornings), but until I began coaching the Learn to Run 5K clinic, I was the pace leader for the slowest marathon pace group and trust me when I say we were a LONG way behind the fast kids!

Water station on NW Marine (UBC Hill).

Coach Carey was still there for us. He could have been out doing his own training, because although he is a one-time international elite runner, he is nonetheless very much an active and very good runner. He is not alone though. This is a bit of a norm with the founders of the store, Peter and Karen Butler do such duty when needed, and other coaches too, as the stores have expended from one to two, to three.

A few of “The Villagers” stop by to wish a local Olympian well. Major Tom is in the back right.

In what other world do you see Olympic athletes not just supplying truly expert and often personalized coaching advice, but also standing out in the rain so clinic groups can keep hydrated, providing tissues for runny noses and if necessary taking people off the course when something isn’t going right. This is the kind of thing that is meant by the community of runners.

Another thing is the encouragement and inspiration that comes when part of such a group. Before a race, clinic members support and push each other to improve. By push, it is not meant as the idea of cracking some kind of whip. No, nobody who runs (or plays other sports), always goes out, every time, feeling great and running to peak performance. It is on those days that the others drag us along (in a good way) when we just aren’t feeling it. Other times it is you who is doing the ‘dragging’.

In representation of “The Village”, Coach Carey symbolically ‘presents’ the Six Star Medal.

When it is all said and run, this community sits down after a workout or after a race over a coffee, beer, food to just kick it all around. Congratulations go along with the ribbing. Trash is talked, but heartfelt concern shown for those needing support. Individuals come and go as life dictates, but over the years a group seems to endure and to have the spirit that inspired this man who wanted me to write about that part of the experience that got him from a sometimes lonely early morning run to the owner of a fancy Six Star medal, supported by this amazing community made up of all its components, only some of which is described here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guh Haad n Dun!

08.09.2017
Proud Emblem of a Proud People

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

My Jamaican friends and friends of Jamaica will have little doubt about that title. It is inspired by the closing out of the active racing career of one Usain St. Leo Bolt.

I guess we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on that, as there is still the 4X100 Relay, but Bolt (or any of the other team members) can only do so much toward the success of the whole. He says his solo career is over. I tend to believe it. Personally, I think I wish he had decided the Rio Olympics was the time for that.

The literal translation of the title is “Go Hard and Done“. It implies (across a wide range of possibilities), a philosophy or approach. Put into ultimate practice, you could just translate it to “Usain Bolt”.

I’m not sure where to begin with my little tribute to this man who is without doubt, and with no intended diminishment of the achievements of so many other amazing athletes,  the best sprinter ever. There are some hard statistics that just take the statement from an opinion to plain simple fact. He holds a World Record at 9.58 for 100m that it is hard to envision being broken. If it is, I imagine it will be done by someone as yet unborn. His 200m record is 19.19, which averages to 9.59/100m, or essentially just ‘more of the same’. He has personally won double gold (100m and 200m) in three successive Olympic Games and a total of seven golds at 100/200m at IAAF World Championships. I am leaving out the Relay Golds, simply because they are team efforts that can’t be attributed to any one runner, and are always vulnerable to a bad pass, baton drop or a lane violation. Only the solo events are ‘pure’ in the sense that nobody else’s performance is involved except as head to head competitors. The record is pretty much undisputed.

Usain-700x400

Usain Bolt – London – IAAF World Championships

There was a sadness in seeing Bolt take ‘only’ a third place in the 100m event just a few days ago. But, he was THIRD, not LAST nor was he eliminated prior to the final! Let’s go just a bit deeper into this. To be clear, I am not saying he should have won. The winning time was 9.92, Bolt clocked 9.95. He was 3/100th of a second off of Gold, about 30cm or one foot. So, the sadness was more sentimental than reality based. Some would argue that Gatlin, who took the Gold should never have been in the race because of two drugging ‘convictions’ and suspensions. According to reports in the news at time of writing, one of those people is none other than Sir Sebastian Coe! As a Canadian, it isn’t hard to remember Ben Johnson, rightly disciplined for his transgressions, and yet we have Gatlin on the top of the Podium in London. How does that happen?

Still, there could easily have been someone else ready to lay down just as quick a time, even if Gatlin wasn’t competing. As a Canadian, the name Andre De Grasse kind of pops to mind, but in racing you just never know. And, regardless of such speculation, there is the small matter of Coleman who nipped Bolt by 1/100th of a second, mostly by getting his ‘dip’ just right. Bolt knew Coleman had him as they neared the line and clearly tried to out-dip the young speedster, but maybe did it almost a stride too soon. That is just my opinion on watching and re-watching the finish. Bolt could be seen/heard in his gracious congratulations, saying to Gatlin, “I didn’t see you!” Would it have made a difference? On that night, I personally don’t think so. The race was probably lost in the starting blocks. It was reported that Bolt’s reaction time was 0.044 slower than the rest (or at least the guys that mattered). Slower by 0.044. But look, 9.95 – 0.04 is 9.91. If he had just got an even start, I would be writing a different story. A bit more on this later. [Ed Note: My mother had a saying that covers this kind of speculation: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to pee, he’d have caught the rabbit!”]

As a ‘highly Seasoned Athlete’ of 72, it feels silly to talk about Bolt as ‘old’, but in terms of the kind of performance required of him, or any other elite sprinter, 31 is getting pretty long in the tooth and in his case, he didn’t just pop onto the scene. He has been competing hard since he was 15 years old.

There is no doubt that Usain Bolt has a physical advantage over many other sprinters, but it seems he also has a work ethic surpassed by few. Because he is a natural showman, some would say ‘clown’, it is easy to just see this guy who comes out, fools around, runs really fast, then fools around a bit more. We (well most of us) love the public personality of this man. He has brought a lightness and joy to the world of track and field that has not been there for a long time. When you combine his behind the scenes willingness to work, sweat, and suffer, with the physical advantage (his height and stride), you get Usain St. Leo Bolt, Champion.

It has been reported that Bolt generally takes about 41 strides over 100m. Most sprinters, even the best, need about 44 strides. Let’s look at that in the simplest terms. Every stride taken by Bolt averages 2.439m. Every stride taken by his competition covers 2.273m. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, just 0.166m per stride. But, it isn’t as simple as stride length. There is the driving power behind that stride. Now let’s assume that Bolt can match the turn-over of the others in any given race and that he can realize the differential built into his stride. That gives him something very near a 7m advantage. The assumptions are only valid if we accept there is a kind of ‘all things being equal’ aspect to his training relative to the others and his readiness to race on the day. As noted, Bolt does not have a lightning fast start. Reaction times from this last race showed that alone as enough to put him into First, had he only matched the field. The advantage in his stride, has made up for the ‘slow’ start in more than a few events. When we see him flowing down the track and shutting down with 10-20m remaining, it is probable that he did get a good start and was able to achieve full stride and power at an early point, more or less dooming the rest of the field.

Anyway, enough of this. My point is that it is going to take a special person to bring both the necessary physical stature and work ethic to the track, and in any way challenge Bolt’s achievements. It is not hard to see that his 9.58 100m record came on a day when EVERYTHING was just right. He had a fabulous start, was in top form and could capitalize on his physical stature; and weather conditions had to be right as well. To threaten the record someone would have to be able to deliver all these things at the same time.

Now, in relation to his career record, imagine some individual sprinter doing it for at least a decade in terms of winning virtually all the big races. Remember, Usain Bolt has dominated both 100m and 200m and there are specialists in EACH of those distances that are just a bit faster in one or the other. This unknown successor will have to dominate the specialists at BOTH distances – for about 10 years!

In ‘getting it right’ there is also the balance of effort when you must run heats to get to the race that counts, the final. Any runner must go just hard enough to move on, but not so hard as to risk injury or fatigue before the race that ‘counts’. In training and preparation, elite athletes are always on that edge. You don’t just walk up and register for a spot in the Olympics or Word Championships. You must win your way into such positions, which means you must race, and race hard just to be able to get into those ‘heats’. Andre De Grasse is a bright light on the Canadian sprinting horizon, but he isn’t there yet and even though he has been having a brilliant season, had to pull out of the World Championship due to a hamstring strain. Anyone wanting to be ‘the new Bolt’ has to deal with such potential situations too. Regarding De Grasse, and while it upset those who just wanted spectacle, withdrawing was the right decision for a young runner with a huge potential.

Soon Come? Rio Olympics - 200m

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m

I was personally saddened that the confrontation could not happen, not because I 100% wanted to see him defeat Bolt, but because I wanted to see the head to head race and to at least see our Andre with the chance to perform in competition with Bolt, as something more than the ‘out of nowhere’ up-start that he was at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Because of everything I said before about Bolt’s physical and other advantages, I can’t see De Grasse or anyone else of his physical stature breaking Bolt’s records. On the day, Andre might have been able to win a race. That, I was kind of 50/50 on as to whether or not I wanted to see Bolt lose. Of course, if someone was going to beat him in a race, then I would be all over it being our boy!

While I’m talking about Andre De Grasse, he provides an excellent example of everything having to be perfect on the day. It happened just weeks ago, in this track season. Clearly, Andre brought his A-Game to one of the Diamond League events earlier this year, and laid down a 9.69, but, it was wind assisted and did not count for the record books, other than as a win over those competing on that day. It was by far the fastest time by anyone this year, but IT DIDN’T COUNT.  That’s how it is. That’s just one reason records are so hard to come by!

So much for the mechanics. In some ways it is the least of what Bolt really means to the world of Track and Field and to a small country called Jamaica.

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

As anyone who ‘reads me’ knows, I have my own little love affair with Jamaica and will be continuing my attendance streak at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, with 2017 being seven years in a row. I admit part of it is how much I love the event and the people associated with it, but I also feel like Negril, JA is my ‘happy place’. I have no intention of analysing this, but there is no place that gives me such a feeling of calm and peace (and NO, I’ve never indulged in the ‘herb’). More than once, including this time, I have extended my stay beyond the core time of the Reggae Marathon. The extended stay is all about having time to feel that other aspect of being there. They say there are two kinds of Jamaicans: Jamaican by birth and Jamaican by association. I think I may be one of the latter!

Anyway, my point regarding Usain Bolt is that  you cannot go ANYWHERE in Jamaica without seeing his influence on the pride and mindset of the people. It is quite amazing and positive.  There is no doubt Usain Bolt ‘lif dem up’. Like many, he is just a boy from the country. From my perspective it isn’t just his running but more his spirit. Jamaica boasts a line of world level sprinters unequaled by any other nation. To name a few, the list includes Herb McKenley, Don Quarrie, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and these are only the men. Not only that, Jamaica has also provided other nations with top sprinters who can claim Jamaican heritage. That includes Canada, and our Harry Jerome, Donovan Bailey, Robert Esmie and Andre De Grasse. These names are just off the top of my head and I suspect some of our other top names have at least a little Jamaican blood flowing in their veins.

Jamaica is a young country. As I write, they are celebrating the 55th Anniversary of Independence. It hasn’t been easy. There have been struggles and the politics has been problematic. Many people hear Bob Marley’s music and for the most part are caught up with the rhythm and lilt of the reggae sound, but REALLY listen to his lyrics. They are powerful and political in the sense that he admonished the people of Jamaica to take control of their lives (Lively Up Yourself). Many of the songs talk of poverty and life (No Woman Nuh Cry) – his own early life. His ‘non-partisan’ political stands nearly got him killed and resulted in his self-inflicted exile for some time. He was so popular with the people that both the main political parties wanted his endorsement, yet really wanted him to just shut up. This is just a tiny bit of background as to why Usain Bolt means so much to Jamaicans. He represents hope and success. Marley was the voice of protest. Bolt is the vision of hope. At least that is how I see it.

I believe Bolt’s success can be explained without the need of PEDs; at least I hope so. I’ve often thought how devastating it would be for the people of my favourite island nation, if he fails a drug test and all of this turns out to be ‘dirty’. To his people he is so much more than just a world class sprinter. He sets an example and is truly ‘one of them’. He brings it home when he is not training and competing. Now that he can, he even makes sponsors come to Jamaica to make the commercials he does. He spends a lot of time in Jamaica and spends his money and dispenses his charity at home. He gives his time because he knows how it impacts his people.

For a nation that sometimes seems unsure, Usain Bolt answers Bob Marley’s question: Could You Be Loved.