category : ‘Never Too Late to be Great’


Ho Hum to Banner Year in a Few Easy ‘Clicks’

02.01.2016
Getting ready to run the First Half, but won't be up with these guys!

Getting ready to run the First Half, but won’t be up with these guys!

Some of this isn’t new news, but I have been personally thrilled about things that have happened in the last while that have turned 2016 from a year where I intended to continue running but without much more of a plan than to ‘do it’.

Wow, has that ever changed!

I am already officially registered to run four of my favourite events of all time and committed to one more as soon as registration opens.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Good Times (and a good time).

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Good Times (and a good time).

In February, I will run the First Half Half Marathon, for the very first time. I’ve talked about this before, so we’ll just leave that for now. As noted here quite recently, I am a Race Ambassador for the Eugene Marathon. That comes up in May and is also a real favourite. (PS, don’t forget the Ambassador has a discount code to share!) Flashing forward to late August, after several years of trying unsuccessfully, I got a team accepted into the Hood to Coast Relay. Oh yeah! Registered, and recruited a full team already. The fourth event is the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon. This one is going to be a bit different because rather than the full or half marathon, I will (again, a first) be running the 8K with grandson Charlie.

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

So there you have it! Just like that, all registered in four of my favourite racing events. BUT WAIT (as they say on the TV ads) that isn’t all. I am committed to a reprise of the Giant’s Head Run with Charlie in June. That makes FIVE really special races in the schedule and it has only just turned February.

I’ve already made posts about the First Half and Eugene so let me dodge ahead to October and the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon Weekend. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that knows me, that I have a spot in my heart and race schedule for this event. My first ‘doing’ of this event was in 2000, when it was still the Royal Victoria Marathon. I made my marathon come-back there. Well, if you can call running  your second marathon a ‘come-back’.  In a way it was, since I ran the first one in 1988, wound up with a serious back problem and operation that happened in May of 1990. Then, later in that decade I just got so busy that I mostly didn’t race at all until about 1998. The time wasn’t totally without racing, but it was pretty sporadic. I ran but mostly did not race or train to race. I did actually start training for a marathon in 1991 while living/working in Brussels, Belgium, but it fell through for lack of training time.

Janna Finishing RVM, October 2000.

Janna Finishing her First Marathon. RVM, October 2000.

So, it took until October 2000 and a lot of serious intent to ‘get er done’, before Marathon #2 went into the books. Well since then I have run a total of six half marathons and 5 marathons and launched our Running in the Zone book, at Victoria. This year, as noted, I will run the 8K for the very first time and it will be special because I’ll be running with my new running buddy, Charlie. By October, it should be at least our third race together. I hope I will still be able to stay with him. In case it isn’t obvious, we are kind of going in opposite directions where it comes to running pace. I figure it is only a matter of time (and not much of it) until I’m saying “See you at the finish” and meaning “Please wait for me at the finish”. I suppose it isn’t that I’m losing ground at such a rapid pace, but I know Charlie is going to get faster, and soon. If I had to predict, it would be something like this. In 2015 in the Giant’s Head Run, I had to pace to Charlie’s current capability. In 2016, I am kind of betting we may be on somewhat the same level. By October, he may have to slow down for me. Maybe not quite yet, but soon. As I said, we are kind of moving in opposite directions, but that is a good thing.

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

If that wasn’t enough, it is going to be a full-on family running weekend! Out of the 11 previous Victoria appearances, most have involved one or the other of our daughters (Danielle and Janna) and sometimes both. And, while I was running my second marathon, Janna was running her first! That was a big event for all of us. Not only did Janna and I run our first marathon together, it inspired Danielle to take on the challenge of the marathon a year later in Toronto. I recently added up the total for the extended family and all together, counting kids and spouses of kids plus me, our full marathon count has now reached 36! Not even going to bother to check but our half marathons are probably pushing 100. The family that runs together……………….

Our son lives in Victoria and has agreed that he will get in the spirit and do the 8K too. Danielle and Janna and their families will be there. Both sons-in-law run and wife Judi is ready to take on a challenging walk. Right now, details are still being sorted. Danielle is registered for the Half and Charlie and I are registered for the 8K. Everybody else is thinking about the distance they might do. But, I do know hotels have been booked, so it is definitely on. I know one son-in-law is looking for another marathon to do, but not too likely this is going to be the one because of his schedule. We have one grandson too young to run and with race rules prohibiting strollers, is unable to ride. So, there still needs to be some sorting of who is running what and who looks after Jonah. However it works out, this is going to be one big family celebration of running! Going to be a highlight of my year for sure.

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

Backing up a bit, Hood to Coast will be a great event for me too. The first time was in 1987. This will be the ninth, but they were not evenly spaced. Number Two was 1989, but Number Three was in 2006. There have certainly been a lot of changes including numbers of teams and even the finish location, which naturally means the route too, especially from Portland onward. In the early days it was JUST the Hood to Coast Relay. The Portland to Coast and High School Challenge were added later. With more and more teams it got harder to get in and this last round, it took three attempts to secure a place. The nature of the race has changed too, from what might have been somewhat of a rolling party to something fairly tightly scripted. What hasn’t changed is the attitude of fun on the run. A big part of the fun for me is the planning.

Ready to Start Hood to Coast - 1989

Ready to Start Hood to Coast – 1989

Back in 1989 I ran Leg #1 and it is the fastest sustained pace I’ve ever run over a distance (about 5.5 miles). It was glorious and I bask in the memory of it. Now, I have fun with trying to get all the team members into the best leg set for both them and the team. It is getting to be time to start doing that, even if the relay is still many months away. Oh yeah!  Hours of Fun! Oh, and it looks a lot like I’ll be giving myself Leg #1 again. No, I’m not trying to relive past glory. If you don’t mind running steep, sustained downhill (the actual Leg One) then it is the right place for the oldest, slowest runner on the team. Funny enough, although the post-Portland Leg #1 route has changed and was a bit longer back in 1989, I ran it then because I was one of the slowest on our team, even if I did come down that hill at a pace of 5:59/mile. That’s right. On that team, I was one of the ‘slow’ guys. We came 19th in Men’s Open, and those were the days of crack teams put together by Nike and others, using the very best from their stable of distance runners. That included such people as Alberto Salazar. Today, the ‘pointy end’ of the relay still involves amazing runners, but not quite like those days. Did I mention we came 19th in Men’s Open?

There are several other races that are fairly special to me and I’m working on the plans to get them into the schedule. Some involve travel outside Canada and that is not inexpensive these days, so we will have to see what we will have to see. Guess you might think I’m being a bit greedy considering the great line-up of special races already ‘on tap’!

So, that is it for my plans for the moment. What does your 2016 look like? Hope you are heading for as special a year as I expect to have!

IS IT REALLY JUST A MONTH TO THE “FIRST HALF”?

01.13.2016
pacific road runners - bright blue

A Well Recognized Logo!

The short answer is YES.

People who know me, this blog and the race, also know this post was to be anticipated. Unlike some races I am known to love and promote unofficially, The “First Half” Half Marathon sold out months ago. Registration will not be impacted by even one runner through the words of this blog. One thing that might is VOLUNTEERS. Unlike most races of its size these days (over 2000 finishers), this is still a 100% club organized and volunteer delivered event, supported by super generous partners such as Forerunners (from day one) and Mizuno (now with the race for some eight years). Excess proceeds from the race go to Variety – The Children’s Charity and now total well in excess of $650,000!

Pre-race crowd FHHM2014

Pre-race crowd FHHM2014

For the first 20 years, members of Pacific Road Runners (“the Club”) were not allowed to run the First Half. We all had to be the core of the volunteer brigade. It did create a bit of a tension in that some really good local runners were prevented from running what is arguably Vancouver’s best half marathon. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are some fine races here, but the First Half is still the only half marathon that sells out over 2000 spots in 24 hours or less. I see that as a direct vote by runners. Some might argue that having been Race Director for several years and stage MC ever since, that I could be biased. Could be.

Anyway, it just happened that when I took over RD duties, it was coming up on the 20th Anniversary of the race. I decided an experiment was in order and the Race Committee agreed. On a one and done special deal, we would let five PRR members run (chosen by lottery) as long as they got their volunteer hours in before or after the race. Well, long story short, it worked just fine and we did not have to invoke the ‘special circumstance’ argument to return to the old policy. A small number of club members now get to run each year. A big plus is that PRR gets a runner’s eye view of why the event is held so high in the collective opinion of the running community and to keep a direct eye on any issues on course.

Normally, this post is all about what a great race it is shaping up to be and how hard everyone works and wishing runners well. All that still stands, but this time I have something very major and personal to announce. For the first time ever, maybe the ONLY time, I will be running the First Half.

For the weather, this is kind of what I had in mind for race day.

For the weather, this is kind of what I had in mind for race day.

I will put down my microphone and lace up my running shoes and find out first hand, just what it is all about. I am hoping that the running gods will favour me with one of those great running days for this experience. My argument to the current RD was basically that I wanted to do the race (please and pretty please) while I am still able. Not to be morbid, but I just had my 71st birthday and at that age your next injury might just be the last. I am very excited to have this opportunity and intend to take full advantage the experience!

Forerunners Pace Group Leaders at Eugene Marathon 2015

Forerunners Pace Group Leaders at Eugene Marathon 2015

I continue as a pace group leader at the Forerunners Saturday First Half clinic, but instead of telling tales of the event to those who will be running, I am now sharing my own excitement at being ONE OF THEM. While I’ve never run the race, I’ve run almost every part of the course at one time or another. The difference now is that I am not just giving advice to the pace group runners, I am making my own plans and strategies on how to approach each segment.

There are probably only two ways for me to run this race. One would be to just go really easy and take a couple of photographs (if weather is as spectacular is it has sometimes been), talk to volunteers and other runners and just make it a celebration. The other is to honour this race that has hosted so many of Canada’s top distance runners over the years, and do the very best I can. That means training well and running the race for time. Guess which one I will be doing! I’ll save the celebratory run for if I ever manage to BQ.

Now don’t get the wrong idea when I say I will ‘run for time’. Nobody at the pointy end of the race has anything to worry about, probably not even the better runners in my own age group, for that matter. Although I am thrilled to get a podium place when I can, I have mostly run against myself throughout my racing years. So, when I say I will run for time, it will just be the best time I can produce. Only I will know for sure how successfully I will pull that off. Whatever, I do intend to take this race as seriously as any race I’ve done in a long time.

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) FHHM 2015 winner and event record holder.

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) FHHM 2015 winner and event record holder.

I will be writing about the race again, nearer to the event. While I am a great proponent for running for your own reasons and to your own standards, I also have a deep love and appreciation of excellence. So, once we know who the top prospects will be, I will be talking about that a bit. This year being an Olympic year and a couple of our better runners and event winners not having yet qualified for the marathon, there may be some race strategy determining who will run and how fast. More on that when we get closer. As a teaser though, here is a list of former First Half winners. For the men: Peter Butler (won the very first First Half), Carey Nelson, Colin Dignum (2X), Phil Ellis (2X), Norm Tinkham (2X), Art Boileau (3X), Bruce Deacon (5X and record holder 1992 – 2007), Ryan Hayden (2X and record 2007), Rob Watson (2X) and Dylan Wykes (3X and current First Half record holder at 1:04:21, set in 2012).

Dayna Pidhoresky hits the tape for the 2015 Win.

Dayna Pidhoresky hits the tape for the 2015 Win.

On the women’s side: Isabelle Dittberner (won the first First Half and again in 1993), Lisa Harvey (4X), Tina Connelly (3X and event record holder at 1:12:47, set in 2004), Natasha Wodak (2X), Lucy Smith (2X) plus several notable one time winners including Ellie Greenwood, Leah Pells and Sylviane Puntous. For those who might remember, the Puntous twins were world class Triathletes, but also very good runners. They were famous for finishing One-Two and the 1991 First Half was no exception with Sylviane first at 1:15:08 and Patricia second in 1:15:13. The family that runs together…..

One should never get the impression that these wins were the complete record for these athletes. I only listed the wins, but many of these fine runners recorded other podium finishes as well and some went on to win the Masters division. And, the book is still open on the current crop of elites as to how many more First Half wins and podium places they will record.

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh heads back through the Start and on to the Seawall

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh heads back through the Start and on to the Seawall

The event has also been graced by the presence of some amazing older athletes, first among them being BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh, a regular at the First Half and an inspiration to all. According to the records posted at the First Half web site, BJ holds the age group records for W60-64 through W80+. The times range from 1:39:40 for W60-64 to 2:07:07 for W80+ (by my calculation, done when she was 82). Another runner of note is Herb Phillips who posted a record time of 1:23:19 for M65-69. I almost hesitate on mentioning these few people because it leaves out so many other superb athletes.

Everybody must now go to the Start!

Everybody must now go to the Start!

I would be remiss in not mentioning that a huge number of the less noteworthy runners out there are doing their own amazing races. I will tell just one story here but think it sums things up and because it was personal and moving for me. I guess it is also a great example of why we all need to give back to the sport we love. As I usually do when being stage MC, last year, after making the final announcement that the race was about to start, I went out to actually watch the start of the race. My usual spot is at Pacific and Davie, about 200m down-course from the starting line. You can get some great photographs from that point, and for no extra cost, if you just wait a few minutes, everybody comes right back past that location after the initial approximately one mile loop around BC Place. Because things start to string out a bit, it is also a great place to spot people you know.

Random mid-pack photo from around the time the following happened. FHHM 2015

Random mid-pack photo from around the time the following happened. FHHM 2015

I was standing there cheering and photographing and chatting with Karen and Peter Butler from Forerunners and my co-MC, Anjulie Latta (who actually has a personal link to what now follows).  The elites had passed by as well as a good many strong runners, when all of a sudden a young woman dashed over to me yelling as she came, “Are you Dan??” Having no time to think of why I might deny it, I said “YES”. She proceeded to give me a big hug and thank me profusely for getting her where she was (running the First Half). So, here is the deal. Several years before I had been her Sun Run InTraining Clinic Coordinator and had helped her get started on the road to running. Anjulie, as it happens, was the Area Coordinator at the time and thereby, my ‘boss’. The conversation was brief as you might imagine, but this young woman told me she had done every Sun Run since that first clinic and some 11 half marathons to boot!  Then, she was gone. The whole thing took just a few seconds, but it was very emotional for me and apparently for her because it was important enough for her to run off course to thank me. It made me realize that contributing what you can to assist others can have an impact far beyond anything you might imagine. No, not every time and not for everyone, but often enough and to a level most of us would never understand. I cried a little.

And for all of this, and because so many work so hard to put on this race, I just have to give it my very best come February 14, 2016!

VANCOUVER HALF TO REGGAE MARATHON 10K IN TEN EASY STEPS

12.12.2015

Ten easy steps? Who writes these ‘headlines’???

Medals representing ten races and a couple of podium finishes

Medals representing ten races and a couple of podium finishes

While this old blogger has no intention of putting the shoes in the closet until 2016, that IS where the racing flats are going. Racing is done for 2015. Training is NOT. I already have my first race of 2016 in my sights and it is one that I MUST train for as it requires all the respect I can manage: The First Half Half Marathon. It will be the first and probably only time I’ll run it, but that will be another story sometime closer to the actual event. So, what does the Title of this piece mean? Well, of the ten races run this year, the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon was the first, run on a gorgeous sunny morning in May. What a contrast that morning of May 3rd was to the year previous when rain pelted down on us at the start and then through the race (the MARATHON, no less). Nope, May 3rd was as close as you will get to perfect. I was really looking forward to that first 5K downhill that gets the Half started. It actually runs right through my old ‘hood’ and by the elementary school I attended so many decades ago. I just entered my 8th decade and was still in my first when I started Grade 3 at Edith Cavell.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Almost all of the first 5K has a delicious down slope. I had a plan for early 2015 and that was to ‘Level Up’ as a Half Fanatic. I joined Marathon Maniacs back in 2013 but decided I’d also join the Half Fanatics in 2015. Interestingly, notwithstanding that I’d run a lot of half marathons in my time, I had not put enough of them close enough together to qualify as a Fanatic. You can’t use marathons as qualifiers even though you can use races from actual half marathons right up to anything short of a marathon and on roads or trails as you please. I had seen a natural opportunity, starting with Vancouver, to take myself from the basic qualifying level (Neptune) to Level Four (Jupiter). Details will follow, but the plan involved running four halfs or better in a total of 15 days. I mention this because you must clearly pace yourself and not get too excited in any given race. I suppose running the first 5K of Vancouver pretty much as hard as my hairy old legs would go, would not actually qualify as ‘pacing myself’. Still, it was an intentional decision. I knew very well that I would have to back off or pay dearly, if not that day, then surely sometime in the two weeks to follow. I have to say it was fun while it lasted though and was my fastest 5K (even if it was a split) since 2010.

Forerunners gang at Eugene Marathon

Forerunners gang at Eugene Marathon

The next of the four races was the Eugene Half Marathon on May 10. It was another pretty nice racing day, although maybe just a touch warmer than previous Eugene Marathons I’ve experienced. What made this one fabulous, apart from the fact that it is one top notch racing event, was that something like 28 of my Forerunners Clinic friends had chosen to do this one. We had a ball meeting up and comparing notes. Results were spectacular for the group with multiple PB and BQ performances. Of course my result was a tad bit slower, being second of the four races I was to run to achieve my Jupiter status.

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

The next week I somehow found a small race weekend in/near Prosser, WA. Let me say if you want a fun and family oriented weekend racing event, the Sage Rat Run is something you will want to look at. I had chosen the Sage Rat Half Marathon for Saturday, May 16 and the Dirty Rat 25K on Sunday, May 17. And, yes it was my first back to back races of such distance. Some felt it might be a first sign of senility, but I assure that on Sunday I was able to remember pretty much every step of the half marathon done the day before! Especially as I made my way up the 1,000ft climb that begins the Dirty Rat 25K. Until I reached the plateau at the top of that climb, I was probably first among those questioning my own soundness of mind (and body).

When all, and I do mean ALL, was said and done, I had run four half marathons (or better) in 15 days and had attained my Half Fanatic Level Four status. And, I suppose in an attempt to prove that I haven’t totally ‘lost it’, I have no intention of pushing to a higher level in either Marathon Maniacs or Half Fanatics. Really, I don’t!

Celebrating our first race done together!

Celebrating our first race done together!

I took a well-deserved rest until early June, when I ran a true career highlight race – the Giant’s Head Run. It is a quirky little race, being not 5K, but rather 5.4K. It was one of (if not THE) first races I ever did, way back around 1984 or 1985 when we lived in Summerland, BC, where the Giant’s Head Run has taken place for many years. Although the course has not really changed, it seems the distance has, or at least got more accurately measured. Whatever, the point was I ran it with our grandson, Charlie. It was our first race together, but hopefully not our last. Charlie says we are doing it again in 2016, so who am I to argue? The complete story can be seen HERE. That was June 6th.

2015 was to be ‘The Year of the Half’ and a race I have done at least six or seven times is at the end of June, the Canada Running Series, Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. Obviously, I think it is a good race to run, but this time decided to change it up a bit (being still a little drained from the exploits of early May) so opted for the 5K event instead. In hind-sight, my decision was brilliant. It was one very warm day! Running 5K looked like a very sound decision, and it was kind of fun. With all my longer distance racing goals of the last couple of years, running a 5K was truly something different.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

At the end of June, I had my second cataract surgery, requiring three weeks of no sweat life, literally – NO sweating allowed. That was followed by some travel, complete with challenges for running, although I got a fair few in despite other demands on time and strange territory. All of this notwithstanding, my surgery date was moved up 3-4 weeks re the original plan. We had booked in for the Revel Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in early September. Both my wife, Judi, and I were going to do the Half. She is an avid walker and Big Cottonwood has a time structure that welcomes walkers. I felt that the downhill nature of this course was an opportunity to book a pretty nice half time. HOWEVER. With the change in surgery date and changes to the course that seemed to make it easier for someone who loves running down, I was seduced into running the marathon (again). There was just enough time to train up, even if it would be to minimal readiness. I couldn’t pass the chance and knew I was taking a chance. I kind of lost the bet in the end, but don’t regret the decision a bit. What the heck, I can at least say I ran a marathon at age 70!

A really WET turkey, trotting!

A really WET turkey, trotting!

While the Goodlife Victoria Marathon (weekend) has been a family ‘go to’ race for many years, I would have been all alone this time. I realized that I had an opportunity to run two races I had never done before and to add a couple of 10Ks to the list for 2015. First up was the Granville Island Turkey Trot. The main reason I’d never done it, despite the fact that we lived right beside Granville Island for a bunch of years, was that we were always in Victoria for either the half or full marathon the day before. Apart from the fact that I have seldom raced in such wet conditions, the race itself was great fun and I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen for some time.

The next ‘new’ race was the James Cunningham Seawall 10K. For no particular reason, I had never done that race. Of course, one reason was that while it has been going for decades, we didn’t live in or near Vancouver for a good part of that time. Although for most of its life it was not a 10K, upon being amalgamated into the Rock ‘n’ Roll series, it was tweaked up to a full 10K distance in 2014. The first year it was run in tandem with the Oasis Vancouver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon (I ran the inaugural Half), but in 2015 it was moved out to Saturday thus allowing anyone who wanted to do so, to run both. My May experience of completing the Rat Deux being the back to back event for 2015, I passed on the opportunity. That was the last weekend of October and let me just say that it was truly fun to race the full Seawall, something I’ve never done, even though I’ve run many races that use part of it. While it was a wee bit cool at the start, it was another great running day, and for the second time in 2015 I got to do a race with Judi, who walked.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

That brought me down to my final event of the year, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. It is a long story with many facets to explain the whys and wherefores of it, but I am on a five year streak of doing that race. Negril, JA calls itself the Capital of Casual, and that whole vibe is surely part of it. So are the friends made and maintained through the Reggae Marathon. One thing I know for sure, even though the course is pancake flat, you don’t run it for time. Even if it does start in the relatively cool pre-dawn, it is still 23C up to 26C (this year) at the start. But, time is never what it is about for most people and the race continues to grow, reaching some 2300 registrants in 2015.

My 2015 experience at Reggae Marathon, as most call it regardless of actual distance run (- in my case this year, 10K) was once again right at the top of the heap of races for me. I really wanted to have a podium finish, being the young guy in my new M70-74 age group and was thrilled to come second, and NO, not second out of two! It appears that six started and at least five finished. Except that it was just a very personal ‘completion’ sort of goal, finishing on the podium was really neither here nor there in the great scheme of things, but I was still thrilled to be able to do it.

So, that was it for 2015. Ten races in all, each with a different purpose and pretty much every one of them with a deeper personal meaning than just another race to add to the total. At my age it is nice, maybe even important, to be running for some reason other than to add to the statistics. Oh, anybody who knows me or follows this blog will be well aware that I AM all about the stats, in terms of keeping track. That said, I don’t run races FOR the stats.

I am really not sure where I stand on total races run, but the number TWO HUNDRED is a reasonable estimate. Because I ran a lot of my early races in the mid-80s, I am fairly sure I’ve lost track of a few and have no way to go back and check. Never throwing anything away, I tend to have a pretty good idea how many I did from old logs and race results I still have, but it is really more of a minimum. Depending on how you score multi-leg relays, I am either just at around 200 races or well over and into the 220-225 area. The total itself doesn’t matter, other than maybe I’d like to celebrate a little when I go through 200 events, but it is a good many races and because I count 26 full marathons, one 50K ultra and at least 36 half marathons among the total, it is a considerable distance raced – some 1900km in those events alone. There are lots of 5Ks, 8Ks and 10Ks in there too, but they don’t add up nearly as fast! Whatever, let’s just say my races have covered a bit of distance over those many years.

Finishing the "Dirty Rat 25K" and doing my best "Bolt"

Finishing the “Dirty Rat 25K” and doing my best “Bolt”

Way back when I was middle-aged and just getting started in all this, and even though my PB times were fairly respectable, I was running with a bad crowd (fast) and never seemed to finish high up in my age group. I hatched a plot back then to just keep running until everybody else called it quits! I think it is starting to pay off! In 2015 I completed 10 races. Out of those ten, I managed five podium finishes with one first, three seconds and a third. Am I proud of coming first out of one at the Dirty Rat 25K? You bet! I was the one guy had the guts to get out and do it, and especially proud of the back to back, of which it was part. There were actually a couple of other races where I was fourth or fifth that just may have been superior results in that the field was considerable in size. Clearly, my times aren’t great, but I’m out there doing it and it is just plain fun to collect something more than the finisher medal from time to time.

Let’s face it, if racing isn’t fun, you should find a new hobby!

REALLY! WHAT IS THE BEST I CAN DO?

11.30.2015
The Best I can Do? This was the night I ran the fastest I've ever run: 5:59/mile for 6 miles!

The Best I can Do? This was the night I ran the fastest I’ve ever run: 5:59/mile for 6 miles!

Interesting title, and like more than a few, inspired by something I saw on social media. So many times we talk about just wanting to run the best we are able. I know I say (and believe) that is my core goal and philosophy. As I have been writing and editing on the go, a supplemental question popped into my mind. Who cares? Well, I can deal with that one straight off: ME. I’m the only one who cares about what I do and how I do it, as it should be.

So, what does ‘the best I can do’ really mean? What does it mean to all those other people who also say it?

I ask that because I am a member of both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics. The specific comment that got me started was a reply to someone worrying about how fast they were going in a marathon. The reply was along the lines of “well maybe right now, the best you CAN do is six hours”. Click! The light went on and I actually jotted this title down so I wouldn’t forget about it. That was a few days ago, but here I am ready to explore this.

I guess the first thing to say is that everything is relative. EVERYTHING!

I am very privileged to know a number of former and current elite runners. If you want to see excellence these are people of great note. Some of these people wrote for Running in the Zone, the book! Canadian distance runners are not at the moment, as fast as the best of the best. However, I am pretty certain that they are doing the best they can do. On any given day, even their ‘bests’ are not necessarily of the PB kind. That is racing. They ARE doing their best on that day under the conditions of the day and course, relative to the competition and relative to their physical condition (healthy/sick, a bit injured, in a build-up phase, etc.)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Naturally, I got thinking about myself and my own racing (and necessarily, training). What I do now on a best effort looks pretty lame compared to what I did at my peak, even to my best of five years ago. My best in 2015 is not, I feel, the actual best I could do under different circumstances, age notwithstanding. However, when you consider everything else in my life this year, maybe my race efforts have been my best under the circumstances. The funny thing is that I’ve had more podium finishes this year than ever before, but that has a lot to do with my ever advancing age and a new category. In 2015, I was the ‘young guy’ in M70-74. I also insist that after about 60, OK maybe 65, each year is more like dog years than human years. So, as a 70 year-old in that category, I am waaaaay ‘younger’ than some guy who is 74. Whatever, it has been fun, but I don’t kid myself that I’m getting better!

One of the things we all have to watch is comparing our ‘last race’ to our best ever. If your best ever was the race before last, well then, OK. However, if as is the case with me, your true best was some 27 years ago or so (see photo to the left), you are just silly to do anything but bask in the memory and let it go. That covers age, but there are a good many other factors that influence any given performance and whether or not you may have been doing the best you could in any given race. If you didn’t have to race until everything was just perfect, it might be easier to score PBs, but sadly, they insist on staging races on a given date, whatever the conditions and whether you or I are ‘ready’ or not.

And, the first race IS done!

And, the first race IS done!

If you will indulge me talking about myself for a bit, I want to use my last year as an example of how your ‘best’ fluctuates according to the conditions and situations. I suppose of the 10 races (actually, still have one of those 10 left to do) I did run one at someone else’s pace. That was my wonderful first race with my eight year-old (at the time) grandson. He even gave props to the old geezer when he told one of his friends that he ‘couldn’t have beaten me if he tried’. Trust me, that isn’t going to last much longer! We have already agreed to run the same race again in 2016. I imagine we might run our best efforts at just about the same pace, and then it will be done. Anytime after that, Charlie will have to wait for me.

So, what about 2015 and my string of races where I will claim I did do my ‘best’, even if the results don’t much look like it, taken in isolation?

Medals from the races that made me a Level 4 Fanatic

Medals from the races that made me a Level 4 Fanatic

The year started with a Half Fanatic goal to ‘moon up’ from the base level of ONE moon (Neptune) to FOUR moons (Jupiter). In both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, it is volume that counts not pace. All level criteria are based on X races in Y days or months. You can go as fast or slow as you want or are able. In my case, I selected four half marathons (actually, the last one was a 25K trail event) completed in 15 days. Two of them were back to back (Saturday for the Half and Sunday for the 25K). The races were BMO Vancouver (Half) Marathon, Eugene Half Marathon, Sage Rat Half Marathon and Dirty Rat 25K. First race was Vancouver on May 3 and the fourth was the Dirty Rat 25K on May 17.  I am pretty sure that anybody setting out to race four half marathons in that short a time would need to adjust pace a little. I know that anybody my age would!

Adjust I did. Oh, and because I knew that these four races had to be done with a little less aggression than normal, I had to be ready to accept that even the first result, would be much slower than the last half I had done only a few months before, in late 2014. Uuuumm, and then there was the ever so tempting first 5K, deliciously downhill, at the Vancouver Half. I intentionally raced for my split time (knowing full well that I would pay for it later, which I DID). Something that I did find interesting was that the first three actual half marathons were a week apart in each case and in each case I lost almost exactly four minutes on the previous race. We won’t count the 25K as it was longer and there was a 1000ft vertical in the first couple of miles on that one. Talk about apples and oranges!

In any case, I actually did a calculated ‘best’ effort in each race even if the times taken alone for each event would hardly look like it. Circumstances and a longer term goal.

2013 Marathons and Ultra for Silver Level Maniac Status

2013 Marathons and Ultra for Silver Level Maniac Status

I could go back to 2013 too, when I decided that the base level for Marathon Maniacs (one star or Bronze) was not quite enough and set my goals to run six marathons in six months to move up to two stars or Silver. (FWIW there are ten levels in both Maniac and Fanatic criteria.) In case you might be wondering, I am now done with seeking higher levels in either group, but I am officially a Double Agent, so there’s that. The point is that running six marathons (one was a 50K) in that period of time, again meant that each was a little compromised to the greater goal.

Moving on, later in June of 2015 I decided it was time to see how a shorter distance might work and ran the 5K associated with the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. I felt I had recovered from the half marathon crusade and could push my 5K effort. I feel I did give it everything I could, but it was a rather warm day. The time was decent but not as fast as it might have been in more ideal conditions. Circumstances.

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Oh, and just to make the year interesting, I had two bouts of eye surgery to remove cataracts, a fabulous thing, but each time it cost me three weeks of total inactivity where it came to training. In September I decided to get back to racing and that took the form of the Big Cottonwood Marathon. Now, the event had actually been booked way early in the year, but at half marathon distance. I do love me a downhill course and the Big Cottonwood Half just rolls down, the whole way. Everything was fine until my eye surgery got moved up by three or four weeks. All of a sudden, I had (minimal) time to train for the marathon. AND, they took some four (difficult) miles or so out of the lower part of the marathon course and pushed it about 1500ft further up the mountain! I won’t go into more detail. If you really want to hear more, you can look HERE. Anyway, I decided that since the race was so far away (Utah) and I probably wouldn’t be doing it again, I would go for the full marathon and accept whatever happened. I knew I could have an amazing half marathon result but wanted a really special marathon finish in this year of being 70. Didn’t happen. Combination of circumstances, conditions and situation, but I DID do my best and don’t regret the last minute switch. I knew I was taking a chance on the outcome. My actual half split was 2:21:13 and if I teased out my best 21.1K (because the official time includes about 5 minutes of porto-potty stop time), it turns out to be about 2:15, but run within the context of a marathon, i.e. with some constraint. In other words, my original plan for a good half was definitely justified and speculatively might have been around 2:10 or so. We’ll never know. I made a different decision, and that is part of this whole thing, too. We all make decisions from time to time, to run one race vs another, to run in less than ideal conditions, to run without optimal training, or with too many races already in our legs.

A little damp it was, this day!

A little damp it was, this day!

Well then I turned my sights to a couple of 10K races I’d never done before, starting with the Granville Island Turkey Trot. This one was OK for time (would have liked a minute or two faster) but there was that marathon done less than a month previous and the rain. The RAIN!!! I don’t know that I’ve ever been much wetter in a race. So, circumstances and conditions, and yet the best I could do on the day.

And, I’m not making excuses. I’m trying to point out that hitting that sweet spot of training, course and race conditions isn’t all that easy to manage. Still, I can honestly say I did my best in each event, and if you can say that, you can be satisfied with your result.

Enough of that, or at least, enough about me.

Going back to the on-line comment about the six hour marathoner (a ‘she’ as I recall), I don’t know much more about her circumstances or how she came to the race in terms of previous exertions (she is a Marathon Maniac) or even what her goal was. She could have been injured or just coming back from something (no such info was included). However the fellow who commented that maybe it was her best on that day hit it right on the head, at least from a philosophical point of view.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Sometimes the focus, moving now to the competitive racer (I was going to say ‘elite’ but it applies more broadly), is on winning. Time is something we all focus on in judging our results, but when you are competitive, winning can often be more important. When you find yourself in a relatively balanced field, in a race you want to win, race strategy is more important than time. Your ‘best’ becomes something else and judged on a different scale. As I noted earlier, my podium placements this year have been quite fun, but as a mid to back of pack runner, seldom do I know who I am actually racing. Most often I just have to lay down my best and let it be what it is. A few times over the years I have either known (or thought I did) who the competition was and could race head to head. Those races were kind of fun! The easiest example to understand the difference between PB or even record time and going for the win, is something like a runner chasing Olympic Gold or winning the Boston Marathon.  The WIN is everything. Running fast (relative term) is secondary. A heroic effort that leaves you second or even right out of the ‘money’ means nothing. Make no mistake though, strategic races do involve a best effort.

Everything is relative. At the top end we have the world elite runner. Results are pretty ‘pure’ and simple to understand. Everybody runs as hard as they can and somebody wins or sets a new World Record. What about the rest of us who will have an asterisk beside anything we do? I’m thinking of the best Masters runner. I’m thinking of Age Class winners or Single Age record holders. Raw time is not in the same class as the ‘Open’ elite runner, since we undeniably fade with time. What about an Ed Whitlock? He recorded times in his late 70s, early 80s that when age graded, rated higher than the then World Marathon Record. A friend and local runner here in Vancouver, BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh pretty much sets a new single age record every time she runs a half or full marathon. BJ just turned 88 and is gearing up to run the Honolulu Marathon in a few days. She will take more than five hours I would think, but remember how all this started? I was talking about a much younger woman wondering if her six hour marathon was OK. I’m pretty sure she was a long way shy of 88! The important thing is that BJ respects the events and trains and will turn in her best effort in Honolulu and I assure you that you can count on that regardless of what her actual time turns out to be. As I recall, last year it was 5:36. But, of course, last year she was only 87.

New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon

Some people run with disabilities. Some aren’t so very athletically made and just run for their own satisfaction. That doesn’t mean they aren’t being the best they can be. To me, that is what makes running so compelling. I don’t need to beat anyone else to know I’ve done my best. Some say you only need to ‘beat yourself’. That can be true, but when you reach my age and you are still going, you have to ask “which self would that be?”. It certainly isn’t the ‘self’ that recorded his PB marathon (OK, PB marathon, half, 10K, 5K) back when he was 43/44. Having decided to keep track of 5-year records, it probably will seldom be the ‘self’ that recorded records for the previous 5-year age grouping. It could be the self that ran the last half marathon or 10K or whatever race he did. It also isn’t totally impossible to better previous times. When I was 65 I was on a racing/training roll that saw me do my third best (raw) marathon and second best age graded. It was a stellar year because of good health and hard training and maybe, just maybe, doing the right race on the right day.

Personally, one of the main ways I keep up with a ‘better me’ is the % Performance value you get with age grading. I figure if my annual bests stay in the same range, I am doing well. This year was not great on that basis, but I don’t know if it was the circumstances described above, or just me getting older and more feeble.

I intend that next year’s racing be quite selective, so we will have to see if my performances improve or if the ‘fade’ continues. It should keep me amused, if no-one else.

 

IS IT SEPTEMBER, UMM, OCTOBER ALREADY?

10.01.2015
Judi and me at Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Package Pickup.

Well, it has been a busy few weeks. Haven’t been writing about running much, but I HAVE been running, a marathon no less. It was kind of an accident. More later.

I’ve talked about this before, but I do need to stop life from getting in the way of my running stuff. Now some may not see a problem with a lower rate of production on this old blog, so we’ll just leave that part and carry on.

Grandad telling Jonah all about running

Grandad telling Jonah all about running

Also, one of the “interruptions” is sitting on my lap here and HE can get in the way any old time he wants!!! Have been having a wonderful visit the last couple of weeks. Even got in a run with his Mom!

I have spent a little bit of the ‘quiet’ time re this blog, getting registered for three more races between now and early December. Part of this post is about the thinking I’ve been doing on running now that I’m a septuagenarian. Two of the races I just registered for are ones, even though they are in Vancouver, that I’ve never run! First is the Granville Island Turkey Trot. That’s right, never ran it. We are usually in Victoria for Marathon Weekend or on our way back. The other is the James Cunningham Seawall Race. Never did it either. No idea why on that one. As for the third event, it is a perennial favourite – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, JA.

Will I run any others? Maybe. Not sure. Whatever, this plan would take me to 10 races in 2015, which isn’t too awfully bad: 1 marathon, 3 half marathons,  a 25K road/trail race, 2 10Ks and 2 5Ks, plus one more to be named later. At the moment I’m thinking to just take it really easy in Negril and do the 10K, but I usually do the Half, so we’ll just have to see how that goes.

Sun was up! Just so deep in the Canyon it looked dark. Photo Credit - Big Cottonwood Marathon

Sun was up! Just so deep in the Canyon it looked dark. Photo Credit – Big Cottonwood Marathon

The marathon (Big Cottonwood Marathon) was supposed to be a Half, but I’ve already talked on this blog about the possible switch. Long story short, I could not pass the opportunity to give it a go. So, I guess it wasn’t really an ‘accident’ when you come right down to it. Came 4th M70-74 but we aren’t much going to talk about the time. Even still, I have zero regrets. I probably could have had a very fine half marathon time in the 2:05 – 2:07 range, but the race has potential for an excellent marathon time and it is too far and costly to just keep going back. Also, at my age you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. As far as the time went I probably made two mistakes. I was not super well trained due to the on-off nature of my running this year, what with the interruptions for eye surgery and a bunch of travel. Not an excuse, just reality. Still, I thought I was close enough and it became a calculated risk. The other matter was that the organizers ‘seduced’ me by cutting the four toughest miles out of the euphemistically described ‘net zero out and back’ near the end, and pushing them higher up the canyon at the start. That was good from the point of view of making it nice easy downhill for the most part, but I think I may have underestimated the difference of starting at 9700ft vs 8000ft, and the not so nice mile at about 3 miles into the race and still at about 8000ft. It felt OK while I was doing it, but I did notice more huffing and puffing than I expected. I think the extra effort piled up in the later stages. I ran well to 20 miles, including doing that tough mile way up the mountain pretty much as planned, (yeah, yeah, I know – everybody says that about the first 20) but then in the next couple of miles I pretty much just seized up. The last three miles was all walking because even a couple of running strides was enough to start cramping in my calves. So, walk it was. It was a fabulous day and I knew it would either be an amazing time or exactly what it turned out to be. So, I walked it home and collected my 26th full marathon finisher medal, and smiled. OK, the smile might have come a bit later. Crossing the line might have been more of a grimace, but I was quite happy.

Gratuitous photo of Reggae Marathon, 'cause I'm going again!

Gratuitous photo of Reggae Marathon, ’cause I’m going again!

I learned a long time ago, not to make future racing plans in the last few miles of the current marathon, even if it is going fairly well, and especially if it isn’t. Life is just crazy busy right now with a whole list of things I’m not going to go into, but I have promised myself a thorough review of my big goals for running and the longer term future of what running will mean specifically to me. I suppose a decision to do the two ‘never been done before’ races is part of that. Maybe the plan to run the 10K at the Reggae Marathon is also part of it, although that is still under consideration, as I said.

I THOUGHT Big Cottonwood 2014 was actually going to be my last marathon because it had gone so relatively well. I wanted to finish on a high note. Had a long talk with myself before changing distances for Big Cottonwood 2015, because I refused to come away sad or upset if it didn’t go well (read better than last year). As noted above, I knew it had the potential to end exactly as it did, so had to promise myself to just be glad I stepped up and took my shot. Don’t get the totally wrong idea. Notwithstanding that I wasn’t thrilled with the time, it wasn’t my worst marathon and far from worst on age graded basis. Still, BCM 2014 was sixth best (Age Graded) and 2015 came nowhere near that.

I am writing about all this because I think we all come to it at different times, to different degrees and in different ways. One of the contributions to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was written by Herb Phillips and covered exactly this subject. One of the people who has been very supportive of my running these last years is our Forerunners Clinic coach, Carey Nelson. Carey is a two time Olympian and a two-time knee surgery guy. I realized that while I never was anywhere near his class, he likely very much understands where my head is at this point as I contemplate giving up marathons and maybe even half marathons (mostly). At least twice, he has had to face and deal with that ‘times they are a’changin” moment. You can never really take the competition out of the boy (or girl), but at sometime you have to take the boy out of the competition. Even today, Carey is a terrific runner and he still trains hard/smart to race, but he doesn’t win races outright anymore. At some point in time he had to come to grips with that reality. So, even though we are, and have always been on totally different performance levels, I know he gets where I am, at this particular moment. Funny enough, as I get older I am actually picking up the age group podium finishes now and then, but I don’t kid myself much about how that is coming to happen. They call it attrition! That said, I’m pretty proud of being one of the few still going in their 70s. At least, re the Big Cottonwood race, it counts as a marathon done when I was 70! It is kind of funny that in reality, when I ran it in 2014, I was almost 70 – 69 years, 8 months and 7 days to be precise, but it sounds so much better to be able to just say “I ran a marathon when I was 70.”

The decision to ‘move on’ comes for different people at different times. Some quit when they just can’t do it anymore. Some quit when they can’t do it as well as the standard they set for themselves. Some love the whole thing so much they just keep going until some-THING or some-ONE (tells them it IS over). Still, that doesn’t mean you can just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and that is kind of where I am. It isn’t so much that I can’t do a marathon, but to properly prepare for one is getting to be really hard work and maybe more than this seventy year-old body is up to. If you don’t do the training, what you get is what I got in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago. As much and all as that was a specific and unusual situation and I’m happy enough overall, it isn’t how I want to do marathons. I always tell new marathoners ‘respect the distance’. Clearly I must do the same. And that means if you can’t do the training, you really shouldn’t do the race.

For me, right now, five hours is some kind of personal standard or performance barrier. Over five, not good. Under five, OK. Well under five, good. Now this is totally personal. I have a friend who is a fabulous runner. He is 8 years older than me and for him, that barrier, or more accurately, dividing point has been more like FOUR hours.

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Everybody has his/her own personal ‘time’ and if you keep on keeping on, it has probably changed over the years. I belong to the Marathon Maniacs and I’m pretty sure some of them have never done a marathon under five hours. That is totally and absolutely fine. They do what they do (run a lot of marathons) and they are more than satisfied, and I’m happy for them. The goal those people set for themselves is different. However, I have – done marathons under five hours – way under (as has been noted here more than a couple of times). So, this is very personal, whether some of the Maniacs understand what I’m nattering about or not. I greatly admire people like another of our book contributors, Bob Dolphin (Maniac #32), who have completed literally hundreds of marathons. There is much to be said for the quantity goal vs speed. Taking Bob as an example, he was a pretty decent marathoner in much earlier days, but in recent years it has only been about the doing of it. I mean, Bob is in his 80s now. Good on him! Taking the other extreme of this line of thinking, most of the truly elite marathoners have only ever run a small handful of marathons. What they do is so hard, and the standard so terribly high, that a few is all they can really manage. Could they run more at times most of us would kill for? Of course. But, they can’t do what they aspire to for more than a few races.

I can’t imagine not running, but I can imagine racing a good deal less and maybe mostly the shorter distances. Full Disclosure: There is one marathon I may yet need to do. It is part of a project which I expect to start discussing soon. That one is more than a year away and it isn’t really MY project, so we will see what we will see.

How’s that for dangling something out there? For my part, it is more so you won’t all get all over me if Big Cottonwood 2015 isn’t actually my last. But, apart from that, I am seriously looking at maybe fewer races and shorter distances. I still have to decide whether part of that is pushing performance as I change my training and shorten the distances of the races. That is what I will give myself a bit of time to consider. That said, nothing is graved in stone. If the change works well, it is hard to say where it will lead. I may find that with fewer miles being logged, I have a lot more short-distance speed and might really bear down on the 5Ks. Or not. I might spend far less time racing and even more time volunteering and organizing. It could happen.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

What I do know is that I loved running my first race this summer with our older grandson, Charlie. Now, Jonah is only 8 months old, so it will be a while yet before we can run together! Must keep in decent shape for that day!

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING NEW – SORT OF

05.06.2015
Calm before the 'storm' - 6:00am May 3, 2015

Calm before the ‘storm’ – 6:00am May 3, 2015

The past weekend was pretty fun and exciting. It was my first race of 2015 but more significantly (to me) my first the M70-74 age category. There is no stretch of logic to point out it was also my first half marathon run at the BMO Vancouver Marathon weekend. Apart from my own ‘firsts’ it was one of those races that just couldn’t have been much better. The day was near perfect and the half marathon course is a gem. I had no expectations of my own race, something I’ll explain in a bit, but was thrilled to see that one of Canada’s budding prospects in distance running, Rob Watson, won the Half Marathon, and did so going away. That was good, but the Olympic qualifying window is open with a standard of 2:12:50, and Rob is looking to make his first assault on the standard at the Ottawa Marathon on May 31. Vancouver was his set-up event for Ottawa. Of course, even if he does go under the standard, that only gets him into the ‘lottery’. There are at least three other gents named Wykes, Coolsaet and Gillis who may have something to say on the matter. Still, it looks like three will go and if Robbie can get himself under that standard the odds are pretty good, marathoning being what it is and all.

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Another friend I watched lay down a marker is Ellie Greenwood. Miss Ellie doing well in a race is not really remarkable. She won the Vancouver Marathon a couple of years back, so what is exciting about her Third Place on Sunday? Well, locals in the Vancouver running community as well as her fellow ultra-runners know she suffered a badly broken hand in a bike/car confrontation recently. She was on the bike. She lost. Her medical team forbade running for several weeks. Ellie is the defending champion at Comrades. Ellie was training for her defense of title come May 31. Then BOOM (literally), her training was trashed with the accident. Not only did they say no running but they didn’t want her doing anything physical. Must have been harder on her than the injury itself! So, one might now be able to see how a third place finish in a time of 2:47 and change (only about 5 minutes shy of her marathon PB) was a big result for her. Competition at Comrades is pretty fierce. There is no saying she was going to prevail with or without the accident getting in the way, but for those of us who know her amazing spirit and physical abilities, her day on the roads of Vancouver was ever so encouraging. Go Ellie!

How can all of this have anything to do with “NEW”, as the title suggests? Well, we are getting to that part right now.

My family has been on me a bit to knock it off with the marathons. At the very least, maybe not run quite so many. There is some sense to that. Having just entered my eighth decade, the strain of a lot of hard running is making itself felt. Oh, I’m not about to fall over and I CAN still do a full marathon training program, but if it ever was, it is not so easy these days. When you come right down to it, if you are competitive of spirit, you will always train to your potential (ie hard) and the finish times are just relative if they are the best you can do at the time. I am a little bit tempted to let marathons go, having run 25 and my last one having been fun and pretty satisfying as far as performance goes. I do not want my last one to be an awful experience, so running another one creates that risk. It is also highly probable that if the right opportunity comes along, I WILL run another one or two in the right place or time.

The solution has been to concentrate more on half marathons. My personal health situation has pushed in that direction for this year anyway. Not sure ‘health’ is the right term. I wrote a few weeks back about having cataract surgery and my new bionic eye! Like Ellie, though far less traumatically, that cost me three weeks of exercise at a critical moment in my Spring training schedule, meaning that even Vancouver was a bit too soon re my preparations to race. The difference in my vision has been worth every bit of it, though. Now, I face a similar situation as surgery looms on the other eye. The good news is that the date got moved up a couple of weeks, so my Fall racing is going to be far less impacted. Hey, and I’ll be able to easily read my pace on my Garmin!

Marathon Maniac

Marathon Maniac

Now for the story on the half marathon. Because I seem to need goals, I decided that if I really wanted to change my focus to the half marathon, I should find a personal challenge. As many will know, I am a Marathon Maniac. I recently joined the Half Fanatics, which has similar goals and standards (but for half marathons), all of which are strictly about fun. BUT, people have long talked about being “Double Agents”, having a foot in each camp. The powers that be among the Maniacs and Fanatics decided to make that official and have now created an official Double Agent set of standards and levels. How could I resist? I am now DA#1261 and moving along on my quest to ‘climb mountains’ as the levels are designated by names of famous Mountains.

So, I am already a two star or Silver level Maniac, but partly because I have concentrated so much on marathons over the last year, I haven’t had the kind of string in the Half Fanatics system to be anything more than base level. (No, they won’t let you count marathons as being a half or more.) What to do? Well, chase down some Planets of course (HF levels are done as planets)!

The Vancouver Half Marathon was the first of four I intend to run in 14 days. I’m not sure that is exactly what the family had in mind, but it does involve/matter HOW you run. Let’s face it, if I was training for a marathon I might well run 27K, 30K, 33K for three weeks in a row. Of course they would be LSD pace. Fanatics only care that you start and finish, nobody ever asks ‘how fast?’. So, it works – for me anyway.

Hayward Field - The Finish is Nigh

Hayward Field – The Finish is Nigh

I do have one race in there that is a favourite and falls just where I may be able to do something decent re time and placement. That is the one coming up this Sunday (May 10). It is the Eugene Marathon (half). Love that event. I’ve done the marathon three times and back when I was a mere lad of 65 it gave me my recent marathon PB and a shocking 3rd Place in my group (out of a field of 16, no less). Age graded, that one came out as my second best ever! I’ve never run the Eugene Half, so on this my fourth time back to Eugene I will be giving it a go. I know the route well. Up to something around 10 miles the half and full use the exact same course. After crossing the Willamette River for the first time, the marathoners will go right and us half marathoners will go left with less than three miles back to the fabled track of Hayward Field. Gives me goose-bumps every time I run the straightaway to the finish.  I sure hope this isn’t going to jinx it, but Eugene is my target race.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Passing Hayward Field.

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Passing Hayward Field.

Eugene should be a lot of fun. For reasons I don’t actually know, some 25 runners from the Forerunners Clinic group I run with, have decided they will do the half or full in Eugene. I know a few, like me, are shooting for a good time, maybe some BQ efforts even. (It is that kind of course.) There are definitely some PB aspirations.

Moving on, I was just surfing about the Half Fanatic race schedule for potential races when I fell upon the Sage Rat events in Prosser, WA on May 16-17. By the way, if you are ever searching for a Half to run, you can go to the HF web page and view the Race Schedule. It is public. You will find races from one end of the US to the other and most major Canadian races too. If an event is listed, there will be a link to the race site. Same is true for marathons over on the Maniac web site.

The whole Sage Rat thing just grabbed my imagination. Prosser is not a ridiculous distance from here and the event looked like great fun. Saturday there is the Sage Rat Half Marathon. That one is a pretty standard ‘road race’ and there are some shorter alternate distance races too. On Sunday there is the Dirty Rat 25K ‘trail’ event. Might be some trails, but it seems more like back roads and a gnarly 1,000ft elevation gain/loss on an out and back. Talk about medals! You get one for each race, then one for doing the combo. Do well, and you might even get some age group recognition. I have a pretty good chance of being first out of ONE in both races. The Fanatics count actual half marathons and anything longer than a half, as long as it is shorter than a marathon. So, this will be my first ‘back to back’. Naturally, both the Sage Rat and Dirty Rat are going to be all about the fun and I hope to find folks of similar pace to run with and chat. Being the third and fourth ‘half marathons’ in 14-15 days AND back to back, I definitely won’t be pushing too hard.

All going well and by the time this is all said and run, I should have climbed to the Fourth Level of Half Fanatic (Jupiter). I’m sure that will also do something for my Double Agent status, but that will be what it will be and I’m not just sure how you combine a two star Maniac status with a four planet Fanatic status to get the corresponding Double Agent status (maybe Mont Blanc?), but we’ll see! Some might figure I should be called “IDIOT” (vs Fanatic) but you must know I’m not alone! There are over 11,000 members in each of the MM and HF groups. We DA’s are special though, with numbers only around 1500 at the moment. That said the group is only a week old, and now that it exists there may be interest in getting qualified as either HF or MM in order to be a Double Agent.

First things first, I am pretty excited about visiting Eugene again. For me, it is ‘one of those races’ that is special. It will not be lost on me as we turn for home after crossing the Willamette River, we will be paralleling and very near “Pre’s Trail” and when we hit the track of Hayward Field, we WILL be “Running in the Footsteps of Legends”!

WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?

03.13.2015
March 11/15  "Pirate" at the 'Puter'.

March 11/15 “Pirate” at the ‘Puter’.

First off, as long as I have this patch/shield on, I’m allowed to talk like a pirate! So mateys be warned, ahaaar.

You may ask yourself: “But why does he have the patch?”

The answer is that I just got my new ‘bionic’ eye. That kind of sounds better than just saying I had cataract surgery. I think so anyway. I opted for a lens that is supposed to correct most of my other vision issues. Once I get the other eye done in the Summer, it is highly probable that I will not need glasses. Maybe for reading, but otherwise, no. As a runner (semi-blind runner who really needs to wear glasses all the time) I am thrilled at the idea of not having to wear glasses when I run, or alternately to get myself some good sport sun-glasses for when I need them. For those who don’t know, regular glasses are not made to really stay in place when your face starts getting sweaty. I don’t have nearly enough money to afford good prescription sport sun-glasses.

Speaking of not having enough money, I sadly had to forego the X-Ray vision option. OK, so there is no such thing at the moment and even if there was I don’t have any other super powers anyway. I mean, at this point the only locomotives that I’m faster than are ones sitting in museum displays. As for the leaping over tall buildings, I don’t run trails because I trip over roots and rocks. OK, OK, you got me but I was never faster than a speeding bullet nor more powerful than a locomotive, so I kind of combined those two. Call it poetic license.

The big challenge it seems, is that I can’t run (sweat really, so no substitute exercise either) for two or maybe three weeks – TWICE. The other eye is scheduled for July and we will have to do the whole thing again then. This will be a bit of a struggle as I have some running goals including the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon followed by the Eugene Half a week later. Then, I am signed on for the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in Utah in mid-September. I feel that I’m in decent shape as I now hit ‘pause’ and can pick it up sufficiently in the time between my return to activity and the first race (Vancouver on May 3). We’ll see how it goes, but Vancouver might wind up being a good hard training race with Eugene as the one I will do for performance. I will try to do the same thing re Big Cottonwood. Train and run well leading up to the down-time for the other eye, then pick up again in the several weeks prior to Big Cottonwood.

Having the cataracts looked after is more important in the long run than the races I may miss or have to run easy. Everyone I know who has had this procedure done raves about it. Since I’m writing this only hours after the first operation, I am still struggling a bit with one fairly dilated pupil and a kind of ‘fog’ in the eye with the new lens. That said, it is already clear that I can see so much better with that eye (no glasses) haziness notwithstanding. I’m told it will take a day or two for the vision to clear completely. It was amazingly painless with just a bit of an annoying ‘scratchiness’ or irritated feeling at the moment.

[A day or two later, OK, two days later.] What a treat! The ‘new’ eye is seeing better than it has in decades at 20/25. Apparently things are going along pretty well. I have one more visit to the surgeon and then I think other than the recovery phase, this one is done.

March 13/15  One lens glasses. No pirate look.

March 13/15 One lens glasses. No pirate look.

I’m still wearing the shield at night to protect myself from rubbing the eye in my sleep. The only one it seems to be bothering is my wife who finds all that pirate talking to be quite annoying when she is trying to sleep. As I sit here typing, I have busted the left lens out of my computer glasses which is so much better than trying to ignore the fact I can’t see out of my right eye without glasses, OR putting up with the mess of having to try to use my new eye to look through the prescription. Looks a little silly maybe, but nobody is going to see me. The rest of the time when I’m just walking around and not doing anything ‘close’, I am finding that the new improved left eye works best when I don’t wear glasses and let it just dominate the right eye. Again, better than fighting with the prescription on the left side. Can’t do the same trick with my regular glasses (removing one lens) as I still need the reading part.

I guess if I cant run or use any sweat inducing gym gear, writing may pass the time. Thanks for helping with that by reading this.

If I ever had any doubt about the tales of wonder I have heard from others who have had this procedure, I sure don’t now. The procedure was amazingly fast, taking only about 10 minutes of actual work on my eye. I arrived at the hospital out-patient facility at 7:20am and was home at 9:30am.  I must admit that the clerk who checked me in gave me a little thrill when she said, “Daniel Cumming, cataract surgery, right eye.”  Now I know I need to get the right one done, but the lens to be inserted has a prescription built into it.  YIKES

Anyway, it was OK and I must have been asked my name and what I was there for and which eye, about a dozen times!  The last time was just before the ‘cutting’ started, when the surgeon said, “Will you please tell everyone here your full name and what you are here for?” I did and away we went.

I’m sure the various, and multiple, drops going in my eye included some anaesthetics but the whole thing was painless and I was totally awake and aware at all times. To my surprise there were no diabolical torture-like devices to secure my head. There was a depression in the ‘pillow’ under my head and the rest of the stabilizing, the doctor did with his free hand.

Since I can see and compute and not much else, I have been surfing around upcoming races and planning my return to running and competing. I mean, I haven’t run my first race as a M70-74 competitor as yet.  The first one for which I AM registered is the Vancouver Half, but the Sun Run is a possibility. We’ll see what happens later. Get it?  We’ll SEE!

WHAT? IT’S 2015? ALREADY!?

01.04.2015
Dawning of a New Year!

Dawning of a New Year!

Gosh, I was kind of enjoying a quiet time there (as were my loyal readers, likely). But, here it is a brand spanking new year! Well, it is actually just a wee bit used. It is the 4th of January and I’ve already had a 16K run at the Forerunners “First Half” training clinic. (No, I’m not running the First Half Half Marathon, but I am leading a pace group of people who are. I will be back as MC for the big event and looking forward to it, but more on that at a later time.)

So yes, this post is pretty much about me, but maybe there will be some useful thoughts for others to ponder in relation to their own running and racing and the plans related thereto.

I will have a new age category in just a couple of days. It is nice that my birthday is in early January, as my whole year is always at the same age, which only matters when you change categories, but this is one of those years. Crazy as it may seem, what with a new age group and a chance for setting new (personal) age group PBs all over the place, I do not have even ONE race lined up as yet. I guess I should find one quick, just so I can say I was still racing when I was 70. One I might have done is the Steveston Ice Breaker, but I will be out of town meeting our newest grandkid (who hasn’t even been born yet, but soon, very soon). Still, there must be something doing that I can get into and get the year started, as far as racing goes.

I do have some ideas for a big project, which I alluded to in an earlier post, but think I shall keep my big mouth shut on that until I’m really ready to ‘pull the trigger’.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself.

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself.

2014 turned out to be a good and fun year of running. I ran at least one more marathon than I intended, but the ‘extra’ one was the Yakima River Canyon Marathon and with all the folk in attendance, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. Somewhere along the way it was supposed to be the ‘Year of the Half’, so I did manage four of those. When all was said and run, I realized I had not done even one 10K, the base to which many (most?) of us refer with regard to our running prowess. Guess that will have to be fixed in 2015. Yakima was a slow marathon for me, but then I promised myself it was ‘a training run’ for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which was my primary target race early in the year. Don’t know what happened with that one, but it wound up being a couple of minutes slower than Yakima. If I’d known that was going to happen, I would have pushed it harder at Yakima! Fortunately, there was the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon in September where everything got sorted in my personal world of marathons, with a time that was a recent PB (last three years or so) and it being my 25th marathon. Now, I have to decide if it will be my last marathon (finish on a high note, ya’ know). But, that brings us back to the big project mentioned earlier, so we’ll have to see.

Not that there is some kind of ‘cliff’ associated with my upcoming birthday, but I think it is time to adjust my thinking on running and racing. I’ve noticed for some time that training for and racing the shorter distances makes me more prone to injury than the longer ones, but the longer ones tend to be getting harder to do in terms of training (total effort, and tiring/straining my aging body) even if I seem to suffer less from traumatic and injurious events. I ran 10 races in 2014, but seven of them were half marathon or more. My total racing distance was 238km with a total distance run in training and racing of just over 1500km. Perhaps there is a happy medium to be found. Still, it is rather unwise to race without effective training. That WILL lead to injury.

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

I have to admit that some of the best running I did all year was in the week after the Reggae (Half) Marathon in Negril in early December. Why? Because I just didn’t care about anything other than getting out and enjoying the easy run along the beach. Longest of those runs was 5K and I think the shortest was maybe 3K. The point is that the only focus was the doing of it. And, it was so easy. Get up, put on shoes, shorts and singlet, step out door, run. It was early enough that I didn’t even need sunglasses or a hat. A few times I didn’t bother with the shoes and if I weren’t worried about frightening the ‘natives’ with my beluga-like white body (I don’t tan well), I didn’t really need the singlet either. So, technically it could have been as simple as “Get up, put on shorts, step out door, run”. In winter, in Canada – even in Vancouver, it isn’t going to ever be that simple. And, when I’m home I always seem to have a goal to my running. As a result I always seem to have a distance or pace goal to achieve, depending on whether I am doing a LSD run on the weekend or a speed, tempo or hill session during the week.

The thing is, I still like racing. I like the focus that target races give. I love the vibe of races, especially marathons. Maybe what I should do is think about a handful of Spring events and likewise a small number of Fall events and just let the Summer be a time for that easy goal-free running that was so great in Jamaica. I suppose that while my looming birthday is something I will welcome as a special milestone or badge of honour, the number attached is such that without being morbid about it, there is not much doubt that there is some kind of approaching limit to what I am going to be able to do. I mean, good grief, I have some pretty awesome examples of running friends who are going strong and are much older than me. That said, a lot of the people I have run with over the years have stopped running and if not running, definitely racing.

I suppose this musing about stuff is a way to get to a sort of New Year resolution about running.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to have worked yet!

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

In a way, I wish I could get my head to where so many of my fellow Marathon Maniacs are – basically that the doing of it is all that really matters. I still don’t seem to be able to comfortably (mental comfort) enter a race just to finish it. Gotta work on that! I really don’t have too much to prove after all these years. Let’s face it, a lot of times now, just showing up is going to get me a podium place in my age group. But really, what glory is there in being 1/1, other than the fact that you are still out there doing it. THAT is a worthy accomplishment, but finishing first when you are the only one to show up, is not really that remarkable. I have a friend who, when he isn’t all that happy with his performance, will say he finished 2nd out of one! I already get the point of that.

I did just have a small revelation that, at least in some instances, it may be my Scottish blood that says if you are going to spend a bunch of money to travel to and do a race, you better do it well. Value for money and all that. I mean you couldn’t go to a destination race ‘just because’, could you? Well, in a sense, I do that with the Reggae Marathon. Regardless of which of the three events I run, I am under no illusion that my time is going to be in any way remarkable. It is just too hot. Perhaps there is hope yet!

One race I want to do soon, maybe in 2015, is with our grandson, Charlie. He will be nine this year, so it is time to be looking for a 3-5K event we could do together. I’ve raced with his Mom (Danielle) and his Dad (Greg),  also with our other daughter (Janna) and her husband (Jason) and with our son (Cam). The new grandkiddly may be too young for some while, although I suppose if push comes to shove (literally) I might be able to do one with him in a stroller. I was thinking that might be with his Mom or Dad pushing, but I suppose there is nothing stopping me from being the push-OR while he is the push-EE. In fact, conceptually, it might be best if I was the one doing the pushing. Guess we’ll let his parents have the final say on that.

That seems to be enough musing and personal chat for today. 2015 is shaping up to be a fun year and I am really looking forward to it.

Happy New Year to one and all, and all the best with your own personal running goals and plans!

See you on the roads!

TO (P)B OR NOT TO (P)B? THAT IS THE QUESTION

11.16.2014
Vancouver Finish May 1988- My first marathon.

Vancouver Finish 1988 – My first marathon.

And, an interesting question it is if you are the least competitive of spirit.

Get yourself around some runners for a bit and inevitably somebody starts talking about PBs (Personal Bests). Then of course, there is the PR (Personal Record). Some use them interchangeably and others don’t. I used to be one of the former but may be becoming the latter. Why? Because I’m getting old. Some might say I AM old. Some days I feel old, but others I feel remarkably young. STOP LAUGHING!

Where it comes to running – old, young or indifferent, I AM slower. Anybody who has read this blog more than a couple of times will know of my interest in, perhaps love of, Age Grading. Plus or minus, I have been running for over 30 years. There have been a few ‘down’ times in there where it was hard to get a regular run in and I definitely wasn’t racing. As a result of that I really have two distinct racing phases. When I got going at about 39 I did a couple of races, but over the next few years I ran a bunch of them (40 or so). As I ran more, I also ran faster. I kind of peaked when I was 43-44. Except for distances I didn’t run until later/recently, all my PRs came in that 18 month period in 1988-89.

I had back surgery in 1990 and missed some running before and a little after that, but by the next year I was racing again. While the back was actually pretty good, work and life just got in the way of much racing. I was still running, but did not have the time to really train for racing. Around 1998-99 I wanted to race again and wound up with a big focus race in October of 2000, my second marathon. From there I ran more and raced some. One strange thing was that I lived in Malaysia for most of two years in the early 2000s and ran maybe five days a week, but never raced in SE Asia. (Now, I keep asking myself: Why? Why? Why?) I started really picking  up the racing again in the mid-2000s and have continued steadily with some really big years of racing in the last few. Unless I quit in January with my next (70th) birthday (and why would I with a brand new age category to race in?) I see no great drop in races for the next while. That is, I expect to do 10-12 per year.

Who cares?

Why did I lay all this out?

Well, my main reason was to create context for the discussion of the PB/PR and because I try to use personal examples to illustrate my points. I have run for 30 years and while I am nearing 200 individual races ranging from 1 Mile to a 50K Ultra, my racing career is anything but a smooth or steady progression. Because it isn’t a smooth and consistent record, I have had a few relatively good years later on compared to earlier ones. I have had some very satisfying races such as my third best ever marathon run in 2010, 22 years after my first and best and 10 years after my second best. Age-Graded, that marathon comes pretty close to being #1. But, 2010 was a very good year. I was training hard and running well.

Some people say you can’t be trying to beat yourself of 20 years ago. For goodness-sake, that was the essential basis of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes. ‘Those people’, some of them anyway, like to use and cite 5-Year PBs. It does kind of make sense. Except that race record keeping is done on five year age brackets, there is actually nothing magical about specific five year groupings. It is convenient to use the ones the races use and I can’t generally think of a good reason to do otherwise, but if you wanted to, you could.

In my own case, I just happened to really start running when I was 40-44. Before I was 45 I suffered the back problem that required surgery. So, there I was with a nice neat personal five year package that just happens to fit with conventional groupings. I was even clever enough to get born in early January so I always get the full year (first/last) within these nice groupings and within the calendar year. As I said, I ran all my best times at conventional distances during that time. As a result, ALL my PRs came then, too. As previously noted, the only races where I had PB/PR results after that were of distances I had never run: a 30K in 2010 and a 50K in 2013.

I ran a few races in the 45-49 and 50-54 age categories, but only really started hitting it harder for 55-59, then really hard for 60-64 and most recently 65-69. Just this year I reworked all my race stats and broke out my 5-year PBs. I had kept a race result chart for years with a single category section devoted to PBs for given distances, which were really PRs as they were my bests ever at any given distance. Now, at the end of each 5 year age category I have recorded the regular distance PB stats for that age group.

When you have a competitive nature and the times gradually keep getting slower and slower it is not hard to feel like you are ‘fading away’, especially if you are comparing to the best you ever were. If you look at the last five years, the picture sometime looks a bit different. I have certainly found that in my personal performance. The ‘best’ year in the last five is not necessarily the first/youngest year. Within any given five years it can be a lot more about how hard you have trained, injured/healthy and how motivated you have been to race, at least where it comes to the PB result.

Young folk don’t really get this because sometimes, even though they may be getting older they ARE getting faster in absolute terms. I mean, I even did that myself when I was in my early forties. My earliest 10K times, when I was getting started, were just under an hour. By the time I was 44 I was at a 42 minute 10K time. Young folk often seem to think age-grading is funny and don’t really get it. Until you are around 35 it makes no difference. If you are younger than that the big issue is probably how hard you are willing to work at it. As noted above, within reason training hard even works at my age, but not in the absolute sense. The idea that I might run a marathon under my PR of 3:25 next year, when I’m 70, is just silly. The idea that I might run one that age-grades to a similar or better performance is something else, maybe something achievable. It would be far from a PR. In fact, on raw time it would be almost an hour slower! It would have to be just a wee bit better than the marathon I ran in 2010 and which is now my third best raw result. Clearly, that is not a PR result, but it would certainly qualify as some kind of recent PB and thus, we have the argument for looking at PBs and PRs a little differently.

Eugene Marathon - 2010 - Recent PB race.

Eugene Marathon – 2010 – Recent PB race.

Simply to put the last comments into context, consider that my PR marathon was done at a time of 3:25 when I was 43. Age grading can help that time too and to make a fair comparison, both times should be age graded (if it makes a difference). So, that time grades to one of 3:15:08 (64.1%). My recent PB in 2010 at age 65 with raw time of 4:28:15 grades to 3:27:18 (60.3%). So now, and very much in theory, at age 70 I would need to run a raw time of 4:42:00 to grade to 3:27:21 (60.2%) and be as ‘good’ as in 2010. To be better than my absolute best race from 1988, I would need a raw time of 4:25:00 (which would also theoretically be a BQ). That would result in a 3:14:51 (64.1%) age-graded performance. Now you can see how I might set some realistic goals for a satisfying race result without being held back by a clock time that doesn’t look so impressive in absolute terms. To better my 2010 self, I would need to run only 8 minutes faster than my running time for my last marathon, done this past September. That sounds rather realistic, I think. Can I do it? Will I do it?  Will I even run another marathon? Those are all different questions, but it is good to know that if I decide to try, the goal is achievable. Is the twenty-five minute differential between my best ever age-graded performance and my last best marathon doable? Maybe. Would it be hard? Absolutely. Will I go for it? Well now, that is a horse of a different hue, as my wise old uncle used to say.

The only reason I have taken all this time to lay this out is to offer the concept to other seasoned athletes who may still be where I was even just a year ago. We all do what we do and look at things our own way, but separating your PR and PB performances into quite different things will give a new perspective. For the competitive, it also gives a more realistic goal to be achieved. In my own case, largely because of my birth date, the conventional five year categories work exceptionally well, but there is nothing to stop you from using “the last five years” and just keep it rolling forward. There is also nothing magical about five years for that matter. Unless you happen to be REALLY good and chasing single age records, it is all just for your own satisfaction in any case.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.

I was going to leave it at this point, but if you do get into age-grading your results, some feel (might just include me) the % Performance stat is more meaningful than the converted time. The age adjusted time is simpler to understand since we are used to looking at our finish times. If my raw 10K time is 59:30 and the age-graded time is 43:21, there is an easily understood relativity. However, if your best 10K time was 40:00, run when you were 40, it might come out at around 70% Performance. But, if you run 50:00 at the age of 70, your Performance might come out at 73%, indicating that in relative and competitive terms the ‘slower’ time is actually superior. In many ways that says a lot more about the relative quality of your performance than does the converted time. In fact, I now train and race to the %P standard and aim to get all my best results for any given year to be stable at the chosen level(s).

This turned out a bit longer than I intended, but hope it might help runners with a competitive spirit to put long-term performance into a meaningful and hopefully, satisfying context.

ON BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE

06.10.2014
Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Funny how ideas come to you ‘out of the blue’.

Sunday, I was doing MC duties at the Sandcastle Classic 10K in South Surrey/White Rock, a race put on by Semiahmoo Sunrunners and part of both the Timex and Lower Mainland Road Race Series. [Speaking of ‘bests': in one sentence I just plugged a race, a running club, two running Series, and two cities!] As I did what you do at post-race activities, stuff just kind of happened, but afterwards it also got me thinking.

The race was won by Solomon Rotich (Kenya), who has recently been tearing up the Western Canadian races, taking the Oasis Shaughnessy 8K on May 25, The Calgary Marathon 10K on June 1 and the Sandcastle 10K on June 8.  I guess his recent record pretty much speaks to my thinking on ‘being the best you can’.

It was my privilege and duty as MC, to announce the age group winners, and that is a major part of what this blog piece is about. It also got me thinking about other related matters that belong in this piece.

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

A common theme here at RITZ is love of running and the fun that must be part of it. One of our Sandcastle finishers definitely did not train hard and save himself for this race. Nope. As a matter of fact, said runner – one Gordon Flett, was showing the scars and scrapes from a trail race he did on Saturday, and that is normal (well maybe not the scrapes) because it is common for Gord to do two races per weekend, and if he can find himself a genuine track meet, to enter several events, often taking age class honours. Now, is Gord a great runner? No. But, I am certain he is having fun and just loving the living heck out of his running!  Oh, YOU BET! Is he being the best HE can be? I suppose only he can really say, but I would surely say he is. I single him out because I know his story. It won’t surprise me if he is not alone, though at the same time I am sure there aren’t a whole lot of folk like him.

This causes me to think of the marathoners who do run a bit like Mr. Flett. Regular readers know I am Marathon Maniac #6837. Not all Maniacs run a couple of marathons a weekend, but some do. Some run three or four marathons in the same number of days. The goal isn’t pure time based performance, but rather a different kind of performance measured in terms of quantity. Does that make it easy? Absolutely NOT. Different?  Yes, but not easy. And, don’t get me wrong. While the Maniacs do not consider time as any part of the criteria they use, some of the runners are very good and post excellent times as well as the aforementioned quantity. Not all Maniacs do this (keep doing more and more). For some of the rapidly approaching 10,000 members, I am reasonably sure it is a kind of ‘bucket list’ thing. There are a couple of standards you can meet to get in at the basic “One Star” or “Bronze” stage. Some do that, join the Marathon Maniacs and put a big check mark on some kind of list of thrilling things to do. However, a good many do like to pursue the Maniac star system as a sign of personal performance. If you really want to know, go to the group web site and check out the criteria to qualify and then to attain the various levels right up to 10 Star status. You don’t become a 10 Star Maniac by running a couple of marathons in a year. No you don’t!

Another bit of ‘low hanging fruit’ where it comes to a discussion of being the best you can be is the age-classers who are young and up-coming, as well as the oldsters who go fast despite the ever more rapid flipping of calendar pages. I fit in the latter category – old (not fast). Of course, even that is relative. I am surely faster than all my age-contemporaries who are sitting on a couch somewhere and when you start getting into the seventh and eighth decades, and like one runner who was in Sunday’s race, soon to be in his NINTH decade and still going faster than some who are half his age, you ARE talking about the best you can be.

Lots of Medals!  (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

Lots of Medals! (OK, so most are Finisher Medals)

The great thing about being the best YOU can be is that does not mean you must be better than everyone else, or anyone else for that matter. It means what it says: the BEST YOU. That makes for a lot of ‘winners’, even among those who aren’t getting medals. I know I’m not alone, but it is more important to me to know I ran the best I could than it is to win a medal. If it is important to win medals, you can surely find races with smaller fields, where if a medal is what you want, a medal you will get. I would rather come 10th in a big race and run a couple of minutes faster, than to run slower, but win my category because there were only two of us there.  (I am a strong proponent of age grading because it lets me compare ME to the ME I used to be.)

What follows is about me only in the sense of being able to quote statistical examples.  A recent online chat string was discussing Personal Bests (PB’s) and Records (PR’s). Some claimed it was wrong to claim a time you did 20 years ago as a PB. I fail to see the logic there. I am still me and if the fastest I ever went was that time I did 20 years ago, then it just was. Some said you should only have 5 year or age-group PB’s. I can see some merit in looking at your record that way, especially if you differentiate PB vs PR. Age grading lets you sweep away the years, so to speak, and kind of compare present day results with your ancient times. Anyway, thinking about the concept of only looking at five-year age category PB’s, just for fun and with a little age-graded input, I decided to see how my record looked.

When I started racing, my Age-Graded % Performance was fairly low, but over 3-4 years as I trained and raced, I got my average five year bests up to 71% (M40-44). Then, I suffered a ruptured disk in my back. I got it fixed; did what my doctor said, and by 1991 was doing a bit of racing again. However, life in the form of career, got in the way and I neither trained nor raced a lot. I did do some racing and under the circumstances, was thrilled to be doing anything in the form of running. So, the average for a very small number of races done in my M45-49 days, while living in Europe was 61.2%.  Yikes!  A full 10% drop from before,, but hey, I was running. After that work demands got even greater (not that I ever totally stopped running), until in the late 90’s when running and racing became part of my life again. I set a life goal to run my second ever marathon in the Year 2000 – a Millennium project. AND, I began racing more regularly, now in the M55-59 grouping.

M55-59 produced a 62.5% Performance. M60-64 came in at 62%, and while I am still in M65-69, I have a 63% Performance. Naturally, my absolute times are slower. That is where age grading is so helpful. The converted times can be compared, but using % Performance produces a more general and relative comparison. I was tracking along pretty well in the earlier days, getting up to an average of 71% (one race hit 79%). After the back problem, I ‘fell off a cliff’ regarding times and % Performance. I can’t know if that was permanent or just part of the climb back. Almost all the results that make up my M45-49 performance came in one year, 1991. Had I continued to train and run and race actively through the 90’s, might I have reached a higher % Performance range? Never going to know.

The whole point of this is doing the best you can with what you’ve got.  In my own case I have gone from an average of 61% Performance, to 63% over some 23 years, which allows me to feel I’m at least striving to meet the goal of being the best I can be. This is only an example which shows how it can work for older runners who want to compare themselves to their former selves. I have pointed more than a couple of ‘seasoned’ runners to this method of reviewing their performance and left them happier about the whole thing. Let’s face it, no matter how gradually, you ARE going to record slower absolute times. With work and diligence, you might just find that in relative terms, you are getting better!

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Speaking of being your best, I had a rather sleep deprived night on May31/June 1 as I sat glued to the live feed from the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. First, let’s get past the question of ‘how far was that marathon?’. This marathon was 89.28km! Runners, OK marathoners, have a bit of a nails on blackboard reaction to that question, having become solidly entrenched in the modern definition that a marathon is 42.195km or 26 miles, 385 yards. Pheidippides, the guy who started it all, did NOT actually run what we know as the Marathon.  In earlier modern day competitions the term marathon was used to describe an epic struggle. In that respect, Comrades IS a marathon, for sure.

I had a personal interest in the women’s race in the 2014 (Down Year) Comrades Marathon. One Ellie Greenwood, formerly a local club runner, a friend from our days with Pacific Road Runners (Vancouver), was in South Africa to contend for the women’s title. She ran in 2011 (4th), then again in 2012 (2nd, by just 72 seconds). In 2013 she was out with a serious injury. 2014 was to be the showdown. For those who don’t know, Comrades has been literally owned by Russian twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva. Between them, one or the other has won 10 times. In 2012, Olesya was home with a new baby. In 2014, they were both there, ready to run. Because this is about being the best you can be, not a race report, I will direct you to Ellie Greenwood’s own race account for the details on how it all went down in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa on June 1, 2014.

Ellie arrived ready to race, but the day seemed tougher than anticipated. The Twins (as they’re usually described) started fast, as they are known to do. Ellie didn’t, as she is known to do. Around half way, Ellie was four minutes back, which seemed OK, maybe even good strategy. Her style is to be conservative and close like a runaway freight train. Actually, she is quite tiny to be compared to a freight train, but I didn’t make up that saying. With 18km to go the gap had widened to 8 minutes. Only the Twins were ahead of her. Still, spectators had started to encourage Ellie with shouts that the Twins were slowing. As time went along and the distance to the finish diminished, so did the gap. With around 5km remaining, the runners are on a long straight hill section and Ellie could see the lead car just in front of Elena who had opened a gap on her sister. While the women were hard to see, there was no mistaking the meaning of the lead car, nor how close it was. Apparently, the commentators were not getting 100% up to the minute news, because they were declaring that Ellie had run well and was catching up, but was just too far back with the distance remaining, even if both of the Nurgalieva sisters were walking. A LOT. Just at that point they threw in a long shot from a helicopter and I spotted this tiny green runner (OK, her outfit was green, she was more or less the usual shade of sun-burned flesh). I actually pointed at the screen and exclaimed, “Ellie!”. She was running like a gazelle and closing like the aforementioned, metaphorical freight train. I have heard since that she ran the final 7km in the second fastest of all times on the day. The camera moved to the head-on leader shot and within seconds Ellie closed the final gap and passed Elena who had no answer to the challenge. Olesya was already well back and passed. With 2.5-3km to go, Ellie was leading and running like something was chasing her. From her perspective, I suppose that was true. Even though she appeared to pass the Twins with ease, it can never be forgotten that between them they had 10 victories to Ellie’s none. It all ended happily for Ellie and her many, many fans (taking the win by just over 5 minutes) .

Ellie had already known success. She was the two time winner of the epic Western States 100 (miles, that is) and record holder (having smashed the previous record by 50 minutes). She has won the Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary Marathons and was World 100km Champion in 2010. And, has won a good many other races on road and trail, along the way. As stated, she had been 4th at Comrades in 2011 and second in 2012. BUT, and it is a big but, she was seriously injured and missed pretty much all of 2013 competition. Even though she had recovered, trained well and prepared diligently, you never know whether you are really back after a year like 2013. Knowing Ellie, I am pretty sure all she wanted to be able to say, regardless of outcome, was that on June 1 in South Africa she had done her best, and here is some of what that means. With 18K to go, even her Nedbank team coach was saying the Twins were too far ahead and the woman in fourth was too far back to catch her. The implication? Just ride it in from here, there is nothing more to do. Well, the coach may have known the race and related logistics, but clearly did not know Ellie well enough. The more the spectators encouraged her with news of the Twins, the more she was energized. The outcome of all that is now history. Anyone can see at Comrades 2014, Ellie Greenwood delivered on being the best she could be. And, I guess it should be said in the interest of fairness, that as much as I am thrilled with Ellie’s win, The Twins were putting on a pretty good show themselves!

I think it must surely be time to stop. From elite to weekend warrior, I have given examples of what being the best you can be is all about, but the possibilities are without limit. Each of us has a unique way in which we can express the concept of ‘being the best you can be’. Sometimes with athletes like Solomon Rotich and Ellie Greenwood, that also turns out to be better than all others on the day. For a Titanium Marathon Maniac it may be being more tenacious. For most, it is simply meeting the former you head on and winning (including via age grading if necessary). Naturally, this is not limited to running. The concept works for anything, and in some instances where physical power is not involved, we might just be able to continue to be better than we ever were as we strive, each in our own way, to ‘be the best you can be’.