category : ‘Never Too Late to be Great’


THEY CAME, THEY WERE SEEN AND THEY CONQUERED

08.10.2018

A little play on the famous quote associated with Julius Caesar: Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Because Roger Robinson is so big on history, I figured this was an appropriate title for this little report of the recent visit of Roger Robinson (launching his new book: When Running Made History) and Kathrine Switzer (Marathon Woman). Two nights at Forerunners (4th Avenue first and then Main Street) thrilled many local runners (and a few visitors as well).

These two are master writers and speakers. Both have more than significant running resumes. We’ll get to that later. This is about the visit here in Vancouver. Roger did share that when the two of them married some 30 years ago, they debated what to do about living arrangements. At the time, Kathrine was a New York kind of girl (if ever home), while Roger called Wellington, NZ his place of residence. Apparently, Vancouver was high on the list of possibilities.

Vancouver ‘Running Family’ welcomes Roger and Kathrine

Roger has a very personal history in Vancouver, having come here in 1981 to set his marathon PB at the then Vancouver International Marathon, while also setting a masters record that stands to this day (2:18:44). It was also good enough for third place OA on a cold, wet day that seemed anything but conducive to record setting. Both Kathrine and Roger have an extensive list of Vancouver folks they can call friends, so are pleased to visit and see the locals, which humbly includes me. That was how the ‘party’ started, over lunch on False Creek. I suggested to Roger that the weather was always like that on Monday afternoon (see photo to the right) and he recalled that his 1981 Vancouver Marathon was perhaps, not exactly the same. I tried.

Running meets Art at the Vancouver Mural Festival.

I am going to veer off the main topic, for a very personal moment, because what happened after lunch was extraordinary. Our daughter Danielle is both a runner and an artist. Her running is pretty recreational, while her art is more than a little professional. She is widely known as The Jealous Curator and in her own right as an artist. As it happened, she was in Vancouver painting five (small, she said) murals as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival. There was a great hope that she could attend one of the two seminar presentations by Kathrine and Roger, but events conspired against that being able to happen. One of the big reasons for Danielle to meet Kathrine was the common interest they have in elevating women in their respective fields. Danielle Krysa is the author of three books on art, with a fourth about to be released officially on October 2nd. The new book is entitled: A Big Important Art Book: Now With Women. Yes, that’s right, women have not had a big place in art history, even if they may have been present. Danielle’s new literary offering is her contribution to changing that, even just a little. I was telling Kathrine and Roger about this over lunch and expressing how sorry I was that Danielle would not be able to come that night (she was also speaking), or the next evening either. I explained that, as we sat pleasantly eating our lunch, she was labouring in the hot sun to finish her fifth mural. The first question was “Where?“, the second “How far?” When I said “Not far”, the immediate response was “Well, let’s go see her.” So, when lunch was done, and with the aid of Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner, we drove the few blocks to the location of the art installation in progress.

The reason I had to include this is not to promote the kid or her work (OK, a little) but to point out that these iconic visitors with a jam-packed schedule already, wanted to take time to go to her if she couldn’t come to them. That is beyond special. It would have been easy and reasonable to just say something like, ‘Oh what a shame. Please wish her well and maybe next time we can meet up.’ That isn’t how these people roll. It is one of the reasons they are special.

Special is the operative word of the whole visit, I must say.

Katherine Switzer – 261 Fearless (261, her bib number from Boston 1967)

The people at their presentations obviously thought so. They bought up all the books available for the two evenings and more! Both presentations were sharp and witty not to mention inspirational.

Kathrine’s inspiration started on a cold wet road on the Boston Marathon course in 1967 and has been picking up momentum ever since, and right up to today. Last year, she ran Boston on the 50th anniversary of that first time when the race official tried to rip off her number bib and toss her from his ‘hallowed’ race. There was actually probably MORE fuss in 2017, but this time it was all good. It was a celebration and not just of an event, but of a huge change in attitude, and for women in distance running. As Roger commented, it wasn’t that cold soggy race in 1967 that was important, it was everything that happened afterwards, including the advent of the ‘261 Fearless’ movement, meant to empower women on a global basis, especially in places where what we take for granted, is not the norm. This has become Kathrine’s newest venture meant to support and encourage women globally: 261 Fearless.

Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler introduces Roger Robinson

Roger was the featured speaker in recognition of his new offering: When Running Made History. I reviewed it here quite recently, so will not get into a great discussion now. If you want to know more about the book, follow this LINK.

As I reported in the review and as he explained at the presentations, the book is not about ALL historical events related to running, but rather ones where he was eye-witness and could deliver a personal perspective more than an opinion. In the presentations he stated that rather than try to keep himself outside the situation(s) as an expert observer, he would own the fact that these were actually personal experiences. It is what makes the book special and his presentations too.

Roger and Kathrine are clearly a good team. The audience was amused!

I can say without doubt (I was there – it was a personal historic experience) that the audiences ate up everything Roger and Kathrine had to say. The audience included young and old, particularly one young woman of very tender age, visiting with her parents from Kentucky, who will treasure meeting K.V. Switzer, getting her own inscribed copy of Marathon Woman and the obligatory (today) ‘selfie’ with Kathrine. Because of her age and because I have no idea how to get permission, I have decided not to reproduce the photo here, but the joy on both their faces is an amazing and very moving thing to see.

Some of the audience waiting to have their book(s) signed.

The lines for both of them afterwards to sign books were long, happy and patient. None of the pretty common in such situations: Hello, what’s your name, sign book, thanks for coming – and NEXT. Both Roger and Kathrine took time to chat and learn something of the eager fan clutching their brand new book(s), thus making the inscription very personal. We even set up a production line with Margaret covering Kathrine and me, Roger, for the photo-op. Everyone has a phone these days, so as they came up to meet and greet and get their book signed, we would take their phone and snap a couple of photos for them as they chatted with the author of their choice. I’m pretty sure a lot of treasured souvenirs were created that evening, one that won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance.

Roger introduces ‘Russell’ his first bionic knee.

Then, Mark, his other knee, a todler really at just 11 months

At the end of my book review of a couple of weeks back, I kind of predicted that Roger may appear with his closest running companions, Russell and Mark. He did. ‘Russell’ is his right knee replacement, while ‘Mark’ is his much younger (just 11 months) left knee replacement. Their names derive from the surgeons who installed the hardware. Russell had set some fairly amazing PBs prior to the need for Mark to join the family. Roger reports that the sibling knees are getting along quite well and Russell mentors Mark, who now, and at a very tender 11 months of age, has a 5K PB of around 30 minutes. Roger has worked this into one of his major topics of historical aspects of running: the modern day refusal to quit just because some calendar claims you are ‘old’, or some physical condition alters your capability. Roger is 79 and while his existing masters record for the Vancouver Marathon is in no danger from future efforts by him (he also held masters records for Boston and New York at one time), he refuses to give up running and being as competitive as he is able. I am sure that strikes a note with many of the readers of this blog.

Between the two evenings, so many of Vancouver’s finest runners and members of the running community were in attendance. One of those was Dr. Jack Taunton, a member of the recent Super Seniors Seminar panel and a pillar of Vancouver running for decades, both as a runner and an organizer. Others included Geoff and Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless and Frank Stebner. Interestingly, all members of Lions Gate Road Runners one of the first and longest enduring Vancouver running clubs. Co-owner of Forerunners Main Street and two-time Olympian Carey Nelson also hosted the Tuesday event with Peter and Karen Butler. On Monday, Doug and Diane Clement participated, two more Olympians who have done outstanding service in the Vancouver sporting scene. With the exception of Carey Nelson, these folks are shown above in the Monday lunchtime photo. Carey (blue shirt on the right in the photo of the book signing line) spent the evening making sure everything was ‘just so’.

Ultra Runner Ellie Greenwood with Roger and Kathrine

In the audience was world ultrarun champion and record holder, Ellie Greenwood, and to show how the running community works, I believe Roger and Kathrine were as excited to meet Ellie as she was to meet them. I can’t think of another field of pursuit where people recognize each other so fully as in running, and that includes the contributions of those who support with volunteering and organizing and, ahem, even writing blogs.

So, the much anticipated visit is done and Roger has gone off to an event in Eastern Canada while Kathrine heads to Chicago, both to continue doing what they do. Here, we are left with the memories of a few days of something truly special and looking forward to the next time.

Thank you to all who made this happen!

 

WHEN RUNNING MADE HISTORY – SOME THOUGHTS

07.24.2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Yakima River Canyon Marathon

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

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

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

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

Well, let’s fix that right now.

My little collection of Roger and Kathrine books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SO YOU RAN A SUB-3:00 MARATHON. NOW WHAT?

06.26.2018

 

Walter and Matt Murdoch exit ‘the tunnel’ Light at the End of The Tunnel Marathon

This is a continuation of my posts about Walter Downey, a definitely ‘seasoned’ athlete and thus of extreme interest on this blog. Well, to the blogger anyway. Oh, and for the record, this title represents a question I have never had to ask myself! It is also about how we approach what comes after a major achievement or breakthrough. Walter is the ‘hero’ of this tale, but it is intended to be taken more generally by all readers in context of their own pursuits and performances and what they hold important.

To briefly recap, Walter made a decision almost two years ago to make some big changes and set some big goals. To achieve his goals, he did a number of things but two of the biggies were losing some weight (a significant amount) and training much more seriously. The results began with doing well in age group placements in race distances across the board and then with a string of PBs at pretty well all distances he ran. Of late, it has become an expectation that he will score a podium place, if not win his age group. He has also continued to tweak those PBs. The original story is HERE.

Recently (earlier this month), Walter scored what I would consider a ‘double unicorn’.

What in the name of all that is running, is a ‘double unicorn’????

I’m so glad you asked.

And then they were done. Walter, Matt and Ray Barrett.

For many people, especially those who would be considered ‘seasoned’, running a marathon under three hours at age 57 is rather unicorn-like (that is, extremely rare)! To be specific, Walter went 2:58:58. Obviously, that is sub-3:00. And, most of us hitting age numbers like 57 are really happy to get raw times that AGE GRADE to 2:58. Let me just put that in context. At 57 the WMA age grading calculator says if you want a graded time of 2:58:58, you must run a raw time of 3:33:10, which is a time not to be scoffed at, but it does create some context.

Although it is probably less rare, the illusive ‘negative split’ is also unicorn-like in its rarity. Walter’s splits for his sub-3:00 performance were 1:32 and 1:26 (ish). The times are unofficial and taken from his gps, but with that much of a spread, there is no doubt that he did the negative split that we all aspire to achieve. I once ran a half marathon within less than 10 seconds of being a negative split. I still consider it one of my best managed races and very satisfying with respect to personal performance.

Walter continues to do very well in his races, still taking podium after podium, often in first place in his age category. For what it’s worth, and before I leave the specific topic of his last marathon, I would point out that it age grades to an adjusted time of 2:30 and a % Performance of 83.25%.

With all of this settled and duly reported, the question of the title: “Now what?” is of greatest interest. You never want to get to that feeling of “Is that all there is to a circus?

I sat down with Walter to explore what comes next in terms of goals and aspirations, short and longer term.

The first thing we had to establish is, there is still a lot of specific ‘work’ to do before the 2018 running season is over. I’m not even going to try to list all the races, but I know he is intending to run the BC Half Marathon Championship (at Victoria) and finish up with the New York City Marathon the first weekend of November.

We also quickly established that Walter considers he has been racing and training ‘smart’. A big goal for the future is to continue exactly that way. Purely as an observer, when Walter began ramping up to his present level of performance, losing weight, running harder and faster, knocking off PB’s, I was a bit worried that he was going so hard at it that an injury was surely in his future. The concern came partly from what he was specifically doing (running every race that caught his attention, running them hard and doing big training volume), AND from the generality of what happens to all runners who push the volume and intensity too high for too long. I am pleased to say, and as Walter reports, he is now building recovery into his plans, even when he races (some are all out, some strategic).

Souvenirs from a few notable and relatively recent marathons, including 3 of the Marathon Majors.

Let’s face it, if you are competitive nothing is better than a race to make you run with some intensity and focus. That said, some races are preparation for other more important races and they don’t all have to be run at PB pace. A perfect example was that Walter ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May with a time far removed from his present PB performances. It was intentional. “THE race” on which he was focused was the one where he did his Sub-3:00, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Vancouver was May 6 and the Tunnel Marathon was June 10. Vancouver was completed in a time of 3:23:37 and The Tunnel was 2:58:58. That is how it is supposed to work when you race and train smart.

This is just one example. There are others. And, while Walter has tasted the sweetness of victory (age group and outright), he is also choosing events wisely, ‘picking his fights’ so to speak. Most of the time he is top three but seldom outside the  Top 5 in his age category.

Still, it seems there isn’t a race he isn’t ready to run. I wondered if there might be an ultra in his future, especially after he is done with the PBs in the standard distances we all know and love. Apparently NOT. So, maybe there are some events he isn’t interested in doing. And, while I know he likes training runs on certain trails, he isn’t interested in classic trail races either, ultra or otherwise. So, I suppose you could say his future goals involve no ultras or trail racing.

One thing we determined more or less immediately, is that he has no intention of going out in a blaze of glory and stopping cold turkey once his running goals are met (assumed to be PB performances, he feels he could achieve).

I must admit to pondering, based on Walter’s example, how many of us ‘retire’ too soon from pushing the envelope. To be clear on that, there is absolutely no need to ‘push’, but for the highly competitive, well………………

Just to remind you, I have reported previously how he has been setting new PBs; actual, unqualified PBs, even though he has been running for something approaching 20 years, running relatively well over those years and is now in his mid-50s. A few years back, on the advice of a runner older than me, I started paying more attention to 5-year PRs. I re-examined all my five year performances and still keep annual as well as 5 year age group ‘bests’ or PRs. I have also reported that doing something a bit like what Walter has done (back when I was plus or minus 65), produced some very good results although FAR from all-time PBs. Maybe after Walter reaches his personal level of peak performance, he too will consider such record keeping, but for now he is still setting new, totally UNqualified personal marks!

OK, back to ‘what now?’.

Walter has completed four of the six Marathon Majors (New York, Chicago, Boston (X3) and Berlin). Remaining are London and Tokyo. I doubt I would surprise you by stating there is a plot afoot to complete these two ‘missing’ marathons. The lottery is not particularly reliable, so it seems money may be the answer. By that I mean using a travel package or a charity bib to attain the needed entry. We chatted about the fact that we have both (along with a few dozen of our closest friends) submitted our names to the ‘ballot’ for London. The odds are a bit better than Lotto-649, but only slightly it seems. Obviously, this is one answer to the title question: complete the Big Six.

Another specific race based goal is a better half marathon time. According to Walter, his Half PB is not proportional to other personal records for marathon and 10K. He feels his times for both those distances are much better than his half time. He is working on it and strategically eyeing the races in his future. As I began writing, the very next one was to be the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 24, 2018. Two things can mitigate against it being the race where Walter corrects this perceived ‘imbalance’. The Scotia Half (as it is known locally) purports, or at least appears to be a fast and easy course, but it has three difficult components, two of which (hills) come at awkward points in the race. Weather is the third factor and although it was warming up by the time he finished, was probably a minor factor this time. As it turned out, the Scotia Half yielded up yet another new PB to Walter’s relentless and persistent pursuit of excellence. His time was 1:2834, good for 4th place in his M55-59 age group.

I imagine he takes comfort (not much though) in the fact he was just 16 seconds out of 3rd and that truth be told it was the ‘graduation’ of Coach Carey Nelson into the age group that pushed him into 4th. Carey was first with a 1:23:58. What’s a body going to do?? At least it was a good friend who pushed Walter off the podium. I will have to consult to determine whether or not the new PB corrected the so-called imbalance at half marathon, but my first reading of it, suggests that while a PB is a PB, this particular one is still not quite what Walter would want. Never mind, there are two more half marathons in his immediate future with potential to deliver even better times (Victoria Half and the Iron Horse Half Marathon). The quest continues!

Finishing up at Blueshore Financial Longest Day 5K – a fixture in both race series.

Coming off his 2017 performances, Walter set his cap for doing well in two race series that happen in BC. One is the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the other is the BC Super Series (for readers not presently running, this was the Timex Series). Some races are common, but as the name suggests, the Lower Mainland series is limited to events in the Lower Mainland area, in and around Vancouver. Without getting into the weeds on series scoring (they are different) Walter is well positioned in both. In both cases you must complete a minimum number of events, but you only score your best results, discarding poorer results after you surpass the official minimum number of races. He has been working hard to achieve his best possible outcome and while there are several races remaining in both series, it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone in his age group to catch up (there are only three races remaining in each series). He has already completed the minimum for both series and has a significant gap on those coming behind. Just in case the wording of this description might be misconstrued to imply he will be sitting back on what is ‘in the bank’. He won’t. Anyone who thinks they have an outside chance of catching him is going to have to work for it.

Another related matter is the challenge of doing well at the BC Athletics Championship races at standard distances: 5K (2nd), 8K (1st), 10K (2nd), Half Marathon and Marathon (2nd). Only the Half Marathon Championship remains for 2018 (Goodlife Victoria Half Marathon in October). Walter has competed in all of the events so far and, as noted, has achieved age group first or second placements in all. Interestingly, there is no particular single rival. He has placed either first or second, but the others who were just ahead or just behind consist of four different runners. I guess that makes Walter a ‘man for all seasons’ where it comes to race distance and excellence. It will be interesting to see how much he can tweak his performance before getting to the BC Half Marathon Championship in Victoria in October.

A few momentos from Walter’s more recent races.

I always try to make these posts at least a little bit generic and instructive to a wider audience. In reporting the specifics, I hope to inspire the more general thoughts and aspirations among readers. In this instance, Walter Downey is doing what turns Walter Downey’s personal crank. It is admirable and to be celebrated, but just because he wants to and can, there is no reason it should be someone else’s dream. We all have, or should have, our own.

At an impromptu post-race brunch after the recent Scotiabank races (there was a 5K, too), Coach Carey asked me how many of the Big Six I had run. ONE. New York. That’s it. I guess that if I got silly lucky later this year when ballot results are announced, I could move that up to TWO by doing London next year. That still leaves four, one of which I would have to sacrifice a point of principle to do – Boston. You CAN do it with a charity bib, but I long ago decided that because it is what it is, and I am what I am, the only way to do Boston would be to Qualify. That seems a ‘bridge too far’ for this Ancient Marathoner.

Other than working hard enough to win or at least place at most of my races, most of Walter’s personal goals are off the charts for me. No problem. I have my own past glories and future plans. Same like everybody else! The point then, is that this article is intended to inspire you to THINK about what you might do (if  you haven’t already).

Pre-Race with Walter Downey – BMO Vancouver Marathon 2018

I do have to admit that I was anticipating a few more zen-like ideas from Walter. That was possibly naïve of me. His current performance level is way too high and a ‘work in progress’ to be seriously looking at hanging up the racing flats and contemplating long easy runs in pastoral settings. Good Lord, I’m 73, kind of broken and slow and I’m still not thinking that way! A common friend of Walter’s and mine, is Rod Waterlow. In about a month, he will turn 81. HE isn’t thinking about pastoral run-walks either. I don’t know why I thought Walter would go there at this point, so there is a lesson for me and for you.

I did pose the question “Now What?” And, I did get some worthy answers. I suppose we should just leave it at that. In the meantime, I shall pursue some of my own goals that have been inspired by watching Walter, studying and writing about the adventure he is on at this point in time.

A PARTING TRIBUTE TO RITZ CONTRIBUTOR, MAE PALM

06.13.2018

I learned today that Mae Palm has died after a battle with lung cancer. She will be missed. When we were putting together “Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“, co-editor Steve King told me we HAD to get a contribution from Mae Palm. You will see why when you read what follows. The only one who seemed to disagree was Mae, who felt, nay insisted, that she really didn’t have anything to contribute, and besides wasn’t much of a writer. Thankfully, WE insisted even more strongly, that she most certainly DID have something to say and told her not to worry about her writing – ‘just tell your story’, the editors will ensure it gets written. Following is her chapter, and (then) bio, direct from the book.

Mae Palm (Wilson)

Mae Palm with Frank Shorter

Born in South Africa in Johannesburg in 1939, Mae immigrated to England in 1956 and moved to Canada in 1966. Although she is also known by her married name, Wilson, Mae uses Palm for all her races in memory of her parents. Because of the apartheid problems in South Africa her father would often say “You are a Palm and you are Number One!” She is of mixed origin.

Mae started running in 1978 and started racing in 1980, at the age of 40. She only took up swimming at the age of 58 so she could compete in triathlons and has never looked back. She has not only completed over 100 marathons, but also regularly racks up a 1st place finish in her category! Known as “Marathon Mae”, Ms. Palm is a Canadian and North American record-holder and an inspiring individual to meet.

Mae is the mother of a son, Brendan and a daughter, Breanna and now a grandmother and even though she now resides in a seniors residence, she surely qualifies as the fastest senior in town!

One of Mae’s running highlights has been competing in the “Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun-run team event which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. For several years her partner was 1972 Olympic Marathon champion, Frank Shorter, shown with Mae in her photo, above.

Unfortunately, Mae finds the cost of entry fees, especially for international competitions prohibitive and in the past has had to pass up competing in events for which she has qualified, including the Boston Marathon and the Hawaiian Ironman due to the expense. She relies on sponsors to help offset the athletic costs involved with competing in triathlons and other events. Supported by Triathlon Canada, Mae was recently recognized with a grant from the Canadian Athletic Achievements of Women in Sport (CAAWS) and will use the WISE Fund for registration fees for upcoming competitions, including the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii. In 2005 Mae received an award from Sport BC, the Community Sports Hero Award (Sea to Sky Community Area) in recognition not only as a volunteer but as a motivator and promoter of sport.

[Ed. Note: Following is the un-edited text of Mae’s contribution, as published in 2005 (except that the original had no photographs, which have been added). No links were added, as is normal on the blog, as this is meant to be a faithful reproduction of what Mae gave us for the book. For more information, contact the editor at danbcumming@gmail.com]

They Call Me Marathon Mae!!

Mae Palm

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 26, 1939. At that time my family lived as ‘coloured’ in an area that became known later as Soweto, but at that time it was known as Alexandra Township. It was for Blacks and Coloureds only. My father had the pride and inner courage to open a business in a town for Whites called Ferndale, so we hid our true identity to be accepted as White. My Dad had the audacity to claim our darker coloured skin was due to Portuguese heritage! I credit this upbringing and my experience from that time with empowering me to be the best at whatever I do, whether it is working as a maid (something I did for a time) or competing as an Ultra runner.

When it came time for me to find work, my birth certificate had to be shown and it told the real story. In those days my options and opportunities were severely limited due to apartheid. In 1956 I immigrated to England, where I lived until 1966. I was able to do this thanks to my Mum, who saved any money she could in her special little “brown bag”. Mum and Dad ran two stores side by side called – you guessed it – Palm Stores. My Dad was a very proud man, and did not want to ‘yes sir’/ ‘no sir’ anyone. He went into business for himself and became his own boss. When you go through hard times I believe it makes a better person out of you. Dad would often tell us: “You are a Palm and you are Number One”.

For me running started when I was in my late 30’s. It was about the time when I started driving a car, walking less and noticing that I was gaining weight. Being just 4’11” in height, I didn’t want to wind up as wide as I was high! As a ‘stay at home Mum’ of two children, it didn’t take too long to realize that if I was going to do it, I needed to walk or run at 6am to have my then-husband at home with the sleeping children. For me, this was simply the best timing. I think most people will quit running if they do not choose the right time of day. When I began working in Whistler in 1982, I found that this early morning exercise schedule could be continued with good effect. It is when I became a “5-9” person. That is right: five to nine. It included my 9-5pm work schedule, something with which most people are more familiar. I would be up at 5am to go for a run and hit my bed at about 9pm, soon after the kids. That has been my routine for over 25 years now. For me, it’s now just part of life. I guess I run for the health of it!

My first race was in 1980 in Squamish, BC and was an 8km run. Maybe more to my own surprise than anyone else’s, I placed first in my age category – the rest is history! This first race hooked me on racing. As most of my running and training has been achieved by self coaching, I really have nobody to blame but myself when I don’t do well. Still, I strongly believe that I have managed to stay uninjured by listening to my body and backing off when I need to do so. That is to say, I have never missed a race that I have entered due to injury. I live by a personal rule to never bite off more than I can chew and that has been a key component of any success I have achieved. I run because I love it and if I manage to place first in any competition, well that is just ‘icing on the cake’.

I truly thrive on other peoples achievements, especially if they are older or are physically challenged. It is seeing and hearing success stories in the sport world that inspires me. Knowing what others can do, especially those with some kind of extra challenge to meet or overcome, helps me to grow stronger. I have a great appreciation for the volunteers at races and always try to let them know that in real terms. I once had a running friend comment, ‘If you would only stop thanking all the volunteers you would improve on your time!’ To me that is neither important nor possible. It just isn’t my way. I love the healthy friendly enjoyment of the run itself, the longer the better. It’s like being at a big party where you dance for 3 or 4 or 5 hours.

There was a time (age 13-26) when I used to smoke and drink but that was the limit of my use of any kind of drugs, and I have always stayed away even from pain killers. I want to know what my body is feeling and how it is doing. I stopped smoking when I was three months pregnant with my son Brendan, more than 36 years ago. And, while on the subject of family, I also have a daughter, Breanna, who is a seven years younger than her brother.

Quitting willy-nilly is not in my nature, so I always try to make sure I can finish whatever I start. Experimenting in a new sport is a real ‘high’ for me. That attitude has taken me to marathons, Ultra running and Triathlon. But, let’s start at the beginning. After running for a bit I found out that I had the mental strength to endure long distance running, so over time I went from running 2 miles every day in the first couple of years of my regular running, to the slightly further distance of 100 miles. That transition took until 1994 at the Western States 100 Miler. I did that run in a time of 29 hours 54 minutes and some seconds, only 6 minutes to spare before the cut off of 30 hours! But, I did it!

I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Klein. She actually passed me in the dark of the night – what an amazing woman – she was in her early 70’s at the time. Even though she only started running in her mid-50’s, she is a superb senior athlete and has held many age category records. She is a great inspiration and gives me hopes for my own endeavours in the 65-69 age category.

One of the happiest, most pleasurable, and OK –luckiest, parts of my running career came when I partnered with Olympian Frank Shorter (1972 and 1976 gold and silver medalist for the marathon) in “the Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun run which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. The “Duet” is a 4.6 mile marathon primer and with our combined ages we were placed in the 100-119 age category. In the four or five years we competed together, we always placed first because Frank was so fast. Frank, through the inspiration he gave, drove me to compete at my highest level and to work very hard for him. He was always so gracious. He came, this Olympic hero and fantastic runner, to pick up Breanna and me and to take us to all the events he had to attend. We met his wife and their baby girl. We went to the beach with them and were treated like old friends.

I found myself amused and amazed to be standing side by side with Frank (after the main event “the marathon”) while waiting for the results to see how we did and discussing the race. It seemed so strange to be there along side an Olympian who just treated me like a buddy (in between signing autographs, of course!).

A good example of how running makes her ‘beam’. Peach City Marathon (near Penticton, BC)

I love running. It is really that simple. It has brought me through troubled times and is a great stress release. It just always makes me feel like I am beaming and smiling not only on the outside but from within. What keeps me going is really quite simple. I want to continue setting the best example I can for anyone who might be interested. But most of all, now that I have a grandson, my dream is to be able to do a run with him one day.

Dag Aabye, a Squamish forestry worker, and locally well-known skier and runner, encouraged me to believe in myself and believe that I could become a long distance runner. He used to see me on my early morning two-mile runs as I would pass his house and one day he just came dashing out of his house, stopped me and said: “You are a runner and you should do a marathon!” It was his encouragement that sparked a personal and ongoing passion for marathons even though I little knew what a marathon was at the time. It was also what inspired me to compete in the grueling Whistler Marathon in 1982 and again in 1983.

During my Ultra running days, I was so pleased to meet Ann Trason, female winner of the 1994 Western States 100 Miler. This was a real highlight for me. Ann is an amazing woman and, I think, very shy. Two weeks after the 100 Miler race, I completed the North Shore Knee Knacker 30-mile ultra marathon (North Vancouver, BC) and won my division. As I crossed the finish line, race organizer Enzo Federico announced that I had run the Western States 100 Miler as a “training run” for the Knee Knacker. I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but……

In 1995, I raced again in the North Shore Knee Knacker wearing a pair of Nike racing flats and I elected to not carry any water. The bottom of my racing flats had slight ridges but no tread. I am pleased to say that I bettered the time of my previous year by over 1 hour and finished in 7:20:26, breaking my own race record of 8:21:33 which I set in 1993. In 1996, I was thrilled to be one of 10 trail-runners highlighted in the Discovery Channel’s show “Go For It!” The show followed the runners through the terrain of the 30 Mile Knee Knacker course and filmed the trail running experience.

Medals and ribbons and trophies are good, but my personal reward for running a marathon is Haagen Daz ice cream! Well, that is if I have done really well; actually any ice cream is good and originally my favorite treat was waffles with oodles of cream and blueberry sauce. Treats are rewards and not for all the time. I have to earn them. Of course, I am the only one keeping track, but that is the way it is.

As the clock and calendar tick away, I take nothing for granted. Even though I enjoy good health and do marathons and other such endurance races, I am grateful to be able to walk to the bathroom and just be able to be self sufficient. I feel very fortunate to be in good health, when I know that others are not and that there is no guarantee for any of us. I like to challenge myself, but not to the point of being ridiculous. I know my limits and run against my own times.

I think it was quite fitting and made a bit of personal history in planning my 100th marathon in Vancouver. Although I go by Mae Wilson for most things, I use my maiden name, Palm, for running. I do this as a memorial to my late mother who passed away in 1990 on the very date of the Vancouver International Marathon. When my good friend Steve King, announced this at the race, it was very special and heart warming. Steve always has a way of making one feel so good through his encouraging and nice words.

In September 2002, I was featured in the article ‘The Ages of an Athlete” in an issue of Sports Illustrated Women. The feature was on growing old gracefully and the changes an athlete experiences. I was the only Canadian featured in the article and represented the 60’s category. Like everyone, I have had lot’s of photographs taken by family, race photographers and even a reporter or two, but it was my first ‘photo shoot’ with a New York professional photographer. To say the least, it was a memorable experience and I felt truly honoured to be chosen. The article featured athletes from a 9 year old basketball player running through the decades to a 93 year old swimmer.

A local, internationally recognized triathlete, Bob McIntosh was tragically and brutally killed in 1999. In that same year, in recognition of him, the Bob McIntosh Triathlon was organized in Squamish, BC. While I didn’t know him well, he would joke with me about becoming a triathlete, little realizing that I could not swim with my face in the water or that when I first tried my hand at triathlon in 1989 in Whistler on a dare, I was the last one out of the lake. I did every stroke I knew (including the backstroke) to avoid putting my face or nose in the water. I concluded at that point that I was not triathlon material! So, I thought I would volunteer for the 1999 event. When the local paper called to find out if I would be entering, I laughed at the idea. Apparently, they didn’t know much about my swimming abilities either. After I put the phone down from the local reporter, I gave the race another thought. Why not try? Other people swim. I could take swimming lessons and I began to build my courage, telling myself that ‘you are never too old to try’. I still feel the swim is the scariest part of triathlons, but my determination and perseverance motivated me to take lessons, practice and force myself to swim more effectively and conquer my lifelong fear of swimming. I participated in the 1st Bob McIntosh Triathlon as a personal memorial to Bob.

IronMan Championship 2001 – Kona.

In 2001, I won, my age category, in the very windy and scary World Ironman Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. As far as I know, I was the only Canadian representing my age category at the World Championships. As someone who has always been content to finish each race this was an achievement I had never even considered. This win was definitely ‘icing on the cake’! Sadly, my family was unable to attend the race and celebrate that special victory. Still, it was a glorious moment to share the win with fellow Ironman athletes while sitting at the awards ceremony with an ‘all Canadian’ table. I will admit that there is some loneliness in being a long distance athlete, especially when you are self coached. However, the win in 2001 was a very proud moment that makes it all worthwhile. It was like a dream, but it encouraged me and makes me feel there still so much to learn and improve on with triathlons. More than that, it gives me the confidence to know I can achieve both the learning and the improvement.

The goal today is to remain healthy and injury free so I can enjoy having athletic fun with my grandson and the rest of the family. I sometimes dream of ‘finishing’ what my young hero, Terry Fox, could not do, at least in a physical sense. It is my dream and my ambition to do runs and events for a cause rather than just selfishly doing them for my own achievement and satisfaction. I often dedicate a given run to the memory of someone, but would like to be doing more. The inspiration of Terry Fox tells me there is something out there that is one day going to click with me and then I will know what my cause will be. I truly believe in being careful and listening to my body. With this attitude and approach, I think I could do a marathon a day for as many days as it would take.

 

Rest in peace, Mae. This marathon is done. We will miss you.

30 YEARS OF RUNNING 29 MARATHONS

05.11.2018

Finishing my very first marathon.

As posted previously, the BMO Vancouver Marathon marked the 30th anniversary of my fist marathon and my first Vancouver Marathon. I guess if I had been paying closer attention, I could have figured out how to make it my 30th marathon too. Of course, I count ‘marathons’ like a Marathon Maniac. How’s that? For the purpose of your MM statistics and level qualifications, anything 42.2K or longer counts as a marathon. So, I actually have 28 marathons and one 50K Ultra. We’ll just call it 29 marathons.

It has been an interesting journey and nobody need worry that I am about to chronicle the whole thing.

A small part of the King Edward High School track team (1962). That’s me in the back.

Beginning at the beginning, I used to run (mostly shorter distance track) when I was a kid. I also played soccer finishing up on a UBC team before a knee injury put an end to that. For the next twenty odd years, I would try to do this new thing called ‘jogging’, but any distance at all at that kind of pace would produce a piercing pain in my knee. I could sprint for a short distance and walk forever, but I couldn’t jog. Over the years, I tried several times, but it wasn’t until I was 39 and getting too heavy and out of shape that I decided to MAKE running work. I figured that if I could run about a mile at a jog pace (I could) without pain, that is what I would do and I would do it more or less every day. I consulted my doctor about it, because under the circumstances of my motivation, age and relative current condition, you really should. I also mention it, because in the end it was Dr. Don’s fault that I even ran my first marathon.

The old at the new. Me and the shirt (old) and the posters at Expo (new)

As you might imagine, after a bit of doing a mile a day I began to wonder “If a mile, why not two?” About three years later, I ran my first marathon. It was Vancouver 1988. Not surprisingly, given the title, that was 30 years ago. It was actually May 1, 1988, so Vancouver 2018 was a few days past the precise anniversary but that is neither their fault nor mine. We came as close as the calendar would allow.

Did I pique your curiosity just a little when I blamed/credited my doctor for my decision to take on the marathon? As you might have guessed, he was a runner too. Living in a small town, we ran together fairly often. Why was it his fault that I ran my first marathon? Well, when he told me it was the second most exciting thing he had ever done next to his honeymoon, how could I resist??

Start of Vancouver Marathon 1988. Trust me, I’m in there somewhere!

Little did I know, but my first would be my best and fastest. After that first one, I was pretty sure I would do more. I had trained well and felt strong. I had run closely to my plan. There was nothing to make me swear off ever doing another. However, back in those days marathons did not happen every weekend. You had to hunt a little to find one. It didn’t bother me that much. I was pretty busy just around then. One would come along soon enough. Apparently, I ignorantly missed out on a lot for that attitude. Only a few years ago and because the magical and illusive BQ has remained out of reach, I sleuthed out the BQ time for my age in 1988. It turned out it was BQ-worthy. In my own defense, I must say that it was not as big a deal back then. Yes, you had to meet the standard, but if you did, you were in. While I was happy with myself for my time, I was not as impressed as I maybe should have been. I was hanging out and running with so many people able to go sub-3:00, that my 3:24 wasn’t that impressive (to me anyway).

Two years after my first marathon, almost to the day, I was in a hospital having back surgery (ruptured disk). While recovery was pretty good, I seemed to have lost the edge I had prior to surgery. It may have had something to do with the residual nerve damage in my lower left leg (old and well chronicled news).

All my PB times came when I was 43/44 and were still improving when interrupted by the disk problem. That included my half marathon time. A bit more than a year after my surgery, and while living in Brussels, Belgium, I ran the 20K of Brussels, which was as close to a half marathon as I did around that time. I trained well and seriously. My pace prior to surgery, at half marathon range was 4:26/km and after, 4:48/km on a slightly shorter course. That is only 22 seconds slower per kilometre, but it adds up and represents a time difference of 7:42 over a half marathon. I never got that back. Obviously, with that kind of loss, I was not likely to better my marathon time. Also, I was very busy with work and family and although I certainly DID run I didn’t race much for a good 12-14 years. That went on up to and through 2002. There were a couple of periods when I did run/race more, but not steadily. There were also a couple of aborted attempts at doing another marathon.

Janna Finishing RVM 2000

Dan Finishing RVM 2000

My second marathon was kind of a Year 2000 project. I resolved I would train for and run a marathon. I actually intended that it be Vancouver, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I finally pulled it off at the Royal Victoria Marathon in October 2000 (which has now morphed into the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon). The fun of that was running it with daughter Janna, who was taking on her first. I now found myself over four hours, never to dip under again. Not a lot over though, and still my second best raw time at 4:17. I mention this as a set-up for something coming ten years later. Oh, and Janna went sub-4:00 for her first time. Just to complete the family story re marathons, our oldest daughter, Danielle came out from Toronto to cheer us on and was so impressed that she went home, trained for and ran her own marathon a year or so later!

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon. That year we all three did the half marathon. My shirt was from the 2000 marathon, though.

So, you might think that having got #2 under my sneakers, I would be running more marathons. Again, life got in the way. About the time I got rolling again, we moved to Malaysia for almost two years. There were NO marathons happening over there (for me, anyway), even if I did run nearly every day. When I got back to Canada and settled into Vancouver it seemed time to get another marathon on the go. In 2004, I signed up for and did Vancouver again. It might as well have been a new race, because it certainly was a different route. Time and therefore my age was making a difference. In 2000, I was already 55 years old, not the spry young runner of 43 that I was in 1988.

Napa Marathon. It was a challenge!

I was not that inspired in 2005, but in 2006 I really wanted to do a marathon somewhere that wasn’t Vancouver or Victoria. I picked the Napa Valley Marathon. When you would read the web site description of weather and conditions, it was near ideal for marathon running. The day before and day after were pretty much as advertised. The day of the race was brutal. A storm rolled in and we were being threatened with wind gusts of up to 50 mph. That never happened, but we had steady rain, steady wind of about 15 mph (24km/hr) and gusts to 25 mph (40 kph). If that wasn’t bad enough it was also cold, probably never higher than about 4-5°C. Because it is a point to point route, we were lucky enough to have a headwind the whole way. While not quite as bad as Boston 2018, I had no difficulty understanding what those people were going through.

I just kept going slower and slower, but never did myself any major damage. I decided to use Napa as a training run and signed up for Vancouver again, where the outcome was far more satisfying.

Janna and Dan ready to start the NYCM. Shirt design courtesy of Danielle!

2007 saw me make the big move to run the New York City Marathon. After that one, I swore I would never run NYCM again. Why? Not because it was so awful, but rather because it was so perfect. Again, I ran with Janna (and SHE came home with the big BQ). Because I was then RD for the First Half I got in on a race directors’ special program and special it was, including grandstand seating to watch the US Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials the day before (Ryan Hall won). Day was great, had other friends there and made a last minute decision to bring my wife Judi along (originally she wasn’t going). Oh yeah, considering I was coming back from injury, the race was pretty good too! I actually passed and beat the whole cast of Star Wars and a lighthouse!

Vancouver 2008 (20th Anniversary). Nearing the finish! Again.

In 2008, I got right carried away with myself. Being big on anniversary things, I signed up again for Vancouver for the 20th Anniversary. Unfortunately and as chronicled in detail in a post prior to this year’s marathon, I hurt my back getting out of the shower about a week before the race. Long story short, I got it done anyway.

Later that year (September) we planned a vacation to Maui, where I was signed up for the Maui Marathon. That one was HOT. Bart Yasso (RITZ contributor and CRO for Runners World) ran it too and afterwards declared it officially brutal. By this time, I was chasing the illusive Boston Marathon ‘BQ’ again and was planning to run the California International Marathon in December. I was signed up for the Half at Victoria as a kind of preparation race for CIM. I didn’t do much damage to myself in Maui, as it turned out, so a bit on the spur of the moment (because Maui kind of amounted to the long slow run building up for Victoria) I switched to the Full. FWIW, Maui was the first marathon where I went over five hours. It wasn’t surprising, but I had some fun with it, telling running friends my time had been 4:66. That brought some strange looks, until they figured it out and had a good laugh (at my expense).

That began a string of races where my time got incrementally better as I chased after a BQ. It went Victoria (2008), CIM (2008), Victoria (2009), CIM (2009), Eugene Marathon (2010). As it happened, the Maui, Victoria, CIM sequence qualified me not for Boston, but as a Marathon Maniac! Still, it took several years before I joined, because all of the very few Maniacs I knew had dozens and even hundreds of marathons to their names. Thankfully, some of them told me, “That’s not what it’s all about- JOIN.”  I did.

Rolling by Hayward Field, about nine miles into 2010 Eugene Marathon.

Eugene in 2010 was a huge milestone for me. You may recall I mentioned something about my second marathon in Victoria in 2000 being second best raw time, but to wait for what was to come. Well, this is what was coming. Around this time of incremental, yet ever better results, I was working with the Forerunners marathon clinics and really driving my training. In Eugene, finishing on the fabled Hayward Field, I laid down my third best raw time, 10 years and 10 marathons after Victoria 2000. Those 10 years were important though, because my Eugene time was only about 10 minutes slower than the race in Victoria in 2000 and clearly, by some distance, my second best age graded result. Getting older does slow you down, but not nearly as much or as fast as you might think, if you are ready to work at it. I’m not sure if it was some kind of running karma or reward, but I got my first marathon podium (3rd M65-69, with 16 of us in the category). I nearly fell over when they handed me the slip of paper with my splits, finish and placement! But, I didn’t get the BQ. I did get a lot closer though.

Six of my seven Reggae Marathon medals.

I promise to ease back on talking about every marathon, but I have to say that with progress on the Boston time, I headed into 2011 with fire in my eye and planned a triumphant return to Eugene. Unfortunately, stepping in the most modest of potholes on a training run, I tore some cartilage in my knee, which I didn’t know at the time. It kind of came around a bit as the target race (Eugene) approached so I decided to go ahead and do the marathon, knowing full well the progression of better and better times had come to an end, at least for the time being. Bad decision. It cost me most of the rest of the year of racing. That said, as Fall came on I did have a diagnosis and regimen to deal with the knee and I began the seven-year love affair with the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K that continues to this very moment. (FYI – you can’t run Reggae Marathon and CIM – they are the same weekend, and starting this year, will be the same day.) I was signed up for the actual marathon in Negril, but miscommunication and unfortunate transport arrangements saw me reach the start line nearly 2.5 hrs late. I mean, it IS Jamaica, but even there, ‘soon come‘ just doesn’t cover that amount of time. Lucky for me, I was able to run the 10K and get credit. No marathon though. Not to this day and very unlikely to happen now.

I think somewhere around that point in time, I began to realize marathons just had to be for fun. I joined Marathon Maniacs at Bronze Level, but marathons #17 through #22, moved from the base level to Two Stars or Silver Level, by running 6 marathons in 6 consecutive calendar months. One of them was the Elk-Beaver 50K mentioned before.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – #gettingair – Racing CAN be fun!

I’ve done some seriously downhill races in hopes that I might trip and roll my way to a BQ, but that hasn’t worked yet either. I traveled to favourite races with favourite people (yes, I’m talking about Eugene and a LOT of Forerunners runners). That is always great fun. I ran the current BMO Vancouver course because it was relatively new and would mean that I had run Vancouver on three distinctly different routes. I’ve ‘Run the Strip at Night‘ in Vegas and through a tunnel (Light at the End of the Tunnel). I’ve run them cold (that would be Napa) and hot (Maui at 90°F, 90% RH and a bit of volcanic smog). I’ve run ’em dry (Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon, near Salt Lake City and ever so wet (Vancouver 2014). I’ve done them BIG (NYCM) and pretty small (Freedom Marathon – #3 in a Maniac Quadzilla four marathon weekend). Some were hard. Some were fun. All were satisfying.

That brings us to 2018 and the 30th Anniversary of the first time I ever ran a marathon or the Vancouver International Marathon. As I mentioned in the preview post, I really wasn’t trained. How I missed the point that it would be the 30th, I don’t know. Couldn’t be my age! Still, having done the Seven Summits of Vancouver Challenge (longer and hillier) in October 2017, I figured I could tough out a marathon on almost the same route, minus 5K and at least three major hills. I had signed up and was in the process of getting ready to train for the half marathon, but switched up to the marathon. I’m so glad I did.

Pre-Race with Walter Downey. You remember him, he was featured not long ago.

Unlike 2014 (wins for wettest ever), it was an absolutely gorgeous day in Vancouver. Spring has been late, so trees were still blossoming, flowers were out in profusion and the sky was largely blue. In theory, it was hot for ideal marathon running, but a high of 21°C is not really THAT hot. I knew a lot of people running and saw many on the course (not to mention before the race started). I guess it was warmer than ideal. While the first half of the race went almost exactly to plan (actually about 2-3 minutes ahead of the theoretical split times I had in mind), I will admit I was only able to run to my training. Funny how that seems to work.

A few steps from the finish! 30th Anniversary Marathon in the books. Coming in for a high-five with photographer, Mary Hinze.

The second half was a grind. That said, it was no surprise and there was no sense that things had gone badly off the rails. I expected most of what I got and in truth was only 10-15 minutes slower then my realistic prediction/plan. (We won’t discuss my optimistic plan.) I can even account for some/most of the extra time in terms of one PP stop, a pause for re-application of sun screen, another for re-application of Body Glide (yes, when it is hot and you keep pouring water over yourself, chafing happens) plus a brief self massage to loosen up a rapidly tightening ITB. None of it mattered except to point out that I got exactly what I expected. I’m not saying the finish line was not a very, very welcome sight. It surely was. So were the people I knew, still there and cheering us stragglers in, not to mention Judi and her friend Ann. The icing on that finish line cake was good friend and co-editor of Running in the Zone, Steve King, calling me home over the last stretch, with his magic commentary.

May 6, 2018: 30th Anniversary Marathon. Done!

Oh, and to save  you the trouble of trying to count them up (’cause I didn’t actually name them all), it was the 29th marathon, and my sixth running of the Vancouver Marathon.

 

SNEAK PREVIEW OF SUPER SENIORS SEMINAR

04.22.2018

(ON RUNNING AND AN ACTIVE LIFE INTO THE 7TH, 8TH, 9TH AND EVEN 10TH DECADE)

MAY 15, 2018 7:00pm AT FORERUNNERS MAIN STREET

NO COST Reservation at: https://forerunners.ca/event/super-seniors-at-forerunners-main-street/

 

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

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

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

Dr. Jack Taunton ready for some pole walking.

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

Avril Douglas burning up the Track

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

Rod Waterlow at California International Marathon.

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

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

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

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

AM I CERTIFIABLY CRAZY, OR JUST A MANIAC?

04.20.2018

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

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

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

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

Finishing my very first marathon.

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

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

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

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

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

Of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearing the finish in 2008 – 20th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW PR SEEMS ALL THE RAGE THESE DAYS

10.04.2017

Random and gratuitous selection of race medals, including a couple of podium placements.

Well, at least one of my running friends thinks so. More on that in a moment.

First, let’s get clear on the whole ‘PR’ thing.

There is the PR (Personal Record) and the PB (Personal Best). For some, they are the same thing. Personally, I look at one (PR) as the best you have EVER done no asterisks for age or heat or terrain, or wind or whatever. The other comes conditions. I’ve started keeping that kind of statistic for myself. When you are at the pinnacle of performance you are on a kind of plateau of expectations. However, as you age (for instance), you may not be able to reasonably compare current performance with earlier performance (like something you did 20 years ago). I know people (me)who keep Five Year PB stats. I use the age divisions reported by most races.

When they start, most people tend to get better for as long as five years. They may then plateau, scoring similar results over a reasonably long period. Eventually, there comes a time when performances begin to decline and the pure ‘bests’ no longer happen. After that, the only way to get a career record is to run some distance you have never done before! (Which is how I have a 50K record set 3-4 years ago!)

It has also come to mind that there is a difference between winning or placing and running fast. You can score a PB and be last (well, in theory). If we look at the true front end of big races, it is shocking to realize that the fastest American marathoner (Ryan Hall) came fourth (Boston) while recording a 2:04 result. Then, look at “Meb” who truly knows how to race and win. His best times are literally minutes behind Hall, but he has the gold medals to show he knows how to be at the front when it counts. The same applies to us lesser lights, far back from the pointy end of any given race. The hard part for age group runners, especially in larger non-local races, is just knowing WHO you are racing. I mean, you can’t really apply your Meb-like wily race strategy if you don’t know who you are actually racing!

Getting back to the PR/PB discussion, it turns out there IS another way to get a PR (other than running some distance you’ve never done before) one that is not for the faint of heart. Not many of us can claim that after years of running, and running pretty well, that we are running faster than ever, especially those who have truly joined the ranks of the Seasoned Athlete.

Walter – For the Win! Forever Young 8K (2017)

I, and a good many others, can claim stellar events or even years as we go along. But, that is definitely a relative term and kind of an exception to the rule. That is why I talked about the Five Year PB. In my own case, my best running was about 3-4 years after I started and all my PR results came when I was 43-44 years of age. There were moments after that when I had a good race, but it took a bunch of years before I had one of those remarkable periods where everything was really good. It was leading up to and during the year I was 65. I had some excitingly (for me) good times, but they were totally ‘relative’. My best marathon in that 18 months or so, was my third best raw time and second best age graded, but far from the time of my best race. In fact, almost an hour slower in real time. The race was more than 20 years after the first and best. Still, it was a great year or so and in relative terms, good on almost any scale you want to use other than pure, raw results.

As I said, that just happens to be my story. I’m sure it isn’t unique. I know exactly why it happened. I worked my butt off and didn’t get injured. But, it still had that asterisk signifying “Best in Years”.

A few weeks back, I wrote a blog piece entitled “Where There’s a Will……………..”. It wound up being the second or third most popular piece ever published here. Apparently, it hit a chord with the ‘Seasoned Athlete’ readership. It was about fellow Forerunners clinic runner and group leader, Walter Downey. What follows is about the continuing adventures of ‘our Walter’, so I’m not going to reproduce all the background from the first post. If you want to know, just follow the link and it will take you right there.

Captured live while running through Forerunners Cheer Zone (Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon)

Walter’s very good year began in November of 2016 and has continued unabated right up to this past Sunday. The original story was that Walter was getting podium finishes in every race he contested, starting with an Age Group third place in the Fall Classic Half marathon (November 2016). As of this past Sunday, the string has expanded to 10 for 10, with six firsts, three seconds and one third.

We all enjoy a podium finish (First, Second or Third), but Walter started getting mostly Firsts. About a month ago, he won outright at the Forever Young 8K, while setting an age group and event record.

As an aside, the Forever Young 8K is a unique event for runners and walkers who are 55 Plus!

This past Sunday, he set another age group record at the inaugural North Van Run 5K. OK, I’ve had one of those myself last year. If you win your age group in the inaugural race, you have to get the record. In my case, it lasted 365 days and was then crushed. In Walter’s case, he laid down a fine time of 18:39 and placed 17th OA, even though he turned 56 in May and this race uses a 10 year age group (50-59).

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

So, here is the magic. Walter has produced a pure career best at every distance he has run in the past year including 5K, 8K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon. Does that mean he is done? No, not necessarily. I know he has five other races lined up for 2017, so he may well improve some of those times that are current lifetime bests. I have it on good authority (he told me) that he still wants to do better yet. If he sticks with the plan, he will run 14 races in 2017. That is a lot, but maybe not so bad if you consider some of the shorter races as part of the training and build for the longer ones.

Dedication and determination seem to be the driving forces. Hard work can achieve amazing things. Walter went from being a competent but, by his own assessment,  lazy runner, compared to the ‘running machine’ we see at present. He was having fun and was more or less satisfied with what he was doing, but in his heart, he knew he could do better.

Coming off an injury unrelated to running (but which kept him FROM running), Walter started eating better (up to six times a day, but fewer carbs, more protein and fewer calories), and losing weight (28lb) as well as running farther (75km/week vs 40km/week), harder and smarter (from 3 times to 5 runs per week with targeted workouts, including a couple of gym sessions to work on strength). His workouts always have purpose, something we can’t always claim. He pushed his own limits and standards. We share a coach, Carey Nelson, who is very thoughtful about the programs he offers his runners and even though we may all do the prescribed runs and drills, there is still the degree of commitment that can be variable. Walter put the hammer down and pushed toward his own potential. He tells me that a lot of people have noticed his improvement and want his ‘secret’. Disappointingly for some (me?), the secret is pretty much self-discipline and hard work.

Running volume is hardly the only measure of a strong program, but if you are running marathons, volume does count re endurance. As already noted, Walter went from average weekly distance of 40km up to about 75km. Distance is one thing, but the other side of it is intensity. Not getting the two confused is the smart part. We are all just one awkward step from an acute injury, but all things staying even, I am expecting to see even more from Walter over the next several months. I’m pretty sure Walter is too!

In case you want to keep track of what he has done and how it goes over the next while, here is the record starting with the Fall Classic Half Marathon (2016). Note, all placings are for M55-59 or M50-59.

2016

Nov     Fall Classic Half Marathon    1:36:47      3rd

2017

Mar     Pride Run Phoenix Half         1:31:42       1st

May     Eugene Marathon                  3:14:37       2nd    PR

Jun      North Olympic Trail Half       1:32:18       1st

Jun      Scotiabank Half Marathon     1:32:25      2nd

Jul       Vancouver Pride Run 10K          39:09     1st      PR

Aug     Squamish Days 8K                    31:26       1st      PR

Aug     America’s Finest City Half       1:29:51      2nd    PR

Sept     Forever Young 8K                 31:50       1st      1st OA, Event Record

Sept     North Van Run 5K                  18:31       1st      PR  AG Record

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

Walter has another five events still to run in 2017: two 10Ks (Vancouver Turkey Trot and Fall Classic 10K), one 5K (Palm Springs Pride Run), one Half (Joshua Tree Half Marathon) and one Marathon (California International Marathon). Sounds like there may need to be another update in December or January! Walter has also run four of the six marathon majors (New York, Boston, Chicago and Berlin) and as I write this blog piece is waiting to hear if he will be successful at his attempt to run London next Spring.

Run on Young Walter!  Run on!

 

WHERE THERE’S A WILL………………………..

06.30.2017
Captured live while running through Forerunners Cheer Zone (Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon)

Captured live while running through Forerunners Cheer Zone (Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon)

This post began last year when friend and fellow Forerunners group leader, Walter Downey ran the Berlin Marathon and we discussed a post on his experience. Walter ran with a group of friends and celebrated his FOURTH Marathon Majors event (New York, Chicago, Boston and Berlin), which was also a part of the story.

Well, as things go these days, and even though we got off to a decent start, the project got side-tracked.

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

Berlin Marathon (2016) Finisher Medal

As it turns out, that was a good thing because I think this post is going to be even better. While Berlin was a fabulous experience, by Walter’s own account, it was far from his best marathon. Perhaps it was that, or maybe it was just the ‘final straw’, but whatever, it got Walter onto a new course (sorry about the running pun).

I asked him about just what he was doing to bring about all this success, because Walter is definitely a ‘seasoned athlete’ having turned 56 the day of the Eugene Marathon, where he just came Second in his age group and set a new PB and not one of those age-graded PB’s that I am so fond of these days. Nope, this was an asterisk-free, honest to Steve Prefontaine (it was Eugene, and we did finish on Hayward Field) Personal Best!

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The title of this piece isn’t “Walter Downey gets a PB at age 56” it is “Where There’s a Will……….”.

As mentioned above, I asked what he was doing and it kind of boiled down to two fairly simple ideas. 1) he is running more and with more purpose, and 2) he is eating better. I guess there is one more thing that is really the essence of the title, he decided to dedicate himself to getting this done.

Fall Classic Half. Real heroes of the day - VOLUNTEERS!

Fall Classic Half. Real heroes of the day – VOLUNTEERS!

Walter has always been a pretty decent runner, but like most of us who can say that (I could at one point), being pretty decent doesn’t get you any hardware other than that Finisher Medal. Walter is on a streak following Berlin. It began with a local race in Vancouver, the Fall Classic Half Marathon (November). The ‘new Walter’ ran pretty well and came Third (M50-59) with a time of 1:36 – nicely done on a day that wasn’t. I ran that day, pacing the 2:30 finish group. It was very wet and let’s just say the best part of the race on that day was being finished!

To those of us who have known Walter for a while, he has clearly shed a few pounds (or Kilograms, if you prefer), some 25 of them since January.

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

Celebrating the Age Group Win at Phoenix

It seemed that every Saturday, as we headed out for our prescribed clinic training distance, Walter would add on an extra 5K or sometimes more. As we made our way through one of the ugliest winters Vancouver has seen in some time, Walter was going longer and getting faster, it seemed (he also leads a group at the Wednesday night speed clinic). This has added up to a 2017 total distance run of over 1500km to date, sometimes running twice in a day .

I suppose the First Half Half Marathon in February would have offered a bit of insight into his progress, but for the first time since it began, the First Half was cancelled due to weather. (Did I mention the ugly winter we just had?) Not to worry, the Phoenix Pride Run Half Marathon in March was as good a place as any for an age group win (First M50-59) and a very tidy time of 1:31.

Forerunners at the Eugene Marathon (2016) - pre-race at Mazzi's

Forerunners at the Eugene Marathon (2016) – pre-race at Mazzi’s

Next race up was the Eugene Marathon. It is becoming a ‘go to race’ for a lot of Forerunners folk and I think there were some 40 or so of us, including significant others, that actually went down to Oregon to run the half or full marathon. The day could not have been much better. It bordered on spectacular. I wish I could say the same about my own run, but I think I psyched myself out on that one (the Half) before I even started. Anyway, I was lounging around with other Forerunners folks, on the grass in the post-race celebration area, when Walter appeared after finishing his marathon and just ‘floated’ right by all of us, looking like he could easily go another 10K! I mentioned this to our coach and Olympic marathoner (1996), Carey Nelson. His response was “the good races never hurt!”  Guess he knows whereof he speaks. Walter was celebrating his 56th birthday that day and had just set an all-time PB (3:14:02), come Second M55-59 and recorded a negative split while doing it (about as common as spotting unicorns).

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

Walter at the North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

After Eugene, came North Olympic Discovery Trail Half Marathon where he nailed another First in his age group and a time of 1:32:18, definitely not too shabby for a trail race, oh and good for 4th place OA (3rd OA male).

Which all brings us to the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon held June 25 in very warm conditions for Vancouver. Everyone, including race winners, turned in times well off race records and PBs, and not surprisingly. So, another Second in Age Group and a time of 1:32:25.

OK – so much for the impressive statistics. What is of importance here to the ‘seasoned’ running community is how some guy who is now technically a senior (in the eyes of some organizations that offer discounts on stuff), is doing such amazing things. (I know! I was shocked when offered a senior’s discount on my insurance because I was 55!)

Walter’s efforts and performances are admirable for anyone of any age. So what happened? I mean, that is what we all want to know now that you’ve got a picture of Walter’s recent running record.

 I guess it is all summed up in the title: “Where there’s a will…………”

I have to say that Walter does not look at this as being heroic in any way (which is not to say he isn’t thrilled to bits). He just decided he wanted or needed to do this and then he did. I am not sure if the right term is fortunate or not, but I’m going to use it because going too hard CAN produce an injury. In fact, Walter was injured much of last summer, although not from running. It was a calf injury resulting from playing softball. Doesn’t matter how it happened, it really put running on the side for quite a time and probably impacted his time in Berlin (not that 3:44 is an awful time).

What it clearly does tell us is that we can make major changes to how we are going about things. We talked quite a bit after the Scotia Half and I learned that while there have been some major adjustments to diet in particular, it is also not obsessive, nor highly prescriptive. Walter isn’t eating tofu for every meal or magic berries. Mostly he is eating sensibly with some attention to certain types of food and the amounts consumed. The odd slip or intentional indulgence does not spell doom or disaster because everything in general is headed the right way. I was a little taken-aback when he said beer had been removed from the menu. He quickly assured me he hasn’t gone ‘dry’, just more or less eliminated beer. [Ed. Note: This thing about beer is being taken under advisement.]

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Hayward Field, Eugene OR. Finishing the Eugene Marathon (2017) Photo courtesy of Michael Carson.

Similarly, when you train for an event like a marathon, unless your only goal is crossing the finish line, there is work to be done. A lot of work! Getting the distance in is pretty obvious, but effective training also requires some quality in the form of speed work, hills and tempo runs. As much as the physical matter of being able to run up a hill is important, so is the mental assurance that you CAN run up it. When you are actually racing against something other than the clock, and then too, being able to pick up the pace is important. You do not master these things by simply running a long way at a modest pace (LSD). Again, it appears that Walter seized on that truth and went to work making it happen. He told me during our little ‘heart to heart’ that he thinks he will keep his weekly long run at 25K as a general matter, unless he is targeting another marathon. I think we all have some kind of ‘minimum’ training distance we try to hold even when we aren’t specifically preparing for an event. 25K sounds like a good solid goal for someone concentrating on marathon and half marathon racing. 

With regards to Walter’s new focus, the results are clear. Oh yes, one more thing: He is having FUN!

So, congratulations to Walter on his stellar achievements, and thanks for the inspiration to the rest of us. Maybe this little story will be what it takes for a few others to make the same personal resolve that they need to dig just a little deeper and ‘make it happen’!  Because, you know, Where There’s a Will……………….

WE LOST A LEGEND – RIP ED WHITLOCK

03.16.2017
Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

Ed Whitlock at 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. (From STWM web gallery)

I suppose I was no more or less shocked than anyone else when we heard the news on the morning of March 13, 2017, that the inspirational Ed Whitlock had died. But, shocked I was. Many on social media posted things like: “I thought he was immortal!” An easy mistake to make, no doubt, about one so vigorous.

Ed had just banked a couple of new world records as recently at Oct/Nov of 2016. Had he dropped over with heart failure or something like that, I guess we could understand how he could run so well in October/November and be gone from us in March. In fact, he died of prostate cancer according to his family.

When a man of 85 (when he set the records) or 86 (his birthday was just a week before his demise), sets a running record there might be a tendency among the unfamiliar to think ‘OK, but at that age, he probably just had to show up’.  As all we runners know, that is definitely not the case! Even at that age, his performances on road and track would challenge people half his age. More on that later. To be clear, his marathon time in mid-October at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (one of his favourite races) was 3:56:33. Under FOUR hours, at age 85, pushing 86. The average finish time (male) for marathon is now somewhere around 4:20, just in case you were wondering.

When I heard the shocking news, my first instinct was to rush to my computer and write a tribute, but then I changed my mind. I did post a couple of heartfelt thoughts on social media and ‘shared’ one of the well written tributes. However, I thought it might be better to take a little time and be more thoughtful about exactly what I wanted to say. I did not know Ed personally and had not even met him, but like so many others I followed his exploits rather closely and with more than a little awe. Like so many others, I feel like I knew him.

I’m pretty sure that Ed inspired any runner who had heard of him and his achievements. There is no doubt he impressed and inspired the ‘seasoned‘ athletes among us! This is where I want to start, because Ed Whitlock’s achievements and records are so very hard to comprehend in their true context. Why? Because they are as extraordinary as you could imagine. The last time he raced, he was 85, so let’s start there.

His last race was a not often run 15K distance. I will just skip by it even though it was his last race and a world age group record. The distance is seldom run and times would need to be explained, whereas with marathons there is a more universal recognition of relative performance.

That brings us to October 16, 2016 and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon where Ed recorded that 3:56:33 World Age Group Record. Why you must be amazed at this time, which a lot of decent marathoners can accomplish, is because he was 85, nearly 86, when he did it. Think about it. Ed Whitlock was several years older than average Canadian male life expectancy AND he was running marathons! As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a great fan and proponent of age grading. Looking at Whitlock’s time through that lens, we find his time grades to 2:05:09 (according to the World Masters Athletics calculator). Yes!  Now I think I’ve got your attention.

Ed said he had a bad patch in the middle of the race, but then got it back. He also said he was not as well trained as he generally likes to be and with his usual training regimen, could have possibly gone a bit faster. Turning this thing around the other way, the current World Record marathon time is 2:02:57. Using age grading in a theoretical exercise to see how that translates to the necessary performance for Ed to equal that World Record, his time would have had to be 3:52:24. In other words and in theory, he was 4:09 (raw time) off matching the world’s best marathon performance. And that, with a ‘bad patch’ around half way.

He did not consider it his best race. No, that was the time he recorded at age 73 when he went Sub-3 with a time of 2:54:59. The number of people who could achieve that result, at any age, is quite small, let alone any masters runner, and of course NO runner in his/her eighth decade! The graded time comes out to be 2:02:54, or faster than the current World Record. Oh yes, and run about 12 years ago. Today, we speculate on a possible Sub-2 marathon, so I did the same calculation with his time at 73. Ed would have had to run a raw time of 2:50:50 to grade to 1:59:59. Funny enough, the raw deficit is also 4:09.

As noted, I wanted to do something a little different to pay tribute, so started researching facts and information about Ed Whitlock and his running history. It isn’t that hard to find, but as I dug up the bits and pieces it started sounding like ME!

OK, OK, Hang on!  It’s TRUE! (Well, up to a point.) I also have to say that the comparison is done with all humility and respect, and with a recognition that what follows might apply to a whole LOT of us. In so many ways and up to a point, Ed Whitlock was a bit of an ‘everyman’, up to a point.

Like a lot of people, including me, he started running as a kid in school, then shut it down when he got all grown up and educated and responsible. Yep. That’s me.

Later in life (into his 40s) he started up again with his running. Check. Me too.

He ran his first marathon at age 44 (this statistic is a bit mixed, but he claims not to keep any accurate records on his career, so it was a third party that contributed the age).  Again, pretty close. My first marathon was when I was 43. And, while his first (3:09) was a bit faster than my first (3:24), they weren’t all that different. Of course, his second at age 48 was his fastest ever at 2:31! I’m suuuure I could have done something similar, but I didn’t run my second until 12 years after the first and by then I was 55 and my time had floated over 4 hours.

NO, please don’t go look up Ed Whitlock’s time at 55!! Of course I’m just kidding about being able to come close to his time at age 48. What does seem similar is that there was a gap of four years between his first and second, reflecting possibly two common things: no particular urgency to run number two and the fact that in those days, marathons were not that easy to find and the time to train properly for them, even harder.

I didn’t intentionally wait 12 years. Life got in the way. I did start training a couple of times, but could never get to the start line. Whitlock apparently did, some 40 odd times in total, but once again, by his own statement, he didn’t recall exactly how many. That is where we differ in a big way! I know EXACTLY  how many I’ve done and could probably give a narrative of every one of them, kind of like the golfers that can remember what they did on the green at the 16th at Augusta in the Third Round of the 1991 Masters. Thankfully for you, I won’t. The parallel to the rest of us is that he only averaged about one per year from age 44 to 85. Among those of us who love running marathons, that is not a huge production rate. However, most of us don’t run for 40-45 years. I am personally at 33 years now, 29 years from the time of my first marathon. All I am saying is that even though he may have racked up something around 42, Ed Whitlock was not obsessed about running marathons. No, there were so many other distances where he could dominate the world in general, that he had to share himself around! And, there’s a point of difference, most of us (especially me) never have that problem.

In an interview he gave just after his last Toronto Waterfront Marathon he said he had never run Boston. Wow, what a coincidence – me too!  (OK, so there is a difference. He doesn’t like point to point races and never really wanted to run Boston. Me, I couldn’t care what kind of course it is, ever since I realized I wanted to run Boston, I have been unable to qualify.)

With the exception that at 72 I am still going, it seems that any kind of parallels have now been exhausted!

OH NO! There is one more. In discussing his most recent record in Toronto in October, he said he thought maybe his ‘bad patch’ there in the middle was a result of ‘going out too fast’.  Now tell me, who cannot relate to that??? Check!  Me too – in almost every race I’ve ever done.

So really, Ed Whitlock was a lot like the rest of us, well except for that one thing that he could run like stink! Perhaps it is why I’ve gone on with this silly personal comparison. As awesome as his record is, we mere mortals can actually relate to him.

Mr. Whitlock could obviously have run Boston anytime he wanted. Just to make that point clear, the current M18-34 BQ is 3:05. Pretty much through until he was 75, Ed could have met that standard including the ‘fastest first’ provision. And, until the recent chopping off of 5:59 from all BQ standards, his performance at the Toronto race last October would have easily qualified him in the M60-64, or a division more than 20 years his junior. As it was, with the actual standard of today, he only missed by about a minute or so.

BUT, Whitlock never ran Boston. He didn’t like point to point races. I probably should hate him for that, but I find a delicious irony in it! Also, there is a kind of clarity of mind and purpose. I’m sure he knew he could run it anytime, but he found no need to do so. There is a kind of integrity in that, from the perspective that he didn’t need to and didn’t want to and was not dragged along by it being the thing you must do, because everyone else wants to do it.

I began to wonder if Ed Whitlock was a true elite marathoner in terms of numbers of marathons run. Most of the world’s best only do a couple a year. If his first marathon was around 44 and his last at 85, pushing 86, then he has been doing them for over 40 years. When asked ‘how many?’, as noted above, he figured about 40 marathons, maybe just over, like 41-42. That stuff just wasn’t important to him. He did allow, and it is an easy calculation, that he averaged about ONE per year. WOW!  I just realized that I have done something he didn’t and couldn’t have, I qualified to be a Marathon Maniac and not JUST a Maniac but a Silver or Level 2 Maniac. Considering his training volume, I guess he could have done that anytime he wanted, but that was not his focus. By his own admission, he liked to break records.

His performances (no one-trick pony our Ed, he ran track distances through the marathon) speak for themselves, and loudly. But, his personality and humble attitude endeared him to the whole running community.

More than one analyst, including RITZ contributor Roger Robinson, hold suspicions that Whitlock may not have been human. Roger, has gone so far as to posit that his mother may have been abducted by aliens nine months before his birth, and well, you know………………….  Some, more scientific searchers of the truth, actually turned him into a lab rat for a time; poking, prodding, sampling and testing him. I won’t go into all the things they learned, but not surprisingly they determined that he was performing as if a much, much younger man! Had they just asked, we runners could have saved them a lot of time, but I guess they wanted to put real physiological numbers on it. Let’s just say those numbers were pretty amazing.

There was nothing ‘normal’ about our friend Ed, when it came to running at the level he did. He trained to the simplest possible routine. He had no special dietary secrets (unless eating everything is a secret). He had no coach and no special routines. I suppose there was a bit of Forrest Gump in him – he just ran. If he got injured he stopped until it healed. (Now, why didn’t I think of that??) His normal training run was at a comfortable pace for 3-3.5 hours, but he carried no timing or pacing device and used a relatively short loop route around a local graveyard. Apparently, he didn’t want to know if he was going fast or slow or if it was a good run or not. He once told Roger Robinson that he did no speed work, however given the amount of racing he would do at shorter distances, Roger was not 100% sold on that claim. But, in the sense that he went out to do a workout such as the “pyramids” in my schedule for this week, nope, not so much.

You can’t argue with his success. At 48 he ran 2:31. That was 1975. If you were to assume his best days, at least in theory, would have been some 15 years earlier, you have to wonder what he might have done around 1960. OK, I have to wonder. Apparently it wasn’t that important to him.  Again I consulted the age grading calculator. A time of 2:31 at age 48 grades to 2:17(ish). At the time, the World Record was 2:15:16 held by the legendary Abebe Bikila.  I cited the time to the second because the previous record was 2:15:17 and the one after was 2:15:15 (over a span of about 5 years). In other words, at least in theory, Ed Whitlock might have been ‘right there’. As an FYI point, the WMA calculator is an equation that allows you to decimalize age and to enter exact age rather than nominal age. For instance, Whitlock was 85 when he ran Toronto, but he was 85.67 if you get accurate about it, and as he said in an interview after the race, even six months, at his age, is a huge amount of time. As he put it, his speed would be ‘leaking away’ rather rapidly. I know neither how many seconds his 2:31 included, nor whether he ran it the day after his birthday or the day before (or whatever). Thus, the calculated time is expressed as 2:17(ish). It could easily have been in the 2:16s.

Since I began writing this, a few days have passed and the ‘news’ articles have slowed down. I’m sure the tributes will continue for a good long time yet. Although you never know for certain, there is a pretty good chance that we won’t see another ‘Ed Whitlock’ for some time to come, if ever. Remember that as he went from one age to the next, he didn’t just break the previous record, he made a shambles of it. His time in Toronto was some 30 minutes better than the previous best. Of course, while there may be another fleet-footed older gent come along, it can be said with absolute certainty that there will never be another Ed Whitlock. He was clearly one of a kind. He will be remembered and he will always be an inspiration.

[Editor’s Comment: I hope nobody is offended by my slightly light-hearted approach. I truly believe in celebrating life well lived rather than mourning the loss. I want to remember Ed Whitlock’s life as a runner, not his death. There is nothing unique about death. Sooner or later, we are all going to do it. The real issue is what we did with those years between being born and when the end finally comes. The example of Ed Whitlock is something to which we can all aspire. I know I do.]