category : ‘Never Too Late to be Great’


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.]

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO LET GO OF COMPETITIVE RUNNING?

01.29.2017
THIS?

THIS?

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Or, THIS?

 

I’m going to try to write this as a general interest ‘think piece’, but have to admit that it is pretty personal. I can’t believe it is unique to me, though.

This blog, and the book it is based on are aimed at the ‘seasoned’ runner. I suppose this question could apply to any runner, but it is more likely to be one that runners like me have to consider as we get longer in the tooth and slower in the leg.

First, let’s define ‘competitive running’.

I think I’ll go straight to the top of the old guy list and talk about Mr. Amazing himself, Ed Whitlock. Just a few months ago we all watched with gaping mouths as Ed completed a marathon at the age of 85 in a time of 3:56:33 What? That isn’t all that fast. In fact, in most marathons of significance it is kind of mundane. Well, mundane if  you are between 20 and 50 maybe, but Whitlock is 85! Age grading of his time and age puts him very close to the marathon record for best ever. If you don’t think his performance is competitive then you should stop reading now, because anything I have to say isn’t going to make sense to you.

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

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

Never mind Ed though, right here in the Greater Vancouver area we have a lady who sets a single age record almost every time she laces up her running shoes. That’s right local fans, Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh. A bit later in 2017, that young lady is going to turn NINETY (90). That’s right, 90 years young. When asked recently, how she might celebrate, she apparently said she would run a marathon. I’m guessing it will be the Honolulu Marathon, based on it being her family ‘go to’ event and her birthday not being until early November. We’ll be watching for that event and probably another new single age record.

Roger Robinson - runner, reporter, writer

Roger Robinson – runner, reporter, writer

At a much more ‘tender’ age of seasoned athleticism we might consider the just turned masters runner. One who wrote for Running in the Zone (the book) and who contributes here from time to time, is Roger Robinson. At the age of 40 Roger set the Masters’ record for the Vancouver Marathon (then the Vancouver International Marathon and now the BMO Vancouver Marathon) and around the same time New York and Boston. His time in Vancouver? 2:18:43. His placing? Third overall. The Vancouver record stands to this day even though the race was run in 1981. I could talk about runners such as Meb, or Haile Gebrsellassie as Masters runners, but when I say ‘competitive’ I want to talk more about the regular runner, not the elites and I want to emphasize that competitive is in the mind as much as the foot.

I know a pretty goodly number of formerly elite runners, some of whom still run and many of whom still race. I also know a whole lot more runners who have had far less noteworthy careers but who have run races for a long time and with a great deal of passion for the competition. In context of the subject of this article, they are no less competitive of spirit than some of the best. They care. It matters to them.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish - 3:54:44.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish – 3:54:44.

A good friend, Rod Waterlow, who has been the subject of, and contributor to, writings on this blog is an age-class local winner and has been at the top of regional age group performance from time to time. Rod is going to change age groups at his next birthday later this year. He will join the M80-84 crowd and I expect will continue his winning ways.

Rod is an interesting study because he has been out of active racing for something approaching 18 months due to an injury, sadly, one that had nothing to do with running and maybe quite a bit to do with ME. It was on an acting job I talked him into trying and just a silly mis-step on our ‘set’. He badly twisted his knee and that set the whole thing off. I won’t go into the whole sordid tale as it goes on at some length with other issues coming in, beyond the original injury. The end result is that Rod has not been fit to race for almost 18 months. He has been amazingly patient and we are both hoping this time he really is getting back to competitive fitness, as he would define it.

I’ve gone on about this because I know Rod well enough to understand how important ‘competitiveness’ is to him. If the objective was just getting out for a pleasant jog on the streets or tails, he would already be done. He can do that. However, his objective is being race ready and as good as he can be. Tell me that isn’t the competitive spirit shining through! His chronological age doesn’t matter in the least!

I’m going to throw my own considerations in here because it is the only thing upon which I can speak with authority.  However, I am pretty sure I’m not alone in the general sense. Let’s start by making it clear that I have never really been much more than a competent runner. I sometimes realize that in my day I wasn’t too bad. Not good, but not too bad! Like many, I only started as I was approaching 40.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - Racing CAN be fun!

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – Racing CAN be fun!

I always ran as hard as I could and from time to time would have a sparkling moment, like the infrequent ‘perfect stroke’ in golf. My times don’t actually matter. What does matter is that I always wanted to do better than before. As with all ‘new’ runners, there was a 3-4 year period when I was consistantly improving. I hit my peak at 43/44. All my actual PB times come from around that time. Then came a ruptured disk in my back and surgery. As is obvious, I did get back to running, but the upward trend came to an end. Maybe it would have anyway. Aging has a tendency to do that eventually. Careful study using age grading, suggests I did lose a step or two due to the back injury and residual nerve damage. It is hard to do direct comparisons because I stopped running races and training hard because of work more than anything. It was a good 8-10 years before I really got back into racing. Using the % Performance statistic to compare races (1989 vs 1991), I seem to have lost 2-3% post ‘back’ and that seems to hold over the long-term.

I ran on at varying intensity (as work and life dictated) for many years, but around the time I was turning 65, I went through another phase of hard training, improved times and (relatively speaking) ‘best’ performances. Using the marathon as example, I scored my second best age graded time at the Eugene Marathon. My first (Vancouver) turned out to be the best both as a raw and a graded time, but that one at 65, in Eugene, OR was second on graded time, even though I had run 11 other marathons between.

The interesting part was the sequence of four marathons where each was just a little better, both on raw and graded times. All of these were either at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon or California International Marathon. Of course, two things were happening simultaneously (when comparing graded times). I was actually getting faster (because I was training hard) and I was also getting older. Just for fun, here is the sequence of graded times and %P:

  • 3:33:47 [58.4%]   (CIM Dec ’08)
  • 3:31:51 [59.0%]    (Victoria Oct ’09)
  • 3:30:51 [59.3%]   (CIM Dec ’09)
  • 3:27:18 [60.3%]   (Eugene May ’10)

I was training very hard to make those improvements both near the beginning of my running in my early 40’s AND in this little window around being 65. It didn’t happen by accident and couldn’t have happened had I not taken a competitive attitude. THAT is the point.

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Third Eugene Marathon M65-69 (2010)

Did I actually beat anyone else in all of this? Well, I was 3/16 M65-69 at Eugene. So, yes, I guess you could say I did beat a few, but it was just icing on the cake. My real motivation was a BQ, and no, I did not achieve that. But, I tried. Boy, did I try!

What? You’re wondering how that very first one graded, just for comparison? OK at age 43 in May 1988 at Vancouver, my graded time was 3:15:08 [64.1%]. Again, this is all just an example of what having a competitive spirit does. You still have to put in the work, and when you do, the reward usually comes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who don’t ‘do’ age grading, there are two numbers of note: an age adjusted time and the % Performance (%P) value. There’s little benefit until about 35. If you want to compare the former you to the current you, you really should grade both times if you were over 35. For times recorded when younger than 35, you can just use raw times vs later graded times. I use the model of the World Masters Athletics. There are others now too. Some races actually provide an age-graded result, but mostly for personal interest. Men and women are graded on different models, so be sure you are using the correct calculator.

Over the many (early) years and every once in a very long while, I got me a podium finish, but as far as I can recall, until recently, never higher than THIRD. If placement is the sole criteria of success, then I’m doing way better now. At least once or twice a season I win my age group and usually manage a couple of other podium placements. Attrition has a lot to do with that, so I can’t get too excited. Still, using the logic that you can only race the guys that show up, my hand never shakes as I take my prize. I have had a few successes where there was a goodly field and my time was worthy. But, I suppose you actually have to be a ‘heavily seasoned’ runner to understand that coming first out of one still feels good because you know that YOU are still out there doing the races.

I continue to want to run the best I can, but at the rate I’ve been racing ( about 10-12/yr), my body isn’t holding up well enough to perform as I feel I should in a given race.  The mind is willing………………..etc. That said, I can probably keep on with my version of competitive running for a year or two yet, but in far fewer goal races. As I write this, I have just registered for two ‘serious’ races and intend to enter two more ‘just for fun’.

That brings us to the kind of race that requires a bit of a surrender of the urge to compete (even if only with myself) in exchange for the reward of participation and enjoyment.

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

Now and then in a race, I guess that I’ve given up hope for the original goal and switched to experiencing what is going on around me. Not often though. Usually, I still push on as hard as I can to the finish for the best time I can manage. Other than the several races I’ve done with my grandson, I don’t think I can say I have ever started any race with anything but the intention of going as fast and hard as I can, even if what I consider ‘fast’ is anything but! That is partly why I brought up the relativity of Ed Whitlock’s recent marathon time – a good raw time for most people and spectacular for someone his age. It crushed the previous single age record by 30 minutes or so. Context is everything.

I love age grading and when it comes into the picture, at least my picture, it is often more informative as a comparison to the former ‘you’ vs anybody else. It is certainly the way I tend to use it. In fact, while I do note the adjusted time (as above), for my own purposes I put more emphasis on the % P stat. It lets me see whether or not I am actually maintaining a comparable performance level.

I firmly believe that running should be fun even if it is highly goal oriented. If you are achieving  your goals, a little (good) pain may be what is needed. If achieving those goals is what makes you happy, it may be worthwhile. That said, working too hard and consistently not achieving your goals, is probably NOT worth it and surely can’t be considered fun. At that point a new paradigm needs to kick in and priorities change. That is when we all need to pause and consider the situation. If you haven’t already, that will be when you too begin to ponder why it is so hard to let go of competitive running.

While this is clearly still an open subject with me, I don’t think it has to be black and white, all or nothing. I’ve said I want to concentrate on just a couple of serious races in the next year and see if that let’s me enjoy running and racing more, maybe even perform better. The risk is that if I just pick out a couple of races, weather or other externals could mess them up. Then what??? Well, that is always a possibility. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances! It doesn’t matter your age or intentions or level of performance. From the perspective of achieving the goal, it doesn’t really matter if it was a world record or PB; it isn’t happening.

Evan Fagan - Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

Evan Fagan – Runner, Triathlete, Volunteer and RITZ Contributor

I know many older runners that ‘race’ because they like the feel of a race. It is one of the things that keeps me racing. I know I can go out and run 5K, 10K, 21K, but it isn’t the same as racing. I love the dynamic, the ‘vibe’, of the marathon. The tension in the air among runners maybe doing it for the first time, maybe trying to qualify for Boston, or trying to go just a bit faster, is intoxicating. It is a big reason I keep longing to do another marathon, yet not so much for the hard training required to do one well. Could I find myself a marathon with a long time limit and just cruise through it taking selfies, talking to people, maybe encouraging some of those first timers who are finding out what the marathon beast is really all about?  I’m not sure. I KNOW it is possible. I have friends like Evan Fagan, (way over 150 marathons) who do just that.

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

Marathon Maniac! Done my first and only 50K

I am a Marathon Maniac, #6837 to be precise. While it seems that the Maniacs have been around for a long time, in relative terms that isn’t true. The formal group started around 2004, but languished for a number of years before people started getting ‘into’ the whole idea of doing lots of marathons vs just a few for time. I joined in 2013, even though I qualified in 2008. I had run the Maui Marathon in September, Victoria in October and CIM in very early December. Because the few Maniacs I actually knew at that time had huge numbers of races, I felt I wasn’t worthy. Those same people convinced me I had it wrong. After joining I decided I should show my respect and enthusiasm by at least moving from the bottom rung, to the second one. I am now, and may ever be, a Two Star (Silver) Marathon Maniac. The point is that many Maniacs just enjoy the heck out of the event and don’t worry where they finish or how long it takes.

It is something to consider. It would allow me (or anyone thinking as I am) to keep doing marathons. Performance pressure makes them hard and if anyone in their ‘Golden Years’ is still racing hard, the physical toll is something to be considered.

Marathons are a personal passion, but distance doesn’t matter in the sense that racing is what we must consider. In a way, I feel shorter races could be  tougher than a marathon done easy. Pushing hard in a 5K might kill you faster than taking it easy in a half or full marathon. At some point we all have to take our own decisions. I know that making sure the time limit is long enough and easing to the back of the pack is a reasonable way to continue with long races. For the shorter sharper ones, a person may need to change the type of event and go from the timed, serious races to fun runs. Put on a costume, embrace the charity aspect or do whatever it takes to participate, but not race. Do what it takes to stay involved, but take that ‘edge’ off.

Guess that is it for today’s sermon. Now, I better see if I can practice what I’ve been preaching. Don’t worry, I WILL let you know how it goes.

 

WHAT A YEAR 2016 TURNED OUT TO BE!

12.28.2016
Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

When 2016 started, I didn’t have any BIG plans. Well OK, maybe one or two, and therein lies a cautionary tale and some other musing(for later). First, the personal stuff and all about MY 2016 of running.

First up was running my very first First Half Half Marathon!  (I like writing “first First Half Half Marathon” because it drives the auto-correct feature crazy seeing the double repeat. FIRST FIRST HALF HALF MARATHON.   Bwahahahahaa!

For those who don’t know, the “First Half” as it is more popularly known in these parts, is one of Vancouver’s best half marathons (as in it usually sells out in hours) and I was the Race Director for four years and Stage MC for five more. Never able to run it – until this year, and let’s face it, there aren’t all that many things you can say are ‘firsts’ when you hit my age. The full title is The First Half, Half Marathon (which form calms the software amazingly – just one tiny little comma can DO that). Back in the dark, dark days of ancient (20th Century) running history, when pretty much ALL races were club organized, the Pacific Road Runners agreed with Lions Gate Road Runners that they would stage a couple of ‘training’ or prep half marathon races for runners aspiring to run the Vancouver International Marathon. Thus, in 1989 the “First Half” was born. As an aside, Forerunners was the first and ONLY run store sponsor of the First Half, continuing right up to today AND Peter Butler (co-owner with wife Karen) WON the first First Half. Anyhoo, it turns out that staging a really first class race is a fair bit of work and somehow, the “Second Half” never happened. EVER. Hint: There’s still time PRR! You could do it!

Giant's Head Run 2016 (so very, very HOT)

Giant’s Head Run 2016 (so very, very HOT)

The family that runs together!

The family that runs together!

I am always thrilled to be able to run with Charlie, our grandson. That was something I was able to do twice this year, once in June at the Giant’s Head 5.4K and again in Victoria at the 8K race included within the whole Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon weekend. It was a huge thrill to run with him in Victoria as his uncle and our son-in-law also ran as well. Charlie’s Mom (daughter, Danielle) was supposed to run the half marathon, but sustained one of those last minute injuries that just blew the possibility out of the water. She still gave it a brave try though. She started and was doing fine for some 3-400m until she had to make the first left turn. End of story for this year.

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

Also in attendance were all kids and related spouses plus our other grandson, Jonah, who isn’t quite ready for full on competition, although we did have a bit of a run together at Whistler in the summer. His legs are very short! But, that is changing fast and does he ever have form. Already gets ‘air’ when he runs and isn’t even two yet.

Almost ready for the Eugene Half Marathon. And, toasty warm, with Judi Cumming.

Almost ready for the Eugene Half Marathon. And, toasty warm, with Judi Cumming.

Most of my other 2016 racing developed kind of organically (as we like to say these days). I am a big fan of the Eugene Marathon and they favoured me with official designation as an ‘Ambassador’. It was a lot of fun promoting the race and then getting on down there to volunteer at the Expo and finally, actually run the half marathon.

My wife and I decided that we could gainfully employ a bit of time-share accommodation with the fact there was a brand new Revel race just outside Las Vegas, so we just kept going and a week after Eugene, I ran the inaugural Mount Charleston (Half) Marathon. It was a fabulous event and made all the better by the fact that I actually managed to win my age group.

Finishing up Mount Charleston Half, for the age group win! (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Finishing up Mount Charleston Half, for the age group win! (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I’ve been having a lot of fun telling people I am the age group course record holder for M70-74. Why? Well, because I am. I mean, whatever time a person might do, if you win your group and it is the FIRST race, you kind of have to hold the record. I’m not really planning on it holding up much past the next running, but we’ll see. I kind of doubt that I would go back to ‘defend’ my title. If I do go, it will be to give that ever so enticing marathon a try. Revel races are downhill events (big time) and I do love downhill racing. No promises, but stay tuned.

The traditional team with the Mountain photo (Canucks to the Coast - 2016)

The traditional team with the Mountain photo (Canucks to the Coast – 2016)

One of the really big deals for 2016 was getting a team into the Hood to Coast Relay. As usual, I was the captain and had so much fun with our intrepid group of Mixed Sub-Masters. Considering that Canucks to the Coast was strictly about the fun, we did OK, coming 26/107 in our division. Man, was it HOT though. Well, until we got to the beach! Friday was so hot it was a bit of a worry for runner safety. By the time we got to Seaside on Saturday it was cloudy, cold, breezy and not really that much fun to be sitting about a beach drinking beer. I didn’t say that we DIDN’T sit on the beach and drink beer, but we didn’t stay as long as one might otherwise do. We had a few veterans, but also quite a few newbies. Apparently most had a pretty good time because when I tried to assemble a team for 2017, it took almost no time to recruit enough runners to warrant the application. The unsuccessful application, that would be. I’m over it now, but it would have been my 10th Hood to Coast run on the 30th anniversary of my first. I suppose if it is really, really important I could still go hunting for a spot on a team. I could, you know!  We’ll see.

Looking a lot better than I felt at the finish of Forever Young 8K

Looking a lot better than I felt at the finish of Forever Young 8K

Too soon after Hood to Coast, I decided to run the Forever Young 8K in Richmond, BC (for a ‘time’). It is a kind of fun event for people 55+. That was a pretty warm day too, but I just hadn’t counted on how beat up my legs would be from the relay. Never mind, this one was also all about the fun even if it didn’t start that way. This is also the beginning of the ‘cautionary tale’ mentioned in the beginning.

Shortly after running Victoria with all that family around, I gave the James Cunningham 10K a go. Any excuse to run around Stanley Park is a welcome one. It was a beautiful day to run and lots of fun.

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

After that, I signed on for something I had never done in over 32 years of running. I took on pacing duties in the Fall Classic Half Marathon. I’m not going to reproduce things I’ve already written about, but was pretty amazed at how much pressure I was feeling to get it done right. There is a big difference between finishing on a target time and holding a particular, relatively steady pace to achieve that time. It was a real pleasure to assist people with THEIR goals rather than concentrating mostly on my own. In the end, I finished with only two of the people who started with me, still running with me in the last kilometre. One took off with a few hundred metres to go, for a slightly quicker finish and the other stayed with me to the bitter end. Most others had not kept up even though I was a bit slow on the specified time. I was so glad to have done it and would surely do it again.

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

As always (of late), the grand finale for 2016 was a trip to the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. I just wrote a really long post about that, even longer with the number of photographs, assuming you count each picture for ‘a thousand words’! In the end, I wound up running the 10K, mostly because ‘all the other kids were doing it’ and because it was just a wee bit extra hot/humid compared to normal. For me, nothing beats the Reggae Marathon and I even dragged a non-running friend along to experience the whole thing with me.

So, that concludes the brief annual recap of running, but if you think I’m done, you must be new to this blog!

One of the things I do love about running is the travel for racing aspect. I actually didn’t set out with any big goal to combine the two (racing and traveling) this year, but it happened anyway. I ran in 10 events in 2016. Five were ‘away’. In order, they were: Eugene Marathon (Oregon – May), Revel Mount Charleston Marathon (Nevada – May), Hood to Coast Relay (Oregon – August), Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (BC – October) and Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K (Jamaica – December). I also just noticed that I am a bit of a man of habit. Only one of those five races was new for me. I guess that when I find something I like, I stick with it. Here’s another little statistic – the number of times I’ve done one event or another at each of these places: Eugene (6), Hood to Coast (9), Victoria (12) and Reggae Marathon (6). No wonder I’m not getting far with ‘number of places raced’!

I said there was something of a cautionary story that evolved this year. It is something I need to pay some attention to and that maybe other ‘seasoned athletes’ can learn from. First, you need to know that I normally run to the best of my ability when I race. That doesn’t mean I’m fast, or that I don’t take into account that I might be running races pretty close together. For instance, Eugene and Mount Charleston half marathons were only six days apart. I ran Eugene knowing Mt. Charleston was coming right up, but then was able to run Mt. Charleston (the actual goal race) for whatever I could manage. It showed in the results. What I am generally not, is unconcerned about my performance. I run as hard as I am able.

I did run two races this year with Charlie, where the result was ‘whatever it would be’. He is not quite able to go my pace, not for the moment, but I count the days until THAT changes and then I’ll be shouting “Wait for me, Charlie!”. The reason I say all of this is that I realized, possibly too late, that after Hood to Coast, I was just too tired to go how I would have hoped. I was a bit upset and disappointed in my own performances until I realized that at some age, you just can’t keep pounding away and expecting things to carry on as normal. Apparently, for me, seventy-one IS that age!  Recovery becomes huge, both between races and as a part of rigorous training.

I have a number of older (even older than me) runners I quite admire and who turn in some pretty amazing times. Turns out that most of them don’t race all that much. I also know some admirable older runners who do ‘race’ a lot, but do it more as a participatory thing with just getting it done as the main goal. I am feeling like I may never run another marathon, and I have to admit that while there was no plan involved, there is something ‘poetically satisfying’ about having done 26 marathons. Get it? 26 miles. 26 career marathons. Still, if I can’t get my head around a deliberately slow time, just because I love the vibe of the marathon and WANT to do the event for the experience, then I think I should call it quits. And, even if one runs simply to finish, this is still one event you MUST respect and put in the training for, or pay a price.

Revel Mt. Charleston Half Marathon (May 2016) - I do love me a podium finish -1st M70-74. Photo by Revel

Revel Mt. Charleston Half Marathon (May 2016) – I do love me a podium finish -1st M70-74. Photo by Revel

All of that said, I kind of do like those podium finishes that come once in a while now (two in 2016), as I apparently age slower than the competition. Just for fun, I looked at a couple of the other races where my times were nothing like what I expected of myself, and at least one or two would also have resulted in a podium finish had I just done what I (reasonably) thought I could do.

BUT, I didn’t do those times because my legs were fatigued, something that was my own fault. You can’t really ‘train’ your way out of that situation. While you don’t have to stop running, you do need to stop pushing, at least for a time. For me, it isn’t just the racing, it is also the training for racing that is part of the issue. I see the real solution if I want times I can be proud of, is to simply be more selective about the races I do for personal performance. Up to this point I kind of fall in the category of a guy who has never met a race he didn’t like (ie wants to run).

Joe Henderson was waiting at the finish on Hayward Field, to congratulate this old slogger.

Joe Henderson was waiting at the finish on Hayward Field, to congratulate this old slogger.

While at Eugene, I had the chance to spend some real quality time with Joe Henderson (a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes) and a legend in the world of running. We had the time for a long coffee, just the two of us, well away from the event venue, where there is never really a quiet moment. I think Joe has already conquered the challenge when you can no longer do what you used to do and he had a lot of useful things to share. I think it must be time to put some of that into personal practice.

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

I’m not without some experience in creating perspective re my running efforts (even if I’m not really good at it yet). A couple of years ago, after becoming your basic Marathon Maniac, I decided I needed to get up, at least, to the second level. I set out a plan to run six marathons in six months. I knew it wasn’t going to look all that pretty, but the goal was becoming a Two Star Maniac. (Some of my friends and family will be very surprised that it is only ‘two’. They already think I’m way beyond two stars in the maniac department, but I think that’s different.) I pulled off that ‘level up’ fairly reasonably I think. Similarly, when I decided it would be good to join Half Fanatics, I looked at the challenges and set a goal to reach the Fourth Level (of 10), which involved running three actual half marathons and a 25K trail race in 14 days. Again, I was very aware of the challenge. It was to get those four races done, not to go fast or win anything. Well, there was something to win – my new HF Level, and I did that. And, it WAS fun. The best part was meeting me a giant Sage Rat on the weekend when I ran the Sage Rat Half Marathon on Saturday and the Dirty Rat 25K trail race on Sunday. Oh, and by the result of circumstances, I did get a second in the half and first in the 25K. We won’t go into how many ran though. I always say you can only race those that show up.

So, what does all this mean for me, and maybe for anyone reading this and wondering about their own goals and aspirations? Well, here is what I’m thinking. Sorry, you will have to consider your own situation for yourself!

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

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

Well, I aspire to keep on running, whether I ever run another race or not. That one is pretty darn firm. I will run as long as I can, and maybe when I really can’t run anymore, I’ll hike or walk.

Goals are another thing, and a lot more precise. While I don’t have anything specific that can now be graved in stone for 2017 I do have a few thoughts forming. First of all, I am going to reduce training volume on a year-round basis. If I decide to target a long race (full marathon) it will either be because I want to participate in some special event, or have decided I could run one more ‘quality’ race. Either way, I will target something specific and train for THAT race, that ONE race, not every race that could come along.

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

I am thinking I will soon pick out and settle on maybe three serious races (whatever distance I choose) and train seriously for them. I may pick out another three or so that will just be because I want to do them and will focus on finishing and having fun. Which ones? Not sure right now. A running buddy from the training clinic is organizing a BIG delegation to go to Eugene in May. Unfortunately, the one race that is beckoning to my competitive instincts is the Mount Charleston Marathon. Yes, marathon. The goal won’t be a BQ, but rather as good a time as I can manage. Eugene is the week after. I won’t be doing both. Wherever exactly it may happen, I do look forward to another race (or two) with Charlie and other family members. The Reggae Marathon has become such a tradition that while I can’t commit now, it certainly has my attention as a strong possible. Maybe the place to start is one ‘serious’ race in the Spring and one in the Fall, and then just go from there to fill in the blanks.

2017 is going to bring a new challenge in the coaching/mentoring aspect of my running. It will involve the new Forerunners store on Main Street in Vancouver and you can trust me when I say there is going to be more to say on that subject in the New Year. It will involve working closely with Carey Nelson and Peter Butler, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity. That is definitely going to create a major and welcome change of focus and I’ll need to factor that into the rest of my plans. I’m looking at it as a super positive opportunity, including for my own running.

So, that’s it for now. Planning is ongoing and at least you know HOW I’m thinking even if things are only just starting to shape up.

Thanks to those who follow my ramblings, give personal encouragement and support (especially my family).

And from Running in the Zone, all the very best for a wonderful 2017!

SOMETHING NEW, YET “CLASSIC” FOR THIS SEASONED ATHLETE

10.20.2016
Finishing Fall Classic Half Marthon

Finishing Fall Classic Half Marthon

You would think that someone who has run more than 250 races, probably closer to 300 if you count individual relay legs as races in their own right; someone who has logged a minimum of 40,000km over the years and been involved in everything from fun runs to the New York City Marathon, would find it hard to claim too many things that are ‘new’.

OK, you got me. Of course, every new race I run is new. But, I’m talking about truly new or different running experiences. For instance, I realized a couple of years ago that I had never done an ultra. So, I found me a 50K and added ‘ultra’ to my running resume. I could go on, but you have the idea.

The other interesting thing is that for at least a dozen years I have been a leader for one sort of running clinic or another, most notably the Sun Run InTraining program and Forerunners Full and Half Marathon Clinics. Now you would think that someone with all that experience in leading pace groups would have, at some point in time, actually paced for a race. You would be wrong.

Half Marathon, 10K and 5K

So, when an opportunity arose to pace the 2:30 half marathon group at the Fall Classic Half Marathon, I decided it was high time to add that to the old running resume. Hey, it might be a whole new career! I am actually quite excited about this, and just a little humbled.  More on this later. I should mention right here, if this rang some kind of ‘bell’ for you, the reader, there are a number of opportunities still available for pacing in the 5K and 10K events. You can find the link right HERE.

I suppose I don’t have to explain why I find this an exciting prospect. I’ve mostly explained it already. The one thing I didn’t mention as yet, is that I will be assisting others to achieve a personal goal, and that is also what makes it humbling and just a little scary. The humbling part comes from knowing you have the dreams and goals of others in your hands, or perhaps more accurately, feet. I’m not worried about running the time. I’m not worried about the course since I’ve run this race before. At Forerunners I lead a group that has a goal time a bit faster than 2:30. What does worry me is holding a steady pace, AT the necessary Minutes per K. I can’t just kick onto auto-pilot and go. No, it will require running slower than my own normal race pace, but then that is what pacers are supposed to do. No race wants a pacer who is pushing to run the advertised pace. And, the runners who will be following me never said they want to go faster. THEY want to hit around 2:30.  MY job is to nail 2:30 plus or minus a small amount and let each individual do what they can on the day.

Some will have a great day and realize they can do something quicker than 2:30. Yay for them. My job is not to pace them to a faster time. If someone has ‘got it’ on the day, I’ll cheer them on and wish them well. At the same time, if someone is having a less than stellar day and can’t keep with me, my job is NOT to slow down and help them along (something you might do in a clinic – ‘no runner left behind’ and that sort of thing). No, my job is to run as close as I can to 2:30 and let the chips fall as they may, or in this particular case, perhaps the Fall leaves. It is the Fall Classic, doncha know.

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

At least I haven’t got the awesome responsibility of trying to pace runners to a BQ time. I have used pacers several times for that purpose, unsuccessfully I must admit. But, it was truly amazing to be able to rely on those individuals to help me through. I’m sure I still had better times than I would have without the pacers, even if the BQ was not to be mine. Just a shout out to what a really good pacer can do: at the California International Marathon my particular pacer had a policy of making sure everyone running with her would finish in front of her, but the first time her finish was 14 seconds under the goal time and the second, it was 4 seconds. That was a full marathon. THAT was pacing! Too bad I couldn’t keep up either time. Even still, each race was a recent PB for me.

Back to the challenge of actually holding a specific pace that is not natural. We all have some kind of natural pace that is just super comfortable. Of course, if you are racing, there is generally nothing comfortable about your pace. But, if you are just running,  you will generally just fall into whatever your own natural pace may be. If I do that on November 13, everyone is going to be hooped. I went out for a short-ish practice session a couple of days ago and even while concentrating on trying to hold the necessary pace for a 2:30 Half, I found myself sometimes quite a bit too quick and on average over the whole distance, something around 15 seconds per kilometre too fast. Fifteen seconds doesn’t sound like all that much, but multiply by 21.1 and whoa! it is over five (5) minutes. Where I live I must run on streets and have to stop sometimes at traffic lights, so it is a bit choppy and harder to get into a rhythm. For a first shot, I was happy enough and know I will have the pace internalized by November 13!

At the same time, one of my big advisories to my clinic people is that when racing you will have greatest success if you run to a constant effort, more than to a constant pace. In other words, if your goal pace feels a certain way on the flat, then you should try to hold that ‘feeling’ when you go up a hill. You will slow a little, but you conserve energy. Same deal going down. Try to hold that feeling of exertion. You will go faster, but not ‘that’ fast and you will score some recovery. Over the greater distance, it will kind of even out and you WILL have what looks like a constant pace. Of course, this depends on approximately equal amounts of ups and downs, but that will work for the Fall Classic as it amounts to two loops of the same route. All of this is to say I am not going to have a melt-down if my instantaneous times are a bit fast or slow relative to the bang on theoretical 2:30 pace. I guess I’m just going to have to try to be a running “Goldi-Locks” and make it ‘juuuuuuust right’.

Gratuitous photo of me with daughter, Janna after Fall Classic (2008)

Gratuitous photo of me with daughter, Janna after Fall Classic (2008)

The Fall Classic has been a Vancouver fixture for a lot of years. It bills itself as the last major race of the season. That seems to me to be a fair claim. The Half Marathon attracts about 700 or so, but when you add in the 10K and 5K events, the total swells to around 1800. I have to admit that I have not run either of the shorter races, but all routes follow much the same course. Naturally, since the event(s) start and finish in the heart of the Academic Campus, a lot of the 5K is run on the streets of the University of British Columbia. The 10K and the Half head out along Marine Drive and dip down along the Old Marine Drive for a couple of kilometres of forested wonder. The last time I ran the route, there was a bit of fog on the nearby sea and just enough filtering through the trees to make the run rather mystical! It actually sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. Well, or maybe that was because it was a bit cool and I may have under dressed. (Just a bit of running humour there.) Some of my most amazing races have involved such misty conditions – especially a couple of very early morning legs I’ve run at Hood to Coast. Whatever the conditions on the day, the Fall Classic will deliver a great running experience. There’s a bunch of great features and benefits provided by the SPONSORS, but that is on the web site. Go have a look for yourself.

I’m going to be running the Half Marathon, but if you are interested in running one of the other distances (5K or 10K), do note that the individual events start at different times.

LIFE IS GETTING BUSY THE NEXT WHILE

04.26.2016

logoRunning life, that is. The rest of it has already been TOO busy of late. Have you missed me???

First up is a race favourite, the Eugene Marathon (and in my case, Half). I was selected to be a Race Ambassador for this event so will be doing duty at the Expo on Friday (middle of the day) and Saturday (late afternoon). If you are there, come by Soles for Souls and say hello.

Marathon Start - Eugene 2010

Marathon Start – Eugene 2010

I have run most of the Eugene Half Marathon four times on my feet and uncounted times in my mind. I’ve run the marathon three times and the half once, with this Sunday to be the second time for the half marathon. That is a total of five appearances out of the 10 years this race has been happening. I put it this way because pretty much the first 10 miles of the half and full marathons use the same route. Just past that point the courses split. The first time, maybe the second as well, the marathoners used to stay on the road to Springfield while the half marathoners dodged down a path and across the Willamette River. Now everyone crosses the river before the routes split. So much nicer, I think.

As soon as the Half Marathon turns down river, you will find yourself running beside, or on, or crossing over “Pre’s Trail”. Yep. That Pre. It was the area he went to do long runs. The nice thing about the split too, is that you only have three (3) miles to go (5K for us Canucks).  Hey! What???? Why do Canadians have to run 5K? Because we’re special, I guess.

Hayward Field - The Finish is Nigh (Photo Eugene Marathon)

Hayward Field – The Finish is Nigh (Photo Eugene Marathon)

Speaking of ‘special’ though, when you hit the end of that 3 mile finish segment everyone gets to be truly special. The feeling of turning off Agate Street and through the gates of Hayward Field is pure magic. You enter the track just about where the 200m start area would be and then you round the bend for the finish down the straight-away. This will be my fifth time and I expect the tingle up my spine will be no less than the first time in 2010 when I finished what turned out to be my recent marathon PB. Yep, third best raw time ever and second best age graded. Hmmm, maybe that is partly why I like this race so much. Partly, but far from the only reason. This is a special event for anyone who loves a great course and a legendary running experience. I know that I, like everyone else on May 1, will be “Running in the Footsteps of Legends”.

I won’t be spending much time savouring the moment though. More work to be done! As soon as there is a little recovery time at the post-race festivities, it will be into the car and off in the direction of Las Vegas! Las Vegas? Nevada? Indeed.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon 2014 (Photo Revel Race Series)

The timing is either really good or really bad, depending on how you look at it. The Revel Race Series folk decided to start up a brand new marathon/half marathon race just to the north-west of Las Vegas. It is the Revel Mount Charleston Marathon. While Eugene may be one of my favourite races, the Revel series are my favourite KIND of marathon or half. I found out about Revel races via another Marathon Maniac and tried out my first one a couple of years ago: the Big Cottonwood Marathon near Salt Lake City. Revel specializes in running down hill, Big Time. The marathon courses typically drop plus or minus 5,000 feet! Now some would look at this as seriously crazy and knee busting. I, on the other hand, through no fault or cleverness of my own making, seem to be able to run down hills very nicely, thank you very much. I just seem to have a stride or gait or something that works on hills. My fastest ever race was Leg #1 of the Hood to Coast Relay which drops 2000 feet over just under six miles. I may actually be running that baby again come August. We are in for 2016 and I have to run something! Why not Leg #1??

Eugene -Passing Hayward Field. First time. Can't stop yet!

Eugene -Passing Hayward Field. First time. Can’t stop yet!

I’d love to say something about the Mount Charleston race, but since this is the first running, there isn’t much history. OK, no history. However, the Revel series does have a history and they put on a good event. I am much looking forward to this race come May 7. Yes, just six days after Eugene. That is where the good/bad timing comes in. Considering that it can be done in one longish driving trip is the ‘good’ part. Racing two half marathons you want to do well in, just six days apart, is not recommended as I vaguely recall. Decisions must be made.

Right now, I’m thinking strong and steady for Eugene with lots of recovery and care, then give ‘er at Mount Charleston. Because of scale, course profiles are often deceptive with some surprising little ‘ups’ where it looks all down and steeper sections where the downhill looks smooth and even. All that said, the profile tells us this is about a 3% down-grade. A bit steeper up the canyon and a little less so on the town roads, but still always heading down. It should not be terribly punishing and run well could produce a pleasing time for this old codger. You never want to assume that running a downhill course is like having roller-skates on. You still have to run, but gravity will help. It certainly won’t hinder!

Running in the cool high country above the desert will be fun. The race starts early, so hopefully by the time I can finish a half marathon, it still won’t be too hot. Later in the day, the temperatures are going to be getting up there. Even if I have a terrible race, I’d expect to be finished by 9:00am. Heat shouldn’t be a big factor. Hey! Remember me? I’m the guy who loves the Reggae Marathon where you get warm temps and just a wee tad bit of humidity to spice it up.

Gratuitous photo from the Inaugural Boston 5K

Gratuitous photo from the Inaugural Boston 5K

It isn’t that often, if you think about it, that you get to be part of the inaugural event for anything. This will be one for me. I’ve had a few over the years, but when you think of how long I’ve been running, it really isn’t that many. For me, this is going to be a big one. Without straining something (my brain) it seems like this is about the fourth such event. One that really stands out for me was the very first Boston Marathon 5K which started in 2009. Our daughter was running the Marathon and asked me to come be her support team. It was a thrill to be there for her, and to take advantage of the very first BAA 5K run on Sunday morning. They let us ‘borrow’ the official finish line. Probably the only way I will ever get to cross THAT line!

So, that’s it for pre-race speculation. I am very much looking forward to both of these races. You (if you wish) can look forward to the post-race accounts. You know they will be coming!

RUNNING IN THE ZONE IS A BLOG AND A BOOK

03.11.2016

Although it may be obvious to some, and I do mention it from time to time, this Blog is based on the book: Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.

Steve King and I put a lot of work into developing the concept and then finding the 24 other contributors who provided the content, along with the two of us. It was an amazing labour of love and we were, and are, very grateful to all those who provided their perspective on what it means to be a seasoned athlete. Steve and I are co-Editors but we also wrote more than just our own particular essays on the general topic.

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

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

The 26 contributors range from avid runners like myself through Olympians and World Record holders, and everything in between. There are Marathon Maniacs, ultra-runners, marathoners, middle distance runners and sprinters, on road, track and trail. There are professional writers and those who may never write this sort of thing. That was where the editing skills came in. For the most part, I assisted contributors to get their contributions whipped into shape while trying very hard to keep their personal voices very much in the writing. Steve, as you might imagine was the guy who knew everybody and brought a large proportion of the contributors to the table.

Cover Layout (design by Danielle Krysa) including book reviews.

Cover Layout (design by Danielle Krysa) including book reviews.

For me, it was an amazing experience getting to know these people and working with them to polish up their contributions. We only had a few ‘rules’. For the most part, we just said keep it within a range of total words and keep the topic to running as the years roll on. We wanted various perspectives on how people kept their running fresh and fun, but otherwise there weren’t a lot of directives. For what it is worth, I more or less try to follow the book format with my blog posts, with respect to both length and general content.

It was such a pleasure and even a bit of a revelation to see how many approaches there were to running once one is in the ‘seasoned’ category. At one point we had our own idea of what ‘seasoned’ was (age-wise) but eventually, let people bring their own definition. Let’s face it, for elite athletes, Masters territory generally falls under the heading of ‘seasoned’. As it happened, the youngest writers for our book were 46 at time of writing. I have since met some remarkable senior runners who hadn’t even started running at the lower end of our age spectrum. I would also point out that many of our contributors have their own books or are/have been publishers of running publications. There are a LOT of race directors and organizers among us as well. We’ve got coaches and mentors. Many give back to the sport as well as running for their own pleasure. I would love to ‘name drop’ a little here, but it wouldn’t be fair to those I don’t mention. I deal with a fix for that a little later in this piece.

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

I was just a little shocked when I realized Running in the Zone (the book) was released just over 10 years ago at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon in 2005 (see the photo at the top of this article). I still can’t quite believe that. Still, the ideas are as fresh and relevant today as they were when the book first saw the light of day. What makes it so? I think it is probably because there were only a couple of ‘how to’ oriented pieces and even those were kept in context. Most of the writing was around how running fit into any of the authors’ lives and how each felt about it. I am still in regular contact with a number of these writer/runners and don’t think much has changed. If we asked them to do it again, I think that in broad terms, we would get a lot of the same subjects and content.

Since writing this book, I have met quite a number of ‘seasoned’ athletes and others fast joining the ranks, who I might have invited to join us were we just starting. It seems like there are common themes among us that hold true. When we were done with publishing of the book, I sent out a small survey to the contributors to get some stats and perspectives. One of the questions I asked was “Why do you run?”. Virtually every person responded to me with one form or another of “Because I love it.”

Because I love it. That took many forms, but the essence was that most everyone could not imagine their lives without running as a part of it. Not everyone was going fast, certainly not as fast as they once did, but they were still getting pleasure and fulfillment from whatever kind of running they were doing. Some were still very competitive both in spirit and performance, but some were just doing it for their own benefit and not trying to prove anything.

Co-Editors, Dan and Steve, working the Expo (BMO Vancouver Marathon, 2007)

Co-Editors, Dan and Steve, working the Expo (BMO Vancouver Marathon, 2007)

I seldom ‘pump’ the book regarding sales. We never wrote it to make money. Steve and I used to make appearances with the book at Race Expos and had a great time talking to people while selling a copy or two. I have had lots of feedback from people who did buy it and read it, and it is pretty well always positive. One of the great things about it is that it is not meant to be read cover to cover, or even in order, as presented. You can read what appeals to you today and come back another time for something else that is clicking at that point. And, it is not the opinion (clever as such might be) of just one, or even two individuals. You get the ideas of 26 individuals.

You may be wondering about the contributors I keep mentioning and what they decided to talk about. Well, if you are reading this you must be on the Blog Site, so you can just go over to the right side of the page and click on “About” or better, “A Peek Inside the Covers” where you can find a reproduction of the index which will show you the Who and What of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.

When we started out the book was available as a soft cover traditional printed form. Since then, it has been offered in e-format and it seems a fair number like that version. Of course, you can still buy either format via Trafford Publishing, as well as other on-line sales sites like Amazon. Or, if you happen to know Steve King or me, well, we will be more than happy to sell direct. And, we will autograph the book for you (probably a given, unless you stop us). If you get it right, you might be at a race where both of us are on hand. If it is one of several, such as the Vancouver Marathon or Victoria Marathon, there will be a good chance that at least a couple of other authors may be around too and you might get them to sign as well.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish - 3:54:44. Final part of regular report series.

Rod Waterlow CIM Finish – 3:54:44. Final part of regular report series.

From time to time, book contributors have offered something here on the blog, and I am certain there will be further such contributions coming in the future. One or two have generously allowed me to reproduce articles published elsewhere. I have also been thrilled to have had the chance to invite other ‘seasoned athletes’ to contribute their thoughts to this blog, or in one case provide a series of brief reports and updates from an important event.

It was so much fun to write/edit this book and I know many have had the pleasure of reading it over the years. If you think you would like to own a copy of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, we would be humbly honoured.

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER?

02.28.2016
Runnin Guy takes a rest

That Runnin Guy takes a well deserved rest.

Well, so most of you have already jumped to the conclusion that I am going to talk about age. You are partly right, but this IS a blog for ‘seasoned athletes’. The truth is, this post is kind of about four numbers. It is also getting published today, in honour of my friend, Chris “That Runnin’ Guy” Morales, who has apparently got himself a new number – it is his Birthday today. You may recognize the name or blog handle as associated with the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. That was how/where we met, several years ago, and now where each December, we solve the problems of the world (well our worlds) over a Red Stripe or two and some good jerk pork!

OK, I said there would be numbers. Here they are:

First Number: Age (yes, you were right)

Second Number: Time for any given race distance

Third Number: Age graded time for any given race distance

Fourth Number: % Performance for any given distance at any given age

Many people like to say “Age is just a number.”  That is true. I like to say it. I know a lot of amazing ‘seasoned’ athletes and in this case I’m even going to use another ‘s-word’, senior athlete. As I am one, I’ve got to know a lot of such people. As a matter of fact, after the First Half Half Marathon which I just ran for the first time on February 14, I was standing with two other senior runners (on the day) and one who would have been running were he not working back from an injury (that did NOT happen while running). I was the youngster at 71, but together we added up to 305 years among four guys. I won’t class myself with these other three, but I am still going and they would put a good many younger people to shame at any given distance. But, they (we) all work at it. So, we definitely fit in the ‘age is just a number’ category.

Although I’ve enjoyed some podium finishes in the last year, I am the first to admit there was an element of picking the right races! I have never been fastest in a class field, but what I really care about is how I compare to the me I used to be. You certainly can’t make a 30, or more, year comparison to the Second Number above. That number is the time you recorded for any given distance on your best day. Naturally, we all run different paces on different days (depending on the circumstance), so rather than any specific race it is probably most reasonable to compare PB’s either outright or recent. I’ve started, on someone’s recommendation, to keep 5-year ‘bests’. For ease of keeping track, I use the usual 5-year age groups, so right now I am working M70-74. Even your best at age 70 can’t compare to your best at 43/44 (when I actually set my PB times).

To be clear then, my “Second Number” is your raw time at any age. It is what it is. You try not to let it slip too fast as the years and races roll by, but you can’t stop it forever. Best you can do is limit rate of change.

I also keep record of my annual PBs, so if I were to say run three or four 10Ks, I only include (for this purpose) the best one. Sometimes, it is the only one if you only run one race. For instance, last year I only ran one marathon, so that was the best, the worst and only. You get the idea.

Hood to Coast Start 2012

Hood to Coast Start 2012. Age grading will even work on the ‘random’ leg distances in a relay!

That leads us to the Third Number, the age graded equivalent (converted) time. I like this number and will talk about it in a bit, but want to bring in the Fourth Number now, as they do go hand in hand. The Fourth Number is the % Performance and in the last number of years, the one I keep track of the most. These standards are related but different. In essence, the age graded time is based on an ever-growing database of performances by age (and gender) for any given distance. The % Performance is relative to the single age World Standard for age and distance. I have learned that the calculator I use, put out by World Masters Athletics, is actually a bunch of equations and is not just a block of times for a precise distance (say 10K). As a result, it is actually possible to enter a decimal value for your age (I only do this for my own statistical records) and for distance too. There are some strange distances out there and if you are running relays, like my favourite Hood to Coast, the legs are what they are. They aren’t neatly divided up into familiar standard distances. The calculator still works. It also works on a decimal age. That is important to me because living in Vancouver where you can run, and race, all year and with a birthday that comes early in January, a late in the year race (like the Reggae Marathon) makes me almost a year older than my nominal age. As I said, I only use this for my own statistics, but at the higher end of the scale where I am now, a year makes a big difference.

Now, onto some specifics. After a not so pleasing 2:29:32 on February 14 at the First Half Half Marathon, I did as I always do and looked up my age graded results. To my surprise, my converted time for the half marathon was 1:48:20. That got me thinking about how it compares to my general achievements over a number of years. For the last good five years, my converted time has been in the low 1:40 range. This last race involved a number of issues and challenges for me (and some that included all runners – it wasn’t such a nice day). I don’t want to make excuses but am convinced I can do significantly better, and will as the season progresses.

Medal haul from the four in 15 day races (BMO Vancouver, Eugene and Sage Rat). Includes a first and second at Sage Rat weekend (red ribbons)

Medal haul from the four in 15 day races (BMO Vancouver, Eugene and Sage Rat). Includes a first and second at Sage Rat weekend (red ribbons)

As I looked back at all half marathons over the last few years, I could see how the raw chip time got slower, while the age graded time stayed relatively static (a good and satisfying thing). This is where the % P also comes in and is somewhat similar, because quite like the age graded time, it too compares favourably year over year. Circumstances always count, so care needs to be taken in the comparisons. As we are talking half marathons at this precise moment, I would point out that I ran three last year but all in 14 days, with full knowledge that on the 15th day I would be running a 25K so-called trail race (really more country roads). Anyway, all four of these races were run either with the intention of conserving energy for what was yet to come, or with the weight of what had just happened in the last week or two. So, while I was proud of the greater achievement and it got me to Level 4 in the Half Fanatics, the times are to be taken under advisement.

All of the above notwithstanding, as I look over a longer period of time and use the annual best time, the age graded result falls within quite a narrow range between 1:40 and 1:45, even though the actual times were getting slower. (For context, my half marathon PB is 1:33:40 which grades to 1:27:48 and happened in 1988. That first marathon PB was a 64% effort at age 43, while my marathon at age 65 was a 60% performance. Slippage? Yes, but not so bad I think.) But, notwithstanding that raw times were getting slower, that is kind of the point. My age was increasing, too.

As it turns out, aging is not really a straight-line sort of thing and neither is the age grading algorithm. Thusly, I had a graded time for the First Half that was not as bad as I thought it would be. The other number is the % Performance and is often my preferred standard. I have realized that if I can keep myself on a steady track, I can achieve around 60% on a reasonable day on a reasonable course. So, days like two Sundays ago, with the rain and all, should be taken in context. Situations like the four in 15 days should similarly be put in context. But, if you run races, you usually get a few each year when conditions are decent, not ideal necessarily, but decent.  Those you can reasonably compare and it pleases me that I find myself ‘holding my own’, as the pages of the calendar turn.

Reggae Party Time! Cool, refreshing coconut and the sea just a few steps behind the stage!

Reggae Party Time! Cool, refreshing coconut and the sea just a few steps behind the stage!

My personal approach to this is to use my best time for each distance in a given year. Sometimes, as already noted, that is just one race at a given distance, but sometimes there are several to choose from. Those ‘bests’ tend to fall in the target range I mentioned. That is what I use to judge my personal progress. You can’t do anything about things like the weather in mid-February or the heat in a race like my much loved Reggae Marathon (Half). Those results have to live on their own, but as I said, each season you probably get a good course on a nice day when you are well trained and feeling fit, and that will usually be the ‘keeper’ for that year. Here is another situation then were a number has meaning and not just for me. Some races actually do have age graded results and some even give prizing on graded times. There is always a little bit of shock among younger runners when some 70 year-old hot-shot wins.

As always, I write about my own experiences as the example to a larger point. What I have written about can be done by anyone at any time. You just need to know your age, your time and the distance. Plug it into one of the calculators and hit the button. There are a number of such age-grading systems out there now, but I stick with the one I started with just so the outcomes remain comparable over the many years. Because I started a long time ago, all I need to do now is plug in the latest race and add it to the rest. If you want to start your own record and don’t want to invest all the time it might take to go back to your ‘personal beginning’, you might just try to look up your five-year PBs to bring yourself up to some recent point in time and go from there. Word of warning, the age effect only kicks in around 35. Younger than that, you can save time and just use your actual result. It is fun to watch your adjusted performances as you go along.

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

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

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

I have had times where my training and running were better than at other times. Sometimes it is life, sometimes an injury that impedes progress and sometimes everything is ticking along like you would hope it would. A good example for me was the year I turned 65. I was healthy, had the time and was training pretty well over an extended period of time through the year before and into that year when I was 65. I peaked (recent races) on results over all distances right up to marathon and found that my graded times and % Performance stats where better than they had been in some years. In fact, my first marathon is, was and probably always will be both my best actual time (that is an absolute at this point) and best graded time (most likely). BUT, the Eugene Marathon run in 2010 turned out to be my third best raw time and second best graded time. The difference was 22 years. Clearly, comparing the raw times makes the two look very different (was just over an hour difference between Vancouver (1988) and Eugene (2010)), but age grading narrowed the gap to a few minutes. It is still a highlight of my running career!

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin' Guy second from the right.

Four Amigos after RM2015 showing 22 total races (fingers up) with That Runnin’ Guy second from the right.

Oh, and this picture of the Four Amigos is a testament to age-grading and its many uses. We use the technique to compare our times and even distances in a friendly competition, which includes a bunch of other  people who are also Reggae Marathon regulars. All those fingers in the air represent the number of times we have done one of the distances of the Reggae Marathon (full, half or 10K). Takes some doing because left to right (and through no fault of our own, we ARE arranged by ascending age) there are some 35 years separating youngest and oldest (me, of course). Maybe if some of you ‘seasoned’ athletes out there give this age-grading thing a try, you will find some surprising and very pleasing outcomes.  Have fun!

Oh yes, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!

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

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

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

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

Wow, has that ever changed!

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

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

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

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

Home stretch of Giant's Head Run (2015)

Home stretch of Giant’s Head Run (2015)

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

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

Janna Finishing RVM, October 2000.

Janna Finishing her First Marathon. RVM, October 2000.

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

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

Danielle, Dan and Janna 2007 at Victoria Marathon

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

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

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

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

Ready to Start Hood to Coast - 1989

Ready to Start Hood to Coast – 1989

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

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

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

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

01.13.2016
pacific road runners - bright blue

A Well Recognized Logo!

The short answer is YES.

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

Pre-race crowd FHHM2014

Pre-race crowd FHHM2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forerunners Pace Group Leaders at Eugene Marathon 2015

Forerunners Pace Group Leaders at Eugene Marathon 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayna Pidhoresky hits the tape for the 2015 Win.

Dayna Pidhoresky hits the tape for the 2015 Win.

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody must now go to the Start!

Everybody must now go to the Start!

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

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

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

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

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

VANCOUVER HALF TO REGGAE MARATHON 10K IN TEN EASY STEPS

12.12.2015

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

Medals representing ten races and a couple of podium finishes

Medals representing ten races and a couple of podium finishes

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

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

Start of BMO Vancouver Half.

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

Forerunners gang at Eugene Marathon

Forerunners gang at Eugene Marathon

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

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

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

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

Celebrating our first race done together!

Celebrating our first race done together!

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

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

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

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

A really WET turkey, trotting!

A really WET turkey, trotting!

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

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

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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