category : ‘Never Too Late to be Great’


ON BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE

06.10.2014
Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

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

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

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

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

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

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

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

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

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

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

THE MARATHON – A REFLECTIVE PERSPECTIVE

05.30.2014

 

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

“I’d say that on any given outing you’re going to get in maybe 22K of glory. Then there is going to be 10K of blah, 7K of agony, 3K of…well let’s not talk about that 3K.”

Hands up, those who don’t think this is about right!

I didn’t create that opening quote.  For proper attribution, the opening is a quote by Rob Watson, taken from the print edition of ”Canadian Running” (May/June 2014).

But, I COULD have said it. I really, really could have!

For anyone who doesn’t know, Rob Watson is one of Canada’s pretty spectacular current crop of top flight marathoners and trains with the BC Endurance Project. Frankly, Canada may never have seen such a concentration of long distance running talent as we enjoy right now: Dylan Wykes, Eric Gillis, Reid Coolsaet, Kelly Weibe, and do not for a minute forget Lanni Marchant, Krista Duschene or Natasha Wodak, not to mention Kim Doerksen who just served notice of intent at the last BMO Vancouver Marathon.

But, let’s get back to Rob and his quote. Rob has lots of quotes to quote. Rob is colourful. Rob tells it how he sees it! If you watched the 2013 elite field of the Boston Marathon, Rob was the tall skinny white guy in the black New Balance gear who was in the lead for a LOT of the first half. When I saw him later, after congratulating him on his 11th place finish, I ventured a question to the effect of why didn’t you let some of those tiny dark hued chaps from Africa lead the way? His answer was something along the lines that they were all playing ‘silly bugger’ and messing up his pace. They were going slow, then fast, then weaving across the road. You know, racing. He said he just decided to run as he had trained and let things go as they might, remarking that inevitably he was “passed by eight angry Africans” and that was that. I don’t believe they were actually angry at all, but I doubt I will ever forget Rob’s description of the moment! Oh yes, he also describes his racing strategy as ‘Fade from the Front’.

Enough of that though. What about his description of the basic marathon?

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

The reason I was so taken with it is that a guy who I consider to be one of our best, described the marathon pretty much as I experience it. And, we all know I am nowhere near where Rob and his friends are running.

What struck me about his summary was that when you put everything into your training (in context), then take the race seriously and go out to do the best you can, THAT is pretty much what you experience. I’ve heard other elites express similar ideas. In a way, it seems to confirm that the marathon is mostly between our ears. Mostly, Rob describes feelings: glory, blah, agony. OK, agony could be physical but it is also a perception (as in “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”) and includes the raging self-doubt that kicks in when, as hard as you try, you can’t push any harder.

Reading the whole (relatively short) Canadian Running article on the marathon, he hits so many ‘nails’ on the head where it comes to the why’s of pushing ourselves to and through this possibly un-natural activity. It was so great to hear that mentally or psychologically, even this old back of the packer, perceives the marathon more or less the same way as a front runner, notwithstanding the two hour time difference. The relativity of our pace can never be denied, but the similarity of experience is amazing – to me, anyway.

What is it that draws or drives us to the marathon?

There is doubtlessly a mystique to it. It has symbolically become significant to legions of runners and even non-runners who take on a long-term quest to complete a marathon. I have run a 50K Ultra, mostly because I desperately wanted a new PB and at my age, there is no standard distance at which I could possibly go faster than I did some 25 years ago (whence come all my pure PB results). This only matters in that I vividly recall taking note as I ‘crossed’ the marathon threshold, into new territory. I felt a sense of elation as I recognized both that I WAS in said ‘new territory’ and that I had a mere 7.8km to go to reach the 50K finish. Even though I was running my first ultra, the marathon was still the bench-mark.

When first I started this relationship with the marathon, it was more for the serious runner. The clock in that first race came down at four hours. Before I ran my second, some twelve years had passed. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to run another one, as much as it was that other things got in the way and at least in the earlier years of those twelve, there just weren’t as many opportunities as we have today. I did start out to run #2 a couple of times, but failed to even reach  a start line until October, 2000.

Absolute finish time hasn’t generally been a big issue for me, as long as the effort was the best I could muster. I think a lot of people run that way. None of us controls the weather and no matter how hard we’ve trained, we can only optimize our outcome ‘on the day’. If you expect to run between 10C and 15C and it is 22C at the start, you are already into Plan B, maybe even Plan C. Courses are different too. When you have run for as long as I have, especially when you were already about 40 when you started, age becomes a factor. Your goals must reflect this reality, a primary reason that I love Age Grading. It allows us to make our performances relative over a long period of time. In that respect, it is more important for me to hold my age-graded % Performance constant than to run any particular time, pure or age-graded. Naturally, one can backtrack from the Performance Standard to a goal time for the purposes of pacing and such. As I said, I hardly think I am alone in this.

There is no doubt that it is legitimate to have a goal to simply finish a marathon. For various reasons at various times, I have had that kind of goal. Most of what I’m saying here though, is related to training well and running as well as you can, whatever that might be. At one time that meant 3:20-3:30 for me. Now, it means under 5:00.

Me, faking it in those "3km" at BMO Vancouver Marathon 2014

Me, faking it in those “3km”

Rob Watson and his marathon buddies probably can’t imagine ever running at that pace, maybe not even my best pace. Of course, I sometimes wonder when I could run 3:24 at the age of 43, what I might have done at 30! BUT, I wasn’t running at 30. That said, if I truly believe in the magic of age-graded results, I could estimate that my PB-30 would have been around 3:14, but that also assumes that my first marathon was actually the best of which I was capable (rather than the best I ever did), and while respectable, it is not amazing. That isn’t really the point anyway. The age grading tables, reversing the process, would then say for me to match what I did in 1988 would require that I run 4:24:45 today. Given that I have a (well documented in these pages) physical issue over and above simple aging, it is probably more fair to make the comparison to what I did in 2010 at age 65, which grades out as my 2nd best marathon effort. On that basis I need to run 4:40:20. That sounds more or less right, everything taken into account. And remember, at all times we compare apples to oranges because there are course and weather differences, both of which are outside our control. The assumption also includes good training, good health, good rest, good nutrition and race prep, or at least that all of these would be the same. Naturally, they never are.

Anyway, let’s get back to the deep subject of the ‘Meaning of the Marathon’. There is still this thing that makes us dig down for our best and dig so deep that we are willing to deal with 7K of agony and that 3K we aren’t even going to talk about. At the front end, we sometimes see races where the object of the exercise is to win and others where the object is to obliterate the course, national or world record. Our Rob was in one of those this past Sunday. It was the Canadian National Marathon Championship at the Ottawa Marathon. Rob came in as defending champ, but left #2 behind the above-mentioned Eric Gillis. If you want to read about it, Rob describes it at Le Blog du Rob #113. The marathon record BY a Canadian was never threatened by either, but the marathon record ON CANADIAN SOIL was not only challenged, it was hammered down to 2:06:53. However, the winner Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia had been aiming to go 2:05′ish. He seemed almost apologetic in his win and record. It wasn’t what he intended/hoped. In this case it was probably mostly weather – just too chilly for him in the early going. That’s racing!

Now let’s get back to ME!  By ME, I mean all the people like me, and by that I mean the me who could run under 3:30 at one time and who are now pushing the 5 hour barrier. I’ve gone through some real soul searching in the last 18 months or so on my marathoning and the future thereof. Rob will probably never know how much his little article in Canadian Running influenced my present state of mind. If the reader has followed this blog at all, it will be well-known that I spent 2013 ‘playing’ Marathon Maniac. By that, I mean I joined the Maniacs (based on a qualifying set of races in 2008), then decided it was insufficient to just sit there on what I did five years back. With a conscious decision, I set out to qualify to be at LEAST a Two Star Maniac. Although there are a couple of ways to achieve this, I elected the six marathons in six months route. I did it. I got my second star. Yay me!

You would assume that would make me happy, and you would be right on one level. I set a challenge and achieved the necessary goal. There is just one thing wrong with my friends over there at the Asylum”. They don’t officially care about time (a good thing re my Two Stars). Turns out, I DO.

Except the first marathon of 2013, which I guess I did run to my best on the day (turned out to be 7th best age-graded and under five hours), all the rest I did were something over 5 hours. I knew from the start that this was part of what would be necessary. No regrets at all. However, what I did learn through that stretch was that I do not like running below the standard of which I feel I am capable. At my most recent marathon in early May 2014 (BMO Vancouver Marathon) I REALLY experienced that 3K that shall not be mentioned.

On the day, I was incapable of processing two things that should have let me off the hook, at least a little. My ‘marathon mind’ wouldn’t have it. The weather was crappy (I believe that is a meteorological term). And, through some strange mental process of denial, I had magically erased 2013 from my memory (and the 8 marathons, 50K ultra and couple of each of half marathons, 10K’s, 8K’s and 5K’s I had done in the 12 months leading up to Vancouver). It had not been erased from my body. So there I was grinding out those last few kilometres toward the finish line, thinking I was glad it was raining so nobody could see my sad, frustrated tears as I thought about this as the last marathon I would even enter.

It only took a couple of days and a couple of kind friends to help me sort through it a bit, and then on Sunday at a race of a mere 8K, I ran into my ‘arch rival’ Ben. I think that really cemented everything in place in terms of context and expectation.  Of late, including Sunday, I have been able to outrace Ben, but on May 4 he nailed me by a good five minutes, but at a time that I couldn’t imagine he would be all that thrilled about. Was I ever wrong. I have no idea if he thinks he could run faster under different circumstances such as training or course difficulty, but in this instance he evaluated his realistic goal and then did better, and was thrilled! I (apparently) over-estimated my capability in the circumstances and ‘failed’, or at least thought I did. Thanks for the perspective, Ben!

The marathon is magical. It is demanding beyond the imagination of those who have never tried it, and can be cruel. It is rewarding beyond the imagination of anyone who has never finished one. It offers infinite possibilities to runners. We are only as good as we are. Running a marathon to our potential is always fulfilling (a word that is insufficient). I am actually now looking at my extreme disappointment re my run in Vancouver as a sure sign that I have not lost the mystique of the marathon in my heart and my soul, a sure sign that as slow as I might be now, I am still a serious marathoner. I have written this in hopes that others might ponder and be inspired by the words of Rob Watson that formed the lead for this essay and my perspective from the other end of the spectrum.

I think much of this just affirms my long held belief that: The marathon is more a state of mind than a distance. (Oh, and that one is mine!)

Good running!  Good marathoning!

 

I QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!

03.20.2014

What fabulous good news! Anyone who knows me also knows how important a goal this is for me.

I Did Run The Inaugural Boston 5K

I Did Run The Inaugural Boston 5K

Unfortunately, there is equally horrible BAD news. I did it in 1988.  Do you think they would still let me in on that result?     No?       Yeah, didn’t think so.

OK, so what is this idiot babbling about now?

Here’s the scoop. I was fact checking something I was writing in another post that should have gone up before this one. I was trying to put marathon running into context and describing what things were like back in 1988 when I ran my first and, it turned out, best marathon. That was the Vancouver International Marathon, which has now morphed into the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which coincidentally I will be running again in just a few weeks. It will be my fifth time on three distinctly different courses, but I digress.

Boston Qualifying times have changed over the years and from time to time, starting with the fact that there was NO BQ at all until 1970. Well, OK, you had to be male, but other than that……  That’s right, it wasn’t until 1972 that women were invited to run Boston all legitimate like.

By 1988 they had age and gender based qualifying standards. Until a few minutes ago, I never knew exactly what my BQ was when I did that first marathon. I have always known my finish time had to be close. So, today, while looking for numbers of entrants for various major races run in 1988, I also came across the qualifying standards. There it was: M40-44  -  3:25. That is what I did.

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

I have often said (though I probably didn’t really mean it deep down) that what is most important to me is to be able to say “I qualified for Boston” (vs necessarily running it). Now, I CAN say it.  I qualified for Boston. I qualified for Boston. I ONCE QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess that this revelation has come rather late, because in 1988 I was more focused on just doing a marathon. Although a couple of my fellow running club members had gone to and run Boston, it surely wasn’t on my radar. Maybe that was partly because I was busy with work, had a young family and nothing like enough money for such frivolity. So, my one and only BQ just sailed away into the mists of time, unrecognized, unloved, unused.

Later on and even though I’ve tried to find out what the BQ times were back then, I could not confirm one way or the other my possible BQ, although I assumed I probably missed by a few minutes, . Until today. Today I got some kind of runner’s gift in the form of that bit of knowledge. It leaves me amazingly pleased and you might even say spiritually satisfied. We could get into the mystical matter of ‘why now?‘, but I’m just going with the basic fact.

Speaking of facts, I realized as I typed the last sentence that my current BQ is exactly one (1) hour slower than that one in 1988. There is something almost satisfying in that. BQ 1988 = 3:25, BQ 2014 = 4:25. Am I planning on making this whole thing really symmetrical and qualifying again in May? Wouldn’t I love to! However, should it happen I think it will be more an accident than a well executed plan.

I wrote this post partly because I am truly thrilled. In part it is about the fact that I know quite a few going to this most momentous running of the Boston Marathon after the horror of 2013. My mind is very much concentrated on the symbolic importance of it and that makes this unexpected revelation all the more important to me.

I also wrote it because it represents one of those great things about running, once you do something it cannot be taken away from you. A couple of years back I got a ‘new’ PB for 5K in much the same way. It was a result that I had not recorded and had more or less forgotten about. Old friend and fellow Running in the Zone Editor, Steve King put together a list of PB results for Penticton P0under members (which I was at the time). There was my result. I was surprised and went so far as to ask Steve about the accuracy of the course (I remembered thinking it was too fast). He assured me that it was no more or less accurate than any of the other courses we ran in those days and upon checking some other results recorded in close proximity it seemed the number was reasonable. And just like that, 25 years or so after the doing of it, I had a new 5K PB!

This blog (and the book) is slanted toward the interests of ‘seasoned’ athletes. Almost by definition, us seasoned athletes are past the days when we can knock off true PB results. There is always an asterisk. Nothing wrong with qualified triumphs when taken in context, but the pure ones just shine a little brighter. My philosophy has always been to celebrate your achievements and never despair over your loss of ability to repeat or better them. We all reach that point at some time. I know several people who set World single age records virtually every time they lace on a pair of shoes and walk up to a starting line, but while they are amazing and doing amazing things, they generally aren’t running faster – not over a reasonable time period. Race over race? Maybe, but for the most part, not season over season. The PB is well behind even these phenomenal folk. That doesn’t really matter though. I figure as long as we are getting out and doing what we love, we are still winning!

I hope my exciting little experience today and my story about it, will move others to discover something from their ‘good old days’ or just reflect on the fact that they actually HAVE those ‘good old days’.

PLAN OR HABIT, AND IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

03.13.2014
Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

A friend sent me a note regarding an upcoming long run and the event for which it was a training run. He was wondering about my pre-event preparation and pondering. It stimulated some interesting thoughts and this little essay.  It all started out innocently enough regarding rituals before runs and particularly races, then he tacked on some other suggested perspectives. All that got me wondering if I had really changed much over the many years I’ve been running and racing.

One of the first things that crossed my mind was that I really don’t have any MUSTS before a race (you know, things that must be done lest the sky fall or the earth open and swallow me). I never really have. However there are a bunch of things I like to have under control and to do before a race. I can’t recall heading to a race of any distance where I was knowingly gunning for a PR say. I plan to run all races to the best of my current ability – PR’s happen when they happen. I do go to races from time to time where I know my condition or preparation will NOT produce a great result and therefore take care not to anticipate the impossible or imprudent.

Lately, I suppose I have gone to the start with plans for either a recent PB, or age graded performance. A year or two back I decided I missed having actual (vs age graded) PB’s and the only way to get one would be to run a distance I’ve never done. Of course that is just a kind of a fun thing more than a serious racing goal. I must admit that running my first and so far ONLY 50K ultra may have caused a few pre-race jitters, but then I reminded myself I had a lot of marathons in the bag and 50K is just 7.8km, a mere 4.8372093 miles farther (but who is counting?).

One thing I certainly do now and have done for as long as it has been possible with all our modern on-line tools, is to PLAN my attack. By that I mean I study route maps (especially for new events). I pay particular attention to the profile maps, sometimes even cross-checking them with Google

Winthrop Marathon - Profile

Earth. Pacing is everything. I don’t have the reserves anymore to ‘pull something out’ late in a race. The most successful I’ve been at this recently was the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon in October 2012. This is a course for which I could probably draw out the route by memory, including the elevation profile, but I still study and plan. Planning or not, I often fail to execute, mostly by going out too fast. Long story short, just to illustrate what I mean, in 2012 I was able to manage my pace such that every split was plus or minus about 1-2%, except for two and they were the going down and coming back up of a particularly significant hill. As I hit the ’Mile to Go’ marker it was getting tough, but I pushed on. It felt like I was running in mud and was sure I was rapidly falling off pace. In addition to the planning I always do a large amount of post-race analysis. (Nobody gets their money’s worth from a race more than me!) The analysis revealed the even splits and more amazingly, the fact that the last mile was about 5 seconds faster than the first!  I just missed the mythical negative split by mere seconds! Oh, and I beat my goal time by at least a minute. I consider it one of the best races I’ve ever run, not because of the absolute time, but rather because of overall race management.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

If I am going to a race where there is an Expo (I love race expos – the energy and all) my ‘rule is to do it on Friday for a Sunday race, if at all possible.  I tend to hang around just too much when it comes to racing the next day. If I just can’t get that extra day in, then I do try to show some discipline and not spend too much time at the Expo. I definitely avoid tourism the day before if it involves walking about or me being in charge of making it happen.

For longer races I try to suck back a reasonable amount of electrolyte the day before/morning of the event. However, if it is just water I have no feelings of dread. Some races just seem to ’demand’ a pre-race pasta party, often with friends or family or both. For me, that is less about true carbo-loading and more about tradition. Except for the Reggae Marathon, my ‘pasta party’ will likely be more of a private affair and relatively small (say 2 to 20 participants). For the most part it is social and traditional rather than tactical. I try to load up for a couple of days prior to the actual race with the last big meal actually being lunch the day before the race.

I always like to be up and ready, way ahead of the start. Sometimes you are given no choice by race logistics, but even when you could walk out the door to the start (often the case in Victoria where there are lots of hotels near the start) I will still be up a couple of hours before race time. Since we are all runners here, there is one primary reason having to do with not needing a major porta-potty stop mid-race. Sometimes the magic works! For a Half, I generally won’t eat much (maybe a banana) but for a marathon or ultra I try to eat a bagel with that banana, maybe with honey or such, or possibly a bowl of oatmeal porridge with sweetener or fruit. This must be a couple of hours pre-race.

I also like quiet time -always have. I am only competing with myself, but most of the time I am very serious about that and expect nothing but the best of myself according to my state of preparedness. The exception to this expectation was the last running season when I was chasing two star Marathon Maniac status. I had to run a lot of marathons in a relatively short time, so I necessarily needed to adjust to that reality. One of the big ones was being able to accept times of five hours and more as part of the greater plan. At the time it seemed OK. Apparently, I was able to manage expectations in a positive way. Now that I’ve decided two stars is plenty, my race expectation is again going to be ‘the best I can do’. I am certainly hopeful that my best is still sub-five. So, before I run I like to get inside my own head and just try to prepare well for the day as it is being presented.  No matter how well you train or prepare, the circumstances on the day will dictate absolute performance. Let’s face it, a person (not me) could win the race and still have a relatively poor time if the weather was extreme. We have to make the best of the situation and that is where the quiet time pre-race helps. During that time you reset to accommodate conditions and adjust your basic race plan, especially your attitude. That is so important for me. When I can’t/don’t do it I usually pay the price. The Winthrop Marathon course profile above, is a good example. It kind of looks like if you tripped at the start, you could just roll all the way to the finish! If you are good with downhill running, it should be a good one. What wasn’t obvious is how hot it got after about half way and how unprotected from the direct sun the course is from about half way. It is a great event, well organized and just plain fun, but the weather factor made a huge difference to the outcome. So, the best laid plans and all that…………………….

My friend asked if things had changed over the years – polite way of asking if anything is different for an old guy (‘seasoned’ we like to say here). One BIG difference is the absolute time expectation. It would be just plain stupid for me to think I could run a marathon as fast as my PB done back in 1988. So yes, in that respect I certainly have made a change, as we all must eventually. For me, and many others, it is why age grading is of value. Age grading lets me see if I am holding my own, or even improving. I did actually go through a period of maybe 18 months when I was steadily improving in real time based on recent performances. On the basis of age-graded performance (grading all races), my second best marathon was run when I was 65 and was the fourth in a sequence of races that saw me chip away a few seconds here, a minute there and so on.

I have always run for pleasure. At times, some of the pleasure came from running relatively fast (for me). Still, training or racing, my attitude has never been too intense. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to lay claim to any really amazing results, even ‘relatively amazing’. Naturally, the older I get the more amazing it becomes to walk up to the start with every intention of getting to the finish on my own steam. Of course there are truly fantastic octogenarians out there that make my present age/achievements seem modest, and who serve to keep me humble.  That said, I have never had

Half Way to a DFL - Frosty Mountain

Half Way to a DFL – Frosty Mountain

a DNF (maybe should have) and only one DNS. I did score one DFL but I also won my age group (M60-69) in that race! So, my approach is only tempered by what is relatively reasonable. Writing this reminds me that I have done the Reggae Marathon weekend three times. Twice, I did not do the event for which I originally registered. The first time I registered for the marathon but due to a ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ situation never made the start line until over two hours after the start. With RD permission  I switched to the 10K. Last year I signed up again to do the marathon, partly because of my Marathon Maniac goal. But, when I learned I had misunderstood the criteria for my ‘two star’ goal and had already achieved it without doing the Reggae Marathon, I opted for the Half and partying with my many friends rather than sweating under the tropical sun for too many hours. Maybe that is a sign of creeping maturity! There was a time that if I said it, I would have had to do it. The one problem with having bailed twice on the full marathon is that my Reggae Marathon medal collection is still short one component.

Running is very much a pleasure for me. Racing is too, but to put that in perspective I must go back to a reflection I did some years back.  I really want to qualify to run Boston. I have physical issues which make that a difficult goal to achieve, though under truly optimal circumstances, maybe not completely impossible. I asked myself a sort of rhetorical/philosophical question: If the gods of running would grant me a BQ (and the race itself, of course), but after that I would have to stop running, would I take the deal? The answer was quick and easy: NO. Whether or not I can race for much longer, I want to be able to run for my own pleasure for a good long time yet.

I do have one critical race to plan. That will be one with our grandson. Charlie is going to be eight come the summer. He already races in short running events and kid’s triathlons. What we need now is a 3K or something like that where I can run with him. I don’t think anyone will let me run in the kids’ races he now does, even if some might think I AM in my second childhood.  I’ve raced with all our family members at some time or other: wife, all three kids and two sons-in-law. Surely, there will be a race for me and the grand-boy!

 

A Late-Life Comeback to Racing

01.24.2014

He’s Back - on the Blog and at the races! Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes contributor, Roger Robinson has given us permission to re-produce his recent piece on a personal journey and personal miracle of mind over matter. This article is reproduced here with gratitude to Roger, a) for writing it, and b) Running Times where it was originally published.

Roger is a great supporter of Running in the Zone and frequently offers his writings for use on the blog.

This article should inspire and encourage every Seasoned Athlete, and I would hope, quite a few that haven’t reached that lofty perch just yet.

Thanks Roger!

Enjoy.

A Late-Life Comeback to Racing

Some ideas for older post-injury runners

       Published

January 23, 2014 (Running Times)

Roger Robinson's last run in 2006Sunday was my knee’s third birthday. Not my birthday, just my right knee’s. Three years ago, on January 19, 2011, I went under the knife for a partial knee replacement. (Or under the saw, more accurately. I was a little perturbed when the surgeon told me his father had been a carpenter.) It was surgery that I thought at the time had ended my running for ever. I was wrong. Three months after the surgery, I tried shuffling a few tentative steps. By the first anniversary, I had progressed – slowly, cautiously, stubbornly, to running for one exact hour. I happily celebrated that milestone in this column. (Small Steps, Big Strides, Roger on Running, January 2012).

[For five years, this 2006 newspaper photo (above, right) was captioned 'my last run'  - inaccurately, as things worked out.]

“You inspired me get back into running after my first baby,” commented one kind reader. “I loved your account of how deeply you missed being able to run. Most people don’t understand that sense of lack,” said another. “However injured and old you are, there’s always hope” – that was probably the one I related to best.

So, in mid-January again, another two years on, I thought I should provide an update.

After that first year of careful jogging, I consciously began to introduce more variety. I ran hills, working harder on the ups and barely jogging the downs. I added minutes progressively to the occasional longer runs, edging up to 90 minutes. Those long runs seem to get good results, but I don’t risk them often. I even began to run repeats. I’ve always done those by time, not measured distance, and always on changing terrain, never around a track, so it was easy to find a pleasant place, often an uphill slope where the impact is reduced, to run (say) 6 x 2 minutes, more or less equivalent to a session of 400s. Later I tried sessions like 3 x 4 minutes, or a mix of 2min/3min/5min, or other variations.

Who would have thought I’d ever runs 400s again? Even more amazing, who would have thought I’d ever race again? But I do. At first, it was all PW’s (personal worsts) and finishing dead last (see Summer Running, Roger on Running, July 20, 2011). Slowly it got a little better. I worked my 5km time from 10min miles down into the 8′s, enjoying some friendly mid-Hudson area races for oldies (over-50 or over-60), with slightly off-putting names like “Mommas and Poppas” or “Wheezers and Geezers.” It wasn’t the names that bothered me so much as the fact  that one course passed a retirement village at halfway and finished between two funeral homes.

And so I rediscovered the eternal triple reward of competitive racing: 1. the long-term friends you make among those who have been your short-term rivals, 2. the challenge (which includes an element of fear) of testing yourself against competition and time, and 3. (if all goes well) the sense of progress. In September 2013 I won my grade in the Dutchess County Classic 5km, in 23:55. That’s 7 minutes 42 seconds per mile. I never thought I’d hear the call “seven…” again. I won’t exaggerate and say it felt like winning the Olympics, because I know perfectly well that I used to warm up for a marathon at a faster pace than that. I’m no fantasist. I simply go around claiming an Over-70-With-One-Artificial-Knee World Record.

One of those new friends surprised me by writing an engaging first-person narrative of a race we both ran. Since it gives an outside view that complements my own, I asked his permission to include it here.

Roger the Rabbit by Christopher Kennan, Millerton, NY

Every once in a while, running brings you something marvelous and unexpected. Today, that happened at a five mile trail race called Bridge-to-Bridge, a fund-raiser for the Mohonk Preserve, near New Paltz, NY, which I intended as a training-pace run.

The route is on lovely carriage trails among the trees, and the field of 170 meant it wasn’t crowded. Right after the start I found myself just behind a guy who looked to be in my 60-69 age group, moving on the gradual ascent at a decent pace, wearing a 100th Boston Marathon singlet.  Must be serious. I decided I would hang out behind him for a bit before moving on. Despite my pre-race plan, the competitive juices were flowing. And this fellow’s pace seemed quite spirited. I revised my strategy, figuring I would easily catch him on the downhill.

So along we went, passing others, me holding a steady 15-20 yards behind him. When we came to the short but sharp uphill just before halfway, lots of people were walking, but my “rabbit” kept running. Soon we headed sharply back downhill, where the total focus had to be on roots and rocks.

On a long gradual descent, I decided to make my move. To my frustration, after a glance behind, he did too.  The distance between us was actually increasing. Grip! I needed to spend time in that region of effort where running moves from pleasure to pain. So at about four miles, I threw in a surge. But the pace just got faster. Now we were running well under 8:00min miles. Damn! This plan wasn’t working. But in sight of the finish line, we went sharply downhill, and I saw he was pulling up a bit. I let it fly, and finished just in front of him.

I turned around to congratulate him, confessing I had been on his tail. Very graciously, he returned the congratulations, but later in the conversation mentioned that at 74 his artificial knee couldn’t handle the downhills.

That was not what I wanted to hear. A 74 year-old with a knee replacement? And I only just caught him? Time to quit?

Well, not so quick. From other friends, I found the guy is a legend of running, and not just a local one. Even now, he showed me a thing or two about maintaining a wicked pace, and about the pleasures of chatting after the race is over. As I run my next big marathon, Roger Robinson will be the guy I’m thinking of.

Thanks, Chris. I like being Roger the Rabbit. My only dissent from Chris’s observant report is that when I took that glance behind, I was actually looking fearfully for my old friend Norm Goluskin, a much superior 70+ runner to me, who was unwell and had a bad race. I couldn’t believe my luck. I did see Chris, but he looked much too youthful to be relevant to my age-group.

I don’t claim to be a role model, but for other runners who may be in similar situations of recovery from long-term interruption, or are simply coping with being older, here are some things that have helped me in my late-life revival. I’ve discussed these ideas with other older runners, including the late British legend Chris Chataway, whose notable return to racing in his seventies was described in his obituary a few days ago (See Chris Chataway, Key figure in 1st Sub-4 Mile, Dies, January 20, 2014)

  • Progress by small increments. I wrote two years ago that my mantra comes from Joseph Conrad’s character Nostromo: “I must get rich very slowly.”
  •  Measure your runs by time, not distance. It saves a lot of worry about having a bad day or getting slower, and is very convenient on hilly terrain.
  • Keep variety. Change the shoes you wear, the terrain you run on, the total time of each run, sometimes the pace.
  • Even include repeats. The old principle still holds, at whatever age: you can’t expect to race at a pace faster than you ever run in training. And once you have a base of miles, repeats (whatever your age) are the surest and quickest way to strengthen your cardio-respiratory system and get faster.
  • However, if you do include repeats, allow more recovery between. Decades ago, I used to make the recovery about half the effort (ie after a 5-minute effort, jog for 2 ½ minutes). Now I take double (ie after a 5-minute effort, jog 10 minutes). You can do a 25-year-old’s training, I believe, if you take a 70-year-old’s recovery.
  • Also – here I’m sternly lecturing myself – don’t make repeats too hard. Twice in the last year, I’ve given myself minor leg injuries by pushing them. Old habits die hard. The problem for experienced runners is that our joints and musculature age faster than our cardio-respiratory system, so it never feels fast in terms of breathing.
  • Take rest days. I kept expecting to be able to build up to running every day, with easy runs as recovery days, like in the old days, but it hasn’t happened. Each time I’ve tried to increase the training days up to even six in the week, something has gone wrong. Four or five days a week seems best.
  • Find good off-road surfaces. The rate of wear on the knee prosthetic (and everything else) has to be related to the impact of each stride. That’s why there are so many ex-runners now cycling. I mostly avoid road and hard-sealed trails. I also avoid, or take great care on, tricky uneven surfaces. I used to love them, but at this stage any fall can be serious.
  • Enjoy the privilege. The secret to enjoying a rich and positive life after 50 is to stay active, all the experts say, and that’s true; but I think I’ve by chance found something even more crucial – give yourself a sense of progress, of improvement. Running can always give that, even though over time you’re inevitably slowing. Use a new come-back (like mine), a new target race, even simply a new season, to run more, or faster, or more often, or more purposefully. Measure your progress against the beginning of this season, not your times of 40 years ago, or even last year. The runner’s mindset is that if we do the work, we’ll improve. There are age-graded tables to give that a kind of reality, and my personal method is to list the several world records I hold  – fastest time ever recorded on particular courses. I retain those records by the simple device of not telling anyone else (especially Norman) where the courses start and finish. If the time comes when I can’t break those records, I’ll switch to a new course. Whatever works.

The anniversary run itself on January 19 was a nice one, 70 minutes in the sunshine of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, most of that time on a deserted long curving beach at low tide, the sand softly firm like the pads on a kitten’s paw. Perfect for old joints and phony knees. It was one of those runs, and there are many of them now, that seem like an unexpected and wonderful bonus. It’s not often in this world that we can enjoy dawn at twilight.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME AND SOME OTHER AMAZING STUFF!

01.06.2014

Me and my Mom!

Everybody has a birthday ever year, so I guess that having one doesn’t make me particularly special. However, a bunch of runners did just that on Saturday (made me feel special) and I wanted to say how touched I was by it. There isn’t even anything particularly major about this one – next year, oh yeah, the big 7-0. I mean I don’t even get a new age category this time. In fact, I will now be the old guy in both the M65-69 and even older in the M60-69 categories!  How can THAT be a good thing? Well, I suppose that if this blog is for ‘Seasoned’ athletes, nobody can deny that I am getting more and more seasoned.

Let’s finish this Birthday thing off and then get on to the “Other Amazing Stuff“.  The runners, who serenaded me were members of the Forerunners marathon clinic at which I am a pace group leader. Were it not for our coach, Carey Nelson, I suppose most of them wouldn’t have known that Monday was my B’Day. Still, once they did know, they sang with enthusiasm and sincerity and for that I am touched and pleased. Even better, one of my pace group (who did know) baked an amazing carrot cake for all of us to share (post run, naturally). And then, there were all those who so kindly assured me I didn’t look a day over 68!  Well, some did flatter me by suggesting an even younger age. I swear that as much as the exercise, it is hanging around the younger people that definitely keeps me feeling young. So, maybe if you feel young you look young. Whatever, I’m going with that!

Now for the other Amazing Stuff.

One amazing thing (at least I am amazed), is that it is 2014. That makes it Thirty (30) Years since I first tied on some running shoes and headed out on the road. As I recall, I was a bit younger although maybe NOT as fit. That, like so many others, was the reason to start. Then, somehow, 30 years just whizzed by.  Amazing!

Another amazing thing, or maybe more than amazing – pleasing, is that I still love running. Sometimes it is harder, but getting out there and just being part of it is fantastic. Being with other people like the ones I mentioned above, makes it really special. Some of my old running friends still run. A lot of them don’t. Some do, but have changed the how, where and why. Some (that would be you Steve King) have now been immortalized in the form of a bobble-head doll! And, if that isn’t amazing – I don’t know what is.

I also find it amazing how inclusive our road running sport is and that unlike most sports, involves a continuum from the fastest elites to the slowest ‘back of the packers’. I already talked about this a few posts back, but there are few other sports where we can all register for and run the same race. The best of the best will be at the front in New York, Berlin, Chicago, but effectively anyone who can manage the travel and the twists and turns of the registration process, can run those very same events.

I am no longer the RD for the First Half Half Marathon coming up in February, here in Vancouver, but have for a few years now MC’d the event. While the ‘First Half’ is considered amazing by many (sells out in hours), the Amazing Stuff it reminds me of is how the half marathon has become THE race to run for so many. It used to be the 10K that was the personal challenge event, but these days the half marathon is by far the fastest growing racing event. The other fast growing sector is women. Not long ago, men out-numbered women in virtually every race. Then, things started to change and now, at least in North America, the only regular road race distance where we boys still hold a numbers advantage is the full marathon. On average, every other distance up to and including the half marathon is now dominated by women competitors. Amazing!  (And – way to go, girls!)

When it comes to Amazing Stuff, I feel like 2014 has a really good chance to be the year that the ever so long-standing Canadian marathon record will fall. There are at least four and as many as six Canadian guys lurking just above the current 2:10:08 of Jerome Drayton. The most likely place for the record to fall is at the Soctiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, just like the women’s record did in 2013. Wait for us girls! I am not 100% sure it will happen, but all things going to plan, I intend to run that race just on the chance of being there when it happens. I will be Amazed – for sure!

I also expect to be amazed by just being in the neighbourhood when Ed Whitlock demonstrates again, just what an octogenarian can do.

Other than the fact that I am still running, I am not planning to be particularly amazed by my own performances in 2014, unless of course, I become so totally inspired by the runners at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon that I turn in some kind of age-graded PB or something. I WILL be amazed if I run as many marathons as in 2013, because I surely don’t intend to do so. That said, I really only have Toronto on any kind of a plan at this point. That was, until my old rival (he is MUCH older than me - 14 days), Ben Seghers, told me he had registered for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, and was I going to do so too? What do you think? Does that sound like a challenge? Well, I AM running with the Forerunners clinic, which has the ultimate goal of preparing participants for the Vancouver half and full marathons AND because I am leading a pace group I WILL be trained for the marathon, and I’ve never run the ‘new’ (new to me, now in its third year) Vancouver route, maybe I will have to amaze myself and take up that challenge.

All of this said, and regardless of what does come along in 2014, the MOST Amazing thing every year and all the time, is the people I meet through running. I am 100% certain that is going to be part of my 2014 running year!  See you on the roads.

 

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

I LOVE RUNNING, BUT……………TODAY WAS SPECIAL

10.20.2013

What can I say? Here I sit having just watched the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (some people may have still been finishing as I began to write). I love to see those smooth, fast folk at the front and how they cruise through times I would now be happy with for a half marathon. I love to see the special stories of folks like Team Joshua (Mom, Michelle, and Josh) and their personal victories. And, I know from my own experience that every runner out there has his or her reason for running and aspirations for a personal day of victory. As the opening line of the old TV show used to intone: “There are Eight Million Stories in the Naked City”. Well, there were at least 25,000 stories in Toronto today.

Most of all though, I like to see how those in my crowd of older (Seasoned, if you like) runners are doing. I’ve got a fair number of local inspirational runners to reflect upon with people like BJ McHugh and Rod Waterlow, to name two of a good many in the Vancouver/Victoria area. But, for shear inspiration none beat 82 year-old Ed Whitlock. Apparently Ed has not been too well the last couple of weeks (a nasty cold) and although nobody claimed he was actually running sick, his training has not been what it normally would be coming up to the race. It seems to have been a bad day out there on the roads of Toronto, what with Ed only recording a time of 3:41:58! (sarcasm alert)  According to commentators, his goal was somewhere in the upper 3:20′s.

I made a few posts on Facebook feeds re Ed’s day, one of which was to the effect, “I want to be like Ed Whitlock when I grow up!” What I really mean is that I just hope I can use his inspirational example to keep going myself. Ed is both so old and so good, the age grading systems have trouble properly accounting for his performances.  For the most part, anyone his age is lauded, and rightly so, if they just finish a marathon. I mean, I am starting to reach that stage myself and I’m just approaching 69. Every time Ed Whitlock laces on his shoes for a race, he is probably going to set a Single Age World Record, but for him it is no ‘attendance prize’. His times are respectable for almost anybody. For instance, his 10K split today was something like 49 minutes. I don’t know that many weekend warrior type runners who would turn up their noses at such a time.

So, with a big year of running trailing out behind me I got comparing myself to Ed Whitlock under my aspiration to ‘be like Ed when I grow up’.

The first thing I see as essential is not to grow so much, as to shrink or recede. As the race continued today it was revealed that Ed normally weighs 115-117lb, so let us say 116, for easy reference. It was also stated that he was 5’7″ in height OR, 67 inches. Now, what do we do with this bit of information? Well, the first thing I decided to explore is how his ‘density’ in a manner of speaking, compares. If he is 67″ tall and weighs 116 lb, then that would be an average of 1.73lb/vertical inch. With trembling fingers, I began entering my stats into a similar calculation, to determine, being both taller and heavier, that my comparative number is 2.63lb/inch.

I had made a comment on one of the Facebook feeds that if I was going to be like Ed, I’d need to first lose about 70lb, but that is based purely on weight, and since I’m at least four inches taller, not a fair comparison. Using my half-baked ’density’ system, for me to attain a similar physical structure I might strive for a similar weight/height ratio and would need to get not to 116lb, but rather just to 123lb!  Ha! Piece of cake! [NOT].

I think I may have weighed 123lb at one time, but I was probably about twelve at the time. I was an early sprouter, and have been most of my adult height since I was about thirteen. In my late teens and very early 20′s I was around 165 and the day I got married was 174lb. In other words, if I really must get back to 123lb, I have been doomed for decades.  As I think about it, my BONES might outweigh Ed Whitlock! And, in all seriousness, that is an aspect of our physical make-up we can’t do much about in absolute terms. Most of us just have to come to grips with our own personal ‘facts’. That stuff just can’t be wished away. Then, there is the matter of our miss-spent youth. Mine wasn’t so much poorly spent as inappropriately oriented if I wanted to be a marathoner when I grew up. I played lots of sports, including running, but almost all was oriented to short sharp bursts of fast running. My sports were soccer, or football should you prefer, baseball and track and field. And, the T&F stuff was shorter, faster distances, so all of this required the building of large muscles in the legs and power for short bursts. In those younger days, and for that matter even now, most people could not guess my weight accurately unless I was half naked – because most of my weight is in my legs. Unfortunately, my upper body has ‘grown into’ my lower body over the years and not really in a good way – if you get my meaning.  Even if I dropped every ounce of unwanted fat, I would once again be bottom-heavy with large solid muscle in my legs, and back to being the proverbial ninety pound weakling from the waist up.

So, for me and pretty much most average people, the best we can hope for is some kind of new balance. We can modify and optimize what we ARE, but pretty much can’t become something or somebody else. I guess Ed Whitlock can now feel safe, at least from me. Somehow, I don’t think he was actually worried in any case.

I was relieved to learn I did not have to lose 70lb as first declared – just 64. But, that is still a pretty tall order and if I were to lose that much weight I would wonder if I could walk let alone run. This was always meant to be light-hearted and not taken tooooooo, seriously, but it does leave me pondering for myself and other mid-pack average sorts of runners, what is reasonable. That is a loaded term in itself. What is reasonable for one may be just plain silly for another. If at all, I will try only to define reasonable for me. If you want to play along, you will have to define your own ‘reasonable’.

I mentioned my weight, both in actual terms and in that of personal/genetic heritage. Recently, I was alerted to a relatively new age/weight grading system.  Anyone who reads my words knows how much I enjoy age grading as a way to compare some thirty years of personal running achievements. Well, this system adds the matter of weight into the mix. I have not studied it at any length, but did quickly pop in some of my times and weights over the years and concluded that having always been a relatively heavy runner, the weight factor helped to improve my results. It did NOT turn me from a relative slug into an Olympian. In other words, on a sample of one, it seems reasonable.  For instance, my best 5K time when I was 44 was mid-nineteen minutes. Pure age grading took that to about 17 minutes and adding the weight factor dropped it to 16 minutes; pleasing but not silly.

These converters or calculators generally bring everyone to the same standard. In the case of this weight and age system, the age is 25 and weight is 110lb for women and 143lb for men. At least that 143lb is a bit more realistic for me, even if it is NOT likely achievable either.

That brings us back to what is reasonable. The only way I know to stop getting older is unacceptable and counterproductive in the extreme where it comes to running (or anything else). I CAN do something about weight, but even then, just so much. When I start a marathon or half marathon I generally feel pretty good and not that I am labouring with the weight I’m carrying (even if I probably am). Naturally, that changes as the race goes on. I have been pondering this for some time, but today’s race has caused me to think more deeply and to seriously consider how to be MORE like Ed Whitlock, when I grow up. I do think my simple factor of  lb/vertical inch is a place to start. There is no doubt in my mind that losing some amount of weight will help if for no other reason than that I won’t have to pack it over 42km.

The trick with losing weight is careful maintenance of muscle and strength. Reduction of caloric intake and perhaps modification of the mix of food groups consumed can reduce weight, but should be combined with exercise and not just my personal favourite, running. I have long known that converting fat to muscle is actually a losing weight loss proposition in the sense that muscle is more dense than fat and for a time, a person may see no loss of weight, and maybe even a small gain. Exercise is extremely important to all of this but one needs to remember that physical exertion does not burn nearly as many calories as we imagine. For instance, at my weight and pace, a marathon burns about the equivalent in calories of just one pound of real actual ‘meat’. We all lose a bunch of weight when we train or race, but most of that is water and comes back quickly. When it comes to long-term weight reduction, patience is the key element. Reduced caloric intake, balanced exercise and patience seems to be the magic combination.

As I look at myself, and we would all be different, I can see myself getting down to around 180lb or 82kg. I think I could do that and may be declaring at this point, my intention to try. For me, this looks very reasonable. For the sake of argument I am going to take this as a kind of given and do a little speculating and wondering what it might achieve to go farther.

As I mentioned, I weighed 174lb the day I was married (some 45 years ago). Haven’t seen that weight pretty much ever since. The question seems to be whether or not I could ever reasonably hope to see it again. From time to time, including fairly recently, I will hit 185lb. That is why I figure that 180lb is not unreasonable. When you get right down to it, if I were to shoot for 175lb, we are talking about a maximum of another 10lb below where I’m easily able to get. As you may have already anticipated, I am now going to point out that 10 fewer pounds will not be so simple.  If I work on upper body and core strength in the process of weight reduction I should both find myself carrying less weight from the start to the finish, but having a stronger overall body with which to do it. So, I may find myself able to lose 15 useless pounds while adding maybe 5 ‘power-p0unds’ to better function while running/exercising. It isn’t just going to be carrying 10 fewer pounds. I have no idea how big a deal it may be. I don’t know when it comes to me and absolutely have no idea how it might apply to anybody else.

Another factor that comes into the complex mix of distance running is the matter of how long you can run and at any given pace. As I watched the elites fly through the last few K’s today I once again wondered about the trade-off between speed and time on the road. In 2013 I have been doing the Marathon Maniac thing of lots of volume and less speed. In the last six and a half months I have run five marathons and a 50K ultra. I have operated on the slow but sure approach and all but one of the six has been over five hours. The fastest I ever did was 3:24 and I swear, even though it was a long time ago, I felt better when that was over, than I do now at the end of a slow marathon. How much does running some two extra hours impact that? OK, OK, those aren’t quite the same legs as they were in 1988. Perhaps if a person was able to knock thirty minutes off the total time, the exertion would be that much less. An hour would be even less and it wasn’t that long ago that I could run a marathon an hour faster than a couple of my recent ‘slow and steady’ efforts. Carrying less weight and being stronger could very likely help with such a target. I am not discounting proper training with the long slow run endurance component as well as other ‘quality’ speed, interval, hill type runs. I am just saying that if you do everything to a proper plan, surely packing less absolute weight from Point A to Point B should take less time and sustaining a faster pace (within reason) should make it easier.

Now of course, if I can’t really lose the necessary weight to approach Ed Whitlock’s height/weight ration then the alternative would be to grow to something around 8’4″. That would have a fabulous advantage of an immense stride!

OK. Enough for my musings on comparative running. How about a few high-lights from today?

We have had some great running days the last couple of weeks. The Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon could not have had much better weather and I speak from personal experience on that one. Toronto and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon today looked and sounded from all reports like another ideal day. So many people put their own hopes and goals on the line right from the front with the various records that fell, including the race record being smashed by Deresa Chimsa (ETH), but especially the Canadian Women’s record and on through the to BQ achieved by Team Joshua and Ed Whitlock’s latest Single Age World record.

We’ve seen our Canadian marathoners growing and maturing on a world stage, including Dylan Wykes (second only to Jerome Drayton) and Reid Coolsaet, neither of whom ran in Toronto this day. Today we saw Eric Gillis take the men’s race as first Canadian (5th OA) while second place Canadian (6th OA), Rob Watson laid down a new PB in his fourth marathon this year! This kind of thing is unheard of in elite running. Canadian runners Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene broke the long-standing Canadian Women’s record with Lanni having now pushed that down into the 2:27 range. First time marathoner Natasha Wodak, made her own statement with a fine time of 2:35 and gave notice of her own intentions!

I LOVE running and this is a big reason why!

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

NEW BEGINNINGS

09.06.2013

Summer sun setting

Man, I hate to join the ‘Summer’s Over’ crowd, but when the kids head back to school (even when your youngest ‘kid’ is 35) the focus somehow shifts. I guess we will just have to say we are headed into the early Fall, with fabulous weather, even if we really do still have a couple of weeks of official Summer.

This lame old blogger is nothing if not a planner. I was showing a running friend my little file on my next race, the Kelowna Wine Country Half Marathon. I believe his comment was, “Holy cow! Are you ever competitive.”  What? Just because I have route maps and course profiles with altitudes and grades calculated and distances at whatever grade, up or down? Well, I suppose it is a form of being competitive, but mostly I see it as a survival tool. As a Seasoned Athlete, it is ever more important to not run out of ‘running’ before I run out of ‘route’. I am notorious for going out too fast. Always have been, but it costs more now. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

In the earlier part of the year I decided to try out the whole Marathon Maniac thing and between April 28 (Eugene Marathon) and July 6 (Freedom Marathon – Leg# 3 of the Firecracker Quadzilla) I ran three marathons and a 50K trail ultra. That was fun, and I learned that the technique of letting your last marathon be the long training run for the next one, actually works as long as you aren’t looking for BQ times. The better part of valour caused me to decide that running more marathons through the heat of Summer was not the best plan. Besides, there were some important other things to do, especially running the Hood to Coast Relay (Aug 23-24). It turns out that running a lot of slowish long races can put a bit of lead in your legs when it comes to picking up the pace for shorter events. The training plan turned to shorter faster workouts, some of them even on the track! Hood to Coast is a combination of distance and speed. Each of the three legs a team member runs is relatively short, and you run them quickly and in a period of maybe 18 hours. To add to the challenge, between runs you spend your time sitting in a crowded and ever more stinky van. Never had so much fun in all my life!  That is why this was my 8th Hood to Coast.

Summerfast 10K - photo by Keith Dunn

To get ready for H2C, as I like to call it, it seemed that a local Canada Day 5K was a good idea and also a flat, fast (the course, not me) 10K in late July. The race is called the Summerfast 10K.  Has to be fast, right? I did get a nice photo from near the 5K point in which I kind of look fast. I’m sticking with that as proof! I missed my annual participation of ancient Olympian style running (aka the Wreck Beach Bare Buns Run) due to impossible scheduling issues. Kind of sad about that since it is the first miss in a lot of years. Oh well, next year.

Hood to Coast arrived after much preparation and planning. Did I mention I am a planner?  Yes, I did. For H2C 2013 I was, and have been many times before, the team captain. Just to keep things interesting one of our team had to undergo emergency surgery just 5 days before we were to leave! Still can’t believe that she called from the hospital while awaiting the surgeon. That is dedication. I was able to find a replacement within 24 hours and in some kind of karmic thing, it was a woman who had been on my 2012 team but had not been able to run as a result of injury. This was her chance to make up for 2012. The relay itself was fabulous with really good running weather. We had a relatively late start, so hit the beach at Seaside as the sun was in the process of setting. Everyone was pretty euphoric about it, especially since everyone but me was new to running this event. I think everyone learns something about themselves as runners and as people. You have to dig deep to pull out three quality runs, sometimes fighting pain and always fatigue. I have yet to see a team where individuals have not found that inner strength and resolve. This is largely a fun event, but it is no less compelling and competitive for that fact. People just seem to want to give their best, whatever that might be, in support of the team.

So here I sit, writing this blog post and looking ahead to the Fall. Thus, the title “New Beginnings”.

Personally, I only have a few races ‘nailed down’. The first, of course, is the Kelowna Wine Country Half Marathon on September 7, just one day away, less than 12 hours actually. It is always fun and exciting to be part of something new and this is the inaugural running of the event. Kelowna is in the Okanagan area of British Columbia where our family lived for 10 years and it is where I began my running. It is where I met my ‘bobble-headed’ co-editor, Steve King, and where I recorded most of the PB’s I ever scored, several done in Kelowna.

In addition to the race there is the major bonus of visiting our oldest daughter and her family in Summerland, where we used to live. Can’t wait to hear the stories of our grandson, Charlie, who just completed his second Kids of Steel triathlon. Start ‘em young in the Okanagan, they does!

Next marathon will be the Surrey International World Music Marathon (Sept 29).  This is a real first for me, and my wife too. A very good and generous friend, with a fabulous imagination, gave us a rather unique gift for our 45th Wedding Anniversary: entries into the full (me) and half (wife will walk) marathons.  All I can say is thanks! I believe this person would not want me to name names, so I won’t, but will say just how touched we both are by this gift.

As far as the marathon goes, I think it is going to have to be pretty slow. Why? Well, because I am not trained for that distance. The Wine Country Half is going to be the longest distance I’ve done in some time. Of course, I consider races at pace to be worth a good deal more than a training run of the same distance. So, if I am racing 21.1K, it might be worth a 27-28K training run. That is September 7 and the Surrey marathon is September 29, leaving just 22 days between. Technically, a body should be on the verge of beginning a training taper, but I’m not sure how you taper down from a bunch of 10K or shorter races! My plan is that Surrey is going to have to be the ‘long run’ for what is to follow. I could get one more long easy run in, but some travel is going to make that a challenge. In fact, the Kelowna race is on the second day of a road-trip to Winnipeg, where our other daughter is now trying to entice me to run a 10K race in Winnipeg. Oh, why not! We lived in Manitoba for a time and I ran there, but never raced. Time to ‘fix’ that, I guess. You can only plan so much!

After the Surrey Marathon, there are a series of races about which decisions must be made. You see, I have a plan to become a Two Star Maniac.  There is more than one way to skin that cat, but the most likely for me is to run at least eight marathons in 365 days. I still have until April 27, 2014 to do four more in support of that quest. Thankfully, there is no finish time requirement by the Maniacs. Surrey will be No 5 of 8. That leaves three more to do before the end of April next year. If you are marathoning in the Maniac style, you need to bunch the races together so you only have to climb that training ladder once at the beginning. The Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon is a family favourite since about 2000, when our (now) Winnipeg daughter and I ran the full marathon. But, this time I will almost certainly be the only one running.

The same day, the Okanagan International Marathon happens in Kelowna, and that has other benefits already described above. Decisions must be made!

Foolishly or not, I am registered to run the full Reggae Marathon (already done the 10K and Half) in Negril, JA on December 7. Flights and hotel already booked. With one of the October races that would get me to seven of the eight marathons I need. The problem is that from mid-October to early December is just a bit too long to count on the rolling training/racing system without putting another marathon into the mix. Fortunately (or not) for me, the Boundary Bay Marathon is almost within walking distance of where I live. It is flat and scenic and kind of small and low key. That race falls on November 3rd, making it almost perfect as a set-up for the Reggae Marathon. I like to throw in a serious effort now and then, even if I am working on my Marathon Maniac program. Surrey certainly isn’t going to be it, just because of training. While Victoria has been one of my best race venues whether for half or full marathon, it is a challenging course and training level may still be an issue.

In fact, the most likely event for a reasonable time will be the Boundary Bay Marathon. With the upcoming Half, then two marathons under my belt as ‘training’, Boundary Bay’s flat scenic course may well offer the best opportunity for a time that is better than ‘just doing it’. As much as I love the Reggae Marathon, it is not for the perfect racing conditions and PB potentials!  Maybe tropical PB’s. Hadn’t thought of that.

As I said, there is always a plan. Should anything go sideways with what I’ve just laid out, there is the Yakima River Canyon Marathon in very early April. This event is organized by Bob and Lenore Dolphin and will feature several old friends. Bob is the ultimate Maniac with over 500 marathons/ultras to his name and is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes. Whether I need it or not re my effort to add another star to my Maniac status, I think there is a pretty good chance I’ll do this one anyway.

Well, there you have my picture of what the Fall has in the way of ‘New Beginnings’. Some really are new, including a brand new event,  and new participation by me in as many as five marathons I’ve never done (Surrey, Okanagan, Boundary Bay, Reggae and Yakima). I’ve been involved in other race distances at all of them except Yakima, but not the full marathon.

Again, this post is kind of about me, the subject I know the most about, but is also the base for sharing the idea that racing effectively and in a satisfying, injury-free way, does demand a plan. Many would plan training regimes as part of it, and if looking for top performance the training component is essential. In fact, my plan does imply training, but the events themselves become an integral part of that program. The events become the long run in the training plan(s) of the races.

As I have worked through the logistics of what is written here and examined both the feasibility and philosophy I think I am already beginning a plan relative to next year. If I can pull my Two Star Maniac plan off before Christmas or at the latest before the end of April next year, I am starting to see something new evolving. Marathons are fun, just because of the ambiance and ‘feel’ of them. They are also hard work, even when you use the Maniac system and don’t worry about time. If I pull all this off, Yakima could take me to 25 marathons/ultras, a nice round number.

My 2014 plan is starting to look like the ‘Year of the Half’, at least in my mind.  The half marathon is a wonderful event. It is not too hard to train for and puts you in good stead for shorter distances such as the 10K. If you are half marathon ready, training up to a full marathon is less demanding and doable in a fairly short time. The Vancouver area has some wonderful events to choose from. I still want to think about the possibility of doing a decent marathon time at some point. BQ? Who knows? Age graded ‘good’? Yes, for sure.

Seventy once seemed aged and far off. As I write, it is but 16 months (to the day) to that momentous birthday. Unless something awful happens, there WILL be racing after I turn 70 – at least one! I guess I should start looking for a race ON my birthday, not easy since it actually seems to fall on a Tuesday. See, that is why you must PLAN.  Maybe a nice trip somewhere would help solve the problem! Running and travel are two things I really enjoy.  I do still have some destination races I would like to do. Also, PB’s are fun and even though I am not actually fooling anyone, including myself, there are a couple of distances I have never done (30K, for instance) which would be automatic PB’s if only by virtue of being the first and only time I’ve done such races.

Hope I’ve inspired a few loyal readers to get started with their own planning for the coming racing season!  See you at the races!

 

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

The paths less taken: where do elite athletes run when they get older? – Contribution by Nancy Tinari

05.27.2013

I won the Shaughnessy 8K in 2008 as a 48-year-old. It was my last good racing season.

When I read Dan Cumming’s post “Passion With Perspective” here on Running in the Zone, I  found myself nodding in agreement with many of Dan’s insights. At the same time, I was inwardly  comparing his experiences of being an aging runner with my own. I thought I’d like to explore the topic of aging from thepoint of view of an athlete who formerly competed at an international level.

As some of this blog’s readers might know, I had a successful career as a Canadian team member from 1978 to 1988, participating in the World Cross Country Championships seven times as well as competing in the Pan-Am Games, the World Student Games, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships, and the Olympics. I raced the 3,000m early on in a couple of these meets, but my best distance, the one I raced in the 1988 Olympics, was the 10,000m.

Competing (#82) in the 10,000m event at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul (CP Photo/COA/F.S. Grant)

I was also fortunate enough to be able to make a good income from road racing, during those years in the 1980s before African women began to race at the same levels as their male counterparts.

[* Note: The Olympic running photo in this post was taken from the Library and Archives website of Canada at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca, used with permission. You can view other photos of me running at the Olympics at http://tiny.cc/nf64kw .]

Dan explains that the title, “Passion With Perspective” refers to his attempt to answer the question of “how we manage the inevitable”—that is, aging, and the resulting decline in running performance. I would say that for an elite athlete, being able to put this decline into perspective is harder in some ways but easier in others compared to what an “average-but-dedicated” runner experiences.

When an elite athlete is past his prime, he can make three different choices about how to continue running (or not):

1)     Continue pursuing high performance by training all-out and competing in both open and masters competition at the highest available levels. This was the choice I made (though not without ambivalence) until a severe injury stopped me four years ago.

2)     Retire from competition entirely. An athlete who makes this choice may stop running completely, or may continue running recreationally.

3)     Continue running and racing but in a relaxed way, without running being the focus of one’s lifestyle and energy.

Although I chose path #1, I understand the reasons for each choice; all are valid, and all have their pros and cons. It’s not so much the path taken as the attitude brought to each choice that is important. In addition, regardless of which choice they make regarding their own running, many elite athletes choose to give back to the sport they love by getting involving in coaching, administration, officiating, public speaking, writing, or some combination of these. Some athletes turn their running passion and expertise into their livelihood by creating a running-focused business.
Others volunteer their time, often very generously.

I can think of many former elite athletes of my generation (and there are many more) who have become successful running coaches:
Brit Townsend, Cindy O’Krane, Richard Lee, Steve Boyd, Kevin O’Connor, Jerry Ziak, Art Boileau, Lucy Smith, and Marilyn Arsenault.

Pros and cons of each choice

1)      Continuing the pursuit of high performance

Cons

The runner who chooses to continue chasing high performance is going to have to make the same sacrifices he or she made as a younger runner—that is, devoting a lot of time and energy to training and racing. And for what? To achieve times that, predictably, will get slower and slower. This kind of runner is unafraid of facing the reality of physical decline. As Dan notes in his post, this is where age-graded results become the new goals. No elite runner who trained correctly when they were young will set PBs in their 40s and 50s—that is not physical reality. No, the  goal becomes “I was a 93% runner when I was young, so I’ll try to better a 93% age-graded performance each year.”

Pros

Here I am leading the 45-49 age group of the women’s 1,500m at the USATF Masters Track & Field Championships in Spokane, 2008. This was my last track race. Photo: Warren McCulloch

I think the positive aspect of making this choice to continue striving for excellence is the willingness to give one’s all; to affirm that the fighting spirit is worth a lot. It’s also very inspiring to see that the human body is indeed capable of performing amazing physical feats well into its sixth, seventh, or eighth decade. These performances can encourage middle-aged and older people to become physically active.

 

Older elite athletes have to accept that not only will they get slower, but they will not get the attention and hero-worship they used to. Even at a Masters World Championship, no one is watching—no one cares—except the other masters competitors. And that isn’t surprising. Athletic performance is not just about finding the limits of what the human body can do, but also about appreciating the beauty, aesthetic harmony, and power of the human body at its best; that is, in youth.

 

I paced the 1,500m stupidly by surging too soon and too dramatically, and ended up in second place when I should have won. Oh, the pain! Photo: Warren McCulloch

Masters performance can only be about finding what the limits of a human body are at a given age. Some older runners are still beautiful to watch: most are not. Masters runners need to have a good sense of humour about this. Go to a masters championship meet and what do you see? Bald heads, cellulite, lumps in funny places, and lots of wrinkles. Butt wrinkles! Even women with lean, girlish bodies, who look like teenagers from a distance, can’t escape the ravages of wrinkles. And these are the fittest old bodies on the planet!

 

I remember going to a US Masters Championship in Eugene when I was a “young” master of 35 (I was a bit injured and only ran in the 8K cross-country race). I remember laughing and cringing as I watched the men’s 60+ steeplechasers on the track. They were so pitiful! Some of them crawled over the hurdles; others fell in the water jump and waded slowly out. Now that I’m disabled and getting closer to age 60 (without ever having done a steeplechase), I have a lot more admiration for those runners than I did back then.

 

More cons

Masters athletes who are focused on elite performance run the risk of making unwise choices about balance in their lives, of not putting their athletic achievements in proper perspective. Are relationships (with a spouse or children) being neglected because of a single-minded devotion to running? Are careers stagnating, or (as in my case) not being started? My own particular set of life circumstances was complicated, but I have some regrets about not trying to start a writing career earlier, and I might have been able to do that had I not been so focused on running.

 

Also, I think it’s sad if older athletes are too focused on themselves. We expect older people to share their wisdom by coaching and encouraging young people. We expect them to be willing to “take a backseat role” and accept that young athletes should have the spotlight.

 

More pros

There are compensations to competing in Masters World Championships, even though the spotlights are lacking. First of all, Masters Championships differ from Open Championships because anyone can take part, as long as they pay. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie at these meets. I’ve found, generally, that masters athletes are tremendously supportive of each other. They have to be! In your regular life, everyone thinks you’re a crazy fanatic, but at a Masters meet, everyone is just like you!

 

Only other masters athletes can fully appreciate what a good performance is, and understand how age grading works. Only other competitors can understand the sacrifices and pain you accept, and the reasons you want to do this.

 

Dave Reed, Kim Ross, Nancy Tinari, and Warren McCulloch: Phoenix Running Club teammates at the USATF Masters Champs in 2008. Dave Reed ran the last race of his life here, to finish a very respectable 5th place in the 1,500m 50–54 division. Photo: Warren McCulloch

 

2)     Retiring from  racing (and possibly running) completely

Pros

Some elite athletes, when they are in their twenties or thirties, choose to retire completely from competition. Although I didn’t choose this route, I understand it completely. The rigours of hard training and the intense pressures of high-level competition can’t be sustained indefinitely, and they may force an athlete to delay or even miss other important aspects of life, such as attaining advanced degrees, getting married, having children, or advancing a career outside of running. I think it’s admirable and normal for people to decide to put the energy they once devoted to running into other pursuits.

 

Some elite athletes, after retiring, continue running casually for fitness, relaxation, or as a social activity.

Cons

A negative side to quitting running could happen if the former athlete decides to stop running and all other physical activities completely. Obviously, this could be bad for their health. Such athletes may have never enjoyed running that much and done it for purely practical reasons, such as a means of getting a university scholarship.

 

3)     Continuing to run and race, but at a recreational level

Pros

Quite a few elite athletes make this choice, which is probably the most “sensible” one. It allows the former elite runner to keep fit and maintain friendships and connections with the sport. Often, this is when the runner’s focus may shift from his own performance to helping others in the ways I mentioned above, such as coaching.

 

This choice is a healthy one both physically and psychologically. Decreasing the hours and intensity of training means the person has more energy to give to a job and/or family and friends. A runner who trains and races moderately is less likely to get injured.

 

Cons

Although easing off the intensity of running seems to be a “rational” choice, for many formerly elite runners (including myself), it is a difficult one to make. It means giving up income and travel opportunities that are possible if one races well as a master. It means giving up one’s “star” status and all the ego rewards that come with that. It may mean having to find a new career if running has been a full-time pursuit. It means redefining one’s sense of identity—what is my worth if I’m not a great runner?

 

In his “Passion with Perspective” post, Dan writes that if he asked serious runners the question, “Who would you be if you could not run?,” most would answer, “Someone who used to love running and now runs no more.”

 

Well, during the past four years I’ve been able to run little or not at all. And while it’s true that many runners would give the answer Dan suggests, I rebel against it. To me, it’s sad and defeatist if I can only define myself in terms of running. An elite runner who derives his entire identity and self-worth from his running performances is going to be psychologically in trouble, and maybe pathetic, if he is forced to stop running before he is ready.

 

For decades, I got much of my identity, and many rewards, from running. I wasn’t ready to stop when an ACL tear, followed by a fall and the resulting cartilage damage and advanced arthritis in my knee, forced me to stop.

 

But although it hasn’t been easy, I’ve started a new career as a writer and editor. And although I’m inevitably “typecast” as a runner, and my past as an elite runner has opened doors for me, I’ve known since I first learned to read that books and writing are a core part of my identity.

 

I’ve gone through many periods of depression and denial since the day I tore my ACL over four years ago. I had reconstruction surgery of the ACL done in January of 2010. However, I’d already fallen and damaged my cartilage, and further surgery to remove the cartilage a year later didn’t help. When I went for my post-surgery consultation, optimistic that my surgeon would tell me I’d be able to run more again, I received a nasty verdict. He told me I wouldn’t be able to run at all anymore, and the conversation turned to knee braces and ways to delay knee replacement.

 

Silver linings

However, both my body and mind have been able to adapt. In the past two years, I’ve discovered that I can run up to about 6K twice a week. Maybe this has been possible because I’m very light, or because I work consistently at strengthening my quads and other muscles around the knee, and do Pilates to keep my flexibility. I’m immensely grateful that I can run a little bit; it’s infinitely better than not being able to run at all.

 

But it took a huge change in mindset for me to accept that I’d never be able to run fast or far again. I miss my running friends and the hard workouts and races I used to share with them.

 

During the past two years, whenever I’ve tried to run further or more often, my knee has reacted badly and I’ve had to stop running for weeks. I’ve learned to accept these up-and-down cycles, and to curb my natural greediness to run more and my desire to improve.

 

The secret to be healthy psychologically is to always focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. I’ve discovered a host of “silver linings” inside my sometimes-depressing cloud of being able to run so little.

  • Every run is a fun run, because I’m never overtired.
  • I can choose to run when the weather is good.
  • If my knee cooperates, I can run at the “sweet spot” pace—fast enough to breathe hard and feel I’m running, rather than jogging, but not fast enough to be in distress.
  • I still work out every day, for about an hour on average. My training is varied and well-balanced: it includes running, cycling, swimming, weights and cardio machine workouts at the gym, and Pilates.
  • None of my workouts leaves me completely exhausted, as I used to be so often. Since my immune system isn’t stressed by extreme training, I virtually never get sick.

“The ultimate standard I have set for myself is that I must enjoy running.”

To me, this statement of Dan’s perfectly captures the healthiest attitude for an aging runner to take. It also captures the biggest silver lining for me about my demotion from elite runner status to that of a twice-a-week (if I’m lucky), pretty slow runner. I love and appreciate every minute of the 25- to 30-minute runs that are my norm.

In the past, there were many times I didn’t enjoy my running or my other workouts. Some people might not think about some of the sacrifices that elite athletes make. We all know they run fast, hard, and often. But for me, being an elite athlete also meant being totally exhausted four days out of seven, every week, all year long. It meant not being able to do nearly as much of the “enjoyable” kinds of running—such as doing
long trails runs—because they would have hindered rather than improved my speed. It meant doing anaerobic track workouts that I usually hated. It meant dealing with the disappointment and pain of frequent injuries. Because of these injuries, for most of my career I had to do long, boring workouts on exercise bikes to make up for the distance running my body couldn’t handle.

There were also the pressures of competition. I suffered frequently from insomnia, especially when I travelled, and often raced on little or no sleep. When you are at a big road race or an Olympics, you run whether you feel well or not—barring serious injury. I ran sick at the Olympics
and I remember racing the Lilac Bloomsday 12K race one year after spending most of the night in the bathroom with digestive problems. You just tough it out the best you can.

Of course, it was all worth it—and not just for the money—there are easier ways to make the kind of money that is possible for any runner but the top international superstars. Few experiences in life rival the elation and triumph of winning a race, or even racing well no matter what your finishing position. Nothing beats the endorphin boost and relaxation that follow a tough workout.

But now, like Dan, I will be thankful for whatever days, months, or years I am able to simply enjoy running.

Editor’s Note: I was thrilled when Nancy offered to augment my own thoughts on this topic. While I may be a good observer, there is nothing like the perspective of the person who has ‘been there and done that’.  Nancy modestly offers that she has taken up the writing that had to wait while she was too busy training and running. If you have enjoyed this piece, then you should make it a point to head on over to her own blog site: Nancy Runs & Writes, where you can find more of her insights and perspectives on life and running.

PASSION WITH PERSPECTIVE

05.20.2013

People who are good at anything generally have passion for it, whatever it may be. Sometimes people who aren’t all that ‘good’ still have tremendous passion for what they do. In my opinion, we runners rank right up there when it comes to passion for our ‘thing’.

So, what is this ‘Passion with Perspective’?

Not for one second am I going to suggest that you can excel without the passion that lets you dig down for what you need. Let? Maybe, MAKES you dig down for what you need.  Does anybody but me hate it when people tell you: “now just take it easy and don’t hurt yourself out there”? Right – that’s what I thought.

So that isn’t what I’m talking about when I say ‘perspective’. I suppose this could be written for any runner who has come to a sudden stop in his or her running career, including elites who suffer a catastrophic injury or health problem. However, I believe it more applies to athletes who are aging and slowing and all that stuff for which they made age grading systems to give comfort. (That would be me, of course.)

In this case, what I am talking about when I use the term ‘perspective’ is how we manage the inevitable. I am privileged to get up close to a lot of excellent athletes and observe their passions for the sport and see them live it. Many more are just people who take their running very seriously  (it could really be anything else, but this blog is about running and runners). Performance in absolute terms has little to do with it in the general sense, but I imagine that the better an individual is, the more acute the situation.

I have seen a fair number of individuals who seem to define themselves by their running and running performance. There are really two levels here: running as such and running well. The issue comes down to: who would you be if you could not run? For most, the answer is probably ‘someone who used to love running and now runs no more’. The same could be said for those who once ran well and can now only run recreationally or for general health benefits. I have seen some runners who have lost their passion or at least deny it, once they are no longer able to perform at peak levels. I have seen others who have turned that passion in a different direction, while still celebrating it and using it to drive something different such as coaching or promoting involvement in our sport.

I have faced this abrupt change once when my mediocre, but personally satisfying running was brought to a sudden halt by a ruptured disk in my back. I had not run while I was a young adult, only beginning (as is the case with many) as I hit 40. From that point, and for the next 3-4 years, my performances got steadily better. All my PB’s come from the 12-15 months just prior to my back problem. The trend was to better and better times, so had the back thing not happened, I’m not sure where my PB’s might have wound up, or for that matter, what I would be doing today in terms of running. But, it DID happen and I had to deal with it.

After I was repaired, I did run again but my times were never quite what they once were, and my body was no longer as it once was. The post surgery times actually weren’t all that bad or so much slower, but it was clear that I had seen my best running days, at least in absolute terms. In my best running days I got down to a sub-20 minute 5K and a marathon under 3:25 (no chips then so I have to estimate just a little) and all the relatively similar times for distances between. Maybe that was actually the best I was ever going to do anyway, but we will never know. It is what it is (or was).

That was the first time I had to put some perspective into my passion. I could have said I would never be as good as I was, so I might as well quit and feel sorry for myself. Instead, I accepted that loving running was bigger than running to any particular standard.  Frankly, the only real standard I have set for myself, was and is, running my best. More importantly, I guess the ultimate standard I have set for myself is that I must enjoy running. I can honestly say that I do love running for its own sake and as hard as a race experience may be I still love the competition part too.  I was never really good enough to make goals to beat anyone in particular or win races. The odd time there was a podium place, but that was never really what drove my passion. Loved it when it happened, but was always a bonus. I’m sure I’m hardly unique in that regard.

[As an aside, I should say that this article has taken some time to write as it is not particularly time-sensitive and I did want to be particularly thoughtful about it. I have let it stew a bit and had various thoughts along the way.

As I was out running yesterday, I was thinking about whether my running has EVER impressed anyone but me. I suddenly realized that it has, if not 'impressed' then definitely impacted quite a number of people. The interesting part is not that anyone has ever been that impressed with my blinding speed (cough, choke) but rather that the older I get and slower I go there are more and more impressed with the very fact that I do keep going as the weeks, months and years add up! It is gratifying to me that people openly show that recognition and pleasing to me that perhaps my exploits do encourage others.]

OK, back to the original story line. In my own case, other stuff got in the way of steady competition after I was healed and healthy, and while my first marathon was in 1988 and my second in 2000, there were other shorter distances that happened through summer of 1989 and picked up again in 1991-92 and then sputtered to life again in 1998, it was 12 years between my first and second marathon. Even without the back problem, twelve years is a LONG time between events you want to compare. Again, yay for age grading. Age, is the operative word. That is something that hits us all, Ed Whitlock notwithstanding, and when you get right down to it, Ed too. The question is really one of how we accept the inevitable, or experience ‘Passion with Perspective’.

I have known people who set some arbitrary time in their heads for a particular distance and consider running over that time to be failure. Failure of such import that it defines them, at least in their own minds. I had a small dose of that in a recent marathon in Eugene when I ran 4:55. I did achieve something that was part of a decision point, and that was going under 5 hours. However, once I got home and could play a rousing game of ‘fun with numbers’ it came out that using age grading for long-term comparison, that was my 7th best performance out of 17. When you take into account the calendar, that time was relatively better than some much quicker absolute times done at a more tender age.  Could I have gone faster? Well, in this instance, yes I think I could. I can easily explain away about 1.5 minutes from the finish time, and know that with better race management, maybe another 5-10 minutes could have been foregone. That said, it is a far cry from my 3:25 done in 1988.  Aaah, but you see, there is the point.  The 3:25 happened 25 years ago (almost to the day). So here is my second application of perspective to my passion for running. As I already said, this is one we will all face in relative terms.  Some may see themselves failed if they can’t do a 3:00, or 4:00 hour marathon (or 16 minute 5K).  Right now, 5 hours is kind of my magic number but then I realize I never achieved less than three hours and have no idea if I ever had the potential to go sub-three. I have documented proof that I could go sub-four, but even that is now a thing of the past. I feel just as passionate about running. I love it and I love competition. As long as I feel like it is a good thing for me, I will continue.  When I don’t feel competitive running is healthy, I hope I will still be able to just run for pleasure. Passion with perspective.

I am trying to set out some ideas without stooping to saying that we all just have to suck it up and face reality and stop whinging about what we can do now and letting that somehow define us.  I’m trying.  In truth there are some far worse things than not being able to run as fast as we once could.  Everyone has his/her own view. I wrote this because I have known a few who appear to me to be taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach. In my opinion that is an inevitable path to failure and serious personal difficulty.  Hopefully, in the end it all turns out in the “well, that was fun while it lasted, and I was pretty awesome even if I do say so myself” category.

My current ‘passion’ seems to have become trying out this whole ‘Marathon Maniac’ approach for the next while. Running a marathon and a 50K ultra in a period of 13 days certainly seems to qualify. I have another marathon scheduled for early June, but then life gets in the way for a bit, so may have to look at the Fall and plan a series of races that work on several levels. I’ll let you know how that works out. In the meantime, I hope this post has given readers something to ponder.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now available in e-Book format from Trafford Publishing.