category : ‘Race Reports/Favorite Races’


The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

The magical turn off Hereford onto Boylston for the dash to the Finish!

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the terror filled tragedy of the ‘old’ Boston Marathon. TV and other news has been full of file footage of that terrible day and the anniversary ceremony at the finish on Boylston Street on April 15, 2014. We have also been seeing some amazing stories of the survivors and how they have coped and fared in the past year, and of the heroes of the day, doing what they could to help those who so desperately needed that help on April 15, 2013. Sadly, while it would be nice to put the horror behind and follow the idea of Boston Strong, the truth is the surviving terrorist is still awaiting trial. Even more sadly, so many people are going to live out their lives with the real physical consequences of that day and those acts of small-minded destruction. The story is not yet fully written.

The only thing I knew when I started writing this piece was that as a runner, a marathoner and an aspirant to one day be a Boston Marathoner, I had to say something. What I would say was another matter. Please do not get me wrong when I say I don’t want to ‘join the chorus’ of commentary and commemoration. Mostly, that is because so many have already said it so well. As I sat at the keyboard trying to order my thoughts enough to start writing, the title came to me. I believe it has meaning on a number of levels. Hopefully, what follows will do justice to the idea.

In a sad and awful way, the ‘OLD’ Boston Marathon ended, died if you will, last April. In what follows, there should be no confusion over the fact that a number of people and their families were personally and directly impacted by the events of the day and the several days following the actual bombing. But, beyond that and among those who had not a hair physically disturbed, there is a huge community that has suffered an emotional blow of great significance. I count myself among the members of that community even though I have never run Boston, and truth be told, likely never will, personal aspirations notwithstanding. For all marathoners, Boston stands iconically before us. I suppose that the closer we are to the Boston Qualifier line, the more special and iconic it becomes.  What I have been, is a spectator as I stood along the finish stretch on Boylston Street, waiting for my daughter to complete her first Boston Marathon. So, while I haven’t run Boston, I have definitely experienced it. Although I’ve never seen the need to plot out exactly where I stood relative to where the second bomb exploded, I just know that I was close enough to have seen the mayhem up close and way too personally.

Flashing back to even a moment before that first cowardly explosion, the ‘old’ Boston Marathon was in the process of continuing the happy and glorious tradition of delivering another Boston finish to thousands of people, including a great many who were about to become Boston Finishers for the first time. For well over 100 years the tradition had continued on fair days and foul, hot and cold, in sunshine and from time to time in sleet and snow. Of course, in the earliest days it was a runners’ race (as were all marathons), but since around 1970 it had become a mass event that caught the imagination of all serious marathon runners. There are people who have run the event multiple times. Among them are even past elites and winners returning for whatever personal reason, to do the race one more time. As with all such events, there are probably as many reasons and stories out there as there are runners. That said, I am ready to assume that in almost every case the motivation was/is positive and the fulfillment happy and satisfying.

The ‘All New’ Boston Marathon can no longer be that simple and innocent. It now exists in a different light and circumstance. Naturally, there is still the BQ to be achieved, a personal accomplishment worthy of satisfaction in its own right. In fact, if you are near the cut-off line, the BQ is no longer a guarantee of an entry, yet it is still a most satisfying achievement. That has changed only perhaps in the sense of a renewed resolve by so many runners to strive for that mark, and a desire to show we will not be deterred by a couple of cowards.

Although I have heard some non-running folk wonder how we can still aspire to run Boston, I have not met one marathoner who would not jump at the chance to go. And, even though I have no direct knowledge of what is happening on the streets of Boston, I get the impression that the City is not about to let the events of 2013 bow the spirit of this signature event.

And, speaking of marathoners jumping at the chance, I have a personal ‘tracking list’ of runners I know and will be following on Monday April 21, 2014. That list is the longest it has ever been. At least one of those is someone with whom I run in a training clinic and who was stopped just short of her finish after the bombs went off last year. She, like so many others, is going back to finish what she started. Clearly, Judy is NOT alone. Our coach here in Vancouver, BC, a Canadian Olympian at marathon and 10,000m, decided he would run and fund raise for the Boston One Fund. He and some eight or nine runners from our clinic will be running and Carey will be bringing a nice cheque for the Fund. And, perhaps in keeping with this renewed spirit, and notwithstanding that he is an Olympic athlete, this will be his first Boston.

Elite Male Leaders (2009) pass crowds of thrilled spectators near half way.

Elite Male Leaders (2009) pass crowds of thrilled spectators near half way.

Back in November I hosted a guest blogger, Jetola Anderson-Blair, who recounted her road to running in one of the most popular posts I’ve put up on this site. She will be running her first Boston Marathon on Monday. But, she and all those other people will run the ‘All New’ Boston Marathon. Usually, ”All New” goes along with “and Improved”. I cannot think there is any way to claim the enhanced security is an improvement to the nature and quality of the event. Even though the push-back and defiance of both runners and spectators will be inspiring, something will be lost. The whole thing must lose spontaneity. I remember watching for daughter Janna, near half way. As always, the members of the crowd watched and cheered for all who passed, but we also craned necks to spot our runners and inevitably, the sideline would push onto the course as everyone tried to see past the others standing ‘up-stream’ from us. The army reservists would order and push us back, yet always with a smile. The ‘order’ to move back was always good natured, firm but good natured and it was just a happy party with cow bells and balloons and lots of signs. Not so far down the road the runners would encounter the famous (infamous?) Wellesley Girls and all their whooping (a wall of high pitched sound that can be heard blocks before they’re seen) offering of kisses to worthy runners. The party at the roadside meant people had lawn chairs and coolers with snacks and beverages. Flags and signs abounded. That was the ‘old’ Boston Marathon. Near the finish, where I stood with her now husband awaiting Janna’s grand finale, there were virtual encampments of people, well supplied and settled in for the day to cheer every random stranger. I fear too that will now be part of the ’old’ Boston Marathon.

We are told there will be many, many more and new security arrangements this time including more soldiers on the course, CCTV surveillance of every inch of the course and strict rules about what both runners and spectators can have by way of ‘baggage’ to carry clothes (for the runners) and supplies for the day (for spectators). That alone is going to change the tone of the event. It has to. Will the participants and spectators let this stop them? Hardly. Will it change how things work? Most likely.

How the finish should be. Canadian flag, sign "Auntie Janna Rocks"

How the finish should be. Canadian flag, sign “Auntie Janna Rocks”

Remember those soldiers who were keeping us firmly yet gently under control out along the route? Do you suppose they will be feeling quite as relaxed this year? Do you suppose they will feel a huge sense of responsibility to be vigilant and in control? Do you think orders to ‘move back’ will be given in quite as good humoured a way as when I was there in 2009? Is there much of a chance of a repeat of 2013? Probably not. However, this is the very nature of the terrorist act. As awful as it was for those directly harmed, it is ultimately the impact on so many more going forward that is the goal. It is the loss of innocence and sense of comfort and well-being in our normal life. Every bag left on a curb while someone finds a washroom is now a threat. Every person looking out of place, nervous or uncertain is no longer a lost tourist, but rather a potential suspect. Still, organizers and officials cannot ignore the responsibility to ensure, as much as reasonably possible, the safety of everyone involved, and thereby will emerge the “All New Boston Marathon”.

For my part and (sadly) from afar, I will be concentrating on the positive human spirit that will certainly be on display. In time, I believe that spirit will triumph over terror. For 2015, I know there is going to be a tangible show of strength, a refusal to bow down or cower at home in fear of what might be. Oh yes, there will be visible and much expanded security provisions. That will be a reality that cannot and will not be ignored, but I am equally confident that the Spirit of the event and the determination of everyone involved will ultimately define the day. Not by choice (rather be there running) I will be home, glued to my computer screen as I follow the elite races and track my friends. While there is one Canadian woman with a chance to do well, almost all those I will be cheering for are just going to be running for personal satisfaction and their own moment of glory. I will be cheering for them as I watch and tick off each one as she or he finishes. I will not be alone, I know. I will watch the elite coverage and maybe almost as much as the amazing performances of the runners, I will take note of the crowds along the route. Those are special people and April 21 is going to be a special day.


The Banner Says It All.

The Banner Says It All.

This past weekend I took myself and my lovely wife off to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. I’ve known about the event for years, but it never quite seemed to fit my schedule. The reason I have known of the event is that it is organized by Team Dolphin (aka Bob and Lenore Dolphin). Bob wrote for Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes and was the first to ‘introduce’ me to Marathon Maniacs. Every ‘Maniac’ has a number. For instance, mine is #6837. Team Dolphin is a bit unique in that it/they hold #32 and are the only twosome member(s). Long story, but the Maniacs accepted that Lenore’s contributions and support warranted recognition. When I first met Bob, he was already somewhere north of 350 marathons, but it was changing so fast it was hard to keep track. He both inspired me re the Maniacs and intimidated me. He was the only Maniac I knew then and my main response to his records amounted to: “I’m not worthy!”.  This weekend, Bob did #502. He is a bit easier to keep track of these days in regard to his totals. It seems at 84 he has slowed down a bit in events run per year, as well as pace.

Knowing there would be a gathering of people this year to celebrate the 14th Yakima River Canyon Marathon, I decided I would put it on my to-do list. Then, having decided that at least for now, Two Stars was enough for this Marathon Maniac, I resolved to not run as many this year as last (six marathons and an ultra). One or two – that would be it. Then I started leading a pace group with Forerunners (again), but the target race is the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 4. Timing was off re training for an early April marathon. I decided that maybe this wasn’t my year for Yakima. THEN, I got ’talking’ with Roger Robinson and realized I needed to find a way to make it work. Wouldn’t you know it, when something is supposed to happen, it just seems to work out. My clinic pace group is all half marathoners this time. I’m the only one training for the ‘full’. Our long run of 36km is next weekend. And, well, 42km isn’t that much farther (ok, yes it is) than 36km. I realized I could go enjoy Yakima and everything related, take an easy pace and call the race a training run (of sorts), then take an easy week with our half marathoners and slide back into the taper program for Vancouver. That was it then! Signed up and headed for Yakima.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

A Drive-Through Preview of the Route.

The route is precisely Canyon Road and it pretty much follows the Yakima River, starting just outside Ellensberg, WA and finishing near Selah. It is a beautiful route and the road is closed to pretty much all but very specific local traffic. Since you are going down river, naturally there is a net drop in elevation. The views along the river range from pretty to pretty spectacular. I would not say it is an easy course. There are two testing hills and the worst of those comes at about 22 miles or so. Good thing I was using this for training!  Don’t get me wrong. I paid the fee, ate the pasta, got the shirt and finisher medal and attended all the related events. Hey, the prizes go five deep in this race, so I even got a fifth place prize in my age group. All in all, a pretty good weekend, I’d say.

This is a bit of purist event and old school, too. It is a MARATHON. Period.  There is no Half, no 5K/8K/10K, kids’ fun run or anything else. It is a MARATHON.  Don’t get me wrong. There were a good many first timers. That said, there were a whole lot of Seasoned Athletes and because of the status and stature of Bob Dolphin as a multi-marathoner, there was a huge contingent of Marathon Maniacs and members of the 100 Marathon Club. The official Maniac count (according to the Race Calendar page) was 86. There were 395 finishers, so almost 25% of the runners were Maniacs. I have run a lot more marathons than a lot of people, but my effort this weekend was number 24, kind of puny in this company! Among those in attendance were Maniac #1 (Steven Yee, aka Main Maniac) and #3 (Tony Phillippi).

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

One of the big draws and a sign of the respect this event and these people garner, the featured speakers were Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Joe Henderson was there. Joe and Roger are also contributors to Running in the Zone (the book). A major contingent came in from Vancouver, with a couple of Lions Gate Road Runners, Frank Stebner and Margaret Buttner doing the honours to introduce Roger and Kathrine. The fearsome threesome of Frank, Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner were joined by Marty Wanless (all LGRR folk) who operated a major support team, especially for Kathrine and Roger. She, arriving from Mallorca and he from New Zealand just in time for the big event, and both jetting off to other distant locations the day after the race. The people in the room represented a rich cross-section of running people. Another notable was Martin Rudow, editor of Northwest Runner.

While I doubt there is anyone out there (at least who would be reading this blog) that doesn’t know who Kathrine Switzer is, it never hurts to understand her contributions to women’s running in particular, but the modern sport in general, by quietly taking a spot in the 1967 Boston Marathon. The young women running today, at all distances, but particularly marathons and more, probably have little or no idea what women faced, even in 1967 when it came to attitudes to the risks they faced should they DARE to venture beyond 800m of so. Roger talked about some of this in discussing his brand new book, “Spirit of the Marathon, which was launched at Yakima. The whole story can be found there but while women were running all over the world, it wasn’t until 1960 that the 800m was to become a turning point for women’s elite racing and was introduced to the Olympics after a one-shot trial in 1928. The women’s marathon was unthinkable. It did not make an entrance in the Olympics until 1984. Kathrine Switzer had no small part in bringing that about, but if you want more on that story, you’d best pick up a copy of Marathon Woman or visit her web site. She explained that she just wanted to run and meet the challenge of Boston. She did not intend to make a statement, but the furor her presence caused spurred her to make good (my words) on the promise of finishing that first Boston Marathon. And the rest, as they say, is history. But what a history. To be clear, the ‘girl’ that finished Boston in an unremarkable time of 4:20, went on to win the New York City Marathon and to record sub-three hour marathon times including a return to Boston to post a 2:51. Along with everything else, Kathrine Switzer is a serious runner in any context you want to apply.

It was fascinating to listen to Roger, the historian, renowned sport commentator and writer (and very fine runner in his own right, having set Masters records at Boston, New York, and several other races incuding my personal favourite, Vancouver, a record that still stands at 2:18:43) and Kathrine, very much a part of women’s marathon history. Any time you get a chance to hear either of these two, or even better, both at the same time, grab it. The audience was enthralled. We were all marathoners or friends and family of marathoners and we knew what we were being treated to in having this dynamic duo right there with us. Still, I can’t help think how normal it now seems for women to run and run long distances. Boys, in case you don’t know it, there are more of them than us these days. Generally speaking, the only event in which there are still more men than women is the full marathon. Kathrine warned us that while men still have the power factor and will be faster at the standard distances, women have an endurance factor that lets them keep going.

'Repeat Offenders' Being Gifted with "26.2 Marathon Stories" by Switzer and Robinson

‘Repeat Offenders’ Being Gifted with “26.2 Marathon Stories” by Switzer and Robinson

This did not start out to be a report on the main speakers, but it was something that could not be missed out either. The big story is the community of runners and supporters present for that weekend, and the unique nature of the Yakima Marathon. I would say that while many races lay on a full weekend of ‘action’, few are quite like this one. It is not to say the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is better than others, but it IS truly one of a kind. I posted on the Marathon Maniac Facebook page that this is not to be looked at as what you might call a ‘hit and run’ event. In other words, you really shouldn’t dart in, do your race, and dash off. You would miss too much. The Maniacs are renowned for doing lots of marathons and sometimes that means doing two per weekend! I’m sure there may have been one or two that did do the fast in and out, but most people in attendance knew this was a full weekend affair. There was even a Sunday breakfast where there were a good 50 or so of us still around.

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

Near Mile 3, Encouragement from KV Switzer (261) Herself. (Photo courtesy of M. Buttner)

Now what of this “New/Old” thing in the title. Pretty simply, if you haven’t already figured it out, it was a ‘new’ look on my part at an ‘old’ or more traditional way of staging an event. In some ways it was kind of bare bones and purist in nature. Everything that had to be done right (safety, course measurement, traffic, volunteers, timing) was done right. That happens when runners organize the race. But, the shirt is cotton and the medal is basic with not a hope or intention of keeping up with the bling you get from some races today. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tech shirts and fancy medals as much as anyone, but the charm of the Yakima River Canyon Marathon is that it is by runners for runners and is community. This year was ‘bigger and better’ with Roger and Kathrine in attendance, but you could tell there were a good many regulars who would be there regardless. I believe there were some 17 who had done all fourteen of the races to date, but a relative few who were there for the first time. There were families with as many as three or more members doing the marathon, some of the younger of them running their very first. Finishers ranged from 15 to 86 and times from 2:47 to just over 9 hours. My own category of M65-69 had twelve finishers and the M70-74 included another twelve. In fact, nearly 11% of finishers were senior citizens (over 65). This event recognizes the spirit of the marathon and provides a big enough time window to let those who want to do so, to take on this distance at whatever pace they need to do.

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Bob and Lenore are not just the Race Directors, they are your hosts, and gracious/welcoming hosts at that. Lenore started it all off at the Friday pasta feed, giving out accolades and recognitions, and finished it Sunday with more of the same at the breakfast wind-up, not to mention the actual awards dinner on Saturday. Don’t think you are getting in and out of those events quickly either. How she does it, I’m not sure, but there is a story about each and every person mentioned. Talk about personal. Talk about family or community.

The race itself is as good as any, technically speaking, but the EVENT is unique and outstanding. If you want a marathoning experience that will really tell you what the heart and soul of distance running is about, put the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on your list. Do it NOW. The next race is scheduled for March 28, 2015. You need to be there. You need to plan to take the full weekend and experience all of it.





Logo 2014In just a couple of days, a stellar field of elites will line up just in front of 2000 eager and avid runners at the Start of the 25th First Half Half Marathon. Over the years this event has attracted some of our best runners, including many Canadian Olympic distance runners. A good many of them will be in Sunday’s field as well, some even contending for Masters and Age Group glory. It is interesting that there is a tie-in to the Olympics because this is the 25th First Half, but NOT the 25th ANNUAL First Half. That is because in 2010, Vancouver/Whistler’s Winter Olympics displaced the race.

As a former Race Director of this great Vancouver event, it became the decision of my 2010 Race Committee and me to cancel rather than cobble together a race. Instead we decided it was best just to celebrate the Winter Olympics with everyone else. I mean, our start-finish venue was at Ground Zero of Olympic celebrations!

IMG_3514 (800x431)The First Half began in 1989 on a very different course that started on Granville Island, near where the organizing club, Pacific Road Runners, held their regular running sessions – and still do. Since that very first year, Forerunners has been the sporting store race partner. Peter and Karen Butler have been a mainstay of the operation of this race. Younger folk may feel that this has always been a 2000 runner sell-out race, but that is not really so. For one thing, in 1989 (got to be careful here) running was a more ‘hard-core’ thing – no value judgement, it just was. To run a half marathon, you needed to be pretty serious about your running. There were 380 registered competitors and No. 1 among them was no other than Peter Butler, at the time, one of Canada’s top distance runners. In fact, and until just recently, Peter was our second fastest ever marathoner, less than a minute slower than Jerome Drayton, who despite the efforts of many young Canadian runners, several of whom have run the First Half, including a couple in Sunday’s race, is still our fastest marathoner. The current #2 marathoner, Dylan Wykes, has won the First Half twice setting a new record each time. Although he will not be running Sunday, it is his record that they will be gunning for and the race at the front end should be exciting regardless of whether Rob Watson (defending 2013 race winner) or Kelly Wiebe go for the speed or the win (ie they run a strategic race). Based on PB’s it should be highly competitive, but we all know the PB just sets the stage. It is what happens on the day that counts.

At time of writing (as I have been the past three years, I am the stage C0-MC) I do not have the final line-up of runners. However, I know that a good many former winners have registered and are expected to run. Included in that list of First Half men’s greats are: Bruce Deacon, Carey Nelson, Art Boileau, Jeremy Deere and Colin Dignum.

We are going to be treated to some fine running on the women’s side too, with Natasha Wodak returning, to do battle with Dayna Pidhoresky and former First Half winner, Ellie Greenwood. On paper at least, the talent is there to threaten Tina Connelly’s 2004 record time of 1:12:47. Again, many things will factor into how the race is run, but however they go about it, there is a good chance it is going to be entertaining!

Both Natasha Wodak and Ellie Greenwood are recent winners, and still able to contend. In addition, just in case any of these women really think they have a shot at Tina Connelly’s record, well, they will be able to discuss that with Tina herself as she, Lisa Harvey and Lucy Smith will be there Sunday and looking to make their own statement as (sorry ladies) Seasoned Runners.

If anyone, female or male, should break the existing record, there will be a little extra for them in the form of a $1,500 record bonus. That should buy a nice lunch, not that it will be necessary with the great food spread that awaits everyone at the finish.

The age group running will be of a high caliber as well, with a long list of speedy locals contending for age group honours. Every category, right out to the 75+ group will be fiercely contested. In fact, at least seven age group records stand to be broken on Sunday if everything is right, and of those seven, if the record goes it will almost certainly be a Canadian record. Lucy Smith, Jim Finlayson, Mark Bennett and Greg Meiklejohn are the runners in that stellar group of four, while Miriam Zderic, Bruce Deacon and Rod Waterlow round out the seven. Can’t help giving a shout-out to Rod as we have run a good many events together and both lead pace groups at the Forerunners clinics. Rod is particularly thrilled that the First Half has added one more age group 75+, so he no longer has to race those young 70-74 whipper-snappers (although he generally beats them too). Rod has previously written for Running in the Zone (blog) and over the years numbers among one of the most frequent First Half competitors.

All of this said and done, it would be a very small event if only these elite and ‘competitive’ runners were the only ones taking part. The First Half is very much about the personal goals and efforts of all 2000 runners who will start the race at 8:30am, and then later cross that Finish Line. Whether it is someone’s very first half marathon, or a PB attempt by a seasoned runner, everyone has his or her own story. For some reason, the First Half has given a lot of people a great story to tell. It is a fast course, being mostly flat, but it is also February and you would think not ideal for fast running, being early in the season and a wee bit cool in relative terms. Still, a LOT of people do record PB’s and the winning and record times are among the fastest times for BC half marathons. It may be partly that the race has an inspiring reputation that brings out our best, or maybe it is the fact that runners have taken a bit of a rest over the Christmas/New Year time and are coming to the event refreshed and well trained.

Maybe it is the fantastic volunteer crew helping runners to achieve their very best. Maybe it is the quality of the food and festivities at the end, and not wanting to miss a bit of it, that spurs runners on to a great time! Whatever, the race does bring forth some remarkable results.

MC's First Half - Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

MC’s First Half – Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

As one of the MC’s I know of some special stuff that will be on tap for participants, this being the 25th Running and all. Not giving anything away now though. Everyone will just have to wait until Sunday!

If you didn’t nab an entry, and aren’t already signed up to volunteer (one of the things that makes this one of Vancouver’s best), come on out and watch and cheer. Everyone appreciates a crowd cheering them in, and trust me, the closer you are to the back the more that counts! I speak from experience on that point. Once again, race partners have been extremely generous in their support enabling the First Half to make another donation to Variety – the Children’s Charity, in the 10′s of thousands. With the 2014 donation, the total to Variety alone is now over $600,000.

Having been associated, one way or another with the event, for over ten years I am still excited to be participating. Come see us at the stage on February 16 and say ‘Hi’! I will be up there with co-MC, Anjulie Latta.




Reggae Marathon Post Race Party

OK, so I admit right off the top that this is another post about the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K in Negril, Jamaica. The title still applies: maybe even more so. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are lots of the kind of people I’m talking about at every race, but because the Reggae Marathon is a destination event with ‘the world’s best pasta party’ the night before, there is more chance for direct encounter, before, during and after the actual race. I suppose the fact that this is my third time increases the chance of seeing some of the participants over a period of time and forming some relationships and bonds.

Social media is helping more than ever in letting us keep in touch between events, too. I belong to a bunch of Facebook groups involved with running, which allows me to keep up on news and with individuals. In any case, this weekend in Negril has been a great chance to meet up with people who are becoming far more than ‘virtual friends’. I also get to observe things going on outside my own personal sphere, all of which just seems to confirm my feelings. It seems that a lot of runners will form groups and travel to specific events, or at least loosely pull together once they know others are planning on going.

Beyond my own ideas as an outsider to the actual organization of the Reggae Marathon, I don’t know why it is happening, but this event is attracting more and more running groups. These groups range from four to five individuals up to something like a group of 160 or so that came into the Capital of Casual (that’s Negril) for this year’s edition of the Reggae Marathon. There is only a loose personal connection among the individual members of some of those groups, yet a huge spirit of togetherness and identification. I belong to Marathon Maniacs. There were several Maniacs officially running the actual marathon but there were others, me included, that were there but not running the marathon. As soon as you see the Maniac gear there is a recognition and a bond. I suppose this is true of a number of other organizations.

All around the resorts it is easy to strike up a conversation with the other runners and I believe there is a genuine interest and concern about how each has done. Quite a few people I encountered were first timers and just a little concerned about a tropical race, and everywhere you wanted to turn, the veterans were sharing assurances about the course support and how it might be out there. Respect, mon! as they say here, but in this case I’m talking about respect for the conditions. That is the key to any warm-weather run. You can tell the race is organized by runners for runners, because that respect is there and goes both ways. I guess that is part of what the title means too.

All of this said, I really don’t want to get into some deep philosophical discussion here. I just want to acknowledge and remind that we are part of a special group of people. I already posted on this recently and my trip to Jamaica just brought all the ‘community’ ideas right back to the fore.  I could list off the names of ‘my’ Reggae Marathon community, but that too is not the point. Just in the small hotel where I am staying there were a LOT of Reggae Marathoners. Runners aren’t that hard to spot and every time I looked around there were animated conversations about the race either specifically or in general. Although not totally unique to this event, I think there is a difference that is at the core of the community of runners and the whole experience.

The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is a superbly run event in its own right. That gets people here, or causes them to return. However, a key element of interaction among participants is the Negril is quite small and the Reggae Marathon kind of takes over for a few days that first weekend of December. You can’t just dash in and dash out (and who would want to?) unless you are local. It means people stay at least a few days, thus leading to the opportunity to interact as mentioned already. Frankly, a lot of races want you to enjoy the event, but through necessity, want you to move on fairly soon from the race venue. Long Bay Beach Park is party central as long as people want to stay, to meet and to greet. Once the Reggae music starts it is soooooo hard to head away!

I do love the destination event. The ‘vibe’ is so different when people have come from near and far to be part of something special. As I said, I do know that the Reggae Marathon is not totally unique, but it does give us a fabulous view of the essence of the attraction of the destination race.

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA




Reggae Marathon Race Plan - Relax, Race, Relax

Well actually, the title notwithstanding, there are three races, but ONE event – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Things are getting serious now. A week from time of writing I WILL be in Negril, Jamaica ‘acclimatizing’. That is a much better term than goofing off on a beach. Yes, it is serious business to suddenly change your climate conditions and then run a half marathon. You must prepare yourself! I would prefer a couple of weeks of ‘acclimatization’ but will settle for a few days.

The races all start at 5:15am December 7. Between arrival and that time and place (Long Bay Beach Park) I must see to things like picking up my race package, finding old friends, being sure that Ossie’s Jerk Centre is still there, getting in a personal stock of Red Stripe (just in case they don’t have enough at the Pasta Party or Finish), getting a bit of ackee and salt fish for breakfast with a bit of festival on the side, not to mention a feed of curry goat. Then there is the matter of the best pasta party on earth. Seriously, that is kind of what they say on the web site, but in this case it is quite possibly TRUE. Let’s just say I’ve never been to a better one.

Why, I may even try to get in a few strides of running, just to remind myself of how that feels in Negril. I like running in the heat. As it gets colder here in the Vancouver area, (and yes I know there are a lot of places where it really gets cold), I find myself less and less happy about running. In truth it isn’t the running, it is the getting out the door. I’m always fine once I’m out and going, but somehow these days I just don’t like the idea of heading out into a chilly morning (or afternoon or evening). This is kind of new for me. Fifteen or twenty years ago I lived/ran in Manitoba. My rule was no running if it was colder than -25C, or if there was wind. I have become a happy summer runner. But, it will be instant summer when I step off the plane in Montego Bay and I’m going to want all of that I can get.

I’ve described the race start in detail in earlier posts, but starting in the dark early morning when all you need is a singlet and shorts (without trying to assure yourself that you’ll be warm as soon as you get going), is special. I know the temperature will be around 21-22C, which is a pleasant summer day here. I also know that I’ll get through the first 10K before it is light. For the next 30-40 minutes we will be treated to the rising sun, which of course brings to mind Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds“  (Rise up this morning, Smile with the rising sun.   Three little birds – sit on my doorstep.  Singing – Don’t worry – about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing - gonna’ be alright!).  Sorry, got a little carried away, but that is kind of how it feels and if you can’t remember the words, somewhere on the route there WILL be a band or boom-box sound system playing it for you. It IS called the Reggae Marathon, you know!

By the time the sun is actually up and things are really beginning to get warm I expect to have made the final turn back toward the finish and “Bob’s Mile” – the last mile, where signs with lyrics and philosophy from Bob Marley inspires runners to make the last push.

From start to finish I know that road is not going to be the often lonely road of distance runners. No sir! Whether it is locals getting into the spirit or other resort dwellers out to the road to give encouragement, we WILL NOT be alone. Even staff from some of the resorts will be on the street cheering us on.

This event has the full range of participants. There will be some pretty quick and serious runners in all three events, including the full marathon which seems to have belonged to one Rupert Greene for some years. If he runs to form, you can expect a time in the low 2:30′s. The 10K will go down in 30 minutes and the half around 1:12.  And then there will be the rest of us. There will be serious runners who want to do a Reggae PB, but stringing out behind will be the happiest running crowd you’ve ever seen. This is where I got the title: One Love, One Race. I defy you to do this event without dancing through at least one of the aid stations or music posts.!  Ya mon! People will be running and walking, or straight up walking, but everyone reacts to the vibe. Some will have returned for years to do this special event. This is my own personal third appearance. Chris Morales, That Runnin’ Guy and official RM Blogger is here for the fifth year running, but there are others who are fixtures at the Reggae Marathon weekend.

I have no great personal expectations for the actual running. I have had a great year of running and coming off seven marathons or more since the end of April, plus a few shorter events sprinkled in, I am not worried about the endurance factor. My last marathon was three weeks prior to race day, so I’ve mostly been ‘tapering’ into the Reggae Half Marathon. From last year’s experience, I know what it is going to feel like as it gets warm in the latter stages of the race, so may hope for an improvement on last year’s time. But, if it isn’t any better – well, don’t worry, be happy!

Whatever, I know what a great party is waiting at the finish. Fresh coconut, spray tents, fruit and that other thing – oh yes, a cool Red Stripe. The special, some might say weird, part is that this will all happen (for me) between 7:30am and at latest 7:45am.  Holy Cow! Most races I do, wouldn’t even have started at that point! And naturally, there will be the post-race ‘dip’ in the Caribbean which is always waiting just there, close by that finish line.

I won’t bore you with more of this, but clearly you can’t just jump on a plane home. Well, you could, but why would you? Quite a few of us already have our post-race plans forming, notwithstanding that you shouldn’t really try to plan too much on a beach in Jamaica!



Welcoming sing on Fremont Street Las Vegas

OK, that isn’t really news these days. As far as that goes, I am not really ALL that old (in comparison to say, dirt, trees or even Ed Whitlock and B.J. McHugh). Still, I just got a ‘now following’ note from Twitter saying Run Grandpa Run is now following Running in the Zone.

I am not 100% sure when I will hit ‘publish’ on this one, but as I write it is Thursday, the day before the first day of package pick-up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon. I am excited to get this project truly on the road, so to speak. A race never seems real until that bib is in your hands. The race itself is still three full days away. Well, I looked at the time and maybe that is off by 30 minutes. I figure with the wave start and my corral, I should cross the start line around 5:00pm  or so.

I am both excited about starting my sixth (7th, if you count my one ultra) marathon in 2013, and strangely apprehensive. The excitement is nothing new or hard to explain. This is a big race with a great reputation and amazing venue/route along the Las Vegas Strip among all the glitter and lights. I sure won’t be alone, as there will likely be at least 25,000 doing one event or another of the three on offer: the Full, the Half and the “Half of the Half”. I am pretty sure that one way or another, I should be able to manage the 26.2 miles. The course has some gentle ups and downs, but I’ve run several harder, this year alone.

The apprehension is something new and I decided to write about this because others may relate to it for various reasons, totally different from the specifics of my situation. It isn’t that I haven’t been apprehensive before, especially when I ran my (second ever) first Victoria Marathon in October 2000, ten years after back surgery in 1990. The source of any doubt on that one should be pretty obvious. There have  been other races, not necessarily marathons, where a terribly demanding challenge had to be faced. Still, this feels different from those. Following are my thoughts on why I am feeling as I am.

Technically, I should be better trained for the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon than any of the others this year except the first (Eugene, April 28). I have run some significant distance including two full marathons two weeks apart, and the second completed just over four weeks ago (five weeks come race day). I have been able to ‘taper’ from the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon more or less as if it was the last long training run in a normal marathon training program. And yet, I find myself wondering if I can do it again. Part of the issue, if you want to call it that, may be motivation. Since April, I have been working toward adding another star to my Marathon Maniac status. I covered this recently, but through a mis-reading of the criteria I thought I needed two more marathons to complete the goal. I signed up for this one in that belief. Then, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but another glittering star by my name. My six races to date turn out to have met the standard, so I have that coveted star (two now) by my name and in that context, Las Vegas means nothing, because I am surely not forging on for the third star and Gold status. I had another marathon planned for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril in December. That one was intended to get me to the eight I thought I needed, but is for sure being down-graded to the Half or 10K. Although I guess I could still do the same with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, this isn’t just any old race on any old course. I do want to complete the full marathon.  At least I think I do. That is what seems strange. I am not 100% sure I’m 100% sure.  Have I found a new form of “Mara-Paranoia”?

I have been faithfully following the Maniac system of running many races, slower. Getting them done is the key, not the speed. For someone as old as I am, pace is everything if you are going to run a lot of marathons in a short(ish) period of time. I am convinced that I still have sub-five legs under me with the right preparation and conditions. Eugene was under five, and I think I could have done better than I did. I suppose that all the above commentary about training notwithstanding, I am not certain about the fatigue factor at this point. Rock ‘n’ Roll has stated they have a five hour cut-off. Although I have been just over five hours on a couple and under on one, I am  unsure I can stay ahead of the sweep! Technically, I probably can. The five hours is a chip based time re when the last runner crosses the start. Still, I’ve never run worrying that I am in danger of being pulled off the course. Guess I will just have to remember Satchel Paige’s quote: “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”  Or Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

My apprehension is a little silly since I know that if I behave myself and watch my early pace I should definitely be able to finish well inside the time specified. It is also a little silly in that it is not such a big deal anyway. I am here for fun, not to win the race! That is probably the real answer – just have fun, take it easy and let the race look after itself.  With this course, the music and all the people, it HAS to be fun!

Race Expo at the Convention Center

I’m thinking that a good thing to do re publishing this, is to wait until I’ve picked up my race package on Friday and then see how my head feels. If it isn’t clear by now, it is my head that is the real problem here! Whatever the result of hitting the Expo, I won’t change the previous content (except for grammar and spelling).  I will just update how things are feeling with the new energy that will doubtlessly flow from the Expo experience. Besides, at the moment I don’t have any great night photographs of the Strip to put in here!

Nice at 4 Miles. Nicer at 26.2 Miles!

OK. Now I have night shots to spice this up. Of course, these are just previews of where we will run, but it surely gives the idea. It is Friday night and I’ve been to the Expo, got my bib and a bag full of swag.

As I thought might happen,  I likewise got a nice dose of motivation. I am no longer nearly as concerned about the things noted above (yesterday). Maybe it is the nifty pace band I got. Or, just that I looked at my normal pacing and the points/times where the Grim Sweeper will start taking folks off the course and realized the published points are all between about half way and 15 miles and I seldom fall off pace that early.

Across the street from Venetian and the Finish.

OR MAYBE, it is the comfort of knowing I have no need to decide about dropping to the half marathon until just past 9 MILES. This is the first ever half/full marathon in which I have participated where a runner can switch from the full to the half by just taking the half route to the finish. No change of registration with swapping of bibs etc, etc. Just take the turn to the finish when the moment comes. I am not sure of the logistics, but whatever, this seems brilliant.

Fremont Street - part of the Marathon route.

How many of us have gone to the start of a race with doubts, but not big enough doubts to switch a day or two before the race? How many have had those doubts but persevered and had things turn out just fine? And, how many have taken the longer distance and then become injured in the process? You sometimes just don’t know until you are out there running. How great would it be if you could decide around 10 miles? Personally, the one race that jumps out at me is the 2011 Eugene Marathon. I started nursing an injury and knew it was dicey. Had I been able to elect to change races on the run (so to speak) I might not have lost most of my year. I use the example because the route for Eugene lend itself superbly to this approach and because had it been possible to get credit for running the half, I am pretty sure I would have opted out of the marathon and saved a great deal of the damage I did. It might require a couple of extra timing points right near the split-point so that timers can be certain of who decided to do what. It would also require clear markings and volunteer directions to be certain that runners are aware of that they are electing to do. When you get to the finish, you simply select the proper finish chute and voila – done.

So back to my doubts and where this leaves me. I now know I don’t have to decide until just past nine miles, and if things are going well I can power on, or I can just accept that this  isn’t the day for my next marathon and turn it into a half by taking what looks like a sharp left and running about 4 miles to the finish. The very fact I know I CAN do this is leaving me feeling I won’t need to actually do it. Ed. Note: I am finishing this up Saturday morning and feeling even more certain this is going to be Marathon #23.

Let’s get ready to Rock and Roll!




Running in the Sun! Photo by Rick Horne

So hard to pick a title when there are a bunch of things to talk about, none of which justifies one of my full-blown blogs at this point. I decided to share a few thoughts on a wide range of topics, with more to follow on a couple of them.

There have been a few commentaries out there lately about ‘real running’ that draw people like me into a discussion ’real fast’. Also, I’ve come off a busy season with just two planned events remaining, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. Lot’s to say about both, but not quite ready for a full blog post. This is partly because I completed a goal a bit by accident and am left trying to decide what to do about that. I’m working on a guest post that I think should interest lots of readers.

Another First. Guess it will be good to start at the start. First up is another first for me: my first Rock ‘n’ Roll event. With the new Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon coming to streets near me next Fall, it is a happy accident that I signed up to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon. It will be the second biggest distance race I’ve done next to the New York City Marathon (2007). The pre-race info makes it sound fabulous, particularly running the “Strip at Night”. Others have told me it is amazing and so much fun with the music, lights and all. A feature of the race is the ‘Running of the Elvi’. Now, I am of the right era and Elvis and I are both Capricorns, but I don’t have the hair for it!

A Big Surprise. Strangely enough this links with another of the topics mentioned, namely achieving a 2013 goal by surprise. A bigger surprise is how that has impacted my present attitude. As some will know, I joined Marathon Maniacs in the early part of the year, using a string of results accidentally achieved in 2008. The Maniacs make it clear that you only have to achieve the given standard once and you ARE henceforth, a Marathon Maniac. Be that as it may, I thought I would do what was necessary to at least re-qualify after joining. I had trained for the Eugene Marathon in late April and could see a string of possible events that would let me run three marathons in 90 days. However, I do like PB’s and the only way this dude is going to run a PB is to find a new distance. The first distance accepted as an ‘ultra’ run is 50km, less than 8K beyond the marathon, but I don’t do well on gnarly single track steep up/down trails. Most ultras seem to take place on such courses.  What to do??  What is the point of knowing one of the world’s best ultra runners if you can’t ask for a bit of advice?  I got in touch with Ellie Greenwood and asked for a suggestion of a relatively flat, relatively rootless/rockless trail 50K course on which I could run my first Ultra. The best from my perspective was nought but a modest ferry ride away, just near Victoria: the Elk-Beaver 50K. So, I did it. And, never mind how long it took, it was a PB!

Elk Beaver was just 13 days after the Eugene Marathon. Oops! Well, trail ultras are different beasts and there would be plenty of time to complete as there was also a 50 miler and a 100K event using the same 10K loop around Elk and Beaver Lakes. Upon finishing, I was re-qualified as a Marathon Maniac (Bronze or One Star level). I had long intended to return to the Winthrop Marathon in June to improve on my heat busted effort in 2012. That re-re-qualified me and there I sat with three marathons in a mere 42 days. I had to ask myself how many times I wanted to qualify as a One Star Maniac before moving up. The answer: not long. Off to the web site to check the criteria of a Two Star Maniac.  I learned I could run six marathons in six calendar months or eight in 365 days. I began maniacally searching race schedules. July produced another race relatively close and doable, the Freedom Marathon. I didn’t want to put a lot of miles on my legs through the summer with Hood to Coast looming in late August. The next choice seemed to be the Surrey International World Music Marathon in September, followed by the Goodlife Victoria Marathon in October. I did both to reach 6 marathons. Having elected to skip any marathon in August I figured my goal was 8 in 365 days, so I registered for Las Vegas, and for the Reggae Marathon.

And then, a funny thing happened! While updating the profile of Maniac #6837 (that’s me) I noticed I already had my Two Star Silver symbol showing. I was sure they didn’t award stars for intentions (I had both Vegas and Negril listed as planned races). Nothing to do but check officially. Sure enough, even though I had not run a marathon in each month since Eugene, the actual standard was the number of days equivalent to 6 consecutive months! There I was, a Two Star Maniac with two more marathons already fully registered to get to eight.

Ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll. What was an old semi-lame Maniac to do? One thing I was sure about was that I did not intend to push on for three stars (12 marathons in 365 days). Theoretically doable? Yes! Practically doable for Maniac #6837? Not so much. I’m pretty nicely set up for Las Vegas. Although I didn’t do much distance training over the Summer, with the (inaugural) Kelowna Wine Country Half Marathon, the Surrey International World Music Marathon and the Goodlife Victoria Marathon behind me, the five weeks from Victoria to Vegas looked ideal to recover and do a proper ‘taper’ from the long ‘training’ run (Victoria). I learned long ago not to predict anything regarding a marathon, but I will say I am feeling pretty good.

Every Little Thing, Gonna’ Be Alright. That brings us to the Reggae Marathon: one of my favourite events anywhere. The event is just so special and different and the people are so great whether we are talking the main organizers, the participants or especially the volunteers. This would be the eighth marathon and two more than I actually have use for in my Maniac quest. I have run the 10K and the Half, but NOT the marathon at Negril. My medal collection isn’t complete. There is nothing quite like the 10K. It starts at 5:15 am with the other distances, but even a slow runner should be finished before sunrise at 6:33 am. Even the Half can be done before it is seriously warm – hey, it’s Jamaica – you go there because it is sunny and warm!! The Start is generally around 22-23C  (around 72F) and that doesn’t change before sunrise, maybe a bit too warm for screaming fast times for anyone from Canada, but the air feels silky and watching the light come up in the eastern sky as you run is something to be experienced.

The astute reader may have noticed I have not spoken so glowingly about the marathon. At my age and stage it is realistic to feel that completing the Reggae Marathon is at least a five and a half hour project. Said astute reader would be able to take my commentary about time of day, time to finish either the 10K or Half Marathon and extrapolate forward into the second half of the full marathon. As tropical places go, a daily high of about 29C (84F) is quite pleasant. Running a full marathon on such a day on asphalt in the direct sun might be something else. The race takes super good care of participants with water, electrolytes and gels regularly available and even misting stations, but the truth is I would be letting myself in for a hard run. It all seemed worth it for my second star AND the completion of my Reggae Marathon medal set. There is another cost to this and that is missing out (for the most part) on the post race party with my growing group of Reggae Marathon friends. I am still registered for the marathon. I am also slowly but surely sliding toward a race change, probably to the Half. I plan to wait until I return from Las Vegas to decide, maybe even until Package Pick-up. Running should be about fun, and the post-race beach party with fresh coconuts, reggae music, Red Stripe beer, a bunch of running friends, and glorious sunshine is the definition of FUN.  Soon come, mon!  Stay tuned.

Real Running/Runners. That brings us to serious running stuff about which I am still formulating comment. The two topics are kind of the same. One is the subject of ‘real runners’ and ‘real races’, with a sub-text of why present day runners aren’t as good or serious enough. I feel strongly about both of these and it is probably for that reason I don’t want to have too much to say until I have the thoughts just right. However, I am ready to give a preview and maybe attract a wee bit of comment that will help me with the actual writing.

For me, “Real Runners” are people who get out there and do it. Oh, there are elite runners, competitive runners, recreational runners and likely a bunch of other kinds too. Apparently, Real Runners participate in Real Races, but what is a Real Race?? There are many novelty events arising, and attracting large fields. They are not simply runs, per se. Colour runs, mud runs, coloured mud runs (wait, did I just invent that one?) are for fun but nonetheless physical events. They are what they are and say nothing about the state of running as far as I am concerned. At least a huge part of any field, especially in really big events, are experiential or participatory runners. They aren’t there to win anything. They may be there because they love running and participation. They may be there for fitness or life-style healthy living reasons. Hardly matters – they are there. I have said (tongue firmly in cheek) that there is only ONE (1) winner in any race. Everybody else is a loser!  Steve Prefontaine said it, and in his case more seriously, that being second just makes you the First Loser. I usually pause for a couple of beats before adding that in a different sense, everybody is a winner by just being out there.  As they say (well used to) “There are Eight Million Stories in The Naked City: This is One of Them”. Every person is doing what they do for their own reason. Oh yes, a few are trying to win outright, some will be gunning to win their age category. Most are just there ‘because’. Personally, I am usually there to see whether I’ve still ‘got it’ which is why I love age grading. It gives me a tool to compare myself to me over the years.

The other topic is a bit of a laugh riot, but has created an interesting debate. One or two individuals have put it out there that modern runners aren’t as good as days of yore. Said not as good runners, at least in this discussion, are distance runners, North American, OK just American, distance runners. The complaint usually goes along the lines of “I remember when Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley and Frank Shorter were showing the World their heels!”.  Yes they were. Their marathon times were remarkable and to be admired. And showing NO disrespect, the times they recorded would not get you an A-list invitation to a Marathon Major today. Could those guys run faster with today’s technologies, training, bio-mechanical understanding? Likely. My point though is that running has moved on from those days and the dominant species at the moment is the tiny East African runner from Kenya or Ethiopia. These are the people laying down the world’s best times as was the habit of such as Salazar in his day. The concern expressed about how today’s (North American) runner just isn’t working hard enough or being good enough ignores the athletes like Ryan Hall who has gone four minutes faster than Alberto Salazar, which amazing time was only good enough to give him 4th Place at Boston when he did it. Hall seems to have made the huge error of getting born at the wrong time! A 2:04 marathon is nothing to use as an example of failure, at least in my humble opinion. I think what the commentators really mean is ‘we aren’t winning anymore, and that isn’t right’.

The argument generally includes the fact (true) that average finisher times are slower. That totally ignores the fact that many people are taking on the full and half marathon as personal goals, just as the 10K once was. It is a great sign of success when masses of people feel ready to take on the marathon for a personal achievement and express the work ethic needed to finish their first race. So the average time is slipping: the number of runners is rising fast, particularly in the half marathon and especially among women! Is there something good or right about an elitist approach to running the marathon? My first marathon had a four hour time limit. What does it matter if participants take more than four hours? Five?

So, there is a taste of some topics that are waiting to be fully explored.

Thanks for listening to my meanderings about my goals and achievements, not to mention plans and last but not least, opinions. I admittedly write about me, but try to talk about things I feel others may relate to or be stimulated/inspired by.

Guuh Ha'd an Dun!

Can’t wait to hit the Strip at Night! Especially can’t wait to hit the Beach at Negril.  And hey people, there is still time to get in on both of these events!

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



The First Half Half Marathon  (registration link) is about to run its 25th edition of what is arguably the hottest running ticket in town.  Oh yes, there are bigger or at least potentially bigger events, including the newest one just announced for October 26, 2014, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and the BMO Vancouver Marathon, but to date the only race of its size to sell out in less than a day is the First Half. It has done so for a number of years, starting with pre-race sell-outs some 10 years ago. As I write, registration is open and running. My job is to try to finish this post before registration closes!

PRR Running Seminar - Speakers

On October 28 Pacific Road Runners held the annual pre-registration running seminar at the Roundhouse Community Centre – aka the Start/Finish venue for the First Half. The race itself will take place on February 16, 2014. Today is when everything really officially kicks off, even if the race committee has been working behind the scenes to get things ready. Assuming a sell-out in the next hours (registration was at 50% of capacity before I even opened this file) the race organizing committee and pretty much the whole membership of PRR, plus a few notable others will begin the meticulous work to prepare another great running experience for all those able to participate.

It all began with the seminar where Race Director and MC, David Parker, welcomed a sell-out (can you sell out a free seminar?) crowd of about 250 to hear three speakers address some topics that might not be heard just every night of the week. We all love our ‘how to run a faster half’, ‘heel-strike vs mid-foot’ and ‘the secret training regimens of the elite’ topics. This year PRR took a different direction and judging by the questions, both tweeted and shouted out, suggested that the organizers hit it squarely on the head as far as worthy topics go.

Without rehashing everything each one said, the first speaker, Dr Jon Fleming got into the matter of sleep, including the when, how and how much of it all as it relates to realizing your best performance. The topic might have been about sleep, but I can assure you that nobody dozed off in this one, and it was clear that Jon had really just scratched the surface of the subject.

Second up was Larry Abbott who got into the matter of mental toughness and training the mind. I think we were all just a wee bit shocked as he slyly took us through a little Q&A on our training habits – number of runs, quality workouts, etc. Various hands went up at each query, until he got to the last one – mental training. Yep, he had almost all of us. In the proverbial nutshell, he got right down to the point that if your head isn’t ready to run that big race, your legs may not be able to do it alone. One of the great features of this talk and of all the speakers was that the comments applied regardless of the relative ability of the individual runner. Of course there are qualitative differences between elites and club runners, but that old head up there can stop all of us as fast or faster than tired legs. Preparing the mind shouldn’t be underestimated as an important racing strategy.

Finally, Ellie Greenwood, a PRR member who has gone from being ‘just one of the gang’ to elite ultra runner, shared with the audience the unfortunate but possibly inevitable matter of serious injury and what you do next when you really, really want to run, but can’t (shouldn’t). One can imagine that for someone like Ellie the frustration of going from a year in which she ran some 6000km to zero, or something relatively close, the strain would be almost unbearable. Even though Ellie runs in a whole different universe from most of us, this was again a topic that most could still relate to in a personal way. At some point, almost every runner, no matter her or his level of relative performance hits a point where something goes sideways. In many instances it is just minor and if respected and rested, is over soon, but often enough it is serious enough to threaten a whole year of running. I know I’ve been there a couple of times – once when the issue was not really a running injury, but the effect was the same (no running) and once when it was a true running injury, one that I did not accept, fix and move on, thereby ensuring that in the end I lost most of a year. Ellie talked us through what you do instead of running to keep both mind and body fit. Again, nobody in the house that night was drifting off in any way shape or form.

As always, the race sponsors including Mizuno, Forerunners, Ethical Bean Coffee, BC Athletics and PowerBar made the evening fun and rewarding in a tangible way for those winning the draw prizes on offer. One of the most popular of the prizes was the handful (big handful) of guaranteed entries for the First Half. Now that says something about this event! The entry was guaranteed – not FREE – just guaranteed, so you wouldn’t have to risk missing today’s registration scramble. It is actually a hard to pinpoint, yet easy to see, thing – the popularity of the First Half. Oh, you can list all the great things about the race: First longer race of the season, generous sponsors, fabulous and amazingly fast course (many people PR on this course, even if it is February), great attention to detail, by now maybe just the whole thing of ‘getting in’, the great post-race food, Variety, the fabulously deserving charity to which net proceeds have gone since 1996 and now mounting to a total of $550,000. All those things certainly count, but it would be wrong to suggest other races and organizing groups aren’t doing a great job. However, every year the feedback seems to be that the volunteers are the number one ‘praise-point’ (think I just made that up). And, as a former race director of the First Half I think I can say that by volunteers I would broadly include the entire membership of PRR as well as more than twice as many individuals from the community, some who have been with the race for years and years.

So, I’m almost done now and hope that I actually get this finished before registration is finished.

As mentioned, this is the 25th running of the First Half. It is not the 25th Annual, because another event became a bit of a conflict for dates and space in 2010 – yes, the Winter Olympics. So, for those who are trying to figure out how the whole thing kicked off in 1989 (with Peter Butler of Forerunners, winning the inaugural First Half Half Marathon), and yet this being the 25th, that is what happened. We are told, rather coyly I must say, that special things will happen, but we are just going to have to wait and see.  OK, I’m waiting!

Like most of the very small number of First Half former Race Directors, I will be there again on race day (more like race week, but that was what I was talking about before). Looking forward to seeing all those who are successful in registering today and hoping that some who can’t (because of one of those unfortunate issues Ellie Greenwood talked about) or just didn’t get registered, will become part of that fabulous volunteer crew that makes it all happen.

PS: Here’s a little secret for those who missed registering, Forerunners offers a running clinic with a (limited number of) race entry as part of the package. And, those clinics have prepared a lot of people over the years, and may just be part of some of those Personal Best performances too!



Rock 'n' Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon is here!

That’s right, yesterday the Competitor Group announced that the Rock ‘n’ Roll brand is coming to Vancouver in the form of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon. On a brilliant Fall day at the Westin Bayshore, just paces from the actual race route, officials from Competitor Group, from Lassonde (Oasis), from the City of Vancouver, from the Squamish Nation and last but far from least, from Lions Gate Road Runners and the James Cunningham Seawall Race, unveiled plans to bring the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series to Vancouver.

Rock 'n' Roll Preview

They even brought a little taste of the rock part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll experience, to entertain before and after official announcements. Scott Dickey, CEO Competitor Group laid out the focus of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series in staging events for media and local running organizers and industry members. One of the first items of business covered by both Frank Stebner (Race Director of the James Cunningham Seawall Race) and Scott Dickey was to assure the assembled multitude that the Cunningham race was going nowhere but up. The new event coming in is a half marathon, but the much loved and long lived James Cunningham race will continue as part of the celebration of running that will happen in 2014.

Frank Stebner (RD of James Cunningham Seawall Race) introduces the new event

Clearly, a lot of consultation took place prior to this announcement, including with the City of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation. This promises to enhance the event and experience of participants. And, the participants are expected to consist of quite a number of visitors to Vancouver as most Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon events are ‘destination races’, by definition.  On average these races involve 65% ‘out of town’ participants. That can mean big money to the local economy as has been well understand by some of the larger races in town, including the BMO Vancouver Marathon in the Spring running season. The economic impact can only be tested market by market, but the goal is to take the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon to at least 10,000 participants. This new/old event will need to make its place in one of the busiest running markets anywhere, but the arrival of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and 44th James Cunningham Seawall 10K, should make for a very exciting and interesting 2014 running season in Vancouver and in BC.

According to the various speakers, including Luc Prevost of Lassonde, makers of the Oasis juice brand, the focus is healthy participation and the experience of running.  Competitor Group is targeting beginners, new-comers to the racing experience, and particularly women, by far the fastest growing group in the world of running. They seem to be on the way to their goal with some 550,000 participants expected in 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll events.

Consideration was given, apparently, to forming local partnerships and making sure there was plenty of Canadian content with Oasis as the name sponsor and Running Room as the designated sport equipment partner. Lassonde is the partner in the Montreal Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, the only other Canadian event in the Series at this point.

Natasha Wodak, elite runner, with the event logo as background.

The event was closed out with a brief comment by Natasha Wodak, freshly  returned from the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where she ran her first marathon and served notice on the Canadian running community that there is a ‘new kid in town’ when it comes to women’s marathon running.

As this was the initial announcement and there is clearly much detail yet to be rolled out, and that your faithful blogger, quite coincidentally is about to participate in his very own first experience at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Las Vegas to be specific and in just a couple of weeks, this blog post is going to be kept short and sweet with more to come later. Probably, later means right after I get back from Vegas!



Three-fer at Victoria 2007 Danielle, Dan & Janna

I sit here, feeling just the slightest symptoms of mara-paranoia (because in just 73 hours I will be toeing the line for my fifth go at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon. Back is a bit stiff, knee might be a bit tender and I’m kind of sniffling.  But, why are these things not scary-bad? Well, I wake up every morning with a stiff back, and a bit of congestion from allergies (I guess).  Oh yeah, and my knees always like a bit of motion to get the day started. In other words, if I wasn’t doing a marathon in a couple of days, it would just be normal.

Victoria has become my ‘go-to’ event it seems. It has also been the family event and unless somebody plans to sneak up and surprise me, this is probably the first time since 2000, that I will run alone in Victoria. In addition to five full marathons including the one this weekend (2000, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013), I have completed the half marathon five times as well (2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012), all of it starting with that first race in 2000. That is 10 times in 14 years. Not perfect attendance, but pretty darn good. In October 2000 I ran my second ever marathon.  It is one of the reasons, I think, that I have such a warm feeling for this particular event.  You see, my first marathon was in Vancouver in 1988 and in between I had required back surgery to correct a ruptured disk. While I had run fairly steadily and raced a bit over the intervening years from the surgery in 1990, the most I had done was a 20K race in Brussels, Belgium in 1991. I did not know if I could actually do a marathon when I headed for the start in Victoria that cool October morning in 2000. I had vowed as a Millennium project of my own making that I would do a marathon in the Year 2000. I had actually made that vow on New Years Eve, standing on a cliff near Dallas Road, mere metres from the Royal Victoria Marathon course, but my mind was on Vancouver  at that time, not Victoria. My first marathon was the Vancouver International Marathon and it seemed appropriate that if I was going to get back into marathoning, then Vancouver should be the starting place.

Nearing the Finish - Victoria 2000

Well, as with all such good intentions, there was a bit of a rocky road ahead and I elected to just go for the Half in Vancouver and press on for a marathon later in the year. That marathon, of course, turned out to be Victoria. The coming together of a lot of things is what has made that race one of the most significant in my own running career as well as having quite an impact in other areas. Both our daughters have run quite a bit. For the moment, one has ‘retired’ from running competitions, but the other presses on and at the moment is carrying the flag for Cumming family running achievements. It was quite the family affair at that first Victoria Marathon. Our oldest, Danielle, came from Toronto to witness both her father and younger sister, Janna, tackle the marathon. It was Janna’s very first full marathon and we had trained a bit together leading up to the big event. Our son, Cam, who still lives and works in Victoria (all three kids went to U Vic) came along as the camera operator while Danielle provided colour commentary!  Naturally, wife and mother Judi, was there as the Cheerleader in Chief. My father-in-law even came from Ottawa to see what this was all about, and we were accompanied by our old friends from just up the road at Brentwood Bay (who had been there on that windy cliff-top when I made my vow to run my second marathon).

For those familiar with my writing, and who may be starting to worry about now: be calm. I have no intention of describing the race in detail – even though I could!

If all of this wasn’t enough, it was at this event that I caught up again with Steve King, the long-time race announcer for Victoria. We had known each other and run together with the same club and in the same events, when we lived in the Okanagan. If that had not happened, it is probable that Running in the Zone, the book especially, and this blog would never have happened. It was the beginning of the beginning, so to speak.

There is no way to state how special it was to be running this oh so significant second marathon while Janna was running her first ever. I had run my first some 12 years before and as I tell all new marathoners, once you cross that finish line you ARE a marathoner and always will be. So it wasn’t that I was trying to do something I had never done before. I was trying to see (training notwithstanding) if I really could still race a marathon. Cutting to the finish, I can say that crossing that line was every bit as emotional as finishing my first. Only some while later did I really consider the time. In truth it wasn’t that important in the greater scheme of things. Truly, how can you meaningfully compare events twelve years apart? Yes, yes, you already know my answer to that, but in October 2000 I had not discovered the magic of age-grading, and besides, at that point it was not well developed nor particularly well accepted. Only later (several years) did I examine what I had done in 1988 in comparison with Victoria 2000. So, that was not the basis of my euphoria as I recovered on the lawn in the front of the BC Legislature.  Oh, but you ARE wondering how that age-grading thing worked out. OK, here it is, keeping in mind that it was 12 mostly non-competitive years and one back operation later. My AG time for Vancouver 1988 was 3:14:36 while Victoria 2000 came out at 3:40:28. In truth, I have run several better (age adjusted) marathons since then, including a couple at Victoria. That said, Victoria 2000 is still my second fastest raw time for marathon, so another milestone for that particular race.

Although I was several minutes behind Janna (we started together, but after 10K or so, it was clear that wasn’t working for either of us), it was pretty easy to see that she was very pleased with her own race, having done her first marathon in under four hours! I think I may have been more excited than she was, at least at the time. That was the start of something for her and she has now completed six of her own marathons, including Boston and New York (which we did together and where she qualified for Boston!). Her latest was just this year in Vancouver. I will be interested to see how she continues, or doesn’t, with marathons. I mean, I was 43 when I ran my first. She has years yet to go before she reaches that age and already has six to her credit!

I do know that our little performance inspired Janna’s big sister, Danielle to want to do her own marathon. That in turn resulted in the beginning of another family tradition, the Cumming Family Half Marathon Challenge. More on that later. As far as Danielle’s marathoning goes, she ran the Toronto Marathon a bit later on (her first and apparently last). Marathons are not for everyone, but as I say, no matter what, Danielle is and always will be a marathoner. One family with three marathon runners is pretty amazing I would say, and it all started in Victoria in 2000.

Family Challenge Complete

It was so special to have all that family there for our big event (and that includes our friends, who are family that just doesn’t happen to share any DNA). In point of fact, it turned out to be the last time we saw my father-in-law in good health. By the next Thanksgiving weekend he had passed away with cancer. We did see him in May, in Ottawa when I ran a promised race with Danielle – a half marathon. By this time, my work had taken me to Malaysia and training for a marathon was pretty much out of the question. I had originally said I would run a marathon with her, just as I had done with Janna. We agreed that a half marathon would have to do. As it turned out that Ottawa Race Weekend half was on Danielle’s 28th birthday. As I pondered the matter post-race, I realized I was 56 – that is, she was half my age. We had just run a half marathon together when she was half my age. That was a complete accident, but from there began the tradition of each kid running a half with me when he or she was half my age.  For our son, that was quite the undertaking because while he has run since he was a teen, it isn’t his thing and he doesn’t run often. The longest for him has been 10K’s, so it was a major undertaking to get ready for and run the half with me. That happened and we completed the Family Challenge in November 2011. I have the picture to prove it!

Running in the Zone Book Launch 2005

I started by saying that Victoria has been the site of so many races for the family. At least a couple of times Janna, Danielle and I have all run at the same time, although not necessarily in the same event. Other than this year, I believe at least two of the three of us have always run something in the 10 years I have been there. It was at Victoria that Janna and I completed the Family Challenge. It was at Victoria that Steve King and I first started musing about writing a book for ‘seasoned’ runners, and it was at Victoria in 2005 that we launched Running in the Zone: A Handbook For Seasoned Athletes and were able to actually have just over half of the 26 contributors present for the launch.

For some years, I had trouble finding enough time to train well, so my times were nothing to brag about. I was just running for the enjoyment of doing it and because I like competing regardless. However, around 2008 I started feeling more motivated to produce better (relatively, anyway) times. The first step on that road was a pretty good performance at Victoria on the way to one of my best at the California International Marathon in Sacramento. Over the next year or so, my marathons got incrementally better, with a good performance at Victoria setting up a better one at CIM. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the progress, which culminated in a run at the Eugene Marathon in 2010 that now stands as my third best raw time and second best age-graded time. As I wrote this I was reminded that last Fall I ran the Victoria Half as one of my best recent races. I was starting to feel like the wheels on my wagon were getting pretty wobbly. I run to my own standard, due to the back issues that continue to follow me even 23 years later – nothing drastic, but nonetheless limiting in absolute terms. So, when I ran Victoria last October and registered a time that was my best half in about three years I was pretty thrilled. When I got home and could analyse my splits (what else is a gps device for???), I was really thrilled to find I had hit my splits very, very evenly AND that my last mile was just slightly faster than my first!  Sure didn’t feel that way, but isn’t that how you are supposed to race? In fact, while toting up all the special stuff about the Victoria Marathon, I have to say this may rank as my second best managed race, with my very first marathon at Vancouver in 1988 ranking as first.  I’m not talking about time here. I’m talking about race management. I have run waaaay faster half marathons with or without age-grading if what you are counting is finish time.  At this point, I am (apparently) more thrilled when I can run well as opposed to fast, something I haven’t done for such a very long time anyway.

I have lately been playing in the Marathon Maniac league, doing more volume than pace. Victoria in 2008 was one of three marathons, that first qualified me (3 in 90 days) to actually be a Maniac. This coming marathon is #6 on the road to 8 in 365 days and a new level of Maniacal Magnificence! In truth, all going well and to plan, I will hit 8 in about 220 days, but I do not think I have any interest in going for the next level of 12 in 365 days. Mind you, somewhere around 1986 I said something to the effect: “Nobody actually needs to run a marathon.” At the finish on Sunday I will be at 22 marathons and if the other two (Las Vegas in November and the Reggae Marathon in December) come off as planned, then I will be at 24. Well, nobody wants to quit on a number like 24, when 25 is so close and has such a nice ring to it, so……………………

Marathons are special, every one. Each has its own particular charm or challenge. I love some because of the vibe (the Reggae Marathon probably ranks #1 for me on that score). Some are amazing just for shear spectacle (nothing I have done beats the New York City Marathon). Some offer opportunity for performance (for me that is probably Eugene). And then there is the one event that just seems to have something that stands out across the board. I love Vancouver, because it was my first, but that marathon event is long gone and of another era. The new Vancouver Marathon event is doing superbly and growing into something special (confession, so far I’ve only done the Half). However, when it comes to rating that best of the best marathon, my personal vote goes to Victoria, whether it be the old Royal Victoria Marathon or the present day, Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, it is hard to beat the attention to detail, the pre-race Expo and athlete activities, speakers and pasta party. The course is beautiful and pretty much second to none I have ever run, and for that matter and even though it is not the easiest course you will ever find, produces good times. Like all the best races out there, the volunteers are fabulous. Rob Reid and his crew turns in excellence year after year.

And now you know why I am so excited to head to Victoria this weekend!  To everyone else headed that way: Good Running!!!

Finishing in front of the 'Leg'