category : ‘Race Reports/Favorite Races’


AND THE GANG’S ALL HERE

11.30.2016

Well, maybe more like the gang’s all arriving for the Reggae Marathon weekend. Buddy Al and I are safely ensconced at Rondel Village, waiting for

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

Registration and Package Pick-Up and Chris

That Runnin’ Guy to arrive. I mean, it doesn’t truly get going until Chris shows up to crank up the social media from Reggae Marathon action central in Negril. Thinking back, hanging out with Chris has got me into an ESPN (Latin America) TV piece on the Reggae Marathon and onto Jamaican radio (live). Wonder if anything amazing is going to happen this time? Well, of course ‘amazing‘ is going to happen!  The whole thing is amazing. What I meant to say was ‘unusual‘.

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred "Frano" Francis

The original race banner with Diane Ellis and Alfred “Frano” Francis (2015 media briefing)

It also doesn’t get going until the main organizers arrive from Kingston. As a runner, it actually kind of feels like Christmas and waiting for Santa. Last night there was a news blast that the trucks were on the road (full of race gear), headed for Negril. Had the feel of “Santa has left the North Pole with a sleigh full  of presents for good girls and boys!”

I’ve been good! I’ve been good!

We’ll soon be seeing Frano, Diane, Gina, Jessica and the crew. This is one of the best organized races I’ve ever participated in, over the years and the many places I’ve run/raced. These people (and others un-named) are the reason why.

This time, we are even going to be celebrating a marriage. Yes, Navin Sadarangani, the last of the Four Amigos has tied the knot. I think it wasn’t a done deal until Daivati did the 10K last year, but I guess it’s all good now. Big stuff happening when we all get together!

Speaking of getting together, it is Wednesday as I’m writing this and from experience I know that the bulk of Reggae Marathoners are about to start arriving, some today and lots more tomorrow. Negril is pretty quiet right now, but that is going to change – soon.

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Don’t forget about Easy Skankin’. Larry Savitch and crew (not even sure how many this time or who for sure) are headed this way again. Can’t really have a party without Easy Skankin’!

And then there will be the Reggae Runnerz, hundreds of them, under the able guidance of Lisa Laws.

Also starting to feel like a real veteran here! Coming down, I ran into Dave from Toronto, who apparently made a last minute decision to come. Met him a couple of years ago, and touched base again last year.

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

Lawrence Watson, I’ve known since the first time in 2011, but we will stay at his BnB (Castlevue) in Montego Bay when the running weekend  is done. He is a great host and even better runner, although he took pity (didn’t run his usual pace) on me the last time I stayed with him in 2014. He took me out for a Saturday morning run and post-run porridge (Peanut Porridge seemed to be the rage that day, but since it would have killed me, I opted for cornmeal). See how all this is intertwined? I met Lawrence because he is a friend of Navin’s, a running buddy from when Navin lived in Montego Bay.

Even the hotel staff, not to mention some of the vendors seemed to recognize me. Of course it is good for them to act that way, but when they know you are from Canada without being told, well, maybe they actually do know!!

Then, there are new people asking my advice and for me to help them get sorted with other people and activities. Yep, I think I’m almost an ‘old hand’!

ON THE GROUND IN NEGRIL (AGAIN)

11.29.2016
Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Six years. Sixth year in a row, this old (seasoned) blogger is in Negril, JA for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Interestingly, the only time I signed up for the actual marathon was the first time. That didn’t work out and if you really want to know why, well here is the link to that story. I ran the 10K that time. Then I ran the Half for three years. Last year I actually signed up for and ran the 10K.

Seems like there is something about getting around the full course (marathon goes twice around) that is special. The first and second halves of the Half Marathon are just completely different. The first 10K is done essentially in the dark, while the second 10K happens (for me anyway) after the sun rises and in full sunshine by the time of finishing. I have to admit that even with a slow time in respect both of advancing age and rising temperatures on the course after sunrise, it is strange to nonetheless FINISH somewhere between 7:45 and 8:00am!

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Garden scene at Rondel Village

Anyway, all the race stuff can come later. Right now it is just about being here and settling in, getting used to the heat and humidity, and getting into the Jamaican vibe. Negril claims to be the “Capitol of Casual”. Probably is, too! Hmmm. If you are claiming ‘casual’ can you also use exclamation points? I’ll just leave that to you. I am just going to be over here relaxing.

Beach just outside Rondel Village - so glad - still there, just like last five times!

Beach just outside Rondel Village – so glad – still there, just like last five times!

Now that we’re here, we have a few days to just get dialed into Jamaican time, life and food. For five of the six years I’ve been coming to Negril for the Reggae Marathon weekend, I’ve stayed at Rondel Village. It is a local resort right on the beach and just has everything I want. I am really excited to show my friend Al, what it is that brings me back year after year. I do hope it works like I would like it to do, because we can never forget that one guy’s amazing can be another’s ho-hum.

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming enjoy local beverage while waiting for final transport to Negril!

We’ll start with the food and surely a Red Stripe (or two). You can get thirsty on a long flight and shuttle ride along the NW coast of the country. Fortunately that did not turn out to be a problem.

First and foremost, there was watching the sunset (see below). A Negril sunset is always a spectacular thing, even when it is kind of ordinary. Then, a wee drink and dinner.

Rondel has a nice mix of Jamaican and ‘other’ menu choices, but we got right into the Jamaican side with a little ‘stamp n go’, followed by red pea soup and curry goat. Got things off to a great start!

I am looking forward to a short run in the morning, just to start getting the feel of the place well before Saturday. Haven’t decided if the first run is on the road (well, the path beside the road) or on the beach. If it is on the beach, it will be WITH shoes. No matter how great it is to run barefoot, I’m not risking the sneaky, nasty blisters you can work up if you have soft tender feet like me! Anyway, that will be for a later report.

sunset-day-1

Later the same day!

WHAT DOES A BLOGGER DO WHILE WAITING FOR A RACE? BLOG, OF COURSE

11.25.2016
Bolting! - Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Bolting! – Apparently, he took part in the school 10K Challenge

Here I am with just two ‘sleeps’ left to departure for Jamaica and one of if my #1 favourite races, the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. If you want to be picky, it will be three sleeps until I’m in Negril, but there is no saying there will be much sleep on the red-eye I usually take to get from Vancouver to Montego Bay. From here, there is always the trip East, then the trip South. I usually go through Toronto or New York. This time it will be Toronto. I actually quite like the trip. It isn’t as hard as some might think, and let’s face it, when I get there it isn’t like I have to do much but rest and ‘recreate’ for the next several days.

img_2459In truth, the trip could be of much shorter duration if I just wanted to go for the race, but coming from so far and Jamaica being such a great spot to vacation, it seems wrong not to add some time before and after race weekend. This time I get to show my friend of more than 50 years, what I love about this whole thing. We may even have some time to go check out my roots in the more easterly part of Jamaica.

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Near Robins Bay, JA. Who knew I had heritage here?

Yep, my great-great grandparents were stationed in Jamaica for about 5 years just around 1840. He was a gunner with the Royal Artillery. Their oldest was born in Jamaica. The first time I visited and ran the Reggae Marathon event, my wife Judi and I visited the area and had a bit of a wander. One of the craziest things was that way back in 1969, we made our first trip to Jamaica and stayed in a village, Highgate, with a university friend of Judi’s who was teaching with CUSO. She took us to Robins Bay a couple of times for a cooling splash. Little did we know that we must have passed right by the ruins of The Barracks that we visited in 2011, and pictured here. I’m hoping for another visit this time, but not quite sure just yet, if it will happen.

Early Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

First and foremost will be Negril. Until the other racers start arriving later in the week, Al and I will have time to explore the area and for him to get a taste of the food. I’m not sure we are going to be there long enough to do the Jamaican cuisine justice, but we’ll do our best.

I know he loves fish, so escoveitched fish is on the list, maybe a steamed fish dinner, and since we arrive later Monday afternoon, there WILL BE ackee and salt fish for breakfast on Tuesday. You never just get the fish. There is always other stuff, so it is pretty likely a bit of fried plantain, maybe a bit of boiled green banana and a bit of festival will show up. Of course there is a range of jerk food, but particularly pork and chicken and while everybody and his brother seems to have jerk chicken on offer, I have one place in mind for the real deal, Ossie’s Jerk Centre. But, we need to leave time to get us some patties too! That may require a trip to Nallah’s or we could just let the ‘patty man’ come to us out on the beach. Wouldn’t be the first time!

Oxtail with rice and peas.

Oxtail with rice and peas.

A couple of my favourites include curry goat and oxtail. Mustn’t forget the ‘food’ though. You probably thought that was what I was talking about already, but you’d be wrong. Usain Bolt claims it is what fuels him and makes him fast. “Food” tends to be a whole range of starchy root vegetables. Some form of it will likely show up in the meal, whatever else may be there.  Hmmmm. Maybe that’s what I need for the race on December 3. Mind you, I expect to be running the half marathon and Bolt-like speed isn’t really what is required.

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

It really IS OK to stop for a refreshment!

The beach outside our hotel, Rondel Village, is made for taking the sun and just relaxing, but it is also great for an early morning run, or just a stroll while it is still cool (relative term, probably about 25C) and relatively abandoned. Actually, the Reggae Marathon has extended the tourist season for Negril. It doesn’t officially start until a week or so after the event, so the beaches are relatively uncrowded and there are plenty of runner types around.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

If you can get yourself up early enough the sunrise is generally amazing. Early in the morning there tend to be a few whispy clouds around, just enough to catch the first sunlight and turn delicate pink against an otherwise ever bluer sky. At least in my experience, the seven mile beach is never a place of hectic activity. It is almost always laid back and easy going. Because there is a reef a mile or so off-shore, unless there is a serious storm, there is no big wave action. All you get is gently lapping waves sliding in over the blue of the Caribbean.

Chris Morales

Chris “That Runnin Guy” Morales

By Wednesday/Thursday I expect the other Reggae Runners will start showing  up. That’s when I expect to welcome That Runnin’ Guy, Chris Morales to the party and to get down to serious exchanging of stories. We keep in touch all year, but live far enough apart that we never see each other except in Negril. For Chris, it is not really a vacation since he is the social media guy for the Reggae Marathon and official blogger. He’ll get most of a day with little to do, and by Friday noon, he will be ‘on duty’, but by then things are starting to hop at package pick-up at Couples Swept Away, followed seamlessly by the pasta party. That may not be so seamless this time because of some construction at the package venue. The pasta party is across and just down the road at Cosmos. It will be interesting to see how that works. It is right at the beach and right beside the start/finish venue at Long Bay Beach Park. The pasta party is always fabulous and with this venue may be even more amazing.

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

Whatever, I’m looking forward to it. AND, I’m looking forward to meeting all the other people we may or may not have found by then, or just run into (literally)  by chance. I can’t tell you how many times Chris and I have been out for a morning run, just for the acclimatization, and bumped into other running friends we’ve come to know over the years. For sure, the Four Amigos will hook up again at the pasta party.

All of this is going to be new for my buddy, Al. He has a knee issue and while not a runner, was planning to walk the 10K on Saturday morning just for the experience of the whole event. We’ll see how that goes. I really hope he can do it. There is no time issue. Lots of people walk the 10K and there is plenty of time. As I told him, stop for a coffee or a chat as you go. I’m going be running the half marathon, so even in that, there will be plenty of time for him to do 10K and still get there about the same time as me.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

There is truly something special about the start in the full-on dark (it IS 5:15am!) and then being out there as the dawn comes up followed by the tropical sun. I mean, you can experience that anywhere, but doing it on the move with a crowd of happy runner/walkers and all the energy of the race is special. It is hard, as it often is for northerners to reconcile tropical nights with Christmas decorations, but all along Norman Manley Blvd. (the race route) the hotels are getting out the Christmas lights and decorations. So, as you break out in an almost instant sweat as you head toward Negril town, you are soon running by lots of bright and festive lights signifying the soon to come Christmas/New Year season.

Sweet Reggae Music - so hard to resist!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

After crossing the finish, the party is on with live Reggae Music, or as they like to say, sweet, sweet reggae music. The sounds are infectious and while some people intentionally get close to the stage and dance, you can look almost anywhere and see people moving to the rhythm without even realizing they are doing it! Of course once Navin, Larry, Chris and yours truly have finished our respective races, we will assemble for the traditional ‘race count’ photo. That’s the one where we all hold up the number of fingers to represent the Reggae Marathon events we’ve done. Everybody is going to have to go to two hands this time. Three of us will be on six and Chris will be showing eight race fingers.

Strolling 'home' for breakfast.

Strolling ‘home’ for breakfast.

Once the post-race party is done, I am looking forward to the stroll back down the beach to Rondel Village. Usually, that is without shoes, just at the water’s edge and at a very, very easy pace. I mean, nobody has anywhere to go. Notwithstanding what we get after the race, by the time we get back to our home away from home, we are usually ready for a full-on breakfast. After that, it is back to the beach and a lot of nothing but sunshine, Red Stripe and a cooling dip from time to time.

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

Sunset from Rondel Village. Perfect end to a perfect day!

And, if the sunrise is delicate and sometimes almost a spiritual thing, sunset can be fierce and blazing to end the day. Well, it comes pretty early so maybe not the end of the day, but end of daytime and start of the Jamaican night. Saturday night, that is. Runners are sometimes pretty tired, but if anyone is looking for a party and lots of music, you don’t really need to go far. There are plenty of live music venues up and down the beach/road, for those who aren’t ready to call it a day so early!

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

Lenbert looks after you on the One Love tour of the West End

While Saturday night could signal the end of the experience, it has become a Sunday tradition to take the One Love bus tour to the West End and to several off the beaten path restaurant/bars. It starts mid-afternoon, with the intent of hitting a number of establishments, ending with another spectacular sunset viewed from the cliffs of Negril West End.

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick's Post-Race - The original RRHMC Trio

Dan Cumming, Larry Savitch and Chris Morales at Rick’s Post-Race – The original RRHMC Trio

This is the last time our group is likely to be all together in one place and is usually when we announce the big winners in the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. That started years ago and actually didn’t have anything to do with what was happening at the Reggae Marathon but rather to three of the participants. It just happened that in May of 2012, Chris Morales, Larry Savitch and I were running three different half marathons on the very same day. We set out a challenge based on age-graded time. We even had custom medals and Chris got a prize of a pair of Puma shoes for the winner. So the title comes from three Reggae Runners, but the half marathon part was about the distance, not the race in Jamaica. After that (starting in December 2012), we switched the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge to Negril and included anybody from our greater group of friends. Because the Reggae Marathon also includes a half and a 10K, not to mention that some of  us were women and our ages covered folks in their 30s to one guy who at this point is well launched into his eighth decade. Yes, me. And this time, if he does walk the 10K, my  friend Al. We (OK, me) have a complex system of age grading and converting all times to a theoretical half marathon time. This time it may be easier because of all the people who may participate, at most there will only be two doing anything but the 10K. I am one of them. There is an official timing point at 5.8 miles (really the start mat, but you have to run back over it just before the turning back to the 10K finish, or as you head into the second half of the half marathon. We have collectively decided that this will be the official timing point and we will just age grade that time. Since I’ve never won (and don’t expect to this time) and because it is much cooler for the first 10K than the next 11K, most people do what you aren’t supposed to do, run faster in the first part of the race. This is one time it makes sense. Whatever happens, it is all just for fun and the trash talking opportunity anyway.

Negril, JA West End Sunset

Negril, JA West End Sunset

After Sunday, we start to drift away either actually going home or in some cases (because there are several of us with Jamaican heritage) off to see family. Al and I will head for Montego Bay and another part of our adventure. But, that is probably another story for another day.  For now, I’m counting down the hours to wheels-up on Sunday night!

ANOTHER NEW (HUMBLING) EXPERIENCE FOR AN OLD RUNNER

11.17.2016

 OK, first of all, that should be Seasoned Runner! We never use the term “old” around here unless talking about shoes. But, I guess I’ll make an exception this time since ‘new’ and ‘old’ kind of go together in a catchy sort of way.

Enough cleverness for now. What is this NEW experience, and even more importantly, why was it HUMBLING?

1988 - Long before this blogger could be called "Seasoned"

1988 – Long before this blogger could be called “Seasoned”

I am not 100% certain of the exact date when I started running. I do remember why. I was getting fat and far from fit. I was about 39, just coming up on 40. Since my birthday is in early January, I know I turned 40 in January 1985. I know the first modest steps were taken before that. I had been fairly athletic in my younger days, through into my second year of university, including playing soccer for one of the University of BC teams. I had a pretty bad injury to my knee near the end of the season. School was getting busy and I’d kind of reached the end of my abilities to be ‘good’, even with a sound knee. The injury wound up ending my playing days. The injury healed (sort of) and I went on about my business. I could run quickly if I had to, could walk forever, too. However, it turned out that I could not run at any kind of jogging pace (an honourable term back then).

I knew I should be doing something for health and fitness, but every time I tried this thing called jogging, I would get just over a mile and my knee would fire excruciating pain signals to my brain. It was pain of the ‘stop now or I will really make you sorry’ kind. This continued for years. Finally, after my awakening at the ‘dawn’ of my 40s, I decided that if I could go a mile, I would go a mile and maybe every day. I did that for some time and feeling no hurt, added a bit and a bit more until I could run 10K, and three years later, ran my first marathon. I still don’t know exactly how that happened, but it did. I figure I’m somewhere over 30,000 km of one kind or another of running. My Athlinks Profile (which has none of my old stats -only goes back to about 1998 and doesn’t include all events) says I’ve raced something close to 4,000km.

I can ‘hear’ you now as you wonder why he’s talking about all this old stuff, when the title says he did something NEW. I’m getting there. The point is that I’ve run well over 32 years, well over 30,000 km (in something like 23 countries) and raced way over 4,000 km (in 5 countries). Add to that five years of running clinic experience in the SportMed BC Sun Run InTraining program and something approaching ten years leading full and half marathon clinics with Forerunners (coincidentally, a sponsor of the Fall Classic). All that said, I realized what I had not…………….. never, ever …………….. done as a Seasoned Athlete.

I had never PACED in a race. I have used pacers to help my own cause from time to time and greatly admire them. I admire how steady they are and that if they are pacing, they really aren’t racing. They may be IN a race, but they aren’t doing their own personal best effort. You really must be well within yourself if you want to hold to a given pace without wavering. That is the ‘contract’ you make with the event and all the eager expectant runners that line up behind you, and your little sign that shows the goal time you will be achieving.

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

Recently, I was afforded an opportunity to take on the challenge. The Fall Classic, a Vancouver running fixture, was looking for pacers in all three events: 5K, 10K and Half Marathon. I suddenly realized all of the stuff written above and decided it was high time I took a turn with the stick and sign. I offered myself up to pace the half marathon for a 2:30 finish. That is a bit slower than the pace group I lead for the Forerunners clinic, so it seemed a good fit.

It was right about the time that I got confirmation they wanted me, that panic set in. Well more accurately, that happened right after I went out for a short practice run ‘at pace’. Just to avoid the reader needing to get out a calculator, that is a fraction of a second over 7:06/km. Fired up the old Garmin and off I went. As much as I was trying to hold the target pace, it was too easy to just (from time to time) slide into an easy, natural, not out to prove anything pace. When I got home after about 7K on one of my regular routes, my average pace was more than 12 sec/km too fast. Well, 12 seconds isn’t really that much, now is it?  Yes. Yes it is. If you take 12 seconds times 21.1 km, you find yourself more than FOUR minutes too fast. The idea is that the pacer hits the goal time very close to right on.

That was when the panic set in and the humbling began.

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

1:30 Pace Group led by Olympian (Marathon) Dylan Wykes

Fortunately, I had a bunch of other chances to get a bit more practice in and got the gap narrowed down to where on my last practice run I was around six seconds off, still too quick, but getting into a range I thought would be acceptable. That range? Probably 2:29 (7:04) to 2:31 (7:09) or anywhere between those two finish times. Of course, 7-10K does not a half marathon make, but I was still hoping that I could instill in myself a strong sense of a 7:06 average pace. If you want a taste of it, go out and set any pace you like, but whatever it is, make it significantly slower than your normal pace and hold it steady over a long distance. While you are at it, imagine a bunch of people relying on you maintaining that pace over a half marathon. You also have to remember that while you might quite reasonably go a bit faster on the easy bits, you can’t go a LOT faster. The people you pace may well be at or near their PB time. They may or may not be able to ramp up and down with ease.

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian - proving 'you must walk before you learn to run" (and WIN)

Gratuitous photo of Evan Dunfee, Canadian Olympian Race Walker – proving ‘you must walk before you learn to run” (and WIN)

Now, I should be clear. The Fall Classic route is not easy, but equally, it isn’t the hardest half marathon route I’ve ever seen either. But, it has it’s challenges and you have to do everything twice. My point is that I never intended to run exactly 7:06, K after K. At the start, I warned all those with me that we would run continuously and at what I felt was ‘constant effort’. In other words whatever 7:06 felt like on the flat, we would try to maintain that same feeling going up the hills or down. So, a bit faster going down and a bit slower going up. On average, this being a loop course starting and finishing in the same place with an overall balancing out of all the ups and downs, we would be aiming to run at 7:06/km.

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

Start of the Fall Classic Half Marathon 2016

That was the plan. I was still very nervous as I looked at the people lined up with me near the start. I couldn’t really tell how many were going to be running with me, so I decided to wait until we were out on the course and things had sorted out a bit, maybe somewhere around a kilometre into it. Near as I could tell at that point there was an obvious group of about 10 pacing with me. Might have been a few more that were not tagging right along close, but still watching my sign as it bobbed along above all those heads. Anyway, for my own purposes I’ve concluded we were about TEN as we headed out.

I knew it would be hard to be sure of our average pace until we had passed a few distance markers. The course has enough ups, downs and flats that the pace showing on your gps device varies if you use constant effort. I was feeling pretty good though as we passed specific distances and I could take the accumulated time and ‘do the math’ in my head. About 3-4km into it I felt more relaxed as we were pretty consistently on pace over longer stretches (see photo above).

Through the first ‘lap’ we were pretty bang-on for pace. Just 11 seconds over for 10K. This is good. Except for the rain and the wind and chilly temps, it was even kind of fun!

Real heroes of the day - VOLUNTEERS!

Real heroes of the day – VOLUNTEERS!

Somewhere after the trip past the finish………………………………..so close, but…………………………..  Never mind, we all knew that when we signed up for this race. Still, under the circumstances, that finish line looked awfully inviting! Let’s just say it was a challenge to head out on the second loop. We passed through the Start/Finish area JUST before the start of the 10K event and the thought crossed my mind “If we were in the 10K we’d be done!”  Of course, the other way to look at it was they were just starting and we were half finished.

Somewhere past the end of the first loop I took ‘inventory’ and realized we must have left a few runners behind (the photo above was from the first ‘lap’). I don’t think any had run on ahead, so a few had apparently not been able to hold the prescribed average pace. Not for me to worry about as long as I was doing MY job (which I was at that point). I seemed to be down to four (and me). We carried on and as always we could count off the ‘milestones’ (buildings, large trees, roads) that we would not see again. It began to feel we were that much closer to the finish, because we were. The distance markers increased as we ran: 11K, 12, 13………… You eventually start doing the reverse math. Only 7km to go, 6, 5…………….. Somewhere around 15km or so, one of my group decided she could go a bit faster, for a finish under the advertised 2:30. Now there were just three. On we slogged. OK, the slogging was actually later. Upon checking my Garmin download, we actually held steady and on pace right to the 18km marker.

We had made the final turn from the ‘out’ to the ‘back’ and into what I consider the most challenging part of this course. It is really just a fairly modest up-slope that would be nothing if it didn’t continue on for more than three unrelenting kilometres and wasn’t the second time to do it. That was when I lost #3. She announced she would walk from ‘here’. Now it was two and me. By that time I was realizing I had made a major mistake. I have been suffering a kind of exercise induced asthma in recent years, that seems to be sensitive to environmental conditions too. It comes and goes. Having been pretty good of late, I hadn’t been using the everyday meds and didn’t even bring my emergency puffer. By the time we were past 18K I wasn’t getting a good deep breath and the legs started feeling very heavy. Funny how muscles like oxygen to keep up the output.

I knew I was not going to keep the pace from that point so tried to shoo my two remaining charges off to their own finishes somewhere close to 2:30. Both informed me that their goal for the day was under-3:00 and one of them had said her PB was 2:45. Neither wanted to go any faster and both assured me they wouldn’t have done this well without the steady pacing. We were a team to the finish. On we slogged. Yes, by now it was slogging! Slow, cold, wet, determined slogging! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year’s Fall Classic weather was, well, CLASSIC!]

Long story short, less than 1K from the finish, one of my flock of two decided that yes, maybe she would like to pick it up just a bit, so off she went. The other runner stayed with me and we finished side by side, looking good (the last 2-300m is nicely downhill). We definitely picked it up down the final incline into the finish chute and across the line. I’m pretty sure we smiled for the camera, too!

Community Challlenge - Team CA5 (we didn't win but we were enthusiastic)

Community Challenge – Team CA5 (we didn’t win but we were enthusiastic)

My first experience as a Race Pacer was done. Even though I had lost most people because they couldn’t keep up with the proper pace I ran for the first 18km, I felt a bit like I had failed in bringing it home on the goal time. By mutual agreement, we had slowed a lot in the last three K or so and I was certainly NOT within my (personal) two minute window of acceptable time. At that point I did not know all the stuff about how well I had held pace for most of the way. That all came from post-race analysis. Even at the time, I did have the consolation of knowing that both the women who were with me to the end had more than achieved their goal for the day.

I did see a photo of Dylan Wykes (see pacer photo above), one of Canada’s best ever marathoners, just past the finish. There he was, just over the finish, soaked and with his 1:30 pacer sign sadly drooping down, all alone in the rain. Naturally, Dylan was pretty much dead on his time (16 seconds under to be precise) and with a half marathon PB of 1:02, well within himself. That is how it is supposed to be done – run the time, let the others do what they can do, faster OR slower. I guess part of my personal dissatisfaction there at the finish also had to do with another pacer I used twice at the California International Marathon. The first year (2008) she was 14 sec fast, the second (2009) she was 4 sec fast on her marathon goal time. Those are a couple of hard acts to follow! Maybe next time.

That is where, at least in part, the humbling aspect comes into the picture. I am so in awe of people who can be that steady and accurate, helping others make it through. I’d like to think on a different day and if I’d remembered to bring the puffer, I might have joined their ranks. But, it wasn’t (a different day) and I didn’t (remember the puffer) and I didn’t (join the ranks of the super pacers).

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

All done. Warm and dry and waiting for Awards

I did realize a great sense of satisfaction thanks to the few runners who kept up with me into the late stages of the race. They had a different perspective than I did. From my point of view, I only had one job and I did not do it. From their perspective though, I guess I gave them everything they needed/wanted. Frankly, I suppose that had I been able to keep my pace for that last 3 plus K, I might have found myself at the finish like Dylan, with a perfect time and all by myself. Yes. That was the goal/task I did not achieve, but looking back, it was more fun to finish it up with my two stalwart half marathoners who probably had a pretty darn GOOD day.

In closing I want to express my thanks to the Fall Classic for giving me this opportunity and my admiration for all those who take on pacing duties to help us all get where we are going and at the pace we have set for ourselves! If I never pace another race, I certainly have developed a new perspective on this thing called PACING.

 

JUST A MONTH TO REGGAE MARATHON TIME!

10.31.2016
Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

OK, to be fair, for this old blogger it is kind of always Reggae Marathon time. Over the years I’ve made a bunch of friends through this event and we are always in contact, mostly on social media because we are scattered thither and yon. (Like that? Thither and yon. I’ve never used it on the blog before. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever used it anywhere, but you have to admit it gives a bit of class to the proceedings!)

Anyway, back to the point. We keep in touch through the year and both support and trash each other as necessary and appropriate. The closer the actual Reggae Marathon weekend, the more we slide over to the ‘trash’ side of the ledger. I mean we do have to keep up some semblance of competitiveness, you know. All part of the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge! I do know right now that at least three of the expanded group have another little event on their minds, the New York City Marathon, coming up in mere days. They will be excused if that is taking priority just now.

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

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

I started this way because while the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is an amazing and outstanding event in and of itself, it is this circle of friends that make it extra special, and I would imagine, keeps most of us coming back year after year. Each year, after the running is done, we have what has become our traditional Four Amigos photo, showing on our fingers, how many Reggae Marathons we’ve participated in over the years. Because I know that all will be present and accounted for on December 3, 2016, I can fairly confidently say that there will be 26 fingers on display, representing the number of races the four of us have run, or in one case, hobbled. Three of us will be showing six fingers, but Chris Morales, aka That Runnin’ Guy, aka the official Reggae Marathon blogger, will be holding up eight (8). While not immediately critical, Chris is running out of fingers! By 2019 he will need a new system! He may need to get a foot into it, or maybe he can convert one hand to “tens”. You know, maybe one thumb and one finger for 11 Reggae Marathons!  That should work for a little while anyway.

Easy Skankin'

One of many iterations of Easy Skankin’ (OK, so they are part of our extended group, but they are faithful to the Race)

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

I would be wrong to suggest that the Four Amigos and our extended circle of friends are the only ones so dedicated to the event. There are many groups that appear repeatedly, year after year. It is a rather unique part of this event and something I’ve never seen before at any other event. Oh sure, groups decide to go run a particular race somewhere but generally, that is a one shot deal re any particular race. The group may remain intact, but they will take on different events. Same group, same race is both special and unusual. The Reggae Marathon weekend attracts the same groups over and over and one, Reggae Runnerz, comes in the hundreds and takes over a couple of hotels!

The world comes together to enjoy the Reggae Marathon pasta party.

The world comes together to enjoy the Reggae Marathon pasta party.

The total count of foreign runners is always unknown until the races are run, but over the last number of years has involved participants from over 30 countries. If you think how far people have to come for this race, on this island in the sun, it is completely amazing. Something else that is amazing is the number of local runners that are now taking on the challenge. Jamaica has always been the home of sprint champions! Can you say Usain Bolt? Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price? Multiple gold medals at Olympics, World Championships and World Records, lots of World Records in the sprints. Maybe you can also say: Lennox Miller (1968), Don Quarry (1976) or Merlene Ottey (1984) just to mention a few. That is Jamaica – “Sprinters-R-Us“. Until recently, it just seemed Jamaicans tended to get tired right after running 200m! OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you know that you don’t see too many Jamaicans in the marathons. All this is to say what a major influence the Jamdammers running club and the Reggae Marathon have been in bringing Jamaicans, particularly Jamaican youth, into longer distance running. While a lot of us come from far and wide, thither and yon even, the registration numbers are growing fastest because the Jamaican ‘yute’ are showing up to the series runs across the country, throughout the year and then capping it off by taking on one of the events in Negril on the first Saturday in December at the Reggae Marathon weekend. Oh, and by the way, Usain Bolt himself participated (twice) as part of the High School Challenge. Don’t believe him when he says he’s never run a mile!  He did the Reggae Marathon 10K in those long gone early days.

Salmons! I caught all of them. Of course, Al made it happen!

Salmons! I caught all of them. Of course, Al made it happen!

I publish something around this time pretty much every year, extolling the virtues of the race and of Negril. I suppose it is part of my own preparation and anticipation. This year I’m doing something unique for me. I asked an old friend to come along and see what this whole thing is all about. “OLD” is the operative term. We are just about the same age (only months difference), so there is that part of old.

Modeling UBC "Aggie" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggie” jackets (2016) We’ve hardly changed!

Modeling UBC "Aggies" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggies” jackets (1966)

However, we met at the beginning of our third year of university. That is now well over 50 years ago! Even though we haven’t always lived particularly close together, we and our wives and kids have interacted one way and another for most of that time. OK, not the kids, but even they have been part of it for a long time. The oldest two (one each) are now in their mid-40s. He and I have done some fearsome fishing together and we have traveled far and wide as couples. I am very excited to show him what I love about Jamaica, Negril and the Reggae Marathon. Oh yes, and to introduce him to this crazy bunch of people who are an integral part of it all. Should be interesting, especially since he isn’t a runner. Even still, I’ve got him signed up to walk the 10K just so he can get the full experience.

Early morning on the Negril River

Early morning on the Negril River. The white dots in the trees are herons.

One of the highlights will be the pasta party on Friday night. Of course, even I don’t know just how that is going to be this time as the venue has changed for this year due to construction work at Couples Swept Away, and will be at Cosmos, right on the beach and right beside the Start/Finish area at Long Bay Beach Park. Then there is the magic of the actual start, the run along Norman Manley Blvd toward Negril Town and on the return, the dawning of the day. That is one of the big things for me. No matter how much fun and excitement and music and cheering is going on, there is still something mystical about the first light as it banishes the darkness. For me, that is usually happening just around the time I’m completing the 10K or shortly after. For my friend though, because he will be walking, it may come somewhere around the time he is crossing the Negril River just at the round-about, and what is super special about that is the waking of the roosting white herons that overnight in the trees about the river.

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Then, no matter how long it takes or which of the three events you might do, it all finishes up at Long Bay Beach Park where the party, the Reggae Party, is on. The sounds of live music are so infectious that you see people kind of just dancing with it, without really even realizing. Add to that that Caribbean Sea, just steps from the stage, a Red Stripe or two, fresh coconut and such —– well, it just doesn’t get much better. At least, I don’t think so.

Soon come!  See you in Negril. (There’s still time you know!)

SOMETHING NEW, YET “CLASSIC” FOR THIS SEASONED ATHLETE

10.20.2016
Finishing Fall Classic Half Marthon

Finishing Fall Classic Half Marthon

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

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

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

Half Marathon, 10K and 5K

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

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

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

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

Finish Set-Up CIM 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUN LIKE THE WIND

10.02.2016
Being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

It is that time of year when I REALLY start thinking about the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. As a matter of fact, it is just eight (8) weeks today until I board the flight that will take me again to Negril, JA for this event.

The title today is a not so funny pun or play on words. I cannot hold back on saying SOMETHING about the situation in my favourite island nation. A Category 4 hurricane is threatening Jamaica, at least the East end of Jamaica and probably parts of Haiti. “Matthew” is not going to be the first hurricane to whack Jamaica with big winds and water, no, not be a long shot.  That said, considering where it sits, Jamaica has done rather better than you might suppose it would. A lot of the big storms seem to slide by without a direct hit. Not all of them though, and apparently not Matthew.

Today, or at least this evening, is to be the day. As I write, the track for the eye of the storm seems to be through the open water to the East of Jamaica and to the West of Haiti. That doesn’t mean that either country is going to escape untouched. Only time will tell us for sure what happens. Jamaican communication services are warning people about winds, rain and storm surges along the coast. I check every hour or two.

Clearly, there is nothing one can do from here but hope and pray. I know quite a few who live in Jamaica as well as a whole lot more who are from Jamaica and have family there. All are being held in my thoughts today.

Negril 1969 - Judi and Dan

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

I actually have family history in the Eastern end of Jamaica, but since they left around 1844 or so, it only creates a point of interest. The first time my wife and I visited Jamaica in 1969 we lived for three weeks in St. Mary Parish (which is being predicted to experience significant impact from Matthew). Little did I know that the site of my Great-Great Grandparents’ habitation in Jamaica was almost within walking distance of where we were staying in a village called Highgate. After learning about the family history, we made an intentional visit to the area in 2010, the year I did my first Reggae Marathon (event). All this is just to say that I have a real perspective on the area.

All those islands have experience with the hurricane. The people know what they have to do. But, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous or devastating.

At the same time, the place I spend most of my time while in Jamaica, Negril, is likely to be totally spared. Oh, there may be some rain and wind, but the whole region knows the sudden tropical storm. It is part of life.

Rondel Restaurant - Copy

Rondel restaurant, right by the beach – breakfast, soon come!

This year I am taking a friend of over 50 years to experience what the Reggae Marathon is about and to learn more about Jamaica and at least a few of its people. The 10 days or so that we will spend on the ground in Jamaica isn’t enough for more than a ‘taste’, but hopefully he will come to understand my love of and fascination for Jamaica and her people. The country has its problems. Still, it has a pace and flow that calms me. I refer to it as my ‘happy place’. The cares of the year just past, fade rapidly in the sun, sea and sand.  Please, don’t get the idea that this is some kind of all inclusive vacation resort experience that you could have anywhere tropical. Far from it. For the last five years I have chosen to stay at a smaller local resort, Rondel Village. It does everything I need, so I haven’t really looked farther afield, but I know there are many similar places. Oh yes, there are the five star all inclusives if that is what you want, but it isn’t what I want or need. I know I’m playing a dangerous game in inviting my buddy to join me. No two people experience the same thing the same way. Still, I hope he will come to understand why I love it so much. I know he has a point of perspective, because he feels much the same about boats.

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

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

I am looking forward to renewing our Four Amigo friendships. Again, Larry Savitch, Navin Sadarangani and the ‘magnet’ that brought us all together, Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy), will be running some event as part of the Reggae Marathon experience. For various reasons, I may be the only one of the four who is running more than the 10K. Chris loves the 10K and except for that time he actually ran the Marathon, that is his distance. Of course, Chris is the official blogger for the Reggae Marathon, so he has work to do. Work he couldn’t do if he was out running and running and running that marathon. The other two are working back from injury and training for other events so have decided the 10K will be good. I like half marathons and presently think I will run that distance, but even that is not quite nailed down. I may yet opt for the 10K. (I am concerned about letting the part get going without me!) Whatever, the accompanying photo will be updated for 2016. Except for Chris, we will all be showing six fingers for the number of Reggae Marathon races we’ve done. Chris will be holding up eight! In total, we account for 26 RM races from 10K to marathon. This (I think) will be the first time Navin has NOT done the full marathon. And, (I think) the first time Larry has not done the Half. Whatever, we will be doing our Challenge again. Naturally, we will invite anyone else in the extended group to join us in that. It is all for fun even if you couldn’t tell from the trash talking that should fire up almost anytime now.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

Dawn breaking over Negril and the Reggae Marathon course.

I’m already thinking of the early morning start, the brightening sky, dawn, birds awakening. Oh, yes, and the blasting reggae music all along the course, with locals and tourists (who will NOT be sleeping, even if they aren’t running) out there cheering us on. Even though I am not 100% decided, I will probably run the Half and therefore I am thinking of Bob’s Mile and the signs bearing “Bob’s wisdom” (mostly lyrics from his most moving songs). When you hit Bob’s Mile, you know you are almost done. I believe you can actually feel the mood shift as runners sense the nearness of the finish.

 

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Post Race Party Reggae Marathon  2013

Post Race Party Reggae Marathon 2013

When the race is done, the finish is far more than just the FINISH. It is a celebration.  Even if the Four Amigos can count up 26 individual races among us, there are a lot of people there for the first time and a lot who have made this their first race or first half or even first marathon. Of course the music and general vibe is an immense part of the atmosphere, but it is a people thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been at any other race with quite the same feel. For sure, there are lots of races (especially marathons) where the sense of achievement is thick in the air at the finish, but not the same feeling of “I did it and I’m glad I’m here and I just don’t want to leave!”

Of course, you do have to leave, but you can come back. That is precisely what I’ll be doing in just 56 days.

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

While I know the events of today and the days to come will test the resolve and resilience of Jamaica and her citizens, I know they will be up to the test and that the Reggae runners will be welcomed once again.  Hey, there is going to be damage and they are going to need support. Tourism is a very big thing in Jamaica. Know what? There is still time to sign up and find your way to Negril and flow some of those tourist bucks into their economy. Think about it. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

HOOD TO COAST RELAY: A LIFE EXPERIENCE

08.30.2016

As I have moaned a bit this last year, life keeps getting in the way of my running (and writing about it). Usually, I’d have had this written at least a day or so ago. Usually, I would have written a pre-race blog too. But, it is what it is.

Bob's Border Busters (1987)

Bob’s Border Busters (1987)

August 26/27 marked my NINTH time doing the Hood to Coast Relay. It would have been more than that, but I have tried unsuccessfully (collectively with teams) at least three and maybe four other times. I have been doing this on and off since 1987 (Bob’s Border Busters). At the time I did not personally realize that we were involved in just the fifth running of the event. It was surely a different event in those days, for so many reasons. For one thing, after hitting Portland, the route to the Coast was different and the finish location was completely different. The distance was also shorter (not much). The number of teams was in the 500 odd range at the time and although it has always been tightly organized (in a good way) the feel was far more relaxed.

A lot of the roads taken were not the major routes they are today. Same roads, but far less busy and far more rural. Because the whole thing was smaller, the restrictions on vehicles was less. I recall one team with a school bus. They had a massage table they would haul out at exchanges and give the incoming runner a quick going over before moving on. I think (not sure about that) the massage person was just that, not a runner, but rather team support! Both of the first times I went, the system was what I call ‘odds and evens’. Two vans, but instead of first six legs and second six, we did a leap-frog with the odd runners in one and evens in the other and a system of dropping off and picking up. That gave more time to stretch out the legs after running. It also meant there was never a major exchange point. Of course, in a sense, it also meant every exchange was a major exchange. Well, I guess the real thing was just fewer teams, especially after Portland when the walkers and high schoolers now join in.

Ready to Start Hood to Coast - 1989

Ready to Start Hood to Coast – 1989

The second time I ran Hood to Coast was 1989. It has so many personal memories for me, including being the fastest I have ever run over a significant distance. That was Leg #1, which apart from the quality and nature of the road, oh and that we started at 10:30pm in the pitch-black dark, with handheld flashlights, was almost the same. It ended right at the bottom of the hill though and was 5.5 miles. I averaged

H2C Start Line 2006

H2C Start Line 2006

5:59 per mile but it felt like 4:00/mile running in the dark with no distance perspective. As is always the case at the start, unless you are counting noses and watching over your shoulder, it is hard to know how you did relative to the other teams (especially in the dark). I learned from my team, after finishing, that I had come down the mountain in fourth place in our starting group. We had a pretty decent team. I turned out to be third SLOWEST on the team. Our team average pace was 6:50/mile!  Ah, those were the days. Now, my role on Leg #1 (and all the others) is to offer myself as ‘road kill’ for other runners!  But, back to the glory of that race in the summer of ’89. Shaughnessy’s Cove (as we were called) finished 20/208 in Men’s Open and 64/684 (starters).

Due to a few things like living in Europe for three years then half way across the country for a bunch more and actually not doing much racing (running, yes – racing, not so much), oh and that two years in Malaysia, it was not until 2006 I had another chance to do Hood to Coast. That time was more good luck than good management. A team of loosely affiliated runners, including some from my running club (Pacific Road Runners) was coming together to do the Relay. We had people from BC, Washington, Oregon and Montana. Naturally, because of all those international, state and provincial boundaries we called ourselves Bordering on Insanity. Well, that explains the ‘Bordering’ part. The rest doesn’t need much explanation.

Hood to Coast Relay

The traditional team on the rocks photo (2010)

In case you are starting to worry, I am NOT going to recount each of the six other races I’ve done. Each was worthy of a good story or two, but I may just resort to a selection of photographs. I had the fun of having our daughter Janna run on one of the teams (when she was a member of Pacific Road Runners). We went as PRR -Cha, Cha, Cha in honour of a club member who used to be ‘the organizer’ of such teams, and who had died quite suddenly and quite young. As I recall, my years of getting a team in were: 1987, 1989, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010,  2012, 2013 and 2016. Most of them, I managed to do Leg #1, but I’ve also done Leg #3, Leg #2 and Leg #12. I was captain or co-captain for the bulk of the teams because one of my great pleasures is the organizational side. Besides, as I get slower and slower, it is my ticket to actually being ON a team!

The less traditional team in a parking lot photo (2016)

The less traditional team in a parking lot photo (2016)

Fast forwarding to Hood to Coast 2016, Canucks to the Coast had a great experience and many individual members found out some stuff about themselves they maybe didn’t know. As individuals, we had a bunch of links to each other, but the most common (7/12) was involvement with Forerunners where we participate in the half and full marathon clinics. Even though it is a fun event for most people, nobody has ever said it was easy. Each year brings its challenges and 2016 offered up some of the hottest weather I think the Relay has seen with bright sunshine and temperatures into the high NINETIES! Thankfully, overnight and as we approached Seaside, everything cooled down and Saturday running was pretty ideal. It is not that common to run three hard races, because that is what each leg amounts to, in such a short period of time. That is a major challenge that most runners not familiar with the race format, have not faced. Getting out for the third leg is hard to compare to anything else. I suppose Marathon Maniacs or Half Fanatics might disagree (especially those that do races back to back or more), but the short distances at Hood to Coast tempt you to run pretty hard. Then, there is the whole run, sit repeat thing that stiffens your legs so by leg three it is always a mental hurdle to get out there again. But, everybody does it and I know from observation of a lot of team members over all those years, that this is one of the big achievements for most.

There are 195 RK marks there if you care to count!

There are 195 RK marks there if you care to count!

I mentioned earlier that while I used to get my share of ‘road kills’, I now represent a fairly sure thing for most other runners. I guess I can feel comfort in knowing I have brightened a few lives! Of course, I do cling to the idea that when you are doing the actual first leg, your RK opportunities are limited. For the most part you are limited to those teams that start in the same wave.  Even if you were first to Government Camp, the most you could pass would be about 20. Some on our team passed over 30 in a single leg. I did get two ‘kills’ on Leg #1. I know because I physically passed them. There may have been a couple more behind me from the start, but not more than one or two. On Leg #13, I caught just one and was close to a second. Interestingly, I didn’t get passed by all that many as I think about it. Must have been in one of those natural gaps that form from time to time. Leg #25 provided me three more, so I totalled six; enough to feel I was not a complete anchor for the team!

For those who haven’t done Hood to Coast or another relay, I guess a moment is warranted to say the ‘road kill’ idea is not as awful as it sounds. It is done with good humour and is not really taken seriously. The main rule is that you get to count anyone you pass. If you are having a see-saw battle with someone, you only count once. Best of all, it is not a ‘net’ count. Nobody subtracts the number of times they got passed from the passes they made. I won’t say there isn’t a little competitiveness between team vans though! For instance, the driver of our Van #2 was pretty sure their 120 (“maybe even 130”) RK count was exceptional. That was until I pointed out that Van #1 had 195. I must admit that I might have let him go on for a bit before revealing our count. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

Checking the results!

Checking the results!

A few years back we had a road kill situation that was pretty humorous. Unfortunately, one of our members arrived at Mount Hood with a full on case of pneumonia. I had been clever (and lucky) enough to recruit drivers that year, including one who was a good runner and ready to sub in at the last minute should there be a need. Well, there was a need, for sure. We did it all legal like, but of course our start time had been long settled on the projected time of the original team. The new guy was a really good runner and the sick chap was not (as good). The whole team was pretty exceptional other than yours truly. Road Kills were pushing up into the 6-700 range for the two vans together and there was a lot of internal competition. Anyway, our final runner, who was the aforementioned sub hit the beach snorting and snarling that he had been cheated or something because try as he might, he had not found a single RK. We had to point out that there was a reason. We were the third team on the beach that day. There wasn’t anybody to be passed! We thought we might just have been fast enough to have won an award, but it turned out we had just missed. Made for a fun afternoon as we drank beer and watched the results.

Starting H2C 2010

Starting H2C 2010

We had a rather early start time in 2016. It created a bit of personal stress as it meant less time to get organized and up to the start. We had plenty of time and what not, but van decorating is part of the fun and something we’d always done before heading for the mountain. I can never fully relax until that first runner has the bib on and slap band in place. Usually, the first runner is me and I tend to fully relax about the time the teams are being called to the start and introduced. From that point, it is what it is. Let the games begin!

We had our share of stories, but most of them are of the ‘inside baseball’ variety, so best saved for a team after-party. There are often celebrities and this year one of the big names was comedian Kevin Hart. Everyone was asking ‘have you seen him?’ and hoping for a sighting or to run a leg with him. Personally, my big thrill was at the Leg 29/30 exchange. We were manoeuvering the van when I looked over at the row of Honey-Buckets and saw this guy come out who was the spitting image of Ashton Eaton. Then I saw a volunteer shake his hand and congratulate him. I rolled down the window as we got near the volunteer. I asked, “Is that who I think it is?” Yes it is, was the answer. I saw him again shortly after (I was still jockeying the van) and almost rolled down the window to ask if he’d brought ‘the wife’ along. Of course, I’m Canadian, so I didn’t. Had I read some of the publicity stuff I guess I would have known that Eaton (Olympic Gold Medal – Decathlon) and Brianne Thiesen-Eaton (Olympic Bronze Medal – Heptathlon) were both running. You would have thought that little adventure a couple of weeks back in Rio would have been enough to hold them for a little while!

My social media reporting of the adventure seemed to have impressed That Runnin’ Guy, Chris Morales, my good friend of Reggae Marathon fame. He did a whole blog post on our adventure. I think he is bucking to join the next team!

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Carbing in Kelso. Canucks to the Coast 2013.

I count less, how well my teams finish, even though that is the easiest thing to keep track of, than I count how well we do together. By that I mean how the people get along and whether or not it is an overall good experience. No team ever makes it through without some tension or stress, but how everyone handles it is the big thing. If you can’t manage the pressure of the dynamic of this event, you will not come away saying it was a great experience. I really want to say to all the members of Canucks to the Coast 2016, this may have been the best of my nine Hood to Coast teams. Well done all!

Oh, and because it is the easiest thing to keep track of, at last reporting Canucks to the Coast finished 442/1050 and 26/107 in Mixed Sub-Masters. Had the driver (that would be me, at the time) not got a little lost on the way to the 24/25 Exchange we would have been about 30 minutes faster and a few notches up both results charts. Sorry guys! No prizes for us either way, but a good solid showing.

As I was running my last leg and my personal legs were shouting obscenities at my brain, I was wondering if, at the age of 71 it was time to make this my last Hood to Coast. I mean, if you can’t crush the Leg #1 combo, what else is there? Today my legs are feeling pretty good and I may even try a run in a little while. And, what the hey, I did have SIX road kills!  And, who quits at NINE when TEN is just one more away? Oh what the heck, anybody want to run H2C 2017????

A TALE OF TWO RACES

05.27.2016
  Sandcastle City Classic 5K

Sandcastle City Classic 5K

This might be a form of ‘true confessions’. Stay tuned for the juicy stuff!

Giant's Head 5.4K

Giant’s Head 5.4K

The two races are both 5K’ish and on the same weekend and about 400km apart. One happens Saturday at 6:00pm and the other, Sunday at 8:30am. Can’t do both. That is the true confession. I’m on the organizing committee for the Sandcastle City Classic 5K, being held in White Rock on June 5th. As I’ve already shared here, while the Sandcastle race isn’t new, the 5K distance is and should make this a great event from so many different perspectives. But! I won’t be running it myself and won’t even be there. Full disclosure to all the running friends I’ve been promoting to go give this new distance a try.

No, I will be in Summerland, up there in the Okanagan, where we lived for so many years and where I started running. I will be running the Giant’s Head 5.4K on Saturday night, June 4th, with my grandson Charlie. The Giants Head Run (GHR for short) is the race that is 5K’ish in length. I actually don’t know the story of how it got to be 5.4K. While memories are a bit hazy, I think it may have been the very first race I ran as an adult runner (I ran in school). There was a 5K and a 10K, but nobody had Garmins or other gps devices and likely someone drove the route with a car and determined it was about a 5K. By my hazy recollection, I don’t think the route has changed. It has always been more about the fun than serious competition, so who really cares, right? I guess in later years they realized it was actually 5.4K, measured it and made the distance clear. It actually isn’t an easy course, so adding a 400m bonus would tend to leave someone like me wondering how you could be so slow! Well, now we know, and I also know that I, for one, feel better for it.

Post Race Awards and Prize Giving at West Beach

Post Race Awards and Prize Giving at West Beach

The main reason there is no question in my mind that Summerland and the GHR is where I need to be is that family running has always been important to me. More on that in a minute. BUT, for all you Lower Mainland folks, I highly recommend the ALL NEW SANDCASTLE CITY CLASSIC 5K. I did use the Lower Mainland designation because the Sandcastle 5K is a part of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series (LMRRS) and is Race #6. This is a popular series and we are confident that the move from the long-standing Sandcastle Classic 10K format is going to make this race one of the more popular ‘fixtures’ in the schedule. The course is right along the beach-front and if the weather cooperates, the ‘out’ leg should provide some amazing views of Mount Baker and the water.

Mount Baker over White Rock Beach

Mount Baker over White Rock Beach

You will be running right past the great restaurants on the Marine Drive strip and even though the Semiahmoo Sunrunners and Walkers will be putting on a great post-race spread, you may want to hang around for your own brunch/lunch sampling of those restaurants, or just to explore the promenade and the beach itself. As long as you leave before noon (or at least pay up) the parking will be free near the race start/finish at the far end of West Beach. As long as the weather is dry, you are even going to have live music (apparently, the band isn’t thrilled to be hooked up to amps and things when it is raining). Come on out and enjoy the fun. At 5K, it also fits as a fun/family race and if you keep a brisk walking pace you can probably finish before the permitted race time. So, competitive runners can bring along the younger ones or walkers who can also join in the fun. All of which makes a nice lead for the following.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Now then, what is this family running thing? Well, as noted, I started running while we lived in Summerland. It is how/where I met Steve King. We ran in the same club in those days and were on some relay teams together. That was the time when both our daughters began running and we did a few of those local races together. For a brief while, wife Judi ran a few races too, although later she has taken to really long distance walking like the Camino, and from time to time up to a half marathon when the events allow enough time for power walkers to complete the race. While our son was a bit young for running the main races, he did start with events like “Man of Steel” in Summerland (kids triathlon), a part of the same Summerland Action Festival that offers the Giant’s Head Runs.

Half Dad's Age Half Marathon Challenge

Half Dad’s Age Half Marathon Challenge L-R: Danielle, Dan, Janna, Cam

By accident, I ran the Ottawa Race Weekend half marathon with our oldest, Danielle. The accident part was that it was her birthday, which drew my attention to the fact that I had run a half marathon with her when she was half my age. I was 56 and she was 28. From then on I was on a mission to run a half with each kid when she/he was half my age. It took another 10 years to complete our project, when I was 66 and our third child and first-born son was 33. That was pretty tough for him. Although we did run some races together during our sojourn in Brussels, Belgium, Cam has only run shorter races and never really caught the racing bug like his sisters. He was very brave to prepare for and make it through that half marathon with me!

Danielle and Janna and I have run a whole bunch of races together, particularly the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon races, Vancouver Marathon races and then a few odd ones like Ottawa (Danielle) and a race in Manitoba (Janna) a couple of years back. Although a wee bit less frequent, I’ve also run in events with both of our sons-in-law. So, you can surely see how this family runs together.

Last year, it was a total thrill for me to be able to run my first race with Danielle’s (and Greg’s) son, and our grandson, Charlie. I wrote about it, and if you want to recall what it was all about, you can just check it out HERE. Now, we are about to run our ‘second annual’ GHR. I think I am only slightly less excited than I was the first time! As much as anything, it is that Charlie actually wants to run with ME! He will be 10 in July.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Here is another true confession. I want to run with him this one more time when the old guy is still likely to be more or less evenly matched! Last year, I paced myself to run with Charlie. This year, I’m thinking we may be fairly even with nobody adjusting to the other guy. By next year, if we run together, I’m thinking HE will be waiting for me. Well, that is fine. It is the nature of such things. We are both getting older. In his case it is an advantage. In my case, not so much! He is getting faster and I am getting slower, but this is where I go to my fall-back – ‘at least I’m still doing it’.

We are hoping for another big family running get-together in October in Victoria when both the girls and their families will be there, and Cam has to be there, ’cause he lives there. There is another grandson now, Jonah, but he is pretty young, so I’m not sure about ever running with him. We thought maybe a jogging stroller was the answer, but at least for this race, Victoria has a no stroller policy, so it won’t be this time. We are still sorting out who intends to run and what distance. I know Danielle is signed up for the Half and Charlie and I are signed up for the 8K, his next move up in distance. “Uncle Cam” says he is game for the 8K but he hasn’t registered…… yet. We have quite a few marathons among us, something in the neighbourhood of 35 in total, but I don’t think anyone is aiming for a full marathon this time. I guess we will spread ourselves around between the Half and 8K. It should be fun, and boy will there be a LOT of finisher medal bling and race shirts!! Charlie will get to do his first Victoria Marathon Weekend post-race brunch — as a competitor!

So, sorry Sandcastle Team. Hope you understand. I’m trying to do my bit pre-race. I’ll be thinking of you, but my heart (and the rest of me) will be in Summerland, at the Giant’s Head Run!

TWO WEEKS, TWO GREAT RACES

05.15.2016
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Preview of things to come! The gates of Hayward Field.

One of these is no surprise, considering this was my fifth time running it out of the 10 times it has been held. The other maybe shouldn’t have been a surprise since I’ve run a ‘sister’ race (‘brother’? – do races come in genders?) by the same organizer.

First up was the Eugene Half Marathon on May 1. It more than lived up to its reputation and my expectations. Probably met or exceeded expectations for several other Forerunners folk with four BQ’s out of six entrants in the full marathon! Yep, it is that kind of course.

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Blogger and wife at Pre’s Rock. Still a moving experience.

Being a Race Ambassador (yes, I was, but then you knew that) I got to Eugene early and did a couple of Ambassadorial stints at the Expo. But, before the first session my wife Judi and I made the almost obligatory pilgrimage to Pre’s Rock, and then walked the other side of the Willamette River where you can follow what they call “Pre’s Trail”. This was apparently an area he ran for longer training runs.

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Pre’s Trail meanders through much of the last 3 miles of the Eugene Half.

Before the racing even began (Saturday morning to be precise) I had a chance for a quiet coffee with Running in the Zone contributor and running writer extraordinaire, Joe Henderson. We covered more topics in an hour than you would ever imagine. Some of those topics may turn into later posts. For now, I just want to say it was great to be able to touch base. We met up again at the finish, where Joe was awaiting the arrival of the members of “Joe’s Team”. He even had a photographer there, one Mike Lebowitz, who just happens to have lived in and around Vancouver for something like 30 years. The picture here, is his work!

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Joe Henderson greeted this old blogger/slogger at the finish. (Photo: Mike Lebowitz)

Well, that kind of skipped over the whole race thing, so I suppose I better step back a little and cover that. Since I don’t do ‘in competition’ photography, I snapped a picture of the fabled gates to Hayward Field while on my way to the Expo on Friday. Just seeing those gates gave me a few chills and excitement for what was to come. Sunday morning dawned bright and cool, perfect conditions for running. A kindly ‘random stranger’ snapped a photo of Judi and me pre-race. It is wonderful to have a personal support team!

Almost ready. And, toasty warm.

Almost ready. And, toasty warm.

Soon enough we were off and since the full and half use the same course up to about 10 miles and a bit, and have done so as long as I’ve been running this race, there were no particular surprises. I tried to get into the pace I wanted and then just let myself enjoy the morning, the place where I was and what I was doing. It didn’t seem like a really long time before we were passing by Hayward Field again (just around 9 miles). Excellent.

Now, nobody really needs to know that getting older means I have a lot of trouble getting all the way through a long race without a ‘comfort stop’, but that is how it often is and was this time. The main reason for mentioning it is that even that worked out well. Once I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to press on to the finish, the next set of Porto-Potties was a ‘no waiting’ set and I was able to run right into the first one in line. I am totally OK with the time cost of this necessity, but I really HATE having to wait the extra time for others in the same situation. That always hurts. So, a minimal time was required before I was on my way again.

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Near 10 Miles. The Beginning of the End!

Between 9 and 10 miles there is a slightly challenging bit of running which is probably only challenging because it IS between 9 and 10 miles (15-16km). At 10 miles the route leaves the road and goes onto walking/biking paths and heads down toward the Willamette and the bridge across, where once on the other side, the marathoners go one way and the half marathoners go the other and really start the drive for home, with something less than 3 miles or 5K remaining.

Ran the race. Got the T-Shirt. Got the Medal!

Ran the race. Got the T-Shirt. Got the Medal!

All that said, it started to get ‘demanding’ shall we say. In reviewing my Garmin stats, it looks like I did pretty well up to around 14km before my pace started to drop off. Nothing drastic, but what up to that point had been around what I wanted, what followed got markedly slower. Still, I finished a race I love and nothing beats the feel of heading down the straight-away of Hayward Field, past cheering fans (fans of running, because with just one exception, none of them knew me). Then it was done. On to the post-race and some hard-earned refreshment. No lingering allowed though, as we had to push on to the next race in Las Vegas, NV.

In truth, the hurry was to get a shower before leaving and then get away early enough for an easy drive to our overnight location in Northern California.

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Gratuitous tourism photo of the Grand Canyon (South Rim), AZ.

Monday, we drove the rest of the way to arrive at our destination and ‘home’ for the week to come. We pretty much did the tourist thing for the next several days, including a trip to see the Grand Canyon. First time for both of us. Words hardly describe it, as anyone who has visited will know. As a runner, I couldn’t help thinking about a few crazy friends (you know who you are) that think what you should do at a place like this is run – a little adventure known as Rim to Rim to Rim. Uh-huh, run down and across the river and up and down and back up. I couldn’t believe it as I gazed down into that huge chasm. Maybe there needs to be a post on this and other crazy undertakings like the Badwater 135!

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Package pick-up for Revel Mt. Charleston Half Marathon. Wearing my Eugene Marathon volunteer shirt!

The weather was great, but for the weekend they were calling for much cooler temps and maybe a shower or two. The race to be run was the Revel Mount Charleston Marathon (and Half). It is the fourth and newest race in the Revel Series. If you don’t know about Revel races, they all have one major characteristic – down-ness, a LOT of down-ness. This one drops about 5,000ft over the full marathon distance and is a fairly smooth profile with just a couple of bumps that may almost be a relief. The half is slightly less steep than the upper part of the full marathon, but still nicely down.

Friday, we headed for the Expo, ready for the Saturday race. Early start! Because there is seldom room where these races start, you go to the Finish and get a bus to the starting area. Because of the logistics it requires an early arrival at the Finish area to catch your bus. Because Vegas can be pretty hot, the start was scheduled for 6:30am. You do the math. It was an early wake-up!

Nicely started! (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Nicely started!
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I’m told there were a few flakes of snow at the top of the marathon course, nothing sticking, just floating down. Well, they were at something like 7600 ft. We half marathoners were much lower down, but even still were over 4500 ft. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t quite as cold as we thought it might be. By the start, when we had to strip down to what we planned to wear for racing, I felt OK in shorts, singlet and arm warmers. Once we got going it was near perfect.

So, I’m not going to describe every step, even if this was a brand new race. The grade was smooth and almost totally down, at least through the first half of the route. After that it flattened a bit and there were a couple of very modest up-grades. The only ‘hill’ was the rise over a major highway we had to cross, then it  was down again to the finish. By the time I finished it was sunny and getting warm.

Double Agent rockin' the Finish!  (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Double Agent rockin’ the Finish!
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

As I approached the finish line, I could see the numbers on the clock and knew I was going to finish in a very satisfying time that would prove to be the best I’d done in about two years. With age grading it might even be a bit longer than that.

Revel does good 'bling'! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Revel does good ‘bling’! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

What I didn’t know was that I was finishing FIRST in my age group. I thought I had spotted a ‘competitor’ early in the race and he left me behind. Obviously, he wasn’t. When I went to get my official result I learned the fabulous news and was sent immediately to collect my gold medal. Revel does a great job of race bling and the inaugural medal and shirt certainly lived up to their normal standard and maybe then some (Big Cottonwood Marathon, in Utah, is a race I’ve run twice, so I have some familiarity with Revel races).

I have been having great sport noting that since this was the first running of the event, coming first also makes me the age-group record holder. That’s right! I HOLD A RECORD! I anticipate it will last about 365 days, but for now, I’m the man. Love it.

I had knocked some 14 minutes off my Eugene time, which was kind of in line with other recent half marathon times. So, my 2:17:23 had me feeling pretty good. Oh, and since you ask, there was another comfort stop of just over a minute, so run time was that much better and while the official time doesn’t change by a second (nor should it), on a personal satisfaction level, this race was fabulous for me.

On the Vegas Strip. Jersey Boys, playing at Paris.

On the Vegas Strip. Jersey Boys, playing at Paris.

We celebrated the race, by going to bed early! (Well, I did anyway. Hey! I was up at 3:00am!) We did manage to take in a couple of shows while in Vegas, one being “Menopause” and the second, on Sunday was “Jersey Boys”. Oh, and since Sunday was also Mother’s Day, we had a really nice late lunch/early dinner before the show.

Monday, it was back on the road and two and a half days later, we arrived home after a very successful vacation and running road trip.

For the runners reading this, I highly recommend both of these races if you haven’t done them.