category : ‘Race Reports/Favorite Races’


35 th Victoria Marathon

35 th Victoria Marathon

The title refers to races, daughters and blog posts!

We’ll start with the last. My most recent post was a bunch of small items that had potential to ‘grow up to be full blog posts’. Well, the one on the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, the first item of that last post, has grown up already! I suppose, considering the original post was made after the 2014 Race Expo had already started, that was a bit of a given.

The “Royal Victoria Marathon” is now 35 years old! Nice work, all those who have made that happen, but especially the crew that has been in place most of the time that I have known this event. The marathon goes back all 35 years. The other race weekend events have a bit of a different history, but are also what makes the whole thing work and drew some 10,000 participants this weekend.

Danielle Krysa and her Dad - that would be ME!

Danielle Krysa and her Dad – that would be ME!

Finally, there’s that thing about ‘daughters’. As I’ve said a number of times, Victoria is the family ‘go to’ race. The 35th Victoria Marathon Weekend was no exception. Our oldest, Danielle Krysa, ran her 10th half marathon on Sunday, showing the way to her old man. Still, this was a bit of a come-back for her, as she had taken a couple of years off from the half marathon. Ummm, and dare I mention it, she now runs in the W40-44 category. Talk about GROWING UP! How did that happen??? Why, I am barely out of that age group myself! OK, OK, maybe I’m a bit beyond that now, but sometimes it just seems that way. I really do feel like I am still back there about 25 years or so. As for the third member of the Cumming Family Runners, she is a bit busy ‘running for two’ just now, so not involved this time, except as a (distant) spectator.

Finishing up with family, we also got to celebrate our son’s (recent) birthday (he lives in Victoria) and visit with son-in-law and grandson. Speaking of ‘growing up’, Charlie (the grandson) is now eight. He already competes in kids triathlons. Pretty soon, grandfather and grandson are going to have to run a race together! Hmmmmm. Next year? 8K?  We could make this a really big family event. Janna, the other daughter mentioned above, called right after with congratulations and to say how she was missing this weekend. I’m seeing a big running celebration in 2015! I’ve run events with all three of our kids, with both my sons-in-law and my wife, Judi too. If everybody showed up in Victoria next Fall, we would make quite the team!  I think I have a new project!

Once again, Victoria put on a fabulous event. Part of the fabulousness (is that a word?) is the inclusiveness. There is everything from a kids’ run to the full marathon and abilities ranging from tentative first timers in the 8K to the swift elites bringing home both the half and full marathon events. When 10,000 participants show up to celebrate a weekend of running, you know you are doing something right.

The Victoria courses are interesting in that they are far from flat. Still, a lot of people turn in very good times, including PR’s and in the marathon a very high ratio of BQ times. Maybe it is the scenery (distracts you) or maybe it is the ‘rolling’ terrain that keeps different muscles working. Don’t know, but some of my own better times (half and full) have come from Victoria.

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

Three Amigos: Roger, Dan and BH Steve. (Photo: M. Buttner)

One of the big things about the Expo is the speaker series, which always includes top quality participants and plenty of them. This has been so, as long as I’ve been going to this event (15 years now). One of the key speakers this weekend was Roger Robinson. Roger never disappoints. He is also a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, and not infrequently a guest right here on the blog. It was good fun chatting with Roger on the sides and catching up on the latest news about him and his goodly wife, Kathrine Switzer. We had a moment with good friend, Bobble-Head Steve! Last time we were together was in Yakima, this past April for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Roger was just one of eight RITZ (book) contributors in Victoria this weekend. Of course, Steve King (the non-bobbling one) was there calling runners through the finish, as only he can. Also on site were Evan Fagan, working tirelessly as a volunteer until it was time to don his shoes and do his latest marathon (#145, I believe). Of course, Rob Reid was there greeting everyone at the finish, as he has done for years now. So great to hit that finish, hear Steve’s voice and get that handshake and/or hug from Rob. (He still doesn’t know how close he came to having me barf on him a couple of years back when I really pushed my half marathon finish. Well, ‘close’ only counts in horse-shoes!)

Joe Henderson of Runners World fame (one of the original editors, he was), took part in the half marathon himself, but also brought his group from Eugene for the event. Had a great talk with him and learned a bunch of stuff. Joe is a bit older than me (nobody is saying exactly how much) and has moved into a new approach that I should be considering, for marathons anyway – slower/funner. Apparently, we passed each other somewhere around the half marathon turn-around. I was ahead and didn’t actually see Joe going the other way. He said I was going so fast he only had time for a quick wave!  Joe is my new Best Friend Forever! Nobody has EVER said that about me.

Although I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to see him and chat, Maurice Tarrant was not only there, but took First Place in the Half Marathon for M80-84, with a chip time of 2:19:28. I am pleased to say I beat him. So what if it was only by 3 minutes and 11 seconds? Maurice is such an amazing athlete!

As I’m adding up all the names of all the Running in the Zone contributors, I really should go back to Danielle Krysa. In her other life (when she is not being a runner and a mother and wife and an artist and a writer) she is a graphic designer. She too contributed to both Running in the Zone (the book) and this blog site by designing the book cover and the look of this blog! So, I guess, although she didn’t actually write anything, she would be the ninth RITZ contributor present and accounted for in Victoria this weekend.

Finally, Doug Alward was also there. I saw him on the ferry going over. At that point he said he was just there in support of a friend. However, the friend was trying to tell him he should run! Apparently, she was convincing. He won his M55-59 age group and was 53rd OA in the Half Marathon with a time of 1:23:33. Well done!  Doug has one of the most powerful pieces in Running in the Zone with his recounting of his friendship with Terry Fox, and his life-long inspiration. Doug drove Terry’s van, but they were friends from the age of about 13, so the piece in the book was far more than the story of the Marathon of Hope itself. And, of course, Terry Fox now watches over the runners in statue form at Mile Zero (which also just happens to be about 3K to go to the finish)! Never fails to inspire this runner to dig down for those last few K’s!

There are a number of things I like about this event but one of the biggies is the out and back nature of the course that means the lead athletes in the Half Marathon loop back against the course so that many people will see them in Beacon Hill Park, and if not there then somewhere after the 9K mark. Because of the Marathon’s later start, the Half Marathoners will also see the lead Marathon runners as the Halfers head to the finish. And, the pack Marathoners also benefit from the counter-flow, albeit at a different part of the course, to glimpse and be inspired by the leaders.

So, I know there are nearly 10,000 individual and personal stories of this event. This is mine. Once again, Victoria has come through with a most memorable weekend! Thanks to everyone who made it so.

Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon a New RITZ Favourite



Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Well, I am sure that title will be a relief and even a thrill for the organizers! (sarcasm alert!!)

I was hoping to have a lot more to say about the event and all the things around it, but life caught up with me and plans changed such that I arrived late afternoon on Sept 12, went directly to the Expo for pickup and then to a Marathon Maniac (there were 117 of us signed up) carbo party, and then to our accommodation up among the Canyons Resorts. Up at some hour I don’t even WANT to remember, back down to the finish area to catch a bus and then back up the Big Cottonwood Canyon to the start at Brighton. So much for my plan of a couple of days acclimatization at altitude and a look at the course. First I saw of the course was as the sun began to rise on Saturday morning and then it was ON.

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Saturday was racing and resting, then Sunday I had a little time for tourism before jumping my flight home again. So, all of this is to say if I missed something, and I am sure I did, I am sorry.

With such a fast look and minimal experience, why did I put Big Cottonwood up there so high in my humble opinion? Well, even if the event itself didn’t get as much of my time as I wanted, I was already impressed with things before I even got there. I think the first thing that caught my attention as a race director was a very simple and generous transfer, withdrawal policy. Then, there was the matter of included photo records. Some would say ‘free’, but let’s be fair. Somebody paid those photographers and the folks who will process the files for us. It was us and the sponsors, but the race organizers clearly worked hard to put that benefit into the package price, and as such events go the Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon was not really expensive.

The nuts and bolts part of the Expo, namely package pick-up was quick and effective. I won’t say much more about it, because I really didn’t have much time to spend, something I tend to enjoy doing. It was well located, with lots of parking and plenty of space.

The Mountains Await us!

The Mountains Await us!

One of the things that did have me wondering was how effective the system would be in getting a few thousand people up the mountain to the start zones for each race. The races started 25-26 minutes later than intended. I am sure that by next year there will be an answer. For now, and without any inside information I am going to suggest that at least part of the fault lies with US, the runners. Just because they say buses will leave until 5:30/5:45 AM, it doesn’t mean everyone can show up to catch the last bus. One can count on human nature to do just that, but hey guys, we are part of making an event work. Some big races make you get there so early that you get to sit in the cold for hours before the start. Good on Big Cottonwood organizers for trying to minimize that mountain top wait. It was a pretty fun time up there once we all got huddled together and the music started!

Whatever went before, we really all came for the race. Personally, I love running downhill. My best race ever,  as I have said previously, was Leg #1 of the Hood to Coast Relay. It is actually steeper than Cottonwood Canyon, but is just less than 6 miles or 10K. As the light came up and the race began, I was both excited to get going and to see if my training had paid off (living in the Vancouver area, I have some nifty mountains to run down for practice). Much of my training effort on the mountain road was trying to figure out how to run slowly enough without braking and hurting myself.

As I followed the crowd down the road it was clear this was going to be a great event. Volunteers generally make or break these races and it is hard to say enough good about those people out there to make OUR DAY as good as it could be.

Canyon Views

Canyon Views

The only really good thing about not having a chance to drive the route before the race was the breathtaking impressions I got while in the race. I went back on Sunday to get some photographs, but I am really looking forward to seeing the official photographs which will include both the race and the scenery. I am hopeful that my photos will look as good as I tried to make them! You know: Photographer!  Lift knees, spring off, look like a runner!  After all these years I’ve actually got pretty good at it. Most people who see my photos think I am doing a lot better than is actually the case. Oh, did I mention that the reason I had to change travel plans was an acting job? OK then, maybe not.

I am not going to go mile by mile through the race. I will say that I got some parts right and some not so much. Still, I know most of what didn’t go so well was my own doing. I had a good race for me, placing well enough in my category (M65-69) and probably the oldest competitor in the group. When you apply age grading to the result (which you almost have to do when you’ve been running marathons for 26 years) this turned out to be my 6th best out of a total of 25.  That is right, 25 marathons. I really wanted this one to be a satisfying result. It was. I guess that helps with my feeling about the whole thing! Still, I only figured all that out well after I finished. Most of my positive opinions came way before then. It just felt good on almost every level.

Nice Finisher Medal!

Nice Finisher Medal!

The race shirt is nice.

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

The medal is one of the tops in my collection. But, the thing that I will likely remember the longest was that before I got my hard-earned finisher medal, a young volunteer had a cold towel wrapped around my neck! It wasn’t blazing hot at the finish, but it was plenty warm and I’d been running in the sun and the building heat for a couple of hours. They say that ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun’. Well you can now add old Canadian marathoners. Man, that towel felt good. It is the little stuff like that, that makes an event. The girl with the finisher medal wasn’t far behind the guy with the towel, but I can still feel that towel. Obviously, it made an impression.

Clearly, things aren’t over on this event. I’m still waiting for the official photographs to post and then later am eagerly anticipating my personalized video. I was pleased to get my results printed out right after the finish, and on a very nice keepsake card. This is not the first event where this has been available, but it ranks number one for presentation.

I haven’t said a lot about the course and the sights. I have included enough photographs taken on my post-race Sunday tour. The weather was similar, but some parts were more shaded than when I drove the Canyon.

Sunday - More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Sunday – More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Run right, this is a PB course. Not for me. My marathon PB dates back to 1988. Those times are NOT coming back for this cowboy, but even I managed a kind of recent PB. I need to go back to 2010 for a better time and since April  of 2010 I have run 13 marathons. The event web site gives good advice to train with a race specific program.

On a personal note, I also got to meet some runner ‘friends’ of the Facebook sort, in person. I do love it when that happens.

Now for the big question. Will I go back next year? The honest answer is that I’m not sure, but it has nothing to do with the event. If it was as simple as “Would you run Big Cottonwood again or recommend it to a friend?”, the answer would be definitely. I am already hatching a bit of personal plot in that direction, but 2015 promises to be a bit of hectic year so it just isn’t possible to say right now. Should YOU go? Guess you should get on over to the event web site and start figuring that out for yourself. I mean, can 117 Marathon Maniacs be wrong?



Running Down Mount Seymour - Training

Running Down Mount Seymour – Training

Everybody likes a good downhill every now and then, especially in a marathon. Well, I do.

Some people really like downhill runs. I DEFINITELY DO!

My favorite ‘race’ has long been Leg #1 on the Hood to Coast Relay. I’ve done this fabulous event EIGHT times and five of those were Leg #1. It represents the fastest I have ever run over a significant distance. That was the very first time I did Leg #1 in 1989. It was slightly different from today (mostly where it finished – just a wee bit shorter than the current segment). Still, it was close to being a 10K and I sustained an average pace of 5:59/mile. In the dark. Start process was a bit different back then and we were a pretty good team starting in the second last group at 10:30 PM, as I recall. Did I mention it was dark? Boy was it dark. No fancy headlamps in those days, just a so-so hand-held flashlight. The road was not as nicely paved as today either. With only a very close perspective of what was around us, it felt like I was flying down that mountain! Between the relative speed and the risk (of stepping in an unseen pot-hole) that was the most heart pounding run of my life.

So what does that have to do with the title?

Well, anyone who has run a sustained downhill race or course will tell you that the fun part soon wears off and if not during the race, soon after many body parts will be informing you of their displeasure at what you have just made them do! Depending on the runner and his/her gait, you can pretty much start at the ankles and work your way up to the hips. Depending on the individual, quads and knees are almost sure to be #1 source of aches and pains.  A bit of down is fun. A LOT of down is hard work. And that dear reader, is whence comes the title.

OK, fair enough, but this can’t be about Hood to Coast because it is just finished for 2014 and this runner didn’t get a team in this year. It is about the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon and Half Marathon in Salt Lake City, UT. When I heard about it from a friend and fellow Marathon Maniac, I only resisted for a day or two and then I signed up. (Me and 115 other Maniacs, as it turns out.) The race claims to be, and I believe them, the most down-running Boston Qualifier out there. From top to bottom there is an elevation loss of over 4,000 ft!

While the total descent is 4,200 ft, plus or minus, the slope is greater than that because there is a ‘flat’ out and back of about 7 miles, coming just around 15-16 miles, before runners finish the downward dash to the finish. Give or take, there is a drop of about 4200 ft over about 20 miles. That is a grade of about minus 4%, or a bit more than 200ft/mile. Oh Yes!  Bring it ON!!

But wait a minute old feller, that glory run down Mount Hood was a long time ago! Better get some training in unless you want your quads to seize up about half way down.  Good advice.

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Fortunately for me, there is a local mountain called Mount Seymour, which has a ski area up top and a road a lot like the Big Cottonwood Canyon road. The grade is very similar although the down section ends at just over 8 miles. Still, it is great for working on proper pace and technique and toughening up those lower limbs. The first time I tried it out I wanted to see what it felt like to ’run easy’ down that slope. Wouldn’t you know it, I had forgotten to check the battery on my gps and it quit about half a kilometer into the run! Well, so much for keeping a close eye on my pace. I really did want to keep the pace easy and not push too hard even if that was what the conditions tempted me to do. Fortunately I had my trusty Timex Ironman sport watch, so I could time the run and happily, the Park authorities had thoughtfully provided a marker at every K. Wasn’t the same as glancing at my Garmin but better than nothing. The end result though, was pushing much harder than intended. Remember, I was trying to sustain a pace I might be able to do over the marathon, not a 10K. Felt good when I finished, but payback was only about 24 hours away. OW!

Next time, you better believe the Garmin was fully charged. Even still and although I did go slower, it was hard to hold back as much as I really should have. But, the aftermath was far less and I know that Big Cottonwood provides pacers that run ‘constant effort’. They even have a facility that lets you estimate constant effort pace for a particular finish. Even for a personal BQ, the pace on the long downhill will be almost 30 seconds/mile slower than what I ran. Yahoo! While I’m not getting my hopes up for the BQ, the race has a pace group that will be running to the standard for my age, so I should be able to forget my gps device and stay with them until we exit the Canyon. After that, who knows?

As may be obvious, I am pretty excited about this new adventure. If nothing else it will be my 25th actual marathon. I can then put my one and only 50K ultra over in its own category. And, BQ or not, I anticipate that a well run and strategic pace will give me a satisfying finish time. Stay tuned on that matter.

I do want to say some things about the race that already impress me before I’ve even done it. If they prove out as they sound, maybe a few other events could learn from them.

There are two races, the full and half marathon. They have a transfer, and withdrawal policy that is very fair. There is a modest cost, but you can change events, transfer your entry to another runner of even drop out should you need to do so.

Entry fees are comparable to other similar sized events and you get the usual souvenir shirt and finisher medal, but you also get race photos and a customized video with your images cut into the tape. No charge. (Well, OK, for the cynics out there, technically ‘no extra charge’ – it is part of the entry fee.)

Being a Marathon Maniac and a whole whack of Maniacs having decided this is a go-to race, there will be a TEAM of 116 Maniacs. More races are offering team status these days, but Big Cottonwood is right in there with things like a tent space at the finish (you have to provide your own tent) and an optional (modest cost) custom designed team shirt.

Talk about creating an experience! Will it live up to its potential? Only time will tell. I’m betting yes. It is a relatively new and fast growing event, so not sure how many to expect nor how well they can handle things like start-line transport, porta-potties, etc. Those are often issues as races grow rapidly.

As I write this, I have just completed my last long training run and the race coming in just two weeks to the day. Guess we won’t have to wait too long to see how this all goes.

Did I mention that I am pretty excited?  Oh yeah, I guess I did.


Award Stage - pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

Award Stage – pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

It was a great pleasure for me to join a core group of PRR/First Half friends at the Variety Awards Night. To put this absolutely correctly, The First Half Half Marathon was being recognized for its donation history and long-term support of Variety – The Children’s Charity. I suppose I really should make the disclaimer that I am writing this as a blogger, who just happens to be part of the story, but not as a spokesperson for PRR.

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Four of five First Half RDs Mike Bjelos, Dan Cumming, Nikki Decloux, David Parker

Among the Pacific Road Runners in attendance were four of the five Race Directors who have overseen the event since Variety was made the primary recipient of the charitable proceeds of the race. It was unfortunate that Marco Iucolino, the longest serving of all of us, was unable to be there. I was there because it was my pleasure and privilege to have been one of those five RD’s.

Variety has a very important and special place in the community. Please, take some time to follow this link to Variety – The Children’s Charity and learn more about what they do.

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

David Parker, the current Race Director made the official acceptance on behalf of the club and the race, but all of us there knew that acceptance was also in recognition of all the club members over the years, volunteers, sponsors and runners who have so enthusiastically supported The First Half. In the last several years the annual donation has been about $50,000 and in 2014, the total passed $600,000.

The First Half and its annual donation to Variety is somewhat unique in our region. It is the largest race of its nature that is still 100% club run, using only volunteers. The running community knows the reputation of the event and eagerly joins the virtual waiting line on registration day. Within hours the race is sold out. Then, the work begins to deliver both a great race and among other things, another donation to the worthy work of Variety.

It is not really a secret how the race itself produces a significant donation without asking athletes or their supporters to personally pledge or donate. First, PRR puts hundreds of hours into the core organization. As race day approaches both club members and others from the community swell the numbers of volunteers needed at package pick-up, on the course, in the kitchen and around the start/finish area, and of course, once it is all said and run, to break the whole thing down and put everything away for next year. But, there is another key element and that is the generosity of the sponsors/partners who recognize the commitment of all involved and give their very best deals and unrivaled support to the race. It is tempting to try to name these partners, but there have been so many over the years it would be a mistake to try to do them all justice. That said, and speaking only as the editor of Running in the Zone, it cannot pass without mention that Forerunners has been a race partner since the very first First Half (1989), nor that the current athletic partner Mizuno has been a key player in keeping rising costs in check with their generous support. The First Half is able to offer a registration fee well within the range of similar races, while turning a ‘profit’ that is the donation given to Variety. As simple as it may sound, none of it happened overnight and none of it happens without ongoing meticulous attention to the detail of the race itself and management of relationships with our partners, the running community, and clearly our volunteers. The end result is a Race with a Heart – the Variety Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

It is an honour for all involved to be recognized by Variety with the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award and a pleasure to be able to continue supporting the amazing and dedicated folk at Variety as they provide key assistance to their Children and the parents of those kids.

I am sure I can say on behalf of my friends at PRR and on the Race Committee that this award is one to be shared with our many club members over the years, all those volunteers and the countless sponsor/partners that have stepped up with everything the race has needed, and finally to the runners who support the First Half year after year, including an illustrious list of elite runners who have appeared to race .


Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

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

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

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

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

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

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

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

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

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

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




The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, faking it in those “3km”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good running!  Good marathoning!


BMO Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon Preview

Some of the 2014 Elite Runners (Full and Half Marathons)

Some of the 2014 Elite Runners (Full and Half Marathons)

A few days ago, I gave you my own race preview for my fifth running of the BMO Vancouver Marathon (on the third different course, of course). However, other than my family, some friends and naturally my coach from the Forerunners marathon clinic, Carey Nelson, not so many are going to care how fast I run. That is perfectly fine with me. In fact, in a way I’m almost more interested in what takes place up near the pointy end of the races than at my end.  ALMOST.

Let’s begin with the Half Marathon since the race will begin first and truth be told, the winners will have likely finished before I even start the full marathon. There is an hour between the official starts for the elites in each of the Half and Full Marathon, but because of the wave start, at the very least the elite men and maybe even the women will be basking in the glory of their race wins by the time I start my marathon.

At the lead end of the men’s Half Marathon there should be a pack of three to maybe six very capable runners. Personal stats are indicative of relative abilities, but we all know that on the day things will be what they will be. Some people may have raced hard recently and some may be coming off injury and some might have eaten the wrong thing the night before. Sometimes a younger runner will be on the rise and about ready to lay down something nobody expected. That is why they make everybody line up and race. Otherwise, you could just compare PB’s and hand out the medals!

I have run the Half Marathon course and at the speed I run these days, have had a great opportunity to study it. Done well, it really should be a quick course. However, when you have a bunch of people of comparable ability the race may become strategic and then the object of the exercise often becomes winning rather than setting a record.

On paper, we would expect Paul Kimugul to lead the way. He won last year in record time (1:04:18). His lifetime best is 1:00:15 (2005). However, he also just won the Vancouver Sun Run 10K, a mere seven days prior to the upcoming race. Was that just a good warm-up, or did it cost him? One person who is going to be there to find out is Rob Watson. He comes into this event on a PB of 1:03:22 (2013). Rob knows how to win at the Half Marathon and is closer to his best time with a trajectory toward faster times. Did his team-mate, Dylan Wykes, from the BC Endurance Project take some of the spring out of Kimugul’s legs at the Sun Run, or just give him a good tune-up? Oh, the drama!

But, a last minute entry by Aissa Dghoughi (Morocco) may have something to say about it with a PB of 1:01:27. He is training in Portland and was still enroute when the athletes were introduced on May 2nd.

If any of the anticipated leaders falter, it is pretty likely that Kip Kangogo, with his brand new Canadian Citizenship papers clutched tightly in his hand (OK, maybe not in his hand, but definitely all crisp and new) will be there to show them how it is done. Kip is a well known runner in Vancouver and turned in a fine time of 1:04:52 in this race in 2013. Watch, at the very least, for these four to set the pace and make any other ‘pretenders’ work for it.

On the women’s side, Allison Macsas (Texas) appears to be the top contender, but watch out for Lloudmilla Kortchaguina who is always ready to ‘bring it’.  Two others to watch on the day will be Lisa Brooking and Kate Bazeley.

AND, as already noted, all this is going to happen (in all probability) before this blogger gets a foot over the Marathon start line!

Met up with my coach Carey Nelson (Forerunners Clinics) and Ellie Greenwood at the Media Luncheon (Photo: P Cheung)

Met up with my coach Carey Nelson (Forerunners Clinics) and Ellie Greenwood at the Media Luncheon (Photo: P Cheung)

Well, never mind. That is hardly news. I have said some years ago, and I guess it has turned out to be true, that after having done it three times I would never run the ‘retired’ Vancouver course again. The one thing I very much liked about that route is that there was an ‘out and back’ section that brought the race leaders back past us runners who were pacing ourselves more modestly. Even though it was fairly early in the race, it was good to see what was shaping  up, and inspiring too. In 2008, the last time I ran Vancouver and the last time I ran the ‘old’ course I was headed out toward the turn-around and enjoying watching the leaders already heading back. Because the women just mix in with the crowd of speedy runners just behind the male leaders, I was trying to spot the top females and when I saw the third woman coming toward me, I couldn’t help think, “Wow! She looks like Ellie!”. Well, of course she looked like Ellie, because it was indeed Ellie Greenwood. At that point, she was a fellow member of the Pacific Road Runners and someone I ran ‘with’ every Tuesday night. Going on from there she has become a world class ultra runner and winner of the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 2012 where she laid down her PB of 2:42:16 on the brand new course.

What a clever way to slide over into talking about the women’s field for the Marathon! Giving Ellie something to think about will be Wayinshet Hailu of Ethiopia. Running Vancouver for the first time, she carries a PB of 2:38:39 (2011). Horses for courses may apply here. Vancouver is bumpy. Run well, it could give a good time. Misjudged, it could mess a person up. Ellie Greenwood knows the course. Will that and her particular expertise at running ‘bumpy’ courses (hint: she is a world class ultra trail runner) be enough to make up the difference of plus or minus three minutes that the Ethiopian seems to hold on her? I guess we will find out on Sunday. Although they would theoretically not really be in the mix, all having times around 2:48, Alisa McDonald, Bean Wrenn and Sally Daganzo will be lurking. I would particularly keep an eye on McDonald as her 2:48 PB was done in 2013. While it is ten minutes slower than the apparent favourite, she may be on the rise and ready to lay down something challenging. Kim Doerksen who has just been surprising everyone with the rate of improvement she is showing in her every appearance, will be trying out the Marathon. It is going to be really interesting to see what she does with this longer distance.

That brings us to the men. The favourite has to be Kenyan Thomas Omwenga, 2013 Champ and four time winner of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. Even though his PB time of 2:10:44 was done ten years ago, there is little doubt he knows how to race, and more importantly, how to race this particular race. Gilbert Kiptoo, also of Kenya, theoretically has a better and more importantly, more recent, PB of 2:09:50 (2011). As so often seems the case these days there will be a couple of Ethiopians intending to ‘crash the party’. They are Tsegaye Disassa and Berhanu Mekonnen. Will there be team running on Sunday? Maybe. Maybe not. Will it be a fun race to watch? Oh, I think so! Watching it up close will be Richard Mosely as the top Canadian. How he will run is hard to say. His PB of 2:19:57 (2010) is theoretically good enough to top Omwenga’s 2013 winning time of 2:24:09, so he cannot be counted out. How he runs and how strategic the race is, will be key. The weather in 2013 was warm for Vancouver. Right now, the forecast suggests cool (I would call it ideal) running weather, with the possibility of a few sprinkles of rain just to keep everyone cooled out.

Could there be some surprises? Always. Will there be? Likely no big surprises. I believe the winners of all four races are covered on this page, and now we just have to sort out the details. Of course, I won’t know until long after they have showered and had a good meal and accepted their justly deserved accolades. Because my projected time assigns me to the final start wave it is certain that the men will have settled all this well before I hit the half-way timing mat, and maybe the women too! Wow, maybe there is a goal for me: half way before the male winner crosses the line! I’ll have to check that later and for sure will have to do that on chip time, not the gun.

Eager registrants cruise the Expo looking for last minute advantages for the big race!

Eager registrants cruise the Expo looking for last minute advantages for the big race!


A wee bit of Canadian Olympic history here in these Expo participants!  L-R Peter Butler, Diane and Doug Clement

A wee bit of Canadian Olympic history here in these Expo participants!
L-R Peter Butler, Diane and Doug Clement

While this is mostly and unapologetically about the elite field, it can’t be forgotten or ignored that there will be literally thousands of others running either the Half or Full Marathon events (not to mention the 8K and Kids Run). Some will very seriously be gunning for age category podium finishes. Some will be looking to lay down a solid race in their personal development as runners. It will surprise me beyond words if there aren’t a whole lot of ‘first timers’ doing either their first Half or  Full Marathon. Above all, there will be a whole lot of us who just need to feel the satisfaction of taking on the challenge one more time and pitting ourselves against our own record. For some, that will be in the form  of finding a new Personal Best. For others, like me, who are getting well into the ‘Seasoned Athlete’ category it will be maybe a recent PB, or just a time that shows we aren’t fading (too fast), but rather still holding our own. As I often say, there will be as many stories and goals as there are runners.

To each and every competitor out there I say: Have a great race, enjoy your personal challenge and be proud of what you accomplish on the day!


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Start of the BMO Vancouver Marathon – 2013

Well, me for one, and some 4,999 others according to the closed registration (capped at 5,000). Alright, so we all know that marathons being marathons, all 5,000 aren’t actually going to step up to the start line. Things being what they are in marathons, some of those who registered all full of hope, just won’t get there. That’s racing. Most of us will though, and it is looking like  it should be a good one. The week ahead is apparently going to be sunny and warm, but heading into the weekend it is expected to cool and cloud up a bit for what could be ideal conditions. Hint: I need all the help I can get!

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

Vancouver Marathon 1988 (near finish)

This will be my fifth Vancouver Marathon. Fifth Vancouver Marathon on THREE different courses. In fact, I once vowed I would never run Vancouver again, after my third run on the ‘old’ course. My first was 1988 and much of the route was in Stanley Park. We didn’t start there, didn’t finish there and did one little dash out and around Gastown, but otherwise it was about 2.5 laps in the Park. I still consider (well, know 100% for sure) that it was my best marathon and quite possibly my best managed race – ever. The other three had their pluses and minuses and were more or less the same as far as the course goes, other than the odd tweak here and there. Those were run in 2004, 2006 and 2008 on the route that was retired a couple of years ago.

Naturally, 2008 was a nod to the fact that it was the 20th Anniversary of my first one. It turned out to be one of my worst at that point in time. Less than a week before race day, I slipped getting out of the shower and wrenched my back. Fortunately, training was not an issue. That was done. Not being able to really stand straight or walk without pain, was a bit of a problem though. On the Friday I was still sore enough that even though we had a booth at the Expo to sell the Running in the Zone book, I had to bail and go home, leaving poor old Steve King, co-editor, to man the booth, as if he didn’t have enough other things to do. I took a hearty dose of ‘Vitamin I’ and tried to rest. I got a pretty good sleep that night and woke up feeling semi-so-so. At that point, because it was the 20th, I vowed to complete the thing even if it meant walking. I spent some time at the booth on Saturday, but took it really easy, got home early, more Vitamin I and off to bed. Sunday morning dawned a beautiful day. At the time, we lived on False Creek,

Almost Done - 2008

Almost Done – 2008

just a little more than 2km from the Start. I actually felt quite good. I decided to walk/jog to the start and see what was what and if there was any running in my legs. That went OK, so I set out to do whatever I could. Remember, except for the pain of the sore back, I was trained to run the marathon. Although I never really suffered during the race, I guess the week of emotional strain was enough that although I got most of half way feeling OK, I just lost steam from there.  I finished and was happy to have done so on the 20th Anniversary of my first marathon and first Vancouver marathon.

While I have competed on the current Half Marathon route, I have not run the Full Marathon course. OK, that isn’t quite true. I lead a pace group for the Forerunners training clinic and our training routes have encompassed at least 75% of the course, and more importantly, the more testing parts. I regularly tell anyone who asks, that the marathon route is amazing, beautiful and even spectacular. I don’t tell them it is easy. Nope. Never tell ‘em it is easy. Partly, that is because I really don’t know. The route offers potential if run well, strategically. The hardest part is before about 11km. There are a couple of bits later that could kind of ‘mess your mind’ if you want to let them. That has more to do with where those somewhat challenging parts of the course are, rather than that they are really awful in and of themselves. There are also some major sections that offer the possibility of going quickly or at the very least of coasting and recovering.

This blog is quite personal. It is really all about me and this race. Technically, it is my ’25th marathon or greater’. There is one 50K ultra in there, but I do like symbolic events, so I think I’m going with “25th” as a psychological tool to pump me up. I can also possibly quit running marathons and use that for my career number. Do I intend to quit after Vancouver? No, probably not!  But, then if I do run another one, IT will be my actual 25th Marathon and I can use the motivation one more time.

I am looking at this particular marathon with some uncertainty – not fear, uncertainty. My recent best marathon was almost exactly one year ago. ‘Best’ is kind of a relative term, as I would describe it more as ‘OK’ or acceptable. I was training for the Eugene Marathon, but doing so with the Forerunners clinic, as usual. I realized that I was one week out of synch for Eugene as it was a week earlier than Vancouver (the race the clinic was geared for). Either I went ahead and ran the longest LSD session of 36km, with a week less taper, or I called 33km long enough and tapered from there. I opted, with advice from Coach Carey Nelson, to go with a little less training distance and do the race rested. Eugene turned out to be a good race for me in relative terms looking at the last couple of years (filled with injury and careful healing/recovery). My time would not seem spectacular, not even good at essentially 4:55. But, on my good old and much loved, Age Grading system it came out at 3:41:12, a time good enough to still put it at my 7th best out of 23 actual marathons to date. My best, done in 1988 had a raw time of 3:25 and a graded time of about 3:15. My true recent best time was done at Eugene in 2010, when I recorded a time of 4:28 with a graded equivalent of  3:27 and my second best graded result. That even earned me a 3rd in age group out of a field of sixteen. All of that said, I spent most of last year chasing Marathon Maniac ‘stars’ and while I ran a lot (six marathons and the 50K), that required a slower pace in each event. The uncertainty factor comes from not having actually raced a marathon since 2010 where I felt fully trained and unhampered by any outside factor. Training has been good and unlike last year when I trained ‘short’, this year I actually used a marathon race as a training run, so have trained ‘long’.

At the end of the day, I have a plan to follow. I will finalize my pacing a day or two before the race, although that is only going to be a matter of some minor tweaking in terms of seconds/km. The biggest thing I intend to do is to try with all the mental might I have, to keep a steady pace, or more correctly, a steady effort. There are some truly fabulous downhill sections on the course, but even going down, we must still run. Running hard on an easy section is always sooooooo tempting, but we are still running and if you run hard to ‘bank’ time, when you hit the flat, or maybe the next up-hill section you will already be tired and the cost is often more than the gain realized by running faster on those easy bits. There are even a couple of short sharp up-hills where I am planning to ‘surrender’ from the start and accept the time penalty in hopes that conserving the energy will serve me well in the later going. Even Effort is going to be my mantra on May 4, 2014. The times I’ve been able to pull that off, the result has been spectacularly successful in my own little world of running. The concept is to maintain what feels about right on neutral ground, whether you are pushing up a hill or gliding along a down-slope. Naturally, you will lose time going up and gain time going down, but with any luck, it will come out ‘even’ over the whole course. The last time I pulled this off was the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon in 2012 and it is hard to tell you how great I felt about doing it. So, you really want to know how great? Well after my first marathon in 1988, I count the Victoria 2012 Half as my second best managed race, ever. That is saying something. My Athlinks record says Vancouver will be Race #102, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale. That record only goes back to about 1998 and even then, there are a small handful of events where the results are not reported/recovered by the Athlinks system. The races that happened prior to 1998 and particularly the heavy running period I had from 1985 to 1990, are nowhere to be seen. I estimate that my real race total is in the range of 160 or more. So, to designate those two specific races as my best run/managed races is kind of saying something. To be clear, I’m not saying they were best results, raw or age graded (actually the Vancouver Marathon was), but rather that they were my best managed races.

Here I am then: contemplating an event that should be over in less than a week, an event I have trained for since November of last year. As I write, I have realized I am more ‘alive’ about this race than any I have done recently. I was going to say nervous, but that isn’t the right word.

The Taper is Always a Challenge!

The Taper is Always a Challenge!

We all know that no matter what, you can’t totally predict how a marathon will go on the day. So many things come into play, weather not being the least of those factors.  Right now, the weather is looking good for running, but all it would take is for the high pressure ridge that is building in with some pretty nice warm and sunny weather, to hold a day or two longer than currently predicted and it is going to be hotter and sunnier than you would ideally want for running a marathon. Can’t do anything about that but deal with what comes and run smart. The list of potential issues goes on and is about as long as your paranoid imagination will allow. All I can do now, is calm myself in the knowledge that I have trained well and am prepared. I can keep talking to myself about executing my race plan and reminding myself that such a plan truly does work, and HAS worked for me, not just in theory. The truth is, writing this particular blog post is very much part of that process of mental preparation, so I will thank all who have read this far, for your support.

I will wish all the other runners the very best in executing their personal races and realizing their personal goals, whether it is a marathon PB, or simply to finish. Without doubt, there are going to be a good many, maybe hundreds, who will be completing that first magical marathon. In some way I kind of envy those first timers in the realization of their momentous achievement. It only happens once. There is very little that feels like crossing that first finish, when you are instantly transformed from a runner into a marathoner. Of course, I wish nothing but the best to fellow clinic members. There are a small number of friends who might look like my competition, but I wish each of them the very best too, because above and beyond all other events, the marathon is always ‘personal’. We run against ourselves. What we achieve is measured more on that scale than any other, at least when you run as we do.

Only thing to do now: “Stay Calm and Run“!



I would imagine (not to mention hope and pray) there will never be another Boston Marathon like it. The first one after the horrific events of 2013, had to be packed with emotion and importance for those who actually ran as well as a good many more. I think that all aspiring Boston Qualifiers, previous entrants and for that matter, most people into distance running including those who volunteer and spectate, could not help but feel the impact of this race in our community. The people of Boston are a whole other category in and of themselves.

The most striking thing seemed to be the ‘not a chance’ attitude that immediately sprung up, where it came to intimidating people not to run or cheer on participants. Next only to the 100th Boston Marathon, 2014 saw the largest field ever. If the terrorists of 2013 somehow thought their senseless acts would strike fear into Boston or the running community and somehow diminish this iconic event, it looks like the effect was the total opposite.

In my own experience, there was a quiet determination among runners both to qualify so they could go in 2014, or to take up the chance to finish for those who got stopped in 2013. In the marathon clinic I train with there were at least eight, including our coach, who qualified and went to Boston. He even spearheaded a fund raising effort for the Boston One Fund. A funny side of this is that although the coach is a Canadian Olympian distance runner (twice) he had never run Boston. Now he has. I raise the matter of the fund raising effort to point out that way out on the west coast of Canada, the running community was engaged. Although in some way the dollar amount is not as important as the idea, in this one highly local effort nearly $2400 was raised for the Boston One Fund, and the cheque presented by the group when they arrived in Boston.

Watching the coverage of the race and tracking my own favourite athletes, including my clinic friends and almost as many again from other running communities, my mind was drawn constantly to the motivation of the day. There were heroic efforts, as always, on the course. For the first time in decades, an American man won. An American woman took the women’s race out at record pace and even though her own time was good enough to win in other years, she finished in seventh while four of the women in front of her broke the previous course record. Was it her plan all along, to lead those other women to such great finishes? Hardly! But, it is what racing is about and it was a brave effort. It could have worked.

I tracked a friend, one recently featured here in a guest post, as she ran her first Boston Marathon. Her journey epitomized the spirit of the marathon, starting just in January of 2011 when she struggled to walk a half marathon within the time allowed by her chosen race. Here in April of 2014 she completed her 20th marathon and first Boston Marathon. Hers was a personal victory, but the significance of this particular Boston Marathon was hardly lost on her.

Some I watched had PB’s while at least one worried me quite significantly as I saw his splits drop and drop to where I am pretty sure he was walking. In this case he had a chance of actually winning his age division or at least a podium finish. He is in the M75-79 category and not given to easing up. I since found that he just wasn’t feeling right and knew it wasn’t ‘his day’, so instead of walking off the course to fight another day, he pressed on to the finish. I assume, although I have not had a chance to talk with him yet, that his reason for taking it very slowly (for him) to the finish was that this was not just any old marathon, not even any old Boston Marathon (it was not his first and he more than qualifies every time he runs a marathon). This one required honouring the importance of this particular Boston Marathon. It had to be finished.

These are just some of the stories for some of the people I know. I have intentionally used no names, because I am well aware that every person out there had a special reason for their race that day and their own story. Even the women’s winner, who set a course record with a time under 2:19, made note that although this was a repeat win for her, there was no joy in winning in 2013. The events of the day took all the glory from everyone. Although she didn’t say it, Boston 2014 was a return to the glory of a good race (for everyone, not just the winners).

I think this subject deserves a simple treatment. It was so very special to witness and I am certain far more so to experience. The heart and soul of it was acted out on the streets of Boston on April 21, and along the fabled route from Hopkinton to Copley Square. That said, an international community of running enthusiasts and our supporters watched from afar and were moved by the spirit that was so evident leading up to and all through April 21, 2014.


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.