category : ‘Race Reports/Favorite Races’


IT’S NOT OFTEN I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY

04.10.2017
Dan Cumming - In case you forgot what I look like!

Dan Cumming – In case you forgot what I look like!

AND, this isn’t one of those times.

Nor is the recent past despite the fact I’ve been pretty quiet. It has actually been another one of those times when life has been getting in the way of running and talking/writing about running.

BUT, it is Spring running season! As I started writing we had just ‘Sprung Ahead’ into Daylight Time, and the true official ‘first day of Spring’ was just around a week away. And then, more stuff happened, including the death of Ed Whitlock, which clearly took precedence over anything else I might have to say. So good intentions and all, here I am finally back to writing a bit of my regular running stuff.

A couple of biggies are on the horizon, the London and Boston Marathons, and sometime in the coming weeks Nike is going to unleash its first attempt at getting one or more athletes under the magic and mystical TWO HOUR  mark for the marathon.

Here in Vancouver, the number of races on the immediate schedule is ramping up fast.  The Sun Run is almost upon us and before you can turn around, the BMO Vancouver Marathon, followed by a bunch of seasonal standards from the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the BC Athletics Super Series. This short list is just to mark a few of the dozens of runs that are right on the horizon. For me and quite a few local runners, an alternate race to Vancouver is the Eugene Marathon. Personally, the Vancouver Marathon is still way ahead on the count of times I have participated (11 I believe – 5 full and 6 half), but Eugene is a favourite and I think this is going to be my sixth time in the 11 years it has been in operation.

Getting back to the international stage, we may be looking at some spectacular marathon performances in the next while (none of which will be by ME). Boston does not meet the requirements for world records, but it can still turn in fast and exciting times. Among the runners will be a couple of notable Canadians, Eric Gillis (2:11:21) and Rachel Hanna (2:32:09)! London is known as a place to do a time, and it counts. There, Canadians should be keeping an eye on Krista Duchene (2:28:32). Of course, there will also be the totally ‘set up’ attempt by Nike and its three athletes, to run the track at Monza for that two hour time. A test run at half marathon distance demonstrated that the looped course and all the preparations could produce a fast time. It is going to be exciting to see what happens when they do it “For Real”.

The thing about insurmountable times is that once someone does it, everybody wants to do it!

Example? The four minute mile. It was once said that you would die if you went that fast. A humorous quote from Sir Roger Bannister highlights this belief:

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Bannister’s time when he broke through the physical and psychological barrier was 3:59.4. .High school athletes have now cracked four minutes with the official US High School record standing at 3:53.43!

Even if Nike is creating a completely set up situation, including designing a new shoe they claim can knock 3-4% off the elite runner’s time, IF any one of those boys breaks two hours or even comes close, like say 2:00:30, I predict times will soon drop in some race, to near that same time or even a bit faster. Pride may even push some people to drive through to an unheard of time, just to prove they are ‘better’ than the Nike team that has everything optimized for the performance. People are like that!

We seem to collectively adopt a belief about things like the four minute mile and the two hour marathon, and, until someone proves otherwise, it becomes the limiting factor. Who ever imagined that, Nike notwithstanding, the marathon record would be sitting at 2:02:57? It wasn’t that long ago that 2:05 was seen as rocket fast. Since we got to the 2:03 point there have been a number of results just over or just under that. Maybe we just need to know, really know, that something is possible for a whole lot of other people to become believers.

One record that has not proven to be that way is Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15 marathon time. The second best time to that is 2:17 and it was done by Paula herself. As a matter of fact, looking back at top women’s marathon times (not records, because once someone sets a new record, people who are faster than the old record, but slower than the new one, don’t show up in the records stats), out of the top seven times recorded by women, Paula Radcliffe holds FOUR of them: 2:15:25, 2:17:18, 2:17:42 and 2:18:56. The fastest woman in the Top Five (since Paula R became the record holder) not named Paula Radcliffe is Mary Keitany (KEN) with a 2:18:37. Paula’s record time was done at London in 2003. Wonder, fourteen years later, what London might have in store for us in 2017?

Based on my little theory about people showing the way, Radcliffe actually showed herself the way, posting one of her 2:17’s (breaking Katherine Nedereiba’s 2:18:47) before she recorded the 2:15:25. Looking at the ‘followers’, that makes Mary Keitany next at 2:18:37 or more than THREE full minutes off Radcliffe’s best. The men continue to steadily push the times down.  Come on ladies, how about giving us some excitement this Spring!?!

At least in American marathoning, we are witnessing a changing of the guard. Ryan Hall has said he is done, but decided seven marathons on seven continents in seven days was a fitting way to say goodbye to the distance. Meb has signaled he is done with competitive racing, although I notice he is registered for Boston, so we’ll see. There may be some newcomers on the scene, but none as yet that have signaled clearly they are here and ready to join battle with the best of the best.

Canadian distance running is being well represented by several runners on both the male and female side, but the big target in Canadian marathon running remains Jerome Drayton’s 42 year-old record. So many have flirted with it and the gap has been closed, but Drayton is still ‘the man’ at 2:10:09. A personal friend, Peter Butler, was second with 2:10:56 – for years! He has slipped now to the fourth fastest person, but sixth fastest time with two of the faster times being 2:10:55 or just one second faster. To give him his due, Reid Coolsaet owns three of the times that bested Butler and stands second-best only to Drayton with 2:10:29. The other guys slipped in between Drayton and Butler, without besting Drayton. Dylan Wykes (2:10:47) and Reid Coolsaet wedged between the other two. It is a bit ironic that Peter has not lost a second on Drayton but has dropped from second fastest Canadian man to fourth. Statistically, you would have to say that someone has to break the 2:10 mark and set a totally new standard for Canadian men, but just now it is hard to see who that might be. Eric Gillis is only just a step or two back of Butler’s time and still active. None of the above named (well, except Drayton and Butler) are completely out of the picture, but all three are on the down side of things, at least in theory. Wykes may or may not put himself back in that mix considering the injury issues he has had in the last few years. Just to be clear, winning races is different from posting times. All I am talking about here is those record times.

On the women’s side, Lanni Marchant has set a new Canadian standard (2:28:00) and runs well. However, some younger women showing promise, may or may not ever reach her level of performance. The good news is that there are probably three or four coming along, and you would not want to dismiss what Krista Duchene might do on the right day in the right company. I (and a whole lot of other people) will be watching Dayna Pidhoresky (2:40:38) and Rachel Hanna (2:32:08) because they both have a lot of future in them.

All I know with respect to Canadian distance runners, male and female, is that I am going to be watching for something interesting during the coming year. There are many who still have potential, notwithstanding theoretical analysis of potential performance. It always comes down to the right circumstances on the right day and look out!

I will also be watching me! I’ve hit what I really believe now is a critical point in my own running. I already mentioned Eugene on May 7. A big group is going down to do the Marathon or Half Marathon. I will be one of the people in the Half. I love the race, with the great route and above all, the finish on Hayward Field. I also have a score to settle from last year. Officially, you will find me listed 5th in my age group with exactly the same time as the chap who was 4th. Seems to me that is a tie, but even though I can’t see it in the results, they probably timed into the hundredths of a second. I don’t care! they gave us the same time. I calls it a tie!! Anyway, I was holding back a little bit last year because I had another half to run in just six days. No hanging back this time!  Going for a better time (and hopefully a better placing)!

Then, later in June, I will run what may well be my last marathon, The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. I am not going to say I will never ever participate in another marathon, but unless I trip coming out of the tunnel and roll all the way to the bottom in a BQ time, I’m pretty sure it is going to be my last ‘serious’ marathon, meaning with a time I can be pleased with as the best I could do. I do love marathons and everything about them except the training and hard work of running one for time, so I may do like a lot of people I know, and switch over to an experiential approach. By that I mean a slower time and less rigorous training program (which is really what is getting to me in terms of fatigue factors). There are a good many events in which I would like to take part, and today that is a huge ‘thing’ with a lot of people quite happy to run slower than I would, even on a slow day. I may need to become one of them. It is all relative, you know.

With that Tunnel Marathon behind me, my intention is to switch my focus to shorter distances, at least for the rest of the year. That may mean around 10K as the upper end, barring the odd 10 miler or 15K event that may or may not appear on the horizon. After I determine if not training ALL the time for the long races, gives me back some of the energy I now seem to find lacking, I may put some serious training back in for a Half Marathon now and then, but only one or two a year. This all fits with some other running challenges/opportunities coming up that I’m not ready to talk about just yet – soon, but not now. I’m very excited about this new personal ‘era’ and you will soon be able to see why when I can talk about it openly. Won’t be long now!

 

WHAT A YEAR 2016 TURNED OUT TO BE!

12.28.2016
Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

Finishing my very FIRST First Half!

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

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

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

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

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

The family that runs together!

The family that runs together!

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

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

Getting ready for bigger things to come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:30 Pace Group - Fall Classic Half Marathon

2:30 Pace Group – Fall Classic Half Marathon

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

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

Getting ready for the Sage Rat Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

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

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

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

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

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

STILL BASKING IN THE WARM GLOW OF JAMAICAN SUNSHINE

12.19.2016
Celebrating Reggae Marathon #6 early morning, Dec 3.

Celebrating Reggae Marathon #6 early morning, Dec 3.

Well, I’m trying to ‘bask’ but it is a bit hard with the current weather in Vancouver.

Running in Vancouver a week later and 50F colder!

Running in Vancouver a week later and 50F colder!

Upon returning from a few days in Montego Bay, after the race time in Negril, I discovered that winter had come to Vancouver. While cogitating on this factoid, I got thinking about the contrast. When we left MoBay it was 82°F. That was Thursday afternoon around 3:30pm. Saturday morning, maybe 36 hours later, I led a small but brave pace group at the Forerunners marathon and half marathon clinic. The temperature was 32°F. You can do the math, just as I did. That is a difference of 50°F!  FIFTY DEGREES!!!!! And then, it got colder.

Undeterred, I am just letting warm thoughts of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K keep me in the Jamaican moment. You can tell how much you like a vacation experience by whether or not you start looking up real estate listings. I looked. Of course, I never do anything about it, but if the place has enough charm and good stuff to make you think about moving there, you know you must have had a good time.

That Runnin' Guy, runnin' the beach at dawn. Not sure why I didn't ask him to take my photo too.

That Runnin’ Guy, runnin’ the beach at dawn. Not sure why I didn’t ask him to take my photo too.

Negril is not a new experience for me, nor is the Reggae Marathon (regardless of which of the three races you actually run). 2016 was my sixth Reggae Marathon in a row. I guess you call that a streak. Speaking of ‘streaking’, that (or as close to it as you can reasonably come on a public beach) is what I love doing, at least as much as the actual race. Running the beach in the early morning with little more than a pair of shorts is magic. I have a rule that I don’t run barefoot until the race is over. It turns out that until you toughen up your feet a bit, shifting sand can work up a nasty blister in an amazingly short period of time. After the race though, the shoes stay behind and you just takes your chances. Most times out there, I will be with friend Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy). We’ve had some great beach runs over the years, including the time we, plus Jetola Anderson-Blair and Navin Sadarangani, put on a running exhibition for ESPN Latin America. They were doing a feature piece on the Reggae Marathon. We were ‘runners preparing for the big race‘. I’d love to put up the link but it seems to have been taken down for good and all. Too bad; they did a good job.

Negril 2011 - Judi and Dan, recreating the pose from 1969

Negril 2011 – Judi and Dan, recreating the pose from 1969

The first time I went to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, my wife Judi went too and we made a two week vacation of it, with a week in Negril and another in Ocho Rios. The first time I almost actually RAN the marathon.

Negril 1969 - Judi and Dan

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

I was registered and everything, but a little personal episode of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” conspired to see us arrive at the start about two and a half hours late. Some would say in Jamaica that was kind of normal, but it doesn’t fly at the Reggae Marathon because that event starts dead on time at 5:15. It was even four seconds early this year, according to satellite time. Anyway, in 2011 and after only a wee bit of begging, I was allowed to go run the 10K and get my time and race adjusted to be a 10K (officially). If you really want to hear the whole story, the link is right HERE.

Modeling UBC "Aggies" jackets (1966)

Modeling UBC “Aggies” jackets (1966) YEP, That’s us!

After that first time, I have gone alone (until this year). Well, not really alone in the sense that all the usual crowd is there, including the Four Amgos who now count a collective 26 Reggae Marathon races. But, alone in the sense of traveling there with someone. This time I asked my friend Al Helmersen if he would like to come and see why this has become such a ritual with me. Al and I met in third year of University, way back in the last century! We have known each other for more than 51 years and have been good friends for all that time, even though we have but seldom actually lived in the same place. Sometimes, like now, not too far away, but sometimes on separate continents and once, nearly half way around the world. Our families are similar in structure with them having the first kid and then just alternating, although we did slip in one more than them. We stay close as family friends and while Al and I have known each other the longest by just a little bit, both our wives go back to the same era (as our then girlfriends). So the women have known each other almost as long. Anyway, Al jumped at the invitation and in due course, off we went to that Island in the Sun (cue Harry Belafonte). Al is not a runner, but thought maybe he would walk the 10K, since you can easily do that while all the rest is going on. It is one course, one start and one total allowed time (6 hours) for completion.

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming patiently waiting for final transport to Negril!

Al Helmersen and Dan Cumming patiently waiting for final transport to Negril!

We decided it was too far to go for what might be a ‘long weekend’ strictly focused on the race. Some people who come from closer will often just arrive Thursday and depart Sunday or Monday. OK, those who live closer and those who are actually gainfully employed and have jobs to do back home. We departed Vancouver on a red-eye through Toronto to arrive in Jamaica about 2:00pm, with immediate transport to Negril. Because the transport service thought there were going to be a couple more passengers, there was nothing for us to do but wait patiently. That was when Al, got to have his first Red Stripe in the land of its origin! In the end, it turned out nobody else appeared and off we went in an over-large (for just two of us) mini-bus, with a very knowledgeable driver who was able to do a pretty good travel narrative as we passed through the outskirts of Montego Bay, past various notable locations, through the very old village of Lucea, then Green Island and Orange Bay, finally sweeping around a corner (just where the half marathon turns back toward the start) and the first of the Negril resorts. I have this very personal relationship with Negril and I always get a wonderful feeling of being ‘home’ when I get there. As a matter of fact, if you’ve been to Jamaica before (or a lot, like me) locals will often say “Welcome home!”. I think I’ve become what they call “100% Jamaican by Association”.

Early Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

I haven’t lived all this long without figuring out a few things. I was very aware that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder and therefore, a little worried that friend Al might not see it at all as I do. Jamaica and Negril both have plenty of warts. And, the ‘fun’ I have with my Reggae Marathon friends is somewhat unique to us. It is the main reason my wife, Judi, elects not to go (although I think there was a bit of last minute wavering this year). As it turned out, my worries were without foundation. While I’m not going to claim Al enjoyed Jamaica on the exact same basis that I do, he found his own high points and was very glad to have gone. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village - Day 1

Late afternoon sun outside Rondel Village – Day 1

Because I can, I like to take a few extra days and with my buddy along, they were well spent in getting our own experience going before the rest of the usual crowd arrived; the Usual plus others, this time. Rondel Village is, in my opinion, the perfect choice of local resort and we had some time to appreciate that with our early arrival.

Three 'Winterpeg' runners ready to rock the Reggae Marathon

Three ‘Winterpeg’ runners ready to rock the Reggae Marathon

While I expected a large group of familiar folk, at the very last minute there was a Winnipeg connection via a running friend who used to live in Vancouver and run with our running group where I live. Suddenly, there were three more who wanted to meet up and join us for fun and frolic. Funny enough, the ‘connection’ wasn’t among them!

Mmmmm. Escoveitch of fish with bammy!

Mmmmm. Escoveitch of fish with bammy!

I made good use of the early arrival to have a few short runs along the road (the route of the race) and also on the beach (with shoes). Al and I sampled the food and wandered about to get the lay of the land, so to speak. By Wednesday afternoon, That Runnin’ Guy was on the scene and I was able to make first introductions. It turns out that Chris’ current occupation and Al’s former professional interests revolve around the marketing of things. They were soon off and running without much assistance from me. Chris was soon explaining to Al, all the ins and outs of the social media promotion of the Reggae Marathon.

Friend Al, talks social media marketing with other friend, That Runnin' Guy

Friend Al, talks social media marketing with other friend, That Runnin’ Guy

By Thursday, we were over at package pick-up and started to meet runners arriving for the big event. Friday afternoon involved more of the same and MORE , many more friends (old and new). Friday night is the pasta party, which is normally right at the same venue as the package pick-up, but because of some ongoing construction, had to be moved across the road to Cosmo’s, a beach restaurant and day visit complex. I gather some liked it and some not so much, but I personally thought it was pretty darn good, with a very nice Negril sunset laid on to impress the visitors. Poor old Al was now starting to get a bit inundated by Reggae Marathoners, but he seemed to be coping.

Easy Skankin' 2016 (Karen, Larry, Candice and Charles)

Easy Skankin’ 2016 (Karen, Larry, Candice and Charles)

Easy Skankin’ showed up again, which itself is a given. What we are never sure of is ‘how many’. I think they hit a high at one point of about TEN. And, of course the newly-weds, Navin and Daivati were there ‘in the house’.

Chris and I had to slip away to the media briefing, which seems to get bigger each year. This year there was a team from China and a Japanese sister-city delegation which involved the winner of their marathon, competing in Negril with the Jamaican winner of Reggae Marathon heading for Japan to compete there.

Of course, this is all just the build-up to the main event: the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. As already mentioned that would be at a non-negotiable starting time of 5:15 AM, just outside the Long Bay Beach Park. One of the best parts of that start is the walk to the start from our quarters at Rondel Village. It is something like 2km and with the balmy temperatures, even at 4am or so, enough to get a little bit of a sweat going. After the usual ritual of dropping off a gear bag and finding your way to the line of porto-potties, there is not much left other than to find a place in the starting corrals. While I never really take the run time too seriously in an absolute sense, I do like to do my best in the circumstances and to get a decent placing if I can. Of course there is the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge.

RRHMC award day photo from 2014, when there was a big field.

RRHMC award day photo from 2014, when there was a big field.

THAT is serious business! All the bragging rights fall to the winner of that little event within an event. In a nutshell, it started years ago and not even at the Reggae Marathon. In Spring of 2012 Chris, Larry and I (the Reggae Runners) discovered we were all three running a half marathon in three different races, in three different places (Toronto, New Jersey and Vancouver) on the same day. We decided we would just age-grade the results and have a winner. We even had prizes! That was in May and because it was so much fun, we took the idea to Negril in December and have followed through ever since. Normally, because various people have been running different events through the gamut from 10K to full marathon, we ‘normalize’ the event to half marathon (you can do that with well known calculators) and THEN age-graded. However, this year everybody, with two exceptions, were planning to run the 10K. The two who were doing the half marathon agreed that as much as you shouldn’t theoretically run the first half a lot faster than the second, the practical reality is that it is usually significantly cooler before the sun comes up, so most people try to take advantage of that. There is a timing mat at 5.8 miles that everyone crosses, but where you get an official time. We agreed it would be a fair point of comparison and that we would just age-grade that official split time. Oh, what, you want to know how that turned out?  OK. Larry was FIRST, Navin was Second and yours truly, was Third (gotta love the age grading!). And, with me dropping down to 10K there MUST be a shout-out to Karen who stuck it out through the Half Marathon, just as she said she would. Bravo, Karen!!

Part of the race route when there isn't a race happening.

Part of the race route when there isn’t a race happening.

The race was shortened by an hour this year because it actually shuts down the main (only) road through Negril. Because of this the organizers instituted a rule that if marathoners did not pass the half point by a certain time, they would be diverted off the course to the finish, BUT would have their time switched over to the half marathon and would be given a medal for completing the Half. Not every race is physically set up so this can work so simply, but the Reggae Marathon is. Not only that, but it also works for the half marathon and 10K. So, they just said runners could voluntarily ‘Step Down, and Be Alright’. You just had to tell the official at the finish that you had switched races and provide your name and bib number. Well, long story short, even though I was registered for the half, for a variety of reasons, when push came to shove, I elected to cut off at 10K. I was probably not committed enough in the first place but as I was about 8k or so into the race, the humidity more than the temperature was getting to me. While I knew I COULD stumble through the second half of the Half, I was also pretty darn sure it was going to take quite some time and would NOT be a whole lot of fun once the sun was up and temperatures started to rise along with the high humidity. As it happened, there was a thunder storm in the later afternoon and once that passed the humidity dropped like a stone. Would have made a huge difference, but it is what it is.

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Reggae Runnerz in the house at Rondel Village!

Friend Al discovered the Reggae Runnerz (about 350 0f them showed up this year). Several years ago they keyed on this event and have come in numbers ever since. Many (most?) are members of Black Girls Run, an American movement of empowerment and fitness. With those numbers (not including others who accompany but don’t run) they fill up a lot of resort space (including a fair number of rooms at Rondel Village). There is a fair component of walkers and walk/run participants among them so Al found himself walking and talking as he went along the way.

Proud first time Finisher

Proud first time Finisher

In addition to not being a runner, he is somewhat hindered even on the walking front by a bum knee that requires a brace and regular treatments to keep him going. He took it very easy and just enjoyed the experience. I KNOW he enjoyed the experience, partly because he told me so, but all you have to do is check his expression at the finish line!

As I said, I cut short on my race, so was there to greet him on arrival and introduce him to the joys of the fresh coconut, Red Stripes at dawn and a few other things like live Reggae music on a beach. We met up with various folk from our usual group as well as lots of others. Al got to meet Lawrence Watson, a fine runner who won his age group in the half marathon and who would soon be our host at his Castle Vue Bed and Breakfast  in Montego Bay.

To my surprise and chagrin (because I didn’t realize it until it was long over and done), a Vancouver runner – Karen Warrendorf, who I know, won the women’s marathon. Felt a bit sheepish about that! Well done, Karen!

Four Amigos demonstrating the 2016 'count', now at 26

Four Amigos demonstrating the 2016 ‘count’, now at 26

A big feature of each of the last five Reggae Marathons (big for the Four Amigos) is the official finger count of total races run. Three of us, Larry, Navin and I can count SIX, but Chris is now up to EIGHT. This year we hit a total of TWENTY-SIX (26). I think this is the first year in which all four of us is wearing the same coloured ribbon on our finisher medals. Navin usually runs the full marathon, so of his six, I believe five are marathons. Chris ran the full marathon his very first time at the event, but after that has been strictly a 10K guy. Larry has been almost 100% half marathon, except this year and I am even up at three each. So, that looks like about Six X Marathon, Eight X Half and Twelve X 10K. That is a lot of Reggae Running, 542km to be precise! And that doesn’t count the other people in our challenge who have not been there every year or participated every time.

Post-race playing on the beach with Larry, Daivati and Navin.

Post-race playing on the beach with Larry, Daivati and Navin.

For me, the Reggae Marathon isn’t really over until the beach experience is over. The white sand beach is just outside the finish venue and many people stay around to play in the sea and enjoy the sun, not to mention a Red Stripe or two! Once that part is done, the journey back to Rondel village is pretty much ALWAYS barefoot along the water’s edge at a slow stroll. The pace is partly because legs are tired from the race, but I think mostly to keep it from really being over. Imagine all of this happening, racing, partying, recovering, beaching and then strolling ‘home’, all to be at your accommodation for breakfast at about 9:30-10:00am!

Mwaka Kaonga (one of the Winnipeg crew) and Me in the West End

Mwaka Kaonga (one of the Winnipeg crew) and Me in the West End

Ove the last few years, the final, final part of the Reggae Marathon Experience has been the One Love bus tour of the West End of Negril. OK West End funky local bars! The object of the exercise is to be there for the sunset and usually, that is accomplished. Unfortunately, I think it was the only night out of seven that Al and I were in Negril that there wasn’t a sunset (just a bit too much cloud). The Winnipegers showed up for this part of the fun and showed that they know how to have fun in the sun!

Monday, the beach party was over many and we all started drifting in different directions. Chris had to head home and back to ‘real life’ while Al and I got to stay in Jamaica, but changed the venue to Montego Bay for a few more days. Conveniently we all managed to ride together as far as the airport.

My ‘Polish Connection: Malgorzata and Maciej at Castlevue

Al and I headed for Castlevue and a surprise meeting with a Polish couple who had also done the Reggae Marathon. In their case, they both really did do the Marathon. Lots of fun stories were shared. I really only know Lawrence Watson through running and the fact that I stayed at his BnB a couple of years ago. So, it was fun to meet up with a chap he worked with in the US and his wife and adult daughter. I know Lawrence as Lawrence or just ‘Watson’. I’m older than him so don’t have to call him ‘Mister Watson’ if I don’t want to! It was kind of funny (to me) when his friend and work colleague kept calling him ‘Larry’.

The Barracks - near Robin's Bay, JA

The Barracks – near Robin’s Bay, JA

As it turned out, we wound up hiring a car and driver to take us over to Ocho Rios for the day,  including lots of history and geographical stories from Sydney, our driver. We made a stop at Dunn’s River Falls (last time was 1969). It has changed. Had a great lunch in a little local backstreet restaurant and took a drive through Fern Gulley. In the end it was more a driving trip than anything else what with it being hotter than a couple of people liked and Al’s limited ability to walk and clamber about. The one thing I kind of hoped to do was make a return visit to the family related location near Robin’s Bay. That didn’t happen. It was a bit far and without doubt the roads near the site were pretty poor, so after some discussion we agreed it would have to be another time. Oh well, I have photos from the visit that Judi and I made in 2011.

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

Too soon it was time to head home, but not before a couple of walks through downtown Montego Bay and a couple of visits to the Pork Pit, a fine source of jerk pork and chicken and smoked sausage. Accompanied naturally, by a Red Stripe or two.

Castle V

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

The View from Castle Vue as flights leave Montego Bay

ue sits high on a hill above the airport and we could watch the planes taking off, from above. Wonder if anyone up there watched us take off? Guess I’ll have to ask the next time!

Soon Come!

 

 

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.