category : ‘Race Reports/Favorite Races’


END OF A YEAR, END OF AN ERA (FOR ME)

12.13.2014
Sunset on 2014 Running

Sunset on 2014 Running

It has been an interesting year, this 2014. That includes both personal and general matters. Seems that with my decision that racing is now over for me until 2015, a bit of a review is in order. I won’t say 2014 didn’t have its ups and downs and I’m not talking about course profiles. All in all though, I have to say it has been an overall great year. I hope others who may read this and are inspired to reflect on their 2014 race and running records will feel as I do. I am already looking forward to 2015, and if you read on, you will see why! I’ll wish all readers a great year in 2015, as it seems a logical conclusion coming out of a post like the one to follow.

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

Lenore and Bob Dolphin, April 4,2014

To begin with the personal, I did a couple of ‘old friend’ events and several new ones. The first of those races was new to me (Yakima River Canyon Marathon) as was the second (Big Cottonwood Marathon). The other was just plain new (Rock ‘n’ Roll Vancouver Half Marathon), to me and everyone else. The latter event

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

also had a not so new 10K component, but given that the James Cunningham Seawall race was The James Cunningham Seawall race and not the James Cunningham Seawall 10K (because the Stanley Park Seawall isn’t exactly 10K – almost, but not quite), you could argue that technically, even it was new.

Yakima was a great opportunity to meet so many old friends in a celebration of running and the contributions of Team Dolphin, not to mention Bob Dolphin’s personal marathon records. Present were a number of Running in the Zone contributors with an appearance there of Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer, feature speakers. Marathon Maniacs abounded and a couple of milestone achievements were timed to happen at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

‘Flying’ Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

Big Cottonwood was a great race for me personally as I recaptured some feeling of accomplishment with my performance. I love running down big hills, note that of the eight times I’ve run Hood to Coast, something like five of those have been Leg #1. Big Cottonwood is like Leg 1, but is most of a full marathon (around 20 miles) of “Leg 1″! I came away happy with what I had done and fairly certain I could have done better had my original travel plan not got a bit altered due to an acting opportunity. I went from an easy driving trip covering a total of 9 days, to a hectic flight leaving Vancouver Friday morning and arriving about 4:00pm in Salt Lake City with just time to pick up the race package and get to the 7am start, then back home Sunday afternoon. The travel was not a huge deal, but I had no time to adjust to the altitude and no time to drive the course and really see that the ‘flat’ part coming just after 15 miles wasn’t, flat that is. Net zero elevation, because you start that segment and finish it in the same place. Whatever, I was very pleased and really thought the race was a good one.

BMO Vancouver Marathon - Start 2013

BMO Vancouver Marathon – Start 2013

The first ‘old faithful’ event in 2014 was the BMO Vancouver Marathon, and it too was sort of new. It was the fifth time I have run the Vancouver full marathon (on three different courses), but I had never run the recently set (2012) marathon route. Vancouver was my very first marathon, run in 1988, so we go way back, this race and me. I ran the new half marathon in the inaugural year, but since the two races share very little common ground, that didn’t help much in knowing the marathon course. I do have to admit that the Forerunners training clinic I run with and lead a pace group for, trains on most of the course at some point or other, but in bits and pieces. And, training runs aren’t the same thing anyway.

Three-fer at Victoria 2007 Danielle, Dan & Janna

Three-fer at Victoria 2007 Danielle, Dan & Janna

If there is something more familiar for me in the category of races I call ‘old friends’, than the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (and half marathon), I’m not sure what it would be. (No, the PRR “First Half” doesn’t count because I’m an organizer/facilitator of that one – never ran it.) Getting back to ‘Victoria’, a lot of the 11 total appearances were at the Royal Victoria Marathon and I sill kind of think of it that way. The Victoria Marathon holds a special place for me as it was my first marathon completed after back surgery, a full ten years after, but still the first. I ran it with some uncertainty and trepidation even if I had trained pretty well. Finishing and doing so decently was a momentous personal achievement and left me with a great love for the event. Well, and yes, ahem, it was where Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes was launched. The other great thing about Victoria is that it is our family race. Most of the times I have done Victoria it has been with one or both daughters running too.

On a very personal level, I need to note that 2014 is the end of a decade in my life. New age group coming up in January when I officially enter my EIGHTH decade! That sounds so much more impressive than just saying I will turn 70 in January. But, I got here and I’m still going. For a bunch of reasons, most of them having zip to do with running, the early part of the year will be short on racing. I’ll be running, just not racing until April or even May. With 10 races in 2014, that may be a good thing and set me up well for later in 2015. I’m tempted to get one in as soon as possible, just so  I can say I did a race when I was 70, but there is nothing making it look like I won’t have a chance to do one a bit later. Speaking of eras, the race that would have been my #1 candidate for first event in the new grouping is the Steveston Icebreaker, but we won’t be in Vancouver. Nope, we expect to be considerably farther east than that, meeting our newest grandchild. I am actively looking for a race to do with our older grandson, who will turn nine in 2015. That should work out OK. Not entirely certain I can hold out for a race with the new grandkiddly. Still, I do have friends running in their late 70s and even 80s, so who knows what may happen. I mean, it doesn’t need to be a marathon! I’ve run with all our kids and both sons-in-law (raced, that is), so time to start working on this new generation.

MC's First Half - Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

MC’s First Half – Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

There is a bit of minor surgery coming up after I get done with MC duties at the First Half Half Marathon, and I’m told I will be off running for about three weeks, so THAT is what takes things through into at least April before I can think seriously about racing or maybe that is think about racing seriously. I mean, when you are the young guy in a new age division, you better make hay while the sun shines!

Speaking of shining sun, I am just closing out my last couple of days in Jamaica, basking in the glow of the 2014 Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K, another event that has become one of my regulars. I took a few days off after the race, but then started an easy, early morning beach running program that has seen me do an easy 4-5K each morning, just as the sun is starting to rise into the sky. The beach is relatively quiet, except for a few other runners and some random guys who keep offering me ‘smoke’ and ‘herb’. Hope springs eternal, I guess. They don’t seem to see the irony of trying to get a runner to stop and light up. I don’t know much about the properties of ‘herb’, but I’m not sure it could make me feel a lot more relaxed and peaceful than these totally purposeless runs. By no purpose, I mean that I am not training and not racing. I used my Garmin once, just to get an idea of distance because pace is hard to gauge in the sand. Most of the beach is pretty flat and firm, so the running is easy and you just need to let everything sink into your being and enjoy the sound of the waves and the changing light. No purpose, means no real pace, just do what feels good and stop if there is something to look at. I’ve been running with shoes because more than once, I’ve done a bare-foot beach run and had the shifting sand give me a blister on the bottom of my foot. That in turn curtails the morning runs – kind of counter-productive you’d have to say. But, tomorrow is probably the last day for an early run. The next run is going to be barefoot, right near the water’s edge. I can feel it already!

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

IF I DON’T WRITE THIS WILL THE REGGAE PARTY CONTINUE?

12.09.2014
Rondel Restaurant - Copy

Chris at Rondel Restaurant for ‘last breakfast’.

Jetola Anderson-Blair models the all new 2014 medals

Jetola Anderson-Blair models the all new 2014 medals

You know, that is kind of how I have felt. But, as I bid farewell to Chris Morales (aka That Runnin’ Guy) yesterday, I knew the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K was indeed over for 2014. Some years back Chris and I found ourselves staying at Rondel Village and have never found a reason to stay elsewhere. FWIW, Rondel just won the 2014 Best Small/Boutique Hotel award and if you want a local resort experience with all the essentials of clean, convenient, nice beach and fabulous staff without the ‘all-inclusive’ frills and vibe, well this is the place.

I am making a vacation of it, so as readers of earlier posts will know, I arrived early and will be staying for a little while yet.

This year’s Reggae Marathon showed that no matter how good an event may be, you can always step it up a notch. New finisher medals, new pasta party organization, new finish venue arrangements and my own personal favourite, five year age categories. Until 2014, they used 10-year categories. Call me shallow, but when you are the oldest (pretty sure I am) in a 10 year category, your hopes of a stellar placing diminishes. My birthday falls exactly one month after race day and at the point, even in a five-year age group, I will move to a new category, M70-74. Yes, I know, hard to believe. I mean I don’t believe it!!!! Five or ten, I’m still likely the oldest guy, but at least I don’t have to deal with those young 60-something whipper-snappers.

"Four Amigos" add to the Reggae Marathon total - now 18 races.

“Four Amigos” add to the Reggae Marathon total – now 18 races.

As some really faithful fans may recall, a bunch of us have created our own event within an event: The Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge (2014). This year the group grew to 10 from the original three. Being the guy who loves stats and age-grading, I was the keeper of the official results and ratings. It was interesting how many of us turned out to be in the last year of our 5-year groupings whatever they were. This whole thing and the on-line bantering, OK trash-talking, is part of our particular fun. It turned out, although I really don’t

Deb's a Winna!

Deb’s a Winna!

want to rehash the whole thing here or favour this one or that, one of our number, Deb Thomas won her age group AND was top Female Master in the Half Marathon. Another, and one who has contributed to this blog, Jetola Anderson-Blair won her category in the Full Marathon. One of our number felt a marathon wasn’t quite enough, so Navin Sadarangani decided to create his own 50K challenge by running 8K before the official marathon start and timing his arrival to join the official marathon race when the ‘gun’ went off.

Times (other than the all around ‘good times)’ don’t count so much here. The race is a lot of fun and well organized but you are running in a tropical climate and in that context some really good times are turned in, but they can’t be compared straight up to times a person might do in cooler regions. You are better to judge yourself against your peers in terms  of placement. On that basis, our crowd of enthusiastic runners did themselves proud with a total of 6 “top 10″ age group finishes in our chosen events.

It was so good to see Race Director, Alfred “Frano” Francis, back in the saddle, given that he was in a Kingston Hospital in intensive care this time last year. He gave a Big Up to the race crew who did themselves proud in his absence last year and rightly so. That is no easy task, even though everyone is so good at what they do. I hate to start naming names because I don’t KNOW all the names, but no tribute to the crew can go forth without a special nod to Diane Ellis.

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

I’m not going to recount the numbers. At the moment I don’t even know the official stats. Regardless, the 2014 Reggae Marathon was clearly bigger and better than ever before. As far as I know, the race went off without the proverbial hitch. Having been RD for a few events, I know there were likely a good many ‘hitches’ but it is a sign of great organization when only the insiders know!

So, even though I know my vacation is continuing, I guess I have to accept that Reggae Marathon 2014 is truly over. This old runner is glad he made the pilgrimage and so glad to see so many familiar faces once again, not to mention meeting a bunch of new ones.

I guess that just leaves on thing to say. See you all in 2015 for the 15th Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K! Negril, Jamaica – December 5, 2015

 

 

NEWS FROM THE ISLAND IN THE SUN

12.04.2014

IMG_2485You knew I was going to have to do this sooner or later! First post from the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K and site of the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. This is all fun and maybe just a couple of serious reflections on racing and friends. This is the fourth year in a row that I have participated. The race has grown each and year and while it is technically smaller than last year there is still a day of on-site registration. 1600 runners are signed up for the three distances, most for the half marathon and 10K but there are a whole lot of hardy full marathoners too. There is a pretty good chance of surpassing the registration count for last year. Friday is always the big day. Guess we’ll see.

I decided to come down early and enjoy some R and R. I spent a couple of days in Montego Bay with Lawrence Watson at his AirBnB (Castlevue). I met Lawrence in 2011, but never had the time to stop in at his place. This time was different. Great decision on my part. Even went running Saturday morning. And boy did I get treated to some special and authentic Jamaican food. Sunday breakfast was ackee and salt fish with fried breadfruit and callaloo. Then I headed off for Negril.

Nifty new shoes.

Nifty new shoes.

Wanting to fit in, I got into the spirit with new shoes that should do the trick. Almost the flag colours of Jamaica and should go nicely with the new singlet. Once you come here many (and that includes me) say they are 100% Jamaican by association. Even with my personal nod to Jamaica with my shoes and running gear, I will  have a Canadian flag patch prominently stitched into the combo, because let us not forget that I am 100% Canadian by birth. Funny thing though is that my Great-Great -Grandparents were in Jamaica for five years, just around 1840. Maybe that is the pull. Don’t know.

Doctor 'One Drop' Dread (my Reggae Name)

Doctor ‘One Drop’ Dread (my Reggae Name)

The Reggae Runners’ Half Marathon Challenge is something a growing number of friends indulge in just for fun. It started with three of us who met through the Reggae Marathon and related social media. When we discovered that the three of us were running a half marathon on the same day in three different places (New Jersey, Toronto, and Vancouver). Because of a wide age difference we decided to age-grade the results and use that for determining the winner. That was how Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy and official RM blogger), Larry Savitch and I got to know each other. By the time we got to the next Reggae Marathon our friend Navin Sadarangani had got into the mix and Deb Thomas. Last year, Jetola Anderson-Blair become a competitor and we continue to grow. The trash talk on the dedicated Facebook page gets pretty heated, but it is all in fun.

This year we will have a prize for the winner but also a special ‘Soon Come’ prize for the last place contestant. It is not simple to predict because we have three distances and ages from 35 to 69 and both genders. But, age-grading will prevail and we will have our prize winners. Oh, the ‘Soon Come’ award is being modeled by me above.

Reggae Marathon Buddies - showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

Reggae Marathon Buddies – showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

On a serious note I wanted to comment on one of my favourite photographs. It is Larry, Navin, Chris and me. Our backgrounds, heritages and such could hardly be more different, yet running brings us together and although we mostly have no personal contact other than when we show up in Negril, I think we truly are friends. The photo shows us holding up fingers to a total 14 Reggae Marathons. We have vowed the photo needs to be repeated this year and each can add another finger which will bring  the total to 18. I should say there are others who probably should be in the picture, but we four are kind of a core group and what knits us together is that when we met, we were all actively blogging about running.

The big pre-race pasta party will be Friday night and the weather looks like it will be good for the outdoor festivities. Big groups have made this their go-to event and several will be back. It is also very international. No count for 2014 but pretty common to see 30 or so countries represented. I’ve already met Americans, Belgians, Swiss, Dutch, Brazilians, and naturally a few Canadians, not to mention a bunch of Jamaicans. Stay tuned for more updates. Things are just getting going!

 

IS IT TOO SOON TO START HUMMING “ONE LOVE”?

11.07.2014
Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K

Of course not!

Besides, I am still hoping some running friends from Western Canada will be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm and decide to join me in Negril, Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K on December 6. Won’t help much if I wait until the day before I leave to post up this item

Chris (That Runnin' Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running 'Black Girlz')

Chris (That Runnin’ Guy) Morales with Jetola Anderson-Blair and Lisa Laws (Head Honcha of the Reggae Running ‘Black Girlz’)

Of course the title reference is to Bob Marley’s iconic song, but it somehow represents the feel of this event for me and many others. This is not some touchy-feely thing I’m talking about, but this event has a kind of ‘family’ vibe or something. It is why I keep going back. True, I have found a small and growing circle of Reggae Marathon friends that make it special for me, but it is quite clear when you get there, that many people are having the same experience. Black Girlz Run has been making an appearance for several years and say they will top the 150 or so that showed up last year.

 

Easy Skankin'

Easy Skankin’

Easy Skankin’ (easy there folks, it is another Marley song reference) is back for maybe their fourth year. I could keep listing other groups (there are a bunch), but I think you have the idea.

Part of it may be that except for the very best runners, nobody expects a super great finish time (We’re here for a GOOD time, not a FAST time…..). The course is pancake flat, but it is normally pretty warm, moving on to hot if you take more than three hours to complete the marathon. Make no mistake, the record times are very respectable (Marathon: 2:21:05, Half: 1:08:32 and 10K: 29:55) , but most people are there for the experience.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the 'Black Girlz'

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013, cw one of the ‘Black Girlz’ (in green team shirt)

When you drop expectations and enjoy the moment everything changes. You see it from the time you pick up your package and head to (what just might be) the “Best Pasta Party in the World”  and right on through the early start (5:14 AM early!). Oh, and while Jamaica may have a bit of a ‘soon come’ reputation, that does not apply to ‘Frano’, Race Director, who WILL send everyone out exactly at 5:15 AM. The enjoyment just starts to increase from then as you run to the sound of Caribbean music including steel drums, but here – mostly reggae.

The start is usually around 22-23C, or about 70F, plus or minus. It stays that way until the sun actually comes up around 6:45 AM. Around 6:30 AM, the sky begins to brighten and colour and if you aren’t too busy dance/running to the sounds or talking to a fellow runner, you can’t avoid some deep feeling welling up. If you just happen to be running ‘alone’ and passing by someone blasting “One Love” or even “Three Little Birds” don’t be surprised if you are overtaken with emotion (the good kind). It has happened to me!

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

Reggae Marathoners just before full light

If you are doing the 10K you might just be finishing before the sun is peaking over the horizon, and frankly, the 10K section might be the most exciting and energetic part of the course, which starts and finishes ‘in the middle’ of the route. Everybody starts out heading for Negril Town which is about 5K down the road. At the round-about you head back toward the start and when you get there the 10K folk are done. This section has most of the smaller, ‘local’ resorts, shops, eating places and such. Despite the hour, there are lots of people on the street cheering you on and ever so enthusiastic volunteers to keep you hydrated and (if you needed it) your spirits up. Half marathoners carry on past the finish and into the sunrise. Depending on how fast you might be, this is probably where you are going to encounter that morning magic I talked about earlier. This section has more of the larger ‘top end’ resorts, but still lots of spectators and sometimes hotel staff with spray hoses to cool you or sometimes goodies from the cooking staff.

Turbojet Negril

Turbojet after the marathon!

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

ThatRunninGuy Reggae Marathon Finish

Myself, I like the Half because even someone going at my pace will finish not terribly long after the sun is fully up and the beach is at its best. Yes, the beach. The finish (and start) is at Long Bay Beach Park. Regardless of which of the three distances you might choose, when it is time to finish you will slip off the main road at an angle, into the finish chute. The only thing ‘wrong’ with the 10K is you don’t get to run Bob’s Mile. Again, lots of Marley inspired music and signs every hundred metres or so with “Bob’s Wisdom”. Don’t be surprised, again, if Bob’s Wisdom hits you somewhere deep. This is not just a coincidence or ‘riding the coat-tails’ of the Marley legend. There is a very real connection between race organizers and the Marley family. The marathon winners’ trophies (male and female) were donated by Rita Marley.

Reggae Marathon Buddies - showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

Reggae Marathon Buddies – showing 14, soon to be 18 appearances!

TSweet Reggae Music (800x678)he finish area, no matter when you get there is a place many don’t want to leave. Oh sure, there is the fresh cut coconut, the bananas (nothing quite like the taste of a banana in the place where it actually grew), pineapple (same deal) and Red Stripe and the band and the massage tents, but again it is one of those places where everyone is just feeling good, the kind of good you wish you could bottle and take home. In a way, I guess you can, but not in a bottle – just in your heart.

Even pre and post-race times have a happy vibe. Regardless of the fact that there are shuttles to the start, many walk the relatively short distances if they are within a mile or so (I usually am). The ‘party’ starts right there on the road. After everything is done and you REALLY must leave the finish area, well there is nothing better than strolling back to your ‘home away from home’, bare-foot along the waters edge on that seven mile white sand beach.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

Navin Sadarangani finishing first loop of the Marathon as the sun comes up.

You might have noticed I didn’t say anything about the full marathon. That is partly because I have never done it. I intended to the very first time in 2011, but some transportation disaster struck and I wound up doing a very late starting 10K. I am still feeling I want to try. Will it be this year? Not according to my current registration, but they do allow you to change events. I don’t need to run another marathon, ever. Nothing says I must run the Reggae Marathon, still……………………….. A couple of my Reggae Marathon friends are encouraging me to ‘just do it’. Curiously enough they are both marathoners and Marathon Maniacs and pictured in this blog! They say you shouldn’t take advice from crazy people, but that has never stopped me in the past. It certainly isn’t that it can’t be done, heat or no heat. Of course, you do have to respect that heat if you are going come through in good condition. The race looks after you re hydration and such, but once that tropical sun is up (as it certainly would be for anyone at my pace) you must respect it. Reasonable running strategy and expectations help and they give almost anyone enough time to ‘Get ‘er Done’. We’ll see. Probably only decide after I get there and remind myself what running in tropical heat is all about. For that matter, my ego might make me drop to the 10K where I might just be able to score a podium finish in my age group!

The Challenge

The Challenge

 

Three Amigos at Ricks

Three Amigos at Ricks

Once that is all done, it will be time to have fun with all those old, and almost certainly, a few new Reggae Marathon friends. Some of us even have our own little mini competition going, called the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge. Mostly it is about trash-talk and bragging rights. We have young(ish) and old, male and female, and all three distances involved. Through the miracle of the World Masters Athletics age grading calculator, we will be able to bring everyone to an age-graded half marathon time and determine the 2014 champ. Gee, I wonder if the Marleys would give us a trophy?????

 

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay

11.02.2014
Striking Finisher Medal

Striking Finisher Medal

Well, at least for another year. How do I know? Well, the super-bargain advance registration for 2015 is already ‘live’.

Of course, the Rock ‘n’ Roll I’m referring to is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and James Cunningham 10K, both were run October 26. They have billed the event as Vancouver’s newest half marathon and oldest 10K. The ‘new’ part is easy enough and definitely true until somebody else starts one. As for the Cunningham 10K (now 40 years) some might argue that it is also Vancouver’s newest 10K. You see, until 2014 the James Cunningham Seawall Race never was quite 10K, close but not quite.  Why? Because the Seawall is a few hundred metres shy of 10K. Newer runners who didn’t know that, used to get very excited about their 10K PB’s until they sadly found out otherwise. BUT, who is going to niggle? James Cunningham, staged by Lions Gate Road Runners is a Vancouver fixture and has been a  great event for every one of those 40 years. It was/is also a tonne of fun, coming so close to Halloween. Many people run in costume and just have fun with it, something we should all do from time to time.

[Before I go any farther, I should say this article took a bit longer than usual to post , but it was ‘one of those weeks’.]

As I made my decision to participate, I chose the Half Marathon, but then wondered if I did the right thing. The 10K James Cunningham race is every bit the great event I just described, but for some reason this VERY Seasoned Runner has never done it. Don’t know why really, but I haven’t. Well OK, one reason is that I haven’t lived in or near Vancouver for all FORTY of those years. Guess there have also been some date conflicts (personal and running) from time to time, too. Anyway, my not having run James Cunningham is no ‘statement’, just a sad fact. I should probably fix that next year!

Anyway, for better or for worse, I chose the Half. It was my second half marathon in two weeks (three weekends) and third race, with a leg of the Whistler 50 slotted in between the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon and this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half. It has been a busy Fall running schedule for me, with the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon (Salt Lake City, UT) in mid-September and then these three races in rapid succession. There have been a lot of firsts in there: first marathon in Utah, first screaming downhill marathon (same one), first time for Whistler 50 Relay, and first (guess it really had to be) Rock ‘n’ Roll Vancouver event. Although I would have to go back and check carefully, the two half marathons may be my first qualifying sequence required to be a Half Fanatic. Of which sort of people, there were PLENTY at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half.

As an old RD, I have a hard time running races without looking at an event from that perspective. One of the first things is the pre-race ‘conveniences’ (nice word for toilets). It was a big crowd at the Half start (the Cunningham race started in a different location), but there were porto-potties for miles. As we inched toward the actual start (and our wave’s turn to go, uh, RUN that is), I particularly noted that there was virtually nobody still waiting to use a PP. In other words, there were plenty.

The second thing I look for is an ‘on-time’ start. They got that too. That was not true of my last Rock ‘n’ Roll experience and a bit of a sore point as it spun out later in the race. It was also a positive in the long run. More on this a bit later.

I do hope that there may be a course revision. The first mile or so is great as you head to and through Gastown. The finish, although it was moved rather late in the game, was in a fabulous location in my opinion. I know that as I was coming around the last bit of the Seawall toward Devonian Park, it just felt right that as soon as I passed the “Zero” marker on the Seawall (yes, there is a marker) the finish was right there. You could hear it and see it for a good distance and knew you were about to arrive. Twice, I’ve finished races (marathon and half) that come around that last corner, but then continue on into the concrete and glass of downtown. There is something to be said for that finish, too, but having experienced both, I’m now a fan of Devonian Park!

They sure got it right taking the route onto the False Creek Seawall or Promenade. The Stanley Park segment (mostly on the road for the Half) is never wrong for any race. For visitors to Vancouver, (and from my casual chatting before, during and after, there were plenty of those) those parts of the route must have seemed amazing. From a very personal perspective I hope there can be a rethink of the bit from about 2-5K. It never enhanced the old Vancouver Marathon route (running the other direction) and it doesn’t match the rest of this particular route. I know part of it was a bit last minute in adjusting for the change to the finish. Given a year to work on it, I hope there might be a positive adjustment, but even if  it isn’t possible, this is still going to be one of the most scenic routes for Vancouver races.

Now, what was this thing about not starting on time in another Rock ‘n’ Roll race and why was that so big a deal? Briefly, I ran the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon almost one year ago. For reasons guys like me (old RDs) understand very well, they had a strict time limit and for marathons as run in these days, a somewhat restrictive one of 5 hours. More correctly, it was a 5-hour pace to three critical points on the course. If you got by those diversion points you could actually take a lot more than five hours to finish. BUT, if you did not pass the critical points, you would be diverted (or picked up and transported, if necessary). I had been running a lot of marathons last year and knew a five hour pace through 15 miles was fully feasible. I registered and made the travel arrangements. There were a lot of fine statements about how the five hour period was a chip based time and the ‘clock’ would only start running after the last marathoner chip crossed the start-line and all marathoners would start within a certain time.  And that is where it all started going wrong.

The race was about five minutes late starting the first wave. It seems nobody told the cop at 15 miles. When I (and about 20 other runners) hit that 15 mile diversion point, we got shorted about 8 minutes. Notwithstanding the talk of chips and related stuff, the cop on the road had apparently been instructed that 8pm was the diversion time. Nobody told him (I assume) to add five minutes for the late start. On top of that, and I don’t know why, he took out another three minutes, putting the diversion in at (satellite time) 7:57pm. The howls of protest were many and loud – some even tried to argue our case. Had I missed the time, there would be not a word of protest on my part, but I (and those other 20 and I’m not sure how many more that were behind us, but within that eight minute window) did not fail our part of the bargain. There were other issues, too, but this was the biggie. Nobody on the ground seemed to care. I finished, collected my medal and then I complained.

Yes, I complained. A lot of people might just go away mad and might tell people not to run the event, or maybe any Competitor Group event. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Series is already part of a bit of a love-hate relationship in the running community. I felt that if I did not tell the organizers what I thought, I could hardly expect them to explain, or do something about it for the future. The Rock ‘n’ Roll events are what they are, a commercial venture. If you don’t want to run such races, don’t. If you like what is on offer, enjoy. This series of races fills a market niche and the needs of a lot of people. I have no idea how many ‘first timers’ take part, but I’m guessing the proportion is high. The hype, the fun, the glitz and glamour and the bling are a big draw for those first-timers.  But, old or not, I am still competitive of spirit and running the race properly is important in my mind.

As I said, I complained. What I am getting to is that THEY LISTENED. I got real attention from Competitor Group, not just a stock letter saying they were sorry I didn’t find everything perfect, and thanks for your comments. I actually had direct meetings with representatives of the Competitor Group and serious discussions. I said there were also a bunch of lesser issues and they listened and considered all of them. Has anything changed in Las Vegas? Firstly, the race hasn’t run yet, so no proof one way or another. Do I think they won’t repeat the same mistakes? I’m pretty sure they won’t. Will anyone notice? Well, that is the hard thing. We tend not to notice things that go right. When something goes wrong, we definitely notice. Oh, yes! That is a big part of the reason I have decided to include this commentary.

People who follow this blog may have noticed that I wrote rather enthusiastically about going to Vegas and “Running the Strip at Night”, but when all was said and run, there was no follow-up. Well, now you know why. I don’t like to be negative, but sure wasn’t going to sing the praises of a race I felt had got it seriously wrong. That is why I am writing this now. I want to give credit where it is due. They really didn’t need to pay any attention to me, but they did. I felt it was important to take another look from the inside and what better way than to give the ‘hometown’ race a try. I have to say it was a very positive experience and I am definitely glad I did.

I had a lot of fun. Maybe part of it was the weather. Anyone who was in Vancouver on October 25 and remembers, will know what a disaster Sunday’s race could have been. Sunday turned out to be near perfect for racing, cool and mostly sunny. Part of the fun was beating my Victoria time by 15 seconds! OK, to be honest, I really wanted to beat it by more than that and maybe in terms of pure running, I did. According to my gps device I ran 21.5km. That is more likely a statement about my attention to running each and every tangent than about the accuracy of the course. Seems like I ran 21.37km in Victoria, but I know most of that route very well, having run it some 11 times in the last 15 years. Part of the post-race fun was comparing the two events, run so close together.  I could happily see the race Sunday was a better performance. I always like that. It is about the only thing a competitive  minded person like me can hope for at this point in my career.

The truth is that everyone runs for her or his reasons and therefore have individual perspectives. Is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half going to be one of Vancouver’s top races? All I can say is that I saw a bunch of happy faces around that finish area, and a lot of people appearing to have fun on the course. Sounds to me like a heck of a good start!

THEY GROW UP SO FAST!

10.13.2014
35 th Victoria Marathon

35 th Victoria Marathon

The title refers to races, daughters and blog posts!

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

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

Danielle Krysa and her Dad - that would be ME!

Danielle Krysa and her Dad – that would be ME!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

Steve King X2 (from Penticton Herald)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon a New RITZ Favourite

09.16.2014

 

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

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

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

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

Maniacs loading carbs at Macaroni Grill

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

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

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

The Mountains Await us!

The Mountains Await us!

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

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

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

Canyon Views

Canyon Views

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

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

Nice Finisher Medal!

Nice Finisher Medal!

The race shirt is nice.

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

Loved the cold towel at the Finish!

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

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

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

Sunday - More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

Sunday – More cars, no runners. Still beautiful!

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

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

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

 

DOWN IS THE NEW UP

08.30.2014
Running Down Mount Seymour - Training

Running Down Mount Seymour – Training

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

Some people really like downhill runs. I DEFINITELY DO!

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

So what does that have to do with the title?

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

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

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

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

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

Some Locals Watched My Training Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PACIFIC ROAD RUNNERS RECOGNIZED BY VARIETY

06.25.2014
Award Stage - pre-race with years of Variety presentation cheques.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

RD David Parker accepts the Colleen Wood Fundraising Award

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

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

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

The Race with a Heart!

The Race with a Heart!

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

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

ON BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE

06.10.2014
Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

Solomon Rotich Takes the Sandcastle City Classic 10K

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

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

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

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

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

Gordon Flett running the trails and roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

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

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

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

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

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