category : ‘Training and Racing’


TEACHING SOMEONE TO RUN – THAT SHOULD BE EASY

05.16.2017
Coach Dan - Your Run Starts Here

Coach Dan – Your Run Starts Here

Per the previous posting on Running in the Zone, I am about to head up a new Learn to Run 5K clinic at Forerunners (on Main). I’ve written the guide book/runner log and tentatively figured out suitable routes. I’ve even had experience at teaching people to run. Some we were teaching to run faster. I’ve been a pace group leader for Forerunners Marathon and Half Marathon clinics and often have people who are already runners but trying out a new distance, so beginners in that sense.

I’ve been doing some thinking on this and just like when you buy a car that is a little bit different, right after you buy, you see dozens of them all around. Same thing re this ‘learn to run’ initiative. Been seeing lots of commentary on the subject. That is probably what got me thinking about the thrust of this post.

Just for a moment, pause and consider: Exactly what would you tell someone who wants to learn to run?

Now remember, this is someone who is making a mental step forward to take on not just a pretty simple physical movement, but quite possibly a new lifestyle. We all run for the bus, from a bee (OK, I don’t run from bees. It just gets them excited, but you know what I mean.) after a straying kid, etc..  So when someone says they are going to sign up to ‘learn to run’, it is clearly something more than putting one foot in front of the other, rather faster than usual. They already know how to do that. It is natural and instinctive.

Half and Full Marathon training group.

Half and Full Marathon training group.

Although it CAN be just that, running is so much more than getting from Point A to Point B. Most people really mean learning how to run over some distance that represents a challenge in their present circumstances. That is why I included the pace group leadership as good experience. Those people already know they can run, but they aren’t sure if they can (or have what it takes to) run a half marathon, or marathon.

Just imagine now, that you have encountered a friend or relative, or stranger for that matter, who wants YOU to teach them how to run: How to run, in the sense that we runners run. What would you tell them? You know it will be something they will hold dear if they get it right from the very start, but what do you say and where do you begin? What are the essential points and what is extra?

Exactly!

Participant Guide Book and Log

Participant Guide Book and Log

That is where I am, or have been, for some while now. Our first official clinic session doesn’t start for almost weeks, but we are getting ready. OK, to be fair, I’ve already written the guide book and runners log each new runner will get, but there is still a lot of thinking to do. Words are one thing, actions are quite another.

I decided this post would be kind of fun to write because I don’t think I have so much more to offer than anyone else when it comes to training and inspiring people who want to learn to be runners. But, I thought it would be fun to stimulate other runners to think about what it is like to make that decision to BE a runner.

I have been running for something like the past 33 years. I also ran as a teen, but back then it was essentially ‘on track’ as they say. So, when I took up my later career in distance running, it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to do, or had all that much uncertainty about the mechanics. I’ve never really been the kind of ‘new’ runner I’m talking about here. Probably many of us runner types have a similar background. All of which brings me back to the core question of what would  you actually tell an aspiring runner.

It is somewhat of a critical decision. One of the biggest problems with people getting started is that they remember days when, as kids, they just ran. Twenty years later, they decide to take up running as a sport or at least lifestyle thing. They buy the shoes and other gear and off they go. Enthusiasm abounds. Right up until the muscles get sore or a knee starts to twinge. Mostly there is very little wrong, but suddenly it isn’t fun and then the I-Word comes up “Injury”.  Stiffness sets into those relatively unworked muscles. Some, and I do stress some, abandon hope and the nearly new running shoes and just forget the whole thing.

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

Forerunners group enjoying a Spring run at QE Park

My personal goal as clinic coach, is starting easy and building slowly, assuring my charges all the way, that with just a bit of patience they will be running and enjoying it before they know it, and without injury.  Too much, too soon, we all know is the recipe for disaster. That is true even when you’ve been running for years but decide to ramp up the distance or rigor of the run. A big difference is that as experienced runners, we know the signs and (at least some of us) know that backing off a bit is mostly all that is required. New runners are sure disaster has struck or soon will – best to just avoid the whole thing.

There is another special challenge to be faced today, when teaching people to run – Social Media, and just plain old media too. As soon as someone ‘Googles’ Running, the fat is in the fire. “Ten top reasons you should never run!” “10 things that happen to your body when you start running!” “Running will ruin your knees!!!” “Running won’t ruin your knees, it will save them forever!” Why a newby would wind up on the Marathon Maniac or Half Fanatic Facebook page, I am not sure, but it could happen. If they do, it now seems that EVERYBODY is running several marathons a month! Medal Monday! Then there is all the chat about gear and what to eat – does pickle juice really stop cramping? Oh, and my personal favourite these days: “Six things that will make you poop!” What do you think is going through the heads of our new runners, and what is it doing to expectation and perspective?

My personal answer involves keeping it simple, easy and fun. If I could, I’d try to confiscate their smart phones until the clinic is over! Hmmm, maybe I could develop a “New Runner App”. It would be like the ‘N’ new drivers have to display on their cars. It would function to block internet content on running until they had enough experience to handle it.

For this specific clinic we have chosen a distance – 5K, and a training period – 12 weeks. All we are promising is that at the end of the time participants should be able to run the distance. No promise (or demand) of how fast. While running a race may be possible and can make a good motivating goal, we are not training to race. We will be training to run. What individuals do with it is up to them. Some may just keep ramping up the distance, others may decide that now they know how to run effectively and efficiently, they want to go faster. Some may indeed want to race.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

One of the things I will tell these new runners is that there are many great reasons to just make it part of  your life. You feel good and it can enhance your overall health. You will improve fitness, which in turn will make it possible to do other things easier and longer. And, if you play it right, you may meet a lot of nice people. You might even meet your future spouse!  Our daughter did. It happens. Good grief! We aren’t charging NEARLY enough for this clinic!!

Part of deciding what you would tell this mythical new running person, is deciding what you get out of it yourself. While I think that over-analysing things is often a bad idea, it still doesn’t hurt to examine our thinking and motives now and then. I am personally reaching a stage where my racing is not meeting my expectations. As (relatively) slow and lumbering as I’m getting, I’m still competitive in my heart, so not meeting my own standards where performance is concerned, is becoming a problem. This is causing me to wonder if it is just time to quit. Maybe, where it comes to racing, but running itself is just too important in my life to even think about quitting completely. That, I think, is what new runners have to get a glimpse of for themselves.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

I don’t mean to get all ‘religious’ and preachy about it, but to most runners I know, running is that important. The things it does for us are as varied as the runners who practice the sport. I’ve said this before, but it seems like a good time to say it again. When we finished the Running in the Zone book, I surveyed the 26 contributors who ranged from Olympians and World Record holders to avid recreational runners. One of the questions I asked was “Why do you run?”. In one form or another, pretty well every respondent said, “Because I love it.” By definition, we were all ‘seasoned’ runners (Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes). We all had decades of running under our sneakers. Still, the answer was ‘because I love it’. I’m sure we didn’t all love the same things. It was clear from the published pieces that the interests of the different contributors were quite diverse, just proving the point there are a great many reasons to run.

That is what I hope to be able to get across to our new runners. There is a prize available to you, if this running thing works within your life. And, it is a prize you could share, even with the Olympians!

WHY DO WE DO THIS THING CALLED RUNNING?

09.08.2016

Why indeed!

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

The question is totally loaded. There are probably as many reasons as there are runners. Maybe I’m writing this for all the people who don’t run or don’t know why YOU run. This is a problem, of course, since people who don’t run probably aren’t reading this blog. Maybe I should just stop. Well, no. Little things like this have never stopped me before!

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

Since the blog is called “Running in the Zone” and comes from the book of a similar name, perhaps I’ll start with the answer I got when I asked this question of the 26 contributors. And, while some were just like me, avid mid-pack runners, many were Olympians and world record holders. All were past their main competitive days, thus the second part of the book title: “A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“. Seasoned was kind of code for ‘old’, but so much nicer.

I did a little survey about a bunch of things among the contributors and one of the questions was, “Why do you run?” While the words were all a bit different, they all pretty much boiled down to: “Because I love it.”

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

People start running for a lot of reasons, some start young and never stop, while some start much, much later in life and keep going for years. Just a few examples include the pictured “BJ” McHugh, Ed Whitlock and Fauja Singh (still running at 100 years of age). Usually the ‘later in life’ people start doing it because of weight issues or health. I was certainly one of those. Like many, I had run in school, but then stopped when school ended. Without going into a lot of detail, I picked up again when just shy of 40. I had been quite athletic in my younger years playing baseball, running track and field and the biggie (for my family), playing soccer. I played ‘at’ lots of things, but those three were the real deal. Soccer was the last to go. I played for UBC and only quit after a fairly serious injury and some heavy academic time commitments. Oh, and because I had found my limit regarding skill and ability. Unfortunately, the injury (knee) was something that seemed to linger through the years. Forty was not my first time of trying running. Every time I did though, after a mile or so of what you could call a jog pace, the knee would start screaming. No problem to walk forever or sprint from point A to point B, but that longer distance ‘jog’ pace just wasn’t happening. Finally, I figured that if I could run a mile without pain, I would do that, often. Surely, for health reasons, it was better than not running a mile. After doing this for a little while (few months) I decided maybe I could go a bit longer. Tried 2 miles without problem, then a bit more and a bit more and about three years later, trained for and ran my first marathon. All my PBs came in a period of about 18 months in 1988-89. I was 43/44 at the time. I must admit the competitive side of me wonders how fast I might have been able to run had I tried my ‘mile at a time’ experiment sooner. We will never know. Oh well, I suppose if you really, really believe in age grading, we could estimate some times. And yes, I have done that.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Anyway, that is how I came to my (second) running career that now spans well over 30 years. Racing was not always part of it, but for the most part I did keep the legs and feet moving, racing or no racing. Why? Because for a range of reasons, in terms of what it gives me – I love running.

Some of the elite contributors to Running in the Zone obviously started young and kept going. When I said that ‘Seasoned’ was another term for old, I should make clear that the youngest contributors to the book were only about 46 when they wrote their piece, but for unrestricted elite running, 46 IS old. Some continued with age group or masters running to satisfy their competitive nature and some just run and don’t compete at all. In most of those cases, the individual isn’t interested in racing when they can’t do what they used to do, but they still want the running part.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

For the elites, I suppose a major reason for running is that they are good at it. And, being competitive of spirit, there isn’t much more to say. Knowing a fairly significant number of competitive elite runners, and knowing how hard they work to BE competitive, you also just have to know there is something fundamental driving them. Exactly WHAT it is they love is another matter. Being the very best they can be, winning, delving into the depths of their own endurance are all possibilities for the reason any given individual might put him or herself through what elites and even sub-elites do to be that good.

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership. (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership.
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I am a member of Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, a Double Agent so to speak. There is a whole different dynamic at play in these groups, both of which are now counting over 14,000 members. While there are some fast runners in these groups, being fast gets you nothing. Elite marathoners generally run 1-4 races per year, two being pretty common. Not one of them could qualify to join Marathon Maniacs. The qualifying standard is ‘how many’ in a period of time; same for Half Fanatics. There are ten levels in both groups and attaining those levels depends on running a certain (generally large-ish) number of marathons (or halfs) in a specified period of time. I can say with certainty that members take pride and pleasure in attaining these goals. I am sure that among other reasons for running, they enjoy meeting similar minded maniacal (or fanatical) people. They enjoy traveling to run, because there just aren’t enough local races to run to realize the group achievement standards. And, just as running fast is a true athletic goal, so is running a lot. It is a different form of our sport and the people who do a LOT of marathons often don’t train much. Let’s face it, if you run a marathon every weekend, you don’t need to do a lot beyond loosening the old legs up between races. For those who neither think nor behave this way, if you did run a marathon every weekend for a year (some Maniacs do that) and took not another running step between races, you would cover 1,362.4 miles, or 2,194.4km. Of course, these numbers require that you cut every tangent perfectly, too!

I know a lot of people with busy lives or stressful jobs who use running to dissipate the tension that builds up. Some refuse to race (even if they run a lot and may actually be quite good runners) precisely because competing at running when the rest of their life is filled with various forms of competition, just becomes another stress. Who needs that? But, if running is a stress buster, what’s not to love?  It has certainly been one of my personal reasons, more-so  at some times than at others.

bottomofhill

Speaking of mentoring, this is my grandson, Charlie, and me racing.

One of the things I love about running is being able to coach or mentor others who are just coming to it. I have been involved in leading running clinic groups for at least a dozen years. I know many who feel the same way and find great pleasure in being able to help and support others as they come to the sport for the first time or to improve their performance, whatever that may mean. While I have coached/mentored true beginners, in the clinic group I lead now I am often encountering people preparing for their very first half or full marathon. It is great fun to be able to help those individuals realize that major life goal.

I know many competitively spirited people who still want to ‘win’ in various senses. I am definitely one of those people. Winning has different meanings. I sometimes point out (usually to new runners, just getting into racing, and maybe feeling that they just aren’t good enough) that any race has precisely ONE winner. That is the guy (usually) who crosses the line first. Steve Prefontaine  described being second as ‘First Loser’. It was mostly a statement of his personal standard for his own aspirations, but puts a nice context into this idea. I have had some flack for that statement, usually from people who feel the effort involved in doing something hard makes them a ‘winner’. It makes a good conversation starter though, and gives me a chance to point out that I am really saying the same thing. I just use the shock value to get other people’s attention.

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

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

Winning can mean winning your age group, and I know lots who avidly pursue this goal. Often they don’t so much want to beat anybody else (OK, sometimes they do), but rather, like Pre, they want to meet a standard they have set for themselves. Since I’ve never really been that good, I take my age-group podiums, including golds, when they come and enjoy them, but for me ‘winning’ means maintaining my performance either in raw times for any distance or in age graded times or performance. It is inevitable as you start counting off the years, that around my age, you are going to be slower. You can only forestall that slowing. You cannot stop it. So, holding steady on personal performance is a win for me. If that gets me a medal now and then, that is a bonus and gives me pleasure, but the real ‘win’ is being out there and doing it as well as I can. My big (being just a little facetious) thrill and claim to fame just now is that I am the age group record holder at the Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Somehow, I managed to win my age group. 2016 was the inaugural running of the event. I have to be the record holder. Still, I’m having fun for now!

Another rewarding thing for runners can be pushing to some new level – a half marathon, marathon or maybe that first ‘ultra’. Finding yourself able to do something you never thought you could is hugely rewarding. In my opinion, it is also a fine reason to run. Actually, never mind the marathon, the first 5K.  Or, as the Vancouver Sun Run proves on an annual basis, the first 10K completed at any pace, amounts to a wonderful and pleasing accomplishment.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

Parts of running can be a part of the ‘why’ of running. I run marathons in particular, at least partly because of the energy or ‘vibe’ of  such races. There is something about being around people doing a marathon. There is a mix of fear and determination along with anticipation that is not much like any other type of race. There is nothing certain about stepping to the line to start a marathon, not even for the elite runners at the head of the field. You NEVER know how it will go. The best runners have to drop out (sometimes) while the slowest, with dogged determination, finish. To be fair, you really can’t compare those speedy elites at the front with the rest of us, especially if you are running a big race like New York City Marathon, Chicago, London, Berlin, but we all run the same race, the same course, on the same day in the same weather.

Actually, one of the big thrills of those major marathons is that I can run in a race with the best in the world. Name another sport where the mere mortal is allowed to be in the same event as the very best. I play golf now and then, but I can’t just trundle down to Augusta and book myself a tee-time for the Masters. Granted, some of those marathons are hard to get into, but that is a matter of weight of numbers, not restrictions based on ability. Yeah, yeah, I know – Boston, but even Boston only requires that you be pretty good for your age.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

I have somewhat let myself drift into equating running with racing. It isn’t. When writing/editing our book, Running in the Zone, I was faced with the question of what I would actually write for my own contribution. I mentioned earlier, the concept of stress busting being facilitated by running. I decided that maybe a few words on running meditation would be in order. What I wrote was a bit of a formalized description of what a lot of runners do whether they recognize it or not. I was quick to point out that this may require a certain fitness and ability level that would let a person just ‘run easy’. I mean, when you are first starting out, there may not be any such thing as an easy run. Truly though, it really doesn’t take that long to have a differentiated pace that can be described as ‘easy’. The essence of what I wrote was just a bit of a guide on getting your body and mind into the right place for a very meditative kind of running. It is wonderfully peaceful and rejuvenating. As I said, most experienced runners have probably done this with or without consciously knowing they are doing it. When that sort of option is available anytime you want to do it, what’s not to love?

I suppose I could go on at somewhat greater length, but as with many of my posts the intention is to get the reader thinking. I hope I have done that. I’d love to hear what others hold as their reasons to run.

2015 – 2016: The Year that WAS and the Year that is yet TO BE

12.31.2015
Nothing says the running year is done like a trip to the Reggae Marathon!

Nothing says the running year is done like a trip to the Reggae Marathon!

Here we are on the cusp of yet another New Year. That means we are also on the very tail-end of the last one. Personally, the last year has been a strange, yet good one. Personal times surely got slower, but achievements were often and many were new! First time running with my grandson, Charlie, first time running a couple of races that have been around for a long time yet never on my schedule, first time running back to back half marathons (actually one was 25K), first time to score a significant number of age group podiums (5/10 races). I joined Half Fanatics and ‘mooned up’ to Level 4 (of 10). I managed to run a marathon at age 70 and attended the Reggae Marathon for the fifth year running. At the same time, I found it hard to get as much running in as normal. The last number of years, my annual running/racing total has been around 1000 Miles. This year I just crept over 1000km. As readers here know, that was partly to do with having cataract surgery on both eyes which is still amazing to me every day, but took me out for six weeks of NO running and not even any alternate training. Lost another three weeks to the worst cold/flu I think I’ve ever had. So, I guess if you prorate my 1000K plus by the nine weeks, it comes to around 1300km. Still not 1600km, but not as bad as the simple number sounds (to me, anyway).

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

The year in general saw some amazing things in terms of World Championships and Pan Am Games, especially in the sprints with Usain Bolt producing jaw-dropping results and our own Andre De Grasse serving notice that he is here to be seen and heard. At the distances I concentrate on, we saw Canadian marathoners putting themselves in line for a trip to RIO in 2016, and one of those, Reid Coolsaet, inching ever closer to the Canadian marathon record of Jerome Drayton. Eric Gillis has scored a qualifying time too and a couple of others are biding their time for the right race to give them a birth there too. Watching with suspense to see how Dylan Wykes and Rob Watson will do in the coming few months. There is a fine crop of ‘fast women’ too , including Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene, and some are even having to make decisions as to which distance (if not both) they should run.

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

It is also going to be fun to see if Ellie Greenwood, running healthy and with no altercations with autos to mess up her training, is going to be able go back to Comrades and show them exactly of what she is made.

A sad part of the year was seeing another major doping scandal arise and knowing somehow that it is surely NOT going to be the last. Another part of the past year and maybe past couple of years, is what seems to be a down-trend in race participants in individual timed races in Canada. That will be the subject of a blog early in 2016 after I’m done analyzing data I’ve been given.

2016, being an Olympic Year, Rio 2016 is going to bring lots of thrills, chills and spills, starting with the mad dash to qualify for those who have not yet done so. The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will add another $1000 to the bonus for any Canadian who can break Drayton’s record and the event coming after the Olympics may produce some all-out efforts since nobody has anything to risk by going for it. Forty years that record has stood. Seems like it would be kind of poetic for someone to nail it on the 40th. I have this theory that once someone finally breaks through, the record will drop significantly. We’ll see.

My own 2016 is a work in progress.

Rob Watson - Wins 2014 First Half

Rob Watson – Wins 2014 First Half

First up will be running the First Half Half Marathon. When I joined Pacific Road Runners, no club member was allowed to run the race. We all volunteered. As Race Director for the 20th Anniversary Race, I used it is an opportunity to offer a (possibly one-time) chance for PRR members to run. If it didn’t work, we could just go back to the normal policy. We opened five slots on a lottery basis and made it clear that individuals still had to do significant volunteering, just not during the race. Apparently, it worked well enough that the club continues to this day to allow a select number of members to run and do their volunteering outside the time of the actual race. After several years as RD, I took up being co-MC on the stage, right up to this past year. So, I’ve never run the First Half. I asked and the current RD agreed to give me the year off from my usual duties on the stage. in 2016 and at the 27th First Half, I will get to run for the very first (and quite possibly, last) time. Guess I better make it count! Well, training began several weeks ago: looking good so far.

Tutti-Frutti, Orange Cone. Already planning for 2016?

Tutti-Frutti, Orange Cone. Already planning for 2016?

Grandson Charlie has already served notice he wants to run the Giant’s Head 5.4K race again in June. While I haven’t signed up yet (OK, nobody has), I intend to be there for ’round two’!

 

Hood to Coast Start 2012

Hood to Coast Start 2012

After three tries, I was able to get yet another team into the Hood to Coast Relay! This will be the 9th time for me. The first was 1987, so I’ve been at this for a while. I already have a full team and we are currently “Canucks to the Coast“. We may review the name a bit closer to the race, but it served well in 2013 and almost half the team is the same, so……………………….Canucks to the Coast it may well be.

 

We have been talking of a major family running event for a time now and it is looking a lot like the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (etc.) is going to be it. The “etc.” is important because I suspect none of us is signing on for a marathon this time. It will probably be the Half and 8K options for us. Our oldest daughter is already registered for the Half and Charlie is game for the 8K. Don’t think anyone else has made a specific commitment, but the Winnipeg branch of the family already has the dates blocked in and two of the three anticipate running (one is not quite a year old as I write this and unfortunately they have a no stroller/jogger policy, so I guess Jonah will have to cheer this time). Our son lives in Victoria and says he is game at least for the 8K, maybe more, depending on how the year unfolds. A discussion between Charlie and me will probably determine whether I do the Half or 8K. That, and how I survive Hood to Coast at 71! I HAVE been collecting new experiences lately and while I’ve done Victoria Marathon 5 times and the Half Marathon 6 times, I’ve never run the 8K. Maybe this is the year. Lots of time for the uncommitted to pick a distance and sign on. Must remember to register as a Team!

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

Judi and me at Big Cottonwood Package Pickup.

That is it for strong intentions. But, there are many temptations out there. I mean, Revel has just announced a brand new downhill marathon/half in Nevada!  I put in an application to be a ‘run ambassador’ for a race that shall remain nameless for now and if accepted, that will require running either the half or full marathon. Then, I also found out the Yakima River Canyon Marathon now has a Half Marathon this time, not to mention that running/writing friends Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer will be there again.

And then there is the Reggae Marathon. Of course there is. After five years in a row, I’m not sure if I would go again if I can’t convince some family to join me this time though. Then, there is another running project that has been lurking out there for almost a year that may or may not happen, but if it does would more or less preclude the now annual trip to Negril, JA.

So, while 2016 may look a little ’empty’ at the moment, it is not likely to remain that way for long. I already have my brand new running log (I’m still analog when it comes to running – like to see it on paper, even if I do a lot of related record keeping electronically, too). I do like to get a run in New Year’s Day, but that may not happen with friends here and a daughter and grandson needing to get to the airport for the trip home. January 2nd is a scheduled clinic run and that is looking pretty good! For many years, the New Year fun was a symbolic indication for the year ahead. One thing I do know is that I am NOT scheduling a January flu bug! (Mind you, I didn’t schedule it this year either!)

Early Morning Beach Runners - my Favourite!

Early Morning Beach Runners – my Favourite!

As other things sort out, we will probably try to do some interesting travel and while I respect that not ALL travel has to involve racing/running (REALLY – you can travel for other reasons than races?  Who knew?), there may be a couple of things that will provide a nice combination. One of my fun ‘collections’ is places run and raced, so maybe we can find a new place to visit and for a couple of new ‘notches’ or even medals for my collection. I’m up to at least 23 countries where I’ve run and five where I’ve raced if you include ‘fun run’ kinds of races. I have a lot of potential for new places without hitting new countries though. Two of my countries are Canada and the US. I’ve raced in just three Provinces and I believe, eight States. Think I’ve run in 9/10 Provinces and a fair number more States than where I’ve raced, but there is still plenty of scope for expansion there! Guess I need to stop repeating races, but the ones I like I usually like a lot (such as the Eugene Marathon, Vancouver Marathon, Victoria Marathon and Reggae Marathon events).

I do know there will be no new moons (Half Fanatics) or stars (Marathon Maniacs) added this year, although I may add States or Provinces to the personal profiles. With TWO Stars and FOUR Moons, what would needs to be done to rise any higher just isn’t in the cards for this old slogger.

Well, it is looking pretty interesting for 2016. I hope your year ahead offers as many interesting challenges as mine already seems to hold.

Happy New Year!!!

THE LATEST ATHLETICS DOPING SCANDAL – AND ROOT CAUSES

11.17.2015

So, here we are again. Big news on the athletic doping scandals front. In this case it is ‘athletics’, the apparently proper term for track and field. We know though, that this is just the latest scandal and doping goes to other sport as well.

[Ed. Note: There are no photographs, no links, no references. This is strictly a personal opinion and perspective.]

I am certainly not an apologist for athletes deciding to take that extra elicit step to gain that last little advantage that takes them from being just generally amazing, to the gold medal – especially the gold medal in one of the BIG events like the Olympic Games. However, a little study on the matter without our sparkling white purist robes of sanctimony, might provide an explanation. And, might just pull the rest of us into the vortex of this swirling mess, because we are complicit in certain ways.

I am getting on in years, as most of you know. But, that means that when I first started competing in Athletics in my teens, even I, a mere school age runner, had to have my Amateur Athletics card! I keep EVERYTHING, but apparently not that. Sort of wish I still had it as a momento of those ‘pure‘ times.

Now, lest you think I am pining for simple and as I have put it, pure times in athletics – I am not. They may have been pure in the sense that the crazy money that comes with success, was not tainting the approach of athletes to their sport and training. But, as with so many things, nobody seems to be able to find a middle ground. In the times I am talking about you could lose your amateur status for accepting a prize of any practical value. I am talking about $5.00 or a useful prize of any sort. Naturally, ribbons, medals and trophies were fine. I DO in fact, have a bronze medal I won back in those days from a clubs track meet. And, maybe as soon as I post this piece, I will find my amateur card lurking among my old school stuff (because my running in those days was part school and part running club(s)). With my brother having just passed away, I’ve been rooting through a lot of that old stuff looking for memorabilia of our early athletic lives. So, it could happen.

Someone I currently know and who is older than me by almost a decade, was an Olympic race walker in his day, but still talks about how his status was threatened because he went to the US for a weekend workshop to coach some younger ‘walkers’ and accepted expenses. EXPENSES! After much argument, it was agreed that it was acceptable as he was not profiting. That was how it was. It was not pure. It was stupid. And with all that, did anyone ever take money under the table? I imagine they did.

In those ‘pure’ days there was so little money that athletes trained in their spare time. If they wanted to eat, they had to have a job. Nobody considered their athletic development and performance to be their job. Nobody had shoe sponsors. You bought your shoes! Nobody paid your way to a meet other than maybe via a club organized fund-raiser of some sort, but it certainly wasn’t by a sponsor.

Some team sport was organized such that a team might be sponsored by a bigger company which could offer jobs to the athletes and which might also be prepared to allow the time needed to travel and/or play. And, these were sports where amateurism was not required. I am going to add something that I am not 100% sure about, but that seems to ring one of those ‘bells’. As I recall, if you wanted to be an amateur, say in Athletics, you could not be a ‘professional’ in another sport. Of course if you were an East Block athlete, you were in the military. Your work WAS training for your sport. So much for the actual amateur on the field of play. That said, if you were one of the military athletes, you’d better keep your performance up or you really WOULD become a soldier.

People remember Steve Prefontaine for his running prowess and related exploits, not to mention his ever quotable quotes, but he was a pioneer in demanding that the athletes be able to share in the profits of the ‘sport’ that were accruing to those that ran the show, while athletes scrimped and sweated and starved. It would be interesting to know what his place in all of this would have been in later years, had he not died so young.

Some might suggest that it was only right that athletes actually profit from their abilities to excel and from the entertainment they provide the rest of us. I would be one of those people. Without the athletes, the Olympics just become the opening and closing ceremonies. Speaking for myself, I feel those have become obscene spectacles pushed by the ego of the hosting countries.

“Profit” is a loaded word though. I feel it is good that the best and maybe the soon to be best, are encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to dig as deep into themselves as they need to, in order to produce what they are capable of producing in terms of performance on the field of play. The HUGE payday is something else. This is where it gets messy and complicated and a problem. I suppose this latest scandal with the Russians brings in another factor where the driving motive is the greater glory of the mother-land. We saw a lot of that in the Cold War days, when athletic prowess was conflated with the superiority of the political system.

Enter Performance Enhancing Drugs!

Actually, there is one more very important factor, whether it is a driving force in itself or the weak link to be exploited for profit. That is the competitive spirit of the elite athlete. Money, as such, may only be a way of keeping score. Winning is what it is all about. At one point some years ago, there was a psychological study done where the researchers asked a bunch of elite/semi-elite athletes if someone could hypothetically guarantee them an Olympic Gold Medal, but at the cost of five years of their lives, would they accept. As I recall, a huge proportion of them said ‘yes’. Now, asking a 20 year-old if a cost of five years off their life was worth it, might not be a fair question. No 20 year-old thinks he/she is ever going to die anyway. Also, it is hard to say whether it was the medal or the money that might follow, that drove the answer, but it was long enough ago that I personally feel it was the pure glory of being Olympic Champion. The really big money and sponsorships and endorsements had not kicked in the way it exists now.

I suggested the athletic desire to win is both a strength and a weakness. The big sponsors make money off the fact that the best of the best use THEIR product. If you want to be that guy/girl wearing the [insert brand here] gear and get paid the big bucks for doing so, you have to keep BEING the best of the best. Thus the ‘weakness’ to be exploited and the need for some to do whatever they have to do.

But what about the reference to the gear manufacturers? Even us weekend warrior runners buy shoes and other gear that will improve our performance. Shoe technology is just one, albeit very good example. The fabrics of our clothing are a factor too. If you happen to be a track athlete as opposed to a road or trail runner, would you even think about competing on a cinder track? If we want to be ‘pure’ maybe we should ban all these modern technological advances. What about some of the older (not even ancient, just a few decades) athletes and their records? How do you compare sprinters and their records from the cinder track era with today’s athletes. I often wonder what people like my hero, Harry Jerome, might do with modern gear, training and tracks. We are only talking about the 1960s. Maybe if we want to be pure, we should ban shoes completely, other than sandals and have the athletes compete naked, as was once the norm. But, I digress!

Many proponents of amateur athleticism did anticipate some of this modern stuff. However, there have been elements of this PED thing dating back to the ancient Olympics. Many of the early ‘games’ were military skills, and as such could be used not just for the warrior-athletes to prove themselves in a non-lethal way, but also for their  states to show their prominence. Not only that but the best of them were very much rewarded and idolized as we see today. I believe it was my old running/writing friend Roger Robinson who wrote a piece on the PEDs of the day. Yes! PEDs in the ancient games. Many athletes had secret potions, herbs and barks and special diets, that were reputed to give them extra strength or stamina. Did they? Maybe. Remember, a great many of our modern medicines are derived from natural sources. Once we know the active component, we no longer need to chew willow bark to cure our headache, we can just take an aspirin. We learn how to either extract or manufacture the active component and especially to manage and control the dose. Nonetheless, some of the stuff those ancient Olympians used probably did have some efficacy as a PED. Some, probably were more effective in making the athlete think HE was that powerful. I did learn that black magic was a no-no. Couldn’t hex your opponent, just wasn’t right.

Is it human nature to ‘do what it takes’? It seems that it is.

The Russian situation that has just come to the fore is one thing, but there have been rumours swirling for some time that Kenyan distance running may not be totally how it looks. We have seen individual athletes from almost everywhere get caught and punished. There are also stories that the US is as bad as any, where it comes to manipulating drug tests. I say these things only in the sense that the stories are out there, not that I am a believer or that I know one way or another. But, it is big business and big politics and big money for the best of the best.

Something we need to be clear on is that PEDs aren’t going to take a slug and turn him into a race horse. They aren’t like some kind of ‘nitro’ boost to the engine of a race car. That said, I have just had a sudden mental picture of the start of the 2028 100m Olympic final. Athletes are under starter’s orders. Each one approaches the blocks. A trainer is poised behind them with syringe in hand. The starter intones: “Runners, take your marks!” …… “Trainers, Inject Your Runner!” ……. “Set” – — Bang. Eight sprinters streak down the track to the finish in seven seconds, and those are the women. The men are up next to challenge the 5.31 second world record. Welcome to the All Drug Olympics.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. The root causes are terribly complex. I’ve touched on some of them here. I have tongue in cheek suggested here and elsewhere that we just let ‘er rip and go with full on drug enhanced sport and see just how far it will go. It will probably result in some spectacular performances, not to mention the odd in competition death, and let’s face it we do watch some sport not to actually SEE someone die, but with the delicious chance that the sport is dangerous enough that it could happen.

Personally, and I hardly think I’m alone, I do love to see dedicated athletes push themselves to their limit, but I’d rather see a slower record time for any given event if it was definitely the best anyone could do without external enhancement. Pure, in other words.

Something I do wonder about is whether some of the banned substances should actually be banned. What if we spent a bunch more money on determining whether certain substances really produce a significant enhancement in double blind tests? There is little doubt in my mind that there is a placebo effect in some cases. The substance works, mostly because the athlete believes it works, but in reality the enhancement comes because the athlete is inspired to dig deeper. I’m not saying that none of the so-called PEDs should be banned. There are a good many that should be banned, if for no other reason than the long-term harm they do to the individual who takes them. And, here we are back at the question about the guaranteed Olympic gold at the cost of five years of your life. BUT, if the banned list was short and absolute and the authorities were as smart and well equipped as the cheaters, we might be better off. Or not. Something to think about anyway.

AM I A RUNNING GROUPIE?

10.12.2015

Well, depending on what that means, then in a word: YES.

It might go beyond the title though. I love excellence in all things, but running is kind of simple and pure (yeah, I know, the drugs – I’ll get to that later). It is so easy to see a runner battle through a race to the win or a record. That’s it. Nobel prizes are recognition of something amazing, but so much more complicated! In fact, I even met a Nobel prize winner a number of years ago on a professional basis, and he was very nice and super helpful regarding the advice I was seeking. But, I digress.

Rob Watson leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

Rob Watson (in black and at centre) leading out at the First Half Half Marathon

At the most fundamental level of watchful awe, I specialize in Canadian runners and just to demonstrate that, I started writing this October 10th. One of my ‘faves’ is Rob (Robbie) Watson and he is running tomorrow in the Chicago Marathon, with one major goal in mind, to join Reid Coolsaet as a qualifier for the Canadian Olympic team. Should have the news on that before I finish this post. I ‘observe’ Reid, but have never met him. Same with Eric Gillis. Rob, I know through the First Half Half Marathon and Forerunners. [Ed. Note: Tracked Rob to a 2:17:21 time. I think he will be disappointed, but at this time I have no idea what happened out there.]

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Dylan Wykes (yellow and black) pulling the pack at FHHM 2015

Another of the guys I follow closely is Dylan Wykes and with the same connections as Rob: First Half and Forerunners. Dylan has had some injury issues and just recently ran himself a satisfactory half marathon in San Jose, CA. Satisfactory and wise. His time was OK (if you think 1:05 is “OK”), but considering what he has to say on his blog  I think you will agree it is a good outcome as he works back carefully to his full potential and a shot at a place on the Canadian Olympic Team.

Until Reid overtook Dylan (just a couple of weeks ago in Berlin, with a great time and placing – 6th OA and 2:10:28), Dylan was second best ever to Jerome Drayton, who has held the Canadian record of 2:10:09 for FORTY years! Almost 30 years ago or so Peter Butler took second with his 2:10:56 in Sacramento, and held it until just the last couple of years as the current crop of young bucks began an assault. One of these days, one of these guys or the others who are coming up from behind, are going to blow through that time, but you would have thought somebody would have done it before this, so we will see.

We have some pretty special marathon women too in the form of Lanni Marchant (Canadian record  holder at 2:28:00) and Krista Duchene (only 32 seconds behind her friend, in the same race, and both under the old record). And while it isn’t totally clear who else will emerge ‘from the pack’ there are several women coming up from behind and probably very inspired by these two. Note: at time of writing only Krista and Reid are holding 2016 (Canadian) Olympic qualifying times. Keep your eyes on Natasha Wodak, Eric Gillis, Dylan Wykes, Rachel Hannah and Lanni Marchant. A big opportunity is coming in about a week at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It is a fast course and if everything else is right, there may be some sparkling performances for men and women. In researching the details for this post, I came across recent and unhappy news that Krista will not run due to a broken bone. The good news for her is that she already has a qualifying time and mostly needs to concentrate on healing and then training up for Rio.

I suppose I concentrate on the athletes I’ve mentioned because of my personal running interests. That said, you would have to be just on a total other wavelength if you weren’t moved by Andre Degrasse’ performances this year in the sprints at the Pan Am Games and World T&F Championships. When The Man himself, Usain Bolt, gives you props when he didn’t even have to, you are in special company. Speaking of Bolt, it just doesn’t get more exciting. He has treated the world to something we just haven’t seen before, and aren’t likely to see again anytime soon.

Back to my good old marathon distance, and the latest world record of Dennis Kimmeto. Now that we are under 2:03, the question is very real as to when we might see 2:00:00. Some argue it isn’t possible, but their fathers/grandfathers said nobody could break four minutes in the mile without falling dead on the track. Now, high-school runners do that and you probably can’t get invited to a top meet unless you can go under 4:00. Is the Two Hour marathon out there? I think so. Will I see it? That is a different question. Conditions on the day must be perfect, the course ideal and just the right mix of competitors must be ready to race to that goal. You will not see that kind of time in a race where winning is the most important thing. That Olympic Gold Medal goes to the winner of the race. Time doesn’t matter. Winning does.

By now, somebody has to be thinking ‘Oh yes, but will chemistry be the reason?’  A fair question to be certain. A question I hate to even contemplate, but based on what we know, one that is unavoidable. The Kenyans and Ethiopians seemed to represent people less touched by the pressures of the Western ways, but that may just be a myth that people like me would like to believe. The positive tests are showing up. Runners, good runners, are getting sanctions. When you think about it, the pressure and temptation may be even greater in those countries than over here. I spoke above about the Canadian men striving to break an old record just above 2:10. It is said there are as many as 300 Kenyans that can go under 2:10. Then imagine what winning the race prizes that are out there today, especially the high profile races, can do for the financial well-being of a Kenyan athlete. Now tell me there is no pressure or temptation to do what you need to do to get that tiny edge that breaks you out of that pack of 300 sub-2:10 marathoners. I am not saying they are all doing it (as some commenters kind of do), just that there is an undeniable temptation. Personally, I hope not a single one is doping, even though we all know that not to be the case.

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Me, being inspired at Reggae Marathon!

Look how high Canada got when Ben Johnson won Gold and then the devastation when he was found to have cheated. It made it no less acceptable that (I believe) all but one of the finalists on that day were subsequently caught later and that very few believe that the ‘one’ was actually clean.  What would such a thing do to all those Jamaican kids who think Usain Bolt runs on water? He is a hero of immeasurable value in that country. He inspires (as do a number of others in the Jamaican running camp, male and female).

Harry Jerome - Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Harry Jerome – Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

I have met many of the best and most inspiring, including Kathrine Switzer and Dick Beardsley.

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer - Q&A Session

Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer – Q&A Session

I ran as a kid with our own Harry Jerome, have worked with Lynn Kanuka (Williams) in Sun Run InTraining clinics and re her contribution to Running in the Zone (the book). I talk to Peter Butler and Carey Nelson pretty well every weekend. I consider myself lucky. The list is actually quite a bit longer, but you get the idea. I find myself personally inspired by all of them and can’t think of even one who isn’t a sharing person where it comes to others in our sport.

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Ellie Greenwood wins Comrades 2014

Some who might be wondering, knowing me and knowing those I follow closely, why I haven’t mentioned Ellie Greenwood. Stop wondering. Ellie falls in a whole different category where it comes to excellence. She is an ultra (and trail) runner. It puts her in a completely different field of endeavour. To understand, you need to try to imagine the unimaginable speed of the world class sprinter covering 100m in 10 seconds or less, you have to see that as 1:40/km or 2:32 mile, which is of course impossible, but is the pace they travel for that short distance.

Now, consider the ultra race such as Ellie and her ilk who go the other way: slower pace but for most of us, unimaginable distance. Ellie is two time World Champion at 100km. She has won what is probably the World’s best known ultra-marathon road race the fabled Comrades Marathon in South Africa (which is effectively just over a double marathon). She seems, despite these amazing achievements, to like trails more than roads (where she has actually won a few standard marathons and half marathons, just in case you might wonder).

Trails can’t really be compared, not even one trail event against another. You can only compare performance in a given race, year over year. So, let us compare Ellie’s performances at one of the best known trail races in North America, the Western States 100 (miles that is). Her first time, she won, notwithstanding the encounter with that bear near the finish. Ed. Note: Lack of technical know-how meant it took me a little time to figure out how to get the video in here, but I’ve got it now!  [I wrote the lyrics because this just event and situation struck something within me. Our son is a talented musician and owns recording facilities. Everything you HEAR is him. He wrote the tune, played all the instruments and did the vocals, using multiple tracks to get all of this into the recording.] It is just for fun, but if you actually know Ellie, it might just be more fun. Ellie and the Bear Movie

Back to actual running. The second time at Western States, she knocked some 50 minutes out of the previous record, held by trail ultra legend, Anne Trason. I can assure you she was not traveling at anything resembling the pace of Mr. Bolt in the 100m, or even Mr. Kimmeto in Berlin. Think about it from a normal perspective though. Her pace at World 100km in Dubai was 4:30/km and at the Comrades Marathon where she won was 4:15. Apples and oranges to be sure, but now think about that 2:02:57 of Kimmeto in Berlin. Pace for the MALE record for 42.2km is 2:54/km. Now, remember that Ellie is a woman and the record for women at marathon is still held by Paula Radcliffe at 2:15:25 for a pace of 3:12/km and nobody but Radcliffe herself has come close. There is nobody who would be quicker than Ellie, to tell you that she is not in that category at marathon. She isn’t. I believe her marathon PB is 2:42. That is a pace of 3:49/km.

By now, I’m pretty sure you see where I am going with this. Although she, and other ultra-runners seldom have that ‘low end’ pace (if you can refer to a marathon as ‘low’), as the distance increases their pace does not diminish that much. To the just ‘pretty good’ runner, able to post a 3:00hr marathon, you need to imagine holding your pace (4:16/km) for a bit more than twice that distance if you want to keep up with Ellie at Comrades.

I’ve gone on at length about this because the ultra distance is just another world and times don’t resonate for most of us as do the times for shorter distances. It wasn’t really fair to compare Ellie to those amazing men, but it helps to illustrate my point about excellence regardless of distance from 100m to 100 miles. Besides, I know Ellie, but don’t know the ultra running men that outpace her quite significantly at these extended distances. I suppose one of the personal things that strikes me about Ellie is that in the time from when I met her some 10-11 years ago (when we were both members of Pacific Road Runners) she has gone from just a regular club runner to the world level athlete she is now. To my point of loving excellence, they don’t get a lot more excellent than Ellie, or real or modest. Or maybe they do. I’ll get back to that.

Those of us who do know her, also know none of this comes easy nor without hard work and pain. If you take the time to read Dylan’s blog post you will see what the real world of the elite runner is about. Striving to be the best possible athlete you can be is a costly affair and I am not talking about money. Today, I ran into Ellie at a local 10K. She herself, like Dylan, has been working back from injury and of late concentrating on her speed with her local running group and coach. Guess it is working. She won the women’s race in a time of 35:43 on a terrible day. In thanking everyone for their support and congratulations on social media, she talked about her approach this last while, as she has started her return to form.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

Her mantra for training: “Be humble. Be fierce!”  She did admit though that with her race goal in mind, she found it necessary to drop the humble and just go with Be Fierce. When Ellie (and I suspect every one of the others I have mentioned in this post) get to Be Fierce, it gets pretty awesome to behold. Well, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of the Fierceness, but then, if you are actually that good, you will be Fierce too!

So, I think I’m done now on this topic, not that I couldn’t go on. One of my points (I realized as I was writing) is that while there are likely a few A-hole jerks out there, I’ve never met one. All of the elites (past and current) that I have met are wonderful giving people. What business do I, an aging, never was runner, have asking advice of any of these people I have the privilege to know? And yet, they have all shared advice and to my great amazement, have asked my thoughts now and then. I’m sure they are just being polite!

If you must be a ‘groupie’ in relation to something, well I think runners and running are just the best!

 

I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BLOG — ABOUT RUNNING!

08.08.2015

Well, yes. It is a blog and it is generally about running. However, the blogger has been a bit delinquent as it comes to the blogging duties.

Fortunately, he has been a little less so where it comes to the running part. To a degree, the blogger has been “running scared”. It has been, to say the least, an awkward year as far as running has been concerned. It has surely had its ups and downs, or more accurately, ons and offs.

March 11/15  One done, one to go!

March 11/15 One done, one to go!

2015 started out with a trip in January to Winnipeg to meet the brand new grandson, Jonah. It was a too short trip and while no attempt was made to run in the Winnipeg winter, along with the trip came a cold (caught on the flight) that may have even been some form of the flu going around last winter. Whatever, it took several weeks to feel OK enough to really run. Then came the first cataract surgery and three weeks of ‘no sweating’ during recovery. OK. That left just about enough time to prepare for the four half marathons run in the first two weeks of May (OK, three halfs and a 25K to be precise), followed by a couple of 5K’s, one being the first race with the other grandson, Charlie. It was a fairly productive set of races with an age group first, two seconds and a third. That was fun! It also proved out my strategy to just keep running until everyone else gets too old and quits.

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Big Cottonwood Marathon

THEN, came the second eye surgery and three more weeks off. The good news was that the surgery got moved up twice and in the end was almost five weeks earlier than originally planned. I had signed up to do the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in Utah, in September, but with the longer stretch for training, am tempted to give the full marathon another go. It was a great race last year with a very satisfying result for me. Had they not enticed me by taking four of the toughest miles out of a tricky ‘net zero’ out and back and put them up the mountain for even more downhill running, I’d have probably stuck with the Half. However, enticed I have been and am trying to see if I have the training to give that full marathon another go.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

So none of this really explains the absence from blogging. In addition to all of the above, we have been on a couple of weeks of family related travel which has included a birthday for Charlie, a wedding for a nephew and, well just another visit to the other grandson, Jonah, and his family in Winnipeg. That is where we are now. There has been a lot of driving and lots of great visiting/celebrating and there HAS BEEN running, just not much time to blog about it.

I thought I was going to write about the Pan Am Games, but that didn’t happen. Maybe there will be some reflections later, but for now it has passed as anything resembling news or being a current topic.

What is this “running scared” thing? Well, it is kind of strange. Over the years I have had lots of interruptions to training and racing and just worked my way back. This seems different though. As I get older there is a bit more urgency to certain things. Also, a bit more difficulty. Time off takes even more time to return to form and as I go along, sometimes it feels like I won’t be able to do so. (So far that has proven not to be the case, but it hasn’t stopped the worry.)

IMG_3343While other races are coming in the Fall, including an added bonus that the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics have chosen the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon as the first International Reunion, and if at all possible there will be a return to Negril for the 15th Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, the focus is on Big Cottonwood. I’ve kind of messed with my own mind on this. I am perfectly confident I can be ready for a good half marathon, but I have shifted focus to the marathon and whether I can do it or not. Certainty on that front is NOT a given and that is where the feeling of urgency and ‘fear’ is coming into the picture. The last thing I want is another mediocre result. I have all of those I really need. With the move of four of the toughest miles up the mountain for pleasant downhill running and true familiarity with the remaining out and back section (which I had none of last year), I figure there is a good 10-15 minutes to be had and a time of which I’d be super proud.

Running volume is OK and I’m only a little behind the schedule I need to keep in order to feel ready for the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon. The problem is that I am pushing a bit and finding it hard to get the runs in that I need to do, particularly the long ones. Weather has created some of the issues for good running and the locations (while  traveling) where I have very little idea of where I’m going. Thank goodness I have my trusty Garmin Connect route planner. Even still, and yesterday’s 20K run was a good example, there is a bit of stress in running a route you don’t know. You must pay a lot more attention to where you are and where you are going than when running a familiar route. In general, I was happy with the run, but not so happy with how tired I felt. Oh, I can explain a lot of reasons why it may have been more taxing than a body would hope, including the familiarity factor already noted and humidity that was actually shocking for where we are (did I mention the weather as a factor?). But, we tend to psychologically dismiss these factors when we think things should feel a certain way, well at least I do.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.

I know that I have four more clear weeks of training, plus a short taper between now and Big Cottonwood. I know it can be run with a minimal marathon prep (compared to what I would normally do). I know it is a wonderful course with the kind of downhill running I love. Finally, I know that if I’m not ready for a marathon, I’m actually registered to run the half anyway! BUT I WANT TO RUN THE MARATHON! The good news is that by next weekend we will be back in Vancouver and I will be back to my usual clinic routine with Forerunners and back on track to have a couple of 30K LSDs done before heading for Utah. And, this time I even have a week of high altitude acclimatization before the race (which will now start at something near 10,000 feet for the marathon).

Technically, since we will almost certainly be in Victoria for the race weekend, I could run the marathon there. It is, in fact, the target race for the Forerunners Clinic. While that is all well and good, I don’t want to run another marathon for the sake of it. I want to run one with a snappy time, even if it is almost all downhill. Hey! You still have to run it, and it isn’t as easy as I may make it sound.

I hoped yesterday’s run would be a) a bit longer than what it was (missed a loop I intended to do) and b) a bit easier than it felt. I hoped, even at about 22km, it would give me the confidence that the remaining training was going to get me where I want to go. Intellectually, I am still fairly sure that it will all be fine. Mentally, maybe not so much. Still, my prep for the early May half marathon extravaganza went through a similar phase where everything was HARD right up to when it wasn’t. Thing is, I had hoped to be there now. As I look back I can see I’ve pushed fairly hard since I was able to get back to running after the eye surgery and that combined with the age factor is probably the real reason I feel as I do at this precise moment. One bit of good news is that although I was pretty spent after the run yesterday, today I feel quite good. Recovery (speed of) has always been a tool by which I measure my fitness. Doesn’t matter how bad you feel running a long way or even up a tough hill, what counts is how soon you are feeling good again.

Nifty new Asics shoes.

Nifty new Asics shoes.

One thing that has disturbed me is that the old knees have been kind of tender. I’ve been messing with a couple of different brands and types of shoes (kind of an experiment) and lost track of how much distance I’ve put on my ‘go to’ shoes. When I sat down and really looked, it turns out I have put much more than normal on those shoes and a good close inspection even shows how ‘crushed’ they are. Time for a new pair as soon as I get home! I’m sure (because it always does) that will improve how the knees feel and for that matter, maybe the weariness I’m feeling in the rest of the leg. I’m always aware of issues with my left leg/knee that may result from overwork and such, but when both knees start bothering it is almost always the shoes. With all the on-off running this year, I sort of lost track of or discounted the actual amount of distance put on my main training shoe. As it turns out, the timing is probably pretty good to get into a new pair and break them in, just in time for Big Cottonwood (whichever distance I do).

Well, thanks for listening to my personal tale of woe. I always consider before writing blogs as personal as this one, whether or not it might ring a bell with others. Hopefully, recounting some of my feelings and thought processes will be helpful now or in the future, to at least a few readers!

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget, Running in the Zone is also available in e-format. Skip the shipping cost and time! And, you get the writing and wisdom of 25 other runner/writer types who aren’t me.

EVERYONE SHOULD RUN NAKED (SOMETIMES)

06.18.2015
The 'ancient' form of "Run Naked"

The ‘ancient’ form of “Run Naked”

OK, we’ll get the obvious out of the way first. There is running naked (as in nude, as in ancient Olympics) and there is the current catchy term of “run naked” (as in no electronics, gadgets or similar).

Personally, I have done both; and while you can do the one just about anywhere, the other demands just a wee bit more discretion. Let me just say that if you aren’t clear which is which, you may want to go review your local civic bylaws before continuing here. I take no responsibility for anyone getting these two mixed up!

I’m not really sure who is hoping for what from this post, but the bulk of it is about the gadgetless form of ‘running naked’. If you were hoping for the other, maybe I’ll deal with it first and then you can go do something else.

Wreck Beach Bare Buns - Start

Wreck Beach Bare Buns – Start

I happen to live where there is an organized, timed, prized, nude race and in the interest of full disclosure, I have done it a number of times (5 or 6 I believe). This is the Wreck Beach Bare Buns Run. Because it is held on a tidal flat, the date and time depend on a suitably low tide to expose the course around the middle of the day. Generally it is near the beginning of August to max out the chance of warm sunny weather. The distance is 5K, but since the exposed beach is relatively small, it requires three laps of a somewhat zig-zag course. The sand is always a little bit different year to year. Depending on the winter storms, you may or may not encounter low spots and ‘puddles’ and in some areas there may be accumulations of sand that can dry out as the tide recedes, becoming interesting obstacles along the way. The wet sand is pretty firm and easy to run on. Wet spots (ankle deep’ish) are also easy enough, but hitting one of those sun-dried soft sand sections, or a deep ‘puddle’ can just kill your legs. Fortunately, it is all for fun, but it is timed and does attract some pretty fair runners. I think the record is about 17 minutes, which is pretty speedy over the course I just described with many tight turns thrown in just for fun. But, “You can leave your shoes on!” (Think Joe Cocker – You Can Leave Your Hat On.)

To run so, is quite liberating, not unlike the other kind of ‘run naked’ which I am about to get into. You can run ‘shy’ but you can’t win unless you go bare. Frankly, when everyone around is in their birthday suit you feel more conspicuous being clothed. A contributor to Running in the Zone (the book), Bart Yasso, has a fabulous chapter in “My Life on the Run” on running a sister race in Washington State.

OK. That’s it. Naked ‘naked running’ is done with now.

Running at Coolangatta, QLD

Australian beach run – Queensland

Seems to be all the rage now to ‘run naked’. That is, to run without a watch or gps system, without music, or any other distractions from JUST RUNNING. One of my favourite vacation things is to run barefoot on a beach, so not even shoes!

Early Morning Beach Runners - Negril, JA

Early Morning Beach Runners – Negril, JA

I suspect there are a lot of relatively new runners out there who may not realize that you CAN run without a Garmin or other gps device. I’ve been thinking about this topic for some while now, but was moved to do something by two things that happened this weekend. One was my own inadvertent naked run, followed by a Facebook post about running naked. And no, it wasn’t from one of my BB Run friends, so it was the non-tech-naked kind of running naked.

I have, for years, been a pace group leader for the Forerunners half and full marathon clinics. Generally, I do run with my trusty Garmin to ensure that I am keeping a proper pace in relation to the group I am leading. It is important to keep the advertised pace, not the one I feel comfortable doing on any given day. These runs are on Saturday mornings. This past Saturday I was up in plenty of time, but somehow got rushing around as the moment of departure neared and off I went, sans-tech. I don’t live anywhere near Forerunners, so once I realized I did not have my little digital friend, there was no going back to get it.

Typical route view on our clinic long run.

Typical route view on our clinic long run.

As it happened, there wasn’t anyone needing my ‘expert assistance’. (Happens this time of year as races start coming fast and furious.) However, the owner of the store who was once Canada’s premier marathoner, wanted to run with me. Off we went with me more than a little apprehensive about how this was going to go. Peter is a lot younger than me and even though his competitive years are well behind him and he endures the aftermath of the rigours of elite racing and training, his comfortable pace is generally not MY comfortable pace. Off we went. We ran, we chatted, sometimes he chatted while I huffed and puffed up a couple of very sturdy hills at the beginning of our 15K route, but I kept up and we ran on.

He is a fountain of historical info on the elite running days of his prime, but he keeps a close eye on the youngsters currently emerging. He knows who they are and what they are doing, and who coaches them and how ‘healthy’ they are at any given moment. Even though I don’t have anything like his wealth of knowledge, I love that sort of thing and he doesn’t usually leave me wondering what he’s talking about. The point is, neither of us had any technology with us while running. We ran and we talked. We knew where we were starting and finishing and that was it.

While it is hardly the first time I’ve ‘run naked’, it really made an impression on me because it was just so free and easy, and kind of pure. Peter still trains to  goals and so do I, but not this past Saturday.

Then, on Sunday, while roaming about on Facebook, a young woman I know posted about how glorious it had been ‘running naked in the sunshine’ of a fabulous late Spring day in Vancouver. She also quickly clarified the tech-free nature of what she meant. Several people chimed in and that was probably when I decided I needed to write this piece.

I guess there are people out there who run naked all the time. Those people just run. They generally don’t race. It is much easier when the whole point is just running for the pure joy of it. With a goal, the dynamic changes. PR, BQ, Podium. Those don’t happen without some attention to detail. Technology can help. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

One part of technology enhanced running that I don’t understand is music. I have never run with music. I so much prefer the idea of listening to the sound of my surroundings, my own breathing, footfalls on road or trail. I gather that some use music for the very purpose of obliterating some of those things – a distraction. I judge not, but feel that where safety is involved (in traffic or crowded race fields) music represents a danger. ‘Nuff said on that, except that when it comes to running naked, the music needs to stay home too. If you must ‘tune out’ from what you are doing, trying letting yourself slide into a meditative state (my topic in the Running in the Zone book).

Even a watch is kind of a tech tool, but is not of much use if you don’t have external distance markers, or even milestones to use it against as a form of pace monitoring. I do know people who run for a pre-determined time rather than using a route or distance. They just run out for Xhr/2 and then turn around and run back. For that you need some kind of timing device, or you will actually be running to distance. Otherwise, these folks pretty much run naked.

Running the forest trails.

Running the forest trails.

For the most part, I have a bunch of known training routes, so if I’m running on those routes, I’m probably using my technology. When I want to ‘just run’, there are some really nice wooded trails near here and I will just go for a lope through that bit of “urban forest”. Nothing like a quiet forest for a peaceful run.

So, getting back to the time and pace technology as promised above, truth be told, (and I’m not sure how many others do this), I don’t much consult my gps while running but rather after I get home and download to the computer where I can review what I really did. There are two times I do watch my Garmin. One is when I am pacing the training group. The other time is early in a race where I have a terrible tendency to start too fast.

Finishing in front of the 'Leg'

Finishing in front of the ‘Leg’

We tend to think of ‘run naked’ as a non-race thing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The last best race I ran was the Victoria (Half) Marathon in 2012. I did have the Garmin, but I ran as much as I possibly could to a constant effort – that is, how I felt. When I reviewed the race later, I saw it was the closest I’ve ever come to the mythical negative split. Think there was maybe 10 seconds difference between the first and second half splits, and the time for last mile was almost identical to the first. This was probably as close as I come to “Racing Naked” these days! Got me thinking that maybe I should wear the gps unit in my next race (for the post-race records) but tape over the display and just run on feel. Hmmmm. Well, if I do, you will be the first to know.

So really, it is not hard to see how you can get caught up with your technology. As I said above, and just a little tongue in cheek, there are probably some relatively new runners that don’t know you CAN run without these things.

There is a school of thought that using the technology reduces our natural ability to sense pace. I’m not sure about that. At one point, I could ‘feel’ my pace very accurately. However, as I got older and well before we had gps devices to guide us, I started to feel that my inner sensor just wasn’t doing it. I kind of assume that when you can sense pace intuitively it is because you are fit and strong and know what it feels like to do a certain pace. As I have aged and as it gets harder to do the same things, abilities for sensing pace seem to diminish. One commentator on the running naked post on Facebook, a friend and good runner, offered that relying on technology may be stripping us of that inner sense. I’m sure there is some truth to that point of view, but I also think a lot of it is done on how it feels, so if it just becomes harder to do the same things, then you can’t go quite as accurately ‘by feel’. As you age, it seems there are more unexpected ups and downs that may not even be related to running as such, but which certainly impact how you ‘feel’ at any given time.

I often counsel my clinic charges that the best way to race a longer distance is to try to maintain a constant effort as I mentioned above re the Victoria Half Marathon. That isn’t quite the same as knowing your pace. For constant effort, use your comfortable pace on the flats. Maintain how that effort feels while going up a hill (you WILL go slower) and down the other side (you will go faster, but not as fast as you could). That is NOT even splits or pace, but rather even effort. Unless you are truly ‘one with your Garmin’ it can’t help you measure constant effort.

Another reason I use my Garmin is it represents an easy way to record and track my mileage. It also lets me chronicle my races for detailed review and instruction for future races. I am all for progress and modern technology as long as it enhances and doesn’t take over.

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

Charlie celebrates running into new territory (distance)!

As I have written this and thought about it, I probably actually run ‘semi-naked’ most of the time. Huh?

Unless I have a very specific reason for consulting my tech device mid-run, I do run a lot on feel, regardless of whether I am as good at it as I once was. I won’t say I don’t sneak a look sometimes to see how far I’ve gone and/or how far I have to go. Generally that isn’t necessary in races, as they have distance markers but on training runs it is sometimes good to know. One exception was about a week ago when I ran my first race with our oldest grandson. Charlie had never run more than 2km and he was stepping up to 5K, actually 5.4K. As we passed the 2K point I let him know he was in new territory and that I was very proud of him. As each K ticked off, I announced that he had now run 3K, 4K and even 5K, because we were still 400m from the finish as we went through 5K. I think it gave him motivation and we finished strong!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has discovered the joy of just running, but if you’ve been caught up in training and the technology to enhance it, including music, give a thought to getting out there now and then with just the bare minimum and run in the moment.

So. Who is up for a bit of naked running?

Your choice. Either kind. Actually, you COULD do both at the same time as long as you pick the right place. Now THAT would be liberating!!!

DOES ANYBODY EVER RUN 5Ks THESE DAYS?

03.16.2015
Probably my most significant 5K Medal

Probably my most significant 5K Medal

Reverse side tells WHY. Inaugural BAA 5K.

Reverse side tells WHY. Inaugural BAA 5K.

The title is a question (or something close to it) that appeared on the Marathon Maniac Facebook page. I think it may have been ‘how many of you run 5Ks’ or something like that. I will admit that the Marathon Maniacs aren’t your average cross-section of runners. They are MARATHON Maniacs. I get some interesting ideas about topics from that page though.

When you spend a lot of your time and money training for and getting to marathons some might not think there is a place for the lowly, perhaps ‘puny’, 5K. Some did feel that way, but I was pleasantly surprised how many extolled the virtues of the 5K, both as a race in itself but also as a powerful tool for improving speed and strength while running our beloved marathons.

The 5K is often the ‘go-to’ distance for charity runs. Nothing wrong with that. With a little slack on the time, most people can cover 5K one way or another and it suits the purpose.  But, it may give the wrong impression regarding what a killer distance the 5K can be. So many people, and not just my Marathon Maniac friends, say things like, “You run marathons. How hard can a 5K be?”  The answer is plenty tough, depending of course on how hard you run. Naturally, if you run 5K at marathon pace it would be pretty easy. The thing is, if you are a serious runner (and that does not necessarily mean blazing fast), you will not be running at marathon pace. You will be running at 5K pace, YOUR 5K pace, but for any given runner, by definition that will be HARD. That pace is different for each person, but sort of like the table of Boston Qualifier marathon times that are all over the map depending on gender and age, if you do your 5K all out, it will be hard! Speaking of the Boston Marathon, I have alas been unable to nail one of those BQ’s (OK, maybe on my first, but that was a long time ago and a long story). Whatever, I’ve never run Boston. I did accompany our daughter Janna when she did it in 2009, so was thrilled to be able to run the Inaugural BAA 5K, held the day before the big event. That is the story behind the photographs at the top of the page.

The 5K is hard physically AND mentally. There is no rest phase (for the weary).  Mentally, you need to be strong and keep the accelerator down. In a half or full marathon there may well be a time when you can back off the absolute edge and catch a little rest. As some people in the Maniac discussion commented, you need to warm up almost as far as the race distance in order to run a 5K well, not to mention actually TRAIN for the distance. Again, in a marathon, for most people, there is no real reason to warm up beyond stretching out your legs. The early part of the race let’s you get into a rhythm and pace zone. No such luxury in a 5K. You’d better be ready to rock it from the gun.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should or must run a 5K this way, but if you are a serious runner looking for performance in your races, I guess I am. Then there is the elite end of things. Watching the truly fast 5,000m runner shows what speed and endurance is really about. It is nothing short of breath-taking – literally! The World Record for 5,000m on track is an average pace of 2:32/km or just around 4:05/mile. Recall that within my lifetime it was said that if anyone ever ran a mile under four minutes they would die. [Ed. Note: This turned out not to be true at all!]

My competition at the Giants Head Run in June!

My competition at the Giants Head Run in June!

I have run more than one 5K just for fun and I have just committed to another one in June. That one will be with the older of my two grandsons. And, it will be a full circle return to the first race event I ever did as an older runner (older, as in not a teen). It is the Giants Head Run 5K in Summerland, BC. Charlie hasn’t done 5K yet, but is getting there and says he will be ready for June.

I just want to do it with him. He wants to do it with me. Time doesn’t matter. I’ve heard he might be a bit nervous because he knows I’m a long-time runner, which he seems to be confusing with being fast! He loves triathlon and has done a number of ‘mini-tri’ events. His Mom made me promise we’d go easy because like all kids, he might take off like he was only going 100m (and because I’m old?). Could be. We’ll see. Frankly, that ‘start too fast’ trait is hardly reserved for kids, as all runners know all too well! Youngsters develop so fast. He may already be able to whup me if he just paces himself a little.

Hmmmmmm. Go Charlie! Go! Run like the wind!!!  He, he, he,  – atta’ boy!

It reminds me a little of a time when my brother was a teen and working out a bit. He came up from the basement one afternoon and challenged our Dad to arm wrestle.  They struggled a bit and then my brother took the win. Not much was said, but off he went back to the basement (to work out a bit more?).  My Mom scolded my Dad and said, “You really shouldn’t let him win like that!”  My Dad paused and looked at her like only he could do and just replied, “I didn’t.” (Oh, and for the record, my Dad was no push-over.)                         Go Charlie!!  Run!  You can do it!

Actually, there is no reason his Mom and Dad couldn’t run too. Make it a real family affair. Maybe we could have a team shirt! Three generations. I like it!!

[Editor’s Note: Just checked that the GH Run ‘5K’ goes where I thought it did.] Turns out it is actually 5.4K! At least they now declare that right up front. I am quite pleased about the ‘full disclosure’ because with the extra 0.4km I would have been wondering. Now we know.

article-2211641-1548A2EB000005DC-773_634x420Speaking of running 5Ks for fun I was honoured to be asked to run a 5K as part of a local support group when Fauja Singh came to Surrey, BC and ran the Surrey International World Marathon Weekend 5K. You might remember him as the amazing 100 year-old runner who was even doing marathons up to that age. When we ran in Surrey I think he was about 102. Frankly, we were asked to kind of form an ‘invisible protective shield’ around him to make sure he didn’t get bumped or anything. HA! First of all, he ran it in 35 and change and when he saw the finish (and heard the dulcet tones of Mr. Steve King), he picked up the pace. I had to shift gears to keep up! It was a truly inspirational day. He had many family members around him including, I imagine, some great grand-kids. The whole time we were running he was making comments and even if I didn’t understand what he was saying, it seems by the way the people around him kept cracking up, that the old boy was being pretty witty while he clocked off a very respectable 5K.

Getting back to the matter of the 5K as race and off of the 5K as a family affair, it is a fun and demanding distance. Not only that, but as many in the on-line discussion pointed out, it is an integral part of a good marathon training program. Naturally we all run various distances in training for a marathon but some racing will sharpen you for the longer distance. Few can push in training, the way we do in a race. A number of races interspersed in the training schedule will put you in peak form. Some feel that if you are working up to a serious target marathon, a good half marathon a few weeks before will set you up very well. My half marathon PB came just that way, as I trained for what was to be my marathon PB. That said, a couple of short fast races add another dimension to your preparation.

The Marathon Maniacs are an interesting group among which is a crowd who do crazy numbers of marathons, running one every week and some will do a couple of a weekend. That said, and while some Maniacs count hundreds of marathons in their totals, the average is something like 3.25/year. Some just don’t care how long it takes as long as they cross the start and finish and get an official time. Nothing wrong with that. Some appear to be ‘bucket-listers’ that have set a goal to become a MM member and maybe never do another, or certainly not at the pace that you might imagine a Maniac would do. Mixed into this now 11,000 strong crowd are some very fine and competitive runners who take every race and every step very seriously. I am guessing that #1, #2 and #3 (the club founders) can still rip off a 3 hr marathon whenever they please.

So, it was interesting when this discussion of 5Ks started, it seemed like it flushed out a lot of serious runner types because most of the comments swirled around the value of the speed work and how it was great training and prep for serious marathoning. I certainly believe it, even if what I do these days doesn’t look like the work of any kind of speed demon!

Finishing the Canada Day 5K (2014) for an age group podium place.

Finishing the White Rock Canada Day 5K (2014) for an age group podium place.

One of the personal issues I have (and maybe others of my vintage) with racing shorter distances – 5K, 8K and 10K primarily, is that pushing that hard (training and racing) tends to bring on injuries. Running for endurance also has its challenges for me, but I am far less prone to injury. Even though family members are promoting that I should shorten my racing distances, I am not quite there yet. Fewer marathons? Yes, I can see that. Zero marathons?  I’m not sure. Not yet. After a really bad one at Vancouver last May and a pretty good one (for me) at Salt Lake City in September, I thought maybe it would be good to let the Big Cottonwood Marathon be my 25th (it was) and final marathon. That MAY be how it does turn out, but some new projects have been popping up in my head and as long as the last marathon I do is a great experience, I am feeling OK to go on for a bit. What is a great experience? Either a good ‘pure’ performance or a very satisfying event where I did not necessarily run for time but rather the experience.

Will 5K races be part of that? You can bet your booties (or racing flats) on that! Will the 5K be a satisfying and serious race for me in the future? It sure will! Hey, now that I’m in a new age group, if I choose races carefully, I might even win a few (age group), or at least place.

WHAT? IT’S 2015? ALREADY!?

01.04.2015
Dawning of a New Year!

Dawning of a New Year!

Gosh, I was kind of enjoying a quiet time there (as were my loyal readers, likely). But, here it is a brand spanking new year! Well, it is actually just a wee bit used. It is the 4th of January and I’ve already had a 16K run at the Forerunners “First Half” training clinic. (No, I’m not running the First Half Half Marathon, but I am leading a pace group of people who are. I will be back as MC for the big event and looking forward to it, but more on that at a later time.)

So yes, this post is pretty much about me, but maybe there will be some useful thoughts for others to ponder in relation to their own running and racing and the plans related thereto.

I will have a new age category in just a couple of days. It is nice that my birthday is in early January, as my whole year is always at the same age, which only matters when you change categories, but this is one of those years. Crazy as it may seem, what with a new age group and a chance for setting new (personal) age group PBs all over the place, I do not have even ONE race lined up as yet. I guess I should find one quick, just so I can say I was still racing when I was 70. One I might have done is the Steveston Ice Breaker, but I will be out of town meeting our newest grandkid (who hasn’t even been born yet, but soon, very soon). Still, there must be something doing that I can get into and get the year started, as far as racing goes.

I do have some ideas for a big project, which I alluded to in an earlier post, but think I shall keep my big mouth shut on that until I’m really ready to ‘pull the trigger’.

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

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

2014 turned out to be a good and fun year of running. I ran at least one more marathon than I intended, but the ‘extra’ one was the Yakima River Canyon Marathon and with all the folk in attendance, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. Somewhere along the way it was supposed to be the ‘Year of the Half’, so I did manage four of those. When all was said and run, I realized I had not done even one 10K, the base to which many (most?) of us refer with regard to our running prowess. Guess that will have to be fixed in 2015. Yakima was a slow marathon for me, but then I promised myself it was ‘a training run’ for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which was my primary target race early in the year. Don’t know what happened with that one, but it wound up being a couple of minutes slower than Yakima. If I’d known that was going to happen, I would have pushed it harder at Yakima! Fortunately, there was the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon in September where everything got sorted in my personal world of marathons, with a time that was a recent PB (last three years or so) and it being my 25th marathon. Now, I have to decide if it will be my last marathon (finish on a high note, ya’ know). But, that brings us back to the big project mentioned earlier, so we’ll have to see.

Not that there is some kind of ‘cliff’ associated with my upcoming birthday, but I think it is time to adjust my thinking on running and racing. I’ve noticed for some time that training for and racing the shorter distances makes me more prone to injury than the longer ones, but the longer ones tend to be getting harder to do in terms of training (total effort, and tiring/straining my aging body) even if I seem to suffer less from traumatic and injurious events. I ran 10 races in 2014, but seven of them were half marathon or more. My total racing distance was 238km with a total distance run in training and racing of just over 1500km. Perhaps there is a happy medium to be found. Still, it is rather unwise to race without effective training. That WILL lead to injury.

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

I have to admit that some of the best running I did all year was in the week after the Reggae (Half) Marathon in Negril in early December. Why? Because I just didn’t care about anything other than getting out and enjoying the easy run along the beach. Longest of those runs was 5K and I think the shortest was maybe 3K. The point is that the only focus was the doing of it. And, it was so easy. Get up, put on shoes, shorts and singlet, step out door, run. It was early enough that I didn’t even need sunglasses or a hat. A few times I didn’t bother with the shoes and if I weren’t worried about frightening the ‘natives’ with my beluga-like white body (I don’t tan well), I didn’t really need the singlet either. So, technically it could have been as simple as “Get up, put on shorts, step out door, run”. In winter, in Canada – even in Vancouver, it isn’t going to ever be that simple. And, when I’m home I always seem to have a goal to my running. As a result I always seem to have a distance or pace goal to achieve, depending on whether I am doing a LSD run on the weekend or a speed, tempo or hill session during the week.

The thing is, I still like racing. I like the focus that target races give. I love the vibe of races, especially marathons. Maybe what I should do is think about a handful of Spring events and likewise a small number of Fall events and just let the Summer be a time for that easy goal-free running that was so great in Jamaica. I suppose that while my looming birthday is something I will welcome as a special milestone or badge of honour, the number attached is such that without being morbid about it, there is not much doubt that there is some kind of approaching limit to what I am going to be able to do. I mean, good grief, I have some pretty awesome examples of running friends who are going strong and are much older than me. That said, a lot of the people I have run with over the years have stopped running and if not running, definitely racing.

I suppose this musing about stuff is a way to get to a sort of New Year resolution about running.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to have worked yet!

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

Big Cottonwood Marathon Expo

In a way, I wish I could get my head to where so many of my fellow Marathon Maniacs are – basically that the doing of it is all that really matters. I still don’t seem to be able to comfortably (mental comfort) enter a race just to finish it. Gotta work on that! I really don’t have too much to prove after all these years. Let’s face it, a lot of times now, just showing up is going to get me a podium place in my age group. But really, what glory is there in being 1/1, other than the fact that you are still out there doing it. THAT is a worthy accomplishment, but finishing first when you are the only one to show up, is not really that remarkable. I have a friend who, when he isn’t all that happy with his performance, will say he finished 2nd out of one! I already get the point of that.

I did just have a small revelation that, at least in some instances, it may be my Scottish blood that says if you are going to spend a bunch of money to travel to and do a race, you better do it well. Value for money and all that. I mean you couldn’t go to a destination race ‘just because’, could you? Well, in a sense, I do that with the Reggae Marathon. Regardless of which of the three events I run, I am under no illusion that my time is going to be in any way remarkable. It is just too hot. Perhaps there is hope yet!

One race I want to do soon, maybe in 2015, is with our grandson, Charlie. He will be nine this year, so it is time to be looking for a 3-5K event we could do together. I’ve raced with his Mom (Danielle) and his Dad (Greg),  also with our other daughter (Janna) and her husband (Jason) and with our son (Cam). The new grandkiddly may be too young for some while, although I suppose if push comes to shove (literally) I might be able to do one with him in a stroller. I was thinking that might be with his Mom or Dad pushing, but I suppose there is nothing stopping me from being the push-OR while he is the push-EE. In fact, conceptually, it might be best if I was the one doing the pushing. Guess we’ll let his parents have the final say on that.

That seems to be enough musing and personal chat for today. 2015 is shaping up to be a fun year and I am really looking forward to it.

Happy New Year to one and all, and all the best with your own personal running goals and plans!

See you on the roads!

“I’M LEAVIN’ ON A JET PLANE……………”

12.04.2014
Perfect Sunset

Perfect Sunset

Yes, I AM going off very soon to Negril for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K, and NO this post isn’t really about that.

I will happily admit that I was packed and ready to go as I looked at the November drizzle with promise of heavy rain later in the day, I was eagerly anticipating warm sunny beaches. I will also happily admit the Reggae Marathon weekend has become an annual favourite for this Seasoned Athlete. I have said lots about this race favourite and I assure you I AM going to say more once I’m in Negril and the event is unfolding.

However, this is really about the whole idea of destination racing. I’m not going to say the Reggae Marathon ISN’T going to get mentioned again, but for the rest of this it will only be an example.

The ultimate destination racer is the Marathon Maniac, and maybe more so  the 50 State marathoners. Of course, you don’t have to run marathons to be a destination racer, but these two groups MUST do destination races to achieve their goals. I know a few people who have made it a life mission to run the Marathon Majors, meaning a lot of travel. Yes, you can get three of them while staying to the USA, but then there is London, Berlin and Tokyo.

With that last example,  the question arises quickly as to just what a ‘destination race’ really is. I suppose in simplest terms it is one held where you don’t live and perhaps where you must travel far enough to need at least one night of accommodation. One thing I’m pretty sure about is that the destination event need not be huge (like NYCM). It can be like my first noted destination race, the Reggae Marathon, which is modest in size when you figure plus or minus 1500 participants are spread over three separate events (full marathon, half marathon and 10K). In fact, technically speaking, as long as the race is ‘away’ it could be pretty small if numbers of entrants is what you are counting.

Personally, I like the ‘runcation’. We won’t ask my wife about this. She does attend a fair number of my runcations but for her the destination better have something going for it beside the fact that someone is putting on a marathon or something. What is a runcation, you ask?  A vacation that involves a race, of course! I have done a LOT of destination races, including the vast majority of my marathons. I have done shorter distances as destination events and once or twice completed a race where the race was a happy accident that popped up during travel for some other reason.

While there are many single events that have every right to be on the top-flight list of destination races, we have seen the advent in recent times of corporate event organizers who market the destination event, such as the Competitor Group and their Rock ‘n’ Roll series, Destination Races (Wine Country races) and Revel which is specializing in downhill events in the very mountainous western states. The advantage of the corporate races using a branded name is that runners come to know what to expect. To be clear, that isn’t always good, but you do know what you are going to get. Event organization is built on the idea that a lot of the participants will be traveling in for the race. So, if you want to try out destination racing one of the purpose built events might be a good place to start. Or not. They will almost always be at least a half marathon and probably a marathon. To be fair, a good many do also have a shorter distance event packaged in, but most people seem to have a mind-set that to travel, you must at least be heading for a half. That really isn’t so, but what has logic got to do with anything?

One of the best destination races I did was one of the ‘accidental’ ones. We were helping our daughter move to Winnipeg, by delivering her car to her (I like long-distance driving; she doesn’t). Just happened that there was a great little 10K happening that also just happened to be the Manitoba Provincial 10K Championship. I (we, ’cause this is one of the trips my wife definitely wanted to do) got to visit with our daughter in her new home and to run with her, our son-in-law and also a friend from BC. There was even a bonus! I came third in my age category, so for a year was the M65-69 Manitoba 10K Bronze Medal Champion. Pretty neat, eh? Who asked how many people were in your age group? Who? What does that matter?  You really insist on knowing?  Well, there were three. So what is your point?

Running is not a terribly expensive sport. You really should wear decent shoes, and they are admittedly not inexpensive. You don’t have to race and if you do, nothing says you need to enter the big expensive events. However, if you want to run the destination races, it does cost some money. That makes these events more accessible to the young singles with a decent income AND to the ‘seasoned athlete’ who has moved on past some of the more demanding (time and money) family years.

There are ways to keep costs down, at least to some extent. You can organize groups and share driving and related costs. You can at least share accommodation and when traveling to far places at least consider local resorts vs five star, all-inclusive international chain resorts. If you can work it right, you can sometimes use a vacation package deal with flight and hotel at a place you want to race, although I have never pulled that off myself.  A couple of clubs I have belonged to have designated certain events as the ‘club event’ of the year and encouraged members to enter and then organized large group accommodations at the site of the race. And, what do you think airline or other rewards points are for??? We happen to own a time-share week and more than one destination race has been done using our week or some bonus offer (including Napa, Maui and Las Vegas marathons. just off the top of my head).

One of my favourite races is actually a relay, the Hood to Coast Relay, and at least during the race itself you don’t need accommodation at all – you just keep on running and sleep in a stinky van (if you can). Most times I’ve ever done this one, the total for a four day weekend, three races (legs) covering a total of 200 miles, including the entry fee has been less than $500 per person. As such things go, that is really pretty good!

If you are really dedicated to a destination race, you can save money with planning. Enter at the earliest opportunity. Watch for flight deals if you have to travel by air. Gather your points and use for hotels or trips. The older I get, the less I do this. Why? Well, it sure isn’t because I have unlimited money. No, it is because a lot of events and cheap air-fares aren’t so cheap if you have to cancel due to an unexpected injury. At my level of ‘seasoning’, waiting (even if it costs a bit more) is a kind of insurance against losing it all. Everything considered, I run pretty healthy, but every once in a while, there is enough of an injury that a given race may go by the wayside. Actually, this is a good reason to really concentrate on the ‘runcation’. If you are going somewhere for a great vacation and you have to scrap the racing, you still have a wonderful vacation and the only loss is (maybe) the entry fee. For instance, one of my runcations was Maui, for the Maui Marathon. If I had to (I didn’t) cancel the marathon race, I would still have had two fabulous weeks in Hawaii. Same is true for the Reggae Marathon. I left nearly 10 days ahead of the race, but even though I am registered for the half marathon, I still haven’t 100% decided if I will run that distance, the marathon, or the 10K. I have reasons to do all of them, but the big reason to go is to participate and to have an amazing vacation. It is fairly hard to lose on a deal like that. So, while the trip is not inexpensive, I will still get a great vacation whether I run or not, and no matter which of the race distances I finally choose.

There is something about being in a given place with the sole intent of participating in a race. For those who haven’t ever tried it, there really is something about just being there to run/race. Frankly, even on a runcation, for me the vibe is the same either way. One of the things I love about the Reggae Marathon is that for the few days around that event, most of the people you encounter are there for the same reason. It creates an energy you won’t find any other way.

If you haven’t got the idea by now that I really like this kind of running, well I can’t help you. If you’ve been thinking about making your first destination race or runcation, what are you waiting for? Well, actually, I can tell you one reason you should wait. Unless you have unlimited travel and running budgets, planning is very important. Do take the time to select a few races that really appeal. Take the time to figure out the logistics of training, time of year, other priorities in your life and the overall destination as a place you want to go. Then, if you do need to watch the pennies, take the time to organize something you will enjoy at a price you can afford.

Warning: This kind of thing can be quite habit-forming.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon - My most recent marathon.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon – My most recent marathon.