category : ‘Training and Racing’


THEY CAME, THEY WERE SEEN AND THEY CONQUERED

08.10.2018

A little play on the famous quote associated with Julius Caesar: Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Because Roger Robinson is so big on history, I figured this was an appropriate title for this little report of the recent visit of Roger Robinson (launching his new book: When Running Made History) and Kathrine Switzer (Marathon Woman). Two nights at Forerunners (4th Avenue first and then Main Street) thrilled many local runners (and a few visitors as well).

These two are master writers and speakers. Both have more than significant running resumes. We’ll get to that later. This is about the visit here in Vancouver. Roger did share that when the two of them married some 30 years ago, they debated what to do about living arrangements. At the time, Kathrine was a New York kind of girl (if ever home), while Roger called Wellington, NZ his place of residence. Apparently, Vancouver was high on the list of possibilities.

Vancouver ‘Running Family’ welcomes Roger and Kathrine

Roger has a very personal history in Vancouver, having come here in 1981 to set his marathon PB at the then Vancouver International Marathon, while also setting a masters record that stands to this day (2:18:44). It was also good enough for third place OA on a cold, wet day that seemed anything but conducive to record setting. Both Kathrine and Roger have an extensive list of Vancouver folks they can call friends, so are pleased to visit and see the locals, which humbly includes me. That was how the ‘party’ started, over lunch on False Creek. I suggested to Roger that the weather was always like that on Monday afternoon (see photo to the right) and he recalled that his 1981 Vancouver Marathon was perhaps, not exactly the same. I tried.

Running meets Art at the Vancouver Mural Festival.

I am going to veer off the main topic, for a very personal moment, because what happened after lunch was extraordinary. Our daughter Danielle is both a runner and an artist. Her running is pretty recreational, while her art is more than a little professional. She is widely known as The Jealous Curator and in her own right as an artist. As it happened, she was in Vancouver painting five (small, she said) murals as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival. There was a great hope that she could attend one of the two seminar presentations by Kathrine and Roger, but events conspired against that being able to happen. One of the big reasons for Danielle to meet Kathrine was the common interest they have in elevating women in their respective fields. Danielle Krysa is the author of three books on art, with a fourth about to be released officially on October 2nd. The new book is entitled: A Big Important Art Book: Now With Women. Yes, that’s right, women have not had a big place in art history, even if they may have been present. Danielle’s new literary offering is her contribution to changing that, even just a little. I was telling Kathrine and Roger about this over lunch and expressing how sorry I was that Danielle would not be able to come that night (she was also speaking), or the next evening either. I explained that, as we sat pleasantly eating our lunch, she was labouring in the hot sun to finish her fifth mural. The first question was “Where?“, the second “How far?” When I said “Not far”, the immediate response was “Well, let’s go see her.” So, when lunch was done, and with the aid of Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner, we drove the few blocks to the location of the art installation in progress.

The reason I had to include this is not to promote the kid or her work (OK, a little) but to point out that these iconic visitors with a jam-packed schedule already, wanted to take time to go to her if she couldn’t come to them. That is beyond special. It would have been easy and reasonable to just say something like, ‘Oh what a shame. Please wish her well and maybe next time we can meet up.’ That isn’t how these people roll. It is one of the reasons they are special.

Special is the operative word of the whole visit, I must say.

Katherine Switzer – 261 Fearless (261, her bib number from Boston 1967)

The people at their presentations obviously thought so. They bought up all the books available for the two evenings and more! Both presentations were sharp and witty not to mention inspirational.

Kathrine’s inspiration started on a cold wet road on the Boston Marathon course in 1967 and has been picking up momentum ever since, and right up to today. Last year, she ran Boston on the 50th anniversary of that first time when the race official tried to rip off her number bib and toss her from his ‘hallowed’ race. There was actually probably MORE fuss in 2017, but this time it was all good. It was a celebration and not just of an event, but of a huge change in attitude, and for women in distance running. As Roger commented, it wasn’t that cold soggy race in 1967 that was important, it was everything that happened afterwards, including the advent of the ‘261 Fearless’ movement, meant to empower women on a global basis, especially in places where what we take for granted, is not the norm. This has become Kathrine’s newest venture meant to support and encourage women globally: 261 Fearless.

Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler introduces Roger Robinson

Roger was the featured speaker in recognition of his new offering: When Running Made History. I reviewed it here quite recently, so will not get into a great discussion now. If you want to know more about the book, follow this LINK.

As I reported in the review and as he explained at the presentations, the book is not about ALL historical events related to running, but rather ones where he was eye-witness and could deliver a personal perspective more than an opinion. In the presentations he stated that rather than try to keep himself outside the situation(s) as an expert observer, he would own the fact that these were actually personal experiences. It is what makes the book special and his presentations too.

Roger and Kathrine are clearly a good team. The audience was amused!

I can say without doubt (I was there – it was a personal historic experience) that the audiences ate up everything Roger and Kathrine had to say. The audience included young and old, particularly one young woman of very tender age, visiting with her parents from Kentucky, who will treasure meeting K.V. Switzer, getting her own inscribed copy of Marathon Woman and the obligatory (today) ‘selfie’ with Kathrine. Because of her age and because I have no idea how to get permission, I have decided not to reproduce the photo here, but the joy on both their faces is an amazing and very moving thing to see.

Some of the audience waiting to have their book(s) signed.

The lines for both of them afterwards to sign books were long, happy and patient. None of the pretty common in such situations: Hello, what’s your name, sign book, thanks for coming – and NEXT. Both Roger and Kathrine took time to chat and learn something of the eager fan clutching their brand new book(s), thus making the inscription very personal. We even set up a production line with Margaret covering Kathrine and me, Roger, for the photo-op. Everyone has a phone these days, so as they came up to meet and greet and get their book signed, we would take their phone and snap a couple of photos for them as they chatted with the author of their choice. I’m pretty sure a lot of treasured souvenirs were created that evening, one that won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance.

Roger introduces ‘Russell’ his first bionic knee.

Then, Mark, his other knee, a todler really at just 11 months

At the end of my book review of a couple of weeks back, I kind of predicted that Roger may appear with his closest running companions, Russell and Mark. He did. ‘Russell’ is his right knee replacement, while ‘Mark’ is his much younger (just 11 months) left knee replacement. Their names derive from the surgeons who installed the hardware. Russell had set some fairly amazing PBs prior to the need for Mark to join the family. Roger reports that the sibling knees are getting along quite well and Russell mentors Mark, who now, and at a very tender 11 months of age, has a 5K PB of around 30 minutes. Roger has worked this into one of his major topics of historical aspects of running: the modern day refusal to quit just because some calendar claims you are ‘old’, or some physical condition alters your capability. Roger is 79 and while his existing masters record for the Vancouver Marathon is in no danger from future efforts by him (he also held masters records for Boston and New York at one time), he refuses to give up running and being as competitive as he is able. I am sure that strikes a note with many of the readers of this blog.

Between the two evenings, so many of Vancouver’s finest runners and members of the running community were in attendance. One of those was Dr. Jack Taunton, a member of the recent Super Seniors Seminar panel and a pillar of Vancouver running for decades, both as a runner and an organizer. Others included Geoff and Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless and Frank Stebner. Interestingly, all members of Lions Gate Road Runners one of the first and longest enduring Vancouver running clubs. Co-owner of Forerunners Main Street and two-time Olympian Carey Nelson also hosted the Tuesday event with Peter and Karen Butler. On Monday, Doug and Diane Clement participated, two more Olympians who have done outstanding service in the Vancouver sporting scene. With the exception of Carey Nelson, these folks are shown above in the Monday lunchtime photo. Carey (blue shirt on the right in the photo of the book signing line) spent the evening making sure everything was ‘just so’.

Ultra Runner Ellie Greenwood with Roger and Kathrine

In the audience was world ultrarun champion and record holder, Ellie Greenwood, and to show how the running community works, I believe Roger and Kathrine were as excited to meet Ellie as she was to meet them. I can’t think of another field of pursuit where people recognize each other so fully as in running, and that includes the contributions of those who support with volunteering and organizing and, ahem, even writing blogs.

So, the much anticipated visit is done and Roger has gone off to an event in Eastern Canada while Kathrine heads to Chicago, both to continue doing what they do. Here, we are left with the memories of a few days of something truly special and looking forward to the next time.

Thank you to all who made this happen!

 

SO YOU RAN A SUB-3:00 MARATHON. NOW WHAT?

06.26.2018

 

Walter and Matt Murdoch exit ‘the tunnel’ Light at the End of The Tunnel Marathon

This is a continuation of my posts about Walter Downey, a definitely ‘seasoned’ athlete and thus of extreme interest on this blog. Well, to the blogger anyway. Oh, and for the record, this title represents a question I have never had to ask myself! It is also about how we approach what comes after a major achievement or breakthrough. Walter is the ‘hero’ of this tale, but it is intended to be taken more generally by all readers in context of their own pursuits and performances and what they hold important.

To briefly recap, Walter made a decision almost two years ago to make some big changes and set some big goals. To achieve his goals, he did a number of things but two of the biggies were losing some weight (a significant amount) and training much more seriously. The results began with doing well in age group placements in race distances across the board and then with a string of PBs at pretty well all distances he ran. Of late, it has become an expectation that he will score a podium place, if not win his age group. He has also continued to tweak those PBs. The original story is HERE.

Recently (earlier this month), Walter scored what I would consider a ‘double unicorn’.

What in the name of all that is running, is a ‘double unicorn’????

I’m so glad you asked.

And then they were done. Walter, Matt and Ray Barrett.

For many people, especially those who would be considered ‘seasoned’, running a marathon under three hours at age 57 is rather unicorn-like (that is, extremely rare)! To be specific, Walter went 2:58:58. Obviously, that is sub-3:00. And, most of us hitting age numbers like 57 are really happy to get raw times that AGE GRADE to 2:58. Let me just put that in context. At 57 the WMA age grading calculator says if you want a graded time of 2:58:58, you must run a raw time of 3:33:10, which is a time not to be scoffed at, but it does create some context.

Although it is probably less rare, the illusive ‘negative split’ is also unicorn-like in its rarity. Walter’s splits for his sub-3:00 performance were 1:32 and 1:26 (ish). The times are unofficial and taken from his gps, but with that much of a spread, there is no doubt that he did the negative split that we all aspire to achieve. I once ran a half marathon within less than 10 seconds of being a negative split. I still consider it one of my best managed races and very satisfying with respect to personal performance.

Walter continues to do very well in his races, still taking podium after podium, often in first place in his age category. For what it’s worth, and before I leave the specific topic of his last marathon, I would point out that it age grades to an adjusted time of 2:30 and a % Performance of 83.25%.

With all of this settled and duly reported, the question of the title: “Now what?” is of greatest interest. You never want to get to that feeling of “Is that all there is to a circus?

I sat down with Walter to explore what comes next in terms of goals and aspirations, short and longer term.

The first thing we had to establish is, there is still a lot of specific ‘work’ to do before the 2018 running season is over. I’m not even going to try to list all the races, but I know he is intending to run the BC Half Marathon Championship (at Victoria) and finish up with the New York City Marathon the first weekend of November.

We also quickly established that Walter considers he has been racing and training ‘smart’. A big goal for the future is to continue exactly that way. Purely as an observer, when Walter began ramping up to his present level of performance, losing weight, running harder and faster, knocking off PB’s, I was a bit worried that he was going so hard at it that an injury was surely in his future. The concern came partly from what he was specifically doing (running every race that caught his attention, running them hard and doing big training volume), AND from the generality of what happens to all runners who push the volume and intensity too high for too long. I am pleased to say, and as Walter reports, he is now building recovery into his plans, even when he races (some are all out, some strategic).

Souvenirs from a few notable and relatively recent marathons, including 3 of the Marathon Majors.

Let’s face it, if you are competitive nothing is better than a race to make you run with some intensity and focus. That said, some races are preparation for other more important races and they don’t all have to be run at PB pace. A perfect example was that Walter ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May with a time far removed from his present PB performances. It was intentional. “THE race” on which he was focused was the one where he did his Sub-3:00, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Vancouver was May 6 and the Tunnel Marathon was June 10. Vancouver was completed in a time of 3:23:37 and The Tunnel was 2:58:58. That is how it is supposed to work when you race and train smart.

This is just one example. There are others. And, while Walter has tasted the sweetness of victory (age group and outright), he is also choosing events wisely, ‘picking his fights’ so to speak. Most of the time he is top three but seldom outside the  Top 5 in his age category.

Still, it seems there isn’t a race he isn’t ready to run. I wondered if there might be an ultra in his future, especially after he is done with the PBs in the standard distances we all know and love. Apparently NOT. So, maybe there are some events he isn’t interested in doing. And, while I know he likes training runs on certain trails, he isn’t interested in classic trail races either, ultra or otherwise. So, I suppose you could say his future goals involve no ultras or trail racing.

One thing we determined more or less immediately, is that he has no intention of going out in a blaze of glory and stopping cold turkey once his running goals are met (assumed to be PB performances, he feels he could achieve).

I must admit to pondering, based on Walter’s example, how many of us ‘retire’ too soon from pushing the envelope. To be clear on that, there is absolutely no need to ‘push’, but for the highly competitive, well………………

Just to remind you, I have reported previously how he has been setting new PBs; actual, unqualified PBs, even though he has been running for something approaching 20 years, running relatively well over those years and is now in his mid-50s. A few years back, on the advice of a runner older than me, I started paying more attention to 5-year PRs. I re-examined all my five year performances and still keep annual as well as 5 year age group ‘bests’ or PRs. I have also reported that doing something a bit like what Walter has done (back when I was plus or minus 65), produced some very good results although FAR from all-time PBs. Maybe after Walter reaches his personal level of peak performance, he too will consider such record keeping, but for now he is still setting new, totally UNqualified personal marks!

OK, back to ‘what now?’.

Walter has completed four of the six Marathon Majors (New York, Chicago, Boston (X3) and Berlin). Remaining are London and Tokyo. I doubt I would surprise you by stating there is a plot afoot to complete these two ‘missing’ marathons. The lottery is not particularly reliable, so it seems money may be the answer. By that I mean using a travel package or a charity bib to attain the needed entry. We chatted about the fact that we have both (along with a few dozen of our closest friends) submitted our names to the ‘ballot’ for London. The odds are a bit better than Lotto-649, but only slightly it seems. Obviously, this is one answer to the title question: complete the Big Six.

Another specific race based goal is a better half marathon time. According to Walter, his Half PB is not proportional to other personal records for marathon and 10K. He feels his times for both those distances are much better than his half time. He is working on it and strategically eyeing the races in his future. As I began writing, the very next one was to be the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 24, 2018. Two things can mitigate against it being the race where Walter corrects this perceived ‘imbalance’. The Scotia Half (as it is known locally) purports, or at least appears to be a fast and easy course, but it has three difficult components, two of which (hills) come at awkward points in the race. Weather is the third factor and although it was warming up by the time he finished, was probably a minor factor this time. As it turned out, the Scotia Half yielded up yet another new PB to Walter’s relentless and persistent pursuit of excellence. His time was 1:2834, good for 4th place in his M55-59 age group.

I imagine he takes comfort (not much though) in the fact he was just 16 seconds out of 3rd and that truth be told it was the ‘graduation’ of Coach Carey Nelson into the age group that pushed him into 4th. Carey was first with a 1:23:58. What’s a body going to do?? At least it was a good friend who pushed Walter off the podium. I will have to consult to determine whether or not the new PB corrected the so-called imbalance at half marathon, but my first reading of it, suggests that while a PB is a PB, this particular one is still not quite what Walter would want. Never mind, there are two more half marathons in his immediate future with potential to deliver even better times (Victoria Half and the Iron Horse Half Marathon). The quest continues!

Finishing up at Blueshore Financial Longest Day 5K – a fixture in both race series.

Coming off his 2017 performances, Walter set his cap for doing well in two race series that happen in BC. One is the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the other is the BC Super Series (for readers not presently running, this was the Timex Series). Some races are common, but as the name suggests, the Lower Mainland series is limited to events in the Lower Mainland area, in and around Vancouver. Without getting into the weeds on series scoring (they are different) Walter is well positioned in both. In both cases you must complete a minimum number of events, but you only score your best results, discarding poorer results after you surpass the official minimum number of races. He has been working hard to achieve his best possible outcome and while there are several races remaining in both series, it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone in his age group to catch up (there are only three races remaining in each series). He has already completed the minimum for both series and has a significant gap on those coming behind. Just in case the wording of this description might be misconstrued to imply he will be sitting back on what is ‘in the bank’. He won’t. Anyone who thinks they have an outside chance of catching him is going to have to work for it.

Another related matter is the challenge of doing well at the BC Athletics Championship races at standard distances: 5K (2nd), 8K (1st), 10K (2nd), Half Marathon and Marathon (2nd). Only the Half Marathon Championship remains for 2018 (Goodlife Victoria Half Marathon in October). Walter has competed in all of the events so far and, as noted, has achieved age group first or second placements in all. Interestingly, there is no particular single rival. He has placed either first or second, but the others who were just ahead or just behind consist of four different runners. I guess that makes Walter a ‘man for all seasons’ where it comes to race distance and excellence. It will be interesting to see how much he can tweak his performance before getting to the BC Half Marathon Championship in Victoria in October.

A few momentos from Walter’s more recent races.

I always try to make these posts at least a little bit generic and instructive to a wider audience. In reporting the specifics, I hope to inspire the more general thoughts and aspirations among readers. In this instance, Walter Downey is doing what turns Walter Downey’s personal crank. It is admirable and to be celebrated, but just because he wants to and can, there is no reason it should be someone else’s dream. We all have, or should have, our own.

At an impromptu post-race brunch after the recent Scotiabank races (there was a 5K, too), Coach Carey asked me how many of the Big Six I had run. ONE. New York. That’s it. I guess that if I got silly lucky later this year when ballot results are announced, I could move that up to TWO by doing London next year. That still leaves four, one of which I would have to sacrifice a point of principle to do – Boston. You CAN do it with a charity bib, but I long ago decided that because it is what it is, and I am what I am, the only way to do Boston would be to Qualify. That seems a ‘bridge too far’ for this Ancient Marathoner.

Other than working hard enough to win or at least place at most of my races, most of Walter’s personal goals are off the charts for me. No problem. I have my own past glories and future plans. Same like everybody else! The point then, is that this article is intended to inspire you to THINK about what you might do (if  you haven’t already).

Pre-Race with Walter Downey – BMO Vancouver Marathon 2018

I do have to admit that I was anticipating a few more zen-like ideas from Walter. That was possibly naïve of me. His current performance level is way too high and a ‘work in progress’ to be seriously looking at hanging up the racing flats and contemplating long easy runs in pastoral settings. Good Lord, I’m 73, kind of broken and slow and I’m still not thinking that way! A common friend of Walter’s and mine, is Rod Waterlow. In about a month, he will turn 81. HE isn’t thinking about pastoral run-walks either. I don’t know why I thought Walter would go there at this point, so there is a lesson for me and for you.

I did pose the question “Now What?” And, I did get some worthy answers. I suppose we should just leave it at that. In the meantime, I shall pursue some of my own goals that have been inspired by watching Walter, studying and writing about the adventure he is on at this point in time.

SOMETIMES IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS!

05.28.2018

What it was.

A ‘little thing’ has sure made my life miserable for the last 2-3 weeks! You can see it in the photo here.

It was lurking in my running shoe during the BMO Vancouver Marathon. By the time I was done, I had a major soft tissue bruise on my left heel and walking was extremely painful for a number of days. I did have my doctor look at it and pretty much confirm that it WAS a bruise. Recovery is now coming along and just prior to beginning this post, I went for a 2K run/walk, just to see if I could.

What it felt like!!

That little pebble found its way into my shoe, sometime, somehow. I have no idea if it was before or during the marathon. What I do know is that today, before starting out for my run, I was inserting an extra (gel) insole into my shoes just for a wee bit more cushion between me and the road. As I was starting to put the one in my left shoe I felt this hard little bump, right near the back of the heel section. I pulled the shoe’s own insole up and there it was!

Now, had the marathon not been a marathon (shorter race) or had it not been on pavement (it was), or had I run it in far less time (I normally would if I was actually trained), this all might not have happened. OR, I suppose, had I inspected my shoes before the marathon, I might have found that little guy. Well, that may or may not be true since I actually don’t know when it decided to hitch a ride. It may have flipped in there during the marathon, although I can’t imagine when.

Good news is that while my heel is still a bit tender, I think I’m close to the end of this little saga and ready to move on with coaching the Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic and my own training and racing – slowly and carefully, of course.

However, the impact of such a truly, physically small thing caused me to pause and think about how small differences can impact us in a huge number of ways, but since this is a running blog, I will try to keep my comments to things running.

Among the ‘little’ things that can become big might be a whole range of decisions and circumstances.

  • To skip a particular workout (more often a good thing than bad, since missing one workout generally does not lead to ruination of a training block, while doing a hard workout with a borderline injury could end training for a good long while, and maybe your race or performance)
  • In a strong race, to push just a little harder – a few seconds per kilometre or mile might be your BQ time
  • A degree or two of temperature or a few % humidity can make or break a performance
    • And deciding to push in such conditions can make or break you
  • At the pointy end of the field a decision to run for time might cost the win, when you should be racing to win without regard for time (see Boston Marathon 2018, Linden/Kawauchi). OK, so maybe this isn’t small.
  • Arriving at a race with time to spare vs rushing to the start with no time to prepare mentally or physically. The small part being paying attention to leaving home or hotel in good time.
  • Checking your gear to be sure there are no stones in your shoe! OR, that you are dressed properly for the day whether training or racing
  • Paying attention to hydration in a race – that is, NOT skipping water stations on a hot day
  • Paying attention to the condition of your shoes – uneven wear, or breakdown can lead to injury and problems, but wear is subtle and happens little by little over time.

Most of this comes down to mental processes and related decisions that then have a serious and significant influence on physical matters. I would imagine that we have all had times when we were guilty of ignoring or getting on the wrong side of one or more of the above examples. There are probably times too, when we consciously made the right decision and were handsomely rewarded.

I could have included the runner’s number one anthem “I went out too fast.” I could but that is not a small thing because we all KNOW about it and still DO it. The few times I have truly paid attention and executed properly, I have been richly rewarded.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

I think one of the biggest ‘little’ things is paying attention to the weather/climate and realizing that conditions are seldom static during a race, especially a longer race like a marathon. As anyone who reads this blog knows, one of my favourite events is The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, JA. I have written extensively about it, so will try to be succinct. It is HOT in Jamaica. That is not really news. However, on race morning everyone starts at 5:15am. It is dark. It is relatively ‘cool’ in Jamaican terms. I have seen it around 21°C, although the last couple of years it has been more like 25 or 26°C. As long as it is dark, the temperature stays down. Sometimes, it might even drop a degree. Humidity varies, but at that time of year (first weekend of December) humidity is relatively low – for Jamaica. For us Canucks from the Great White North (at least the part I come from) those temperatures are already full on SUMMER. You must start, by understanding and respecting that. THEN, when the dawn begins to glow in the sky, followed fairly soon by a blazing tropical sun, temperatures rise several degrees in a very short time. Now, you better really be paying attention. That means watching your pace AND getting hydration and cooling at each and every aid station. (The race does a wonderful job of providing the means, but you still have to do your part.) The difference will be having an amazing experience (although far from your fastest time) or having an awful race that could even wind up at the medical tent. Most people are smart enough to not have that happen, but it sometimes does, usually to the racers who want to score some kind of time or PR.

The same kind of thing happens at races where the weather turns out to be unusual compared to normal. Perhaps you go expecting to run a good time, but then it turns hot or cold despite all your training for ‘normal’. That was why I referenced Desi Linden and Yuki Kawauchi and the 2018 Boston Marathon. They won because they adjusted and ran appropriately for the day. Their times? Dreadfully slow for such a race. Their placing? First.

First Place M70-74 at Mt. Charleston Half Marathon and Age Group Record Holder.

Most of us are recreational runners, certainly most of the people who read this blog. We run for our own satisfaction and to meet our own challenges. That doesn’t mean some of us don’t win our age group from time to time. It doesn’t even mean that some of us don’t plan for and strive to win or at least podium in our age group. Being recreational doesn’t mean you aren’t serious, that you don’t train and plan your racing to do as well as you can. That said, for some of us doing our best still doesn’t produce any hardware and it doesn’t matter anyway. The truth is, that I do from time to time pick me up a podium finish, but that is relatively recent and since I’ve become more Seasoned. The photo shows the swag from Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. It was the inaugural race, so winning my age group also meant holding the record, at least until the next year when it was smashed by about 30 minutes. Fun while it lasted, though!

When I could run pretty well, particularly in decent sized races, I would still be closer to mid-pack in my age group than near the pointy end. I don’t kid myself: other people’s attrition is more responsible than my training, for my recent success. I suppose if collecting placement medals really turns your crank, then choosing races wisely can certainly help. You could even call it one of those ‘little’ things (a little race is great for coming first out of one, once you start getting up there in the age groups.)

I am struggling with defining things as ‘small’ because they may sound small initially, but the outcome is so big that when you look back you have to conclude that the ‘small’ thing was actually ‘big’ after all.

Running with daughter Janna at Victoria Marathon (half, actually), while pulling off constant effort, brilliantly.

Something I am thinking about as ‘small’ is running to a constant effort through a race. It sounds simple enough, but having the discipline to do it and the experience to know what it is in the first place, is really important. I mentioned the old ‘went out too fast’ earlier in this post. There is the stupid, caught up in the moment too fast, but there is also the miscalculated too fast. In other words you aren’t too fast according to your plan, but your plan was too fast according to your training. That is generally my ‘little’ mistake. If you can run to constant effort and you get it right to begin with, the chances of having a superb race are very good. I think people know what I mean when I say ‘effort’. Simply put, it means if  you can run comfortably at a certain pace on the flat bits, you try to maintain the feeling of the effort necessary to do that, whether climbing a hill (you will go slower) or running down the other side (you will go a bit faster). Where we get in trouble is when we decide to charge a hill and try to maintain pace regardless of the pain. Equally, scorching down a hill to bank time has its own drawbacks. Accepting that you will slow down going up a hill and will not run as fast as you can going down the other side, will often get  you a more even run and a better final time. I can count my own really, really good races on one hand. They were all done that way. I swear. The best (managed) race I ever ran was my first Vancouver Marathon. Quite possibly, the second best is the one shown in the photo, at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, where in addition to everything else, I came within seconds of a negative split in a race that was both managed well, and which produced an excellent time (for me, that is).

I have to go back at least 10, maybe 15 years to a June morning when the Scotiabank Half Marathon was being run on one of the hottest days of the year. The course started at UBC, just as it does now. Unlike the current course, we started in a similar location, but headed immediately for Marine Drive and down the hill to Spanish Banks. The result was that instead of being about 10K to the bottom of the UBC hill as it is now, it was more like 5K. I don’t know how many runners there were, but there were a lot. I was running around mid-pack, maybe just a bit ahead of that when we got to the water stop at 5K (I think it was also the first water station). No water. Well, there was water, but the volume of runners overwhelmed the ability of the volunteers to pour and supply. It was HOT (kind of like my description of the Reggae Marathon). I stopped. I waited. Many did not stop, but ran on through.  The second water station wasn’t much better when I got there. I stopped. I waited. I got water. I ran on. Many didn’t. After that we were stringing out and it was OK. However, in those days we ran through Second Beach, Third Beach and around Stanley Park Seawall to Lumberman’s Arch where we finished. While I am guessing a bit, since it was that long ago, I would say if you missed the first two stations, you would have run 10K before getting any water.

Jean spotting for Steve – Scotiabank Half 2011. It was hot that time, too.

As I neared the finish (maybe 1K to go) a chap I kind of knew and had been chatting with at the start was just in front of me, wobbling on his feet and about to go down. I got there just in time to catch him. About then, two young guys who had already finished and were coming back along the route in a bit of a warm-down, asked if I’d finished, to which I said ‘no’. They bade me run on and said they would look after our fallen warrior. I saw him a month or so later and asked how he was and how things turned out. He said: “Oh, I wound up in the hospital, you know! I was really dehydrated and collapsed on the course.”  I told him that was why I was asking, because I was the guy that caught him when he collapsed. He looked at me, thanked me and told me he had no idea as he had truly passed right out.

So, if you think missing a water station is no big thing. Just remember this little tale. It was kind of a big thing to both of us. I finished comfortably. He went to the hospital.

Wear Point Change over time and work with PT. Left is ‘before’, middle is ‘during’ and right is ‘after’.

Coming full circle, in a kind of way, I want to finish by talking about worn shoes. As I already said, most shoes don’t wear out catastrophically in a single run session. No, they crush down, they wear unevenly in key locations such that, as wear continues, it can throw off your form and even cause injuries to knees and hips. I am a particularly unique individual when it comes to shoes and wear. I mentioned my recent encounter with the 27th cousin of the Rock of Gibraltar and at least part of the problem was that because of nerve damage due to a ruptured disk long years ago, I come down hard on that heel and can’t help it. A number of years ago, I began seeing a personal trainer who helped me get a bit more life in my left leg. Because the nerve problem is in my calf, I tend(ed) to drag the left foot. (See the left-most shoe in the photo, marked with red.) It was getting pretty bad. I was tripping quite often and falling. After I had worked with the PT for a time, a lot of that was corrected. I was able to go from scrubbing off the ‘toe-kick’ because I dragged that foot, to having most of the wear on the ball of the foot. See transition to the right-most shoe, marked with green. The most substantial change took place over about six to eight months. I still have a wonky gait but not the trouble I once had. As I said, mine is a special case, but your shoes will wear and if you don’t pay attention and replace them you may well develop some serious problems. The value of really knowing how you wear your shoes and when to replace them is big even if the incremental wear is small within any short period of time. And while it is a whole different subject, it is a good reason why you want to get your shoes from a running store that has staff who know their stuff where it comes to shoes.

I think I am going to stop now. I’m sure anyone who has run much at all, will have their own similar stories about little things; about how the so-called little decisions can be the ones that impact us just as much as a little stone in your shoe during a marathon.

 

SNEAK PREVIEW OF SUPER SENIORS SEMINAR

04.22.2018

(ON RUNNING AND AN ACTIVE LIFE INTO THE 7TH, 8TH, 9TH AND EVEN 10TH DECADE)

MAY 15, 2018 7:00pm AT FORERUNNERS MAIN STREET

NO COST Reservation at: https://forerunners.ca/event/super-seniors-at-forerunners-main-street/

 

Coach Dan (Forerunners Learn to Run 5K) and Moderator

How many wonder what it takes to be a “senior runner”? We see news on social media and on TV about amazing seniors doing amazing things. Some are in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. They are still out there, some are achieving quite unthinkable results, but even if they aren’t setting single age world records, a lot (more and more these days) are still active and more importantly, ENJOYING it.

Forerunners has drawn together a panel of speakers that epitomize what active, achieving seniors are all about. Forerunners’ “Coach Dan” Cumming was tasked with organizing and moderating the Super Senior Seminar. Rules were pretty simple: FOUR remarkable seniors, OVER 70. In Vancouver, the hard part is deciding on JUST FOUR! (And, FYI the average age of panelists and the moderator is over 77.) We hope you will be impressed with the following line-up (youngest to oldest).

Dr. Jack Taunton ready for some pole walking.

Dr. Jack Taunton (70s) Arguably, Jack is Dean of Running in Vancouver, with a best Vancouver Marathon of 2:25, completing 63 marathons in total, 30 under 2:30. Jack’s professional career is in medicine (40 years) and he served as Chief Medical Officer for the 2010 Olympics, attending 8 others as sport physician or CMO. He’s been the founder or co-founder of running clubs and events including Lions Gate Roadrunners, Vancouver Marathon, Sun Run and Cunningham Seawall Race to name a few.

Avril Douglas burning up the Track

Avril Douglas (70s) A track athlete, Avril is also a holder of Single Age World Records and National Age Group records at distances of 100, 200 and 400m. She is an active member of Kajaks Track and Field Club and the Forever Young Group centred in Richmond (the very definition of active seniors). Among other achievements, Avril coaches young runners. Like BJ McHugh, Avril’s non-running career is in nursing.

Rod Waterlow at California International Marathon.

Rod Waterlow (80s) Rod was a nationally and regionally ranked age group marathoner up to age 77, with sub-4:00 times, well into his 8th decade. The past two years he has been working his way back from a non-running injury, and showing the way through perseverance, while racing at shorter distances (for now). Hear how a fierce age group competitor has kept going so long and is fighting his way back to form. Be inspired, not just by the running, but by the perseverance and ‘never say never’ attitudes of both Rod and Jack.

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh near the Start of the First Half Half Marathon

Betty Jean (BJ) McHugh (90s) BJ is well known for her string of Single Age World Records, including her most recent W90 record (6:47:31) at the Honolulu Marathon (Dec 2017). We will try to get her to share her secrets. If you like Age Grading, consider BJ’s most recent record equates to a marathon time of 2:02:10! Also, keep in mind that BJ was a late starter in this running and marathoning stuff, as were both Rod and Dan.

This is not about how to BE a super-achiever, as is each of the panelists, but rather how to keep going and having fun with what you do. How to deal with the set-backs that come to all active people, not just those of us who are ‘Mature’ Athletes. The Seminar is BY Super Seniors, but not necessarily FOR seniors. If you have ever said “I want to be like her/him, when I grow up!” this is your chance to get in on the SECRETS of these SUPER SENIORS.

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.