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WILL POWER CAN MAKE THINGS HAPPEN – WALLY HILD

04.09.2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our friend and Running in the Zone (book) contributor, passed from this world a few days ago. Knowing him was an honour and privilege and an inspiration when you know his story. I could think of no better way to celebrate Wally’s life than to reproduce his RITZ contribution here on the blog. We will miss you Wally.

Wally Hild

Wally Hild

In February of 1994, I was told I was dying of Hodgkin’s disease, a lymphatic cancer. Oncologist Dr. Jack Chritchley explained the four stages of the disease and said I was at 3-B, almost at the final stage, which was 4 and would be terminal without treatment.  Many of my internal organs were compromised by cancer including my spleen and lymph nodes. I’d lost over 20 pounds, my weight dropping from 162 to 140. I had two baseball-sized tumors in my chest, one behind each lung. It hurt to breathe.  Dr. Chritchley told me, without treatment, I had less than one year to live.

After a month of invasive tests and procedures, he sentenced me to eight months of harsh and very ‘aggressive’ chemotherapy. Aggressive means you throw up a lot and lose all of your hair. As well, Dr. Chritchley told me there were no guarantees that the treatment would be successful. I had to put all my trust into my faith, my family and friends as well as him, to help get me through the difficult and black days that were in front of me.

Looking back in retrospect, it is interesting, even fateful, how different parts of a life fit together like two jigsaw pieces. It was during my chemo protocol that my wife Caroline and I ended up watching our very first Ironman Canada triathlon, which is held in Penticton each August. We had moved to the Okanagan from southern Alberta the previous autumn. The valley is Canada’s version of Napa Valley in California where many different kinds of fruits and grapes grow abundantly.

Six months into my chemotherapy I could barely walk for more than 10 minutes without having to stop and rest. I was totally bald and because sunshine is dangerous to chemo patients, and with the daytime temperatures rising as high as 40 Celsius, staying covered was a formidable task for me. In my tattered straw hat, long-sleeved cotton shirt and loose fitting jeans, I looked like someone who had his seasons confused.

As I stood there there on the beach in Penticton at 7 a.m. I could not believe what I was seeing as almost two thousand triathletes from many countries around the globe hit the water for the 2.4 mile swim. It was like a divine inspiration that came over me, but my eyes teared up as I turned to Caroline and in a choking voice said, “I’m going to do this someday.” I so desperately wanted to live and I felt that wrapping an anchor chain around something like Ironman might help.  By blurting out that seemingly irrational statement, I’d given myself authority to take my healing into my own hands.

Through my faith, the support and encouragement of my family and friends and the expertise of Dr. Chritchley and the team of cancer professionals, I survived the treatments, which can be as harsh as the cancer itself. I thought of Friedrich Neitzsche’s observation: “that which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

In September of 1995 I decided to train for the 1996 Ironman Canada Triathlon.  Caroline and I met with Dave Bullock, a director of the race and a previous two-time finisher. For three hours we interrogated him about what it takes to finish such an arduous event. I came away from the meeting with a new enthusiasm for taking on the challenge.

I met with Dr. Chritchley a few days later to undergo a rigorous cardio-pulmonary function stress examination to determine if the chemotherapy had caused any irreparable damage to my internal organs, especially my heart and lungs. It was not a routine test but because I had met with him for his input into my desire to do the race, he ordered the evaluation. I asked him if I was crazy to attempt it. With the usual twinkle in his eye, he said, “You’ve come through an Ironman-type medical procedure.  Go for it.”  He told me the examination showed no damage from the chemotherapy and I was thrilled when he gave me “thumbs up” after the test.

On August 25, 1996, just after 11:30 p.m., I crossed the finish line to achieve the greatest goal of my life. I’d blown out my right knee during the bike portion and had to walk the marathon leg of the triathlon. I was on the course for 16 hours, 34 minutes and 17 seconds.  With tears of joy, I collapsed into the arms of my wife Caroline, daughter Jodi and son Chris as I passed beyond the tape. We’d all experienced something that would profoundly change the way we looked at life.

I knew from that day that I would be physically active for the rest of my life. Buoyed by the Ironman finish, I kept a modicum of fitness by occasionally running 10K races and became more interested in training for a marathon. I’d read books by Joe Henderson and Jeff Galloway, which helped in my decision to train for the 26.2 mile odyssey.

But as they say, the best laid plans of… well you know the rest of the story. I started the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna in October 1999 but after 14 miles, I had to drop out of the race.  Eight months earlier, while playing in a no-contact old-timers hockey tournament where there was to be no body-checking, a Neanderthal on the other team who obviously hadn’t read the no body checking rules (or couldn’t read) nailed me with an NHL-style hip check.  He sent me flying through the air.  I crash-landed on my right knee, damaging the meniscus.  It was the same one injured during Ironman.

The incident forced me to evaluate the sports love of my life. I’d been playing hockey before Wayne Gretzky was born, but the orthopedic surgeon who examined my knee and performed the arthroscopic repair told me bluntly, “Hockey and marathon training have nothing in common. You’ll have to choose which one you want to do. It’s one or the other – unless you like lying here with me poking holes in your knee.”

Late that Fall I made the tough decision to prepare for the 2000 Peach City Marathon the following May. It was difficult and I regretfully hung up my skates for a season. I apologized to them each time I passed them in the basement room where I stored all my athletic equipment. I lovingly fondled my hockey stick whenever my wife wasn’t looking.

But, my decision had been made.  I garnered as much information from books and friends who were much better runners than I and began my winter training. The  second item I bought after a new pair of runners was a heart rate monitor. I was to run at no faster than 130 beats per minute, which was 70 percent of my maximum heart rate.

With my mind overflowing with information and inspiration, my watch on my left wrist and heart monitor receiver on my right, I set out on my 24 week regimen. I’d never used a monitor before and was shocked at how slowly I had to run to stay in my target zone.

I can walk faster than this I thought to myself. But I persisted and was on my way to running five days a week with one swimming session thrown in for good measure. My goal was to finish the marathon in 4:45.

Penticton is known for mild winters, but below freezing temperatures and some snow are assured even though the season is not nearly as severe or lengthy as that experienced in most Canadian provinces and northern US States. As it got colder through December and January, one of Dr. Chritchley’s prophesies came true. He’d told me that because chemotherapy is accumulative and does not dissipate as a prescribed medicine might over time, I had suffered permanent side-effects from the drugs in my fingertips and toes. I could no longer tolerate the cold as I once was able to growing up in the prairies of Alberta where the mercury could plummet to -40 degrees. The nerve endings and capillaries in all 20 digits were in danger of freezing quickly. It was dangerous for me to be in cold weather without adequate apparel.

I asked Dr. Chritchley if he could give me a prescription to live in Hawaii or southern California, which to my surprise he said he could do. However, a follow-up phone call to the American Consulate in Vancouver soon dashed any hopes of a move to where palm trees blow and the only ice you find is in the freezer.

On some of the colder days, I had to wear two pair of gloves and heavy wool socks in my runners. When it was just too miserable, I ran indoors at the city’s community center, which I disliked. Running on a treadmill is clinical and I sweated profusely. Without the wind, I was drenched within twenty minutes.

In early January, I woke up one morning with flu-like symptoms.  I coughed and dragged my butt for a few days but continued to run in spite of my discomfort. I increased my intake of vitamins and Echinacea to help boost my immune system and carried on.

The rest of January passed relatively smoothly and before I knew it, February was nearing a close. In spite of the inclement weather, I was able to run mostly outdoors. The valley where I live is situated north-south so I often ran face-first into wet snow. My cough lingered and my lungs were sore as I sucked in the cold air. In the shower, I cried out in pain as my frozen fingers and toes thawed under the stinging hot water, which felt like millions of tiny needles were being rifled into my digits. On such days, I thought back to my cancer battle and remember how I vowed to never quit believing I could win it.  So it was with my marathon training.  I promised to let nothing stand in my way and just grimaced as another toe thawed out.

As winter gave way to spring, I was able to discard some of the layers of clothing making me finally look like more like a runner than a displaced Eskimo high on the fumes of old, unwashed hockey jerseys. Once the temperatures hit into the 20’s, I finally changed into stripped down to shorts and just a single T-shirt.

Slowly I began to see the positive results of training with the heart rate monitor. After three months, I was going nearly a quarter-mile farther in a 50 minute run at the same pulse rate. It was still too slow for me, but I pressed on.

Although four business trips to Vancouver and Victoria put me several long runs behind schedule, I was able to stick to most of my running program. I took my gear with me on each trip and was able to at least do the shorter 8 to 12 mile runs called for by my program.

By the time the cherry, apricot and apple blossoms had burst into full bloom in early May, I had shaken off the cold and was feeling great. My runs between the orchards and vineyards were exhilarating as I drank in the fragrance from the white and pink petals lining the road. Bathed in glorious sunshine, I ran along the east side of the mountain, a thousand feet above the city, the valley spread out below me.

Three weeks before the marathon, I received an interesting proposal from the sales manager at the radio station where I worked. “Do you think you could do an on-location broadcast while you’re running? Peach City Runners would like you to do a play-by-play as you’re doing the race. It’s never been done on radio before. We’ll give you a hands-free cell phone with a special microphone and earpiece.”

“It’s a cool idea”, I said, not really thinking about the ramifications and agreed to do it.  My stomach began to tighten because there was no turning back from the decision I’d made. I had to shake the thought out of my head that I may have bitten off more than I could chew.  The days quickly passed and before I knew it, it was Sunday May 21st, race day.  On the Friday before, I’d awakened with a sore throat and by Saturday morning it had morphed into a head cold.

On Sunday morning my nose was running faster than I could at the best of times. My head was swimming and the floor seemed to undulate under my shaky legs. I knew, however, I could not drop out at the last moment. I sucked back another glass of orange juice, ate a bowl of porridge, popped a couple of Echinacea capsules and just after 6 a.m., headed out of the door with my wife Caroline.

It was slightly overcast and 15 degrees (59F). Caroline kissed me goodbye and at 7 o’clock, the gun went off, signaling the start of the race. I was near the end of the pack and it was a good thing.

With my dripping nose and gritted teeth, my goal was to get from aid station to aid station, situated two miles apart. Caroline had agreed to bring the cell phone to me by car just before 8:30 when the radio broadcast was to begin. The remote broadcast was to end at noon, and I was hoping to be at the finish line by then. I was to do four cut-ins per hour.  When the phone rang, I stopped running and walked while I reported on the race.

As the miles slowly melted away under my red and white runners, the phone progressively got heavier. My breathing became more laboured as I spoke. But, I kept up my excitement about Peach City Runners to give them the best I could under the circumstances. Of the thousand or so remote broadcasts I’d done over a 32-year career in radio and TV, I’d never before done one where I was panting and breathing hard – until that date.  At about mile 18, I began to struggle and happened upon a runner who appeared to be hurt. He told me his name was Ed, and that he lived in Vancouver.  We shook hands and agreed to help each other finish the race, especially when it came to the hilly portion of this particular marathon. By 11 a.m. The sun was directly over us and the famous Okanagan heat began to take it’s toll. I increased my intake of Gatorade and water. My thighs and shins were burning as we walked and jogged north, toward the finish line where the Voice of Ironman, Steve King, was welcoming the tired and spent finishers.

At 11:30, Ed and I were still three miles away from the tape and I knew I would not make the noon finish. I did my last radio cut-in at 11:50 with the beach in sight. On the air, I thanked Steve Brown, the owner of Peach City Runners for the opportunity to do the remote but signed off with, “please don’t ask me to do this again.”

Ed and I hobbled through our collective pain and crossed the finish line together with a time of 5:17. Caroline held me up as I received my Finishers Medal and jacket. I hugged Ed and thanked him for his support and motivation.

As I lay on the foam table, getting my sun-burned and aching legs massaged, I squeezed Caroline’s hand and smiled weakly at her. I had achieved another goal; conquered another challenge. There would likely be another marathon sometime in the future, but I knew that afternoon, I could enjoy what I had accomplished.  I was so very grateful that I was alive to enjoy the aches and pains of stepping outside my comfort zone.

My life has never been the same since my cancer experience. I’ve taken on challenges that in the past, might have seemed insurmountable. There are no mountains in my life anymore. I now have the desire, confidence and fortitude to achieve anything that I want.  My wife will attest to that.

When I come home excited with the idea of something I want to do, she now simply rolls her eyes upward, and with a forced smile, says, OK, go for it.

The only thing stopping me from achieving my goals is me.  And believe me, I’m getting out of my way!

DOES ANYBODY EVER RUN 5Ks THESE DAYS?

03.16.2015
Probably my most significant 5K Medal

Probably my most significant 5K Medal

Reverse side tells WHY. Inaugural BAA 5K.

Reverse side tells WHY. Inaugural BAA 5K.

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

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

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

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

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

My competition at the Giants Head Run in June!

My competition at the Giants Head Run in June!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I WOKE UP THIS MORNING – TO THE RISING SUN!

12.05.2014

Negril Sunrise Dec 5

The title is the opening lines of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds“. It goes on later: “Don’t worry – about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, gonna’ be alright!” Let me tell you that when you start to see the sky like this one hour after the start of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K it is hard not to believe that.

Runners start in the dark, to torch light, the sound of Marley music and a collective enthusiasm that is hard to duplicate. As you move away from the start you hear the steel drums and then you know it has begun. At 5:15am, the air is warm for us northern types, but to me it always feels like silk. Getting your run on, you start to find a pace. For the first couple of miles, everyone is headed the same direction, toward Negril Town and the roundabout that will tell the 10K runners they are almost half done already. I am always amazed how fast we seem to get to that roundabout, but I guess the music stations, aid stations and all those non-running supporters standing at the roadside just makes it go by fast. Of course, I personally tend to run the Half Marathon, so the roundabout is still a pleasant sight, but not as momentous as it may be for the 10K folk. Having never actually done the Full Marathon I can only imagine how they feel, maybe “well, that is a nice start”. In any case, as noted at the start the runners have the whole road for a couple of miles until things begin to thin out and until the real speedsters are threatening to head back against the flow. It works great and after that sharing the road is not a problem.

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Sweet, Sweet Reggae Music

Larry and Karen Savitch in Negril - Photo: Chris Morales

Larry and Karen Savitch in Negril – Photo: Chris Morales

Don’t worry! I’m not about to describe the whole race, all three events! What I did want to do was set the scene for the header photograph. However fast or slow or in-between you might be, that (or something like it) is what you are going to see one hour into your race. If you are a fast 10K competitor, you will be standing in the finish area sipping fresh coconut water  from your fresh-cut coconut. Pretty well everyone else is going to be seeing something like this as they run. I am not going to tell a lie, if you happen to be passing a band or sound system playing “One Love” or even the above mentioned “Three Little Birds” you might find yourself welling up a bit. It has happened to me.

Soon enough, the sun is fully up and more and more people hit the finish where the party is definitely starting!  Don’t forget after the refreshing coconut, the equally refreshing Red Stripe! Because the Reggae Marathon is ‘an event’ as much as a race, people kind of do what they do. Some are serious, some aren’t. It doesn’t matter once you hit the finish line and that medal is placed around your neck. From then on it is party time. SEE YOU THERE TOMORROW MORNING!

First though, we have to do that amazing pasta party tonight!  Ya Mon!!

 

EDITORIAL CONFUSION ABOUNDS

10.10.2014

Ever have a blog and not know what to write about? More precisely perhaps, what to write about next.

Dad and Daughters 2007

Dad and Daughters 2007

I’ve got a race coming this weekend, the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon (etc) – ETC  ’cause I’m actually running the Half this time. Clearly, I should have a lot to say about this because this will be the sixth time I’ve done the Half since 2000, not to mention the five times I’ve done the Full. I’ll be running with our oldest daughter, Danielle aka The Jealous Curator and internationally acclaimed author of Creative Bock and Collage. But, that feels more like a story for after the race. I actually have no idea how many combined races our family has at Victoria. The first in the string was the Marathon in 2000 when our second daughter Janna and I both did the Full Marathon. Her first and my second. Since then though, with maybe just one exception, Victoria has been done with at least one daughter, sometimes both. Sometimes we’ve run the same event, often not. Anyway, as I said, this feels like a post-race subject.

It took me years and years to run my first Haney to Harrison, mostly due to circumstances of time and place. Eventually, I did get into it running on various Pacific Road Runners teams, doing Leg #1 (twice), Leg #4 and Leg #5. And then it was GONE! The replacement event, the Whistler 50, is coming up soon and I am (for the first time) registered for at least one leg, running with the Semiahmoo Sunrunners. Logistics are still way up in the air, but there are really just TWO legs for that relay and I’m pretty sure they are giving me the long one. Something about “are you a Marathon Maniac or not???”. Again, while this seems pretty blog-worthy, I don’t know enough about the whole thing to say much in advance of the event. Guess that one goes into the “coming soon” list.

Nice Collection - Not Complete

Nice Collection – Not Complete

That, of course, makes a great opening for the “Soon Come” list. There is really only one event on that list – The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Got my flights booked, got my hotel booked, even got my flashy new racing flats ready to go. Soon come, is Jamaican for ‘sometime, but we’re not really sure just when’. That doesn’t describe the organization of this event, which is one of the best organized and running events I’ve done, not to mention a tonne of fun! Guess that is why I’m headed back for the fourth year in a row. I’ve done the 10K (even though the original plan was the marathon – long story, way back in the archives or linked right here if you like). I’ve run the Half Marathon twice. I’m registered for the Half again, but I’m still debating. If I’m trained up and feeling strong, I might switch to the 10K and go for the podium finish. On the other hand, I’m still looking at that marathon I haven’t done. My medal collection isn’t really complete. My only issue with this event is 10-year age categories. Since my 70th birthday is exactly ONE month after the race date, I am almost certainly going to be the oldest guy in my category in any of the three races. Still, because I am not sure about getting there next year (some other priorities already looming) I might just need to tackle that marathon. I feel very shallow that one of the BIG reasons I wouldn’t is that I will miss too much of the finish-line party if I do. Oh well, there is still time to decide. The Half is kind of the ideal race when you travel that far. I’m still trying to convince Vancouver area people that they are missing something by not trying this one out!

Bob's Border Busters - Hood to Coast 1987

Bob’s Border Busters – Hood to Coast 1987

I could talk about Hood to Coast Relay. Our team from 2013 didn’t get in for 2014, but so many were really wanting to try for 2015 that I have just sent off the entry papers. Still, not much to say there until we hear something about our success at getting into the race. My first time was 1987 and I have personally been a total of 8 times! Fingers crossed, big time.

And then, while talking lotteries or as THEY put it, ‘ballot’ entries: well, nobody wanted to run the London Marathon 2015, anyway! So, not much to say there. I tried (second time) but did not succeed in getting chosen. Only comment I would make is that I’m amazed at the number of people offended by not getting in when they made application knowing the chances were low and knowing that London holds a lot of places for residents (I would have a ‘good for age’ time if I was a resident), for charity runners, etc, etc. I am disappointed, yes, but can’t be offended. If I really, really wanted to go I would have ignored the ballot and contacted a marathon tour agent with entry spots.

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

Running Down Big Cottonwood Canyon

On a personal note, I have a problem that likely isn’t quite as personal as it might first seem. I am struggling with whether or not to call my last marathon my LAST marathon. Advancing age and slowing pace notwithstanding, I am still pretty competitive in my heart. Truth is that if I just keep going past January and my next birthday I can probably start taking home a few podium finish medals, but that isn’t the same thing. As a friend who just won his 75-98 age category said, ‘yeah, I was 1/1′. By competitive, I mean I seem to need to feel that I have done well, mostly in relation to my own standards and capabilities. My last marathon, the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon, fit that bill. The time recorded wouldn’t sound that good to some, although I also know it to be faster than many (and much younger) can even aspire to at this point. Whatever, I was happy with it and comparing to my marathoning over 26 years, using age grading, it was my sixth best. Six out of twenty-five. Twenty-five, a nice round number.  So, why not call it a day for marathons?

I love the vibe or feel of a marathon, especially destination races. Last year I got a feel of ‘just getting it done’ as I decided to pursue a higher level of Maniacal Marathoning. However, and although I would have said I was ‘just doing’ them, I know I was fighting myself and expecting more than I should. As a result, between April 28, 2013 and May 4, 2014 I ran 8 marathons and a 50K ultra and was happy with precisely ONE of them. The issue for me, and I suspect a good many others who have run to be the best they can (whatever that means) is HOW to transition to running just for fun. Being competitive IS part of the fun. Covering 26 miles or 42km is not that big a deal for me. Doing it ‘well’ is getting to be too hard, and it is not just the racing but the training required to race well. I’ve been trying to decide if I should just quit on a high note, as far as marathons are concerned, or change the name of the game completely. I truly haven’t decided. But, every time I hear of a fabulous destination race, or think about the Reggae Marathon, my heart tells me I don’t want to call it a day.

The question, the big question, is how to make that transition and be happy. So, you are hearing it here first, folks. I think I might have a plan that could work. Believe it or not, I consulted the Marathon Maniacs who do Facebook and got some really useful ideas. Remember that while there are some hot-damn runners in the Maniacs, you only get credit for the number completed and the number within specified time periods. If you run a marathon a week or four in four days (a Quadzilla) you are NOT going to run at PB pace. It isn’t the point.

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

I no longer care about how many Maniac stars I have (two at the moment, with 10 as the ultimate number), although it is probable that if I do what I’m thinking about I will accidentally get one or two more. But, I realized there might be a really fun project that would appeal to me, let me do more marathons and enjoy doing it. It has not escaped me that among the Maniacs there is a sub-group that are 50-Staters. That’s right, a marathon in each of the 50 States (and DC, usually). I personally have seven states to my credit. So, at my age I have no intention of trying to do 43 more. For one thing, I don’t have enough money! Besides, I’m Canadian. AHA, and there is the answer. MAYBE, I will become “Captain Canada” and do at least the 10 Provinces. If it goes well, there are three Territories too. That is a total of 13 and I have run 12 Canadian marathon/ultras already. Sadly (as far as this project is concerned), they have all been in BC. Oh well, that’s ONE. Just nine more to go.

In even barely contemplating this, I developed huge respect for the 50-State people. Never mind the running, the logistics are crazy. For BC (never mind, I’ve got that covered), Ontario and Quebec there are a fair number of choices. But, for the smaller Provinces there are often just one or two, and in at least two instances, just ONE marathon. If you are going to run that event, you MUST do it when it is scheduled. Can you combine it (reasonably) with one or two others? Not always. And, there you have the finances jumping up again. With a country like Canada, man you gotta’ do some flying, and maybe some hanging around too.

So, please don’t tell anyone I’m thinking about this. For now, it can just be between us. I have a bunch of stuff having nothing to do with running that is coming up in the next few months, much of which could impact training for what I see as a Spring launch of the plan. If we can just keep this on the down-low for now, I promise I will announce this project when I know I can get it started.

So, there you see my problem with knowing what to write about. Man, I hate it when I have nothing to say!

 

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN (OR GIRL)!

07.13.2014

This blog is about running, but I guess they figure football (soccer to some) players can log 10K in a hotly contested match, so I am going to stretch it just a little with this post.

Today, Germany won the World Cup in a 1-0 (ET) contest with Argentina. I saw the whole thing and while not particularly a fan of Germany (would have been cheering for Netherlands had they and not Argentina gone through), I think it was definitely the right outcome. So far, so good.

As with all professional sport, these guys, both teams, are well paid and very talented athletes. Playing well is what they do. It is their business, their career. This was the World Cup and one would hope we were treated to the best football that could be mustered at this point in history. The best.

The games were interesting, some shocking (yes, I am talking about Brazil’s collapse). Some individuals could probably be credited with changing the whole game, in particular a couple of goalkeepers who single-handedly held off a rampaging other side.

When it was over in Rio, there were tears of joy and sorrow, depending on perspective. Why exactly, I am not sure, but the Argentinian team, and particularly Lionel Messi looked like something had been taken from them. Maybe (I hope) in the next days, they will come to realize it was never theirs to lose, maybe to win, but not to lose.

As a lad, even a young man, I played football, OK soccer, as we always called it in those days. My brother played at a high level and kept playing old-timer (What?  Oh yeah, OK, MASTERS!) soccer until not all that long ago. Both our kids and my grandson – all played/play. I got as far as playing for UBC before getting a relatively serious knee injury which healed eventually, but became the reason I quit. That and too many other time pressures and, oh yeah, I wasn’t  really all that good anyway. All of this is just to say that I have a history with THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, and an appreciation for its finer points.

I guess the title could have something to do with this bit of personal history, but it does not.

A World Level Celebration - Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

A World Level Celebration – Photo shamelessly borrowed from MSN Sport.

Everything was going along as you might expect. German players, fans, officials and Chancellor all seemed pretty happy. The title of this piece comes from the moment when the whole German team was assembled at the podium and actually had the World Cup trophy in their hands. As each player fondled that wonderful trophy, each and every one raised it above his head and the whole team threw up their hands for the inevitable photograph. Again and again they did it, each time with the same apparent enthusiasm as the first. When they mounted that podium they were so many highly skilled professionals, justly proud of what they had done. And then in the pure joy of the moment, they turned into a bunch of 12 year-old boys! Right in front of our eyes. It didn’t matter that each and every one of them is likely a lot wealthier than when the game began. They had won the big game. Each one would have HIS photo with the trophy as if he had been the only one. They all played and re-played that photo-op game for each other! It is a moment from this World Cup that I will never  forget, no matter all the other amazing plays and sights.

OH, TO BE A BOY AGAIN!

THE MARATHON – A REFLECTIVE PERSPECTIVE

05.30.2014

 

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

The Magical Distance of the Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

Rob Watson at the Ottawa Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, faking it in those “3km”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good running!  Good marathoning!

 

I WENT TO A RACE AND DIDN’T RUN

02.18.2014
First Half Start 2014

First Half Start 2014

Of course, I didn’t run! It was the First Half Half Marathon and I’ve never run it, ever. The Pacific Road Runners, who put on this fine event, count on club members to be the core of the volunteer group that makes it happen. The last few years I have had the pleasure

MC's First Half - Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

MC’s First Half – Anjulie Latta and Dan Cumming

of being one of the Stage MC’s along with Anjulie Latta. Before taking on MC duties, I had the privilege of being Race Director for four years.

My previous post was a preview of the upcoming race, so it seemed I should make a brief report.

Anyone who actually lives in Vancouver or the area knows how terrible the weather was leading up to the race, and I mean the night before, not a few days or anything like that. They also know how it was from about 2pm on in the afternoon of race day. BUT, anyone who was at the race knows how wonderfully the gods of running and weather smiled on the First Half.  OK, there were some breezes out there, but for the most part the 2000 participants ran in sunshine and under blue skies! Temperatures were cool, but not cold and the elites ran ‘singlets and shorts’ just showing that for mid-February it sure wasn’t bad!

Volunteers get post-race food ready while runners run

Volunteers get post-race food ready while runners run

Because I was pretty much stuck at the start/finish area, I took a lot of photographs and posted a First Half Album on Facebook on my personal page. Never tried linking to FB and so far, not so good. Will keep trying to create a working link. I particularly tried to show the ‘before’ ‘during’ and ‘after’ components generally not seen when we are out there running. In every race there are countless generous and selfless people working behind the scenes to look out for us runners. Courses get measured and then set out on race day. Safety considerations like barricades and signage must go out, along with water and electrolyte at the aid stations and the volunteers get out to ‘man’ the marshalling points and those water tables. Food gets prepared at the finish for when we are done, and the First Half DOES HAVE a well-earned reputation for the finish food. Stuff like race shirts, medals and the fabulous waterproof cover up jacket given out at the 25th First Half, must be ordered and received. When the race is done, results must be made available, prizes handed out to the ‘deserving’ and everyone’s accomplishment must be properly celebrated. But, it isn’t over until it’s over, and when the participants head home with their result, finisher medal, and great memories, the clean-up crew is just getting started. A big shout-out to those people because I was standing there when Roundhouse staff (the start/finish venue for the First Half) congratulated the RD on how fabulously we had swept in, swept up and swept out.

Races are what they are and you never know until they are done. I do know a lot of people achieved Personal Bests on Sunday – for some reason that is not unusual with this race, as noted in my last post. Almost everyone had a good race and a lot of fun. There sure seemed to be a lot of happy faces out there as we looked down from the stage. Maybe it was partly because of the amazing batch of give-away prizes we had as a result of race partner generosity. And speaking of generous partners, Variety – the Children’s Charity benefited with another donation of $50,000 this year. It is not my place to single out any of these partners (because there are so many), but it would be wrong not to mention Mizuno, Forerunners and Urban Fare. Mizuno has been with this race for a number of years now working in cooperation with PRR and Forerunners (involved since 1989 and therefore, all of the 25 years the First Half has run). Urban Fare is relatively new to the party, but I was told by race organizers that their inputs have been fabulous. One of my personal favourite partners (maybe because I like the generic product so much) is Ethical Bean Coffee. They haven’t been with the race since the First Half began, but they have been part of the event almost since Ethical Bean began. Coffee for 2000?  Sure, no problem.

Rob Watson - Wins 2014 First Half

Rob Watson – Wins 2014 First Half

The winner on the day was Rob Watson, who was defending champion. It may not have been the time he wanted, but perhaps just as well since he was coming off injury and Rob wound up running much of the race alone, notwithstanding the anticipated competition. Not bad for a guy who was ‘day to day’ prior to the race. The time looked pretty good to me at 1:06:39, and it not only took the win, but made Rob the BC  Half Marathon Champion for 2014. That goes nicely with the fact that he is the current Canadian Marathon Champion.

Natasha Wodak takes the Women's win.

Natasha Wodak takes the Women’s win.

The women’s race was won by Natasha Wodak (1:17:09). She was not defending champ from 2013 but took the win in 2012. The first place finish also makes her the BC Half Marathon Champ for 2014, so not a bad Sunday morning’s work!

I love excellence in almost everything and unapologetically celebrate our winners. However, there were nearly 2000 finishers this year and in their own way, each and every one is a winner, because for most of us it is about the being out there and the doing. I do love to run myself, but taking a turn every so often as I did this weekend to see it all from this other perspective is both enlightening and rewarding.  I have no idea how many first time half marathoners were out there or how many PB’s were run, but I know that those folks had something big to celebrate. Still, it is always personal and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The big advantage I had this Sunday was I got to glimpse the faces of all the winners who took part.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on February 15, 2015. PRR tells me you will need to be watching for the announcements on registration (hint – it will be early November) and that the free community seminar on running will take place October 29, 2014.

TIME FOR A ROUND-UP OF NEW NEWS AND SOME MEMORIES

01.30.2014

The extensive and elegant offices (our spare bedroom) and archives (our condo storage unit) of Running in the Zone have been undergoing some cleaning and organizing of late. This has brought to light a whole range of items that I just think need some air. Some are historical in the true sense and some in a personal sense. Either way, I was struck by some of these as being pretty relevant today.

Ellen Lloyd

Ellen Lloyd

In Memoriam. I am going to get the sad one out of the way first and out of respect. BC sport lost a true champion in the last few days in the person of Ellen Lloyd. She was active in so many areas including swimming and life-saving, but I knew her through running and the organization of running. The big (collective) item for us was something called the Okanagan Express Relay. Way back in the 1980’s I lived and ran in the Okanagan. That was where I met Ellen and RITZ co-editor, Steve King as well as a good many others. We ran together including in the first Okanagan Express Relay. What, you say, is the Okanagan Express Relay?

It was an Expo ’86 idea. The very first running of the relay was in early June 1986. Fifteen teams of 26 runners, started just outside the Expo ’86 East Gate and ran to a downtown park in Summerland, in the heart of the Okanagan. No big deal. Only about 450km. Many people were involved, but Ellen was the heart and sole of it. It was all reviewed after the first running, which was won, as I recall, by a team from Lions Gate Roadrunners, notwithstanding that the LA Police Department sent a crack team along to bring home the inaugural hardware. As fun as it was, there were issues. Long race. Too many runners needed to make a team. Even with so many runners, very long legs.

Hood to Coast 1987

Hood to Coast 1987

The next year a bunch of us made up a team and headed for Oregon and the Hood to Coast Relay, to see how they did it, and to promote the Okanagan Express. Again, Ellen was a driving force for this team and she brought in another Summerlander, Bob Brown, who just happened to own a car dealership in Penticton and who strongly supported running activity in the area, including sponsoring our team, “Bob’s Border Busters”. We had a ball and learned a lot. The photo here is actually Bob, handing off to Ellen at the third leg exchange for each of them. I am sorry to say that Bob passed away a few years back, so we have lost him too. But, this tribute is meant to be positive and to celebrate these lives and their contributions. And, a funny little story that happened just moments after this picture was taken was that Bob, who ran some but never raced, had a burning question for the rest of the team (well, except Ellen who was busy running). Seems that even though it was his third of three legs, only on this leg and only just before the photo was taken, he had passed someone. He was very excited about that but was also quite concerned about whether he had exhibited proper running etiquette. His question was essentially, “What do you say to someone when you pass them? Do you say sorry?” What?” We assured him didn’t have to say anything and that he had broken no rules and had exhibited no bad runner manners.

We brought back what we had learned and realized we could make it much easier by reducing members on a team and running multiple legs, actually having each member run a longer distance, but not all at once. We also changed the route, making the run a bit simpler and maybe safer. Rivalry among those participating was fabulous and fun was had by all. Sadly, it seemed that although the initial relay had almost twice as many teams (15) as the first Hood to Coast (8), it never grew. The 1987 Hood to Coast Relay was only the fifth running and they already had 500 teams. Reluctantly, it was concluded that the Okanagan Express would not continue. I am thrilled to say that I was able to participate in all three runnings and to be a part of the planning and organizing  group.

Vic Emery (Olympic Gold 1964 - Four-Man Bobsled)

Vic Emery (Olympic Gold 1964 – Four-Man Bobsled)

RITZ Gets Around. While on the subject of the Okanagan, I was thrilled to get an e-mail from Steve King with a photo attached of a Canadian sport hero, Vic Emery (Canadian 4-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion from 1964). There he is reading his copy of Running in the Zone and we hope, being inspired to continue with his competitive cross-country skiing, the reason he was in the Okanagan and visiting with Steve. Vic is now 80 years of age and still enjoying an active life as evidenced by his ski racing.

First Half Anniversary. In just a few days, it will be the 25th running of the First Half Half Marathon. As many know, I was privileged to be a race director for this event and one of ‘my’ races was the 20th First Half. We put out a race booklet with all kinds of interesting photographs and memories from the past.  One of the big items in terms of sponsorship, or partnering, is that from the very beginning Forerunners has supported this event. Most people do not really recall the first First Half in 1989, but Peter Butler does. He won it. Actually, he won it in an amazing time – too amazing. Somehow, that first course turned out to be about 800m short of  a half marathon. Oops. Well, he still won it, but the time will have to have an asterisk beside it, forever.

Looking through the booklet, I saw a photo of Forerunners clinic coach Carey Nelson (a much younger fella then), as he won the 1996 event with a time of 1:05:12. To put that in context, it is not the record time, but it is less than a minute slower than the existing record, currently held by Dylan Wykes, Canada’s second fastest marathoner behind Jerome Drayton, an honour Peter Butler held since 1986 until only recently. With the expected field this year, there is a very real chance that the First Half record is going to drop again, but as always that kind of thing depends on the day and the contestants and whether it is an all-out speed fest or a strategic race. More on that at a later time. The record was held for years (from 1992) by Bruce Deacon, but starting with Ryan Hayden (2007) and then twice by Dylan Wykes (2011, 2012) the time has been pushed down to its current 1:04:21.

Personal Past Glory. Naturally, a lot of the historical material I unearthed is pretty personal. I came across a few publications that had features on Running in the Zone (the book) contributors, including Maurice Tarrant, Lynn Kanuka and Steve King. I even found a Penticton Pounders Newsletter (Jan 1990) with a profile on ME! It was one of these who are you, what do you do, and how well do you do it. One question was: What are your long-term goals? My answer was: Continue to run for fun and health for at least the next 20 years. Here it is January 2014. Guess I can tick that one off the old ‘to do’ list! But, that doesn’t mean I’m quitting. Maybe I should just declare my intentions of carrying on for another 20. Maybe. Hey, if I start from 2010, I’ve already got four years done.

Something else I noted with interest was that although I didn’t know it at the time I had run all my PB’s for all the common distances from 5K to Marathon. While not spectacular, they weren’t bad: 3:24 for marathon, 42:43 for 10K, 19:25 for 5K, but in one of my narrative responses, I referred to myself as a ‘back of the packer’. In truth, I may have been exaggerating just a wee bit, but surely was not more than a slower mid-pack runner in the Okanagan running community of the day. I celebrate the participation aspect of running today, but did find it interesting to compare then and now.

Whole Lotta Hardware

Whole Lotta Hardware

A Box Full of Medals. In respect to both past and continuing glory, I finally rescued my race medals from a shoe box where they have lived for many years, or at least as long as I have had them. I’ve been looking for a display rack, but having failed to find what I wanted, decided I could make one myself. In the end I made two and unfortunately, or fortunately some might say, there are still quite a few medals still in the box. Putting all my marathon, and one 50K ultra, medals up was a no-brainer. I have run 22 actual marathons and one ultra. Unfortunately, the PB mentioned above was run in 1988 and nobody was giving out finisher medals. That is the only one for which there is no medal and the one I would really LIKE to have. Oh well, I know it is there even if nobody else can see it.

These medals (marathon) remind me of a question I have been asked fairly often in recent times, especially by new or aspiring marathoners. What is your favorite marathon?  Truth is, I haven’t run that many different marathons, tending to return to the scene of the crime. The left-most set of medals represent my four Vancouver Marathons and the next set my five Victoria Marathons. When I look carefully and count up unique events, I have run eleven. So, I am hardly a world authority. As any marathoner knows, each event is special in its own way. Nobody would deny that the New York City Marathon is something special. Beyond that I guess you’d have to say the matter is very personal. I suppose by shear medal count, I have voted five times for Victoria and it was the scene of me proving (to myself, as much as anything) after 12 years and a bout of back surgery, that I could still do a marathon. No denying it is a great event. My medal collection represents quite a range of events from New York with about 40,000 to a couple like Winthrop where the number of finishers hit only around 100. I find it surprisingly hard to give a straight answer to my eager questioners. These events are all special in their own way. I guess the best advice is pick one you really want to do and do it. They are all 42.2km.

After the marathons, the next obvious set is for races where I had a podium place and for which medals were given (left side lower rack). Actually, the plaque hanging under the medals is a podium finish – Third Place M65-69, Eugene Marathon 2010. I’m pretty proud of that one because there were 16 competitors in that age grouping. Then, my 8 Hood to Coast medals had to have a place to hang, dating from 1987 through 2013. The rest of the hooks available are occupied by medals of which I am fond for one reason or another, including the three medals given to participants when I was Race Director of the First Half, my Reggae Marathon medals (still missing the actual marathon one, though) and finally a whole batch of races that are special for their own reasons in my personal history. The best of these is probably the one from the Willis Greenaway Half Marathon (Willis being the person who inspired me to keep running as long as I have), followed by my Boston 5K medal from 2009. That was the inaugural year of this event and the year I accompanied our daughter Janna while she ran the Big Race.

Scaling Performance When You Can’t Win. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about age grading as a means of comparing personal performance over the years. I do believe in, but don’t much advocate for, comparison with absolute performances by younger runners in any given race. Among the materials I came across was a piece entitled “The Big Leagues” from Runners World (February, 1990). It was all about heavy or “Huba Buba” runners, and by heavy I just mean people who are big, not overweight. It is a serious yet somewhat light-hearted look at running in weight rather than age divisions and has a table showing that someone weighing more than the feather-weight elite runners, is really disadvantaged by, even if they come by that weight just by being tall. In another article I once read that if you are a man and weigh more than 155 lb you need not apply to win anything, for the most part not even an age division in a competitive race.

The reason I found this interesting is that just recently I was alerted to a grading system from the University of Dayton that employs weight AND age to ‘adjust’ performance to some sort of common standard. The outcomes are interesting from my own perspective and study of the models. Using both the WMA age grading calculator of Howard Grubb and this new ‘double whammy’ system, I can say that age tends to create a bigger impact. Looking at both, results are pretty heartening for a guy like me. Even when I ran my PB’s, I was 43 or 44 and age had kicked in as a factor. Most of the time I have run, been healthy and well trained, my weight has been  185-186 lb or just under 85 kg. I’m not going to go into how wonderful all this seems to make me, but it sure provides an ego boost.  My main point is that some 25 years ago, people were very clear on the impact of weight and age on performance. Most of us run for the fun of it. We do what we do and that is just fine.

Well, I think that is it for today. You never can tell. Some of these things (well, the First Half, for sure) may become blog posts in their own right.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook For Seasoned Athletes is now available in e-book format from Trafford Publishing (see link).

REGGAE MARATHONERS READY TO ROLL

12.06.2013

Easy Skankin'

As I write this, pretty much everything is done but the running. Packages picked up, pasta consumed, beach checked. Some even got in a couple of practice runs. Negril is packed out with eager runners and walkers and supporters. More than ever before (three years for me) there seems to be a presence of Reggae Marathon people. Certainly, the place I am staying is full to the roof with us. I think the few staying at Rondel Village that aren’t part of the run are wondering what they got themselves into (in a good way, of course).  There has probably been fewer drinks consumed (if you don’t count water) on the beach today than any other day of the year. Tomorrow, however, as they say – IS another day!

Some are totally here for the fun of being a part of this great event. So many are returning. That says a lot about an event like this one. Some are here for serious running. That means different things to different people. In my own case this is my last race of 2014 and I am hoping for an improvement on my last year’s half marathon time. We’ll see how that goes. I do know I’m not alone with personal goals.

Chris Morales (That Runnin' Guy), Jetola (Turbojet) Anderson-Blair and Dan Cumming

What has struck me as I meet up with people is how many locations are represented including what I understand to be, more than 30 countries. However, regardless of our differences, we all have similarities as runners. Everyone wants to know what event you will do. The first timers know they are running in a tropical locale and are nervous about the possibility of high temperatures. For them, I am never going to say it isn’t warm in Negril. I mean, if it wasn’t, what would be the charm of a ‘beach’ marathon? What I do say is that you will never experience anything like the start when the air is relatively cool (not arm warmer, long-sleeve T cool) and full of amazing tropical scents from the trees and flowers.  But, the race organizers have never pretended this isn’t a warm event and provide plenty of hydration and cooling options along the way. Runners need to be responsible for making good use of the support, but it is surely there. Pacing is everything. Apart from the one ‘worry’ for newcomers, I think the big question is ‘how many times?’. Also, where are you from?’ ranks right up there. Although not really unique to this race, it is always easy to fall into conversation with other strangers, and one of those starter lines will generally do it.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013

So many people seem to have made friendships that get renewed at race time. At package pick-up and at the pasta party you see so many people greeting each other like long lost friends, generally (other than via the internet) they haven’t seen each other since last time. I sure know that to be true in my own case. I have been having a ball re-uniting with the Reggae Marathon ‘family’.

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

I wanted to post something tonight before the race because of the vibe. It is so much a part of the charm of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Once the races are over, trophies and ribbons given, coconut water and Red Stripe consumed, talk turns to special outcomes and this pre-race vibe can easily get overlooked. My solution: get the thoughts out now!

It is still early, but with a race start at 5:15am and pre-race preparations to be attended to and shuttling or walking to the actual start to be achieved, it will be an early rise. I imagine those of us from our hotel will hit the road no later than 4:30am (for us it is easier to walk than anything else, and makes a good warm-up). Alarm? I’m thinking 3:30am!?!  Yow!

Over and out until tomorrow!  Sleep tight Reggae Runners.

SELL-OUT PRR RUNNING SEMINAR SETS STAGE FOR FAST REGISTRATION

10.30.2013

The First Half Half Marathon  (registration link) is about to run its 25th edition of what is arguably the hottest running ticket in town.  Oh yes, there are bigger or at least potentially bigger events, including the newest one just announced for October 26, 2014, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Vancouver Half Marathon and the BMO Vancouver Marathon, but to date the only race of its size to sell out in less than a day is the First Half. It has done so for a number of years, starting with pre-race sell-outs some 10 years ago. As I write, registration is open and running. My job is to try to finish this post before registration closes!

PRR Running Seminar - Speakers

On October 28 Pacific Road Runners held the annual pre-registration running seminar at the Roundhouse Community Centre – aka the Start/Finish venue for the First Half. The race itself will take place on February 16, 2014. Today is when everything really officially kicks off, even if the race committee has been working behind the scenes to get things ready. Assuming a sell-out in the next hours (registration was at 50% of capacity before I even opened this file) the race organizing committee and pretty much the whole membership of PRR, plus a few notable others will begin the meticulous work to prepare another great running experience for all those able to participate.

It all began with the seminar where Race Director and MC, David Parker, welcomed a sell-out (can you sell out a free seminar?) crowd of about 250 to hear three speakers address some topics that might not be heard just every night of the week. We all love our ‘how to run a faster half’, ‘heel-strike vs mid-foot’ and ‘the secret training regimens of the elite’ topics. This year PRR took a different direction and judging by the questions, both tweeted and shouted out, suggested that the organizers hit it squarely on the head as far as worthy topics go.

Without rehashing everything each one said, the first speaker, Dr Jon Fleming got into the matter of sleep, including the when, how and how much of it all as it relates to realizing your best performance. The topic might have been about sleep, but I can assure you that nobody dozed off in this one, and it was clear that Jon had really just scratched the surface of the subject.

Second up was Larry Abbott who got into the matter of mental toughness and training the mind. I think we were all just a wee bit shocked as he slyly took us through a little Q&A on our training habits – number of runs, quality workouts, etc. Various hands went up at each query, until he got to the last one – mental training. Yep, he had almost all of us. In the proverbial nutshell, he got right down to the point that if your head isn’t ready to run that big race, your legs may not be able to do it alone. One of the great features of this talk and of all the speakers was that the comments applied regardless of the relative ability of the individual runner. Of course there are qualitative differences between elites and club runners, but that old head up there can stop all of us as fast or faster than tired legs. Preparing the mind shouldn’t be underestimated as an important racing strategy.

Finally, Ellie Greenwood, a PRR member who has gone from being ‘just one of the gang’ to elite ultra runner, shared with the audience the unfortunate but possibly inevitable matter of serious injury and what you do next when you really, really want to run, but can’t (shouldn’t). One can imagine that for someone like Ellie the frustration of going from a year in which she ran some 6000km to zero, or something relatively close, the strain would be almost unbearable. Even though Ellie runs in a whole different universe from most of us, this was again a topic that most could still relate to in a personal way. At some point, almost every runner, no matter her or his level of relative performance hits a point where something goes sideways. In many instances it is just minor and if respected and rested, is over soon, but often enough it is serious enough to threaten a whole year of running. I know I’ve been there a couple of times – once when the issue was not really a running injury, but the effect was the same (no running) and once when it was a true running injury, one that I did not accept, fix and move on, thereby ensuring that in the end I lost most of a year. Ellie talked us through what you do instead of running to keep both mind and body fit. Again, nobody in the house that night was drifting off in any way shape or form.

As always, the race sponsors including Mizuno, Forerunners, Ethical Bean Coffee, BC Athletics and PowerBar made the evening fun and rewarding in a tangible way for those winning the draw prizes on offer. One of the most popular of the prizes was the handful (big handful) of guaranteed entries for the First Half. Now that says something about this event! The entry was guaranteed – not FREE – just guaranteed, so you wouldn’t have to risk missing today’s registration scramble. It is actually a hard to pinpoint, yet easy to see, thing – the popularity of the First Half. Oh, you can list all the great things about the race: First longer race of the season, generous sponsors, fabulous and amazingly fast course (many people PR on this course, even if it is February), great attention to detail, by now maybe just the whole thing of ‘getting in’, the great post-race food, Variety, the fabulously deserving charity to which net proceeds have gone since 1996 and now mounting to a total of $550,000. All those things certainly count, but it would be wrong to suggest other races and organizing groups aren’t doing a great job. However, every year the feedback seems to be that the volunteers are the number one ‘praise-point’ (think I just made that up). And, as a former race director of the First Half I think I can say that by volunteers I would broadly include the entire membership of PRR as well as more than twice as many individuals from the community, some who have been with the race for years and years.

So, I’m almost done now and hope that I actually get this finished before registration is finished.

As mentioned, this is the 25th running of the First Half. It is not the 25th Annual, because another event became a bit of a conflict for dates and space in 2010 – yes, the Winter Olympics. So, for those who are trying to figure out how the whole thing kicked off in 1989 (with Peter Butler of Forerunners, winning the inaugural First Half Half Marathon), and yet this being the 25th, that is what happened. We are told, rather coyly I must say, that special things will happen, but we are just going to have to wait and see.  OK, I’m waiting!

Like most of the very small number of First Half former Race Directors, I will be there again on race day (more like race week, but that was what I was talking about before). Looking forward to seeing all those who are successful in registering today and hoping that some who can’t (because of one of those unfortunate issues Ellie Greenwood talked about) or just didn’t get registered, will become part of that fabulous volunteer crew that makes it all happen.

PS: Here’s a little secret for those who missed registering, Forerunners offers a running clinic with a (limited number of) race entry as part of the package. And, those clinics have prepared a lot of people over the years, and may just be part of some of those Personal Best performances too!