A New Year!

Most people I know are glad 2020 is over!  As discussed in my previous blog: “2021: Here It Comes!,” there is reason to hope for an end to the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions during 2021, as we move towards some kind of normalcy.  While we each have a role in containing the virus, certainly much about COVID is beyond our control.  Nevertheless, the new year provides an opportunity to take stock of what happened with our running in 2020 and plan out 2021, as best we can. Most runners I know, of all ages, regressed some during 2020.  Part of this is due to a lack of “real” races to target and train for.  For the younger set, maybe that’s not bad, giving the body some needed rest. For those of us 50, 60, or beyond, it’s likely another year beyond our PRs and a time when our capacities are progressively aging.  Regardless, for us seniors (50 YO+) it is probably best not to dive into 2021 with unbridled enthusiasm, pretending to some degree 2020 didn’t happen and we’re ready to rock n’ roll.  It would be a shame to push it early and bring on an injury that persists … Continue reading

Back to Racing, Part 2

This past weekend, the Unplugged Half Marathon was held, starting and finishing at Waterfront Park in Burlington.  In total, 425 runners finished in eight waves, an hour apart over two days.  It was a modified out and back course along the Burlington bikepath. It was unusual for various reasons.  One, COVID-19 protocols limited the number of runners per wave to 150.  In theory, that would have allowed for 1,200 runners. As it was, 950 were registered, but many of those had originally registered for the race on April 11th.  With the April event cancelled due to COVID, runners’ registration carried over to October.  If they did not respond when contacted for their preferred wave they were assigned a day and wave.  That didn’t work for some, including a large number of out of staters subject to travel restrictions.  Two, the eight waves were not seeded.  Thus, usual competitors (at least before COVID) were likely not together and able to pace each other.  Three, the course was out and back on the bikepath, not everyone’s first choice for a half marathon.  The reason was the South End of the Burlington bikepath is being totally redone and the two-mile stretch from downtown … Continue reading

Back to Racing!

While my hamstring continues to heal, I’ve provided music mixes and announcing for races the past two weekends.  Yes, races are happening again. And it’s working! From what I’ve seen it’s working for four reasons: (1) race organizers going the extra distance (literally) to figure out the requirements, go through the painstaking steps of writing them all down, putting them up on the website, and reminding runners about what they are agreeing to do, over and over; (2) a willingness by races to scale down some, maybe by as much as 50%.  Makes the margins lower but it’s allowing races to take the first steps, to learn how to do races safely; (3) a big volunteer pool – there are jobs never needed before, like medical screeners and herders to move runners in different waves in the right direction, with waves lengthening the volunteer time commitment.  And many of these volunteers have direct contact with a lot of runners — they are, in effect, front line workers; (4) and of course the runners, who wear masks up to their designated race time and then right after finishing; willing to race in waves, arriving at different times and not necessarily seeing … Continue reading

Runners, On Your Mark!

The races are beginning to happen!  For five months most everything has been virtual, but intrepid clubs and race directors are taking the plunge.  The reason this can happen is enough is known about how Covid-19 spreads and what can be done to avoid that while holding a race.  The list of precautions and requirements is long and things previously taken for granted, such as water stops, post-race food and awards ceremonies are off the table.  Start times are staggered and a limited number of runners allowed in a wave.  Not perfect for sure, but progress, nonetheless. One novel approach is a marathon I am helping with on a rail trail in Northern Vermont this Sunday.  It was organized by 62-year old Jim Miller, who has run a sub 3:00 marathon in each of the past five decades, starting in the late 1970s when ran his first sub-3:00 as an 18 year-old.  He’s shooting for six decades, which would put him in select company: only three others in the U.S. have accomplished this.  To be clear, over the years Jim’s bar has been much faster than three hours.  He has run sub-2:20 marathons, participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials and … Continue reading

July 4th

For many, July 4th means fireworks, barbecues, and big crowds.  For me, Independence Day has usually meant a road race.  Over the past 20 years, I have run July 4th races 15 times on 7 different 5K to 10K courses.  The years I’ve missed have been due to injury or a crowded race schedule.  In Massachusetts, I’ve run races in Boston, Concord, Marblehead, Dedham, Hingham, and Nantucket. In Vermont Woodstock, Morrisville, South Hero and before that in Seattle, Denver, and Epping NH.  I can’t tell you about the fireworks displays those years but can recall the details of most of those races. I’ve read the most races on any given day is Thanksgiving.  It’s cool (or cold!) and both seasoned and occasional runners work up an appetite for the big T-day dinner.  My guess is July 4th has the second most races. Often there is beer, barbeque, bands, and a party following.  The weather is predictably warm (often hot!) and people are eager to hang out.  The races draw kids, grandparents, and everyone in between.    So in 2020, we have Covid-19.  Everything is different with essentially every race cancelled or virtual between March and so far through July.  I … Continue reading

The Heat is On!

During the past week, I ran two races in 80+ degree temps, with high humidity under sunny skies. It was hot! In July we might, and perhaps should, expect that. Coincidentally I’ve been reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure in which he probes various conditions elite athletes overcame to achieve new heights. Or if they miscalibrated, went over the edge.   This book is a winner – Hutchinson has done his homework along with first-hand experience as a top middle distance runner. He was also an inside journalist on Nike’s attempt to break the 2-hour marathon in May 2017. Considering the recent heat spell, the chapter on heat was relevant. I’ll paraphrase how Hutchinson describes it. When core temperature rises, blood shunts to the skin as a way of dissipating heat and cooling the body. This mechanism works up to a point but there’s a tradeoff – this shunting steals blood from internal organs. At the extreme, heatstroke makes an appearance. This is dangerous stuff. When core temperature rises above 106° the self-regulation process breaks down and external cooling (ice baths!) is needed immediately to avoid long-term damage. I thought back on an experience with my first car — a ’56 Chevy. It … Continue reading

To Race or Not To Race? That is the Question!

Is it a stretch to suggest this Shakespearian corollary applies to competitive runners? Most of us have at least some of our identity connected to this sport we love. Not seeing our friends at races and toeing the line attacks our sense of self.   George Sheehan probed this years ago in his first book Running and Being. However, to shift from the existential to the practical side of the question, we competitive runners find ourselves in this predicament, probably several times a year. We train to do well in peak races that have meaning for various reasons.   For me I look forward to doing well in the USATF-New England Grand Prix series and the BAA Distance Medley (5K, 10K, Half). I know the best runners will be at the Grand Prix races and I want my age-class competition to know I need to be reckoned with! At root, these rivalries are supportive and rewarding. Camaraderie develops because we have each made sacrifices over an extended time. And races are a celebration of that. The BAA races are all large (~10,000 runners) events drawing an international field and there’s a definite “buzz” being part of then. If you’ve followed my blog, … Continue reading

The 80/50 Principle

Richard Koch wrote a bestseller in 1999 entitled the 80/20 Principle. He refers to the Pareto Principle, which goes back to 1896 and cites numerous activities where 20% of inputs gives 80% of the result. Others have professed something akin to a 90/50 principle.   In comparison, a steep decline – 30% more effort for 10% return. Let’s look closer at 80%. What is special about that? If we think about various things we do, 80% is pretty good. Better than just getting by. A decent level of success.    I’ve been thinking about how this applies to running. I started with the question of “what is 80%?” I thought about a 10K race. Let’s consider a runner whose current “best,” (i.e., 100%) is 40:00. This is solid running – for a 50 year old man that’s a 75.1% age grade – or halfway between a national and regional class runner according to the WAVA (World Association of Veteran Athletes) tables. For a 50-year old woman this is 85.7%, more than halfway between national and world class.   In the 2017 BAA 10K, 40:00 would have placed in the top 2%. So 40:00 is a reasonable standard. Coincidentally, I consider 40:00 my current … Continue reading