Monday, February 25, 2013


A few years ago, I ran a race wherein the winners were not the ones who got to the finish the fastest but rather the ones who got to the finish fastest when  age-grading variables were factored into the mix.

For those who do not know, age grading stems from the undeniable fact that both men and women lose strength and slow down with age. About a decade ago, with more runners entering the Master’s category, a way was apparently needed so all masters runners could be compared to each other in one category. By making all masters equal regardless of whether they were 40, 50, or 60 years old, awards could then be given to the athlete with the best performance.

I have two thoughts on this subject:

1. This was the product of the Baby Boom Generation getting older and once again thinking that the world had to revolve around them.

2. The whole idea of age grading has always seemed somewhat ridiculous to me.

Absolutely, age is a factor in runners slowing down as time goes on. However, I can think of fewer better occasions to say, “Well, that’s life!” In addition, while indeed a factor, age is far less a decider of someone’s overall race time as are natural ability or training. Some people are simply born with “it” and some are not. Some can work very hard and get to the maximum level that the skills they were born with will allow, but there comes a point when that ceiling is reached for those of us who are not elite.

Given that, I think age grading is insulting to those who have maintained physical fitness over the years. They do not need to receive help in order to lower their times. Likewise, for the most part, those who get a higher ranking because of the age-grading know that they did not actually beat the people who finished in front of them.

This all came to my mind as I recently read an issue of Running Times which had an article about the greatest age-graded times ever run. Some of the times were just mind-boggling. I then read another issues about more amazing times from the grey-haired.  But the problem is that while neat, the charts are unnecessary.

There is no age-grading calculator out there that would allow me to run times like Dennis Simonaitis, a Master’s runner in Draper, Utah, who at age 50 runs times I still have never achieved. If anything, I need to handicap him. How about the timeless Colleen de Reuck, who at the chipper age of 45 ran a 2:32:37 marathon?  I do not need age grading to tell me those are ridiculously fast.  These runners are still excelling well past their so-called primes.

Isn’t that what racing is about—pushing yourself to excel? Competing. Be it against your own times, the clock, or your buddy Steve, racing implies competition. If the time comes when you can no longer beat the guy next to you, well, then the time has come when you can no longer beat him. No chart is going to get you to the finish line faster.

It was nice to see Running Times editor Jonathan Beverly revisit an issue he thought he would be all for when he became a Master. Now that he is actually a Master he is not in favor of the idea (to paraphrase, of course). In three plus years, when I become a Master, perhaps I will change my mind as well and be all in for these wonky math charts which help me run faster than I ever actually had.

But, I doubt it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fuego Y Agua 25k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 3rd Edition 
33.1 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Fuego Y Agua 25k
Place: Isla la Ometepe, Nicaragua
Miles from home: 4084 miles
Weather: 80s; humid

It is hard not to talk about this race without mentioning the planned run across Panama three days later.  I say "planned" as it was unfortunately and indefinitely postponed.  More on that at a later date, but suffice it to say that thinking I would be running 50 plus miles in the shadeless 95 degree 100% humidity of a Panamanian highway definitely colored my actions during the Fuego Y Agua 25k ("FYA".)

Simply getting to the FYA 25k ended up being a bit of an adventure.  After rather uneventful flights from Portland to Atlanta and again to Managua, Nicaragua (north of the volcanic island which would house the litany of races being put on that weekend) the trekking begin.  Nicaragua has, for the lack of a better phrase, absolutely no street signs. This can be a problem.  Fortunately, my great friend and fellow runner (and crew member for the Panama run) Shannon, spoke Spanish.  This was the saving grace on many occasions.

Nevertheless, the driving we did on the evening we arrived to find our treasure trove of a hotel with an armed guard which were ubiquitous in this country (seriously, the McDonald's had one) was nothing compared to the three hour tour we would take the next day.

Leaving ourselves "plenty" of time to make the 100k drive from Managua to the ferry taking us to the island of Ometepe, I preceded to waste two hours of that driving more or less in the completely wrong direction. Upon finding out of this snafu, we assumed part of the trip was sunk. We had to reserve that ferry spot for our car months in advance and who knows how many ferries went across each day and how reliable that schedule was.  But with nothing else to do we pressed on.  Arriving 90 minutes after we were supposed to leave we found out two things:

1. There were other ferries leaving that day. (yay!)
2. We couldn't get our car on any them. (boo!)

Upon further questioning, we did learn we could park our car at the ferry station and do a hop on.  Because, as any fan of Arrested Development knows - you're going to have hop-ons. So we eschewed the car and prayed we would be able to get to our hotel, the packet pickup, the start of the race, etc. with no rental car.

On the ride over we spoke to some other runners and found out that the ferry we had originally supposed to be on had been delayed with no real explanation and the one we were on was actually the one we would have been pushed to.  So we should have actually been able to get our car on it. This should have been a harbinger of how these banana republic countries tend to work but we were just happy to be on the boat.

As the ferry crawled along at the speed of smell, we realized too late we were baking ourselves in the rather relentless sun.  Fortunately many portions of our skin were covered and the worst of the burning was limited. Checking into our hotel was a breeze as it was literally (and I do understand this term) the first building on your right hand side as you stepped off of the ferry. The proprietor was waiting for us as we were the last to check in and soon we were introduced to our gulag-esqe room. When the water worked it was only of the very cold variety.  The shower handle was new however, as the still-remaining price tag revealed. Far from nice we were again just happy to have a room and semi-working internet.  That is far more than many people have so we just grinned and bore it.

We gained information that told us that the start and finish of the 25k was just a five-minute walk away as was the shuttle which would take us all to the pre-race dinner.   We spent the rest of the evening meeting new friends, reconnecting with old ones and trying to convince ourselves that it wasn't really as hot as we thought it would be. All in all, as I sweated away, I could not have been more happy I was "only" taking on the 25k.

The race directors for this race outdid themselves when coming up with challenges.  The 25k was made significantly more difficult than in previous years and we soon saw the course description, map and elevation profile of the new race. I assumed this was going to hurt a great deal and was vastly incorrect in how little I would assume it would hurt a great deal (if you follow that.)

After two long days of travel, getting to bed around 9 pm was a breeze. Riding the bus shuttles to and from the dinner allowed us an opportunity to catch sights around the island which we missed not having our car. We wondered if the locals grasped what we were about to do and if they did, whether they even cared. I have mentioned before how refreshing it can be to those of us a little wrapped up in our running to go somewhere that the people either do not know or do not care about what you are doing.  It helps keep everything in perspective.  "Oh, you are going to run 25k or do a survival run.  That's nice.  I have to go plow those rocky fields over there with these emaciated oxen in order to eat tonight.  Enjoy!"

I did not know how well I would do in the race the next day but I figured top ten was feasible. All I had to do was show up and do it.

The Race

Basically, the race could be broken up into three parts- the roughly six mile run to the volcano, the three miles up it and then the six miles back down and return to the finish. My intentions were to be comfortably in sight of the leaders when we got off of the "roads" to head to the jungle staircase of the volcanic mountain of Concepion. At that point, I would promptly die going up the mountain, resurrect myself and then try to catch as many as possible on the way down.  This way of running had served me well at the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase a few years ago and as this race was the closest I had ever come to racing like this, I decided to employ the same methodology.  That race, starting at 7,000 feet and going to 10,000 feet over roughly seven miles, would not be as steep as here at FYA but the distance and total elevation loss and gain were virtually identical.  I assumed the higher starting elevation would approximate the humidity and heat I would deal with on this day.  Or at least I hoped so. To be honest, I had no other choice.

When the gun fired us off from the start, I felt good.  I really did not think I would be all that hot. There was a decent cloud cover to start the race and a breeze here and there. Perhaps it would be relatively decent!

The race course itself was approximately 15 miles long. Eleven of those miles were either flat(ish) or downhill.  There were only two aid stations but they came right before the big climb and then right at the top.  I had an 8 ounce CamelBak bottle which I felt would be perfectly fine. I fell in behind a few runners as a few others shot off in the distance.  Young looking and with no gear whatsoever, I figured they were newbies who would die in about four miles as us "seasoned" vets would real them in.  Virtually no time during these first 5-6 miles did I feel like I was pushing too hard.  I was not surprised to be sweating profusely .54 of a mile in (I checked on my Timex RunTrainer) but I was also not worried.  I simply drank liberally from the bottle and jogged along.

Less than a mile of running in the town of Moyogalpa had us quickly on trails where we would now and later dodge herds of cattle, dangerously thin horses and a variety of other animals shuffling away clandestinely in the underbrush. We had heard talk of cougars and snakes but as the adages goes, I do not have to be faster than those creatures - only the other runners.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Purity of Ultrarunning

Let me state this unequivocally.  There is no “purity” of ultrarunning.  Now, why do I even need to feel the need to state this?

Back in July I wrote an article espousing whether an Ultra could ever be in the Olympics. I got a lot of great feedback on it but those who were against the idea seemed to have a common thread of thought.  Basically, most thought the sport is far too pure and sacred to be reduced to the brash commercialism of the Olympic machine.  To add it to a slate of events to be mulled over by announcers who could not tell the difference between a 100k race and a 401k retirement plan would steal the sport of its inherent beauty and pristine nature.


No sport is pure. Period. No sport is inherently more or less devoid of crassness or greed or any of the other negative stereotypes given to events that have a purse involved or a television contract.  Only people can be given these attributes and what they then do in their sport of choosing is what defines them, not the sport.  A holier-than-though attitude exists in some sports about how their sport is above the money and material accolades and prizes.  More often than not, this is because there is no real money or accolades to be had.

Regardless, I cannot imagine a single runner who would not beam with pride to represent their country in an ultramarathon.  Is Scott Jurek any less deserving of a medal than Apolo Ohno and his ridiculous goatee?  Does Pam Smith have no more right to be on the podium with a gold medal than beach volleyball players?  I obviously do not know their mindsets specifically, but I am sure there are hundreds of worthy ultranrunners who would in no way turn down an opportunity to participate in their beloved sport and be able to do so on the world stage.  What sort of course would the runners take on, would the viewing public watch the event if it was televised, and a plethora of other questions remain but none should be whether its inclusion in the Olympics affects the “purity” of the sport.

If you have met many of the elite ultrarunners, you would have no worries whatsoever about whether any such games would affect them, even if they received lucrative (and deserving) windfalls and accolades. Most are humble and self-effacing when met with the praise they receive now. Let’s worry more about how ultras are perceived by others, even mainstream running magazines which still treat ultrarunning as a lunatic fringe. If the brethren of the running community cannot give ultras their just desserts, what chance will the rest of the world give it? Then again, curling is wildly popular when given the right framing. Perhaps an ultramarathon has a darn good chance of succeeding in the Olympics.

It cannot be as bad as rhythmic gymnastics, that is for sure.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Product Review: KLINGG

At the ING Miami Marathon expo last weekend, the developers of KLINGG presented me with one of their products. The wearable magnet they thought I might like is a holder for your earphone cord.  Its mission is to keep the cord from getting in your way while you run.  I told them I do not listen to music too often when I run but occasionally I do and would be at least interested in what they had to offer.

Lo and behold the other day I had one of those mornings when getting out and running was about last on my desired things to do list.  I knew running with music would help the 12 miler go by a tad faster.  So I unwrapped the KLINGG and figured out how to put it on me. (For a simple video demonstration of how the product works, click HERE.)  It took no time at all to get it together and on my clothing.  I slipped the cord in, played with it a bit to find the optimum slack for head swiveling and away I went.

As the product claims, it is very lightweight and does its job very effectively.  I was hoping by holding the headphone wire in place more securely it would keep the headphones from falling out of my ears.  While no headphones will stay in as tightly as I would like, without an aid, I found stabilizing the wire did indeed allow the number of times I had to reach up and shove the headphones back into my ear canals to decrease.

The design is very well put together with an extremely powerful magnet to hold the two pieces together. In addition, the side portion of the device are also magnetic meaning it will hold most headphones on either side when not in use.

Is it something you need? Probably not.  In fact, there are few running products you need.  Will it make your life easier if and when you wear headphones?  I think it will.