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Gord Dickson, 1932-2015

January 24, 2015

This week Gord Dickson, a legendary Canadian runner, passed away at the age of 83. Obituary.


1960 Olympic Marathon (Rome)
1959 Boston Marathon, 3rd
5-time winner of Around the Bay 30km
6-time Canadian marathon Champ
3-time Canadian XC Champ
1959 Pan-Am Games Marathon, 3rd
2:21:51 marathon PB – 1958 (when Gord set his PB the WR for the marathon was 2:17:39)

I first met Gord Dickson at a road race in Fergus, ON over 10 years ago. He had driven a couple of Kenyans from Hamilton to the race. I suspected he was once a runner himself but I had no idea of his accomplishments, he wasn’t one to boast.

In 2008 I moved back to Hamilton and started running with a few Kenyans (Thomas Omwenga, Josephat Ongeri and David Karanja). Since I was the only Speed River athlete training for the marathon in 2009 I decided to stay in Hamilton longer than the three months I had initially planned for. Over the next few years I would run into Gord many times.

The Kenyans referred to Gord as ‘coach’ but he was much more than just a coach for these guys. He would also act as their agent to get them into races, drive them to races and help them out with many of life’s challenges for a Kenyan immigrating to Canada.

Gord also coached many other runners and you could usually find him at the McMaster track in the evenings with a stopwatch. I would do my easy runs and pass by there to chat for a bit. It was during these conversations where I was privy to great running stories of the 50’s and 60’s as well as encouraging words about my own running.

A few stories that stick out…

There used to be a 30 mile race from Guelph to Hamilton that Gord won (perhaps more than once). This intrigued me as I’ve made that drive countless times and biked it a few times as well. It was common for Olympic level marathoners to dabble in road races longer than 42km back in the day. It’s fascinating to hear about the racing schedules runners did back then.

Within half a year of moving back to Hamilton I broke my foot and didn’t run for 3 months. Gord was relieved that I didn’t have a plaster cast and had a removable air cast. When he was in a cast he got in the pool for exercise and, naturally, some water seeped in. When he finally got the cast removed he said his foot looked like a “dead fish”. It had been waterlogged for weeks and, on top of that, atrophied. To strengthen his foot and test it out Gord walked the 30km from Hamilton to Brantford. After that he was ready to resume training.

I can’t remember the length of the loop (about 120m) and the exact distances (LONG) but when the snow or ice piled too high he would run in the underground parking lot at these apartments in Hamilton. He had training partners to accompany him for these long runs.

Gord had many stories about hot races where everyone would run much slower than what they were capable of. This is because these guys rarely took in more than water, if even water. There wasn’t much out on the courses in the 50’s and if they were lucky enough to get some refreshments it was rarely enough.  Since then much more is known about hydration and fuelling. The way these guys had to slog it to the finish line would make for good TV these days.

Gord was always very supportive and encouraging about my running and would often give advice, but never in a “I know what’s right” kind of way. It was more learning from his career and how I could use that info to further mine.

In late November Gord emailed me about Kenya. We talked on the phone for a while about him and his wife taking a trip to Kenya this winter. He said he always wanted to go and in the past few years his health wasn’t good enough but he was feeling better and saw a window for overseas travel. We talked about staying in Nairobi for a couple of days to rest from the travel and see the Giraffe Centre and other sights. Then travel to Iten to check out a Kenyan running hub and watch some track and fartlek sessions. Once in Kenya I emailed him some information about Nairobi and his wife, Sheilah, responded that Gord was in the hospital with very aggressive pancreatic cancer. One week later Gord passed away. He will be missed, RIP.


Here are portraits of Gord Dickson taken decades apart. (courtesy of George Aitkin)


Gord winning the 1964 Around the Bay 30km





Mwezi moja katika Kenya tayari

January 17, 2015

This was a tough week of training and a little chaotic.

Evans Zakaria Ruto left for Mumbai Marathon and since he is the leader of the group guys splintered off to other groups as the next guys in line aren’t that fit right now (apparently you need to be fit for runners to listen). That meant on Tuesday when I was warming up for a fartlek session I saw many guys I normally run with cooling down. Luckily 5 other guys didn’t get the memo and I had some company for 25 x 1 min / 1 minute rest.

On Wednesday I got wind of one group doing 7 x 5 min and another doing 17 x 2 min on Thursday morning. I wanted to do the 7 x 5 min session but wasn’t sure which group was doing what. I was able to meet up with Gilbert Kirwa’s group at 8:35 and realized they were doing 17 x 2 min so myself and a couple other Kenyans ran 4km down the road to meet up with “Mwisho Wa Lami” (“End Of Tarmac”) group for 9:00 start. This particular morning there were at least 150 runners lined up for the session.

The 7 x 5 minutes with 2 minutes rest session went really well. I was typically 50-80m back of the leader but got right up to the front for the last two, which were uphill. In order to catch the leaders for the first few intervals I had to run about 3:50/km, and guys were catching up and passing me on these ‘rests’. By the end there were about 20 of us in the front group and since we were running uphill the last 2 minute rest was a real ‘pole pole’ rest at 6:53/km.

Face post fartlek vs. post rinse.


Friday morning I did 18km with 60 other runners. The last 6km were uphill and guys started to push the pace. There were a few of us who were tired from the fartlek the day before but we stubbornly followed the 3:30/km for the last 4km. This was probably due to the lady in the pack and not wanting to get dropped by her. The lady ended up being Florence Kiplagat who has run 65:12 for a half marathon (the WR). After the run a few guys were complaining that the guys pushing the pace hadn’t done a fartlek the day before but there’s no one forcing us to stay with the pack.

After the run Gilbert told me he was planning on 30km, not too fast but hilly. That sounded prefect.

I met at 6:00 sharp for the run. 1km into the run I realized this was going to be a very hilly run as we were heading down the Great Rift Valley. After 5 years in Iten I’ve never run down the Valley.

We ended up descending for 9km until we started to climb up to a hilly forest. From km 15-16 we ascended 80m and then from 16-17 we ascended 97m (318 feet). During those 2 km the group of 30 exploded and there were only 5 guys at the front with me 10m in tow, and a line of guys making their way out of the Valley in my wake. Once it got flatter the group swelled back to 10 or 11 guys and I was dropped towards the end.

It was one of my most memorable runs ever, and the hilliest. Over 31.5km I ascended 630m (2066 feet) in total. We started out descending into the Great Rift Valley to a beautiful sunrise in front of us. The villages along the dirt road were really interesting showcasing quintessential mud houses with thatched roofs. The temperature changes were drastic as we descended down and then came back up through Bugar (Singore) forrest. On top of that, struggling hard for breath while running 4:33/km was a new experience.


Here you can see the elevation chart with pace (blue line). The pace was very slow at the start, which is smart because you can’t see anything for the first 5 minutes until the sun starts to show…

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Kenya 2015 – New Year

January 7, 2015

I’m halfway through my training stint here in Iten, Kenya. So far it’s gone well and I feel my fitness improving.

I’ve been training with a marathon group most days, which includes Gilbert Kirwa (2:06), Evans Ruto (2:07), Josephat (2:09), Silas Kipruto (59 half). There are about 20 core guys and the group swells to about 50 on some runs.


Here is their typical week:


6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)

9:30AM – 18.2km hard (3:22-3:32/km average)*



6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)

9:45AM – Fartlek (something such as 13 x 3 min / 1 min jog)**



6:15AM – 19km (~4:00/km)

PM – some guys run easy



6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)

9:45AM – Fartlek (something such as 20 x 1min / 1min jog)



6:15AM – 20km (~4:00/km)

PM – I suspect some guys run easy (?)



6:15AM – 24-38km ***



Day off for most (or easy run)



*On Monday for the 18.2km loop the group can be as large as 50 runners and when they average 3:22/km there’s only about 8 left by the end. Most will finish within 6 minutes but there are also many who fall off and jog home. The loop mainly descends for the first 6km and finishes at a higher point than the start. It has 200+ meters of climbing and at 2390m it’s quite tough.

**On Tuesday fartlek they’ll say they’re only going to run “60%” or “75%” “speed” depending on how hard Monday was. However, there are always a few guys who didn’t have a good one the day before to push the pace. On the cool-down walk sometimes arguments ensue about who pushed the intervals, or rests, too fast.

Tuesday will change to a track session come February, and if I remember correctly the Monday run isn’t as fast before a track session.

***The long run usually gets down to 4:00/km after a few km and either stays around there or gets down to 3:20/km if it’s supposed to be a hard one that week.

I usually place myself at the back of the pack as many Kenyans shuffle in front of me because they don’t like being behind a mzungu. I wait for the uphills to pass the Kenyans as they can’t do anything about it if they aren’t fit enough. Today, Arne Gabius (German 13:12, 2:09:30) ran in the pack and towards the end of the run he was funneled out the back with me.

The problem with the back of the pack is there is a lot of dust. The other option is staying tight to the runner in front but that comes with the risk of twisted ankles on the rough roads. Every once in a while I’ll just meet with a couple other guys (or solo) so I don’t have to inhale so much dust.

Only the core group meets for the fartlek sessions and they know me, which means I can stay in the pack without being passed and funneled out the back, if I can manage hang on. So far I’ve barely hung on to the back of the fartlek sessions, which means I need to pick up the pace to re-group after the interval. There are a bunch in the same boat as me.

I didn’t bother showing up for the Tuesday fartlek yesterday after running hard for over an hour on Monday. After talking to some of the guys I wasn’t the only one to skip it.

This week is going to be a bit different because Evans and Silas are running Mumbai marathon on Jan 18 and they are tweaking the training to peak in 11 days. Some of the group will do one last long run on Thursday and the rest of us will do a fartlek session (supposedly 2 min/1 min).

I’ll post this now and then hopefully add photos if internet is good enough…

Asbel Kiprop doing some 800’s at the track.



Cheploch Gorges are a 50 minute drive from Iten.



Christmas in Iten

December 27, 2014
tags: ,

I arrived in Kenya on Dec 17th and spent a couple days in Nairobi. Marie and I did some tourist stuff before flying to Eldoret.

Elephant orphanage in Nairobi



Giraffe Centre in Nairobi


The plan was to take it easy for 5 days and I managed to get four easy days in before a fairly hard 18km run with the group I trained with last year. I didn’t stay up with the leaders, they were four minutes ahead of me at the end of 18.2km but I still went a little harder than planned.

On December 24th Shoe4Africa put on a women’s 5km in Iten. Entries were free, came with a t-shirt and limited to the first 800. Needless to say it filled up fast. Marie helped out with registration for quite a while before I showed up after my morning run and helped pin numbers to t-shirts. The course was not easy and because the prize money was good there were a bunch of impressive performances.

Before the start of the Shoe4Africa 5km.


Handing out race shirts




Christmas day fell on a Thursday and I decided to give the ‘big’ fartlek session a go. The Thursday fartlek sessions in Iten can see upwards of 300 runners. Because of Christmas the numbers were reduced. Many of the local runners come from nearby villages and spent Christmas day at home. On top of that it rained pretty hard the night before and the trails were still muddy in the morning, which may have reduced numbers as well.

I ran to the fartlek with a few other Wazungu from HATC and met up with 40-50 Kenyans. Someone decided on 20 times 2 minutes with 1 minute rest. Geoffrey Rono (59 minute half marathoner) was in the group. For the first 7 intervals or so I was able to get back with the lead group by running the one minute ‘rest’ a little harder (the guys around me were doing the same). At that point my average pace was 3:30/km. On one trail the mud was bad and my shoes were really heavy. At this point a second group formed and we slowed our rest down (~5:30/km) as we weren’t trying to re-group with the leaders anymore.

After 10 intervals or so a bunch of guys dropped and we got on a new path without any mud. I found my rhythm again and stayed with three other guys. After a while we could barely see the first group, which was down to three guys.

On the 17th interval I lost contact with the guys I was running with, but when I finished I realized they were stopping at 17. I continued on and one of the guys decided to keep me company. Towards the end of the 20th interval the two of us flew by the three leaders, who were walking. Afterwards we walked with them and they realized they miscounted because they thought they did 20. They had their watches on 1 minute timer whereas I had a running time (59 minutes, 16.3km, 3:38/km). In the end only 3 Kenyans out of about 50 were planning on completing the prescribed 20 x 2 min session.

Later Christmas day we visited some friends for a late lunch, although I only had chapati because I had already feasted at HATC. We also gave out a bunch of school supplies to local kids we saw walking around. For dinner the kitchen prepared a big cake that was really good. We finished off the night with a game of charades with our Irish friends.

Other than HATC, Club Iten and Kerio View there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas decorations but we did manage to buy a small tree for our room.



Our room decorations

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And where do we go?

December 15, 2014

Earlier this week it was reported that five Track and Field events are under threat to be discontinued from the Olympic program. The events are the 200m, 10,000m, triple jump, shot put and one of the men’s walks (20km or 50km). My first reaction is that this is a shame and, it is. I imagine many casual TnF fans wouldn’t care too much if there were a few events taken off the table. The same thing is being considered for swimming and, as a casual fan, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consolidate that sport.

If athletics was forced to downsize and become more relevant here is my take on the five events in question.

The 10,000m has seen some amazing championship races, Billy Mills, Lasse Viren’s fall, Geb vs Tergat, Mo Farah… It’s sad to think some of these fantastic races could never happen again. Except that there is talk of including a 10km road race in place of the 10,000m on the track. Perhaps that race could even finish on the track(?).  And, as the article points out, the 10,000m is rarely run these days anyways whereas 10km road races are ubiquitous.

If the 10km road race had big KM markers for splits that run off chips on the athletes and some neat features in the course, such as hills, it could be very entertaining. Perhaps more so than 25 laps around a 400m oval. Mind you, if it’s a numbers game then I doubt they would just switch the same bodies over to the roads.

Shot put doesn’t look that impressive, if only fans could pick up a shot and see how heavy those things are then people could really appreciate a 20m throw put. But in reality a 22m huck doesn’t look that exciting and there are more sports competing for attention these days than ever before.

Triple jump seems like a random event and I can imagine casual fans have a hard time relating to it. Long jump and high jump are straight forward and as kids many of us tried to jump over something in length or height. But did you ever try and hop, skip, jump anything in the playground?

If they took out one men’s race walk then there would be an even amount of men’s and women’s Athletics medals at championship events. To me, one of the men’s race walks seems the most obvious to cut for equality reasons. Not to mention 50km around a 2km loop!

If you cut out the 200m I bet the vast majority of 200m runners could gravitate towards the 100m or 400m and have equal performances after specific training. Perhaps cutting out the 200m doesn’t even cut out that many athletes seeing as many might compete in the 100, 400 and 4x100m anyways.

As much as its disappointing that Track and Field, as we know it, could be cut down maybe it’s what the sport needs to appeal to more people and stay relevant.  There are meets being discontinued around the world due to lack of money (sponsorship and fans), something needs to change and perhaps that means a streamlined event line-up? I’m sure there are many other ways to make athletics more appealing but this could be one direction to entertain.

In the end there are many more sports/events that should be cut before any athletics event if they need to make room at the Olympics. Athletics is rich in history and should have a permanent place in the Olympics.


Many people get lapped in the 1964 Olympic 10,000m final. No one has to get lapped in a 10km road race.

At the Sydney Olympics the winning margin in the 10,000m was closer than the winning margin in the 100m.

My personal favourite, 2009 Berlin WC 10,000m



A little update:

Over the past 5 weeks I’ve averaged over 140km/week and have been improving my workouts. Lately I’ve incorporated some shorter intervals (such as 500m, 1000m) and some strides. Every time I touch faster paces it’s a clear reminder that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. At the same time it’s encouraging because I see improvements from session to session. It’s been tempting to jack up my overall volume or jump into track workouts with the group but I believe it’s important to be smart with my progression, especially at this point in my build-up.

I head to Kenya tomorrow for five weeks. Kwaheri!

Olympic Trials?

November 16, 2014

A year ago I was in the best shape of my life and hoping to run a personal best at the Fukuoka marathon. In 2013 I had a handful of good results and was very pleased with the year. This year has been frustrating in terms of results and missed training. However, I can’t dwell on what I missed but instead focus on what is going right.  The way I feel running right now is awesome, I haven’t felt this smooth for years. I’m still lacking fitness, but I’m happy with the progression and I’m seeing gains every week. Right now I’m still planning on a Spring 2015 marathon.

This past week I had two workouts with the group, a solid long-run, totalled 140km running and 300 minutes in the pool. This is pretty much what I’ll do for the next month before heading to Kenya. Yep, heading back to Kenya this year for about six weeks.

Going to Kenya mid-December through most of January will ensure that I’m able to run on soft surfaces for a little longer. It’s been snowing here already, luckily no accumulation yet and we’re still running on the trails.


On a run this week a few of us were talking about the idea of a Canadian Olympic marathon trial race and how that could play out. It would have to be a race in the fall of 2015 or early 2016. However, 2015 works better so runners could potentially chase a standard at a fast marathon if they need it.

Basically the first three Canadian men and women across the line at the trials would stamp their ticket if they have standard or could get it before the qualifying period is over. If someone finishes fourth Canadian and has standard and one of the top three doesn’t have standard by the end of the qualifying period then the 4th place runner would go.

The good thing about a trials race is that it puts everyone on the same course to come up with a straight forward ranking. When you go simply by time one runner could run a marathon with perfect weather and another could catch a really hot or windy day. If the runner who ran in horrible conditions was only a few seconds slower than the runner who had perfect conditions then the better runner might not be the one selected.

Another good thing about running a trials is that if an athlete finishes in the top three and they already achieved the Olympic standard then they know they are going and can prepare for the Olympic marathon. Otherwise that athlete might have to run a last-ditch marathon if someone else beat their mark.

One drawback of having a trials race is that if the trials aren’t held on a fast course that limits the chances of achieving standard. In reality we only have 3 attempts to achieve standard (the standard hasn’t been announced yet, hopefully we know sometime in January).

Another drawback is if there is a runner who is head and shoulders above the rest but they are unable to run trials then they could be left off the team. The argument to that is an athlete needs to be ready to compete at a specific time, just like the Olympics, if you’re not ready that day you don’t get re-do.

If the trials were to be held within another marathon then there would be a lot of things to figure out. Would people be allowed to have pacers? If the race provides pacers for one runner would they be required to provide pacers for everyone vying for an Olympic spot? Would a race like STWM want guys who would normally chase the Canadian record playing it safe to finish in the top three Canadians?

It would be cleaner to have a separate race but then you might be hosting a race for only a handful of runners.  That would be a lot of work if it turns out to be a moot point, (fewer than four runners achieving standard).

In my opinion if the Olympic standard is going to be similar to 2012 (2:11:29) I would rather just have us all chase the standard and take the top three times.










November 5, 2014

This past week was out of the ordinary and a lot of fun…

On Wednesday I flew to Banff to speak at the SportChek conference on behalf of New Balance. I got to Banff at 2:30pm and ran 95 minutes and hit some serious hills. My talk was at night and afterwards there was a social at the bar in the hotel.  At the bar a couple approached me and informed me I was subject to an out-of-competition doping test.

Testing me in Banff shows that CCES is paying attention. You see, I was only in Banff for 17 hours before I headed to Hangzhou, China where I was entered in a marathon. On paper that looks a little suspicious. Why would anyone go somewhere for such a short period of time in the days leading up to a race. Of course I wasn’t really racing this marathon (I’ll get to that later).  It makes me feel good that they’re testing in this capacity.

View from my hotel room.


Thursday morning I started my trip to Hangzhou, China via Calgary, Vancouver and Shanghai. John Mason arrived in Shanghai (from Toronto) Friday evening 15 minutes ahead of me. We met up at the baggage carrousel and then met our hosts outside, jumped in a van with other athletes then drove the 200km to Hangzhou.

I had never heard of Hangzhou before a few months ago when they asked if I wanted to race. At the time I told them I hadn’t run for three months and wasn’t in shape to run a marathon. They told me it was OK if I came and just made an appearance and ran 10km. Why not.

6.2 million people live in the greater Hangzhou area, it’s bigger than Toronto. However, it’s not a tourist destination, such as Shanghai or Beijing, so it has a pretty different feel. On Saturday John and I went on an 11km run and saw thousands and thousands of people and not a single person who looked like a foreigner. The buildings there are big, impressive and a lot of them!

A river in Hangzhou.


There’s a few things I don’t care for in China. The first is the cigarette smoke everywhere, even in places with no-smoking signs, restaurants, bathrooms etc. Apparently a “non-smoking floor” in a hotel is just a suggestion. Also, when eating lunch and dinner there is a lazy susan on the table with all the different dishes, which is a convenient way to serve except there are NO serving utensils. Everyone just uses their own fork or chop sticks to serve the food. Most of the time there were 10 of us at a table and some people would just eat straight from the serving dishes. The other thing is the amount of oil they use in the cooking, way too much.

This guy must be picking up some cooking oil for the day.


On race day my plan was to run 10km at a decent pace and then keep running to 24km at a normal run pace. I passed through 10km somewhere around 33:30 and then proceeded to run around 4:00/km. John Mason was pacing the women and caught me around 22km. I ran and chatted with him for a bit. I mislead him to believe that he was close to 8th place (in the money). I seriously thought there weren’t many guys up ahead.

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At 24km I stopped running and stretched. It didn’t seem as though I was going to get picked up by a vehicle anytime soon so I started to jog 5:00/km. I would stop at aid stations, eat bananas and drink the sports drink and water. During these pauses I would assess how my body was feeling. If anything was getting too tight I would be able feel it after a little rest. My tibialis muscles were tight, probably from the all the downhill running in Banff, but other than that I was ok. When I would stop people would try and cheer me on to keep running. When I would finally resume running they would get really loud as though they spurred me to keep pushing. I just kept on jogging and taking breaks until I reached the line in 3:07.

Much of the last part of the course was through West Lake, a popular tourist spot for Chinese. At many of the bridges I would stop and take in the scenery. The air seemed really clean in the park and even the other parts of the marathon weren’t bad at all. Nothing like what they experienced at the Beijing Marathon a few weeks ago.

After the finish I saw John being interviewed by Runner’s World China. He led the women’s race (got a lot of camera time) until the final few hundred metres (was only supposed to go 35km) and finished in 2:32 (right behind the first woman, the men’s race was won in 2:12). He finished in 10th place and I had to apologize for leading him to believe he was in the top 8 (ie. $). However, the amount of autographs, pictures and general Mason-mania that ensued may have been worth finishing after all. The people couldn’t get enough of this guy with a massive beard!


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After the race John and I headed to Shanghai for one extra day. The place is absolutely massive and has some of the tallest buildings in the world. The Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world (and the one that looks like a bottle opener is the seventh). The Shanghai Tower is higher than the CN Tower and twice as high as the tallest skyscraper in Canada (CN Tower is considered a structure).



(They don’t curve like the bottom picture depicts. The Shanghai Tower does have a twist though.)



Shanghai skyline.




Walking around Shanghai was good because I wasn’t going to run for a couple of days after that long of a run and my muscles were quite stiff. (I went running today and felt fine).

We also checked out Old Shanghai and the fake markets so we could bargain hard with the vendors.



I think you guys put the N on…. never mind.





Not to code.


Guys climbing Shanghai Tower


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