07 July 2017

No second chances at a first impression ... just second chances

It's taken three long years to recover.

Not physically, but perhaps psychologically.

And tomorrow I am returning to the scene of my most epic race blow-up, where I lay on the brink of oblivion before being rescued by my relentless and faithful friend Jim.  Yes, in less than 24 hours I will once again tackle the 56km trails of the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve.

The last time that I was there I was tackling my first real ultra, and in part due to a mismanagement of salt intake I struggled with dehydration and a dangerously low blood pressure situation.   Again, thanks to Jim's perseverance and sacrifice I managed to hobble my way across the finish line, feeling a great sense of defeat and dissatisfaction.  Now, having a few more ultras under my proverbial belt (including a couple of 50ks and a 50-miler) I'm going to try my hand once more at this event.

What's going to be different this time?

Much, I hope.

For one thing I will be sharing the forest with a dozen or more of my fellow RunNinjas, covering three of the four available distance options.  Just knowing that I'm going to criss-cross with my tribe members out there is going to provide me with plenty of inspiration.

Second, I plan to run with my newfound Ecuadorian friend (and experienced mountain ultra-runner) Juan - and since he has proven with consistency that he can race negative splits I'm hopeful that together we will be able to execute a smart race strategy that will serve us both well.

Third, I know what it's like to have every cell in your body yearn for you to swallow your pride and post that DNF (did not finish).  I know what it's like to feel like when returning to an upright position - let alone taking another step - seems impossible.  I know what it's like to watch as dozens of runners pass you by as you lay motionless on the ground. 

But more than that I know what it's like to get back up from that and get the job done.

Tomorrow, I'll be armed and dangerous.  Limberlost, I'm coming for you, and this time it's personal.

#redemptionrun #GOlikeneverbefore


01 July 2017

It's Canada 150!

Here's to this great nation that I call home ... happy birthday Canada! #Canada150


09 May 2017

Race report - 2017 GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon (Relay)

Riddle me this Batman:  how is it possible to not start a race and yet post a finishing time (without cheating)?

Be the anchor leg on a relay team.

It was still the dead of winter when my friend Gillian pitched the idea that perhaps some of us from the RunNinjas should enter a relay team in this year's edition of the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon.  Being a veteran relay racer herself she knew how much fun it could be, and given that she was willing to take the lead on the organizational end of pulling a group of runners together (not far off from herding cats) this was just the kind of spark that we needed to get this initiative underway.

Being that this would fit the bill of tackling a new kind of race (which I'm usually pretty game to try) I agreed to be part of our 8-person crew which included Gillian, RickyD, Angela, Chris, Sarah, Cher and Iris.  After a bit of back-and-forth finagling we settled on an order of runners, with everyone taking on a 5km section of the 42.2km course except for me ... the hand-off to the final relay racer leaves 7.2km to cover so I had ever so slightly more distance to run out.  When we worked this all out I figured that this would not be a problem (given my penchant for running longer back-to-back workouts on the weekends) but after last weekend's thrashing at the hands of the Pick Your Poison Trail Run I wasn't carrying the same kind of confidence into the weekend.

At the same time, running with and for your friends adds a whole new dimension of 'giddy-up' to the experience.

With Gillian as our mastermind we held a few 'planning' meetings over Tim Horton's coffee and muffins to discuss logistics and even plan out race-day outfits (so that we could easily spot each other at the relay checkpoints) and brainstorm ideas for a hand-off baton (which eventually turned into a small flag that was passed from runner to runner).

A post shared by Patrick Voo (@pbfvoo) on

On race day we carpooled down in a few vehicles knowing that we would have staggered start times depending on which leg we each were responsible for covering, and to have cars parked at appropriate points along the course to ensure that everyone could get a ride down to the finish line.  Gillian, Iris and I commuted together into the city, arriving at Liberty Village almost three hours before I was scheduled to receive the RunNinjas flag at the 35km mark.  This gave plenty of buffer time to make at least three trips into the washroom at the adjacent Metro grocery store and for Gillian to walk the 1.5km to her checkpoint and Iris and I to march about 3km down to the Martin Goodman trail to her 30km checkpoint.  Of course I'd have another 5km jog to take after that, but with no time pressure it was enjoyable to do so as the fastest of the marathoners overtook me for the last quarter of their races.

Arriving at the 35km relay point I spotted our good friend and BQ-attempting RunNinja Rob trucking his way down the course - I trotted alongside him just to find out how he was feeling and was encouraged to hear that he was still on track to hit something close to his 3:15 target.  I also managed to spot a few other friends as I waited for Iris to come around and make the hand-off - Eldon, "Udora Flash" Dave and an unknown runner sporting the familiar race kit markings of the Malden Park Runners each received a hoot and a holler from me.  I admit to having been more than a bit worried about out other RunNinja compatriot YouJin who was attempting a BQ time of her own - while I was on the lookout for her I did not immediately see her, and watched as the 3:30, 3:40 and 3:45 pacers passed by the 35km mark, knowing that she was aiming for a 3:25-3:30.

When I finally saw Iris I quickly took up my position near the green relay-area pylons and with a quick congratulations and a nab of the RunNinja flag I quickly got up to speed.  My goal was to try to hold a 5k-race effort as long as I could - and with every quick peek at the Garmin 305 I saw that I was holding in and around a 3:55/km pace so I was encouraged by that.  Now I admit to feeling somewhat guilty passing numerous marathoners (in fact I wouldn't be passed by anyone for the entire 7.2km anchor leg) knowing that they'd all been working hard for 3+ hours by this point, and here I was on fresher legs ... still, it was a race for them and it was a race for me so (to borrow from the great Steve Prefontaine) 'to give anything less than my best would have been to sacrifice the gift'.

Any worries that I had about the weather conditions were assuaged as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and it actually became quite warm.  There were moments that I felt over-dressed, and I did manage to work up a sweat which would have crossed over to uncomfortable had I needed to run further than the 7.2km.  That wasn't helped by the fact that as I rounded the corner into the finishing chute I passed a runner who decided that he wanted to try to outsprint me across the line - of course the competitive side of me would have none of that, and given the fact that he'd pounded out more miles than me on the morning I had a bit more left in the nitrous tank to cross a second or so in front of him.

Do you know how many times I heard "Go Pikachu go!" ...? #ItsAdventureTimeJake

Looking back at my splits I actually managed to click off a new 5k PB (19:41) in the midst of my run ... not too shabby given what my game plan was!

After collecting all eight medals for our team I was spotted by Gillian who led me back to where the other RunNinjas were near the final corner.  We'd gathered to wait for Iris who was running the full 7.2km back to meet us since that was the most direct route for her to reconvene with the rest of the group.  I found Rob had waited to see us finish (after his 3:18 performance), as well as YouJin who must have cruised by as I paused to get my bearings at the 35km checkpoint given that she wrapped up her race in a stellar 3:23 (more than a 20 min. PB for her)!

YouJin (second from left) and Rob (far right) now Boston-bound!

L-R:  Cher, Gillian, moi, Iris, Angela, RickyD, Sarah and Chris

Following the obligatory post-race group photos our team decided to vacate the city (as the Toronto Raptors were hosting game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals which meant an influx of "We The North" fans to the downtown core) and head to Beeton for a bite to eat at The Whistle Stop.  While enjoying a well-deserved recovery meal we also discovered that our team came in third place overall for the relay - a podium finish we'll take!

All in all a great time, and a much better day for me than one year ago at the same race (although I had the privilege of pacing for a really good friend that time).  Congrats to all of our RunNinjas as we declared loud and proud that #WeRunThisTown !

04 May 2017

Race report - 2017 Pick Your Poison Trail Run (50k)

It wasn't until about 2.5k into the start of the race that I noticed that my shoelaces weren't even actually tied.

And so began my day traversing the hills of Horseshoe Valley.

For a number of years I'd heard about, seen and wanted to participate in the Pick Your Poison Trail Run.  As a backyard event (only about 20 min. away from my house) it always seemed like it would be a natural race for me to take in ... but because of its placement on the calendar it always seemed to conflict with my intentions of getting in a strong spring marathon.  However, with my resolution to not race a marathon for myself this year the month of April was wide open so it became one of the first events to be plotted on my timetable.

Initially my thoughts were to just get out there and run this course to enjoy it ... but alas the competitive side of me usually commandeers the best of my intentions.  In any event, I've spent the majority of my spring training for shorter, faster races so I basically had just over two weeks to try to ensure that my mileage was sufficient to not require an evacuation off of one of the ski runs.

In terms of the pre-race communication there wasn't much by way of direct emails - it seemed to be pretty much left up to the individual participant to check in on the website or the Facebook page.  In fact, I wouldn't have even known about the pre-race day packet pick-up had it not been for my friend Mariana letting me know that she had spied an update regarding that option on the FB page.

Communications aside, the actual nabbing of the kit at the 'expo' was a piece of cake - I would have been in and out with my bib, t-shirt, complimentary jar of honey and running magazine in a matter of seconds had I not run into Mariana, Crystal, Cher and Nancy who were all there at the same time collecting their goodies.

I gotta say that leading up to race day I was feeling really good - like I could be competitive in this event, at least given the results posted from last year's race.  And since distance running is such a mental game I felt like I had an edge, perhaps for the first time in a long time (ever??).  That had me raring to go.

A post shared by Patrick Voo (@pbfvoo) on

The race I arrived my customary 60 min. prior to gun time partly to ensure that I secured a decent parking spot but also to try to connect with a slew of people who I'd known were going to be running the race.  A good number of my RunNinja mates, ENDURrun comrades, Barrie Trail Running Clubbers and some folks reppin' my former Team Running Free colours were all going to step up to tackle the ski hills with me, and I was excited to say "hey" and offer some words of encouragement and support.  It also helped me to chat with several of them who knew the course, and even to check in with them on what they planned to wear as I was somewhat indecisive as to how many layers to don (the temps were just above 1°C with the windchill at the start).

We RunNinjas run these hills!

Being that I wanted to not get caught in any kind of conga line along single-track early in the race (hmm ... fatal error #1 perhaps ...?) I lined up near the front of the mass start.  I should have kept in mind that all three distances - 12.5k, 25k and 50k - were going out at the same time, so there would be people gunning at paces that would be sustainable for one loop, but perhaps not so much for four. 

Alas, I did not pay much heed to that.

[ Loop 1 ]
Since the course starts out for a pretty flat 3k or so I went out at a pace that felt strong but sustainable.  However as anyone who's race a marathon knows that 'early feel good' pace is almost certainly faster than it should be - and sure enough I bumped out a 4:03 first kilometre, just about 90s faster than my planned per-kilometre race pace.  Things slowed after that as we were winding through single track ... and somewhere around 2.5k as I was staring at the shoes on the person in front of me I wondered why my feet were feeling so sloppy in my Skechers GOTrail shoes.  I know I'd selected these so that there'd be a bit more space for my feet to swell (I'd swapped in a thinner pair of insoles) but I also laced them up to take advantage of the heel-lock holes at the top ... but you know what I saw when I looked down?

That I'd forgotten to actually tie up my laces.

So just before the trail started to climb up I stopped in a double-track area to stoop over and properly secure my shoes to my feet.  Now of course having stopped and watched several runners pass me by while tying my laces I felt that inherent need to make up some ground.  #Imadoofus

Aside from one patch of muddy trail that extended for about 500m or so - an obvious area of spring run-off halfway up the side of a hill - the trail was in really good shape.  I power-hiked most of the significant climbs, but felt good enough (yeah, at that point!) to jog up one of them in order to try to claim a few extra spots.  Please kids, don't do this at home. 

Time:  1:09:02 (24th spot out of all runners, all distances)

[ Loop 2 ]
Having felt significantly warm at points during the first loop I made the decision to shed my t-shirt layer as I paused to collect more gels from my drop-bag on the other side of the start-finish line.  That left me with just a singlet and arm warmers on top which ended up serving me just fine (although there were still some really chilly winds to contend with plus a UV factor that I hadn't accounted for ... #firstsunburnof2017).

I continued to feel strong through the second loop, running sections of it with another guy named Sean, a long and lean runner with an effortless stride.  We played 'leapfrog' in various sections as he'd stop at the aid stations while I decided to power through (mindlessly forgetting to take in electrolytes just about all day).  One of the best parts of each loop was passing cheerleader/drill sargeant extraordinaire Mary Mitchell who hollered encouragement while strategically placed at a viewing point where she could observe runners climbing two incline sections.  Her energy definitely provided a mental boost while at the same time providing sufficient motivation to get beyond her field of vision just so you could return to a powerhike/walk stride. :)

Time:  1:13:14 (totalling 2:22:16 for two loops, which would have been good enough for 12th overall in the 25k division)

[ Loop 3 ]
I began to worry about Sean as we started the third loop as he was out of sight in front of me when I passed through the start/finish/lap area but I caught up to him walking at around the 28k mark.  He indicated that all was good so I passed by him expecting that this would be just another leapfrog moment - except that I would not see him again until after I finished my race.

Although I was still feeling reasonably good I definitely was powerhiking longer sections of each incline and the downhills were being tackled with a little more hesitation.  This would be a precursor to what was going to follow, but in my head I was still on track to nail a sub-5 hour time and I wanted to keep that frame of mind going as long as possible.

The mud bog run-off section of the course was now becoming something that you'd expect to see in a Spartan/Warrior Dash kind of obstacle race.  Even trying to catch the most solid-looking of paths my shoe was nearly suctioned right off of my foot twice during this pass, but again I was grateful that the Skechers GO Trails shed the extra moisture and mud weight quickly.

One of the biggest victories during this lap was that I didn't let anyone pass me - I knew that we would all be slowing down to some degree, and I just hoped that I could keep my placing as long as possible.

Time:  1:21:27 (still 13th fastest for this loop)

[ Loop 4 ]
Annndddd here's where the wheels came right off.

The flat section was still quite manageable, with opportunities to start to lap some of the slower 50k runners.  This also provided a tremendous ego lift, which lasted until I started to ascend the hills.

My quads were all but done.  I was reduced to shuffling speeds on any positive or negative grade.  I'd managed my fueling reasonably well (missing electrolyte drinks aside), taking my Endurance Tap gels about every 25 min., one salt tablet each loop and using a full handheld Nathan waterbottle over each 12.5k.  I felt as if my cardio was still strong, but them stubby legs of mine were not strong enough to keep up a running pace.  It was humbling to start getting passed by other runners, dropping spots that I'd hoped to hold on to.  There was even a moment when someone yelled my name from about 200m back (and 60m below) - it was Chad, who had jokingly said that he would try to just tie a rope to me and try to keep up over the 50k.  Well, sure enough at 46k he caught up to me and was still prancing along fresh enough to out-stride me up the last few climb sections.  If neither speed nor strength nor strategy are part of my arsenal I can claim that sheer force of will certainly is, and that is what got me down the final ski run and across the finish line.

Time:  1:37:16 (total time 5:20:59, securing 17th spot overall)

[ Photo credit:  Rhonda Stickle ]

After being handed the much-renowned finisher's socks I collected my drop bag and donned some warmer clothing from my car.  Heading back to the chalet and past the start/finish/lap area I spied Sean who'd finished a mere six minutes behind me, and just let him know that I was glad that he'd not been taken out by the course.

There was a small meal available for all of the competitors and I took advantage of nabbing a vegan burger (which was super yummy and surprisingly palatable after a day full of maple syrup gels) and a giant oatmeal cookie which got tucked away for later.  I spent a little bit of time in the chalet chatting it up with some of my Barrie running friends before calling it a day and heading back home for a much needed and long awaited ... chore of taking down all of our exterior Christmas lights.

Key learnings
There were a number of takeaways from this day's event for me:
  1. No matter how much experience you have you're still susceptible to rookie mistakes:  Yes, I shot out of the gate way too fast.  Even though my friend (and formidable ultramarathoner) Bill Lovett expressly advised me to take the first loop easy I let ego and adrenaline get the best of me.  Anyone who knows anything about ultrarunning knows that the smartest runner in an event like this is the one who slows down the least, and today that was not me.
  2. Tapering makes a difference:  And had I actually tapered I might have benefited from it.  I wandered into this race off of a 105km training week, a total of about a 4.5% taper from the week before and about 12% less than my highest training mileage over the past few months.  As much as I would like to think that I can be Yuki Kawauchi, there can only be one Yuki.
  3. Respect the downhills more:  On the first two loops I basically bombed down each hill, and by the fourth loop I felt like I had been bombed by every hill.  Even though time is available to be made up on the descents I need to be a bit more conservative knowing that my legs are not strong enough to take that kind of continuous pounding.  Again, Kilian Jornet I am not.
  4. Mental toughness can only get you so far:  It's definitely something that I pride myself on, and that I feel I develop by training throughout the dead-of-winter months here in Barrie, Ontario.  But I think of how I'd passed up at least one opportunity to run the PYP trail in the weeks leading up to the event and how that could have gone a long way in helping me to anticipate how to tackle the various segments of the loop.  My almost complete ignorance of the course itself may have just one more variable contributing to a less-than-desired outcome.
After all was said and done though it was a pretty solid day's worth of exercise.  The course was supremely well-marked - I never had any concern of getting lost, even during those short stints where I found myself alone in the forest.  The volunteers were very helpful, and the organization on race day pretty superb.  I may not be quick to sign up again in the next couple of years as I plan to take on spring marathons again, but it's definitely a race that I'm happy to recommend to anyone who wants to test themselves and take in a great part of the province.

Race gear used:


26 April 2017

Slip, slide, gazelle, glide - which stride is best?

Just as I was eager to track my friends who were running the 2017 Boston Marathon I was keen to see the outcome(s) of the 2017 London Marathon.  It's racing heaven for distance runners as these two Abbott World Marathon Majors are pretty much back-to-back within a couple of weeks' time, and there's almost always a star-studded field collected at the London Marathon start line.  This year did not disappoint with world record holders like Kenenisa Bekele, Olympic medalists like Feyisa Lelisa and World Champions like Ghirmay Ghebreslassie highlighting the men's elite lineup; and on the women's side the second fastest marathoner ever Mary Keitany led the field (from start to finish) which included perennial favourite Florence Kiplagat, 2015 marathon World Champion Mare Dibaba and multiple Olympic medalist/5000m WR holder Tirunesh Dibaba.

However, as a Canadian born in England I was also interested in how the British athletes were going to fare - and it was exciting to watch Alyson Dixon capture a berth to the World Championships with her PB finish of 2:29:09 (coming in 14th place).  I also noted this result for two other significant reasons:  Aly is 38 years old and her running stride would be described as employing the 'glider' technique.

Why are these two details worth pointing out? 

Well, normally (unless you're Haile Gebrselessie or Meb Keflezighi) you tend to slow down signficantly as you age - and the fastest runners are quite often those who exhibit the 'gazelle' running form (for a comparison of the two check out this post) ... but here again you might not want to argue that point with Kara Goucher.

Anyway, Aly Dixon is definitely a glider - the footage from the London Marathon showed her running with a noticeably high cadence (i.e. footfall/turnover per minute) and if you slow down the playback speed of this video you can see that her lead foot is extending out past her knee at the same time that her trailing leg is extended and leaving the ground (check it out at the 2:27:00 timestamp).

While some would contend that age is a determining factor when it comes to the 'glider' running style - such that even 'gazelles' become more 'glider'-like as they get older - it would appear to me that Aly has had the inclination to be a glider for at least a few years now as this clip from a race four years ago would indicate (best view is at the 23:00 timestamp).

I take this as an encouraging sign since I am most definitely getting older (!) and most of my race photos show off a pretty distinctive 'glider' form.

Down the finishing stretch of my fastest 13.1 last year

How about you?  Are you a 'gazelle' or a 'glider'?  Do you have greater top speed or long-distance endurance?  Would you think that your age actually does play a determining factor?

And in the end, does it make a difference?

18 April 2017

On the run ... with Tina Muir

The commercials for Dry Idea® anti-perspirant are famous for their tagline "Never let them see you sweat".

I wonder whether or not Tina Muir would buy into that.

Tina is an elite distance runner and social media personality who in English born but has resided in the U.S. for about 10 years now.  Having competed in distances between 1500m to the marathon she holds a PB of 2:36 over 26.2 miles and has represented Great Britain in the 2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.  She's worked in various capacities in and around the running community, but now focuses on her brand new podcast and the Running For Real web presence.

Known for her candour and down-to-earth approach to training and fitness, Tina recently shared with her family, friends and followers that she is taking a much-needed break (or break-up) from running.  This is just one more way in which Tina invites everyone into an authentic conversation about the place of running in our lives ... and how the individual defines the running and not the other way around.

. . . . .

1.  Your journey has taken you from an MBA to “Community Manager” with RunnersConnect and now to focusing on anchoring your own social media platform Running For Real. Where would you say your greatest passion lies?

(a) As an athlete chasing my own personal goals
(b) Finding ways to creatively dovetail running and business
(c) Empowering others to get the most out of their lives
(d) Ice cream!
(e) Other

TM:   Oooooh I love that these are multiple choice questions, not sure I have ever answered those before like this! Hmmm that is a tough one, I would say (C) … although (D) is very tempting ;)  Haha, in all seriousness, running brings me a lot of joy, when I accomplish my goals, it makes me see how all that time, energy, passion, and love was worthwhile, as I did something to make myself proud and stand out. But I have to say that helping other people to feel empowered is so much more meaningful. Knowing that I have helped another, even in a small way, to achieve something they never dreamed possible, is an incredible feeling, and even from a young age, I have always known that my greatest strength is making others feel good about themselves. Now I get to make it into a career … hopefully!

2.   What do you think is the biggest hindrance to you enjoying and getting the most out of your running?

(a) The bathroom scale
(b) Any full-length mirror
(c) An unending pursuit of excellence because I’m never satisfied with what I’ve accomplished
(d) Other people’s social media feeds
(e) All of the above / Other

TM:   I would say they all play a part in sucking the joy from running. I would honestly say that I deal with most of those on a daily basis. I have now hidden my scale, so that part is at least out of the way, but it does cross my mind sometimes as I wonder where I would fall if I did weigh myself. The mirror is also a constant battle not to hone in on the parts you are a little self conscious of. However, I have been learning to look at myself a different way, and see my body as part of who I am, so I should love it for what it is, and I have learned to appreciate my curves as womanly and strong. Runners are never happy, thats all I have to say about C, and then finally, I think D can be the most toxic of all to our self esteem. We see others accomplishments or happy moments, and allow them to steal our personal accomplishments away from us. That is exactly what I am trying to minimize, by encouraging runners to show that courage of vulnerability, and be real.

3.   If you could teach your younger self just one lesson, what would it be?

(a) Listen to your body
(b) Surround yourself with the right people
(c) Life is all about balance
(d) One more interval won’t hurt
(e) Other

TM:  (A) through (C) are all good answers … (D) is probably a lesson I learned is wrong pretty quick :) But yes the other three are definitely lessons I have learned along the way. I have talked a lot about the effort scale and I truly believe that is the best way to train and race, so that means you learn to actually listen to your body, rather than relying on technology to tell you how to feel. I think being around supportive people who truly care about you and what makes you happy is so important. Thankfully the running world is FULL of plenty of those, so that makes it nice and easy :) Finally, balance, yes, that is something I have been working on over the past few years, it can be tough to find, and sometimes I wonder if I have it all wrong, but I think people often think that the harder they try in running, the better things will be. I actually found that when running became too big a part of my life and identity, that is when things really started going wrong. Running should be a part of your life, not the sole focus of it, there are far more important things in life, even at the very top!

4.  Having hit your big goal (representing Great Britain in a world championship race) what’s next on your radar?

(a) Become a two-sport athlete ... like, say, ultimate frisbee!
(b) Becoming a professional (life and sports) coach
(c) Stepping in the world of ultramarathons
(d) Who knows?! Politics maybe ...?
(e) None of the above / Other

TM:  I know, it’s still hard for me to believe that, and I am still working that part out. Ultimate frisbee huh? Maybe you have chosen a new career path for me there? ;) I would like to say (B) ... (C) might tempt me someday, but I am not there yet. I really want to help others accomplish their own running goals, and create this community where we can support and build one another up, rather than allowing social media to tear us down. So yes, I would love to become a leader and go to source for runners to learn more about living a balanced life as a runner.

*** For more on Tina be sure to check out "Running For Real" on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/runningforreal), as well as Tina's personal feeds on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tinamuir88/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/tinamuir)!  Thanks Tina for being you, and for inviting us to do the same!


12 April 2017

It woulda been nice to know ... for the Boston Marathon

With not only Easter week being upon us but also the weekend leading up to Patriots' Day in Massachusetts (and therefore the Boston Marathon) I got to reflecting on my experience last spring running the most storied of racing events.  It was a phenomenal trip all-around, from being hosted/treated by some new friends (the amazing Yehs) to exploring some of Boston itself to chatting with current running legend Dean Karnazes while heading to the start line in Hopkinton.  While it was the time of my life I decided not to (immediately) return to Boston even though I'd re-qualified with my result there last April - mostly because I felt like it was important to leave a spot available for someone else to accomplish their bucket-list goal of traversing 26.2 miles and absorbing the amazing energy and pride that lines that course, culminating in the phenomenon that is Boylston Street.

So in the spirit of rooting on a number of friends and acquaintances (e.g. Mike, Rose, Patrick) who are taking in their first ever Boston Marathon experience I thought that I'd share just a few things that I would have like to have known prior to touching down at Logan International:
  1. The trip to pick up your race kit is lickety-split ... the tour of the expo, not so much.  With over 120 years to nail it down, the process of checking in to pick up your bib and associated race kit goodies is supremely painless.  I bet that last year that took all of about 7 minutes, with most of that time spent riding the escalator up and down from where the massive number of volunteers were coordinating the hand-out.  However, the expo is notable for its magnitude - in terms of size, number of sponsor booths, running shoe porn, etc.  It's a veritable shopping experience unto itself - and while I was pre-warned to set aside about $1000 for spending there (which could be very easily blown) I decided to spend $0 ... not that I wasn't tempted however.  All that being said, I tried as best as I could to see a good part of the expo but didn't want to linger too long - the introvert side got the best of me and I was out of there in a little less than an hour.  If you're going to buy the custom Boston Marathon merchandise be prepared for long line-ups at the dressing rooms and the cashier tables.

  2. Just your average Saturday afternoon at the expo ... makes mall-shopping at Christmas look like a piece of cake

  3. It is waaaaayyyy too easy to spend a lot of time on your feet exploring the city of Boston.  This is especially true of course if you've never been there before - it's an uber-historic city with tremendous character, people, and iconic institutions (from Harvard University to Boston Common to Fenway Park).  Again, it may be an entire destination trip for some, and that's cool - just be aware that if you are planning to lay down a solid race come Monday morning you could be jeopardizing your chances by covering too much ground sightseeing.

  4. On race morning make sure you have something comfy and dry to park yourself on while waiting for the race to start.  Regardless of what corral and wave you are assigned to it's more than likely that you will have something in the ballpark of 2-3 hours of waiting in Hopkinton before lining up in the starting chutes.  I brought some extra garbage bags just to lay out underneath me so that I didn't get wet sitting on morning dew-soaked grass at the Athletes' Village (basically a series of large open sports fields).  Many people brought blankets and even old cushions because they spent some of that pre-race time snoozing.  The Athletes' Village is well-stocked with coffee and fruit if you need a little morning pick-me-up, but other than that it's just going to be an extended period of visiting, or people-watching, or (if you're not careful) wandering around on your feet.

  5. Even with hundreds of porta-potties the lineups are enormous - you may want to head down early (if you can) to Grove and Main Streets where there are tons more toilets that aren't tied up.  Seriously, if you wait until the last minute to get some final relief you may find yourself well back of your assigned corral or wave - and while that's technically ok, it might impede your race efforts as the BAA does a great job of sardine-packing runners who all qualified with a similar pace/time result.  Since the first 3-5k of the race is fairly bunched up you might really want to be clipping along beside people who are accustomed to what your estimated finish time will be ... so if you're worried about washroom woes know that there's a plaza parking lot halfway along the trek to the starting chutes where a whackload of portable toilets are set up and various runners choose to hang out.  Now there's no announcement PA system set up there (I don't think) and no extra amenities, but if instant bathroom access is your top priority this could be a great option for you.

  6. Whatever the weather, keep it together.  The Boston Marathon has been run in all sorts of weather conditions - cold, hot, wet, dry, windy, still, you name it.  All I can say is be smart and be prepared.  Last year it was definitely on the warm side, and two of my pals (both much faster and smarter than I) were whammied by the heat and suffered dehydration issues in different ways.  

  7. Sure the talk is all about Heartbreak Hill ... but what about all the other hills?!?   The route to Boston is one long roller coaster ride, don't kid yourself.  The so-called Heartbreak Hill is actually easy to miss - not because it's not well signed (even if unofficially so) but because it's only about a 91 ft. elevation gain.  Truth be told, after you've been toiling up and down for 20 miles already, it's the 3.3% grade that makes it stand out (as the steepest of the climbs along the course) - but it's still not a monster.  Just be aware that even though it's touted as a net downhill that your quads and hammies will let you know that you've been riding the waves all day long.

  8. The walk to South Station from the finish line is a good long way - but there are still people cheering you on!  If (like me) you opt for using the MBTA to travel to and from downtown Boston just know that it's a good 30 minute walk (or more if you hobble) to South Station, the main hub for commuter trains and subways in Boston.  That being said, lots of other marathon finishers will be making that trek, and all along the way you will find random strangers/Bostonians congratulating you on your outstanding accomplishments.  Plenty of warm fuzzies to be had along the way, topped off by the fact that (at least last year) the MBTA offers free fares to all Boston Marathon finishers!  Just have your bib and/or medal handy to show the ticketing officers and you're good to go!

That's about all of the wisdom that I have to offer - from my one year's worth of insight I hope that maybe some of this will help you in maximizing your enjoyment of the race weekend.  Just remember that it's not what your results on Patriots' Day that count - it's that you made it to the start line by being determined, focused, disciplined and blessed.  Soak it all in and enjoy the moment because you deserve it!


30 March 2017

To jog or not to jog ... is it really a question?

I believe that there is truly a feeling of community amongst runners.  A recent viral video shows just how supportive and collaborative it can and has been:

It's also interesting to pick up on the subtle tones of judgment that sometimes rears it's ugly ahead within our tribe ...

Being someone who believes in and practices polarized training (keeping the majority stuff easy, the hard stuff hard and avoiding the 'mushy middle') I spend a lot of time getting in low-intensity jogs.  I'll tell you that it's real battle with the ego when you see other runners sweep past you while you're just thumping it out mile after mile, but I've long felt that the need for an easy run is usually a good indicator that I've really taxed my body well on the hard runs.  If I feel like I've got a ton more in my legs on my easy days that's a possible flag on the field telling me that I didn't give it my best on the hard workout days.

Anyway, just this week I've read two articles regarding two highly regarded and respected world-class runners - my hero Yuki Kawauchi and the recently-departed legend and multi-age group WR holder Ed Whitlock - and how they both found great value in slow-paced jogging.  I thought that both of these articles were worth sharing, so you can find them here:
While neither of these pieces will quash the smack-talk or debate regarding the potential benefits of the LSD (long slow distance) workout, hopefully it will encourage you to consider that perhaps jogging has its place in any runner's quiver.

And that jogger or runner - whatever the difference - we all belong.

23 March 2017

Gear review - Skechers Performance GO Shield BWW-DX Elite Jacket

I've had the privilege of being a Skechers Performance Canada brand ambassador/athlete for three years now, and each year I'm more and more impressed not only with the advances in their running footwear but also their technical apparel - and this year's offerings are no different!

Here's a quick rundown of the jacket that I've seen already at some races being sported by other Skechers Performance athletes:

You can check out a similar jacket on the Skechers website by clicking here.

Be sure to the Skechers Performance line of apparel a lookover if and when you are looking to gear up for any season of running!

#GOlikeneverbefore #getyourmilesin

10 March 2017

Race report - 2017 Chilly Half-Marathon

Can we say "second time's a charm"?

I know that that's not how the saying goes, but the second time in two years I've been the beneficiary of somebody opting to not arrive at the start of the Chilly Half-Marathon, and therefore being offered the opportunity to transfer their bib to me.

While I did not originally have the Chilly Half on my radar for 2017 still it fit into my plan of racing shorter distances (i.e. no full marathons for me) this year.  Climbing the age group ladder I had resolved to try to work on improving my overall speed by focusing on 5k and 10k races, with a smattering of half-marathons tossed in for good measure.  But when my friend Steve informed me that his wife was not feeling prepared enough to tackle the Chilly Half and that the bib was mine if I wanted it ... well, at that point in time I wanted it. :)

Being fairly fluid with my training plans I sort-of used a schedule from RunBritain.com to try to prepare myself for a decent race.  However I was mostly looking forward to being able to join my friends Mike and Dave for another roadtrip (as we'd made this trek last year with another friend Carol), along with their friends Becky and Ashlen.  We were also planning to meet our pal (and fellow RunNinja) Rad who was going to be running his first Chilly Half, and likely right around the pace that I was also going to target.

For the second year in a row I did not attend the expo held at Mercedes-Benz Burlington as Mike's dad (running the Frosty 5k with Dave, Becky and Ashlen) offered to pick up our race kits.  All we had to do was show up on Sunday morning and arrange a meeting point in order to nab our bibs and step up to the start line.

The departure from Barrie at 6:50am provided us with an indication that this would indeed be a chilly race day - raw temps were around -11°C (with a windchill closer to -20°C) but thankfully without any precipitation.  We watched Mike's dashboard thermometer carefully and saw the readout climb to about -8°C when we pulled into a free parking lot in Burlington, about a block away from City Hall and the start/finish chute.

Aside from using the washroom multiple times (see: cold-induced diuresis) and staying warm inside City Hall, it was just a waiting game of about 90 min. before joining the masses in the starting chute.  I did note that I spotted one other runner wearing exactly the same Skechers Performance warm-up kit as I was, so I went over to say hi and create a deliberately awkward 'we should have told each other what we were planning to wear' moment ... but it turned out to be fellow Skechers athlete Paul Rochus (who wound up finishing 7th overall), and so I was happy to try to absorb some speed by osmosis.

We managed to meet up with our good friends Rad and Emily just about 30 min. before gun time, and I was amazed to find out that even after having had about a litre of water or sport-drink that morning he had no need to go to the washroom.  Must be nice to be young, fast, and have a superhuman bladder.

The race
Rad and I lined up together and wound up running the first 4km or so side-by-side, with Mike quickly leaving us in his dust.  We were clipping along decently at a shade over 4:00/km with a noticeably robust head-and-crosswind, and as it was with last year's event I found that the first quarter or so of the course was an easy out-and-back loop that kept the energy high because there were plenty of runners to see as you passed back and forth.  It was a bit of a game of 'where's Waldo' as there were a number of folks whom I recognized on the confirmed entry list but hadn't yet seen on the day so I was hoping to shout a 'hey what's up' as I spotted them.

I did my best to try to find a small group of runners to 'latch onto' that would help me stay on target pace, and to that extent there were four Longboat Roadrunners who seemed to be pressing forward at the same rate as yours truly.  I also managed to catch up with someone in an Adaptive Running singlet (Larry) representing the crew co-founded by my friend and running hero Stan.  Larry was aiming for a casual sub-1:25, so I knew that I wouldn't be hot on his heels but wanted to keep him in sight.

The rolling course essentially offered up about 13km of wind resistance, and it wasn't until the second hairpin turnaround that we experienced any subsiding of the wind, perhaps even some benefit from it.  At that pivot point I'd seen Mike flying by way ahead of me (by a good 4+ minutes) and Rad only trailing by maybe 40 seconds at most.  I was still feeling reasonably light on my feet and was doing my level best to work the downhills and not redline it climbing the slight uphill sections.

Once again at the 16k point (Appleby Line) I tried to give it some more gusto and managed to find myself creeping up slowly on some of the competitors who were ahead of me.  With about 2k to go I was trying to follow the rhythm and cadence of a female racer who seemed to be barely working at all (while I was sounding a whole lot like a rabid dog panting in the middle of the desert), and managed to yet again find one extra gear for the final 1000m.  I was far from sprinting (as the finishing chute photo below will attest) and was actually outkicked by another runner who caught me from behind in the last 150m, but in checking the race clock I could see that I was going to cross the line with a modest (13s) personal best.

Yep, that's me hurtin' my way to NYC Marathon qualifying time!

It was awesome to see Rad come flying in behind me by a mere minute, shattering his previous PB in the half-marathon by about 2-1/2 minutes.  When we reconnected with Mike, we found that he'd also crushed his previous PB by close to 2 minutes with a 52nd place 1:19 race!

Awww yeahhh boyyy ... I give all the credit to my Adventure Time Jake hat!

It was so great to chat with other race friends on the day as well - Vicki (8-time ENDURrunner), Peter (part of J.P.'s Team), Jeff (who was a default pacer for my 2015 Waterloo Marathon BQ), and fellow Team Skechers athletes Kirstin, Josh, Tanis and Rob.  It hadn't turned out to be such a great day for Kirstin or Josh, as both of them had experienced physical issues during the race (so much so that Josh had pulled himself out, which is why I saw him jogging on the sidewalk against the flow of runner traffic at the 10k point).  I also managed to finally meet my social media friend Tyler, who was there supporting his Grand River Endurance teammates (Josh and Tanis and Rob) but was himself nursing an injury and not racing on the day.

So despite the race living up to its name, it was another worthwhile trip to Burlington.  Now it's time to tackle a few more short races before hitting up the Pick Your Poison 50k at the end of April!

Race gear for the 2017 Chilly Half-Marathon: