16 November 2016

Race report - 2016 Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope

You know how some foods just don't agree with you, no matter how they're prepared or how excited you are to eat them?

I'm convinced that some races are that way.

And this fool is now quadruple-bitten, quintuple-times shy.  No more Hamilton Marathon for me.

After a disappointing outcome at this year's Ottawa Marathon I was hoping that I could come back and still produce a sub-3 hour result at a fall race ... so given the Road2Hope's billing as "Ranked #1 Boston Qualifier in Canada" I thought that this would be my next best shot at it this year.

Never mind that in my three previous completions of the same race I'd not had a positive experience or satisfying result.  But you know what they say about the definition of insanity ...

Even with this being my sixth marathon of 2016 (I remember back to 2011 thinking that completing one marathon ever would be an accomplishment!) and battling through a taper week surrounded by a wife and child who had flu symptoms (e.g. vomiting/fever/chills/headaches) I felt very confident that my training season had readied me for a solid sub-3 marathon.

And then I was called upon to spend the day before accompanying our oldest daughter on her university open-house tour.

Originally my wife was going to go but having spent the 36 hours prior kneeling before the porcelain throne the chaperone duties were passed to me.  I didn't begrudge it one bit - in fact I was excited to see where my daughter might have the next four+ years of her life shaped - it's just that I didn't plan on being out of the house and on my feet for the bulk of the day.  So while we were on our feet seeing all of the sights at the University of Waterloo my friend 'Fast' Bill Steinburg was gracious enough to pick up my race kit for me, and we planned to connect on race morning to ensure that I had my bib and chip ready to go.

The one other curveball that came my way (and not just for me) was that race day coincided with the end of daylight savings time - and while this meant that we would all gain an extra hour (potentially of sleep) it also just meant making sure that all of the appropriate clocks were changed to reflect the new 'fall back' time.  Of course, this was something that I kept telling myself to do ... and didn't, resulting in me waking up at 2:00 a.m. instead of 3:00 a.m. as I'd intended.

If you've read any other marathon race reports from me you know that my standard race morning routine consists of wake-up, immediate 15 min. shuffle, breakfast, shower, travel and finally arrival at start line 60 min. before the gun goes off.  I managed to stick to this plan and felt good by the time that I arrived at the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Park ... really good.  I managed to spot and connect with several friends prior to the 7:30am start (including David Waters going for his BQ, Peter Leventis who signed up last minute just to see what would happen, Fast Bill who handed off my race bib to me and was aiming for his sub-2:50 PB and fellow Skechers Performance athlete Adam Hortian who was tackling his first marathon ever) and got all of my 'business' out of the way before lining up at the front of the pack in the starting chute.

The race
I'd planned on going out with even kilometre splits the whole way, even on the downhill stretch on the expressway.  In my mind I felt that if I approached this race the way that I treat the marathons that I've paced that I would keep things under control and play a smart game.

As always the first ten kilometres or so feel easy-peasy, but that's just the way that I wanted them to feel.  Starting at the front of the race pack I was passed by numerous runners but I thought that that was ok since I anticipated passing many of them in the later stages of the race.  While there was no official 3:00 marathon pacer I did manage to find a group of about six guys who were hugging the 4:15/km pace and so I tried to stay in that pack to feed off of their collective energy.

Things clicked along fine until the expressway.

I'm not sure if I had psyched myself out long before arriving at the on-ramp but by the time that we crossed the half-way mark (Strava tells me I went through 21k in 1:29:23 - bang on goal pace) and started the long stretch downhill I feared for the worst.  Immediately the wind seemed to pick up and blow straight into our faces ... and as I wanted to keep a steady pace I started to lose touch with the group that had chosen to try to work with gravity's pull.  That of course left me fending for myself without the benefit of any bodies to draft off of, and try as I might I couldn't reel myself back into the 3-hour pack.

When the course finally leveled out again and we approached the waterfront I felt like my chances were shot ... my right hip started providing negative feedback (and I've never had any hip pain in my 6+ years of running) and while the Endurance Tap gels were still fueling the main engine my stride length was getting shorter and shorter.  Even during the flattest part of the race I saw my pace per kilometre creep up and I began to be passed by various other marathoners.  With about 3km to go my right hamstring also decided to completely spasm forcing me to come to a screeching halt and work out the cramped muscle through a combination of hammering the back of my leg and doing a hybrid Frankenstein-like shuffle.

It was a painful (in more of a psychological than physical way) ending to my day when I crossed the finish line, even though I clocked my second best marathon time ever.  I knew that I was in 3 hour shape, and a new PB was there for the taking - but this particular race course just doesn't seem to agree with me.  Now I know that I also need to factor in that this was my sixth marathon of 2016 - three more than I completed in 2015 - but that doesn't mitigate the sense of disappointment much.

Even in the agonizing last moments I give my props to the RunNinjas

The one consolation was that after crossing the finish line I found out that my friend Adam had actually won the marathon, debuting with a 2:29.  I chatted briefly with him and as strong a runner as he is even he found himself reduced to walking at points during the home stretch along the Burlington waterfront.  I suppose that this race takes its pound of flesh out of everyone.

And there was no rest for the wicked - I immediately proceeded to hop into my car and drove home to pick up my daughter and head out to a nine hour theatre rehearsal (with only a super-quick change of clothes as a break).  In the most remarkable way I felt fresher doing dance routines during the rehearsal than I did for the second half of the marathon.

So it's back to the drawing board for 2017.  I'm not sure if I'm going to chase a sub-3 marathon again next year - after some much needed downtime I may look at trying to hunt down a sub-1:25 half-marathon first, or the elusive sub-40min. 10k.  For now 'tis the season for ice cream and snooze buttons.

Thanks for all of your encouragement and support - perhaps we'll see you out on the roads and trails again soon!

Race gear for the 2016 Hamilton Marathon:


04 November 2016

Race report - 2016 MEC Barrie Race Series FIVE (10k)

This is actually more of an 'event report' than a race report ...

... because I think that we had more energy and fun invested in dressing up than in running it!

For this final event in the 2016 MEC Barrie Race Series our team of RunNinjas thought that it would be fun to dress up in 80s prom style - not just because it was on the weekend adjacent to Hallowe'en, but because that's kind of the way that we roll.

80s formals - embodying the phrase "awkward"

With a theme in hand I went shopping for just the right race outfit - this entailed shopping at various second-hand stores and walking into fitting rooms with several tacky dresses slung over my arm.  It took a few trips but finally I was able to find the perfect evening gown - a slinky black number with a big bow on the front.  It was fitted up top like a singlet and had a short enough skirted bottom to allow for free movement of my legs ... and it was only $5!  How could anyone pass that up?

I'd signed up for the 10k option with the thought of incorporating it into my planned workout as I was looking ahead to my goal race at the Hamilton Marathon on Nov. 6.  So the idea was to tackle by alternating kilometres at marathon pace and 10k pace - a plan which I confirmed after consulting my friend and fellow ENDURrunner Dave Rutherford who just nailed a solid sub-3 hour race in Chicago.

This time around we all showed up early for the race not just to acquire our bibs and race chips but to check out each other's outfits and snap the appropriate number of group photos.  There were more than a few other runners who opted to run in some kind of costume for the day, but we clearly were the most coordinated ... and perhaps outrageous.

A pretty stunning class photo, don't you think? [ photo credit:  Lindsey Barnes ]

As for the race itself - well it kind-of ran according to plan.  I managed to alternate efforts, but the paces were all over the place.  One of the comments that my friend Dave had made when he heard about my strategy was how it would mess with people's heads when I would surge and then back off - and it was a strange thing to see that's for sure ... and that's totally aside from what a strange sight I was in my dress and makeup (yes, I rummaged through my daughters' eyeshadow and lipstick drawers to find just the right shades to compliment my outfit).  For at least the first half of the race I was in and amongst the first five competitors in the 10k event, switching between third and fifth spot.

That was until the halfway point.

As I was coming up on the 5k mark I knew that the course was plotted as an 'out and back' - and as the four runners ahead of me plodded on past a construction truck pulled over to the shoulder I could see an MEC staff person hustling toward me only to pull up a fallen sandwich-board sign that read "5k - 10k runners turn around".  It had obviously fallen at some point and so I turned around at the right location and immediately took over the lead as the others were now beyond earshot.  I spent most of the back half of the race alerting other 10k runners either to not miss the turnaround sign or that I wasn't legitimately in first place (especially as people cheered me on thinking that I was).

Approaching the finish line I knew that I couldn't cross it first and take the top prize so-to-speak ... that and this was just a workout for me so I didn't need to prove anything to myself or anyone else.  So with just steps to go before crossing the timing mats (and with a number of my RunNinja pals hollering at me to keep running all the way through the finishing arch) I stopped in my tracks to explain the situation to the small crowd at the end and wait for those first four runners to break the tape ahead of me and take their rightful spots on the results table.


What did I do then?  Why, what I always love to do when out racing with the RunNinjas - see if there's anyone still out there that I can help to pace home!  I wound up running in with Jenny, Frank, Marcy, and finally Rad (who was being paced by Mike through the half-marathon to a stellar PB of 1:31!) to round out my day.

As so many of the RunNinjas noted on social media this was one of the most fun racing days of the year, if not of all time!

Not the one who brung me to the dance, but if I play my cards right ...! :)

Race gear for the 2016 MEC Barrie Race Series FIVE:


14 October 2016

Race day tactics ... GO!

This is always an exciting few weeks during the year, as many runners hit their goal race here in the second half of October and into early November. 

As a number of friends and acquaintances are going into half-marathons and marathons this weekend (notably at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon) I wanted to share a few thoughts about how to make the most of your race day.

[ I also shot a quick video on how to make the most out of your taper week - if you're still interested in seeing that you can find it here. ]

So if you're racing this weekend, know that I'm rooting for you to #haveafastday!

10 October 2016

Race report - 2016 County Marathon (full pacer edition)

I went for the three-peat this year.

The last two runnings of The County Marathon I served as the 3:30 full marathon pacer and while I knew that the goal was to finish within about 60 seconds (either way) of the target time I somehow managed to cross the last timing mats at precisely 3:29:40.  With those two bunny stats in the record books I had to take a shot at the trifecta.

I was grateful to have once again been contacted by the pacer team lead Erin McDougall to help out at this year's edition of the race, and to have been able to make the road trip for a third year in a row with my good friend Lewis (who would be a pacer for the half-marathon for a second time).  Lewis and I had hoped to perhaps see a few more of our fellow RunNinjas join us for this weekend extravaganza but alas conflicting race goals (e.g. Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon) and other obligations left it to us to carry the torch for MEC Barrie out in Picton.

A few changes had been implemented to the 2016 race due to some construction that has affected the main street in Picton, so the finishing stretch of the race route had changed along with the race kit pick-up site.  In previous years the pick-up/mini expo had taken place at the Crystal Palace located by the old finish line but this year we headed to the Essroc Arena right by the start line of the full marathon.  The expo has always been a no-muss no-fuss affair with a line-less kit pick-up, usual chat with race director Kailey and technical advisor Tim and a brief browse of the Runners' Choice retail booth.  This year was not much different, but it definitely had even more of an 'economy' feel to it - the physical space was smaller, as pacers we were provided with simple cardboard bunny ears (not laminated as in previous years - read on for more about this ...) to affix to our own hats or provided wooden dowels, and safety vests in place of the oft-expected technical race shirts.

I'm not complaining ... the cheezies went down nicely!

Not wanting to throw too many variables into the mix Lewis and I checked in to the same hotel we'd stayed at two years' prior (Mastersons Motel) in nearby Napanee and also took in our dinnertime meal at the same restaurant we'd hit up for three trips in a row now.

A photo posted by Patrick Voo (@pbfvoo) on

After dinner all that was left was to put the finishing touches on our race day outfits, take in a little Blue Jays action, and konk out for the night (at 8pm for me).

The race
While waiting in the Essroc Arena for the call to head to the starting corral I met up with Erin and the favourite to win this year's full marathon - Evans Maiko from Kenya.

Does it look like Maiko is ready to rock it? :)

Gilbert Kiptoo had been the winner from the past few years and was unable to join in for 2016, but Maiko was his friend and running partner (both now living in Hamilton during the race season in Canada) and so it was great to meet him and chat for a little bit.  He seemed a little on the anxious side given that this was his first experience at The County Marathon ... but let's not confuse anxiety with nervousness.  He had a definite air of confidence surrounding him.

At the start I found a few folks who were aiming to go 3:30 for the day, including Richard who had run with me last year and remembered me trying to coax him along.  I laid out my plan to try to hit even halfway splits, noting that the hill at around 37km is a notorious point at which the pace group does tend to splinter (if it's stuck together for that long).

Yep - my first ever run in the Skechers GOMeb Speed Elite was a marathon.  Don't do this at home kids!

Our gang was a decently sized one, and in the pack were a former third-place finisher at The County Marathon (Ken), a guy who'd represented Canada in the 2013 ITU Duathalon World Champtionships (Lee), and someone who traveled from Stayner to run his first marathon ever (Gabe).  Everyone was chatty enough, sharing stories of favourite races and what drew them to Picton for this particular event.  It was great to see how we even formed a sense of community as one other runner noted that Gabe had lost a pin from his race bib and it was about to go flying - so Ken offered up an extra safety pin that he happened to have tucked in a pocket in his shorts!

While the pack seemed to spread out by about the 20k mark we were all still within shouting distance (for me, as I tried to send out words of encouragement and the occasional tip about running tangents, even efforts into the wind/uphill and taking nutrition before you feel you need it) and managing to stay up on our target pace by 25-40 seconds.  It was great to cross the halfway mark and high-five Lewis as he waited for the half-marathon to start, as well as my friends Dave and Sandy who were also serving as pacers for the day.  Passing by the start point for the half-marathon while the racers are all still waiting to begin is a rush because we get the benefit of going through a bit of a cheer tunnel, and it's truly invigorating.

Half-way split:  1:44:24

Things strung out earlier than I expected for our group with Lee experiencing some hamstring spasms and everyone else slowly drifting off of the back by the 23k marker.  By the 25k point I picked up Amanda (who was quiet due to having her earbuds in and being somewhat more reserved in personality I gather) and Hillary (who had started out fast with a friend but then backed off when the pace was much richer than she'd planned for).  Hillary was running only her second marathon but was hopeful to clock another BQ (she'd managed to scrape in a BQ in her first race but had a conflict for the 2017 Boston Marathon so did not register).  In the course of our chatting I discovered that she was a classically-trained vocalist enrolled in a post-grad degree in vocal performance and had toured Italy with an opera production ... talk about interesting characters you meet on the run!

Hillary, Amanda and I managed to hang together through the marathoner's graveyard (28k-32k, just after which Amanda began to drop off the pace).  One of the things that I noted for myself was that while I was watching to see how consistently we were staying in front of the prescribed pace-band splits at each kilometre marker I neglected to pay as close attention to my own fueling pattern.  It may have been because I was fiddling so often with my bristol-board bunny ears that kept drooping and slapping the side of my head - here's where it would have been handy to have the ears laminated again as that would have kept them upright and not a physical distraction.  In any event I was taking gels rather haphazardly as a result although to no detrimental effect it seemed - perhaps because I was hovering within a comfortable-ish effort level.  Still, this is something that I'll need to be more focused on in a few weeks as I go for my own new PB at the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope.

As we approached the 'big climb' at 37.5k I offered a few words of encouragement to Hillary (who was now just a couple of metres behind me with each step) and kept the speed on cruise control.  We entered downtown Picton and with the weather having turned out to be absolutely gorgeous (closing in 20°C and mostly sunny, where the forecast leading up to race-day had predicted drizzly, cool, breezy conditions) there were a good number of spectators lining the main street and based on the gap between cheers & applause I could tell that Hillary was only a few seconds behind me without even having to look.

The 2016 route detour took us off of the main drag and through a few side streets - which honestly was a pleasant change as there were again more people sitting out on the front lawns rooting us on to the finish, and closer to the road than they might have been on the double-wide main thoroughfare.  With a quick right and final left we entered the 300m straightaway to the finish line that still essentially ended up adjacent to the Crystal Palace.  Hillary was giving it a strong finish and so I slowed ever-so-slightly to let her stay ahead of me in the finishing chute and cross in an impressive 3:29:38.

That left me crossing in 3:29:42.

Two seconds over.  :P

I hung out in the finishing straightaway to cheer on Amanda, Gabe, Ken, Lee, Laura, John and a few others (nevermind having to wait for Lewis to finish as the 2:10 half pacer).  During this time I saw Tim (the race technical director) speedily attending to a half-marathoner who was wobbling terribly on the second last turn, only half a kilometre from the finish.  He waved for additional help so I ran down to the finish line to notify Kailey and the on-site medical team, and together we ran back to meet Tim who was now with the downed Dean on the grass at the roadside.  A bike patrol police officer was also there to help by this point as well as some of the local residents who brought water and a blanket for Dean.  He was responsive and aware of his surroundings but blurred in speech and slightly drooling - on spec it appeared to be a case of dehydration, but we left it up to the paramedics who arrived by ambulance just a couple of minutes after I returned with the medical volunteers.  After Dean was taken away by ambulance I didn't hear how he fared, so I'm hoping for the best.

After Lewis came in (at a spot-on 2:10:01!) we hung around a bit for the awards ceremony to see Maiko claim his trophy, and also (to my great pleasure) to see Hillary claim third female overall!

Kenyan dominance continues at The County Marathon!

 Woohoo Hillary!

It was another great time in a beautiful part of our province - I would again wholeheartedly recommend The County Marathon as an event to put on your list of potential fall races.  The people are great, the competition top-notch and the scenery not to be missed!

Race gear for the 2016 County Marathon:


24 September 2016

Race report - MEC Barrie Race FOUR (2016) - 15k

I absolutely love my tribe of #RunNinjas!

It's not only been a pleasure to get to know each of them and their engaging personalities, stories and trajectories, but also to be able to watch them become stronger, faster, more resilient athletes.

This weekend afforded another opportunity to watch the community of runners shine.

The MEC Barrie Race Series made its fourth stop of the year in Tudhope Park, Orillia - the first time that it's taken to the waterfront trail following the shores of Lake Couchiching.  With paths clearly marked for walkers, cyclists and runners it actually was a pretty near ideal locale for a race - and even on a gorgeous fall day such as the one we had (albeit quite chilly in the lead-up hours to the race) it wasn't too crowded and no one appeared to be put-out or put-off by the fact that a race was being conducted on this route.

I approached this race as essentially a training run in advance of my planned target fall marathon (still TBD) but also a good solid workout in advance of next weekend's pacing duties at The County Marathon (third year in a row).  My training plan had scheduled a 21k core workout involving a warm-up / 7k @ marathon pace (MP) / 90 sec. recovery / 7k @ half-marathon pace (HMP) / 90 sec. recovery / 7k @ pace of choice / cool down - and so I thought that I could weave this in nicely with the 15k race option for the morning.

Showing up about 90 min. in advance of the indicated 9:00 a.m. start gave me plenty of time to pick up my bib and chip, chat with a few of the race crew volunteers and then head out for the first chunk of my workout.  It was definitely brisk, but I knew that hitting 7k @ MP would keep me sufficiently warm, plus the sun was starting to peek up over the horizon which made a real difference in the air temperature.  The early miles also provided a sneak peek at the course route since this trail/path was new to me.

The plan was to conclude my first segment just in time to fall in the back of the pack of 15k runners as they crossed the startline timing mats - but through a bit of miscalculation and a slightly delayed send-off I wound up breaking into my second segment (7k @ HMP) a few minutes before we actually launched into the race.  All in all it still worked out ok as I still waited it out to cross the start line last.

The race
There wasn't a great deal of bobbing and weaving required to clear the slower 15k runners which I was pleasantly surprised by, and I'm sure that those runners appreciated not having someone brush right by their shoulders trying to scoot toward some clear space.  I scooted by my RunNinja pals Dave, Joy, Gillian, Crystal, Mariana, Lindsey, Laurie and Sonia while cheering them forward and managed to keep in HMP stride while working into the fifth spot of the 15k crowd.  One of the very cool things that I noted was that one of our youngest RunNinjas (Ryan, a grade 9 student) was tucked in the lead pack with two older runners and holding his own.  I wondered if I'd really been pushing myself in full-on 'race mode' whether or not I could have caught and dialed into the lead pack, but I was thrilled that Ryan was there to rep the RunNinjas!

As it worked out just after the 4k mark of the race I concluded my second segment so as planned I walked a 90 second recovery.  I was surprised that during that walking stretch no other 15k runners passed me, just a few of the 10k and 5k runners (with whom we'd intermingled after about the 3k point).  When it was time to switch into the third segment of my workout I decided to try to just ease it in at the planned pace-bunny MP for next week (5:00/km) to not overcook myself and still give my body a chance to get accustomed to the pace I'll want to hold at The County.  A kilometre into that third segment I had a 15k racer zip past looking strong - and while part of me felt like I really wanted to hunt him down the wiser part of me enjoyed the jogging effort and cheering other runners along as I continued to just cruise on through.

Look ma ... no feet!

Between the weather being quite brilliant and the lackadaisical pace I had a lot of fun out there.  I didn't end up picking anyone else off (at least from the 15k crowd) and enjoyed my way through to a 1:08:27 finish. 

Ryan ended up sticking in there for 3rd OA!

But my day wasn't done ...

One of the fun things that I've made a habit of doing in the MEC races is heading back out to accompany some of the other RunNinjas across the line.  It's mostly a labour of love for me - I certainly hope that my friends don't find it demeaning or patronizing that I hustle along with them during the finishing stretches of their races.  I hope that I'm able to add a little somethin'-somethin' by way of encouragement, and not just end up being 'that guy' who photobombs all of their finish line photos.

Does it count as 'helping' if you can't keep up with them ... Gillian?!?

At the end of the day there were many great results to be celebrated - lots of PBs (Joy!!), overall/gender wins (Mike, Youjin) and age-group placings (Ryan, Sonia, Miranda, birthday-girl Shari, Crystal, Gillian, Lindsay, Laurie) ... and some 'honorary RunNinjas' also crushed their races (Eva, Emma-Joy, Darcy, David Collver, Glenn Barnes).  Basically everyone had a killer event!

We are family ... ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯

Once again congrats to MEC Barrie for organizing and hosting a superb race - it's no coincidence that MEC was just recognized as the #1 trusted brand by Canadians!

Thanks to all of my friends on and off the course for a fantastic day - and of course to Skechers Performance Canada for the killer orange kicks (GOMeb Speed 3 2016) that got shout-outs from runners and various passers-by all morning long!