09 October 2015

race report - 2015 County Marathon (full pacer edition)

it was time to don the ears again.

last year provided my first opportunity to serve as an official marathon pacer thanks to an inquiry from my friend erin mcdougall.  erin was and is the organizer for the pacers at The County Marathon in and around beautiful picton, ontario, and it was through the magic of social media that we were able to connect.  when he prodded me again early this spring about possibly serving as a pacer once more i nodded agreement - and was also able to conscript my friend lewis into volunteering as a pacer for the half-marathon distance.

if you haven't already read lewis' account of the race, i encourage you to do so now - it recaps much of our experience together and my report will only elaborate on the elements of it which were particular to my pacing of the entire 42.2km vs. lewis' work with the half-marathon group.

race day
with the plan to arrive early (about 60 min. before gun time) at the start line i hopped on a shuttle bus from downtown picton and had a great conversation on the way with a racewalker named kim from ottawa.  kim was a seasoned gentleman (i'm guessing in his late 50s) who was really personable and we got into a great conversation about the ins and outs of racewalking.  having agreed that it's a very unnatural looking sport i was surprised to hear that it has a history that hearkens back to the 1800s which was rooted in military competitions.  i had no idea that it was that storied, but certainly can accept that it is a legitimate athletic endeavour - especially after hearing that the 50km world record of 3:32:33 was set just last summer at the european athletics championships.  that's a smokin' time - and when you consider (as kim pointed out) that while runners can lose form as they fatigue but still finish quickly race-walkers must maintain form or else be disqualified ... well that makes it that much more impressive.

at the essroc arena (the warm-up centre at the start line of the full marathon, complete with elevated indoor track) i met and chatted with my one fellow full marathon pacer, dave, as well as erin - who took the time to introduce me to the lone kenyan in the race, gilbert kiptoo. i don't often get starstruck - over the past 15 years or so i've had the privilege of being pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best tennis players in the world, including my idol andre agassi - but there was a bit of tingly feeling shaking the hand of a 2:08 PB marathoner.

l-to-r:  me, erin, gilbert
the race
the group that formed around me was initially about six-strong, including two guys who have the scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon and the hamilton road2hope marathon on their calendars over the next month.  aside from the one relay racer (who we ended up pacing to her 11k PB) i'm pretty sure everyone else had tackled the 26.2 mile test of endurance before.

the conditions were almost ideal temperature-wise (about 10°C at 8:00am start time) but the winds were out of the east at about 18 kph - and we were pretty much headed due east for the entire length of the point-to-point course.  the saving grace here was that it wasn't gusty but rather a steady breeze with moments of respite.

my crew hung with me through to about 30k where we began to see a couple of our new friends drop off of the back.  at 35k the pace group was reduced from three to two, and at 38k (the one notable 'hill') i lost my last two runners - nav, who had been nursing a strained glute muscle, and eldon, who felt that his ITB was flaring just a bit.  this put me in the familiar place of running alone for the final 3.5k, with crowds cheering the pace bunny on saying "you're right on target" and "where's your group?!?".

in the end i crossed the timing mats at 3:29:40 - the exact same time that i logged in last year's event.  consistency matters!

unlike last year (when the rains started falling not 10 minutes after i crossed the finish line) the weather was glorious for hanging around to cheer people in.  nav wasn't too far behind at 3:31:23, and eldon a minute back of that at 3:32:33.  janet was next at 3:37:25, and richard (whom we tried our best to cheer along by keeping the invisible 'elastic' intact) wrestled out a strong 3:43:54.

 just a beauty of an autumn day!

the champ is here!

my thanks go out to erin for again inviting me to be part of this fantastic event, and kailey ellis-chapman and her team for organizing a small-town-feel-big-deal-quality race!  i look forward to the 2016 edition and perhaps three-peating at 3:29:40! 

race gear for the 2015 County Marathon:


08 October 2015

race report - The County (1/2) Marathon 2015 [guest post]

“the people, the place and the pace”

Well this journey all started about a year ago.  My friend Patrick Voo was a pace bunny at the 2014 Prince Edward County Marathon (PEC) and I volunteered to accompany him and volunteer at the race.  I parked cars in the darkness of the morning and placed medals around finishes as they crossed the line – it was a great experience!  So when Patrick asked if I wanted to pace the ½ marathon I hesitated but remembering the hospitality and vibe from last year I said yes. After a few e-mails back and forth with the pace bunny organizer Erin we decided on 2:10 or 6:10/km.  A bit of a challenge for me as I settle in at about 5:30/km naturally.  So adjust my training, learn to slow down and we are on our way to Picton.


A four hour drive down had my legs achy and sore, but the time with Patrick to chat about faith, family, life and running (and running, and running) was well worth it.  We showed up to the expo, got our bunny ears, bibs (mine was listed as “SABO” not Lewis – Patrick says they do that for the elites?), shirts and socks and headed out our motel for the night.

Got our clothes all laid out for the race based on listening to the weather (the weather is of great concern for this particular location).  We probably put more though into this and spent more time on it then a teenage girl getting ready for a prom!

Out for dinner in scenic Napanee and somehow avoided maybe the best and biggest fish & chips in the world (every other person in this little restaurant was having them) and settled for a toasted western and a huge salad.  Back to check the weather again, write, read and lights out about 9 pm.

Race Day – Pre-Race

Rotten sleep and up at stupid o’clock (4:30am).  Patrick went out for a run! I ate, checked the weather again, got on our race gear, packed up and on the road at 6 am.  To the PEC and dropped Patrick off to catch his bus for the marathon.  Now I had three and a half hours to do something with.

Planned on sleeping in his car for at least an hour but as I settled in and closed my eyes I started to question and wonder what I had gotten myself into?  The running a ½ was no problem at all, but keeping a consistent pace and encouraging and talking to people and having them rely on me to help them cross the finish line at 2:10 started to freak me out!  I can force myself to be an extrovert and hold a conversation but really I am very introverted – “what have I done by agreeing to wear these funny bunny ears and draw attention to myself!”  There must be easier ways to give back to the running community which has given me so much?  Anyway, no rest ever came.

Up to catch to bus and people started talking to me (SABO) right away.  Come to think of it “SABO” was a nickname when I was an awkward teenager trying to get through high school alive.  Memories I did not need floating through my head at this time.  On the bus and a totally beautiful 15 minute drive on a crisp perfect fall morning.

We get to the ½ start out in the county and it was a bit breezy so I duck into a tent they have set up.  It feels like all 400+ runners are in the tent and they are starring at me because I have bunny ears on!  I make my way through the crowd, lean against a pole and nobody talks to me and I do not know a soul – a few long lonely awkward minutes!  Eventually Erin comes over to say hi, but leaves after a brief chat.  A few ladies sitting near me have pity on me and finally say hi. They ask about my plan to run 2:10(which I had not really thought of - I was just going to run?) and a couple say that they will be sticking with me to the finish.  I step outside the tent to see Patrick pace by at exactly 1:45 into the full marathon; we snap a picture of all the bunnies and line up to start the race.

The Race

Off goes the gun and I start my two watches (just in case!) but I am a good 200m from the chip time start and this takes about a minute before I cross.

And we are off!

One of the original ladies in the tent, Debbie is with me and a few others fall in close by.  Turns out to be an absolutely beautiful early fall day, mostly clear skies, about 10 degrees and a refreshing wind from the south.  The course is very flat and very scenic with water stations every two km's and many local residents out at the end of their driveways cheering us on.  I settle in to my almost effortless pace and begin to compare with my watches every few kilometers.  My watches are way off the km markers because I started then so early, so I had to always do some math to make sure I was on pace.

Debbie and I begin to chat about all kinds of stuff and it turns out she has the same birthday as me – now that deserved a high five!  After we settled into our rhythm a few runners passed us, Debbie and I passed quite a few runners, and I few times I heard “So, Sabo are you going to hit 2:10?”  Again the running itself was almost effortless for me at a 6:10 pace, but I say that very cautiously and with great respect for any other runners regardless of their finish times.  My biggest challenge was not tripping as I fumbled and checked my watches every few kilometres.

At about 19 km I was a bit ahead of schedule and Debbie felt great, so as we made a right turn onto the main street I slowed down and encouraged her to go on and finish strong.(Which she did – somewhere around 2:08 and a PB by about 3 minutes).  At the final left turn towards the finish line four other runners were just behind me so I slowed down to let them all pass and cheer them on.  I crossed the line at 2:08:41 chip time and 2:09:36 official time – not to bad, just off by 24 seconds.  Will have to be closer next time!


And there was Patrick right at the finish line cheering me on!  Found Debbie and gave her a hug, got something to drink and eat.  We took some pictures with the other bunnies, chatted with Erin a bit, stuck around for the awards and headed out home.


I write in a journal every day and at the end of almost every day I write "Good Things" and try to list a few things that stand out for the day. 

Good Things:
  • the people - the volunteers, the residents of Prince Edward County, Patrick, Erin, Debbie, and all the other bunnies
  • the place - Prince Edward County is like PEI with out the hills or red dirt yet it is only four hours away, not twenty one
  • the pace - “It’s all about the journey, not the destination” I did put in the effort and training so the pace was almost effortless.  So the 21.1 km journey from the start line was incredibly enjoyable.  Finishing at 2:09:36 was just a tiny little perk compared to how much I was encouraged by others during this race.

Buen Camino!


Trust, Love, Act – Now!


28 September 2015

race report - scanlon creek "Run For The Trails" 7k

the caution tape got me again.

earlier this spring at the Sulphur Springs 50k i wound up running about an extra kilometre because i zigged when i should have zagged, having missed the fact that a caution tape barrier had fallen to the ground.  this time the tape was tied up nice and tightly ... only it barricaded off the trail that should have been the home stretch of the race and led to me take a detour that had doing the hokey-pokey ("and you turn yourself around, that's what it's all about").

i'd wanted to participate in the 2014 edition of this race because it was the inaugural event and because my friend kate stewart was on the event organizing committee.  as a 7k trail race hosted by the friends of scanlon creek in support of a project to build an accessible trail at the scanlon creek conservation area it would fit in nicely to a 'normal' saturday workout, but last year i was out of town on race weekend - but not this time around!  even with pacing duties at the county marathon coming up in a week's time i made it a priority to participate in the second annual competition.

registration was taken care of easily enough online, and i waited until race day to pick up my kit - which included the most AMAZING goody bag including various energy bars and snacks, the race t-shirt, toothbrushes, cups, heat/ice packs, an emergency whistle, teas, vitamin drink mixes, all in a reusable fabric tote bag ... seriously, i would figure that the swag included outdid just about any other race of any other size/distance that i'd been to.  it was as heavy as a full bag of groceries and provided full value (if not more) for the $40 registration fee.

this race kit bag definitely had some heft to it!

as the pick-up took place between 8:00-8:30am, that gave me about 90 minutes before the start of my race.  the 1k and 3k races would start at 1/2 hour intervals beginning at 9:00am, so after a quick visit with my friends robin brunet, rhonda-marie avery, steven parke and amanda parlett (from MEC, who was staffing an aid station) i headed out with the intention of scouting out the entire 7k course.  my initial observation was that it was incredibly easy to follow given the number of orange surveyor's flags and regular fluorescent spray paint markers on the ground identifying just about every stump, root or rock that could potentially cause a stumble.

taking mental notes along the way, i observed that the course was fairly undulating with only short-ish stretches of flats - and the most significant section climb began with a log staircase.

it got real interesting when i was closing in on the 6k mark - looking at the time i was wanting/needing to wrap up this warm-up run in the next 5-6 min. but when i continued to follow the route i found myself doubling back on a section that i'd already run.  confused, i did a 180° and busted it across a caution tape barricade to a trail that i knew would take me back to the start/finish area (which i could tell just by following the sound of the music being played over the announcement speakers).  arriving at the pavilion where everyone was gathering i spotted my friend kate and thanked her for her work in putting together the event - and when she asked what i thought of the trails i quickly mentioned my bout of disorientation and she reassured me that flags would need to be shifted for the 7k runners and that between the signs and the on-course marshals we wouldn't have any issue whatsoever navigating the route.

the race
as we gathered in the chute the MC noted that anyone capable of a 20 minute 5k should make their way to the front of the pack, which i did.  looking back i'm not sure it was the best decision because at the gun there were about five of us who took off like we were shot out of a cannon.  yes it was a slight downhill but when i looked at my watch after about 400m the pace was a smooth 3:23/km - way too fast for my own good.  even with the prospect of blowing up by the time that i'd hit the 4k or 5k mark i stuck with the lead pack of three so that i could avoid being jammed in when the trail went single-track.

[ photo courtesy of jim craigmyle ]

over the first 5k i was only passed by one other runner - the guy who would eventually take third place overall.  he zipped past me once my launch thrusters fizzled out (at about 1.5k) but i managed to stay within about 100-150m of him until about the 5.5k mark.  that's when we went every which way but loose ...

remember how i'd gotten misdirected during my scouting warm-up?  same thing happened during the race - except that since there were course marshals helping to usher runners across the access roads i stopped to check in with them when i encountered them for the second time.  of the three (volunteer) marshals that i spoke to each one kept telling me that i needed to carry on in the same direction that i'd been traveling, even though i knew that a third loop would bring me back to the exact same spot.  in fact, between re-running this section and turning right around and running against the flow of traffic i passed the official photographer four times (although i'm sure he did have any interest in photographing my backside).  it wasn't until i acquiesced to their direction pointing that i got to a split in the trail where a caution tape barrier was clearly blocking one path, but when i paid close attention i could see the surveyor's flags running down that path as well as the other fork.  with nothing left to lose (i could no longer see mr. third-place and had already started passing people who had started in the middle section of the chute) i squeezed past the end of the tape barrier and followed the 'road less traveled'.  about 150m down this path there it was:  a sign reading "Scanlon Creek Run For The Trails - 6k".  i'd found my way onto the correct section of trail and was headed for the finish.

when the trail finally spit me out at the finish line straightaway i crossed behind people i had not ever seen ahead of me.  looking at my watch, i did the math and figured out that i'd run 7.9k, and noted that for the timekeepers at the finish line clock.  as i stood explaining to them the puppy tail-chasing that i did and the misadventure with the caution tape, mr. third-place came up to me and said "where did you go?"  i discovered that he and the first and second-place finishers each ran about 5.8k because they did not re-do the loop over and over to find the correct trail but instead cut across an open area to the finishing straightaway.  while i was a bit bummed to not have place properly in terms of the finishing order it was consolation to know that it wasn't just me who couldn't follow directions. :)

all in all it was a gorgeous day (temperature was about 11°C to start the morning, 16°C at the finish of the race) and the trails were in amazing shape.  there was an awesome spread of post-race snacks, including homemade banana loaf!  i couldn't stick around for the whack of draw prizes that they had available, but did connect again with kate who sought me out to specifically apologize for the confusion on-course and asked me if i was fairly certain that i'd finished in fourth spot.  i thanked her and let her know that it really didn't matter - it was such an enjoyable outing for a fantastic cause, and i got my workout in.

 from l-to-r:  robin, me, something protruding from my ear, rhonda-marie

kudos to the friends of scanlon creek for all of their work - not just for organizing this race but for their efforts in preserving this natural forest/marshland and providing people of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy it.  i definitely hope to get back out in 2016 for another go at the Run For The Trails 7k - this time it's personal! :)

[ photo courtesy of jim craigmyle ]

race gear for the 2015 run for the trails 7k:


25 September 2015

road review: Skechers GORun 4 and GORun Ride 4

it's been a while since i've reviewed any shoes, but these two definitely deserve some long-awaited attention.

after being underwhelmed by the GOMeb Speed 3 i backed off on some of my expectations for the other '2015 gen' shoes from my friends at Skechers Performance Division.  my impressions didn't initially change when i unboxed and tried on the latest iteration of the cornerstone GORun shoe, the GORun 4.  it felt flat (what happened to my beloved M-Strike midfoot rocker?!?), a bit clunky and well-removed from the speedy feel of the GORun 3 to which i've shown much love on the roads.

alas, i'm not too proud of a person to recant.

having persevered in including the GORun 4s in my shoe rotation, i'm now happy to say that they are a staple in my key-workout arsenal.  although they still feel flatter to me and the fact that i perceive some additional stiffness to the outsole thanks to the 'power pillar' configuration under the arch area, they've managed to produce the kind of 'pop' that does seem to translate into a quicker turnover and stride.

to pick them up they feel like a light and fast shoe as well.  the official line on them is that they weigh in at 7.8 oz for a men's size 9, but my good ol' starfrit kitchen scale puts them in at just about the same weight for my men's size 10.

 i'm surprised that these aren't floating above the scale

plus i love the colours - they just scream "lookout, comin' through!"

the neat little feature that probably draws the most attention on these shoes is the Quick-Fit portal located up by the heel tab area.  it's a basic cut-out that allows for a quick-and-easy yanking on of the shoe by looping your finger through the gap - the initial impression is that it facilitates a quicker transition for all of those triathlete-types who want to minimize the time spent going from bike-to-run, but honestly it just feels cool to do it anytime that you're donning the shoe.  it's well-constructed so there's no fear of ripping that sucker straight off and it seems to keep that tab area soft so there's no abrasion issues on the achilles (even for a guy with a honkin' huge achilles tendon repair scar).

now for a quick word on the GR4's sister shoe - the GORun Ride 4.

the "Ride" series from Skechers Performance has proven to be an incredibly versatile and excellent shoe.  again, my initial thoughts before trying out the GORun Ride 3 was that these shoes would be a bit 'plush' for my liking.  they looked bulkier and had enough stack height to make me think that this line was targeting the 'easy-going' runner. 

boy, was i wrong.

this model is essentially the if-i-only-had-one-pair-to-take-with-me running shoe.  it's light enough (at a listed 8.4 oz in men's 9s) to enable rapid turnover for tempo runs and intervals and it provides sufficient cushioning for long runs (i've tested it to 27 miles at a time).  i'm also crazy about the fact that the GRR4s incorporate a super-breathable upper material (which feels like it is a close cousin to the FitKnit tech used in other Skechers shoes) that is soft to the touch and extremely comfortable as it conforms nicely with every footstrike.

so pretty and soft!

the Quick-Fit portal is also present on the GRR4 - and while i'm not sure that this presents itself as the same kind of sell-feature as it does on the GR4 (just because it doesn't seem to me to be a racing shoe) it's still adds a cool factor and helps with sliding into the shoe.

 don't they just tempt you to stick a finger in there ...?

even looking at the tongue padding can differentiate the plushness


after all's said and done i'm happy to give both the GR4 and the GRR4 a solid 4.5 footprints on the rendezvoo scale.

and if you are inclined to watch me fumble a camera and two pairs of shoes at once (!) check out the video review here:

*** disclaimer:  i was provided with the GORun 4 and GORun Ride 4 by Skechers Performance Division (Canada) but was not obligated to provide a positive review.  all opinions - however poorly expressed - are my own.

17 September 2015

race report - 2015 MEC Barrie Race Four (#family5k)

this was probably the funnest race ever.

(yep, i used that word).

not because it's been a while since i've entered a 5k.  not because there were a ton of the Barrie Running Ninjas out for this MEC Barrie Race Four all sporting their custom-designed, available-only-through-MEC-Barrie's-group-run t-shirts.

it's because i finally got my birthday present from my kids. 

when i was asked back in june what i wanted for my birthday, i told my girls that i would love for them to run this 5k race in september with me.  three of them immediately agreed, while my oldest knew right off the bat that she wouldn't be up for it (and instead bought me a big bag of twizzlers).  so with that commitment in place we embarked on a semi-regular schedule of 'family run nights' through the summer in order to prepare.  the kids had already had some experience with running/race-training through our local chapter of the Girls On The Run programme but would not be considered 'active' runners ... and while my wife runs from time-to-time on the treadmill she rarely ventures out onto the streets of barrie unless coerced by her nutjob husband.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on

despite the long-range forecast calling for rain it turned out to be near ideal 'racing' conditions (overcast and about 14°C with little wind).  granted it was a bit on the brisk side for standing around, but certainly would not make dehydration a high risk factor for the day.

allyson, the girls and i arrived about an hour before gun time for our distance (the 15k race would start at 9am, followed by the 10k race at 9:10am and then our 5k), providing us ample time to get our timing chips and hobnob with various familiar faces (well, at least to me).  it was actually surprising to me how many people i knew there that morning, and i felt like i was constantly making introductions to my heretofore snuffleupagus-like family.

with the staggered starts i was able to see off a bunch of my friends and cheer them on as they embarked on their respective race journeys.  while this was great, it did mean that my family and i were left trying to figure out ways to keep warm until our starter's pistol fired.  amelie (our second oldest daughter) thought that the best way to do that was to down as many of the complimentary taste of nature organic bars as possible.

the race
having completed our lunge matrix stretches we were sent on our way on a short stretch of packed gravel before hitting the roads just on the south side of orillia by the lake.  although i thought that amelie and allyson would be taking it nice and slow together while i paced an eager charlotte, it quickly turned out that those energy bars (or maybe just that race atmosphere) had amelie going out at a brisk pace.  i realized then and there that i would be looping forward and backward on the course to spend time encouraging each of my ladies as they pounded the pavement for 5k.  no one had any specific goals in mind (at least not that i was told about beforehand) so i was just out there to try to help them each have the best experience that they could.

here's a mini-breakdown of how each voo racer fared:

amelie - our natural-born athlete succumbed to every racer's temptation of going out too hard at the beginning.  she seemed to be overtaking numerous fellow competitors using her shorter, compact, high-turnover legs but did wind up walking good stretches of the course (as she knew that she would).  still she would lead the voo pack throughout and in the final 500m huffed and puffed her way up the incline.  i was concerned at one point that she was looking like her asthma was going to kick in (as i paced her through to the finish over the last 1.5k or so), but she gritted it out with the prospect of more 'energy bars' to devour after crossing the finish line.

charlotte - who had been eager to train with me just about every time that i offered and showed signs of being in strong competition shape wound up finding the 5k more of a stuggle than she had anticipated.  her long and lean 9-year old frame still served her well although she had to back off of the pace that she had carried through many of our training runs ... it could well have been that she was overheating a bit as she made the last-second decision to wear her hoodie for the run.  still, she finished strong in the final stretch - and as a bonus we discovered that the pickiest of our eaters (who has to this point shown the ability to subsist on ramen noodles, french fries and yorkshire puddings) enjoys CLIF bars.  who knew?!?

allyson - my wife would call herself almost exclusively a treadmill runner, so dealing with breezy, cool conditions on an undulating route was challenge enough.  but ally played it smart - from the get-go she determined to find a 'manageable' pace that she thought that she would be able to keep up for the entirety of the 5k distance, and to her credit she took fewer walk breaks than did our daughters.  it was certainly a test of endurance for her, made a little more enjoyable when she connected in with a group of other ladies who seemed to be running at close to her pace.  apparently during their banter it came up that she was running this as a birthday gift for me - to which they responded with some wit "then next year you should ask your husband to take you on a trip to cuba for your birthday".  i dunno ... i got ally into the race on a complimentary registration ... cuba sounds a whole lot pricier (not that she isn't worth it!).  in any case, we crossed the finish line together (after our daughters) at which point she revealed that she'd hit her goal of completing the event in under 45 minutes.  success!

everybody seemed to be in fine shape after crossing the timing mats - ally spent a little extra time with a cool-down walk, while i found the girls raiding the refreshment tent like it was going out of style. ally would also fill me in later that charlotte had said to her that after she'd finished the race she felt 'proud of herself'. big win there!

as well it was great to check in with the Ninjas to see how they'd done ... there were numerous happy faces to be sure, and great results to boot.  it really is such an awesome feeling to be in with a league of such happy and dedicated runners - they are without a doubt like another family to me.

so i got to double-dip on family time!

[ photos courtesy of chris hillis ]