27 August 2016

First look - Skechers GOMeb Speed Elite

I couldn't resist ... they're just #sopretty ...

Full road review to come!

*** DisclosureI was provided with the GOMeb Speed Elite by Skechers Performance Division (Canada) but was not obligated to provide a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

17 August 2016

Race report - The ENDURrun 2016 (Ultimate category)

What a race.

What an event.

What a spread!

What absolutely fantastic people.

This is the rundown that was the 2016 ENDURrun (ultimate edition).

Stage 1 – Half-marathon

It was an early 3:30 am start to the day including a 15-min. shakeout run, breakfast, a quick shower and final packing for the next few days.  The 1h45min trip to Waterloo was hassle-free and uneventful, landing me at the start line by just before 7am where I was pretty much the first competitor to arrive – however, the ENDURrun team was already busy at work to set everything up for day one.

I was given my race kit by a couple of very friendly race crew volunteers (in fact they would all turn out to be this friendly and chipper, even at 7am!) and I managed to meet a few other ‘ultimate’ category runners – among them were Chris Battaglia (the one other entrant from Barrie), ‘Runner’ Rob Brouillette (last year’s ENDURrun overall champion and odds-on-favourite to repeat) and Baoshi Sun (who’d just started following me on Twitter after favouriting a tweet of mine the night before).  The crowd of other racers, from relay teams to single-stage runners, began filing in quickly and everyone was efficiently processed by the sea of yellow-shirted volunteers so that we were all ready to get our pre-race group photos done by 7:50am.

After a few brief instructions from Race Director Lloyd Schmidt we were counted down and sent off by 8:01am.  The course was a paved route the entire way – mostly roadside but there was a stretch of park trail/golf course pathway that we followed as well.  I started off with the intentions of dialing into a marathon-pace/solid aerobic effort and found myself able to do just that within about 2k.  The sifting process involved passing a few slower runners (as I opted to line up mid-pack in the starting chute) and eyeballing a few faster runners that I would just keep within visual distance for the majority of the race.

The course was reasonably level with the most noticeable drop taking place in the first kilometre from the start/finish line (which we would traverse twice as this was a semi-looped course) and a few rises and falls in the Conestogo countryside.  The sun proved to be a bit of a factor as the temperature rose to about 27°C during run, and there was also a noticeable wind that cut across sections of the course and also hit us head-on.  Although there was that to contend with the aid stations were well-spaced and cheerily (!) staffed and two gels wound up being enough fuel to keep me on task for the morning.

I tried to keep in mind sensei Jim’s words to avoid hitting ‘orange line’ territory in the early stages of the week – and by that he meant something even less than ‘redline’ (e.g. mile-to-5k pace), so hovering in the 70-80% effort level.  As such I kept telling myself to keep it feeling like one of my aerobic training runs which usually work out to be something in the 4:40-4:45/km ballpark.  I think that it must have been the ‘race’ atmosphere that had me pumped up a little as whenever I would peek at the auto-lap readouts I was hitting something in the high 4:20s/km.  On top of that, with about 3k to go I caught two of the runners whom I’d been keeping in visual distance for about 15k and put in a decided effort to pass them and not be passed by them again – and while I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near redlining it I may have been tiptoeing along the orange line as I finished in 1:34:04 (a 4:25/km average pace).

Post-race included a free massage and a bountiful spread of food – from homemade hummus to build-your-own-burgers and made-to-order smoothies (for real!).  It was a real extravaganza, and chatting with some other experienced ENDURrunners I was told that this was just the beginning.

Lloyd gave a wrap-up talk that included announcements of the overall stage winner (Runner Rob in 1:14:01) who would wear the yellow jersey for the men, and female stage winner Angela who came across in 1:30:28.  He invited us all to enjoy his swimming pool even if he wasn’t there, which is apparently a must for any ultimate category competitor if you’re truly going to get the full range of the ENDURrun experience!

Day one and (for now) looking like a runner! [photo:  Julie Schmidt]

Stage 2 – 15km TT

  • We started in reverse order of HM finishing times at one-minute intervals, and this had me starting at 47 min. after the first runner
  • It was a reasonably flat U-shaped route, starting on a busy country highway (with little paved shoulder to work with) but then turning onto rural country roads
  • I tried to keep an even pace and maintain Baoshi in my sights - but near the turnaround I was clipping along at pretty much the same pace as Nick (Wagner), with whom I would find myself jockeying for the remainder of the week
  • You know what I noticed?  That somehow in Waterloo you always seem to turn into the wind ...
  • At around the 11km mark I was passed by our race leader Rob, looking strong as always
  • I managed to keep the hustle up and crossed in 1:04:58, losing some time against the field but feeling strong and not experiencing any ‘dead spots’ in my legs ... this was about as much as I could have hoped for, and gave me some confidence that I might be able to hold up alright for the remainder of the event
  • For the next few days I'd have the pleasure of the company of Xavier Avery (Rhonda-Marie's son) who served as a crew member at a few stages of the race in order to accumulate some of his high-school volunteer hours ... a great guy and lots of fun with whom to share the car rides to and from the various venues

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care ... ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯ 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 3 – 30km trail run
  • Bechtel Park was familiar to me thanks to my experience at the 2015 Waterloo Marathon, although it served only as the start and finish area for that race whereas today we would be meandering our way all through and around the park itself
  • The day was warm and only slated to get warmer (again hitting something in the mid-30s)
  • The route was a mix of grass field, a small stretch of paved road, woodchip paths and non-technical woodland trail – there were two or three notable sections of climb and only one real ‘downhill’ 30m section that you could bomb along
  • The full sun and high temps did make for a daunting slog, but much-welcomed shade did come about in the forest and at the right times to keep core-temps regulated (although one relay runner did go down unresponsive, and was attended to by EMS)
  • On my fourth 5k loop I was passed by Rob who was having little issues with keeping his strong performance going and maintaining his overall lead
  • While my loop splits were reasonably even I did slow down as the morning wore on (24:45/24:32/24:51/25:25/27:06/26:32)
  • I managed to climb a spot in the standings as Baoshi was a bit tentative on the ‘rooty’ sections and gave up some time on the field

Woohoo ... the trail run is over! 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 4 – 10 mile hill run

  • Tonight's weather provided a humidex reading of about 36°C
  • Camp Heidelberg is situated out in the hilly terrain skirting the Waterloo region, not far from St. Jacob’s
  • The 6pm start made for a different kind of challenge – tackling the heat of the day, a different point in many people’s daily metabolic cycle, and a change-up in fuelling strategies
  • Start line was situated a few minutes’ downhill walk from the finish line in a ‘valley’ point so we would have to climb both to begin and conclude the race
  • The hills were not particularly nasty (except perhaps the notorious "Horror Hhill" which featured a mini-plateau at two-thirds of the way up it) but they were fairly relentless
  • The course marshaling was again excellent with volunteers and Waterloo Region Police ensuring our safety at intersections (I kept joking with the cops how I just couldn't understand how they were wearing long pants in this kind of weather!)
  • Aid stations were adequately situated although the first one didn’t appear until close to the 5km mark – and on a hot day that seemed like a loooooong stretch
  • Spray-bottl misting, soaked sponges and ziploc’d baggies with ice were offered which made such a huge difference!
  • Rob again crushed this stage, in part thanks to his coach (Josh Bolton) pacing him for the final 7km in
  • Until around the 7.5km mark I was running with Baoshi (my closest competitor in times booked so far) but found myself slightly out in front by the 9km turnaround
  • After 11km I decided to try to race out the remaining 5km and had the overall women’s leader (Angela) in my sights at around 300m in front of me ... it took me the remainder of the race to catch up to her and finally pass her on the final 300m climb to the finish line

Eughhh ... more brains ... preferably salted-caramel flavoured ... [photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 5 – 25.6km alpine run

  • It’s bad enough that there was a 200m elevation change for each 5.6km loop – but to add humidex temperatures approaching 40°C brought out this word on the lips of many:  “sufferfest”
  • The pace was much more measured for everyone today as we all wanted to play it smart – thankfully there was plenty of water, electrolyte drink and even ice along the way
  • The course was altogether runnable, even where it became single track switchbacks ... I chose to wear the GOTrail Ultra 3 just in case the forecasted storms showed up
  • On each of the first three loops I stopped at various points to check to see if my right sock was bunching up funny or if something had crept into my shoe as there was a point of discomfort, but the first two times I made a modest adjustment and was able to lace back up and continue.  On the third loop I was sure that I’d lost a toenail and it was shifting around inside my sock so I stopped at an aid station to remove my sock with plans of getting a bandage – only find that that the ‘loose impediment’ was actually a safety pin that had stowed itself away in my right sock!  Needless to say everything felt better after that.
  • I took one tumble on the final lap thanks to a stump that must have been the size of the CN Tower (although looking back on the trail for it I couldn’t see it)
  • During the fourth loop I began to experience the weird air pressure in my ears similar to Limberlost, indicating to me that my salt intake was probably too low to help absorb the liquids I was drinking and that my blood pressure was also low
  • You know what kept me going through to the end?  Head cook Ian's promise that there would be Pad Thai and fried rice available as part of the post-race buffet ... yum yum! 

Yeah - see that safety pin near my neckline?  That's the culprit from my sock! 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 6 – 10km TT

  • I had a good sleep although through the night I could tell that my right glute had really been worked over by the alpine climbs at Chicopee, as it felt both tight and tender to any pressure
  • When the seedings were released I was situated as the eighth fastest runner, so starting at only 7 min. before our cumulative time leader Rob
  • The morning at Steven and Rhonda-Marie’s house was abuzz with activity as they along with friends Nathan (Brooks) and Jennifer-Anne (Meneray) were packing to leave for the Beast of Burden ultra in Lockport, NY
  • As a point-to-point race most of us parked at Lloyd’s place (the finish line was actually set up on his street) and shuttled together with some of the race crew to the start line in nearby Elmira
  • Much of the pre-race time was spent either slow jogging or pestering the veteran ENDURrunners about a good strategy for today’s 10k – most of them answered sensibly that the time gained today shouldn’t be weighed against the potential time gained during tomorrow’s marathon stage, but Stefan (a former champion in 2013) did say that it was a good day to try to open up the stride after all of the short climbing steps used on the ski hills
  • Watching everyone ahead of me start (at 1 min. intervals) it looked like to a person everyone was going out fast … and sure enough after the race everyone seemed to report having gone out a bit ‘too fast’ in the early kms
  • The course was reasonably flat with a few rises in the first 3 kms but nothing to fret over
  • I tried to keep the leg turnover going well and footstrikes light, but I could definitely tell that I would be labouring today
  • At around 5km Angela (the cumulative time leader for females) passed me looking strong, and I never did catch her
  • Knowing that Rob consistently ran about 1 min./km faster than me all week my mini-goal was to get to 7km before being lapped by him, which I managed to do as I cheered him on past me at about 7.5km
  • In the final km I inserted the western-Aussie carboload workout (2:30 at 1mi. effort + 30s sprint) and managed to catch and pass Patrick Campbell who’d started 1 min. before I did

Still havin' the time of my life! (photo credit Aaron Putman)

Stage 7 – Marathon

  • I woke up recognizing that my right hamstring and glute were very sore and worked over, presumably by the 16 mile alpine stage and the 10 mile hill run (and accompanying heat/humidity)
  • I also was greeted by a note on the kitchen counter that let me know that Rhonda-Marie and Steven had returned through the night having DNF’d at the BOB after 50 miles (I think that the severe thunderstorms that we had experienced in Kitchener also struck upstate New York)
  • At the start line in Conestogo Park everyone was anxious about starting the final stage, (with early starters going out at 6am instead of 7:30am because the course could only remain open until 12:30pm) - except for my fellow ultimate-category competitor Ben who had serious doubts about the condition of the blistering on his feet – I’d wished him the best but he eventually pulled out and DNF’d after 12k
  • In the early part of the race I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace (4:32/km) but quickly found myself losing my closest competition from the week (Patrick, Ben and Baoshi) and keeping pace with the overall second place runner (Mark) … that lasted until the start of the second 21.1k loop when I was soon passed by the overall third place runner (Kyle) and I found my pace slowing significantly
  • I managed to keep my placement steady even as my pace per km ballooned up – at 37k I’d intended to try to step on the gas for a strong finish but that final gear just wasn’t there
  • Most of the race was a sun/cloud mix with temperatures in the mid-20s, a welcome relief from the conditions that we’d experienced the rest of the week (even in the breeze came in the form of a headwind)
  • After the finish came the requisite massage and amazing spread of food, and I caught up with Rob who finished with a blazing fast 2:37 (smashing his 2:51 from last year and putting him ahead of his overall time from 2015) and Josh Bolton and Tanis Smith
  • We wrapped things up with a group photo, and medals/prizes for all finishers plus special awards for Rob and Angela as top male and female ENDURrunners, as well as being the Hill King/Queen, Sprint King/Queen and Trail King/Queen
  • I wound up with fourth overall for male competitors and top ‘rookie’ (which actually gets my name on a trophy plaque)


The event wrapped up with a group photo and an awards presentation ceremony - and just like the class acts that Lloyd and his team have been all week they had medals and prizes for all competitors in the 'ultimate' category.  While everyone had an opportunity to say a few words upon receiving their well-deserved awards, there were a few notable moments for me:

  • Patrick (Kelly) letting us all know how grateful he was to not only have competed with two of his children this week, but also how just over a month ago he could barely walk as a result of a stroke
  • Jack (Kilislian) accepting his tokens and giving away his custom ENDURrun hoodie to Ben (Hack) who had made it all the way to 12k in the final marathon stage before the pain in his feet forced him to stop
  • Joanne (Bink) tearfully thanking us all for the most wonderful 50th birthday celebration that anyone could ever have.
We all bid our farewells at the conclusion of the presentation, chatting about the potential of returning next year as we each headed off in our own respective directions.  I'm giving it serious consideration - not only because I want to see if I can better my results in 2017 but also because this was a gathering of some of the most kind, supportive and passionate zest-for-life people with whom I've ever had the privilege of associating ... and who wouldn't want to come back for that?

If any of you reading this report are at all intrigued by this event or inclined to give it a shot I HIGHLY recommend it.  You may just fall in love with the experience like I did ... and you will definitely value the opportunity to prove to yourself that you are 1 TOUGH RUNNER!


Race gear for the 2016 ENDURrun:


06 August 2016

All the world's a stage (race)

This Sunday will be a Sunday unlike any other that I've had ... because it will mark the start of a 160km journey that will take me through to the following Sunday.

Just shy of a year ago I decided that I would attempt an event that I'd heard about through a couple of friends called the ENDURrun:  a series of seven races taking place over the course of eight days.  I recall that when I first heard of it being mentioned I thought that it was a positively outrageous concept, and I had mad respect for the person who was mentioned as having completed all of the stages.  That being said, I had no intentions, aspirations or even expectations that I could even attempt a feat like that.

Fast forward to three years later.

As an entrant in the 'ultimate' category (as there are options to compete in the 'sport' category tackling the final three stages only, or as part of a 2-7 person relay team) I'll be definitely testing my limits - although I've put in a similar amount of mileage within a week's span I've never attempted to run as hard as I will each day.  Thankfully my friend Dave (who was the first person I'd heard about who had completed the ultimate version of the race) has provided me with some tips that I will be sure to incorporate into my strategy ... and this kind of event certainly demands a strategic approach.  Structured much like the Tour de France, the ENDURrun includes time trials, alpine climbs and a yellow-jerseyed overall time leader.  The gains made by blasting out a 10k PB on one day would be far outweighed by saving your guns for a strong marathon where more time could be put against the field - and so a successful ENDURrunner needs to be not only fast and fit but wily as well.

I can't say what I really expect out of this race - except that I want to just cross the finish line of each stage so as to fulfill my obligation to the Transcend Running Academy for whom I've been fundraising through my participation in this event.  My hope has been to raise support and awareness of this great work with the student-athletes in Kenya who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend high school and rise above the subsistence-living conditions of their families and villages - and just maybe in helping to subsidize their education, run training and leadership coaching I might be facilitating the emergence of the next great Kenyan difference-maker.
There's still time and opportunity to support the Academy - please visit the pledge page here!  https://raceroster.com/events/2016/6288/the-endurrun-2016/pledge?id=34&type=participant

So that's it - I hope to complete a taxing seven-stage race so that a young man or woman on the other side of the planet can pursue their dreams and go beyond surviving to thriving.  For me that will be the measure of success

not finishing top 10

just finishing.

Not for me.

But for another.

Let's get it on.


18 July 2016

Why the 100-miler is not for me (at least this year)

I have scrapped my plans to try to earn a 100-miler belt buckle.

If there was anything that I was gunning for in 2016 it was to try to complete my first hundie and earn a ballot into the Western States Endurance Run lottery.  But even having percolated this plan for about 12 months now, I've now decided that it's just not for me.  For now, at least.

The race that I was eyeballing was the Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 miler in September.  As a Michigan-based event, it would have been simple enough to stay with some friends in Windsor, Ontario and hop the border for to compete, thereby saving myself a few $$$ in accommodation costs.  Plus the placement on the calendar made this a palatable option with plenty of time to get my training in.

With so many friends who are not only embracing the trail ultra challenge (e.g. Keith completing his first WSER, Bill who ran as part of Team Asics in the Beat The Sun race, Joy, Lindsey and Becky who prevailed over the mud at the Limberlost Challenge and and Mike, Rob, Robert and Crystal who crushed it this past weekend at The North Face Endurance Challenge Series event at Blue Mountain) it would be straightforward enough to ride the coattails of their energy and discipline.  But after taking a hard look at why and what I'm running these days, I've come to understand that entering to run a 100-miler wouldn't be about

reaching my goals

testing my limits

experiencing a new level of being alive.

Right now, it would be about proving myself to everyone else.

There's a big part of me that hates the fact that I'm driven by comparison.  I know that deep down I've never felt good enough, worthy enough, talented enough, smart enough, accomplished enough.  On the one hand it's helped me to try to push forward and explore so many different avenues and activities in my lifetime ... but it's also proven (at least in my case) that the old adage of 'jack of all trades, master of none' can be true.

So right now I think that I've decided that I'm tired of trying to earn another medal or cross another finish line so that others might respect me.  I've often told myself that it doesn't really matter to me what other people think, and that I've just got to be true to me.  Sadly, that's easier said than done, and too often the kind of monitoring of others' opinions that takes place gets deeply embedded in the psyche and you just can't quite tune it out or turn it off.

Whatever I am - chicken, poser, delusional, hypocrite, failure - I'll not be a 100-mile finisher this year.  

And you know what, I think that I'm going to be ok with that.


14 July 2016

Gear review - Epson Runsense SF-810 GPS Watch

Go ahead - call me a Meb junkie.

Not only do I run for Skechers Performance Division, but once I heard that Meb was reppin' an Epson running watch, I knew that I had to check it out.

But it's not only about being a fanboy ... my up-to-recently trusty Garmin Forerunner 305 had been supplying me with all the signs that it was about ready to give up the ghost, even after having replaced the battery in it.  Having been nearly bulletproof for several years I felt like it really owed me nothing and so I was legitimately on the hunt for its successor.

Enter the Runsense SF-810.

Let the unboxing begin ...!
My thanks go out [legal disclosure] to the Epson America marketing department for providing me with this watch for review, and in particular to Jason for his assistance in connecting me with the Epson team.

I have to admit that having read some of the reviews that others had posted about the SF-810 (including some friends of mine) after having gotten their hot little hands on this item first I was prepared for a less-than-stellar first foray from Epson into the running tech market.  However, keeping an open mind I will say that even the initial touch-and-feel survey of the physical hardware made me think that this was a quite a decently constructed piece of equipment.  Nothing about its physical design or crafting communicated anything less than quality workmanship to me, and so the first impression was a good one.

The SF-810 employs a straight-forward four-button navigation system like many digital watches, and you'll find no complaints from me about that.  I've known too many other people who have fumbled and struggled with the sensitivity and responsiveness of touchscreen watch displays that I'm happy to stick with something a little more 'manual'.  In terms of setting up the device to suit my personal configuration preferences there was ample direction provided between the quick-start paper instruction manual included in the box and the online Epson video library.

After having now put the SF-810 through its paces for over a month, here are my impressions of what's working and what's improvable:

  • GPS acquistion - Yes!  No more having to wait two or three minutes to figure out where on the planet you are actually located!  I found that this watch is quite quick to lock on the appropriate satellites, which means that the workout can start pretty much as soon as I'm ready.
  • Distance tracking accuracy - I think that this watch is actually more accurate than my late Forerunner 305.  In the last half-marathon that I ran the watch auto-lap pinged pretty much exactly at each kilometre sign marker!
  • Integrated heart rate monitor - The optical HRM is a nice feature, and I definitely appreciate being able to track that metric without constricting my ribcage with the band that has to be paired with most running watches.
  • Workout stop/start - I like that I'm able to close out a workout and start a new one without having to upload the information off of the device.  That was always something that frustrated me about the 305, as I could 'stop' a workout but even if I powered down the device and then powered it up again any new press of the 'start' button would effectively recommence the previous workout.
  • Battery life - It's touted to be 20 hours between charges, which would make it about double the projected life of my previous watch.  So far I've not come close to running it dry while only letting it sit in its charging dock for as long as it takes to upload data - I'm hoping to use it for a planned 100-miler this fall so we'll see just how far/long it will go.
  • Quick upload - Speaking of upload, the Epson Run Connect desktop software fires up super-instanteously when the watch is snapped into it's dock.  I don't have a data plan for my phone so I've not used the Run Connect mobile app (which some reviewers have really disliked), so I've no complaints.  Plus I do like the fact that the Run Connect interface easily communicates with Strava.
  • Heart rate tracking accuracy - Huh ... maybe I'm truly more out of shape than I think that I am, but to hit 211 beats per minute at least once a week during a medium intensity run?  Just not sure that these readings are as bang-on as they could be, and tracking does have a habit of cutting out in the middle of a workout.  I may need to slide the watch a little bit further up my arm than I'm used to to maintain solid contact between the optical sensor and my skin.
  • Relentless auto-lap feature - Generally speaking I like knowing my pace per kilometre for each kilometre I've run; however, when I deliberately press the 'lap' button not only would I expect that that would trigger tracking for a new lap, but that the auto-lap on-the-kilometre would not override the new lap's starting point!  Yessir, it seems that if I want to run an 800m interval and hit the lap button at 4.7km into my run then I'll still have a lap split at 5km (so 300m into the interval) and then will have to add in the additional 500m that follows.  It would be nice if the use of the lap button triggered a new kilometre count.
  • GPX file configuration - Even though there's the ability to stop and start a new workout, I noticed an interesting downside to how the data is captured.  The other week I ran trails with a group and then stopped the workout, got in my car, drove a short distance and then got out and continued my evening workout.  While the Epson Runsense view website tracked the actual time spent in workout mode correctly, when it pushed the data to Strava it actually included the distance that I'd driven (and at the rate of speed that I'd traveled) as part of my run.  Now I'd like to say that I averaged 1:52/km for my workout but that simply wasn't the case ... so something funky must have been communicated in the GPX data when it was transferred to Strava.
Here's the video review:

All in all I've got to say that I'm pretty happy with the look, feel and functionality of the SF-810 and think that Epson has got a solid product on their hands.  It may take some time to woo die-hard users of Garmin, Suunto or Polar tech but honestly I think that it's definitely a competitive piece of hardware.  I'm going to happily keep on using it and will be looking forward to where Epson goes next in the world of running devices!

Disclosure:  I received this product from Epson America at their expense but was not obliged to provide anything but an objective review.  All opinions expressed (however poorly) are my own!