28 June 2015

race report - 2015 MEC Barrie Race THREE (half-marathon)

more and more i'm enjoying races for the successes of my friends and training partners.  this race was a mixture of both great successes and crushing defeats (or is it de-feets ...?).

i'd planned to enter this race once again as an opportunity to support our local chapter of MEC and to encourage their grassroots fitness efforts through these economy-priced but excellently-executed race series events.  it fit into my training schedule as i had on tap a "35km at comrades pace" run, so my thought was to run an easy 14km lead-up to the race start time and then join in the half-marathon (not unlike what i did at at the previous two MEC race series events this year).  i had a particular interest in the HM distance this time around not just because i'm less than three weeks out from The North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50-miler but because our Barrie Running Ninjas saturday group run had included a number of people who had joined MEC's half-marathon training clinic and i was very much interested in seeing them all hit their goals.

a ninja-tastic turnout!

having arrived about 90 min. before the start of the HM i couldn't even park in the designated runners' parking lot as the barrier gates were shut/chained.  the MEC crew had anticipated a record number of registrants for this event so overflow parking with a shuttle bus was organized, and i thought that i would happily park at the off-site (by about a km) lot since i was logging extra miles anyway.  in the end i got prime parking right at the start/finish area and still managed to trot out my pre-race distance down by the shores of lake simcoe.

as the gun time neared i crossed paths with my good pal and fellow ninja lewis who was volunteering this day as he'd developed blood clots in his leg which necessitated him taking time off from running.  as he was an unofficial co-leader of the HM clinic for MEC i'm pretty sure that this was disappointing and frustrating to him, but wisely he chose the path of discretion as the better part of valour and went with his doctor's (and also his wife's) advice.

i also squeezed in the last of the pre-race kilometres with another ninja, trevor, who'd cycled his way up from barrie (a distance of close to 40 km) and was treating this HM as a bit of a brick workout - even though he doesn't have any triathlons on the calendar.

the race
i was closely monitoring my time and my distance, as it worked out nearly perfectly that just as i hit 14km on the button i was the last person in the pack to cross the starting line.

video courtesy of helen yang

i'm not sure that i'd ever started at the very back of any race before, and what i'd found was that i was necessarily bobbing and weaving my way forward since the slowest of the half-marathoners were basically walking their way down the single-car sized rail trail.  my plan was to run at base pace for the first 10.6km, hit the turnaround point (it was an out-and-back) and then race the home half and try to pick off as many people as possible.  early on i was passed by james (a HM clinic participant) who looked really strong and efficient - his goal was to come in at under 1:45 and i had a pretty good sense by the look of his stride that he was going to nail that target.  a few other competitors overtook me including a guy in an Orillia Freewheels cycling top who looked like a very strong all-around athlete - and since he looked like maybe he was in my age-grouping i set my focus on keeping him within visual distance for as long as i could.

a quick word on organization - as the route was along the oro-medonte rail trail there wasn't a ton of marshaling required, but there were several road/concession crossings where there was either volunteer or paid police staffing.  although there wasn't a great deal of traffic on these rural roads early on a saturday morning this added bit of assistance was very much appreciated ... when they were paying attention (foreshadowing ... dom dom dom!)

the conditions for the day turned out to be just about perfect - somewhere in the ballpark of 14-15°C, a mostly overcast sky, just a smidge of humidity but no rain (and more importantly very few bugs!).  i felt like i was running a very controlled first half as i approached the turnaround aid station, having identified about 12 runners who were ahead of me including my good bud ricky 'the real-deal ninja' doucet.  having downed a gel in approach of the aid station i paused for about 5-6 seconds to nab a cup of water and a few nuun tablets before shifting it into racing gear.

for the second leg of the race i definitely clipped away at a quicker pace - nothing all-out, but just increased turnover and a change in my breathing pattern (sucking back a little more air with each inhale).  as i passed ricky he told me that he was hurting, and i knew that he'd been trying to rest up a lower-leg issue.  i hoped that it wouldn't hinder him too badly, and would have to wait to see how he finished up to find out for sure.

my strategy to pick off as many fellow competitors as possible worked as a motivator to put forward a strong second-half effort.  i think that i managed to pass six runners in total, including james and the Orillia Freewheels guy.  as i closed in on the final 5k i saw the 10k race leader (they'd started an hour after the HM) approaching his turnaround point and recognized him as fellow Skechers Performance Ambassador and sub-elite athlete frank sorbara.  we exchanged greetings and he went flying past me in both directions looking as if nothing would prevent him from claiming the win (which he did in just over 33 min.).

now remember the marshals that i mentioned before ...?

as the path became more congested with HM, 10k and 5k runners all occupying the same path (and sometimes traveling in both directions) i approached one of the road crossings where a group of about five runners were 20 metres in front of me heading back as i was.  as they crossed the road with the marshal holding back traffic, i noticed that the marshal began to wave on a car that had been waiting.  the problem was that i was booting it much faster than the group ahead and either the marshal didn't see me or miscalculated my rate of speed - so i'm thankful that the SUV driver did see me and clearly processed that it was not going to be an unimpeded crossing for either of us and decided to wait.  

that near-miss was one of two minor blemishes on the day.  the other was that as i was gearing up for the final 2km the path became more occupied with runners, mostly the slower 5k entrants.  while most of them could detect my approach on account of my harder breathing i did come upon three runners walking (yes, walking) abreast, blocking the entire path and each of them wearing earbuds so as to not hear my shouts of "on your left!".  after repeated warnings even up to the point where i was just mere footsteps behind them i had to squeeze between the two ladies with a bit of an exasperated "ok then!" for the final sprint home.

in the end i crossed the line with a chip time of 1:36:58 (and a negative split of approximately 90s according to garmin connect and strava) - and tongue-in-cheek blurted out as i stopped, "tell me that i came in first in the 35k division!".


overall it was a pretty stellar day for the Ninjas - trevor crossed as the third-fastest male (based on gun-time finish) in the HM distance; scott took fourth overall in the 10k division; and mark was 3rd overall in the 5k race.  our HM clinic runners all did fabulously too - james clocked a 1:42:17, jo and sarah came in at just over 2 hours and helen finished (and was smiling!).

 l-r:  a pre-race ricky, lewis, jo, helen (smiling!) and sarah

l-r:  post-race with sarah, jo, ricky, pat, lewis, helen (still smilin'!), scott et moi

the downside to the day was that ricky experienced a nasty pain and accompanying sound at around the 15km mark that reduced him to an intermittent dash/hobble/walk for the remainder of the race.  to his credit he still powered through for a sub-1:55 time but ended up both at the first aid tent and later at the hospital emergency room.  last word was that he had stress fractures and torn ligaments in his right foot, so it was more than just a bit of overtraining.

i got a quick chance to chat with frank after his win and he was looking as fresh as a daisy, and we also swapped thoughts about the GORun 4 (which he wore to victory and which my friend mark wore to his podium result).  i also stopped for a quick chat with fellow Team Running Free athlete dakota poulter who took top female finisher in the 5k race.  she was slightly mortified (i think) since it was her parents who dragged her over to meet me and snap a quick Team RF photo op.

all told another great MEC race, an excellent day of running with lots of friends (i didn't even mention half of the other familiar faces that i spotted - tina, rose, mariane, sonja, rick, brenda, nancy and more), and one more confidence-boosting workout in advance of my biggest test to-date.  

next stop:  the twilight zone blue mountain!

race gear for the MEC Barrie Race THREE:


19 June 2015

three little letters


each acronym sends shudders down the spine of a competitively-spirited racer.

if those letter combinations are unfamiliar to you, DNF is short for 'did not finish' and DNS stands for 'did not start'.  neither of them are desirable appendages to your name on a race results table.  in the case of the former the participant was able to launch into the fray but for one reason or another found him/herself unable to complete the task at hand; in the case of the latter, circumstances (often injury) pre-empted the individual from even stepping up to the line to begin the contest.

i'm thankful that i've not posted either standing in any race that i've registered for, although in one instance i did come awfully close.

this past week our faithful group of Barrie Running Ninjas sent our best wishes off with sensei and MEC-sponsored athlete jim willett who was traveling to colorado for the Desert RATS stage race - a six-day adventure crossing into utah along the kokopelli trail.


if you know jim at all you'd know that he really enjoys running - and from what i understand the joy that he finds from racing is not so much about the mano-e-mano nature of the duel but rather from (a) discovering the strength, resolve and latent abilities that emerge when testing oneself under demanding/adverse conditions and (b) the comraderie found amongst runners who brave such environments.  with that being said he knew that he was entering an event with a very small field of registrants (18) and that he was in fairly strong shape having put in the requisite training.  we all (including his sponsors) hoped that this would translate into a strong showing if not placing by the end of it all.

little did any of us realize that it could end so quickly.


you might know that frustrating feeling of watching a luggage carousel circle around and around with everyone else's suitcases except for yours ... i've been there more than once (first time while on honeymoon in england, and more recently after returning from a trip to romania).  imagine now that those bags contain critical pieces of ultrarunning/survival equipment for a six-day race through the desert ... welcome to jim's world this past sunday.

however as resourceful (and amicable) as he is, it appears that jim managed to cobble together enough gear from his fellow runners to begin his trek.  he's nothing if not doggedly determined.

and yet the kokopelli would vie him for the last word.

at the conclusion of stage 1 a number of the Desert RATS runners posted on the official website about their experiences from the first day, and to my dismay i read that jim had somewhere missed a turn, wandered from the trail by a number of kilometres and subsequently missed the hard cut-off time resulting in a DNF.

the first one of his already-storied running career.

many of us who consider jim a personal friend were bummed by the news - but in typical jim fashion, he managed to express an irrepressible optimism about what happened not only that day, but has continued to demonstrate the joy that is not dependent on circumstances by apparently choosing to run the remaining stages of the race (even though they do not technically count toward anything).

it's in view of all of this that i suggested on social media that we apply a different abbreviation to jim's 2015 Desert RATS experience.


as in did not quit.

that's really what happened here.  it wasn't a matter of whether or not he was able to abide by the stipulations of the event - it's that in spite of all that threatened to turn this journey upside down for him, he persevered.  and whatever the stats sheet might say, that is the mark of a champion.

and that most definitely describes my friend jim.


10 June 2015

gear review - tiux compression socks

whatever floats your boat.

that's been my personal take on compression wear, and specifically compression socks/sleeves.  i know that some people swear by them, others cite mixed or inconclusive scientific evidence when it comes to the physiological advantage (at least within the competition environment) provided by compression socks.  having worn compression socks first as part of my post-achilles tendon reattachment rehab, and then testing various products from lunatik athletiks, falke and injinji, i've come to believe that their greatest benefit has been psychological - if i'm feeling like they give me an edge, then that's reason enough to wear them.

still, a guy can't have enough socks.

after reading my good pal stan's review of tiux compression socks, i entered his giveaway and was selected as the random winner of a pair to try out for myself!  steven from tiux contacted me and hooked me up with a sweet pair of pink socks, which i promptly sported for the first time ever (yep, don't do this at home kids) at the 2015 waterloo marathon.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on

they may not have been the determining factor in my attaining a new PB, but they certainly were a contributing factor!

upon donning the tiux compression socks it was easy to note that they were serious about the compression part.  aside from the quality feel i could see from their comparison chart that their graduated compression rivaled most other leading manufacturers and bordered on prescription-only territory.  i initially had concerns that the padded footbed area was a bit too thick and would create space issues within my shoes (something that i have to consider when heading out with my falke socks) but that actually turned out to be negligible - they were surprisingly well fitting in all of my shoes.

the other interesting discovery in terms of fit was just how long the socks are - i got a pair of mediums (i'm 5'9" and about 137 lbs.) and while the circumference fit was great i found them to be quite long - almost hockey-sock long!  even though i could pull them up over my kneecaps, they didn't bunch up uncomfortably when kept below the knee so that played out just fine.

when it comes to aesthetics, the design is pretty linear - i tend to fancy things that colour a little more 'outside of the lines' - but the detailing is nice and clean, right down to the "run.jump.go." words of inspiration stitched on the inside of the top band.

what you do need to know is that tiux has an impressive business approach.  as a canadian start-up (canuck power!), their model is to eliminate overhead costs that wind up inflating the price-per-product at the consumer end.  this means that they keep limited inventory on hand (i was asked if i was willing to wait a couple of weeks for the right size/colour combo of my socks) and that they specialize in direct-to-consumer sales among other things.  they are also globally-minded, contributing 1% of all sales to the mines advisory group whose mission is about "providing a safe and secure future for men, women and children affected by violence and conflict".

for you that means that these top-quality compression socks can be yours for a cool $35 USD - with free shipping to canada and the US!  seriously, you can't beat that.


here's my video review of the 'pink panther' (my name!) tiux compression socks for you:

tiux currently has a special father's day promo on now too - buy 2 pairs and get 10% off with the promo code RUNWITHDAD (expires june 14, 2015).  trust me - even if you're getting them both for yourself they're well worth it!

*** disclaimer:  i won these socks from Tiux courtesy of www.9run.ca but was not obligated to provide a positive review.  all opinions - however poorly expressed - are my own. 

08 June 2015

on the run ... with camille herron

welcome to another interview in the on the run series ...

some athletes are easy to 'categorize' - they may be track specialists, road marathoners, ultra/trail enthusiasts, or niche runners (e.g. race jugglers).

then there are those special individuals who seem to transcend this kind of pigeon-holing ... and camille herron is that kind of individual.

camille hails from oklahoma and ran briefly for the university of tulsa. although sidelined by injuries from athletics at the college level, she went on to become a three-time u.s. olympic marathon trials qualifier, and boasts a personal best of 2:37:14 (houston, 2012).  she also holds the guinness world record for fastest marathon in a superhero costume (dressed as spider-man/spider-woman), and this year recorded the fastest 100k ever run on american soil. 

besides being a full-time research assistant at the university of oklahoma's health sciences centre, camille is now also occupied with responsibilities as the usoc's athlete services coordinator for the 2015 u.s. pan american team.

. . . . .

1.  Your history in running accomplishments is both incredibly impressive and diverse - including first three-peater at the Oklahama City Marathon, a Guinness WR for marathoning in a superhero costume and fastest 100k on US soil. What's left on your bucket list?

(a) Fastest ascent of the Machu Picchu trail
(b) Most sub-2:50 wins by a woman
(c) Complete the win-in-all-50-states set
(d) Quickest marathon dribbling a basketball
(e) Other

CH:   My original goals as a marathoner were to go for "most sub 2:50 marathons" and to become the first woman to win a marathon in every State.  It would definitely be fun to go for more Guinness World Records too, like the quickest marathon dribbling a basketball since I grew up as a basketball player.  However, since I ran my first 100K/domestic ultra, I've still been in a bit of shock on how well that went!  To have surpassed a longheld record by Ann Trason is truly an honor! I think I will have to put my crazy marathon schedule on the backburner right now and pursue the American/World Ultra Road Records with all my heart -- which means having rested legs, a healthy body, and letting it rip when the opportunities come.  My first focus will be the World 100K Championship next September.  I'm probably going to run the US 50 Mile Championship in Oct. and then possibly the World 50K Championship in December.  I think I can still manage to sprinkle in some marathons and shorter races.  Everyone wants me to try and qualify for Western States -- I've never done a trail race and consider myself a pure "roadie"!  I'm most comfortable on concrete, so it makes the most sense to pursue the Road Ultra Records.  Some day I'd like to run across the country, but first I'll tackle running between various cities in Oklahoma!

2.   You describe yourself as 'living like a monk' - focusing on three core components of eating, sleeping and running. You must have some kind of indulgence - what could it be?

(a) Some nice home-brewed beer
(b) A box of Krispy Kreme donuts all to yourself
(c) A gallon of ice cream
(d) How about just a few extra gels?
(e) None of the above / Other

CH:   Hahaa, all of the above! I indulge every day -- there is no neglecting anything in my diet!  If I feel like whiskey and Coke, I'm not going to tell myself no!  I love meat, bacon, ice cream, butter on everything, chocolate, peanut butter, donuts, and of course our home brewed beer.  I snack on 1-2 Powerbars a day.  I love a good spicey burger, fries, and a pint of a microbrew after a marathon.

The "Living like a monk" mentality came about from reading about the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei.  They live a simplistic lifestyle whereas they run a marathon every day for 100 days to become enlightened about life.  Their singular focus is on completing the feat.  I also am inspired by the Belgian monks who brew beer for sustenance.

3.   Having overcome some significant injuries during your University of Tulsa days, there must be some key things that you do to stay as strong and competitive as you can be. What tops the list?

(a) Intermittent barefoot running
(b) My Skechers GORun Ride 4s!
(c) Plenty of glute and core work
(d) Consistent training mileage
(e) Running more by feel than by metrics

CH:  Wow, you're dead on!  Maybe it's a personal talent, but definitely being able to run consistently high mileage for a long time has prepared me to be able to run so many high quality marathons and easily transition to ultras.  I've averaged over 100 miles per week since Nov. 2006.  My philosophy is "Easy days easy and hard days hard" -- that's the key to consistently high mileage and being able to stay healthy too. I LOVE to race and race frequently, all distances and year round!  I haven't gotten to do as much barefoot running as I used to, since moving to urban OKC in 2011, but I definitely believe that helps keep you healthy and strong and get over injuries.  I think consistent strength training with heavy weights, whether upper/lower/both is great for staying hormonally balanced and also helping with recovery. Being in the right shoes for your feet is critical to staying healthy and able to achieve your goals.  I'm thankful that Skechers have worked so well for me -- I had foot issues for several years, but getting in Skechers has helped relieve all the pain.

4.   This year you've been honoured with the responsibility of being the US Olympic Committee Athlete Services Coordinator for the 2015 PanAm Games. What's the best part of this role in your opinion?

(a) Hob-nobbing with and learning from other elite competitors
(b) Checking out the gourmet meals
(c) Supporting/mentoring other young athletes
(d) Assisting with the administration of a world-class event
(e) None of the above / Other

CH:  Probably the fact I get to spend the month of July in nice and cool Toronto!  It's a dream come true to get to be on the USOC Staff!  My original lifetime intent was to serve elite-level athletes in some capacity -- I couldn't have imagined I would become 'the athlete', having made the 2011 PanAm Team, which ironically opened me up to this role.  I know how much this opportunity will mean to the athletes, so I want to help make their experience as memorable as possible.  I think of my role as being like a "hotel concierge".  The USOC staff had a meeting in Toronto back in March, so it was a real pleasure to meet all of them.  I got to explore Toronto quite a bit by foot, so I have a good idea of what the city is like and how to help guide athletes.  I sure hope the athlete village food is better than Guadalajara!  There's a lot of amazing restaurants in Toronto, so I'm sure we'll be exploring those too.  I'll also have the opportunity to go watch and help with events, so I can't wait to watch the marathons, race walking, and hopefully get to see some track stuff!

*** for more on camille and her upcoming ventures be sure to check out her blog/webpage at http://camilleherron.com/. many thanks to camille for sharing her time and insights with all of us at The Rendezvoo Point!