26 October 2015

we can rebuild him: the nuts and bolts of post-race recovery

here's my first training-based video on post-race recovery - i hope that it's helpful to any of you who have given it your all and are looking for the best way to be ready to go do it all over again!

if you happen to have any suggestions for a 'nuts and bolts' type training talk that you'd like me to address please add them in the comments below - thanks!

24 October 2015

race report - 2015 Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon

i think that they technically call it cold-induced diuresis.

i call it an unexpected annoyance that may have cost me a 3-hour marathon.  but when you gotta go, you gotta go.


with the very real prospect of snow squalls forecasted for the toronto-windsor corridor i elected to head down on friday night to stay over at a friend's house before booting over across the border on saturday to quickly hit up the expo and nab my race kit.

getting in and out of the USA (by car) proved to be easy as pie on saturday morning - although it costs a pretty penny as the toll for exiting the ambassador bridge is $6.25 CDN each way!  i think that the sign said that the equivalent in US currency was $3.50, which really made me wish that i'd exchanged a bit of cash before the weekend.  the lineups for the border guard stations were what you'd expect - a slow grind through what felt like the grocery store cashier lines right before dinnertime.  but there must have been more than a few people like myself who declared their intention to only be in the states for an hour or two for race purposes, as the US guard joked with me about the race being cancelled due to an unforeseen bridge closure (although he couldn't play it out with a straight face), and the CDN customs officer queried me about my personal best and then one-upped me as his PB beat mine by about 40 seconds.  we also went on to chat about my upcoming trip to boston in april to run the marathon there as he made his one trip to the boston marathon some 20 years ago ... we ended up having to stop each other because our lively chat was holding up the line.

i decided to park at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino as the parking there is free and it would offer a good opportunity to test out my plan for sunday morning, which was to deposit my car there and hike the seven blocks down to the start line.  aside from my GPS navigation unit giving me a bum steer and turning me into some dead-end construction zone it was fairly straightforward in terms of finding the garage and winding a path to the center of activity (near the Cobo Center).

the expo itself struck me as being somewhat similar to the layout employed at the mississauga marathon - the race kit pick-up was lickety-split (seriously - there was no one in the line-up for bibs #101-750) and i could have been in-and-out in five minutes flat except that the flow of traffic necessitated that everyone wind their way through the maze of vendors and exhibitors in order to exit.  plenty of LRSs (local running stores) were on-site with lots of wares to be had, as well as other race promoters and various novelty companies (e.g. the 'running bumper sticker' people, medal display rack people, and even some guys who had a neat gel-pad instant hand warmer).  while i deliberately didn't bring any cash so as to not spend the money that i don't have (!), i do admit to lingering a bit at the Hansons Running Shop area because of their notoriety around the hansons marathon method and their former relationship with america's own MUT-runner extraordinaire sage canaday.

after returning to canadian soil again i spent the remainder of the day fairly relaxed, taking in my carbs and hitting up an LRS in windsor (the running factory) to stock up on my complement of gels needed for the race.  even though the gels cost me a little more than twice what they were available for at the expo, i knew that i wanted to keep the money on this side of the 49th.

race day

i'm glad that i'd gotten a decent sleep on friday night, because saturday night's sleep was cut somewhat short by a bathroom trip (oooohhh ... foreshadowing) at 1:30 a.m. after which i couldn't shut my brain off enough to actually return to sleep.  after 90 min. of fish-flopping in the bed my alarm went off and i got up for my shakeout run, breakfast and shower (in that order).

having been informed that spots at the MGM Grand Casino parking lot tend to be filled up by about 5:30 a.m. i set out just around 4:30 a.m. to ensure that i'd get a space.  i figured that i could always hang out in the car or in the casino to stay warm and rested with a couple of hours before start time.  this proved to be a smart move as the lineup just off of the freeway onto the exit for the casino lot was backed up and took some time to negotiate - but once inside the parking structure there was no problem finding a space, to my relief.

with just over an hour before the 7:00 a.m. start i joined the throngs of runners and supporters/volunteers making our way down the seven blocks toward the start/finish area.  i stopped to use the port-a-potty about halfway which seemed right on schedule in terms of me clearing out my GI system in prep for the long haul to come on my feet.

i was surprised at how abuzz the downtown core was at such an early point - it was a reminder of just how many of the marathons that i've run are smaller races.  all told there were over 17000 competitors lining up on sunday morning, plus their families and friends adding to the crowds.  it definitely made for an electric atmosphere - which was a good thing for such a chilly morning.

[and this is a good point to insert a note about the weather conditions - the advance forecast had indicated sub-freezing temperatures (about -2°C) at start time and reaching about 3-4°C by 10:00 a.m.  armed with this information i packed just about every conceivable outfit combination that i could, including split shorts, compression shorts, capris, arm warmers, calf sleeves, singlet, t-shirt, toque, thin socks, wool socks.  after consulting with some friends on facebook i chose to go with the singlet, arm warmers, compression shorts, calf sleeves, gloves and toque - which still left me shivering while waiting in my corral.]

as the starting chute started to crowd up i met both the 3:05 and 3:00 pacers - each was a capable 2:40:xx racer in his own right, but i was a bit surprised that when i inquired about their strategies for the race the best answer that i got was "to finish with 30 seconds to spare".  no plan about even-splitting or taking the 3rd mile (climbing the Ambassador Bridge) a bit slower to level out the effort expended.  there's was no question about how capable they were to cross in the designated time - i had just hoped that perhaps they would be a little more focused on coaching/encouraging the aspiring racers in their group instead of just hammering out a time.

and at about 6:57 a.m. it happened.

i had the feeling that i needed to pee.

by this time i was sandwiched in on all sides, having even forgotten to perform my lunge matrix of stretches.  i had already hit the washroom twice since arriving in detroit but the cold weather had constricted my blood vessels, elevated my blood pressure and forced a fluid dump into my bladder to try to maintain equilibrium.  i really needed to pee - but with nowhere to go, i tried to focus on just getting the race started and hoping that the sensation would go away.

alas, it didn't.

after latching onto the 3:05 group for the first two miles we hit an aid station and i veered off to make use of the port-a-potty.  i'm glad that i did as i'm surprised at how much my bladder had filled since my last bathroom break not 30 min. before (and that without taking in much by way of additional drink).  by the time that i exited i could see the 3:15 pacer had already passed me - and fearing that i would get caught in the congestion of runners on the Ambassador Bridge i decided to squeeze the pedal a bit to try to catch back up to the 3:05 pace group.


of course you don't feel like you're expending too much energy - it's early in the race.

you've got lots of glycogen stored up.

and it's easy to tap into that fuel source.

so i did - scooting by scores of fellow runners as we ascended the ramp to cross the bridge.

early speed + up up up = bad idea.

on the plus side i managed to lock back onto pacer jeff and his 3:05 congregants before the end of the bridge and decided to hang with them for another two or three miles after that.  it was quite an experience humming past the lineup of six or seven border patrol guards on each side of the race course as we entered into canada - they were there spotting your bib to see if you were on their list of properly accredited/identified runners, but they were also quite encouraging as they smiled or shared the occasional "great job" compliment to a passing racer.  there was also an announcer at the border reminding us to all ensure that the view of our bibs was unobstructed, as well as providing some entertaining commentary about how the exchange rate is so low that we can carve off nearly 30% from our time while running through windsor.  (hardee har har ...)

the stretch along riverside drive was fairly pleasant if plain - except for the one tanker ship that was navigating the seaway just as we were strolling by.  i did note that a couple of times there were some of the pace group runners who were asking pacer jeff if we were "going a bit fast", which he confirmed - and as he dropped his pace ever so slightly i decided that i would try to maintain and perhaps inch up on the 3:00 group.  while i never did catch them, i was able to tuck into one or two other runners at a time in order to take advantage of some drafting (the winds were maybe at 17-18 kph) and dialing into another person's cadence.

the tunnel back into the states was an interesting stretch for a few reasons:
  1. immediately upon entering the tunnel the temperature rose a good seven or eight degrees, which initially felt like a blast furnace door opening but then turned out to be a pleasant climate.
  2. my garmin 305 indicated loss of GPS signal about 15 seconds into the tunnel - this would mean that my distance vs. time displays would be off and i would most definitely be relying on the roadside mile markers to indicate how i was faring.
  3. the exiting climb seemed quite long - and not knowing how i was actually pacing i had to rely entirely on perceived effort.
the u.s. border patrol guards were out in similar force upon our resurfacing from beneath the detroit river checking bib numbers and cheering us on.  my initial concerns about whether or not i needed to actually carry my passport with me (as per the strong recommendation of the race officials) turned out to be quite unnecessary as the process was so well organized and painless.

the middle miles were where i was caught in no-man's-land ... not really running with a pack, and occasionally eyeballing someone who was clicking off a similar pace and trying to stick with him or her.  this became tougher as the runners of the international half-marathon peeled off to their finish line, thinning out the field - but for a good 10k after that i was able to focus in on a guy who was running pretty effortlessly with a quick cadence.  he was wearing a green tank top and every time that we approached some roadside spectators i would hear "go green!" or "go state!", which provided me with enough information to surmise that his singlet said "Spartans" on it (as in the Michigan State Spartans).

at the 20 mile mark we had crossed another bridge onto belle isle - a point in the race that i had visualized and had tentatively planned for a shift in gear to try to finish out with a real 'racing' effort.  however i was watching the mile laps on my garmin increase in time (to 7:09s and 7:11s) so i thought that i would try to slug it out until returning to the main shoreline and detroit's "riverside walk" where i would try to put in a burst effort for the final 5k.  in my head i would be simulating the negative split runs that i'd been doing all summer with the barrie roadrunners along the kempenfelt bay waterfront - a little mental trick that i hoped would help turn on some afterburners.

i can't say enough about how invaluable this video was for my race prep!

just before we started hit the section of riverside walk i passed my spartan-supporting friend and tried to urge him on saying "i've heard 'go green' in front of me for the last six miles, i don't want to be hearing it from behind!" - but he encouraged me to keep pushing and i wouldn't see him again.

i did find that my legs were able to pump it up again and found myself passing another three or four runners down the final stretch - this definitely helped to lift my spirits.  since the 3:00 pacer was nowhere within sight my goal at this point was to not let the 3:05 guy pass me at any point - and while this was made tougher by an uphill, into-the-wind turn at the 25 mile mark i channeled my inner deena kastor (who said "Today it was just putting my head down and grinding through it" after setting the new u.s. masters record at the 2015 chicago marathon) to see me through to the finish line, and a 3:04:34 gun time finish.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on


the march through the finish chute was very well organized (as was the race all the way around), with a very cheery volunteer congratulating me and donning the hefty Detroit Marathon finisher medal around my neck followed by tables of chocolate milk, bananas, fruit slices, water, hummus and protein bars.

i'd decided not to stick around for the much-touted "Conquered" after-party but instead grabbed my throwaway clothes (all but one piece - the hoodie - had remained where i'd left it before entering the starting chute) for warmth and headed back to the car for the short ride back to my friend's house to nab a shower before the long ride home.

at the border i had one more fun exchange with the canadian patrol officer who asked me how long i'd been in the states - i responded with "around six hours", to which he said "are you sure you didn't run past me just about four hours ago?" at which point i chuckled for not having accounted for that crossing.  he also quizzed me about items to declare which i'd obtained in the united states - and i noted a bunch of protein bars, a banana and some free hummus.  his response was to give me the people's eyebrow and say "anything else ...?", and i quickly came back with "oh, and this beast of a medal around my neck."  he then broke a big smile and said "you're darn right!  congratulations - have a good day!", sending me on my merry way.

as i reflect back on attaining my second marathon PB this year (with a fairly significant cut of 7:33 from my accomplishment just over months ago) there are a few key takeaways:
  1. it was great to run in detroit - i really do like the city, and it was great to sense how encouraged the people of the motor city were that they were being supported.  it's definitely been tough times and tough neighbourhoods that have dogged this community - and we ran past a few areas that seemed like they were post-apocalyptic landscapes with abandoned factories and apartment buildings - but they sure do have spirit there.
  2. i hit goal 'A' and 'B' but not 'C' - maybe i have to re-order those?!?
  3. there was a better race that could have been run out there for me - potty-stops aside, i could have made up the time in much smarter fashion without expending nearly as much energy as i did, and may not have had to pay for it as much in miles 14-20.  was sub-3 possible?  maybe not, but 3:00:xx maybe ... and that may just become my target for the 2016 boston marathon.
  4. i still don't know what it's like to experience the full benefit of running with a pace group.
  5. GU gels are getting harder and harder to stomach, especially on cold days when they coagulate like crazy.  honey stinger gels were not bad, but the packaging was a little more bulky than i would have liked.  powerbar power gels went down the easiest, but i still found myself wanting to finish the race faster so that i would have to consume fewer gels overall.
thanks again to my tribe of Barrie Running Ninjas, the Barrie RoadRunners and the Barrie Trail Running Club for all of your companionship, coaching and support in preparation for this race. i was proud to sport my Team Skechers Performance and Team Running Free colours as well in and amongst the sea of other running brands and clubs.

so it's time to embark on another off-season, and construct my plans and goals for 2016.  i'll be sharing them later, but for now i can say that i think it'll involve a combination of attempts at going longer and a bunch of attempts at going faster (how's that for obscure??).


race gear for the 2015 detroit marathon:


15 October 2015

i'm ready for you, soweto!

except that i don't have a trip booked for south africa ... at least not this year (i still have my eye on you, comrades marathon!).

i've been using a training plan (structured by coach norrie williamson) specifically designed for the soweto marathon in preparation for my first attempt at the detroit marathon.  i chose to follow this plan as part of my 'mix-it-up' year where i deliberately focused on races that i'd not run before and using strategies (e.g. running without a watch at the waterloo marathon) that might stimulate/promote improved results.  i know that many runners choose to focus on consistency consistency consistency as the route to real gains -  but when it comes to personality that just isn't me, so why not go for broke?

as i get ready to step up to the start line in motown this weekend i have to say that i'm feeling very prepared to try to bump out a new 42.195 km PB.  i've been able to execute all of the prescribed workouts at the paces that i would expect to hit ... my body has held up and my weight stayed in a good zone ... and thanks to all my friends and training partners (much love and credit goes to the barrie running ninjas, the barrie roadrunners and the barrie trail running club) i feel as if psychologically i have all the tools to meet an audacious goal.

with that being said, i'm ready to disclose the goal(s) for this sunday's race:
  • 'A' goal - finish with a 3:00:00-3:05:xx time
  • 'B' goal - clock a new marathon PB
  • 'C' goal - run a negative split.

i've had the privilege of tapping into the wisdom and experience of a couple of speedy and accomplished marathoners (i wouldn't dream of not consulting the great stan ong who will be racing at the scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon, edging ever closer to his moose mug goal - and the other is my friend 'fast' bill steinburg) who have recommended that my best ploy at taking down an 'A' level goal is to try to run with a pacer and go for even splits.  i'd thought that perhaps i'd be able to adopt a similar strategy to the one that i used in waterloo of cruising through 32k and racing the final 10k, but the prospect of benefiting from the draft of a pace group has definitely got my attention.

so here at the precipice i stand, having controlled all that i can control.  now it's just time to enjoy the scenery and run my brains out!



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!