28 January 2017

Race report - 2017 MEC Toronto Race One (5k)

Having completely gapped my last race I felt the need to close the book on the January racing season with a 5k - and so when my friend Lewis invited all comers to join him on a trek down to the MEC Toronto Race Series ONE I quickly leapt on board.

The course for "The Winter Run" was purported to be along a fast and flat route (a wonderful marketing approach if you want to try to up your registrations) following the Martin Goodman Trail beside the shore of Lake Ontario.  Add to that the fact that downtown Toronto shows pretty much no evidence of winter (certainly not coming from Barrie) I went into the event feeling fairly confident about being able to test myself, and perhaps establishing a new benchmark for short-distance speed.

A photo posted by Patrick Voo (@pbfvoo) on

So it was a very foggy Sunday morning that Lewis, our friend Mike and his girlfriend Becky set out down highway 400.  We were set to meet up with our Aussie RunNinjas companion Rad who had recently moved down to The Big Smoke for a reunion of sorts (nothing like a race to bring friends together!).  Our arrival was earlier enough for Lewis to connect with the MEC staff there (being an MEC employee himself) to assist with some of the set-up while the rest of us attended to whatever pre-race preparations would normally occupy our time.  For my part I was able to nab a couple of easy miles, a short dynamic stretching routine and some strides while observing the solid turnout of runners for this brisk morning competition.

The race itself was offered as a 10k or a 5k, with the 10k runners setting out first at 9:00am.  This allowed me to cheer Lewis, Mike, Becky and Rad out on the course as they all opted to test themselves over the double-loop track before I started with the 5k-ers at 9:10am.  Standing in the corral awaiting our starter's horn I spied several "Toronto Olympic Club" singlets on spry teenaged legs so I knew that there was some speed that was about to show up, but I chose to lineup near the front of the pack anyway.  Whether or not this served me well in the end is still up for debate.

Contender or pretender?  Time will tell ...!

The out-and-back course did turn out to be reasonably flat (about a 6m variation overall) but my warm-up jog revealed that the outward bound half would be into a noticeable headwind.  Still, with clear pavement (aside from a few patches of smeared goose droppings) and the opportunity to don shorts in mid-winter (raw temperature was about 4°C) there were fast times available out there.  As it turned out I kept pace with the lead pack for about the first kilometre (going out at around 3:39/km pace) but afterwards fell off although I was still feeling reasonably good.  At the halfway turnaround I had the experience that no veteran racer wants to have - being passed by competitors that you'd passed earlier - but it was obvious that I didn't have much more oomph to give over the last 2.5 km.

Or did I?

I 'latched' onto one of the runners who was sporting a Black Toe "Race Team" singlet and did my best not to let him out of reach.  Huffing and puffing my way past some of the slower 10k runners who were still on their first loop I kept pace through to the last 750m, at which point I tried to recruit my 'stride legs' to see if I could pick up the pace - which I did, passing my Black Toe pace rabbit across the finish line.  It was reminiscent of my final 2k at last spring's Chilly Half where Roger from the Longboat Runners pulled me through to a strong finish, and this day's home stretch left me wondering whether or not I'd given it my all out on course.

All in all it was good enough for a new PB by 4 seconds.  Not quite the time that I was hoping for, but hey, anytime you can raise the bar is a good day.

After crossing the timing mat I immediately turned around to head back out along the route to spot my friends.  I was able to see that Mike was turning in a solid result in solo fourth position, while Rad and Lewis were also both running strong a little further back.  I continued against the flow of runners (garnering a number of odd looks at this guy with a 5k bib toodling out along the grass) to try to find Becky who was tackling her first 10k race, and managed to find just having started her home half.  While sporting a big smile she was apparently dealing with some nasty knee pain, so I was happy to run alongside offering words of encouragement while she gutted it out in admirable fashion.  Mike and Rad also came back to join us over the final kilometre and it was a great finish for everyone.

Post-race we didn't hang out for any presentation ceremonies (as none of us were on the podium) but instead connected with Rad's girlfriend Emily and went out for a hearty brunch at the downtown Cora's restaurant.  It was the perfect way to wrap up a most enjoyable morning - and kudos to MEC Toronto for a really well-executed event, rivaling the best that MEC Barrie has to offer ...!

#GOlikeneverbefore #getyourmilesin

19 January 2017

Man vs. cage (aka "How to play in traffic and not get hurt")

I'm a relentless road runner (even when I join my friends out on the trails).

I love to get my miles in while touring through my city, or even on the rural concessions.

With that in mind, close calls with vehicles large and small are bound to take place.

Last night during our RunNinjas group run we had a bit of an anomaly take place.  We not only had an runner vs. vehicle incident once, but twice.  On top of that, both confrontations turned into physical, hands-on altercations.

Not pretty, nor desirable for anyone.

The incidents resolved themselves (to some degree) without any lasting impact except for a bad taste in our collective mouths.  So how can we do a better job at avoiding such nasty encounters?

As runners there are certain things that I believe are in our control - and from my 20000+ km of road running logged since 2010 I'm happy to share just a few tips and thoughts that might help someone else.
  1. Never assume that you can be seen - yep, I'll bet you figured my first tip would be to make yourself as visible as possible, but it's not.  This is something that I've come to learn not so much from running as from motorcycling - even the most tricked out bikes, with flying fringe leather, neon accent lights, chrome covers dazzling in the sunlight and riders decked out in the most colourful of body armoured-jackets can be completely missed by car and truck drivers (affectionately known as "cages").  Add to that the distraction of windshields that have not been properly scraped and/or defrosted, the persistent and illegal use of handheld devices while driving, or perhaps kids in the backseat having a screamfest on the way to swim lessons.  Whether you call it selective perception or operator inattention, the mistake is yours (as the runner) if you take for granted that a driver will see you, even if they are looking straight at you.  Your best bet and mine is to believe that they do not see you at all.

  2. Nope ... still won't see you ...

  3. Run against the flow of traffic - I think that this is one of your best defensive maneuvers, even if you're running on the sidewalk.  The advantage that this affords you is not only being able to try to make eye contact with oncoming drivers but also the opportunity to anticipate and react if a close call appears to be imminent.

  4. Make yourself as visible as possible - ah, finally it appears in the bronze medal position on the list.  Whether it comes to reflective vests, blinking LED-armbands (worn on the arm closest to passing traffic of course) or headlamps (which provide the most noticeable point of visibility in low-light conditions), there are ways that you can increase the chances - NOT GUARANTEE - that you will be seen by drivers.  I've even utilized glow-in-the-dark shoes to try to make myself stand out more during my pre-dawn workouts.

  5. Signal your intentions - just as you can't read a driver's mind, they can't read yours either.  So if you're planning to make a turn, or even if you're crossing through an intersection and plan to carry on straight ahead, extending your arm to indicate your intended path not only is a helpful signal to the traffic around you but that added motion heightens your visibility.

  6. Be courteous to drivers - believe you me this goes a long way.  I know that as a general rule pedestrians always have the right of way, but that's not going to be a great defense against a busted leg if you go nose-to-nose with a cage.  So when running on the road I try to hug the curb as best as possible knowing that cars also try to not stray across the divider lines and may have to contend with oncoming traffic (which I can't see since they're coming from behind me).  Also, when running with others I want to make sure that as traffic approaches we move into a single-file formation - just because we don't 'own the road' any more than cars and trucks do.  Finally, if a driver does give you an extra-wide berth as they pass please do acknowledge that with a friendly wave - positive reinforcement is always huge and is an investment in that driver being encouraged to continue to give space to the next runner that s/he encounters.

  7. Minimize or eliminate your distractions - because this can be a problem that we invite upon ourselves.  If your earbuds are crammed with 180 bpm dance tunes dialed up to 11 and you're be-bopping your way down the street you may be just as oblivious as the vehicles bearing down on you.  Or you may not hear that emergency vehicle blaring its sirens forcing the cars ahead of you to pull off to the side of the road (as directed by law).  If running to music is your thing then consider wearing just one earbud so that you continue to be aware of your audible surroundings.

That's not a comprehensive list, but I can tell you that trying to keep just those few things in mind have kept me safe so far.  The reality though is that I've had my share of close calls, from circumstances where cars began to careen out of control (thanks to lack of road traction) to drivers who intentionally try to brush you off of the roadway - so caveat emptor:  you can try to do your level best and still wind up taking on a 174-hp 1.5 litre turbo-powered product of Japanese engineering.

Keep alert and stay safe so that you can live to run another day!


12 January 2017

The race report that wasn't - 2016/17 Snowflake Series Race Four (5k)

It was the day of the fourth race in the 2016-17 Snowflake Series.

As I mentioned in my last race report I was slowly creeping up the standings and positioned to take a run at my age group lead.

And so it was that on January 8, 2017 at 10:00am the starter's air horn sounded on the last 5k race in the series.

All while I was sitting in church oblivious to the fact that I was supposed to be competing that morning.

Yep - my first DNS.

[Did Not Start]

I simply had it in my head that the races were spaced two weekends apart ... but as it turned out the last two races took place on successive weekends.  Just like it says on the poster.

How did I find out?  My good pal and fellow RunNinja James messaged me after the race to find out what had happened to me.  Initially I wasn't sure what was up, but it didn't take too long for me to have my "d'oh" moment.

Initially I wrestled with the anguish of having paid the entry fee for a race and then not even bother to have shown up due to my own sheer stupidity.  Then there was the missed opportunity of perhaps having placed in the top three for my age-group for the overall series.  However, I eventually was resigned to the fact that what's passed is past, that I had an otherwise enjoyable morning and that my friend James actually managed to claim top spot in our age group for the series thanks in part to my absence.

You know, worse things could have happened.  I could have posted the DNS due to injury.  I could have shown up, run it and hurt myself.  I could have had a brutal race and beat myself up over the result long after I crossed the finish line.  In any event, the Snowflake Series is over and I still haven't competed in the whole thing - so that leaves a goal for next winter.  In the meantime I'm celebrating James' great accomplishment and looking forward to the MEC Barrie Race Series for 2017.

And I've already marked down all the dates on my calendar.

#golikeneverbefore #keepbetternotes

02 January 2017

Race report - 2016/17 Snowflake Series Race 3 (10k)

Nothing quite like a sunny, pleasant winter's day race with 200 other revelers to kick off 2017!

The Snowflake Series Race 3 is a mandatory 10k for anyone who is competing in the full series (all four races), but there was a 5k option available as well for anyone not compiling 'points' for the series.  The course itself is the same as it has been for the previous two races in the series, with the 10k being completed as a double loop track - and this year with chip timing we actually got a 5k split time in the results!

Here's my post-race recap of the event:

It was great to see a few other RunNinjas competing today as well - congratulations to Sonia for putting in a super-strong effort in the mushy conditions, and for James who blasted through in the end for another strong finish!

One more 5k race to wrap up this series - and having consistently moved up in the overall and age-group placings I'm excited to see where this will all end up!

Wishing you all a great start to 2017!

#golikeneverbefore #haveafastyear #getyourmilesin