30 April 2018

Is this going to go my way?

After a long, icy winter here we are at last - week 23 of the 23 week breaking-3 (hour) marathon training plan.

It all comes down to this.

Or perhaps it's better said that it all comes together this Sunday.

That's the hope anyway - that the work that I've put in at the guidance of my coach Mike MacInnes will pay its dividends when I toe the line at the 15th annual Mississauga Marathon.  It's been a season of new training tactics - from regular strength workouts to fewer 'rest/recovery days' to greater overall weekly mileage - all in an attempt to become faster, more durable and anti-fragile.  Even though I'm still reasonably new to the running scene I do count myself as being an aging runner and the approach that coach Mike has had me take over the last few months has definitely stretched my limits.

How do I feel during this last week of tapering?  My friend Lewis asked me that exact question this past weekend and my answer to him was "honestly, I'm not sure how I'm feeling".  The reasons for that are because I've run two 'tune-up' races this season (the Chilly Half-Marathon and the Around The Bay 30k) which both resulted in disappointing chip-times, and many of the prescribed race-pace (or faster) workouts have seen me fail to come close to the speeds that I was asked to hit.  I also feel as if I've done that precarious dance on the overtraining line wondering at various times whether or not I'd actually crossed over into the dark side.

That all being said one of the refrains that has constantly run through my head during a long and dreary-ish winter has been "trust the training plan, trust your coach".  I know that Mike is a stellar athlete himself and intelligent when it comes to the ways of exercise physiology, and he has clearly told me that the entire plan is designed to culminate on marathon race day ... that the final stage of supercompensation is focused on presenting the best version of myself on May 6.

He's also been a big proponent of the mental training aspect, having recommended that I read "How Bad Do You Want It?" by Matt Fitzgerald.  I also received a recommendation from my pal Steve to read "Endure" by Alex Hutchinson - alas, being a reluctant reader I've not had an opportunity to benefit from either of these sport psychology-focused texts, but I have kept visualizing the huge smile on the face of my running icon Yuki Kawauchi as he crossed the line as this year's Boston Marathon male champion.

So I can say with confidence that I've put the work in - I'm still riding a bit of a high having completed my first 100+ mile training week just over a week ago and believing that that is going to be a big contributor to how good I will feel especially in the later stages on the marathon.  I'll also be wearing a new pair of racing flats (the Salming Race 5) which I did not have available to me for my previous two races this spring and which feel much better and lighter than the Salming Speed 6 for posting fast times (at least in my humble opinion).  And one other intangible - for which I can take absolutely no credit whatsoever but is nonetheless a mental boost for me - is that my friend Jeroen Hendrikx wore the singlet that I had in my drawer for the last year to a 19th place finish in yesterday's Hamburg Marathon, crossing the line in 2:20:45.  

Yep, that's my old race kit blazing through Germany in 2:20!

There it is - I've done my part to control what I can control.  The rest is up to the weather, how much rest I can get this week, the germs that I can manage to avoid and how smartly I control my pace out on course.  Regardless of what my official finish time will be I'll know that I stretched beyond my comfort zone in preparing for this race and am grateful to coach Mike for his guidance and support and to my RunNinjas clubmates for all of their outstanding encouragement and companionship on this journey!

#nononsense #runSwedish #teamTap #fuelsimply #werunthistown #breaking3

12 April 2018

Road review: Reebok Harmony Road 2

The 'Bok?

As in a running 'Bok?


Having formerly been an employee of Nike in my twenties I recall Reebok being a bit of the 'also ran' of the sports-and-fitness world ... not quite a heavy hitter like Adidas, but had still enough of a recognizable presence that people would think of the brand when it came to athletic shoes.  We wouldn't quite snicker at their employees, but we wouldn't give them much thought either.

Well, Reebok has managed to hang around all these years.  The Union Jack logo has gone, and they've also found a new niche for themselves:  the CrossFit revolution.  They've also managed to snag an exclusive contract with one of the world's fastest growing professional sport associations, the UFC.  And now they're returning to the culture of running.

After a few notable attempts with the "Zig" tech design for running shoes the designers at Reebok appear to have returned to a more traditional approach to building performance running footwear - and it looks to be turning some heads.

Thanks to a friend who works with Reebok Canada's events and partnerships division I received a pair of the new Harmony Road 2 to test drive.


My initial impressions as I picked them up out of the box was that they were much more shoe than I had become accustomed to wearing - and the specs bore this out as well.  At a reported 10.8oz for a men's size 9 and a stack height of 30mm-to-20mm (or 37.3mm-to-22.8mm if you take Runner's World at its word - which is it folks?!?) it is definitely one of the beefiest shoes in my rotation with the most significant heel-to-toe drop.

What contributes to it's weight?  It could be the carbon rubber applied to the outsole's 'impact zones' or the plush synthetic upper (which by the way provides a really nice wrap-feel on my foot).  But truth be told the empirical data may tell one tale while the subjective experience reveals another ... and in this case the actual ride of the shoe was not nearly as cumbersome as other shoes that I've had on which may have been equally as robust or even lighter.  My first outing in them involved a series of hill intervals with the RunNinjas and I was most pleasantly surprised at how they allowed me to pick up the pace and hold half-decent form.

The anticipation was there that a 10mm or more drop that I would find myself inadvertently heel-striking especially during easier effort segments but that didn't turn out to be a reality.  I was able to stick with a forefoot (or at worst, midfoot) strike even while going at recovery paces, which is all the more surprising given that the Harmony Road 2 doesn't quite pass the one-handed roll-into-a-ball flex test.

I cheated - pressing down against the top of my dryer!

Here's what I liked about the Harmony Road 2:
  • Looks - Call me superficial, but the simple design of the HR2 actually appeals to me.  Normally I like glitz and glam on my footwear, but something about these kicks say 'dignified' and 'efficient'.  Plus there are just enough reflective accents to help keep me safe on the roads.
  • Fit - True to size, suitably wide for some toe splay on impact, no heel slippage.
  • Feel - The upper is comfortable without any noticeable seams along the top of the foot or around the sides/edges.
  • Ride - There is an ample amount of cushioning thanks to their TriZone midsole design featuring the KOOSHRIDE TPU foam core, and it just seems nice and smooth without being marshmallowy/energy-depleting.
  • Traction - Probably due to the amount of rubber on the outsole, but add to that a decently grippy design these shoes have fared well so far even on the slushy/mildly icy surfaces that I've use to test them.
  • Durability - This is just going to be a guess of mine but based on my initial runs but there seems to me to be enough heft to this shoe to last well past 500kms of wear, so I should be keeping it in the rotation for a while.
 And what would I change?
  • Weight - This is definitely the downside of the 'traction' and 'durability' pros that I listed above ... if it could come down to something closer to 9oz. then it would be what I would consider a great everyday trainer (but then it might just have to be called the "Floatride Run" ...!).
  • Drop - As much as this doesn't feel quite like a shoe with a 10-14mm drop I believe that it would promote a better footstrike and running dynamic if it were closer to a 6mm heel-to-toe ramp.
  • Flex - The fact that the shoe doesn't pass my 'fold in half with one hand' test means that it probably isn't conducive to a full range of proprioceptive feedback via the footstrike.  I'd like my shoes to work a little more with the flex of my foot and less against it.
  • Price - At $145 CDN it's not cheap, but if it does last as long as I think that it will then it might pay for itself in the long run (no pun intended).
All things considered I would happily recommend that you give this shoe a try if you are looking for something to use for your easy run days or if you need one pair of shoes to last you a good while - I give the Harmony Road 2 a solid four footprints out of five:

Here's my video review for your entertainment:

So it looks like this player has re-entered the game ... and the other models in their current lineup (plus a crazy-light racing flat due out this summer!) lend credence to the fact that Reebok is a serious contender when it comes to what's shodding the feet of runners.  Welcome back, 'Bok!

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

01 April 2018

Race report: The Around The Bay Road Race 2018

I believe that the applicable word is "terribler".

Whether or not you'll insert that into your spell-checker is inconsequential ... it's been added to my vocabulary list now.

The last time that I participated in the Around The Bay Road Race was in 2016 and it's taken me a few years to try to shake some of the bad taste in my mouth that resulted from my run that day.  What stood out for me was (a) how mentally dis-engaging the first half of the course was and (b) the disappointment of clocking what I perceived to be a sub-par effort for the condition that I felt that I was in at that time.  However, eager to press out a sub-3 marathon this spring I felt like pairing the Chilly Half-Marathon and ATB this year would be a solid pre-season prep that would ready me for a PB kind of effort.

Instead what I learned was that I either have to learn a serious lesson in humility or accept the fact that age is taking its toll on me.

I had signed up for this race just shy of a full year ago as I wanted to take advantage of the earliest of the earlybird registration rates - which means that I had 365+ days to mentally prep for the event.  And I would say that as I approached race day I had just about every box checked off in terms of being psyched to run well ... from customizing my shoes for the day (more on that in a future blogpost) to taking full advantage of all my possible placebo-effect advantages (i.e. loading up on beet juice, wearing compression socks, having my favourite racing toque on my head) to resting up the day before (as my friend and fellow RunNinja Rick was willing to pick up my race kit from the expo).  The only things that I didn't feel that I had going for me were a solid half-marathon result at Chilly a few weeks prior and the fact that I was failing to hit my prescribed training paces during the workouts that my coach had assigned to me over the last month or so.  Still, all things factored in I felt like I could surprise myself on this day.

On race morning I followed all of my 'standard' pre-race routines (wake-up shakeout run, breakfast, shower) and made my way out Hwy 403 with the hopes of arriving in Hamilton with a little more than 60 min. to spare before the airhorn start.  The plan was to meet Rick in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying to collect my bib and timing chip - and perhaps this would be the first of the portents on the day as traffic got gnarly as I entered the downtown core, and the only available street parking that I could find was a good kilometre or more from the hotel.

However I did manage to find my way to the Sheraton where Rick, Angela, Holly and Sarah (all RunNinja comrades) had gathered to brace themselves for the long journey ahead.  We were far from alone in the lobby as many competitors had gathered there just for the warmth (it was about -11°C with the windchill) and also to make use of the indoor washrooms.  I thanked Rick for picking up my kit, suited up with the bib and shoe-lace chip, and took a pre-start group photo.  We then parted ways to carry on with our own individual routines.

The race
I lined up in the appropriate 'red' corral for estimated sub-2:15 racers (which as it happened to turn out was more wishful thinking than anything!), and it definitely felt like a corral as we were pretty much sandwiched shoulder-to-shoulder with little margin to even stretch out.  And yet somehow out of nowhere I felt this tap on my shoulder accompanying a "Hey Patrick" - and sure enough my pal Vicki had somehow managed to pick me out of this crowd just as she'd done at the Chilly Half less than a month ago.  Vicki is a beast of a runner and super-fast as well so lining up next to her was at the very least a confidence (if not morale) boost.

So now let me break down the actual event into some smaller, digestible segments:

--- KM 0-3
I tried to just settle into a good rhythm and find a couple of bodies to tag along with - and while there wasn't really a 'pack' that I could latch onto I did find the first few kilometres clicking by rather effortlessly.  By the time that we passed the 3k mark I thought to myself "just do this another nine time!".  Easier said than done my friend, easier said than done.

--- KM 4-15
As I had the last time that I tackled this event I took the inclines easier and tried to pick up a bit of pace on the backsides of the same slopes, but somehow this year there wasn't any acceleration as I went downhill.  It wasn't long before I found my pace trailing off despite trying to maintain a consistent 'perceived effort' ... by the time that I hit the 14k mark I was ready to walk the rest of the course, but my pride wouldn't let me throw the towel in that easily.

--- KM 16-20
It was somewhere along this stretch that I heard a voice closing in from behind me shout "Patrick Voo in the house!" - it was my friend Peter Leventis (whom I'd first met while pacing my pal Navin at the 2016 GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon).  It was great to catch up with (or more accurately be caught up to by) him as we had a brief opportunity to chat:  Peter had recently laid down a fantastic time at the Chilly Half and has just been getting stronger and faster.  He was using this day's run as a bit of a tempo workout in advance of his trip to the Boston Marathon next month, and in true Peter-fashion he made it look oh-so-easy.  I didn't want to hold him up so I let him stay in stride while I slowly but steadily fell back, cheering him forward as his disappeared into the distance.

--- KM 21-26
This section brought a few more rolling hills into play, including the one left-hand turn at the top of a hill where I recall being passed by the the 2:05 pace bunny in 2016.  This time around I was doing my level best not to let the 2:15 bunny zip by.  The only other real element of note was that it was great to once again see Stan "We Will Rock You" Wakeman in his wheelchair - once again I deviated from my normal tangent-tight route to slap him some skin with a high-five.

--- KM 27-30
The 'Heartbreak Hill' simulator was definitely another slow-down, but it doesn't last too long.  Coming into the final 3k downhill stretch into the heart of the city I tried once again to pick up some steam, but it was still fruitless - despite some goading from Tim "The Grim" (I snagged a low-five from him accompanied by the words "I like how slow you are") and even "Fast" Bill Steinburg jumping off of the curb in his jeans and puffy jacket to cheer me forward and run alongside me for about 100m.  I managed to target two runners who were ahead of me and mustered the strength to pass one of them before the finish but the other one just had too much zip left as we entered the First Ontario Centre.

After crossing the finish line I hung out in the chute/collection area for about another 40 minutes to try to catch some other familiar faces wrap up their races.  It was awesome to be able to cheer on and/or congratulate Vicki, Melissa, Jessica, Jack and Ryan as they finished up their 30k.  I even had a random stranger come up to ask if she could have a photo taken with me because her husband's favourite cartoon character (Jake from Adventure Time) was depicted on my toque.

 Me sporting my favourite lid (Photo credit:  Mike MacInnes)

Since I was getting chilled from standing around in Gatorade/water soaked gear I jogged back to the car to get changed, dodging various bicycle-mounted police officers who were monitoring a situation involving a group of 'anti-fascist' demonstrators (to whom I provided a wide berth while passing them by as they congregated).  I then made my way back to the First Ontario Centre and reconnected with Rick, Holly, Angela and Sarah, each of them elated with their finishes.  A few more group pictures and then it was time to call it a day.

So it is that I look at this year's ATB in the rearview mirror once again thinking that I won't be back anytime soon.  Don't get me wrong - the race organizers do a bang-up job of putting together an A-1 event and deserve plenty of congratulations and appreciation.  It's just that for whatever reason it doesn't seem to agree with me, and I'm the one to blame this time around ("fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me").  But if you have any inclination on taking on a 30k race to test yourself or to prep for your own spring marathon, by all means give this event some serious consideration!

Key race gear used: