07 October 2017

Race report - 2017 The County Marathon (Pacer Edition)

I know that being a pacer is all about helping others to achieve their goals.

But to be honest, having my own goal in mind helped me to give my very best to the runners at The County Marathon this year.

And the goal was simple enough:  finish within the two-second window of my three previous appearances as pacer in Picton. 
  • 2014 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2015 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2016 - official clock time of 3:29:42
So this year, under absolutely splendid conditions (5°C at the beginning, 15°C at the finish, clear blue sky and breezes that couldn't have topped 5kph) all of us marathoners were set up for success ...
  • 2017 - official clock time of 3:29:40
I went into this race training to be my very best, because I knew that if I did any less than that then I would not be able to hold the prescribed pace (4:59/km) and coach/encourage/goad/joke/galvanize the runners around me to hit their targets.  After my first experience (ever) pacing in 2014 at this race I quickly discovered that the role encompassed much more than crossing the finish line within 30 seconds of your assigned pace time, but that it was about creating a helpful and enjoyable 'pocket' within which to run.  If I showed up on race day just being confident of being able to pull off a 3:30 marathon myself, that would cheat the group of having someone who wouldn't rely on a gut-it-out-sprint-across-the-mat finish much less having a motivator alongside them.  As such my training since my failed redemption run at The Limberlost Challenge was all tailored to this race.

I consider myself blessed to have been invited back to serve as a pacer by the self-proclaimed 'bunny herder' for this event, my friend Erin McDougall.  This year he proved himself even more gracious by denying my request to save a parking space on his driveway so that I could sleep in my car (!) and instead opening up his home to let me sleep on his living room couch.  This was all due to my complete inability to properly schedule/space-apart events, as my wife asked me several months back "what are you doing on Sep. 30" - and since that particular date didn't set off any alarms in my head I replied with "nothing, I'm free".  Of course I didn't calculate that I would need to be in Prince Edward County that night since I'd be pacing a full marathon the next day, so we wound up joining a team with her high-school friend and husband in a charity event modeled after "The Amazing Race".

Team Treetop!  (not named because of my height or my wife's ...)

The event didn't involve a lot of extra exercise/activity (which I normally try to avoid the day before a marathon) but it was held in the region of the Blue Mountains, about an extra hour away from Brighton, ON where I'd need to be to spend the night.  This just added to the complexity of my weekend, as the plan for post-race was to hightail-it to Ottawa to take my daughter (a frosh student at Carleton University) out for dinner ... but I was most concerned for the lateness of the hour and the inconvenience that it would post to Erin's family to have me roll in when everyone else was trying to bed down for the night.  As it was, our "The Amazing Race" event wrapped up earlier than expected and I was able to make some decent time on the highway, arriving in 'The County' by just after 8pm ... where leftover supper was awaiting me and a nice relaxed chat with Erin, his wife and kids, their dog (Percy) as well as another pacer (Ned) and his companion.

Race day
Given that the details of arriving at the start line mirror the previous three years' events, I'll just note that while staying warm in the Essroc Arena I connected with a few familiar faces from previous years/other events, including Richard (a tough-as-nails runner who had run with my group at least twice before, and not yet hit his 3:30 goal), Patrick Kelly (an amazing man and runner whom I'd been privileged to meet at the 2016 EndurRun), and my good pal Taylor (with whom I'd worked for several years at The Rogers Cup in Toronto).  This year there was no Kenyan or Ethiopian elite athlete to spy on/meet since this was the first year that The County Marathon did not offer any prize money - a bit of a shame since it was always cool to rub shoulders with the kind of people who were themselves rubbing shoulders with the best runners in the entire world.

Within the first couple of kilometres of the start line I also met up with a few runners who indicated that their plan was to stick with me, including:
  • Albert - who'd just raced in the Berlin Marathon the previous weekend and notched a new PB (3:08), and was also planning to pace a friend in the following weekend's Chicago Marathon - making for three marathons in three weekends in three different countries.  He also brought with him a sportdrink that had Maurten fuel mixed in (now made famous as part of Eliud Kipchoge's Breaking 2 attempt), as they had provided some samples at the Berlin Marathon.
  • Dean - a seasoned marathoner who had posted results all in and around the 3:30 mark.
  • Nathan - a former 140.6 Ironman finisher (at Lake Placid) who had stepped away from endurance sport nearly 10 years ago and was just now trying to get back into it.
Along the way we managed to pick up a few other runners (whom we could have just as easily 'picked off' since many of them fell into the perennial racer's trap of starting out waaaayyy too fast ...) and so our pack grew to about seven, including:
  • Nancy - who was aiming for a BQ but upon seeing my "3:30 FULL" sign immediately exclaimed "Oh man - I'm going at least five seconds per kilometre too fast!".  We encouraged her that she had it in her and that she could use the group as her own personal drafting aid.
  • Shayne - dressed in a super-awesome Spider-man long sleeve tech shirt, but also running in nylon warm-up pants!  
  • Spencer - who dialed into the group at just about the 33km mark and toughed it out (saving most of his breath and energy by not speaking) for his first ever marathon.
As it was we had a really enjoyable time staying together (with a few new faces coming into and out of the group along the way) up to the 35km mark.  This was the furthest that I'd seen a group progress with me in the four years of pacing this event, and so it was a new experience for me and a super-proud moment!  The infamous hill just before the 38km mark did take its toll, but Dean (the last one to hang with me) proved to be mentally tough enough to plod his way up the hill alongside me and picked up steam after we crested it - cruising on through to a 3:29:15 finish.

To be honest I didn't do anything to try to speed up or slow down as I finished the tour of gorgeous downtown Picton and spied the finish line - I felt like I just kept to the effort I'd carried throughout the race, knowing of course that just about everyone picks up thanks to the crowd energy in the closing 150m or so.  I didn't even catch the clock time as I crossed, I was just pleased/surprised that I'd actually carried my "3:30" sign the entire way.


Post-race
I assumed my 'usual' position at the back of the finishers' chute to watch the other runners come across the line, and I suspect that I was afforded a bit more latitude than other participants (since I was a pace bunny) as the volunteers tried to keep that area clear by having racers keep moving through to the open field adjacent to the roadway.  I managed to connect with Dean (who sounded quite emotional as he gave me a big hug), Spencer, Nancy, Nathan, Shayne and Taylor - all of them pretty spent but still pumped about having enjoyed a glorious day in the sun.

Not that I do this for the vainglory, but I'm pleased that I was able to do what they recruited me to do - and some of the evidence of this came in the form of a couple of generous social media shares from the other runners:


It was yet another spectacular day in Prince Edward County, and each year I have as much (if not more) fun than the year before.  If you're a veteran runner/road-racer and haven't yet tried your hand at serving as a pacer I'd encourage you to explore this option - not just as a way to help bolster the running community but also as a challenge for your own training and race strategy.  For what my opinion's worth, I think that you will be glad that you did!

Key race gear used:

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29 September 2017

Race report - 2017 MEC Barrie Race Series Four (15k)

Some races just don't turn out the way that you expect them to ... in a surprisingly positive direction.

This past Saturday I ran in the fourth of five events comprising the 2017 MEC Barrie Race Series, and with three distance options (5/10/15km) I opted to go for the longest one as part of my final preparations for pacing this year's edition of The County Marathon this coming weekend.  I had no real designs on 'racing' the 15km but instead wanted to incorporate one of my regular Saturday "P-Train" (as in 'pain train') workouts into it and otherwise just have a pleasant outing with a number of my RunNinja compatriots.

So the scheduled P-Train workout called for the following:  warm-up + 4x(500m @ 10km race pace w/ 90 sec. recoveries) + cool down.  Now inasmuch as a warm-up is always a good idea, on this given day it might not have been necessary ... at 6:00 a.m. it was already 20°C (with the humidex making it feel like 25°C) and by race time at 9:00 a.m. it would probably feel closer to 30°C at the Orillia waterfront.

I arrived with my usual 60 min. to spare before gun time and had plenty of margin to pick up my bib, chat it up with some of the MEC staff, hit the porta-potty and go out for a light shuffle on the course route.  I also connected with RunNinjas Juan, David, Becca, Christina, Shane, Holly, Laurie and Sarah (all running the 15km), plus Rick and Katya (tackling the 5km).  I was particularly interested in seeing how Katya would fare as she was aiming for a sub-24 min. finish but was (in her pre-children days) a member of Team Russia at the 1996 World Junior Championships in Athletics. There they finished 6th in the women's 4x400m relay, and she would post a PB of 53.08s (!!!).

It was also interesting to hear Juan say that in scanning the crowd he couldn't spy anyone that he would pick as the outright winner of our race, noting that ordinarily he might recognize some of the really fast runners.  I told him to go take a look in the mirror ... but also acknowledged that perhaps the heat was a deterrent to some runners who might otherwise participate, knowing that the conditions weren't conducive to really fast results.


The Race
A number of us were sporting RunNinja-branded tech tees and/or singlets so we thought that it would make for a great starting photo to all line up at the front.  Sure enough ...

Photo courtesy of MEC Barrie Flickr photostream

So right out of the gate I started my first 500m interval and while a couple of folks hung with me for the first 150m or so pretty soon I was out in front on my own.  Even though I shifted right down back to a trot during the 90s recovery segments I had built enough of a lead through the bursts that after the first 2.5km I was out in front by a good 15 seconds or so, being chased down by Juan, Shane and David.  With the temps they way they were I tried to just keep a nice aerobic pace going for the next 11km, enjoying the opportunity to cheer on the 5km racers as they came back toward me (our race started with an extra 'spur' that the other distances didn't have to cover) on the Tudhope Park trail and eventually the 10km runners that I either intersected with or caught and passed.

It's worth noting that while it was pretty crazy hot while running it was probably no better for the volunteers who were at the aid stations and offering spray-misting or wet sponges along the way - my hat's off to them for standing unsheltered in the sweltering heat to make sure that we were staying somewhat refreshed.

By the time that I re-entered Tudhope Park (it was an out-and-back) there was still a decent gap between me and the chase pack but in my head I was playing 'don't-let-them-catch-me' games, so I did pour on a little extra juice in the final 1500m.  I also wanted to make it look like I was working hard for the finishing-area cameras, not like a jerk who was smugly floating his way to break the tape.

Photo courtesy of MEC Barrie Flickr photostream

In the finishing straight I came up behind a gal who was wrapping up her 10k and looked to be just jogging it in, but decided that I wanted to come alongside and really cheer her on to a strong finish.  She heard me as I urged her to pick it up and swing her arms for a great final kick, and she yanked her earbuds out and really started to move it which was so cool to see.  As I've heard said numerous times, "we think that we're running as fast as we can until someone says that a bear is chasing you" - we all have an extra gear.

Post-race
I didn't even note my time when I crossed through the start/finish arch ... I just took a moment to high five the stranger who had powered herself across the timing mat ahead of me and turned around to go root on my friends who'd yet to complete their races.  In backtracking I found that Juan and David (and many others after them) had taken the wrong fork on the trail just as we re-entered the park area and wound up coming at the final section from the wrong direction (shades of Gary Robbins!) and tacking on maybe an extra 500m to their distance, which would account for why they weren't as hot on my heels as they probably should have been.  I also ran Becca in (she was on the correct home stretch) but after that was asked by race director Lynda to take some pylons out to where the split was unclear to try to help avoid any other misdirections.

Dave taking on cheerleading duties - one of the nicest guys ever!

After all was said and done it was a solid day's effort in gorgeous full-on sunshine (I'm sure that I went home a few tan shades darker) and an amazing showing by all of the RunNinjas.  We managed to claim all of the podium spots in the 15km division, and Katya took home 3rd place female in the 5km division with a killer 22:38!

Photo courtesy of Holly 'Flyby' Trudeau

Here's a video rundown I filmed after finally getting back to my car:


It wasn't a bad day's work after all ... and I'll take a podium finish anytime I can get it!


Looking forward to hopefully getting a few runners across the finish line in Picton with a Boston Qualifying time this Sunday!

#GOlikeneverbefore #haveafastday #getyourmilesin #werunthistown
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15 September 2017

Road review - Skechers GOMeb Razor

I can't say enough good things about these shoes!

The Skechers GOMeb Speed Razor is a new model to the Skechers Performance lineup and for some they occupy a weird in-between space ... they have properties that belong to a racing shoe while also blurring the lines as an everyday workout trainer.

At just around 7.9oz for my men's size 10, they're definitely on the lightweight side.  Even though I tend to like my racing shoes to be closer to the 7 oz. mark these feel much lighter than what the scales would indicate - and in the end, just that sense of being light on your feet might actually make a difference in terms of how you might carry yourself.

The heel-to-toe offset (or drop) is 4mm, and that's pretty much perfect for me when it comes to wanting to lay down some speed.  The stack height (23mm-to-19mm) means that it does sit up a bit, but the new 5GEN midsole material is light and poppy so I didn't feel at all like I lost any responsiveness while busting out intervals or 5km tempo runs.

The seamless knit upper is airy and breathable, and fits over a nice moderately sized footframe - all that to say that for a guy who likes some wiggle room for his toes that I don't feel squeezed in this shoe, nor do I feel sloppy in them either.  Like Goldilocks finally sitting in baby bear's chair, it feels just right.

All told this shoe has a permanent spot in my weekly rotation, and I'm always excited for those days that I get to don them out the door.  If there was any reason that I'd even for a moment hesitate when asked about this shoe it's the pricepoint - at $165 CDN (MSRP) it's on the more expensive side, especially if you're used to thinking of Skechers Performance as being the 'super-affordable' brand of serious running footwear.  Still, that's far from top-end when you peruse the shelves at running retailers and I think that you can probably find some good deals on them now as we head into the winter/2018 supplier season.

Here's my video lowdown on the GOMeb Razor:


Seriously, I give these shoes an easy five-out-of-five footprints:


More great things still to come from Skechers Performance Division!  #haveafastday #getyourmilesin

*** 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.
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16 August 2017

Race Report - The Limberlost Challenge 2017 (DNF)

You win Limberlost, you win.

I went into this year's event with high hopes of not only completing another ultramarathon (56km), nor just bettering my 2014 result of 9:11 but actually executing a smart game plan and perhaps posting a top-10 or even a top-5 finish.  That's the kind of shape that I felt that I was in, and with my skyrunner friend Juan helping to keep me honest I thought that the odds might actually be stacked in my favour.

Pre-race
With so many of the RunNinjas heading up to tackle The Limberlost Challenge this year I carpooled with my friends Joy and Lewis - Joy was feeling under-trained going into her first 28km race attempt, and Lewis was still nursing a nagging patellar injury but had volunteered to assist at an aid station.  For my part I felt quite confident having completed the 50km distance at Pick Your Poison and believing that I'd learned a number of value lessons that I could bring to the table this time around.  One thing that I'd done differently was to get in a solid two-week taper ... now I'll admit that it left me feeling a bit stale on race-day morning but the key was that I was able to nail all of my desired paces during the workouts leading up to Limberlost weekend so I was reasonably confident that I could trust the training that I'd put in.

After about an hour we arrived in Huntsville and opted for a short pit-stop for washrooms and gasoline.  Well, we got the washrooms part but it was evident after two non-operational fueling stations that some kind of wicked storm had knocked the stuffing out of the computer networks that worked the pumps.  I'd later find out that my friend Vicki had no power through the night at her hotel in Huntsville thanks to a blown transformer somewhere.  This might have been my first cue that the day would turn out a little differently that I'd anticipated.

Pulling into the parking lot at The Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve we all commented on how many cars had already filled the designated parking area (and it was approximately an hour before the 56km start time).  What we would quickly come to realize was that as many cars as there were the ratio of mosquitoes to cars was even higher ... a momentary opening of the driver-side door let in seven or eight of the bloodsuckers.  Between the soggy spring weather that we'd experienced and the overnight thunderstorm the bugs were swarming in stereotypical Muskoka fashion.  As such it was a mad dash from the van to the sign-in tent and back to the van to try to get ready in advance of the starter's pistol.  We still managed to connect with a bunch of RunNinjas and snap the obligatory pre-race selfies, all while getting drained of a pint or two of blood.


Photo credit:  Kathleen Power

The race
I was mentally prepared to go slow, and with Juan setting the pace we took a very measured and controlled approach to the first two 14km loops. We weren't excessively chatty, but carried on at a clip that certainly permitted casual conversation about the gorgeous scenery and the occasional sections of mud (***foreshadowing***) that we encountered along the way.  Over the first 7km we were overtaken by a number of eager runners - which we'd fully anticipated would happen and were none too worried about - and eventually dialed in to a pace that kept us together with another friend of mine named David (who'd recently completed the Sulphur Springs 200 miler).  I constantly kept checking back with Juan to ensure that I wasn't getting overanxious about our time, and after the first two loops we were pretty much spot on, crossing the first 14km in 1:40:40 and dusting off the next 14km in 1:38:09.  At this point a negative split was in sight ...!

But then the third loop happened.

Nothing too monumental, but during this lap the mud sections had sprawled out to about four times their starting sizes, and one of the most significant bogs was found along a 70m incline.  Naturally we all slowed while traversing these shoe-sucking pits, but I think that they also actually wound up doing a number on my hamstrings as at about 35km my legs started to offer some unusual and unfamiliar feedback.  I had to let Juan skip along out of sight ahead of me as I felt like the pace was becoming labourious, and I was becoming concerned about the sensations in my lower limbs.  For one of the first times in an ultra it wasn't my cardio or my fueling or my race tactics that was the presenting problem ... could it be that my fitness just wasn't there?

Naaahhh, it couldn't be.  After all I'd managed to recently power through a billy-goat's worth of 50k at Pick Your Poison and continued to build up my training after that.  In the end I can't say for certain what did me in, but my hamstrings were tight and led to me altering my gait ever-so-subtly ... and I could tell that after completing the third loop that if I decided to finish out the race that I'd almost definitely be setting the stage for some kind of compensation injury.  With that in mind I decided that discretion would be the better part of valour on this day and pulled the plug at the start/finish area, noting this to both the course marshal and the event medical crew.

Post-race
Part of me certainly thought that this was a moment of shame - after all I'd managed to tough out every other race I'd ever participated in, regardless of how difficult it felt.  And yet on this particular occasion it totally felt like the right thing to do - I was not going to be competitive any more in this race, and with pacing duties ahead of me this fall I didn't want to sabotage the rest of my summer training season having to nurse a wonky knee or wrecked quads ...

... which unfortunately is exactly what happened to my pal Juan.  While he finished the race (taking 11th overall and a bronze medal finish for his age category) he pretty much collapsed in pain at the conclusion of the run.  Apparently he'd also questioned the wisdom of finishing the final 14k - which we eventually both chalked up to the instability of running through long sections of mud - but decided to do it anyway.  He finished with a high degree of knee pain that left him hobbling and unable to make it to the podium when his name was announced over the PA system.  The next day he'd actually take himself into the emergency room at Royal Victoria Hospital and was told that while he would not require surgery he was facing at least a 5-week 'no running' order.

All in all I came away satisfied with what I'd accomplished - a solid 42k trail training run (although even Strava refused to fully acknowledge my effort!), a great day spent with Juan and cheering on so many of my fellow RunNinjas, and the intentions of perhaps one day returning yet again to flog the Limberlost Challenge into submission.

What?  Even the kilometres that I toughed out didn't count?!?

But this time, I yield.  You may have won the battle Limberlost, but not yet the war.




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07 July 2017

No second chances at a first impression ... just second chances

It's taken three long years to recover.

Not physically, but perhaps psychologically.

And tomorrow I am returning to the scene of my most epic race blow-up, where I lay on the brink of oblivion before being rescued by my relentless and faithful friend Jim.  Yes, in less than 24 hours I will once again tackle the 56km trails of the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve.

The last time that I was there I was tackling my first real ultra, and in part due to a mismanagement of salt intake I struggled with dehydration and a dangerously low blood pressure situation.   Again, thanks to Jim's perseverance and sacrifice I managed to hobble my way across the finish line, feeling a great sense of defeat and dissatisfaction.  Now, having a few more ultras under my proverbial belt (including a couple of 50ks and a 50-miler) I'm going to try my hand once more at this event.

What's going to be different this time?

Much, I hope.

For one thing I will be sharing the forest with a dozen or more of my fellow RunNinjas, covering three of the four available distance options.  Just knowing that I'm going to criss-cross with my tribe members out there is going to provide me with plenty of inspiration.

Second, I plan to run with my newfound Ecuadorian friend (and experienced mountain ultra-runner) Juan - and since he has proven with consistency that he can race negative splits I'm hopeful that together we will be able to execute a smart race strategy that will serve us both well.

Third, I know what it's like to have every cell in your body yearn for you to swallow your pride and post that DNF (did not finish).  I know what it's like to feel like when returning to an upright position - let alone taking another step - seems impossible.  I know what it's like to watch as dozens of runners pass you by as you lay motionless on the ground. 

But more than that I know what it's like to get back up from that and get the job done.

Tomorrow, I'll be armed and dangerous.  Limberlost, I'm coming for you, and this time it's personal.

#redemptionrun #GOlikeneverbefore


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