24 September 2016

Race report - MEC Barrie Race FOUR (2016) - 15k

I absolutely love my tribe of #RunNinjas!

It's not only been a pleasure to get to know each of them and their engaging personalities, stories and trajectories, but also to be able to watch them become stronger, faster, more resilient athletes.

This weekend afforded another opportunity to watch the community of runners shine.

The MEC Barrie Race Series made its fourth stop of the year in Tudhope Park, Orillia - the first time that it's taken to the waterfront trail following the shores of Lake Couchiching.  With paths clearly marked for walkers, cyclists and runners it actually was a pretty near ideal locale for a race - and even on a gorgeous fall day such as the one we had (albeit quite chilly in the lead-up hours to the race) it wasn't too crowded and no one appeared to be put-out or put-off by the fact that a race was being conducted on this route.

I approached this race as essentially a training run in advance of my planned target fall marathon (still TBD) but also a good solid workout in advance of next weekend's pacing duties at The County Marathon (third year in a row).  My training plan had scheduled a 21k core workout involving a warm-up / 7k @ marathon pace (MP) / 90 sec. recovery / 7k @ half-marathon pace (HMP) / 90 sec. recovery / 7k @ pace of choice / cool down - and so I thought that I could weave this in nicely with the 15k race option for the morning.

Pre-race
Showing up about 90 min. in advance of the indicated 9:00 a.m. start gave me plenty of time to pick up my bib and chip, chat with a few of the race crew volunteers and then head out for the first chunk of my workout.  It was definitely brisk, but I knew that hitting 7k @ MP would keep me sufficiently warm, plus the sun was starting to peek up over the horizon which made a real difference in the air temperature.  The early miles also provided a sneak peek at the course route since this trail/path was new to me.

The plan was to conclude my first segment just in time to fall in the back of the pack of 15k runners as they crossed the startline timing mats - but through a bit of miscalculation and a slightly delayed send-off I wound up breaking into my second segment (7k @ HMP) a few minutes before we actually launched into the race.  All in all it still worked out ok as I still waited it out to cross the start line last.

The race
There wasn't a great deal of bobbing and weaving required to clear the slower 15k runners which I was pleasantly surprised by, and I'm sure that those runners appreciated not having someone brush right by their shoulders trying to scoot toward some clear space.  I scooted by my RunNinja pals Dave, Joy, Gillian, Crystal, Mariana, Lindsey, Laurie and Sonia while cheering them forward and managed to keep in HMP stride while working into the fifth spot of the 15k crowd.  One of the very cool things that I noted was that one of our youngest RunNinjas (Ryan, a grade 9 student) was tucked in the lead pack with two older runners and holding his own.  I wondered if I'd really been pushing myself in full-on 'race mode' whether or not I could have caught and dialed into the lead pack, but I was thrilled that Ryan was there to rep the RunNinjas!

As it worked out just after the 4k mark of the race I concluded my second segment so as planned I walked a 90 second recovery.  I was surprised that during that walking stretch no other 15k runners passed me, just a few of the 10k and 5k runners (with whom we'd intermingled after about the 3k point).  When it was time to switch into the third segment of my workout I decided to try to just ease it in at the planned pace-bunny MP for next week (5:00/km) to not overcook myself and still give my body a chance to get accustomed to the pace I'll want to hold at The County.  A kilometre into that third segment I had a 15k racer zip past looking strong - and while part of me felt like I really wanted to hunt him down the wiser part of me enjoyed the jogging effort and cheering other runners along as I continued to just cruise on through.

Look ma ... no feet!

Between the weather being quite brilliant and the lackadaisical pace I had a lot of fun out there.  I didn't end up picking anyone else off (at least from the 15k crowd) and enjoyed my way through to a 1:08:27 finish. 

Ryan ended up sticking in there for 3rd OA!

Post-race
But my day wasn't done ...

One of the fun things that I've made a habit of doing in the MEC races is heading back out to accompany some of the other RunNinjas across the line.  It's mostly a labour of love for me - I certainly hope that my friends don't find it demeaning or patronizing that I hustle along with them during the finishing stretches of their races.  I hope that I'm able to add a little somethin'-somethin' by way of encouragement, and not just end up being 'that guy' who photobombs all of their finish line photos.

Does it count as 'helping' if you can't keep up with them ... Gillian?!?

At the end of the day there were many great results to be celebrated - lots of PBs (Joy!!), overall/gender wins (Mike, Youjin) and age-group placings (Ryan, Sonia, Miranda, birthday-girl Shari, Crystal, Gillian, Lindsay, Laurie) ... and some 'honorary RunNinjas' also crushed their races (Eva, Emma-Joy, Darcy, David Collver, Glenn Barnes).  Basically everyone had a killer event!

We are family ... ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯

Once again congrats to MEC Barrie for organizing and hosting a superb race - it's no coincidence that MEC was just recognized as the #1 trusted brand by Canadians!

Thanks to all of my friends on and off the course for a fantastic day - and of course to Skechers Performance Canada for the killer orange kicks (GOMeb Speed 3 2016) that got shout-outs from runners and various passers-by all morning long!
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02 September 2016

You can't get there alone!

While I'm still savouring the great experience(s) that came from participating in the 2016 ENDURrun I was reminded of some unfinished business.

I haven't given credit where credit is due.

While benefiting from the great post-stage massages each day (thanks to Colin and his team from KW Health Connection) I recall having a conversation about the massive scar on the back of my right heel.  It's result of a complete Achilles tendon rupture that I suffered in 2007 and the resulting (semi-emergency) surgery that followed.  Noting to Dr. Colin (who was massaging me on that particular day/stage) that I haven't had any residual pain, tightness or limitation since the completed rehab process and that I'd successfully completed 10+ marathons and a few ultramarathons on my surgically-repaired Achilles tendon he suggested to me that I need to be sure to go back and thank those health professionals who helped get me back on my feet.

And so having completed my first 160km ENDURrun, it's time to do just that.

I have to give the first shout-out to the team at D Freer & Associates here in Barrie - I was referred to their sports medicine doctor by the attending physician at the emergency department since his determination was that I'd only had a partial rupture of my Achilles tendon.  With instructions in hand to visit a sports med doc a week later I stepped into the offices at D Freer and after about a 5 minute consult was told to wait in the exam room ... and moments later the doctor came back to let me know that surgery was booked for me the next day since it was without a doubt a complete rupture.  His astonishment at the emergency attendant's 'incompetence' was classic and his ability to leverage his influence to get me into the operating room so quickly made all of the difference in terms of my prognosis.

The second shout-out is a repeater to Dr. John O'Sullivan, the orthopedic surgeon who pleated my tendon back together (all while I read a book on the operating table thanks to a well-administered epidural) and saw me throw the phases of rehab.  I can't say enough about how he under-promised (suggesting perhaps a return to 80% strength) and over-delivered.  Again, the scar may look gnarly (thanks to the week delay in proper diagnosis) but it makes for great storytelling, and it's helped me bust out a ton of running miles.


Now you know ... it may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a team to (re)build a runner.
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27 August 2016

First look - Skechers GOMeb Speed Elite

I couldn't resist ... they're just #sopretty ...



Full road review to come!

*** 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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17 August 2016

Race report - The ENDURrun 2016 (Ultimate category)

What a race.

What an event.

What a spread!

What absolutely fantastic people.

This is the rundown that was the 2016 ENDURrun (ultimate edition).

Stage 1 – Half-marathon

It was an early 3:30 am start to the day including a 15-min. shakeout run, breakfast, a quick shower and final packing for the next few days.  The 1h45min trip to Waterloo was hassle-free and uneventful, landing me at the start line by just before 7am where I was pretty much the first competitor to arrive – however, the ENDURrun team was already busy at work to set everything up for day one.

I was given my race kit by a couple of very friendly race crew volunteers (in fact they would all turn out to be this friendly and chipper, even at 7am!) and I managed to meet a few other ‘ultimate’ category runners – among them were Chris Battaglia (the one other entrant from Barrie), ‘Runner’ Rob Brouillette (last year’s ENDURrun overall champion and odds-on-favourite to repeat) and Baoshi Sun (who’d just started following me on Twitter after favouriting a tweet of mine the night before).  The crowd of other racers, from relay teams to single-stage runners, began filing in quickly and everyone was efficiently processed by the sea of yellow-shirted volunteers so that we were all ready to get our pre-race group photos done by 7:50am.

After a few brief instructions from Race Director Lloyd Schmidt we were counted down and sent off by 8:01am.  The course was a paved route the entire way – mostly roadside but there was a stretch of park trail/golf course pathway that we followed as well.  I started off with the intentions of dialing into a marathon-pace/solid aerobic effort and found myself able to do just that within about 2k.  The sifting process involved passing a few slower runners (as I opted to line up mid-pack in the starting chute) and eyeballing a few faster runners that I would just keep within visual distance for the majority of the race.

The course was reasonably level with the most noticeable drop taking place in the first kilometre from the start/finish line (which we would traverse twice as this was a semi-looped course) and a few rises and falls in the Conestogo countryside.  The sun proved to be a bit of a factor as the temperature rose to about 27°C during run, and there was also a noticeable wind that cut across sections of the course and also hit us head-on.  Although there was that to contend with the aid stations were well-spaced and cheerily (!) staffed and two gels wound up being enough fuel to keep me on task for the morning.

I tried to keep in mind sensei Jim’s words to avoid hitting ‘orange line’ territory in the early stages of the week – and by that he meant something even less than ‘redline’ (e.g. mile-to-5k pace), so hovering in the 70-80% effort level.  As such I kept telling myself to keep it feeling like one of my aerobic training runs which usually work out to be something in the 4:40-4:45/km ballpark.  I think that it must have been the ‘race’ atmosphere that had me pumped up a little as whenever I would peek at the auto-lap readouts I was hitting something in the high 4:20s/km.  On top of that, with about 3k to go I caught two of the runners whom I’d been keeping in visual distance for about 15k and put in a decided effort to pass them and not be passed by them again – and while I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near redlining it I may have been tiptoeing along the orange line as I finished in 1:34:04 (a 4:25/km average pace).

Post-race included a free massage and a bountiful spread of food – from homemade hummus to build-your-own-burgers and made-to-order smoothies (for real!).  It was a real extravaganza, and chatting with some other experienced ENDURrunners I was told that this was just the beginning.

Lloyd gave a wrap-up talk that included announcements of the overall stage winner (Runner Rob in 1:14:01) who would wear the yellow jersey for the men, and female stage winner Angela who came across in 1:30:28.  He invited us all to enjoy his swimming pool even if he wasn’t there, which is apparently a must for any ultimate category competitor if you’re truly going to get the full range of the ENDURrun experience!

Day one and (for now) looking like a runner! [photo:  Julie Schmidt]

Stage 2 – 15km TT

  • We started in reverse order of HM finishing times at one-minute intervals, and this had me starting at 47 min. after the first runner
  • It was a reasonably flat U-shaped route, starting on a busy country highway (with little paved shoulder to work with) but then turning onto rural country roads
  • I tried to keep an even pace and maintain Baoshi in my sights - but near the turnaround I was clipping along at pretty much the same pace as Nick (Wagner), with whom I would find myself jockeying for the remainder of the week
  • You know what I noticed?  That somehow in Waterloo you always seem to turn into the wind ...
  • At around the 11km mark I was passed by our race leader Rob, looking strong as always
  • I managed to keep the hustle up and crossed in 1:04:58, losing some time against the field but feeling strong and not experiencing any ‘dead spots’ in my legs ... this was about as much as I could have hoped for, and gave me some confidence that I might be able to hold up alright for the remainder of the event
  • For the next few days I'd have the pleasure of the company of Xavier Avery (Rhonda-Marie's son) who served as a crew member at a few stages of the race in order to accumulate some of his high-school volunteer hours ... a great guy and lots of fun with whom to share the car rides to and from the various venues

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care ... ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯ 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 3 – 30km trail run
  • Bechtel Park was familiar to me thanks to my experience at the 2015 Waterloo Marathon, although it served only as the start and finish area for that race whereas today we would be meandering our way all through and around the park itself
  • The day was warm and only slated to get warmer (again hitting something in the mid-30s)
  • The route was a mix of grass field, a small stretch of paved road, woodchip paths and non-technical woodland trail – there were two or three notable sections of climb and only one real ‘downhill’ 30m section that you could bomb along
  • The full sun and high temps did make for a daunting slog, but much-welcomed shade did come about in the forest and at the right times to keep core-temps regulated (although one relay runner did go down unresponsive, and was attended to by EMS)
  • On my fourth 5k loop I was passed by Rob who was having little issues with keeping his strong performance going and maintaining his overall lead
  • While my loop splits were reasonably even I did slow down as the morning wore on (24:45/24:32/24:51/25:25/27:06/26:32)
  • I managed to climb a spot in the standings as Baoshi was a bit tentative on the ‘rooty’ sections and gave up some time on the field

Woohoo ... the trail run is over! 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 4 – 10 mile hill run

  • Tonight's weather provided a humidex reading of about 36°C
  • Camp Heidelberg is situated out in the hilly terrain skirting the Waterloo region, not far from St. Jacob’s
  • The 6pm start made for a different kind of challenge – tackling the heat of the day, a different point in many people’s daily metabolic cycle, and a change-up in fuelling strategies
  • Start line was situated a few minutes’ downhill walk from the finish line in a ‘valley’ point so we would have to climb both to begin and conclude the race
  • The hills were not particularly nasty (except perhaps the notorious "Horror Hhill" which featured a mini-plateau at two-thirds of the way up it) but they were fairly relentless
  • The course marshaling was again excellent with volunteers and Waterloo Region Police ensuring our safety at intersections (I kept joking with the cops how I just couldn't understand how they were wearing long pants in this kind of weather!)
  • Aid stations were adequately situated although the first one didn’t appear until close to the 5km mark – and on a hot day that seemed like a loooooong stretch
  • Spray-bottl misting, soaked sponges and ziploc’d baggies with ice were offered which made such a huge difference!
  • Rob again crushed this stage, in part thanks to his coach (Josh Bolton) pacing him for the final 7km in
  • Until around the 7.5km mark I was running with Baoshi (my closest competitor in times booked so far) but found myself slightly out in front by the 9km turnaround
  • After 11km I decided to try to race out the remaining 5km and had the overall women’s leader (Angela) in my sights at around 300m in front of me ... it took me the remainder of the race to catch up to her and finally pass her on the final 300m climb to the finish line

Eughhh ... more brains ... preferably salted-caramel flavoured ... [photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 5 – 25.6km alpine run

  • It’s bad enough that there was a 200m elevation change for each 5.6km loop – but to add humidex temperatures approaching 40°C brought out this word on the lips of many:  “sufferfest”
  • The pace was much more measured for everyone today as we all wanted to play it smart – thankfully there was plenty of water, electrolyte drink and even ice along the way
  • The course was altogether runnable, even where it became single track switchbacks ... I chose to wear the GOTrail Ultra 3 just in case the forecasted storms showed up
  • On each of the first three loops I stopped at various points to check to see if my right sock was bunching up funny or if something had crept into my shoe as there was a point of discomfort, but the first two times I made a modest adjustment and was able to lace back up and continue.  On the third loop I was sure that I’d lost a toenail and it was shifting around inside my sock so I stopped at an aid station to remove my sock with plans of getting a bandage – only find that that the ‘loose impediment’ was actually a safety pin that had stowed itself away in my right sock!  Needless to say everything felt better after that.
  • I took one tumble on the final lap thanks to a stump that must have been the size of the CN Tower (although looking back on the trail for it I couldn’t see it)
  • During the fourth loop I began to experience the weird air pressure in my ears similar to Limberlost, indicating to me that my salt intake was probably too low to help absorb the liquids I was drinking and that my blood pressure was also low
  • You know what kept me going through to the end?  Head cook Ian's promise that there would be Pad Thai and fried rice available as part of the post-race buffet ... yum yum! 

Yeah - see that safety pin near my neckline?  That's the culprit from my sock! 
[photo: Julie Schmidt]

Stage 6 – 10km TT

  • I had a good sleep although through the night I could tell that my right glute had really been worked over by the alpine climbs at Chicopee, as it felt both tight and tender to any pressure
  • When the seedings were released I was situated as the eighth fastest runner, so starting at only 7 min. before our cumulative time leader Rob
  • The morning at Steven and Rhonda-Marie’s house was abuzz with activity as they along with friends Nathan (Brooks) and Jennifer-Anne (Meneray) were packing to leave for the Beast of Burden ultra in Lockport, NY
  • As a point-to-point race most of us parked at Lloyd’s place (the finish line was actually set up on his street) and shuttled together with some of the race crew to the start line in nearby Elmira
  • Much of the pre-race time was spent either slow jogging or pestering the veteran ENDURrunners about a good strategy for today’s 10k – most of them answered sensibly that the time gained today shouldn’t be weighed against the potential time gained during tomorrow’s marathon stage, but Stefan (a former champion in 2013) did say that it was a good day to try to open up the stride after all of the short climbing steps used on the ski hills
  • Watching everyone ahead of me start (at 1 min. intervals) it looked like to a person everyone was going out fast … and sure enough after the race everyone seemed to report having gone out a bit ‘too fast’ in the early kms
  • The course was reasonably flat with a few rises in the first 3 kms but nothing to fret over
  • I tried to keep the leg turnover going well and footstrikes light, but I could definitely tell that I would be labouring today
  • At around 5km Angela (the cumulative time leader for females) passed me looking strong, and I never did catch her
  • Knowing that Rob consistently ran about 1 min./km faster than me all week my mini-goal was to get to 7km before being lapped by him, which I managed to do as I cheered him on past me at about 7.5km
  • In the final km I inserted the western-Aussie carboload workout (2:30 at 1mi. effort + 30s sprint) and managed to catch and pass Patrick Campbell who’d started 1 min. before I did

Still havin' the time of my life! (photo credit Aaron Putman)

Stage 7 – Marathon

  • I woke up recognizing that my right hamstring and glute were very sore and worked over, presumably by the 16 mile alpine stage and the 10 mile hill run (and accompanying heat/humidity)
  • I also was greeted by a note on the kitchen counter that let me know that Rhonda-Marie and Steven had returned through the night having DNF’d at the BOB after 50 miles (I think that the severe thunderstorms that we had experienced in Kitchener also struck upstate New York)
  • At the start line in Conestogo Park everyone was anxious about starting the final stage, (with early starters going out at 6am instead of 7:30am because the course could only remain open until 12:30pm) - except for my fellow ultimate-category competitor Ben who had serious doubts about the condition of the blistering on his feet – I’d wished him the best but he eventually pulled out and DNF’d after 12k
  • In the early part of the race I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace (4:32/km) but quickly found myself losing my closest competition from the week (Patrick, Ben and Baoshi) and keeping pace with the overall second place runner (Mark) … that lasted until the start of the second 21.1k loop when I was soon passed by the overall third place runner (Kyle) and I found my pace slowing significantly
  • I managed to keep my placement steady even as my pace per km ballooned up – at 37k I’d intended to try to step on the gas for a strong finish but that final gear just wasn’t there
  • Most of the race was a sun/cloud mix with temperatures in the mid-20s, a welcome relief from the conditions that we’d experienced the rest of the week (even in the breeze came in the form of a headwind)
  • After the finish came the requisite massage and amazing spread of food, and I caught up with Rob who finished with a blazing fast 2:37 (smashing his 2:51 from last year and putting him ahead of his overall time from 2015) and Josh Bolton and Tanis Smith
  • We wrapped things up with a group photo, and medals/prizes for all finishers plus special awards for Rob and Angela as top male and female ENDURrunners, as well as being the Hill King/Queen, Sprint King/Queen and Trail King/Queen
  • I wound up with fourth overall for male competitors and top ‘rookie’ (which actually gets my name on a trophy plaque)


-----

The event wrapped up with a group photo and an awards presentation ceremony - and just like the class acts that Lloyd and his team have been all week they had medals and prizes for all competitors in the 'ultimate' category.  While everyone had an opportunity to say a few words upon receiving their well-deserved awards, there were a few notable moments for me:

  • Patrick (Kelly) letting us all know how grateful he was to not only have competed with two of his children this week, but also how just over a month ago he could barely walk as a result of a stroke
  • Jack (Kilislian) accepting his tokens and giving away his custom ENDURrun hoodie to Ben (Hack) who had made it all the way to 12k in the final marathon stage before the pain in his feet forced him to stop
  • Joanne (Bink) tearfully thanking us all for the most wonderful 50th birthday celebration that anyone could ever have.
We all bid our farewells at the conclusion of the presentation, chatting about the potential of returning next year as we each headed off in our own respective directions.  I'm giving it serious consideration - not only because I want to see if I can better my results in 2017 but also because this was a gathering of some of the most kind, supportive and passionate zest-for-life people with whom I've ever had the privilege of associating ... and who wouldn't want to come back for that?

If any of you reading this report are at all intrigued by this event or inclined to give it a shot I HIGHLY recommend it.  You may just fall in love with the experience like I did ... and you will definitely value the opportunity to prove to yourself that you are 1 TOUGH RUNNER!

http://results.runwaterloo.com/endurrun/ultimate/?year=2016

Race gear for the 2016 ENDURrun:


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06 August 2016

All the world's a stage (race)

This Sunday will be a Sunday unlike any other that I've had ... because it will mark the start of a 160km journey that will take me through to the following Sunday.

Just shy of a year ago I decided that I would attempt an event that I'd heard about through a couple of friends called the ENDURrun:  a series of seven races taking place over the course of eight days.  I recall that when I first heard of it being mentioned I thought that it was a positively outrageous concept, and I had mad respect for the person who was mentioned as having completed all of the stages.  That being said, I had no intentions, aspirations or even expectations that I could even attempt a feat like that.

Fast forward to three years later.
http://endurrun.com/

As an entrant in the 'ultimate' category (as there are options to compete in the 'sport' category tackling the final three stages only, or as part of a 2-7 person relay team) I'll be definitely testing my limits - although I've put in a similar amount of mileage within a week's span I've never attempted to run as hard as I will each day.  Thankfully my friend Dave (who was the first person I'd heard about who had completed the ultimate version of the race) has provided me with some tips that I will be sure to incorporate into my strategy ... and this kind of event certainly demands a strategic approach.  Structured much like the Tour de France, the ENDURrun includes time trials, alpine climbs and a yellow-jerseyed overall time leader.  The gains made by blasting out a 10k PB on one day would be far outweighed by saving your guns for a strong marathon where more time could be put against the field - and so a successful ENDURrunner needs to be not only fast and fit but wily as well.

I can't say what I really expect out of this race - except that I want to just cross the finish line of each stage so as to fulfill my obligation to the Transcend Running Academy for whom I've been fundraising through my participation in this event.  My hope has been to raise support and awareness of this great work with the student-athletes in Kenya who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend high school and rise above the subsistence-living conditions of their families and villages - and just maybe in helping to subsidize their education, run training and leadership coaching I might be facilitating the emergence of the next great Kenyan difference-maker.
https://vimeo.com/104137737
There's still time and opportunity to support the Academy - please visit the pledge page here!  https://raceroster.com/events/2016/6288/the-endurrun-2016/pledge?id=34&type=participant

So that's it - I hope to complete a taxing seven-stage race so that a young man or woman on the other side of the planet can pursue their dreams and go beyond surviving to thriving.  For me that will be the measure of success

not finishing top 10

just finishing.

Not for me.

But for another.

Let's get it on.

#GOlikeneverbefore
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