23 March 2017

Gear review - Skechers Performance GO Shield BWW-DX Elite Jacket

I've had the privilege of being a Skechers Performance Canada brand ambassador/athlete for three years now, and each year I'm more and more impressed not only with the advances in their running footwear but also their technical apparel - and this year's offerings are no different!

Here's a quick rundown of the jacket that I've seen already at some races being sported by other Skechers Performance athletes:

You can check out a similar jacket on the Skechers website by clicking here.

Be sure to the Skechers Performance line of apparel a lookover if and when you are looking to gear up for any season of running!

#GOlikeneverbefore #getyourmilesin

10 March 2017

Race report - 2017 Chilly Half-Marathon

Can we say "second time's a charm"?

I know that that's not how the saying goes, but the second time in two years I've been the beneficiary of somebody opting to not arrive at the start of the Chilly Half-Marathon, and therefore being offered the opportunity to transfer their bib to me.

While I did not originally have the Chilly Half on my radar for 2017 still it fit into my plan of racing shorter distances (i.e. no full marathons for me) this year.  Climbing the age group ladder I had resolved to try to work on improving my overall speed by focusing on 5k and 10k races, with a smattering of half-marathons tossed in for good measure.  But when my friend Steve informed me that his wife was not feeling prepared enough to tackle the Chilly Half and that the bib was mine if I wanted it ... well, at that point in time I wanted it. :)

Being fairly fluid with my training plans I sort-of used a schedule from RunBritain.com to try to prepare myself for a decent race.  However I was mostly looking forward to being able to join my friends Mike and Dave for another roadtrip (as we'd made this trek last year with another friend Carol), along with their friends Becky and Ashlen.  We were also planning to meet our pal (and fellow RunNinja) Rad who was going to be running his first Chilly Half, and likely right around the pace that I was also going to target.

For the second year in a row I did not attend the expo held at Mercedes-Benz Burlington as Mike's dad (running the Frosty 5k with Dave, Becky and Ashlen) offered to pick up our race kits.  All we had to do was show up on Sunday morning and arrange a meeting point in order to nab our bibs and step up to the start line.

The departure from Barrie at 6:50am provided us with an indication that this would indeed be a chilly race day - raw temps were around -11°C (with a windchill closer to -20°C) but thankfully without any precipitation.  We watched Mike's dashboard thermometer carefully and saw the readout climb to about -8°C when we pulled into a free parking lot in Burlington, about a block away from City Hall and the start/finish chute.

Aside from using the washroom multiple times (see: cold-induced diuresis) and staying warm inside City Hall, it was just a waiting game of about 90 min. before joining the masses in the starting chute.  I did note that I spotted one other runner wearing exactly the same Skechers Performance warm-up kit as I was, so I went over to say hi and create a deliberately awkward 'we should have told each other what we were planning to wear' moment ... but it turned out to be fellow Skechers athlete Paul Rochus (who wound up finishing 7th overall), and so I was happy to try to absorb some speed by osmosis.

We managed to meet up with our good friends Rad and Emily just about 30 min. before gun time, and I was amazed to find out that even after having had about a litre of water or sport-drink that morning he had no need to go to the washroom.  Must be nice to be young, fast, and have a superhuman bladder.

The race
Rad and I lined up together and wound up running the first 4km or so side-by-side, with Mike quickly leaving us in his dust.  We were clipping along decently at a shade over 4:00/km with a noticeably robust head-and-crosswind, and as it was with last year's event I found that the first quarter or so of the course was an easy out-and-back loop that kept the energy high because there were plenty of runners to see as you passed back and forth.  It was a bit of a game of 'where's Waldo' as there were a number of folks whom I recognized on the confirmed entry list but hadn't yet seen on the day so I was hoping to shout a 'hey what's up' as I spotted them.

I did my best to try to find a small group of runners to 'latch onto' that would help me stay on target pace, and to that extent there were four Longboat Roadrunners who seemed to be pressing forward at the same rate as yours truly.  I also managed to catch up with someone in an Adaptive Running singlet (Larry) representing the crew co-founded by my friend and running hero Stan.  Larry was aiming for a casual sub-1:25, so I knew that I wouldn't be hot on his heels but wanted to keep him in sight.

The rolling course essentially offered up about 13km of wind resistance, and it wasn't until the second hairpin turnaround that we experienced any subsiding of the wind, perhaps even some benefit from it.  At that pivot point I'd seen Mike flying by way ahead of me (by a good 4+ minutes) and Rad only trailing by maybe 40 seconds at most.  I was still feeling reasonably light on my feet and was doing my level best to work the downhills and not redline it climbing the slight uphill sections.

Once again at the 16k point (Appleby Line) I tried to give it some more gusto and managed to find myself creeping up slowly on some of the competitors who were ahead of me.  With about 2k to go I was trying to follow the rhythm and cadence of a female racer who seemed to be barely working at all (while I was sounding a whole lot like a rabid dog panting in the middle of the desert), and managed to yet again find one extra gear for the final 1000m.  I was far from sprinting (as the finishing chute photo below will attest) and was actually outkicked by another runner who caught me from behind in the last 150m, but in checking the race clock I could see that I was going to cross the line with a modest (13s) personal best.

Yep, that's me hurtin' my way to NYC Marathon qualifying time!

It was awesome to see Rad come flying in behind me by a mere minute, shattering his previous PB in the half-marathon by about 2-1/2 minutes.  When we reconnected with Mike, we found that he'd also crushed his previous PB by close to 2 minutes with a 52nd place 1:19 race!

Awww yeahhh boyyy ... I give all the credit to my Adventure Time Jake hat!

It was so great to chat with other race friends on the day as well - Vicki (8-time ENDURrunner), Peter (part of J.P.'s Team), Jeff (who was a default pacer for my 2015 Waterloo Marathon BQ), and fellow Team Skechers athletes Kirstin, Josh, Tanis and Rob.  It hadn't turned out to be such a great day for Kirstin or Josh, as both of them had experienced physical issues during the race (so much so that Josh had pulled himself out, which is why I saw him jogging on the sidewalk against the flow of runner traffic at the 10k point).  I also managed to finally meet my social media friend Tyler, who was there supporting his Grand River Endurance teammates (Josh and Tanis and Rob) but was himself nursing an injury and not racing on the day.

So despite the race living up to its name, it was another worthwhile trip to Burlington.  Now it's time to tackle a few more short races before hitting up the Pick Your Poison 50k at the end of April!

Race gear for the 2017 Chilly Half-Marathon:


27 February 2017

Just how important is race strategy?

This past weekend I watched with anxious anticipation and what was going to transpire at the 2017 Tokyo Marathon.

Partly because it's the first Abbott World Marathon Major to take place in the calendar year, and partly because I'm a huge admirer of the culture of Japanese distance running (which of course would be disproportionately represented at this event).  But perhaps it was mostly because of Wilson Kipsang's bold prediction for his finishing race time:


If Kipsang were to complete this astonishing feat of averaging 2:54/km for 42.195kms he would then regain the title of marathon world record holder from his countryman Dennis Kimetto (whose 2:02:57 supplanted Wilson's previous WR of 2:03:23).  In order to do this he would need to have a lot of things go his way - and heading into Sunday's race he was able to capitalize on a number of those things:
  • Pacers:  both Barselius Kipyego and Nicholas Korir of Kenya were tasked with getting Wilson (and whomever else was brave enough to go) through the half-marathon in a time of 1:01:20, with one pacer carrying on through to the 30km mark
  • Stiff competition:  the lead group would also feature current Tokyo Marathon course record holder Dickson Chumba (2:05:42) and Japanese all-comers record holder Tsegaye Kebede (2:05:18)
  • Momentum:  Wilson's last marathon was in Berlin last September where he'd set a new PB of 2:03:13 after dueling it out with Kenenisa Bekele (the eventual winner)
  • Equipment:  Adidas developed their 'sub-2 hour' shoe which Wilson featured in the race
  • Fast course:  while not quite meeting Berlin's super-flat and fast standards, changes to the hill segments at this year's Tokyo Marathon did flatten it out (especially in the final quarter of the course) and leaves only a notable hairpin turn at 35km to potentially slow things down
  • Weather conditions:  the race started with ambient temperatures of 6°C (and a projected high of 13°C) with very little wind (6 kph), setting a near ideal table for taking a shot at the WR.
After all was said and done however Wilson broke the tape in 2:03:58 - yes, setting a new fastest recorded marathon time on Japanese soil and winning his first Tokyo Marathon but missing both the WR and his own PB times.

So what happened?

I know that I'm not alone in wondering whether or not he committed the cardinal error of all long distance road-racers:  going out too fast.

Even having declared that he would anticipate running a modest positive split for the race (61:20 first half, 61:30 second half) many jaws were dropping after the first 5k (a net downhill section) was clocked in 14:14 - a 2:00:06 pace.
Far be it from me to think that I know better than one of the greatest marathon runners of all time ... it's just an observation that perhaps even with the confidence of so many of the details lining up in just the right fashion Wilson could have benefited from sticking with the game plan and gone out a bit more conservatively (he would up running splits of 61:21/64:37).  It just goes to show how much of a factor the actual race strategy execution plays into the final result.

Could he have pushed harder had he not been running alone for the last 5+ km?  Quite possibly - it was a remarkable duke-out that he had with Lelisa Desisa at the end of the 2014 New York City Marathon, and maybe that would have turned things up a notch.

The truth is that we could play "what if" all day - I am wholeheartedly excited for Wilson's victory, what that means for his upcoming year and overall legacy, and how it elevates the status of Japan's marquee running event on the world stage.  At the same time I'm reminded that we are all human, prone to potentially making the same mistakes (regardless of our experience and level of ability) and that on any given day any number of things can go wrong.

Or right.

Here's hoping that I get more things right than wrong for this week's upcoming Chilly Half-Marathon.


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!