22 February 2016

[Guest Post] Gear Review - Garmin Forerunner 235

It is time to watch my pace

In December a great friend let me know he had won a new Garmin Forerunner 235 in a contest and asked if I would like his Garmin Forerunner 305. I said sure. For years I have been running with just plain old wrist watches keeping track of my time and than going on DailyMile and figuring out my distance ... so a GPS watch was a huge leap forward to say the least and one that I was willing to give a “try” but not “buy” anytime in the near future. 

One Wednesday night after our RunNinja speed work out a bag was handed to me with what I thought was the Forerunner 305. When I got home I believed my great friend had made a mistake as the new Forerunner 235 was in the bag. I really did not want this new unit and tried to give it back to him but his theory was "if it still works fine then why don't I just keep on using it?" The new watch sat in the box for a few weeks until my wife convinced me that sometimes I need to learn the lesson of being a grateful receiver and I gave into the total excitement of opening up a new electronic item (you know that smell). Crazy to think this watch is valued similarly to some used cars I have bought! 

Enough of my stories and onto the watch itself. The hardest part of setting up this watch was just getting it out of the box. It was definitely well protected for shipping considering the abuse a unit like this will take on ones wrist during its lifetime. Charged it up, entered a few settings and “BAM” like Fred Flintstone with an abacus I was ready to go. First race of the year was January 1st 2016 up in Orillia, and I am “off to the races” with my new watch. 

Some comments on the watch: 
  • The band is incredibly flexible and adjustable. With winter running I am usually fastening the watch easily over a base layer and a running jacket. 
  • The optical heart rate monitor seems to work great through all these layers. Not sure I really want to know how this technology works but it does. 
  • The five buttons work great and are easily “pressable” with any gloves or mittens I have been wearing this winter. 
  • The display is clear and crisp and even with my bad eyesight I can see the information at a quick glance in any light conditions 
  • Text messages and phone calls are sent to the display while my phone is on my person through a Bluetooth connection. 

Two months later as I begin to train for my first marathon in Ottawa this May I will begin to really “put this unit through its paces.”  While I never want to fully rely on a watch to get outside and run I have already enjoyed the benefits of this watch during speed work and monitoring my times on a race pace run. Also I love maps so seeing my runs from above is great and a real time saver. Most likely I am only using about 10-20 % of this watch's capabilities so we will see as my training goes on what I find out about it. 

As this watch was a gift to me if ever we are out running together and you want to take it for a test run just ask and I will be happy to pass on the blessing someone has blessed me with.

Buen camino!


18 February 2016

Race report - The Oracle Trail Race 2016 (25km)

Based on my last two trail races I feel like I'm a character in "The Blair Witch Project", or maybe "Evil Dead".  I just get so lost in the woods ...

This year my friend Rhonda-Marie Avery took on yet another new challenge - this time of becoming a race director - by hosting the first (and hopefully annual) Oracle Trail Race in the Durham Forest located near Uxbridge, Ontario.  This event was organized as an extension of Envisions, an initiative to facilitate outdoor experiences and adventuring for other-abled athletes.  Having had the privilege of getting to know/be bullied by Rhonda-Marie, both as a training partner and accompanying her as a guide runner for part of her journey to run the entire length of the Bruce Trail I knew that I definitely wanted to participate in this race even though it would really only be another workout on my training schedule for the Ottawa Marathon.

I admit to have lolly-gagged in advance of the race, particularly when it came to actually completing the registration form.  While I had already determined that on Feb. 13 I'd be running in this event, I had a lot going on (mostly involving preparation for the community theatre performance I was in called "Weekend Comedy") and was happy to drag my heels all the way up to the week before the race before submitting my credit card info.  At least that was the idea until Rhonda-Marie messaged me on Facebook to let me know that she was about to cap the number of entrants and that I needed to get my butt in gear if I still intended on making the confirmation list ... and so I skimmed in under the wire.

The really big to-do before the race involved the trail and ambient conditions.  Word had gotten out that the course was pretty icy in the weeks leading up to the race, and while we knew that some kind of supplemental traction aid was a requirement (according to insurance regulations I'm told) it was another thing to have had groups who ran practice runs on along the actual single track report back that it could be dicey footing.  And for an added bonus a significant cold front was scheduled to push through on race weekend bringing windchill temperatures in the ballpark of -40°C and colder ... so the key for a successful day was going to be equipment, equipment, equipment.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on

photo courtesy of Christina Blackley, renowned RunNinja!

Although I had a number of friends from Barrie who were planning to run the Oracle as well (at various distances - there was a 5k, 15k and 25k option) and some who were going to be assisting at aid stations I opted to travel down alone because I would need to hustle right back into town to help with my daughter's birthday party and then get ready for a show performance in the evening.

Pulling into the parking lot near the entrance to the Durham Forest I was honestly astounded at how many people (based on the number of cars) had actually followed through on their commitment and shown up to race/help in the frigid tundra conditions.  I was thoroughly impressed, and felt no small amount of pride to be lumped in with this crazy lot!

The check-in and kit pick-up was quick and easy - a small loot bag of goodies was handed to each registrant along with a bib, but no chip for timing.  Although this was slated to be a chiptimed event the chips would not adhere to the bibs because of the super-freezing temperatures and so the race would be manually timed.  At the table for the 25k runners I spotted my friend Keith who was helping out as a volunteer - I'd thought initially that he might be running but when queried about it he responded rather plainly "no, this (weather) is nuts".  Maybe I should have taken a hint from a prolific 100-mile finisher and Western States 2016 entrant about the sanity of running on a day such as this was - alas, ego got the better of me once again and I happily trotted off back to my car to stay warm and wait out the additional 40 min. before start time.

The race
After gearing up appropriately and making the requisite last-minute dash into the bushes, I left my van to head to the start line (about 500m away).  Little did I realize upon nearing the crowd readying for the starter's mark that I'd left my race bib in the vehicle, so I wound up completing a speedy warm-up by returning to nab my bib and arrive back at the start line a few moments too late.  The pack had headed off down the opening double-track section of the course and I was tailing trying to catch up with the four fat-tire bikes that were trolling for stragglers at the end of the group.  Right away this didn't bode well as it meant (a) I was using up some unnecessary energy just to join the group and (b) that I would have to weave and waggle my way through on single track sections of the trail to try to find some runners that would be carrying on at a comfortable pace for me.  I managed to do both within the first 15min. of the race, but I'm sure that that expended a bit more energy than I intended to use - the upside was that I got nice and warm fairly quickly.

The first 8km or so that I ran was mostly a 'head down and keep moving' affair as I strove to find one or two other competitors who were tackling the course at the pace that I thought was appropriate for me.  I also was battling the fogging factor in my ski goggles, even after having tried applying dish soap and buffing it clear as a means of applying a DIY anti-fog coating - but I suppose that if road de-icing strategies fail when it's -21°C or colder I shouldn't be surprised that it would happen to my goggles.

And then the race came unravelled ...

After about 9km of running the small pack of four guys I was running with all found ourselves at the start/finish area - and while we knew that the course was a figure-8 configuration we weren't supposed to criss-cross at the start/finish ... which meant that somewhere we got discombobulated and missed a turn.  The strange thing was that we were still following the race trail markers, so somehow we cut onto the final segment of the race course.

We started quizzing the volunteers at the registration tables to see if they could help us get back on track but the best that they could do was to pull out the race course map for us to consult on our own.  To be honest I contemplated calling it a day right then and there so that I wouldn't be too pressed for time to get home, but I wasn't happy with just a 9km workout.  As we tried to figure out where to backtrack to another three or four runners exited the woods and looked with bewilderment at us consulting the map - obviously having also been surprised to discover that they were lost.

Our intrepid group of seven or eight then re-entered the forest and tried to work our way back toward a high point where a Bell Telephone tower was supposed to be situated - and trudging our way along we came upon another group of seven runners who had no idea that they had missed the proverbial left turn at Albuquerque either.

So there we were, huddled together in the middle of the woods trying to decide (a) whether or not to keep on plugging to try to reconnect with the proper trail, (b) return to the start/finish to find someone who could provide definitive help or (c) call it quits and head for a warm Tim Horton's somewhere.  In the end the majority of the group decided to head to the start/finish, but one of the guys I'd been running with during the first stretch (Jordan from Waterloo) and I decided to plug on and try to find the mythical Bell tower.  As we did we found some fat tire tracks and figured that they must lead us to the proper trail path again, and so we followed it over hill and dale (no joke) until we came upon - yes - a course marshal!

A brief chat with the marshal indicated that we'd stumbled upon the main intersection of the figure-8, and that in a few short minutes he expected the lead pack to come through ... this of course made us feel horrible, knowing that we'd be joining in with the leaders when we were not with the lead group nor had we run as far as they had by the time that they arrived to our position.  Still, wanting to finish up the race Jordan and I decided to let a few runners zip past us and then fall in line for the second half.

Not long after rejoining the race pack I heard a familiar voice coming up quickly behind - my friend and trail/ultra-running beast Steven Hunter.  Steve was my odd-on-favourite to either win or at least take top AG runner at this race, and he was looking strong as he powered his way up to my illegitimate position in the lineup.  We chatted a bit about my disorientation debacle and he noted that he had already covered about 3km more (according to his GPS watch) than I had, which I attribute to the fact that he had actually followed the correct route thanks to having participated in an 'official' practice run on the course some weeks before.  I enjoyed keeping pace with him for a while until my ski goggles once again froze up to the point of near-zero visibility and I pulled off the track for equipment maintenance.

The remainder of the race was fairly uneventful and quite solitary - resuming running after some ice scraping I saw only one or two bodies in the distance and couldn't hear any footsteps or breathing behind me.  To my surprise I found the remainder of the trail markers quite easy to follow, and my only concern was time as I was closing in on the self-imposed 'deadline' I'd set in order to get back home in time for my daughter's birthday party.  The only real bit of nastiness in the home stretch was a steep and icy ascent up a hill within the last 800m or so of the course - I caught up with my friends Kevin and Christina (running the 15k) just before having to scramble using all fours up this slope, but after that it was a sprint-like effort to the end.

After crossing the finish line (for the second time) I immediately told the officials there who were tracking bib numbers not to mark me down as I'd not run the full course thanks to my lack of directional skills.  I was then about to proceed to the tents where (presumably) the finisher's scarves (in place of medals) were being handed out along with some hot homemade chili, but a quick peek at the time told me that I needed to just keep on busting my butt over to the van to hit the road for home.
Little did I realize that I would have the race director all worried about my whereabouts ...

Certainly far from my intention, but a deliberate choice nonetheless to try to honour my commitment to my kid for her birthday (anyone remember Liar Liar?) over socializing post-race.  While I was still on the late side arriving home, the good news was that my daughter was very forgiving/understanding and we still were able to make her birthday social (a roller skating party) work for her and her friends.  Whew!

When the dust all settled, the results posted showed me having crossed the line in sixth place - and while that may have been true, I missed checking in at the first aid station and most definitely did not run the complete course.


Without reservation I want to thank and congratulate Rhonda-Marie and the Envisions team (and the numerous volunteers who are probably still thawing!) for a fantastic race and day out on the trails of the Durham Forest.  Aside from my blunder in taking the scenic route it was a most enjoyable event and I would recommend next year's edition to anyone who is interested in experiencing winter trail running.  Will I see you out there in 2017?  I hope so (if I can keep my goggles from frosting over)!

Race gear for the 2016 Oracle Trail Race 25k:


10 February 2016

the race in the USA that really matters to me right now

it's a big weekend coming up - not because of the republican presidential candidates debate taking place on saturday, but because it's the US olympic marathon trials.  and i'm stoked.

why, you ask?

why bother when there's no one that i'm personally connected to in the race?

why the interest in american running when there are so many great canadian runners to follow and support?  (believe me, i do support them too ...!)

why stare at a TV screen for a couple of hours just watching guys and gals trot through the streets of LA?

i'll give you a few reasons why that's what i'll be doing.
  1. i'm a visual learner - as opposed to someone who can and does simply study and learn from textual material, or a tactile learner who benefits from someone physically guiding them through the mechanics of an activity, i find that i amass the most knowledge and integrate it best by watching others do what i want to be able to do.  and since the television coverage of the US olympic trials provides an opportunity to observe some of the best marathon-distance runners on the continent (if not on the planet) doing their thing in a high-stakes event, i'm going to be focusing my beady little eyes on just about every footstrike, every hip angle, every sagittal (or coronal) swingpath of the arm and every body-angle lean.  yep, i'll be geeking out.
    from one of my favourite running blogs, The Balanced Runner
  2. meb - c'mon, as a guy in his mid-forties i gotta root for another runner in the same decade of life who is considered one of the favourites going into this competition.  meb keflezighi also just happens to have one of the most inspirational life stories of anyone on the elite marathoning scene, and is a great all-around human being to boot.  #GOMebGO
  3. you can cheer for athletes other than canucks - i know lots of canadians who pull for the detroit red wings, or the green bay packers, or manchester united, or maria sharapova or rory mcilroy.  just because you take interest in and can get behind an athlete/athletes from another nation doesn't necessarily mean that you have diminished interest in a homegrown athlete.  believe me, i'm just as keenly following reid coolsaet's training camp in kenya right now and eager to track with rob watson's london marathon prep.
  4. watching others give their best brings out my best - for me there's nothing quite like appreciating the level of dedication, sacrifice, perseverance and pure desire that can seep through the television screen during an event like this.  although i know that i will never be (and most probably could never have ever been) in the hunt for an olympic berth watching these men and women chase after their dream will charge my batteries as i focus on my own meagre goals.  some (hopefully most) of them will radiate pride just because they have managed to work their way into that starting chute - and i will be ready to applaud them before the starter's pistol ever fires.  and as they jockey for position and the real contenders emerge, i feel as if i will absorb some of their grit by sheer osmosis as they draw upon the deepest parts of their wells to try to secure one of those top three spots in order to earn the honour of representing their country in rio de janeiro later this summer.
so what about you?  does a race like this mean anything to or for you?  will you be tuning in, or would you rather watch paint dry?  please share your comments, and if applicable who you will be rooting for!

in the meantime, be sure to check out some of these great videos about the lead-up to the feb 13 US olympic marathon trials!

"One Team, One Goal" by timothy jeffreys

"Chasing Rio" - a competitor.com series

"Saucony Seeker" featurettes