21 Feb 2018

Richmond Olympic parkrun

I have recently discovered and fallen in love with a fantastic, free running event that happens to be right near where I live! It's called parkrun. It's free. It's every week. And from what I can tell, many people have never heard of it. So let me tell you a bit about it and how I came to be know of it.

Richmond Olympic parkrun start/finish banner
A few months ago, I came across some tweets from Jeremy Hopwood, a fellow Richmondite and runner, advocating for parkrun. I wasn't sure what it was entirely, but it sounded like a regular running event in Richmond, so I started looking into it more.

And I discovered something awesome! parkrun is a free, timed, weekly 5 km run that is put on entirely by volunteers. My local run, the Richmond Olympic parkrun, takes place each and every Saturday at 9:00 am. It starts on the dyke along River Road (Middle Arm Trail), slightly west of the Cambie intersection.

Over this past Christmas break, I tried it out and ran my first parkrun. I have run it about 5 times now. And, for most of them, my 7-year old son has joined me.

The route is typically a straight out-and-back run (with a turnaround at 2.5 km), which is quite straight forward. However, due to some construction at the No 2 Road pump station, it is currently a 500 m east out-and-back, then a 1.5 km west out-and-back, and a final 500 m east out-and-back to the finish. It is a bit more confusing, but it is well marked and there are marshals positioned at each of the turnarounds. Also, unless you plan to run 5 km under 19:00, you can probably just follow those in front of you.

View from the start/finish line
The route runs along the middle arm of the mighty Fraser River, that flows between the City of Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The trail is a mixed-use trail, so you have to be considerate of other trail users. The route is mostly paved although there are some gravel sections. And on a clear day, you can clearly see the north shore mountains. Spectacular scenery! Overall, this is a fantastic place for this event. And living in Richmond, it is one of my favourite places to run anyway.

The Richmond Olympic parkrun seems to average around 50 runners, even in the rainy winter events that I have attended - evidence of a strong running community in Richmond, which I had no idea existed. I also assume that this number increases quite a bit in the summer months.

parkrun is suitable for all ages and abilities. You can even walk the 5 km in under an hour if you choose. As I mentioned above, my 7-year old son has run a few parkruns with me. He can knock out a sub 30:00 run no problem and is working on beating his personal best (PB) of just under 26:00. It has become a great bonding experience for the two of us.

parkrun barcode, printed and laminted
To record race results, parkrun uses a relatively simple system. Once you register online (which you only have to do once before you run your first event), you receive a barcode that you need to print and bring with you. I have cut mine out into the wallet-sized card and had mine laminated to preserve it in wet-weather runs. When you cross the finish line, you are given a token. You simply take the token, then find the volunteer scanning the tokens. The volunteer will scan your token (which assigns your finish position) and then scans your barcode to link your profile to your finish position. Then, usally a couple hours later, once another volunteer has had a chance to upload the finish times, you can view your official result online.

I also mentioned that each and every parkrun is run entirely by volunteers. But it's more than that. Even event/location is established by a volunteer who has basically taken it upon themselves to coordinate volunteers and even get agreement from the city to use the route. Each week, volunteers come forward to take care of a number of roles: time keeper, token distributor, race result scanner, cone setter upper, photographer, route marshals, etc. So it is important to thank the volunteers and acknowledge that their generosity is what enables the rest of us to run and enjoy the event in the first place. While I have not volunteered myself yet, I will be starting in March (along with my 7-year old son). Our goal for the year is to volunteer once for every 5 times we run. Important to give back and I think a great example to set for my kids.

parkrun itself started in the UK and has spread globally. In Canada, there are 12 different parkrun locations, including the one in Richmond. The Richmond Olympic parkrun is the only one in Metro Vancouver - the next closest are Whistler, Penticton, and Kelowna. Next time I'm in any of those places over the weekend, I hope to join their parkruns.

So if you have never been to a parkrun, check them out. Hopefully there is one near you. If you're in Metro Vancouver area, check out the Richmond Olympic parkrun it starts a about a block from the Aberdeen Canada Line station.

And if you volunteer and support parkrun in any way, I sincerely thank you for your contribution! You make an amazing, free, community running event possible!

Note: credit for race photos goes to parkrun and the volunteers that took those pictures. After each race, pictures are shared with participants via a the Richmond Olympic parkrun group on Facebook.

13 Feb 2018

I Ran the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon!!

I finished my first half marathon! This past weekend, on Sunday, February 11th, 2018, I finished the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon! And holy smokes did it feel good!

Start line at the 2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
I had anticipated finishing around 1 hour and 52 minutes. And I finished the race precisely at 1:51:58 (chip time), with an average pace 5:18/km. Overall, I am extremely happy with that result! First and foremost, I finished the race. Second, I beat both my goals: keep pace right where I wanted (under 5:30/km) and finish under 2 hours. Click HERE to view the full results.

To top it all off, it was an amazing day. Cold, but clear sky and dry (no rain). We have been having an incredibly wet winter so far, so the sunshine was a welcome change and it made for an absolutely perfect race day.

Finish at the 2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
And now, my race appetite has been whet! I loved the whole experience.: the anticipation before the start pistol, running in a large group, pacing myself against the runners around me, the little battles for position, and the continuous encouragement from course marshals (all volunteers) and spectators.

Long runs alone can get quite boring (thus I usually listen to podcasts during my longer runs). But the race atmosphere was arousing. My mind was focused the entire time and I relished the experience from start to finish.

Coming closer to the finish, I was almost overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment. When I passed my family about 30 metres from the finish, I felt an enormous sense of pride and I realized that, in addition to accomplishing one of my own goals  I was also setting a tremendous example to my kids that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to (incidentally, one of my son's favourite songs at the moment is Lose Yourself by Eminem, the radio edit version of course, because it is an intensely passionate song about accomplishing your goals).

Me approaching the finish line at the
2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
When I started thinking about entering a half marathon last fall, a friend of mine recommended the Vancouver First Half because it's flat (I am a Richmondite after all) - suggesting that because it was a fast, flat route, it'd perfect for a first timer. And she was right! The only challenge, of course, is training through the rainiest and coldest part of the year (December, January, February). I wrote a post in September starting to think about running a half (click HERE) and another one in November when I committed to the Vancouver First Half (click HERE).

And now, it is time to set my sites to the future and what comes next. I am hoping to do another one or two half marathons this year in addition to a few other shorter races. Possibilities include: the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in May, the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon in June, or the SeaWheeze Half Marathon in August.

At this point, I also want to thank all of the race organizers, Pacific Road Runners, Forerunners Vancouver, and all of the volunteers that made this event possible. Thanks for putting this amazing event together. The experience was incredible! And I definitely hope to do this one again in the coming years.

12 Nov 2017

Registered for My First Half Marathon: The Vancouver First Half

So I just registered for my first half marathon. On February 11, 2018, I will run the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon. I am super pumped to do it. And I have exactly 3 months to train for it.

I think the course is a perfect first half marathon for me as well. As a Richmondite, hills are relatively unheard of on my runs. The Vancouver First Half course is also relatively flat. More info on the course map is available HERE.

I think the training will be relatively straightforward, because I am already comfortable running 10-15 km on a semi-regular basis. So I need to increase my comfortable distance by about 25%. Doable.

But what I would really like to do is complete the half in under 2 hours. That means I can run about 5:40 / km. What I would ideally like to do is complete the half in 1:45 (average 5:00 / km). But that may be a little ambitious.

In any case, I am looking forward to the challenge. And, at 36 years old, I'll be pushing my body farther than I have ever done before in my life. Better late than never!

9 Nov 2017

Becoming a Two Wheel Gear Brand Ambassador

When I truly believe in something, I naturally become an advocate for it. Whether it's a company, a product, a place, or an experience that aligns with my values, I love to tell others about it.

I also have a strong moral compass, high ethical standards, and a keen attention to quality so in our current consumer-focused market of discount products, cheap knockoffs, and mega cheap superstores, I find it harder and harder to come across well-made, brilliantly designed products from ethical, reputable companies.

Two Wheel Gear is one of the companies that rises above the rest for me. Their products are well made, brilliantly designed, and align directly with my values.

I am a business professional working downtown Vancouver and I am a strong advocate for the bicycle commuting culture. As a bicycle commuter, I find a lot of the bicycle gear targeted at business professionals is targeted at those that live and work downtown and, therefore, have a short (less than 5 km) ride to work. Therefore, they assume that you can wear your work clothes while you ride. In my case, I live in the suburb of Richmond and work downtown Vancouver. My commute is over 20 km each way so wearing a dress shirt and pants on my bicycle is out of the question.

Two Wheel Gear develops bicycle gear specifically for the business professional but with the longer bicycle commutes of many North American cities in mind. But in addition to simply designing and selling great products, they are an active part of local bicycle-friendly events and campaigns.

So, when I got my first Two Wheel Gear bag in 2015 (The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier, a suit bag that fits on your bike like any other pannier), I talked about it a lot to anyone that would listen, whether it was in the locker room, to my friends, on Twitter or Facebook, or on this blog (click HERE for my review of the The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier). I became a vocal advocate for the company and their products.

It didn't take long before Reid Hemsing (President & CEO of Two Wheel Gear) noticed and reached out. Ever since that first email interaction, we've kept in fairly regular contact either through social media, email, or even the odd text message. In 2016, Reid asked me to review his latest product, the Pannier Backpack Convertible. Similar to The Classic 2.0, the bag was a great design and really well made. So again, I talked about the bag a lot. More details on that bag in my review HERE.

Which brings us to this year. In the spring, Reid asked if I would be willing to be a Two Wheel Gear Ambassador. And, of course, I agreed. In June, Reid and a couple of his team members joined me on my commute home with their cameras in tow. A short interview and a couple weeks later, I was featured in a Commuter Profile on the Two Wheel Gear blog (click HERE to view it).

I am incredibly honoured to be an Ambassador for Two Wheel Gear. This is a company that sees a future that I want to live in. They develop products that feel like they are made specifically for my lifestyle. They are well made and represent great, innovative design. And they look great too. And
Reid recently mentioned a couple of his ideas for new products that they are working on for next year and I am excited to see them. I can't wait to see what's next for this company.

4 Oct 2017

Gear: New Balance Vazee Pace v2

New Balance Vazee Pace v2
Earlier this month, I got a new pair of runners. It was time for a couple of reasons. First, my last pair was showing early signs of deterioration (parts of the sole were coming off - I glued them back on for now) and, second, my last pair weren't the right shoes for me. This is mostly why I haven't bothered to review them - I don't have a lot of good things to say about them. But I do acknowledge that I bought them largely because of a pair of runners I had before (Saucony Triumph 10 - read my review HERE) and didn't listen to advice to the contrary, so I do accept responsibility.

In the past, I have bought my shoes from The Running Room, which I highly recommend. However, the store in Richmond (which was in Ironwood) recently closed and I refuse to drive all the way into Vancouver to buy a pair of shoes... or anything really. So I went to Sport Chek instead. The challenge with Sport Chek, I find, is that I have to do my own research - it's hit-or-miss at Sport Chek whether you get a knowledgeable sales associate or not.

My Shoe Profile from the Runner's World Shoe Finder
I used the Runner's World Shoes Finder to find my "Shoe Profile". I found this information invaluable for finding a shoe that fits me.

As my feet, legs, and knees have developed, along with my running, I found that I need less of the cushioning and stability that I previously thought I needed. I also wanted shoes I could easily throw in a suitcase to take with me on my work trips - so they needed to be packable. With my recent travel schedule, I want to be able to fit in a run no matter what city I'm in.

Enter the New Balance Vazee Pace v2. Now these are my first pair New Balance shoes and I was a bit skeptical at first; I had heard some mixed reviews regarding the durability of New Balance shoes - I will update this post if I encounter any durability issues

The New Balance Vazee Pace v2 are a simple, solid, durable runner that I intend to use mostly for road/pavement running (I will save my older, deteriorating shoes for running dirt and gravel trails, like the Richmond dyke, for now). Partly so I can keep these clean for packing in a suitcase as well.

New Balance Vazee Pace v2 profile
One of the things I especially like about the Vazee Pace v2s is that they are a straight forward runner without any bells and whistles and, as a result, they cost just over $100 (Canadian dollars), which is substantially less than my previous runners. I also really like the streamlined/trim look. These shoes are a great, no-frills, back-to-basics shoe that can stand up to daily use.

As part of my research, I compared a couple of reviews such as THIS one from Runner's World, which I compared to my Shoe Profile, and THIS one from Running Shoes Guru and both confirmed my own findings. Both backed up my leanings that these are right for me.

Overall, I am very satisfied with these shoes. I have logged nearly 60 km on them already and, so far, they feel great, look great, and are incredibly comfortable on my feet. They support my feet and arches where they need to and provide just the right amount of cushioning to avoid straining my knees and still give me the push I need.

28 Sep 2017

Time to Train for a Half Marathon?

So here's my confession: I've never entered a race. Neither running nor bicycle. Never. I haven't raced in a competitive event since elementary school track meets. I have registered for a couple, but something has always come up and I have never been able to actually do the race.

Now, part of that is that I have always run for me and for no other reason. With tools like Strava at my disposal, I have a continuous measurement on my performance. So I have felt little need for a sanctioned race to know what my personal bests (PBs) are.

But lately I feel really compelled to enter one. Partly because, as I get older, I worry that I will miss my chance to compete. I think I am still at a point where I could race and finish near the middle of the pack. And I am in solid physical condition and so, able to do so.

So, I am going to commit to entering a race. My initial thought here is to enter a 10 km race this fall and aim for a half marathon next spring (2018). Plenty of time for me to prepare as I feel like I am already in the necessary condition for a 10 km race.

I will post any actual race registrations here. Initially looking at the 10 km at the Fall Classic Run in November. Thankfully there are tools available like the Canadian Race Guide for me to scour and plan.

18 Sep 2017

Route: Arbutus Greenway

Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver opened the current, temporary path along the Arbutus Greenway. The current path is a paved mixed-use trail built along an old rail line that runs nearly the same distance as the Cypress Bike Route from Milton St (off of Granville St near the Arthur Laing Bridge) to Burrard St just north of W 6th Ave (click HERE to read my review of the Cypress Bike Route).

Lane markings along Arbutus Greenway
Because this is a dedicated off-the-road mixed-use pathway, it is much easier to navigate than other on-the-road or shared bike routes. The path is well marked with lots of signage. Further, because it used to be a rail line, there are not nearly as many street crossings compared to other bike routes. That said though, the crossings that are there are big and hairy. And for the most part, because the Arbutus Greenway is still being built (the current state is considered temporary infrastructure while the final design is finalized), the crossings do not yet have the required curb drops, signage, or even crossing lights. At some of the crossings, the path even reroutes to the intersections along West Blvd.

Which brings up an important point here: the current state is temporary. The City of Vancouver is still working on the final design. Fortunately, the temporary path is paved all the way along. And some of the intersection crossings, such as at SW Marine Drive, W Broadway, W 12th, and W 49th are already being improved.

The path is also clearly marked (both on the pavement and with signage) to indicate one side (the west side) as a two-way bicycle path and the other side (the east side) as a two-way pedestrian path. For many areas along the route, the bicycle and pedestrian sides are separated by a dirt trench with wild flowers. This adds a safe amount of separation and, during the spring and summer anyway, provides a welcome burst of colour.

Another perk is that the Arbutus Greenway runs along an old rail line; therefore, the grade is minimal (i.e. it's not nearly as steep as the Cypress or Ontario bike routes). This means that for the less-fitness-capable, such as elderly or kids, this route is much easier to ride.

The Arbutus Greenway is also far more safe to ride (or run or walk for that matter). It runs nearly 20 metres from the roads on either side, and is often lined with community gardens, shrubs, or trees to create further separation between the path and the roads that border it. The result is a relaxed ride that is far more comfortable.

Wild flowers planted along Arbutus Greenway
But there are definitely a few things the City needs to do to make the route safer. One is to make it more clear at each of the roads crossings (predominantly from W 16th through W 6th and at W 64th) who has the right-of-way. At several crossings along this section where the cross-street/motorists have stop signs, drivers still tap their brakes and roll right through. So use caution when crossing at these intersections, even when the Arbutus Greenway has right-of-way. I feel like it is only a matter of time before someone on a bicycle riding through at normal speed gets hit by a careless motorist that failed to stop and recognize the priority of the crossing Arbutus Greenway.

View of the north shore mountains from the Arbutus Greenway
One suggestion I have made to the City of Vancouver is to change the colour of the path, similar to the approach often used in Holland and Denmark. The best way to illustrate this is in a recent tweet from Chris Bruntlett at modacity: click HERE view the tweet. 

Bench along Arbutus Greenway
One other downside (which is really also a massive positive) is that the Arbutus Greenway is already incredibly popular. Even in the early morning hours, there are many folks out enjoy the path. Whether it is people out for a morning walk, or walking and riding their kids to school, the path is busy. During the afternoon commute, you do have to be a bit cautious. Some folks can get distracted and walk onto the bicycle side without noticing. Occasionally dog owners will led the dog out too far and get dart across to the other side of the path. More leisurely bicycle riders, including parents with small kids, can take up the bulk of the path width. So if you like to ride fast, be prepared to have to slow down to navigate around the masses from time-to-time.

Overall, the Arbutus Greenway is amazing. It is a massive step forward in the north-south bicycle infrastructure in the City of Vancouver. It is scenic, with some great vistas to stop and admire the view and sit on one of the benches provided. It has the potential to be a great family-friendly piece of the city's bicycle network and provides a mostly safe, relaxed route for bicycle commuters.