Sunday, June 19, 2016

T Minus 14

This morning's 15k marked the end of my long runs for GCAM16 and signalled the start of my taper. To be honest, it's been a shoddy training program for me. Coming back from a 2 month rehab due to my meniscus tear and then not having enough days to race day to plan out a 12 week marathon programme, I had to heavily modify my Hansons plan so much so that it's more like a Frankenstein of a plan rather than what the Hansons had in mind.

I've had to tread carefully with my training and preps for GCAM16. Immediately coming back from an injury and starting with marathon training is not really the way to go, especially when you don't have nearly enough time for a proper programme. The gang were already in full swing with their training when I got back on my feet and I was simply way behind but had to go slower, shorter and with a lot less intensity.

I wasn't about to risk another heartache of getting struck down with another injury just before race day. My soul just can't take heartaches like that anymore. My wife has been my voice of reason and kept reminding me to take things easy, not push myself too much and build back what I lost slowly. She of all people knows how much I put into training and saw first hand how damn disappointed and dejected I became after missing out on the Kyoto marathon.

The one in the middle will be popping the champagne this year!

I ran the Gold Coast last year with a stress fracture, not the wisest of decisions I know, and thankfully I survived it without too much damage. I don't intend for that to happen again this year. Like what the article about Meb in Runners World wrote, “I’d rather go at 90-95 percent and be fit and healthy than 101 percent and burned.”

I'm far from being as fit as I was prior to my injury but I'm at least injury free and I can live with that. The most important thing is to toe the start line healthy. Let's hope I've done enough in training to carry me through 80% of the way and my experience along with the energy from the awesome crowd gives me the other 20%. Fingers crossed!

The team for GCAM16 this year is the biggest we've had and everyone is all pumped and ready for the race in 14 days time. They've all put in a tremendous amount of work and I'm expecting to see loads of personal records being broken. I know it's not possible to better my PR but I sure as hell aim to give it a try! That said, I have a much more modest goal and if I achieve that I'll be more than happy with it.

On a different note, I'm all eager to head to the Gold Coast again. This year my wife and me decided to head in a day before race day and spend a longer time after the race to do some sightseeing. The past two years, we flew in early and I had to really watch what I eat and curtail our sightseeing quite a bit to save the legs for the race. That left us so little time for ourselves after the race.

Pic courtesy of Jamie

At least this year, I'd get the race out of the way first before the holiday really begins. The wife has totally planned our itinerary for the trip. Her research and planning abilities are on an entirely different level from mine. If you left me to plan a trip, it'll be morning run, afternoon run and evening run! So best to leave the holiday plans to her.

She's got quite a list of places lined up for us to visit and after going through the list, I really can't wait to get there. I'm already working on creative poses for all my vain shots ... hahaha! Yes, I intend to snap away like there's no tomorrow! I know I'll be having one of my partners in crime with me on one of the days and I'm sure between the two of us, we'd cooked up some shots that would put Kim Kardashian to shame!

Pic courtesy of Andrew

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Saucony Ride 9: Initial Review

I've had the Saucony Ride 9 for quite a while now. Back when I first picked up the shoe from Frank, I was a little skeptical about it. I'm more of the lower drop shoe loving kinda guy. The lower, the better. The Saucony Ride 9 looked like it was a little too much shoe for me. But being a shoe geek, I'm always game to give a shoe a try. Let me tell you now that I was totally wrong about my preconceptions with the Saucony Ride 9.

The Saucony Ride 9 falls in the neutral daily trainer category and is a nice all round shoe for everyday running. It sits between the Kinvara 7, a lightweight but firm and responsive shoe and the Triumph ISO 2, a much more maximum cushioned shoe. Visually, the shoe looked 'big and bulky' but in truth, it's lightweight enough in the region of 9.2oz for the men's size 9.

The first thing I noticed about the shoe when I slipped my feet into them was how plush they felt. Even when my wife took them for a spin her first words were 'plush and not at all bouncy!'. During my initial run in them, they felt firm yet responsive and stable.

The Ride 9 was true to size for me. I wear a size 9 and it hugged my foot nicely though a it felt a tad too narrow. Not a big issue for me but someone with wider feet might find them a little restrictive though the flexible forefoot mesh does help somewhat. The toebox allows for a nice toe splay but doesn't really leave too much room for my foot to move about though the midfoot and heel are excellent. The FlexFilm that adorns the upper of the Ride 9 offers a lightweight, flexible and seamless fit.

The upper mesh is nothing extraordinary and works well with the seamless overlays. The medial side of the Ride 9 seems to have a substantial amount of overlays that offer a little more support for the feet. The plush RunDry lining material holds the heel real well without being too soft. A textured outer mesh makes up the padded tongue, which keeps it in place without any side slipping whatsoever. I did find the tongue a little too padded for my liking. It felt a little uncomfortable for me though I didn't notice it anymore after a few miles in them.

I've not had the opportunity to run in the Ride 8 but the biggest change the Ride 9 made from its predecessor is that the Powergrid foam is now replaced by Saucony's new EVERUN material; designed to provide a livelier and more durable ride while providing continuous cushioning. This TPU based material is somewhat similar to the Boost, providing a responsive rebound of energy and is a lot more stable across various temperatures than the older EVA material. The new EVERUN 'topsole' material is located between the sockliner and the midsole and the material primarily helps to disperse the force evenly and my feet don't feel as beat up.

Just under this topsole, Saucony has retained the previous SSL EVA material which combines a great balance of responsiveness and cushioning. The Tri-Flex outsole reinforced with XT900 carbon rubber compound in the high-abrasion areas on the Ride 9 features deeper flex grooves and extends much deeper into the centre of the midfoot, unlike the Kinvara's. This Tri-Flex outsole offers better ground contact and pressure distribution with increased propulsion during toe-off. This translates into a shoe with a stable, responsive, cushioned and flexible ride (pun intended). You don't normally find a combination like this in a shoe but the Ride 9 is an exception.

The Saucony Ride 9 is an 8mm drop shoe with a stack height of 19mm at the forefoot and 27mm at the heel. For all its added cushioning, it surprisingly weighs just 9.2oz. While I prefer a much lighter shoe and one with a  much lower stack height and drop, I found I've been enjoying running in the Saucony Ride 9. My entire preconception of it being a thick bulky shoe was washed away after a few runs in them.

I like the softness of the forefoot outsole and the responsiveness and protective cushioning of the shoe which bring many miles of comfort during my runs. And with my still recovering injury, the protection it offers for my legs is very much appreciated.

While the Saucony Ride 9 was not really designed for speed, it does respond nicely to some faster running as I found out when I ran them through a tempo session. They were responsive enough and provided a nice energy return. The Saucony Ride 9 works best as a daily trainer on days when you've got a slow to moderate paced session planned but can also hold its own if you decided to speed up things a little. It's a right combo of flexibility, responsiveness, cushioning and stability all bundled into one nice package of a shoe!

I've so far taken them out up to 80 plus kilometers and for someone like me who loves the more lower drop shoes or even racing flats, the Ride 9 has surprised me. I like them so much that I'm drawn to grabbing them a lot more these days than my Kinvara 7, Fastwitch 7 or even my Type A6! The Saucony Ride 9 will only be available in Malaysia in Q4.

Disclaimer - I am a Saucony Malaysia Ambassador but the Saucony Ride 9 review above is from my own personal experience and time spent running in them. This review is in no way whatsoever influenced by Saucony Malaysia.    

Saturday, May 28, 2016

BOH Eco Trail Run 2016 Race Report

I wonder why they call it a fun run when it is anything but! Jokes aside, this morning's Boh Eco Trail run was really a pretty much fun filled affair and I had a good time even though I was struggling along the trails of the lovely Boh tea plantation in Bukit Cheeding, Banting.

Dammit, another medal? Can't the bum bring
home some snacks for a change!

I almost didn't make this trail run cos of two reasons. One, I'm not a trail running person and my last trail run was about two years ago, which incidentally was also the Boh Trail run which was held in Cameron Highlands. Two was because I got the invite a little late due to some email issues. But all things worked out and I decided I'd take up the complimentary media invite by Boh Malaysia. Besides it was held on a Saturday and didn't interfere with my marathon training plan in any way.

The Boh Eco Trail run is basically a fun run to raise awareness among the public on peat preservation and forest fire prevention. All the proceeds from the run would go towards the Global Environment Centre's work in the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR).

Peatland forests are the most important ecosystem globally for preventing global warming and Malaysia has the third largest surface area with this type of forest. In their natural state, peat swamp forests rarely burn. However, excessive draining of water can lead to the peat being susceptible to fires. With temperatures soaring higher in this El NiƱo season, the peatland has lost much water and become vulnerable to fires. In recent years, fires in neighbouring areas have also spread into the KLNFR and damaged part of the forest reserve.

All systems go!
So, come race morning, my wife and me woke up bright and early to head out to the race location which was not really too far away from home. According to the Google map coordinates provided, it was just a short 30 minute drive away. Everything was going fine and the directions by Google maps were spot on at least until we were 8 minutes (supposedly) away when Google which always gives you the fastest route possible took us to a new gated residential neighbourhood and expected us to drive through it across the gates and into the plantation!

Obviously this was the fastest way there before but that was before this new neighbourhood went up and the area got fenced off. Guess the Google street car needs to make its way around these parts again. I was adamantly arguing with the guard and saying Google maps say we have to go this way. I guess he got fed up and let me in and told me to go see for myself that this was the only way in and out.

With the Orang Asli children

After a drive around the neighbourhood, I sheepishly made my way out again and I could see the 'I told you so' look on his face. As I was exiting the gate, I saw a few other cars that were also sent the same way as I was by Google maps. At least that proved I wasn't really a doofus after all. A few quick calls to the PR company that sent the invite to me and I was on my way in the right direction. The route took a wide circle around from where I was and another 30 minutes of driving on the SKVE highway.

After an uneventful drive, we finally reached the race start location with still plenty of time to spare. Cars were already filling up and parking was limited but I managed to get a bay just a few minutes walk away from the venue. The place was wet and muddy since it rained the night before and I knew things would get a little messy. It was time for me to gear up, which was really minimal since it was an 8km trail and according to the literature, was well supported.

Are we there yet?

Gear for me was a green Saucony Hrydralite top and Inferno half tights with my spanking new Peregrine 6. I was eager to see how it performed since I've read so much good things about the shoe. Once I was ready it was straight to the race venue to pick up my bib and wait for race start. My wife was busily snapping pictures and told me she would be ready to get a vain shot of me when I got back ... LOL!

The start of the race was a surprise cos I was still walking to the flag off location when the start horn blared. I gave my wife a 'what the heck' look and started off with a slow trot cos the start was uphill. I wasn't even warmed up and my calves were tight as hell. I knew this was going to be a difficult run. I haven't run or trained for trails in nearly two years and any trail runner worth their salt would know that trail running is an entirely different ballgame altogether.

Runners flagged off
Soon enough I was overtaking all the more enthusiastic runners who bolted off at the start, many of whom were in regular road shoes. I'm not sure how they were going to keep their footing with road shoes on. I was cruising at an easy 6:30 pace but my calves were still taut as steel! The legs were taking a lot longer than usual to loosen up. By the first water stop, I decided to stop and walk for a bit and this was where Evelyn caught up with me.

I decided to stick with her cos having some company would take the mind off the troublesome tight legs. And anyone who has run with Evelyn knows that running with her is never boring. We ran, walked, hobbled, enjoyed the view and chatted all the way until we reached the peat forest section of the trail which was really my favourite part of the entire run. Since the trail was very narrow, I went off ahead on my own. This short stretch really got my rhythm back up and I picked up my pace.

The beautiful scenic view inside the plantation

Soon I was out of the peat forest only to be welcomed by volunteers serving freshly cut coconuts. This was a sight to behold. I think I spent quite a bit of time here savouring the refreshing coconut water, which was actually a bad call cos by the time I was done my tummy was so full of water that you could hear it swish as I ran along!

There was about 2 km left to go and I decided to step up the pace. I was so focused with my running that I completely didn't notice my wife, who had walked 1.5km into the trails taking pictures. I only realized it was her until she called out to me shouting 'woi, I can't chase you down, la!'. You have to give me some slack cos she was dressed in green and looked just like the rest of the volunteers .. LOL!

Stopped to let her take some pics and she told me to quickly continue, which I did. The last 1.5k was done quickly and I was finally done. To be honest, I was winded. This took a lot out of me. I really need to work on my trail running again after the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.

The complimentary BOH tea packs
Waited for the wife to comeback from her photo taking in the trails, mingled for a bit and we decided to head back early cos I was hungry and needed a proper breakfast. Overall, it was a very well organized event and the volunteers did a great job. Each and everyone I passed had some words of encouragement to keep the participants going.

I'd like to thank BOH Malaysia for the invite and I must say I really did have a good and enjoyable time running through their tea plantation. The view was breathtaking and the peat forest trail was simply awesome!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When Life Hands You Watermelons ...

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon is seriously just around the corner. There's really not many more weeks left till I board the plane to the Gold Coast again. Training for me has only really just got into gear, what with being sidelined from a meniscus tear for close to two months plus. That really was plain depressing.

As it is, my training plan had to be heavily modified to cater for my comeback and that really doesn't leave me with much training time. I've been really careful with my comeback. The past year has seen me making it a habit of getting injured just before race day and I don't intend for that to happen again. Ever!

My dog doesn't seem impressed with my achievements!

I've been on a very easy plan coming back with lower mileages unlike the previous 15-20-15k back to back that I've been doing on a weekly basis. Even my rest days have been increased and I have to make sure that each and every session is a quality one cos I don't have the liberty nor nearly enough time for a proper structured plan. 

I'm slowly but surely coming back to some semblance of fitness and hopefully that'll be enough to see me to a decent finish in the Gold Coast. I have to run smart and really plan my strategy on race day if I'm to make it to the finish in the personal goal I set for myself.

Prior to race start

The training with the gang has been very helpful to put me back into gear and I'm grateful for their company. My wife has also been helpful in my recovery and has taken on the mantel of being my unofficial coach to get me back on proper footing. With some focus, I'll hopefully be able to pull something off in GC. I just have to believe in myself.

All that aside, sometimes running just needs a dose of fun, which was why when I was offered a complimentary slot for the Watermelon Relay, I took it up. I buzzed the gang to see who wanted to join me and Choon Yuen and Yan Leng gamely took up my offer. This wasn't in anyway going to help with any of our training but we just wanted to have some fun. Besides, Jamie so kindly switched our training day from Sunday to Saturday so the three of us could run the race.

This looks easy, or so I thought!

The Watermelon Relay requires one to run with a 2kg watermelon for a 3km plus loop around the Metropolitan Park in Kepong, with each team member running one loop each. How hard could it be, we thought. How badly wrong we were on that count! A 2kg watermelon is not something one should take lightly, especially when you have to run with it.

So, come race day, Choon Yuen, Yan Leng along with Jeanie, Piew, Choo, Yeehoo, Foo and Kai Mun met up much earlier to get in a pre-run along the park before the race. Before heading off for the pre-run, Choon Yuen wisely suggested we pick up our 'watermelon baton' first which was a good thing, cos the late comers got even bigger watermelons! 

The gang out in full support on the course

After stowing away our watermelon, it was a loop around the park. I've run here before and never really liked the park for its numerous highs and lows littered throughout half the park. Even a regular run around here was mental, let alone running with a watermelon. This was when I was questioning my sanity. 

The race started with the team challenge category flagging off first followed by us fun runners 15 minutes later. I took the first leg, seeing as how I was currently the slowest of the three and was hoping they'll take up whatever time deficit I incur. Soon it was time for me to start and Choon Yuen told me to position myself at the front. This was a fun run but we were still pretty competitive deep down inside. 

Run like you stole a watermelon!

The imaginary gun went off (a shout really) and off I went. The first kilometer was the toughest part of the route with 3 rolling inclines. Since we had done the pre-run earlier, I was already warmed up and was instantly on a speedier start setting. I managed to get in front of everyone and was instantly in a 4:30 pace which bloody surprised me cos I haven't done that kind of pace since before my injury. 

This though, was when I discovered that running with a watermelon was not only difficult but nearly impossible. My arms were already uncomfortable and I was switching the watermelon from one hand to the other. And this was only 600 metres in the race. I managed to keep that pace throughout the first kilometer but with the watermelon already weighing me down, the pace began to deteriorate.

No, seriously, we have to finish this?

The next kilometer was getting painful for the arms. I just couldn't find a comfortable spot to hold the watermelon and it nearly slipped off my hand three times which would have resulted in a penalty of another loop for all three of us. Good thing we had gloves on cos that helped a great deal. The final kilometer was even worse. My hands could hardly hold the watermelon. My pace was completely shot by then and I even had to resort to walking for a bit even though my legs were fine, it was the arms that needed the break. 

Up to this point no one overtook me though I was already overtaking lots of the team challenge runners who started earlier. I realized we had a good chance of getting somewhere with this, especially when I glanced behind and saw the second placed runner about 700-800 metres behind me. It was time to move my butt again and around this time I saw Foo and Kai Mun in the distance. My spirits lifted cos it's always good to see your training mates there supporting you.

Mmmmm, yummy! Not!

After some quick and fun exchanges, I headed off to the start area to hand off my 'baton' to Yan Leng who was our second runner. I mentioned to her that we may be the first team back, she acknowleged me and off she went. With that, my race was over for the moment. Yan Leng ran her leg pretty fast and was soon back for Choon Yuen to go. At his current fitness level I expected him to come back pretty fast and he didn't disappoint. He was back in a flash!

Now for the final part of the race where the three of us had to eat and finish our watermelon before we were allowed to cross the finish line. Let me tell you it wasn't a decent sight watching us dig into the watermelon trying to finish it. The only good thing was the watermelon was sweet and tasty but I for one won't be eating anymore watermelons for the next 6 months minimum!

My two speedy team-mates!

Once done, we ran the final short distance to cross the finish. I was surprised when they placed a tag around Choon Yuen's neck and was ecstatic to see the words 1st place printed on it! We had done it, we kept our cool, ran a good race and for the first time in our life, well mine anyway, came in first placing. We didn't care that it was a fun run, first place was still first place .. LOL!

After some quick photo sessions, we headed off to change and come back for the prize giving a little later. All three of us were pretty happy and we were walking around deliriously. After changing, we came back to get our hamper which we shared amongst us and finally headed back home, totally happy.

Find Your Strong

While it was not anything competitive, it was still fun and is what running should be like. It's not always about running marathons or ultra marathons for that matter, sometimes you need to let your hair down, those with hair anyway, and just have fun. And in the process, if you actually win something, that's a bonus.

Now bring on the Durian challenge ... Hahaha!

Pic credit goes to Jeanie, Foo and Choon Yuen

Friday, April 1, 2016

Saucony Kinvara 7: Initial Review

My foray with the Saucony brand of running shoes started with the Saucony Kinvara 6 (K6), slightly a little less than a year ago. The moment I put on the shoe, I was immediately impressed with it. I ran a marathon in it, albeit with a stress fracture and it has been my go to shoe on more days than I can remember. 

So when I got the chance to try on a pair of Saucony Kinvara 7 (K7), I was squealing (as Jamie would put it) like a child with a new toy in his hands. I simply couldn't wait to take it for a spin. Now, the K7 might look very similar to the K6 visually but don't let that fool you into thinking it's basically the same shoe. It's really not. There has been some very positive tweaks to the K7 that makes an already great shoe even better, in my humble opinion.

The biggest and prominent update to the Kinvara 7 is the EVERUN heel insert. The science behind this over at Saucony is that your typical EVA foam tends to heat up and gets softer as you run longer. The legs tend to fatigue more during this time and need the impact protection the most during this phase. The EVERUN apparently addresses this breakdown of cushioning and offer the protection your legs require during this phase of your run. The second tweak you'd notice is targeted on the outsole.

Let's get to how these updates work in tandem to make the K7 my current favourite. We'll start with the upper. The upper of the Kinvara 7 carries over two features from its older sibling, the K6, which is the FlexFilm, and Pro-Lock lacing system. I like the FlexFilm in the K6 and I like the FlexFilm in the K7 just as well. The FlexFlim are overlays that are melded to the upper to eliminate seams and stitches that stiffens the upper a little but retains just enough flexibility to be comfortable.

The upper mesh also has a nice upgrade to it. The front half of the mesh remains very open and breathable and is supported by a finer mesh that effectively keeps out debris yet still maintaining breathability at the forefront. In fact the fine mesh did a great job of keeping water out, at least for a decent amount of time as I found out during a run when it poured halfway. 

The midfoot section retains its Pro-Lock lacing system found in the K6. While it didn't really bother on the K6, nevertheless, I clearly felt it when I had the shoe on. The Pro-Lock in the K7 has been tweaked and disappears into the rest of the upper more than the one found on the K6. This translates to much less annoyance with the wrap around the midfoot area. A nice change if you ask me.

The Kinvara 7 has a semi-rigid heel counter that goes about halfway up the heel of the shoe and feels flexible, soft and forgiving against the Achilles. The collar is slightly padded and is lined with the RunDry fabric that soaks up moisture and wicks away sweat.

The outsole has seen a considerably visual change from its predecessor. The K6 (and K5 for that matter) sported ubiquitous triangles on its outsole. The Kinvara 7 now sports an outsole design called Tri-Flex reinforced with XT900 carbon rubber compound in high-abrasion areas to maintain the durability of the shoe. The XT900 in the K7 is located in the same locations as its predecessor, on the lateral heel and toe, but only the shape of the pods has changed. 

The outsole now sports arrow like flex grooves instead of the previous mushy square like pods. The flex grooves that adorn the K7 from toe to heel offer excellent flexibility. The iBR+ and XT900 carbon rubber compound placement works nicely for durability and traction which has really improved. No slipping on most surfaces that I ran, even in the rain. The shoe feel more responsive right out of the box.

The biggest update for the Kinvara 7 is basically something you can't outwardly see which is the midsole. The K7 has done away with the PowerGrid and introduced the EVERUN, a midsole compound that will replace the standard EVA technology in all its running shoes. The EVERUN tech is not only more durable but is touted as being more efficient in absorbing impact and delivers 83% more energy return with a noticeable resilient and responsive ride.

But unlike the Hurricane ISO 2, Guide 9 or the Triumph ISO 2 which sports a full length EVERUN midsole insert, the K7 only get it on the heel section which is to apparently give the K7 a speedier feel without being overly plush. The rest of the midsole is made out of the same material as the K6 which is SSL EVA rubber.

Fit wise, I found the Saucony Kinvara 7 to be consistent with the K6. The midfoot had a nice gentle but snug hold even with the Pro-Lock lacing system. The relatively low heel collar kept my heel in place nicely. The toebox though was a nicer improvement than the K6 and I loved the roomy feel I got from it. The mesh was breathable enough to keep my feet cool from the crazy heat conditions we run in over here. Overall I'd say my size US9's were a perfect fit weighing in at 7.7oz. with a stack height of 22mm (heel) and 18mm (forefoot), giving it a 4mm offset.

While I've done a few runs in the Kinvara 7 since I've got them, I haven't really taken them out for a long run. I planned to initially use them for the Kyoto Marathon but my torn meniscus put paid to that! But in all the shorter runs I've done to date, they gave a nice firm ride. I for one love the firmer spectrum of running shoes.  

But after more runs in them and once you go out a little longer in them, your feet begins to settle into them and this is when the cushioning of the K7 really comes into play. Though I cannot really attest to it yet until I've taken them for a really long run, I'm betting my bottom dollar that my feet wouldn't be as fatigued after a really long run in them. I'll test that theory once I'm back to full marathon training in a week or so.

So, is the Saucony Kinvara 7 worth spending money over? I'd say a definite yes! Saucony has done an excellent job with the K7. Whether you're Kinvara loyalist or even one just wanting to try the brand will come to like the lightweight, responsive and zippy feel the shoe exudes. With my meniscus tear already on the mend, I'm looking forward to putting a lot more miles into them. The Saucony Kinvara 7 is a shoe that you can easily use for a leisurely 5km run right up to a competitive marathon with ease.     

The Saucony Kinvara 7 will be available from today, 1st April 2016 (this is no April Fools' joke) at selected Royal Sporting House Outlets nationwide in 3 colorways for the men and 2 for the women. The K7 retails at RM429.00 but heck, it's worth every ringgit!

The pair of Saucony Kinvara 7 above was so kindly provided by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the authorised distributor for Saucony in Malaysia  for testing purposes and my review is based on my own personal take of the shoe and is in no way influenced by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in any way.