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Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekend Madness

The soreness and aches that I'm feeling in my calves and quads right now are a sure sign that my weekend was filled with loads of running. Although I'm walking up and down the office stairs like a lil old lady, I'm kinda happy with the aches (Nick, you're a freaking sadistic nut!) cos it's a sure sign the right muscles got worked out. As long as they're aches and not injuries, I can live with it.

My weekend was a fun filled session of running that started on Saturday morning with the wife at the usual Bukit Aman/Lake Gardens/Padang Merbuk location where a whole bunch of equally insane people would congregate at such ungodly hours just to run.

With the construction going on at the Bukit Aman car park, Lake Gardens these days gets a little too crowded if you end up reaching there late so the wife and me opted to park at Padang Merbuk and start our session there. What we didn't know was that Brunsfield was having their 23rd Marathon run consisting of an 11k race and yes, they actually printed 23rd 'Marathon' run on their official race tees.

The misty morning start from Padang Merbuk ...
We took the reverse of the double hills route since she was just doing a slow easy run and I was her designated pacer for the day. The reverse is a much more bearable route but still pretty tough nonetheless. The run was pretty much fun with the two of us chatting and glancing envious eyes on all those huge houses along the Bukit Tunku route. When will a million bucks drop from the sky so we can live in mansions like that? Sigghhh ...

Met a lot of runners doing the tougher and proper direction of the route, unlike us softies that were doing the reverse. Actually come to think of it, I think only the wife and me were doing the reverse of the double hills. It was a pretty straight forward run with one little drama when we came to a fork in the road and I forgot which direction was the right one.

Good thing I spotted some runners on the opposite side and managed not to get lost. The wife was giving me  this 'I thought you run here all the time look' by then ... LOL! The rest of the run went along pretty much routine. The wife was exhausted by the time we got back to Padang Merbuk but she was totally thrilled with her run and so was I.

The menu for the next day saw the GCAM group (well, at least 6 of us anyway) meet up the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) under the guidance of Yvonne to trek into the jungles of Malaysia. Okay, I know it's not a jungle but heck, it sounded much more dramatic that way ... hahaha!

I was actually looking forward to this trail run cos I get the chance to run in my Skechers GOtrail again, which so far has only been used for three times including the current run. Yvonne gave me a heads up to be on the lookout for leeches the day before which was a good thing cos I have an aversion to leeches and it rained the night before which meant those blood suckers would be out by the dozens.

So I put on my 'anti-leech protection gear' which was really just putting on my calf compression and hoping they don't find their way in and feast on my blood. Reached FRIM bright and early around 6.45am and waited for the gang to arrive. Once we all got together, it was time to head off.

This had to be one of the most fun trails runs I've been to (this is my second trail run so it's not much of a benchmark) in a while. It was mostly laughing and joking all the way up that I hardly noticed the pain involved in the run. I've only known this group for a very short while yet with the joking and clowning around we had, it felt like we've been friends for ages. Running does bring people together.

Picture posing time just before diving into Pacat territory ...
The run this time was much more bearable for me since I more or less know the route this time around. Interestingly enough, I was vocal about avoiding the Pacat Trail and somehow unknowingly made Yvonne lead us right up that exact trail.

'Aiks, I thought we were supposed to avoid the Pacat Trail' I said to Yvonne.

'But you asked to go up this route, what!' replied Yvonne.

Ok, the next time I make silly recommendations, someone please smack me on the head! LOL!

After a quick photo op, the Pacat trail was done at breakneck speeds to get through, not giving those bloodsuckers time to latch on. Thank god the route was downhill and the GOtrail was nice and grippy cos there were times I think I was almost careening off the trail.

After checking my data at home later, this short stretch saw me doing a 5:00 pace! Fear helps with speed ... LOL! The good part is we all came away unscathed through this trail. But at the end of the day, I still wasn't spared by them leeches. Found one bugger trying to sneak between my sock and shoe and another fat bugger after the run which was happily dozing away on my ankle from all that blood he sucked in! But Kew takes the cake with a total of 5 leeches clinging on to him. He must have royal and awfully sweet tasting blood.

The smiles and laughs mask the pain of the incline...
The run wasn't without its drama. Towards the end of the run, I received a call from Jamie saying that Yvonne needs help with CY whose body was freezing up (those were the exact words from Jamie). Fearing the worse, I instantly called out to the guys and relayed the news about the emergency. Off we went like the emergency response team we pretended we were to head up that blasted incline again.

Now, the mind was ever ready to race up that incline to lend a helping hand to our fellow runner in need but trying to tell the legs to actually run up was an entirely different thing altogether. For me personally, I think I only managed a maximum of 100 - 150 metres and then walked up as fast as I could. Kew reached both CY and Yvonne first followed by the rest of us one by one.

Our guide with her bodyguards ...
Though totally exhausted, we were glad to see that CY was okay and was just basically down with exhaustion though he and Yvonne still had the energy to laugh at our trek up to 'rescue' them. I think I was on the verge of needing rescuing myself by then! One thing was for sure, we sucked at being an emergency response team cos it took us ages to reach them.

After making sure CY was okay, we all took a breather and slowly made our way down the trails to the car park. On the way down, we all agreed that it would be good if we could all get some kind of emergency training to cater for such incidences in the future.

Thankfully, this time it was more about exhaustion than anything serious. As runners on the roads and trails, we're constantly almost always way off the more populated paths and having some form of emergency training would come in real handy when spotting a fellow runner in need. Something to think about, ya?

Trail running graffiti ...
After making sure everyone was okay, Kew, Keng Piew, Foo and Kian Hor headed off back towards the car park while Yvonne and me kept CY company all the way down which in reality was the perfect excuse we needed to walk back to the car ... hahaha!

Aside from that 'emergency', the rest of the run was basically a fun outing with lots of jokes, teasing and laughing and of course not missing the chance to talk about our coach, Jamie behind his back... hahaha! Don't worry Jamie, it was all good things we were saying about you.

My accidentally blurry shot of Foo posing away ...
My weekend ended with a final run later in the evening to pace the wife again. She's finally beginning to follow a training plan and I'm doing my part to make sure she's motivated enough to keep to it which is why I try my best to run with her even though I'm in the midst of my own training.

I know how mentally challenging it is to run on your own, with the thought of quitting always on the forefront on your mind. Having company to run with makes the session all that much easier to do. She's started loving her runs again and keeping pace with her gives her the motivation to keep on running without wanting to give up. I don't mind sacrificing a part of my training plan to help her with this. Besides, we get the chance to chat about everything under the weather doing something we both love. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Skechers, From Strength To Strength

What do Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Kim Kardashian, Robert Downey Jr. and  Matt Dillon have in common? They've all at some point of time endorsed the Skechers brand of shoes.

Skechers was founded in 1992 by Robert Greenberg, a retail industry veteran who created the women's athletic brand L.A. Gear in 1983. His career involved selling wigs to beauty vendors, importing designer jeans for retail markets and also owning his own roller skates stores.

Greenberg initially intended to use the Skechers brand to distribute the British made Dr. Martens shoes but after a dispute between them in 1993, Skechers went on its own and relied on its own designs for success. By 1997, they began selling their shoes overseas to southeast Asia and eastern Europe and by 1998, 15% of their profits came from the overseas market.

The original goal of Skechers was to provide men with casual nonathletic shoes. Nike was during that time the dominant maker of men's shoes but it didn't offer very much street shoes. The first successful design by Skechers was called the 'Chrome Dome' and debuted in 1993 which appealed to both men and women. The shoe, inspired by the grunge fashion trend back in the 1990's was made to look worn and scuffed somewhat like the pre-ripped and stone-washed jeans of the time.

My involvement with the Skechers brand of shoes, more significantly the running series of the shoe started close to a year ago. Back then, I would make a wide berth around the Skechers outlets and if you mentioned Skechers to me as a running shoe, I would sneer at you, which is exactly what I did when the wife decided to one day walk into a Skechers outlet and buy herself a pair of Skechers Shape Ups.

I honestly tried to discourage her from buying the shoe. Even though the newer release was so much less bulkier than the original one that Kim Kardashian used to endorse, it still looked like a brick to me. But she persisted and surprisingly enough for her, she loved the shoe. Okay, whatever, I said. If you're happy I'm happy but you wouldn't catch me dead in a Skechers.

Little did I know how those words would come back to haunt me. The wife was still doing research on the Skechers brand and told me about a new 'real' running shoe they were launching called the GOrun. After seeing the Shape Ups, I wasn't holding my breath too much. The day the shoe was launched in the stores here, I happened to pass by the KLCC outlet and saw it on display.

Our first Skechers ...
Visually it took my breath away. Picking it up, I almost stopped breathing at the lightness of the shoe. I had to walk out the shop and look at the signage to be certain I was in the right shop. I mean, heck, how could Skechers, who came up with something like the Shape Ups (no disrespect to the shoe) actually make something as stunning as the GOrun.

I called the wife and told her I was coming to pick her up and we were DEFINITELY going to purchase the shoe right away. To cut a long story short, I ate my own words about the brand and have since then come to love the Skechers brand, albeit the running side of it and have never looked back.

The Skechers brand has come a long way worldwide and especially in this country. From a time where the general perception of the brand was, 'Skechers? Running? Seriously?' to the numerous pairs of running shoes I've seen on people's feet during races speaks volumes how successful the brand is becoming. It's heartwarming when someone comes up to you during a race or even in the parks during training and asks if it's a Skechers I have on and how it performs.

The success of the brand is all due to the excellent marketing and PR that's being done. I thought they made a great move in signing up Meb Keflezighi after he was dropped by Nike to endorse the brand. His success in the US Olympic trials and his excellent performance in the recent Olympics, even though coming in fourth gave the Skechers brand a significant boost in the running shoe industry.

Meb Keflezighi (Image courtesy of
A lot more people were beginning to get curious about the Skechers GOseries. People were sitting up and beginning to take notice. Here was a shoe that was being endorsed by an Olympian. Of course, it helped a lot that the shoe was pretty good to begin with.

The marketing team at Skechers Malaysia has also done a tremendous job in seeing the brand get a bigger share of the running industry. The steps and strategies they've taken to create awareness for the shoe such as being a sponsor for the Shape Men's Health run event, the weekend Running Workshop at the Lake Gardens and the Indoor Training Workshops has been bearing fruit.

Photos from the respective owners (Jamie, Yvonne & Tristupe)
Their willingness to also provide shoes for wear testing to the likes of local marathoner/shoe guru Jamie Pang, fellow marathoner/trail expert Yvonne Teo and ultra-marathoner/triathlete Tristupe for feedback on their series of running shoes has had a huge impact in the gaining popularity of the brand in the running circle.

By also taking a page off Skechers USA when they signed up Meb to endorse the brand globally, Skechers Malaysia signed up a few well known race winners namely Sheela Samivellu to represent the brand locally. With Sheela's race winning abilities, the brand is almost always seen on the podium as a race winner.

Sheela Samivellu 
But no matter how good a brand portrays itself to be, if the product is inferior, then no matter how much is put into a branding and awareness campaign just won't work. Fortunately for Skechers, they make a good pair of running shoes that places them right along the more well known and seasoned running brands out there.

Right from their very first pair, the Skechers GOrun right up to their latest (the latest that I have anyway), The GOrun 2, it's all been a very positive experience for me. Judging by the feedback and responses I've got from numerous others who have been running with the shoe, it's also been more positives than negatives. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm seeing a lot more Skechers running shoes on the feet of runners than I did almost a year ago which is good for the brand.

After a quick check with Adeline of Skechers Malaysia, I found out that the original GOrun is still the top selling shoe in Malaysia. A little surprising though cos I thought the GOrun Ride would have topped it. But it's good to note that more and more people are actually taking to the brand.

I've loved every single iteration of the GOseries that I've tested and used. Both the wife and me have tried and tested every model under the running range from the Skechers GOrun, GOrun Ride, GOrun Ride Ultra (basically the same shoe as the GOrun Ride), GObionic, GOtrail, GOrun 2 though she's also tested out the GOtrain, an all weather GOrun and urmmm, the Shape Ups. We even have the GOwalk. She likes the brand so much that she even went out and bought a casual Skechers sandals for herself.

The wife's Skechers Tone Up Sandals ...
Personally, the shoe works for me. Some may say that it's not the shoe that makes a better runner but to me, finding the right shoe contributes highly to way you run. I used to be a heel striker but with Skechers mid foot strike technology, it's 'forced' me to change the way I run to a more midfoot/forefoot strike and it has benefited me tremendously to run more efficiently though I still do heel strike every so often when I'm dead tired. Old habits die hard.

As a brand, Skechers have seriously come a very long way and moved on from strength to strength since the launch of their very first GOrun running shoe way back in March last year. With a slew of new models slated for release in the coming months, I can only foresee that the brand will (if not already) be giving the more established brands out there a run for their money.

Right now though, I'm waiting with bated breath for the GOrun Speed, GObionic Ride and GObionic Trail to hit our shores. For more information on Skechers Malaysia and its products, do visit their websiteSkechers Malaysia Facebook or the Skechers Performance Malaysia Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

4:30? Then What?

My daily afternoon telephone conversation with the wife just now got me thinking quite seriously about my running. Somewhere in the midst of enthusiastically explaining to her (for the thousandth time) about my current training plan, she asked me this question,

'Just how fast do you intend to finish a marathon? When will you decide that the time you've taken to complete a marathon is fast enough for you? So you achieve a 4:30 finish, then what? 4:00? 3:30? How low do you want to go? How low can you go?'

It took me a while to digest that question. She did have a valid point. Where do I draw the line with these training plans seeking to dip my finishing time lower and lower. When do I stop punishing and pressuring myself to stop this quest of trying to finish faster and faster?

Let's face it, if I was 10 years younger, that might have been possible. Now, at the age I'm in, a lot more effort is needed to do what 10 years ago was so much easier to do. Yes, I'll probably, no, definitely (got to have a little confidence here), achieve my goals this time round for the SCKLM and the marathons after that but then what? Give myself more lofty targets to gun for? Start more rounds of grueling training all over again?

While I'm probably mentally capable of doing just that but physically I think a time will come where I'll have to draw the line, ease off these rigid and punishing training plans and just run for the pure fun of it and be happy with whatever finish time I achieve. Before I got too serious with running, I was really just running for the love of it.

In time, after achieving what I want to achieve in my marathon quest, I'll probably head down that path but for now or at least for a few more years, I'm aiming to bring down my marathon time to a sub 4:30 level, it's a lofty goal for someone my age I know, but with proper and smart training, I know I'm capable of achieving it. Then and only then will I settle down to running more casually without the worry of a goal.

'Now that's the answer I've been wanting to hear from you all along', she said.

She does provide me with a sense of realism in life. She knows how to bring me back down to earth when I get too ambitious and unrealistic with things in my life. She's my own personal 'sounding board' which I bounce ideas and thoughts off. We don't always see eye to eye with thing but she's my biggest fan, or at least I think she is  ... LOL!

With that said and now that the Brooks half is over and done with my entire being will be focused on training for the SCKLM. I ran my first ever marathon at the SCKLM last year and this year's event provides the platform for me to better my timing.

My bible for the next three months or so ...
I've mentioned before that I've chosen the Hansons method as a guide for my training plans and will be embarking on it this week. While the plan looks easy (I use the word lightly) enough, my biggest challenge will be trying to see the plan through its course given my work, family and life commitments.

With the start of the racing season getting into full swing, I'm going to be saddled with quite a number of race bibs, buntings, banners and collateral printing in the coming months. Being a hands on person who takes great pains in making sure things run smoothly, that's going to give me very uncertain work hours which would relate to very uncertain evening runs.

The only other option I have of making sure I get my desired training mileage and workouts for the week would be to actually wake up in the morning ... grooaaaannnn ... and run! I am NOT a morning person and waking up early on weekdays for me is like torture. Surprisingly I have no issues waking up early on weekends to run though.

The wife even laughed and rolled around on the floor in laughter when I told her I'm going to wake up early and run before work! I guess a few personal sacrifices have to be made.

I'm targeting 3 marathons for the year, one signed up already, one more identified and currently am in search of one more. That one more is the elusive one which needs to be slotted between the two giving me ample time to train for all of them. Unfortunately nothing is available just yet. My options are still open though.

The wife and me are only running selected events this year cos we're going the 'quality is better than quantity' way. More time and effort will be spent for training and hopefully we'll both be able to achieve what we set out to do. We're both also on the lookout for at least one trail run event to participate in for the year, anyone know of any trail event in the making?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Brooks Half Marathon 2013 Race Review

The Brooks half just concluded this morning with me seeing a personal worst time of 2:29 for a half marathon. It's easily one of my worst race results ever but I'm not too concerned by it. I never had any expectations or goals for this race and I'm just glad I finished the grueling course in one piece with no signs of any recurring injuries, especially my knee.

The race gave me an indication of my limitations and the direction I will be taking for my approach to my marathon training plans which now goes into full swing. Hopefully I'll have the discipline to stick with the plan to a tee.

What? No medal this time?
This is the second (and probably last) time I'm going to be running this event cos the hills are simply grueling for a half marathon. While I appreciate hill work and challenges in a race but having to negotiate too many inclines that need mountain climbing gear is simply not my cup of tea, especially with a route that was overly crowded.

The wife and me started our journey to the race location a little too early. Got there slightly around 4.15am and found a nice little parking spot that was coincidentally right next to Kelvin. Chatted with him till slightly before race start when he went off in search of the loo and I decided to start a couple of laps doing some light jogging.

Headed to the start area and met up with Jamie, Calvin and Yvonne there. The gun went off while we were in mid-chat but with the cramped start area and the amount of runners there, it took like forever to cross the start timing mat. Got into an easy 6 plus pace following Jamie, Calvin & Yvonne. Not that we could go any faster even if we wanted to cos there was just too many runners in front of us.

We lost Jamie around the 2K mark when he needed to use the loo. I think Calvin either stopped to use the loo or just sped off cos it was just Yvonne and me from that point. I was cursing myself for not carrying a bottle of my own hydration cos the water stations weren't in the same spot as last year. I only have myself to blame for not really reading the race guide and finding out where they were located this time round.

The route was small and VERY crowded that I was finding it difficult and tiring trying to weave around all the other runners. The route really needs some looking into. The enthusiastic response to the race saw the number of participants increase this year and personally I think the route was simply too small and cramped to cater for this much of runners.

But nonetheless, since I wasn't giving this race my all, I just lived with it and carried on with my run. Chatted with Yvonne and pretended that I could keep up with her till somewhere around the 11k mark when I decided that the only way I would keep up with her was to break at least one of her legs ... LOL! I officially anoint her the title Speed Demon!

From that point it was just me and my mind. I managed to still keep to an easy pace till somewhere around the 16k when my race fizzled out completely. Neoh caught up with me and we ran together for a few kilometers and then I told him to keep on going cos I was going to crawl into the finish on all fours.

I was glad to finally cross the finish in one piece with no signs of any injuries, thank god. Made my way to collect my ... urmmm ... trophy and finisher tee and then got a change of clothes. Caught up with Adeline and Xydra of Skechers Malaysia for a bit. Finally also met Elvin, his running friend Adeline and Lorna before heading to wait for the wife to come in from her run.

I ran in the Skechers GObionic, the fourth time I've actually used it for long distance races (One 42k, two 21k's and a 25k) and it worked just as good on all four occasions. I've raked up quite a bit of mileage with it but surprisingly it's still not showing signs of wear and tear yet. But I do have another new pair in standby should it reach its mileage lifespan which might be pretty soon since it's my official race shoe.

Race organization wise, I thought the water stations were a mess and way too crowded that I had to push my way in to get some drinks. A little tip people. Get your drinks, move on and clear the space for the rest of the runners. As far as I'm concerned a lot of people also need to learn a little bit more about race etiquette.

With the overwhelming and enthusiastic response to this year's race that I am sure will carry forward into next year, the organizers may need to re-look the route cos I think the route was overly crowded this time around and became more so when the 10k and 5k runners joined up with the 21k.

Other than that, I did have a fun time. Well, if you consider having to slog up at least 4 inclines fun, that is :D