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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Third Time Lucky?

The Standard Chartered KL Marathon is barely a week away and surprisingly I don't have the pre-marathon jitters this time around. That's not to say that I'm being cocky and showing the marathon no respect. Far from it, I have the utmost respect for the distance and I know the hardship I'm going to face come race day. It's just that this time around, I've thoroughly trained as best as I can for it and come what may, I know I would have given my all when I cross that finish line.

Unfortunately though, with the current haze happening right now I might not get the chance to put all that training to the test. I'll be assessing the conditions of the air quality for the next three days and by the end of the week, if the haze is still as bad as today and the organizers don't postpone the race, I'm pulling out of the race. I'd rather be healthy and live to run another day. Can you imagine, breathing in lungs full of that smoke for the entire 42km distance?

If I were the organizers, I'd keep an eye on the conditions (which I'm sure they are) for the next three days and make a decision on a postponement before the production and set up work starts cos then more money would have been spent and committed and there would be no turning back, well, at least I don't think they would. People would complain if it was postponed and people would also complain if it went on. A no win situation either way for the organizers but let's hope a little common sense prevails here. It's not just about the runners, it's also about the hundreds of volunteers who would have to endure the smog in support of the runners.

Anyways, that's my two cents on the issue and if I run it, this would only be my third marathon. I know, it's a measly number compared to a lot of you but I'm not the kind who would just jump into something without really training and being prepared for it. It took me close to two years before I decided I would be ready enough to attempt my first which coincidentally was at the SCKLM last year.

No expectations were set, my goal then was to just cross the finish in one piece. I had no proper structured training plan back then. It was something I just took off internet, modified it along the way and hoped for the best. While it was awesome to finally fulfill my dream of running a marathon, I can't say that it came easy. It was a painful experience, fatigue and cramps coupled with the wrong training were the biggest culprits.

My first marathon, 2012 SCKLM. A complete noob with hydration bag and all ...
Pic courtesy of  Tey Eng Tiong
Throughout the year leading up to this marathon, I suffered countless injuries, most of them self inflicted, the results of being too naive and cocky at times. Trying to do things that simply were above and beyond my capabilities. The turning point came when I suffered a patella meniscus tear way back in early January. Having to lay off running for a month put the fear of god in me.

I took a step back, contemplated on things and decided that I've got to be more practical. I've got to structure things around what my body is capable of doing if I were to keep on with this thing called running. That one month gave me enough time to get in some soul searching, do some reading and research on how to run smart and understand what my body is capable of doing.

This time round, with the right training programme and sticking with it religiously, I've managed to stay injury free (touchwood!) and am in a much better shape than I was six months ago. I'm running better, consistently and much more efficiently than before. What's more important is I'm running smarter than before. No more trying to keep up with the 'big boys' anymore. No more crazy thoughts the likes of 'I've got to run faster and keep up with them'.

The realization that a marathon is not about speed (I never said I was intelligent) finally sunk in. If I wanted speed, I'd train to be a sprinter. A marathon is all about endurance and lasting the distance. The speed part comes naturally once you ace the endurance aspect of things. The wife kept reminding me of that too. She's the wise one in the family.

2012 SCKLM, 2km from finish, the agony almost over.
Pic courtesy of K.H. Tang
It was difficult initially cos I was always one who wanted to run fast. For me, speed was everything. My previous training plans were always fast, faster and even faster, hence the numerous injuries and lack of improvement. It frustrated me no end that I wasn't getting any better. The change of mindset and training programme did wonders to my form and confidence. One of the important things I learned from it was 'to run fast, you've got to first run slow'. It's something I kept reciting over and over again every time the need to run fast cropped up. There was a time and place for speed.

To cut a long story short, I'm in a much better position this time round to tackle that 42kms of road. I'm not expecting it to be a piece of cake. I know it's still going to be one painful step at a time but at least I know I've done all I can to make those steps a wee bit easier.

It didn't come without a cost though. Sidelining the wife every so often just to get in the training required, no social life whatsoever, no family outings, juggling work, too tired by the end of the day to do anything but sleep were some of the consequences I had to face. I'm thankful that I have a wife who at times reminded me of the neglect but as a runner herself was understanding nonetheless :D

I'll be one happy camper when I finally cross that finish line next week, weather willing. I'll definitely breathe a HUGE sigh of relief. Hopefully I'll get through it without any incidents. I do have a goal this time round. Nothing fancy but a goal nonetheless. I know some of you have bets on what time I'm going to finish but I'll bet you all lose cos I'm not that fast ... hahaha! A humble sub 5 is all I'm looking at and I'd gladly take 4:59:59 anytime :D

See you all there at the start!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Larian Tanggathon Batu Caves 2013: Race Review

The Larian Tanggathon Batu Caves 2013 was a race I never intended on running. The wife signed up for this race ages ago and I decided not to join her simply because I seriously, honestly, positively hate stairs and the last 200 metres or so of this race requires you to run or crawl up the 272 steps of the Batu Caves temples. I didn't find that a very sane thing to do.

My ever faithful medal model at work ...
I only agreed to bandit the race and pace the wife during the road aspect of the race and then wait for her to trek up those almost vertical stairs. The initial race day was postponed due to the general elections and then rescheduled again due to clashing with another race.

Strangely enough, the race was 're-distanced' as a 5km race from a 7km because some people complained it was too long. Too long?!!! Seriously?!!! A 7km race?!!! First time I heard of a race being made shorter because people complained it was too long. Oh well, it takes all kinds to make the world go round anyway.

Camwhoring around before race start ...
A couple of weeks back the wife decided to drop me as her pacer citing reasons that I'm secretly trying to kill her by pacing her too fast. She said I make a totally horrible pacer and was sacked as her official pacer ... LOL!

The FTAAA, the organisers of the race is my client. I'm perpetually in and out of their premises quite a bit. A few days back, I saw the registration forms lying on the table at their office and since I was out of a job as a pacer, I might as well just sign up and run the race. How bad could 272 steps of stairs be anyway.

When I told the wife I signed up for the Tanggathon too, she said I was a dirty little rat who didn't want her to have a medal that I wouldn't have ... hahaha! That's not true though cos I don't have the Towerthon medal which she has.

Anyways, come race day and we were there bright and early like we always do for races. Parking was a breeze with ample parking at Batu Caves itself. There was a small crowd already. First time I've ever seen Batu Caves at that time of day, all lighted up.

The temple is actually very beautiful lighted up .. My camera doesn't do justice to it!
I had to find a toilet cos the call of nature was calling out with a vengeance. Toilet facilities were good since Batu Caves caters for tourist and had ample toilets. After a quick pit stop to the toilets, I looked for the wife, ran a few slow loops around the car park as a warm up and waited for race start.

Saw a few familiar faces like Jason, Kah Wai, Fendy and my dog's husband and wife vet team though they don't know I run (I think). The crowd was kinda small, close to 600 or 700 participants but I thought it was just nice for this race. The initial postponements and rescheduling of the race saw some participants pulling out.

The race started exactly on time at 7.30am and we were off. My race plan was simple, do a fast paced speed run (speed run for my lowly standards anyway) on the roads and take a nice and slow jog up the stairs. Well, at least the road part worked out exactly as planned.

Immediately upon race start I shifted to high gear and kept a nice steady constant pace of 4:40 throughout the entire 4 plus kilometers. The flat roads helped quite a bit with that. The Skechers GOrun Speed I had on was an entirely superb shoe simply built for speed. I think Foo's (of the GCAM group) cheerfulness rubbed off on me cos I was practically wishing everyone I passed a good morning! Some just gave me the evil eye though ... hahaha!

Those stairs actually look as daunting as the picture ...
The race being handled by the experienced race organizers, the FTAAA was pretty well managed with one complain. The first water station was placed on the left hand side of the road, which was the norm but then runners had to cross the road after that to head for a right turn about 300 metres ahead and cars were just zooming by. The runners had to actually stop to look for cars before crossing. Could be an oversight, but where were the marshals or police to attend to traffic? Other than that, it as a very smooth race. There were isotonics at both the water stations. Chilled even!

The entire road section went without a hitch. Then I came to the foot of the stairs and that's where I cursed every bit of the limited intelligence I had in me for signing up. 272 flights of stairs might seem like nothing. Well, try saying that after running 4 plus kilometres and then tell me it's nothing. I was practically crawling up the stairs like an old lady. My breathing was coming out in waves of pain, grasping for air like a fish out of water.

The birdman of Alcatraz ...
It was a never ending trek up. The end never seemed to come fast enough. There were times when I wanted to crawl on all fours up but I still had some dignity in me so I soldiered on gulping whatever air I could find. My legs were shaking like a rattlesnake on steroids! I finally made it up, gratefully took my medal and tee and plonked myself on a bench and wished I was never born! How hard was it? Well, it was 4:40's on the road and 7:20 on those blasted stairs alone! That's how hard it was!

After an eternity of rest, I slowly made my way down while giving whatever words of support I could to the rest of the poor fools ... urmmm, I mean participants making their way up ... hehehe! Just as I got down, the wife was about to start her trek up. Gave her a 'you can do it' shout but secretly sniggered inside at the torture she was going to go through in the final stretch ... LOL! But then she's a Towerthon veteran so she kinda aced the stairs, dammit! After all,whats 272 steps compared to the 2000 plus of KL Tower for her?

A shot with Mr. Vegi, head honcho of the FTAAA  ...
Once she was finally down, we headed to pick up our free breakfast consisting of fried mee hoon and a curry puff which I gobbled down faster than you can say fartlek and made our way home. Was it worthwhile? Yes, in a way it was. It was quite an experience I would say. Would I do this again? Nope, not in a million years. Let's just say I'll be sticking to road races and trails from now on. Next time I'll just stick to being a spectator.

Before I end though, I'd like to say that all of you who braved the stairs are awesome! It was tough, it was painful, it was hell but like the champs you guys are, you gamely did it. Good job folks, all of you!

Since the monkeys were nowhere in sight on the stairs today, I had to settle with this fellow instead ...

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Batu Dam Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Trail Run

Don't let the title above fool you. It wasn't a trail race that I took part in but more of a test/fun trail run cum gear testing for my spanking new Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 hydration vest. After all, what better way to test trail running gear than to actually go for a trail run, right?

Don't be fooled by the serenity. This place is crawling with leeches!
Sunday saw me waking up in the wee hours of the morning to meet up with Jamie, Yvonne and CY to head out to the trails of Batu Dam. The alarm buzzed me into the land of the living at 4.30am and after glancing at the wife who was snugged cozily under the sheets, I was questioning my sanity for actually getting up before the worms even got out of their cozy little holes in the ground. Even my dog who was tucked under her blanket gave me a weird look probably thinking what an idiot I was.

After the usual routine of getting ready was completed, I lugged my container full of gear, which was prepared the night before, down into the car and drove to the meet point in Mont Kiara. The thoughts of testing the Salomon hydration vest and the prospects of a new trail route was the only thing that stopped me from heading right back to bed.

Who brought the salt?
We were all on time at the meet point. CY and me were discussing who was going to drive when Jamie lugged his gear into Yvonne's car. We looked at each other, smiled wickedly and dumped our gear into her car. Looks like she volunteered to drive ... LOL! Well, you can't expect minions to drive now, can you?

The drive to Batu Dam (never knew such a place existed in the first place) took us about 30 plus minutes or so. Once we reached the general area, it was a hunt for the entrance which was closed. Then we had to rely on Yvonne's previous knowledge of the area to find another way in which led us to the Riverstone Eco Resort. One of the locals we asked earlier told us they only let people into the dam in the evenings which I thought was rather stupid. Who the heck wants to run so late in the jungles? Oh well, not my place to judge idiots ... hahaha!

The 200 metres 'flat' start ...
After gearing and showing off my Salomon hydration vest, we make a beeline for the trails proper. Things looked nice, easy and flat for the first 200 or so metres until we came to the first incline. Of course, we just had to complain. If I recalled correctly, someone mentioned the route was flat, so what the heck was an incline doing here? Nevertheless, like the obedient minions that we were, we trudged along gamely. You must remember though that one of us had run a 20km plus run the day before, albeit a very screwed up one, so the complains were justified ... hahaha!

I wasn't lying about the incline, look how high up Jamie is ...
To be honest, the trail was not too bad. I was enjoying the alternative of FRIM. We went along merrily, joking, wheezing, panting, gossiping and generally making fun of everyone and everything. Then we came to a fork in the trail and took the wrong one which lead us to a dead end. Well, suffice to say, it was more of a test run from then on cos Yvonne was taking us the reverse route from her previous trip and wasn't too familiar with it. You know la how everything looks strange backwards.

Wonder where Robinson Crusoe is ...
Nevertheless, we continued on through muddy stretches which were leech infested. I could practically see them wriggling about trying to pounce on our feet. They were probably happy to have four gullible idiots prancing around in their backyard offering a buffet spread of yummy feet for them to feast on. I guess the liked CY's and mine more than Yvonne and Jamie's cos between the two of us we accumulated a total of 17 leeches compared to their 7. Thank god for pink salt from the 'pink sea' ... hahaha!

Just before the attack of the leeches ...
Though we didn't make it to the dam due to time constraints and the many obstacles in our way, we did come across a nice little stream that felt oh so refreshing to dip our muddy and leech bitten feet into that we just wanted to stop there and laze around in it. I mean, who can resist a stream of cool, clear and refreshing water? Of course, photo ops were aplenty there.

All that was missing was the picnic basket
Our run got to the end just about 500 metres or so from the stream when our path was completely blocked by fallen trees. There was a tiny hole we could have squeezed through but because of time constraints we turned around and headed back. The journey back was quicker seeing as how it was more downhill. Picked up a few more leeches on the way down.

The sequel to MJ's Thriller.
Pic courtesy of Jamie.
To be honest, it was an enjoyable run even though it was on the short side. Getting lost and doubling back was part and parcel of the run. I won't say I enjoyed the leeches though. It made Pacat trail look like a kindergarten! Got back to the car and took great pains to clean up properly (or as best as we could out in the open wilderness) cos being the nice guys that we were (ahem, ahem) we didn't want to mess up Yvonne's car too much and finally headed back to civilization.

Our resident trail maniac Choon Yuen in action ...
Now for the main purpose of the run, to test out the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 hydration vest. It was my first time using it and I must say it was one value for money buy. As soon as you put it on, it feels like a part of you, as if you have your racing vest on rather than a backpack. The vest is designed so that the shoulder straps wrap snugly around your rib cage and is adjustable at the front via two elasticated straps that can be positioned for best fit, particularly for the ladies. No annoying and uncomfortable 'fixed' straps across your chest.

The adjustable chest straps.
Made of lightweight mesh fabric and despite the fact that it feels and looks thin, the vest is pretty solidly built. The vest comes in two versions, the 5L and the 12L capacity. Unfortunately, they only sell the 5L capacity ones here. Despite the small looking size, the capacity is actually pretty amazing. The material stretches to accommodate stuff and you can really fit quite a sizeable amount of stuff in it.

The two draw string pockets on the front ...
The front of the vest consists of two draw string pockets that can hold extra bottles of fluids. The Salomon soft flasks fits in there nicely but your normal 500ml bottle should also be a decent fit. The pockets do give you the option of increasing the capacity of the bladder which comes in the form of a 1.5L Hydrapak. The pocket doesn't necessarily need to hold extra bottles of fluids, they could hold many other essentials like gels, power bars and whatnots. Mine had a soft flask in one and my mobile phone in the other.

The removeable zipped pocket. Notice how it blocks the pocket below ...
The left side of the shoulder strap comes with a zipped pocket that is attached to a Velcro for easy removal to access your phone, cash or other essentials though I wouldn't recommend putting anything of value in it cos there is a chance it might get snagged by a branch and get ripped off. I filled mine with gel packets during the run.

The right hand size consists of a small expandable mesh pocket that could take in stuff like lip balm, sunblock, keys or some loose change. The rear of the vest consists of one main zipped pocket which is accessed from the side. It looks big enough to fit in things like a small first aid kit, a headlamp, raincoat, gloves and with room to spare even. What I thought was really cool is that Salomon created an open space or loop between the rear pocket and the vest which could be used as a storage space for a blanket or even waterproof jacket on the outside of the vest. Clever touch if you ask me.

I love this added touch that can be used for a blanket or rain jacket ...
The vest comes with a 15L capacity bladder that is housed in its own sleeve which keeps the liquid cool and it really does what it advertises. My water was still cool for a good 5 hours plus. The bladder feed pipe runs from the bottom of the vest which is attached to the external shoulder strap. It's a little different from the norm of having the pipe running of the top of a vest.

The side zipped pockets that can fit your ID, gels, compass, etc ...
On the left and right hand sides of the vest are two small yet stretchable zippered pockets to hold more gels, a compass or other essentials. Finally, the vest comes with a whistle and elastic cords which allows attachment of trekking poles on the outside of the vest.

The main rear side opening zipped pocket ...
To summarise, the vest did all it was advertised to do. It fit like a second skin, didn't move around or even bounce around no matter how much I twisted my body to avoid branches and stuff during the run. The unique way the bladder compresses as it depletes reduces the sloshing sounds while running. It's lightweight and extremely breathable. It's easily one of my best buys for this year. A word of caution, make sure you pick the right size vest as you don't want to get a bigger unit and have it moving all around when you run. It needs to be snug to be able to fit comfortably.

Adjustable load lifter strap to distribute the weight ...

Fits like a second skin.
Lightweight and breathable.
Lots of pockets for storage.
A fuss free 1.5L bladder that is easy to use and re-fill while on the go.
Removeable chest pocket (comes with a spare)
An internal hidden pocket with a thermal blanket provided.
Adjustable chest straps.

Pricey, really pricey!
The removeable Velcro pocket tend to get in the way of the pouch directly underneath.
Fragile looking chest straps and plastic clips.

The Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Hydration Vest can be found at most World of Sports or World of Outdoors outlets retailing at RM699.00. Members of WoS and WoO can get an additional 10% discount on top of whatever discount is being offered (if any). If you're really into trail and ultra running, I highly recommend the vest.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Salomon Lab Sense Hydro Set Hand Hydration System

Hi, my name is Nick and I'm a trail junkie! There, I've bravely admitted it! I've become hopelessly hooked on trail running and even have seriously insane thoughts on tackling ultra running. My head has been filled with such wildly atrocious thoughts for quite a while now. I've been trying to suppress those thoughts but it's a losing battle.

I blame my entire addiction to a few certain people I know, to be a little more precise, three certain people I know. I'm not going to name names but you three know who you are. They'll probably deny being a bad influence if you ask them about it ... LOL!

I've been doing quite a bit of research about trail and ultra running and have been dragging my poor wife all over town looking for gear. I stress the word looking here cos trail gear is exorbitantly priced. At least the brand I'm looking at is anyway. I've slowly been working up a small, a really, really small collection of trail gear and even got the wife to actually buy something too.

Well, I actually wanted the gear but convinced the wife to buy it so it wouldn't seem like I was desperate enough to buy stuff. With that, let me introduce to you the Salomon Lab Sense Hydro Set Hand Hydration System. This collaboration between Salomon and Hydrapak is based on Hydrapak's soft flask technology with a glove designed by Salomon to hold the soft flask in your hand producing a highly functional handheld hydration solution.

It's a very simple design system that utilizes a pair of gloves which slips over the fingers and thumb. The palm side of the glove holds two elastic bands and is comprised of a highly breathable (still uncertain about this) mesh fabric. The elastic bands hold the Hydrapak soft flask in place while running. The flask is further secured by an adjustable bungee loop to hold the bite-valve in place, keeping it upright for easy consumption of liquids.

The soft flask is held firmly in place by the elastic bands
The back of the glove has a terry cloth like fabric that is apparently used for wiping the sweat of your brows and face though if that were the case, they could have made it some other color besides white. I found the gloves to be comfortable and fit snugly over the palm.

The bungee cord to secure the bite-valve for easy drinking access
The soft flasks are easily (after a few tries) inserted under the elastic bands and are quickly adjusted to your preferred position of where you would like the flasks to be during your runs. Due to the design of the glove, the flasks themselves are easily handled. The Hydrapak soft flask has a nice soft form fitting like feel to it. The flask is made of PVC and BPA free material and has a very simple and efficient bite-valve on top and functions simply by biting (duh!) and squeezing the flask gently. The bite-valve design eliminates the need to pull up the valve or mess around with it while running, keeping things simple.

The fuss free and efficient bite-valve
The soft flask released by Salomon comes in three various sizing capacities, 5oz (148ml), 8oz (237ml) and 17oz (500ml). The Salomon Lab Sense Hydro Set Hand Hydration System though comes with one 8oz soft flask and two gloves which if you ask me is rather silly. For that price I would have expected two flasks with it. I had to buy another extra flask to avoid having to share with the wife. It's a good thing I got the unit for 20% off, cos it was on sale for 10% off and an additional World of Sports member discount of 10%  made it a little less painful on the wallet.

237ml but you can can squeeze in 250ml of you fill it to the very top
Both are 8oz soft flasks. The unit on the right was purchased as an addition.
The wife and me took it out for a short trial run with her taking the left glove and me the right one. The glove fit snugly and was pretty comfortable though I thought it wasn't as breathable as it was touted to be with the flask attached to the palms. The wife thought otherwise though. I was a little skeptical about the capacity of the bladder and at 8oz, it didn't seem like much but for a short simple run around the neighbourhood, it actually sufficed. Didn't need to stop at the petrol station to buy drinks. I actually drank too much and ended up without water halfway through the run, a little too kiasu ... hahaha!

While I was conscious of the flask in my palm while running, the entire contraption wasn't really bothersome. Drinking on the run was as easy as biting on the valve and the hand didn't get tired of having to actually grip a normal bottle. The only downside was the chilled water in the flask got warm really fast due to the heat from the palm but I guess that was to be expected. One good thing is there was no sloshing of liquid as you ran and the flask collapses on itself as it empties and you can even stuff it in your shorts pocket if you want to.

The flasks collapses in on itself when empty ...
Overall I thought Salomon Lab Sense Hydro Set Hand Hydration System is a pretty good option if you're one of those, like the wife who carries her water bottle with her during her runs. You have a  nice amount of water for a training run or even a race and the flask are easily topped up though you need to fumble with them a little to put them back on but with a little practice, it gets easier.

The white color theme tends to get dirty easy ...
As for me though, I only convinced the wife to get the unit cos I just wanted the soft flask as an additional water storage for my hydration vest as I'm not the kind who likes to really hold on to a water bottle. But it's a good option for my training runs around the neighbourhood though.

Light and compact
Comfortably designed with a relaxed and natural hand grip
Bite-valve for fuss free access to fluids
Good for short runs
A viable option for those who dislike traditional handheld bottles.

Not as simple as it's made out to remove and replace the soft flask.
Gloves do get partially warm in spite of the breathable mesh fabric design
The color scheme tends to get dirty easily 
Price a little too steep with only one flask provided.

The Salomon Lab Sense Hydro Set Hand Hydration System is priced at RM159.00 for a pair of gloves with a soft flask. An additional flask will set you back an extra RM69.00 for the 8oz capacity and can be found at most World of Sports outlets.