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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Puma Night Run 2014

I wasn't intending to write anything about the Puma Night Run since I didn't run the event and instead volunteered for it but heck, it was such a lively and really well organized event that it deserves mention.

The registration for the event was kept to a small number and the slots filled up fast. In fact, I totally forgot about this event until I received an email seeking for volunteers. Since it was a night run and I have nothing better to do on a Saturday night, both the wife and me took up the volunteer slots. She opted for the food and medals bit and I opted for the road marshal job.

That soon changed when a few days before the event, I received another email from Wan Yew Leong looking for 5 individuals to be a mobile info person. It was something new and hasn't been seen in events here and I jumped at the chance. So my job description was switched from road marshal to mobile info man. I was looking forward to it.

The morning before the event was a pretty hectic one. A tough and hard interval session at the MPSJ track with the wife, followed by haircuts for the boys and then grocery shopping. By the time all that and the housework were done, we both had time for only for a short nap before having to get ready to report in at the race location.

The Puma Night Run had its venue in the park/field beside Setia City Mall, a very nice location for an event if you asked me, though it was a little bit out of the way for us. We reached there early like we do for all events, running or otherwise and headed straight the race secretariat.

The nicely done start/finish gantry
The field was already buzzing with activity and people, both shoppers from the mall out to enjoy the event fares and also participants who came early. I was impressed. I've seen race setups and even been involved in them but this was looking good, really good.

After picking up our volunteer tee and waiting for Zane and Foo, who also volunteered, we all headed to the field for reporting of our respective duties. Everyone was briefed on what we needed to do and I was finally given my orange helium balloon with the Puma logo and 'Ask Me' words boldly emblazoned on it. It was time for work.

The medal givers all ready for the first runner
Ok, a little confession here. I hardly studied the runners guide and venue layout and just played by ear. A quick check around so I was familiar with the surroundings and I was ready for questions, as long as it wasn't questions about the meaning of life, I could probably wing it :D

By this time, the venue was filling up nicely with a multitude of runners. The atmosphere was simply electrifying. The stage was a hive of activity with Phat Fabes doing a good job of working the crowd up. At least a professional MC was on hand unlike a particular annoying one at a previous event. A couple of really nice performances were on hand to entertain the crowd before race start.

The mall acts as a beautiful lighted backdrop ...
The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves and so did I. Being a mobile info person, your job description has you 'patrolling' the venue and you get to take in everything. Puma did a good job with the entertainment at the race venue and interaction with the runners. A huge bit was probably spent by them to make the event what it was. One of the best I've seen so far, kudos to them.

I believe that keeping the entry numbers low was a very good call by them. Too many other brands have this fetish of chasing the numbers but hardly providing a satisfying race experience. The bigger the number of participants doesn't always mean the better the event is. Even as a volunteer I was enjoying myself. The crowd was a mixed of young and old, mainly young which is what the brand philosophy was all about but at least they weren't obvious about it. Again, kudos to them.

As for me, I was having it easy so far. All the questions shot at me were pretty easy ones, 'Where's the start location?, Where the baggage counter?, Do I need to report in? Are you married? (okay, okay, that was a joke)', which was a relief really. Some of them also just wanted pictures with the balloon which I gladly obliged, after all, how often does one get the chance of attracting this much attention. My small, short attempt at fame ... hahaha!

During my rounds, I caught up with lots of familiar faces enjoying the hospitality provided by Puma. Slightly after race start, there was a slight confusion with the medals and banana location which saw my fellow poor volunteers having to lug around the medals and bananas in and out from the start to the secretariat tent and back.

Since the runners were already flagged off and I had nothing to do till they came back, I decided to help out. It was back breaking for them, the medals and bananas weren't exactly light and they were mostly women lugging it around. We managed to get the medals and bananas back out to the start just in time before the first runner crossed the line in 32 minutes or so.

After watching the first three male and female runners come in, I headed back to my duty station cos I had a feeling everyone was going to be asking for drinks which was located way back the at the race village which I thought was slightly odd. I parked myself at the entrance to the village and true enough, lots of dazed runners were asking me where the drink station was located. I really earned my volunteer fees here directing everyone to the proper refreshment tent.

Now, the show wasn't over yet. Like I said earlier, the event was well planned. The moment the place started filling up with runners again, the entertainment resumed. Live bands started belting out catchy tunes that had even me moving along to the beat. Phat Fabes was still working his magic keeping everyone entertained. It was a party like atmosphere once again with the shoppers and participants soaking up the music.

Finally the last of the runners came in and the volunteers all adjourned to the secretariat to wait for the race to officially end. Just before the official end, we were all entertained to a stunning fireworks show, which had me mesmerized. A fitting end to a well run event! After getting paid for our 6 hours work, we finally headed home. My feet were killing me, what with not sitting down for close to 6 hours. I was totally exhausted but happy.

Ask me ...
Overall, a good job by the Puma Night Run 2014 organizers for a race well done. Intentional or not, you gave all those present an engaging time. I do believe those who ran the race were more than satisfied with the race experience and things like these do make a lot of difference in brand loyalty if you ask me. I for one, even just a lowly volunteer, love your tee (comfort wise) so much that I'll be visiting your stores for some retail therapy soon :D

My 'medal' for the night :D
If you keep to the same concept for next year and not let the success of this year get to your heads, I'm betting my one month's wage you'll have another whopping success of a run. As for my balloon man job, I simply loved it and if you do have an info man post in your MPIB run, Wan and Jamie, make sure I get first pickings, after all, I'm experienced now ... hahaha!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Skechers GOrun Bolt: Initial Review

The 'knitted' shoe technology has been around for quite a while now. If you're a runner, especially one who keeps up with shoe technology, you've definitely seen them or even own a pair or two. I've always wanted to try one of them but the thing about these 'knitted' technology shoes are that they're quite pricey.

But the shoe gods must have heard my prayers. I was lucky enough to get a pair of the Skechers Performance version of this technology last Saturday, the Skechers GOrun Bolt (GRB), a knitted fabric upper on the heels of the proven and reliable outsole of the Skechers GOrun Ride 3. I'm not sure how the name Bolt came to be though.

The GRB is basically a GOrun Ride 3 but with a completely new knitted upper fabric called the FitKnit by Skechers Performance. The GRB sports a multi coloured seamless woven advanced lightweight FitKnit upper replacing the standard mesh upper of the GRR3. The outsole is the very same one found on the GOrun Ride 3.

I'm not going to go into too much details on the specifications of the shoe. Like I said, it's basically a GOrun Ride 3 with a new knitted upper. You can always read my previous review on the GRR3 here for a better understanding on the specifications of the shoe. It's still as lightweight as the typical Skechers running shoe.

My first impression of the shoe was how different could it be from the current GOrun Ride 3, yeah a new upper, name and all but it's still built atop the same GRR3 mould. When Jamie, who collected the shoe for me, handed me the shoe prior to the MPIB clinic run last Saturday, I decided to give it an immediate test. I mean, why wait, right?

The first signs that my assumption of the GRB being the same as the GRR3 were quashed when I first slid my feet into them. The fit was perfect. The seamless woven upper fabric flowed over my feet like soft comfy socks. It felt totally different from the upper of the GRR3. While the GOrun Ride 3's upper was flexible, breathable and all that, it was a tad bit restrictive on my feet.

The Skechers GOrun Bolt on the other hand felt like you only had on a pair of socks over your feet. It was a pleasant surprise. Upon warming up and walking in them before the run, even the outsole felt a tad bit different, much more cushier and softer. I put that down to the illusion of it being a brand new shoe. The outsole is after all an exact duplicate of the GRR3.

My first run session in them covered a total of 13.5km and they were definitely way different from the GRR3. In all my runs with the GRR3, I was always aware that I had them on but with the GOrun Bolt, it felt the opposite. Never once did my mind waver to my shoe, which in shoe terms is really a good thing.

The bounce and cushioning of the shoe, which is in essence a 4mm drop shoe was quite amazing. It makes me wonder if Skechers really didn't tweak the outsole somewhat. The GRB comes with custom fit insoles, giving you the option of running with or without the insoles. I ran without the insoles like I always do. The ride felt completely different from the GRR3.

The upper was very breathable and I could feel the cool morning air flowing through the shoe somewhat. The FitKnit upper was pretty flexible as one would expect with a 'knitted' shoe and the material expanded nicely and seamlessly along with your feet. The woven upper also provides lateral and medial support for stability during runs. The usual padded tongue and heel counter were still apparent though. I've always preferred thinner tongues though. Weighing the same as the GRR3, the GOrun Bolt tips the scale at 8.4 oz in the men's size 9. The fit was simply perfect for me in my regular size 8's.

Top shoe is the GOrun Ride 3, bottom is theGOrun Bolt
I was so impressed with the shoe that I decided it would be my race shoe for the CAPAM International Half Marathon the next day. I know almost everyone says not to run a race in a pair of brand new shoes, I find that totally hogwash cos I've run in quite a few totally brand new shoes without any incidents. Besides, my feet are simply cut out for most of the Skechers Performance shoe and no, I'm not saying that just to please Skechers. I'm fortunate to have feet that can accommodate most running shoes.

As expected the shoe was a joy to run in for the event and not once did I have to worry or think about my shoe throughout the race. The Skechers GOrun Bolt was like an extension of my feet and freed up my mind to completely focus on the race itself. It worked so well that I managed to even PR the tough and demanding course.

No hotspots and the upper expanded nicely along with my feet throughout the race. The only thing I cannot be certain of is how well the upper would perform in the rain or wet situations. I guess that will have to wait until a rainy run, which I would be reluctant to try them out or wait for one of the other shoe testers to do it .. LOL!

Overall, I'm very satisfied with the performance of the shoe. I've been using them for all my runs since I got them and have acquired some pretty high mileage in them already, around 60km plus, which is rare for a shoe that's only been in my possession for about 4 days and with work commitments thrown in. My only 'complaint' would be that the shoe lacked the usual funky colorway of the GOrun series. But nothing that couldn't be rectified with a change of the laces. I have loads of spare laces since most Skechers GOrun series shoes comes with a spare set of laces.

The Skechers GOrun Bolt will be launched end of this week in Skechers outlets here and will be retailed at RM399 for the women's and RM419 for the men's. Is it worth checking out? Yes, it definitely is worth looking at, whether you're a competitive runner or a casual one. It's also way more reasonably priced than its competitors out there. I'm just waiting for Skechers Performance to knit one in some fluorescent colors, that would be insanely cool.

The pair of Skechers GOrun Bolt above was kindly provided by Skechers Malaysia for wear testing. This review is of my own personal experience with the shoe and is in no way influenced by Skechers Malaysia whatsoever.

Additional Info: Found the shoe to be a little too 'loose' during my recent 30K race and it took an effort to run at speed, unlike models such the GOMeb Speed 2 or even the GObionic 2. Good for training runs but might reconsider for longer distanced races.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

CAPAM International Run 2014: Race Review

I wasn't really looking forward to this run. The route for the CAPAM run was the exact duplicate of the PNM route the previous week and the thought of having to have to go through it again was really not very appealing to me. I suffered tremendously during the Putrajaya Night Marathon.

When I signed up for the CAPAM run, I didn't know which route they were going to be running. The route info was practically non existent on the organizers website. I only signed up cos the distance matched my training plans for the week. It would be like an LSD with a whole bunch of other people.

At least I had the company of Jamie, who was also crazy enough to sign up. Come race day, I reached the race venue early to pick up both Jamie, Choon Yuen (who couldn't make it due to work commitments) and my bib. I had to leave the bib collection to the last minute due to some unforeseen issues. The wife decided to tag along to lend support  and to be my unofficial photographer.

The weather though was lovely. It rained the night before in my place and I'm not sure if Putrajaya rained or not but the place was cool. Perfect weather for running. But I was expecting things to heat up fast as is always the case with Putrajaya.

For an event dubbed with the words international in it, there was surprisingly few participants. Jamie and me warmed up, and headed to the start pen for the 22k (yes, it was officially a 22k event) runners to await our start. The MC got on my nerves with his rambling and I couldn't wait to be flagged off to be rid of him.

The gun went off right on the dot at 6.30am and it was time to get to work. Since I was familiar with the route and its ups and downs, I was at least much better prepared to negotiate it this time round. The initial start pace was a tad too fast with the Garmin clocking in at 4:55 minutes for the first kilometer. Both Jamie and me decided that it way too fast a start and dialed the pace back down. After all, there was still a long way to go and we had to keep something in the tank for the second half of the race.

We ran together for close to 18km averaging a 5:15 pace, slowing when we had to and stepping it up when we needed to. Water stations were grab and run cos both of us weren't planning to stop just to re-hydrate. Every second we kept moving counted. The water stations were spaced out exactly as in PNM and that made it easier to anticipate when we would reach them. A nice mix of water and isotonics as well.

Surprisingly, I was feeling fine, even with a pace I wasn't really comfortable with. The legs kept going with not much protest and no signs of the knee issues showed up. Thank god. As I had decided earlier, when we reached the Taman Cabaran area just after the cemetary, I walked up both the inclines. Lost some precious time there but I wasn't about to challenge that climb. Once that was done, I got back into a steady pace again. Somewhere around the 18km mark, the 10k runners merged with us and things got pretty crowded.

At this point, I was already feeling tired. I didn't have breakfast prior to the race and had no gels with me. I was hoping that this wouldn't be a bad decision. The legs were already showing some signs of fatigue and I stopped at the 18km water station to walk. Thankfully there was no cramping this time. Jamie was still going strong and headed off on his own.

After a short walk to recover, I started my attack for the final 4km. I glanced at my watch and realized that I could finally break my 3 year old 21km PR. The confidence level rose. I upped the pace a little more even though I was gasping for air by this point. Surged up the final incline and passed the 21km mark in 1:54, I was ecstatic. My 3 year old 1:59 half marathon time was finally broken.

Now all I had to do was make it through the last 1.2km and the torture would be over. Once again the thought that I would shave off last weeks PNM timing was spurring me on. With every bit of effort I had left in me, I made a bee line to the finish and crossed the line in a time of 2:01, taking 14 minutes off my PNM time last week. Oh the joy!

I really didn't expect the results I got seeing as how I wasn't at all confident before the race but I'm a happy camper today. I'm hoping this is no flash in the pan and that the training plan I've cooked up is what contributed to this somewhat. We shall see how it really pans out in the next three months or so.

While there really is nothing I can say about the event cos it was kinda low key for me, the organization was pretty good. The race experience was decent, the volunteers were as always spot on and did a great job. Kudos to them. The only complaint I have was the lack of mobile toilets. Overall, save for the annoying MC, I say it was a pleasant experience.

A big congrats goes out to Jamie for his superb run and thanks for the company, well at least for 18 kilometers of it anyway.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Putrajaya Night Marathon 2014: Race Review

Don't let the title fool you. It wasn't the marathon for me this year, just the half, which in hindsight was one of the best run decisions I made in ages.

The entire event was under threat of a bad haze enveloping parts of the country. The situation was so bad that I was contemplating to skip the event but decided to play by ear and wait till race day to weigh my options. I didn't want to miss this run not because I was intending to try for a PR or anything but simply because me and the entire gang were running our respective races in support of a very good friend.

If fact, this would be my longest distanced run in nearly two months since recovering from my knee injury. A conservative pace was in order. This marks only my second time running the half in the Putrajaya Night Marathon, with the previous two installments being the full marathon. I simply wasn't interested in reliving the pain of running a night marathon in the humidity of Putrajaya. It was a wise decision.

Thankfully, the haze let up a little on race day and the event was a go, not that the organizers actually had any intention of calling it off that late in the game anyway. Too much was already spent for it to be called off. The wife (who was also running the half) and me made our way early to the race location, bumped into Arman and Suzie before meeting up with Jamie.

The signature balloons archers of the organizer ...
After chit-chatting and warming up, we made our way to watch the start of the full marathon category. Back in 2011, I was running the Putrajaya Half marathon for the very first time and was envious of the Marathoners and vowed to be in the start pen with them one day. This year though I was smiling from ear to ear that I was not in the start pen with them. Jamie echoed my thoughts by stating that we made the right decision by signing up for the half instead of the full.

Caught watching the girls ... errr, I mean runners go by ...
Pic courtesy of the wife.
Soon enough it was our turn for flag off amidst a colorful display of fireworks. It was a new route for all the categories this year. And having run the route before I kinda knew what to expect. To say it was a tough route is an understatement. Right from the start you're already negotiating the rolling highway. Jamie already bolted off with a strategy of his own and I wasn't about to latch on to him, not with the pace he was going. I was still cautious about my leg and eased back into something that better suited my current level of fitness.

The first 12k was not too bad. I surprised myself that I could get into a 5:20-5:40 pace through that rolling highway stretch. The entire stretch though, even with a huge TV screen at the 9K mark (I think) was absolutely boring. Safe for the volunteers at the drink station, you were on your own with the darkness of the night. Mind numbing, I tell you.

A percussion band belting out some catchy tunes ...
By the time I reached the cemetery area, my knee started feeling wonky. It wasn't such a big deal, just a twitch on and off but I wasn't going to risk a recurrence of the injury so I dialed in the pace considerably. Which actually was a good thing cos that was when we reached the PICC incline. I made a decision to walk this stretch which even though I've run it before, felt like forever.

At this point I remembered that I forgot to take my one and only gel and quickly pulled it out and swallowed it down and in my haste I failed to make sure there was a water station nearby. You know la how these gels are when you don't really have water to wash it down. With a sticky taste in my mouth, I continued, hoping the gel would kick it but realistically knowing that it wouldn't really happen, not with one gel at that late stage of the game.

The half marathoners waiting for flag off.
Pic courtesy of the wife.
With about 7k or so to go, it was slow going. Even with the dialed in pace, I was struggling to reach the finish. The lack of proper and consistent training was clearly evident. Slowly and steadily I trudged on and finally after 22.3km and 2:15 later I crossed the finish line, not my best time but happy nonetheless to complete my longest run to date and remain injury free. I have a chance at redemption next week though cos the CAPAM International run plies the same route or so I'm told.

As with most of the Twenty First Century organized events, you get the volunteers personally putting the medal around your neck. I thanked them, quickly grabbed my finisher tee, headed to the car to get a quick change of tee and headed up to meet with Jamie to help him distribute some race flyers. After practically bugging everyone to take a leaflet, I ran back to the 20km mark to wait for the wife and pace her back the final 2km plus to the finish.

No one fights alone. This is for you 'Iron Man'
She did well considering getting cramps and all and I accompanied her back to the finish. Technically this was the first time I ran with her during a race :D She was happy with her performance and said she PR'ed the cemetery stretch ... LOL! Good job, hon.

And a big congrats also goes to my GC buddies who ran the SCKLM the next day, who did great in their marathon with a few getting some exceptional PR's and some on their virgin marathon attempts. Great job guys. 'Iron man' will be proud of all of you! As for me, it's time to work harder to keep up with these bunch of speedsters!