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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Restless In Rehab!

It's been 3 whole weeks that I haven't been pounding the roads and I'm getting extremely restless to pick up some mileage. The stress fracture that I acquired before the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is slowly but surely on the mend, though I wish it would heal a hell of a lot faster. Patience is really not my strong suit. I've still got at least a minimum of 3 more weeks before I can even think of lacing up and start the slow, long road back to fitness.

The wife has been keeping a sharp eye on me to make sure I don't sneakily lace up and hit the roads. I'm not even allowed to buy a new pair of shoes till I'm healed (I've got my eye on you, Vazee!) and as much as I'm tempted, it would be foolish to attempt to run right now.

But that doesn't mean I've been sitting idly waiting for the day I can run again. To keep myself from ballooning up during this downtime, I've made a change to my diet and eating habits and am keeping strict control of what I put into my stomach. No more binging on junk like I used to do pre-GCAM.

To maintain some form of my fitness and make the transition back to training a little easier, I've put my efforts into a program of indoor cycling and a core routine that I religiously do every single day without fail. Since I can't swim, this looks like the best I can do to maintain some semblance of fitness.

I actually dislike having to sit on a stationary bike staring at the wall or doing any sort of indoor training/workouts but for now that works and even the wife is surprised at my tenacity to keep my fitness in check. Let's hope this will help a wee bit when I finally get to lace up again.

I'm looking at a mid/end August comeback and right now the signs are positive. I have two races I've signed up for in September, a half marathon and a 10k which I won't be fit enough to run. I've decided to downgrade myself from the half marathon category to the 10k category and run with the wife instead. It'll be a while before I can attempt longer distance races and I'm a lot more cautious now.

I'm not getting any younger and as enthusiastic as I am to get back to my pre-injury fitness, I have to take it slow and really re-look my training plan to stay away from any further injuries. I cannot afford another round of downtime as I have some plans for next year being cooked up. I really do not want to be sidelined again. It's not a nice feeling not being able to run while all your buddies are out there hitting the roads and trails.

The wife as always has been a pillar of support. She's even decided to take some downtime along with me and not run until I'm recovered so that I won't feel so bad being stuck at home with no running. On the plus side, the break has given my body and legs a chance to heal and repair itself. I'll at least come back to running with a relatively well rested and refreshed body and legs.

For now though, I'll just have to satisfy my running fix by reading the exploits from the rest of my running buddies on Facebook :D

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Saucony Kinvara 6: Initial Review

I received the Saucony Kinvara 6 (K6) from Frank of Running Lab, courtesy of RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd just about two weeks before the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. It didn't leave me nearly enough time to test the shoe out and being bogged down with an injury also made it rather difficult.

Nevertheless, injury or not, that didn't deter me from taking the K6 out for a little test run. I've heard so much about the Kinvara's and was eager to see if the hype was real. I managed to take them out for two short 5k sessions and while it was not enough to make a judgement on how good a shoe is, I was genuinely impressed!

Since I already had the shoe, I decided to take it as a back up shoe for GCAM and also use it as my 10k fun/shakedown race shoe. But with the suspected stress fracture becoming worrisome, I made a decision to do something I've never done before. I decided to switch my race shoe from my tried and tested Skechers GOrun 4 to the Saucony Kinvara 6  seeing as how the K6 offered a little better cushioning than the GR4. It was the first time I was running a marathon in an untested shoe but it was a risk I was willing to take and I'm glad it worked out in my favour.

I've not had the opportunity to try the Kinvara 5 but I've read that the K6 hasn't changed dramatically from the K5's. I cannot really say much about that and my review will be based as a total new shoe experience for me. The Saucony Kinvara 6 came in my favourite colorway, green or blue/slime/coral as described in the Saucony home page and I was grinning from ear to ear when Frank handed me the shoe. Saucony claims the K6 is just 'a few engines short of a turbojet' so let's see if that assessment is justified.

My first impression of the K6 was that it looked a little bulky, especially the sole but upon slipping them on, they felt surprisingly comfortable and soft underfoot with a slightly better step in feel than the Skechers GOrun 4. For a visually 'bulky' shoe, the K6 was surprisingly light weighing in at a 7.7 oz. I was impressed. I was expecting it to be a lot more weighty than the GR4.

The Saucony Kinvara 6 sports a new open and breathable mesh that provides excellent ventilation. The mesh works really well keeping the insides of my feet cool and ventilated as experienced during the recent GCAM. I could feel the cool and chilly breeze flowing through the shoes and it's actually pretty advantageous in the tropical weather that we experience all year round over here. But it's neither water proof nor water resistant so running in the rain will not see your feet dry.

The mesh was also stretchy enough that I could wiggle my toes in them easily enough with a lot of give. Not that it really mattered cos the fit was so true to size that my feet felt so comfortable in them. The toebox was wide and comfortable enough that toes could splay out nicely on toe-off. I have narrow feet but even someone with a wider feet would find the upper mesh stretchable enough to accommodate them.

Saucony's trademark FlexFilm is attached to the upper and provides an exoskeletal support frame for strength and comfort. The FlexFilm, originally developed within the Saucony Racing line of shoes, is hot melded to the upper to allow less internal stitching and creates a soft and nearly seamless surface against the feet.

One thing that I did immediately notice though was the Pro-Lock lacing system, especially along the midfoot. It's actually a pair of wide straps that grips either sides of the midfoot and I physically felt them the moment I laced the shoe up. I was more than expecting it to give me issues cos for me a shoe should disappear once you put them on.

The Pro-Lock lacing system was designed to offer a much secure midfoot fit. But surprisingly, after using the shoes for walking as well as a few short training runs in the Gold Coast, I sort of got used to them and they no longer bugged me. In fact, they actually worked as advertised giving my feet a much more snug midfoot hold.

The K6 retains its proprietary PowerGrid foam for its midsole technology that effectively centres the foot, absorbs impact and distributes pressure offering an incredibly smooth, responsive and cushioned ride. The PowerGrid foam is essentially implanted along the high-abrasive EVA+ midsole of the K6. The added cushioning it provided was one reason for my switch in race shoes for GCAM15.

The outsole also maintains the high durability XT-900 carbon rubber used in high-wear areas that offer traction and durability for almost all your running needs. The outsole is really highly durable cos even after running the marathon in the Gold Coast, hardly any wear was spotted on the outsole. I'm guessing I'll be able to get a lot more mileage out of them than my other trainers.

The Saucony Kinvara 6 has a stack height of 22mm in the heel and 18mm in the forefoot giving it a drop of 4mm. While it falls in the minimalist range, the road feel was a little muted due to the cushioning it had. I'm used to the road feel of the GR4 and the K6 didn't have that same particular feel but it still rides and responds well enough.

The upper heel is amply padded with foam and lined with Saucony's RunDry fabric to provide a comfortable and dry feel for the Achilles. The heel also sports a semi-rigid structure with an internal heel counter that goes only halfway up. The grip of the collar is very relaxed and I was a little worried that it would scrape the back of my heel but it was just needless worry cos it held my heel in place with no slippage at all.

Visually, the shoe is stunning. All the various colorways of the K6 are simply eye catching and you'd be hard pressed to look away from them. I love striking shoes and these fall right up my alley :D The striking details are coupled with strategic bits of reflective strip around the shoe and even under the outsole. A little more prominent reflectivity would have been nice though.

Overall, I've grown to really love the shoe. It's currently high on my list of go to shoes in my rotation of training shoes that I have. My decision to use them for the recent marathon in Gold Coast was a sound one. Though I was running with an injury, they served me pretty well and even though I was suffering in pain from that said injury, my feet on the other hand performed exceptionally well. I hardly felt the shoe and even with late stage foot expansion, the shoe expanded along with my feet seamlessly!

The usual black toenails badge of honour that usually greets me after a marathon or really long distanced running was nowhere in sight. I'm convinced that if I wasn't injured, I'd have pulled off a good showing in them. That's how much I believe in them. It's going to be real hard to give the K6 and my other all time favourite, the GR4 equal road time when I'm recovered.

The Saucony Kinvara 6 is not just marathon capable but are also adept for speed. Though they might not be 'a few engines short of a turbojet' as Saucony puts it but they capable of some fast paced running be it a short 5k or a long marathon. I see myself having some good times in them and hopefully getting a few PR's once I'm healed. Would I recommend them? Yes, most definitely I would!

The Saucony Kinvara 6 is currently available at authorised dealers such as Running Lab in Tropicana City Mall, Stadium and all RSH Stores nationwide and is retailing at RM399.00. Don't just take my word about how good they are, give them a look-see for yourself.

The pair of Saucony Kinvara 6 above was so kindly provided by Frank of Running Lab on behalf of RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd 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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Good Times In Gold Coast

I signed up for the 2015 edition of the Gold Coast Marathon as soon as the registration was opened last year. The 2014 edition of the race was a rushed affair for me. With only one full day to experience the place, it simply wasn't enough; so the wife and me decided that we must return this year for a longer trip. I fell head over heels in love with the place back then.

We booked our flight and accommodations way back in September of 2014 since we already knew the dates of the race itself. Booking early got us a pretty good deal. We planned for a longer stay this time to really take in the splendour of the Gold Coast without having to rush. An 8 day 6 night stay was in order but we lost a day because of Air Asia cancelling our night flight to the next morning. I'm still seething with them!

Off we go with Piew seeing us off ...

Day 1 (Wednesday)

After a long 8 hour flight, Jamie, Choon Yuen, Foo, Jeanie and hubby, the wife and me finally arrived in the Gold Coast on a not so cold night. I was expecting it to be freezing but the weather was pretty mild though still nice and cool. After sorting out pre-booked airport transfer, we all headed off to check in at our respective accommodations and made plans to meet after the check in for supper. Even though it was late, we wanted to make the most of what was left for the day.

The wife and me put up at a place called Sun Tower Holiday Apartments which was located just a mere 5 minute walk away from Surfer's Paradise and fronting the beach. To be honest, we weren't sure of what to expect cos we've been reading mixed reviews about the place. Some were liking the place and some were hating it. So with much trepidation, we picked up the keys from the safe which was pre-arranged for us since we had a late check in and made our way up to the 8th floor where our unit was located.

The fear that we had immediately vanished as the place was pretty decent. A nice setup, clean and with a great view of the pacific ocean. Granted, the fixtures and furnishing were a little aged but everything was in order. A nice clean living room, a small cozy kitchen equipped with all the cooking facilities, a decent sized bedroom and a cute looking bathroom with washing machine and dryer facilities. There was no air-conditioning but with the cold weather, there was no need for one. For the price we paid, I was more than happy with what we got. The management and staff were also very nice people. Value for money if you ask me.

A midnight stroll along the beach ...
After storing our stuff, we headed out for a quick supper of pizza and pies with the rest of the gang. It was simply mouth watering as I was famished from the flight. After the meal, we all parted ways to our respective accommodations to get some rest. Our planned morning shake down run was cancelled cos all of us were still feeling the effects of the long flight and wanted to sleep in. At least that was the plan anyway. The wife and me decided to take a romantic midnight stroll along the beach before heading back since it was along our path back to  the apartment.

The night air was getting colder but that didn't stop us from taking some pictures. We felt really safe walking along the beach at midnight. Not once did a worrying thought crossed my mind. I wouldn't step out my house after 10pm if I was back home, that's for sure. After the stroll and some photo taking we headed back to the apartment and finally called it a night to the soothing sounds of the ocean.

Day 2 (Thursday)

I woke up to the gentle sounds of waves around 6am. I wanted to catch the golden sunrise and was not disappointed. The wife was surprised that I was up and about at the hour without having to be cattle prodded out of bed. I didn't want to waste a single minute of our stay there.

The view from the apartment
With such a beautiful morning and splendid weather, I couldn't resist the urge to suit up for a short run. I checked my messages and just like me, the rest of the gang was awake and eager for a run. I wasn't the least bit surprised. These fellows are known not to miss an opportunity for a run. After a quick round of messaging and we were out pounding the pavement of Surfer's Paradise. The wife said it was too cold and decided to stay in. She said the cold tends to puffen up her face too much.

The five of us waving at the wife on the balcony like idiots during our run ... LOL!
After a short 4-5km of easy running with lots of photos, we all headed back to get ready for the next agenda of the day, which was a trip to Harbour Town. We met up at the Q1 tram station but not before the wife and me headed to Q1 Skypoint to get our climb tickets booked. I wasn't looking forward to it. I'm afraid of heights and having to climb the highest point of the Q1 tower even securely strapped to the railings was giving me the jitters. But nevertheless, we booked the climb for Friday noon. Gulp!

Fooling around during the morning run
Slightly under an hour later we reached Harbour Town and made our our way to the Tourism Lounge as they were expecting us. More photo taking opportunities with the friendly staff and some coffee, we split up to check out the respective outlets. In conjunction with GCAM15, there was a promotion going on for a limited time offering some attractive discounts. Harbour Town is a lovely place to shop. The wife and me made our way slowly from one shop to another.

Being a shoe nerd, I was basically out looking for shoes that I couldn't find back home. Sadly, save for one or two models, nothing really caught my eye. I was really expecting to snag a new shoe back but ended up with a New Balance running vest instead. A cool looking green (but of course) one if I might say so.

At Grill'z in Harbour Town
After a few hours on our feet, we regrouped for lunch with Jamie, Choon Yuen and Foo at an eatery called Grill'z for some huge, yummy grilled burgers. The burgers were pretty huge but I was famished from all that walking and shopping and wolfed down my burger and half of the wife's in no time. Then it was back to shopping cos there were still lots more to see. Another short stop for coffee and some cakes while waiting for Choon Yuen to get some stuff and we were soon heading away from Harbour Town to the race expo to pick up our race kits.

Since this was my second time running GCAM, I knew what to expect of the expo but was still pretty excited. The race kit collection went without a hitch and I was in and out in 5 minutes. Then it was time to scour for some deals and gear at the expo. Got myself an event vest from the Asics booth. I knew from Jamie an hour before we arrived at the expo that the Garmin booth had the Forerunner 225 for sale.

I was waiting for the unit to arrive in Malaysia but up to the time I left for GC, there was still no news about it. I made my way to the Garmin booth and after some exchanges with the Garmin consultant and some ...errr, very slow calculations (I'm bad at math!), and the 'go ahead' from the wife, I purchased the unit. I saved quite a bit buying it here than back home and I was more than happy with the deal. Of course, the wife reminded me that I've used up my shopping quota and would have to eat rocks and grass for the rest of the trip!

When we were all finally done with the expo we headed back home but not before a stop at Woolworths which had a wide variety of pre-cooked food that you only need to heat up to eat. They have a wide variety on offer with 'flavours' you will never find back home. Grabbed some drinks and snacks for munching on later as well. We planned to go our own way for dinner before catching up again the next day. It's been a long day and I needed to get off my feet and also mess with my new toy.

Day 3 (Friday)

Another early morning waking up to the sounds of the ocean. I was up and about by 6am and checked my phone for messages to see if any from the group was running. Seeing nothing, I decided to suit up and run up to Main Beach and back solo, a total of 5km. The wife once again found it too cold to follow me. I also needed to test the leg out and made it a speed session to see if the leg would hold up. It did and I was feeling hopeful.

The run was nice and cold with a gentle breeze blowing throughout. I enjoyed the solitude, just me, my music on low and the sounds of the ocean as I ran past countless others taking advantage of the weather. I could live here, I thought to myself as I ran along. Stopped along the way to snap some pictures, took a few selfies and headed back to get ready for the Q1 Skypoint climb. I wasn't looking forward to it. I have a huge fear of heights. Anything above 2 inches gives me the jitters so you can probably imagine how I felt about Q1!

I wonder if I have what it takes to be a life guard?
After a hot shower, the wife and me met the guys at Coffee Club while waiting for the designated hour of the climb to arrive. After making plans to meet later, we headed off on our way, the wife and me to Q1 and Jamie, Choon Yuen and Foo to Hooters for some 'milk' shakes ... hahaha! Since we still had an hour or so to spare, the wife and me decided to head to Coles and also check out the location of the Wax Museum which we planned to visit later. Soon it was time to head in the direction of Q1.

I was shivering and it wasn't cos of the weather. The nearer we got to Q1, the weaker my knees became. But it was one of the things the wife wanted to tick off her list, so terrified or not, I was willing to take the 'plunge' with her. There was no turning back now and soon we were introduced to Marco, our climb master (for want of a better word). His job was to make sure we suited up properly with all the harnesses and carabiners in working order. The suit up, safety check and briefing took almost an hour but Marco kept it fun and tried to ease the fear in all of us, well me anyway.

After an hour, we were finally suited up and looked like high rise window washers as we made our way up to the 77th floor to finally get up into the heavens. The elevator ride was super fast. My heart was beating so fast that if I had my Garmin attached to my wrist, my heart rate would have shot through the roof! I trembled as I made my way to the start of the climb. One final briefing from Marco and we were led out of the building into the open, cold, windy air of the Gold Coast with nothing around us safe for a teeny weeny railing. Well, it was teeny weeny to me anyway!

I positioned myself at the tail-end of the group simply because I could cringe in fear without holding anyone back or looking like a sissy. It was a bad decision cos once we were up at the first platform stop Marco looked at me and said he needed me to do him a favour! OMG! Can't he see the fear in my eyes? Can't he see how white my knuckles were from gripping on to the railings for dear life? And he wanted me to do him a 'little' favour! I knew this couldn't be good.

At the peak of Q1 ...
He said was going to head to the front of the group and wanted me to link and attach some extra couplings and carabiners for him once he was at the front of the group. Dammit, I only have two hands and both of them were gripping the railings in fear. And he wanted me to clamp and attach stuff for him while dangling 78 floors up in open air? That was something Ethan Hunt would do, not me! It didn't help that the wife was grinning at me from ear to ear! She was having the time of her life and mocking me as I cringed in fear! She can be evil that way! Slowly, fearfully and steadily I somehow attached whatever carabiners and couplings that were needed and praying to god I somehow didn't unhook mine instead, I made my way to the top. To be really honest, fright and all, I did enjoy it up there eventually.

The view was simply stunning. You had a nice 360 degree view with no walls around you atop the tallest residential tower in Australia. I really didn't have anything to worry. I was securely strapped in. Marko was very amusing and made everyone feel so at ease. After what seemed like 30 minutes or so, my adventure in the heavens came to an end and not a moment too soon. I was glad to finally be on zero elevation again. It was an experience to remember. If you're looking for things to do while in the Gold Coast, do give the attempt a go. It really is an experience and the view is stunning! You won't regret it one bit.

Who da man?
After the excitement of Q1, we had lunch in a little Tandoori place nearby. My knees were still shaking and I just needed to get some food into me to calm me down. The food was decent and we headed to Woolworths again to get some more stuff for dinner before heading home to take a short rest and then head out to the beach and the night market there.

The wife wanted a little longer rest so I headed out to meet the guys first and would pick her up for the night market later. Met up with Jamie there and we scoured part of the market before he headed back. I got the wife and we headed back to the night market, snapped some pictures and I took the opportunity to dip my feet into the Pacific Ocean before meeting up with Choon Yuen, Foo, Yvonne and her hubby, Bin for dinner. It's been a while since we last saw the Speed Demon and it was also our first time meeting Bin. It was a short reunion of sorts.

The old gang back together again
Jamie had to head off cos he was a little tired from the days activities and wanted to call it an early day before our 10k run the next day so the rest of us headed off to a nearby restaurant for dinner and some catch up stories. An hour or so later we all headed back to call it a night  since some of us were also running the 10k. With that, my third day in the Gold Coast came to an end.

Day 4 (Saturday)

The day started real early with the Southern Cross University 10k fun run. Jamie, Choon Yuen, Foo, Leong and Man Hon signed up for the 10k and after an initial frantic time with the tram issues, we all met up to have one of the best 10k I've run in. You can read about it in my race report here.

We headed quickly back after the race as both Choon Yuen and me had to grab a shower, a change of clothes and head out back to Jupiters Hotel to meet up with Jamie for the Garmin Legends Lunch. I was looking forward to this. The chance to be in the same space with marathon legends the likes of Steve Moneghetti, Pat Carroll, Lee Troop, Yuki Kawauchi, Ryan and Sara Hall was a dream come true.

Ryan and Sara Hall

With Mona himself
We were mostly there in support of Jamie who was interviewed on stage by the legendary Steve Moneghetti and also at the same time in awe of him. Not many people get that opportunity in their lifetimes. And just so you guys know, he aced the interview like the champ that he is! Both Choon Yuen and me managed to snag pictures of Ryan and Sara Hall, Kawauchi and Moneghetti and autographs from Pat Carroll and Lee Troop. I was a happy man when I left the lunch :D It might not be a big deal to some of you but it is to me.

Yuki Kawauchi
After the lunch, it was back to the apartment for rest. Since it was marathon day the next day, I wanted to be off my feet as much as possible. I decline the offer to meet up with Jamie, Choon Yuen, Foo, Yvonne and Bin for dinner at Vapiano's, not because I was a snob but the leg was acting up a little and I wanted it to have some down time till race day. Dinner for us was a simple roast chicken and spaghetti whipped up by the wife, nothing that would upset the stomach too much. Then it was time to prep the race gear and call it an early night. I was anticipating a long, hard and painful day the next day.

Day 5 (Sunday)

The main course of the trip finally arrived. The marathon itself. Woke up early, met up with Julia, Leong and Man Hon early cos both my wife and Julia would be running the half marathon that had an earlier race start. We also wanted to be safe just in case another tram incident repeated itself. Again, you can read my race report for the marathon here.

After a good day for everyone at the marathon, we headed back but not before grabbing some much needed food in the form of some wanton noodles recommended by Jeanie. We had a post race pot luck dinner planned and some shopping was needed to be done for that. The wife and me headed back, grabbed two hours of some much needed sleep before heading to Woolworths to grab some ice-cream, our portion of the potluck and limping all the way to Choon Yuen's apartment for the pot luck.

Team Malaysia
Most of the gang was already there. Dinner was basically sharing our race experiences which involved lots of ribbing and laughter. We were all mostly happy with each others achievements and shared in each others happiness. We've all come through a long journey and some tough times during training together. Though my own race didn't turn out well, I was more than happy to join in and celebrate everyone's success, irrespective of the distances we did.

The food was good and we all ate quite a bit. Even me, who could eat like a pig couldn't find place for anymore of the food. Jeanie packed up some of the leftover for me and the wife in case I got hungry again later and we all said our goodbyes for the day. I wanted to stay up late or go for a walk by the beach but the leg was in too much pain so the wife and me stayed in and just watched TV.

The post race dinner ...
Day 6 (Monday)

The final day of our stay in the Gold Coast. We'd be checking out early in the morning the next day and I planned to make the most of the day. The initial plan was to head to Currumbin with Jamie, Choon Yuen and Foo but my legs weren't up to walking so much and I opted out. The wife and me just hung around the Surfer's Paradise area.

We decided to check out the Wax Museum which was just a 10 minute walk from our place. It wasn't really up to what I was expecting. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. The exhibits were encased behind a glass panel. I understand the need to keep people from fiddling with the wax figures but that ruled out any silly selfies that I had in mind. Nevertheless, the guided tour of the Chamber of Horrors was pretty fun and informative. The staff were also very friendly people and we were chatting away about the marathon since I was in the 42K finisher tee.

Getting a feel of the Pacific Ocean
A quick lunch at a Vietnamese food outlet, which by the way served some yummy beef noodles, before heading back to the apartment for a short rest and then a rendezvous with the team for a high tea at the Seventy7 Cafe and Bar located on the Q1 observation deck. The Australian Tourism people so kindly hosted us to a high tea on the 77th floor of the observation deck of Q1. I was happy to be behind the safety of walls this time around ... LOL! Many thanks goes out to the Australian Tourism people for their kind gesture.

The final night in the Gold Coast was spent packing up and just chilling indoors. Dinner was the left over pasta and sausages along with some roast chicken cos the wife and me were both too lazy to walk out for dinner. We called it an early night since we had to be up early for our airport transfer the next morning.

At the Q1 high tea hosted by Tourism Australia
Day 7 (Tuesday)

It was finally time to bid farewell to the beautiful city of Gold Coast once again. I wasn't intending to come back next year but I simply cannot resist the beauty of the place. I've come to love the city in the short time I was here last year and love it even more this year. I still have loads to see and just before getting on the plane for home, I decided that I'll be back again for GCAM16 to take on the marathon once more, the third time is the charm, they say and take more of what the Gold Coast has to offer.

This time though, I'll concentrate on running the race first and then stay longer for the fun. Now I have to forgo some other overseas race next year to save up enough for another shot at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. If you're looking for a reputable marathon and some amazing fun times, the Gold Coast Coast Airport Marathon is the place to be!

Note: Some of the pictures above are courtesy of Jamie, Choon Yuen, Jeanie, Foo and Julia.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sony Smart B-Trainer Review

Along with a few other members of the GCAM team, I was offered the opportunity to test the new Sony Smart B-Trainer a while back. The Sony Smart B-Trainer, which I'll refer to as the B-Trainer from this point on is a headset that looks very similar to the W Series, Sony's wireless head-based Walkman range that basically works as a music player.

I have one unit too which was kindly given to me by Jamie more than a year ago, the Meb endorsed version, mind you (I just had to slip that in) which I use occasionally during my runs. I'm not much of a running with music kinda guy cos I normally tend to completely focus on my runs. But there are days when I just want to run free and easy and the music does come in handy.

The new B-Trainer series of Walkman on the other hand is a completely different beast of a music player altogether. While it offers the same music playing capabilities as the W series, the B-Trainer offers a whole load of new functions and things to play with, all neatly packaged into an almost identical unit to the W Series. The new Sony Smart B-Trainer is a much more advanced unit packing GPS, a heart rate monitor and 16GB of space for your music selection.

The power button doubles as a call answer button

The B-Trainer is basically an all-in-one headset that combines both a fitness tracker and a music device that fully encompasses wireless freedom. If you're into running or fitness activities, then the B-Trainer looks set to be the go-to device without the need of being tethered to a smart phone.

That alien looking thingy is where the heart rate sensor is located

The B-Trainer sports a slew of built-in sensors such as GPS, an optical heart rate monitor, a gyroscope, accelerometer and an electronic compass in a nice tidy looking package. The unit also records data such as heart rate, cadence, distance, route, speed, pace, steps, elevation, calories and strides, everything you'd find in your regular GPS watch which doesn't have the added advantage of playing music for you.

The silver button starts, pauses and stops activities

The fit of the B-Trainer is pretty decent. I've always had issues with any device that plugs into my ears, most probably cos I have defective ears ... LOL! After fiddling with the various sized ear buds provided to find the right fit, they felt snug in my ears, a much better fit than my current W Series headset. The loop that goes around and behind the head does a pretty good job of keeping things clamped down nicely, even at much faster paces.

The button configurations are well placed and easy to reach and use. Once you get accustomed to what their functions are, it's like second nature. The left headset of the unit consists of the play/pause, skip tracks and start/stop workout buttons. The right headset consists of the on/off, volume, call answerheart rate sensor and bluetooth buttons. Tapping the on/off button lightly gives you real time information about your current fitness activity.

NFC Ready for a smooth and speedy data transfer

What's really impressive about the B-Trainer is that it's able to automatically dish out songs based on your running pace. Once you download and install the Media Go software for Windows or Content Transfer for Mac, which is pre-loaded into the trainer itself, the device will be able to scan your songs and base them on a particular tempo. What that means is that the B-Trainer is able to 'listen' to different training plans and based on your speed and heart rate, it'll guide you to either slow down or speed up, which basically means real time feedback during your runs. Granted, this really isn't all that new. The Adidas MiCoach has been doing this for quite a while now but it's cool to see the B-Trainer packaging it all into one tidy device.

An overview of all your runs

More detailed data of your run

Unlike your GPS watch or any other fitness tracker, the B-Trainer 'speaks' out to you as you run. Depending on how you programmed it, it'll tell you your pace, speed, distance, heart rate, calories burned and time at set intervals throughout your run negating the need to keep looking down at your wrist.

The data that it spews out is incredibly accurate when compared against my Garmin GPS watch. The only thing that didn't really tally is the heart rate reading which was way off when compared against my chest strap. I'm not really sure why that is but maybe it's the way the sensor sits in my ear or something. I'm not sure how the other reviewers fared with their heart rate reading so it could just be me.

Data on pace, elevation, heart rate, stride and cadence

Data on splits

Now, with all this data it tracks and generate, you'd probably be wondering just how to analyze all that data. Well, the B-Trainer has a mobile app for both Android and the iPhone that you can download. The app gives you the option to download your run data and analyze your progress. You're able to look at various data of your run such as distance, time, average pace, calories, steps, heart rate, cadence, stride, splits and even maps your music playlist against the route map enabling you to know where each song was played!

The exact data where your songs were played

That isn't all, you're also able to programme custom training plans prior to your workout and send them to your device. Transferring data and training plans to the devices is such a breeze. The B-Trainer is NFC capable and if your phone is also NFC capable, you just need to touch them together and it's done. But you can just use the bluetooth option otherwise.

The screen to set custom training plans

The device is also capable of receiving phone calls if you set it to bluetooth headset more and also acts as a wireless headphone for music or video streaming directly from your smartphone. I simply love that option cos I tend to watch lots of TV series on my smartphone and can now do it wirelessly without having to plug in a wired earpiece that's half the time getting tangled all over me.

The Sony Smart B-Trainer is also waterproof and according to one of the other reviewers, you're able to swim with it as well. I'm no swimmer so I can't comment on this aspect but I can vouch for the waterproofing aspect of it. I've run in the rain with them and had no issues whatsoever. The B-Trainer has a waterproof rating of IPX5/IPX8 to keep both dust and water out of the device.

I've used the device quite a bit since I've had it during most my training runs to get a feel for it. I've used it with different aspects of my training such as track work, intervals, tempo runs and LSD's. I've even race tested them both locally and overseas and they've worked as advertised. The GPS acquisition didn't take too long, I'd say about 2-3 minutes and once it acquired the signal, the next time you switched it on, it was almost instantaneous.

The GCAM team testing the device during the Reach Out Run.
Photo courtesy of Choon Yuen

The B-Trainer is touted to last up to 14 hours of pure music playback with GPS disabled or 5 hours on training mode with GPS enabled. I can't vouch for that cos I always keep the device fully charged after my workouts. A full charge takes approximately 1.5 hours via USB.

The Sony Smart B-Trainer retails at RM999.00 and can be found at Sony Outlets. Would I recommend this as an alternative for a fitness device/tracker? Yes, most definitely. If you're currently using a smart phone and lugging around a music player, then this would be just perfect for you. GPS, heart rate sensor, music and bluetooth capabilities all rolled up nicely in a neat little package. I'd say you can't get any better than that.

But as with all music devices, please use extreme caution when using it to run on the roads. Keep the volume low or even one earpiece unplugged so you're able to hear the traffic around you. As much as this is a great device for keeping fit, you want to live long enough to actually be fit. The drivers around our roads can be idiots who disregard pedestrians and runners so please use extreme caution with any music device while running.

A model's work is never done ... sigh!

Note: The Sony Smart B-Trainer above was kindly provided by Sony Malaysia for testing purposed and the review of unit is of my own personal opinion and is in no way influenced by Sony Malaysia whatsoever.

Full specifications of Smart B-Trainer (SSE-BTR1):
Memory (Available capacity may vary)
Hi-Speed USB(USB 2.0 compliant)
Heart Rate, GPS, Accelerometer, Gyro, e- Compass, Pressure
Water Resistance
IPX5/IPX8 (IEC 60529) or equivalent
Power Source
Built-in Rechargeable lithium-ion Battery, USB power (from a computer via a USB Cradle of the player)
Maximum Recordable Number of Songs and Time
MP3 128 kbps: 3900, Linear PCM 1411 kbps:
Recharge Time (USB-based charging)
Approx. 1.5 hours
Operating Temperature
5 °C to 35 °C
Output (headphones)
Frequency response 20 to 20,000 Hz (when playing data file, single signal measurement)
Communication system
Bluetooth specification version 4.0
Output (Bluetooth)
Bluetooth specification Power Class 2
Maximum communication range
Line of sight approx. 10 meters (30 feet)*2
Frequency band
2.4 GHz band (2.4000 GHz – 2.4835 GHz)
Compatible Bluetooth profiles
Supported Codec
Approx. 43g
Battery Life (Training Menu)
GPS ON: Approx. 3-5 hours GPS OFF: Approx. 4-6 hours
Battery Life (Music Playback)
GPS ON: Approx. 3-5 hours GPS OFF: Approx. 6-14 hours
Audio Formats Supported
MP3 (32 to 320kbps), WMA/ASF(32 to 192kbps), Linear-PCM/Wave-Riff (1411kbps), AAC/MP4 (16 to 320kbps)
USB Cable, Earbuds (swimming & normal), USB cradle, carrying pouch, adjustment band, adjustment covers for heart rate sensors