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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kidney Day Run: The Volunteer

As a runner taking part in races, we almost never notice the details, small or big that makes a race what it is. We get to the race start location, meet up with friends, chit chat, wait for the gun to go off and then get down to simply running.

We pass directional signage pointing us in the right direction, race marshal's on hand to guide us, water stations to quench our thirst and hydrate us, medical teams on standby for any emergency but oftentimes we hardly notice and take them for granted. At least I do anyway.

Most times I would just run a race, not care about anything else around me, expecting that things are supposed to be there for me and get annoyed when it isn't. Today my entire perspective of that changed considerably.

While my work sees me being involved in running events quite a bit with printing of race bibs, race day banners, buntings, entry forms, certificates and even setting up start/finish arches and even though I enjoy doing anything that involves running, that's all just part of what I do for a living. It's just the business aspect of my life.

Today was my first foray at being a volunteer for a race event. I wanted to experience what it was like to be on the other side of the fence for a change. To give back to running in any small way I could for what it has given to me. I had the opportunity to do just that at this morning's Kidney day run and I must say that it was quite an experience.

I decided this year that I wouldn't be running as much events as I did last year to concentrate more on training. To take up the slack of not running races, I thought it would be a good idea to be a volunteer for races. At least that way I could still be a part of the race even though I was not running it.

Since I'm currently in full training mode for my marathon in two months time and didn't want to miss my usual weekend LSD session, I decided to do my run before my volunteering duties started cos I know if I kept it for the evening after the event, the session wouldn't have been done due to laziness.

As luck would have it, the Sabun's night LSD group was having their monthly night session right at the race start location, I thought it would be a great idea to join them and do my LSD with them so I wouldn't be running alone. At least that's what I thought anyway. I got there around 1.30am and most of them were already done with their session and the few that weren't done were somewhere out there on the roads running. Looks like it was going to be a lonely LSD session after all.

Once I was done with the run, chit-chatted with Ray and the remnants of the group before excusing myself to go look for somewhere to shower, or at least wash up. I wasn't going to report in for my first volunteer duties smelling like, as Jamie would put it, a wet mongoose. I was told by Ray that the toilets in the buildings across the road may have some sort of tap. Well, let's just say it was my first time trying to 'shower' in a toilet cubicle squatting down with a short hose attached to the tap! But it did get the job done.

Feeling fresher, I reported in at 4am and was given a briefing and then told that I would be the water station 'Captain' for the first station. Here I am, a rookie and you're putting me in charge of a water station? Damn, I could do with less pressure! We all know how whiny runners can be when they don't have their water all ready for them. No choice, in for a penny, in for a pound they say.

Was dropped off somewhere near the 2.5km mark along with my 'equipment' at around 5am to wait for my team of six to help me set up the station. I got bored of waiting all alone for them to arrive and got down to setting up all the tables, dumping the bottles of water in ice and arranging all the cups myself. By 6.30am I was done and my team still hadn't arrived yet.

My quiet and lonely station after being dropped off at 5.00am ...
They were finally dropped off around 6.45am. After introductions and a short briefing, my first instruction to them was to stop calling me 'Mister' Nick! I seriously dislike being addressed to as 'Mister'. Not that it worked cos they kept calling me Mister Nick the entire time ... siggghhh ...

We got down to filling the cups around 7am and drawing from my experience as a runner and what I would like to see greet me when I arrive at any water station, I gave them firm instructions to fill every cup on the table with ice chilled water and to make sure none of the cups were empty. If possible, give the cups personally to the runners so they won't have to stop just to find water. I was petty in that way. My entire plan was to provide as much chilled water as I possibly could and to make sure there was free flowing water available at all times.

While we did the best we could, once the first wave of elite runners were through and the mid pack started coming in droves, things got hectic. Trying to replenish the cups and water was a stretch but I must say that the six girls did a great job! Kudos to them for keeping their cool and getting the water out to the runners as fast as they could. In fact, they were actually personally handing out water to as much runners as they could while still trying to replenish new cups of water.

The flying Frenchman was the first to pass my station ...
My only regret was not being able to provide ice chilled water the entire time as we only had two small containers to put ice into and it could hardly accommodate enough bottles to be chilled in time. My apologies to the runners who just got tepid plain water cos with the sun ablaze, I'm sure you all would have just loved for the water to have been chilled and also to those who patiently waited for water to be filled in cups for them when we were swamped at times.

Overall, I must say that it wasn't easy. I have renewed respect for the folks who run water stations and tirelessly try to keep up with the increasing number of parched runners coming in at the same time demanding water. These volunteers do the best they can to keep things smooth but sometimes even their best can't keep up yet they don't give up trying to put out cups after cups of water.

Personally handing water out to runners ...
After a small hiccup waiting for transportation to take me back to the event venue, I finally headed home around 11.00am to much needed sleep.

Now that I've seen things from both sides of the fence and speaking from the standpoint of a runner, my respect for the tireless and oftentimes thankless effort you guys put behind the scenes to give a runner a pleasurable running experience is greatly renewed. Speaking from the standpoint of a volunteer, I would take great pains to make sure a runner has as much a pleasurable experience as I can possible give them cos it takes both the runners themselves and the volunteers to make a run a successful one!

Would I volunteer again? Sure but maybe this time I won't be silly enough to do an LSD before the event!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Go With The Flow

Training for my SCKLM marathon in June has been going along just fine, at least until this week, that is. The entire week's scheduled training plans went down the drain after I succumbed to the effects of the flu, fever, sore throat and cough, all rolled into one.

I already felt the signs of illness late last week and was doing everything I could to ward it off but obviously I lost. The good thing is at least I've gone through the worst of it already and am on the road to recovery. Unfortunately though, now the wife has contracted my illness and it has put a spanner in the works for her training plan, which was also going along just nicely.

Oh well, I suppose there are some things in life you just can't avoid no matter how hard you try. We just have to ride it out and go with the flow. Besides, I did factor in falling sick at least once during my training programme but wasn't expecting it to be just when I moved into the harder phase of the programme.

I've structure my marathon training plan based on the Hanson's method and have been following it closely for the past 6 weeks. I've been wanting to find a plan that suited me best after numerous failed attempts at various other plans I found online. After hearing so much about the Hansons Marathon Method, I ordered the book online and upon reading it was convinced that it was 'the' plan for me.

Now here was a plan that didn't tax my body and abilities as severely as the previous plans I was on. Here was a plan that actually had me running slower to go faster. Most importantly, here was a plan that I could actually stick with. Initially I was torn between choosing from the beginners or the advanced plan with both ultimately achieving the same end results which is to run your fastest marathon.

In the end I came to a conclusion (rightly so!) that I really wasn't anywhere near an advanced staged marathon runner and hence chose the beginners training plan which saw me having five easy running weeks before the tough parts starts. The start of the sixth week saw intervals, tempo and strength sessions being included into the equation. Surprisingly I was coping with it nicely, even with only one rest day midweek. Then I get struck down by illness ... siggghhh!

The entire concept of the Hansons training plan revolves around the premise of cumulative fatigue. Most training plans focuses primarily on the long run. But with the Hansons cumulative fatigue method, runners go into the long run slightly fatigued from the training of the previous days. There really isn't a single session that is overly difficult yet every session is tough enough that there isn't a full recovery between all the sessions. The idea of going into the long run fatigued is to mimic the later stages of the marathon when the legs are no longer fresh. At least that's the idea anyway.

But what I like about the Hansons plan is that it keeps me injury free. I don't punish myself during training as I used to and was perpetually having down times due to various injuries. I had this distorted thinking that if I ran slower, I would lose all the speed I had but a marathon isn't how fast you run, it's how long you're able to run effortlessly (or as close to effortlessly as possible), which was why the first week of the training was difficult for me. 

I had to curtail my usual enthusiasm for wanting to run fast and keep to a much, much slower pace than what I was accustomed to. I had to consciously keep an eye on my Garmin to make sure I wasn't speeding up. After a week, things settled down and I got into a nice groove of easy running. I felt totally rejuvenated again. The sessions were enjoyable, no pains, no aches, no injuries, simply blissful running and when I need to ramp up the pace, I found that I could do it easily without losing any of my previous speed. Heck, I felt alive!

What made the training more meaningful was that the wife finally decided to start a training programme of her own. To make it fun for her and to make sure she kept to her plan, we went out for our runs together. Because we're on a totally different training plan and pace settings, I plotted out a route that would have me tailing her and making loops around the neighbourhood to keep her in sight.

She'd never be more than 300-400 meters away from me as I looped around the block and then join her for a short chit-chat before looping around another block of houses. We were in a way 'running' together. On my rest days I would simply just be her pacer. It was a fun arrangement which I'm now trying to see how to keep going since I've moved into a tougher training period.

I'm hoping that nothing else will pop into the picture to disrupt my training plans though I'm prepared for it if it does. No matter how much you can try to plan for something, the unexpected always tend to spoil things. The coming SCKLM in June will only be my third marathon, at least I'm not stepping into it unprepared this time. Running a marathon is far from fun. If someone tells me running 42.195 km is fun, I'll smack you silly. For me, taking part in one is fun but running it is hell! Well, unless you're an ultra-marathoner la, then you eat marathons for breakfast ... LOL!

Even though I'll be (probably) prepared for it, I know it'll be far from easy. I know every step is going to be an effort on my part but at the end of the day, all the work I put in and the joy of finally crossing the finish will make all the pain worthwhile. I don't have lofty goals. My aim is to break into the sub-5 hour timing this time round and improve myself little by little in every subsequent marathon after that.

I've limited myself to only a maximum of 3 marathons this year with two already identified and still in search of a third one. I need to keep them spaced out so that I can still put in the proper amount of recovery and training time for each marathon I take part in. I've opted out of a lot of shorter distanced races save one or two to concentrate more on training to achieve my dreams of being a better marathoner. At my age, I've got to be a lot more pickier with my plans.

With that said and done, I'm hoping I can squeeze in a short run later today seeing as how the worse of my illness is over save for the incessant coughing and get back on track with my training proper next week. There is one race in May though, that I'm kinda looking forward to which is the Deuter Trail Fun Run, a 7km trail run in Putrajaya. This will be my first foray into the world of trail racing and I'm kinda excited about it :D

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Thought For Boston

It's been a couple of hours since the news of the Boston Marathon bomb blast tragedy and yet I'm still finding it hard to digest the news. My heart goes out to all the people of Boston who are affected by this devastating tragedy.

It's such a senseless thing to happen to anyone. I have a friend, Francis, running the race and I'm glad to find out he's safe. But I feel terrible for the people who have lost loved ones. It's a sad day indeed for the running community. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Boston.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Skechers GObionic Ride: Initial Review

Marathon training can be mentally challenging and oftentimes pretty boring what with having to keep to a training plan day in and day out. But my marathon training took a turn for the better four days ago when I got my hands or rather feet on the all new Skechers GObionic Ride.

I'm a huge fan of the GObionic itself and use it for most of the races I take part in. I've even used it for a full marathon and achieved a personal best in them. So getting a text from Skechers Malaysia telling me that my pair of GObionic Ride was ready to be collected had me dropping everything in the office and rushing over to pick them up ... LOL! I'm excitable in that way.

I don't normally write too much about a new pair of shoes until I log some mileage in them. But heck, after a measly 20K plus in them, I'm ready to wax lyrical about them already. The wife also put on my shoe for a run today and was utterly impressed with them, albeit it being a little too big for her. Those two or three people who follow this blog would know of my fondness for the Skechers brand of running shoes. Some would even say I'm a 'salesman' for them ... LOL ... but seriously I'm already in love with the GObionic Ride.

The Skechers GObionic Ride (which I'm going to shorten as the GBR from this point on) is basically an extension of the original shoe but with increased cushioning in the midsole area and a 4mm heel drop compared to the zero drop of the original. The GBR combines the segmented and responsive sole design of the GObionic for a more cushioned ride.

Taking it out of the box, the shoe still felt light though I could feel a slight increase in the bulk of the shoe, which is to be expected seeing as how it's more cushioned. Constructed with the same ultra lightweight synthetic and mesh fabric upper with a lightly padded collar and proprietary lightweight injection molded Resalyte midsole, the shoe weighs in at 7.5oz for the men's size 9. It has a removable 1.7mm insole and comes with the same round lacing style of the original.

A lot more mesh fabric on the GBR compared to the original
There's a a lot more mesh area in the upper compared to the original which is supposed to offer a precise fit. I was a little worried about the fit though cos upon putting it on, it was at least a half size too big compared to my usual size 8 of the original which prompted me to use thicker socks for my inaugural run with the shoe. My fears were totally unfounded cos with the narrower fit of the shoe, it held my feet in place with hardly any slippage. Being a half size too big, I reckon running sockless with it might pose some issues, not that I intend to find out. I'm totally NOT a sockless runner.

Both are size 8 but the GBR is definitely half a size bigger (and narrower) 
I'm a person who loves flashy coloured shoes and somehow have problems, heat wise when running in black themed shoes (could be a mind thing) but surprisingly the shoe was very breathable even with the thicker socks I had on. It had a wide enough toe box for proper toe splaying and just the right amount of cushioning but still enough road feel even with the insoles on. I'm suspecting that I'll get a lot more road feel without the insoles which I'll be taking off for my next session.

Speaking of the removable insoles, the insoles of the GBR differs considerably from the GObionic. The GBR's insoles have small tiny 'ventilation' like holes while the GObionic is more of a one piece kind. The bottom of the insole is slightly grooved which I suspect will hold the insoles in place snugly unlike the GOrun 2's insole which I heard had some slipping issues. In my runs in them, they didn't move an inch. The wife ran without the insoles and had no issues too though she said that she felt the surface of the roads and pebbles just like the GObionic.

Notice the grooved bottom of the GBR's (top) insole ...
Now comes the part that I loved about the original GObionic which is also found in the GObionic Ride - the 18 articulated bio-responsive Resalyte™ cushioning zones of the outsole. They provide great flexibility, feel and ground conformity for a more natural foot movement. Ever since transitioning to a more minimalist style of running, I love the feel of the ground pounding my soles. Total barefoot running is not for me though and the closest I would get to actually going barefoot was running in the GObionic.

These 18 individual articulated Resalyte™ outsoles gave my feet a very natural feel when running and conformed to every indentation or bump on the road which gave me a much more natural stride. I loved them but they could be hard on the calves if used extensively for training which is why I rotate between the GOrun Ride and the GOrun 2 (and occasionally, the original GOrun) for my training runs. I reserved the GObionic mainly for races.

More rubber plugs on the GBR
Now the GObionic Ride maintains these very same articulated bio-responsive soles but with more cushioning added to it making it the perfect training shoe for someone who loves the GObionic but wants something a little easier on the feet during training runs. It has just the right amount of protection without compromising the responsiveness of the shoe, mimicking that barefoot feel of the GObionic that you can use it daily without it being too hard on the calves.

The outsoles still maintain the grid like styling of the original with the difference being the rubber plugs of the GBR has been increased and placed at more strategic parts of the sole, which I thought was a good move. The durability of the outsole in general though seems a little suspect to me cos I scuffed mine quite badly on only my second outing with it.

Looks narrower than the GObionic even from the back
In a nutshell, if you asked me what the difference between the Skechers GObionic and the Skechers GObionic Ride are, I would have to say that while the GObionic is a true zero drop barefoot mimicking running shoe with excellent flexibility and responsiveness, the GObionic Ride on the other hand is a more cushioned 4mm drop running shoe that still offers the same excellent flexibility and responsiveness of the original but with an increased midfoot shock absorbing Resalyte sole.

I'll know more of how the shoes performs in the coming months after I take it out for more mileage and maybe even put it through the test of taking part in a few short distance races, if I can find something that complements my training plans. But from my few initial runs in them, it looks like a positive bet the shoe will work well for me.

A word of advise though. Just like any other minimalist shoe, go easy on them if you've never run in a minimalist shoe before. Don't rush into them and expect them to work miracles for you cos no shoe works that way. No matter how good someone says a shoe is, you've still got to ease into them cos everyone of us have totally different running styles and are built differently. What works for someone might not work for you.

The wife posing with my GObionic Ride before her run in them ...
That said and done, I'm totally smitten with the shoe and will definitely include the Skechers GObionic Ride into my rotation of training shoes with probably more preferential treatment given to it. I'm not exactly sure when the actual release of the shoe will happen over here but judging by the teaser in the Skechers Malaysia Facebook page, it's probably happening soon.

The review shoe above were so kindly provided by Skechers Malaysia and the review written is from my on personal experience with the shoe which is in no way influenced whatsoever by Skechers Malaysia.

Ran without the insoles today and true to what I suspected, there was a lot more road feel. Unfortunately I also felt the grids of the outsole which kinda bothered me during the run and actually left indentations of the grid inside the shoe. Looks like I'm going to keep the insoles on during my runs.