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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saucony Type A6: Quick Take

My wife is a funny person. On one hand she complains that I buy too many shoes and on the other hand, she's my source of information for new running shoes that appear in the market. She knows the kind of running shoes that I fancy and constantly texts me to check out new shoes that are launched. How in heaven's name can I stop buying shoes when you keep on feeding me information on them, hon?

In fact it was her who alerted me to the Saucony Endorphin Racer, which was what led me to the Saucony Type A6. Of cos, Jamie had a small part to play by also poisoning me about the shoe. So, after a few FB exchanges with Frank from Running Lab, I got word that Saucony Malaysia had brought in the Type A6 and told him to reserve a pair for me cos he was only getting very limited stock.

And just as fate would have it, it arrived at his store right smack on the day they implemented the GST (goods and service tax). That didn't deter me and once I got word from Frank, I headed there immediately to purchase the shoe. Frank so kindly decided to absorb the GST this time round and I was grateful for that. I couldn't wait to get my feet in them and clock some mileage.

My first impression of the Saucony Type A6 was the weight. At 5.2 oz for the men's size 9, it was by far the lightest shoe I had ever worn. I've no benchmark to base the shoe against cos I've not tried the previous A5 iteration of the shoe. In fact, this is my first Saucony ever! My review of the shoe will be based on my experience in them, nothing too technical. 

Before I go any further, let me tell you that the A6 is not built for casual running. My first run in them was supposed to be an easy 10k but they were so 'explosive' that I ended up running a tempo! The Saucony Type A6 is a lot firmer than my other two favourites, the Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 and the Under Armour RC Vent but being a racing flat, that's to be expected. 

The upper of the A6 is composed of two different mesh materials that are welded together into one layer. The inner soft mesh layer with large holes provides a really breathable feel while the outer mesh has a much finer weave that does an excellent job of keeping tiny debris from entering the bigger holes of the inner mesh. I don't run sockless but with the inner layer being cloth like and soft, I'm betting running sockless in them will pose no issues. The upper is so ventilated that I hardly felt any hotspot in them. 

Love the quote ...

The simple, yet effective upper of the A6 is supported by Saucony's Flexfilm that provides improved lightweight support overlays around the upper. I like the Flexfilm support cos they're so minimal and you hardly feel them around the upper, keeping the shoe very simple, just as a racing flat should be.

The ankle collar which is small and extends about halfway up the heel is not overly padded and is lined with soft fabric making it easy to get a nice comfy fit. The lower height of the ankle collar is not noticeable at all and you won't find your feet slipping out of them, even when you're running at breakneck speeds.

At the back of the heel, you'll find a little piece of elastic that's hardly noticeable that acts as a pull tab to quickly put your shoe on, somewhat like the Skechers GOrun 4's Quick Fit Portal. Personally I like this method better than the QFP.

There are some small touches put in by Saucony that I found to be pretty smart. On the tongue, where the Saucony name plate is, you'll find a little pull tab as well that you can slip your finger through and pull up the tongue before lacing them. A little further down the tongue, you'll see another small piece of elastic attached where you can tuck your access laces through to keep them secure from flapping all around. Not a big deal but a nice touch all the same.

The midsole of the A6 is constructed with something Saucony calls the SSL (Saucony Super Light) EVA combined with an advanced EVA blend. The two combinations of material minimizes the weight of the A6 and maximizes the rebound without compromising the durability of the shoe. It also keeps the stack height of the shoe low with a 16mm heel and 12mm forefoot giving it a drop of 4mm. I've always loved low drop shoes.

On the bottom of the shoe, you'll see some drain holes which had me a little worried. While the holes were there to drain out water as you ran in rainy conditions but what if I just ran in wet conditions, would I be seeing damp socks? Never got the chance to test that theory out cos so far all my runs in them have been in dry conditions.

Then there's also the prospects of getting pebbles caught in the drain holes as well. In my opinion, the holes weren't really necessary cos the upper is so minimal that water would just drain out through them, negating the need for the drain holes. But the holes do take away some extra weight so I guess that's good, right?

The outsole is constructed with Saucony's XT-900, a highly durable carbon rubber compound that provides exceptional traction and an injection blown rubber compound (IBR+) that is light, responsive and offers enhanced cushioning for the A6. You'll also see that some extra rubber has been added over the outsole which I've read that it actually makes the shoe lighter than it's predecessor, the A5. How they made a shoe lighter by adding more material is beyond me but no complaints from me. The durability of the outsole looks to be pretty good. I've used them on roads as well as track work and so far I've not seen any noticeable wear on them.

The fit, as with all racing flats is on the narrower side, especially the midfoot section. Surprisingly though, the forefoot, while it looks narrow, it felt pretty roomy, at least for my feet. Those with slightly wider feet might find the fit to be a little restrictive but that's a racing flat for you. I also had to strangely size up from my usual size 8's in other brands to a size 9 for the Saucony A6.

I've run in them quite a bit (around 50k plus) and one thing that really stands out about the A6 is that it's not a 'slow' shoe. It simply screams to go fast. The Saucony A6 though light is a pretty firm shoe. I've so far only used them for shorter distance tempos, intervals or speedwork. They're really good for that but I don't see myself being able to take them out for longer distances. Maybe someone much more efficient than me can make them work for those longer distances. I'll pick much more cushier shoes if I'm going beyond half marathon distances.

The upper is so minimal in construction that light shines right thru ...

Even as I write this post, I just ran a 12k tempo in them the day before and while they were fast, I was feeling the effects of sore calves the very next day. This doesn't happen to me when I do my speedwork in the GOmeb Speed 3 or even the Under Armour RC Vent. I guess I'm just not efficient enough for them yet. They're tough on your feet and if you're not used to running in racing flats or really minimal shoes, I'd say stay away from them or at least ease into them gradually.

Overall though, they're a good rotational shoe for those days when you feel the need for speed. I'm planning to take them out for 5k or 10k race one day and see just how fast they'll take me. As I keep saying, the shoes is fast, I just wish my lungs could keep up with them!

The Saucony Type A6 can only be found exclusively at Running Lab and is priced at RM379.00 a pair. It's actually very reasonably priced for a racing flat compared to other brands of the same class. There are limited number of shoes for both the men and women so if you're interested in a pair, give them a visit. Now to save up enough to get my feet in a pair of Saucony Kinvara 6, which I've heard so much good things about.

Disclaimer: This review is of my own personal opinion and I bought the shoe at full retail price.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Shape Night Run 2015: Race Review

My first race for the year, the Shape Night Run almost didn't take shape (pun not intended) last night due to the sudden electrical storm that enveloped the race location an hour or so prior to race start. The race organizers had to make a really tough call but in the end the race was flagged off much to the approval of the participants, albeit 50 minutes past the actual race start time. Better late than never.

The Shape Night Run was making a comeback after a year's absence and I was looking forward to it, being my first race for the year. I had expected it to rain since we've been seeing rain almost every evening here but the electrical storm that accompanied it was a little frightening, especially when you're outdoors and exposed to its anger.

The wife and me headed to Putrajaya a little early as I had some stuff that needed to be attended to at the race site and also to meet up with Jamie and Choon Yuen. It was a hot evening when we arrived there. The four of us met up at the Skechers booth, mingled around, took some pictures and then Jamie, Choon Yuen and me headed out for a short 4k warm up while the wife said she'd just wait for us.

With Choon Yuen and Jamie and errr, two unknown raring to go models ...
Pic courtesy of Jamie Pang

Halfway through the warm up run, on the way back, the lightning started. We looked ahead in the distance towards PICC and the entire place was dark and we could tell it was already raining. True enough, as we made our way back to the race start location, the rains came, lightning and all. I split up with Jamie and Choon Yuen who headed back to the car and went out to look for the wife but the rain was pretty bad that I took shelter under one of the tents. I was a little worried about the wife but knew she'd find shelter.

While waiting it out, I overheard the banter from the crew's walkie-talkies stating that the Start/Finish arch was swaying in the strong winds. Crap, I never experienced a situation like this and was concerned about the integrity of the arch. I rushed over in the pouring rain and lightning to check it out with the race director and both us concluded that it was secure enough and hopefully it would hold out. Nevertheless, we informed the client that there was no guarantee with weather like this.

By this time, everyone was anxious if the show would go on. I managed to find the wife in the Skechers tent and we waited for some news on the situation, Finally, 15 minutes before the actual race start time, someone came over and said that if by 8.30pm the rains and lightning didn't abate, the race would be shelved. It wasn't news I wanted to hear but it was a tough decision for the race director and the organizers.

The rain started to dwindle and it looked like the race would take place after all. The anxious participants started to gather at the barricades of the race pen and were hopeful that they would be able to run. Then the music came on again and everyone cheered cos the show would go on after all. I was happy too but was concerned how the wait would affect my run. I was confident before the rain but after the long wait, I was not so sure anymore. I was soaked to the bone, shivering cold and totally cooled down with no chance to warm up again.

When you can't have the real thing ...

The wife decided to DNS cos she was still uncomfortable with lightning that was still evident in the skies. I agreed that she should sit it out cos I didn't want to have to worry about her out there while I was running. I managed to stumble upon Jamie, Choon Yuen and Seng Chor and we all headed to the start line awaiting race start. Ready, confident or not, I was here to run and I'll get the job done as best as I can. After a short speech, we were finally flagged off. I took off to race pace immediately. Jamie caught up in a bit and we ran together for a while before my right calf seized up at the 2.5km mark. Crap! I had to slow down to practically a walk to shrug it off and lost sight of Jamie who was all fired up.

I went into the race with a busted toe from the night of the Start/Finish arch installation where a steel barricade fell and smashed my left big toe. It was in excruciating pain and was swollen even till race day and I was expecting it to give me issues but not a freaking seized calf for god sake! I put it down to the long wait and cold. I shrugged it off as best as I could, lost nearly a minute of my pace due to walking and immediately got back up to speed.

No way was I going to catch Jamie now, not at the pace he was dishing out but I used that as a motivation to start a chase. It worked fine too cos I was soon catching up with all those who ran past me earlier. The legs started to finally work properly. The route was extremely familiar and I knew the ups and downs of each twist and turn.

Surprisingly I was pacing up the inclines faster than on the flats and this from one who practically hates inclines! At the 8k mark, I glanced at my Garmin and realized that I could probably finally break my 10k PR that I've been trying to break for ages. I upped the pace and was soon doing 4:20 splits. I hit the 10k mark in a time of 49 minutes. I was ecstatic, I finally erased my previous 10k personal record! Then it hit me that I could even better my previous Shape Night Run record two years ago which was set at 1:02 in 2013.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I stepped on it and gave it my all the last 1.2k of the route. Just as I headed towards the finish, I saw the wife cheering me on. That gave me an added boost and I finally crossed the finish on a very wet night in a time of 56 mins, a whole 7 minutes off my previous best! I was overjoyed. All those countless mornings spent training is really paying off.

My two fellow training partners, Jamie and Choon Yuen ran a great race too with both of them achieving their respective PR's. Thanks to the both of you and the entire GCAM gang for the countless hours of training we do together which was what contributed to this. A big thank you most of all goes to the wife who has always been my source of inspiration and support.

This race was used as a gauge to see where I stood in my preparations for GCAM and things look encouraging after last night. I'm not going to be too overly confident but at least it looks like everything is heading in the right direction. I just have to keep doing what I've been doing with a few tweaks here and there in my training plan as I go along.

Before I end though, I'd like to say thank you to Skechers Malaysia for the hospitality you showed and the opportunity to run under your banner. My shoe of choice, the GOmeb Speed 3 worked superbly to see me through this extremely wet race. Here's looking forward to next year!

And lastly, to the crew and volunteers who braved the storm to provide the support we needed to get through this race. You guys are the real champions in my book! I know a lot of you on a personal level and will thank each and every one of you in person when I see you. Well done!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante: Quick Take

I've always had a pretty negative impression of New Balance running shoes. I stayed away from them and wasn't even willing to give them a second glance. Then the Fresh Foam 980 appeared and I was intrigued with their 'science of soft'. I chanced upon it at one of the local New Balance boutique stores and came away unimpressed. It was anything but soft!

Brushing the brand aside again, life went back to normal, which to me was to keep a lookout for more running shoes. A week or so ago, Jamie started tempting me with his newly purchased New Balance Fresh Foam Zante. I wasn't very impressed, to be honest. Granted, it came in my favourite bright neon green colorway but heck, it looked similar to the 980 which didn't impress me.

But after a rather satisfying track session last weekend, he once again dangled the shoe in front of me and I gave it a try. I was expecting the same firm, hard feel of the 980 but whoa, this felt different. If you're a shoe addict, you probably can tell when a shoe 'was made just for you' the moment you slip your feet in them.

The last time I felt this way was when I put on the original Skechers GOrun. After a short test in them, I was practically sold. Of course the colorway did influence my decision a teeny bit. I had to get them. And it just so happened that I was heading to Sunway Pyramid with the wife to purchase a new pair of Skechers GOrun for her and it also just so happened that New Balance had an outlet there :D

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante takes its name from an island in Greece in the Ionian sea. I'm not sure how the name associates with the shoe but I guess the good people at New Balance just wanted you to have a little slice of paradise on your feet cos that's how the Zante feels like. I'm not going to go into too much detail on the specs of the shoe. You can always look up reviews by the more professional shoe reviewers like Runblogger, Believe in the run, Sole Review or Jamie Pang (when his review comes out) for the full specs. I'm just going to give my own personal and unprofessional take on the Zante.

The Zante is what I would categorize as a lightweight trainer/racer. A 6mm drop shoe with a stack height of 27mm heel and 21mm forefoot. They're good for speedwork, intervals, tempo and works well enough to go the distance in longer, slower runs. I would sum them up to feeling like a racing flat with adequate cushioning and great energy return. Works just as good at speed or slow. You're able to use them for anything from an easy 8k, a hard 10k tempo to a nice long 20k with ease. It's not really a combination that's normally found in a shoe.

The first thing I noticed when I put on the shoe for the first time was a slight midfoot bump reminiscent of the original Skechers GOrun that stretches across the width of the shoe just under the arch. The fit though felt nice and snug in the middle due to the narrow midsole. The upper wraps around your foot nicely and is pretty much form fitting. The forefoot is wide enough that my toes had lots of space to wiggle around.

The general lack of side overlays tends to allow the mesh upper to drape nicely over the foot giving the forefoot enough space for toe splay. The combination of no-sew breathable mesh provides a secure, flexible and soft fit. The somewhat stretchy upper mesh is very breathable and I could even feel the wind flowing through them during my morning runs.

The Zante comes with a full internal sleeve giving the upper a sock-like feel that extends right up to the heel. This results in a nice smooth interior and I'm guessing running sockless wouldn't pose any problems. The lacing is the flat ribbon kind, a little stretchy so you can lace them tightly and they'll still give a little when you run. The component flat-locked tongue is stitched over the sleeve instead of the sides with no tongue slide. The molded insole is a thin perforated compress foam that sits upon a strobel lining on a relatively soft midsole that takes on most of the cushioning work.

Aside from when I was a wee little lad back in the late 70's, I've never worn a pair of New Balance so I had no benchmark as to how their shoes really feel like. The Fresh Foam midsole in all honesty looks bulky and stiff to me yet once I had them on, they had a noticeable softness to it, nothing at all like how I imagined they would feel. My foot-strikes were soft and responsive with smooth transitions between them.

My first run in them was an 18k run in Bandar Kinrara's famous Ammah hills and though I was battling fatigue from a tad bit of over-training, they held up real well and practically disappeared on me. I even PR'd the route which is also in part to having a speedy visiting Boston bound Francis joining us on our run that day. The Zante can handle fast just as easy as it can with slower paces.

The light weight one piece blown rubber outsole provides a nice smooth ride at the same time stabilizing and protecting the foot with each strike. While the construction of the outsole might not look convincing, it does a great job of providing traction even on wet surfaces. It's been raining here almost everyday and the traction on the wet roads was simply astounding. The only worry was the durability of the outsole but that proved unfounded cos it held up decently.

The heel collar provides a cozy fit without any pressure or chaffing. I use those low ankle socks and my Achilles sometimes tend to get rubbed raw if the collar doesn't sit snugly against my ankles. The Zante's kept everything in place nicely.

I had to go one size up from my regular 8's in other brands to a 9. Though it weighs a little lighter at 7.5 oz. compared to the 7.8 oz. of the GOrun 4, they felt a little 'heavy' at certain points of my run. Nothing really bothersome but just weird. Maybe it's just the mind playing tricks on me as I tend to hallucinate when I start getting fatigued.

Never once did I imagine I'd be running in a New Balance and actually liking it. There are shoes that no matter how much you try running in them, it just doesn't work. The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is NOT one of those shoes. From the very first time I put my feet in them, they just worked. A nice shoe that works great when you're speeding along in them or simply cruising at a leisurely pace. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would, definitely. It's currently available at all New Balance outlets and is retailing at RM439.00.

Disclaimer: I personally bought the shoe at full retail price for this review.