Gear Reviews

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Shoe Review: Skechers GORun Strada

It was roughly a year ago when eagle-eyed shoe geeks spotted Skechers athlete, Kara Goucher sporting a not-too-familiar shoe. There were much speculations on what it was, since it appeared to have no semblance to the existing crop of Skechers Performance shoes. The whole thing became even more mysterious when I was requested to pull down some photos of it on FB, even when the name and photos of it were already circulating online (if you know where to look then).

Fast forward to end of June when the shoes finally landed on our shores and a pair was made available to me for a review. So, is the GORun Strada all that cracked up to be? Let’s take a look.

If I’d previously mentioned that the GORun Ultra (GRU) was Skechers Performance’s most mainstream shoe, then the Strada has supplanted that title. It has been mentioned that the Strada is Kara Goucher’s training shoes (she having trained in the stability Nike Air Structure when she was sponsored by the Beaverton-based company). With that in mind, you can basically imagine a shoe that is, ummm, more shoe – thicker stack heights, more overlays, thicker padding – which in turn chalks up more weight, a full 0.35oz heavier than the mushier GRU2.

Here are some specs for the nerdy ones out there:
Stack height (per Skechers website): 17/25mm (forefoot/heel)
Drop: 8mm
Weight: 10.4oz (US10)

Where the other GORuns have greater use of mesh material, the Strada is not constructed out of a single-piece upper. Instead, larges swathes of thicker synthetic strips and overlays cover much of the upper. On the lateral and medial side of the upper where the large S logos sit, large pieces of synthetics form what the company called the “Layered Support Zone”, which I think was to provide a good midfoot lockdown. Personally, the jury is still out on that claim, as I’ll explain below.

Like any traditional shoes, the Strada’s tongue is padded but not gusseted. A good thing that it didn’t slide around though, so it doesn’t really matter in this case. If you use all of the 8 eyelets, there’s just a bit of it left to prevent the laces from rubbing the top of your foot. Reflective accents are sufficient and are located on the tips of the toe box and logo print on the heel counter.

The S logo is reflective.

At the back, the shoe gains much more structure and stiffness over all other GORun models. More than the front half of the shoe, the rear’s construction truly influences the Strada’s ride on the run.

Close-up of the padding.

The padding on the achilles section (the yellow bit) is very substantial.

 

Rigid external heel counter.

There’s enough room in the toebox for the toes to wriggle. The upper material doesn’t really stretch but thankfully there’s no concern about your digits being cramped into a sardine-can like space. As always with Skechers shoes, 2 sets of laces are provided.

The removable insole is stiff, thick and firm, totally different from that of the GR4 and GRU. The Strada’s is on top followed by GR4’s and GRU’s. The Strada’s no longer sport the herringbone design seen on the other two.

The substantially thicker insole (especially up front) of the Strada’s is evident.

The upper sits on what I felt was a wider midsole platform – still Resalyte, although I think tweaked to be a little firmer than the GORun 4’s to provide greater stability for the wearer. There’s no softer crash pad on the outer heel side because it’s still a shoe that’s promoted to enhance midfoot strike.

I’ve no idea what those holes in the midsole are supposed to achieve.

Noticeably, the outsole is now dual density, comprising of firmer black sections and the regular soft foam sections. Perhaps it’s just a cosmetic decision but other than the outer heel use, I’m uncertain of the purpose of the diagonally positioned firmer rubber (the black parts). From the observation of the wear marks on my shoes, the abrasion marks are located in a slightly more forward position and not directly under the arch/midfoot.

2 reflective strips on each side of the toe box. Viewed from the front, the black and white outsole reminded me of Cruella de Ville’s locks!

I received the Strada when I was tapering for GCAM15 so it was an appropriate time to get some maintenance miles in them. They felt rather stiff out of the box, and one of the things I noticed was the propensity to twist my ankle running in them especially when negotiating changes in terrain and turns around the KLCC Park. After some thinking and looking at the photos, the reasons are two-fold. Firstly, the upper lockdown is too slack especially in the top 2 eyelets. Due to the stiffness of the upper and the overlays used, you’ll need to really lash down the laces for a good fit. Secondly, the heel collar padding was a little too much in my opinion. From the photo below, it’s obvious that my ankle wasn’t well secured. You may argue that I didn’t lace up for the photo shoot but I’ve lined up a separate post to compare the Strada’s collar fitting against some shoes in my rotation to give you a better idea.

See the space around the collar? The thick padding along with the shape of the heel cup didn’t give me a secure fit around the area. I’ll explain the presence of the ruler in a separate post.

There was also the issue about the overlays surrounding the first eyelet which presses down on my 4th toe. The irritation was reduced by not lacing the first row. This isn’t the first time I’ve experience this in a pair of Skechers. I’ve used the knife on the GRU as well to alleviate the issue, cutting away the thick strip of synthetic. Do note, however, that this is a personal peculiarity. None of my friends reported this.

The ride of the Strada is certainly firmer than that of the GR4. You don’t sink into the midsole but rather get a quick and firm bounce back. In fact, I quite like the tuning made on the Resalyte material, which is more forgiving than the GOMeb Speed 3’s. It would be interesting to see the same midsole tuning in a lighter and race oriented model in the future. I’ve not had any issues with traction on dry conditions (have not had a chance to wear them out on rainy weather). While not exactly clunky, it’s hardly sock-like. As mentioned earlier, the fitting around the collar could be better.

I’ve logged 50km in the Strada and there are signs of scuffing on the exposed areas of the outsole, no different from that of the GORun series. The harder rubber sections appear to weather the use better, although still not exceptional.

If you’re one who wished for a traditional daily trainer from Skechers, this could be it. You should, however, not expect the lightweight, responsive and flexible package that has become the trademark of the GORun series. If you’re looking for structure in a pair of shoes for mileage work, then the Strada should be in your consideration, barring any fitting issues. The competition out there are Nike Zoom Structure, Asics GT-series and Brooks Adrenaline. That said, I find the Strada to still be a little more flexible, rides smoother after broken in, and cheaper compared to those mentioned.

Disclosure: The Skechers GORun Strada is a media sample provided by Skechers Malaysia and is now available at all Skechers stores for RM419 (men) and RM399 (women).

Sony Smart B-Trainer Review

Working out, specifically running, to music isn’t something I normally do, mainly due to safety reasons. However, under certain circumstances and in a secure environment, doing so can play a part in getting the workouts done. The 6 weeks of training prior to tapering for GCAM saw a number of double workout days and increase in mileage. Anyone can run a marathon but if one has a time goal, you need to put in the work. Since I’m not genetically gifted it’s been challenging, like any paths towards improvement should be. Music makes those hard days a little more bearable.

Note: I’m not here to debate the merits and demerits of plugging in when running. Whatever rocks your world. However, please read the cautionary note at the bottom of this post.

That precursor out of the way, let’s get on to the Sony Smart B-Trainer (SBT). The SBT is the 2nd wearable from Sony that I’ve had the experience of using. The first being the NWZ-W262 Meb Special Edition [review]. Since the W262, what a difference 3 short years have made. Where the W262 and W273S were mostly about the music, hence their Walkman branding, the SBT is a different beast. To the point that the company tries hard not to associate it with the Walkman. Nestled within the earpieces are Heart Rate, GPS, Accelerometer, Gyro, e-Compass, and Pressure sensors. Other features are of course the MP3 player, NFC, and Bluetooth components. It’s the market’s first all-in-one device that I know. No longer will you need to slap on the chest or wrist straps or hook up your smartphone or iPods. Because it’s IPX5/6 and JIS/IEC waterproof grade, you can wash it or wear it swimming (if you must have music while doing your laps in the pool).

Out of the box, the SBT looks very unassuming. Several sets of buds (for regular or swimming use), HRM covers, a carry bag, USB charging cable/dock, and quick guide.

The included pouch is to store the device and the accessories.

There’s a holder or hook thingy to secure the SBT

From left: HRM covers, swimming buds, regular buds

The iconic Walkman logo is hard to shake off. The exposed pins on the right ear piece are charging contacts, not heart rate sensors.

Slide the right earpiece into the charging dock like so.

Red indicates charging and green, complete.

Even though there’s always the excitement about using new gear straight out of the box, it’s my habit to first charge it up. Slide the right ear piece into the dock and plug the dock into the computer’s (PC or Mac) USB port. You’ll get a prompter to install either the Media Go (for Windows) or File Transfer (for Mac) software. (Windows Media Go (how-to setup) | Mac File Transfer how to setup). The installation is very simple and this software allows you to manage your music files, just like iTunes. The supported audio files are MP3, WMA, AAC, and Linear-PCM. The interface is easy to understand and use – the gold old-fashioned drag and drop method. To get the most out of the SBT, it’s advisable to export a large selection of music tracks to it’s 16GB memory. This is so that there’s a wide range of tunes assigned to all the training intensities. So go ahead and fill up your playlist.

This is how the Windows based Media Go User Interface looks like. The SBT appears as a removable device on the left panel – be sure to eject it like you would any flash drive before unplugging it. The UI is pretty intuitive and you can see from the highlighted column the track BPM. Some are blanks, which I’m not sure why.

And below, the rather inferior and spartan UI of the Mac version. Even the name of the software, Mac File Transfer, doesn’t inspire any excitement :D. To add salt to the Mac user’s wounds, the Mac File Transfer offers no calibration of the music tempo. There’s a workaround though, and to do that you’ll need the smartphone app – more of that in awhile.

It takes a couple of hours (max 2.5 hours from zero to full) to top off the battery so while that’s going on, it’s time to download and install the B-Trainer smartphone app to ensure that you get the most out of the device. It’s available for free on the iOS and Android (iOS | Android) platforms. This is the app that will get you going like setting up of a training plan, charting your workouts and getting everything sync’d with the device, not to mention the calibration of the track tempos done. With the app installed on the phone, it’s time to pair both the SBT with the phone. I had the opportunity to test it out with the Sony Experia Z3+ and connectivity is ultra easy with NFC (on the SBT, the NFC sensor is located on the right earpiece). On my iPhone 5S, I’d to toggle to the Bluetooth settings to get that done. Next, 2 screens will guide you on how to wear the SBT properly, which is important since the HR sensor needs a good contact with the outer ear to get an accurate HR reading.

Next will be the app settings you may want to get out of the way. It’s not something critical which can’t be done at a later stage.

Sorting out your music tracks.

I mentioned earlier that Mac users won’t be able to get the File Transfer software to calibrate the music tempo? You get around that limitation by going into the smartphone app menu and selecting Device Info > Retrieve song information and follow the onscreen instructions.

There’s a wide variety of training modes that are up for selection. For example, you could train by time, calories burned, pace or use the preset Fat Burning or Endurance training modes. There’s also the Custom option where you can tweak to your heart’s content, right down to what data you want read to you and at what intervals. Due to Sony’s partnership with Asics, there’s also the  Do note that whenever you select a workout mode, you’ll need to sync it to the SBT. Otherwise, the SBT will run on the same mode as the previous workout. I kept things simple and opt for the Free training mode every time. A great thing about this is, once sync’d, you can pretty much leave the phone behind and just go run without your ridiculously large phones strapped to your arms.

Set it up your way, if you so choose. Or go Free mode.

Now that all the setup is out of the way, you’re pretty much good. I pretty much had all the gear on for the first run – the Garmin watch and chest strap, and the B-Trainer. Although I’m no expert at determining which is the more accurate, this is necessary for comparison. The SBT’s GPS acquisition speed is impressive, and I noted that as you log more workouts with it, the acquisition gets increasingly quicker. This is consistent with the behavior of the wrist-based GPS devices. HR acquisition is even quicker and once both are established, all I needed to do was to press the Start button on the left earpiece. The Free training mode essentially allows you to run according to your music tracks. There are toggle buttons to allow the forward and backward skipping of the tracks. At the preset intervals, voice prompts will keep you updated on your distance, pace, HR and any other metrics you set to. Press the Info button anytime and the same set of data will be read out too.

Once your run is done, you can sync the data to the phone. Below are some of screenshots from the workouts.

There are several analysis you can make of your workout once the data is sync’d, for example, comparison between any 2 readouts from pace, elevation, heart rate, stride and cadence. Like any social apps worth their salt out there, there’s the sharing of your exploits on Facebook or Twitter too.

 

Past workouts can be easily searched from the logs and they can be viewed by the various measurements below.

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Note: As mentioned earlier, the SBT can be worn during your swim too, although several functions are inactivated in the water. I don’t swim but a friend who does, reported that the measurement is not as accurate given the bobbing motion of the head. He pointed out that his Suunto also has this shortcoming, and thus Sony isn’t alone in this area. The product website does, after all, states that only the music function is enabled during the swim mode.

The Bluetooth button toggles between Device mode and Swimming mode. By default, it’s on and set to Device mode.

The distance readout performed flawlessly and each kilometer was ticked off within 3 seconds of the Garmin. What proved more challenging was the HR reading, which depends largely on how well the device fits. This is critical especially if you’ve chosen the preset training modes where you could, inaccurately, be prompted to slow down or speed up. I was experienced enough to know that I wasn’t running at 170+bpm but beginners may be alarmed. So, be sure to get the correct earbuds fitted.

The GPS lock was good throughout the run, which was done on neighborhood roads. It only faltered when I logged my runs at the KLCC Park where the surrounding skyscrapers dropped the signal a number of times. Tall buildings are a bane to GPS devices and the Sony isn’t exempted. While the wrist-based devices only alert you in cases of extended loss of signal e.g. transitioning from running outdoor to a treadmill, the SBT will alert you each time the signal drops. In the case of my week day runs, drops can be experienced a few times over the course of a workout session, especially when I run along the KL Convention Center frontage. To be fair, the reacquisition is pretty quick.

I’ve used the SBT for a couple of months and the initial few weeks had been like discovering easter eggs. Many of the functions are not as obvious from the get go and some buttons serve multiple functions. Here are some of those that I’ve discovered:

Bluetooth button

  • Short press – toggles between the Swimming or Device Mode.
  • Long press – turns the Bluetooth on or off.
  • Short press (when paired and used with the smartphone) – Toggles between playing songs stored in the sport device and songs stored in your smartphone

Info button

  • Long press – Power on or off.
  • Short press during workout – Info readout.
  • Short press (when paired and used with the smartphone) – Answer or end calls.

Memo button

  • Walkman mode – Play, Pause.
  • During workout – records voice memo via a mono mic. Recording length is configurable via the app.

Memo button doubles up as a music and voice memo recording

Depending on the usage, published battery life ranges between 3 to 13.5 hours. A friend wore it for the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon and managed to squeeze 4.5 hours out of it. If the battery saving feature is enabled (via the app), 5.5 hours is a possibility. Given the size and weight of the device with so many sensors, this is expected.

So, is the Sony Smart B-Trainer for you? On paper, it’s a solid proposition from the company, especially to those who place a premium on working out to music without having to lug around a smartphone or a HR strap around your chest. On top of that, it has every other important features – GPS, HRM, cadence sensor – a runner would look for.

Pros

  • All-in-one device. Has pretty much everything you’d need to track your progress.
  • Option to leave the phone behind.
  • Fast GPS acquisition.
  • Good sound quality.
  • Not noise isolating, hence the wearer retains some awareness of the surroundings.

Cons

  • No cloud sync. Storage and viewing of data are limited to the smartphone.
  • Battery life is around 4.5 hours per real-life use.
  • May be an overkill for those who don’t need as much in a product.
  • Price. Some may compromise convenience with carrying separate devices.

Word of caution: Please exercise caution when plugging in during an outdoor workout. Be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. The majority of my testing occurred at the KLCC Park where there are high human traffic. I don’t recommend running solo with the ears plugged. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume.

Disclosure: The Sony Smart B-Trainer was a review unit courtesy of Sony Malaysia. The SBT is available from Sony Centers and The Marathon Shop outlets in Malaysia and retails for RM999. More information on the SBT here.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon Race Report

Following the marathon PR in the Gold Coast last year [race report], plans were made to return to Australia’s Sunshine State for a repeat. Except for a couple of events to keep the running going there wasn’t any “serious” training program in the second half of 2014. Things got going only after the first week of the 2015 Chinese New Year celebrations. An 18-week program was already drawn up based loosely on the Hanson’s plan. 18 weeks seemed a little lengthy but I wanted the initial couple of weeks to be a sort of a bedding-in period.

A more aggressive goal was plotted for GCAM15. To put into perspective, I needed to average 20 seconds per kilometer faster than GCAM14 for a 13-minute goal PR. It appeared a little far-fetched at the onset of training but on the other hand, I hadn’t been sedentary either since GCAM14. I had some fitness going into it. Chalk one up for staying active the year-round!

Other than a week off due to a mild flu in the first month of the program, I was healthy throughout which was unlike the past years. It was not easy sustaining 5:39 pace after Chinese New Year much less a 5:19, but the weekend long runs eventually brought the stamina back. Gradually, 5:30 wasn’t too much of an issue and with more miles packed into the legs, the level of optimism started to rise.

Post Simulator

One of the contributing factors that brought about the improvements could be attributed to the group training. We’ve had the GCAM training group for 4 years but it was in this year’s group that saw a larger number of runners who joined us for the weekend workouts. Training in a group setting certainly made those 5-5:30am mornings much easier. I’m sure, from the photos above, you’d agree that we had fun too. Due to the new goals, there was a need for more variety in the workouts, from boring long runs to more exciting (and lung-busting) stuff like hill repeats, track intervals and progressive long runs. Finally, unlike last year, I raced very little this time around, with my first race of the year ran only in April in the form of the Shape Run. With 3 weeks to the race, the group ran the 26K Marathon Simulator in Putrajaya, a workout which everyone nailed. That did much good to raise the level of confidence and set things up for a good showing. The Simulator was a fantastic culmination to the months of training, double workouts and early morning runs.

Can’t wait to stuff down dinner at Vapiano.

Before the Half Marathoners headed off for their start.

Fast forward to race-eve, and with all commitments wrapped up and the shakedown run taken care of in the form of the Southern Cross University 10K, a few of us gathered for a pasta dinner at Vapiano which doubled as a meet-up with Yvonne and Bin who traveled up from Melbourne to run the Asics Half Marathon. It would be an early night for all of us. My race packing had been done on Friday so it was all very quick for me – 8 gels, the Jabra Rox, iPod Nano, Kinvara 5, compression socks and shorts, shades and cap. Disposables were 3 race t-shirts and cutoff tube socks as arm warmers for the cold start. Breakfast was a Hammer bar, cup noodles (for the salt), and a banana. I’d drank a small cup of black coffee at the hotel so I skipped the cafe at the race precinct. I stayed hydrated while waiting to check-in my baggage (600ml bottle of Powerade) before I made a visit to the loo and getting my warm up done. Finally the group took a slow walk to corral. I would be running solo as Nick’s condition was preventing him from pacing together, which was truly unfortunate for the both of us. He had trained very hard (much harder than me). We were at our fittest and would’ve benefited from running together and pulling each other along. As it was, I positioned myself in front of the 4-hour pacers (Corral C). With my pace table tucked under my watch there was no need to rely on the pacers. I was confident in keeping to my MP anyway.

The strategy was to generally run by feel. Through the miles logged, I could peg the 5:19 pace pretty easily without the need of constant monitoring of the watch. The distance was broken down to several key checkpoints – the 15.5K Burleigh Heads u-turn, the halfway mark, the 30K mark and the finish. Hydrate from my handheld bottle (High-5 Carb/Protein mix) up to the 10K station and subsequently at all aid stations with water and Endura. Gels every 5K. This was as I’d executed during GCAM14, so other than the new goal time, whatever I’ve adopted this year wasn’t a new approach. I even wore the same top, shorts and shoes.

The sun had warmed up sufficiently that I could discard my layers. All signs were pointing to a hot day. Closed my eyes to refocus and we were off. The atmosphere and energy were excellent, even greater than previous years’. I crossed the start line in 2 minutes and after a 5:34 first K, I was able to keep to a good clip. Unlike races back home, nearly everyone around you were moving at the same speed – slower runners behind, faster ones in front. So while there were many runners around you, everyone was moving in unison with little obstruction. The first 5K was to average 5:31 and no problems there.

The next 10K segment to the 15.5K Burleigh Heads u-turn was to be run at 5:19, and it went like clockwork. Heart rate was very comfortable hovering mid 150s. Legs were fine and I kept sipping at my bottle of High-5. Again, the highlight was the level of support. We’ve cheer-leading teams which made plenty of noise and there were just many more folks out watching and cheering us this year.

As the race progressed, it was becoming apparent that the day would be a hot one. The forecast put it at 23 Celcius after a 12 Celcius start. It was largely cloudless, so I felt the sun rays penetrating on my skin. The halfway mark, as always, was around the narrow Millionaires’ Row and until last year, I’ve always had an aversion to this section. The reason isn’t so much attributed to the location but rather this location was where I knew, in 2011 and 2012, that I’d started too fast! I’ve since learned my lesson by not running like a headless chicken that early on in the race. Plus, through miles and miles of running, I eventually developed a sense of pace from my breathing and how my body feels. The watch was merely there to validate what I already know. Pacing awareness can be developed by anyone.

Photographers! Must. Look. Cool.

 

There comes a time in every race when the runner has to make the call. Make a go for it or what army recruiters would say, “Be all you can be” or stick to a conservative plan. I held back until 37K last year. A year on and stronger, I had to decide earlier this time around. I had the honor of speaking to several elites at the Garmin Legends Lunch the day before the race during which I was seated next to Adam Gordon, elite triathlete and Garmin ambassador. I asked him, at which point of the race I should make the call to make a go for it, if I still felt good? He replied, “When you wake up and have your breakfast.

My decision? I stuck with the plan after taking into consideration the weather conditions. With the halfway mark reached in 1:53 against the planned 1:54.55 (1.5 minutes ahead of schedule), I should just keep the proceedings up to the 35K point before hitting it hard for a strong finish. At least, that was the plan.

Despite drinking consistently I’d yet to pee (unlike last year) by the time I returned to the Surfers Paradise stretch. As progress was still on-track, I just kept going. Supporters and their kids and pets were truly out in full force rallying the runners on. There was still plenty of work to be done but it wouldn’t be long before I got to the dreaded 30K point.

“Yoo hoo! Jamie! Jamie!” SD yelled. Photo courtesy of SD (naturally)

The race precinct was madness – left and right, the crowd were just spectacular. There was no cloud cover and even though the temps were only hovering in the 22-23 Celcius region (no issues for us from the tropics actually), we bore the full brunt of the sun due to the absence of cloud cover. Being baked in the sun wasn’t fun and despite staying hydrated (1.5 cups every station) it wasn’t providing enough relief to keep the effort going. I truly started to struggle from the 32K mark, when I took my first walk break as I drank up. The quads and hams were misfiring, and there were indications that they were cramping up. Running the Marine Parade stretch towards Runaway Bay was so exciting last year because I was holding back before finally pushing it all the way to the finish. Things were different this time around. I was beginning to get a little antsy as the goal pace was starting to slip. By the 35K mark, I was off target by 4 minutes.

Alternating splashing water on my head and face, I was shuffling and walking with not-so-wholesome thoughts coursing through my mind. Staring at a potentially calamitous timing, the available options weren’t that appealing. Even the lyrics in my playlist seemed to suddenly turn depressing!

Choices:

  1. Throw in the towel (more time spent in the hot sun, cramps, pain, unwholesome thoughts, etc…), or
  2. Fight (less time spent in the hot sun, cramps, pain, unwholesome thoughts).

Photographers! Don’t. Walk. Now.

Dammit, I didn’t train 4.5 months for nothing! What would my kids think of me, I thought. Thus, it came down to a lot of shuffling and walking when the tugging on the quads became worse. This went on until the final water station located before the McDonald’s outlet. With the final stretch coming up, I gritted my teeth towards the finish. Supporters were yelling my name and with that kind of enthusiasm, there was no way a runner could walk.

Photographers! Must! Not! Walk!

 

Photo credit: Bin

I’d stopped looking at my watch after 37K and was a bit surprised to find that my 29th marathon ended at 3:55:33, a measly 3-minute improvement, a massive 10-minute gap from what was targeted. I was disappointed that the body couldn’t respond appropriately to the conditions. I’m unable to put a finger to what could’ve been the cause. Perhaps there wasn’t a single factor but a combination of the 10K the day before on top of the heat on race morning. Whatever it was, the end was anti-climatic. It was a humbling experience and I’ll learn. The positives were all there – the training were good, the pacing was great, the gear performed as expected. I will not repeat the same mistakes again the next time. For 2015, I’ve PR’d in the 10K and the Marathon and the next goal will be to drop the Half Marathon timing in December.

On a much happier note, the training gang returned awesome PRs. How awesome? Think gargantuan 50-minute improvements! Even Foo, who at one stage was relegated to the role of team chef due to his injuries, ran superbly. The months of training has been made easier with their company. I’m also glad for the company of Comrades Marathon alumni, Frank and Zijill, who added some elements of hardcore-ness to many of our workouts. I’ll bet there will be a few sub-4 and sub-5s for many of them the next time around! Nick, you better get your leg treated as there’s unfinished business to attend to, on top of new green shoes to be running in!

So happy to see Nick back, we nearly threw a party. Wait, this was the party!

Team Malaysia did great! Proud of everyone! There were close to 170 Malaysians who ran GCAM15.

Congratulations go out to the race organizers who yet again did a wonderful job in running the show, and to those thousands of volunteers and supporters out on the streets, thank you! Not forgetting, my heartfelt gratitude to the hardworking folks at the Tourism and Events Queensland, who took great care of me and letting me be part of the event. This has truly been a GCAM15 to remember.

Jabra Sport Rox Wireless Review

With the current health and fitness boom, choices are aplenty when it comes to shopping for a set of Bluetooth earbuds geared towards the active person. In my opinion, it all comes down to three factors: fit, sound and price consideration, in no particular order.

I reviewed the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW) in April [read it here] and found the lightweight premium buds with integrated Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) to offer excellent sound quality. More importantly the SPW has the best and most comfortable fit I’ve experienced in a pair of sports earbuds. That counts for a lot since I sweat buckets and have flippant ear canals that has floored every sports earbud that I’ve popped in. The downside? The SPW needs a smartphone to work and no matter what, it couldn’t connect with the 7th Generation Bluetooth-enabled iPod Nano. Since I dislike lugging my phone on a run, my time with the SPW is pretty much limited. Then, there’s the eye-popping RM899 price tag as well.

There’s a lower-priced alternative to the SPW, and that’s the award-winning Sport Rox Wireless (Rox). At RM549 it’s not exactly pocket change to be sure, but if sound quality, comfort and fit, ease of use, and durability are what you seek in a sports earbuds, it could be something for you.

Where’s the Rox? I already had them on, rocking out some tunes!

“Massive Wireless Sound”

Print on the box pretty much states all the features.

In the box: Carry case, micro USB charging cable, 3 sets of EarGels and EarWings. Not shown are the user guide pamphlet and activation code for the Jabra Sound app

The Rox is not as featherweight nor has the HRM features (and therefore assisted training modes) the SPW comes with. Neither does it have the extensive set of voice prompts of the SPW. It does, however, have the same great fit of the SPW, with 4 sets of ColorCore EarGels and 3 sizes of EarWings in the box. It retains the Dolby HD sound support on top of the standard BT 4.0, NFC connectivity, and is built to U.S. Military standards for weather (IP55), shock, sand and dust protection. Like most sports earbuds in the market, there’s a built-in mic to take calls (should you pair it with your phone).

When you hold the Rox in your hands, you’ll immediately feel the fantastic build quality from the cord down to the metal bits. The Rox comes out of the box without the EarWings attached but since I really like the secure fit it provided in the SPW, I fitted the Medium-sized ones to the Rox. I’ve not experienced excessive bouncing of the cord behind me to necessitate attaching the Fitclip but it could be an option for you.

Charging is via the micro USB port located under the left ear bud cover. Out of the box, this unit charges fully in about 1.5 hours.

A feature unique to the Rox are the magnetic earbuds. Both can be joined or separated to enable/disable the standby mode. Another battery-saving feature is the 5-minute auto off when the buds are separated and not connected to any device. Charging the unit is simple; flip up the backcover of the right earbud to expose the micro USB port and the rest is a no-brainer. It takes around 2.5 hours to fully juice up the unit. Pairing the Rox with the Bluetooth device is also a simple affair. If your phone or device is NFC-ready, you’ll just need to slide it along the Rox’s volume rocker where the NFC zone is located to pair up.

The Rox doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the sound department. Music is punchy and lends workout-tunes the needed excitement to pull you through the workouts. Synth, dance, house, and rock all shine, and while it won’t be the final word in terms of audiophile quality (c’mon, the source files are in compressed MP3 format after all!), acoustic-leaning tracks in Everything But The Girl’s Amplified Heart, SEAL’s Best 1991-2004 Acoustic, and Tristan Prettyman’s Say Anything track in Cedar+Gold albums is as involving. Marc Shaiman’s The Ruling/Graduation track in the Patch Adams score got the rightful ground-shaking treatment while pounding hip-hop grooves threaten to turn you into Snoop Dogg.

The Rox isn’t marketed as noise isolating buds but as the seal is good, ambient sound is almost negligible. The secure fit means going through drill routines on top of hopping and bounding will not dislodge the buds. I’ve done a couple of runs in heavy downpour without losing a beat too. As you can see from the topmost photo, I went with the double-flanged EarGel, which I felt gave me the best fit for the sound.

Bluetooth buds appear to still be limited by the sub-6 hour battery life. In the case of the Rox, the published battery life is 5.5 hours. I can understand this shortcoming since these buds are designed with size and weight in mind. Don’t go expecting a device this small to pack a 3100mah battery! If you need to listen for a longer duration, the wired option is still the way to go, at least until the day technology brings high capacity micro-sized batteries (at a low cost) into mass market devices. The other question is whether the wearer can tolerate a 10-hour continuous listening period. Is it even safe to plug in for that long a period?

So, is the Rox for you? If it’s Bluetooth sports buds that you seek, and won’t mind the slightly higher price (to basic Bluetooth options) in favor of the build, fit and sound quality, then the answer is yes. If you need and can tolerate even longer listening period, stick to the wired type. Personally, I’m hooked to the wireless buds and unless I’m in an event exceeding 10 hours (which is super rare!), I won’t be reaching out for the wired buds anytime soon.

Pros:

  • Great fit and sound for a pair of Bluetooth sports earbuds.
  • Fantastic build quality that’ll stand up to real-world use.
  • Accompanying Jabra Sound app provides sound customization.
  • Unique magnetic earbud cover that doubles up as standby feature.
  • Easy pairing with the 7th Generation iPod Nano and iPhone.

Cons:

  • There are cheaper Bluetooth sports earbud alternatives (but not by much and not necessarily as great fitting and sounding).
  • Battery life of 5.5 hours is 30 minutes more than the SPW but some folks will demand more. Real world experience (during the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon) puts the battery life somewhere around 4 hours. Battery low messages were prompted at around the 3 hours 45 minutes mark.

Word of caution: Please exercise caution when plugging in during an outdoor workout. Be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. The majority of my listening happen at the KLCC Park (where there are high human traffic) and 1K loops around my housing area. I don’t recommend running solo with the ears plugged. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume, nor for an extended period of time.

Disclaimer: The Jabra Sport Rox Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Singapore. It retails for RM549 (including GST) and is now available at all ALL IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, epiCentre, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems around the country. You can learn more about the Jabra Sport Rox Wireless here.

Southern Cross University 10K Race Report

It’s another year and I found myself back on the Gold Coast. This time with many more mates from the training group along for the running festival that we’ve come to love.

Since a run was planned on the eve of the marathon, a few of us thought might as well run the official 10K as the shakeout – getting more bang for the buck out of the trip. The plan was to take it really leisurely with plenty of photo ops along the way.

The weather on Saturday was mild, just fine for a short run but it started off with some drama. Due to an incident, the northbound tram line was closed, forcing runners to mass along the Gold Coast Highway for the bus shuttle services. After several packed buses passed without so much as reducing the size of the queue, I scrambled to cab-pool with another group of runners (Hi, Todd!) and was able to make it to Southport in time. Nevertheless, the organizers wisely delayed the start a little to accommodate the late arrivals. As I was hurrying towards the agreed meeting point by the big LCD screen, I bumped into Ryan Hall just off the main road. With no one mobbing him, I did the sanest thing a gawking runner would do.

Soon enough with everyone in our group accounted for, we (Foo, Leong, CY, Nick, Man Hon, and I) proceeded to the rear of the thousands of participants. I’d shed my layers even before I entered the corral, so mild was the temperature that morning. The mood was fun and there was absolutely no pressure where we stood.

Personal engagements with the event organizers meant I’ve to proceed at a quicker pace than the gang so that I’ve enough time to freshen up at the hotel, chow down some breakfast before meeting the inbound travel group from Malaysia. As a result I was promptly separated from Nick and the gang just after the start with me running some ways with Man Hon.

Don’t be fooled by the guys. They were just getting started. They were nuts that morning!

Soon enough I was alone passing more along the way, snapping photos as I went along. One of the GCAM Ambassadors, Benita Willis, was herself providing support to the back of the packers. Great to see the greats giving back to the runners.

The 10K route is also run on a racetrack pattern. Runners cross the Southport Bridge at the start heading southwards before u-turning on the other side, making their way northwards towards Runaway Bay before doubling back to the finish at the race precinct.

This stretch is one of the most beautiful along the route.

Northern section U-turn. It’s apparent that the day would be hot.

There were plenty of supporters along the way and there was never a dull stretch which was devoid of cheers. After covering the early Ks between 6:26 to 5:22, I picked up the pace the last 4K (5:15, 5:13, 5:07 and 5:01) just to get the legs working a bit before crossing the line in 55:57.

The run-in through the finishing chute was a teaser for what’s to come the next day. The crowd was really thick and enthusiastic and those in the stands screamed even louder as I waved at them! With the finisher tee and medal collected , I hurried back to the hotel to get ready for the rest of the day – the route tour and Garmin Legends Lunch beckoned.

The other guys? I believe “fun” would be an understatement in describing their experience! With the 10K in the bag, my GCAM medal collection is now complete! If you’re planning to run GCAM16, be sure to include the Southern Cross University 10K or the Suncorp Bank 5.7K Challenge into the itinerary as part of the marathon eve shakeout run!

Click on the photo below to launch the photo slideshow.
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Gold Coast Day 1: Run, Harbour Town, Expo

After arriving late Wednesday night, the bunch of us just couldn’t wait to get going. Thursday started off early for me, with a short 5K run along the Surfers stretch, just behind the hotel. The crisp air was most welcome and it gave the legs some much needed workout after the flight and sleep.

With the run tucked away, the group decided to spend the next few hours trawling Harbour Town for some deals. I was on the look out for a belt, a replacement for the much traveled and worn-out Deuter backpack and some stuff for the family back home. Since the outlet center has a limited time promotion in conjunction with GCAM15, you’d want to include Harbour Town as part of your itinerary. If you’re from overseas, be sure to drop by the Tourism Lounge to pick up your Free Tourism Club Card before getting on with your shopping. To find out more about the outlet and how to get there, check out my previous post [link].

With the friendly folks at the Visitors Lounge.

We took things really leisurely and made sure we had coffee breaks :D along the way. Didn’t want to overwork those legs!

From Harbour Town, we headed to the Expo which was at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre. This has been the location for the race pack collection and expo for a number of years. This time around, getting there was made even easier with the G:Linq – the Broadbeach North Station just directly in front of the landmark. Since it was the first day of the expo, the crowd wasn’t big at all and we coasted through the race number collection and the exhibition booths very efficiently. Not a moment too soon as my stomach was already growling.

The next day would start with another short run! Photo slideshow from the day’s outings can be viewed by clicking on the photo below.

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Happening At Harbour Town, Gold Coast!

Photo courtesy of Harbour Town, Gold Coast

Ready, Set, Go! Race in for Sportswear Savings at Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre, Gold Coast, Australia

With the famous Gold Coast Airport Marathon fast approaching, Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre is the place to get race-ready with over 20 sportswear brands at well below retail prices.

Australia’s largest outlet shopping centre, Harbour Town on the Gold Coast is home to more than 220 stores, offering a minimum of 30% off the original retail price on outlet stock, as well as specialty retailers, entertainment and dining.

Photo courtesy of Harbour Town, Gold Coast

Photo courtesy of Harbour Town, Gold Coast

There’s no shortage of fashion for fitness fanatics with big name brands including Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Puma and Asics to suit all running styles. You’ll also find popular Australian brands Lorna Jane and Rockwear with women’s activewear that can be worn even after you’ve crossed the finish line. Put your best foot forward and embrace the sports luxe trend for less with discounted Stella McCartney for Adidas available in store now!

Other leisure brands include Converse, Fila, Lonsdale and Skechers, and if swimming is part of your training regime you’ll love the savings at Speedo, C60 Surf (Billabong), Karma Surf (Quicksilver), City Beach Australia, Rusty and Rip Curl. Whether you’re male or female, young or old, advanced or beginner you can update your sportswear wardrobe for a fraction of the cost at Harbour Town.

Photo courtesy of Harbour Town, Gold Coast

When race is over, you can refuel at the new Yum Cha Cuisine restaurant serving up traditional Chinese dishes including steamed pork and shrimp dumplings, chicken feet with black bean sauce, and deep fried crispy beancurd. There are over 25 alfresco restaurants and cafés in total with other new arrivals from Mexican taqueria Guzman Y Gomez and healthy burger joint Grill’d.

After all of the retail and restaurant therapy, you can put your feet up and enjoy a new release movie at Readings Cinemas with special Gold Class screenings from just $20 per person.

Harbour Town is also home to the Gold Coast’s only shopping centre Tourism Lounge offering a host of complimentary services and facilities for visitors including a relaxation area, tea and coffee, free WiFi, secure luggage and parcel minding, and more.

Tourism Lounge. Photo courtesy of Harbour Town, Gold Coast

 

Most importantly, if you make the Tourism Lounge your first stop before you shop, you will receive a FREE Tourism Club Card for additional discounts in many stores.

At any time during your Gold Coast Airport Marathon visit you can stock up on life’s conveniences with a wide range of specialty stores for all your fresh food, banking, currency exchange, health, hair and beauty needs.

Harbour Town is located between beautiful beaches and popular theme parks, just 15 minutes north of all of the action of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon race precinct at the Broadwater Parklands in Southport. There’s over 2,800 complimentary car spaces and the Centre is easily accessible via public transport.

So set a personal best and race into Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre where you’ll find big brands and even bigger savings every day of the week!

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More information about Harbour Town, Gold Coast (photos below from my 2011 visit)

Getting there is easiest by catching the G:Link from any one of the 16 tram stations to either the Southport or Gold Coast University Hospital station. You can then transfer to bus 704 (Southport) and 709 (Gold Coast University Hospital) to continue along to Harbour Town.

Bus Information:

  • 704- Sea World/Main Beach to Helensvale via Harbour Town
  • 709 – Uni/Hospital to Helensvale via Harbour Town
  • 712- Coombabah to Southport via Harbour Town
  • 713- Paradise Point to Southport via Harbour Town
  • 719- Paradise Point to Southport via Uni/Hospital

The Tourism Lounge offers visitors:

  • Complimentary refreshments
  • Free Tourism Club Card
  • Comfortable and modern environment
  • Complimentary taxi phone service
  • Luggage and parcel minding
  • Friendly and helpful staff
  • Free stroller loan
  • Free wheelchair loan
  • Prayer room
  • Free Wi-Fi access

Opening Hours:

  • Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat – 9am-5:30pm
  • Thu – 9-7pm
  • Sun 10-5pm
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