Nagano Marathon Race Report

A short a trip to Japan but what a trip it was as I caught the Sakura season and there was a marathon too! Read about the race here.

Gear Reviews

All the reviews here...

Trans Nuang 2013

5 runners. 42km. 16 hours. Elevation gain 2,878 meters / 9,442 feet. All here.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014 Race Report

After a long long wait, I finally nailed it. Full story here...

 

Category Archives: Gear Review

Keen UNEEK Sandals

I’m a practical fella when it comes to the choice if apparel and footwear.  Function trumps glamor. I don’t even have a suit in my wardrobe. On weekends, I do “some” running, catch up on a movie or two, and have noon siestas. If you see me at the malls or running the errands,  sandals or flip-flops would be on my feet.

When I was handed the UNEEK, I didn’t know what to make of it. The official blurb from Keen, the purveyor of hybrid outdoor and casual footwear, mentions that the UNEEK (a nicely coined palindrome) is a shoe. To me, it’s more along the alley of sandals.

At 11.35oz for my US10, the UNEEK isn’t in the weight territory of the running shoes I wear but it is in the realm of sports sandals and sandal-shoe hybrids. My recently departed Teva weighed approximately the same too. Utilizing an unconventional 2-cord construction, unusual is an understatement when describing the look of the sandal. The cords are soft, free-moving, and water-repellant which means you can pretty much wear the UNEEK anywhere. Your pinkies will get plenty of air-time and in this hot weather, that’s the way to go.

The quick-lacing system is convenient but I’ve never had to tweak it once I opted for a loose fit. The heel strap is more than adequate to lock down the foot. The black upper material is actually microfiber, thus

The footbed/midsole is made of PU and is anatomically molded. The full rubber outsole is quite a performer. It looks unassuming as you can see from the photo below. But when flexed, the razor sipes reveal themselves. These give the UNEEK excellent traction on wet conditions and I’ve worn them enough to confirm that they work as advertized.

Basically the UNEEK has been my weekend shods since I’ve got them and they felt comfortable enough for all-day wear. I wore them for 5 hours, looking like a hipster, after a recent 28K run and the next day, my legs and feet were still good for a 16K. The UNEEK has a high build quality and I expect them to last as many years as my previous sports sandals.

Here’s the video behind the UNEEK.

Disclaimer: The Keen UNEEK is a review pair courtesy of W.O.S. World of Sports (M) Sdn Bhd and is available today from Urban Adventure outlets, the World of Sports’s Gardens and e@Curve boutiques. It retails for RM479.00 and RM459.00 for the men and women versions respectively. More info about the UNEEK can be found here on its website.

Shoe Review: Nike Lunar Tempo

Choon Yuen returns with another shoe review. We collectively wish he buys more shoes.

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Here I am again hijacking the blog, pretending the blog is mine and spending a few minutes blabbing about shoes LOL. With my first major race for 2015 over back in early April, I was looking around for a nice pair of shoes to replace my current favorites the Asics Electro33 (my PB shoes, mind you) for the upcoming Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) in July. Come to think of it, I really didn’t need to look for a new pair as I’m pretty sure the Asics still have enough life to carry me for another race before officially retiring it into my walking shoes. Nevertheless hanging out with Jamie and Nick, you will always be poisoned with buying new pair of shoes even you really didn’t need to.

Now let’s see what we have here. My first pair of running shoes purchased was the original Nike LunaRacer then followed by Nike LunaRacer+3 (Racer) skipping the version 2. When Jamie poisoned me with the Nike Lunar Tempo (Tempo) which is the trainer version of the racer, immediately I was sold even before looking at the actual shoes. True enough the Lunar Tempo according to Nike, was designed for runners who often take the Racer for long run training. In other words, you will have the best from the Racer (lightweight and fast) plus the extra cushion you need for day to day training from the LunarTempo. Judging from experience with the Racer, I upsized my purchase with a full size to combat the narrow toe box which was a big mistake…well not that big, but still a mistake.

Honestly, after 40km or so I didn’t feel right at home with the Tempo, something just didn’t feel quite right. Nick advised me to try on thicker shocks, and it worked!! In hindsight, I should have tried upsizing by only half instead of the full size due to a welcome improvement on the upper mesh which I will explain later. For the next 20km +, it felt like I have found my shoes for GCAM, at least for now, let’s wait until I test run the NB Zante in the coming weeks before deciding which pair flies with me hehe.

The Racer (top) and the Tempo.

The Tempo’s (left) outsole, which have thicker blown rubber coverage, suggests greater durability than the Racer.

The Tempo by nature is designed to be the trainer version of the Racer, naturally you are right to expect a few familiar characteristics brought over from the Racer+3. First off, on the weight department, weighing at 6.8oz for a Size 9, it’s just a mere 0.4oz heavier than the Racer, impressive for a trainer. Secondly, the responsive Lunarlon midsole are retained with a slight tweak in the groove pattern near the heel area. Then there is the Nike Flywire system used for fit adjustment wrapping your feet like what a pair of socks would do holding your feet firmly preventing any slide. Other than the above, the Tempo is a different shoe from the Racer+3.

Breathable mesh.

Lightly padded tongue.

The highly breathable seamless upper mesh has a slight tweak; it now feels softer and it is more stretchable, effectively taking away the narrow toe box feeling experienced from the Racer (my mistake to upsize by a full size). Couple with the Flywire over the midfoot allowing variable wraparound pressure/tightness adjustment depending on individual preferences holding your feet in place. Once it is adjusted properly, I did not notice any foot sliding even with upsizing. The heel collar as with the shoe tongue is slightly padded and there are no visible plastic/film over the heel counter. Instead the heel counter is packed with patterned reflective material, effective and pleasing the eyes.

The softer (and floppier) Ortholite insole of the Tempo compared to the Racer’s stiffer version.

The thicker midsole of the Tempo (right) compared to the Racer.

The insole sees a change; it is softer and thinner compare to the Racer version and is made with Ortholite material. Lunarlon midsole are slightly thicker as you can see from the picture below. It delivers sufficient cushioning yet not taking away the ground feel returning the rebound energy that one would expect from a racing flat. Carbon rubbers are placed strategically at the wear zones with very minimal visible wear noticed after closed to 70km now. Overall the ride is comfortable and smooth.

Although it is still too early to draw a conclusion on durability with merely 70km mileage, but there isn’t anything to pick on the shoe. It is lightweight, responsive, flexible, has good ground feel and fit snugly thanks to the stretchable mesh and Flywire system. The shoes has grown on me since the initial rubbish 40km that I’ve done earlier and this little package can double as a my racing shoes too (note: I am not a fast runner and you may not agree with me on the racing bits). Okay perhaps there is one thing I want to pick on the shoe which is the colorway available in this part of market…boring!!!

Nike LunarTempo is retailing at RM379 but strangely you will not find it in Nike store in Malaysia. This pair was purchased at Stadium KLCC.

Mio Fuse Activity Tracker and Heart Rate Monitor Review


The battle for our wrist space are heating up with the continued increase in the number of wearables that have reached our shores. Featured this time on the blog is the Mio Fuse. The Fuse is just one of 5 wrist-worn heart-rate (HR) based monitors produced by the Vancouver, Canada company. The others are Alpha, Alpha 2, Velo, and Link. Of the 5, 3 – Alpha 2, Fuse and Link – are now available in Malaysia.

There are 2 flavors of the Fuse, the Fuse Crimson fits large wrists: 156 -208mm / 6.1”-8.2” while skinny wrists like mine get the Fuse Aqua (wrist sizes: 149-179mm / 5.9”-7”). Other than the fit and color, both versions have the same specs. Which brings us to the next section.

Specs & Tech
The selling points for the Mio offerings are that they’re wrist-worn HRMs, and connect to a wide range of ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (4.0) devices. That means you can do away with the chest strap pair yet monitor your training effects from your smartphones, and your Garmin/Suunto/Timex/Polar watches (see the list here). 3rd party app compatibility (list) are likewise extensive and that includes integration with RunKeeper, MapMyRun/Ride/Fitness, Endomondo, Strava, Wahoo, miCoach, and Runtastic. There’s even a Windows Phone app called Track Runner which works with the Fuse.

Helpful links: ANT+ directory of supported devices [list]

Mio’s wrist-worn HRMs, developed with Philips, feature continuous optical heart rate sensors that measure the heartbeat in real-time using two green LEDs and an electro-optical cell. DCRainmaker’s review of the Fuse mentioned that the same tech was licensed to adidas and TomTom so that certainly add to the credibility of the technology. In fact Mio claims to provide 99% EKG-accurate HR data. More about the technology here.

Unboxing
The Fuse comes in a compact box. Flip the magnetized cover off and you’ll see the device lodged snugly within.

Lifting the container up will reveal the user manual, and the USB charging clip. That’s all there is to it.

As with all things electronic, the first smart thing to do would be to charge up the unit. Here’s a closeup shot of the USB charger bundled with the Fuse. The USB plug is folded into the back of the unit when not in use.

The Fuse isn’t quite a tiny device, nearly as long as my trusty Garmin 620. Even the midsection, where the sensor is located, is nearly as thick as the 620.

I’ve really skinny wrists and here’s how the Fuse looks like in the company of the 620 and the MiBand. Due to the Fuse’s sticky rubber feel, it tends to pick up some dust. It can be worn on the left or right wrist, even though the user guide recommends wearing it as pictured below – right next to the GPS watch. That said, I’ve had equal success wearing the Fuse on my right wrist. The fit feels very snug and assured courtesy of the traditional watch strap and pin combo. No way it’s coming off in the course of a workout.

Flip the Fuse over and here’s how it’s belly looks like. It may not appear as such but the build quality is great, with no rough edges felt anywhere. The Fuse feels really solid and not a single part of it has the dodgy feel of a poorly made device. You definitely get quality for the price you pay for in the case of the Fuse.

See the 2 round pin contacts in the photo above? Those are to be connected to the pin connectors on the USB charger in order to charge up the Fuse. Once it’s plugged in, the device suddenly comes alive with a number of moving LED lights indicating the charging status. Fully charging the Fuse’s lithium polymer battery for the first time took around an hour – I reckon my unit wasn’t completely drained. The battery lifespan will last approximately 300 charge cycles which works out to a lifespan of 5 years based on a weekly charge routine. The battery is non-user replaceable and neither is the strap. Therefore the entire unit needs to be replaced should it die on you, but then 5 years would have already contributed to a very decent ROI. Furthermore, technology would’ve advanced several more steps in 5 years’ time!

Mio GO app
Like any wearables out there, there’s an app for the Fuse. The Mio GO app (available from iTunes and Google Play Store) is needed for all the customization functions, tracking, and syncing the Fuse is capable of. First, the customization. Once the app is downloaded to the phone, pair the Fuse up via Bluetooth. From there, there’s a slew of tweaks you can make, from setting up your profile, choice of data fields to integrate with the iOS Health app, display preferences, your daily goals (by steps taken, distance covered or active calories burned) to a few alert options. The HR function and Always On Display are both defaulted to off. You can also set your HR Zones.

Unlike Garmin, Polar, FitBit and Jawbone devices which all have their online logging and community ecosystem, Mio has none. Thus, all data needs to be regularly synced or backed up to the smartphone. The Fuse can store up to 14 days of daily summary data in All-Day Mode (regular activity tracking) and an additional 30 hours of exercise data in Workout Mode (with HRM turned on). If you continue to ignore the “Low Mem” or “No Mem” alerts, the new data will overwrite the older data on a FIFO (first in, first out) basis.

Tinkering with the app settings is half the fun but being the impatient one when it comes down to new gear, I set everything up quickly and simply head out!

Putting it through the paces
The Fuse is water resistant up to 30 meters so you can continue wearing it while swimming or aqua running. Do note that touch functions as are the wireless link to apps are disabled whenever the Fuse is underwater. Since I don’t swim my activities will pretty much be land-based :). There’s still a chance of me testing it out in wet conditions but that’ll have to wait due to the lightning situation these days.

Comparing the Garmin-HR Chest Strap against the Fuse.
To kick things off, you’ll need to trigger the Workout Mode by lightly holding down the HR Touchpoint located in the lower center of the display (see photo below). The optical sensors will light up and the Fuse will take between 15-20 seconds to acquire your HR. To the left and right of the display are the Scroll Touchpoints where depending on your setup, will toggle between your HR, Pace, Steps, Distance and Calories. These touchpoints are quite sensitive and all you need to scroll through the screens is to lightly brush them. The Touchpoints are disabled when the Fuse is in a vertical position – this is to avoid accidentally triggering the controls.

Once the Fuse acquires your HR, the display will show your HR and the device will stay in standby mode. This is a simple yet nice touch so that you manually trigger the start of your workout only when you’re ready to get going. When I was finally ready, I started the 620 followed by the Fuse.

All through the workout duration, the Fuse did its job quietly, gently vibrating when it detected a change in the HR Zones. Pausing the recording requires just a light touch on the HR Touchpoint.

Once you’re done with your run, hold down the HR Touchpoint to first change the status to Pause and then to End the recording. Up to this point, the data are still stored on the device until you sync the Fuse with the phone. The total distance and pace will obviously not be as accurate as that recorded by a GPS watch but the HR readings, especially that of the Average HR (AHR) is very close – 138 on the Fuse versus 137 on the Garmin. The Max HR (MHR) are off 173 vs 160 but the example below was my first run. Notice too the difference in distance which is expected of a non-GPS device. Calibration is off but I understand that the readings will get more accurate with repeated use.

Linking the Fuse with the Garmin
Since the Fuse is ANT+ ready, connecting it to the Garmin 620 is a cinch. I reckon this will be the most popular setup amongst runners who are users of Garmin/Polar/Suunto watches looking to ditch the chest strap.

To connect the Fuse to the Garmin, hold down the HR Touchpoint. The Fuse will switch to the Workout mode and the HRM will be enabled. Again, the Fuse will be in a paused mode. A few seconds of pulse acquisition will take place afterwhich you’ll be able to see your current HR. The next step would be to enable the HR sensor on the 620. Pairing them up is easy and you’ll be prompted accordingly. To start the workout, you’ll need to start the Garmin and Fuse separately. Due to this 2-step start/stop process, there’s bound to be a little difference (negligible, if you ask me) between the readings on the Garmin and Fuse.

It was an ultra short run due to the terrible show of lightning. I love the rain but did dare to take any risks with bolts endlessly streaking across the skies. Back at the base, I synced the session back to the phone.

If this status greets you, you’re some ways to meeting your daily goal, so get moving!

I’m not sure why but there were still some differences following the sync but again, the difference is negligible.

Fuse with the Mio GO app
Linking both the Mio GO app with the Fuse is simple enough but it gets quirky. Due to some strange design oversight, despite being connected, the Fuse and the Mio GO app don’t communicate the start of a workout between them. Hence starting the run on the Fuse will not start off the app tracking and vice versa. It’s truly a bummer to have to trigger (and stop) a workout twice.

Otherwise the other metrics are all captured and displayed on the app, real-time as the activity takes place. A nice touch is the breakdown of the time spent on each HR zone which means you’re able to tell if you’re sticking to the training objectives or are overdoing it on a recovery day.

After 2 weeks of usage, I can say that my Garmin HRM chest strap is no longer seeing active action. As a runner-deep-in-training, the Fuse is quicker to put on, easier to wash and dry. It pairs quickly with my 620 and there’s little fussing around and because it’s on my wrist for a large part of the day, there’s less chance that I’ll misplace it. I can see a greater appeal of the Mio Fuse to fitness enthusiasts who, in the absence of a GPS watch, can rely on its feature set for what it is. The lack of an online logging site, sets it back a bit, and so is the lack of a sleep tracker, something which can be remedied with a firmware update. However if you don’t place much importance over the negatives, then the Fuse is worth checking out.

Pros:

  • ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (4.0) ready means plenty of integration with other devices such as GPS watches.
  • Many choices of apps to interface with.
  • Goodbye chest strap!
  • Accurate and reliable HR reading.
  • Provides a great option for HR based training.
  • No allergic reaction to the silicon material.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Pricing is reasonable.

Cons:

  • Can’t truly replace the watch due to the absence of alarms.
  • Starting a run from the app somehow doesn’t start off the activity on the Fuse and vice versa.
  • There are rooms for improvement, feature-wise:
    • No sleep tracker.
    • No interval reminders to get off the chair.
    • No online logging hence near impossible to track and view long term progress.
    • Needs regular syncing with the phone.

Mio products are now available from the following outlets:

Connect

  • Fahrenheit 88, KL
  • KLIA 2, Sepang
  • Mid Valley Megamall, KL
  • Pavilion, KL
  • Sunway Pyramid, Selangor

iStore

  • 1 Mon’t Kiara, KL
  • Publika, KL

Machines

  • IOI City Mall, Selangor
  • Mid Valley, KL
  • Sunway Pyramid, Selangor
  • Suria KLCC, KL
  • The Gardens Mall, KL

Mac Studio

  • Bangsar Shopping Centre, KL
  • Jaya Shopping Centre, Selangor
  • Paradigm Mall, Selangor

Optiprimus

  • Bintang Plaza, Sarawak

The Marathon Shop

  • Lot 10, KL (Coming soon)
  • Sunway Pyramid, Selangor
  • Gurney Plaza, Penang

Urban Republic

  • Gurney Plaza, Penang

Disclaimer: The Mio Fuse is a review unit provided courtesy of Distexpress (M) Sdn Bhd, the authorized distributor of Mio in Malaysia. It is now available in the country and retails for RM639. The Mio Alpha 2 retails for RM799. For a comparison chart of the different Mio products, hit this link. Thinking about the Mio Fuse? Stay tuned for a purchase offer for followers of the blog in the next few days.

 

 

Shoe Review: Saucony Triumph ISO

This shoe review was submitted by Choon Yuen.

I have been asked about a few weeks ago whether I’m interested to review a yet to be launched running shoes in the local market. I thought WOW!! Me? Review shoes? I need to give myself a few pitches and slaps on the face to see if I were dreaming. It is truly a rare opportunity (secretly hoping more will come my way) to try out and write about a new shoe, without a second thought I said yes to the opportunity and whet goo goo goo ga ga about it LOL. I was very excited to say the least and took the opportunity on my off day from work to pick up the shoes and immediately. Met up with Frank, gave me a short introduction of the shoes and off I go for heat training that afternoon on the spanking new shoes. I had no prior experience running in any Saucony shoes albeit very good reviews on some of the shoes they produced e.g. the Kinvara series, so after clocking more than 60km over the past 3 weeks in the new Saucony Triumph ISO, it’s time for me to put my thoughts on the shoe on a clean sheet of paper without any bias opinion.


Saucony Triumph ISO is an 8mm drop shoe with a stack height of 31mm (Heel), 23mm (Forefoot). It’s a very well cushioned neutral shoe with a new upper fit ISOFIT technology which we will be going into a little bit more in details as we go along. The forefoot area of the upper is made of mesh material with visible large cut out for breathability purposes, which is then sewed to the ISOFIT at the midfoot area.

The ISOFIT upper wraps the feet adequately creating a sock-like feel for comfort and adaptability to the shape of your feet. It gives a nice wrap around holding the feet in place, preventing the feet from sliding around which could happened especially if you up-sizing the shoe size. The PWRGRID+ form grid midsole is taking charge in providing impact protection cushioning every stride on a longer run. The outsole comes with xt900 rubber near the heel area for durability while iBR+ is used for the forefoot area for further cushioning. At 10 oz on a US size 9, the shoe does very well in the weight department considering the amount of cushion Saucony puts in.

Ultra padded heel collar.

Although this is a well cushioned shoe, on the contrary the ride of the shoe gave sufficient ground feel making it somewhat responsive and yet giving runners a comfortable ride. This is evidence especially when you are running at a moderate to an easy pace run, but putting in some speed to the shoes immediately it feels a tad heavier which is weird giving that it only weighs 10oz. I suspect this is down to the amount of energy absorbed and returned by the midsole, having said that I’m just being picky and is not actually a deal breaker as this is not designed to be a racing flat. Breathability is not a problem for the hot and humid weather in this part of the world as you can see from the pictures below you can clearly see the “open pores”.

Headlamp in the shoe to demonstrate the open mesh.

There are a few areas that I would wish for on an already good shoe. The inability to flex much has thrown in some constrain to the shoes as it gives rigid feel to the shoe and may not necessary work out well for everyone. Some weight can be taken away from the ridiculously cushioned at the achilles area which is really unnecessary and overkill. Finally the width of the forefoot is a bit tight, however you can always up-size the shoe as the ISOFIT will still effectively prevent your feet from sliding around.

My final thought on the shoe. The Saucony Triumph ISO is a decent shoe and it should excel in 3 types of running conditions. First of all, if you are thinking of increasing your mileage on the long run day, the shoe will gives you plenty of cushions keeping your feet away from impact fatigue. Secondly after a fast and furious race be it a road or trail race, it also works very well for your recovery run. Lastly if you are new to running, you won’t go wrong with Saucony Triumph ISO. However, this is not a fast shoe and if you are looking for a PB record breaking or a speed work type of shoes, this is not the shoe for you.

The Triumph ISO will be available at Running Lab sometime in May onwards retailing for RM469.

Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Review

The usage of Bluetooth-enabled headsets and earbuds are fast gaining popularity amongst runners. Through casual observation of plugged-in runners as I went through my training runs last week at the park, I counted at least half of the peripherals worn were of the wireless variety. The advantage is obvious – less cables flopping around.

I love my music. I believe it has its place in a runner’s kit. The tunes will take away the boredom of a solo run in a looping course. The runner will find it easier to practice pacing with the aid of music. However, some of the reasons why I rarely do so are:

  1. I like to run light and dislike carrying stuff.
  2. Earbuds that fit my problematic ears are impossible to find. I’ve tried Sony (many variety including the version with ear loops), JBL and Yurbuds but they all slip out once I get all sweaty.
  3. The sound quality of “sports buds” aren’t that great. The music are either too tinny or bass-heavy.

With the launch of the award-winning Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW) late last year, the Danish company Jabra has suddenly made a compelling case for me to carry my phone along for some of my workouts. The SPW is essentially a set of Bluetooth (BT) 4.0 earbuds with a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) accurate Heart Rate Monitor. Jabra commissioned Campbell University in North Carolina, USA to independently verify the performance of the heart rate monitor technology for fitness and active usage. The comprehensive trial included runners on a treadmill and simultaneously tested Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless against a medical ECG machine. The results clearly showed an extraordinary accuracy with a 99.2% correlation. We’ll get to my field test observations shortly.

Before that, here’s the tech spec sheet for those of you techies out there.

Unboxing
The SPW comes in a sturdily constructed box with a magnetic latch. Flip that open and this is what you see.

The earbuds, a clam-shell case and a quick user guide.

Unzip the clam-shell case and here’s what you get.

4 Fitclips, 3 extra sets of EarGels™ and EarWings™ in a selection of sizes. And a short micro USB cable.

Close-up of the EarGels™ and EarWings™

The heart of the SPW lies in the left earbud, identifiable by the little heart icon you see below. There’s also the grey coloured Sport button in the middle which you press to start the tracking.

The heart of the matter.

Readying the SPW
As with all new gear, it’s always best to temper the excitement by first charging the unit. To charge the unit, just pull aside the right side silicon EarWing to expose the micro USB port. Fully charging a unit will take up to 2 hours. While charging, a tiny red indicator will light up. The same light will turn green once the juice is fully topped up.

There you are!

There’s an app for that, unless you’re a Windows Phone user
While the charging takes place, you will want to download the Jabra Sport Life app. You can get the app from iTunes [link] or the Google Play Store [link]. Sorry Windows Phone users – the app’s not available for you. I’m an app hoarder and I can tell you that this app is one of the most loaded fitness app out there. It utilizes your phone’s GPS for distance/pace/time/speed tracking, and reads out real-time customizable key metrics. The app even allows you to set your target pace, heart rate zone or interval training segments. Press the Sport button on the left earpiece and you can get auto coaching feedback. Then there’s the 3-mode fitness test function where you can run your own periodic analyses.

The 3-mode fitness tests are:

  • The Rockport Test – designed to measure your VO2 max level, which gives you a precise measurement on the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity and guidance on how well it rates against your age, weight, and gender.
  • The Orthostatic Heart Rate Test – monitors your current state and helps you understand if you’re overtraining or under stress.
  • The Resting Heart Rate Test – a great way to understand your base fitness level. Over time you can see how your resting heart level is trending.

As you can see, it’s clear that the app was not designed as an after-thought.

On top of that Jabra Sound app [link] which comes free with every SPW purchase via a code redemption. This app complements the SPW by adding the signature Dolby sound to your music amongst many other features such as equalizers and playlist management. All rather impressive, and you can find out more about the app here.

Pairing
This is a simple process of pairing the phone with the SPW, no different from pairing of your other Bluetooth accessories. Just enable Bluetooth on the phone, press the Multi Function button (the middle one on the control) and a voice with confirm your connection. Once connected, you’ll be able to see the battery status of the SPW on your phone as well (see screen shot below, indicator is to the right of the BT one). Now, if you own one of the newfangled phones with NFC, you can connect the two that way too.

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Customizing
Like all other lifestyle tracker apps out there, you’ll be guided through your profile setup, in this case a very quick process.

Next would be selecting the right EarWing and EarGel to fit your ears. The manual recommends the user to test out with all the sizes provided as not only will proper sizing enhance your listening experience and comfort, getting a proper fit will ensure the HR reading is accurate.

Just another step before you head out and that would be to calibrate your HR reading. I was seated when I did this and my HR read 58bpm. Not bad if I may say so :) .

After which you’re pretty much good to go. I was in a rush when I tested the SPW, so I didn’t toy around with the other tracking modes like target pace/HR setting. As mentioned earlier, you could even setup HR Zone Training or Interval Training, as well as your playlist of your choice.

Note: If Strava, MapMyFitness, Runkeeper, and Endomondo are your preferred fitness apps, you’d be happy to know that the SPW works with them too.

The photo below shows how the buds look from the rear. The cord is very light and not too long. In my several sessions with them, it never got in the way of my run despite my attempts at dislodging it – very secure. My first run with them was a short 5K covering a number of training zones, from fat burning to cardio to VO2Max. For that run, I had the phone in my hand. As such the tracking was very accurate against my Garmin’s – from the distance, pace to the HR call-out. In fact whenever the variance of the HR recorded by the Garmin HR chest strap and the Jabra was within +/-3bpm. I was very impressed coming off the first experience.

To put the SPW through more , I made sure I wore them for my box jump drills 2 days later (I didn’t bring them along for the Shape Run as I prefer to race light). Again, the buds stayed put in my ears! You can get pumped up with a kick-ass playlist while you’re doing your weights, plyos, drills and so on. Not to mention having your HR read out to you at regular intervals. This is great stuff.

The 3rd run in the SPW was a mixed experience. I carried the phone in a waist pouch and the BT connectivity was occasionally wonky. This went on for a few kilometers when the buds died on me, its battery completely drained. I suspect the weak battery level was the cause of the unstable connectivity and I’ll be sure to report back after several more runs.

Data Logging
The Sport Pulse Wireless is able to capture a ton of data. Utilizing an accelerometer, it’s able to record what you see and more below. The mapping feature is achieved in conjunction with your phone’s GPS.

Listen, listen, listen!
One of the outstanding features of the SPW, other than the HRM function, is the sound quality. This earbuds have got to be one of the best, if not the best I’ve heard. I’ve dabbled in hi-fi separates some time ago to recognize that. The sound that the SPW dishes out have great separation. Highs doesn’t sound tinny nor wreck your ear drums. Bass is tight and punchy as how it should be. Once burned in, I’ll bet they’ll sound even sweeter. Instruments that get all muddled up in the mix when I listened using other brands are revealed. It has knocked my 3 Sony buds (RM300 and below) and my previous favorite, Griffin, out of the park. It performs better than the JBL too. I’ll admit that it’s the earbuds I use even when I’m not working out.

More running and working out to do then!
It’s only been a week of living with the SPW but I’ve thus far been impressed with it. While I don’t usually listen to music when I’m out running (I believe that at times, the runner needs to connect to and deal with the mental side of running), I don’t totally discount the fact that music does add to the enjoyment of working out, especially on easy and recovery runs or drills. Due to its feature-rich functions, I’ve yet to dig below the surface of what the SPW has to offer and I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post once I’ve bedded in after a few more weeks.

Pros:

  • Very accurate HR readings.
  • Light and unobtrusive.
  • Accompanying apps are well thought out and are feature packed.
  • Great fit, 4 customizable fit.
  • One of the best sounding buds that I’ve listened to.
  • Works with a host of popular fitness apps.
  • Supports NFC on top of the standard BT 4.0.
  • U.S. Military standards for weather, shock, sand and dust protection.
  • Trivia:
    • Jabra is an official performance partner for the ITU World Triathlon Series
    • Jabra has won numerous accolades like the T3 Gold Award, CNet’s Editor’s Choice, Red Dot Mobile Choice – Best Accessory, CES Innovation, and iF Product Design Award.

Cons:

  • Premium pricing could put it above many’s budget. There’s the non-HRM Jabra Sport Rox Wireless which has many of the SPW’s features.
  • Battery life of 5.5 hours could be better.
  • Inconsistent read out of pace when the battery levels are low.

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.

Disclaimer: The Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Singapore. It retails for RM899 (post-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 Pulse Wireless here.

 

adidas Ultra Boost: After 65K

I’ve put more miles following my first review [read it here] of the Ultra Boost (UB), specifically clocking a total of 65K in them. Therefore it’s time to put my thoughts into a follow-up take on the shoe. For the most part, things are pretty much the way there wer per my initial take.

The ride experience of the UB sees no change. 65K isn’t plenty of miles for a pair of running shoes after all. Furthermore, the Boost midsole is widely regarded as being one of the most stable (in terms of characteristics) and durable in the market today. I believe you’ll get the smooth, protective and enjoyable feel throughout the lifespan of the shoe. In fact, I reckon the midsole to outlast the outsole, which show a little wear on the nubs. The thing is this – outsole design in the form of nubs or nipples will wear off quicker than conventional threads. Less surface are in contact with the ground and therefore whatever wear and tear would be more apparent. This does not necessarily mean that the rubber isn’t durable, however. It’s just because of the design.

Other than the smooth silky ride, the Ultra Boost did pretty well in terms of breathability. This isn’t so much of a concern for runners in temperate countries but in hot and muggy Malaysia, how well the shoe “breathes” is a huge factor. In the photo below, you can see the green of my socks peeping through the knitting – air just passes right through. Needless to say, I very much prefer this knitted upper to the TechFit one on my retired Energy Boost (EB).

Peek-a-boo!

There are a few areas where the UB could do better. Firstly, the weight. The UB would surely be one of the shoes I’d reach out for if I’m attempting a road ultra due to its fit, cushioning and impact protection but the thought of carrying that much weight over 60K or more is quite daunting. The PrimeKnit yarn, the plastic lacing system, the substantial heel counter and midsole shank all conspire to weigh the shoe down. Perhaps adidas sees the market differently but I’m all for using less material in production.

The Stretch Web outsole could definitely be improved. It doesn’t do well on wet surfaces at all due to the minimal ground contact by the nubs. They seem to be susceptible to quick wear-off especially on the feet of runners who scrape the bottom of their shoes with each step.

The joined plastic strips used to secure the lacing are rather thick.

Last but not least, the premium pricing of the UB presents a hurdle to most runners. For the masses, there are thankfully many options available. The EB (now version 2) which rides firmer in the forefoot is a popular alternative. The Glide Boost would also be a viable option if providing a more stable platform. These are the more substantial shoes if you’re so inclined. The lighter ones would be the Tempo Boost, Boston Boost and Adios Boost. More models are being updated to the Boost midsole, so the choices available can only become more bewildering.

However, if you intend to invest in the Ultra Boost, I’d suggest that you upsize by half from your usual adidas sizing. I wear a 10 but opted for a 10.5 for the UB which gives me more room in the toe box.

To read my review of the other adidas Boost models, check out my gear review page.

Disclaimer: The adidas Ultra Boost is a media sample provided courtesy of Adidas (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. The Ultra Boost is already available at Adidas boutiques in the country, retailing for RM650.

adidas Ultra Boost: First Impressions

Hot on the heels of a shoe review, comes… another shoe review! This time it’s the premium-priced (let’s not beat around the bush) latest Boosted model from the German sporting giant. The Ultra Boost (UB) is a new addition to the expanding range of shoes from adidas featuring the midsole which debuted in the Energy Boost back in 2013.

Since I’ve clued you in on the UB’s premium positioning, let’s get that part out of the way, shall we? It retails for RM650, which means it shares the upper echelon pricing as the adios Boost, adistar Boost and Springblade Drive 2.0. I view shoes in this price bucket as niche. Sometimes companies do turn POC (Proof of Concept) projects into production runs although this may not have been the intention of the UB creators. According to adidas, the goal was to “create a shoe that unleashes the full potential of the amazing BOOST foam while at the same time ensuring an unsurpassed adaptable fit in the upper.” ARAMIS system (same tech used by NASA, Boeing and leading aerospace and automotive industries) was used to measure and map out zones of higher and lower deformation which can be as much as 10mm in the forefoot area just before push off. The upper wasn’t only the area to be scrutinized since the outsole is one large high-stress part of a shoe. You can read the interesting story that went behind the conception of the Ultra Boost here.

The result? Foot-conforming PrimeKnit upper and Stretch Web outsole as well as other complementary components you see below. The video that follows shows the assembly process.

Photo source: adidas blog

When I picked up the Ultra Boost the first time, it felt like a substantial shoe. I’d opted for a US10.5, up from my regular US10 because of my past experience with the Energy Boost (EB) and Boston Boost 5 (BB5) which both ran a little tight in the toe box. It’s bulkier than my recently blooded shoes and accentuated by exaggerated upward spring on both ends. The UB also has a very prominent heel tab.

At 11.35oz for the US10.5, the Ultra Boost won’t find itself in the lightweight category.

 

The high toe-spring and low toe-box can be clearly seen in this photo. In reality I didn’t substantially feel the effects of both the attributes. In fact, toe-springs are very obvious in shoes with knitted upper, just have a look at the Nike Free Flyknit.

The PrimeKnit upper is just as impressive. Not only you can see that the high stress areas are reinforced by close weaving but the whole upper fits like a bootie negating the need to lace up tight as you would a traditional shoe. If there’s a purpose for the long heel tab, it’s to allow you to grab and pull when putting the shoe on. The fit is very snug, very sock-like and almost immediately you’ll feel as if there’s a slight midfoot bump reminiscent of the out of production Skechers GOrun 3. The upper stretches in every direction and thus is more accommodating than say, the Boston Boost upper. Due to a low toe box, the upper could be felt rubbing on my big toe – I’ll cover this in a moment. The step-in feel is plush and walking around in the UB is extremely smooth, unlike the Energy Boost and the performance oriented Boston Boost.

The hard external split heel counter is very substantial. It goes without saying that the bulk contributed to the weight of the shoe.

The removable insoles which are thinner than the Energy Boost’s. You can quite clearly see my footprint on the bottom unit. It may appear that I’ve too much room up front but due to the shoe construction, the fit was actually just nice.

There’s a thin layer of felt-like material under the removable insole.

In evaluating it, I was determined from the very first run to really put the shoe through the wringer. I would be a bit more lenient if it is a sub-RM450 but well, it’s not. My first run was a 6K, which covered a wide variety of surfaces on straights and twisty paths between Jalan Binjai-KLCC Park-Mandarin Oriental Hotel driveway-Pinang-Kia Peng-Stonor. Surfaces covered were tarmac, concrete, tiles, bricked pavements, synthetic track, grass and packed earth sections. Conditions were warm and humid, with no rain that evening. The plan was to have a slow and easy recovery run what with 2 quality back-to-back sessions over the weekend. The Ultra Boost blew those plans away. Once the body warmed up after 1.5K, the pace just kicked in. I was conscious at the back of my mind to reel back the pace yet at the same time I wanted to put the shoe through the challenge.

The upper which fits like a bootie. The 2 large pieces of plastic on either side holding the laces and providing some structural integrity are the other reasons why the UB goes above 11oz.

Anyone would’ve had no problems believing me had I reported that this bulky (and heavy) shoe stood no chance on the twisty and congested (it was packed with tourists and I had to slalomed my way through) route I took that day. But the UB was anything but that. It had to be the snug upper which totally locked down the foot despite the frequent directional changes. The low toe-box turned out to be a non-issue due to its highly stretchable properties. The designers well and truly got that part right. Because it was unbelievable, I went a second round. At a faster pace. Same eye opening experience. I had to remind myself that it was my easy day and stop at the end of the second loop.

It was still too early to form any judgment. The next day, I pulled on the UBs again. The menu was an easy 10K and again I failed to keep to the plan of going slow. This time, I took another newly mapped route that’s turning into a personal favorite: Binjai-Tun Razak-U-Thant-Ampang Hilir-Raintree Club-back to the KLCC Park. It had poured like crazy but slowed to a light drizzle as I started off. This second run would reveal much more about the shoes, both good and bad.

The outsole lip of the Energy Boost makes a return on the Ultra Boost.

The Stretch Web outsole. As your foot strikes the ground, the outsole stretches along with the midsole compression. resulting in a buttery smooth ride. This photo also shows the midsole cutout with the small embedded torsion bar that pops out a little on the medial side.

Medial shot showing the little medial post. As with most Boosted models, the midsole “jut-out” in the heel is quite substantial.

First, the good. The shoe pretty much retained all the positive attributes I experienced the day before, from the smooth and quick transition, fit and the upper breathability. The bad? The almost non-existent traction on the wet surfaces especially on the tiled and brick pavements. The little rounded nubs which are also spaced quite apart are simply not for such running conditions. I walked around corners and up the pedestrian bridges to avoid face-planting on my run. The Ultra Boost’s outsole feels nowhere near as assured as the BB5’s Continental rubber. The other thing worth mentioning is that while the PrimeKnit upper is very breathable, it’s also susceptible in letting in rainwater. It’s not a unique attribute of the UB but a trade-off of ultra breathable uppers.

The two most recent runs were both slower, one a 6K and the other a 16K on the hard pavements and sidewalks of Putrajaya. The Boost midsole offer the necessary protection for my legs and I appreciated the bouncy feel in all my strides. In all my runs in the Ultra Boost, there had been no chafing, hotspots or any rubbing, even by the extended heel pull tab. Because the tongue is integrated to the upper, there’s no slipping and sliding.

Reviewing the Ultra Boost has really been more about the wear experience than looking its inherently unflattering specs in terms of weight and pricing. I admit that I had some apprehension going in to the review but am glad to have some doubts struck off for the most part. I’ll put more miles into them before returning with a wrap-up take on the shoe.

Disclosure: The adidas Ultra Boost is a media sample provided courtesy of Adidas (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. Initial review is based after running and walking in them for close to 42K. The Ultra Boost is already available at Adidas boutiques in the country, retailing for RM650.

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