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

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.

Shoe Review: Saucony Breakthru

The Breakthru and Zealot ISO are 2 completely new “faces” to Saucony’s lineup late ’14/early ’15. They join a loaded range that’s either already here or coming to Malaysia, consisting of the updated Mirage 5, Ride 7 and Guide 8, and revamped Triumph ISO and Hurricane ISO. Throw the versatile and ever popular Kinvara 5 (K5) into the mix, the shoe shopper may be forgiven for being a little confused as to where the Breakthru stands. Despite just logging around 30K in the Breakthru, I think it’s time to put out this review before the shoe hits the shelves in the coming month (yup, the shoe’s not on sale in the country just yet). I don’t think my opinions will change much, if any at all, over the course of the shoe’s lifespan, so let’s get going.

The Breakthru is a little hard to peg down. It’s heavier and has an offset greater than the K5, yet tuned more like a racer compared to the cushier K5. The Breakthru’s shares the 8mm offset of Saucony’s support and higher end cushioning models. It weighs 8.7oz for my US10 to the K5’s 7.8oz.

The Breakthru is an undeniably striking shoe, with a rad-looking upper that resembles that of the Endorphin Racer. Unlike the sandwich open mesh of the K5, the upper we get with the Breakthru is thinner and stiffer, with no give at all. As a result, your big toe may experience some rubbing on the upper when in a state of dorsiflexion. While this was something I occasionally felt when running in them, it had not resulted in any hotspots or blisters. I’ll need to put in longer distances in the shoes before confirming if this is going to be an issue.

FlexFilm and Pro-Lock are both absent in Breakthru. While I don’t miss the Pro-Lock, the use of traditional and thicker overlays add to the weight. The wide and padded tongue isn’t gusseted yet it worked very well at all speeds including the twists and turns at the track. Never once did they slip and slide.

Closeup of the tightly woven mesh.

Around the back, the shoe has a stiff heel counter. The RunDry padding on the collar isn’t overly built up and is as comfortable as the K5’s.

There’s a slight midsole flaring on the lateral side. For a lightweight shoe, the Breakthru is rather stable.

There are some differences in the removable insoles. The K5 gets the softer and thicker SK-41 (more perforations and flex grooves cut into them as well) while the Breakthru settles with a noticeably thinner SK-51.

K5 insole (top) compares to the Breakthru’s

If you’ve not guessed already, the Breakthru is a neutral shoe, so there’s no medial posting (internal nor external). The midsole comprises of SSL (Saucony Super Lite) single density EVA foam with the Powergrid encased within.

SSL and Powergrid combo

Flip the shoe over and you’ll see why the Breakthru weighs more than the K5 – much more rubber. IBR+ injection blown rubber and XT900 carbon rubber while less exposed foam than the K5. Notice the 2 parallel black strips in the medial arch area? They’re not torsion shanks but thin rubber strips which in my opinion serve no functions. I hope they’ll be omitted in the next update. While durability should go up several notches, weight takes a hit with close to an ounce more than the K5. It is still a light and go-fast package though, make no mistake.

Full contact outsole.

With the technical part of the review out of the way, let’s get to the wear experience. The thing which impressed me most when I laced the shoes up the first time was the fit in the midfoot region. The upper just wraps around the midsection really well – snug without being over tight. As the laces are secured, they pull at the blue overlays around the midfoot area and you get the really good lockdown from midfoot to the heel. The toebox is a little less roomy than the K5’s, probably because the upper mesh doesn’t stretch. Prospective buyer should test both the actual and a half size up to be sure of the fit.

Medial view

The Breakthru also has the feel of a racing flat. It’s light, responsive, and each gait cycle has a snappy take to it. There’s a sense of immediacy to the running. The heel cushioning is not in the region of the K5, GR4 or the Boston Boost’s but more forgiving than the GOSpeed 3’s. The forefoot feels a little like a thicker version of the Boston Boost’s which means quickly pushing off the balls of your feet isn’t going to be a problem.

I’ve logged a handful of short quick runs, a 10K and a track session in them and encountered no negatives. As mentioned, no blisters, no hotspots. They certainly felt better going fast than slow, that’s for sure.

Lateral view

Saucony loyalists now have 2 choices when looking for a pair of lightweight neutral shoes which can double up for training and racing duties. If you prefer a softer feel in a 7.9oz (US10) package, go for the K5. If something firmer is what you seek, the Breakthru. Want something plusher? The Zealot ISO, Ride 7, and Triumph ISO should tickle your fancy depending on your budget. If you’re mechanically blessed and training to chase a big PR, give the A6 an audition.

Disclaimer: The Saucony Breakthru is a sample pair provided courtesy of Saucony Malaysia. It is expected to be available from Running Lab, Stadium and RSH outlets in April/May 2015.

Shoe Review: Under Armour Speedform Gemini

One of the most exciting things about reviewing products is having your preconception smashed to smithereens. This can be a positive or negative experience, of course. We expect great things from the giants and are little lenient with the upstarts in the industry. The last time I was pleasantly surprised was when Skechers debuted the GORun back in 2012 [review here].

When Under Armour (UA) set up shop in KLCC recently, their first store in the country, I was fortunate enough to be invited for the store opening. Those who follow team sports (for example fans of BPL team Tottenham Hotspurs) will recognize the brand’s simple yet unique logo. If you’ve not heard of UA, you can read it up here.

Recently UA started making stronger surges into the running footwear segment which set quite a number of running geeks’ hearts aflutter. The Speedform has been around for at least a year but this year the Apollo and Gemini are the 2 providing the main thrust in sales numbers for the company. This review will focus on the Gemini but for a good take on the equally eye-catching, more minimalist Speedform RC Vent, head on to Nick’s review.

If there’s one thing that runners are raving about UA running shoes, it’s how they’re put together. The Gemini, like the RC Vent and Apollo, is constructed based on a near-seamless fashion. You can see from the photo below, provided by fellow shoe geek Seth Hasty of Granite City Running [Competitor covered the store opening in this article], that the shoe is basically made up of 3 parts. The mesh upper, the footbed, and the midsole/outsole. There’s an external heel counter that provide some structure at the rear, as you’ll see from the photos below.

Photo courtesy of Granite City Running.

UA’s product page will have all the marketing spiel so I’ll just breeze through the key features of the Gemini.

  1. Near seamless construction that really locks the feet in. There should be no problems going sockless if you’re that sort of a runner. The seams are welded with Bemis tape, the type used to seal tough wearing apparels and gear without added weight.
  2. The fit around the collar is very good. There are silicone grippers around the internal collar that secures the feet, preventing any slippage.
  3. The one-piece footbed that is truly well made.
  4. 8mm offset.

The visually striking Gemini is not what you’d classify a low-profiled shoe. It has a significant heel stack and has the disposition of a protective cushioned trainer as you can see from the series of photos below. The wear experience to me, however, is  rather mixed. You will immediately feel the plushness stepping into the shoes. Heel to toe transition is very smooth and you feel as if you can walk the whole day in them.

There’s an airy feel to it which is expected since more than half of the upper are made of mesh so huge they appear like webbing. The 2-layer mesh is stretchy, so the seemingly low toebox height as seen in the profile photo below isn’t a good representation of how they really feel. US10 fits me fine if I wear a thin sock but I’d upsize by half should I go for a thicker one.

The Gemini has a slightly squarish toe box which suits runners with a wider forefoot, and the external toe guards looks like those from the Nike Presto. There are 6 reflective strips on each shoe, making it suitable for early morning/night running. The following 2 photos clearly show the 2-layer mesh adopted for the shoes. No rogue sand particles or pebbles have got in so far.

The tongue is wide which made slippage a non-issue. It’s made of the same mesh as the upper with an added strip of foam (similar to the collar material) at the top.

The heel cup is actually made of foam but there’s the exo-skeletal like heel counter to provide some semblance of structure. Even with the collar slanting into the achilles, I’ve not experienced any chafing, hot-spots, and rubbing in all my sessions in the shoes. They certainly fit more like socks than something stiff. In fact I’d say that they feel neoprene-like.

External heel counter with a vertical reflective strip.

Soft and pliable. The external heel counter maintains just enough structural form to the section.

Peeping into the shoe, you’ll see the neat construction of the footbed. There’s no removable sockliner and that sort of thing here. Everything is integrated and one-piece. The construction method and technologies used allow the Gemini to be machine washable – instructions are clearly printed right there! The white dots around the collar are the silicone grippers that further secure the fit.

In the photo below, both my fingers were pointed to the welded seams, just about the only 2 you’d find on the Gemini.

Being a typical trainer, the Gemini’s weight reflects that too. I was surprised to see the US10 weighing in at 10.45oz because I thought they felt lighter. In my hands, the shoe’s weight felt a little unevenly distributed, with the heel section of the shoe feeling significantly heavier than the forefoot . This is an unusual comment, I know, since the heel stack is greater than the front and therefore would naturally be heavier. However I thought the forefoot to heel weight ratios felt a little lopsided. Mixing the use of the heavier foam in the heel section with more mesh (as seen on the tongue) will reduce the overall weight.

The Gemini feels like a 10mm offset/drop shoe like the Flyknit Lunar 2 (FL2), Pegasus 31, and Energy Boost whereas the actual drop is 8mm like that of the Ride 7. Nevertheless, such numbers are superfluous because what matters should be how it performs. We’ll get to that shortly.

The Gemini’s Charged midsole foam is touted to provide responsive cushioning. It sits on top of a thicker white layer and runs the full length of the shoe. The darker material is visible from the cutaway at the bottom of the shoe.

The outsole is both a mix of blown (blue sections) and carbon rubber (in the heel) as clearly seen below. There’s no midfoot TPU shank, no medial posting which means overall flexibility is pretty good for the Gemini. There are generous flex grooves in the forefoot and the outsole is decoupled. There are plenty of exposed foam in the outsole but durability remains to be seen as I’ve only logged 43K in them.

Enough rubber to provide durability.

Now comes the most important part of the review – the wear experience. Folks are basically curious about a few important things:

  • How they fit? Is it true to size?
  • Ride. Is it soft, very firm? Any road feel? How does it compare to <insert any popular shoe here>?

So I’ll just cover the points above.

Fit
I normally wear a US10. Although the Gemini fits just nice, I’d have preferred a 10.5. Overall fit is excellent. The midfoot fits snugly as with the heel, while the forefoot opens up sufficiently to accommodate medium volume feet. It doesn’t get to the level of roominess of the GORun Ride 4 (GRR4) though.

Ride
Step-in feel, as mentioned before, is plush. So is walking around in them. The pronounced feel of the arch support disappears the moment I started running. So did the plush feeling. The immediate responsiveness of the Charged midsole dispels any notion that the Gemini offers a soft ride. It’s certainly not the Kinvara 5, or even the GORun 4. The Charge midsole provides less bounce than the Lunarlon and Boost materials of the FL2 and Energy Boost respectively. The “F” word (F for firmness!) kept popping up in my mind as I put mileage into the shoe. Perhaps with some breaking in, the midsole will soften up a little? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find it uncomfortable, just stating my observation.

As in other training shoes with this level of midsole build up, road feel of the Gemini is muted. Regardless of the runner’s preference for a soft or firm ride, the heel striker will appreciate the smooth heel to toe transition. This plus the substantial use of blown rubber ensure that the shoe runs silent, huge contrast to the FL2.

Expectedly, breathability is excellent, with all the mesh. My feet stayed dry throughout my runs in muggy and hot Penang recently, and there were no hotspots either.

Those are my prelim thoughts and observations on the Gemini and so far, my lean is still towards a softer and lighter ride like the Kinvara 5 (K5), GORun 4 (GR4) and Boston 5 (B5). That’s certainly a matter of personal preference, of course. It doesn’t take away the fact that the Gemini is a solid offering from UA with many areas done right and a pair that I’d grab to log longer and slower miles in.

The Gemini isn’t what you’d call an affordable shoe. At RM538 full retail (I purchased it using a discount voucher), it’s a full RM100, and more, than the K5, GR4, Pegasus 31, and Boston 5, parking itself close to the just launched Flyknit Lunar 3 and Energy Boost 2.

It also goes up against asics’ stability offerings like the GT series and Kayano, or even the cushioned ones like the Cumulus and Nimbus. Ditto Brooks’ Adrenaline and Ravenna. Yet, the Gemini can hold its own, and IMHO, trumps the aforementioned asics and Brooks due to several factors. Firstly, the innovative use of materials and construction (made in a bra factory no less!) make the Gemini one of the best fitting shoe in the market today. Secondly, it’s a stable enough option for runners who wear heavier stability shoes with medial posting to migrate over to.

Gear Review: Mi Band

Multiple colors available including black. Image from the mi website.

I was down with a bad bout of flu/cold/fever late January which floored me for 2 solid weeks. 2 solid weeks of inactivity and loss of a back-to-back over an extended holiday weekend! The cause was unclear but I suspect the lack of sleep depleted whatever’s left of my immunal defense system. The lack of sleep was a result of adjusting to the new school year. Instead of relying on the services of a school van this year, we’re now driving C2 to school. With the alarm going off at 5:50am, we’re getting less than 6 hours of sleep (even less if you’re looking at the deep sleep phase) on most nights. Sleeping earlier is impossible since we only reach home around 9:15pm (shakes fist at the KL traffic!) and be done with dinner and all the cleaning up at 10pm. Then there are the emails to clear, reading and some coaching of the kids to attend to. Even with no TV time, midnight comes too soon!

When marathon training is added into the mix, I was walking a tightrope. The rest, as the say, is history. I realized then that I’ve to pay more attention to my sleep patterns and make little adjustments here and there to my lifestyle. I no longer check my emails on a daily basis. I’ve also reduced my rice intake during dinner, only taking in mostly vegetables, some meat and soup, so that less food sit in the stomach that late into the day.

Sidebar: You only need to listen to this fascinating podcast by Coach Jay Johnson with Dr. Mike Dedekian to convince you on the importance of getting enough sleep, in the context of a growing kid or if you’re a runner in training. The impact of sleep on the endocrine system was also discussed. Look for Podcast 026 here.

Next, I downloaded some sleep tracking apps for the iPhone. Sleep Time logs the usual metrics such as duration of light and deep sleep, REM. You can even choose to fall asleep to music. There is, of course, an alarm function. Smart Alarm does the same thing but includes a sound recorder feature. You’ll find out the next day if you’ve mumbled or revealed any secrets at any point of the night. Somniloquy may have negative effects on the sleep quality. I found it spooky listening to the voice recording the next day. What if you recorded something which really isn’t from this dimension? Right, I may have a hyperactive imagination.

Which led me to research some wristworn wearables from Jawbone, Fitbit, Garmin, and Samsung. Pretty soon, the Apple Watch will be thrown into the ring as well. Typically these wearables offer silent vibrating alarms, tracks activities and sleep while the more expensive ones have preset reminders to get you off your chair to keep you active. Some even link to your smartphone in providing you with alerts and some rudimentary messaging features. The problem is I found that not only are these devices expensive (RM499 and above), they’re rather buggy in many areas from user experience to syncing with the phone. RM499 is RM400 more than my tolerance for a nice-to-have item.

A note on the silent alarm: I can’t help but be enthused by this feature. No more waking up the spouse when my weekend alarm goes off at 4:15am!

It was through digging around for information that I discovered the Mi Band. Everyone, in this region at least, knows the company Xiaomi. They’ve sold millions of their very affordable and highly spec’ed Android phones and tablets, and powerbanks, modelling much of their design and marketing after Apple’s. Which tech company doesn’t, right?

The price of the Mi Band was what first caught my eye. The “princely” price tag of RM59 had me refreshing my browser just to be sure I wasn’t seeing it wrong. The specs were impressive as you can see from the screen grabs below. You can head to the product page to read up more.

Other than the price, here are the other features:

  1. 30-day battery (rechargeable via USB)
  2. Mil-grade accelerometer (what they claim)
  3. IP67 water/dust resistance

 

 

Image from the mi website

 

Image from the mi website showing the exploded view of the parts.

From the mi website.

Being the cheapo, I ordered 2 units to take advantage of the free shipping above RM100, with the other unit going to my colleague. Delivery was quick and I received the package in 4 business days. The first thing you’ve to ensure is that the unit is fully charged. To do that, just pop the sensor out from the hypoallergenic silicone band and pop the suppository-shaped (!) sensor into the proprietory USB charging housing. The 3 LED indicators will tell you the status of the charging level. A full charge took me around 2 hours.

Other than the status of goals achieved for the day, the 3 LEDs indicate the charging level.

Next was to download the free Mi Fit app from the iTunes App Store before pairing the phone and band. This was easily and quickly done by hard tapping the band to wake it up. Finally, I did some customization such as personal info, alarm options, LED color preference. I didn’t change the defaulted 8,000-step goal just so that I can get a feel of the metrics. Again, the updates were easily and seamlessly synced to the band – no manual intervention needed. Naturally you need to ensure that you’ve enabled Bluetooth on your phone prior to the sync.

Firmware updates are also accomplished via Bluetooth. You will be prompted by the Mi Fit app whenever that is required. With all that done (within 5 minutes, really), you’re good to go. Nothing else needs to be done. When it’s time for bed, there’s no need to enable the sleep tracking mode simply because it somehow knows.

I’ve had the Mi Band for less than a week and there’s little to complain. With the exception of 2 days, I’ve been meeting my daily activity goals of 8,000 steps (I noted that that approximates to around a 6K run) whenever I run. All 3 LEDs will flash and the band will vibrate when the said goal is met. I’ll need to jack the goal upwards when the meat of marathon training starts in March. Though I’m seeing some improvement, I can still do better in the sleep department. There are some negatives of course (see end of review), one of which is the claimed LED status display where it’s suppose to show you a lit LED for every 1/3 of daily goal achieved. Doesn’t work. However at the cost of 6 Starbucks latte, I’m not complaining much.

Sync in progress.

Logging screens

Plonks all the details into the iOS Health app.

Will gear like the Mi Band and smartphone apps help you sleep better? I don’t think so. But with numbers attached to your nightly downtime, you’ll be able to tell how well you’re resting further allowing you to adjust your routine and lifestyle accordingly. For a sleep deprived person like me, that’s very helpful.

Fits my skinny wrist just nice.

Pros

  1. Decent activity tracker.
  2. Lightweight and comfortable for all-day wearing.
  3. Android and iOS support.
  4. Integrates with iOS Health app.
  5. Fast Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and transfer.
  6. Frequent firmware updates.
  7. Strong vibrating alarm.
  8. 30-minute pre-alarm wake-up buzz.
  9. More features are enabled (such as lock/unlock, call alerts) if you’ve a Mi device, e.g. the Mi 3 or Redmi Note.
  10. Barrel scraping price.


Cons

  1. The lift-to-view-status of the LED doesn’t work, at least in my unit.
  2. Bracelet clasp finicky but secure once put on.
  3. No snooze so if you missed the wake up buzz, you could potentially oversleep. Best to have a backup alarm.
  4. No hourly buzz to remind you to get off the couch.
  5. No online community, unlike Garmin Connect.

Website: http://www.mi.com/my/miband/

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