Week 2/18

Tempo Tue (20 mins between 4:50 – 4:58)
Distance Covered: 8.23K
How it went: Week 2 kicks off with a 40 Tempo. To better track my splits post workout, I no longer program my warm up and cool down segments into the watch. This allows me to adjust the duration of both the warm up and cool down phases, meaning if I’ve more time to spare, I’ll warm up longer. And that works very well if the body needed a longer time getting into gear. There are a number of mornings just like that! This morning, I took slightly over 15 mins for the warm up and managed to cover 2.62K working the pace down to 5:33+. Tempo was 20 mins. Following the kick off last week where I retained GCAM17’s 5:00 pace, it was time to run this training cycle’s pace which is between 4:50-4:58. Again, I didn’t monitor the individual splits and just ran by feel. In the end the average logged was 4:55. Pretty chuffed with that. Hopefully as the training progresses, I’ll be able to move that average closer to 4:50. Cool down was slightly over 10mins covering 1.54K. Great workout!

Easy Wed
Distance Covered: 6.29K
How it went: Just ambling along to scores from Memphis Belle, Moana and Dunkirk. Felt the outer right knee twinged a few times at regular intervals – slightly painful sensation. Maybe it was the positioning of the knee when I did my crunches, maybe it was the ITB which I haven’t had since the early ’90s. Don’t know what it is.

Thu
Distance Covered: 5.07K
How it went: AM: Did some pretty intense core strengthening workouts focusing on the midsection.
PM: Failed tempo. Very warm. Waited till late evening but the body was just sluggish (6:15 > 5:42 > 5:27 > 5:21 > 5:04) with a harder than usual breathing. Thought about the December marathon, and the pursuit of my moonshot – whether it’s wise to squeeze another good race before year end or to rebuild again for the assault in 2018. You know, if I should downgrade to the Half instead of forcing things. Since the race is yet to open, there’s still some time to see how things go.

Easy Sat
Distance Covered: 16.55K
How it went: Just like the week before, Friday turned out to be a rest day. I was plainly tired, both mentally and physically. Torrential rains lashed down on the drive to work, resulting in a 2-hour journey. It’s plain sickening to be stuck in a seated position for that period of time adding to the gloom. Luckily, there was a chance to get in a double digit distance on Saturday with a pre-AugustMan Clinic 9K with Nick around the Lake and a short 3.4K after that. Clocked another 4K in the evening, 2 with C2 prepping for his 3K race and 2 solo. It was close to 7 min pace but it felt good and put me in a relaxed state of mind.

Hilly Sun
Distance Covered: 18.2K
How it went: Fab Fast Finish run. A languid 6:46 kick-off and then it got progressively quicker. Even the hills were done in sub-6 min pace and only the dangerous sections where we needed to walk were slower. Last few Km splits were 5:50 > 5:31 > 5:40 > 5:55 > 5:37 > 5:17 > 4:45. The Tracer is one heckuva shoe. It feels different when taken slow and just excellent in 5-min and below pace!

Week Total: 54.3K
Training Notes: I keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t look too much into things at this stage, going through tough months at the office while stimulating the body’s strengthening process through a greater variety of exercises. The crucial component, of course, would be getting in adequate rest and sleep, failing which adaptation will not take place. I’m satisfied with what I’ve got at this point.

Looking back: Week 1

Week 1/18


Mon 6K/Rest
How it went: It’s the start of another new marathon training cycle. This time, the goals are a lot different. The moonshot plan (insert link) is longer (18 weeks instead of 12) to allow adaptation to changes in pace. All happening during an unbelievably stressful period at work. I’ve cut down (insert link) a number of major commitments so that I won’t be distracted but I think the real challenge is more about rekindling the level of motivation after a sustained period of highs (3 months for me!). The mistake would be to go chasing for it and I think it’s a great idea to kick off the first few weeks at the old training paces. Despite Monday being a Rest Day, I laid out the gear the night before with the intention to perhaps log a short 6K but changed my mind and stuck to 20 mins of core and strength work instead, targeting the shoulders, chest, obliques, adductors and glutes.

Tempo Tue (30 mins @ 5:00)
Distance Covered: 6.3K
How it went: As usual, 30 Tempo means 10 mins of tempo running sandwiched between 10 mins of warm up and cool down. It’s short, intense enough and passes quickly. Just enough primer to carry through the next day. The plan was to stick to GCAM17 tempo pace, after the customary warm up, and not push it from the get go. All in all, a good run. Felt positive, effort was controlled, with stride length over 1.2m during the tempo phase, cadence nudging 178. Since there was still a bit of time, I extended the cool down by another 1K+.

Easy Wed (Easy pace 5:21 – 5:59)
Distance Covered: 6.26K
How it went: I wanted my easy sessions to be enjoyable and not bound by the pressures of timing. The air had a slight burning smell, signs that the Sumatran haze has blown into the country. After a languid 6:38 opener, the pace went down quite naturally 6:07 > 5:57 > 5:56 > 5:50 > 5:53. You know you’re in the zone with that kind of pace!

Thu Yasso (5xYasso in 3:27 (4:18 pace) – 3:36 (4:30 pace))
Distance Covered: 7K
How it went: AM run scuppered. Woke up, got ready to head out (despite flashes of lightning) but just as I got the water bottle out from the fridge, the thunderstorm hit. PM run was on the treadmill. Seeing how hard it is to set intervals on a machine, I ran progressions instead. 6:01 > 5:54 > 5:24 > 5:23 > 5:19 > 5:09 and 1K Cool Down. Then it was some strength work like 20x one-legged squats with twists, 10x lunge dumbbell rows and 10x rows. It’s been awhile since the legs felt like they’ve just hiked some elevation.

Rest
How it went: The body felt thrashed from yesterday’s weights session but quickly recovered as the day progressed. Decided to stay conservative and not push a run in, even though I penned down an easy 6. With consistency in the weights room over the weeks, the body should adapt to the stress and I won’t have to miss the easy day after.

Sauc Sat
Distance Covered: 15.72K
How it went: Got in a pre-run of  8K from Hartamas to Solaris before another 7.72K as part of the Saucony Clinic. From the looks of it, it may be my final group run with the Saucony team. Nothing remarkable from both sessions, except I felt light on the climbs – probably seeing the benefits of the strength work I’ve been putting in. Endurance is still pretty much work in progress at this stage.

10 Mile Steady Sun
Distance Covered: 16.43K
How it went: Drizzly morning but luckily it didn’t get heavier. Nice cool morning to run. First segment was covered at a brisk pace, averaging 5:31. Splits were 6:35 > 5:34 > 5:31 > 5:32 > 5:13 > 5:17 > 5:17 > 5:20 > 5:39 > 5:12 > 5:31., but some stretches it certainly felt much quicker than that. There were brief moments when we hit 4:54 and even 4:19! Calvin led for most of the way. The second segment of 5.5K was done at a slower pace but still averaged sub 6.  Good session out at this point of the training.

Week Total: 51.76K
Training Notes: It’s normal to experience FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) during the kick off period of a training program. “Post-honeymoon”, new pace ranges to hit, and new goals. It’s a little daunting, almost like the body and mind getting a rude wake-up call. But I’ve learnt not to deny those emotions – just like the thoughts and distractions that floats around in your consciousness during a meditation session, one has to acknowledge the emotions and move on. I did that by reminding myself that I shouldn’t worry about the uncertainties but remain focused just at the task at hand. A runner should expend all the negative mental energies during the planning phase but once the program kicks off, he should discard these thoughts that pull one down and begin to trust the plan. The results will fall into place provided the execution doesn’t deviate too much. Therefore it’s best to focus all the energies into the daily execution. With clean eating, weights, core, dropped 1kg to 59, and close to 52K logged – I’d say it’s a great start!

Jabra Elite Sport Review

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had opportunities to try out various Jabra earbuds, from the Sport Pulse, Sport Rox (discontinued), and Sport Coach. Earlier this month, the new kid in town, Elite Sport dropped and I had the pleasure of putting them through some routines consisting of workouts of various paces and some cross-training. Marketed as “True Wireless Smart earbuds”, Jabra has somehow managed to incorporate the everything but the kitchen sink into the Elite Sport. In a (large) nutshell, here are what the boffins at Jabra managed to squeeze into 2 typically premium built buds:

  • HR monitor
  • Tri-axis accelerometer Motion sensor
  • 4 x digital MEMS microphones with advanced noise cancellation
  • Passive noise cancellation, with HearThrough feature streaming in external ambient noise for awareness.
  • BT 4.1, completely wireless between left and right units
  • IP67 rated to be waterproof in fresh water up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

On top of the usual volume and playback controls, the user can enable HearThrough (more on this below), activate Siri/Google Now, and manage calls. When paired with the Jabra Sport Life app (iOS and Android), the user will also be able to start/stop/pause a workout and get realtime coaching feedback as well. In short, the JES is a souped up Sport Pulse and Sport Coach.

My first experience what somewhat a clumsy one on my part when, to my horror, I dropped it as I was unboxing it. However, the JES is made of sterner stuff and no harm was done. My heart rate shot up for a brief second though! As you can already guess, the JES comprise of 2 wireless earbuds where the connectivity is not only wireless between the playback media device but also between the left and right earbuds. That means, each unit houses its own battery. The clamshell case that comes with the JES functions not only as a storage but also a power bank. With a full charge lasting around 3 hours, the case holds enough juice to charge the earbuds twice, extending the number of hours before the next top up to 9 hours.

This is great for travelling but unless you’re a very fast marathoner, you won’t have enough charge to last your race. Nevertheless, under normal use it’s a perfect option.

As usual, prior to using any new piece of electronics, it’s a good idea to charge it up. In the case of the review unit, the battery level indicator was already in amber. You can get an indication by opening and closing the case. A 2-hour charge later via the supplied micro USB cable and you’re good to go. Basically the front indicators reflect the earbuds’ charge level while the side indicator, the casing’s charge level.  The casing has a little rubbery feel, so it won’t easily slip out of your hands.

Note: Charging isn’t NFC charging but instead via the contact points on the earbuds and the casing, so you’ll need to place them in the correct left/right position.

Once the trivialities are done, it’s time to have a good look at the JES. They’re small but not as compact as the Sport Pulse and a little larger than the Sport Rox. The right bud functions as the Master and houses the HR monitor which you can see from the photo (right) below. The right unit also controls the power, pause/play, call answering functions, while the left (let’s call it the Slave unit) controls the volume and track selection.

Pairing the JES to a media device is ridiculously easy. I’ve used the JES with the iPhone and iPod with no issues and they always connect at the first instance.

The Jabra Elite Sport allows a great degree of fit customization. Choose from 3 sizes of EarWings, EarGels or opt for FoamTips. All bundled, of course. The availability of the FoamTips hint at its premium leanings.

  • 3 sizes of EarWings (S, M, L)
  • 3 sizes of silicone EarGels (S, M, L)
  • 3 sizes of FoamTips (S, M, L)

It took me a while to find a good fit especially with my right ear but I finally found the best position to wear them – at a slight upward tilt. Different wearers will find their best fitting, of course.

It’s amazing that the BT connection goes from the device to the right unit and to the left with little to no noticeable lag. Once paired, pressing the play/pause on the device resulted in near instant response from both Master and Slave. There’s a very very slight lag, only noticeable if you’re really paying attention. I suspect, the JES has some kind of memory buffering. The sound quality is trademark Jabra – punchy and clear in the mids and highs. Definitely enough kick to get you going.

So it has been 2 weeks since I got hold of the Elite Sport. I’ve worn it for weekday running outdoors and on the treadmill. I also wore them while performing core exercises on the mat. On the treadmill, they’re paired to the iPhone, running the Jabra Sport Life app. Outdoors, they’re paired with the iPod because I dislike lugging a phone around. The HR detection and readings are pretty accurate, within 3 bpms of the Garmin chest strap’s readings. Only twice did the readings dropped over the weeks’ usage, which is admirable.

aired with the app, the Sport Elite can provide audio prompts for Time, Speed, Distance, Pace, Steps, Cadence, Calories, Heart Rate, Heart Rate zone, VO2 Max estimation, Repetitions, and Real Time audio coaching. To read more about the cool functions of the Sport Life app, pop over to my review of the Jabra Sport Pulse or Sport Coach. P

Another observation I logged during my weeks’ of use was that I noticed the connectivity range between the Master and Slave units are very short. Remove the right unit from the ear and connection to the left unit will be cut. Remove the Slave unit however, and the Master keeps on pumping the tunes while the Slave is silenced.

While the units are as solid as can be – their weight palpable in the hands – it isn’t an issue when worn. In fact, the longest period of time I wore the Sport Elite was 2.5 hours. I put them on as I left the office listening to music from the iPhone. As I was walking along Jalan Ampang towards KLCC, the evening traffic was at its worst. A double tap on the Master enabled the HearThrough function which immediately amplified the ambient sound. The music continued streaming from the iPhone in my pocket but there was a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings, without having to remove the buds. Jabra relied on the built-in mic to amplify the sounds, in case you’re wondering. Neat! The feature can be enabled/disabled via the Sport Life app.

Call handling was seamless and sound came out excellent. The caller on the other end of the line could hear me clearly, even with the background traffic noise and placement of the mic at the ear level. I’m very impressed with this. In case you’re wondering how the units look like when worn, check out the photos below.

The bottomline? The Jabra Sport Elite’s total wireless features will prove the most appealing to gym and fitness buffs where cables and cords often get in the way of gym equipment. Whether you’re on the mat or going through high intensity routines, you wouldn’t want any semblance or cords to get in your way. It’s a niche product for sure but if that’s what you’re waiting for, the Jabra Elite Sport warrants a serious consideration.

Pros:

  • Completely wireless.
  • Quick and easy connection to devices.
  • Superb Jabra sound.
  • Feature-filled Sport Life app.
  • Secure fit (after tweaking around).
  • Solid build.
  • Nice HearThrough feature.
  • Fantastic call quality.
  • Very nice bundle of tips, including foam types for even better sound. I use Comply tips for my night listening sessions on my Shure earphones, so I appreciate the fact that Jabra bundled the foam tips.

Cons:

  • Tricky to handle for butterfingers.
  • Short battery life of 3 hours per charge (carrying the case will get you 2 more charges).
  • Need to bring the case wherever you go.
  • Price. The Jabra Sport Coach, which has plenty of features too, is a much more affordable option, although without the heart rate monitoring.

The Jabra Sport Elite retails for RM1,259.00 and is available at selected outlets from the following retailers and selected Jabra resellers: All IT Hypermarket, ViewNet Computer, Thundermatch Technologies, Mobile Arena, NOP Cellular, HLK Superstore, and Lazada is the exclusive online partner and reseller http://www.lazada.com.my/jabra-official-store/?spm=a2o4k.brand-212.0.0.lq4yuA 

Word of caution: Regardless of the earphone designs, please be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume or over prolonged period of time.

Disclosure: The JES is a review unit kindly provided by AMT PC Distributors Sdn Bhd, the sole distributor for all Jabra products in Malaysia.

Paring Down

You know the feeling when you’re pulled from all angles, suffocating under the weight of your commitments and struggling with trying to find a balance? I’ve been in and out of this situation for some time and last year, the inevitable decision was finally made to cut back. I started by giving away items that see only occasional use. Little trinkets, boxes, books, clothes that only add to the clutter are discarded or donated. Finisher medals that hold little meaning to me were donated to a friend collecting for his Medal4Awesomeness Project. I now keep only things that I’ve emotional connection, material belongings that see continued use. In keeping to the spirit of living a leaner life, I also tweaked my diet, eating less and staying mindful of what I eat. That includes being firm and saying no even to the family members. If you’re a Chinese, you’ll know what a big deal that is! And while I’m not a binger, ice-cream has always been my weakness. Even so, I’ve lost much of my cravings for it once I decided to cut down sugary intake. My ice-cream treats are now no more than twice a month and servings no greater than 2 scoops! My tweaked (mind you, they’re not drastic, just staying mindful is what it takes) diet has certainly helped my running. My weight is now holding at 60.6 kg which means it should be easier to transition into marathon training mode next week, compared to pre-GCAM17 training when the scales read 62 kg.

Next up will be the non-renewal of http://www.jamiepang.com domain. Over the past year, I’ve migrated almost all of the important content, those worth keeping, over to this free platform. jamiepang.com will expire September 16 (incidentally Malaysia Day) and by not renewing the domain name and hosting services, I’m saving close to RM900 per annum. It makes perfect sense, since I blog very little these days, with this platform primarily one to keep track of my training.

I’ve also conveyed my intention to resign from my ambassadorial role with Saucony Malaysia. While my tenure has been close to 2 years, I’ve actually been like an unofficial influencer for the brand longer than that. That all my sub-4 marathons were run in the Kinvara says a lot about my affinity to the series.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent a brand and I’m glad knowing that I’m leaving at a stage when the brand awareness is better than ever today, with a team of fun and committed ambassadors continuing their great work. A big thanks to everyone associated with Saucony Malaysia! I’ll still be engaged with the brand for the first August Man running clinic, talking about shoes (of course).

Which brings me to the point of these cut backs – living a leaner and simpler life, so that I can focus on what’s important. And at this point, that’s family, work and my pursuit of running my best. All these cut backs may sound drastic but it really isn’t that hard a decision to make. In order to regain some semblance of control over my life, it’s necessary to pare down. Only by doing so, will I regain the ability to dictate the important things I want to do. My kids need me, my workload is not seeing any relief anytime soon and I need my own time and energy to train. Everything else will be subjected to scrutiny. If they add any value to my goals, I’ll consider. There are more areas to trim for sure, but this is a good start.

I’m writing this post in an exhausted mode. Words elude me, and this post is already longer than I intended. Till the next post…

Moonshot

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
Earl Nightingale

With the excitement of GCAM17 waning, what now? Plan the next training program, of course! This part always gets me excited. Even though I’m only now at the stage of reviewing and formulating the new plan, it’s as if I’m already in the midst of the training for the next race.

Here’s what I know:

  1. Work is certainly going to be doubly tough, this second half of 2017. As such, I’ve taken some drastic steps to reducing my commitments. More of this in a separate post.
  2. The 14-week program will kick off Aug 14th and will be 2 weeks longer than what I went through for GCAM17. This is to accommodate a longer Phase 2 of the 3-phase program.
  3. Only 1 race has been earmarked ie a Half on Week 5, as I’m undecided if I should run a 12K race on Week 8 foregoing a more important 25K. Hang on, I’ve just answered my own question!
  4. Hill running, be they standalone repeats or incorporated within long runs, will feature more this time to prep the body and mind for the upcoming marathon’s 2 bridges.
  5. While the program is still in draft mode, I’ve penned down 3 25Ks, 2 30Ks, and 1 32K. Weekly mileage will incorporate cutbacks every 3 weeks to allow for recovery and prevent staleness.
  6. Training paces will need some adjusting for a more aggressive goal time. I’ve checked out McMillan Running and from the training paces look to be the closest to what I think I should be working at. The tempo pace, for example, was what my friend recommended that I try (but that which I thought was a little too ambitious then) for GCAM17.
  7. Choice of footwear will be very important for sure. I’ll need some protection from all those pounding. Thankfully, footwear technology have come a long way and there are fantastic choices out there nowadays – you can have protection, responsiveness and lightness all in a pair of shoes. Training is about reaping the maximum gain, with the least amount of work and the least amount of suffering/pain. Crossing that threshold may just result in injuries. While they’re indeed sexy, racing flats and shoes that are too firm will only smash my legs.

In order to achieve my moonshot, I’ll have to hit the halfway mark of the marathon at close to my Half Marathon PR time! It is certainly a daunting thought but every aggressive goal starts out that way, doesn’t it? It was the same when I kicked off my GCAM17 program. I’ll try not to think of that too much and just focus on the day’s menu when things kick off. I’ve begun prepping the body to handle the load in the form of static and dynamic core and strength exercises twice a week. As I’m typing this, my arms and shoulders are a little sore right now, in a good way :D. And after several weeks of mild indulgence, I’ve restarted my clean eating habits. That’s what I can do for now and as usual I’ll update this blog as things develop.

Jabra Sport Coach Wireless Review

Jabra, one of the world’s leading producers of headsets and earbuds recently added the Jabra Sport Coach Wireless (SCW) to its range of great-sounding, tough-wearing Bluetooth earbuds. Having put it through some sessions, I can now share some of my experiences with you. It helps if you’re familiar with their Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless but if you aren’t, you can read about them by following the links provided. With that, let’s get going.

The SCW is optimized for cross-training and indoor workouts when paired with the smartphone but it works perfectly fine as standalone Bluetooth earbuds should you work it with your other Bluetooth enabled devices such as the iPod. The SCW rides on the Jabra Sport Life app on the smartphone, the same as what the Sport Pulse Wireless works with. But because the SCW is geared towards indoor workouts and drills, you’ll be prompted to update the app the very first time the SCW is paired with the smartphone. The update presumably includes additional voice prompts and programmed workouts.

The SCW shares the same design queues and battery life (5.5 hours) as the Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW). It’s lightweight, comes with different sets of EarGels and EarWings for a custom fit. Likewise, a FitClip is bundled for the wearer to secure excess length of cable behind the head such that the cable doesn’t flop around at the back. Once you’ve found your fit, the earbuds stay put – I can’t emphasize how important this requirement is, given how the SCW is intended to be used. A flat unit charges up to the max in 2 hours and this is done via a micro USB cable. The charging port is cleverly hidden away under the right side earbud. Connectivity with the smartphone or media player is made either via Bluetooth or NFC and like any sports earbuds worth mentioning, the Sport Coach is IPX55 certified for water and dust resistance.

So far, everything that has been covered is pretty much the same features you’d find on the SPW (minus the heart rate monitor) and Sport Rox Wireless. Now comes the feature-set that’s unique to the SCW, and that’s the audio coaching features. The SCW comes with the TrackFit motion sensor which measures distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned. Geared towards the fitness crowd, the SCW has more than 40 exercises built-in, catering to beginners and advanced enthusiasts.

A sampling of the workouts the SCW can handle.
Each workout comes with static images and descriptions.

The workouts are grouped into several circuits, 5 of which – CardiCore, TakeOff, BellyBurn, PushPerfection and MadCore – comes preset with the Jabra Sport Life app. Since I’m the curious type, I poked into the MadCore circuit just to see what’s in there. You can see from the screenshots below that it consists of a single set of workouts based on timing and reps, with 10 seconds’ rest in between.

If you’re mad enough, just hit the “Use Circuit” and you’ll get started right away.

If the preset is a bit much or still too mild for your liking, you can go ahead and duplicate the preset and then customize it according to your needs. You can tweak parameters such as number of sets, rest time, and add additional workouts. In the example below, I duplicated the MadCore circuit.

And since MadCore didn’t sound badass enough, I went ahead and created a circuit called Get Hammered. Just because I could 😀

“Can’t touch this” would be a nice track to be included in this playlist.

Thankfully I checked myself before I got started and promptly changed my workout to CardiCore, albeit the modified version. I kicked things off with a slow jog, drills and some ROM routines. I selected Running as the activity and had the Jabra Sport Life app playing from my iTunes playlist. It was just a short run on the warm sunny morning yet I was sweating like I had just completed a 10K. The SCW performed as expected – it sounded just like any Jabras that I’ve worn, which is a good thing. The ROM routines didn’t dislodge the earbuds as I bounded here and there. Ending the warm up will bring up the summary screens. You can add a photo and share your session on several social media sites, no different from the usage experience as the SPW.

Then, it was time to get down, literally, to the circuits.  Press the Sports button located on the left earbud to call up the Sport Life app on the phone. Then on the phone, just select the desired circuit. I kept things relatively straightforward but over-estimated my fitness! In the course of performing these workouts, I also discovered that overall strength was unevenly distributed – something not surprising since running is just about the only sport that I do on a regular basis. Therefore the 20 reps of lower body routines were QED since squats and lunges are already part of my weekday post-run regimen. The push-ups are another thing, though 😦

Now comes the part where my rating of the SCW drops a couple of notches. Conceptually the on-board TrackFit motion sensor should allow automatic tracking, progression and guidance for the athlete. It should be able sense how many reps have been executed and therefore knows when to move along to the next phase. The SCW, however, didn’t realize that potential. For example, it was able to track the time-bound routines but found itself at sea with the repetition-bound ones. What this means to the user is that she will need to count the number of push-ups, crunches executed and upon completion of those tap on the phone to progress the workout to the next routine.

Try doing that when you’re huffing and puffing, and trying to get into the zone and you’ll understand how frustrating the user experience can be. On the other hand, the transition screens were functional. Enough visual cues on your routine and the remaining time till the next one will keep you apprised. As will the audio announcements, inter-playing with your music playlist. However, since the SCW is unable to track certain types of routines, slowing down when completing a particular routine (for example, as you’re tiring) will not trigger a motivational message. It’ll be nice if the voice could scream out, “C’mon move it, you slug!” in full Dolby quality sound when you’re struggling 3/4 into your session!

Once you’ve completed the required sets (I only managed 3), you’ll be able to get a snapshot of what you’ve just accomplished. I seriously doubt that what I did burned only 55 kcal even though I rarely pay any attention to that measurement.

I’ve since used the SCW without the Sport Life app a number of times, pairing it with the iPod 7th Gen and the iPhone 6+ with no problems. In fact, switching between previously paired devices seemed easier with the SCW – I just needed to hold down the multi-function button for 5 secs till the blue light comes on for a new acquisition.

So is the SCW for you? It depends on the type of athlete you are. As a runner, I can see incorporating it as part of an overall fitness or post-run regimen. It works well as Bluetooth earbuds and if Jabra can work out the kinks in the tracker (not sure if it’s sensor or firmware related), the SCW will present a good buy for those seeking their first wireless earbuds. The other option is of course the cheaper Sport Rox Wireless, which is a solid alternative.

Pros

  • Retains the good stuff that Jabra is known for – build and Dolby sound quality, lightweight construction, custom fitting courtesy of EarWings and EarGels.
  • Less finicky pairing and repairing process in a multiple device environment compared to the Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless.
  • Conceptually good, catering to the fitness crowd and the cross-training athlete.
  • Customizable circuits with a wide variety of routines that the user can mix up.

Cons

  • Tracking of repetitions is not quite there, resulting in a less-than-desirable user experience.
  • Battery life is still constrained to 5.5 hours.

Disclaimer:  The Jabra Sport Coach Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Malaysia. It retails for RM649 (including GST) and is now available at IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, Harvey Norman, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems. Jabra is an official partner of International Triathlon Union events. For more information please visit: http://my.jabra.com/Products/Bluetooth/JABRA_Sport_Coach_Wireless/Jabra_Sport_Coach_Wireless

Previously reviewed on Jan 6th, 2016

Jabra Sport Rox Wireless Review

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

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

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

Where’s the Rox? I already had them on, rocking out some tunes!
“Massive Wireless Sound”
Print on the box pretty much states all the features.
In the box: Carry case, micro USB charging cable, 3 sets of EarGels and EarWings. Not shown are the user guide pamphlet and activation code for the Jabra Sound app

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

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

Previously reviewed on July 9th, 2015

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.

Previously reviewed on April 17, 2015

AfterShokz Trekz Titanium Headphone Review

In all of my reviews on earbuds and earphones, I’ve always emphasized on the importance of exercising safety when considering running outdoors to music. I’ve my personal safety protocol when it comes to running with earbuds plugged in.

Music continues to feature in many of my runs these days, more so these days having moved nearly half of my weekday sessions to 5:30am. On double days, I alternate between the outdoors and the treadmill. Without some kind of diversion, I wouldn’t be able to get through the miles without losing my sanity!

When I read about a new sports headphones to hit the Malaysian shores recently that focuses on safety, my interest was piqued. Relying on bone-conduction, the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium (ATT) lets you listen through teeny vibrations generated by patented transducers which are then conducted to the wearer’s inner ear by way of the cheekbones. As you can guess, that method leaves the ear canals uncovered, all the better to allow the wearer retain a fantastic level of situational awareness. I’ve put the gear to test and came away pretty impressed. There are some compelling pluses and some areas which can be improved, so let’s get to it.

Where are the earphones? I was wearing it when I took this shot. 😀

The ATT comes in a medium-sized box and inside is where you’ll find a zippered soft carry case, a QRG (Quick Reference Guide), a pair of foam earplugs, a pair of silicone FitBand (should you require a snugger fit), a micro USB cable, and a small 2-year warranty card with online registration. The earphones itself is made of flexible titanium encased in silicone sleeve so you can confidently handle the device with confidence. The micro USB charging port is located under the rubber seal and 45-minute charge from a PC topped up the juice – charge indicator will change from red to blue. The unit probably still had a good amount of juice left hence the shorter than the published period of 90 minutes.

Micro USB port for charging.
Blue = fully charged!

The Volume Up button doubles up as the power button as well and the wearer will be greeted by a female voice prompt. The first pairing was with my iPhone which was very easily and quickly done.

Pairing was very easily done.
Bluetooth and battery level indicator are displayed on the phone.

From then on, it was a matter of getting acquainted with the unique listening experience. Unique because with the other earbuds, surrounding sounds are always blocked out, allowing for an immersive musical experience. With the AfterShokz, you get to hear everything from the sound of the photocopier, colleagues chatting and of course, your music. Audio quality (AQ) is a mixed bag. On paper, the frequency response ranges from 20Hz to 20KHz, which isn’t the most dynamic in the market. Given that the Trekz Titanium adopts an open-ear concept, the music will always lose the low-ends. If you’re looking for thumping bass, the ATT will not impress. However, the mids and highs were surprisingly open and presented with great clarity. The AQ will vary by wearer due to anatomical differences, sensitivity to frequencies and how one positions the device. You do have the option to stick the 2 foam plugs in to block off the outside noise resulting in AQ changes – bass levels are immediately boosted, ideal for casual listening when not working out.

A point worth noting is that there’s a little sensation of vibration when music is being played depending on how loud you’ve set the volume. It isn’t uncomfortable but I thought it’s something I should mention.

Sweating profusely but the ATT still held on nicely.

With the indoor listening out of the way, it was time to take the ATT outdoors. Since I dislike lugging my phone when I run, I paired the headphones to the iPod Nano 7th Gen. To pair the ATT to another device, just hold down the power button to put it back into search mode. The Bluetooth pairing was quicker than my Garmin in acquiring a sat lock, so it was a very quick affair as well.

Again, there was practically no bounce from the ATT, even when the pace picked up. I was able to detect all ambient sounds, passing traffic, approaching vehicles from behind and to even engage in a conversation. It was as if I was running to background music rather than an in-your-face experience. If anything, I found toggling the volume to be a rather fastidious affair, finding it hard to engage the correct buttons.

The ATT fits over the ear and the transducers rest just in front of your ear, on your cheekbone. Looking at the Trekz Titanium’s band, I thought that the headphones will bounce a fair bit as I run but none of that happened. Well, I’m pleased to report that I thought wrong. The fit was secure from the get-go. Changing of the tracks were easily done with the multi-function button on the left earpiece. Double-tapping it will advance to the next track while triple-tapping it will reverse the selection. Pausing requires a single tap as is taking a call (which I separately tested at home) via 2 noise-canceling mics located at the tip of both earpieces.

Techies will be interested in the spec sheet below:

 

So the AfterShokz has surprised me. Granted, one shouldn’t expect ground-shaking audiophile quality music (even though the mids and highs are pretty sweet) out of it but as workout headphones with a strong emphasis on safety, it performs as described. A few friends and I remarked that it would be nice if a 4GB flash memory for music storage can be incorporated into the left earpiece so that there’s no need to carry around another MP3 player or phone.

Pluses:

  • Excellent situational awareness.
  • Bluetooth.
  • Good fit with no bounce.
  • Very easy to connect.
  • Voice prompt.
  • IP55 sweat-resistance.
  • 6-hour battery life should accommodate most training runs.
  • Open mids and highs.
  • Reasonable pricing for a pair of Bluetooth earphones.

Can Be Improved:

  • No internal flash storage.
  • Weak low end
  • Access to volume controls needed some getting used to.

Word of caution: Regardless of the earphone design, please be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume.

AfterShokz Trekz Titanium is distributed by Distexpress (M) Sdn Bhd and retails for RM499. is available at TheMarathonShop outlets.

Disclosure: The product was made available for my use as an AfterShokz Ambassador.

Previously reviewed on June 22nd, 2016

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2017

Where do I begin? My 32nd marathon was a race that I truly prepared even if I didn’t initially set out to run the distance. The plan was to rebuild from the half before taking on the full distance this year end. But for some reason, probably rooted in a divine one, a friend planted some hope and a little confidence in me that the goal wasn’t beyond me. His positivity came bundled with a 12-week training plan which I ended up embarking. There were slight mods to it as the weeks rolled by. 
With the plan in place, I committed both mentally and physically to “The Cause”. Sweeping changes were made to how I trained. On top of that I reshaped some aspects of my diet (ice-cream and milk-based coffee were treats while vegs, seeds and nuts featured a lot more in my meals), largely staying injury and illness-free. My goal kept me focused and anchored. No problems with maintaining discipline and consistency.
Motivation, because you can’t succeed at a discipline based sport like distance running unless you’re consistent, and consistency is grandchild to motivation. “
Jack Daniels, Ph.D.
Over the course of the 12 weeks, I only missed 3 days of training, excluding the rest days, due to a mild flu. While I’ve the gang along for some of the longer runs, much of the extra miles were tackled alone. Weekday sessions started at 5:30am initially but were moved earlier to 5:15am when the need for more miles arose. There were only 3 double days over the 3 months. As I had no access to a track for intervals, I drove to a nearby location and ran the 1.2K reasonably flat rectangular loops around Tesco. Initially hostile stray dogs prowling the area learnt to ignore me as the weeks progressed. During the Muslim fasting month, I had more company on the roads in motorists who made their way to a mosque in the area. Some days, I had to outrun or outmaneuver garbage trucks out on their rounds. But all those inconveniences strengthened the mind and resolve, and many tough repeats were seen through with plenty of mental reinforcements.
One key workout was a simulator at Putrajaya which I ran faster than MP thanks to pacing duties by Jessie.
As the weeks rolled by and fitness gained, confidence and a sense of belief grew as well. But I remained cautiously optimistic simply because the marathon can humble a runner. A mental scar isn’t something that’s easily rid of. The only nagging issue was a recurrence of plantar fasciitis in the 3 weeks before race day.

Fast forward to arriving at the Gold Coast, with the customary group photos covered on Friday, Saturday was basically a warm-up jog. Nick and I wisely opted for The Star 5.7K Challenge instead of the Southern Cross Uni 10K.

With all the walking and photo-taking interspersed between speed pick-ups, I ended up with a Personal Worst (PW) timing for a 5K. I’d said before I boarded the flight to the Gold Coast that I’d run a PW and a PR at GCAM17. The only thing left to do then was to run a PR on Sunday! Before that, there’s the Garmin Legends Lunch to attend. Suffice to say that there was plenty of gawking at the presence of runners we don’t normally see up close and in the flesh. Too bad we weren’t lucky enough to grab photos with Kenneth Mungara, Yuki Kawauchi, Brett Larner (famed blogger of the Japanese running scene) and Jess Trengove. The petite elite women are proof that long legs aren’t necessary to running super fast 😀
With Sara Hall, who won the Asics Half Marathon.
With Desiree Linden, who finished 4th in the Asics Half Marathon.
With Kevin Hanson, one half of the founding brothers of the Hansons Marathon Method.
We wisely chose to head out at 6pm for dinner on Saturday since the crowds would be big. True enough, our first choice for ramen was packed and 15 deep line. We settled for an alternative, also a Japanese ramen shop and I somehow finished a bowl of tonkotsu ramen and gyudon! The gear, including the drop bag, had been laid out earlier back at the hotel and I opted to go light – the heaviest load being the usual 8 gels in my belt. I hydrated well the entire Saturday.
After a good 6 hours’ sleep and a cup of noodles (out of convenience and salt) and a banana, I was already out queuing for the G-linq to Southport at 5am. I didn’t opt for the provided coach to the start as it was just too early. The trams were so packed that in normal circumstances I’d be accused of indecency – such was the close physical proximity to fellow commuters! On arrival at Southport, I got myself a small cup of long black from the usual café along the way and ventured to the race precinct. For the first time, I’d arrived before the HM start! Nick along with many Malaysians were already somewhere in the start pen along with 9,000 other runners.
The mood while waiting was relaxed. There was no pressure. I knew that whatever the race outcome, I’ve had the best training ever which itself was already a success. The time to enjoy the race had finally come. See, mind games at work right there! After meeting up with fellow Malaysians and conducting a toilet visit, it was time to warm-up done before checking in my bag.
Morning temps weren’t that bad. I’ve encountered colder stuff during the past GCAMs. It helped that the wind died down and after wishing everyone a great race, I made my way to the starting pen and discarded my layers. I embedded myself with the 3:50 pacers as the plan was to start the first Km slower before easing into goal pace.
My mind was refreshingly unencumbered by doubts (a little of which crept in during the taper phase) as Rob De Castella dished out last minute advice to the runners. My goals were simple: Primary: 3:45, Secondary: 3:48. Don’t think too far ahead, just focus on every 5K, get to the 30K mark feeling good and I’ll be in with a good chance. Gels every 5K, hydrate at every station – 2 cups minimum.
A GCAM playlist was already set up on my iPod but strangely found myself putting Enigma’s Sadness on repeat. It was no doubt a strange choice but I found the track to be meditative and its calming tempo suited the relaxed state of mind I was in. It would astonishingly stay on repeat until the 37K mark!
5:30 > 5:23 > 5:18 > 5:14 > 5:18 for a 26:49 at 5K (avg 5:21). It was still early in the race and I dialed it back a little. When we got to Surfers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bigger crowd cheering us on than the previous years. It was around here that I passed the 3:50 gun time pacer.
5:15 > 5:18 > 5:18 > 5:17 > 5:25 for a 53:37 10K (avg 5:21). At this point, I was a minute ahead of 3:48 finish, and firmly lodged in between my primary and secondary goals. The 3:50 gun time pacer, Erin Wallace, was about 120m ahead and I took a mental note that I need not be concerned since the difference between gun and chip timings was about 2 minutes. If I kept my consistency, it would be a matter of time before I drew close to her.
5:20 > 5:22 > 5:20 > 5:21 > 5:18 for a 1:20 15K (avg 5:22). I was still a minute ahead of 3:48 finish, thus very consistent. Again, I was cautious not to get carried away because it would be the easiest thing to do, what with the amazing support we were getting from the crowd. This section will be where you get to see the elites zoom by on the other side of the road, just a few yards from you.  I only caught 3 seconds of the lead and chasing packs.
5:16 > 5:23 > 5:20 > 5:24 > 5:24 for a 1:47 20K (avg 5:22).  A few Kms laters, I did spot Choo Hooi and Francis. Burleigh Heads ah… Fantastic crowd and noise! I high-fived a few along this stretch and felt relieved that I still kept pace discipline. It’s just so easy to get carried away by the crowds here.
5:20 > 5:19 > 5:19 > 5:19 > 5:21 for a 2:14 25K (avg 5:22!). 1 minute advantage maintained.  I remembered silently congratulated myself on reaching the halfway mark in good shape and looked forward to getting to the Southport Bridge (30K). Sadness continued playing, keeping tempo.
At Surfers, on the way to the 30K mark.
5:24 > 5:22 > 5:20 > 5:16 > 5:23 for a 2:40 30K (avg 5:18!). This was par for a 3:45 finish, if I held on to the end. This 5K was interesting, in that it’s the quieter section of the route, after the raucous Surfers Paradise area. The sun would be sapping some of the energy off and it would be where for the first time, some tiredness will creep in. I was for the most part, running alone. There were no one to pull me except for Enigma but I was in the flow of things. That was until I finally caught up with Erin, the 3:50 gun time pacer. She and her posse were moving at around 5:18 pace, so I hung with them for the next 1.5K. It was an amazing experience. Truth be told, I rarely run with pacers, preferring to dictate my own progress. But Erin was amazing. Her charges ran in a tight pack and I drafted right behind her – so close that her 2 red balloons were bumping off my forehead! And because we were a pack, I was able to feed off the cheers from the supporters – pacing teams are natural magnets for attention and shouts of encouragement. Plus with Erin herself gave out team talks. It was easy, almost effortless running with her. In fact, I had to hold myself back and stayed in her wake – didn’t want to be pushing this early. We were a pack and we were out to kill the race!
30K at the Southport Bridge and just ahead of Erin’s posse.
5:21 > 5:25 > 5:26 > 5:24 > 5:29 for a 3:08 35K (avg 5:28). I lost 7 seconds per Km here but still held a minute’s advantage over a 3:48 finish. The minute drop wasn’t great but I was still generally OK. Right after the Southport Bridge is a gentle elevation drop. The road was very wide here. I veered to the left to grab a couple of gels from the table (in retrospect, I should’ve maintained a straight trajectory) and lost some yards as a result. I kept a lookout for Nick who mentioned he would be there to take some photos, but couldn’t spot his bright orange Nomad jacket. The 3-deep crowds worked hard and runners were the beneficiaries. As a result, the sharp but short incline just past the finish on the other side wasn’t felt that much. The 5:29 split was a slow down up the bridge over Biggera Creek.
5:23 > 5:21 > 5:24 > 5:27 > 5:23 for a 3:35 40K (avg 5:27). I was definitely slowing down and Erin passed me early in this section, right after the u-turn at Runaway Bay. I had to dig deep to not let her get away. At this point, I needed a push and with the quads burning and in pain, I was afraid that they will lock up. Somehow, I was able to catch up with her. Her group had broken up, leaving only a handful with her. Then she said something which put some life back into the legs and spirit. “If you’re feeling good, you can push for a 3:45 with a 5:15 pace to the finish. Otherwise, stay with me and keep it steady. If you’re pushing ahead, this is where I say goodbye to you. You can do it!” Somehow, that got me going again. I ran knowing that the PR was mine, just a matter of how much. The pressure was completely off. I just needed to make sure the quads didn’t cramp up.
Quads were in a bad shape. Coming off the bridge, I was afraid they would seize up. Erin, with her red balloons, was just behind.
5:55 > 5:40 > 4:51. After 3Ks of clawing back into the race, I found myself at the 41K mark. Right across the road was McDonald’s that marathoners knew so well. At this stage, with the personal battle won, I opted to turn off my iPod, slow down (the 5:55 split) and take the cheers in, applauded the supporters as I ran down Marine Parade. The execution has been almost according to script, save for a couple of lost minutes. A left turn towards the GC Aquatic Centre. and the familiar 250m to go sign came up. Rounded a few curves and spotted Nick, as he had promised, to the right and waved. In the finishing straight, I passed 3 more runners and a few seconds later, it was job done!
I congratulated a woman who I tailed and basically grinned my way through the misting tunnel before collecting the fruits and drinks, medal and tee. This year, the organizers threw in a small towel as well which was sweet. The area wasn’t as crowded yet, so I took my time around the area before wandering off to the designated meeting point.
There was no one there, so I quickly collected my baggage and thanked the volunteers there and just about then, Nick arrived. Waited a little more but since no one else came along, we left and coincidentally linked up with Jeanie and her colleagues just after they wrapped up their wonton noodles at Southport!
The PF and legs held up all the way back to the hotel. The soreness would come later in the evening and would not go away for another 3 days.
Removing the PF taping back at the hotel.
The little 3:48 pace slip I tucked under my watch strap.
Now that the dust has settled, I’ve had the chance to review the race. It was executed largely to plan. A bit of slippage occurred after the 35K mark which meant I’ll need to tweak the long runs to include fast finish. I could’ve tapered better but I’d put the fast finish long runs on a higher priority. Overall strength regimen, often overlooked by runners, is one area for improvement. I didn’t encounter any cramps and hydration was good. I peed around the halfway mark too. I won’t change anything I did on race day, only the preps will need some tweaking here and there.
Late-stage pace is something I’ve to work on.
Sometimes, all it takes is a breakthrough performance to bring about a new level of belief. Remember that first sub 60-min 10K or sub 2-hour half? The first sub-4? It was only impossible until it’s done. GCAM17 was that to me. I had thought that 3:55 would be all there is for me. GCAM16’s 3:57 didn’t help either. It needed a review of my past 3 years’ training logs to convince me that my past underachievements were due to training inconsistencies – too many hills and vales in the charts.
Developing consistency alone will have already yielded improvements. GCAM17 training started with a weekly mileage of mid-50s before climbing to the 60s, 70s and 80s, with cutbacks every 3 weeks to allow recovery and prevent staleness. There was much less pressure on absolute mileage and greater focus on quality.
I can only hope that I’m able to build on this and see where I end up. It may take me a longer time compared to the others but this is my race. What made GCAM17 sweeter was the fact that my training was undertaken alongside what is now a stressful job, something that won’t change for the easier anytime soon. The value of mental fortitude can’t be played down. Like the saying goes, “Where there’s a will…” or “If you want it bad enough…” Whichever works, right?
Thanks to TEQ, EMQ and HTT for the hospitality, help and looking out for me as always. With their support, and with those from the GCAM Training Group, we were able to extend our assistance and experience to those looking to run their first GCAM. My GCAM adventure wouldn’t have been possible without these groups of nice folks. To the friend who planted the belief in me and sent over the training program, thank you. And where would we be without our family support?
EMQ outdid themselves this year leading up to the GC2018 Commonwealth Games. During the Garmin Legends Lunch, race director Cameron Hart said that this year’s edition was a test bed in preparation for Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and the improvement shows. From the increased number of spectators, inclusion of several misting stations, finisher towels for the marathoners, the event was overall even better – the best I’ve experienced in my 7 years of participation. The many PBs set are testament to the route, volunteers, crew and city. GCAM provides a course geared towards running your best time. The number of PRs recorded are super high, just ask around the Malaysians who travelled there. If your goal is that, make it your destination. If your plan is to experience a scenic and overseas race, GCAM should be right there at the top. 2018 will be GCAM’s 40th running and I heard big plans are afoot to make it an even more memorable one.
So, congrats all around to everyone – from the runners to the organizing teams!
Looking back: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 |Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10