Grungy Socks

I ran the ING New York City Marathon in 2008 before the inception of the World Marathon Majors. Getting in on the first try was an amazing stroke of luck. Even if it was post 9/11, I felt quite at ease in NYC. It was as if all the world’s troubles took a break over the marathon week as runners from all over the world congregated in the city.

Traffic stopped. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, be they runners or non-runners came out to cheer us. It was an amazing experience – one to carry to my grave. With today’s uncertainties, I doubt I’d be able to visit much less to run there again.

The 2017 TCS NYCM is less than 8 weeks away and 2018 will mark the expiration of my travel visa (the officer gave me a 10-year visa so that I’d be able to qualify and run Boston☺️). Alas, while I’ve improved my marathon PR, I’m no closer by much in qualifying for Boston.

Now about the photo in this post. This pair of grungy looking commemorative socks I bought from the NYCM Expo have lasted me 9 solid years. Exceptionally durable and still serviceable today. I was clearing up my drawers when I spotted them. I thought I had discarded them some months ago. I picked them up intending to consign them to the bin when I reflected on how long they’ve served me. They’ve been put through the grinder, so many miles logged in them, through countless wash cycles, chucked into bags, car boots, stinky shoes, bottom of cabinets. Yet they’ve survived. Like these, I’m a survivor and I’ll continue to fight the good fight, in my racing.

But my personal observations on my training the past week and a half suggest that I’ll have to take some time off to recover and not attempt another marathon for the rest of the year. While I’ve had some excellent sessions, they’re been sporadic. Recovery has been slow as well. And so I’ve decided to postpone my moonshot at least until 2018 and will opt for a half in early December instead. I’ll enter the half with no expectations and will just enjoy the break from work. Rebuilding will happen as usual with shorter runs and the customary longer ones on weekends but I won’t be cussing if I miss any sessions. For that reason, I’ll stop providing my weekly training updates for now.

And the socks? Well I was about to drop them into the bin when I changed my mind as I reflected on the thoughts I mentioned in the previous paragraph. There’s something about this pair…

Asics Fuji Attack 2

After last month’s review on the Fuji Racer 2 (FR2 reviewed here, retailing for RM349), Gigasports sent another trail shoe my way, this time the much more protective Fuji Attack 2 (FA2). If you didn’t catch it already, asics have re-branded a number of their trail shoes to include the Fuji, the iconic mountain being the obvious inspiration behind the name.

The differences between the Racer and Attack are clear.
Despite the bulk, the shoe retains a reasonable amount of flexibility.

Now wiser, I opted for US10 just so that the shoe has space to allow my feet to swell as well as accommodate the wearing of thicker socks (such as the Drymax Trail). The US10 weighs oz with the sockliner, which isn’t too bad. Information is rather hard to find but RW Germany puts the FA2’s drop to be at 10mm. Other areas are standard trail training shoe specs – thicker rounded laces, slightly more padded upper that has a closer mesh and larger lace pocket than the FR2. The tongue is very well padded and is gussetted. The overlays are more substantial. Elsewhere, the midsole is SpEVA instead of the FR2’s Solyte. SpEVA is not as light as Solyte but it is cushier. A conventional hard heel counter and prominent toe bumper completes the upper. There’s a gel insert in the heel section of the midsole. For protection, the wearer can count on the thin rock plate at the toe-off section while aggressive lugs provide traction which are expectedly good over grass, loose pebbles and sharp rocks. There are no drainage ports and since I didn’t have the opportunity to test them on wet surfaces I’ll reserve my comments on this area.

Gussetted tongue and the lace pocket.
No drainage on the outsole for the FA2 while the FR2 at the bottom has 5.

You’d have correctly guessed then the FA2 presents a beefier take on the FR2, much beefier. It’s competition would be adidas Response Trail and Brooks Cascadia (I wore version 4 of the series for the TNF 50 in Singapore back in 2008). Being so built up, you can expect a plusher albeit ride and that’s what you do get. You’re not about to feel the rocks as much as the Racer.

If you’re looking for a more protective and cushier trail shoe from asics be it for training or racing which should you go for? The choices are plenty – the FA2 (RM329), Fuji Trainer 2 (RM399) and the even bulkier and heavier Fuji Trabuco (RM399). I’ve not had the chance to try the Trainer other than the few minutes of walking around in the store. It has a smooth ride but the tongue is conventional. I know that’s petty but I seriously dislike debris entering the shoes. Yet, at this juncture I still prefer the Trainer 2 over the Attack 2 but that’s a personal preference. The lower weight and drop, the blend of cushioning and support the Trainer 2 offers seemed more balanced than the FA2, which is more functional rather than spectacular.So it’ll be the Fuji Trainer for training and the Racer for races under 50K. A little bit more comfort and protection is always welcome for anything over 50K, in which case you could either opt for the Trainer or Attack. The trail shoe segment is getting to be packed. There are options aplenty from many brands.

If you place a premium on comfort over responsiveness, the FA2 warrants an audition. It has a wallet friendly price point to boot too.

The Fuji Attack 2 was kindly provided for my review by Gigasport, authorised distributor of Asics in Malaysia.

Originally published: Sep 13, 2013

Asics Fuji Racer 2

Since taking more and more to the trails 2 months ago, I’ve been sampling an increasing number of trail running shoes, so much so that from a sole rep – the Skechers GOtrail – I’ve acquired 2 Montrails and now am in the midst of putting the Fuji Racer 2 (FR2) through its paces. Given that the trails are only possible over the weekends, the 50Ks logged over 3 runs seem like some pretty extensive time put in.

Other than NB and adidas, Asics is one of the mainstream brands which produces a wide variety of trail models, from the beefier Trabuco to the much lighter FR2.

The FR2 follows the path of the successful FR1 and from visual cues, most of the changes are on the colorway. In concept, it remains the lighter and sleeker version of the Fuji Trainer 2 but the differences appear quite distinct. For this review I’ll take a look at the Racer.

True to its name, the FR2 is fits and feels like a fast shoe. It rides lower to the ground with a 6mm offset and has a responsive feel to it. There’s just enough support and overlays topside to give the shoe some structure without weighing it down. As a result, the weight is kept to a very decent 8.35oz. I like the thin laces which you can stow under a lace pocket (just like a Salomon) and also the gusseted tongue which manages to keep out most small pebbles (some still get in, though). The shoe is geared towards maximum drainage and breathability with plenty of open mesh used on the upper as well as ports in the outsole. Water will get in just as easily as they’re squished out. If you’re prone to getting frozen toes from a cold and wet run in a mountain race, you might want to explore another model. Otherwise, this would be excellent in tropical Malaysia.

Very “meshy”.
The lace pocket

There are fluorescent strips all over the top which I didn’t notice until pointed out by my running partner.

The single density responsive Solyte midsole contributes to a firm if flexible ride. I thought there was no rock plate under the forefoot of the midsole as my feet felt it a bit after bombing down the Rover track on my 1st long run (18K, 2:45). After poking around the web, I discovered that there’s indeed a rock plate. I changed my descent technique a little on the 2nd long run (20K, 2:40) opting for quicker turnover and smaller strides instead of bounding, and my legs and feet came out feeling better. I’m more inclined to attribute the absence of soreness to my method as well as better conditioning rather than the barely-there plate.

Closer look at the toe bumper.

The rubber on the outsole has a cross-diamond configuration. The lugs are small and aren’t particularly deep but it’s more than sufficient for dry, mildly loose or packed dirt trails. No issues on the leafy stretches of Dream Trail as well. I wouldn’t call the FR2 a “Door to Trail” shoe but it’ll take a very short road section adequately.

The crisscross configuration of the outsole lugs. You can also see the drainage ports here.

The FR2 did struggle over a clay section of my route when the soil clung to the shoe. However, once the section was gotten over with the soil was quite easily dislodged. Rocky sections are always tricky to negotiate and one can easily wring an ankle, which is why I’m always leaning towards a lower profiled shoe as theiy allow me to react quickly and catching how the feet slips before . The low drop FR2 fulfills that well. The outsole durability is excellent, with nary any wear signs so far. They should hold up well.

I’ve not had slippages going over wet planks and rocks yet mainly because I was pretty cautious about them, relative new shoes and all. But as I gain confidence, I’ll be a little more carefree and see how the shoes perform.

In conclusion, the Fuji Racer 2 presents a fast and responsive ride that’s built lower to the ground. It’s firmness is ideal for fast running and hill repeats on the trails, and it’s got a nice blend of flexibility and structure without the bulk. In terms of sizing, I suggest going half a size larger. However if a softer or plusher ride is what you seek, there are many other options out there.

The Fuji Racer 2 was kindly provided for my review by Gigasport, authorised distributor of Asics in Malaysia.

Originally published: Jul 24, 2013

Asics DS Racer 9

Boy, I’ve been wanting to get this post out going for the longest time but somehow the other review shoes kept coming in and I was obliged to put them to quick tests to get the word out. Even though the opinions on the review shoes are all mine, there’s still a personal policy to get that done as soon as possible. Since the DS Racer was an out-of-pocket purchase I thought it can wait. Now that I’ve covered 200 kilometers in them, I think it’s time to get this out. While the model is still current!

The DS Racer has come some ways. While it doesn’t have the history of the Kayano and Pegasus, it has been the more popular lightweight trainer from Asics. Not many can wear flats such as the Hyperspeed, Speedstar, Tarther, Piranha, Bandito, Skysensor, but the DS Racer is very much accessible to middle of the packers due to its balance of weight, protection, responsiveness and comfort. As with the habit of shoe companies, the DS Racer suffered the fate of overengineering incurring the ire of the faithful. The Speedstar 5, for example, suffered from breathability issues and the 6 appears to still retain the neoprene-like upper.

The DS Racer 9 (DSR9) however saw the return to a simpler construction of the performance training range. There are still areas for material reduction but the 9 is a return to the right direction.

Drainage/vent ports visible on the outsole

From its appearance, the DSR9 which is meant to complement the DS Trainer 17, looks just like any other supportive/cushioned shoe from the Kobe-based company. Striking colors (consistent with their 2012 range), dual density Solyte midsole with a DuoMax medial post, blown rubber forefoot, high abrasion rubber heel plugs, midfoot trusstic piece. But look closer and you’ll see that the said blown rubber forefoot design mimics the Hyperspeed’s criss-cross construction, only thicker. Also, the upper is now made up of a few thin layers – one that mimics Brooks’ Pure Connect. It’s a beautiful shoe.

I’ve worn the DSR9 from 3K runs right up to the marathon. In fact it was my race shoe at the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon where the wearer didn’t fare as well as the shoe, I might add 😉

Thin layers under the top mesh reminds me of those from the Pure Connect.

I’ve not had a single hotspot in the DSR9. Breathability is good and the shoe can be cushy and responsive depending on the pace you’re running. I’m surprised to have found out that the 7.9oz shoe has an 11mm drop according to Running Warehouse. There’s no traditional beefy heel feeling to it. During my struggles with plantar fasciitis earlier this year, this was my go-to shoe as I laid off shoes that ride too low. If you are seeking something of lower drop from Asics yet offering some lightweight comfort, you’ll have to wait for the Gel Lyte33 (similar weight but at 6mm drop).

Can anyone tell me what those characters mean?

Durability after 200KM has been fantastic. The ride is smooth with no hint of ski-boot feel. While it may not be a shoe you’d take out for 800m repeats, it’ll feel very much at home doing long tempos and long runs, and certainly as a marathon race day shoe. On top of that because of its excellent breathability (8 vents on the outsole) and support, the DSR9 would be a superb shoe for a road ultra or the marathon leg in an Ironman race, certainly more flexible and less bulky than the fluorescent Noosa Tri. Just be sure to pick a full size larger to accommodate swelling feet if ultrarunning is your game. The shoe runs true to size, so I needn’t deviate from my usual US9.5.

The 2 characters again. Anyone?

Up until this point you’ll notice that I’ve very little to complain about the shoe. Sure, I wish the heel is 3mm lower but the ride is superb. I don’t heelstrike that much in the DSR which is why I doubt the 11mm drop. From the many photos posted here, you can see that there’s plenty of room up front. The toebox doesn’t drastically taper and scrunch up the toes. My pinkies have plenty of space to wiggle around and upwards too.

After around 120KM of use. After 200KM, nothing much has changed.
A shoe that just works

I’d recommend the DS Racer 9 for most runners out there looking for a superb blend of cushioned ride and responsiveness in a lightweight package of under 8oz. It’s not a racing flat, and if you’re looking for one from Asics then the Hyperspeed would be it. It’s hard to fault the DSR9 and it definitely warrants a try at the stores. Other performance trainers that offer a little stability are Mizuno Wave Precision, Nike Zoom Elite, Nike Speed Lite, Brooks Pure Flow, and Skechers GOrun Ride.

Now, what are the odds of Asics tinkering with the DS Racer 10? We’ll never know with the way sports companies work but I’d say that if they want to improve the shoe further, make the next iteration a 6mm drop shoe and nothing else.

For:
– a versatile shoe
– a wide population of runners
– flexible and smooth ride
– ultrarunners, triathletes who seek breathability in a light yet supportive package
– the price, considering it’s Asics.

Not for:
– the pure minimalist

Originally published: Aug 7, 2012

Asics Skysensor Breeze

With the Lunaracer approaching its end of life, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a pair of racing flats. Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon the asics Skysensor Breeze at the Isetan sale a few months back. This model is completely alien in this country and from my persistent digging on the Internet, I found out that the Skysensors are only available in Japan and Taiwan. It’s therefore a good thing for Isetan, being a Japanese retailer, to bring in such models. RM270 (USD87) after a 30% discount isn’t exactly on the cheaper side of things but racers are not known for being affordable, especially hard to get ones.

As a matter of fact, there are a few versions of the Skysensor and since the online resources relating to these racers are in Japanese, I’ve no way of providing more information on the shoes. What you’ll read in the following paragraphs will basically be my observations of the Breeze version, worn for the first time during my recent speedwork. I needed to find out the characteristics of this shoe before deciding on my Penang Bridge Marathon footwear – I’m a little concerned that the 2008 Lunaracer may no longer able to stand up to the marathon distance. It has 300KM under its belt.

Firstly, about the speedwork. The plan was to run a short warm-up distance – I covered 4K (25:46) – before hitting 6 reps of Yasso 800s. After completing the warm-up, I commenced my dynamic stretching, did some lunges and rapid turnover drills before getting down on the Yassos. The principle behind Yasso 800 (created by Bart Yasso, RW’s Chief Running Officer) is to run the 800 meter repeats at the marathon goal time equivalent in minutes. For example, if you plan to run a 4-hour marathon, you’ll need to do the 800 meter reps in 4 minutes. To prepare for a 3:50 marathon will mean hitting your reps in 3 minutes 50 seconds. Very simple. I’ve found the workout to be beneficial, if executed a few times within the last 6 weeks on a marathon training program.

Once the warm up was completed, I readjusted my Forerunner and reduced the 6 reps to 4. Since this was my first structured speedwork in a long long time, I decided to stay on the conservative side, setting an achievable goal than being too gung-ho about the whole exercise. The goal was to hit the reps in 4 minutes each (This set timing is no indication of my upcoming marathon goal time! I was merely keeping things simple), with a 2-minute recovery in between the reps. As I started my workout after 7pm, the number of runners and walkers on the track had significantly thinned out, allowing a smoother run. It wasn’t easy but at the same time it wasn’t eyeballs out too, and I was able to hit the timing 3 out of the 4 reps.

1st 800m – 3:53, 2nd rep – 3:55, 3rd rep – 3:55, 4th rep – 4:20 (encountered some side stitch). Total workout timing was 22:17 for 3.9KM, inclusive of the recovery walk phase. It was an amazing feeling after that and frankly I was very surprised with the consistent splits, which were really run based on gut feel. I’ll skip the Yassos next week, opting for Hill Repeats instead, before returning to 6×800 meters the following week. Now on to the impression of the Skysensor Breeze.

Ummm... the shoe wallet didnt come with the shoe. I bought it at the 2008 NYCM Expo!
Ummm… the shoe wallet didn’t come with the shoe. I bought it at the 2008 NYCM Expo!

asics have always had a strong tradition in racing flats, from the DS Racer, Piranha (which replaced the Ohana), Speedstar, Hyper Speed and the Magic Racer. Both the DS and Magic Racers have small medial posts, unlike the neutral Breeze. If you’re looking for asics racing flats in Malaysia, good luck to you – all are not easy to find in the local market. I think the Skysensor Breeze is only released in the Far East by asics. Nike is the other company I know that releases Japan specific models. Check the RW forums and you’ll find the rants of many hardcore runners on this issue.

My observations of the asics shall be made in comparison with the Lunaracer, since it remains my favorite racing flat. Comparing a review item to another will provide a better reference point to the reader. The Breeze is not as light as the Lunaracer (5 oz.) and I reckon it to be between 6 to 7 oz. Still feather-light for a go-fast shoe. The upper is soft throughout and made of large mesh which I found to be very breathable. From what I can see from the minimalistic label, the makeup of the Breeze include something called the R Gel (I suspect R stands for Racing, a lower profile gel pad), AHAR (Asics High Abrasion Rubber) as heel plugs, Wetgrip outsole, Solyte midsole and something called Spacemaster. I’ve no idea what Spacemaster is and I doubt it can send me to the ionosphere and beyond but since I’ve kept the label, I’ll get someone who knows Japanese to translate for me.

The wavy pattern of the Wetgrip blown rubber outsole
The wavy pattern of the Wetgrip blown rubber outsole

Notice the pod-like midsole construction in the photo below. The cut-aways help reduce the weight while still providing a small degree of lateral stability to the wearer. If you need greater control, such shoes are not for you.

The large open mesh and neat laces
The large open mesh and sparkly laces
You can see that the sockliner is also highly breathable, with perforated construction
You can see that the sockliner is also highly breathable, with perforated construction

So how does the shoe measure up? First thing that came to mind was comfort. The whole package is soft and there’s not a stitch of stiffness in the shoe’s upper which wraps nicely around the feet much like a sock. The sockliner isn’t too pronounced to cause any irritation to the arch area. The heel to toe lift is minimal as can be expected of racing flats. My first run in the Breeze was a mix of easy-steady to tempo paced effort and I wasn’t disappointed. Every footplant was confident and assured and there was excellent traction. Unlike some shoes which encourages mid to forefoot landing, it wasn’t the case for the Breeze. I could land and take off any way I chose to, which was a mix of forefoot and heel striking. Although I sweated buckets, my feet remained cool and dry.

The wear experience of the Breeze and Lunaracer are completely ifferent. The Lunaracer is made with high tech materials and the other, a more conventional approach was taken. The Nike allows the feet to sink into the footbed while in the case of the asics your feet tend to rest on it. It comes down to preference of the wearer.

Another view of the sockliner
Another view of the sockliner

Having participated in many wear tests and performed a number of gear reviews I fully understand all the technology counts for nothing unless you reap the benefits. Read an opinion here. The shoes can be on 50% discount and weighs 14oz but if the wearer feels great in them and races a PR, would you generalize that the shoe is an amazing piece of work? What if the shoes feel great and fantastic but yielded the wearer no PR? Would that make it a lousy shoe? As you can see, it’s not a fair argument since the wearer can’t possibly expect a PR simply by the shoe/gear he or she wears. Race conditions and training all add up to the whole mix. Which is why I will stick to reporting on how I feel when using the product.

In this case, my take on the Breeze is based on a comparison with the Lunaracer (which I ran a marathon PR in incidentally). My take on the asics? From the angle of comfort, it’s right up there and has the potential to surpass the Lunaracer. A little weight gain for a bit more comfort around the collar, a wider forefoot to accommodate feet swelling on long runs. Breathable with no hotspots. The traction is superb resulting in confident foot plant when running fast. Of course I only ran a short distance in dry condition in them. Sterner tests beckon during my upcoming long runs before I form a conclusion.  But right now, based on initial take, I’m tempted to get a second pair.

Originally published: Nov 5, 2010