Saucony Freedom ISO

 

The above is an excerpt from the Saucony blog post about the Freedom ISO. When early photos of the shoe appeared on the Internet last year, the first all-EVERUN (topsole and midsole) shoe from the company generated considerable excitement. Now that the launch in Malaysia is imminent, and that I’ve put in more than 60K in them, it’s time to put out this review.

But first, the specs…

  • Full length EVERUN midsole and topsole.
  • Engineered mesh with ISOFIT.
  • Totally rad translucent Crystal Rubber outsole.
  • Significant toe-spring.
  • Support frame for the heel.
  • Blue-black-citron colorway for men, blue-citron for women.
  • Stack height of 19mm/15mm (heel/forefoot) for a 4mm offset.
  • 9.8oz for my US10.

The Freedom ISO (FISO) comes with a spare set of flat laces. I switched the blue ones out for the yellow purely for cosmetic reasons 🙂 . The shoes look amazing out of the box, the design is one of simplicity. No superfluous overlays and strips. Even the traditional heel counter is absent, replaced by a single thin strip of plastic called Support Frame (a little more on that below). A one-piece engineered mesh upper is a little stretchy and its integrated lace loops complement the ISOFIT system. This iteration of ISOFIT has seen some refinement since the first Zealot, and I’ve not encountered any bunch-ups in all runs. Reflective elements are generous – on the tongue, logo and heel.

The wide tongue has some ribbing which cushion against pressure of the laces. So you can lace up for an even greater locked down feel. Since the tongue is integrated with the ISOFIT system, there’s no chance of it ever slipping. In your hands, the shoes certainly don’t have the flyweight feel of a racing flat. Although weighing in at 9.8oz (a tad heavier than the Kinvara 8, TPU being heavier than traditional EVA), they’re still what majority will call lightweight. Employing a minimal approach on the upper has allowed Saucony to pare away the unnecessary “fat” and thus offset the TPU “weight gain”.

Flip the FISO over and you’ll see the very colorful take on the full-contact outsole. It’s not carbon nor blown rubber but a compound called Crystal Rubber. I wasn’t able to get more information on Crystal Rubber but it has a translucent look allowing the designers to go a little wild. It’s said to be just as durable, if not more, than the traditional rubber. The shallow lugs are still in TRI-FLEX configuration and the strip of hollowed out section reveals the EVERUN material. As with the Kinvara 8 (K8), the Freedom is true to size for me. Nevertheless, it’s always good to try several sizes out at the stores. Step-in feel is very comfortable, and you do feel the 3mm layer of EVERUN topsole just under the sockliner. The upper and ISOFIT combines well and it feels like having thin socks with a slab of cushioning on. The stitching around the edges of the wide tongue were executed very well – there won’t be any rubbing around the edges for sure. You don’t get nor feel much structure anywhere around the upper. Even the so-called Support Frame is not stiff, ultimately minimalist – more of a clip than a full-on heel counter. At this point, you’ll probably be wondering how the Freedom ISO rides and how it compares to the K8 [reviewed here]. The curiosity is understandable, since both are within an ounce of each other, are light, versatile and have 4mm offsets. Well, the FISO has more ground contact feel, what with its lower stack heights. Its cushioning is a lot subtler than the softer and bouncier K8. It’s there all right, but it’s not in-your-face. The FISO’s ride is firmer and feels more planted. Those expecting a mushy run will have to look elsewhere. You’d want to go fast in the Freedom. Transition is silky smooth, offering an assured hold on the road, wet or dry. I’ve took them out in the rain, covered some sections which are pebbly and sandy and have come away pretty impressed with the Crystal Rubber material. It has an almost tacky feel like that of PWRTRAC, Saucony’s other outsole material. I’ve not had any issues with the breathability in this hot and muggy climate as ours and as with the K8, my preference has been to go with thin socks. However, if your socks collection consists of the thicker variety, I’d suggest upsizing to allow for some room in the toebox area.

The FISO joins the K8 as my go-to shoes of late and both will be in my packing list for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon this July.

The Saucony Freedom ISO will be launched very soon, and will be available in Stadium and Running Lab stores as well as selected RSH outlets nationwide. They will retail at RM529. Do follow the Saucony Malaysia Facebook page (link below) for information about the Freedom’s launch and availability.

Disclosure: I am a Saucony Malaysia Ambassador but the opinions expressed above is based from my own personal experience and miles logged in the shoes. This review is in no way whatsoever influenced by Saucony Malaysia.

Sony Smart B-Trainer: A Do-It-All Device

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

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

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

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

The included pouch is to store the device and the accessories.
There’s a holder or hook thingy to secure the SBT
From left: HRM covers, swimming buds, regular buds

The iconic Walkman logo is hard to shake off. The exposed pins on the right ear piece are charging contacts, not heart rate sensors.
Slide the right earpiece into the charging dock like so.
Red indicates charging and green, complete.

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

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

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

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

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

Sorting out your music tracks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluetooth button

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

Info button

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

Memo button

  • Walkman mode – Play, Pause.
  • During workout – records voice memo via a mono mic. Recording length is configurable via the app.
Memo button doubles up as a music and voice memo recording

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

Originally published: July 19th, 2015

Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest

The Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest (SJUV) is the medium-sized hydration vest in the Ultimate Direction Signature Series. On a more minimal side of the scale is the Anton Krupicka Race Vest (AKRV) while on the other end of the scale, the 12 liter Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest (PBAV). The SJUV is not my first experience with a hydration vest, my first being the Nathan HPL020 (reviewed here) purchased back in 2008. Even though not used as much as I’d like to, the Nathan is still in great condition, but I’ve been entertaining a ridiculous thought recently that calls for greater specs than what the Nathan can support me. More importantly I purchased the SJUV with clear requirements on what I need in a pack given the kind of event. Popular brands like Salomon cost nearly twice more, and would be overkill for me.

What I need:

  1. Lightweight low profile fit
  2. No-bounce
  3. Plenty of storage
  4. Versatile
  5. Ease of maintenance
  6. Durability

Stupe sporting the AK race vest and me, in the SJ ultra vest. Photo courtesy of Stupe – visit his website at http://www.tristupe.com

Per the UD website, the SJUV weighs in at 7.5 oz (13 oz with bottles) and has a 9.2 liter storage space. The marketing blurb maintains that “the SJ has the best weight-to-capacity ratio of any hydration pack on the market.” And if you’re interested in what kinds of storage the vest has, see the specs below as provided by UD. To know which pocket is designed for what purpose, watch the short video where Scott Jurek himself explains the use of the product.

The vest, after removal from the delivery package.

First impression I had of the vest was how light and compact it was. Ultimate Direction claims the UDSJ has the best weight to capacity ratio out there and holding it in my hands for the first time certainly gave me that impression. Weight may not be an issue on a short weekend trail outing but multiply that over hours and miles upon miles of climbing and running, every ounce saved is hopefully going to make the journey a little bit more bearable. At least you won’t feel like carrying a donkey on your shoulders, although I’ve a suspicion that after 12 hours on your feet, nothing much matters anymore!

The first outing I had with it was an 8K trail run which was part of the TNF workshop – my load-up was pretty minimal, consisting only of my iPhone, a lightweight low-bulk Nike jacket and the 2 bundled 20 oz (591 ml) UD bottles with kicker valves. I tested the included whistle (loud enough) and tucked it into the velcro’d shoulder pocket. The 2 bottles were 3/4 filled as it wasn’t going to be a long run. Here’s how the unique kicker valve works. Pull it up and bite to suck in the fluids, flick it to retract the teat. I found taking in fluids via the valve is a hit or miss, depending if you get the bite right. I withheld my verdict on the bottles after the run.

Whether you’re carrying a bladder or 2 bottles, I suppose there’s no escaping the sound of fluid sloshing sound.The good thing, however, was the absence of insecurity and bounce. My vest were lashed down and compacted by the extensive network of bungee cord and hooks. As a result the vest were like part of my t-shirt. I’ve never felt such a good fit before. There was no sideways sliding, nor up and down bouncing. I came away very happy. We were out on the trails for about 1.5 hours and the fluids on board were sufficient. For longer races, one will need to review the distances, weather conditions and terrain between the refueling stations. There may be a need to supplement the 2 bottles with a bladder. Or just rely on the 2-liter bladder, freeing the front pockets for supplies and a camera.

When the 2nd trail outing was planned, I got the trekking poles out to check how I could carry them along with more stuff. Some of the photos show Snickers and even a tube of Vitamin C solubles being stashed into the pockets merely to show what the pockets could or couldn’t handle. The best way is to take plenty of photos to show you, so that’s what I’m going to here.

Extensive network of bungee cords and hooks to lash down and compress the vest.

One of the two main compartments will accommodate a bladder and more. More bungee ensures the bladder is lashed down and will not slide around.
The other main compartment is smaller and has a cuten fiber backing which prevents your sweat and moisture from entering it. Use this compartment for things you’d like to keep dry.
There are ports to run the hydration hose through on both sides on the vest. Depending on your preference.
The left shoulder pocket has a included whistle and space for a bar or GPS or thrash.
2 bars are OK too, with the stretchable mesh.
The right pocket is supposed to accommodate a smartphone but the iPhone 4 could hardly fit in if the 20oz bottle is also in the holder. Not recommended to carry the phone or camera there.
Both sides of each bottle carrier can hold up to 3 gels, a total of 6 for both sides. From the photo you can see a Clif bar (can carry 2) peeping out of the velcro section of the lateral storage space. The stretchable zipped section can hold your beanie and gloves.
The 2 gels in one of the pockets.

If there’s one disappointment, both the pockets under the lat pockets are too small to hold a tube of electrolyte tablets – see 2 immediate photos below. No issues if you’re using S-Caps because you’ll be stashing the pills into a zip lock.

The cuten fiber pocket is too small
Also too small! This one is mesh.

My trekking poles, while extensible and retractable like most others, aren’t the very compact nor foldable type. The plus side is that being fully carbon, they’re light. When fully retracted and secured using the Powerlock System, the Komperdell C3s are still pretty long and stick out like crazy. It took me awhile before finding a viable way of securing them. This setup will need some testing before embarking on a longer run of, say, 50 miler. Always test and train in the gear that you race in, the wise ones would say.

The experimental setup. Removing the baskets would allow the poles to sit lower down the vest.

The next thing to do was to take the vest and poles out on the trail. Purposely started at 6am to get an hour of darkness and headlamp time – creepy at first but comforting to have the company of a fellow runner. Covering the terrain in the dark trail certainly takes some getting used to, and we spent more time walking and trekking than running. No face time in the dirt from tripping on roots thankfully.

The vest performed superbly and I’ve absolutely no complaints on the fitting. One of the very lightest and best fitting I’ve tried on. Just by comparing the SJUV’s weight against the Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 and you’ll appreciate the fact that you’ll be lugging less weight 60K into your race. The issues I had were more on the access to the side pockets and stowage of the poles. As you can see from the photo below, I screwed up the whole thing and ended up like a Ninja Turtle. Even so, because everything was compressed close to the body, the awkward positioning didn’t impede my running. We ended up with close to 2:30 of time on our feet in the trails, an awesome way to spend Sunday morning. No such issues if trekking poles aren’t part of your carry-on. Otherwise, do experiment.

Ninja Turtle. Photo courtesy of Yvonne Teo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a noob and am learning as I go along 🙂  but here’s my take after 2 runs in the SJUV:

The good:

  1. Amazing fit for size S. No issues yet as mentioned in the Blue Ridge Runner’s review, but I’ll be looking out for issues.
  2. Truly lightweight even with 2 full bottles
  3. No-bounce
  4. Expandable compartments
  5. Cuten fibers feel strong, lends some confidence in rough handling the vest

Could be better:

  1. The nozzle on the bottle’s kicker valve takes some getting used to. No big deal really.
  2. The finger loop on the bottle is unnecessary in my opinion.
  3. Shoulder pocket can’t really fit an iPhone much less a ruggedized point and shoot camera.
  4. Not too ideal if you’re packing poles.
  5. Not easy to stow and remove things from the small lateral pockets as they’re located more to the back than to the side. Needs practice.

Further experimentation is necessary of course. I’ll probably do a follow up post on how much the vest can carry. If you’re on the look out for hydration vests, there are many options out there in the market, with many really good ones from Salomon, Nathan (the 6.5L Vaporwrap looks darn good) and of course if you need a larger vest, check out the PBAV from Ultimate Direction.

Photo credits: Runwitme and TriStupe

I purchased the Scott Jurek Ultra Vest from The Ultramarathon Running Store (UMRS). I highly recommend them for their excellent service, very reasonable pricing and prompt delivery. They’re also expanding their range of products. If you want to check out the Signature Series, head on to the Ultimate Direction website.

Originally published: May 22nd, 2013

Running With The Ultimate Direction Fastdraw 10

I’m glad to have wrapped up the final week of the year with a rolling start to my training plan. It’s super to also see quite a few of my friends getting a head start to the year. All but yesterday’s run were great and enjoyable. A serving of weak coffee failed to pick me up (intake of coffee or tea after 12pm has detrimental effect to my sleep) somehow and I felt sluggish.

But a workout is a workout. Commitment is such that once you’ve penned it down, you will complete whatever task it is. Well, at least most of the time.

Yesterday was an opportunity to test out the Ultimate Direction Fastdraw 10, a 10 ounce (300ml) handheld water bottle. Prior to the UD, I’ve had many experiences with the various hydration options for runners. There’s the waist belted option like the popular FuelBelt, Nathan or those from nearly every major sporting brands. For ultra runners, backpack types like Camelbak and Nathan are ubiquitous. Finally there’s the handheld type. I typically stay away from hand-holding water bottles because I’ve never liked the stress it placed on my hands, arms and shoulders. But the UD design proved to be very appealing when I tried it in the RunnerzCircle store and decided to invest in it.

Just some of my bottles. From left: the UD Fastdraw 10, its holder, the Nike 3-bottle hydration belt, Brooks handheld bottle
Just some of my bottles. From left: the UD Fastdraw 10, its holder, the Nike 3-bottle hydration belt, Brooks handheld bottle

It’s basically a removable clear BPA-free bottle (so that you can check the fluid level) held by a compact holder. You slip your hand in and the entire package fits inside your hand. It’s designed for ambidextrous use, so you can switch it from left to right hand easily. You can customize the fit by pulling the cinch cord. There are plenty of reflective strips to ensure visibility. The small pocket will allow you to carry cash and your keys or a single gel pack. Unlike the 20-ounce bottle option, the 10 ounce bottle cap is the traditional pull and suck type. The 20 ounce bottle option called the Fastdraw Plus [brief review here] has the patented Kicker Valve, a very neat device, but I felt that it’s too large for me and will just put a strain on my hand and shoulders eventually impacting my natural running movements.

It helps that UD (based in Boulder, CO) is managed by athletes. It shows in their design.
It helps that UD (based in Boulder, CO) is managed by athletes. It shows in their design.
The bottle and the holder
The bottle and the holder

I filled up the UD with 50% isotonic drink and 50% Mountain Dew, all chilled and headed out. The small and compact build of the Fastdraw 10 fitted near perfectly in my left hand. The holder and bottle felt very comfortable and fitted so well and I needn’t even clasp my hand to hold on to it. I could relax my hold and even ran with open palms and the UD will stay in position. The pull action of the cap was the smoothest I’ve found. Drinking off it meant squeezing the bottle or just sucked as usual. Even with fluid sloshing around in the bottle, there was no spillage. I overturned it and the drink stayed where it should.

Worn on the left hand
Worn on the left hand. See how snug it is? The cinch cord has a reflective strip and allows you to customize your fit.
The little zippered
The little zippered

Overall, I can safely say that the UD is the best handheld I’ve used. The 10 ounce capacity is just enough for a 10K run on the road or trail, refillable at the various water stops on long runs. The pocket fits my car keys and cash. Most importantly it’s very ergonomic, fits like a glove, and felt so secure that I could run without always exerting pressure by having to grab it hard. Even after using it only once, it’s now my favorite water bottle, and that’s saying a lot from a person with too many bottles in the cupboard. RunnerzCircle stocks the UD Fastdraw 10, Fastdraw Plus and the Access Single Bottle Pack (a waist belt option).

Note: Do also check out Andy Bowen’s post on finding out which hydration system is best for you.

Originally published: Jan 3rd, 2011

Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO 12 Set

 

As far as hydration vests go, I’ve used 2 brands – Nathan HPL020 and the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. Both have different capacities but they’re very light. I’ve always put a premium on using products that offer a blend of performance in a lightweight package and both have not disappoint. I wore the Nathan in TNF 50K in 2008 and found it to work well. While stilla race virgin, I’ve been very happy with the UD in training. Its shortcomings are a few – a little issue with the sizing/fitting and lack of use of its tiny pockets. Despite that, it’s one of the best vests around, supremely lightweight and stable.

The problem for me started when the race I’ve signed up requires the content of the drop bag to be brought along (or face disposal). This meant that while I can spread out the lugging of my fueling needs and other ancillary gear, I won’t be able to leave behind the stuff that I may no longer need. Runners will also have to contend with wearing a single pair of shoes after several stream crossings.

Tried as I may over several separate attempts, I’ve been unable to cram the gear into the UD and my outer gear are already all of the packable and compact variety! No choice then but to cast my eyes on 12L packs. For a moment, UD’s PB pack seemed a valid choice but I didn’t want to face the UD design of “neither-here-nor-there”. My requirements are simple – lightweight, 12L capacity, non-bladder setup – yet choices are limited. Raidlight’s OLMO, while has the right capacity, felt a little too sloppy.

Until Salomon (it had to be Salomon!) came along. Prior to the Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO Set (5 and 12L options), the Advanced Skin LAB Sets were the bladder types. While the brand prides itself as battle-tested by its stable of elite athletes in exotic races, I’ve not really gravitated towards it for reasons of cost and them not being exactly lightweight (I’m spoilt by the UD’s featherweight!). The HYDRO Set, introduced as part of their 2013 Fall/Winter lineup, changes all that. It’s heritage is the 2013 bladder version and therefore retains most of the features that Salomon vests are known for.

Closeup of the pole cord. The S logo is printed on a dual pocket which fits keys and at least 3 gels.

However upon closer look, the vest has gone through several important tweaks. First, the Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO 12 Set comes with 2 500ml Soft Flasks that are carried in front, has 2 large drop in pockets, side webbings that can actually accommodate gear and energy bars and 2 very nicely implemented lateral pockets with vertical zippers. Other than the top main compartment, the wearer could extract stuff from these pockets without having to remove the vest. With the simplification of the construction, there’s now less material used and the HYDRO 12 Set weighs only 340gms compared to the 530gms of the bladder version. It’s also 20gms lighter than the already lightweight SJ vest (368gms) and way lighter than the PB pack (496gms). The Soft Flasks alone already shaved off some weight compared to hard bottles.

The included safety blanket (a mandatory item in many ultras) and an instruction card on how to secure trekking poles to the vest.
All good vests come with a whistle, mandatory in many ultras.
One of the Twinlink straps. Removable for personal fit customization.
Cavernous top main compartment.

No change are the fully customizable elasticated Twin Link, Sensifit, Load lifter, insulated bladder pocket, 4D pole holder, safety blanket, whistle and reflective trims. With 10 pockets and more compartments, there’s now enough room to carry the full load of battle gear. Since I prefer the Soft Flasks, the space vacated by the bladder pocket can fit a few more items.

Removable insulated bladder sleeve.
The space vacated by the sleeve means more space for essentials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first outing with the HYDRO was for RJM recently. Though it was a road event, the distance and leisure nature of the event was perfect to test the vest out. 42K and over 5 hours would give me adequate time to get to know the product. So what did I pack into the vest? A tube of electrolyte tabs, GU Chomps, 2 GUs, a tablet carrier, the Olympus TG-2, a rain jacket (just to simulate partial load-out), 1 headlamp, an old iPod Shuffle, and of course the 2 soft flasks.

Photo courtesy of Alvin Ang
Photo courtesy of Khairi Muin.

As expected, the HYDRO acquitted itself very well. What I love in particular are the well thought access to gear, from the direction of the zippers to the large access of the compartments. Even the small pockets were useful. The other thing about the Soft Flasks was the near complete absence of sloshing. As a bonus, you could actually drink from it without having to remove it from the sleeve. Just squeeze and the fluids squirt right into your mouth. Thirdly, the vest doesn’t slide around laterally nor bounce, even though I didn’t really adjust the fit out of the pack. When the sun was scorching, things didn’t get uncomfortably warm either.

Give it a squeeze and the fluids will squirt out. No need to remove from the sleeve.

A few days later, I started putting stuff into it just to get an idea how they’ll fit into the HYDRO. I gathered up the following items: 1 sachet of Perpetuem, 1 sachet of Heed, a tube of Fizz, chomps, 2 gels, a bottle of Endurance Amino, 2 packs of batteries, a packable Inov-8 Mistlite pants, packable TNF Venture jacket, 2 headlamps, the TG-2 camera, beanie, gloves, iPod Shuffle, trekking poles, safety blanket and the 2 Soft Flasks. Of course in this simulation, the Hammer and GUs are insufficient but there are plenty of room left.

Gels go into the pocket above the flasks
Hammer Fizz the other side
Fueling stuff go here, where they’re within easy reach.
Batteries, spare socks, beanie go into the top compartment.
2 headlamps go into the zippered pocket. The other side will host the camera.
How the pole is secured. Took me 8 minutes to figure it out. That’s the Komperdell Approach Vario 4 which wasn’t fully folded (similar to the Black Diamond Z-Pole).

The Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO 12 Set fits the bill if you’re looking for a vest that can carry plenty of gear while at the same time remain lightweight. It may seem like an intimidating piece of gear (the price certainly is so, since it’s a Salomon) but play around with it and you’ll realize that every component of it has been given a fair bit of thought in its design. In my opinion it’s leaps and bounds an improvement over the old Advanced Skin Lab 12 in that it’s lighter, tweaked zips and much better all-round accessibility. If there are some areas to improve it’ll be the following:

  1. There are straps running here and there and it’ll be great if some literature is provided. As it is, only a tiny card showing how to secure the trekking pole is included.
  2. Increase the size of the screw-on caps of the Soft Flasks. I needed to break the electrolyte tabs in two before being able to drop it into the flask. This is where the UD bottles triumph over the flasks.

In the coming weeks, there’ll be more and more opportunities to use the HYDRO. Can’t wait to use it on the trails. I bought my HYDRO 12 Set from the UltraMarathonRunningStore. Head on there for great products at very competitive prices.

Originally published: Sep 9th, 2013.

Saucony Kinvara 8


I’ve worn a lot of shoes but the one consistent presence in my running the last 3-4 years has been the multiple versions of the Kinvara, way before I was even drafted into the Saucony Ambassadorial role.

It’s hard not to like the Kinvara. Light, breathable, low-drop, cushioned minus the mushiness, making it all near perfect for uptempo running and racing over all but the shortest of distances when a firmer ride works better. I’ve worn versions 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the Kinvara and while the ride changed this way and that over the years, the versions still maintain its legacy of light, cushioned and responsive. This makes the Kinvara a safe bet for a large segment of runners out there.

EVERUN TPU material and TRI-FLEX outsole configuration made their way to the Kinvara line with the version 7, but the casual wearer could be forgiven for not “feeling” the touted EVERUN hype, compared to say the Ride 9, Zealot ISO 2 or Triumph ISO 2/3. That was because EVERUN was used just as a heel insert within the midsole, unlike the topsole layers of the aforementioned siblings. In summary, the expected bounciness was less palpable. Nevertheless, I still found the K7 to be an improvement over the K5 (I skipped the 6 since I already had 2 pairs of K5 in rotation along with the Ride and Zealot) in terms of overall durability. The Tokyo and Boston editions of the K7 are still in active rotation but their usage are now under serious threat due to the arrival of the Kinvara 8!


So what’s the big deal about the 8? A fair bit actually, albeit the black/citron colorway is similar to the K7’s slime/black. Here are the high level specs, with the improvements marked with an *

  • 23mm (Heel)/19mm (Forefoot) for a 4mm offset.
  • Full-length EVERUN topsole*
  • Revamped upper which is super breathable*
  • Simplified use of Flexfilm*
  • Inner sleeve
  • Less intrusive Pro-lock*
  • Tongue is now better padded to take the pressure off the laces. It’s also long enough to accommodate full lacing*
  • Unchanged TRI-FLEX outsole configuration.
  • Slight increase in weight. Still a lightweight at 8.3oz for US10. Comparatively, the K5 weighed 7.5oz while the K7 8.15oz.

I’ve logged just over 60K in the K8 so far, which comprised of a 24K, 20K (at sub-4 MP), and many more shorter ones and I can say that I just love how the shoe feels. Moving the EVERUN from the midsole to the topsole was a stroke of genius. Skeptics will think that it’s just a marketing gimmick but it does work – the wearer gets the benefits of the springy and responsive cushioning right where it matters while minimizing the weight gain of the shoe. TPU is heavier than traditional EVA, so a full EVERUN midsole will need to have a wildly engineered upper like the Freedom ISO (my next review!) to mitigate the weight gain.

The fit is similar to the K7, while not as roomy up front as the Triumph ISO 3, your toes won’t end up scrunched together. There’s certainly enough room for foot swelling right up to ultra distances under 100K. The Pro-lock no longer feels as restrictive and with the improved padding on the tongue, I’m able to lace down further without the added pressure on top of my feet.

The K8 is surprisingly stable, thanks to the semi-rigid medial heel counter as well as the overlay on the lateral side of the midfoot. I found the recent marathon-paced 20K done in the rain to be particularly enjoyable. The legs felt less beat up due to the topsole and in case you’re unaware, the EVERUN material is less susceptible to temperature changes, retaining its cushioning and responsive qualities even in cool/cold weather.

With the K8, Saucony has taken a long-time favorite and made it even better. If I had to pull a shoe out from my rack for a last minute race, this would be it. If I had only 1 shoe to run in, this would be it.


The Saucony Kinvara 8 is already available in Stadium and Running Lab stores as well as selected RSH outlets nationwide, and it best of all, it still retails at RM429, the same as the K7. Unless you’re no fan of the new-found smooth and bouncy responsiveness or the miniscule weight gain, I don’t see why you’d opt the 7 over the 8.

Disclosure: I am a Saucony Malaysia Ambassador but the opinions expressed above is based from my own personal experience and miles logged in them. This review is in no way whatsoever influenced by Saucony Malaysia.

Saucony Triumph ISO 3 NYC Edition


I’ve not worn shoes weighing 10oz or more for close to a year. Even the “bulkiest” in my rotation i.e. the Ride 8, Zealot ISO and Guide 9 are all a shade under 10oz. With the Ride and Zealot approaching EOL (End of Life), I’ve to line up a replacement quickly since I’ve several races in mind up till July 2017. So I popped over to Running Lab to check out several Saucony models, namely the Ride 9, Zealot ISO 2, Triumph ISO 2, it was the latest Triumph ISO 3 NYC edition (TISO3NYC) that tickled my fancy, despite weighing in at 11oz (312g) for US10.

Here are the reasons why:

  1. Of the models I tried, the TISO3NYC has the most accommodating toebox.
  2. I was looking for a pure trainer, thus the 8mm drop on a thicker stack height was something I’m OK with.
  3. Despite its looks, it’s incredibly smooth and well-balanced (more on this later).
  4. The 11oz felt like half ounce lighter. I only weighed the shoe just before paying for it.
  5. It has all the latest tech that Saucony has put into the market.
  6. It’s slightly more flexible than the Triumph ISO 2.

Please note that I’ve not had prior experience in the pre-EVERUN Triumphs nor the Triumph ISO 2 (TISO2) other than the few minutes of wearing it in-store. Also noteworthy is the fact that the NYC edition was a special release in conjunction with the NYC Marathon and has subtle differences compared to the regular TISO3. The NYC edition has stock exchange design cues all over the upper, outsole, sockliner and even box. The light blue colored fabric around the collar and tongue of the NYC edition feel plusher and more luxurious compared to the regular version. What’s unchanged are the EVERUN midsole and TRIFLEX outsole construction – which means the regular version will share nearly all the wear experience of the NYC edition. For simplicity sake, this review applies both to the NYC as well as the regular version of the Triumph ISO 3. The regular version is only expected to land in Malaysia sometime Q1 2017.

Medial view.
Lateral view.

If you’ve been keeping count, the TISO3 is the 14th edition in the Triumph lineage. Its looks is understated probably due to the classy black and blue colorway combo. The ISOFIT inner-sleeve system which I love in the Zealot is also retained although the TISO3 sees 1 less “finger wrap” than the TISO2’s. The tongue is very well padded as is the collar, and plushness is what you’ll get when you pull them on. Because it’s part of the ISOFIT system, the tongue stays in place all the time. Flexfilm strips holds the engineered mesh upper together while around the heel, an external piece of PU Support Frame, marketing talk for “heel wrap/counter” provides some structure to that area. A large reflective strip runs vertically down the rear of the shoe.

Like the TISO2, the TISO3 also features a full length EVERUN topsole and heel insert. However the midsole of the TISO3 has been hollowed out, creating a center of pressure sweetspot with each footstrike. You can now see the EVERUN foam when you flip the shoe over. It has heel and forefoot stack heights of 30mm and 22mm respectively for a 8mm heel offset. Unlike shoes with high heel offsets (10mm and above), 8mm smoothes out the heel to toe transition and one doesn’t get the jarring effect of the difference in stack heights.

The outsole retains the now familiar TRIFLEX configuration. There’s more rubber used now, with each of the strips noticeably wider. Flex grooves are deeper which ups the flexibility of the shoe. In the case of the TISO3NYC, you get a unique 2-color outsole indicative of the up/down movement of the stock indices.

How does the shoe ride? In 2 words: smooth and plush. Regardless of you’re the sort to heel/midfoot/forefoot strike, you’re assured a very comfortable run. If you’re a heel striker, you will certainly feel the silky transition as you toe-off. It also rides stable for a neutral trainer to me. The stock sockliner doesn’t rub my feet the wrong way, no rubbing nor chafing around the arch region. The TISO3 just feels very balanced, in terms of weight distribution. The heel doesn’t feel much more overly contructed than the mid or forefoot regions – just very even, very neutral. If you were to place the TISO3 on a tip of a wedge right in the middle, the shoe will even out on both ends and not tip over at the heel nor forefoot.

Where the Fastwitch and Kinvara will get you running fast, the TISO3 will put the enjoyment back into your long and easy runs. I enjoy the miles I put into TISO3 so much that I ran in it for the whole week without any shoe rotation, with the longest run at 15K. Since I was coming off the recovery from P78, the total clocked for the week was 47K. Most of the miles were in the 6:30-40 pace range but I had no problems pushing it down to 5:45 as well. There’s a limit to how much you can sustainably push it at that quicker pace though. Its weight will eventually prove a factor. 5-7Ks of 5:30s and a sub 5:00 K tired me out. The 2oz do make a difference over the course of a marathon or ultra!

The TISO3 has no traction problems with concrete, tarmac, dirt, and loose sand but avoid residual mud. Some tiny pebbles were lodged in between some grooves but the TRIFLEX outsole (made up of iBR+ and carbon rubber) performed very well. I reckon 700K to be a reasonable number to hit for the life of this shoe.

I’d say that the TISO3NYC is a great shoe to be logging your slow to moderate miles in. It’s ultra plush and smooth, flexible and stable enough for a lot of people out there. Because it carries an extra heft, it’s best fitted into a rotation with other shoes such as the more responsive Ride 9, Zealot ISO 2 or the ever trusty lightweight and race-ready Kinvara 7 (review here). They’re all EVERUN models.

At RM599, the Triumph ISO 3 NYC edition is positioned as Saucony’s premium neutral trainer and is available on a very limited basis from Running Lab Tropicana City Mall. You’ll be able to check out the regular version of the Triumph ISO 3 in a couple of months’ time.

Disclosure: I am a Saucony Malaysia Ambassador but the opinions expressed above is based from my own personal experience and miles logged in them. This review is in no way whatsoever influenced by Saucony Malaysia.

Packing For Your Overseas Races

Packing for your first overseas race? Here are some tips for you, as the day draws nearer.

1. Stow your race gear in your cabin luggage.
If your checked-in luggage goes missing, at least you’ll still have your race gear that you’ve trained in. The rest can be replaced in the worst case scenario but don’t let months of training go down the drain because of wardrobe issues.

The stuff I’d have in my backpack would be my racing shoes and socks on top of the racing apparels. My travel itinerary and hotel booking receipts would be in a thin clear folder. I’ve always found compression socks to be a big help when flying, so that’s a given. Other mandatory items are my tablet and iPod as with sound-isolating earbuds. My supplements and gels will go into my check-in.

Compression socks are my friend.

2. Stay informed
It’s always wise to check and read up if your destination country has any special restrictions or regulations. Australian regulations are strict. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service’s (ACBPS) Guide for Travelers can be found here.  The list of prohibited and restricted imports can be found here, while the detailed downloadable copy here.

I pack my sports gels and energy bars in clear ziploc bags and declare them on entry. The custom officers will verify your declaration, of course, and I’ve never had issues.

Apps like Accuweather will help you track changes in weather so that you can evaluate your packing right up to your date of departure.

3. It gets easier
As you get more seasoned, you’ll be able to fine-tune your packing needs without having to load up a container. Since I’m from the tropics, I find packing for a warm climate easier. That said, my race travel budget is nearly always allocated for a cooler/colder destination. Afterall I already get to do plenty of running in this country’s muggy weather 😀 .

4. Transportation to the airport
If a family member is driving you to the airport, make sure you remind him or her right up to the day before your flight. I’m anal (and anxious) about this and won’t be able to relax until I get to the airport. If you need to pre-book a cab, do so a few days prior to your date of departure. If you’re grabbing an Uber, be sure that your area is well-served by drivers. It’s still hard to find drivers in the area where I live.

5. If you forget to pack something…
Don’t panic. Most items can be purchased at the airport or where you’re heading to. The most important thing is to ensure your travel documents, cash and credit cards are with you as are your race confirmation slips and race gear. All these, as mentioned above, should be with you in your backpack or cabin-luggage.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun!

Published: June 15th 2015 but expanded to include points 4 and 5.