Book Review: You Know You Are A Runner by Richard McChesney

 

Runners and their idiosyncrasies have been well documented and a source of jokes around the carbo loading parties for ages. Not only we acknowledge (and celebrate, woo hoo!!!) all the weird behaviors and rituals but our other halves have had to bear with our “issues” and quirkiness too. There have been books written about it but none quite yet as presented in the manner of You Know You Are A Runner.

It takes a runner to know another and author Richard McChesney certainly captures our behaviors succinctly through his captions and the 40 illustrations created by UK based professional cartoonists, Steve Bright (Brighty) and Robert Brocksmith (Brock). Being the race director for the Lower Hutt park run in New Zealand where he lives, I’m sure he has come across many unique characters.

Both genders of runners are not spared in his book, and body parts, love of apparels, stress testing and holiday planning are only some of the subjects lampooned. I can think of a few more but perhaps McChesney and his cohorts will cook up a sequel.

The book is a very quick read (too quick, in fact 🙂 – that’s what happens when a fun publication on the thing we love to do comes out) and is available exclusively on Amazon for USD2.99 (Kindle version) and US7.99 (paperback).

You Know You Are a Runner… is the first book in the “You Know You Are” series. Other upcoming releases for this year include:

• You Know You Are A Golfer…
• You Know You Are A Nurse…
• You Know You Are A Dog Lover…
• You Know You Are 50…
• You Know You Are An Engineer…

Visit www.YouKnowYouAreBooks.com to join their mailing list and be notified when future titles are released, or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YouKnowYouAreBooks, or on twitter (@YouKnowYouAreBK).

Originally published: Aug 4th, 2013

Book Review: Overthinking the Marathon by Ray Charbonneau

From the author of “R Is For Running: A Primer For The Footsore” and “Chasing The Runner’s High” [both previously reviewed here], comes his latest book on “Overthinking the Marathon“.

More a compilation of a series of diary entries spanning 5 months, Charbonneau’s latest documents his preparations leading up to the 2012 Cape Cod Marathon (CCM), one of the most scenic marathons in the US. He’s frank from the outset to warn readers though that the book is not a training manual nor a collection of stories of an elite runner or a unique adventure of 7 races over 7 continents. However after reading the 366-page tome, I can say that Charbonneau’s quite a machine.

If you’ve been running for a number of years, been the competitive type and are already racing in the veteran category, you’ll definitely understand the nagging feeling that your best race is still out there. When Father Time is catching up, when the aches and soreness from the running are taking a little longer to abate, and when a past injury revisits. Yet when The Calling resonates louder and louder, you just need to answer it. Plan your goal race, lay out your plan and get to the starting line ready to answer the calling.

Charbonneau, a house-husband, is no slouch (he’s BQ’d numerous times) and his personal bests and distances covered are what I could only dream of and so you pretty much know that he prepared for CCM from nearly every angle. Which involves plenty of cycling, kayaking, strength training (Page 100 even has photos of him executing a few core exercises), trail running, massage, acupuncture, and one case a training run of ultra distance when he lost his way during a training run and ended up logging 35 miles! In case you’re curious, his training plan is similar to that of the FIRST program. You would’ve guessed already in the first place, with the variety of activities he put in.

Organized in a daily recap format, the going was a little tedious at first but as race day draws nearer, we share in his excitement. All the pre-race rituals like monitoring the weather, getting a pre-race haircut (see, I’m not the only one who does that!), selecting his race day shoe (Hyperspeed 4) and putting up a packing list. His goal? 3:27:59. I’ll leave the question whether he succeeded or otherwise for you to find out.

Suffice to say that  Charbonneau won’t be quitting running anytime now and will be looking to many more races including the 2014 Comrades amongst many other ultras. I learnt among many things that while we may think that our last race will be the one we’ve ran our best, the truth is that we will keep on running and racing “simply because the activity itself is the reward”. If that’s something all runners can’t relate to, I don’t know what will.

This book is recommended!

About the author:
Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats. You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside. His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com and on Facebook. Find out where you can get your copy of “Overthinking the Marathon” here.

Originally published: Feb 25th, 2013

Book Review: 101 Winning Racing Strategies For Runners by Jason Karp

Click on image to get to the Amazon.com page

At only 152 pages Jason Karp’s book 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners is a quick and easy read. It’s much less intimidating than one of the many process manuals in my workplace! Short needn’t be a bad thing as Karp focuses on the essential details. The book is structured according to themes such as Winning Training for Racing Strategies, Winning Pre-Racing Strategies, Winning During-Racing Strategies, and Other Winning Racing Strategies. By now, you’d have guessed that this book is geared towards those who want to train for a race and to better their timing. It’s perfectly fine if you’re in the sport just for social reasons and to stay healthy. For the rest, this book will give you a framework on how to approach your running and racing in a systematic manner.

Many pointers shared by Karp are not new to seasoned campaigners but with this book, you don’t have to stay in the game for years to learn the hard way.In the first module, “Winning Training for Racing Strategies”, Karp spend some time talking about the importance of training smarter and with purpose. This section resonates with me as a person seeking to improve my racing times on top of a hectic lifestyle and ties in to the training program I’m using presently. Another point that I agree is Tip # 8 “Spend time running at faster speeds” – one simply has to train the body to perform at a level it’s expected to be racing on. Other aspects covered include among many other areas, hills, drills, running economy, intervals, periodization, and training consistencies.

“Winning Pre-Racing Strategies” introduces the mental aspect of racing. Think of it as psy-warfare for racing. Here, you can expect the advice that coaches will drill into their runners, except in this case with the book, you’ll get some benefits (you can’t replace having a coach, really) of having a coach. With sections on mind games, self pep-talk, race planning, working out a sustainable pace, you can be forgiven if you have visions of Sir Alex Ferguson standing in front of you! This was the module that I enjoyed the most. Many of the points put forth are not as obvious to those training without the guidance of coaches.

Racing tactics come next in the third module “Winning During-Racing Strategies”. Here, Karp shares various methods where the runner can employ given various situations. You’ll learn when to sit and kick, whether to run even or negative splits, surging, how to pass others, staying aggressive while maintaining situational awareness. These are just some of the tips given out in this module and once you’re through with this section, you’ll gain an extra measure of respect for the way the elites approach their racing.

The final module “Other Winning Racing Strategies” covers wide ranging topics from understanding estrogen to learning from past races to becoming a tougher runner. I found some of the tips to be fillers eg “Don’t race when fatigued” and “Wear the right shoes” but some may overlook the obvious. Nevertheless I like Tip #78 “Know the why behind the how”.

Some tips are for pretty hardcore racers out to not only win but also create enemies, something most of us won’t be found doing. For example Tips 40 “Get a scouting report of the opponents” and 45 “Say something debilitating to an opponent at the starting line”. I don’t think it’s something Ryan Hall would do or say to Dathan Ritzenhein, for example. But I suppose there will be overachievers out there who will resort (yup, I’m using the “resort” word) to these approaches. Perhaps the world of elite racing is a dog-eat-dog world too 🙂

In conclusion, I find the book to be a very good primer towards performance based running. The writing style is easy to read with little meandering. It therefore gets the information to the runner and out of the way so that the he can get going in shaping up his training program – a training program that suits the level of commitment required to get to their goals. If you want to check the book out, just hit the image at the top of this review.

About the author

Dr. Jason Karp is a nationally-recognized running and fitness coach, freelance writer and author, and exercise physiologist. He owns RunCoachJason.com, a state-of-the-science running coaching and personal training company in San Diego, California. As one of America’s foremost running experts and the 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, Dr. Karp is a trusted source of information. Through his writing, conference presentations, DVDs, and numerous print and television interviews on topics related to running and fitness, he brings the state of the science directly to the public. A sought after speaker on running and fitness, Dr. Karp is a frequent presenter at national coaching and fitness industry conferences, including U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, American College of Sports Medicine, IDEA World Fitness Convention, SCW Fitness MANIA, National Strength and Conditioning Association, ECA World Fitness Convention, and FitnessFest, among others. He has taught USA Track & Field’s highest level coaching certification and was an instructor at the USATF/U.S. Olympic Committee’s Emerging Elite Coaches Camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He also holds clinics for runners, coaches, and fitness professionals.

He is a prolific writer, with more than 200 articles published in numerous international coaching, running, and fitness trade and consumer magazines, including Track Coach, Techniques for Track & Field and Cross Country, New Studies in Athletics, Running Times, Runner’s World, Women’s Running, Marathon & Beyond, Fitness Management, IDEA Fitness Journal, PTontheNet.com, Shape, Oxygen, SELF, Ultra-Fit, and Maximum Fitness, among others. He is also author of five books: Running a Marathon For Dummies (Wiley, 2012), Running for Women (Human Kinetics, 2012), 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners (Coaches Choice, 2012), 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners (Coaches Choice, 2010), and How to Survive Your PhD (Sourcebooks, 2009).

Dr. Karp has coached cross country and track at the high school, college, and elite club levels. In 1997, at age 24, he became one of the youngest collegiate head coaches in the country, leading the Georgian Court University (NJ) women’s cross country team to the regional championship and winning honors as NAIA Northeast Region Coach of the Year. His personal training experience ranges from elite athletes to cardiac rehab patients. As a private coach and founder of REVO2LT Running TeamTM, he has helped many runners meet their potential, ranging from a first-time race participant to an Olympic Trials qualifier. He has been profiled in a number of publications and received the fitness industry’s highest award in 2011. A competitive runner, Dr. Karp is a nationally-certified running coach through USA Track & Field, is sponsored by PowerBar as a member of PowerBar Team EliteTM, and sits on the advisory board of the Egg Nutrition Center.

Dr. Karp received his PhD in exercise physiology with a physiology minor from Indiana University in 2007, his master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary in 1997, and his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science with an English minor from Penn State University in 1995. His research has been published in the scientific journals Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. He has taught at several universities and currently teaches dissertation writing at the University of California-San Diego.

Follow Jason on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Jason-Karp/211019085601110
https://twitter.com/#!/runcoachjason
http://www.youtube.com/user/runcoachjason?feature=guide

Originally published: October 18th, 2012

Book Review: Chasing the Runner’s High By Ray Charbonneau

Click to go to the Amazon.com page

In “Chasing The Runner’s High“, Ray Charbonneau tells the story that would be familiar to most runners out there. The progression from running track in high school to running his first marathon, to qualifying for Boston, dealing with injuries and overdoing it, and subsequently tackling on the ultra-marathon. In many ways, his story could’ve been any of ours. You know how obsessive we are in our pre-race rituals, running gear and tracking of our weekly mileage?

And we do know about the lure of racing don’t we? Charbonneau caught the racing bug in such a big way that he literally raced himself to injury. Of special note was the candor with which Charbonneau talked about his addiction to alcohol and his subsequent realization that he had to make a decision to keep on running. We often have to question what we seek in this sport. Is it to discover how fast we can run or how far we can go? There aren’t many who can balance the pursuit of both goals without having to pay a hefty price. I like the fact that the author pointed that out that we often had to make a choice.

Part autobiography, part collection of reports and part cautionary tale, Charbonneau’s writing style is straight-forward and easy to read. The narrative does rambles occasionally and some race reports are pretty detailed like his maiden attempt at the ultra Midsummer Lights Relay and the Vermont 50, where he ran off course. Folks looking to get some training programs won’t find them in this book. 2 Appendices providing advice for new runners wrap up the 11-chaptered book.

Overall the book is a good early effort by Charbonneau and I look forward to more experiences as he tackles the roads and trails ahead.

About the author:

Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats. You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside.

Ray is the author of the books “Chasing the Runner’s High: My Sixty Million-Step Program” and “R is for Running“. His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com.

Originally published: June 3rd, 2012

Book Review: R Is For Running By Ray Charbonneau

Click to go to the Amazon.com page

First of the two books by Ray Charbonneau that I’ve just completed is “R Is For Running: A Primer For The Footsore“. You’ll have guessed correctly from the title that the publication is a lighthearted one.

Charbonneau shapes the book – more a booklet actually – in the format of a 4-lined stanza per alphabet, easily consumed in one sitting or over 26 days at one alphabet a day dosage.

Non-runners or newbies may not be able to catch some of the tongue-in-cheek humour but recite the verses in a room full of seasoned road warriors, and you’ll see knowing nods all round. The chuckle factor varies quite a bit from some pretty average takes to succinct ones. For example the one on DNF closes with the advice to “go home to mend” which is the best thing for one to do.

I found myself wishing for more examples. For example the letter T was represented by “Trophy” when “Taper” could’ve been included. Perhaps the additional material could be used for a follow-up ?

So what’s my favourite alphabet? It’s got to be “E”.

E is for Endorphins
The runner’s high
They’re what we’re all chasing
One answer to “why”.

And don’t let anyone whistle the Sesame Street theme while you read that!  You can find “R Is For Running” at this Amazon.com link .

Originally published: May 28th, 2012

Book Review: I Run, Therefore I Am Nuts by Bob Schwartz


I was surprised that Kinokuniya @ KLCC stock this book. In fact, I’ve been tempted more than once to get it off Amazon. It’s a tongue in cheek look at the quirkiness of runners which I can easily identify. The short articles are a pleasure to read, very funny and poke fun at ourselves.

In the “Runner’s Better Half”, Schwartz summarizes the wedding vows of the runner should be read as “To love, honor, and cherish for faster or slower, for sweaty or clean, in lactic-acid buildup and perpetual carbo-loading”.

Or his laugh out loud “Kenyan Water Aerobics” where “the uncoordinated venture into cross training machinery for the mechanically challenged”.

When the introduction talks about how runners are the only ones to try eating corn flakes with Gatorade, wearing the latest weather proof clothing in the shower to test it out (I did that when testing out my ClimaFIT cap and jacket!!!), or going ga-ga over the latest running magazines with the latest shoe reviews, measuring the resting heart rate every morning, giving bite-size energy bars for Halloween, you know you’re in for a good ride!

Indeed only runners understand runners. So I’m not only fully recommending this book to my fellow road warriors but (perhaps more importantly!) also to our spouses, family members, friends, colleagues, lovers and whoever who can’t seem to understand our passion and craze for this “absurd past-time”.

Originally published: Mar 14th, 2005

Book Review: Long May You Run by Chris Cooper

For one who has been running since the ’80s, I’m sometimes unconscious of the fact that the person I’m speaking to is a newbie to running. Information such as splits, pace, intervals, mileage have no relevance to the newcomers to the sport. 2 things could happen. One, the person will follow your well-intended advice to the T and run himself into the ground, get injured and never to return. Or his eyes would just glaze over as you ramble on about the technical bits. Think information overload, when a more effective message would be along the lines of the benefits of running, how to get started, where to run, and how to keep it going.

Runners are fortunate in that we have many books written on the sport we love. Even if we’re unable to find a particular book in the best bookshop in town – Kinokuniya – there’s always the online option like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. From instructional ones by Dr Jack Daniels, Salazar, Pfitzinger, medical and physiological (read: scientific) bibles like Dr Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running, Dr Daniel Lieberman’s publications, to the deeply philosophical tomes of Dr George Sheehan and Haruki Murakami.Then there are fantastic accounts like Liz Robbins’ A Race Like No Other, John Bryant’s London Marathon and biographical ones like Bart Yasso’s My Life On The Run, Jim Denison’s scintillating The Greatest: The Haile Gebrselassie Story. Not to be left out are the laugh-out-loud like Don Kardong’s Hills, Hawgs and Ho Chi Minh and Mark Remy’s C is for Chafing!

The latest addition to the rich collection of running related books would be Chris Cooper’s “Long May You Run – all.things.running“. Published by Simon & Schuster, the 224-page hardcover attempts to cut through the tangles that newcomers often find themselves dealing with. Too often, information overload (the Internet truly is a double-edged sword) causes more confusion than clarity. Certainly, instructional and technical books would be a wrong choice for this segment of runners. They’d be totally intimidated by the overdose of details at this juncture. What beginners need then, would be affirmation of their decision to lead an active life through their chosen sport, inspirational quotes, basic guides on how to get started and keep it going. And that’s what readers will get from this book. Brian Sell, Bart Yasso, Colleen De Reuck, Jeff Galloway, Suzy Favor Hamilton, Don Kardong, Steve Moneghetti, Pete Pfitzinger, Pam Reed, Scott Jurek are some of the running luminaries to contribute words of encouragement and tips along the way.

Organized in 5 parts – Off The Starting Line, On The Road, Get The Gear, Go The Distance, Run For Your Life – the author aims to provide a step by step and structural way, leaving readers with plenty of pointers and references that should whet their appetite for more.

For example the first section – Off The Starting Line – talks about, among others, the benefits of running, running club, keeping a running log, the best places to run, best running movies. These sub-parts are glued together by Running Hall of Fame giants like Ted Corbitt and Sir Roger Bannister. Even Malaysia gets a mention in the sub-part titled Drinking Club with a Running Problem where the author let us in on the background of the Hash House Harriers. Did you know that the HHH originated in Malaysia?

On The Road then takes the runner into the various types of workouts. Again, just enough information is given without complicating matters. I’d say that this part of the book is the meatiest in the sense of getting the runner outdoors. Running in the rain, nutrition, rest, finding love on the run, and even topics like dealing with dogs are covered. Didn’t I say this book’s scope is amazing?

Get The Gear should interest everyone simply because it deals with shopping i.e. getting the shoes (or not!), books, running tunes, sunglasses, and not forgetting donating your old shoes and race t-shirts to the charity organizations.

Go The Distance then talks about further developing the burgeoning interests of the runner. Seasoned runners know the importance of cross-training and introducing variety to the daily running routine to maintain motivation and keep things fresh. Be it taking up the challenge of the ultramarathon, duathlon or triathlon, this section has the tips for you. Some runners seek out unique challenges like running a race in every state, or not missing a single of running (streaking). I can’t remember where but I’ve read that there was a streaker who didn’t let a broken leg stop him from running, well, hobbling a mile in crutches! If you seek running at historic locales is your thing, Cooper suggests the national parks, along the Champs-Elysees, or the Iffley Road Track where Sir Roger Bannister ran the first ever sub 4-minute mile.

After going through the book, I realized that it will not only provide an excellent primer for the beginning runner to immerse himself in the sport, but also provides me and fellow seasoned runners a structured template on how to guide newbies. Presented in extremely legible typeface, and organized in such a logical fashion, the book is almost like a huge set of Powerpoint presentation deck. It’s at once very accessible. It helps that the Cooper himself has run in the places he wrote about, including the Boston Marathon – his experience and enthusiasm for running comes through in the writing.

Who this book is for: Beginners to running, “Influencers” or running group leaders looking for a structured approach to guide newbies. Think of this book as a primer that points the reader to more resources out there, should they want to dig in further.

Who needs to look elsewhere: Intermediate-Seasoned runners seeking detailed training and nutrition concepts.

I spotted a copy each at Border’s Tropicana City Mall and The Curve, retailing at RM96 or through Amazon.com (rated 4.5 stars) at an amazing price of USD9.60 (at the point of posting).

Disclaimer: A review copy of “Long May You Run – all.things.running” was provided to me by the author Chris Cooper, but the opinions stated in this review are entirely my own. You can get to know more about the author and his work at his website.

Originally published: Mar 22, 2012

Book Review: My Best Race: 50 Runners and the Finish Line They’ll Never Forget Edited by Chris Cooper

If you’ve been participated in races for a few years, you’d definitely have a few memories to cherish. Your favourite race could’ve been the first marathon you’d completed or the small 5K to mark your transformation from a couch potato to an athlete. Or perhaps the race where you finally nailed that time goal you’d set 6 years ago. There are so many reasons why we run and continue to run, sticking it up to a debilitating decease, raising funds for a cause or simply just celebrating the feeling of continuous motion.

However, all too often we get too caught up with the excitement of going from races to races, the pursuit of personal agendas, to give pause and reflect on which race we’d consider to be our best, and was our finest or meaningful moment.

In My Best Race: 50 Runners and the Finish Line They’ll Never Forget, Chris Cooper gathered 50 runners of various abilities – from record breakers, Olympians to avid runners like you and I – and asked them to relate their side of the story. The stories are nothing short of inspirational, surprising and in the case of George Hirsch meeting his wife, whimsical. For example, it’s such a revelation to learn that for all his 136 sub-4 minute miles Steve Scott considers the crowd support and cheers he was lavished during the 1979 Drake Relays Mile to be the most memorable. Also never will we disregard a humble red duffel bag to be the greatest motivator and possession of Zola Budd Pieterse. Would you have guessed that Brian Sell’s best memory was a 2nd placed team race? Accounts that I found to be particularly moving were the recollection Donald Arthur, a heart patient, who completed the NYC Marathon with the brother of his heart donor and Jeff Galloway’s gesture in helping a fellow runner win a spot for the Olympics. A number of the elites’ stories weren’t even about their peak years – indeed many quoted their best moments being high school races!

Other contributors to the e-book include Kathrine Switzer, Kara Goucher, Scott Tinley, Amy Hastings, Marty Liquori, Craig Virgin, Weldon Johnson, Ed Eyestone, Keith Brantly, Jason Karp, Kim Jones, Don Kardong and Pam Reed.

Learning a hard lesson during a race, overcoming physical challenges, having one’s parents watching for the first time at the finish line are just a fraction of where inspiration can be found.

My Best Race: 50 Runners and the Finish Line They’ll Never Forget is a highly recommended read and is amongst my favourites in my running book collection. Chris Cooper has done a great job in collecting and putting together. You can purchase the e-book from this link. Major formats by Apple, Amazon, B&N, and Sony are supported.

About the Author
Chris Cooper is the author of Long May You Run: all. things. running. (reviewed here),  a collection of essays and observations to inspire, observations to inspire, encourage, and challenge runners to maintain their passion for the sport as long as they live. He has been a runner for most of his life, with numerous road race victories and a sub-three-hour marathon among his achievements.

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he is host of the blog “Writing on the Run,” and has worked in the fields of marketing and public opinion research for more than twenty-five years. Besides his interests in running and writing, Chris cultivates a passion for wine by working part-time at a local winery. He lives with his wife in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Disclaimer: A review copy of “My Best Race: 50 Runners and the Finsh Line They’ll Never Forget” was provided to me by the author Chris Cooper, but the opinions stated in this review are entirely my own. Get to know more about the author and his work at his website.

Originally published: Sep 13th, 2013

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