Friday, 8 June 2012

A bit of a squeeze ...

Even horses are getting in on the act! Source: Mirror Online 
The issue of compression has become a very big deal.

Compression garments are purported to reduce muscle fatigue, muscle soreness and injury, to speed up recovery and maintain body temperature and moisture wicking.

Go to any running race, most triathlons as well as some other sporting events, and you'll be guaranteed to see competitors clad in an assortment of compression clothing, from tops and tights to calf sleeves, quad sleeves and arm sleeves. Makes me wonder if they're all just jumping on the bandwagon (as we do), especially when you see compression being worn at 5km and 10km races.


I for one resolutely stayed away from compression garments until after my first 100km race in 2010. I'd been given the stuff, calf sleeves, top and tights, but I don't like tight-fitting clothing, and never bothered trying them as I also thought I'd get too hot. In a bid to cover all my bases preparing for my first 100 miler, I decided to try the calf sleeves on a long run. Anything that claimed to reduce fatigue and speed up recovery is worth a try when you're planning to run an ultra!

Long story short, I thought they made a difference. One significant enough to convince me to start training and racing in my calf sleeves. These were the 2XU ones, and they still left a lot to be desired. The compression factor faded with each wash and the silicon band at the top left me with itchy welts if I stayed too long in them. Still, I didn't think much of it. I had 4 sets (race booty) so I thought I'd just use and abuse them. Compression clothing can be expensive, and I wasn't prepared to pay for it just yet. 
Compression tights give you wiiiings! Photo: UTMB
It wasn't till I did UTMB that I tried the compression tights. First half - 2XU full tights. Second half - Salomon 3/4 EXO tights with 2XU calf sleeves. The effect on my quads was palpable in the second half of the run. My quads felt energised, even with 85km in them. There was something to be said for compression, but now it was apparent to me that the right type of compression would make the difference as well. I'd never run in tights unless it was cold enough, so I decided to explore the alternatives. There's a lot of dedicated compression brands available, and even the main sports brands have brought in their own compression lines. I also wasn't too enamored with the offerings from 2XU, I didn't think they were particularly comfortable.
Photo: UTMB
I asked other runners what they liked, and the name that kept popping up was Compressport. It's brought in by Sham and Wille at The Runner's Gait, both great athletes with good knowledge in the field. I finally found some time to check it out earlier this year. The guys know their stuff, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I'm measured up for quad and calf sleeves, and then faced with a huge dilemma - which colour to choose? There's a rainbow assortment available, and so hard to choose! I finally settled on a matched set of royal blue ForQuad sleeves and R2 calf sleeves, buying new stuff always feels so good! :) The guys also asked me to try out the new ProRacing Arm Sleeves, which of course I said yes to! I had the perfect testing ground .. the Sabah Adventure Challenge Ultra Trail.
Compressport rainbow! Photo: The Runner's Gait
So here's what they claim to do:

Compressport ForQuad, and R2 Sleeves
  • Detox - significant reduction in lactic acid buildup
  • Anti-fatigue -  shock and vibration absorption
  • Recovery - increased venous feedback
  • Ultralight - lightweight (wet or dry)
  • Ultra-resistant - tear-proof
Compressport Pro Racing Arm Sleeves (in addition to the above)
  • UV protection (minmum UPF30)
  • Thermo-regulation
  • Antibacterial (they stay stink-free!)
I put them through everything, including a river hike complete with mud, thorns, getting completely soaked and then back out in the blistering heat. Now I've had a chance to test them out enough times to give an informed decision, here's what I think: 
I turned the sleeves round so that the runners behind would have something to read! ;D Photo: Pamela Sidhu
First off, these are super comfy, and the seamless fit didn't give any pinching or chafing at all. The ForQuad has got some silicon dots on the top band to keep it in place, and the rest rely on a knitted band at both ends. No slippage whatsoever during numerous runs, never had to stop and adjust anything, unlike with the 2XU ones. And no itchy welts from the silicon dots either, even after having them on for 24 hours straight!
Almost full body compression! Photo: Dev Sidhu
My main concern was that I'd get too hot with everything I had on, and that didn't happen. Even in the full ensemble of arm, quad and calf sleeves, racing in the heat didn't pose a problem. Running though thick undergrowth was a great test for the tear-proof claims. It does stipulate 'under normal conditions' on the product description, but normal conditions on the trail mean branches, bushes and thorns. So despite me putting them through the mill, the sleeves have all come through virtually unscathed, with the exception of a tiny snag on the R2 and the arm sleeves. Could've been a lot worse, given that I was wrestling with a thorny vine at one point and neither of us would back down. At the end of the day? No funny tan lines either. I was especially pleased with the Arm Sleeves, I actually felt cooler with them on despite the heat (and they were black), and they kept me warm up the rest of the time back at the resort (we were staying at the base of Mt Kinabalu). Thermoregulation, UV protection and ultra-resistance, check. 


The benefits of reduced muscle fatigue and improved recovery were apparent to me after the first use. I first tried them during a two day race and the next day my leg muscles were definitely less fatigued. Good thing they dry fast, I liked them so much that I washed them straight after the race and put them back on again for recovery. And slept in them. And wore the R2s for racing the next day. I decided to save the ForQuad and Arm Sleeves for post-race recovery. I didn't think I'd notice much of a difference with the Arm Sleeves, but I actually missed having them on the next day whilst running. I can see how they'd be great in races with a lot of climbing and poles are used. 
X-Physique Adventure Race, May 2012. Photo: NTU X-Physique
And they smell good! This was first pointed out to me by Ford, a Hammer Nutrition team-mate and Compressport athlete, who's rarely seen without his Compressport sleeves. He's right. Even after repeated washes, the Arm Sleeves in particular smell great, with a hint of eucalyptus. 
Ford and I in R2s for post-race recovery. Photo: Fabian Williams
My final verdict? Compressport make some great products and I'd definitely keep wearing them, especially for the long distance events. I especially like them for recovery, and that's when I think they really come into their own. Want fresh muscles and speedier recovery? Don't take my word for it, go check these out. 


The Runner's Gait, 99 Soo Chow Walk. Singapore 575348. Tel: +65 6456 7868

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sabah Adventure Challenge Ultra Trail 2012

Finally got round to posting this race report ..  
Room with a view!
Time goes by so quick when you’re having fun .. Easter weekend’s come round again, together with the 2012 SabahAdventure Challenge (AR) and Ultra Trail (UT). This year we were based at the Mersilau Nature Resort, at the base of Mt Kinabalu itself.

I flew in to Kota Kinabalu on Thursday 5th, and met up with most of the competitors of the AR and UT at the Hotel Mega D’Aru, which has served as headquarters for the race for the last few years. It was good to see some familiar faces again and also make a few new acquaintances. Most of the others had flown in a day earlier and everyone’s very chilled whilst the luggage and bikes are being loaded and number bib distributed.

By mid-afternoon we’re all headed to the resort, stopping to change to mini-buses en route as the roads leading to the resort can’t accommodate large coaches. The first indication of what we’re up against over the next few days is the extreme changes in elevation as we make our way up to the resort. Even getting to our allocated accommodation requires a significant amount of climbing! I’m sharing a room with Jonique (doing the AR), and the rest of my ‘housemates’ are Lena (Jonique’s team-mate), Chris (Lena’s husband, doing the UT), Pat (also doing the UT and her first ultra) and Greg (Pat’s boyfriend and default support crew, having been unfortunately sidelined by injury whilst training for the UT)
New arrivals at Mersilau
I’d briefly read that temperatures would average 12-14 degrees Celsius in the evening, but didn’t think much of it till I realized it was pretty cold up in the resort! Luckily I did chuck a couple of warm items in my bag when packing .. I’m definitely not firing on all cylinders when I’m cold!

Our first night is a buffet dinner at the resort restaurant, followed by briefing for the next day at the Visitor’s Centre. It’s not far between all the locations, but some rather steep hills make it just a little more challenging. We’re also based at 1900m altitude, and I’m wondering how that’s going to affect everyone. I’m drinking water like there’s no tomorrow and still feeling parched.
Claus describes the route for Day 1
We’re finally given our maps and instructions, and everyone scuttles off to sort out their kit for an early start the next morning. The AR starts near the resort, but the UT runners have an hour’s transfer to get to our start. I try and sort everything out as quickly as possible so as to get a decent night’s sleep. Fuels sorted, water filled and mandatory equipment checked. Outfit for the morning laid out and it’s off to bed.

Race Day 1
Hope I don't get lost!

Waking up feels like a supreme effort – the culmination of some very late nights prior to race morning. I wrap up against the cold and head out for breakfast at the restaurant with everyone else. Back in the room and getting  ready to head out, I realise my pack (Salomon X-Lab 5L) is wet through. I figure I’ve clipped the mouthpiece and that leaked some of the water out. No worries. Refill, and I’m off. We’re all bustled into mini-buses that ferry us to our start location. We wave goodbye to the AR competitors on their bikes headed to their start and the lighthearted banter in the bus sets a good mood for the morning. When we finally arrive at the start, there’s some frantic scrambling for bushes (it was a bumpy ride!) and then we’re ready.
Turned my quad sleeves round so runners behind me would have something to read, haha!
Everyone starts at a seemingly easy pace and the first 5 miles were pretty much downhill. I run at the front with Yip for a bit before he pulls away, then Vincent and Garrett overtake me and try to keep up with Yip. I turn off at one of the villages and head towards the Kenipir River, and I’m the second person behind Yip to sign in at CP5 (The UT runners start in the middle of the AR course so our first stop is CP5). Vincent and Garrett must’ve taken a wrong turn. True enough, I see Yip not far ahead as I start the 4km river hike, and soon Yann, Vincent and Garrett all overtake me again.

I’m wearing the Salomon Speedcross 3, given last year’s super muddy terrain it would’ve been the perfect shoe, but not so this year. I’m slipping and sliding all over the smooth, wet rocks, and pick up a bamboo pole on the way in a desperate attempt to stay upright. I think I swam more than I ran during that whole river hike! A few more racers pass me, including the two leading AR teams. By the time I get to the CP6, I’m soaking wet, thoroughly bruised and my legs have taken a bit of a bashing from having bounced off nearly every rock in the river. Having said that, it was great fun and a great way to keep cool!
Nearly at the end of the river hike 
The rest of the trail follows concrete and gravel roads, some of which are quite steep, along a scenic route. I’m mostly running alone, trying not to get lost and trying to keep a steady pace in the heat. I’m wearing the Compressport ProRacing Arm Sleeves, For Quad thigh compression and R2 calf compression sleeves. I was a little worried that they’d be an issue in the heat, but they worked a treat. They seemed to provide a little climate control, some sun protection and certainly felt comfortable throughout.

The road to the finish was a long, wide, dusty one. Just under 10km of steady ascent with no shade. I’d refused any further water at CP9 as I’d had a couple of swigs at CP8 and my 1.5L normally lasts me at least 3 hrs. I’d checked and it didn’t seem like I needed to top up so off I went. 15 minutes away from CP9 and I ran out of water. Jonathan had just overtaken me and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so much more fatigued than I should have. In the midday heat, I worried I wouldn’t reach the finish in time for my next electrolyte feed. I guessed I’d have to run for at least another 45 minutes at my current speed and despaired at the possibility of dehydration. I mentally cobbled together the few Malay words I knew in case I got desperate. “Tolong, air, minum” “Help, water, drink”.. plus I had an emergency RM50 stashed in my pack somewhere, surely that’d get me some water?

Thankfully, I passed a photographer on the crest of a small hill and reached the finish line much sooner than I’d expected. I grabbed some water and hustled into the mini-bus – the first one was full and about to leave – and headed back to the resort. Day 1 done, in 5th place behind Yip, Vincent, Yann and Jonathan. Garrett took the scenic route and added another 8km to his Day 1 total. Pierre and Eric were the first AR team and also in the bus, together with Sebastian, whose partner Tina had a nasty accident soon after the start and had to DNF.

Back at Mersilau, we all have lunch together, supplemented by our various recovery fuels and assorted compression recovery apparel. We then chilled out at reception, waiting for the other racers to arrive back and also waited for the electricity to come back on so we could use the wi-fi! The resort turns off their generators between 12-5pm … luckily there was still some hot water in the tank for my shower ..  

I fill my pack and get stuff ready for tomorrow, but when I come back after a couple of hours there’s water everywhere and my reservoir is nearly empty again. I find a tear in the base … the mystery of the self-emptying reservoir is solved! Hopefully a bit of Leukotape will stem the leak for the duration of the run tomorrow!
A hole in my bucket .. 
Dinner is a social affair, competitors displaying varying levels of fatigue trading war stories from past and present events. The latest casualty is Charlotte, who fell during the AR and dislocated her elbow. The briefing for Day 2 is late as we’re waiting for some of the slower competitors to come back in. This is probably the worst part as everyone is keen to get to bed and the briefings are usually drawn out due to the combined AR and UT events.

Jonique, my room-mate, very kindly tweezes the thorns out of my shoulder where I got wrapped up in some prickly vines along the river. We’re finally done, some last minute prep and its off to bed.

Race Day 2
Feeling a little more rested after a good night’s sleep, but my legs are aching more than they should be! The AR teams make their way to the start again whilst the UT runners wait to be ferried to our start location. Charlotte has opted to do the UT today since she can’t manage the bike .. she’s tough as nails!

Before the start of Day 2
The boys at the front take off in a pack, running at a good clip. It’s not long before I’m running alone. I can still see some runners not far behind me, so I’m not too worried about getting lost yet.  The checkpoints seem easier to navigate than last year, and no major stress on the map-reading so far. Running in the Salomon S-Lab 3 today, and feeling much more comfortable in them! I've only got the R2 calf sleeves on ... saving the rest of the compression sleeves for post-race recovery! 
Just before Day 2, CP2
The day gets very hot and there’s not much shelter to be found, but my patched up water reservoir seems to be holding up ok for now, yay! I meet some of the AR teams riding in the opposite direction as I make my way on the highway towards CP9. There’s a bit of a climb on a very wide, hot road before the CP, and I see a few runners behind including Clara and Patricia, who have been running well together. Looks like they’re making good time, and I’m pretty sure they’ll catch me up before long. My legs feel spent and I’m not feeling great but I don’t have a good explanation for my fatigue. I try and pick up the pace to put some distance between me and the girls but it’s a real effort. The next bit of the course is over some dense scrubland and marked with luminous ribbon since there’s no clear trail. Nice to have a break from the map-reading (and guesswork!), but it’s slow going with some thorny bushes and wooden stakes where young trees have been cut down.

By the time I get to Poring Springs and the start of the 3.5km climb to the waterfall, I’m feeling extremely fatigued and wondering if I’ve drunk enough. I’d doubled my Endurolyte intake but it didn’t feel like it was helping. I stopped to splash some water on my face at a stream only to find that it was HOT water .. ugh! I’d forgotten it was the Poring Hot Springs .. and I just had visions of bacteria in the warm water all over my hands … :S

Never mind, onward and upward. Not an easy task as I was racked with cramp during the entire climb! Various leg muscles took turns in randomly cramping with each step, making my progress very slow and quite painful. I picked up some sturdy sticks to use as supports and got passed by loads of runners making their own steady progress uphill. I abandon one ‘pole’ on the way up – it was getting too heavy! The girls passed me at the first river crossing .. when both legs cramped whilst trying to cross, leaving me unable to go forwards or backwards, and no choice but to wait for the cramps to subside. It took me ages to get to the waterfall at the top, and it was reminiscent of some of the long tedious climbs at UTMB, where I could only focus on one step at a time or I’d have given up.

I see Garret charging downhill looking very fresh, with Vincent not far behind. Yip follows a little while later but he’s definitely looking a bit rough. I was feeling pretty wretched, wondering if the girls would be able to put an hour into me and take the lead today, and wondering if I’d ever get to the top of that blasted waterfall. Not a good day at the office. Especially not after I see the girls go past in the other direction. There’s nothing I could do to move faster .. argh, the frustration!!

When I finally reach the waterfall and the final CP, I scribble on the sign-in sheet and head back down immediately. I didn’t even get a decent look at the waterfall. My only concern now if getting down to the finish as fast as I can and pray I’m not besieged by cramp going downhill. Thankfully, it’s not as bad and I’m using my makeshift pole as a crutch to support my weight as I try to hurtle down as fast as I can. I see Charlotte with Jodi and Bryan making their way up. Charlotte’s having trouble with her arm, but I know she’ll finish this, and she’s got two lovely runners helping her get there.
Halfway down, my ‘pole’ snaps in two from all the impact it’s absorbing. Fortuitously, I find the stick I’d abandoned earlier on the way up just a few meters later .. perfect timing! I’m moving as fast as I can and I’m finally down to the bottom. No idea how fast the girls have finished and all I want to do is stop. I give everything I have left to run through the gates at the finish point … and carry on because the guys thought it would be funny to say there’s another 200m to go .. they call me back and I’m done. Completely done in. Greg very kindly gets me a coke and someone hands me a banana.

In the end, the girls managed to gain about 20 minutes on me, eating into my lead from Day 1, but not enough to change the final result. An awesome effort from everyone given the heat and tough climb at the end, particularly to the runners who suffered out there all day. Well done, all!

FINISH!!
We had the prize ceremony that evening, supported by lots of tired AR competitors who still had another day’s racing to go. Results here: SAC 2012 results
Ladies podium, with our unique medals
Yip wins the men's race
Charlotte gets the Kamikaze Award :)


As usual, the SAC was a great event organised by Aman, Claus, Rudy and their team. The route was challenging, and a good mix of competitors and staff made the race very enjoyable indeed. I seldom do the same race twice, but the SAC is one of my exceptions. :)

Also some gorgeous pics from the event photographers, who were out there all day in the heat capturing our experiences! Check them out here: Shamrie Sainin, Rabaui Ayub, Dev Sidhu, Nasir Lee
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