Friday, 20 July 2012

RUNNING at NIGHT - with Kilian Jornet, Seb Chaigneau, Fernanda Maciel an...

The ultra-runners in Team Petzl demo the new NAO headlamp, and add their tips how how to dive into the darkness.

Most 100km ultras will involve some running in the dark, unless you're of Kilian & Co's calibre. I love running in the dark, but I have to admit it's been a while. My standard ultra kit consists of two Petzl Tikka Plus2 headlamps (lightweight, with a 70 lumen beam) and a Petzl E+Lite for emergencies. I've been looking for a single headlamp with a minimum 100 lumen output, but most of them come with a heavy battery pack or an equally heavy price tag. Here's hoping Petzl's new offering of the NAO with Reactive Lighting Technology is portable AND affordable.

Running in the dark is easier mentally, your horizons are reduced and your concentration focuses more on the next 3 metres rather than the big picture. If you haven't done it before, you're in for a treat! Having reduced visibility tends to heighten your other senses in compensation, and it's almost a surreal experience, you become aware of things around you that wouldn't normally be noticed on a daylight run. If you're running alone, the quiet and solitude is a great time to just connect with the trail and your running, everything distilled into the 3 metre beam in front of you.

From the video, here's some tips and insights from the pros on night running:
1. If it's your first time night running, train on a familiar or comfortable trail, preferably with a group. this enables you to try out different headlamps and lighting configurations, as well as having safety in numbers.

2. Find out what works best for you and take time to adjust. A headlamp isn't restricted to being worn on the head, and runners sometimes carry a torch in hand or attach their lights to their shoulder or waist. Put your beam in a position that you feel most comfortable with when running. Remember that light cast from eye-level (i.e. headlamp positioned on forehead) will cast very little shadow. As such, your depth perception is reduced dramatically and you will have to train your eyes to pick up the nuances of the trail.

3. Don't focus on a single point. Use your other senses to help build a more complete picture of your surroundings, and pay attention to what is around. 

4. Switch from looking directly in front of you to further ahead, and occasionally look side to side as well to gain a better awareness of your environment.

5. Be organised with spare batteries and emergency backup lights. Cold weather reduces battery life, so be prepared.

6. Three key factors to consider when choosing a headlamp - performance (illumination and beam width), weight and reliability.

7. Switch to a lower beam when running uphill to save on battery power. Widen your beam on descents and managed burn time so you get the most out of your battery life.
Further information on NAO's new Reactive Lighting Technology can be found at  

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Getting back up to speed

Sunset in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka
I realise I'm not very consistent at this blogging lark, given the huge time lapses in between each post, and I put more regular updates on my Facebook page. This blog was started as a kind of training/racing diary for myself and a way of sharing my racing experiences with running friends and acquaintances without having to organise a get-together or repeat myself several times over. It also gives my sponsors (Hammer Nutrition and Salomon) a little more exposure, and I always endeavour to be as honest as possible in my kit reviews.

I'm way too late to post a review of X-Physique, a local adventure race, so I'll just say it was great fun and very well organised! I'd definitely recommend giving it a go if you're looking for a taste of multi-sport events.
Team Hammer Nutrition - first place in the mixed pairs category. Yay!
The last month has been crazy again, most of it spent gallivanting round Europe for Men's Fashion Week. Despite my best intentions, I only managed 2-3 runs each week .. all of them on flat terrain. If anyone knows of hilly trails in Milan, Paris or Berlin, please let me know! I've already checked out the Parc Buttes Chaumont, my only hilly option in Paris at the moment!
What I do for work!
So last week was spent clawing my way out of some serious jetlag, and also diving into my first week of proper training. I'm back on track with Pete Roper again, and he's sorting out my training schedule for the next half of 2012.

Due to work constraints, I've had to streamline my races a little, so now the next main event will be The Most Beautiful Thing 100km in Sabah. Following that would be the TNF100 here in Singapore, and then the Powerman Duathlon Malaysia in November. No idea what possessed me to sign up for Powerman, but it's done now so time to dust off the bike and get some saddle time in!
Hammer Athletes and friends just having  blast :)
So while I'm getting stuck in hill repeats and back-to-back runs again, what's occupying my thoughts most of the time is FOOD. They don't call me Fat Bird for nothing! :)

The last couple of months I've had to knuckle down and face my demons. Several years ago I was diagnosed as having an intolerance to egg, gluten and lactose, three of the most prevalent ingredients in the modern diet. I've respected and ignored this in equal measures over the years despite knowing better, and lived with the constant fatigue and other symptoms as if I didn't have a choice. Being Singaporean, eating plays a major part in everything, particularly major life events, and it's difficult to say no to all that lovely food.
Like food much?
... and it's not easy being an endurance athlete that can't eat pasta, bread, eggs and milk! There are other athletes out there with similar food issues, so hopefully my following posts will be of some help. If not, just dig into your Pink Peppercorn Crab Linguine or freshly baked Rustic Loaf with a pat of salted butter (I'm not jealous ... whatever gave you that idea..) and give thanks! :)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Salomon Sense - Review

Given all the hype it’s had, it’s natural to think that the Salomon Sense might easily disappoint. After all, this is Salomon’s first offering of a lower profile shoe, a huge departure from their range of well-cushioned trail thrashers. First sighted as the prototypes in which Kilian strode to victory at WS100 2011, and then all his subsequent victories for the past year or so, it would be natural to question how much can be attributed to the shoe, given the pure talent of the wearer.
Victory at WS100 2011. Image:
The unbearable lightness. Image:
The whole team gets in on the act. Image:
The Summer launch of the Sense in the US and Europe was a massive success, and the popular sizes were like gold-dust. Not due to launch in Asia till Fall 2012, I managed to get my hands on a pair from the US just after they were made available. When the package arrived it felt as if the courier box was empty! Then taking the shoebox out, it really didn’t feel like there was a pair of shoes in there!
First feel of the Sense! 
Straight out of the box, the Sense is gorgeous. It looks and feels fast, not surprising since it’s profile has been whittled down to a mere 180g for a size US10. Given that I’m wearing a US7.5, the shoe feels like a low-slung speedster. The clean red and white combo adds to the sleek visual.
Sparkly new shoes :)
Putting it on, the Sense is a snug fit. I have narrow feet and it fits like a glove. The Endofit sock-like construction inside is supposed to enable you to run in comfort without socks. I wear the same size in the Sense as I do my other Salomon shoes, but I also wear my shoes a size larger than my normal shoe size for ultras. These fit me well with plenty of room in the toebox. I found the best part about the fit to be how snugly I can lace the midfoot portion up. I find the length of the shoe doesn’t affect my running (unless it’s too small), but if I can lace up the midfoot portion so it hugs my foot well then I’m good to go. Also prevents my toes crashing into the front on descents, saving me a lot of pain and black toes. I would recommend runners with wide feet to try the shoe before buying. Going up half a size might be an option, but this really is built on a racing last and none of the other shoes in the Salomon range have a fit like this. It’s more like the Inov8 X-Talon 190.

I’d been running in my Inov8 F-Lite 230 to get used to the lower heel drop again. The S-Lab 4 has a 12mm heel-toe drop, compared to 4mm on the Sense, and plunging straight into the Sense would’ve given me very sore calves!

So then, there’s nothing left but to take them out for a spin. My first run in them was a revelation. I’d done a hard run on the same course the day before in the F-Lites, and it was the fastest I’d posted so far this year. I didn’t think I’d be able to push hard again in the Sense, but whaddya know. Almost the same time as my run in the F-Lites, this time without someone to chase and tired legs to boot. Could’ve just been a good day. Or it could’ve been the Sense. One run may have been too early to tell, but I LOVED it. I’ve clocked up some decent miles in it now, enough to tell that I’m totally smitten.
Fast maiden run! 
What’s so great about the Sense? First, it’s the fit. I’ve discovered I like mine laced up tight. I like the new improved Quicklace system, with a top-loading Lace Garage. It feels better and less fiddly, and whilst it took me several adjustments to get the pressure right, at least the toggle was much easier to get to! Bombing down the hills on the trail in confidence plays a huge part in the enjoyment of my trail runs, and the racer-fit and weight of the Sense makes you feel like you’ve got the agility of a mountain goat (in my dreams!). Another major plus are the TPU toecaps. There’s plenty of wiggle room despite the narrow fit, and the protection offered is an absolute godsend. I’ve kicked enough rocks from carelessness and fatigue to know it hurts like a bugger even at the best of times. The F-Lites are racing snakes in their own right, but have minimal toe protection. The Sense has this pretty well covered. My first toe stub on the trails was met with surprise at the absence of resulting pain, then followed by a new-found confidence in demolishing the downhills with my new toe guards. Result! I did test these further by loosening the laces to a comfortably snug fit, and my downhill capers hurt a lot more with my feet sliding forward in the shoe and smacking the front.

Since I’ve been ‘training’ in the F-Lites, a comparison is inevitable. I like the F-Lites a lot, and with all the hype I didn’t honestly think that the Sense would be much more than a glorified racer. The reality? There’s something about the Sense that makes you fast. It’s not just the fit and the weight. There’s a palpable energy return from the midfoot construction that’s significantly different from the ‘soft’ soles of the F-Lites.
All the specs! Image:
With the combination of the OS tendon (for balanced flex and energy return), Dynamic Traction (the offset lugs which adjust to provide the best grip in varied terrain), and the Profeel Film (a rather sexy carbon-look sheet in the midfoot section that offers protection from the nasty sharp stuff), Salomon seem to have gotten it really right with the Sense. There’s enough feedback from the soles to give you a great sense of the trail you’re on, but a surprising amount of protection from what I’m guessing to be the Profeel Film.
There's something about carbon that's really sexy! The new Profeel Film. Image:
Running the last few weeks in wet and slippery conditions, the grip offered is brilliant. This all adds to a great running experience, thumbs up in my books after my disastrous river crossing in the Speedcross 3!

Any downsides? Yup! I ran barefoot in these to test out the Endofit sockliner .. and came back with a massive blister on the back of my heel (and blood all over the lovely white lining!!). Running sockless in these isn’t for me - the back of the shoe is a little too high for me and rubs my Achilles raw. 
And the insole doesn't detach .. I like taking the insoles out when I've washed my shoes! But if that’s as bad as it gets, I’ve no complaints.

I’m looking to use these in the upcoming 100km in Sabah, and we’ll see if I’m still singing it’s praises then!

These are now available at World of Sports for $299 .. and the XT Wings S-Lab 5 is out too!

Ultra168 have a great review on the Sense, and for the miles he's logged in them, these should last far longer than the measly 200km they're purported to be good for. Yay!
And in 2013? I'm looking forward to the new colour combo, and perhaps the Sense Mantra for heavy training days! Here's a sneak preview from Alpenglow Sports. 
Image: Alpenglow Sports
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