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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Running Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam 980

I thought I was a set Adidas runner for life ........ until I walked past the New Balance store in my neighbourhood mall a couple of nights ago.  They were hawking this new shoe called Fresh Foam 980 and when I saw it, two things immediately struck me - first, that it featured an awesome revolutionary cushion ideal for midsole runners (like me) and heel strikers, and second, the hexagonal outsole combined with the garish colours made them the gaudiest runners I've ever seen in my life.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980

I tried on a pair of the purple and pink version.  It was hideous but, holy crap, it felt sooo goooood: plush, snug yet paradoxically roomy.  As someone who has extremely wide feet, the D width fit me just right.  I'm also blessed/cursed with Morton's toes - second toes that are longer than the others - a freakish peculiarity which have caused me several under-the-nail blood clots in past runs.  A marathon runner acquaintance had advised me to always wear shoes a half size bigger than my usual, so I tried on the 8 1/2 (US size) but it still wasn't long enough for my lanky second toe.  The size 9 also made my feet look clownish (the purple/pink only heightened the illusion) but when I slipped on another 8 1/2 in a different colour (the grey/red/yellow one in the above photo) - voila, I had my Cinderella moment. 

I went for a run with them this evening and truly, they felt heavenly.  I was initially apprehensive that all that state-of-the-art cushion was going to sink me down like quicksand and reduce my strides to a leisurely slo-mo stroll, but that didn't happen.  The foam was light and springy, and gave me extra boost with each rebound.  My toes weren't squinched together and due to the clever welded overlays, there were no unnecessary internal stitching to irritate and chafe my feet.  And for the very first time, I wasn't constantly aware of my shoes and feet during the run which is a very good thing.  I'm sure there are plenty of runners out there who like to feel the road below their feet as they gobble up the miles but I don't count myself in that pile.  And after my last half-marathon in Cebu, I now appreciate every single nano-bit of comfort and technology afforded by these shoe companies for all my future runs.

So would I recommend these shoes? Definitely, especially to heel and midsole strikers who are doing short to middle distances on the road.  And yes also to amateurs who are just starting out such as moi.  But to fashionistas out there, you might need to wait till they come up with less violent clashes of colour combos before whipping out your plat Amex.  Or better yet, do as I do and keep your eyes off your technicolour feet and just focus on the horizon ahead.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cebu Marathon - 12 January 2014 - 21K

It's finally first race of 2014: The Cebu Marathon in the Philippines.

Picking this particular one to start the year was the result of a combination of seemingly random factors, preferences, luck and the process of elimination. Here are my reasons in no particular order:

-  It's in a city I've never been: Cebu - the oldest city in the Phillipines (in 2022, they will celebrate the 500th annivesary of Ferdinand Magellan's landing) and for my first 21K race ever, I'm glad it's held there.
-  It's close to Hong Kong (slightly over two hours by plane, in this case, with Cebu Pacific Air) hence, no explosively expensive airfares.
-  Due to fab flight times, I didn't have to take time off from work to get there and back.
-  I only needed to run 21K under four hours (not three, thank god) to get a finisher's medal.
-  The runners' shirts are kinda cool.
-  The medal design is waaay amazing.
-  The marathon is certified by AIMS which means finishers may qualify for the Boston Marathon.
-  There's a Shangri-La resort on the island (shout out to running pal Betty for the reservation!)
-  Temperature is a balmy and comfortable 25 degrees Celsius.

Now what I didn't count on was the other weather aspect:  rain.

Our first look at the precipitation upon landing at Mactan-Cebu International Airport on Saturday morning, 11 January.

Yes, it was raining when we landed, checked-in at the resort, woke up the next morning, assembled at the starting line, slogged through the entire course (although to be fair, there was some dry-ish reprieve between kilometers 3 to 10,) crossed the finishing line, taxied back to the resort, had brunch, spa treatment and afternoon nap, imbibed our happy hour cocktails, polished off our delish seafood dinner and made our way back to the tiny airport the following morning.

Non. Stop. Rain.

The sloshy ride at 3 am to the race assembly point at the I.T. Park.

But it's not as awful as it sounds.  I mean, it wasn't a torrential stinging downpour with zero visibility.  It was slightly more than a drizzle, and the raindrops, like what I'd seen of Cebu itself, were somewhat refreshing and laidback in nature.  Nothing stressful about them, and at times, especially during the second half of the race when the sun had come up and the sweating was at its maximum, the rain showers were quite welcome.  The only downside was navigating around all those puddles in the dark; within the first 300 meters, my shoes and socks were soaked and I still had 20+ kilometers to look forward to in soggy footwear.  Needless to say, the resulting blisters (one of them a friggin' blood blister - another first for me) hurt like the proverbial bitch.

Around the 4K mark along Osmeña Boulevard

Overall, I liked the route.  We started near the financial district of the city, then passed through some of the historic and cultural sites: Provincial Capitol, Osmeña Boulevard, Fuente Osmeña, Colon Street (the country’s oldest), Santo Nino Church, Magellan’s Cross, Malacañang sa Sugbo, Plaza Independencia and (not my favourite section due to the dreary cement walls, intense echoes and dank, stale air) the tunnel leading to and from the Cebu South Coastal Road.

On the Cebu South Coastal Road at around the 11K mark

If I have a personal beef about the route, it would be that half of it doubles back on itself which makes it just a wee bit less interesting for me.  This is due to my own predilection of taking in the sights during my runs and wanting to have the city stimulate my senses to keep me going.  I mean, I don't just keep my head down and run.  Hell, no.  I already know I'm not going to win any prize money or come in within the first 80 per cent of my running cohorts, so I just want to see, hear and smell as much of, well, everything that I can possibly cram within the entire leg. (Also, on a purely psychological level, new sights serve as a handy distraction to keep the niggling onset of my inevitable muscle cramps away.)

The view from Cebu South Coastal Road

However, I have to say that some of the absolute best things about this marathon are the exuberant performances dotted along the route.  We're talking various folk dance troupes, percussion bands, scantily clad go-go dancers, karaoke singers and ad hoc sound systems blasting Rihanna and Maroon 5 spurring the runners on.  Loved them all.

So great to see these folk dancers, especially when I was coming out of the dreary tunnel at around the 14K mark.

As I'd mentioned earlier, the last half of the marathon was pretty much a soggy affair but by then I was totally used to the rain fall (and dare I say it, was feeling quite the badass for running whilst dripping wet.)  I haven't seen the official results yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm among the last 20 percent of runners who'd crossed the finish line...somewhere around the 3:36 mark.  Not quite as awful as I'd feared and at any rate, it was good enough to score myself the most awesome medal I've ever received in my life (not that I've won that many, but you know what I mean.)  

What made it all worth it: a cool medal and a cool photo with one of the best-dressed runners at the finish line.

It's fashioned in the shape of a guitar, not surprising as that particular instrument is famous in Cebu  for their high quality, affordability and durability.  Most guitars in the Philippines are made in that city, with the center of the guitar-making industry located in Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island (side note: the guitars made in Lapu-Lapu are all handmade, and people who want personalized guitars can order them custom-made according to their own design requirements) and most of the well known guitar manufacturers are local family-owned enterprises passed on from one generation to another.

It's totally apt for a city that's so closely and proudly linked to its heritage to fashion its international marathon's medal in this particular design.  What a fantastic tribute to Cebu and the runners.  Thank you. 

Next stop on the marathon trail: Okinawa!

Deja vu all over again: Sitting on the plane in the early morning with a familiar weather outlook 

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