Saturday, 20 September 2014

Royal Bay - Neon Knee high compression socks

Royal Bay + inov-8!
     As a runner, I’m always on the lookout for something fun to run in, and I’ll always jump at the chance to try out something new. When I saw the display at the 2014 DeCastella Run, I had to mosy on over and have a sticky beak. What drew my attention was the wild, knee-high, potentially compression socks that they had on display. When I say wild, the colours were seriously bright, seriously out there. Instantly I loved the blue, and the yellow had kick. The purples looked awesome, the yellow a serious colour for the safety conscious and I could see some brave ladies in the pinks and oranges too. Me, I thought the blue would go well with the Dandenongs Runners singlet and the orange could fight with my inov-8 x-talons for wow factor.
     A little detective work discovered that they were the Royal Bay – Neon range. The Royal Bay brand (from Aries Vitality Textiles) was only launched two years ago. They proudly claim to be using the most advanced technology in their products, and after my experiences, I would say that they do. Ice Band Sports have only stocked them in Australia since November 2013.
     I had a chat with the guys from Ice Band Sports and they very generously supplied me with a pair of the Royal Bay Neon socks to trial and review. That’s where these orange bad boys come in. I also purchased a pair in the blue for Mrs Fish, as her marathon training has not been without the odd calve niggles.
Royal Bay - Neon Knee high compression socks
     The socks came in these neat little boxes, the colour clearly stickered on the front, and identifiable through a clear window on the back. To size up the socks you need to know your foot size, in European sizing and your calf diameter at its thickest point. My 6/12 – 7 UK is entry sizing for the 39-41 and my calf is a C2. The smallest 36-38 also goes smaller with a C1, the larger 42-44 and 44-47 allow for larger calves and size up to a C3. The C rating is the level of compression that is built into the sock, it also allows people with larger calves to wear them, something that 2XU fails to do. These socks are also extremely technical. The features list is almost as long as my foot! More on these features later. If you are borderline for sizing or want a dash more compression in your foot, I would almost recommend going for the smaller size.     
Reflectors very safe
     Opening the box you notice two things. Firstly, the socks are beautifully made. The material is a soft and luxurious feeling 64% microfire NYLON and 36% elastan LYCRA blend. It instantly wipes the floor with my 2XU Compression race sock. Secondly, the smell. Royal Bay have built in a deodoriser into the socks. It is "Saniti zed®, a Silver Anti -Microbial Finish of Silver ions on the surface of the fibres that remove a number of bacteria and fungi. In fact, it works as a deodorant and prevents unpleasant odours"(taken from the website). Mrs Fish quite liked it, me, I could take it or leave it. I guess being a morning workout man, it will help keep the sports bag smelling fresh during the day, especially when we get into the summer months.
     Putting the new socks on was a doddle. Simply bunch/gather them up like any compression tight/football sock and pull them over your feet. From there gather nearer rest of the sock just above the ankle and pull them up to just below the knee or where comfortable. Again, sooooo much easier than putting on the 2XUs, where you need at least 5 minutes to get them over your foot, then up to the knee. Once they’re on they feel terrific. They are very lightweight and you soon forget they are even there. The instant they were on I felt my muscles tingling as the compression elements started their work. 
     The Royal Bay Neon socks are graduated for compression, with 100% compression levels at the ankle and gradually lessening to be 90% at the top of the socks. "Graduated compression with the greatest pressure applied at the ankles improves the return of blood to the heart and reduces swelling of the feet". I tested my pair out overnight as I went to bed with a slight niggle in my left calf. Upon waking both legs felt incredibly relaxed and loose. Maybe it was all in the mind, but my muscles were thanking me for the use of compression as a recovery aid. My first exercise use was a Tabata session on the treadmill – a high speed, high intensity session lasting for a total of 4 minutes. During the workout the Royal Bay Neon socks stayed in place, and provided good support for my Achilles and calves.
      Mrs Fishes first use of her pair was during a 28k run. She wore them under her regular running tights for additional support. When she got home she was raving about them. She couldn’t believe how comfortable they were as a sock in her shoes and how good her calves felt. Both of our experiences were due to the built in muscle support on the medial and lateral sides of your calves, another of the technical features of the socks. Royal Bay have also built in additional support for your Achilles through a raised pattern that protects and massages the Achilles. Under the foot they also have little ridges that provide a little extra massage when running (really? does this really work?) and improve the airflow around the sole and heel to help regulate heat. This I believe. I’ve also got a pair of the Compress Sport socks with the massaging dots, and I don’t quite get the massaging properties in them either. However, running in my Compress Sport socks does seem to keep my feet a little cooler on the hotter days. 
     My second run was an 8km trail race. Wearing the Blue Royal Bay Neon socks gave me oodles of confidence. Confidence to tackle the hills and confidence in my calves. Ever since I started trail running I’ve been a big believer in compression to help stabilise my muscles and minimise shock. Throughout the run the socks stayed put, and my calves had no little niggles or twitches during the climbs. And, they looked the goods!
     Post run I wore them for at least 3 hours (due to presentations and travel) and I swapped into the Orange pair the next day as well. By wearing them as a recovery sock my legs felt fresh and ready to go by the next morning – a great credit to the socks.
     An additional feature of the sock is the reflective dots built in, these will be great for low light running where any reflection you can gain is improving your safety.
     My third run in the Neons was in my favourite playground – the Dandenong ranges. On the wider trails and fire access tracks they were great. I felt confident with all the climbs and descents, as the built in muscle support minimised the impact of each stride. As a trail runner, it was when I went off the beaten trail that they really came into play. I took a ‘short cut’ through the bush. Although there was a faint track worn by the wallabies and the grass had been flattened by recent rains, I ended up having to pick and weave my own trail. This meant striding through knee high grass, avoiding and jumping fallen logs and crashing through bracken and dry twigs. The knee high height of the Royal Bays gave my legs full protection from all of the above elements. The few twigs that dared impede on my run were brushed aside by the tight knit weave of the microfiber and nylon. A couple of larger sticks put up a fight and tried to snag me, again the socks didn’t catch or snag and my legs were protected from potential cuts and scratches.

     I also found a few puddles of 3-4 meters in length and at least ankle deep. Well, as this was a bit of a trail test I did what was required. I blasted through them, fully submerging each foot at least half a dozen times. Yes, I got the initial shoe full of water but the inov-8 X-Talon 190s drain exceptionally well so it was up to the socks to keep the feet comfortable. Now I can also say that the Neon Compression socks also drain very well. Within a few hundred meters my feet were comfortable again without a squelch or squirch to be felt or heard. 
I hope Royal Bay Neon socks clean well!
     In summary, at this stage, I can’t recommend them highly enough. The Royal Bay Neon socks are a must have for any runner, either as a racing and training secret weapon or for recovery in the safety of your own home (for those who are afraid to admit they wear them) or under the work gear after a hard morning session. If after reading this, you like what you see, please get in touch with and tell them the fish sent you. 

    As always, happy running and training!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

2014 Salomon Trail Series - My reflection

     Well, 4 months of training and dedication all came to an end today at the last of Salomon Trail Series races at Anglesea. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and to top it all off, I had the whole family there to support me, Bex and Steve who were also running albeit in the medium course.
     This blog could go on about the race and the atmosphere and finishing in an overall third in my age division, but I want to step back and reflect on my series. I want to reflect on my training and mind set, and if it paid off.
     Way back in May, when I entered the series, I made the decision to drop my long runs over the weekend and turn them into shorter runs and to push myself closer to my threshold. So, did it work?
Early in race 1
     Race 1 was the 5ks at Kew. Secretly I had set myself the ambition of finishing the series in the top 10. I entered the run with an open mind, placing no pressure on myself to perform, only to go out and push myself as hard as I could yet still being able to enjoy the run. My concern was who else was going to show up and how fast they would be. Enjoy the run I did. I was able to run the early stages of the race at a steady pace early and held my position to the end. To finish just outside the top 10 was a surprise, and to be 5th in my division a real buzz. I felt I had the early speed and enough to finish strong.

     Race 2 at Lower Plenty was my run. It was my favourite course from last year and the terrain that best suited my strengths. My mindset was in the right place. I still felt strong from my summer into autumn running and I was on a confidence high from race 1. I went out fast and with the leading pack and ran to my threshold. I was able to keep just behind the pace setters for the first couple of ks before they turned on the afterburners and did their thing. Throughout the run I felt strong, and ran to my strengths through the single trails and up the hills. When I was pipped at the post in the Suunto sprint I knew I had given it my all. I was absolutely stoked to finish 5th  over the line and 4th in the division. A top 10 series finish was looking quite likely.
     Between Lower Plenty and Olinda I found myself in the company of a lovely little cold. I felt a little flat and I think my training suffered. I had been able to keep to my shorter, harder weekend runs and enjoyed them, but found that I wanted to be hitting the hills with my mates from the DTR for those 20k plus weekend runs. But, I’d made my decision to alter my training and I was going to stick to it.
     Race 3 at Olinda was fun. I’d run some of the course in the previous weeks and I was looking forward to it. I still had a touch of the cold but my lungs were clearer than they’d be in the weeks since Lower Plenty and I had ambitions. Hey, the series could be run and won from these results. My race strategy was to go out hard and fast on that epic downhill start and see how well everyone else could run uphill. Well, I did just that. I went out fast, and it was thrilling. Smashing it out down those hills was so much fun, and for the next couple of ks through the moderate climb I was going ok. 
Just before the cartwheels...
About 4k in I was reeled in by the eventual winners and try as I might, I didn’t quite have the stamina to stick with them. As the course climbed up I reverted to a power walk up the hills, as in doing so I could keep the runners ahead of me just in sight. Why this strategy? In many of my training runs with the DTR group I’d often only just crept ahead by running the hills when those beside me got their power stride going. It did help me conserve some energy and I was able to run the last km home and finish well, but I was starting to feel the pinch of my illness and not getting in enough training ks in the build-up. I finished 8th over the line and 7th in my division and after the results were updated, I was 99% sure that I had secured third place for the series in my division. This was a result beyond my wildest ambitions.
     Between Olinda and Anglesea I did have the weekends spare to do a couple of 12-15k runs in the ‘nongs and although I wasn’t running them as strongly as I had previously I enjoyed running the extra distance again. It was nothing as fast as I was able to, but it felt good to know that I could still do it.
Chilled at the start
     That brings us to today. In perfect conditions I drew the line in the sand at Anglesea and made the decision to just run this one and enjoy it. So with that 99% certainty behind me I took off at a more moderate pace this time. I enjoyed the start, took in the single track up and beyond the football club, whereas last year I was pushing myself to try and secure a top 10 finish for the series. I was more concerned about catching the next runner or being overtaken to really enjoy it. Today I wasn’t going to let that get the better of me. With that mindset the first 4-5ks seemed to be over all too quickly, and as we ran up towards the scout camp I was able to reel in a few runners ahead of me and pick up a few placing’s. I felt strong and was prepared for the finish. As we navigated the stones and steps of doom on the trail along the cliffs and hit the boardwalks I was able to turn on the afterburners myself and run down those ahead and pick up a few more placing’s. Last year I wasn’t sure about this course, but with todays strategy I was able to take in the twists and turns of the bush, the views of the oceans and the atmosphere of the run.
      Hooting down the track to the beach and onto the sand I was greeted not only by my family, but my extended family as well, which was a great surprise.
Loving the almost 'Pose' form.
Hitting the Suunto Sprint for one last time I finished the series the way I started it in Kew, nailing my final sprint. Finishing only minutes behind me was Bex, winning the medium course and Steve wasn’t far behind her. Sharing this day was the icing on the cake. I was also more than happy to finish in 12th and round out my divisional placing in 6th. 
      What I also loved about the series this year was how the Dandenong Trail Runners group has grown from a few regular weekend hill warriors into a close knit family. It was great to have the support of those who’d finished the relays, 50k and 100k events yesterday. Being able to catch up with them and to cheer on home the medium and long course runners added to the thrill. Hearing so many of our names called out for race placing’s and series wins today topped it all off.
      Finally that 99% certainty I had of finishing the series in 3rd? After patiently waiting for our division to be presented and the nerves growing, my name was called and I finally got to stand on the podium as the 3rd place finisher in the Men’s 20-39 year old division.

     So where to next? Yes, I’ll be signing up again next year. I’ll continue to fine tune my training, although I think I underestimated the importance of the weekly long run and getting the right amount of ks under your belt. I also missed running with my mates in the hills.
     Till next time, enjoy your running where ever that may be and wherever it takes you.

     Lachie, AKA the ‘fishthatcanrun!’

Monday, 8 September 2014

Stryda - Performance review of the Elite Compressors

     We’ve been lucky here in Melbourne over the past couple of months. The weather has been completely topsy turvy, which has been perfect for performance testing the new STRYDA elite compressors.
     The huge variance in temperature, from 0 C mornings in fog, rain and sleet to 22 C afternoon runs in glorious sunshine has allowed me to wear the STRYDA elite compressors in a range on conditions. I believe that puts me in a position to do a fair and honest performance evaluation.
     So, how do they go? Again I’ like to mention that these Elite Compressor tights were provided to me by STYDRA, and I’ll tell it like it is. While these tights are truly excellent, for my build, there is some areas that are not quite forme.
     I’ll start by going back to the fit and feel, especially thefit component of my initial review. Out of the box they gave me good levels of compression through my quads and hammies, and they felt excellent around my calves. In the real world my scrawny legs may have let this product down. Literally.
    For me there’s nothing better than stepping out of the door into a crisp morning chill. I love it. So, the dense 260 denier thread in the Elite Compressors was instantly put to the test, and it was a big winner. In the cold, these tights really do give you that extra layer of protection from the elements. I’ve taken to rolling pre run to stimulate blood flow and increase muscle warmth so you can get straight into a run. Couple this with the STRYDA compression helping circulate flow right through your legs you step out the door ready to go.
     Early into my run my legs were warm and cosy, allowing me to push the pace. While I was stripping layers from the top, my legs remained a very steady temperature, even when the cold winds picked up and tore through my torso, my legs remain steady in the tights. On the cold morning runs, this was a consistent factor and you can head out in full confidence. At this point I will note that I did feel more of the cold just above my glutes and in the small of my back where my 2XU have a higher waist band. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just a little cooler when my shirt rode up.
     On their debut in the Dandenong’s, it was 3 C and foggy. Yes, we were all taking the mickey about being too cold and we should have stayed home, secretly we were loving the cold start. The course I ran was a downhill start followed by a gruelling climb back to the top. Again my legs were well covered, the STYDRA really do stimulate blood flow to regulate your temperature. On the downhills I did notice, as in some previous runs that they did slip down my thighs a little. The slipping also caused them to bunch behind my knees a little. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to stop and make adjustments to your clothing mid run. This is a problem I have with my Skins A400, which I do relate to my scrawny legs, not the product. Although to be true to my original review, the 2XU Elites don’t have this slip. Perhaps it’s the additional reinforcement they offer through the glutes and hammies. 
The Stryda Elite compressors offer great muscle support on ascents and descents
     On the uphills my calves started to get a little twitchy. I could feel the fibres working against me on the ascent. This is why I wear compression – to maximise blood flow and to provide additional support to the muscle to prevent cramps and injury. This feeling came and went for a while and eventually settled and disappeared. In my mind this was a small victory for the STYRDA Elite Compressors. When you have the confidence in your garments to push on it means big things.
      As I neared the final 2k of the run the rain arrived and I got wet. Perfect, the trail test can tick another box – water resistance. As I slugged it up the hill and the rain fell heavier I was getting wet. My feet were soaking through my socks and my jacket was called for. My legs, they were surprisingly dry. I could see the water hitting the Compressors and running off quite quickly. As I reached the golf course the rain turned to hail and sleet. As my core temp dropped my legs still remained warm and relatively dry. I guess standing around under the trees as I tried to work out the best contours of the 3rd hole doesn’t allow the water to run off as well. As soon I was up and running again the water began to repel again.
     Back in the car, towel on the seat and 30 minutes later my legs were still warm, and as I stripped off at home they were dry. So, when the weather is cold and wet, you can grab your Elite Compressors and hit the roads and trails with confidence, knowing you will stay warm and dry, as long as you keep moving! When you start to feel that little bit of fatigue, STRYDA have got the compression levels just right. Wearing STYRDA does increase circulatory flow and keeps your muscles oxygen rich so you can finish strong.
     Now, as we head into spring and summer here in Australia, how do they stack up in the heat? My last run was in 22 C heat, a heat wave after winter! With the sun shining I hit the hills on my favourite course. Donning my favourite Under Armour top and the Elite compressors I was soon sweating away. In the warmer weather the STRYDAs didn’t slip as much. Throughout the run my legs felt strong and not too hot. I felt as though they were allowed to sweat and the muscles self-regulate their temperature. For now, they’ll stay in the rotation for my weekend runs. I’ll keep an eye on this as the summer approaches and the temperature rises.

In conclusion:

     Price - I found that the STYRDA Elite Compressors stood up to and met expectations. For price, they beat the Skins A400 range and the 2XU Elite range hands down. They are a great buy.

     Fit and feel – In real world use they were exceptional in the cold weather and will be my go to for my relaxed morning runs. They keep you warm and dry and that can’t be beaten. For now I will keep them for the relaxed run, the slip that I get around my thighs was a little frustrating, but around my calves (a traditional problem area) they are spot on. I want to head into races with full confidence.

     One thing that I would like to add the level of development that STRYDA have put into their products. On the launch day I actually wanted to go ahead and order some of the ladies Compressors, as these fit me the best. In the weeks after the launch, and due to customer feedback on the day they revisited the design to give a higher waist and better fit for the female body shape.
STYRDA advised me of the changes and sent me a final consumer product. This review was based on the men’s range (as it should be!) and for me in the 3% of height and weight category of scrawny, the men’s range just lacked a little around the thighs. As they develop, I’m excited to see what happens with the design and composition of what we wear, not just a new colour for the new season.

     This is what excites me most about STRYDA, their desire to get the perfect product for their customer, and the way they take on board customer feedback and take things to the next level. This is going to give them the edge over the other known brands, and this is why I am proud to a STRYDA ambassador.

    For now, stay fit and enjoy your running!