Tuesday, 23 June 2015

2015 Salomon Trail Series - Race 1, Kew

Zero. At 7 o’clock am when we left for Race One of the Salomon Trail Series at Studley Park in Kew, the temperature gauge said zero. On the way in we got excited when we saw it reach two degrees! That was about as warm as it got.

My #SalomonSelfie
Fast forward to 8:55 and I almost miscalculated the starting time. The long course runners had left and the short course competitors were cramming into the starting line. Everyone was finishing the warm up and I was still putting my shoes back on after stripping off the beanie, vest, jumper and trackie pants.
The crowd was huge and the vibe was great, and after a quick pose with my in-laws, and damn good runners Bec and Steve the 3-2-1 countdown was over and we were off.

Almost the podium order?
The first 400m – 800m was along the road, and gradually rose along what was probably the longest and most deceiving incline of the race. The pace was hot, a little quicker than last year’s start and I had to push harder than I wanted just to keep the top 10 – 15 in sight.  About 800m in the field settled and we deviated slightly on to the gravel walking path and raced our way to the first turn-off point. I was sitting happily in about 12th or 13th and breathing hard to keep my pace. A glance at the Suunto told me I was pushing 170 BPM and roughly 3:40 pace. This was a little harder than I wanted, and I eased slightly as we raced along the fence line before following the trail down a little hill and alongside the river.

Remembering where we were as we entered the 2nd km, I stole a quick glance at the Yarra River – it was a still as I’d ever seen it and continued along the trail. As the trail twisted through the towering river gums I finally settled into my rhythm and took control of my breathing and running. This section was picture perfect.

In the distance I could see Mr in Blue and Mr in White perhaps 200- 300m ahead. At roughly 2.5km in I decided now was the time to dig a little deeper and make a little surge. I was averaging 3:55 pace now and I slowly began to close the gap.
As we left the river for a moment and ran back up the path towards the road I managed to reel in Mr in Blue. 3kms in and the slight rise in elevation seemed to catch people out, and this is where my strength has been in the past. Just before we hit the ‘u’ turn to head along some free-flowing single track back along the river I passed Mr in White.

I enjoyed this section of the trail but a glance at the clock showed I had slowed to just on 4:00 pace, slower than anticipated but considering it was possibly just three degrees I was very happy with my positioning. My HR was hitting 172 -175 BPM, the upper limit of where I wanted to be. We ran along more flowing single/double trail by the river, among the trees and by the rowers and kyakers. This race had it all now. Ahead was another Mr in Dark Blue and just ahead of him was another Mr in White. Could I reel them in?

The trail narrowed and as we commenced the 4th km I was averaging 4:00 pace. We ran past the Studley Park boathouse (opposite side of the river) and by the bluestone wall before turning right over the swing bridge. We had all felt like drunks crossing this on the way to the registration tent, but with fewer people on it now it was straight over. At the far end of the bridge was Mrs Fish and the kids, and their smiles and cheers were what I needed. I was closing the gap on Mr in Dark Blue and we turned for the last 1200m. This was the true trail section of the race – through the trees and scrub on a narrow walking track. My playground! Within a few hundred metres I had caught and passed Mr Dark Blue and it was time to dig deep.

We raced through the trees, and I could see some of the lead runners picking their way along the river, back to the finish. As we hit the turning point I made a split second decision to slow and take the stairs, rather than hitting the slope and riding the angle and taking out the corner.

On the final stretch it was all bets off and time to let the running beast come out to play, the running machine had controlled the HR, focussed on form and guided me through the first 4kms. Now it was upto the beast to run free and get me through to the finish.

The track rose and fell, there was twists and turns and a couple of little jumps to navigate as I slowly reeled in Mr in White. About 400m from the finish was a lovely little sign – photographer ahead. This time there was no sky larking around and mid-air heel kicks – I had to finish!

200m to go I could hear the crowd and had Mr in White in my sights. Digging deep the HR flew into the 180s and my pace dropped to sub 3:20 as I gave it all.

With 100m to go I hit the Suunto Sprint timing mat and reached for home. Mr in White was just ahead and with each step I was drawing him in.

50m, left he was 10 paces ahead, 20m to go it was 5m. Mr in White crossed the line just in front, did he know I was there? The clock would show 1 second between him in 8th and 3rd divisionally and me 9th, and 4th in the Mens 20-39 division.

Could it have finished any other way? Just maybe had I taken a risk at the 600m to go turning point and shaved off those stairs.
Was I happy? Yes I was. I took 12 seconds off last years time and finished in the top 10. I had ran the race I wanted - I knew my limits and worked with them on the day. Being full of cold the week before certainly doesn't help. Oh, and I'm incredibly proud of Bec and Steve, who smashed the woman's field and finished 2nd in their divisions respectively.  

In a month we get to do it all again at Lower Plenty. You better get your single trail and hill training in, this next ones a lot harder…. All the more fun!

Cheers for now, Lachie

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Monday, 8 June 2015

Skins A400 Compression Tights - 2015 Range

Mrs Fish and I were super excited when Skins Australia sent us out each a pair of the new A400 compression tights to run in, and review. Mrs Fish in particular loves her Skins compression tights and I was hoping they’d be my go to pair for the Great Ocean Road half marathon in early May.

In my compression wear test last year, the Skins A400 had a great feel to them, but for me they were just not right. Everything about them should have worked, but for my build they just didn’t have the compression, or perhaps the girth allowance was a fraction too big for my legs. They also felt the most likely to catch or tear of the three, so they were relegated to cycling (nothing against cycling here guys, I just love my trail running).

In 2015 Skins took it to the field and changed the game. The new range is just about spot on perfect. They still come in the same great (although updated) box. We love the drawer, so easy to use.

I love the new gold 2015 Skins A400 compression colour
Great low light reflective glass on the 2015 Skins range

The new gold colour way looks fantastic. It’s got just enough bling with their new Japanese glass beading to catch the eye, but it remains Skins subtle. Throw them on at night or in low light however and it’s a whole new story. 

When viewed in the lowlight conditions of dawn, dusk or a gloomy day the glass beading reflects light like no other compression range and allows you to be seen a mile away. They even catch the light in a standard room. I kid you not, so as we head into winter this is an absolutely essential safety feature.

An important feature of any piece of equipment is how it feels in the hands and to wear. Mrs Fish has always loved the Skins feel and I agree, the 2015 range have a wonderful feel to them. They finally feel nearly $200Aud premium. They are soft but strong. While last year’s felt the weaker of my compression tights, I feel much more assured that the 2015 Skins range will handle whatever I throw at them. They are also made out of 24 individual panels, so they should fit like a glove.

This year, I also discovered the ‘S’ Small range. I don’t know how I missed it in the past. For me this was what I was waiting for, the ‘SS’ range. S for short! While the previous XS range catered for heights from 5’3 to 5’11, the new S range is capped at 5’ to 5’7 while still being designed for the same weight range. According to all the charts, this made them the perfect pair for me. The new S range is also built into the M, L, and XL sizes. Short guys all over the world can sing happy. They also have continued with their ‘L’ for long leg options if you're a taller guy.

See the panels on the Skins A400 tights
So, the important part, how well do they fit? Will my chicken legs finally get the famed Skins A400 compression? Last year I had the XS skins and they were too long and slipped. I even got a pair of XXS in from Europe, but these were also too big!

The new gold Skins A400 tights are almost the perfect pair. Pulling them, on they feel just right. Not too compressive that you have to do all sorts of dancing to get them on, but as soon as they are on you get that tingle in the legs. I feel like this is their patented Dynamic Gradient Compression technology at work, increasing my circulation to deliver more oxygen to my working muscles. I also like that the graduated compression through the calves and ankles slips over my foot easily.
Once they’re on, they fit true for weight (even my scrawny legs) and height. I think this is where the 2014 range missed the mark – too much variance from 5’3 – 5’11.

I instantly get the compression that I want around my thighs and hamstrings, and this is due to the 210D Memory MX fabric that gives it the weight and strength to really compress. This same material is used around the glutes and below the knees to correctly compress your calves. What I love about the new A400 ranges is that it’s actually a double density (dual layering) material around legs from the waistband down to the knees, and then from the knees to the ankles. This allows Skins to achieve greater compression, and for Mrs Fish and I the key to the A400 tights, the two segments are joined by a 70D Memory MX fabric around the knee. This gives a superior range of movement and flexibility through the knee, essential for running and riding.

So, how do they perform?

In a word, perfect! I finally have a pair of compression tights that compress in all the right areas. From long slow 20km + runs to high intensity 700m interval sessions the A400s have not slipped or dropped through my quads. For the duration of the 2015 Great Ocean Road 23km Half Marathon the new A400s did everything I wanted them to do. They reduced the muscle oscillation that you get from road and hill running to reduce fatigue and after my final 5km push I still felt strong. The lighter 70D material around the knees let me run freely, without any hindrance.

The duel layering of the 210D material across the Quads, ITB and hamstrings and the calves breathes extremely well.  Skins quote that the included ADAPTIVE Technology it there to ‘take care of temperature control and moisture management. When it’s cool, the unique polymer binds moisture in to keep you feeling warm. Then when you heat up it releases stored moisture to the surface where it can evaporate, helping your body cool down.’ I can say it does. I’ve run in 25+ degrees doing my interval training and felt just right. I’ve used them at 3 degrees in the morning and not felt at all cold. This indicates that the ADAPTIVE Technology works, and works well. It also gives a nice little bonus in the wet. The top layer rejects moisture quite well which means you stay dryer for longer. This is a great feature in the trails where the scrub along the trail very quickly soaks you if it’s been raining. The new A400 tights seem to have the water bead and then run off, a little like polish on a car.

If I have one gripe, it’s that the compression in the ankles is not quite tight enough for me. I was wondering if this was my pair, but I also did a recent run with the new Essentials Unisex Compression Calf Tights MX, which were amazing around my calves, but again loose around my ankles. I have another pair of Calf sleeves which have stronger compression and are a tighter band around my ankles. Am I losing a little of that venous return with them not quite compressing at their lowest level?

So are they worth the money? Will they last? I've been wearing the new Skins A400 Compression tights for nearly 3 months now and they are still as good as new. The Skins products are warp knitted which ensures controlled compression and superior durability compared to other circular knit brands. The Japanese glass beading of the Logos has been through the wash many times, and not once has it stuck or crumpled like a recent pair of 2XU tights. 

So to conclude another review, if you’re after that one pair of compression tights for the year, the new A400 have to be on the top of your list. I feel like the level of compression is spot on. I love the flexibility through the knees and the new glass beading makes them an essential in low light running or riding. For us shorter gentlemen (now that I’ve discovered it), the new ‘S’ short is a winner, and for me, the key change in 2015.

Skins A400 Tights and Active top
I’ve since gone out and picked up a pair of the new A400 power shorts and they are incredible, and the Essentials Tech vest is a new cool, wet weather favourite.

Happy running!