Monday, June 28, 2010

Online Gear Shopping

This blog post is to share some of my experiences with online sports gear purchases.

Online Shops:

These are some of my favourite online gear shops with a good range of products, responsive customer service and good pricing. Most of them have live-chat help, or respond to emails promptly. I have also called to enquire about orders and been properly guided through the steps over the phone. There are many other sites for specific products, which I would not list in this post. Do exercise due user-diligence and take note of some features of good online sites (section below) before you make a purchase.

(1) Non-specialist Shops:

These shops are non-brand specific and have a good selection of both outdoor and generic sports. They have an excellent customer service which answers any technical questions you have on the gear, or general purchase enquiry. You will need to do a security verification of your Singapore credit card before the purchase is shipped. The company will charge a random small amount (~USD cents/ dollar) to your credit card. You will then have to let them know the exact amount charged or verification code (from credit card bank) via email or live-chat. Once the card is verified, your purchase is completed.

One of the largest coop in USA with a wide selection of both outdoor and generic sports. They also carry their in-house REI brand. Check out as well for hugely discounted & clearance products. You should be a REI member for better deals.

This is a well-established coop in Canada. Like REI, it has an immense range of sports equipment, from high mountains to deep seas to canoes and so forth. Its education site has a wealth of information on how to take care and choose gear. Its in-house MEC brand is good value-for-money. Petite users might wish to check out its children's sizing. You have to be a MEC member in order to purchase.

This is a large sports store in California stocking a huge range of sports equipment. It has an outdoor & camping section, but the selection is not as extensive as the specialist stores. That means, for instance, if you wanted a full range of North Face or Marmot gear, you might not find it there. But its merchandise is typically a few USD cheaper than the official retail prices. The energy gels and drinks are especially cheap. Great customer service when you visit the store. I love going to the physical store. It is a community-type of shop which holds regular running, cycling and other training sessions for the nearby community.

This is a sports store chain in USA, mostly the East Coast/ NYC. For general sports, triathlon, running etc. Does not accept Singapore credit cards online. I placed an order online, followed by a phone call to make a 'manual' purchase & payment. After that, the order was delivered properly.

(2) Specialist Shops

Then there is a huge range of brand-specific specialist shops that offer online shopping and delivery as well. You can google for any major brand and be guided through its official website. Not all of them provide online shopping service - they defer to their dealers or outlets - but you can check. Some of the brands that I love to browse are:

Mountain Hardwear
The North Face
Under Armour Outlet

Customer Care & Service:

You would want to check that you are purchasing from an authentic USA-based online shopping portal before making your purchase. Many cheap websites are from China and other dodgy places and you may receive fake/ defective/ excess products, or have trouble contacting their so-called "Live" customer support, or face extreme inconveniences with return policies.

(1) Contact
A good online site should provide prompt response (email, website form etc) to your query. It will also list all channels in which you can contact them (incl a telephone number, physical address etc). I usually get a reply within 1 business day, and certainly within 2 business days. In the rare occasion that I do not, I will call and be able to get the right assistance.

(2) Refunds/ Exchanges
A credible online site (usually the ones based in USA or Western markets with established consumer protection rights) will allow for a full refund or product exchange within a sufficient duration (eg. 30 days). This will be stated upfront on the website, together with the Return Shipping Address and instructions. This information will be repeated on your invoice when you receive the products. Follow the instructions to log your return (they will issue you a return code) and ship the merchandise back. Some sites even let you print a pre-negotiated (cheaper) shipping label if you are within the USA! and they alert you that they have received your parcel. Most times, I get my credit card refund within 10 business days. Bottomline: they make it extremely easy for you to return your unsatisfied purchase.

(NB: In stark contrast, the unreliable Chinese sites will be uncontactable and with non-full disclosure of the above information. When you actually need to enquire about a product or seek a refund, you have to chase them multiple times for a reply. There is no telephone number to call. The 24h "Live" support does not work. The return shipping address is not stated upfront, and not given despite repeated asking. Then they will try to dissuade you from returning, and ask you to re-sell the goods instead! *incredulous*)

Payment & Delivery Notes

For Singapore credit card users - Do take note of some of the additional verification and steps required (as described above), and take these delays into account when planning your shipping. Do NOT ever disclose and send your credit card information via email.

Delivery within USA - Most online shops ship free within USA above a certain purchase amount. Generally they do not do international shipping. If they do, it is usually very costly. If you are travelling to USA, do note that not all shops ship to hotels. For residential addresses, most will not deliver to a USA PO Box address - pls check the instructions.

Delivery to Singapore - Try The site gives you a free USA postal address to ship your purchases to. It then consolidates all your purchases, repacks them (to reduce packaging and save shipping costs), and forwards them to your designated international address. Some credit card verification is required as well, read the website guide.

*vPost by Singpost is not very efficient despite its marketing. The online tracker did not work. I had to call Singpost daily to locate my shipment in its partner warehouse and get it sent to Singapore.

Happy shopping! :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Desaru Long Ride

Off to Desaru early in the morning for a long ride. It has been almost 2 months since I last rode, properly. I was prepared for a suffering session today.

Not long after we started, Melvin's base bar fell out of position after he went over a pothole on the road. So we stopped to adjust it, and lost the rest of the group. That left him, Ryan, Alber and I. We continued for about 2-3km and realised that we missed a turn. So we backtracked to find the rest of the riders. There was a dark cloud gathering in the distance and we were riding into the storm. Oh....

True enough, the rain started coming down, hard. We passed a hut and heard someone shouting out to us. A group of riders was there seeking shelter. 30km. We waited for a while and decided to continue with the ride to Petronas. That was another 20km. We made it in relatively good time. I managed to draft the guys for some sections over the rolling hills, and what a huge difference drafting made! I was able to keep at 32-35 kmh on the flats.

We decided to follow the way back to Sungei Rengit for lunch, over the rolling hills again. At one point, something black and plasticky fell onto the road and broke. I was the 3rd bicycle after Melvin and Ryan. It turned out that Melvin's rear light dropped. Subsequently, his chain fell off and got stuck behind his inner chain ring. The guys spent some time dislodging it, and we were able to proceed again. Somewhere along the ride, his water bottle dropped as well. No wonder we did not see him following behind - he had stopped to retrieve it. Guess it was not a smooth day for him! Haha.

We made it to the restaurant in time for food. Then it was another 17km to the jetty. I tried and managed to keep at 30ish kmh for the whole stretch, but it was quad-searing work! Totally unconditioned. I so need to ride more and harder.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Midsummer Night

Today is the longest day in Finland. Sort of. In this part of the world, they celebrate midsummer either on 21-Jun or 24-Jun. Traditionally with a big bonfire. Everyone goes off this Thurs to their summer cottages to enjoy summer. And then Finland shuts down in July. I was told there are abt 1mil summer cottages in Finland, for a population of 5mil....

We had wine & bbq dinner by the lake at 9:30pm until 11:30pm and it's still bright daylight now. It feels only like 7pm with a bit of reddish sky. But it doesn't get pitch black dark here. Even at 1 or 2am, it feels like very bright moonlight and one can see the outside surroundings. The body also feels awake. I'm sure if we had Sundown ultra here, it'd be very nice. And of cos they do have such midsummer marathons and ultras in this part of the world at this time. Very lovely. Minus those stupid retarded pesky mozzies that swarm around you.... I swear they can pierce through my jeans!

It was abt 15-16deg. I went for an hour's run at 7:30pm and felt like 5pm. Then traditional finn sauna. Nice and warm. The guys swam in the lake. More like a dip and a few breast strokes, cos the water is quite cold, maybe less than 18deg. Without wetsuit. I didn't want to get everything wet. I mean, our idea of a swim is 30laps right? Haha.... So just steamed myself inside the sauna. But it isn't hot enough. In winter, the really really hot sauna felt so shiok.

Ahhh.... midsummer night. Also known as white night. One of the best times to visit Scandinavia. Maybe we should organize some long trekking trip or something. Not swim bike run for a change. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Over in Finland

Over in Finland now, the proper work begins. But first, I'm here in a mansion/ summer cottage called Wuolteen Kartana in Hauho. It has many bedrooms, and a somewhat elaborate living and dining halls. The workshop organisers are trying to get the Finns out on a retreat far far away from their offices. The place is in the middle of nowhere woods, facing a lake (although the lakes cannot be compared to the deep blue Norwegian fjord waters of course). Even though the roads here are better, faster, the scenery is suddenly all green & trees and flat instead of what I saw in the past days.

Back in Norway, the roads in Egersund/ Stavanger region were paved country roads, 1 lane each way with average speed limits of 50-70kmh. Often they were tiny narrow roads with no lane marking but meant for 2-way traffic, where cars have to be driving on the left/ right white line just so both can pass through in opposite directions. So if a coach bus was coming down a winding road, the opposite car would have to reverse until a suitable side bank for the bus to pass. Harrowing.

I miss the untouched scenery and nature in Norway though everything is very weather-dependent. And there are no pesky mozzies! The Finn summer mozzies are vodka-trained - highly insulated from the cold, but with retarded reflexes. I have never seen mozzies in such temperatures! Summer flies yes, not mozzies. Damn.

There are many rooms in the cottage. It's like they rent out the rooms in summer and operate the cottage like a mini hotel. We each have our own room, but shared bathrooms. Even then, it's very expensive. But the service is very good. There's this lady who runs the show. We had a very good dinner, ended with a HUGE cheese platter nicely arranged, and dessert prettily decorated. Except for the toilets and shower... like in hostel.

The sun almost never sets, and it gets bright by 3 or 4am. It gets darker for about 3h each day, but never pitch black darkness. For some people, they have problems sleeping, as our body circadian rhythm clashes with the sunshine. That was not an issue for me. I was totally enjoying and fascinated by the long long days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Exploring Lysefjorden in Rogaland, Norway

It promised to be a glorious day of sunshine and clear skies. Pat and I drove 2h from Egersund to see the Pulpit Rock. It is this amazing rockface that graced many Norwegian postcards. Also known as Preikestolen. We had to take a car-ferry over a stretch of lake and continued driving. It was an endless scenery of fjords/ lakes and mountains. Rich deep blue waters against lush greenery.

After much navigation, we got to our destination. The hike to the top of Pulpit Rock was a steep one upwards. The chart estimated a 2h hike each way, but we completed a round trip in 3h. The hike was not as tough, but the view was most breath-taking and out of this world. That rock formation was scary and awe-inspiring at the same time. We spent some time at the plateau of Pulpit Rock soaking in the sun and having our packed sandwich lunch.

We wanted to continue on to Kjerag to see another magnificent rock formation - a round rock wedged in between two columns. It is a very popular site for base jumping and rock climbing. Alas, the drive would take 3h and the hike 5h. There was not enough time, sigh.

So we detoured to a nearby waterfall an hour's drive away - Manafossen Falls. It is biggest in Rogaland region, and the 9th highest free-falling waterfall in Norway. The hike to the fall was much tougher than this morning. It was very steep, with loose rocks and sections of steel chains and barricades to guide hikers.

And then it was another 2h drive home. A tiring but worthwhile day. It was a pity we missed the Kjeragbolten. It was not possible to combine both the Pulpit Rock and Kjerag in a single day. Perhaps the next time, we shall arrange a multi-day trek through the beautiful Lysefjorden.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Safra Sunday Long Run

I can't recall the last time I came for an early morning Safra long run. We decided to swing by today. 24km to NUS and back. It was quite a struggle for me. Maybe it was the ham-cheese sandwich in the morning. I felt the same lethargy as yesterday on the ride. Or maybe it was just this weekend.

It was a hot morning and I was drenched in sweat after a while. Before 10km, I had drunk half my bottle of water. I stopped in NUS for a toilet break and refilled my water. Poor Alber was going at a brisk walking pace in front of me just to wait for me. When we turned out to the S.BV Road, I told him to go ahead and meet back at the clubhouse.

I rolled down the winding road and stopped again at one of the petrol kiosks to refill my bottle. And got a bottle of Apple-Aloe-Vera juice. Sugar! Then I slowly inched my way back to Safra, across the pedestrians along HarbourFront. It was almost 3h when I returned. Arghh.....

Saturday, June 12, 2010

That Bonked Ride

Alber, Melvin and I dusted the webs off our bikes and got Eddie along for a morning ride. Melvin's special request was "less than 100km". We were all starting from zero. Literally. The last time I rode was my roadie during Sundown, going at walking pace. Suddenly my Ceepo felt so light, fast and out of control. And I hit my own calf while clipping in. Klutzy....

We took a new route today, to avoid the Upp BT area that was full of construction. Eddie brought us onto Brickland Road, which was a nice empty stretch, and onto Sg Kadut, which was not so nice with industrial trucks and dirt. That route was 4km longer than my usual way to Mandai. We did 1 standard Mandai loop and stopped at the Shell station. I was super lethargic and just could not pedal. I think my quads are simply weak. :(

In desperate need for a milo. Maybe my blood had gushed to digest my wholemeal ham-cheese sandwich and nothing was going to my legs! We all looked at one another and it seemed like nobody wanted to do another loop. Ooops, haha. So we headed back for lunch. Total distance 58km. Only one-third of an IM....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sustaining 6min Pace

Tonight's session was Portsdown-Queensway route, 14km. I was late, and only caught up with Adam, Chua, Sok Hwa etc at the Queensway Shopping Centre traffic junction. We ran together after that. I hate to admit age/ old, but running gets tougher, and slower. Sigh.

Total time 1:25h, approx. 6min pace. Not terribly fast. And I was already feeling the tightness in my right knee and ITB. Omg, how to run 42km soon? *panic*

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Revisiting the Tracks

Back to trackwork tonight. Gosh, was I in bad shape.

7x 800m at 5:30 (ie. every 5:30min set off) -
4:10, 4:13, 4:17, 4:20, 4:14, 4:17, 4:20 - slower and slower, supposedly tempo steady run.

7x 400m at 3:30 -
1:41, 1:46, 1:39, 1:40, 1:47, 1:43 - too weak, low sugar, skipped 1 set.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Revisiting the Hills

We were back at TB hills tonight. 1hr of OTOT figure-of-8 loops. I managed to complete 6 loops, averaging 9:40 - 10:00min per round. Took some time to settle into the routine, the run felt in sync only after the 4th round. Oh dear. It helped that I was thinking of work and that distracted me from the run and eased me into the rhythm. Ahhh.... it felt good to be back running, in action.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Endless 100s

Coach made us swim 100s tonight. Endless 100s. 8x 100s, 7x 100s. Then repeat 8x 100s, 7x 100s. Each 100s averaged 2:15 - 2:30min. Followed by 4x 50s. By then we were so tired that the sprints took 1:06 - 1:15. And some drills. Gosh, that was 3km plus worth of 100s!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recovery Everything

A week of fever, flu, sleep. The last couple of recovery runs and swims were quite a torture. Stamina zero. Fitness zero. How to complete a marathon in 20 days? Gosh.

Thursday - short 40min jog around Safra. Pant. Sigh.

Friday - survived Fri swim class. Very slowly. Sprint was 1:06min. Sigh.

Saturday - MR short run 50min. Had to rush and did not have time for the usual 10km loop. Ended up Northern Trail and back. Pant again.

Sunday - MR again. In the rain. Finally completed the 10km loop with Alber, took forever 1:15h. Sniff sniff.

Oh crumbs. 20 days left. Counting down.