2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  UPDATED GEAR REVIEW  

THURSDAY, JUNE 28

 
"The best long distance runners eat raw meat, run naked, and sleep in the snow.
- Alaska airlines advertisement honoring Iditarod dogs
 

 

If only it was that easy for two-legged long distance runners!

Actually, I think I've heard of some ultra running humans like that, too. If you think Jim and I are weird because we run incomprehensible distances, you should meet some of the REAL characters in this sport.

OK, let's get serious. Last year I wrote a pretty detailed summary of the endurance gear and nutrition products we used for our 2006 Rocky Mountain adventures. Many of the items were ones we also used on the Appalachian Trail in 2005; I referenced the AT entries at the link above. I'll list what we're still using, show some different photos, and include information about new products we're using this year.

First a word about our sponsors -- not FROM them, but ABOUT them.

I used to think that only elite athletes had "sponsors." Well, there are different levels of sponsorship and sometimes even average-but-determined athletes can get discounts on items they use. In fact, we probably should try to get MORE discounts from manufacturers whose products we use and mention here.

I think one reason we still have both Montrail and Hammer Nutrition sponsorship is this web site and the publicity the journals garner. We have readers not only from all the states in this country but also from numerous countries around the world. It amazes me. We have a counter that gives us various details, but no one's e-mail address or name; we use it more for egotistical reasons than anything else. Oh, and every time Jim gives me grief about all the time I spend writing and editing photos, I can point to the broad readership we have, the friends we've made, and the sponsors who continue to give us discounts!

We are grateful for the continued sponsorship from Hammer Nutrition and Montrail, which was taken over by Columbia Sportswear last summer. Both companies give us 40% off the products we order. We have to pay regular postage. In addition, when someone places their first order with Hammer, they get a 15% discount on that purchase and we get a "bonus" of 25% of their order deducted from OUR next order. So it's not like we get our shoes and energy products free, but the discounts definitely save us money. We used them before we got discounts (that's why we asked for a break before the AT trek) and we'll continue to use them even if our "pro" deals are pulled in the future.

Why? Because they are high quality endurance products that work well for us. Check out their links on the left.

Back in February a sales rep from SAM Medical Products contacted us after seeing the references in our web site to Blist-O-Ban bandages. I answered her market research questions, then asked if we could get some bandages at a discount for this year's races and adventures. The company sent us two free packages of Blist-O-Ban bandages, so I've also put their link on the left. I don't know if we'll have to pay for future packages or not. It depends on the company's philosophy and if they believe  they're getting enough publicity from our web site.

OK, here's our updated review on clothing and gear, starting with our feet. I'll do an entry in a few days on our ultra running nutrition strategy.

CLOTHING ITEMS

FOOTWEAR:

Jim and I have been wearing Montrail shoes for trail running for nine or ten years now. We've gone through LOTS of pairs of shoes even though they usually last us at least 500 miles each. Jim prefers the sturdy, protective, comfortable Vitesse model but also wears Highlines occasionally. Even though I've gone through 17 pairs of Vitesse over the years, I now prefer the Highlines. They are lighter in weight, drain well (more mesh), and have an aggressive sole that gives me good traction. In the photo of our dusty shoes below, the Highlines are on the left and the Vitesse are on the right:

They look much nicer than that when they're clean, as in a photo farther down the page.

Neither of us runs on pavement much. When we do, Jim wears Asics and I wear the Montrail Masai. I don't know what I'll use when the Masais wear out; they've been discontinued.

We don't have an REI in Roanoke, so we try to shop at their stores when we travel. Both of us ended up getting some new Keen Venice H2 sandals on sale at REI earlier this year. They are so comfortable that we're wearing them almost all the time we don't have our running shoes on. I've even done some trail running and hiking in them, but grit gets in them very easily. They might work well for running on grass or some other surface that doesn't let debris in -- maybe they can be my new road shoes in warm weather! Here's what they look like:

Jim wears custom orthotics inside his running shoes. His insurance pays most of the cost. I wore custom orthotics for many years, but now my insurance provider won't pay for them. I switched to OTC inserts near the end of my AT journey run in 2005 and they have worked well for me with some minor tweaking (HAPAD metatarsal pad for my right forefoot and a little strip of Mole Foam under the left outer heel). I use Montrail Endurosole inserts, which are heat-moldable to your foot. They have a higher arch than other OTC brands I've looked at; I have high arches that need the support. I also sometimes wear thin, flexible Spenco inserts under the Endurosoles when I'm running on rocky terrain. They are only about 1/8" thick but add more cushioning on rough trails.

I continue to swear by ASO ankle supports, which I've been wearing on both ankles on every trail run since I had surgery for two ruptured ankle tendons in 2001. They are comfortable all day long and are so supportive I have had no further strains or sprains in the last six years. I run a lot of difficult terrain, and I rarely even turn an ankle in these things. You can see photos of them in the 2006 journal link above.

I occasionally wear Dirty Girl gaiters to keep out dust and debris but they are just one more layer of STUFF around my ankles on a hot day. They work great when I do wear them. They are light weight Lycra-type material that attach with a large hook to the bottom of the shoelaces and with Velcro on the heel of the shoe. I offered to make Jim a pair before we left for this summer's travels, but he didn't think he'd wear them. As dusty at the trails are right now in Colorado, I think he wishes he had some! They made quite a difference for me yesterday on the Clear Lake run. My gaiters and shoes were filthy, but my feet looked clean. Oh, and the stylish, even outlandish, colors and patterns they come in -- Krissy (XY) Weiss, a fast ultra running lady from California, is the "Dirty Girl" who makes the gaiters.

My favorite long distance socks continue to be Injinji toe socks ("tsoks"), shown below with my Highlines when they were cleaner! Jim tried some but ended up giving them to me. I'm still wearing the five pairs I bought before the 2005 AT trek. A couple have gotten holes in the bottom where I tend to wear out socks, but the rest are wearing well after hundreds of miles each. (I always wear thin, inexpensive synthetic socks over the pricey Injinjis to help them last longer.) I rarely get blisters. I wear these socks on every run over a couple hours. Now there's a company I should ask for a discount!

Another product that's great for preventing blisters -- or protecting an existing blister -- are the Blist-O-Ban bandages I already mentioned. They are very thin and double-layered so your shoe doesn't rub the vulnerable spot any further. Check 'em out at the SAM Medical link on the left.

Jim and I both wear SmartWool socks a lot (one of my kinds is in the photo above right), both for running and just everyday wear. We love it when we get new SmartWool socks at races in our entry bags or as door prizes. The company sponsors some ultra races. We also like various running and hiking versions of synthetic Thorlos and wool Head socks we got at Costco many years ago.

OTHER CLOTHING:

Jim and I have both worn Marmot Precip jackets and pants in rainy conditions for several years but they tend to get clammy when we sweat, no matter how many wicking layers we have on underneath. I'm still wearing mine as my primary foul-weather running jacket, but Jim decided to find a better alternative this spring. He found it at REI, on sale -- this REI Mistral jacket:

He's worn it only during the Big Horn race a couple weeks ago, but really liked its thin, soft, warm Polartec Powerdry lining. He didn't feel all sweaty in it. The soft Powershield outer shell is water repellant, abrasion and wind resistant, stretchy, breathable, and quiet. Jim likes his so much that I might look for one when they're on sale again.

Sometimes I like to run in fleece tops (InSport, Brooks, and others) or fleece or nylon vests (Sierra Sport, Patagonia, Brooks, etc.). Most of these are finishers' garments from races. These make good middle or top layers when it's cool to cold. Jim prefers to just layer on several shirts instead of wearing fleece.

We seldom wear our Marmot Precip pants because of the clamminess. They are better over soft wicking tights or stretchy pants than next to your skin over running shorts. We just usually don't need that much warmth on our legs, though. I much prefer my knit Nike DriFit pants with ankle zippers when it's cold. I like to run/hike in REI convertible nylon pants with zip-off legs for long runs with variable temperatures, as on the AT and CT. They are very light-weight and versatile. If I'm too warm, I can take off the legs (easy job). If I get cold, I can zip them back on again (NOT as easy).

Our running shorts run the gamut of manufacturers and include ones we purchased ourselves and ones we've gotten as finishers' awards in races. We have no particular favorite brand as long as they are comfortable and don't chafe.

Shirts are about the same -- as long as they are soft, thin, durable, and wick nicely, we don't care who makes them. Most of the shirts we train and race in are nice "technical" ones from major brands like Patagonia, Asics, and DuoFold that we've gotten at races. We haven't had to buy shirts for as long as we can remember.

Jim continues to use his light-weight white Solumbra sun shirt with 50 SPF, I believe. He gets hot in it, however, and has it tied around his waist about as much as wearing it. <frown>

Other clothing items Jim continues to use are running "ball" caps, a sun cap with cape to protect his neck, a fleece cap for really cold weather, soft stretchy synthetic gloves, and warmer fleece gloves. My accessory list includes cotton and wool headbands, a nice synthetic visor I wear every time I run (can't keep a hat on with this unruly hair!), and the same types of gloves Jim wears.

RUNNING GEAR & TECHNO TOYS

We continue to use the same waist and back packs, pouches, water bottles and bladders, hand-carriers, gel flasks and holders, and trekking poles as before.

For short runs, we use Ultimate Direction (UD) single-bottle packs we got five or six years ago at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run. Jim has a double UD pack, below, that he also uses when he needs two bottles and/or more storage space. If I need two bottles, I use my single pack and carry a second bottle in a Neoprene hand-carrier. Double-bottle packs give me stomach cramps so I haven't used them for ten years or more.

We both have Camelbak backpacks for longer runs when we need to fill our 100-oz. water bladders partly or entirely full. Jim has the Blowfish model, below. In races where he's out overnight or may run into bad weather, he uses it to carry clothing and supplies instead of water. There are usually aid stations close enough in these races that he needs only one or two bottles for water and energy drinks between refills, so he wears the single or double waist pack AND the backpack. The Blowfish sits high enough on his back that he can do this.

That doesn't work for me. I'm too short-waisted (I get a lot of my five-foot, nine-inch height from my legs!). If I need more than two 20-oz. or 28-oz. bottles, I wear my Camelbak H.A.W.G. hydration pack, below. It has a larger carrying capacity than Jim's Blowfish. It has served me well through my AT journey run, the Colorado Trail, and other long runs and races.

I'm pretty weighed down when I start out with the bladder full of 100 oz. of water, but I dislike treating water as I go so I usually carry all I think I'll need. I put only water in the bladder. Energy drinks go into a bottle (more about our energy/nutrition strategies later). It's hard enough keeping the nasties out of our hydration bladders and tubes (shown drying below) when we use just water. We have to run a bleach solution through them occasionally.

We prefer UD water bottles that we've been using for many years to the bottles we often get at races. We have both 20- and 28-oz. sizes. We use 5-oz. Hammergel flasks to carry our gels. I have a holder on my Camelbak shoulder strap and Jim uses a holder that attaches to his waist belt.

Both of us usually add one or two black nylon pouches to the front belts of both our waist packs and our Camelbaks so we can reach often-used items like electrolyte caps, sunscreen, sunglasses, a camera, etc. easier than taking the whole pack off. One of the pouches is shown three photos up with Jim's green double UD pack. When I'm carrying the GPS, I put it in a pouch with the "antenna" sticking out the top so it receives satellite signals. Jim carries the GPS on the shoulder strap of his Camelbak. 

Speaking of techno gizmos . . . we love the Garmin GPS (middle of photo below) that we bought last summer. It's the  GPSMAP 60CS model. We don't use it on routine runs at home unless we want to determine the elevation, but it's been invaluable to me on the Colorado Trail and Jim likes to use it on new trails to see how far and high he's been. It doesn't lose signals very easily like some models do. We had to purchase both a CD-ROM with Colorado Trail waypoints and additional Garmin TOPO software to use it effectively on the Colorado Trail (more about that in last year's summary).

We have two new tech toys this year: Verizon LG VX8300 cell phones and a more advanced digital camera.

Our three-year old phones were wearing out so we signed a new contract that included these phones for "free." They receive signals better than our old Verizon ones did, but they're still pretty useless in remote areas when we're on trails. We use them to get on-line with our laptop computer in the camper if the signal is strong enough. One or two bars will get or send e-mail, but uploading photos to the web site or Picasa photo-sharing site is considerably faster with WiFi. We have a WiFi card, just have to find places to hook into it (Jim's very good at that!).

I love the Nikon CoolPix 4100 (4-megapixel) camera that I've been using since the AT trek. It takes high-quality photos, is light weight, and easy to use. It has a viewfinder, which is getting more and more difficult to find. And it has survived flooded rivers and high-altitude storms and rain and dust and whatever we've thrown at it. However, I've been frustrated when zooming in on distant subjects or trying to print photos of cropped images for my scrapbooks because the pictures become pixel-y.

I've been looking since last fall for a camera with these features: reputable brand, high-quality photo capability, 7 to 8 megapixels, more than 3X optical zoom, image stabilization, viewfinder (not just a larger LCD screen), AA battery-operated (not proprietary batteries), and under $200. I finally found all that in May at Costco -- except for a viewfinder -- for only $179. I was very happy the day I found it (on a race trip, because we don't have a Costco near Roanoke either).

It's a Nikon CoolPix L5, a tiny bit bigger than the old camera because of the 5X optical zoom. It has 7.2 megapixels and the medium setting I have it on results in some pretty big pictures (20.3M compared to 5.49M with the old camera). They take up so much space on our laptop's hard drive that we're moving them onto two back-up external hard drives as I finish using them in the journal or Picasa. I don't think the picture quality is any better than the CoolPix 4100, but I see a huge difference when I crop photos or use the zoom feature. It fits comfortably in my hand and in the same little pouch I used for the other camera.

I'm still learning how to use the LCD screen to compose shots in bright sunlight. It's fine when it's overcast, but I really miss a viewfinder when it's sunny and I can't see what the heck is on the screen! So I take multiple shots in the hopes that one of them is composed the way I want. I end up having to delete more photos with this camera. Otherwise, I'm happy with it.

Jim isn't into taking photos like I am, but he plans to use the 4 MP one on some of his runs this summer so we can use those photos in the journal, too.

I'll review our energy products and nutrition strategies in another entry in a few days.

The next entry will cover a beautiful run/hike on part of Segment 25 on the Colorado Trail. You can sneak a peak at the photos from last year if you want a preview (2006 journal, July 2 and July 10) --  only this year, we expect lots more snow!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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