Monday, March 31, 2014

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 Review

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0
With the Tahoe 200 looming large in my future, I have already started to work on trying to figure out what gear I am going to need.  Unlike a typical 100 miler, the aid stations are much farther apart.  This creates a bit of a dilemma for me because I am going to have to carry more than I am used to.  For my daily runs I like to run as minimal as possible.  Give me a pair of shorts, a good pair of socks and shoes and let me loose in the woods.  Unfortunately, that lack of equipment usually is not possible for longer races.

Front view with bottles
I have many hydration packs, but still haven't embraced using them unless I absolutely have to.  They slosh and pull the back of my shirt up.  The drinking tube freezes in the winter.  And I still haven't found one that works when I'm not wearing a shirt.  And worse of all, I find that I just don't drink as much when I don't have a bottle in my hand.

Back view
But the biggest downside for me is that it doesn't work with my fueling strategy.  Over the years I have perfected my nutrition.  Basically, it involves sipping Hammer Sustained Energy (3 scoops per 28oz bottle) alternating with sipping water.  That means that I need 2 bottles.  But after a while (like, maybe 100 miles....) you get really tired of always having your hands tied up.

Bottle holder with pockets on both sides
The UD SJ 2.0 Vest might be able to solve that problem (note - this vest was provided to me free of charge as a media sample).  Rather than using a bladder, it uses 2 pockets to hold bottles.  So I can now mix one up with SE and fill the other with water.  And I don't have to carry them.

Inside view, notice the super lightweight material
I was super excited to check out the vest.  First looks reveal a very "techy" piece of equipment.  And it seems to weigh about nothing.  According to their website it only weighs 11oz (15 with the included empty bottles).  It has a ton of well placed pockets and cleaver ideas, including an emergency whistle.

Emergency Whistle
This model fits in the middle of their range of vests.  The most minimal is the AK (Anton Krupicka) and the largest is the PB adventure.  All models are now in their second version with improvements over the originals in materials and features.

On top of Mt. Hancock
I have had the vest for about 6 weeks now.  I have worn it for most of my runs over 20 miles in all types of conditions from freezing wet runs to a hot 22 mile run at Red Rock Canyon.  For such a small pack, it looks like it will hold a ton.  In reality, it is not a very big pack.  But if you are looking for a backpack to use for weeks in the woods you wouldn't even be considering something like this.

At Red Rocks Canyon in NV (I took the vest off for the picture)
The first thing I noticed was that it really stays put.  There is hardly any bouncing.  The bottles do make more noise than a pack with a bladder, but I got used to that pretty quickly.   I was very excited to find that it doesn't pull up the back of my shirt either.  I find that I drink more having the bottles where I can see them.  And of course, I can now drink 2 different liquids because I have two bottles.  Having my hands free is liberating.  After using it maybe a dozen or more times, there is no sign of wear or tear at all.  It still looks brand new.

When I wear it with a winter type shirt I find it fits great and is super comfortable.  But when I wore it in the desert with only a thin running shirt I found that full bottles bouncing against my chest was not entirely comfortable.  I have an extremely bony chest.  I look just like E.T. without my shirt, but with more tattoos.  Actually, looking at the picture, he might have more of chest than me... I will be testing it out for much longer runs when the summer gets here before I decide on using it for the big race.

Smart phone pouch

As far as storage goes, there are a lot of compartments.  I have found it a little bit difficult to get to the side pockets when running, but with a little practice it's not too bad.  One thing I would like to see them change are the "smart phone pouches" that reside under the bottle holders.  I have an iphone 5.  While it does fit width wise, it is to tall to be fully encased.  I won't put my phone there for fear of it eventually bouncing out.  But I find it fits rather nicely in the side pocket without any discomfort.

Handy Velcro pill pocket under each bottle holder

I am still waiting for the official list of gear that we will be required to carry for the race.  If everything I need can fit in this vest it is most likely what I am going to use.  It is a great alternative to a traditional hydration pack/vest.

Super lightweight airy material
Adjustable clips slide for better fit
Outside zippered pocket
Which also has an interior Velcro opening
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is available on the Ultimate Direction website for $129.95.  Full specs are also on that page for those of you who want to know every little detail.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Becoming a runner has changed my life in so many different ways.  What started as a simple way to lose a few pounds has turned into a lifestyle.  It has taught me mental toughness and patience.  It has brought me new friends.  It has made me a calmer person, as exercise has been incredibly helpful in relaxing my frenzied mind.  And it has helped me learn about how our bodies physically "work".  But the biggest change that running has brought to me is in how I eat.

In the quest to become stronger and more fit, I have had to learn and accept that I can't eat the way I did when I was in my 20's.  When I first started running a decent level of miles, say over 60mpw, I would end almost every night gorging on sweets.   God forbid if there weren't several candy bars in the fridge after dinner.  That combined with my love of Alcohol conspired to make sure that regardless of how much I ran, I was sure to not lose weight.  As a matter of fact, I gained it!

As I've learned and changed my diet I have written about it here on my blog.  In September of 2010 I started the Ultrametabolism diet by Dr. Mark Hyman.  This was the biggest dietary change I've ever made.  I cut out all added sugar, all wheat/flour and stopped drinking.  I ate a ton of (good) fat and ended up losing weight and getting leaner than I ever have.  I wrote about it here.

Then in May of 2012, after a period of slacking on the diet, I decided to follow it again but I added one twist.  I decided to turn only to plant based, whole food (ie: Vegan).  I wrote about that here.

In doing all this experimentation with my diet I have done a ton of reading and learning.  My biggest take away is that Sugar is, by most definitions, an addictive substance.   If I slack on my diet and start eating sugar and wheat I not only gain weight, but I gain fat.  The inner tube around my waist inflates in exact proportion to the amount of sugar, wheat and alcohol I consume.  Every time.  And equally predictable is that I lose weight and get leaner when I stop.  Every time.

But why?  I was a long time believer that weight was a simple function of calories in vs. calories burned.  But I have learned that it is not that simple.  My entire purpose for this post is to share the video below.  It is by Dr. Robert Lustig, who's first video "Sugar, the Bitter Truth" has been viewed millions of times.  This is part 2, with upgraded information, and it explains why Sugar is such a big part of the obesity crisis that we are now in the middle of.  It is a long video, but if you have a vested interest in understanding what is happening to our food supply and how it is affecting our bodies, it will fly by.  I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.  After the video, please share  your thoughts!

Monday, January 27, 2014

(UN)Welcome Back!

My view from Cannon Mountain
Two week ago I went up to the White Mountains and for the first time, I tackled several climbs alone.  Usually I go with friends a few times a year, and since they have so much knowledge of the area I don't pay much attention.  I just follow them and enjoy the views.  But knowing that I have to start training on harder terrain I decided to take the plunge.  After all, what's the worst thing that can happen, except for getting lost and dying of hypothermia...

As it turns out, I had an incredible day.  Both for the sense of accomplishment of finally doing something I've wanted to do for years, but also because it was just a beautiful quiet day of being alone in the mountains.  I decided to climb two of the 48 4000ft peaks, Cannon and Tecumseh.  Both are fairly short (5 miles each) with about the same elevation gain and loss (around 2500 ft).

Crusty Ice and Snow on Tecumseh

I was wearing my New Balance MT110 Winter's with Microspikes, which was a perfect setup.  The trail consisted of lots of ice and a layer of new snow over the top, more so as the elevation rose.  I had a little bit of a hard time at first since I was the first one on the trail and took the wrong entrance at Cannon.  After a mile of bushwacking I crossed the trail and it was much easier from there.

On the way down from the first climb I noticed an old familiar feeling in my right lower shin.  Its an itchy, achy pain that hurts when my ankle is fully flexed upwards, and lesser so but still present when fully flexed the other way as well.  I decided to ignore it and drove to Waterville Valley to hit Tecumseh.  It didn't get any better.  As you might suspect, it got a lot worse on the climb up.  Obviously the steep incline of the trail, possibly combined with the very tight fitting "boot" built into this shoe, was a combination that my shin didn't like.

My old friend, Anterior Tibialis Tendonitis is back.  This is a chronic problem that used to plague me years ago, and hasn't really reared its ugly head for a while.  The Tibialis anterior muscle is the large muscle that runs down the shin.  Inflammation of the tendon sheath can cause pain at the front of the shin.  It is terribly uncomfortable and feels like you have your shoes tied way to tight over the top eyelets. 

Dr. Coapland
Knowing that I have to train harder than ever to compete in the Tahoe 200 I am kind of freaking out.  But I have some powerful weapons in my corner.  Brett Coapland from Performance Health and Peter Larson from Runblogger (who also has an office and does gait analysis at Performance Health).

Professor Larson
I've seen Brett twice so far and I plan on seeing him until this gets fixed.  He is the one who fixed it the last time, and I have full confidence in his ability to help me again.  He uses a combination of ART (Active Release Therapy) and a form of acupuncture called dry needling.

Peter helped me the last time by suggesting that I change my stride.  This lead me to discover running in more minimal shoes and leaning how to be more of a mid-foot striker.  I wrote about this transformation almost three years ago here on my blog.  This time, Pete took some slow motion video to see if it once again might be a striding problem.  We are going to take some more video this week in different shoes for more analysis.  The good news is that the video showed that my stride is pretty efficient and at this point not seeming to be the problem.

I feel compelled to give them both a shout out here on my blog.  I am a non-professional recreational runner.  These two guys make me feel like an Olympic athlete that needs to get fixed for the big race.  I have the utmost confidence that with these guys in my corner that we can nip this in the bud.  If you have a sports injury and you live anywhere close to Concord NH you should give them a call.  I can't say enough good about them. I'm very lucky to call them friends.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hoka Rapa Nui 2 (Trail and Tarmac) Shoe Review

I don't know if I've ever anticipated getting a shoe longer than the Hoka Rapa Nui.  I first saw them on Karl Meltzers feet, then saw a post about them on Ian Corless' blog in August of 2012.  I was extremely intrigued.   I have had every single model that Hoka makes, eventually deciding that my favorite was the Bondi Speed.  I have run thousands of miles in Hokas, even naming the Bondi Speed my top trail shoe of 2012.  It was like a late Christmas present when I finally received a pair three weeks ago.  (Note: these shoes were provided at no charge by Hoka as a media sample).

Obviously the brand has grown huge amounts in the last 3 years.  Once an oddity, it seems that now they are the dominate player in the (super) long distance shoe market.  In reality, they created an entire new market and the response from runners falling in love with the pillowy soft cushioning has spured the industry to create a new segment.  It seems that the biggest trend for 2014 is the "Maximal" Cushioned shoe.

While all that was/is going on, Hoka has actually produced a shoe with LESS cushioning!  The Rapa Nui was designed as a faster, more minimal shoe for the racier crowd.  "Relevant" is the word that comes to mind, as the words "minimal" and "Hoka" really don't belong anywhere near each other.  Only in Hoka land can a 11.7oz (my actual weight of a size 10.5) shoe with 21/25mm of cushioning be considered minimal.  But, in relevance to their other offerings it is.

The Rapa Nui addresses my biggest concern with the other Hoka models, which is to much "squish". While the others feel awesome at first, I actually find that they cause a certain type of fatigue that no other shoe does.  Specifically, my hamstrings and periformus seem to get overwhelmed after very long runs in those shoes.   Unfortunately, this problem has led to several DNF's in races where I have worn Hokas from the start.  I have actually had races where I changed out of Hokas after 60-70 miles into a more traditional shoe and felt way better.  Knowing this, I changed my shoe strategy for 100 milers this year.  At the VT100, where I got 9th place with a PR of 18:53, I wore traditional shoes until mile 81.  Then I switched to my beloved Bondi Speeds and felt invigorated enough to run the fastest last 19 mile split in the 4 times I've run that race.  

So when I heard that the Rapa Nui had 1.5x the level of cushioning of a normal shoe rather than the usual 2.2x I was excited.  Could this be the shoe that strikes the perfect balance of maximal cushioning without being overkill?

I have read other reports that this shoe is more flexible than other Hokas.  Well, yes and no.  It is way more flexible than their thickest offerings, the Stinson Evo and Mafate.  Both of those rely on a rockered sole for a smooth ride.  The sole on both of those are quite stiff.  The flex on the Rapa Nui is similar to the Bondi.  Still very stiff in the traditional world.

The EVA foam sole feels more like the Stinson Evo, but because of the lower volume it flexes more.  It also has a much less pronounced rocker effect.  Frankly I don't feel the rocker effect at all on this shoe.

One thing that really worried me before I received them was that the toe box looks extremely narrow in pictures.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they don't feel narrow.  They actually have more room than my Stinson Evos.  It's not only the internal width, but the height of the toe box as well.  This combined with a nice snug fitting mid foot creates a very comfortable shoe.  They fit true to size with a fair amount of room in front of your toes.

So, was the wait worth it?  Yes, it was.  I absolutely love these shoes.  They have a feel that seems to provide a nearly perfect level of cushioning, without feeling like they are robbing energy.  The climb better than my other Hokas, they have the best level of traction due to the chevron shaped lugs, and they have the best fit of any Hokas I've used.

I find myself running longer than I planed to when I wear them.  I just want to keep running because my feet are so happy!  I do need to report that the longest I have worn them for at this point is only 15 miles, so I still haven't tested them on any really long runs.  But based on how they have performed so far I doubt that I will have any trouble wearing them longer.

Road Version, the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

The only difference is the tread pattern.
After 80 or so miles, with about 1/2 of that being on pavement, the rear most lugs are starting to wear.  I don't by any means consider it excessive, but since I want these to last as long as possible I purchased a pair of the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmacs (previously called the Kailua) from Boulder running company.  I have been using them for the treadmill and road runs.  Except for the tread, they feel and fit exactly the same as the off road versions. Hence, there is no need for a separate review.  For my first run in them I had planned on running 4-6 miles.  I was having so much fun that I went 13.  And that sums up how I feel about them.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What? Running 100 miles isn't hard enough?

2:53pm, Sunday January 12th:  In about an hour I am going to find out if I have been picked in the lottery to run the Tahoe 200, a 200 mile foot race around Lake Tahoe with almost 40,000 ft of elevation gain and loss.  Ever since I first heard about this race I have been consumed with the idea of running it.  According to their site, the race is the first of its kind in the US.  There are other (very) long distance races of 200 miles or more, but none of them are one continuous trail, as opposed to a loop course.

For the first time in several years, I have that "what if?" and "how the hell can I possibly do this?" feeling again.  I had this feeling when I decided to run my first marathon.  And then again when I did my first 50k and 50 miler.  But it really feels like the first time I decided to enter a 100 mile race.  My first 50 miler was a huge endeavor, I just couldn't imagine how I was going to be able to cover twice that distance.  But the fear of the unknown is a strong motivator.  And after running a bunch of 100 milers my motivation to continue with this sport has been waning.   I'm sort of at a cross roads as far as ultra running is concerned.  I know I can run 100 miles.  I know that I can place pretty good at them.  I know that I love the training.  But, the only thing I can really set my sights upon is getting faster and trying new courses.

When I first got into Ultra running I didn't care what place I came in.  I had two goals.  Finish, and enjoy myself.  On some level I have come to dread racing.  I would love to think that I could just run 70-100 miles a week because I enjoy being outside.  I would love to stop with all the specificity that the training involves and just run.  And more than anything, I want to learn to be patient and enjoy being outside again.

The thought of trying to run 200 miles has rekindled the fire.  Every running step I have taken since hearing about this race has consumed me with the thought of getting ready.  But, really, how the hell do you prepare to do this?  And THAT'S the fun of it!

I will finish writing this post in an hour, after I find out if I got in or not.  There are only 75 spots available and almost 200 people in the lottery.  I've got pretty good odds and a good feeling that I'm going to get in.  I have my fingers crossed!

4:55pm:  WHOO HOOO, I'm in!   Man, that was tense.  They announced the winners of the lottery 6 or 7 names at a time on twitter.  My name was pulled 67th and I had almost given up.  So now, the mystery of how to prepare for this thing begins.  For more info about the race, check out their website, Tahoe 200.  Now I just need to figure out what shoe(s) I'm going to use!

Photo credit: Tahoe 200 website

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top 5 Trail Running Shoes of 2013

As I did last year, I'd like to present my top picks for Trail Running Shoes of 2013.  I had a fairly typical mileage year and ended up getting in 3000 miles.  Before I reveal my top 5, here is a list of all the shoes, to the best of my memory, I ran in this year.

Altra Lone Peak
Altra Lone Peak 1.5
Altra Torin
Brooks Pure Grit 2
Hoka Bondi B2
Hoka Bondi B Speed
Hoka Rapa Nui
La Sportiva Helio
Merrell All Out Rush
Merrell All Out Fuse
Merrell Bare Access II
Merrell Ascend Glove
Montrail Fluid Flex
New Balance MT1010
New Balance MT1010v2
New Balance MT110
New Balance MT110 Winter
Newton Boco AT
Nike Terra Kiger
Patagonia EverLong
Patagonia Evermore
Salomon SLab Sense
Skechers Go Bionic
Skechers Go Bionic Trail Prototype
Skechers Go Run Ride
Skechers Go Ultra Prototype
Skechers Go Ultra
Skechers Go Run 2

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try quite a few new shoes this year! The top five represent the ones that I liked the best.   My list is based on nothing other than personal preference and is completely biased towards what I liked running in.  Since I really don't have a clear favorite, this list is in alphabetical order, not in order of my preference.  Here we go!

Altra Lone Peak 1.5 (175 miles)
Altra called this version a minor update from the original.  I found the subtle changes to be a huge improvement.  An excellent fit, wide toe box, great traction and rock protection make this shoe my pick when going to the mountains or doing tough terrain.  You can read my Review HERE on Runblogger.

La Sportiva Helio (235 miles)
This was my first pair of La Sportivas.  I found them to drain well, have excellent traction and provide adequate protection from the elements.  You can read my review HERE on Runblogger.

Nike Terra Kiger (238 miles)
My first pair of minimal shoes was the Nike Free.  I loved the way the upper felt like part of my foot and I ran a ton of miles in them.  I always wished that there was a trail version.  It took Nike a long time to deliver just that, but it was worth the wait.  This shoe is one of my all time favorites and it is good for a very wide range of terrains.  I would even consider running a road race in them because they ride so smoothly on pavement.  The shoe drains well, is super flexible, has decent traction and a perfect level of cushioning.  And from what I've been reading you can pick them up super cheap now!  I went up 1/2 size for a perfect fit.  I never did get around to reviewing them, as I was to busy enjoying them. 

Pearl Izumi EM N1 Trail (237 miles)
My first pair of Pearl Izumi's, and after seeing Timothy Oleson kill it at Western States twice I was really looking forward to trying them.  They didn't disappoint.  I found them to be another shoe that was good in many different environments.  They have a light, fast and smooth feel.  You can read my review HERE on Runblogger.

Skechers Go Ultra (148 miles)
After working with Skechers describing what would be my dream Ultra Marathon shoe, they came up with the Go Ultra.  It satisfies almost all my requests and is an incredible first effort.  Think of a Nike Free/Hoka mashup and you'll get an idea what they are all about.  And at only $80 they are one of the best trail running bargains in the market.  Read my full review HERE on Runblogger.

There are two shoes that I also need to mention.  Since this is a list of my 5 favorite trail shoes, the Altra Torin doesn't qualify.  But....I used that shoe more than any other shoe this year, putting 809 miles on two pairs.  I used it for the majority of the Vermont 100, which I set a PR.  It has a perfect fit, perfect level of cushioning and is the shoe that I grab when I am going to be running any length of time on hard surfaces.  You can read my review HERE on Runblogger. 

The other is the Hoka Rapa Nui.  I received them 8 days ago and have used them for almost every run since.  I have been looking forward to trying them since I saw Karl Meltzer using them a year ago.  I will be doing a full review soon (I already have 50 miles on them) but I can't imagine them not being included in next years top 5.  I really like them!

So, what were your favorite trail shoes of this past year?   How about the shoe that you are looking forward to the most for 2014? Leave a comment and let me know! 

My Top 5 Trail Shoes for 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks.

This is what I'm most grateful for, my family!

I love Thanksgiving.  It's so nice to have the day off from work, spend time with my family and relax.  It also seems to initiate a kinder gentler way of treating each other.   For this one day in the United States people seem to have a little more patience and caring.  Everybody just seems a little bit nicer because they have taken the time to reflect on the good in their life.

Just think what our lives would be like if we could carry that mentality and attitude every day of the year, not just on this special day. 

I read a lot of books by folks who look at life a little bit differently than the masses.  From Entrepreneurs to deep thinkers/philosophers.  I always seem to take away at least one positive piece of advice from each one of them.  I also try to surround myself with people who are not only successful, but more importantly positive and happy.

One habit I've picked up is the practice of being grateful.  Every day, and I mean every single day, before I get out of bed I spend a few moments reflecting on the things I'm grateful for.  There are several reasons I do this.  One is because I believe in the Law of Attraction.  Simply stated, the LOA says that what you think (positive OR negative) the Universe returns back.  It's exciting to think that if I spend time really thinking about all the good things in my life, the universe will return to me even more.  From how much my life has changed since discovering this, I have to say I'm a big believer that this is real.

The other reason is that it sets the tone for the day to come.  When I wake up I have the choice to focus on the things I'm stressed out or worried about, or I can say a prayer of thanks for the positive things in my life.  I really believe that light obliterates dark, and in the same way, positivity obliterated negativity.  You just can't feel bad when you focus on the good in your life.

I hope this post doesn't come across as preachy.  What I do hope is that anybody reading this makes a conscience decision each and every day to be grateful for the good they have in their life.  Not just on this one day that we set aside to do just that.    Happy Thanksgiving, I'm grateful that all of you are in my life.