Friday, September 23, 2011

You Down With CEP? Yeah, You Know Me!

For the first time in my running life I ran in compression sleeves. It was the Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 50 and I thought the extra support couldn't hurt. I'm no stranger to compression for recovery but for running I've been resistant. I don't have a solid reason-just the look I guess. So off I went for a 50 miler and let me tell you: If these were pink with polkadots and feathers I would wear them for a long run again in a second! They were just that good.

I have three pairs of compression socks and also the 2XU compressions sleeves that I mainly use for after runs and for air travel. I'm not a big fan of full socks since I am really picky about my socks. The sleeves allow for compression and personal sock choice. A win-win for finicky feet. CEP claims arterial blood flow to be improved by 30%-40% and performance enhanced by 5% while stabilizing tendons and ligaments. All this means fewer muscle pains and fresher legs the next day (I agree).

Right out of the box I noticed the CEP seemed to hug me consistently all over my calves. My other sleeves (2XU) fit loose at the ankle and cut into my leg just beneath my knee. The CEP sleeves seem to hug all over and not strangle. At the time of this writing I have worn them in two races and for recovery. I give them an A+ for each race. Made in Germany you can sense the quality right away. They are made of 79% polyamide and 21% spandex.

I give the CEP Compression Sleeves five Nails out of five.

Pros: Very comfortable. They hug equally throughout the sleeve. They look good (without graphic overkill). At $34 for the pair I don't feel like my wallet is the only thing getting the squeeze. Great performance, value and style. I could tell a difference the next morning after the Ultra (the dreaded morning after).

Cons: During races people want to know how they feel. I gave two quick tutorials during a half-marathon last week. I figure if they have enough air to ask questions I need to answer quick and then up the pace. I also heard some whispers after the race from other racers behind my back. They should be talking-these rock!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The week after a long running event is silly. Knees buckle without warning and stairs are best handled backwards. Before I found Darn Tough socks (not a sponsor) I would be wincing when the bed sheets touched my toes. Still I thud and twist around the house and just plain looked clumsy.

I tried to run today and I was awful. Four days after the event and I still have some healing to do. If it wasn't for the homeless guy who rolled out of the weeds and sat up on the trail I would have walked a lot more. Too many Zombie movies had me running past the "Urban Outdoorsman" quickly. By this weekend I'll be just about right and hopefully gliding across the trail and not pounding the ground like I'm inserting fence posts with my feet.

For now I'll keep up with the Ibuprofen, compression and spirited walks around the parks. Fall weather is here and I don't want to miss a day!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The After (Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 50)

The truth of the matter is I was "only" supposed to run 31 miles at the Steamboat 50, Run Rabbit Run. My target 50 is next month's Pony Express 50 miler in Utah. The Steamboat race was supposed to be a training day. I knew right away that I wasn't going to stop. Even when the rain started (and remained for 9 hours) and the sleet fell and the hail stung my face I just wanted to run. And the deeper I went...the farther I wanted to go.

Just three weeks prior I had an awful day at the Aspen Backcountry Marathon. From the first mile I was miserable and nothing was going right. I goofed up my nutrition, my shoes were trouble and it took everything I had just to finish. That night I was re-thinking my love for running. Thankfully I am a great procrastinator and at mile 30 of the Steamboat I was starting to enjoy the challenge of 20 more miles to the finish.

When I look back on the 11 hours of running I pick out the one key moment of the day. My wife took my visor and made me wear a winter beanie a little past the midway point. I love my visor and it wasn't an easy exchange for me. Lucky for me since a few miles after the hat exchange the weather got nasty and took out 66 of the runners with some going into hypothermia. Some runners couldn't remember their names...that's scary.

Normally a runner would go into detail about the course and the miles and the competition. Hey, I just ran...I am going to talk about the volunteers. They were the best I have ever witnessed (and that's with almost 200 races under my belt). The Steamboat 50 Run Rabbit Run volunteers were so damn good I would swear they were getting paid $1000 an hour and working just for me. I've never had such great treatment and they were in the nasty weather all day too! One volunteer even offered to call my wife to let her know I was still running ok-wow! THANK YOU!!!

A race this long is challenging on a few levels. Obviously you have to love running, train long hours and not get hurt. Your family and friends have to accept that you will be tired and grouchy and off the social radar. The biggest challenge is asking of yourself more than you ever have and accepting the outcome. Going long is a sober look in the running mirror. As I ran into town posting my fastest mile of the day at mile 50 I winked back and said "Good job."

Thanks again to my wife and the Steamboat volunteers. You were the stars of the day! The winner of the race was Zeke Tiernan who has a reputation in these parts. The course was an out and back so I got to see the leaders after the turn around. Zeke and the others in the lead pack were nice enough to give me some words of encouragement as they passed. Just another reason to love trail runners.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Before (looking for an After)

I'm zipping up the suitcase and heading out the door loaded with running shoes, clothes and band-aids. Tomorrow is the Steamboat 50 mile Run Rabbit Run. This will be my first 50 miler. I've done a 50k, Ironman and tons of other events but this one has me...not worried...intrigued. I don't know if I can do this distance. It's not for a lack of training, will or drive. I think it comes from a lack of experience at this distance.

I've studied and have enough supplies for two runners so I would say I am as prepared as I can be. By this time tomorrow I will be approaching mile 18-20. I've decided that miles 31-41 will be the hardest. This stretch is into the unknown and leads up to single digit miles to the finish. Usually the light at the end of the tunnel (single digits) is enough to get a runner to the finish. I'm excited to get to that point in the race.

My mind already knows something big is coming and it is venturing to my happy place. My eyes are open but there is no real focus. Just the feeling I need to relax and keep moving. The world is moving around me but I am in my own place. I hear words but do not absorb them and I am losing track of time. It is in this place I will face the hardest miles and carry on one foot after another.

And hopefully Sunday morning there will be an "After" story to tell.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack

I come from the cycling industry where I tested products non-stop in search of what would serve the customer's needs best. My goal was (and is) to find products that will enhance the user's experience. With that in mind I offer my thoughts on the Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack.

With a trail marathon and two 50-mile races coming up I decided it was time to invest in a running hydration pack. I've run multiple marathons on the road with a handheld bottle or just using the water stops. Using a handheld bottle has been my go-to method for years but I needed to know if there was a better way to enjoy the long runs.

Bring on the Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Pack...

At 5'10 the first thing I noticed was I felt like I was wearing a child's vest. The hydration packs I used for mountain biking the vest always was much longer and sat lower on my back. The Nathan #020 sits high and after the first run you will get why it is designed this way-it doesn't get in the way of any motion at the waist and it breathes really well.

The loading of fluid seems to be a big discussion among pack users. The Nathan system is simple in that you have a envelop like opening that you fold over at the top and slide a hard plastic Slideseal guide over the top and you are ready to go. The wide opening makes for easy cleaning and quick filling. I had been using the Osprey with the screw off lid and hard plastic spine that made for a great handle. My only knock on the Osprey bag is that it's harder to clean than the Nathan. The Nathan 70 ounce (2.0 liter) bag has measuring guides for mixing and filling. User tip: When rinsing and drying I leave a plastic pasta spoon in the bag to keep it open and let it drain upside down in the sink.

One you have the bladder loaded it's suspended in the pack with a plastic clip. The clip looks a little fragile and is kind of a pain at times getting it to hang the bag. It's not a deal breaker but I figure I'll be emailing Nathan for an extra since I know I'll break it the morning of a race (I know me).

The hose is guided over the shoulder strap (you can choose left or right side) and is to be clamped down on the chest strap. Here is where my product manager mind started churning. The hose is to clip into the harness horizontal with the strap. It's not the natural position the hose wants to sit and lock in. The bite-valve runs into the pockets and sometimes needs a little guiding to get it stowed. Nathan would get a great many cheers for adjusting the angle of the clip to a diagonal position so the user is not fighting the clip. While racing in this vest I would just cram the end of the hose under the belt or in the pocket since I felt I was fooling with the hose-clip interface too much. So far the best bite valve interface I have used is the magnetic mouthpiece by Osprey. You sip and just get that sucker close to the clasp and it snaps down magnetically without looking.

At the time of this writing I am still not sold on the pockets configuration. There are three pockets and each has a different opening/closing method. The zipper pocket on the left side is great. It is the right size for food, camera or a phone. In front of the zipper pocket is an open pocket with a diagonal cut opening. The opening is too large to keep anything securely stowed. I use this pocket for empty wrappers. My concern is anything with weight would bounce out on rugged descents. The right pocket has a pull-cord closure system that secures the contents. This is the pocket I stow my gels and a long sleeve of Clif Bloks. On the back there's a bigger zipper pocket that's great for headlamp, clothing, hat or gloves. To finish off the storing capabilities is an elastic shock cord on the back for the quick grab jacket.

As with any hydration vest they always seem heavy once you fill the bladder and start to run. While you'll obviously feel putting 70 ounces of fluid on your back the Nathan #020 really has a well balanced feel. There's also the 3-Way Propulsion Harness the "moves with you, not against you." I can't see what it's doing back there but it feels pretty good and works. The bladder stayed put and it didn't tear up my shirt or cause ANY chaffing. I was ready for the nasty rub marks after my first long run and there were none to be found! Amen! The literature that comes with the pack states: "Meant to be worn a little loose, it feels more like a hug than a weight on your back, resulting in the most comfortable way to carry fluids for extended exertion. I fully agree.

After 50 miles of running in this vest in a week I would recommend this to anyone looking to ditch the handheld. The pack is light (15 ounces per my digital scale) and feels great. Who knew a hydration vest could feel so good? I paid $76 online and find this to be on par with the other brands. If you have long mileage in mind you better start looking at the Nathan packs. With any pack it takes some time to get dialed with the straps and drinking from a hose takes more effort than a bottle (See previous post "Mr. Dumbass").

Pro: Lightweight vest that does feel like a hug. Everything you need is right at your chest and you can disappear with hours without worry. This vest has me excited for Fall running since I can take extra clothes and stow them in the back. No more driving back out to the mountain to grab the base layer I ditched in the tree. The bladder is easy to fill and clean. The vest breathes really well and there's plenty of adjustments to get it perfect for any body type.

Cons: I'm not a fan of the hose clamp on the chest strap. There's too much fidgeting for me. If it was able to be angled I think Nathan would win praise from the users. There's also an "On/Off" adjustment at the bite valve. In the future I would hope they just use a Green and Red dot. It's not something that would deter me from buying this product would be a nice touch. I'm 44 and it's hard to see if it's on or off. The last little picky comment is this vest does not have any reflective qualities. I think some added reflective touches on the back would be good for the all night runner who pops out on the road.

I give this product 4.5 nails (out of five). I love this hydration vest and will use it in both of my upcoming 50 mile races. I think the pockets could be improved and the bite valve takes a lot of work (even for a big mouth like me). I'll post another update after the Steamboat 50 coming up in two weeks.

Please feel free to add you comments or questions below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mr. Dumbass

At mile 18 of the Aspen Backcountry Marathon my trusty sidekick was waiting with fresh shoes and my bottle. I had been wearing the Nathan HPL 020 vest and was ready to switch it up for the last 8 miles to the finish. This race was for testing my set-up for the upcoming Steamboat 50 in September. As soon as I popped the clasp and pulled the vest off my shoulders I knew I had made a dumb was still heavy...after 3 hours of trail running.

It wasn't until we got home later did I get to see just how heavy it was (see picture). I had managed to drink 20 ounces of fluid in the first 3.5 hours of running. That's me Mr. Dumbass or just plain dumb ass! No wonder I was all stupid for the last 8 miles that took me forever to finish. It didn't help that the race organizers sent us all up some stupidly steep climb with 2.5 miles to the finish. My wife ran in with me the last 3 miles and said I looked drunk. That's honest support from my teammate.

That's my issue with the hydration packs. I can never tell if I am about empty or running a full tank. Yes, I should have realized the pack felt heavy but after hours of running in the woods everything felt heavy. I also should have realized that I was dying a slow dehydration death. I was too busy negotiating the trail and the amazing scenery of Aspen and I just goofed up.

So I was back at testing out the vest again at Marshall Mesa in Boulder. I did better this time with drinking 35 ounces in 3 hours but still far from emptying the bladder. That's my only knock on hydration packs-it takes too much energy to get fluid out of the hose. With a bottle you can inject the fluid with a little squeeze on the bottle. With a hose you are losing valuable breathing time toking on the water hookah. Perhaps with practice it will get better.

If I'm missing the obvious please feel free to let me know.