Category Archives: Gear

R2R2R

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Going up North Kaibab

This past week, I ran R2R2R.

There’s no way to capture the scale of the Grand Canyon in a photo, so I was looking forward to seeing it with my own eyes and as I  ran through it. The canyon lived up to the hype. It was impressive and a little ginormous. The run, however, wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. I expected to be on Death’s door, shriveled up and/or burned to a crisp after finishing.

But it wasn’t that bad, which was oddly disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was tough. Especially the last four hours hiking up Bright Angel Trail. But overall, it felt like another 50 mile race, just with more vertical. I feel like I trained pretty well for the run, but what really made it “easier” was the weather.

Perhaps the trail gods pitied us, as there was cloud cover for a good portion of the day. This made a huge difference: It spared us the heat of the inner canyon, which is supposed to be tortuous. It allowed us to run for longer periods without overheating. And it kept us from running out of water. (Sort of.)

Ultimately, I’m thankful we didn’t have to endure the heat.

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We began under a full moon. (Or pretty darn close.)

I ran with four other people from our group of 20. We started about 4:45 am. Once it got light, the first few miles were spent oohing and ahhing and taking pictures. It was awhile before we really got going. We took our time and drank in the Canyon. We made several stops along the way, but the majority of the first 15-20 miles was uneventful and went by relatively quick.

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This is what I came to see!

 

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Chris and Michele on one of the bridges.

 

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I could still manage to get lost…

 

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You can see the cloud cover starting to roll in.

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Lower mid right, that white streak is a baby waterfall.

 

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Tanya and Jason sporting matching hats.

As the day went on, it warmed up. Going up North Kaibab was probably the worst of the heat. It was hot, but not unbearably so. We stopped in an awesome shady spot and lounged for a bit. The rock was cool and felt great on our tired legs. Once we started back up, we were greeted with a never-ending series of switchbacks to the top.

We eventually made it to the top of North Kaibab and had lunch. One of the other sub groups was already there, so we got to to eat and chat with them. But the best treat? The water. Oh-my-goodness!! So cold and refreshing. (I felt guilty about dumping out  my bladder just so I could refill it with cold water.) Oh, and mental note for next time: Extended breaks make it extremely hard to get moving again. 

After the agonizing uphill, running –actual running– the downhill was really fun. I felt we had been trudging along all day (which was probably actually a good thing), but now was a chance to to open it up. I love the feeling of bounding through rocky trails as fast as I can. So I started running up ahead at my own pace and then stopping and waiting for the others. They were never that far behind, so that worked out great. But I had to remind myself to keep it in check because there’d be hill to pay later.

At Cottonwood, we stopped and soaked our feet and legs. The ice cold water felt great, though I could handle it for only like 10 seconds at a time. The others had no problems sitting in the water up to their waist, so eventually I had to do the same. It felt great for like a second. It’s crazy how fast the water evaporates though.

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Ribbon Falls. Don’t you just want to touch the fuzzy greenery?

We took a detour to check out Ribbon Falls.  It was a great little water fall. You can climb up to the top and stick your head under the water. As you might imagine, it felt great.

And then came the slog. Running back through the inner canyon was the running version of Groundhog Day. It was the L-o-n-g-e-s-t S-e-v-e-n  M-i-l-e-s  E-v-e-r. We would have really suffered here if it weren’t for the cloud cover because the rock absorbs the sun’s heat all day and then radiates it right back out into your face.

By this time, the moon was nowhere to be seen and it was pitch black. Michele had a problem with her headlamp/batteries, so I let her use my headlamp. I ran between her and Tanya and was able to see well enough. The trekking poles were a lifesaver here. They allowed me to cross over the logs more easily, helped provide depth perception, and overall stability.

This was by far the toughest section to get through. It was certainly  challenging physically, but even more so mentally. We could hike only so fast. Partly because we were tired and partly because of the fear of walking off the cliff. Chris had said if we could do a 30 minute mile, we were doing well. That sounded ridiculous, but I think it was true.

There were some lights at the top of the canyon that we seemed to be moving toward but not getting any closer. We seemed to be hiking forever but not making any progress. All we could see was five feet in front of us. And those damn lights up top. I started thinking about food. I would have killed for a burger and a Coke. Seriously.

Strangely, it wasn’t even midnight yet and we started getting bombarded by other runner’s (presumably)starting their R2R2R journey. It was disappointing because many of the runners didn’t yield the trail to us or even slow down. (Trail etiquette dictates that those moving downhill should yield to those moving uphill.) A few bellowed the “Looking good!/ Good job!” line which was a little too chipper for my taste.

Some time after midnight, we finally made it to the top of Bright Angel. I thought for sure I would cry, but I didn’t. I was too tired.

 

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Mega thorny cactus flower.

Other Notes/ Advice type Stuff

Water: Jason and Michele both ran out of water twice.  We gave them some water the first time, and the second time was right before a stop. They got lucky. It’s better to carry too much water than to run out. Simple as that. And really, how do you run out of water twice?!

I had a 2L bladder for water which I filled completely at each stop and a 21 oz bottle for Perpetuem/ Heed.

Calories: I brought around 6,000 calories, almost twice what I actually consumed. (Although about 2000 of that was Perpetuem and Heed.) Often what seems edible in the grocery store is anything but on the trail. And again this was the case. A dozen+ gels, 3 bars, cola flavored gel chews (next best thing to a Coke), pretzels, beef jerky, cookies, almonds, single serve tuna fish with crackers, olives, a real sandwich, and powdered Perpetuem and Heed. And I forgot to bring Payday candy bars. I think those would have done me well.

I love my Salomon pack. I bought it specifically for this trip and it has been great to me. Maybe I should finish the review I started.

Garmin Forerunner 310XT did work in the canyon (even though it was constantly losing satellite reception), lasted over 17 hours. I never stopped it, if I had, it might have made the whole trip. What I should have done was to stop it at each water stop and treat that as a run. The drawback is you have to remember to restart the watch…

Trekking poles were a HUGE help going uphill. I’ve never used them before (hills in Texas?) but they were easy to get the hang of. Most of us rented them from the General Store. Best $12 I ever spent.

A wide brim hat or a legionnaire’s cap is a must. And sunscreen.

Make sure your headlamp works! Put in new batteries and/or carry spares. You might even take two headlamps. If your sole source of light breaks somehow, you’re in a tough spot.

Proper foot care  the week prior to the run: Clip and file your toenails, pumice any tough spots, and moisturize with lotion.  Wear double socks – toe socks under Drymax- and gaiters. And carry a spare pair of socks. Dust and sand still managed to infiltrate the mesh in my shoes, but I had ZERO blisters.

Take lots of pictures. Duh!

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Salomon XR Mission Trail Shoe Review

Are you looking for a new trail shoe?  I just got a pair of Salomon’s XR Mission shoe, and they’re pretty dope.

Your next pair of trail shoes?
Your next pair of trail shoes?

During the holidays, my dad and I were at a military BX and he spontaneously offered to buy me a pair of shoes as a present. The selection wasn’t the greatest, and I normally research things I’d like to purchase. I don’t buy things on a whim.  but a new pair of shoes is a new pair of shoes!

I’ve had good luck with New Balance and there were a pair of New Balance that had lugs that looked like they would provide wicked crazy traction. But when I tried them on, they cinched up weird, so that was a no-go. Kind of a bummer, but it wasn’t meant to be.

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I picked up the XR Mission shoe. I’d never read any reviews about them and I’d certainly never owned a pair of Salomon’s before. They looked stylish, but more importantly, sturdy and solid. The laces were weird – I’d never seen this “system” before. The price wasn’t outrageous. Hesitantly, I tried them on…. They fit like Cinderella’s trail shoe. I’ll take ’em!

(This is the second time I’ve had the Cinderella experience. The first time was with a pair of Brooks. Unfortunately, it was not a happy ending. I ended up carving off parts of the sole.)

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Initial impressions

First and foremost, the fit is perfect. The toe box feels spacious. I can wiggle my big toe easily. The collar feels pleasantly snug. When I cinch the speed laces, the shoe feels secure. The shoe feels balanced.

Initially, I wasn’t sure about how I felt about the laces. It seemed like a good idea, but what you were supposed to do with the dangling pull? I ended up loosely tucking it under the other laces; that seemed like a terrible solution. I thought this was a serious design blunder.

However, I just now found out through the magic of Youtube that there’s a pocket in the tongue to store the pull! Somehow, I missed that.

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Can you spot where the pocket where the fastener is?

The pocket makes a world of difference. With the loose end  tucked away, there is nothing that can get snagged and trip you up. Everything is one smooth unit.

Weight-wise, they feel similar to my Cascadias. However, if I wiggle my feet wearing the Cascadias, the weight feels concentrated in the sole like a big lump. It doesn’t move well. When I wiggle my feet wearing the XR’s, the weight feels evenly distributed, the shoe actually feels balanced and lighter as a result.

The sole under the forefoot and the heel of the shoe flares outward toward the ground. I believe this is part of what gives the shoe such great stability.

The soles flair outward and provide greater surface area to steady your landing.
The soles flair outward and provide greater surface area to steady your landing.

Performance on the trails

Socks can make a big difference on how your shoes perform. Blisters can be a nightmare. Sockwise, I run with a pair of thin weight Injinji’s under a heavier Drymax trail crew sock.

I broke in the XR’s  with with back to back 20 milers training for the Bandera 100K. Not a smart way to break in a completely unknown shoe, but sometimes often I do dumb stuff. (I was excited to test them out.) After the first run, I had a huge blister in the same spot on both of my big toes, obviously due to the shoes. The second run wasn’t as bad.

I had a few other runs after that, but the next big run was the Bandera 100K. I wore them the entire race. They were totally comfortable and more than capable on the course.

There were no problems where I’d blistered previously. But during the race, I thought my baby toe toenail was falling off. Only after the race did I fully remove both socks. The toenail was actually fine. The irritation I had been feeling was a huge blister on the inside of the toe! I attributed that to an Injinji sock malfunction.

The XR’s don’t have a rockplate, but I plowed through plenty of rocks without any problems. They provided plenty of protection underfoot from the 8 billion rocks on the Bandera trail. It makes for a much better run when you have confidence in your shoes.

The XR’s aren’t as nimble as my New Balance Minimus, but they are  more agile than my Cascadia’s. On the uphills, they have really good traction. I felt like I was  wearing a pair of comfortable 4×4’s. I haven’t  seen how they perform in mud, but I have high expectations.

I came across a website called ZOZI.com selling two discontinued  colors (in all sizes) for $55, which is quite a deal. Otherwise, they  typically retail around $65 – $75.

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with these shoes. So if you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, or have some cash burning a hole in your pocket, or you’re a shoe slut, or whatever, check ’em out.

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Full disclosure: Salomon is not a sponsor, nor did they provide free shoes for this review. But boy would I ever love to have them as a sponsor and/or receive free shoes to review.  YOU HEAR THAT, SALOMON?

Tuesday Long Run

Missed an opportunity to run at Bandera this past weekend, and wanted to make up for that.

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Hard to see, but some of the trees are turning red.

A beautiful sunny afternoon with temperatures in the forties, it was a perfect day to be out for several hours. The plan was to run to the Power Lines and then turn around, the Power Lines being a three mile stretch of hills that my running group uses for hill training. The trail runs beside electrical power lines, thus its name. Looking at Mapmyrun, the round trip looked to be around 22 miles, with the bulk of the mileage coming from just getting to the power lines. Setting out at noon, I figured on being out 4 – 4 1/2 hours, plenty of time to think about stuff.

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It begins…

I had a short sleeve wicking shirt over a long sleeve wicking shirt. Generally, for “cold” weather in Texas, this works out fine. But there were points where the wind picked up and chilled all the sweat in my shirts. I really felt that and it worried me. I did bring a spare shirt, but it was -surprise!- another wicking shirt. What would that accomplish? That’s when I realized, “That’s what a windbreaker’s for. You should get one of those.” Fortunately, the wind didn’t stick around, but I’ll definitely be looking for a windbreaker soon.

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Looking back, you can see the neighborhood going up. It looks all naked.

Cold hands are the worst! Gloves helped tremendously, but that’s pretty obvious. I was surprised that I could actually operate my phone’s touchscreen without having to take off my gloves. They aren’t those fancy gloves designed specifically for that purpose, so it took a few tries, but I could do it. This allowed me to take a few more photos than I would have if I had to remove my gloves every time, which is nice because one of my goals is to take more photos while out on runs.

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Looking up from directly beneath a tower.

A new thing for me was a Buff bandana thingie, which I was using as a neck gaiter. Holy cow, that works out great! I never realized how nice it is to have a warm neck. The Buff is a ridiculously simple thing, just a super thin tube of stretchy fabric, but it really provided some real comfort. Which is great considering it was ridiculously over priced – $25 at REI. If it continues to provide as much usefulness later on, say in the summer, then it will be totally worth it.

Buff bandana as neck gaiter. Dope!
Buff bandana as neck gaiter. Dope!

One more thing I want to mention is Hammer Perpetuem. It worked well for me in my last race, and it worked just as well on this run. The last two long runs, I didn’t carry much food since I relied on Perpetuem for calories. On this four hour run, other than the Perpetuem, I got by on two gels and a handful of beef jerky. To me, that’s nuts. To me, that says Perpetuem really works. The flavor is very subtle, and I’ve not had any GI issues with it. If you are in the market for liquid calories, you ought to check it out.

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What kind of birds are these? Pretty sure not vultures…

Final tally for the day was 21.22 Miles in 4:04.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Clock

A few weeks ago, I discovered a “hidden” function on my Garmin that has since provided me with greater peace of mind. The function? Keys Locked.

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Stop Worrying and Just Run!

As a road runner, I used to obsess about my times, pace in particular. Pace was the measure of my progress as a runner. The faster my pace, the better I felt. And in order to keep that pace nice and shiny, if I stopped, walked, got a drink of water, had to stretch, take a sh*t, or whatever, I would stop my watch. I mean, why would you track the parts of your run when you’re not running, right?

I don’t completely know why I did this. Maybe because my running buddy always did (and still does) the same thing. Maybe this was just to seem faster without actually having to be faster. Maybe it was just wanting to have good numbers to look at at the end of the run. This bad habit stuck with me as I transitioned to trail running.

Whatever the reasons -or justifications- there was a problem with this constant watch-stopping. On far too many occasions I would forget to restart my watch. These miles were “lost,” and my weekly totals would be lower. And for a trail runner, mileage is more important than pace. Losing mileage was worse than a slow pace!

I tried using both types of the auto pause function and those were somewhat successful. After a few trials, I went back to the old fashioned manual stopping. Then when I forgot to restart my watch, I started chalking up the lost miles as offerings to the Trail Gods. That seemed like an absurdly acceptable solution.

While I would like to be a pious trail runner, I was offering more miles than necessary to the Trail Gods. Perhaps the Gods had been appeased and decided to take mercy on me: they showed me the Keys Locked function.

Near the start of a run, I had pressed some combination of buttons and accidentally locked the keys. I couldn’t figure out how to unlock it, so I just said the heck with it and ran. I realized I didn’t have to worry about stopping or restarting my watch. All I had to do was run. My pace might be slower, but so what? I realized how silly it is to stop your watch anytime you stop for something. You don’t stop your watch during a race, so why should you during training? You’re only fooling yourself if you’re not counting your down time during a run.

When I finished my run, I dinked around pressing different combinations of buttons and eventually figured it out (MODE and the UP ARROW). I was amazed how liberating it was to not worry about the time. Since that run, I lock my keys and let the clock roll, Pace and Time be damned. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I still obsess about pace, but I realize it only really matters during a race. And even then, it only matters in a road race.

So if you are a watch-stopper, stop stopping your watch and lock your keys!

Heinz Laundry Detergent

Heinz makes laundry detergent? What?

When I run, I’m not a big sweater, compared to some people I know. But afterwards, my clothes still stink. What’s worse, I am loathe to admit this, but I usually wear a pair of shorts twice before washing them. Yeah, most people probably think that’s gross, fair enough. It’s on those second wearings when, say I kneel down to tie my shoe, I catch a whiff and think twice about this habit. “Geez, I stink!”

Even after washing my shorts, I noticed that I could still detect a faint odor. There are sports detergents that are supposed to completely take care of stank, but they are kind of expensive. I’ve gotten over paying $15 – 20 for socks, but $15 – 20 for detergent? Where does it end? So I turned to the internet and Googled “eliminate odors in running clothes” and a couple sites recommended…. vinegar.

Yep. One cup of good old fashioned white vinegar and warm water – nothing else. Supposedly, the vinegar kills the bacteria that create the odor. This shouldn’t be surprising since vinegar is great for cleaning a million other things. I happened to have a big gallon jug and immediately tested out this claim. Results: My clothes were odor-free!!

I’ve been using the vinegar for a couple weeks now, my clothes are consistently stink-free. So if you’re a big stinker, ditch the detergents and give vinegar a try!

Heinz "Laundry Detergent"
Heinz “Laundry Detergent”

Wanna Run Faster? Listen Up!

Sleigh Bells / Treats
Sleigh Bells / Treats Album

Song: Straight A’s on the Treats album by Sleigh Bells

I can add music! Very cool! Run to this song and you will feel like a badass!

Treats is a solid album in my book. There are some great songs for running track workouts. The songs are relatively short but super intense. If you’re not on the track, you’ll do a mile lickety-split. There are a few slower songs in there as well, so you won’t burn through all your glycogen straight off.

Brooks PureConnect Shoe Report

A bunch of the Rockhopper group met in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, a neighborhood still waiting to be built. The area had some great steep hills and plenty of scenic views from the tops of the hills. We ran hill repeats, uphill for a half mile, downhill for half a mile. Totaled about five miles. As this was all on pavement, I got to break-in my new shoes.

And I really like ’em.

They feel super light, weighing  7.2 ounces. Now I’m not a big enough shoe nerd to know about stats like shoe weights (I looked that up on the Brooks site), but I’d bet 7.2 is toward the low end.

The fit is absolutely fantastic. I’ve never had a shoe fit that well. As an added bonus, the sock liner(!) offers a surprising amount of arch support. My flat feet really enjoyed the lift. I don’t know if the arch support is intentional or not, but I hope the shoe maintains the same level of support through the miles.

The lacing system is very unusual. Normally, the tongue sits under both sides of the shoe, and the laces pull the sides closer together. Here, the tongue is eliminated. The outside of the shoe is pulled into the inner side of the shoe. This should theoretically eliminate any chance of the tongue slipping down.

The shoelaces have a nice little feature. Rather than just a flat ribbon, the shoelaces are wavy, fat, thin, fat, thin. This, I believe, is supposed to help the laces stay tied. It also provides more tactile feedback when you are tying your shoes.

The soles feel way more cushiony than my Free’s, which are starting to feel flat and lifeless to me. Though I do have a concern about the “nobules” on the sole. I could feel them as I ran. It’s a new / unusual sensation that may go away with time, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

I have been trying to practice landing on the forefoot when I’m running, but it takes effort and I have to consciously think about what I’m doing. These shoes seem to encourage that running style, they almost have a rocking sort of motion. But I still have to work at it.

While it wasn’t hot on the run, I did feel that they provided good ventilation. I was wearing thin socks, and could feel the wind through the shoes. That will be good for really hot days.

If I had to find something wrong with the shoe, I would be hard pressed. Perhaps the color scheme of the blue and green are not so hot? (That was my initial reaction, but the look is growing on me.) Yeah, I’d really have to stretch to find something I’m not happy with about these shoes. Let’s hope I feel that way 300 miles from now!

My First Pair of Nike Free’s

My First Pair of Nike Free's

These are my very first pair, about 4 or 5 years ago when I was living in Portland. The first time I wore them was on a run home from work. It was one of the most magical runs I’ve ever had. I felt really… free. (Sorry) I’ve since become accustomed to the sensation of minimalist shoes, but that first run, wow! I wore them at work in the paint department, which is why they are covered in specks of magenta. The laces don’t stay tied worth a damn, even with double knotting, they smell funky, which is weird because my feet don’t usually stink, and they probably have at least a million miles on them, but I can’t bring myself to throw them out. I even did a painting of them. I’ve since bought 3 other pairs, though one pair got thrown out of a train window in Viet Nam because I’d gone swimming in them and they never got to dry out because I wrapped them up in a plastic bag along with my running shorts, and they began to smell unbearable….

But these ones, they’re still here with me. In fact, I’m wearing them right now.
Yeah, I think I’ll keep ’em.