Tag Archives: running

Hippie Hill Challenge

A month ago, I was psyched about this challenge. But this past week, I didn’t run a single mile and I was dreading the event. I don’t know if it was fatigue, burnout, or just plain laziness, but I just didn’t want to run. And I sorta still feel that way, which is worrisome.

The night before, I prepped all my stuff. I read the final email and set my alarm for 5:30, which would give me an hour to have a decent breakfast. However I missed a small detail about the start time – I had put it on my calendar as 7am when it was actually a 6am start. So my alarm goes off at 5:30, I get out of bed at 5:40, and then I get a text from my buddy Dustin at 5:41: “I’m on my way… gps says 5:55.” I’m wondering why the hell would he get there so early. I reread the final email and see the 6am start time. FUCK!!

Dustin
Dustin Photo credit: Don Flynn

In semi-panic mode, I get dressed, grab my stuff, pack ice into my cooler, and get on the road. I drive as fast as I can, and arrive only 10 minutes late. I parked next to a truck, the guy getting out was like, “You’re late too?” My stomach had been churning on the drive. I ran behind some dumpsters and took a quick dump. That was a good start.

And then the “fun” began. Half mile uphill, then a half mile back down. Four hours and 20 minutes of that. But at least there were a lot of other runners there to share in the miser… fun. I had my ipod and was trying to untangle the headphones. It was way more difficult than it should have been. I finally got them untangled one I reached the top of the hill for the first time. I put the earbuds in and pressed the play button…. beep! beep! beep! The ipod was dead. I know I charged it, but I must have accidentally left it on and drained the battery. I laughed and wondered what else could wrong.

Halfway into the race, a light drizzle turned into a full on rain that lasted maybe 10 minutes. Although I was concerned about how it might affect the footing on the course, it was kind of refreshing.

Tuffy
Tired of it. Photo credit: Don Flynn

The first three hours went by like clockwork, trudge uphill, and then coast down. My left foot developed an issue that made it hard to run downhill. I think what little arch I have in my foot collapsed inward more than usual, likely a result of not running the past week. It wasn’t painful, but I could tell that it was definitely not normal. I was concerned it was going to get worse, so I slowed down on the downhills.

I had one bright spot during the race. Running beside Tanya:

Me: I am so over this.

Tanya: Yeah, me too.

Me: I am so tired of running downhill!

The last hour was tough. Mentally, I was running on empty and I wanted to quit.

In retrospect, it seems silly that you want to quit running so bad. Those moments that you are in, you’re tired, your feet hurt, maybe you’re hungry, your head hurts, and all you can think about is stopping this nonsense. That’s all you can think about. But time passes and somehow you get through it, the clock stops, and you can finally stop running. Later you think, “That wasn’t so bad. I don’t know what I was complaining about.” You sort of forget the struggle. Four hours and 20 minutes is a drop in the bucket compared to most ultras, so I’m a little disappointed that my mental game suffered.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, despite the foot and mental issues. And especially glad that after the 24th lap, with 10 and a half minutes remaining in the race, I went out for one more. 10 and half minutes is plenty of time to get one lap done. I knew my future self would berate my weak willed past self if I would have stopped.

That gave me 25 laps, one shy of my goal of 26. Had I been on time, I’m sure I would have hit that goal. Driving home, I thought I should have done an extra mile after the race. Oh well.

Hippie Hill
Hippie Hill Challlengers  post-race. Photo credit: Don Flynn

Putting it in perspective: Be on time. Suffering is commensurate to the size of the race. Expect that suffering and accept it gratefully when it arrives.

 

Crazy Desert Race 100K

“It’s only 100K with no hills.”

I regret going into the race with that sort of attitude. I didn’t prepare as well and my performance suffered as a result. I didn’t have a terrible race, but I know it could have been better. Many small things added up to a frustrating race.

One of the bigger culprits was not getting enough sleep. The day before the race, I got up before 6 to go hiking with a coworker, went to work, and then drove 3 hours to San Angelo, finally getting to bed around 11. That is far from ideal. Sufficient sleep is vital for good performance mentally and physically. When I started the race, my legs felt heavy.

I wore my newish Ultimate Direction hydration pack. I’ve worn it a few times, but never raced in it. I think it still needs to be broken in. Maybe 10 miles in, I noticed my bottle was jamming my rib cage, making a very tender spot. After I finished the first loop, I put on my old Salomon pack and it just felt great. I also love the huge back pocket that I can reach into without having to unzip or zip. Basically, these little gear niggles should be worked out prior to a race, not during.

Coming into the second to last aid station, I found out that the course mileage was off by 5 miles. I was heading into the last aid station when I should have been finishing the loop. This threw me off mentally. What would happen now? Would we have to run a 75miler? I imagined several possible scenarios that could play out, finally resolving not to sweat it, Rob would figure something out. No way would he make us run an extra 13 miles. Like I tell myself all the time, just focus on the mile in front of you.

The sky had been overcast for the entire first loop. It seemed like it was going to be a perfect day for running. Thinking it would stay that way was wishful thinking. Wishful thinking that got me mildly sunburned and drained quite a bit of energy from me.

My old man hat and ice bandana have saved me on numerous sunny occasions. I had them in my bag at the start/ finish, but chose not to bring them with me as I foolishly thought it would be overcast all day. Katie offered sunscreen, which I declined. 2 huge mistakes, likely due to lack of sleep and fretting about the course mileage issue.

The clouds burned off and the sun was in full effect. There was very little shade on the course, it was extremely exposed. Every I looked, there was cactus, as if to remind me that I was in the desert. I used my buff as an ice bandana, and that worked okay. Proper ice bandana is way faster to fill and wear. There wasn’t much I could do about the sun. Whenever I saw shade, I stopped and took a short break.

Hydration and nutrition were okay. Shat once before the race, but still had enough for three more times during the first loop. Wore Calderas first loop, but switched into Lone Peaks for the last two loops. Forgot iPod on second loop, only had music for last loop.

I have never looked at my watch so many times during a race. It became incredibly frustrating near the end trying to figure out how much longer I would be running. I wanted to do 12 hours, and kept trying to calculate in my head if I could. Each time I did the calculations, my results changed. That was pretty demoralizing. And add to that the fact that we had to run a few extra miles because of the marking error, so I wasn’t entirely sure how close I was to the finish.

Leapfrogged with several runners, including Julie of course. Finally caught up to Dustin in the very last mile. He had been puking but was moving. I didn’t stop to talk or run wit him, I just ran past him. Finished in 12:58 for 5th. Dustin showed up two minutes later to finish in 13 hours on the nose for 6th and Julie came in at 13:01 for 7th. She won 100k last week and again this week. Amazing.

So while not a terrible race, it was a far cry from the planning and execution of the last race. What’s worse is that now I am behind in points (but I think just barely) for the Desert trail race series. The winner of the three race series gets $500. I’ve never won any money from running, and it would be awesome if I did. The last race is the Franklin Mountain 50K in November. It looks like if I want to win that money, I am going to have to train, plan, and race my ass off. So maybe being behind is a good thing, providing me the motivation to focus on the task ahead.

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Nueces 50M Race Report

Apologies as I have no photos for this post. Tragic, I know.

Crawling along in tortoise speed traffic, I was trying to get on the exit ramp to I-10 as a big semi truck was trying to get into my lane. The whole front of the truck was covered in ice. Gee whiz, I thought, did this guy just drive here from Canada or something? Two hours later, the front of my car would be similarly covered.

After the two hour drive, I arrived at Camp Eagle in Rocksprings. The weather was cold, wet, and miserable. And soon enough, I’d be running 50 miles in it. That evening there was a nice pasta dinner. I was hungry and the food was surprisingly tasty so I had two huge plates. The brownies were especially awesome, I had three of those!

I stayed in a dorm with 5 other runners. Before lights out, my friend Julie joked she was in trouble if anyone snored because she had only one earplug.  And wouldn’t you know it, one of our runners did snore. LOUDLY. It seemed to get louder with each breath until he gasped or moved and the snoring finally stopped…. until a few minutes later when the cycle restarted.

I have a hard time falling asleep as it is, so this was just torture. The worst part was the fact that he knew he snored but didn’t warn us. He offered a limp apology the next morning. As such, he is now on my list of non-approved bunk mates.

Considering the night’s sonic landscape, 4 am came way too early. But once I accepted that it was “Go-Time,” it was business as usual. Waiting under the pavilion at the race start, we found out another member of our group had just gotten off a plane, drove here two hours, and signed up for the race. Oh, and he was working off 2 or 3 hours of sleep. All I could think was, “You’re nuts! But in a good way. Sort of.”

And so the countdown, the race starts, and the running begins…

It was cold and misty, but at least it wasn’t raining. However there was ice everywhere. The ice made for very slippery footing. The loose rocks were like oiled marbles. Going up hills was really frustrating;  much of the first lap was an exercise in patience and curse words. Later, I put that practice cursing to use.

bridge-may-ice-in-cold-weather

I was running along, and came up to a wooden bridge I had to cross. I stepped on the landing, slipped, and dead chickened, landing flat on my right side. I lay there for a second, blinking. I was literally and figuratively stunned. I had just totally wiped out.

My wrist sort of hurt, but otherwise, I seemed to be okay. I got up slowly and gingerly made my way across the bridge, which was coated in ice a quarter inch thick. I could have skated across. Safe on the other side, I found a new respect for those highway signs that say BRIDGE MAY ICE IN COLD WEATHER.

During the second loop, I came into the aid station that we hit twice per loop. Chris (from my running group) says, “Cara was bummed she didn’t catch up to you. She wanted to run with you for a bit.” Half joking and half serious I said, “Cara’s not going to catch up to me!” Cara’s a strong runner, but I know I’m faster than her.

During the third and final loop, I see a girl behind me  that sure looks like Cara. I yell out “CARA!” No response – must not be her. Few minutes later, the same girl and a guy I know come bounding up behind me. Wouldn’t you know it, it IS Cara. (Earbuds!)

I’m feeling low energy, so she takes over the lead. We run together and chat for a few miles. I tell her what I’d said to Chris, (lest she hear it from him first.) When we get to the aid station, I say ,”Hey Chris, look who caught up to me!” It was pretty amusing, we all had a good laugh. Leaving the aid station, my energy levels had  picked up. I took over the lead and eventually dropped Cara. She would finish only 4 minutes behind me, placing First Female in the 50M.

Speaking of awesome female runners, I remember seeing Melanie pass me on a hill. Her bangs were little icicles. I wondered how on Earth could she dress like it was the middle of summer and not freeze to death? She would go to place Overall Second in the 50K. (Overall First was a female as well!)

And the last strong runner was a dude named Dana. This guy and I had been leapfrogging for the second and third lap. He would slowly but consistently jog up the hills and pass me as I hiked. Then later on the flats, I would bomb past him. We traded back and forth like this at least 8 times.

Every time I passed him, I hoped he would stay passed. But when I’d stop at an aid station, it would be just a few seconds later and he’d come trotting into view. I kept thinking of that scene in the Terminator movie where the bad metal cop guy turns his arm into spikes and he stabs the trunk of the car and they can’t shake him. Yeah, that was the guy following me.

While we didn’t exactly chat, we did speak to each other. We were both running our own race, neither of us were concerned about “winning” the duel. Sure, I would have liked to have finished one place better, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. The whole back and forth was rather comical.

Coming into the final few miles, I was ahead of Dana, but running out of gas. I knew there was a small hill coming, so I stopped and waited for him. I told him I knew he was going to pass me, so go ahead. He finished 3 minutes before me, placing Overall Fifth in the 50M.

I crossed the finish in 9:21:02, placing Overall Sixth. Dana came up to me and  shook my hand and gave me a bro hug. Since he’s a local, I’m sure I’ll see him at another race.

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What did I learn?

**DO NOT ROOM WITH PEOPLE WHO SNORE. You might say use earplugs, but then how do you hear your alarm?

**GIRLS ARE FAST. Also, I am not as fast as I think I am.

**BE ALERT, ICE CAN BE DANGEROUS. We don’t encounter ice very often on our trails in Texas, so when the conditions are right for ice, pay attention. This is even more important while driving.

**I LOVE SNICKERS. Bite size rule! Sweet AND salty! Actually, I already knew I loved Snickers…

**SOMETIMES IT’S MORE ABOUT THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE RACE THAN THE RACE ITSELF. 

 

 

 

Touting the Twofer

I love my library. I love that I can borrow books, music cd’s, movies, and magazines. So much information available for free and all I have to do is return it on time. What a deal! The best part is there’s a branch not far from where I run most often. So I will run to the library to pick up or drop off items – literally running an errand. That was one of my first “Twofers.”

A few months ago, I started doing hot yoga, aka Bikram. My right knee felt weak and I asked one of the instructors for advice on how to strengthen it. He suggested trying the Cr***fit workouts at the Hollywood Park location. Since it’s part of my yoga membership, I figured I’d give it a try.

I went a few times, and it was actually “fun.” It certainly wasn’t as aggro as I imagined it would be. (But that’s probably because it’s a beginner’s class.) It was like going to the gym, but instead of having to figure out what to work on, someone tells me what to do and I try to do it. I liked that aspect very much and kept going back.

It takes about a half hour to drive to the location, so I decided to put that drive time to use. I started listening to my Thai language audio tapes. I don’t know how well it works since I’m half paying attention (since I’m driving) but I’m going to keep at it.

So the yoga studio is next door, and I would always see everyone in there practicing. It eventually occurred to me that I ought to try a Twofer. I was concerned I would be too tired to do an hour thirty in the hot room, but decided to give it a try. It was tough at first (and still is) but I got through it. It’s not so bad and now I look at he Cr***fit workout as a warmup to the hot yoga. The best part is I don’t have to think about when to go to yoga, at minimum, I go Tuesday and Thursday.

Today, I’m going to do a new Twofer- running to Yoga. The Huebner studio is only about 4.5 miles from my house, so that should be a pretty easy run. The weather today is perfect: cool and sunny. Once I get some new tires on my bike, I think riding to yoga would be another great Twofer option.

I use Strava to log my miles, and recently started taking Instagrams during runs – another Twofer! – and I’ll include those when I get back.

 

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Kirby Flats 50K Report: First DNF (with an Asterisk?)

Kirby Flats was an inaugural race, and actually the first time the director had ever put on a race.  There was a 50K,  25K,  and 10K. All three were free provided we gave our honest feedback about the race.

It was a small turnout, maybe 50 people for all three races combined. In the 50K, there were only eight runners, and three of us were Rockhoppers. The race started at 6 am. It was a cold, misty, and dark. At the start we joked how everyone was guaranteed a top ten finish. And whoever came in first would set a course record.

Kyle the race director sent us on our way at 6 sharp. We started with a long steep incline. The other two Rockhoppers Brian and Ed chatted away, I just listened. There was another guy right behind us who became part of our group due to proximity. After a mile, (!) we never saw the other four guys again, which was weird because we were not running fast at all.

The second mile was unrunnable. There was no clear trail on the ground, so we had to keep hunting for the next flag. And unfortunately, the flags were not reflective. But what really slowed us down was the terrain: tons of slippery exposed rock and steep uphills/ downhills covered with scree and leaves. It took us 29 minutes to cover mile 2.  This set the tone for the rest of the race.

Eventually, we did reach some sections that we could run. After hiking so much, it felt weird to actually run.  Unfortunately, we soon entered a super flat and super boring section that ran along the fence line of pasture. It felt like when you were in high school and they made you run laps around the field as punishment.

I felt dumb having complained about how tough the earlier sections were and now how boring these flat sections were. And we were still having to figure out where the flags were leading us.

It may have been as early as mile 2 when the topic of dropping the race came up. At an average of only three miles per hour, it would have taken about 10 hours… to finish a 50K! We had expected 6 or 7, maybe 8 hours, but 10? Was it worth it? (I joked that we weren’t even getting a t-shirt for our efforts.)

I had never not finished a race, and I knew this would happen eventually. I felt conflicted as to whether I should continue or not.  I wasn’t injured. But did I really want to spend another 6 hours out here in the cold rain on this poorly marked course essentially by myself? (The new guy said he wanted to finish. But this was his first trail run and he didn’t even bring water with him. I certainly didn’t want to have to rely on him.)

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Trail version of Groundhog Day: Stephanie, Jazzy, and Adnil ran the same loop 3 times.

After almost 4 hours, we made it back to the start having completed one 20K loop. (The 50K was (2) 20K loops + (1) 10K loop.) There were lots of 25K runners at the tent. The race director was there, listening to the runners’ woes. Apparently, everyone had had navigational issues. One group of ladies had somehow managed to run a small loop three times. Basically, it turned into a big drop party. At the time, I didn’t feel bad dropping since everyone else was.

DNF's all around but still smiling!
Three 50K DNFs and three 25K DNFs! Still smiling though!

But two days later, I feel crappy about dropping.  Sure it would have taken a long time, but it’s not like I’ve never run for 10 hours before. Sure the course was confusing, but we (think we) ran it. And the poor new guy – I could have helped him finish his first trail race.  But what bothers me the most is this was a challenge and I pussed out. I could have finished, I just didn’t want to, which seems like the worst excuse possible.

There’s nothing I can do about it now, the DNF is in the books. It’s certainly a bummer, but not the end of the world. I don’t know if the RD is going to post any “official” results – as there may not be any results to post. I am curious if any of the other four 50K guys finished. I will feel a little less crummy if no one finished.

KF 50K DNF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treasure Uncovered

The other day I headed out for a run, unsure of where exactly I was going. I wanted to run to the Powerlines, but it was really hot and there’s no water available there. My measly 2L bladder would be half empty by the time I got there. The flat trail  would be mostly shaded, so I decided that would be a wise choice.

I decided to run past 1604 and explore a bit. I had followed a Hash trail out there on a run long ago, but didn’t get too far. I wanted to see how much further the “trail” would go.

Running under the bridge, I  was amazed at all the little mud bird houses built on the underside. Then I passed the spot where eons ago I drank many beers at a Hash “circle.”

As I rounded the corner, I saw the familiar junk pile. I knew that this spot had been used as a dumping ground before.

Main pile on the left side.
Main pile on the left side.
Pile on the right.
Pile on the right.

I plucked a 5×7 photograph off the ground.

This was the first photo I found.
The first photo I found.

 

As I scrutinized the junk, I could tell this was new stuff that had been dumped recently. My instincts kicked in: I am a scavenger. I have a fascination for looking through trash, junk, rubbish, – whatever you call it – for things that I can use somehow. As an artist,  I see value in things that might seem worthless to others. And as I poked around, almost immediately I struck gold.

More photographs. Old black and white photographs!! And lots of them. Before I knew it, that one photo had mushroomed into a  huge wad. At first I thought I would keep just a few because I could fit only so many in my pack. But the photos were all gold – I’d find a way to carry them all. No way was I leaving any behind. (At least not any black and whites, I did leave some more recent color photos behind.)

By this point, my running brain was totally switched off. All I cared about was finding more photos, I was a junkie searching for my next fix in the pile. But I knew I had to stop at some point, if for no other reason than the sun was getting low and worse- the mosquitoes were starting up. I found three or four small concentrations of photos and then it seemed like that was it.

At this point I figured out this guy died and they just dumped this stuff. Whoever did this just wanted to clean house. They were probably not related, otherwise they’d have kept the photos. Or maybe they were related and just didn’t care. Either way is sad.

I tried to roughly organize my haul in order to compact it. I found a Manilla envelope and stuffed in the photos. Then I stuck the envelope in a large Ziploc bag to protect it from my sweaty self. I could carry the whole pouch in front of me tucked under the bands of my pack. It made my chest retain heat, but it stayed put and more importantly, kept my hands free.

As I ran home,  I got some weird looks. I’m sure people wondered what the heck I was carrying. And yet even if they knew what was in the Manilla envelope, they would probably ask: “What the heck are you doing with photographs you found in a dump of some random dead person?”

And I asked myself the same thing. Why do I do this?

* * *

Grand total: about 150 photographs, (several of which are stuck together and awaiting separation,) one negative,  a few postcards, a letter, a note, a Mason’s card, a certificate of birth, and 3 lottery tickets (whose numbers I intend to play one day.)

There are many more interesting images I’d like to share, and ultimately, I will organize the photos into an album.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Flower Gallery

Ran for three and a half hours on 50/50 trail and pavement. Recent rains have got the wildflowers all up in a tizzy! I’m trying to document as many different types of flowers as possible. These were all shot today on the same run. Nuts, right? There were so many flowers, it was ruining my running rhythm; I’d stop every few feet to take another picture.

Focusing on iPhone is a b!tch. It’s so hard to tell in the bright  sunlight. Getting it to focus on the right thing is especially tricky.  I preset the AF/AE lock and then try to frame the image, but often can’t find the right focal range. More practice, I guess!

The run was tough. When I started, there was some awesome cloud cover. Sadly, it burned off quickly and the humidity set in .

I ran in my Hoka Stinsons for the first time. As much as I want to like them, not the best initial impression. Definitely issues on uneven trail surfaces. Unfortunate, as the reason for buying them was to save my tootsies from the rocks at Bandera.  Need more miles before rendering a final verdict, although I’m paranoid this will mean that I won’t be able to return them.

Also using Tailwind for the third time. Lemon something or other flavor. I’m not sold on the efficacy just yet. I bonked pretty good today. I left the house with only 400 calories, about half of what I should have had for a (planned) 15 mile run. After I consumed my bottle of Tailwind and two gels, I stopped at a gas station and bought a Gatorade and a Reeses peanut butter cup. I never do that. The Reese’s was righteous, and it helped a bit, but I was still dragging.

The weird thing is how tired I felt after only 10 miles or so. I thought to myself, “You think you’re tired now?? Wait till you’ve been up for 20 hours and you’re at mile 80. How the hell are you going to manage that?” Either I exhausted my glycogen yesterday, I didn’t consume enough calories during the week, or something, but this shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. Which reminds me, I want to start my running diary. That sounds so…

For the day, did a lot of walking and finished with 14, a mile short of goal.

Running / Water

We’ve had a good bit of sorely need rain the past few days. The other day I got caught in a downpour, and it was glorious. There’s just something about running in the rain that is so fun. Once you get over the fact that you’re soaked to the bone, it’s not so bad. The creek (or crick as some would say) beds are normally bone dry, but they were (alive with running water. The creek is not an active creek, more of a drainage creek, which is far less charming, but it’s nice to see it’s doing its thing.

Last night we got even more rain. I didn’t think about how that would affect my run to the gym until I saw the water. There were at least five spots where the path was flooded over. But it’s just water! I took off my shoes and socks and walked through. Putting my toe socks on five times was a bit of a chore.

The other day I saw a deer, which is not unusual. They are generally skittish and don’t stay still for pictures, but this one was in a clearing that allowed for a clear-ish shot.  One day, I’ll get a good shot of a deer. Also saw a gathering of what looked like vultures at a watering hole. They all scampered off when I ran by except for one guy. That would have been a much better shot with his friends.

Today I saw a heron (?), a vibrant green snake that surprisingly didn’t slither away before I could take its picture, and a snail. Yes, a snail. Oh and I always see cardinals, but they are so fast – by the time I think to take out my camera – they’re gone. One day… I don’t know much about animals, but it’s cool to see them on the trail.

Ran through some drainage channels in the neighborhood behind my gym. This appears to be where the a bunch of seventh grade graffiti artists hang out. (It’s not very good graffiti.) I thought perhaps I should bring a can of spray paint and see if I can do any better.

Got to the gym sweaty and stinking to high heaven. Worked out for an hour and headed back out. By then it was noon and hot and HUMID.  I was surprised I wasn’t more tired. I downed a citrus flavor Clif gel which was pretty good. It tasted like a Pop Ice, those colored frozen stick pop things. Great flavor for hot weather.

Took a shorter way home, and this time I didn’t bother to un-shoe myself through the flooded spots. Just plowed right through. The water was cool and felt great. So great in fact, I took a break and sat down waist deep in the creek. It was nowhere near as nice as sitting in the creek at the Grand Canyon, but it did the trick. And yeah, the water’s brown and filthy, but as a trail runner, so am I!

Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set Pack Review

After using the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set pack for several months now, I feel it’s time for a review. I bought it back in January(?) and I’ve worn it for 20 hours doing R2R2R, at the Treviso marathon, (I know that’s weird), Hell’s Hills 50 Miler,  and dozens of multi hour training runs. It’s gotten to the point that I feel weird if I run without it. Bottom line: I really like the pack.

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Official product image via salomon.com

First and foremost: fit and comfort. For me,  the pack fits beautifully. It’s like wearing a vest vs carrying a “backpack.” That is a huge difference. The vest style design eliminates the sore shoulders that result from a backpack style pack. At my last race, even after 9 hours, my shoulders felt fine. There is more surface area than most other packs, which means more pockets and places to stash things. This increased surface area helps distribute weight. The elastic material along the outer edge pulls the pack load closer to your body. This helps the pack stay put and keeps stuff from bouncing around. And one of the things I like best is there aren’t any loose strap ends flapping about.

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Official product image via salomon.com

It comes with two 16 oz soft flasks, but get this – IT DOES NOT COME WITH A BLADDER.  (Yet it does come with an insulated sleeve for a bladder.) This really confused the heck out of me, why sell a hydration pack without a bladder?

So I bought a Camelbak 2L bladder. I filled it with water and tried to put it in the insulated sleeve… It wouldn’t fit. I believe the sleeve is made for a 1.5L bladder. Not the end of the world, just throw the bladder in the pack without the sleeve.

Then I ran into another snafu. Some official looking photos (not on the Salomon website) show the hydration tube running out the “tail” and under the vest. However this requires a bladder with a spigot that routes sideways rather than upwards. Again, not the end of the world, just route the tube over the shoulder.

It was at this point I wished the pack had come with “instructions” or a small guide. (There’s a small illustration for how to secure trekking poles, but that’s it. ) Or better yet, these details made clear on the website.  That way I could have known to buy a 1.5L bladder with a sideways spigot.

I haven’t attempted to use the soft flasks because I think it would be more troublesome trying to reinsert a soft flask vs a hard bottle. That could be a mistaken assumption, but I’ve been using two 21 oz Camelbak bottles and that’s been great. It’s nice because I can have water, a liquid nutrition, and a sports drink. The only thing I need now is to find bottles that have the long straw so that I don’t have to remove the bottles…

There are pockets galore! It’s a little overwhelming at first what to do with them all, but eventually you’ll figure out your system. Most of the pockets are easy to get at. The zippered pocket on the side opens easily with one hand, but you need another hand to hold the bottom of the zipper to zip it up. No big deal. The big open rear pocket is tricky to get into without taking off the pack.  And although it feels sketchy to have the rear pocket secured only by the tension of the elastic, I’ve yet to have anything fall out on during a run.

Lately I’ve been running during the hotter parts of day. The pack is constructed with mesh material and breathes well. However, sweat easily migrates through the mesh, so make sure whatever you carry in those pockets is sweat tolerant. If you carry your phone, you would be wise to keep it in a Ziploc baggie. The evaporated sweat also leaves a visible salt residue which is a visual reminder that the pack needs to be washed.

At $185, (WITHOUT a bladder) I cried when I bought this, however it has been worth every penny. REI recently started carrying the pack, so if you’re a member you’d get $18.50 back on your dividend.

Finally, the name is in desperate need of shortening or simplifying. Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set just does not roll off the tongue easily. Or at all. Someone asked me about the pack and I couldn’t remember the name. Maybe Salomon can work on the name for the next version.