Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Gear”

Gear-Head Lessons Learned

Ever since I began running longer and longer distances, I’ve been on the lookout for the most effective means of carrying nutrition, fluids, and other running/race essentials. I’ve utilized a trust Nathan waist pack for quite a while, and have been impressed with it for the most part. I am typically able to carry 3-4 packs of Honey Stinger energy chews, along with a key, my phone (when I bring it), and other miscellaneous essentials. I combine that with one or two handheld water bottles, and I’m good to go. This combination has gotten me through every race I’ve run up to this point, ranging from half marathons to a 50-miler. However, as I’ve been exploring longer and longer distances, and have begun planning for my 24-hour race, it’s occurred to me that there are probably better options out there. At the very least, there are options. Fit, comfort, and accessibility are all in the eye of the runner so you need to do what works best for you. Now that I’ve given you my PSA, I’ll move on.

Nathan wait pack, circa 2009.

Nathan wait pack, circa 2009.

I began looking into race vests more and more as I read more reviews, saw more ultrarunners wearing them, and thought about the benefits and drawbacks to carrying my nutrition and water on my back. I’ve had some soreness in my lower back from the waist pack before, and although it hasn’t been excessive, it’s been enough for me to consider other options. I liked the idea of having my hands free, although there’s definitely an advantage to having water bottles in your hands when you are going over rocky, root-filled trails (think falling!). In all reality, I’d probably put off giving this idea more consideration due to a bad experience with a pack that really wasn’t designed for racing.

Several years ago, I ran the University of Okoboji Half Marathon for a second or third time. In previous years, the heat in July had been ridiculous and the route left us readily exposed. Thus, I thought running with a hydration pack would help ease my pain. I had purchased the Camelbak Mule recently, and figured I’d give it a go for the race. At this point, I was still relatively new to running, and I hadn’t given the purchase nearly the thought I’m now giving to finding the right pack. I knew the Camelbak brand, it had a decent sized bladder, and plenty of storage. On top of that, I found a great price on The Clymb, so I pulled the trigger. The half-marathon was my first time running in this pack (mistake one). I realized after the fact that this pack was much more suited for hiking and mountain-biking (mistake two). In the end, I hated every moment of the run, and felt like I was carrying a sloshing 12-lb baby for 13.1 miles. I was hydrated and hateful. At this point, I naively swore off hydration packs with bladders all together. I couldn’t stand the sloshing and feel, and figured they were all about the same.

A great pack for hiking...but not for racing :)

A great pack for hiking…but not for racing 🙂

Fast forward two years. I’ve run many more miles, more races, and have spent a great deal more time thinking about how best to accommodate the technical details of my running addiction. Earlier this spring, when I committed to my race schedule for the year and knew I would be tackling some longer distances, I started looking more intently at race vests again. I had seen plenty of trail runners using them, and read enough reviews to know that there were indeed some quality packs out there that were made for running distances both short and long. I like the idea of having the ability to carry everything I need with me for longer runs, and being able to tackle solo and un-supported runs without having to worry about drop bags or figuring out what I can stuff into a waist pouch and my water bottles. Several months ago, I was still apprehensive about a pack with a bladder, and began looking at other options for carrying water. I found several options I hadn’t seen before, including the Ultimate Direction signature series vests, the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab hydration packs, and the Mountain Hardware Fluid Race Vest. At the same time, I stumbled across the Nathan HPL #028 Race Vest. It was a more minimalist design, and wouldn’t work for extremely long or unsupported runs, but it had a water bottle holder up front, and storage for nutrition essentials. As is the case with many items in my arsenal, the deep discount on The Clymb sucked me in and I pulled the trigger.

Having never worn a race vest before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited to give it a try. The first time I put it on, it seemed to fit really well, and I loved the water bottle holder, combined with several pockets to store nutrition, s-caps, and even a camera or cell phone if you like. Everything was readily accessible up front. An adjustable sternum strap allows for a more custom fit, combined with triangular side straps to really tuck the vest to you snugly. A large mesh pocket on the back is perfect for a second layer, arm warmer, an emergency kit, extra nutrition, or even a second water bottle. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t water proof, so be advised. I strapped it on and loaded it up for my first run with plenty of excitement. I headed out the door, and that’s when it began. The bouncing and sloshing was extremely noticeable.

I continued on my run, after stopping to adjust the side straps and sternum straps in hopes that it would alleviate the bouncing. Unfortunately, nothing I did to adjust the vest prevented it from bouncing on my chest. I’ll clearly never know what it feels like to have breasts, but I have to imagine that the bounce of this vest was similar to a woman heading out on a run without a sports bra (side note- I have a new-found respect for the quality of sports bras!). I headed home, frustrated, but committed to not letting my investment go to waste. After some consideration and a bit more research, I decided to try to add a second sternum strap to the vest to help it fit more snuggly against my chest. I picked up a spare strap at a local outdoor store, and the epicurean assisted me in sewing it onto the vest.

Nathan HPL #028 Race Vest, with additional sternum strap added.

Nathan HPL #028 Race Vest, with additional sternum strap added.

The next morning, I once again eagerly strapped on the vest and headed out for an even longer run. I was convinced that this would do the trick, and rather impressed with my own creativity! Unfortunately, I only made it around the block before I realized that the bounce was still there. Sadly, I dropped the vest off at home, emptied the contents into my Nathan waist pouch, and snagged a second water bottle in hand before heading out for my run. I had plenty of time to consider my next step over the course of a 30-mile run. I’m now convinced, after reading reviews of the Nathan vest, as well as the aforementioned packs, that the vest just doesn’t fit me. I should have purchased a smaller size. I’m honestly not sure what else it could be, considering all of the positive reviews from runners very similar to myself. I may try making some other adjustments in the hope that my investment will not be a complete waste. The vest would still be a wonderful option for shorter runs and races with regular aid stations, so I’m not giving up. However, I’m also moving on and moving forward, so stay tuned for an exciting addition to my running arsenal!

Gear Review: CEP Arm Coolers

It’s no secret that I don’t get along very well with the heat. However, I’ve learned to embrace it as much as you can while still harboring illogical dreams of somehow altering the rotation and tilt of the Earth so that Iowa becomes the ideal climate for my particular preferences. Perhaps once they conclusively get the whole God Particle thing figured out, CERN can turn their attention to my needs. In the meantime, I’m always on the lookout for new cooling and hydration options.

If only the LHC could work for me!  Photo Credit: National Geographic

If only the LHC could work for me!
Photo Credit: National Geographic

I’ve been thinking about my upcoming 50-mile run along the RAGBRAI course in a few weeks, and about how I will do my best to beat the heat. In addition to carrying plenty of water and hydrating, along with electrolytes and proper nutrition, my clothing choices will also be important. After riding RAGBRAI last year, I’m prepared for the fact that I’ll be out in the sun quite a bit, with very few shade options. Thus, I began looking at arm coolers to supplement my attire for just such a hot weather run.

I first read about arm coolers in the context of runners tackling the Badwater 135. Ironically, I’m now watching Running on the Sun while I write this post. After doing my usual high level of research, and reading numerous reviews of arm coolers, I settled on he CEP Arm Coolers and pulled the trigger on Amazon. 


For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, arm coolers look almost identical to arm warmers that you may wear in colder weather. They come in handy because they allow you to stay warm during the beginning of a run, but remove them when the temperature rises. Unlike the warmers, arm coolers are designed to help keep your arms and the rest of your body cooler during hotter temperatures.

The CEP arm coolers are 90% polyester, and 10% spandex, and have a light, then feel to them. The pair I bought came in white, and although they aren’t initially see-through, they become see-through when they get wet, to give you an idea of the thickness of the material. The result is a high-wicking fabric, with UPF 50+ sun protection, and “cool-cell moisture activated skin cooling technology”. I was a bit skeptical of the cooling properties at first, but figured they would at least be a sun-blocking asset.

After taking them out for several runs in 90+ degree weather, I am thoroughly impressed and a new disciple of their usefulness! After only a few miles, the sweat was building up, but my arms felt relatively dry, and it was nice not to feel the sweat running down my arms. When I’m in town, I like to plan my routes around he wonderful park system in Ames and the water fountains they house. At my first stop, I soaked my arms in cold water. The arm coolers absorbed more water than I thought they would, and dripping was minimal. When I headed back out to continue my run, they worked their magic. My arms felt noticeably cooler, and they hit the pressure points on my arms, which had the effect of cooling and relaxing my core as well. They continued to do their job admirably for several miles, which ended up being ideal for the water fountain stops I had planned.

About to head out for a test run!

About to head out for a test run!

As far as fit is concerned, I was quite happy as well. They have an elastic band that fits over the bicep to hold the arm coolers up, and this worked well to prevent them from slipping down my arms (which happens a lot with the Northface arm warmers I have). They hugged my arms comfortably, without being constricting. CEP is known for their compression gear, but these arm coolers are not meant to offer compression. The length worked well for my arms as well. From armpit to wrist, my arms measure 22 3/4″, and a size medium came to the midpoint on my biceps very nicely. I have relatively skinny arms however, so if you have a bit more circumference, you may want to consider moving up to a large.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with these arm coolers, and would certainly recommend them to anyone looking to cool off in the hot sun or keep the sun at bay. My only caveat is that you make sure you get them wet in order to truly reap the benefits. They’ll do the trick as far as keeping the sun out, but they need some moisture in order to cool you down. This runner’s Irish-German pasty white skin is certainly thankful for the protection!

But I’m Not Thirsty! Winter Hydration

It is perhaps perfect timing for me to be thinking about hydration and longing for the hot summer months as a winter storm bears down on the entire state of Iowa. As I’ve discussed before, thinking about hydration comes pretty naturally during the summer months when you feel like you can’t possibly drink enough water to keep up with the sweating, and you wish it was socially acceptable to run naked just so your core temperature was a bit lower. Ok, perhaps running naked would present its own challenges, but you know what I mean. However, when winter sets in, the temperature drops, the snow falls to the ground, and the wind cuts through me like a knife (at least in Iowa, where there is nothing to break it!), the last thing I’m thinking about consistently is hydration. I guess I’m just much less likely to feel thirsty when the snot is freezing to my face 🙂 However, at the point where I’m not feeling the need to hydrate, I need it even more!

But how do I drink the water in the first place?

But how do I drink the water in the first place?

There are a number of considerations to keep in mind during the winter months with regard to hydration:

1. You still sweat– This is probably the hardest fact for me to remember at times! When I’m out in the cold, my core temperature warms up eventually, and even my fingers and toes find some heat after about 6 miles, but I never have the reminder of sweat dripping down my face. It’s not until I step inside out of the cold that I realize my base layers are soaked pretty thoroughly.

2. Lower humidity The cold hair is typically much drier, unless it happens to be precipitating. This means you are at an even greater risk of dehydration.

3. Access to Water- During the summer months, I can head out for most of my runs around town and not even bother bringing a water bottle. Our community has a wonderful park system, and water fountains are everywhere. However, these fountains are obviously turned off during the winter months so the pipes don’t freeze. I still have the option of stopping at gas stations and other retail locations, but my overall access to water is much more limited. Carrying it becomes that much more important!

4. Water freezes- I know you are shocked by this revelation in science. When the cold sets in, the ability to drop water along the route or even carry it with you becomes compromised. Carrying water doesn’t do you much good if you end up with a block of ice in your hand after 45 minutes! Now, adding sugar (as in most nutrition beverages such as Gatorade or Powerade) does lower the freezing point of the liquid, but I try to stay away from sugary energy drinks, especially if there is some sugar in my solid nutrition.

5. Your blood thickens- As the temperature drops, blood viscosity increases. This means your heart is working harder to pump blood to your limbs, and you risk not getting enough oxygen to your extremities. This makes hydration, and the use of electrolytes that much more important!

I’m certainly much more likely to stay hydrated if I remember to bring water with me, as opposed to designing a limited route that stops at the various locations where I still have access to water. This year, I’ve been using the Salomon pack below for most of my long runs. The bottle is insulated, which means my water never freezes, and there is plenty of storage room for all of the nutrition I need, no matter the distance. You can find plenty of insulated water bottles online as well, and incorporate them into the gear you already own/use.

Salomon Pack

Salomon Bottle- 2

If you are looking for some more information on winter running, you can check out these resources below, courtesy of HowStuffWorks:


Taking the Plunge: The Garmin 910xt

I’ve been researching possible GPS watch replacements for my Garmin 405 for quite some time. The 405 has treated me quite well, and was the first GPS watch I ever owned. Hanging out in the memory of my 405 is over 5,000 miles of running memory, and by association, the history of my evolution as a runner. However, as my running distances have increased, the battery in the 405 just hasn’t been able to keep up like it once did, and it was time for a change.

For quite a while, I had been dead set on changing directions and going with the Suunto Ambit. The battery life, along with the open-source software made it an exciting choice for this tech junkie. However, the more I read reviews and analyzed the performance data, the more I realized that the Garmin 910xt was a better choice for me. I’m a huge fan of the wireless syncing capabilities of the 405 (via ANT +), and the 910xt shares this feature. The Ambit requires use of the USB cable, which is also used for charging and would have been logistically annoying. The 910xt also syncs seamlessly with my Strava and Dailymile accounts, whereas the Ambit would have required downloading the .gpx file and then re-uploading it into the applications. These little differences make all the difference for me!

Prior to unboxing!

Prior to unboxing!

I now have a solid 20 hrs of battery life on my wrist, which should get me through most runs I’ll be doing in the near future, and I can extend it even further if I turn off the GPS and pair it with a foot pod, which is great. I was never a huge fan of the touch bezel on the 405 (neither were others, hence the quick change by Garmin), so I’m quite pleased with the ease-of-use buttons on the 910xt. In addition, the display is nice and big, without seeming like I’m wearing a computer on my wrist, and they kept the profile slim enough that it isn’t out of the question to wear it for everyday use as well.

The inaugural run :)

The inaugural run 🙂

I’ve squeezed in two runs this weekend, and I’m excited for the miles this watch has ahead of it. I’m fairly certain that the beautiful epicurean, a budding runner herself, is excited by the fact that she is inheriting the 405 as well. Needless to say, we are now a happy GPS-enabled running household!

Running with the Shoe Dog

Some facets of your everyday life seem relatively straight forward and commonplace. You know what your favorite foods are and which shoes you like to wear. You know what size clothing you need (for the most part) when you go shopping. Up until this point, I thought that my shoe size was another one of these universal truths. I have worn a size 12 shoe for about as long as I can remember, and they’ve always suited me quite well. However, it would seem that perhaps I assumed too much in taking this fact for granted, as I found out otherwise (potentially) during a trip to Roadrunner Sports in Phoenix, AZ.


On our most recent trip, following a tour of the University of Phoenix Stadium (which was very impressive!), we stopped in at Roadrunner Sports. Although this is a chain of stores, they don’t have any locations in Minnesota or Iowa, so I had never visited. They have an impressive selection of running shoes, apparel, and gear, and their staff members were extremely helpful. One of the most unique services they offer is a shoe fit service they call Shoe Dog. As a part of the process, your feet are measured, thermal images of your foot strike are taken, and your gate is video-taped while you run on a treadmill. Once they have completed this process, they offer custom insoles, which are heated up and then formed to your feet while you step on a pressure-sensitive pad. The result is an insole molded specifically to your feet, and I was very excited!


During this process, I learned several new things about my feet. I’ve had my gate analyzed before while running on a treadmill, so I already knew that I over-pronated. However, several other things surprised me.

1. My left foot is a half size bigger than my right foot. I had always intuitively known this, but had never had it confirmed.

2. I have rather high arches. This is not something I had ever given much thought to before, but after seeing the thermal images, it was quite clear. The extra effort I need to exert in order to even out my foot falls most likely contributes to some of my tendentious issues in my left leg as well.

3. I should probably be wearing a size 12.5 shoe. What?! I’ve been buying and running in a size 12 shoe from the beginning. How could this be? As it turns out, the fact that my left foot is bigger means I’m probably not giving myself enough room, and there is a good chance this is contributing to the issues I’ve had with my left leg.

Bring on the new shoes!

Bring on the new shoes!

After trying on a few pairs of shoes, including the Mizuno Wave Inspire 8, the Asics GT-2000, and the Nike Zoom Structure+ 16, I was convinced of my new size (I still like the fit of my Wave Elixir 7’s more though). The custom insoles provided a completely different feel to my feet, and the added arch support felt quite strange after so many years without. I was sold on the analysis, and I purchased the insoles with a great deal of excitement. The $80 pricetag was perhaps a bit steep, but if they last the 1.5-2 years they are supposed to, then they are going to be well-worth the investment.


Unfortunately, prior to my trip, I had ordered two new pairs of shoes that I had found at a significant discount, in a size 12, of course. I’ve run in the Salomon Crossmax Guidance CS already, so there is no turning back there. However, the fresh pair of size 12 Mizuno Wave Elixir 7’s I have can still be returned for a larger size. I am constantly amazed by how much I’ve learned about my body and my running throughout this journey, and how much I still have to learn. I truly won’t take anything for granted- even my shoe size!

Tech Lust & Cyber Monday Sales

I’ve written before about running sans-music, but still needing to track my stats. My Garmin 405 plays a huge part in this obsession. I bought it about 3 years ago, shortly after I started running seriously, and it has been a faithful companion. I love the wireless syncing capability, and it has a small enough profile that I don’t feel like I’m wearing a computer on my wrist! However, the touch-sensitive bezel has always been a bit “touchy”, so to speak. In addition, the battery life has gradually decreased (or have I just gradually upped my distance?). At any rate, the battery no longer lasts for more than 5 hours, and certainly doesn’t stay with me long enough to accurately track an ultra-distance race or training run.

Despite its current shortcomings, I’ve managed with my Garmin 405, but I’ve been doing more and more research for a replacement watch. I consider myself a bit of a technophile, and as such, I spend a lot of time reading technology blogs and other websites, and I stay up-to-date with the latest products. The result is a very specific set of requirements:

1. Long battery life (at least 10 hours, preferably even more)

2. Easy syncing with my computer and online tracking systems (Strava, DailyMile)

3. Compact size- I know it’s not going to be a tiny watch, but I don’t want it weighing me down either!

4. Durability- I want it to have an element of ruggedness so I can trust it won’t fall apart after one fall on the trails

5. Data Customization- I won’t pretend I don’t like the bells and whistles so the more data and more customization I can get, the better!

6. Eye-Catching- I own an iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Pro in large part because of the aesthetic of the hardware and software design, so I want my watch to possess a similar style.

As such, my tech lust is currently directed at the Suunto Ambit. This watch seems to have everything I’m looking for, and all of the reviews I’ve read are incredibly positive. The only downside is the cost. Alas, this means spending some time saving up, but it will assuredly be worth it. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, this watch didn’t find it’s way into any Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals. However, plenty of other running and fitness gear certainly did end up on the receiving end of some deep discounts!

Tech lust at its finest!

In previous years, I’ve enjoyed the hunt for great deals during Black Friday, particularly because I love finding the perfect gift for someone. However, I suppose I’ve mellowed a bit, but I’d much rather sleep in the day after a delicious Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, and sip my coffee in the morning with a good book in hand. This year, I did exactly that.

*Stepping on soapbox

In large part, I also find it a sad comment on our society that stores are opening earlier and earlier, to the point where Thanksgiving can’t even truly be a day to spend with family. This is, of course, disproportionately true for those folks working at these retailers, often without the option to take the day off because they need what little money they are being paid in the first place.

*Stepping off soapbox

Although I don’t enjoy the hunt for deals in brick-and-mortar stores nearly as much anymore, there are more and more deals to be found online. This has given birth to Cyber Monday. With my fellow runners in mind, I’ve pulled together some great deals on running gear of all sorts. For those looking for a gift for the runner in your life, or for some gear to help prepare you for winter running or the next race, there just might be a deal out there for you…in fact, I’m fairly certain! Happy hunting 🙂

14 Essential Holiday Gifts for Runners-

ZombieRunner- one of my favorite online running stores!

Top Sports and Outdoor Sales

Running Warehouse 20% off most running gear!

DC Rainmaker- great blog overall, with listing of Black Friday sales, many of which are still in effect

“Tuning” Up For Kansas City

Do you remember when the Walkman came out? Can you believe it has been over 30 years? Odds are you are now having one of two conversations in your head. You are either a) making the “wow, I wasn’t even born yet!” comment or b) experiencing the “lord, I feel old!” internal monologue. Either way, I find it interesting and perhaps not surprising that the Walkman hit the market around the same time as running emerged as a popular recreational sport and running shoes found their way onto everyone’s feet. Thus, the marriage of music and running was born.

Did you own one? Do you still own one?

In the years that followed, portable music players found their way into seemingly every home in America and around the world, as mixed tapes (admit it, you still have one in a drawer somewhere, collecting dust) gave way to playlists. Although the technology has changed and advanced considerably since that first Walkman hit the scene in 1979, the desire for up-tempo music to work-out with and run with has remained strong. Whether you are more familiar with “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” or Zumba, there is no question that music is thoroughly entrenched in our exercise regimes. The result has been every type of exercise and running-themed music accessory imaginable. In fact, I’m sure many of you have piles of old music players and headphones you bought to use while you run or workout. Perhaps you used them a few times but they never felt right in your ears, or the weight of the device got in the way of your workout, or you just liked being on the cutting edge and you replaced your devices as fast as new devices were released (I hope you aren’t still doing that, or you have very deep pockets!).

No introduction needed?

The fascination with music as a distraction, a motivational trigger, or a tempo-counter has become quite intense in the running world, or so it seems. If the number of articles about running and ideal playlists at Runners World is any indication, then there is no question that everyone has the perfect solution. When I first started running, I was in the same boat. I used the “Couch to 5K” podcasts, and had plenty of other playlists to pump me up while I ran. However, for whatever reason, I never found a pair of headphones that fit my ears well and were comfortable. Thus, I’d end up taking them out mid-run, or they’d fall out. Eventually, I stopped running with any music at all. That’s when I felt my running really level up.

(As a Virginia Tech Alum, Enter Sandman truly is the ultimate intro song…for a crazy game @ Lane Stadium or a final psych-up before a marathon!)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of having your favorite music playing as the miles fly by. However, when you unplug and take in everything around you, you gain a whole new perspective on that route you thought you knew like the back of your hand! As I have been squeezing in a few final runs before the Northface 50K this weekend, I’ve been thinking more about my overall routine. I still love some of my favorite songs for helping me gear up for a race, but I have no interest is plugging back in during the run itself. The crowds and the other runners are more than enough to keep me engaged and interested, and the miles still melt away. So, whether you unplug for a change, or unplug out of respect for the other runners on the course, I highly recommend giving it a try. Perhaps this will be the race you level up!

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