Chasing 42

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Archive for the tag “Running Gear”

Gear Review: Brooks Silver Bullet Jacket II

It’s no secret that I will choose outdoor running over the treadmill no matter the weather conditions. I’ve run in blizzards, wind and rain storms, and temperatures in the negative digits. I’ve come home with a nice layer of sweaty ice covering much of my body, and plenty of chilly but survivable digits. At the heart of my survival is a solid winter running coat or outer layer. For the past few years, I’ve put an old race-earned running jacket to good use and it has served me well as one of many layers. However, the zipper finally broke and I found myself in need of a new cold-weather running jacket.

Running in the unpredictable Iowa winter has given me plenty of food for thought as I searched for the ideal jacket to meet my year-round outdoor needs. Not only did I need something relatively lightweight, but also windproof and water-resistant. Ideally, I would also find a jacket I could utilize into the mid-30s as well, until I made the quick transition to long sleeves and shorts 🙂 I ended up doing far more research and reading than was probably necessary, but I’m nothing if not thorough. This overabundance of research left me with a good sense of my options. Ultimately, I opted for a running-specific jacket as opposed to a more general use soft-shell with good running cred. I pulled the trigger on the Brooks Silver Bullet II jacket, and I couldn’t be more happy with my choice!

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Fit & Appearance: The jacket has a semi-fitted structure. It’s by no means baggy, and hugs my body quite well, while also being loose-fitting enough to accommodate a variety of layers underneath. It sits below the hips, and has a nice elastic strip at the bottom to keep it from riding up while running. This update to the original Silver Bullet jacket includes an articulated hood that stows in the collar for quick deployment via a zippered-pocket. It cinches easily in the back, has a small brim, and offers a nice snug, athletic fit that stays put, even in 30 mph headwinds! This is not a cheap after-thought hood. The added detail of a fabric overlay at the top of the zipper is a nice touch for added comfort, and the collar comes up high enough for nice neck protection and has a soft feel for comfort. The jacket also has extended thumb holes for added coverage on your hands, and added “flip-mits” that work as emergency mittens. These are more of a gimmick than an effective addition to the jacket, but I applaud Brooks for trying something new. The arms extend a bit longer on top of the hands as well, which is a small, but nice detail.

I decided on the Kelly green color, with black accents, and plenty of reflective stripping. Although this wasn’t my first color choice, I’m not really happy with the choice. It’s bright enough to add some additional visibility without being obnoxious. Although it’s a running-specific jacket, I’d definitely grab it for a more active hike or colder outdoor ride. For those of you that like to carry your phone or other media player with you, a water-proof internal pocket is nicely positioned lower on the abdomen to prevent jiggling. This serves as a nice secondary pocket, complimenting the two side pockets, for nutrition storage as well. The medium fits my 5’11” 165 lb. frame extremely well, to the point that it could have been tailored for me.

Brooks-2

Breathability: I sweat A LOT, so I’m always concerned with the breathability of running apparel. Various products that claim to be breathable have left me drenched in the past. However, the lightweight material (nylon and polyester) breathes very well, while retaining heat (more on that to come). The inside of the jacket was almost completely dry, even after 30 miles in single digit temps.

Warmth: This is where the jacket really shines…or should I say reflects! The internal aluminum membrane reflects your body heat back towards you “for powered warmth without the weight”. It looks really cool, but sounded a bit gimmicky when I bought it. However, after running in it for a few months, I’m sold. This jacket claims to be built for 40 degrees and below, and it absolutely fits that bill. I was quite comfortable in nothing more than a short-sleeve tech shirt at 20 degrees, and a long-sleeve tech shirt in 10 degree weather. Below 10 degrees, I busted out a heavier Under Armor heat gear shirt, and it kept me toasty warm, even when the wind chill dipped below -20! The lightweight nature of this jacket would have left me skeptical, but the proof was in the pudding. This jacket does the job.

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All-Weather Protection: The Silver Bullet is billed as windproof and water-resistant. The harsh Iowa winds have given me plenty of opportunities to test the windproof-ness of the jacket, and it has held up quite well. The semi-fitted nature of the jacket also means the wind isn’t sneaking in and creating the parachute effect we are all familiar with in other jackets. As with many products that claim to be water-resistant, this was true to a point with the Silver Bullet. It definitely beads up water and will keep you try during short showers, or a light rain. However, harder rains/snows or more driving rains/snows will accelerate the saturation of the jacket. In those heavier precipitation moments, I averaged about 30 minutes before the moisture started to soak through. However, the jacket kept me toasty warm even once the moisture began to seep in. This is always the trade-off when you go with water-resistant vs. water-proof. The increased breathability makes this a more than acceptable trade-off for my running needs.

Overall, I’m extremely happy with the Silver Bullet II running jacket. Brooks has produced a well-designed, and versatile running jacket for folks who don’t retire to the treadmill when the temps dip below freezing. I may be recommending this to a few friends to increase my winter running company!

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The Evolution of Running Shoes: I’m Coming Clean

I’ve fought the urge to publish this post for quite some time. I don’t think I have a problem. I just like variety in my life, and get tired of the same footwear options. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? I know I’m not the only one with a ridiculous number of shoes in the closet, but mine is the only closet I see on a regular basis. In truth, “closet” really means “spread out over three closets and the basement”. However, I should at least attempt to explain myself before opening up my closet to you. After all, shoes are an intimate part of a runner’s world. We spend countless hours researching the right brand, fit, size, width, lacing system, foot bed, weather resistance, stack height, and toe box size. Ok, maybe not EVERY runner does this, but I can’t be the only one, right? Tell me that you are out there and understand. Tell me that you are with me, and lace up with me in solidarity. Tell me that you understand the following VERY logical observations, which have led to my present condition.

1. Rotating shoes strengthens the muscles in your foot in different ways. It is also proven to reduce injury.

2. Shoes used for speed work are just lighter and provide a different feel than heavier trainers for long-distance runs.

3. The weather is clearly unpredictable, so having an extra pair in case your main shoes are still soaking wet just makes sense.

4. Most running shoes are still in really good shape, even after 400 or 500 miles, so tossing them just seems silly.

5. Old running shoes are great for yard work, or the occasional mud run that you know will result in sending them straight to the garbage afterwards.

6. Some running shoes happen to make solid casual footwear choices for everyday wear. There’s nothing wrong with that!

7. After 400 or 500 miles, you get attached to a pair of shoes. They are like the old hoodie you’ve had for 10 years. They deserve a proper burial.

As you can see, the research and logic behind my…ummm…arsenal…are quite sound! So, without further adieu, I shall take you on a tour of my shoes. Comments on many of the shoes in these photos are including in the “What’s On My Feet” section as well. The overall evolution of my running shoes can be captured in 5 stages.

Stage 1- Brand New: It's not uncommon to have a reserve pair ready to go.

Stage 1- Brand New: It’s common to have a reserve pair ready to go.

Stage 2- In Use: At the moment, I happen to have 6 different pairs of shoes in rotation. I promise they all serve a purpose!

Stage 2- In Use: At the moment, I happen to have 6 different pairs of shoes in rotation. I promise they all serve a purpose!

Stage 3- Casual Wear: Running shoes, wether new or retired, can make great everyday shoes as well.

Stage 3- Casual Wear: Running shoes, whether new or retired, can make great everyday shoes as well.

Stage 4- Yard work: Old running shoes are perfect for getting things done outside. It's like putting a horse out to pasture gracefully, right?

Stage 4- Yard work: Old running shoes are perfect for getting things done outside. It’s like putting a horse out to pasture gracefully, right?

Stage 5- Purgatory: They've outlived their usefulness but I just can't seem to bury them once and for all. I might need them for something!

Stage 5- Purgatory: They’ve outlived their usefulness but I just can’t seem to bury them once and for all. I might need them for something!

There you have it. The five stages of running shoe life, unmasked before your blog-viewing eyes. Ironically, I’ve been on a minimalist life kick lately, and have been striving to get rid of as many unnecessary possessions in my life as possible. Somehow, my mind hasn’t quit acclimated to that idea with regard to my running shoes. I probably shouldn’t even mention that my inventory of casual and dress shoes MAY just need their own post altogether. So what does your running shoe closet(s) look like? Do you regularly purge? Do you rotate shoes or stick to your trusty trainers? The confessional booth is open!

 

 

Never Pay Full Price for Running Gear

Like most folks, I appreciate a good deal. In fact, over the years, I’ve become a discount shopper for many items, and have gotten rather good and finding the lowest possible price for just about any item I’m purchasing. I’ve found this to be especially helpful with running-related gear and shoes, which, as we all know, can add up rather quickly! The old mantra about running being the simplest sport because all you need is a pair of shoes still applies, to some extent, but the availability of a multitude of product categories stretches that simplicity quite a bit. There are plenty of other wonderful gear review sites and blogs out there, and I try to report on my own gear purchases as well. This plethora of information typically leads me to research extensively before purchasing just about anything.

Once I’m ready to pull the trigger on a particular item, I’ll put an equal amount of effort into finding the best possible price, and waiting for an item to go on sale, as it is most often not an immediate need. I have some common sites that I search pretty regularly when looking for something. Additionally, I’ve become a huge fan of The Clymbwhich is a membership (free) based flash-sale website for athletic and outdoor apparel and gear. New sales are posted every day at 10AM CST, and they run the gamut from socks and gloves all the way up to kayaks and bikes. They even have pretty reasonable vacation packages to rather exotic locations! They carry at huge range of major athletic brands at any given time, and have a permanent rotating collection (Clymb 360) in addition to their flash sales. Shipping is a flat $8 and their customer service has been excellent in my opinion. I’ve found casual and running shoes, apparel, and a wide range of gear that I never would have paid full price for but gladly picked up at 50-70% off retail.

In addition to The Clymb, active.com also has a similar flash-sale site for athletic apparel. I’ve noticed that their items are more heavily cycling and triathlon-focused than The Clymb, but they also have some incredible sales. I will fully admit that I’m a bit of a gear junkie and I love the entire process, from research to product-testing, and would love to spend even more time testing products, although preferably through company sponsorship instead of paying for everything out of my own pocket. I would love the chance to attend the Outdoor Retailer Convention almost as much as I long to travel to Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). 

Just recently, I picked up three new items that you’ll no doubt be reading about in the coming weeks as I get a chance to test them out. I picked up the Ultimate Direction Sports Bottle holster ($5, retail $20), the Inov-8 Debrisoc 38 ($10, retail $20), and the Fuelbelt Speedster reflective vest ($10, retail $27.99). I’m looking forward to testing out all three items, which will hopefully fill needs I had as I push forward into the spring race season. Below are links I mentioned, as well as a few other great sites to check out.

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The Clymb– This is by far and away my favorite gear sale site…apparel, hydration, shoes, nutrition, and the list goes on!

Active GearUp– A great flash-sale site for a multitude of gear and nutrition needs

ZombieRunner– great sales and a huge inventory

Running Warehouse– this is an especially great site for finding discounts on your favorite shoes!

Sierra Trading Post– this is a great go-to site for all things outdoors

Do you have any secret sites or tricks for finding the best deals on running gear? Share them in the comments section- I’d love to hear them!

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- Active.com

ZombieRunner- one of my favorite online running stores!

Top Sports and Outdoor Sales

Running Warehouse

TriVillage.com- 20% off most running gear!

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

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