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Archive for the tag “Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set”

My RAGBRAI Adventure- Part I

I’m 35,000 feet above the ground as I type this post, heading from Boston to Chicago, and then on to Des Moines. This, in and of itself, is not very interesting. However, it has been a fast-paced, adventure-filled past two weeks, culminating in this 6AM flight home. Let me begin by saying that waking up at 1AM to drive two and a half hours to Boston to catch an early morning flight is not my preferred manner of transportation. I am not a morning person by nature, and this experience lands somewhere between an all-night bender (with none of the enjoyable or regrettable memories) and an early morning wake-up call from a dead sleep. However, I’m excited to begin chronicling my adventures, so you get to experience my sleep-deprived ramblings 🙂

My time in Maine is fresh on my mind, but before I jump ahead to island adventures and scenic ocean views, I need to rewind, as promised, to last Tuesday, and my two-legged cycling imitation. As I indicated in my “Out of Office” post, I did indeed tackle my RAGBRAI run last Tuesday, and finished successfully. Along the way, I experienced one of the more unique running accomplishments of my life.

A quiet RAGBRAI campground in Perry around 6:15AM.

A quiet RAGBRAI campground in Perry around 6:15AM.

Until the day before, I was uncertain of my travel plans to Perry, IA for the start of this 50 mile adventure. At the last-minute, a friend offered me a seat in his car for an early morning trip down to Perry. I wanted to begin running as early as possible so this offer was quite welcome. I woke up at 4AM, shook off the sleep hangover, ate a light breakfast, and checked my new Salomon pack to make sure I had everything I needed for the day. He picked me up around 5AM, and we drove the 45 minutes down to Perry, and found the park in the center of town where a majority of folks had camped the night before. There had been a rather significant thunderstorm early in the evening, so many of the entertainment plans the town had organized were rained out, and the mood around the city park was quiet and subdued.

My ticket to!

My ticket to ride…errr…run!

I found the official RAGBRAI trailer and purchased a day pass. Riders need these in order to be able to utilize the sag wagon, and call more quickly for medical support. I had emailed the RAGBRAI organizers earlier in the summer to see if I needed a pass to run, but heard nothing and figured I’d rather be safe than sorry. They were a bit uncertain of which pass to give me at first, but landed on a regular rider day pass. With that logistical step complete, I followed the early cyclists heading out-of-town, and began my run.

Lets get this party started!

Lets get this party started!

As I headed through Perry and out-of-town, it didn’t seem all that different from any other run. I was early enough that there weren’t too many cyclists starting the day yet, but running down the middle of the street set it apart from other weekday runs. I was pleased that my pack fit so well, despite being loaded to the brim with nutrition and emergency supplies, in addition to a full bladder. By the time I reached the outskirts of town and felt the journey really beginning, I had been quietly consumed by waves of cyclists.

This particular leg of RAGBRAI, because it was ending in Des Moines, was one of the more heavily populated days, combining official riders with bandits who simply jumped on the course for the experience. Thus, it made sense for me to make my way to the right side of the road so that riders could pass easily. It felt a bit strange to be running “with traffic” but definitely made the most sense as I made my way down the road.

Within the first few miles, the well-wishes and words of support and encouragement began. People were curious, excited, intrigued, and a bit surprised to see me running along side them, and they weren’t afraid to share their thoughts. One of the best parts about RAGBRAI is always the friendliness of the people. Cyclists come from all over the world to ride across the state of Iowa, and have been for the last 41 years. Somehow, despite the mix of personalities, ages, and maturity, everyone seems to magically assume a “midwestern nice” persona as soon as they hop on their bike and begin the rambling trek across the state. From the get-go, this warmth emanated from the waves of riders passing me. People began asking my name and where I was from, and throughout the day, I heard folks calling me by name as they passed. It was as if folks were playing a giant game of telephone and I was the subject of their evolving statement.

My route for the day!

My route for the day!

The route was very nicely broken up with small towns, which made it much easier to look at the run as a series of smaller runs, with breaks in between. I had planned on making these stops from the beginning, and experiencing what each town had to offer in order to have an authentic RAGBRAI experience despite my lack of wheels. Communities across Iowa go all out when they are selected as a part of the course, and it’s amazing to see each community showcase all that they have to offer.

The first official stop along the route was in Washington Township, and I paused to get a bottle of water and take in some honey stinger chomps, but I kept going with the intention of breaking for breakfast in the next town.

A sea of riders heading into Minburn, IA- looks like a nice excuse to slow down!

A sea of riders heading into Minburn, IA- looks like a nice excuse to slow down!

Stop 1- Minburn, IA: At this point, I had knocked out the first 12 miles or so, and was averaging about a 9:30 pace, which was a bit faster than I had planned, but I knew I’d slow down later on so I wasn’t too worried. A good friend passed me coming into town, and she waited for me at the outskirts of town, so we walked into town together (you don’t have any choice but to walk when thousands of bikes are squeezing into a small street), and found some pancakes and coffee for breakfast and fuel. While we were sitting and eating, I struck up a conversation with a guy, who after asking me if I was running the route, shared that he had volunteered at the Wasatch 100 and many other ultra-marathons for many years. We talked for quite a while about altitude training, volunteering and pacing at races, and working up to tackling some of these beasts. It was the perfect break in the morning, and amazingly motivational as I said goodbye to my friend and headed out for the next leg of my journey.

That's not actually enough coffee, in case you were wondering!

That’s not actually enough coffee, in case you were wondering!

At a little under a third of the way there, I’ll pause here and give you time to soak in the ambiance that is RAGBRAI. Stay tuned for Part II of my report to hear more about some of the amazing conversations I had, the delicious food I ate, and the motivation I found along the way!

Great friends make the best crowd support!

Great friends make the best crowd support!

Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest vs. Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set

I analyze things. No, I don’t think you understand. I REALLY analyze things. I’m the guy that spends all day reading reviews before deciding on the type of peanut butter to put on my sandwich. It can be a problem, but it does have its perks. One such perk is the fact that I’ve put a great deal of thought into every running decision I’ve made and every piece of running gear I’ve purchased. I approach a lot of these choices from a “what if” perspective. That is to say, I try to think about every conceivable scenario in which I’d be using this item and make sure it is the best choice for most of those scenarios. I wish I could say my level of scrutiny increases as the prices of items increase, but I probably spend as much time on a $10 water bottle as a $150 race vest. This brings me to my most recent quest, which I alluded to in my last post.

I’ve been on the hunt for the best possible ultra race vest. I wanted something that I could load up with enough nutrition and other various supplies to last me through a 50 or 100 mile trail run. Obviously I can’t bring enough water on my back for that distance, so water transport became a major focus of my research. After my negative, albeit skewed Camelbak experience, I had convinced myself that bladders weren’t for me. I wanted to be able to store handheld bottles that I could carry if I wanted, refill when I wanted, and change out when I wanted. This factor limited my search somewhat, and after reading copious online reviews, watching YouTube product reviews, and constantly reassuring myself, I had narrowed my search to the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest and the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 set. What follows is a mostly unbiased review based on my experiences with both packs.

I should begin my disclosing that I have the most amazing and supportive partner ever. As I was midway through my research, the beautiful epicurean disclosed that she intended to buy me a pack as an anniversary gift. I needed only to let her know which pack to buy. After I had narrowed down my search, she suggested ordering both packs, giving them a whirl, and deciding after some hands-on experience. My hesitation up to that point was due to not being able to actually try either pack on. There are no dealers for either pack in the entire state, and although I was committed, I wasn’t going to cross state lines to try on a hydration pack. So, we ordered both packs and they arrived incredibly quickly, which worked out perfectly, because it gave me enough time to test them and decide on a pack before my RAGBRAI run!

I’ll begin with the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. I can admit upfront that I really wanted this to be the pack for me. I just finished reading Eat & Run, so Scott Jurek is fresh in my brain. On top of that, the pack is just really sexy. He helped design the pack to suit his ultrarunning needs. The pack uses incredibly innovative materials to make it super lightweight (7.5 oz.) and durable. The main compartment is very flexible, utilizing Cuben Fiber to make it easily expandable and collapsible. In total, it holds 9.2 L. It is hydration bladder ready, but does not come with a bladder. This pack really shines in the front, however. On the outside of two adjustable sternum straps are slots for two water bottles. The pockets rest parallel with the body, and sit high on the chest. There are mesh pockets on the sides of the bottle holders, as well as the above and below the bottle holders. It even comes with two Ultimate Direction 20 oz. kicker valve water bottles, which is a nice touch. They suggest measuring your chest for proper sizing, and my 36″ chest meant purchasing a size Medium (31- 38 inches).

Race Vest 1

The UD vest arrived first and I eagerly pulled it out to try it on. I slipped it on, adjusted the sternum straps, and sat with it for a bit. It is INCREDIBLY lightweight, and even with the water bottles, I could barely feel it on my back. I loaded up the pack to simulate running conditions, and took it for a spin around the block. I was careful not to get sweaty so I could still return it if need be. Overall, the material felt great to have on, and the water bottles sat comfortably on my chest. The sternum straps tightened well and prevented any movement, so I don’t think I would be concerned with chafing. The side panels are hex mesh, so there is no ability to adjust the fit other than the sternum straps. It sat nicely on the upper part of my back, and the contents I loaded up didn’t move around at all. However, I noticed, even after adjusting the fit, that there were pretty sizable gaps between my shoulders and the straps. I adjusted the sternum straps in every conceivable position, but the gaps remained. this gap didn’t seem to bother me while running around the block, but 100 miles might be a different story. I began thinking about the various aspects to look for in fit for a hiking pack, and many of the same principles would apply here. Overall, though, I loved the back, and might have found myself in love with the idea of the pack even a bit more than the pack itself.

Race Vest 2

Pros– lightweight, lots of storage, nice water bottle placement (reviews for placement with women seem to be mixed)

Cons– fit customization, sizing, need to use after market bladder

The Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 set is the veteran in this race. This race vest was originally released several years ago, and have evolved to meet the needs of ultra runners around the world. In all the reviews I read, I honestly could not find any significant negative comments about this vest. People were basically drooling over the versatility and comfort of this vest, so it was an obvious option for me. This vest does come with a hydration bladder specifically designed for the pack, as well as water bottle holsters up front. The bladder is very well designed, with a quick release hose at the bottle, and an insulated sleeve to keep your water cold longer. The hose actually gets tucks along the pack under your armpit and up to your mouth, as opposed to most hydration systems that track the hose over your should. The water bottle holsters are angled at around 45 degrees out, as opposed to the parallel orientation of the SJ vest. I comfortably fit 20 oz. bottles in each pocket, but they could be used for a camera, or other nutrition items as well. There are several mesh pockets on the side of the vest, and two large compartments in the back. The pack weighs a bit more than the SJ vest (12 oz.) but this is partially due to the bladder, which is removable. Storage capacity is almost identical, although the Salmon website lists it at a bit less since they assume you’d have the bladder in as well.  The vest offers to adjustable straps across the sternum that are movable in a triangular format to allow for more adjustment. There are bungee straps on top of the shoulders as well so you can cinch the pack closer to your back. A mesh pass-through space at the bottom on the back offers a perfect location for a second layer as well. Small, detachable (velcro) pockets up front offer even more storage.

Race Vest 3

Luckily, the Salomon vest arrived the day after the SJ vest, so I had quick access. As soon as I put the vest on, I knew exactly what all the reviewers were talking about. In about 30 seconds, I had made all the adjustments I needed, and the vest literally felt like a second skin on me. I loaded the pack up with the same items as before, and took it for a spin around the block. I was initially worried that my arms would rub on the water bottles while in the holsters because of the angle, but this wasn’t the case. If anything, the pack kept my posture more upright and my shoulders relaxed and arms down. It sat nicely on the upper part of my back, and there was no movement whatsoever once I cinched everything down. This pack was literally a part of me when I was running. There is more than enough space in the back for all your nutrition and other supplies as well.

Race Vest 4

Pros– fit, fit, fit, hydration bladder option, fit, lightweight

Cons– a bit less storage space in the back with a bladder, price

Ultimately (pun-intended), I overcame my infatuation and decided on the Salomon vest. I just couldn’t argue with the fit! It had everything I needed, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if I should give hydration bladders another go as well. This pack has everything I need and more. On Saturday morning, I bit the bullet, cut the tags, and loaded it up with two water bottles in front for a morning 22-miler. After the first mile, I knew I had made the right choice. The fit was amazing, and my pace and stride weren’t impacted in the least. With the two water bottles, I had everything I needed for a long run. By the end of the run, I was starting to feel some pressure on my ribs from the water bottles. At that point, I stopped and adjusted the straps to better fit my chest. Good grief! I wish I would have done that earlier 🙂

Yesterday, out of utter curiosity, I filled the bladder, and headed out for a quick run to give it a try. Maybe I was wrong…it happens occasionally, right? As I started running, I could hear some sloshing, which was to be expected. However, i didn’t feel the bladder moving around in the least bit. After the first mile, I may have enjoyed the vest even more with the bladder full and more space up front for nutrition. I never would have guessed I’d come back around, but I couldn’t be more happy that I did. Hopefully, in the midst of this lengthy review, I can save you some time of your own. Both vests are excellent options, and widely used (looking at pictures of the elite runners at the Hardrock 100 tells you all you need to know about the popularity of both vests). The Salomon vest is a bit more pricy, but in my opinion, worth every penny. I’ll be getting many miles of use out of this amazing race pack!

On my way home...just another day in Iowa!

On my way home…just another day in Iowa!

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