Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Quest for the Perfect Hydration System

Here I will review and compare two great hydration vests that have served me well: The Nathan HPL #020 and the Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest. Everyone has different hydration preferences for endurance activities and for a while I've been trying to figure out what the best system is for me. In a race scenario where you have aided support every few miles, sometimes a vest is unnecessary. During long training runs, though, I almost always need more water than what I can carry in my hands. Some people prefer having a bladder with a tube running over their shoulder that they can drink from, but I prefer to at least have one handheld. If the water is not in my hand, I will forget to drink regularly and my thirst will soon catch up to me.  For most of my longs runs I carry a ~20 oz handheld bottle and a vest with anywhere from 1 to 2 liters. After my handheld runs out I transfer some water from my bladder into my bottle. I know that the method I currently use is not the most time efficient but I have yet to find a better solution. I find that sucking water from a tube tends to leave my mouth more dry, which makes me think that I'm thirstier than I really am. So without further rambling, here are my reviews.

Nathan HPL #020
The Lowdown
This vest technology seems to be the current standard. It is well designed, highly adjustable, roomy enough for almost any size/shape bladder and additional nutrition. The fabrics are very lightweight but compared to newer models and alternatives produced by other brands, this vest would be on the "heavier" end. This vest has one main zippered compartment for a bladder with a smaller zippered compartment for nutrition, etc. There are two adjustable side straps that bring the load closer to the body and one adjustable sternum strap that can slide to varying heights. The right front pocket has a drawstring and is big enough for an additional bottle (I sometimes use it for my camera). The left pocket features a small zippered compartment with an open elastic pocket over the top of it.

The Specs
Weight: 10 oz.
Total capacity: 400 cu. in. (6.55L)

The Opinion
This vest is well suited to the needs that I have. Though sweatier men might find this vest too heavy, I do not mind the thicker back compartment. As my hydration bladder starts to give off condensation, none of that moisture tends to leak through to my skin. Additionally, the enclosed and zippered compartment keeps my water cooler for longer. I often run home from work and so the 3 zippered compartment options give me enough room to securely store the odds and ends I need to bring home from work (keys, phone, sunglasses, an extra layer). When I'm hit with an afternoon shower, I know that my stuff will stay relatively dry for a few miles until I make it home. Out on the trail I usually bring a map because I tend to get lost and the front pockets give me enough space to keep a map, my small camera, and my next gel handy. The feature that I would praise the most about this vest is the adjustability. This vest fits my husband perfectly but I can still cinch it down to fit me, though it wouldn't fit someone much smaller than me (a 32 band size), though Nathan offers a women-specific version. Because there are 3 places where the straps can be adjusted, no one strap becomes too long and flappy - a problem I run into with the Fluid vest. Straps take a little bit of time to adjust but once straps are situated there will be no slippage. Overall this vest is extremely handy and dependable, and, though it's roominess can be a little much for races, it's versatility makes it an excellent investment.

Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest
The Lowdown
This lightweight vest is designed for racing (as the name points out) so as expected, the features are minimal and users should not expect to fit the kitchen sink in this vest. The mesh back panel puts a thin layer between a hydration bladder and your back and an even thinner mesh panel overlaid with a quick-draw elastic lacing system that holds everything secure. There are no adjustable side straps and there are two sternum straps that can tighten and also adjust up and down (though this takes a minute). The right front pocket has a thin mesh compartment and the left front pocket has a small zippered pouch with an overlaid mesh compartment.

The Specs
Weight: 6 oz.
Capacity: 1 L

The Opinion
This vest is lightweight and forces you to bring only the necessities. In a racing situation where you have aid relatively close by, all you need is the necessities. Most people don't need more than 1L of water to get to the next aid station in a race scenario, but during a long training run more water is often required. If your water is cooled at the beginning of your run, then the condensation can pass through the mesh fabric to your back... this can be either annoying or refreshing. The quick-draw elastic strap on the back panel allows you to securely attach an extra layer. This vest didn't work well for me on a commuting run home from work because there was no secure pockets to store my valuables. The small zippered pockets work well for keys but when I stored my small phone in the right front pocket it fell out on the sidewalk. I stored a gel in the left front pocket and that fell out once as well. The pockets are a great feature but they aren't very deep. Additionally when I got stuck in a thunderstorm everything in my vest immediately got soaked. In a race situation you probably wouldn't be carrying anything more valuable than a small car key and so this wouldn't be an issue. This vest fits my husband perfectly but is too large for me to get a great fit. Hopefully down the road Mountain Hardwear will offer a model designed for women. The only adjustable straps are the sternum straps and I have to pull those as tight as possible. As a result I have dangly straps flapping in the wind. To fix this, my husband added some thin nylon cord to hold the straps together (see picture below). The fabric is very quick-drying and lightweight but I found that when I wore a sleeveless shirt or just ran in a sports bra, the vest chafed around my neck and arms. The chafing was pretty minor and felt no more scratchy than a fine merino wool fabric. In the end, this vest is excellent for what it was designed for - a minimal racing vest that will get you to your crew within 10 miles down the trail.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pikes Peak Marathon Report

It has been an exciting weekend for trail running with the Waldo 100k, Leadville 100, and Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon all happening in the course of 48 hours. Waldo had an exciting finish with a late surge from Timothy Olson to nab the first place spot. Leadville was an exciting race with lots of ups and downs between the stacked men's and women's fields. More on that from Cory when he gets home. He was at the OB aid station most of the day and paced someone all night long. The Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday was very exciting as a new women's course record was set by Kim Dobson. But what I'm really here to talk about is the marathon.

This year, the Pikes Peak Marathon was a can't miss event. Though the PPM is one of the country's oldest marathons, it has lived in a bit of obscurity. It's a grueling event as the first 13 miles are entirely uphill with the last 3ish miles resting above tree line where the air is thin and the stomachs grow weak. Runners can be great at the ascending miles but if their bodies don't deal well with the altitude, then performance will suffer. This is what makes the event so exciting and unpredictable. Additionally, runners must be efficient on the quad-killing descent.

Matt Carpenter's name will always be tied to the event. Since the late 80s he has been a force in either the Ascent, Marathon, or in both races (referred to as "doubling"). This weekend his course records for the PPM and the Leadville 100 were under threat. I'm kind of happy that neither of these records were broken, because Matt's accomplishments at both events are something that us young runners should revere and respect. Last year, Matt did not even plan to start the race until he woke up that morning. One of our friends, Dave Corsten, ran the race last year and said that everyone was theorizing about whether he would start the race. Two minutes before the gun went off Matt toed the line and blew away the competition.

Since Matt was so unsure about racing last year, it's no surprise that he declined to race this year. He would have had to face the insanely talented Killian Jornet who, at 24, is in his running prime and it wouldn't have been a fair fight since Matt first started doing this race the year that Killian was born. Over the years, a few of the nation's top athletes have taken on Matt only to be beat in the end. But what made this year different was the depth of talent in the men's field. Top runners Max King, Dave Mackey, Greg Vollet, and others who are equally as talented but perhaps lesser known (at least by me) started the race. It could have been anyone's day. The real question was whether Matt's record would be taken down.

Just in case, I showed up at the finish with enough time to catch any record breakers. I am a big fan of Killian Jornet and I find his ventures very inspirational. Ask any young trail runner who inspires them and Killian's name will probably be at the top of the list. But on this particular day, I hoped that he would be slightly off of Matt's record. I really wanted him to win, but Matt's record is a legacy and to me it symbolizes how hard work and determination can pay off. The man has given a large part of his life to this race series. I was nervous that Killian would come in and bust that up like it was no big deal.

Killian did dominate field today setting a new age-group descent record. He was 24 minutes off of Matt's course record (showing what a beast Matt was in his prime). Though second place was close behind him at the summit, he stretched his lead over Alex Nichols to seven minutes by the finish line. Funny story about Killian's finish... I was about a quarter mile from the finish line so that I could get some good pictures. Near me was a woman with a radio and her job was to call in the numbers of runners so that the announcer could say their names over the loudspeaker at the finish. She must have been stressed about her job because she started yelling at Killian since he had taken his shirt off and she couldn't see his number. Killian was startled by the beratement so I started yelling "Go Killian!" until others caught on.  C'mon, we don't need to see his number to know who he is.

Max King (U.S. Mountain Running team member and champion) was just 3 minutes behind Nichols to round out the podium. Notably, perennial power-house Dave Mackey finished in 7th place and looked like he had just come in from a relaxing afternoon of fly-fishing (see picture below). The women's race was even more exciting because Emelie Forsberg was third to the summit but had moved to the lead on the descent and Kasie Enman was within a few seconds of her until the finish. Third-place Mireia Varela from Spain was just four minutes back. Shows the importance of being a good down-hiller.

The real question of the day is how Solomon can afford to sponsor so many athletes.

Killian Jornet making it look easy.

Alex Nichols looking fresh with windswept hair.

Max King showing off the quads of an uphill world champion.

J Marshall Thomson trying to make a point to Killian that you can run well with lots of clothes on.

Greg Vollet thinking about how the French Alps are prettier than Pikes Peak.

Oscar Casal representing the awesome and tiny country of Andorra.

Dave Mackey smiling like a champ. He passed 3 people on the downhill.

Emilie Forsberg leading the women and almost making it into the top 10. 

Kasie Enman showing that you can be a mom, live/train in the east, and still be awesome.

Spain's Mireia Varela shooting down the home stretch and ensuring that only Team Solomon athletes round out the women's podium. She was too fast for me to catch on camera close up.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


It's crazy how many little things can derail your training. I was just reading about how Desiree Davila tweaked her hip late in the game and had to train on an anti-gravity machine leading up to the Olympics. In the end she wasn't able to finish the biggest race of her life so far. Well, this week I had my own derailing event and I've been really frustrated as a result of it.

Cory and I went backpacking last Sunday and Monday. After hiking out of the backcountry we went to this great Brewery where I promptly caught food poisoning. I was extremely thankful that I did not start feeling the effects until after we had made it through the winding car-ride home and I was also thankful that Cory did not get sick at all, but when we did get home violence erupted. I didn't sleep very much that night but after I had thrown up everything in my system I finally started feeling better. Unfortunately since I hadn't eaten anything since that particularly delicious yet evil guacamole burger the previous afternoon, I almost passed out at work. They had the sense to send me home.

After I slept most of Tuesday away, we went to eat dinner with Cory's Uncle and Aunt (Roger and Brenda) in Boulder. I nervously ate but managed to keep everything down. Since they had both experienced Giardia before they helped me rule out that as a potential cause to my illness. Roger also told us that he was friends with ultra-runner Dave Mackey and that they used to be climbing buddies. And on Roger's morning ritual of hiking Green Mountain with Shasta, one of their Aussies, he regularly sees Anton Krupicka. Apparently Shasta really likes him. Him and Brenda see elite athletes out and about all of the time in Boulder. Maybe we should move a little north.

Anyway, it's taken a long time to feel back to full health. I've only been able to run once this week and I was pretty shaky and dizzy. I need to fit in 13 miles either tonight after work or tomorrow morning, but I've been pretty nervous about how my body is going to handle it. I have a trail marathon coming up in just under two months and I've started to overthink it.  With the stress of moving and finding a new job, combined with adjusting to the altitude and a few brief (but violent) illnesses, I'm nervous about how my training is going to pan out. It's pretty easy to get distracted with the beauty that surrounds us.

Pictures from our backpacking trip:

Walking up the jeep roads

Thinking about how we should get a jeep

At Chihuahua Lake

Resting at the saddle between Grizzly Peak and Torreys... sometimes it's more fun when there isn't a trail

Nearing the top of Grizzly Peak

Drop off on either side at the false peak

Starting to break down camp so we can go get food poisoning at the local brewery

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The longest 7-miler I've ever "run"

Today I needed to do a 7-mile run. Since we had the day off, Cory and I decided to drive to Boulder to run some trails (but he did his own thing since he is so much faster). I put together a loop that included summiting Green Mountain. The way up was not super runnable and it took me an embarrassing amount of time to finish it. I found that the Greenman trail is a lot rockier than the Gregory Canyon trail. According to his blog, it seems that Anton Krupicka runs this trail many times each week... not sure how he does it.

Funny story about Green Mountain. The summer of 2009 Cory and I met working at camp. After camp was finished we did a 6-day backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain NP with his sister and one of our friends. Then we visited Cory's Uncle Roger and Aunt Brenda who live in Boulder. Roger took us for an early morning hike up Green Mountain and he warned us that we would be ascending around 1000 feet per mile. Cory also took me aside and warned me that Roger would be super fast and that it would be fine if I didn't want to do the hike. I understood that Roger is a crazy athletic man (he's about to finish off all of the 13ers and 14ers) but I wasn't about to be shown up by a man in his late 50s.

We began the hike and I soon realized that I would need to be jogging to keep up with Roger's hiking pace. I was humbled. I didn't want to be the one slowing the group down and so I decided to turn around. Fortunately at this point, our friend Matthew let me know that he was feeling sick. Matthew's illness was also a funny story. Matthew didn't want to spend money on eating out and so he decided to buy some bologna and white bread at Target. Unfortunately he kept the bologna in the hot car and after a few days of consuming warm, processed meat he was out of commission. Matthew never cuts out of an adventure so we knew something was really wrong.

Anyway, only Cory's sister made it to the top with Roger that day. I keep trying to convince her to run some longer trail races because she is super human. Watch out for Kristen Linfield some day.

The view