Monday, July 21, 2014

Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2

Let me start this gear review off by saying that my Quest for the Perfect Hydration System is over! At least for my needs, the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 is pretty much perfection. I started looking at Orange Mud about a year ago and even though I really liked the idea of having accessible bottles in the back, I wanted a hydration vest that had more capacity for gels and other necessities as well.

While getting ready for a mountainous 50 miler I was trying to figure out how I was going to carry water bottles while keeping my hands free for my trekking poles. As a woman, storing bottles in the front leads to uncomfortable sloshing, so I looked at the Orange Mud website again about 2 weeks before the race and saw that they came out with the VP2. It features large pockets in the front for gear storage in addition to the rear pockets for bottles. Sold.

First things first, the bottles in the back are genius. I hate bladders/reservoirs. They are impossible to clean or sanitize, they are impossible to fill on the go, and it's impossible to have two separate beverages. I thought I would like bottles in the front, but when I tried that out I learned what it felt like to be a double D and I did not enjoy it. With the two bottles in the back, I was able to carry my drink of choice and some separate water without any sloshing or leaking. Filling them up at aid stations was a snap. The heat signature was a lot less than having a bladder up against your back. Most importantly I was easily able to grab my bottles and replace them in their holders WITHOUT STOPPING!

There is an additional bungee in the back which I tend to use for my shell, but it is configured to securely hold a third bottle. On the shoulders there are Velcro pockets that have a surprising capacity. In these pockets I store my pill bottle with electrolyte tabs, my headphones, my keys, and my headlamp. The only complaint I have is that the Velcro got stuck in my hair a lot. I think I would have preferred a snap or a magnet closure. The front pockets are smartly designed to hold in a lot of gels without them bouncing out - narrow at the top and deep at the bottom. I could easily fit as much as I wanted in these pockets.

When I looked at pictures of the VP2 online, I was unsure what to think about the fabric. When I put the vest to work, I was pleasantly surprised. Not heavy or cumbersome at all, just breathable and meshy.  I really didn't find myself sweating more than normal in the vest, and the first time I wore it it got up to 104 degrees!

My biggest concern about the vest before I received it was the fit. There is only one size, but it can be cinched up in the front and on the sides. When I put it on, I had to tighten the front buckle as far as it would go and then had to crank the side straps a good bit. This pulled the vest a little farther into my armpits than I would have liked, but otherwise I couldn't get it tight enough. I was worried that it would rub on my armpits and cause chafing, but for the 50 miler and during 30 miles the following weekend I had absolutely no problems with any rubbing. The fabric that lines the sides is very soft and so there was no scratching. I think the only improvement that could be made would be to come out with a women's specific version that is a little less broad through the shoulders and the front.

Overall, this vest outperforms any other vest I've worn. The VP2 has everything I want in a vest but when I wear it, I barely notice that I have it on. You won't catch me on a trail adventure without it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Moab's Alpine to Slickrock 50 miler

If I am known for anything, I'm known for falling down a lot. I'm definitely not known for winning. So I found myself in unfamiliar territory this weekend when, having not fallen at all, I arrived at the second aid station and was told I was the first woman to come through and the 8th person overall.

I'll back up a bit. If you have read my past posts, you would know that ever since puking my brains out at the Leadville marathon a few weeks ago my thoughts have unceasingly turned to how I could get out of running the MAS (Moab's Alpine to Slickrock) 50 mile race. It seemed that everything was coming together wrong for my first 50 miler. I felt sick for a week, then when I felt better I had a bad fall that resulted in some deep tissue bruising to my knee. Some other things happened that were just silly excuses. Oh AND WE BOUGHT A HOUSE. No stress in this life of mine.

I had already paid my money and there was no getting it back, so I figured I would give it a shot. We left for Moab on Friday morning and arrived in the glorious heat of the day. I had forgotten what 100 degrees felt like since I had last experienced it never. I had planned to do some heat training but after reading one article that said that heat training isn't that beneficial I was totally convinced that I was an over-achiever for driving around in my car on hot days with the windows up and the AC off.

We went to go pick up my packet and it was pretty chill. I think only about 45-50 people had signed up for the race so it took all of 2 minutes to get my stuff. We briefly chatted with the RD, Chris, and he told me that even when the race used to be in September there was a 50% dropout rate. He said that if I found myself wanting shade I was probably too dehydrated to finish and I should consider a DNF. I was very encouraged. After that I went for a two mile shakeout run and learned what it feels like to run face first into a hair dryer.

The next morning I woke up at 3 am and at 4 am the shuttle bus drove us up to the Pack Creek picnic area. Looking back I think this was the worst part of the day for me. I had chugged a bunch of water before getting on the bus and then when we started bopping up the dirt roads I realized I had made a great mistake. I figured others had done the same thing and I contemplated organizing a takeover of the bus. Just when I had pretty much decided that the best course of action was to pee my pants, I saw a sign for the picnic area. People took painfully long to exit the bus and then a third of us made a quick beeline for the nearest bushes.

It was still dark at the start and as we clicked on our headlamps Chris announced that there had been many recent bear sightings including a mom and her cubs. I think it was then that I decided I was going to finish this race. A daring adventure or nothing at all!

I started off the race with a guy named Toby with a most excellent mustache who had shared the bus ride with me and happened to be staying with his wife and two collies in the condo next to us. My hope was to find a group and stick with them since I was worried about getting lost or meeting a bear. Toby started to speed up and I found myself in no man's land with no one in sight behind me or in front of me. I knew that we had 4,000 feet of climbing to do before the first aid station at mile 7.5. I was actually looking forward to it because I knew it would keep me from starting out too fast.

As soon we got off the dirt road and started on some gorgeous single track I noticed that there were more piles of bear shit than there were course markings. And the course was definitely well marked! Bear paranoia, or Bearanoia, soon overtook me and I walked as fast as I could through this beautiful section of willowy brush and aspen trees. I turned around to snap this pic before marching on.

This is what my dreams are made of!

Soon after, two guys caught up to me and never have I been more relieved to see other people! One guy named Ben from Vail and one guy named Peter (I think?) from California. When we got to the first aid station, I asked the guys there how many women had come before me. The race start had been in the dark and so I wasn't able to tell if Anita Ortiz had actually started. Also I figured Britta Trepp and Meghan Hicks were definitely in front of me. The guys told me that I was in second and Britta was the only girl in front of me. They assured me I would catch her and I tried not to laugh because he was so serious and nice about it. I was 100% sure that I would not see her all day.

We started down a dirt road and after a nice mile of descent I looked up and saw some flagging cutting across a meadow leading off into the woods. It was well marked but apparently a lot of people didn't notice this turn and went off course. Peter had gotten ahead of us and was waiting across the field because he had heard a weird noise in the woods. Fortunately the bear poop had waned and was replaced with massive piles that seemed to come from a cow with a terrible case of Giardia.

The section between Aid 1 and Aid 2 was one of my favorites. Great rolling and runnable single track with lots of variety in trees and plants. It was weird to see so many cows and I had lost sight of my buddies. I came to this cattle fence that also seemed to be human proof. For the life of me I couldn't find any latch that indicated it was a gate. I seriously contemplated hopping it but the last time I jumped a barbed wire fence I ended up with scars in my hand. I pulled on a wire loop and a section of the fence fell towards me. It wasn't until I saw a blood stain on my shirt a few miles down the road that I realized I had gotten impaled. Don't worry, I put the fence back up.

At about mile 15 it finally started to feel hot. I was running low on water but figured the aid station should be coming up soon. I started rationing my water and caught back up to one of my buddies. A few miles later, we rolled into Aid 2 I got a shock: I was in first place. I asked what happened to Britta and they didn't know so I figured she went off course and it was only a matter of time before she caught back up to me.

Mayla trotting behind me at Oowah Lake
(photo: Cory Linfield)

Memories start to blur from here. The climb up Geyser Pass was amazing. There were some horses just running around kicking up dust and lots of cows. It felt so remote. More meadows more climbs. Another aid station. It was weird being the first woman and having people take pictures of me. I kept referring to Britta as the first place woman even though she had been behind me for most of the race, but I've never even been in the top 10 before.

The climb and descent of Burro Pass was by far my favorite part of the course. The views were so beautiful that I almost forgot that it was hot that I was going uphill. A group of guys zoomed by me and I asked if they were the lost boys. They told me they had gone 6 miles off course! They assured me that Britta was only a few minutes behind me.

The descent off Burro was too good to be true... the kind of downhill that I love to fly (and usually fall) on. I had to remind myself that I was not even half way done and that I should reign it in. Soon I passed Bryon Powell taking a piss on the side of the trail and we ran together for a while. The sky decided to rip open and down came some rain and hail. Best part of the day. The thunder was directly overhead but the rain felt so good that I wasn't even concerned with the fact that my trekking poles were pretty much lightning rods.

Shortly before arriving at the Warner Lake aid station at mile 25, Britta flew by me. I was kind of relieved to know where she was and she told me she estimated she had gone 8 miles off course. She left the aid station quickly and I figured that would be the last time I saw her for the day. I took my time because I had been so overjoyed by the rain that I had fallen behind on my nutrition and I knew that if I had a low point it would probably be around mile 30.

Coming in to Warner Lake
(photo: Cory Linfield)

I started the climb up Miners Pass and I felt like I was dragging myself up by my trekking poles. I was going embarrassingly slow. A few switchbacks from the top Bryon came by me with Britta tucked in behind him. Apparently she had gotten lost again. They waved at me near the top and I knew I was almost done with the major climbing of the day. When I finally started the descent I found myself throwing a temper tantrum. It was a painfully steep downhill and I was not looking forward to leaving the alpine environment and running in the heat of the day through the desert. Looking back I guess this was my low point.

I finally got my legs to turn over and the single track turned into a loose, rocky 4x4 road that seemed to go on for eternity. I had caught back up to Ben who was discouraged because the aid station was farther down than we thought - it had been moved so that it was more crew accessible. I had been drinking a lot of water in preparation for the oven I was about to run into, but every two sips I would have to pull over to pee what seemed like a Nalgene's worth of water. At first I thought it just meant that I was hydrated, but then I realized that I needed more electrolytes so that my body could absorb the water.

Finally I got to the aid station when my Garmin said mile 34. Cory and Mayla doused me with water and sent me on my way up a paved road. I actually felt pretty good through this next section and, even though it was hot, the pinyon pines and junipers were beautiful and little sections of slickrock were fun. It became increasingly hard to put calories down. I still had an appetite but every time I burped I threw up a little. I passed another guy and he would be the last runner I would see for the entire race.

When I got to the next aid station Cory seemed really happy that I was still running so consistently. Justin, the other RD, was holding down the fort and all day he just seemed to really care about the runners. I don't know why it was, but I always left his aid stations feeling the most recharged. He told me Cory had some good news for me: apparently Britta was feeling tired and discouraged from all of her off course adventures and told them she was going to drop at the next aid station. I didn't want to get my hopes up. Justin told Cory to feel free to pace me and douse me with water along the final stretch.

The plan was that Cory was going to drive the car down to finish line and start running up to meet me. I made pretty good time to the next, and final aid station, where Toby's wife, Bethany, doused me with water and told me that Britta had officially dropped out. I was both excited about the possibility of winning but disappointed that Britta had given up so close to the finish. Paying attention to course markings is important, you can't just put your head down and push ahead, but she is a much more talented runner than I am and I kind of felt like she deserved to take home first.

I'll spare you the details of the last 7 miles. It was brutally hot along the dirt road... about 100 degrees. Bethany drove by in her car twice on her way to check on her husband and dumped some cold water on me. What a hero! Even though I was pretty sure no one was going to catch me, I wasn't sure who was still in the race and I kept picturing Meghan Hicks passing me and saying, "This is easy compared to the Marathon des Sables!"

Cory ran the last 4 miles with me and I was so thankful. At that point I was starting to puke up watermelon and all I could do was put down small sips of water. I thought the race was only 48 miles, but when my Garmin said 48 Cory said there was still 1.5 to 2 miles left. I could feel my heart rate and respiration rate rising even though I wasn't going very fast. I kept up an unimpressive 11 minute per mile pace and finally there was the home stretch.

The Ricks family took care of me at the finish and I got a pretty sweet trophy. I felt good enough to have a PBR! I don't know, maybe that means I wasn't running fast enough. Cory told me that he thought it was the best executed effort either he or I had ever done, which was the biggest compliment I could ever get. Winning was a nice bonus. I thought it would take me 14 hours, but I finished in 12 hours 46 minutes.

I highly recommend this race to people who want an adventure. The event was extremely low key and well run. I wish there was a way to get more people to this event, but I think it takes a certain kind of person to want to do this race. I think it was a great first 50-miler for me because I knew it was going to be hard and it made me go into the race humble. It's been difficult to go back to daily life. It all seems so mundane. I just want to go camping in the La Sals!

Gear List:
Orange Mud Hydraquiver Vest Pack 2 (review coming soon) with insulated Camelbak bottles
Black Diamond Z Poles
Run Pretty Far tri-blend tank
Salomon Light Short
Pearl Izumi Trail M2 with Injinji socks... NO BLISTERS!

This gear system worked perfectly!