15 December 2010

A wrap-up of awesome gear … just in time to wrap up for Christmas!

I feel very fortunate and grateful to be a member of the LaSportiva Mountain Running Team. Aside from being in the company of some of the best mountain runners in the sport, I was provided with a selection of gear from LaSportiva and some fantastic associate sponsors. Personally, I raced over 700 miles this year in distances ranging from 25km to 330km at a time, plus all the training to get me through it. So, I had a solid opportunity to put the rubber to the road – er, the dirt – and see how well this stuff actually worked. There were definitely some standout products that performed exceptionally well, while some items I thought were just OK. Here is my take on some of the gear that I had the opportunity to use this season that has met my performance expectations enough to become standard gear for every race. Note that these comments are based on my personal experience with the products, and are thus very subjective. Your mileage may quite literally vary….

note: if this looks familiar, it is cross-posted to the LaSportiva Mountain Running blog as well  :-)
My A-List: stuff I rely on
LaSportiva Raptors
I recently ran the 330km Tor des Geants race in my Raptors and had no blisters or foot pain. Nada. Nothing. What else needs to be said? End of review.
OK, seriously, my Raptors have become my go-to shoe for all trail conditions. The FriXionXF outsole is a sticky rubber compound and I find it really works well on the wet, rocky trails we have here in the Pacific Northwest where I live. Additionally, the tread pattern is aggressive enough to dig into sloppy muck and not slip when climbing, pushing off, or running downhill, and also provides great lateral traction when traversing off-camber slopes or making hard turns. The uppers wrap your foot comfortably without binding or creating pressure points, and provide excellent security and stability in irregular footing and rocky trails. For the terrain I run on, they work really well. Scrambling down a debris chute composed of large boulders, my feet stuck to the rock so well I felt like some kind of superhero crawling down a wall!
Shoe durability is very good: the uppers show no tearing or wear after several hundred miles, although the tread nubs are definitely worn and have lost their edge as is expected.
I have a bit of a love-hate thing going with the toe bumper, in that it is beefy enough to provide solid protection when accidentally kicking rocks/roots/etc, but seems to sit high enough that I have caught it on same rocks/roots/etc with my trailing foot after striding off. So, it has definitely prevented a broken toe, but also may have induced a number of close calls in levitation after catching a foot (though the latter was also due to overly aggressive downhill running when fatigued, so hard to establish a direct cause).
Raptors are getting towards the upper average as far as weight, but did come in 6g lighter than the advertised 328g when I weighed them on my scale at home. I find them a reasonable weight in light of the aggressive tread, stability and comfort they provide.
I will be stocking up on Raptors for next season, although admittedly I’m holding out a bit in eager anticipation of the new MorphoDynamic technology LaSportiva is introducing next year….

LaSportiva Crosslites
I love my Raptors, but have to admit to committing a fair bit of shoe adultery with these sleek, sexy things. Svelte, lightweight uppers hug my feet, while the poking claws of the tread dig into the nastiest mud, slop, and snow too. Crosslites felt so comfortable from the first time I put them on, and the relative lightweight and low midsole profile keep you in touch with your footing. You just feel faster wearing these shoes, and I find them to be perfect for those sprint races up to 50 miles.
The sole of the Crosslites is made of FriXionAT rubber, which is a bit harder compound than the Raptor’s softer FriXionXF. The harder compound is more durable, but at the cost of a bit of traction on wet rocks. Still, the spike-like nature of the tread usually compensates for this if your footing is careful (wet rocks are never a good place to foot plant anyways!)
One minor annoyance I have with the Crosslites is the scree guard over top of the laces: though it is functional to keep stuff out of your shoe and a handy place to tuck laces in so they don’t come undone, it makes tightening the laces quite a challenge. I just cut the scree guard off to access the lacing better. Note that the very cool new Crossover GTX shoe, based on the Crosslite chassis, has laces on the outside of the scree guard. There is apparently a revised Crosslite 2.0 model coming out soon, so it may also feature this update.

DeFeet Trail19 socks
When I first looked at these socks, my initial thought was “that totally makes sense”. The Trail19’s have a construction I have not seen before: the forefoot is a wool/synthetic blend that provides a bit of padding, but the heel area is thin synthetic only, reinforced in the high-friction Achilles area. Personally, I find that socks with wool blends do really well for my feet, and the Trail19’s fit that bill. The merino wool content is in the forefoot area, providing cushioning and reducing hot spots in the place you need it most. I find the material’s thickness optimal to provide comfort yet not so padded as to take away your sense of touch with the shoe and ground. As for the thin heel area, you don’t need thick, padded weaves here anyways, and the thin synthetic lining provides more durability in this high-wear area. Despite running in the socks all season, there are no thin spots that have work through – a problem I have often seen with other wool-blend socks.
I used the Trail19’s with my Raptors when running the Tor des Geants – remember, I had no blisters in 330km with this combination.

Julbo Contest sunglasses w/Zebra lens
The styling on these shades definitely gives me some cred with the peeps on the street, but it is the Zebra photochromatic lenses that makes these sunglasses fantastic for running. The lenses are a comfortable yellow-brown tint that is easy on the eyes, and they actively darken or lighten in response to direct sunlight or lack of it. I have worn them all day from pre-dawn light through the bright sun of mid-day through to dusk, in stark deserts and thick forests – the lenses quickly adapt to each condition without you even being aware they are changing, and never leaving your eyes straining because it is too bright or too dark. Add in an effective anti-fog coating and a broad curved lens that provides distortion-free and unrestricted peripheral vision and you have a winner. Did I mention that they are stylin’?
On a slight downside, I find the Contest’s 70mm-wide lens to be a bit big on my narrow face – maybe a model with Zebra lenses like the Run or Dirt would fit me a bit better.

First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink
The problem with most recovery drinks I have tried in the past is that they are too sweet, too gritty, too thick or all three. The last thing you need after a long run when your stomach might be a bit upset anyways is to have to choke down some rancid recovery beverage.
However, both Ultragen flavours I have used – cappuccino and orange creamsicle – are really tasty, pleasant to drink, and smooth like water. Instead of having to force a bottle down over the course of an hour, I’ll gulp my Ultragen within minutes of finishing a hard workout. The cappuccino, like it’s namesake, it kind of addictive.
Tasty? Yes.
But does it work? Absolutely.
I respectfully but sceptically listened to the fantastic claims about Ultragen that I had heard from some good friends and great trail runners, but had to check it out for myself to see if it was up to snuff. Count me as converted and hear my fantastic claims! (with scepticism, of course  ;-) )  Ultragen honestly has made a huge difference to my recovery and ability to quickly bounce back for consecutive day-after-day running. Instead of feeling depleted and sore the next day, I am energetic and ready to hit the trail again – a noted difference from other recovery drinks I have used in the past.
Ultragen also proved its worth as a food source and on–the-go recovery for my Tor des Geants race, where I was going non-stop for 111 hours. It was easy to get down, easy to digest, and provided a great balance of nutrients to help keep my going through it all. I used eight double-strength bottles through the race as part of my overall nutrition plan.

Petzl MyoRXP headlight
The Myo RXP was another bit of gear that exceeded my expectations. It has a super bright LED bulb that can be used in spot or flood modes, effectively lighting up distant course markers or the “chili dip” at the far edge of a Coyote 2 Moon aid station table. Besides fantastic light output, what makes this headlight unique is that the main switch has three programmable settings you can set from ten different output levels, of which six are regulated to provide consistent light output through the entire battery life (don’t you hate it when your light output drops by 50% after an hour or two?). Battery life is quite long, but naturally depends on your chosen brightness. I have found the MyoRXP to be good for two full nights before swapping batteries by primarily using a level 4 output (25 lumens) that I find sufficient for most night running trail conditions. There’s also a separate switch to use a short-term “burst” mode of 160 lumens that really lights up the area when you need to hunt for a turn, search for marker flags or even, say, accidentally zap the retinas of your pacer (sorry, Wade!). The battery pack is held close to your head, which prevents any annoying bouncing. A note on the programmable feature: it’s generally a set-once kind of thing, but don’t lose the instructions.

Greenlayer Sports clothing
Your humble author in his Headsweats hat and Greenlayer Team jersey - Haut Pass, Alta Via 2 trail in Italy

Run clothing should keep you comfortable, right? The only time you only really notice your shirt is if something isn’t working: you’re sweaty and wet, cold, chafing, etc. Greenlayer fabric works well to actually wick sweat away from your skin, instead of just spreading moisture around and making you cold. The weave is smooth against your skin, with flat-woven seams to prevent irritation. The fabric is lightweight and comfortable in all conditions, from cool to very hot. The cut and styling is loose but not too baggy. The shirts are made of recycled polyester to reduce the amount of crap on our favourite planet. What else is there to say? Good stuff.

Headsweats running hat and visor
OK, it’s hard to get too excited about a hat, but Headsweats does make theirs out of some nice, wicking material that really works to effectively pull sweat from your forehead and head – full points for that. It drives me crazy getting salty sweat mixed with sunscreen in my eyes or dropping on my sunglass lenses – this doesn’t happen any more.

My B-List: stuff that’s pretty good

Ultimate Directions Wasp hydration pack
The Wasp is a nicely-designed, form-fitting hydration pack with enough storage and carrying capacity for unsupported day-long endeavours. There are lots of pockets in the front for food, gloves, GPS and other essential doo-dads. I found the fit to be quite large on my skinny runner chicken chest and it was hard to have it snug up enough to stop bouncing on steep descents, although I modified the strap anchor points to make it a bit tighter. The main nylon material in the body could be lighter weight to save a number of ounces, but the mesh in front and lining the back breath well. I use the Wasp in conjunction with handheld bottles on long, unsupported runs; I’m just not a fan of using hydration packs alone because it’s hard to tell how much you are drinking.

LaSportiva Wildcat shoes
The Wildcats tip the scales a bit lighter than Raptors, but I prefer the stability and overall fit of Raptors, which are made on a slightly different last. Wildcats have a lined mesh on the upper which is great for foot ventilation, a big plus (they were perfect for the hot conditions at the San Diego 100 miler). They have the same aggressive Impact Brake system X-Axis tread as Raptors, but composed of the FriXion AT rubber like Crosslites: great traction and durability, but slightly less sticky on wet rocks. I prefer the fit of Raptors, so use those.

First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot Gel
I use gels almost exclusively for my race fuel, and the EFS Liquid Shot gel worked pretty well for me. I like the fact that there is an amino acid content in the recipe, which helps with endurance over the long term and a bit of alertness in the night hours. I did find EFS Vanilla to be pretty sweet compared to other gels; I prefer unflavoured types that are milder.

I hope my comments help explain some of the great gear I have had the opportunity to use. Christmas is coming, and it is time to let Santa know what trail running equipment you would like to see under the tree!
Thanks so much to LaSportiva and the Mountain Running Team’s Associate Sponsors – First Endurance, Julbo, Green Layer, Petzl, DeFeet, Headsweats and Ultimate Direction – for supplying all the gear.


Jude said...

great reviews...i've been having a heck of a time with recovery drinks, this ultragen you speak of... where in the lower mainland can i find it?


lonerunman said...

Hi Jude - I'm checking into who sells FE stuff locally for you, I'll let you know.

lonerunman said...

Jude - here is who apparently carries First Endurance, according to the local rep:

North Van:
North Shore Athletics
John Henry Bikes
Obsession Bikes

Pacific Multisports

Velocity Cycles

Unless you're in the neighbourhood and dropping in, I'd call to see if they have it before heading to one of them. They could also order it in.

...but of you're going to do that, there are a bunch of online places that sell it as well.

Hope that helps.


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