Friday, January 25, 2013

Tested: SPIbelt small item carrier

Back to the product reviews: this week I'll examine the SPIbelt running belt.

Empty and zipped.

This will make some people feel all warm and fuzzy.

What it is: Per their website, SPI stands for "Small Personal Items" - it's an elastic belt with a stretchy pocket for carrying them.

Why you want one: Because pockets on running apparel are often absurdly tiny, if not completely absent.

The folds of fabric for expansion shown from the back of the pocket.

The bellows folds shown looking through the zipper from the front.

Duration used: 1 year (received in December 2012)

Price paid/purchased from: This was a Christmas gift from my husband (you're awesome, sweetheart!), but I suspect he paid about $20 from an awesome local running store. They're available from a large number of retailers, or direct from the manufacturer.

Six large single-serve gel packets.

All six tuck inside without issue.

Zipped up and ready to go.

What rawks: It's brainlessly easy to use and carries more than you'd think (see demonstration above). The elasticity of the pocket allows it to accommodate odd shapes and sizes of items, like a large bunch of keys or gel flask. It comes in a large variety of colours and styles, including ones designed for diabetics, with dual pockets, with gel loops, with anti-EMF/RFID shielding (to protect PayPass credit cards & suchlike - they also sell a shielded insert), with water-resistant pockets or retro-reflective pockets, or even one that you can add to an existing belt. They also have an "endurance series" belt that includes race number toggles, which you can purchase separately if desired. For the dog owners you can get regular or hands-free leashes with the same stretchy pocket for running with your pooch. While hand-washing is recommended, I have machine washed mine on delicate cycle and hung it up to dry with no ill effects. The soft, wide belt has not lost its elasticity through use, and the quick-release buckle fastens securely. Unlike many elastic belts that only permit adjustment at one end (skewing the position of any statically-held items like buckles, toggles or pockets), the SPIbelt includes adjusters at both ends so you can customize the way it sits, and they are designed so there is no trailing end to flap around and chafe. When fitted properly and loaded with the most common items, bouncing is minimal; you can try various placements and tensions to see what works best for your particular load and physique. I generally only put my BlackBerry Torch 9800 inside (protected from sweat or weather by a disposable plastic zipper bag) and find having the pocket positioned at the front of my left hip - approximately where my leg hinges - it stays fairly stable. I have also worn it in the small of my back with reasonable success.

Adjusters on both ends of the belt, but no loose ends.

Sturdy quick-release buckle has given no issues.

What sucks: It can be very difficult to get a single item out of a loaded pocket without other items leaping out, potentially to their doom. Even a lone item can be tricky to handle while moving; I managed to drop my phone on a crushed brick trail while trying to get it out to take a photo, and it landed hard enough that the back panel popped off. The pouch is far from bounce-proof, depending on the shape of the items inside (a single gel flask bounced like crazy), the material against which it rests, and the exact tension on the elastic belt. Even when the stars align and you get it right, a minor shift (from the side to the front of your hip to access an item, for instance) and it's bouncy time again. The pocket is not weather- or sweatproof, so sensitive items need to go in a plastic bag (SPIbelt will be happy to sell you one, but I prefer the no-name zipper baggie) - there is a version that is water-resistant, but the material is apparently much stiffer and doesn't breathe. Because the elastic needs to be quite snug, those with less perfect bodies probably will not find it a flattering look. Any sharp-edged or -cornered items will poke you through the pocket material, and may cause damage to the pocket itself. Oh, and you have to come to terms with wearing a glorified fanny pack.

The corners of the gel packets won't be terribly comfortable against you.

Definitely not a fashion accessory.

What I'd like to see: Perhaps some silicone dots to help it grip a bit better, and maybe a version with race number toggles that has the standard breathable pocket rather than neoprene.

What I'm saying: It's perhaps a bit overpriced for what it is, but what running gear isn't? It does its job adequately as long as precautions are taken with fit and positioning, and I haven't seen anything else that performs better. When I need to carry larger loads I'll turn to my hydration vest instead, but this suffices to bring along my phone and a snack when necessary. 

It'll do.

For further edification: See reviews by, Runner's Tech Review, Detroit Runner and Running Tangents

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Frosty Trail 3-hour Trail Race - January 19th, 2013

I didn't actually sleep in. I was up and downing a couple of bottles of chocolate Boost in the dark, dithering over what to wear. I put on my lightweight cross-country ski pants, then took them back off and went with tights, but chucked a pair of fleece pants on overtop that I could either wear or ditch. We finally made it out of the house by 07:30, a spectacular sunrise painting the sky in brilliant colour as I emerged from Tim Hortons with cafe mochas for Tanker and myself.

Virtually the only nice thing about getting up early.

Up to the race site, I get my number and discover it's perfect - 88. Looks like two fat guys, so I figure it works because I'm too fat to be racing for 3 hours (note to self: less Christmas baking next year). Usual pre-race prep, except no sport drink beforehand this time; just Boost, cafe mocha and about 400ml of water before race time. I hummed and hawed about going with just a shirt or two, but decided I'd wear my jacket because of the 30+kph wind gusting around - I freakin' hate being cold, and I know my jacket is quite well vented. It also allowed me to pack 30lbs worth of crap in the back pockets; my bag of (uncooked) noodles to drop wherever I was when the horn sounded for the finish, my gel flask full of blended Kona Mocha & Vanilla EFS Liquid Shot, and even my phone in its case as I'd decided to record the whole thing with Endomondo Sport Tracker. I also got my straw from the indomitable Mr. Gehl, so the periscope was up once more!

Yeah, 'cause I totally needed more weight to carry around.

This being about the least formal event in the world, we all just gathered in the parking lot after a brief (and, unfortunately, less than sufficient) description of the course and were told "go" with no warning. I hit start on Endomondo, tightened down the strap on my hand bottle, and got moving.

Running away.
I didn't even manage to get through a full lap without a screw-up - the pack you see me running with above all started heading the wrong way around the main building (where both the aid station and the volunteers marking our laps were - different from the Horror Hill setup) and had to run back a few feet to the driveway before continuing in the right direction. Well, at least I hadn't got lost in the woods, and I'd actually heard and understood the instruction not to go down and around the pond.

Mincing my way along.

I pulled out my gel flask after my 2nd loop, figuring I must be close to the 30min mark and having assumed I was going to do my usual 1oz EFS Liquid Shot every 30mins. I went to take a sip, then stopped at just a pea-sized blob on my tongue. Why not see how minimal I could go with nutrition? It was only a 3 hour event and I had support every 2km - approximately every 17 minutes - plus I knew several people on the course and can guarantee that anyone who saw me get myself into trouble would try to help out. Ultrarunners are kind of awesome like that. So, gel flask went away and I continued on, making the world's stupidest-looking map on Endomondo:

Round and round and round we go..

A couple of minutes after taking the tiny bit of gel during my 3rd lap, my heart rate spiked a little and didn't seem to be coming down. I was running at a very easy pace, but there was a bit of flutter in my chest that was a bit concerning - I've had this happen a few times that I recall in the last 15 years or so, but it hadn't happened for quite awhile. I decided to give it until the end of that lap to see if it would settle down on its own, or I'd tell someone and think about packing it in. Fortunately, it faded on its own before I even came to the next stretch I'd need to walk.

I'm ok!

Trail conditions were far from ideal - the squelchy mud from the ceaseless rain at Horror Hill in October had frozen into an ankle-destroying mess of deeply footprinted dirt and the light covering of snow wasn't enough to fill in the lumpiness. I was, however, able to run almost all of the loop: I'd walk the two hills in the woods, the sharp downhill (that was made very slippery by the snow on top of fallen leaves), and the hill on the other side of the parking lot where I slipped and fell on my wounded wrist in October. I'd actually continue to run all of the rest for the entire race, though I will admit that I started adding a few feet of walking before starting to run again after the steep uphill sections as the day wore on. I also made sure to keep stretching my calves and hamstrings out at the top of the first hill, as they were feeling a bit tight - glad I wore my Compressport calf sleeves under my tights, as they managed to hold things together for me.

The hill that was a slick mud face in October.

It looks bigger from the top, and almost everyone walks it.

The second hill, with logs laid to form steps, comes just a few metres after the first.

I was trotting around in the woods in the middle of my 4th lap when the horn sounded to indicate the end of the 1-hour event that was running concurrently with the 3- and 6-hour races. That put the kibosh on my "shoot the moon" goal of 24km (12 loops) for the day, as I knew my pace would deteriorate as I pushed past the 16km mark; my longest run since Horror Hill three months prior. I still held out decent hope of putting in more than a half marathon on the day, though, and had managed to put off being lapped by a couple of friends doing the 6-hour longer than I expected!

The mincing continues.

By the end of my 6th lap I had finished my hand bottle full of water and tossed it to Tanker to fill for me, telling him I'd come get it on my next lap. He actually ran over and got it back to me before I headed into the Northern woods loop (the other side of the parking lot), though, so I didn't have to go without. Figuring that I was now past 90mins, I thought it would be a good idea to take another shot of gel, so I swigged what felt like an ounce and carried on. The sun even came out and started to melt the snow a bit, which made for a nice day despite the wind; fortunately the prevailing gusts were coming at us through the woods, so didn't have the chilling power I'd feared they might. I was actually ruing having foolishly forgotten to bring my vest with me, as I think it probably would have served me much better than my jacket.  

Look how the snow has disappeared compared to above!

Into my 7th lap, and I was starting to melt along with the snow. I had to zip down the collar of my jacket to dump some heat, but the wind and the vents conspired to keep me from overheating. I had one other issue, though, as I approached the 2-hour mark: my stupid wrist was getting sore from being bounced and jostled on the lumpy, bumpy trail (despite not carrying anything), and I'd have to turn my hand palm-up for awhile to give it a rest. I noticed this on some long runs leading up to (and during) Horror Hill, but had hoped the additional months of healing would resolve it. I still hold out hope that this won't be a permanent situation.

The downhill into the main woods loop.

Pallet and plywood bridge over a muddy spot - this has been here every time.

Over the river and through the woods, but Grandma's House of Babes is nowhere to be found.
It was starting to get a little muddy on the trail as the snow melted, but wasn't too bad. Fatigue was beginning to set in as I finished my 8th loop, so I tried one last slug of EFS Liquid Shot to perk me up. I actually managed to lap a few of people, but of course got lapped much more often - I was happy that my pace didn't seem to be dropping off too much, though, despite it getting progressively harder to push myself up the hills and my feet starting to complain loudly. I was, however, getting better footage on the very steep downhill section! I had been delighted to find earlier in the day that the New Balance WT1010 shoes I'd decided to wear for the race were offering amazing traction on the big hill in the woods thanks to their directional lugs that act like barbs, but I'd had some slipping on the downhill and was cursing the idiots who made them for forgetting that we sometimes run down hills, too. The joke was on me, though; as my gait started to fall apart and I started to land more on my heels on the way down the precipitous pitch, I started to get the benefit of the reversed lugs they put on the rear portion of the sole. I just shouldn't have been trying to pick my way down on the balls of my feet..

I'm dumb.

I would have been happier with a different pair of socks, though - the merino wool Wrightsocks that had been so comfortable for Vulture Bait and Horror Hill (in my WT100s) proved to be a bit thin for the new shoes, the uppers of which seemed to be stretching out at an alarming rate. I had worn the same socks for the 16km I had run the week before on (flat) rail trail, but as I climbed and descended my feet banged around in the shoes causing undeniable blisters to form. I wasn't terribly crazy about the way my gaiters fit on the WT1010s, either; the front lace loop seemed to be quite far back on the foot so they weren't really being stretched over the top of my foot like I expected. I had brought my old shoes along and left them with Tanker at the aid station just in case, but I didn't really want to take the time to change shoes and wasn't convinced that the blisters - forming on my right foot only - weren't being caused by the gaping hole in the outer layer of the sock I was wearing. I really need to try to find a new pair of merino Wrightsocks.

This setup may need some work.
Through 9 laps now, and I'm definitely starting to hurt. I still had a little more than 37mins to go, though - not sure how much more, since we set off a few minutes after 9am. I figure I can at least get in 11 loops, which was my real goal - I wanted to do a little more than a half marathon, if possible. Things were getting muddier by the minute and my legs were starting to complain loudly, but jeez, after 2.5hrs what's another 30mins? I finished my second bottle full of water on the 10th loop, dropping my bottle to Tanker and telling him I wouldn't need it, then changing my mind and asking if he could fill it so I could have it for the walk back to the building after the went - I assumed that with 20mins still to go I'd be able to get part of a 12th lap in. I was really fading badly by this time, and feeling very hot; glad to be unencumbered by my bottle, I stripped off first one glove, then the other and felt the welcome rush of cool air to my palms. I spotted a spectator heading up the driveway and asked if he was headed for the aid station, and if he'd mind dropping off my gloves there - he agreed readily, so I managed to shed another couple of ounces for my last final loop.

Knowing I really had nothing for which to save my energy, I poured it on as much as I could, fighting the temptation to just phone it in on the last lap - the goal had been 22km, but if I could exceed that why not? I'd only be cheating myself if I just ran out the clock at a stroll. The mud was getting worse and I was definitely succumbing to the idiocy that too many hours and too few calories bring about - I almost missed the turn into the trees and headed for the pond. I put in a pretty solid push, though, and still had 7 or 8 minutes as I came through the aid station one last time. Tanker handed me my full bottle finding me grateful for a sip of water but hating the weight of it in my hand as I plunged into the Northern section of woods one last time. I had to turn my hand palm up as I clattered down the long driveway toward the woods to spare my sore wrist, then faintly heard the horn just as I plunged back into the forest. I dropped my bag of noodles on the side of the trail, hoping it would be visible without interfering, then pulled out the phone to stop Endomondo and take a couple of photos.

Done. 22.x kilometers total.
Rather than turning around and walking up the driveway to the Rehkopf building, I decided I'd go climb that big bloody hill one more time to take the trail photos seen above. The one of the downhill that comes into the main woods loop was taken looking back from where I stopped, just a few metres before the wooden "bridge". I didn't bother to climb the second, stepped hill - after snapping the photos I cut through a small clearing to the end of the main woods loop trail and stumbled up the sharp little rise to the driveway to meander back on very sore feet and tired legs.

Looks ok so far..


I was actually in much better shape than I expected, though - the blisters were painful and my lower abs were quite sore from having to stabilize myself on the lumpy, tilting trail but my legs didn't feel completely wrecked. After devouring a few things at the race site, it was time to pull my sweetheart away from the aid station and get going. After only taking in 2oz of EFS Liquid Shot (160cal) and 40oz of water for the entire 3 hours, I was ready for a feast!

Yeah, that was worth filling.
I also had 2 single-serve gels in the pocket of my hand bottle.

Bibimbap, bulgogi and banchan - just what the doctor ordered!

No results have been posted yet - I was told they'd be emailed out at some point, but all I know so far is that I didn't win (I knew that when I signed up, since Laurie McGrath was registered for the 3-hour as well, and there's no way I was going to beat a Canadian 100 mile and 24-hour record holder). I did, however, manage to exceed the goal I set for myself; come through uninjured and have a lot of fun with wonderful people on a beautiful winter day!

EDIT January 23rd: Results are now in, and I actually did better than I thought!

Though still very middle-of-the-road - I excel at mediocrity!

23.3km total at an average pace of 7:44 per kilometer - good enough for 6/11 overall, 2/4 women and 1/3 women under 40 (1/2 in W30-39). 

Glad I didn't sleep in!

Friday, January 18, 2013

What do you mean it's race season?

Holy crap, Frosty Trail is tomorrow!

Fortunately, some training has happened. I actually put in a couple of solid 50+km weeks starting with a double run on New Year's Eve, and I've managed to hold together without injury while running through some rather nasty conditions.

My street - the start of most of my runs.

Mashed potatoes snow showing that I really don't heel strike.

I did hill repeats on this. Srsly.

We also had a couple of days of unseasonable warmth and rain, so not only did I get to cycle outside a bit I actually got to do my last long run (a 10 miler on the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail) in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt at 12c/53f!

Snow all gone.

Yeah, 10 miles is the longest I've run since Horror Hill. It shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm coming into a race a bit undertrained. But hey, at least I've tapered! Except I didn't take my usual extra day off, because I'd slip back further in the Slowtwitch 100 Runs in 100 Days challenge. Oh, and I haven't been sleeping much, because I've still been swimming and cycling plus working a bunch of overtime. I did about 6hrs of training in 2 days last weekend, too.

Ok, let's just say I'm going in undertrained and without really tapering.

However, at least the race won't be horrifically cold and snowy like it was in 2011!

-15c/5f with a little more than ankle-deep snow.

Then this happened last night:

Snowing hard enough I almost had to brush off the car after stopping for gas.

A little snow never hurt on the trails - I've got sturdy shoes and it can't possibly be as cold as the inaugural year. As long as it's not wet and windy like Horror Hill was in 2012, it should be fine!

Maybe I'll just sleep in..

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tested: Craft PXC Storm tights

Just as we get a break from the cold, snowy weather here in Southern Ontario, this week I'll be reviewing the Craft PXC Storm tights.

Stock photo in black - mine are "pipeline", a medium grey.

What they are: Lightweight yet warm and windproof tights for winter aerobic activities.

Why you want them: Because -30c is no reason to miss a training session. Run, nordic ski, snowshoe or cycle in comfort during the worst of winter weather!

Front, showing the overlapping articulated construction of the knees.

Back - everything above the first band of piping is soft, warm, stretchy fleece.

Duration used: 1 year (purchased sometime over the winter of 2011/2012)

Price paid/purchased from: I paid approx. $120USD buying direct from (available for men or women).

Ankle zips and rubbery grippers.

Internal pocket and drawstring.

What rawks: I'm a total wuss about cold, yet I am a staunch advocate of getting outside in winter to enjoy the beauty and stillness of a world painted white with snow. This disconnect is resolved through the application of really good clothing to protect my sorry butt from the cold wind and frosty temperatures, and these tights are about the best thing I've found! Trust the Swedes when it comes to cold weather gear, particularly a company chosen as the apparel supplier to the Swedish national nordic ski team. While the tights are ostensibly made for cross-country skiing (the "PXC" designates Performance X Country collection), they work great for running, snowshoeing or cycling (worn over a pair of shorts or bibs with a chamois), or any other aerobic cold-weather activity you can think of. Fleeced on the inside throughout, the entire front and lower part of the back of the legs is covered with a smooth, soft windproof fabric that moves without restricting you - even the knees, a perennial bunching point for windproof wear, flex effortlessly thanks to an ingenious overlapping layer contruction. From the back of your knees to butt on the back you're covered with a smooth-faced material that's as thick and toasty warm as your favourite sweatshirt, but which breathes and allows you to dump excess heat. You really will appreciate the ventilating when you get moving, too, as these tights are warm. Really warm. Don't wear them unless it's below the temperature at which water gets all hard and slippery, but do wear them when even polar bears are hiding in caves because they're finding it a bit too nippy for their tastes. I've seriously run in these at -30c with windchill somewhere around absolute zero and not had cold legs afterward, though I had to look to make sure my fingers hadn't fallen off. The fit is more like a narrow pant than a clingy pair of tights, so you could even throw a base layer underneath if you were going nordic skiing on Pluto or something. I have had no issues with the pants riding up, and an inner, flat drawstring at the waist prevents them from drooping. They're quite high cut, which should help prevent any gap between your jacket and the pants while you're in motion - a boon if you want to use them for cycling. Other touches include a small inner pocket at the front right-hand side of the waistband for a key and a bit of emergency cash, rubbery grippers at the bottom hems, and useful-length ankle zips that let you get tall socks or boots on without fuss. For their warmth they're very lightweight, and the windproofing is really effective. You won't really notice them at all while you're out training, you just won't be cold! Other people will notice you, though; there are plenty of reflective elements to keep you safe during the long dark of winter.

Inside of knee showing articulation.

Outside of lower leg.

What sucks: The ankle opening is too large and gapes a bit, and the inseam is too short for my (admittedly ridiculously long) legs - this means I either have to wear very tall socks or deal with frostbite from skin exposure, and snow will occasionally get tossed up the bottom of the legs. I can solve the problem by wearing gaiters, but I feel like winter tights should err on the long side. The fit is a bit odd - I enquired with customer service before ordering my pair as I seemed to be on the border of size small or medium, but didn't want the legs to be restrictive to my super-sized thighs (I'd tell you it's all powerful muscle, but I'd like you to be able to stop laughing long enough to read the rest of this review). I was told to go with a medium to get the extra leg room, and I'm glad I did; the thighs fit fine and I sure wouldn't want an inseam any shorter, but the the calves near the top of the ankle zips are very snug. I don't have unusually large calves, so the fit is a bit puzzling - it may be an effect of the short inseam. The waist and abdominal/crotch area are rather baggy on me, too, and since the seams are not flatlocked this can lead to chafing unless I wear a layer underneath (tri/compression shorts work a treat). The inner pocket is a bit laughable in size - you could probably get a key and a $20 bill in there, but nothing more, and I don't think it would fit even the smallest single-serve gel packet. If your snowshoes tend to chuck snow up the backs of your legs (like mine), you may end up with snow sticking to the back of the tights, getting you wet and chilly. The construction of the knees results in some odd contours around the calves and combined with the potbelly-accommodating abdominal tailoring the overall look isn't terribly attractive.

Reflective piping and logos - but not all of the piping is reflective.

A bit baggy here and saggy there.
The tights could fit better, too.
What I'd like to see: A longer inseam, more fitted ankles, relaxed calf diameters, a little better tailoring in the abdominal area and flat seam construction.

What I'm saying: When winter gets all Armageddon-y, I pull these tights on and run, ski or cycle in toasty warmth. If you hate treadmills and love the briskness of a howlingly cold day spent crunching over snow and ice, you absolutely need to treat yourself to a pair of these. They may not be the most flattering thing you'll ever wear, but I'm more concerned with staying warm than looking good!

No action photos - the conditions I use them in would freeze a camera!

For further edification: See the review from Fleet Feet Chicago, or this one from All Seasons Cyclist.