Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hey 2015 - don't let the door hit ya..

I'm not going to be too upset to see this year gone - I've spent a lot of it hurting in one way or another, but I'm looking forward to fresh opportunities and new adventures in the coming months.






I wish you all the very best for a joyful new year and a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2016!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The holidays awaken

With next Friday being Christmas day and all of the attendant insanity that brings, I have no idea whether or not I'll manage another blog post before the end of this year. Thus, I'm just going to wish you all a joyful Christmas and a bright, safe and delight-filled holiday season right now!

I truly appreciate every single one of you who takes the time to stop by and read whatever nonsense I've spewed out onto the internet this week, and I wish you all your heart's desires for the new year...though I can't guarantee the quality of my blog will improve in the least.

Nonetheless, from Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and myself, be safe, stay warm, and be merry!


And may the Force be with you!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Just giving it away


It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the EFS Liquid Shot gel from First Endurance (as evidenced by past race reports). Unfortunately, it seems to be an endangered species in Canada these days - when I went to pick some up prior to the Vulture Bait 50k in October, I was told that my favourite local running store was completely out of stock and would have to order it in.

Hmph.

So I tried another outlet I've reliably ordered from in the past. 

Nothing doing.

I tried several other places - anyone I could find in this country that said they carried it - all of whom were out of stock.

In the end, I ran Vulture Bait on a hodgepodge of Gu flavours with some Endurance Tap thrown in. It went ok, but I really love the convenience of having my gels in a flask rather than individual packets (not to mention the reduced impact on the environment, particularly since I usually buy the 32oz refill jug), plus the way my body seems to process the nutrition without any issues.  

Since I was down in the US last month, I decided to order some supplies shipped to the friend's place so I could bring it back with me, since EFS Liquid Shot still seems to be in plentiful supply in that country. When I opened the parcel from First Endurance, I got a surprise: they'd included samples of new flavours of their Ultragen recovery beverage.


Vanilla and chocolate, oh my!

Unfortunately, my dairy allergy won't permit me to use these. I really wish I could, since I actually bought a tub of the cappucino flavour a few years ago and used it after big or intense training days. Whether it was placebo effect or not, I seemed to recover quite well when I used Ultragen, despite some nasty side effects on my gastrointestinal tract. 

Let's just say Tanker is pretty happy I don't use it anymore.

So, since 'tis the season for giving, I'm offering up these two samples to a lucky blog reader. Just comment below if you want a chance to win these sample packets, and I'll draw a name at random from the list of commenters. Please include some way to get in touch with you so I can get your postal address to send these out! I won't limit it to any particular geographical region, since as a Canadian I'm sick and tired of being disqualified from this sort of draw and won't engage in that sort of shenanigans. 

Good luck and good recovery to you all!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tour-run-ist

One of the best things about running is using it to explore beautiful places you'd never see otherwise.

We were down in Michigan last weekend to visit with friends and take part in a "race" that was every bit as silly as I'd expected it to be. I knew that under 3mins of running would just make me want to get out for a real stretch of my legs, so I made sure I brought plenty of kit and laid some plans.

Serious racing. Really.

Nuttin' but silliness - just as it should be.


We were staying outside Belleville, MI just a few minutes away from Lower Huron Metropark. Tanker and I had cycled through there on another visit to MI back in May of this year, and I wanted to explore the Bob White Nature Trail that is restricted to foot traffic only. With a winter storm predicted for Saturday afternoon we left the bikes at home, but I was bright enough to bring trail shoes and everything else I'd need for a cold weather run.

Well, in my estimation anyway. Before leaving I got asked if I was going to put pants on.

I don't understand the question.

As big, fat, fluffy flakes of snow cascaded down from the leaden skies, I got our friend Mac to drop me off at the trailhead, then he and Tanker drove back further North in the park to find a place to walk and smoke cigars in the hush of the woods. I set out on the nature trail, accompanied only by my camera and the sound of my puffing breath as I trotted through the snow-laden woods.




 

Like running through Narnia

The nature trail was just under a mile long, so I soon emerged onto the bikeway that Tanker and I had cycled in the spring. 

It looked slightly different in May

Of course I ended up running straight into the wind.

After taking a small unplanned detour on a spur of path that led to the par-3 golf course, I found my way up to the spot where the lads were having a smoke. 


While it snowed sideways.

I put on a bit of weight along the way.

It's a truly incredible spot at a bend in the Huron River, and reaching it just after sunset meant a truly extraordinary quality of light that lent an element of fantasy to the white-blanketed landscape.

Looks more like a painting than a photograph

I halfway expect a unicorn to come trotting across the footbridge.

The snow kept up through the evening, laying down no less than 5" of fluffy flakes. It was like living inside a snow globe - what every kid hopes for on Christmas Eve.

Still coming down

Heavy load

It's like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man exploded

Sunday morning we awoke to blue skies and sunshine, so I knew I had to go run the other place I'd found that had me thoroughly fascinated. I'd been idly poking around the area of the apartment complex we were staying at to see if there was a decent running route nearby - something handy that I hadn't seen before if I couldn't get down to the Metropark. In looking around the region, I found this in the satellite view:

Interest level: HIGH

Just 20mins down the road in Ypsilanti, MI - a little place called North Bay Park. Yes, that is in fact a huge boardwalk running down the Western shore of Ford Lake, and then a chain of narrow islands linked by bridges forming almost a freshwater atoll across the water.

I had to check this out.

You start out at a parking lot just off of I94, then run down a steep, switchbacked hill to a boardwalk that leads to the lake.

Approaching Ford Lake
From a fork in the trail you turn right and head up a few steps (or a wheelchair ramp, which is what I took) and onto the huge boardwalk that closely parallels the shore.




There's an observation tower visible just before the bridge to the chain of islands.

The boardwalk takes you to the first bridge to an island, then you're running across the water - over 600m of trail unlike anything else I've ever run.



At the far end you reach another fork in the trail, the right hand of which will take you across a lovely footbridge and up a paved pathway that comes up to meet S Grove St. in Ypsilanti Township.


Looking back at the island chain from the pathway
Up slightly above street level there's a beautiful lookout spot with an informational placard. Another 200m or so and the trail peters out, joining the Washtenaw County Border To Border bike trail in the form of an on-street bike lane. I turned around at that point and headed back, pausing at the lookout for a moment.


On the way back, I took a different route, since the trail forms a couple of loops. First I hooked right to take the non-paved side trail from just below a parking lot off S Grove St.

This turned out to be a very muddy option.

It hooked back up with the paved trail I'd taken off the end of the footbridge.

Crossing the footbridge again, I took the right-hand fork in the trail to go through the woods instead of back across the chain of islands. This turned out to be a fitness trail, with a few pieces of equipment along the sides and placards with suggested exercises (which I totally did not do).

Very pretty despite the lengthening shadows

Another small footbridge before the loop meets up at the shoreline

Reaching the start of the boardwalk at the steps & wheelchair ramp once again, I took my last right-hand turn to head back up the huge hill to the parking lot.

Which looks like nothing here, but took my fat arse a lot of huffing and puffing to climb.

Almost back out again.
Emerging from the woods, I grabbed Tanker (who had been enjoying another cigar in the parking lot area) and brought him for a walk down to the start of the boardwalk, since he had to see this incredible trail.

Duly impressed.
My real point here is that I never would have known this extraordinary place existed if I hadn't been looking for places to run - our friends had never heard of it, but now have plans to go for a walk there to check it out. With as late as we got to the park, though, I never would have been able to see the whole thing if I hadn't run it; it simply would have taken too long to walk it, and with the day fading fast and us needing to get home (4hrs away) I'd only have seen a portion of the beauty it has to offer.

So the next time you're taking a trip somewhere, I highly recommend looking around to spot the hidden gems that may be in the area. You never know what kind of magic you may get to experience!


Take it from me!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tested: Elastoplast SOS Blister bandages


I certainly felt like a heel.

Back to some product reviews, because I have some stuff I really need to tell you about!

When I went wandering in the woods last month, I messed up my feet pretty badly with blisters. They started on the first day - likely as a result of not having my boots tied tightly enough while climbing and descending steep hills - and continued to develop over the course of the 2nd and 3rd days. We're talking about 30-odd kilometers of heel-munching resulting in the wanton destruction of several layers of skin and quarter-sized craters in my poor feet.



Upon arriving at home on Sunday evening, I slapped a couple of Tegaderm + Pad dressings on them with some Polysporin and hoped I wouldn't have to look at them for awhile. Unfortunately, it all came of in the pool on Tuesday, and loosened up the flaps of dead skin. I trimmed what I could and applied more Polysporin and Tegaderm.




My supplies held out through the following weekend while we paddled in Bon Echo, but when we hit the grocery store on Monday I picked up the SOS Blister dressings as I was out of Tegaderm. I'd had some good experiences with hydrocolloid dressings for some of the gouges and road rash I attained last year while yard sale-ing myself and auditioning as a hood ornament, so figured I'd give these a whack. With the Vulture Bait 50k just 5 days away I needed something to sort me out quickly, and I'm here to tell you that I'm impressed!


Plastic clamshell-type box snaps closed securely and is sized for portability.
Just enough packaging to protect the dressings inside the box.

What it is: Hydrocolloid dressings specifically designed to aid in the protection and healing of blisters.

Why you want them: Because blisters really, really suck...especially when they appear right before very long races.

Duration used: 1 week

Price paid/purchased from: $6.99 + tax at the grocery store for 5 "large: for heels" dressings.

Single dressing showing the wax paper on the outside of the dressing.
I was skeptical about the size, but it was large enough to overlap the wounds.

The backing for the sticky side is plastic, with a machine-cut slit down the middle for easy separation and removal.


Manufacturer's description: 


Elastoplast SOS Blister Large


"The Elastoplast SOS Blister bandage immediately relieves the pain and seals the affected area safely against dirt and bacteria. The hydrocolloid technology helps blisters heal faster. Its extra strong adhesion keeps the bandage in place for days.
Ideal for blisters on heels.

The bandage is available in a convenient box with 5 large bandages.


Dermatologically approved
Based on dermatological studies the product is confirmed to be skin friendly, skin compatible and has a good skin tolerability.

Quality assurance
A European product in use test with 8244 pharmacy assistants proves: 99% would recommend the product."



Wax paper removed from outside of dressing.

What rawks: First of all, can I give a shout-out to Elastoplast for some thoughtful packaging? This plastic carrying box is a great design for throwing in a pack, first aid kit or race bag. The waxed paper backing strip on the dressings themselves keep them from abrading each other in the storage container, and the slit cut in the plastic backing for the sticky side of the bandages makes it very easy to separate the halves for removal.

Upon applying the dressings, I won't say that pain relief was immediate, but I was finally able to wear shoes to the office again - even without socks (I'd been that weirdo in flip flops the previous week). I did a couple of short runs while I had the bandages on and felt no pain from the blisters at all.

The adhesive that covers the whole of the wound side of the dressing is some seriously tough stuff! I applied the dressings on Tuesday night after going to the pool (losing the last of the Tegaderm), and figured I'd have to see how they held up to the last run before Vulture Bait on Thursday. To my amazement, not only did they stay put through my shake-out run, but through the entire 50k as well!

5 days and 55km of running later.

The same dressings actually stayed on until I removed them after another swim on Tuesday, 1 week to the day after they were applied. They were actually still adhering fairly well, but the edges had begun to lift and I didn't want them catching on the inside of a shoe and rolling up. 10/10 for durability, though.

The upper edge did come loose a bit during Vulture Bait, hence the sock fuzz.
It actually seemed to re-adhere though, as I totally ceased to notice it during the 2nd loop.

You'd think this amazing adhesive would make them difficult to remove, or that having the adhesive directly against the raw skin of the blister craters would make for a painful removal experience, but neither of these was the case. It may have been the pre-soak in the pool that assisted, but they peeled off easily and there was no discomfort detaching from the wounds.

The best part of all was discovering that whatever voodoo magic they imbued these things with at the factory really works - upon removal, both blisters were sufficiently healed that I no longer needed to have any sort of dressing on them. This was 2.5 weeks after the original date of injury, which may seem like a fairly long healing time but these were particularly nasty wounds that I figured would continue to be a problem right up to Horror Hill (4 weeks later), particularly with running a 50k in between! As it was, I had no call to bandage the blisters for Horror Hill - all that remained of them was a tiny bit of dead skin around the perimeter of the original craters, which were now filled in with new, healthy skin.

Hydrocolloid dressings basically work by sealing the wound away from contamination by outside sources and absorbing the moisture that the blister exudes to form a gel that is kept against the skin. It keeps the injury from drying out and tightening (which would happen very quickly during the brief periods I had them uncovered and was extremely uncomfortable - felt as though the delicate skin could crack at any moment), much like the bubble formed naturally by a blister, or like a scab on a cut or scrape. The tough, flexible plastic exterior of the dressing preserves this bubble of healing over the wound much better than our comparatively fragile skin, and the gel cushions it from abrasion and pressure. This combination allows undisturbed healing to take place, particularly as the bandages are durable enough to remain in place for several days at a time.

Portability, durability, excellent protection and legitimate healing properties? Yeah, I can dig it.

What sucks: They're not free.

What I'd like to see: I honestly can't come up with a single thing that would improve them.

What I'm saying: If you have blisters - especially really nasty ones that you'd like to protect while accelerating healing and basically completely ignoring them - buy these. I know I'll be keeping a box of them in my pack for all future backpacking trips!

For further edification: They're well reviewed on Amazon.com and HomeTesterClub.com, and you can read more about hydrocolloid dressings here and here.