Let's start with shoes. I may very well be the Imelda Marcos of running shoes, or sneakers as some of my friends call them. The only shoes that I've ever run a significant amount of trail miles in are made by La Sportiva. Those Italians (or EYE-talians as they are known in some parts of the country) make some really nice fucking shoes. I own almost every "Mountain Running" shoe they make and have put about 500 miles on a pair of Raptors that were graciously given to me by Stacy of the remarkable WIlderness Running Company. I climbed Mount Washington in them, ran my first marathon in them, and I sometimes wear them to work to annoy my coworkers because they stink to holy hell and make terrible squeaking noises (it sounds like I'm stepping on a baby) on the hospital floors . I've also completely worn out their Crosslite and Fireblade models, and have a pair of Gore-Tex Wildcats which weigh a fucking ton but will be great for plowing through the swampy, muddy crap that I'll face this Spring/Summer.
My latest trail shoe purchase involves the company Hoka One One. Hoka says F-You to minimalist running shoes by making a shoe that is reminiscent of those ridiculous Moon Boots that skiers wore after a long day on the mountain in the early 80's. I decided to throw down an obscene $169 for their latest model, the Stinson B EVO. When they arrived in the mail they were even more hideous than any photo I'd seen. Throw up in mouth hideous. Imagine a huge pile of Limes that had turned grey and rotten on the outside. Now imagine them being as high off the ground as a monster truck. You get the point. When I tried them on they were like slices of heaven on my feet, only they were so soft that my un-repaired (yes, that is now a word) fractured left ankle rolled inward and the mid foot fit was way too loose. The upper also had much less structure than other shoes I'd run in so I decided to swap them out for the Bondi B, the road model that many Ultra runners have been using for the last year. Once again, slices of heaven, and more subtly hideous than the Stinson. The sole was just firm enough to support my damaged ankles, the upper had more structure, and the mid-foot fit was perfect. Since there are probably only 2 or 3 runners that read this blog I guess I should explain the thought behind the Hokas. The idea is that over long distances, especially over rough terrain (like the Appalachian Trail) your feet get beaten the fuck up. The extra cushion is supposed to, well, provide extra cushion and inhibit muscle breakdown. And it does provide a nice, plush, Cadillac of a ride. As far as the muscle breakdown, who knows, but it makes sense to me. After two short runs I'm pretty excited to put some real miles on them. I found them to be surprisingly stable, cushy, and the fit is dandy. Having been a walking pharmacological experiment over the last 10 years I know all about the placebo effect, and I don't believe that these shoes are any placebo. No magic bullet for an oft injured runner but I'm hoping that this will help me to increase my long runs and decrease my time laying in bed with ice packs and limping down the hallways at work. Only time will tell.
|The lesser of two evils.|
|I don't need no stinking traction!|
|Like walking on (ugly) sunshine.|
|Who thought these colors were a good idea?|
Okay, enough with the shoe treatise, on to the rest of the gear that I dig:
Icebreaker clothing...thinking about it brings a tear to my eye. I am a stinky, disgusting man. Even after multiple washings I never seem to be able to get the stink out of my synthetic running clothes. Icebreaker clothes are made of Merino wool from what must be the softest lambs on the whole earth. They fit well, withstand my attempts to run through pricker bushes and downed trees, and I can wear them 4 or 5 times in a row without washing them. NO STINK!!! NONE. Expensive but worth it. Next, Drymax socks. Yes, they do stink after one wear, but I don't blister when I wear them, no matter how wet my feet are, no matter how many hours. They also don't seem to wear out. I bought one pair last Christmas and wore them at least twice per week for the last 15 months and they're still in great shape. Next up is my Ultimate Direction WASP hydration pack. Pricker bushes, downed trees, blah blah blah and no tears. The buckles and clasps are still tight, and its comfortable enough to wear for 8 hours loaded down with 1.5 liters (Liters? I'm an American, dammit!) of Gatorade, 8 gels, a camera, glasses w/ case, and enough extra clothing for an expedition. It's one weakness is the hydration bladder. It failed after about 8 months and even before that, the system to keep it sealed was pretty lousy. The bite valve, though, is awesome. I replaced it with a Camelbak, installed the Ultimate Direction bite valve, and I don't have to worry anymore about orange Gatorade spilling down my back. I also enjoy my Salomon clothing quite a bit. I've run in the Fast II jacket and Hawk mid layer for every chilly run in the last year+, run in freezing rain, snow, and wind, and they've yet to fail me. The combination of an Icebreaker base layer, Hawk mid layer, and Fast jacket have kept me warm even when the temperatures dipped into the single digits. And finally, I'm also a pretty big fan of my Garmin 305 watch. I straddle the line between being a tech nerd and a nature boy, but I do like to know how many miles I've run, how slow I was, and how many feet of climbing I did. I've fallen on it hard enough to rip the strap off my wrist (1st rib fracture of 2012), smashed it against trees, and dumped it at the bottom of my work bag, buried beneath cans of soda, books, and running gear with no ill effects. The wristband sucks, so go and buy the nice velcro one from Amazon. Otherwise, awesome! So those are the goodies that keep me dry, warm, cool, hydrated, and comfortable
Rib Fracture Update: I thought they were just bruised. Apparently I was wrong. These things fucking hurt! Rib fracture #1 of 2012 didn't really hurt and running felt just fine. Fracture number 2 has sucked. Breathing sucks, sleeping sucks, ripping up a stone walkway for my Dad sucks, and tearing up grass and tilling soil for a new garden for my Uncle sucks. Did I mention that breathing sucks? Shut up crybaby.
I just read that Micah True, the protagonist in the novel Born To Run, was found dead while trail running in New Mexico's Gila Forest. The book elicits strong opinions, none of which I care much about, but reading it (in 1 sitting) forever changed the way I viewed my running and my life away from the trails. It made me realize the arbitrary nature of the marathon distance, showed me that running could be a way to rebuild rather than destroy myself for past sins, and it inspired me to try trail running. I never ran another mile on the road. It's a bummer that such an interesting and eccentric dude is dead. The world needs less American Idols and more Caballo Blanco's.