Rather than a detailed review of any particular piece of gear this post will cover the gear that will be joining me as I run 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn as part of the Western States Endurance Run. One of my running mates Lindsey once quipped that I would be the perfect gear tester, since I have no brand loyalty and like to own nothing but the best. It was a fair comment since at the time I don’t believe a single brand was represented twice. I generally have favoured brands for specific items at any point in time, but if another company comes out with something better I will not hesitate to switch.
For my upcoming race there are a lot of different brands represented, although one has managed to sneak in three times. So here goes, working from head to toe.
Cap: Brooks HVAC Infiniti Mesh Hat
I do own a lot of running shoes from a lot of different brands, but when it comes to road running Brooks are my go-to shoe. Recently most of my road miles have been completed in the Brooks PureConnect, a shoe which I would confidently run a road ultramarathon in. In terms of this cap it is quite simply the best one I own. The one I will wear was recently purchased on this trip, but is simply a newer model of one that I have been using for the past couple of years. It is comfortable, light and quick drying.
Sunglasses: Rudy Project Rydon with Photochromic Clear Lenses
I had previously owned running glasses made by Nike and Smith Optics, but after buying these glasses it will take a very special product to remove this company. The quality of the lenses for these glasses are fantastic. The glasses allow interchangeable lenses and I have five different pairs (Transparent, Yellow, Laser Blue, Photochromic Red and Photochromic Clear). For the race I will use my Photochromic Clear lenses, which although they don’t go extremely dark in very bright sun, they do adjust very well in shaded areas so I will only need to remove them in particularly dark areas.
I am not sure whether any other companies make running buffs, but my buff is made by Buff. The idea to wear the buff actually comes from an ultrarunning friend, Tamyka, so I have to thank her for this one. It would have acted to help keep my neck warm at the start of the race (unlikely to be required with the weather forecast), I can pull it over my face in case the dust is extremely bad, and I can wet it to keep my neck cool during the hot stages of the race. This particular Buff I received from running the fantastic Otter Run (tagged as the “Grail of Trails”), a stunning race along the southern coast of South Africa.
Shirt: Salomon Exo S-LAB Zip Tee
I ran Leadville last year wearing this shirt. I like the tight fit of this top, which has meant that I don’t suffer any chafing on either the nipples or under my arms. There are a couple of other brands (2XU, The North Face) that were starting to challenge for this spot but Salomon still holds them off for the moment. There are two in the photo since I will have a second waiting for me after the Rucky Chucky river crossing in case I opt to change into a dry one.
Hydration: Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka Race Vest
Up until only a few months ago Salomon would have had a sure thing in this space with their Advanced Skin S-LAB Set (I own both the 5 litre and 12 litre). I am not a fan of carrying water bottles in my hands (although I do own both an Amphipod hand bottle and the Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set) and therefore opt towards a hydration pack in most circumstances. For this race my plan is to go as light as possible and minimise time at aid stations by using water bottles at the front of the pack, rather than a hydration bladder in the back. When Ultimate Direction released this pack, weighing less than the Salomon pack and costing less than half the price I decided to purchase it. I have used it a lot during my training runs (fitted with both bottles and a 1.5-litre bladder) and I can actually fit more in this pack than in the Salomon 5 litre.
The clear problem that I have found with the vest is the included water bottles. I carried along one of the included bottles for a 20-mile run on the Western States course, and found that no matter how it was adjusted, it was digging into my ribs. I felt it starting to bruise so I ended up running the final 12 miles carrying the bottle in my hand. My solution to that problem was…
Hydration: Salomon Soft Flasks
Salomon make these soft flasks in 5 oz (148 ml), 8 oz (237 ml) and 16 oz (500 ml). They are brilliantly soft (therefore not bruising rib cages), and since air does not replace the water that you drink they do not create a sloshing sound at all. It does mean that they collapse as you drink from them, so they drop into the front pockets of the pack. For me, these flasks with the Ultimate Direction vest are an absoluate winner in terms of hydration. I will carry one 8-oz and one 16-oz around for the day, and due to the extremely warm weather forecast for the weekend will also pick up a second 8-oz to carry through the hottest part of the day for wetting my buff and face.
Watch: Suunto Ambit
The Suunto Ambit is a great product and has improved consistently while I have owned it. It has been great to watch the firmware upgrades that have slowly shaped it into the brilliant device that it has become. I have just upgraded it yesterday to what will be the last firmware upgrade (almost as if they planned it in preparation for my race), and it is likely that I might end up with the Suunto Ambit2 (or Ambit3 or Ambit4) when I eventually upgrade. Suunto have also made some great improvements to their MovesCount.com website so that it is now a useful tool for evaluating runs.
Compression Shorts: Skins A400
As an Australian (the company originates from that great country) Skins were the first compression brand that I tried. I had previously used bicycle shorts when running since my large upper legs have always made chafing a problem. I used Skins for a while before switching to 2XU compression wear, but have once again returned to Skins.
Running Shorts: The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts
When I arrived in the US I had never owned any item produced by The North Face. I always knew of the company as a good brand, had looked at and tried on their products on numerous occasions, but no purchase had ever taken place.
I arrived with a pair of 2XU shorts that were intended as my race day shorts, but soon realised that “dying” was not the correct term to use in describing them since they were already “dead”. 2XU has been my go-to brand for both running shorts and shirts over the past couple of years. I still have many shirts remaining but I can’t see myself buying any more of their shorts. I have always disliked the lack of storage, with only a single zip pocket on the left-hand side of the shorts.
Shopping around I found a rack of The North Face running clothing, and was very interested that their Better Than Naked Shorts were extremely light but also featured a central zip pocket at the rear, as well as an elastic pocket to either side. I had found my new race shorts.
I have since bought a couple of Better Than Naked Shirts that I found on a clearance rack, which I have been impressed with, and it is likely that The North Face will start to occupy more space in my running wardrobe going forward.
Calf Sleeves: Salomon Exo Calf Sleeves
I only use calf sleeves during long trail runs. I am unconvinced whether the compression does provide any aid during the run but I definitely do not find them to hamper my running. On trails they provide the additional benefit of protecting the legs from scatches and scrapes, and in California they also protect from Poison Oak. I own calf sleeves by 2XU and Salomon, but the Salomon have received the nod for the race.
Socks: Falke Falkelite
Produced in South Africa I purchased 10 pairs of these socks before departing. They are a great light-weight running sock that wick well.
Shoes: Inov-8 Trailroc 245
A pair of Brooks Adrenaline ASR (the trail variant of the popular Brooks road running shoe) was the first pair of trail shoes that I purchased. Since then all of the trail shoes that I have purchased have been from Inov-8.
I started out with their Roclite 295, with a 9 mm offset, and then ran Leadville in a pair of Roclite 285, with a reduced 6 mm offset. But while I loved the feel of the 295 and wanted the lower offset of 285, I found the Roclite 285 too tight in the mid-sole. When the Trailroc series was announced last year they seemed like the answer. I opted for the Trailroc 245, which has a 3 mm offset, as I felt that I was ready to take it down a step from the 6 mm offset I had used at Leadville, but didn’t feel that I wanted a zero drop shoe for ultramarathon running up to 100 miles.
I recently retired my first pair of Trailroc 245 shoes after 340 miles (550 km) of use, with well-worn but still workable soles, although they do have a couple of extra holes in the uppers that weren’t there when I started. I will start off the race in the blue pair and will switch to the red pair if I decide to change shoes and socks after the river crossing.