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Pack Comfort Evaluation: Extended Ultramarathon Edition

Though we use them nearly daily on roads, our run commute packs are all designed for trails, for hikers, through-hikers, fastpackers. One can see in our reviews how well they serve their purposes and meet our run commuting needs; however, perhaps readers still wonder about their comfort and ability during those 3-6 mile runs. How about 65 miles in varied temps, wind, and sun? We are now able to offer better perspective on said service, after humping these packs over several mountains, for 20 hours, during the inaugural Georgia Death Race.

www.georgiadeathrace.com

You will forever afterward see in this “professionally designed” race logo a man farting streams of flame. Not a wholly inaccurate take on the race’s pains.

Hall, Josh, and Kyle lit out from Atlanta with crew chief Laura on Friday, March 15, to tackle this course up in the north Georgia mountains. We had all run ultras before; however, this one would be twice as far as the 50Ks we’d done, with 30,000 feet of elevation change: it was no joke.

The race was first billed as 55 miles; then 60-ish; but it turned out to be closer to 65 miles, and temperature fluctuations between elevations (sometimes 20°F difference, with wind and shade) would make for an extremely challenging race. The race began at 4 a.m. Saturday, March 16, and was open for 28 hours, allowing everyone some chance to finish. We’ll get up a race report if you want it, but for now we want to offer insight as to the run commuting/ultramarathon connection.

One: up to 50 percent of our training miles came from running to work, or from it. The remainder came from long road runs, hill and stair training, shorter ultras, and mountain training weekends.

Two: racers had a mandatory gear list to carry during the race. Part of it was due to the backcountry requirements of Vogel State Park and the U.S. Forest Service; and the rest was deemed necessary in case of injury; or if you could no longer run/walk/hobble, and were too far from an aid station. Here’s the list:

Mandatory:

  • 1 Space blanket
  • 1 Thermal top
  • 1 Warm hat (beanie)
  • 1 Pair of warm gloves
  • 1 Waterproof jacket (poncho not acceptable)
  • 1 Whistle
  • 1 Map (provided)
  • 1 22 oz (or greater) capacity for water.
  • 1 Food ration

Recommended:

  • 1 Working cell phone
  • 1 Extra set of batteries for your head lamp
  • 1 Thermal bottom
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Off to the pre-race meeting the night before, and for mandatory gear check. L to R: Osprey Stratos 24 (Hall), Osprey Manta 20 (Josh), REI Stoke 19 (Kyle)

And, three, while a lot of ultramarathoners wear hydration packs, like the Nathan Endurance Race Vest, Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5, or the increasingly-popular UltrAspire Omega Hydration Vest, we would need to carry more than just water and gels for this race. But owing to our run commuting, we were already accustomed to running with full backpacks.

Would packs we use for run commuting perform well during this race? Here are our thoughts, in brief:

Tester:  Josh

Pack:  Osprey Manta 20

Comfort: None of the straps chafed at all.  I normally wear a short or long-sleeve compression shirt to reduce any possibility of chafing (usually underarms, or around my waist). With the Manta 20, however, the straps were adequately padded, positioned properly, and secured with non-irritating buckles, making it fantastic no matter what clothing was underneath. The weight of the pack was distributed very well, too.

Storage: With 17L (1,037 cu. in.) of internal storage, I had plenty of room for all the required gear, plus changes of socks and shirts, with additional space leftover. There are many outside pockets that are easily accessible as well, including dual waist strap pouches. These were perfect for gels, Clif bars, and other snacks. I could grab them on the fly, eat, and continue running without stopping.

Hydration: A unique 3L hydration bladder was standard on the S/M model.  This was more than enough to supply adequate hydration from one aid station to another.

User Notes: I love everything about this pack. In fact, I would choose this over my previous favorite, the Osprey Stratos 24. The hydration system features were ridiculously handy, the pack was super-comfortable, and I felt like if I were to changeover to another crazy sport – fastpacking, for instance – it would be a fantastic piece of gear for the job. I can’t say enough good things about the Manta 20. Seriously.

3:50 am - Race Day

3:50 am – Race Day

Tester:  Hall

Pack: Osprey Stratos 24

Comfort: Starting at 2lbs without any gear, or even a hydration bladder, this backpack was surprisingly comfortable over the 44 miles I covered before my eventual exit from the race (see Editor’s Note below). Due to a former injury, a broken collar bone to be exact, I am always wary of carrying anything on my shoulders for long periods of time. Especially with standard backpack straps. But the Osprey Stratos 24’s numerous options for cinching down the straps prevented any irritation. The large amount of straps and different ways to secure the gear and prevent any shifting or unnecessary movement helped keep it quiet as well. Once the temperatures warmed up and the sun rose above the North Georgia mountains, the stretched mesh back panel allowed my back to breathe.

Storage: At times I lost track of where certain items were in my pack due to the plethora of harness pockets, hipbelt pockets, and other compartments. It’s a good problem to have, and though I ended up having to wash out some of them due to carrying used gel packets, I was glad to be able to have most of what I needed constantly accessible.

Hydration: My Osprey Hydraulics 2 Liter Reservoir was a great purchase. The handle and rigid structure didn’t add much weight, but certainly made it a lot easier to fill at aid stations and even at home under the sink.

Editor’s Note: Hall neglected to mention that his reason for exiting the race at mile 44 was that his tendons were about to ‘splode. This is for real. He’d just finished a course of antibiotics, amongst the serious warnings for which was listed severe likelihood of tendons rupturing from exercise and strain. But from mile 44, without missing a beat or dropping a smile, Hall became crew lieutenant, and we were joyed to see him with Laura at the final crew station, and again at the finish! –KT

Twenty-five miles into the race, over the Duncan Ridge Trail, and onto Forest Service roads. Photo: Hall's mom

Twenty-five miles into the race, over the Duncan Ridge Trail, and onto Forest Service roads. The mountains we scaled and descended paled compared to Kyle’s forehead. Photo: Hall’s mom

Tester:  Kyle

Pack:  REI Stoke 19

Comfort: As mentioned in my previous review, the Stoke 19 lacks any kind of ventilation for your back. Lack of air flow yields plenty of sweat, and mid-race my shorts had an inch-wide salt band; however, my pack remained wonderfully cushy, and all the straps are wide and plush, so nothing cuts or saws into your torso. From the chilly morning to the mid-day roasting sun, I experienced no discomfort. I had one small chafe spot when I took stock of my ravaged body the next day: the right shoulder strap rubbed my collar bone, but that almost certainly owes to said clavicle’s odd shape.

Storage: So many pockets, filled with GUs, Clif bars, at one point an entire sweet potato. There was ample room for my required gear (and a safety whistle is built into the chest strap) and leftover space for fuel, though never did anything feel unsecured: all remained perfectly in place. The race offered a $100 bonus to whomever brought in the most trash from the trail; we retrieved multiple wrappers, spent GU packets, some beer cans, and more, and mashed them all into my pack’s side pockets. (The bonus went to a guy who dropped off at an aid station a 12-pack box he stuffed with garbage, and a freaking car tire, with which he’d run two miles — while then in third place: well-earned.)

Hydration: I’ve been using a Camelbak Omega 100oz. bladder for years now. By about mile 20, the hook by which it is secured at its top had twisted off, but, like I said: years old, so some failure is to be expected. It stayed put despite this. It was difficult getting the full bladder back into the Stoke 19 with all my gear inside. Often, I would have to pull it all out, slide the bladder back in place, then replace my gear inside.

User Notes: The Stoke 19’s biggest drawback was the difficulty replacing the bladder, and subsequently the time necessary to do so. Speaking with someone before the race about her Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest, which in lieu of a bladder touts twin 22-ounce bottles, holstered on the shoulder straps. It was, she said, “the difference between a 30-second aid station stop and three minutes.” That was a prescient statement, I came to find. But the Stoke 19 allows you to maintain a higher center of gravity. Look again at the photo of the three of us above: note that mine (on the right) rides much higher and tighter than do Josh’s or Hall’s. That was on the trail, as it is on my run commute, an asset.

By |April 29th, 2013|Categories: Gear, General|Tags: , , , , , , , |0 Comments
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Book Report: Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek and Arnulfo Quimare

Scott Jurek and Arnulfo Quimare

I’ve been following Scott Jurek’s progress on the ultra racing scene for the past few years with great interest.   I first learned of him – as did many, many others – while reading Chris McDougal’s bestselling book, Born to Run.

Jurek took the ultramarathon scene by storm, winning race after race, breaking records, and continuing to push himself harder and faster with each new year.  Eat & Run fills in the backstory of this legendary runner, his transition to veganism and ultramarathons, his early years at home in rural Minnesota, and his recent successes in racing. More importantly, and of great relevance to us here, Jurek used to run to work – 6 miles each way – to his job in Seattle!

Eat and Run, Jurek

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

I had a similar upbringing as Scott.  We’re about the same age, we grew up in the Midwest hunting and fishing, tried track in high school without much success, and then began running long and far while making the transition to veganism (not to mention, we’re both Polacks).  But at one point in our lives, we diverged.  He ran mountains, killed the ultra scene, and made healthy, competitive running his profession.  I ran short, local races, had (and continue to have) great running adventures, and I’m more than happy just to finish a 50K.

It’s hard not to over-promote yourself as a professional runner.  Your whole career revolves around running, winning, looking good, and marketing yourself.  Do you know who Dean Karnazes is?  If you even follow running just a little bit, you probably do.  He is the king of self-promotion.  But that’s his job, and he does it well.

Similarly, Jurek spends most of the book talking about himself – not only filling in the history of his running career, but also about how awesome he is.  Don’t get me wrong – I think Jurek is an amazing ultra runner and his race times and records are phenomenal.  But, the book reads more like a curriculum vitae with recipes, than a story about the connection between food and running.

I was expecting to hear more about being vegan and why people choose to become one – not just “I ate vegan and felt better,” and “Is being vegan going to hurt my running?”  The book is called Eat & Run after all.  Sure he talks a bit here and there about Hippie Dan and others who gradually changed his mind about eating meat, but I was hoping to see something beyond,

“What we eat is a matter of life and death.  Food is who we are.”

Scott Jurek, Eat & Run, pg. 57

That line in particular, could have been expanded into an ongoing lesson, interspersed throughout the book, about the animals themselves and the short, torturous lives they live before a piece of them finds their way to our plates.

Instead, Jurek says that the “…healthier he [I] had eaten, the faster and stronger he [I] had become.”  Sure, but what about the other part of that seemingly simple equation?  He had been running and training his ass off for a long time!  Dude, I’m vegan, too.  And yes – I feel better since becoming one, but I can’t discount the effect that solid training has had in making me a better runner overall.  It cheapens training by saying otherwise.

Aside from that, there is the big unanswered question:  What the hell really happened between Jurek and Dusty?  Friends don’t text you out of the blue after a couple of years, saying, “You fucking loser” (pg. 204).   They were close.  And then – suddenly – they weren’t.

There’s more to that story, dammit.  Hopefully, Dusty will write a book about it someday.  If so, you’ll hear all about it here.

By |February 19th, 2013|Categories: General|Tags: , , , , , , , |0 Comments
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Contest: The North Face Endurance Challenge – Atlanta, GA

UPDATE:  We are extending the deadline through the weekend.  All entries must be received by 5:00 pm on Monday, October 1st.  We will notify the winner on Monday night.

Who’s ready to race?

If you’ve never participated in The North Face Endurance Challenge before, now is your chance.  We are giving away a free entry to the October 13-14 Southeast Regional trail race in Atlanta, GA

Overview of the Race

The North Face Endurance Challenge was born following ultrarunning legend Dean Karnazes‘ monumental 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days .  The first Endurance Challenge race was held in 2007, drawing together elite runners, ultramarathoners, and average athletes alike.  The courses are all chosen to challenge the individual, as well as provide beautiful and breathtaking views along the way.  What began as a single-day event with four race distances to choose from, evolved into a two-day event, with 8 different races (50-mile, 50K, Marathon, Marathon Relay, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, and even a 1K Kid’s Run), held in six different cities across the United States.

The Atlanta, GA Southeast Regional Race

Location:  F.D. Roosevelt State Park – Pine Mountain, GA (I know – not quite Atlanta)

Located 1.5 hours southwest of Atlanta, the Pine Mountain Trail provides 23 miles of ideal trail running experience – water crossings, technical terrain, tough uphill and downhill sections, and plenty of exposed roots and loose rock to try and take you down.

Photo from http://www.gastateparks.org/FDRoosevelt/gallery

How to Enter:

1)  Comment below on this post and tell us your favorite place/route to run.

2)  Like The Run Commuter on Facebook.

One lucky person will receive a registration code good for any distance.  Winner will be chosen by random number generator based on post number.  Contest will end Friday, September 28, 2012 Monday, October 1, 2012 at 5:oo pm EST.

We will also follow-up on the winner’s training progress and race experience if they will allow us to share (not a requirement for accepting the free registration).

Good luck!

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Contest: New Balance Falmouth Road Race Package

Our friends at RunningShoes.com are holding an amazing contest right now.  They’re giving away a Race Day Getaway to Cape Cod

Have you ever been to Cape Cod?  I sure haven’t.  So I did a little googling and voila:

Behold! The Cape.

But wait, there’s more!

Sand!

Kayakers, whales and cyclists co-mingling? Shazam!

How could you not enter this one?

The winner will receive two airline tickets, lodging, and entries to the New Balance Falmouth Road Race on Aug. 12.  In order to enter, folks can share words of inspiration here – http://bit.ly/K6vrzw.

They would like people to post their entry on Facebook and ask for friends to vote on their favorite entries. The finalists will be determined by votes.  Good luck!

And don’t forget to check out the sweet deals on runningshoes.com, too!

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Race Info

Date:  August 12, 2012

Time:  10:00 AM

Location:  Falmouth, MA

Distance:  7 miles

Course Map:  Link

Event Website:  Link

TalkJogRun Interview with The Run Commuter

On Monday, Kyle and I sat down for a chat with Caitlin Seick of WalkJogRun, a popular running route finding and planning website, and talked all about run commuting. WalkJogRun’s iPad app recently  hit #7 in the health and fitness category, so check it out now, hipster, so you can say you knew all about it before it was #1. Blog post with audio/podcast below.

Article:  Running To Work – WalkBlogRun

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The greatest-ever race medal repurposing

You have been running and racing for some time, racking up medals for half- and full marathons, and perhaps beyond. Great job on all your achievements! You can get more pleasure from your prizes by repurposing your medals, and come off as being accomplished, ingenious and modest. Some have used medals as Christmas ornaments. Some donate theirs to be used anew in a worthy cause. Today, a friend shared a fellow GUTS member’s extraordinary use: WIND CHIMES.

...with perhaps some echos of race chafing.

This is the sound of VICTORY.

This crafty fellow, Frank Conti, says he has about 60 medals. They descend from an old birdfeeder bottom via fishing line, and are counter-balanced with fishing weights. Too, he says they sound great.

What do you do with your awards? Toss them in a drawer? Put them in a display case? (Mine are on private display on the HVAC unit in our hall coat closet. It makes a handy shelf.)

By |February 21st, 2012|Categories: General|Tags: , |2 Comments

Small Numbers Really Add Up – Stephanie’s Dec-2011 Run Commuter Stats

December was my first month run commuting and I logged plenty of miles doing it.  Check out this image of my month-long mileage log below.  Add the total 47.81-miles of run commuting to some long weekend runs (not listed, but included a 10K and half-marathon race) and it’s clearly possible to keep up running skills over the winter months.  Look at that Total Calories number – 4,751 calories burned.  Pass the butter, please!  With numbers like these, a runner can enjoy the outdoors while running and the indoor indulgences of tasty food.

If you breakdown the large monthly mileage into the individual runs, the small numbers really accumulate.  The shortest run, 1.62-miles on December-16, helped add to a 4.17-mile day and a 9.08-mile week.  That’s no small task when you think of all the holiday shopping and get-togethers we attend throughout December, a characteristically chaotic month.

To track these numbers, I use the iPhone iMapMyRUN app and that image was lifted from the MapMyRun website.  The app’s GPS locates quickly in the morning, I drop the phone in my pocket, and I’m off running.   On the weekends, I use a Garmin Forerunner 305 to track my running.  TRC’s Josh uses a 305 too; check out his gear post.  The 305 easily tracks heart-rate, pace, splits, grade, mileage, and probably other things I can’t remember right now.  However, it can take 5 or so minutes to locate the GPS satellites.  In the morning, when I have limited time or it’s just too cold, I don’t want to stand outside before a run and wait.  So the app is really my go-to run commuter mileage tracker.  It doesn’t track pace as easily as I would like and doesn’t log heart-rate, but I have found the simplicity of using the app works best for me during my daily grind.  And here’s the outcome:

Here’s to logging even more run commuter miles in January-2012!

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Technique: Keeping Your Shoelaces Tied

Nothing makes me more angry than having to stop and re-tie shoes during a race.  It doesn’t usually happen during 5K’s because the laces tend to keep themselves together for that short amount of time.  But for anything over that, it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about it and focus on the run.

Over the years, runners develop their own techniques for fixing this potential problem (and many others.)  Here are a few lace techniques that I have used over the past four years without fail:

(more…)

By |September 21st, 2011|Categories: How To|Tags: , , , , |2 Comments
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Photo/fisticuffs finish

What Atlantan run commuter dodged a last-gasp clothesline at the BeltLine Northside 5K, still finishing one-tenth of a second in front of his uncouth competitor?

Our very own Josh (left), that’s who! Cheaters never win, sir. Nor look good in photos.

Foul play

Haul ass or throw elbows: ways to win.

By |May 1st, 2011|Categories: General|Tags: , , , |0 Comments