Here’s a list of my favorite things from the 2013 calendar year.
Best Trails I Had the Chance to Run
First, I just want to say how lucky I am that I get to run pretty much whenever I want- I have a super supportive partner that is 100% behind me and my running. She’s even gone on a few runs with me this year, and I’m hoping she can pace me the last few miles of my first 100-miler (hopefully I get in the lottery for the San Diego 100, June 7th). What a beautiful gift to be able to share my life with someone who’s willing to do that with me a few weeks before we get married. Here’s to us, babe!
That being said; I got a chance to run some really awesome trails this year, various sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (north and south of Donner Pass as well as part of the southern portion that shares miles with the John Muir Trail down near Muir Trail Ranch). There’s also some awesome PCT/JMT connector trails in around Mono Hot Springs and Lake Thomas Edison I got the chance to run, and also down near Florence Lake. That was pretty awesome.
I also had a chance to run a race in Colorado in Pike National Forest that was on some portions of the famous Colorado Trail, that was special. Moving through pine forests and aspens and high mountain meadows while seeing some breathtaking views; I cant completely comprehend why anyone runs on roads.
Shout out to the Bay Area- there’s gotta be several thousand miles of trails within a half hour’s drive from me; whether it’s running up Mt. Diablo via the Mitchell Canyon Trail or just a quick jaunt in Redwood Regional Park along the French Trail, it’s unbelievable the amazingly accessible trails in the East Bay. I also had the pleasure of paying $10 for a trail pass to run on EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utilities District) land, basically a few hundred thousand acres of protected watershed land with great trails.
And let’s not forget Marin- oh my, the trail capital of Northern Coastal California. Every time there’s some sort of race going on over there along the slopes of Mt Tamalpais, I’m in. Heck, I’ve even done some epic training runs there. I’m looking forward to the Miwok 100k in May, it basically links up all my favorite trails in Marin County.
Best Running Store
San Francisco Running Company in Mill Valley. Hands down the best group of employees of any specialty running shop anywhere in the world. No pretense, no BS; they just want to see you get out the door with the stuff you need and get on to the trails happy. These folks know what they’re talking about and they do it without any attitude, always with a friendly smile- if you’re a newer runner, getting ready for your first 5k or that grizzled veteran doing your next 100-miler, this is the place for all your running needs in the Bay Area.
Best Gear Awards
Whoever said running was a cheap sport is a lying liar.
I don’t know how much money I’ve spent on running gear this past year, and I can’t say every purchase was great; so here’s a rundown on the best (and just okay) gear I’ve tried out in 2013.
Since I bought three pairs of them, the Pearl Izumi e:Motion Trail N1 gets my nod for Shoe of the Year. I even got a pair of the Road N1′s for the days I couldn’t make it to the trail, they’re that good. I briefly flirted with the La Sportiva Helios for about 2 months (I ran the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in those so they get at least an Honorable Mention), but went back to the N1′s to end the season. They have just the perfect amount of cushion and slightest rocker-type sole to propel tired legs forward in the late stages of a 50-miler or 50k. Dynamic offset (means that the shoe’s “drop” or heel-toe differential changes through the gait cycle, basically absorbing the landing and returning energy to the toe-off). I’m pretty much going to wear these forever.
The Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest was probably the single best piece of equipment I bought this year. Able to carry two bottles in front (without bouncing!) or a huge reservoir in the back, with little pockets for salt caps located under the bottle holders, pockets under the armpits for car keys or a tube of Body Glide, or the pockets above the bottle holders that could fit a few gels or an iPod; this vest was awesome, perfect for carrying just enough for a long self-supported training run or a 50-miler. The back pouch was able to fit a rain shell, gloves and a hat along with a few Hammer flasks. Straps tighten and loosen pretty easily so you can totally dial it in for a snug fit.
After briefly flirting with compression socks last year and early in the ’13 season I went back to “regular” low cut socks. It was probably the fact that I was still experiencing some cramping and fatigue even with the compression; the whole point of the socks was to eliminate those, so I figured if I was gonna cramp anyway I’d do it with out the damn pantyhose. I got another pair of the Feetures! Elite Light Cushion Low Cut socks and my feet couldn’t be happier. Never got a blister in these, plus they dry really fast.
Nutrition: Earlier this year I started using a branched-chain amino acid complex called Vespa, which contains a naturally occurring wasp extract that helps your body conserve glycogen by shifting your muscles to metabolize fat as their main energy source. In conjunction with an OFM Diet (Optimized Fat Metabolism) I’ve watched my body shed fat and become leaner, resulting in lowering my 50-mile time to just over nine hours. In addition, I’ve all but ditched the gels and sugary aid station stuff in favor of two super starches. Basically; super starches are slow-burning energy that doesn’t spike your insulin, so you’re not creating that up and down sugar crash effect- it’s steady energy throughout the run. I’ve started pre-loading my longer runs and races with Generation UCAN, a corn-derived carbohydrate that doesn’t mess with my gut and allows me to go out a bit faster than I previously thought I could because I was always afraid of bonking. Into the run (or more specifically the “race”) I fuel with Genr8 Vitargo S2, a barley-derived carbohydrate that exists in its fractionated form amylopectin. It’s a perfect carb in that it does not supply any sugar, hence has no effect on blood glucose, so there’s no insulin response. I fueled exclusively for the first 44 miles with Vitargo at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler and felt great the whole race, supplementing with only 2 gels and a small cup of Coke later in the race.
The prospect of running further and faster on fewer calories at first scared the crap out of me, but switching your body into fat-burning mode and out of glycogen-burning has so many benefits for endurance athletes; including not worrying about carbo-loading before a race, having weird gut issues during the race, etc. I no longer worry about my tummy.
The Jury’s Still Out…
The Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS unit. Although I really dig the heart rate function of this unit, the syncing of the watch to my computer has some issues. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Garmin message boards doing troubleshooting, and the plus-side here is that I always get an answer to my problems. Tthe biggest downside is that there’s problems in the first place. I’m an OCD-type that loves any and all the metrics; miles, pace, elevation changes, etc. All that stuff is pretty accurate (no GPS is 100% perfect) and all those numbers really just provide data points for training anyway, but I’d love to just get in from a run and have it sync up automatically. So my beef isn’t with the actual watch itself, it’s with the software. Yes, I’ve downloaded the updates. I guess it is what it is.
The La Sportiva Helios. I really wanted to love these, but I’m more or less completely indifferent. I ran the Coastal 50k in them in the pouring rain, they drained quite well and provided a ton of grip on wet and muddy trails- I was loving them; but then I ran the DCFT50 in them in really dry and dusty conditions and my feet really, really hurt the week after. Having run about 250 miles in them I should have an opinion, but strangely all I can say is that they’re a good shoe for bad conditions- super sticky rubber, awesome drainage, etc. I’m going to try them in some snow when I get up to the Tahoe Rim Trail in February for a training run before I make a final opinion. Maybe the European sizing is sort of inexact for my foot type? I’ve never had so many questions about a shoe that I’ve run this many miles in…
Best Blogs of the Year
Zach Bitter; this is pretty much where I get all my nutritional advice. This guy slays it, he just set the 12-hour track World Record (101.66 miles) AND the US Men’s 100-mile Record (11:47:13). He’s a Vespa user so he follows a pretty strict OFM diet, and he lists examples of what his daily food intake looks like. It’s pretty tough to do the sort of running he’s doing if you’re not totally fat-adapted; meaning burning fat as your primary fuel. The fact that he can run 7:04 per mile for 100 miles is astounding, and he pretty much shows you how to fuel to do that stuff.
Anton Krupicka; I love how Anton’s been completely transparent in his training- he lists everything he does almost every week. Time of run, elevation gain, routes used, power-hiking, etc. Plus, he’s been doing more and more serious climbing and that’s been cool to see as he progresses there.
Joe Grant (both his pieces for iRunFar and his personal website Alpine Works); his eloquence and insight have been pretty awesome, so much so that I find myself looking forward to his stuff more than anyone else on iRF. His photography is breathtakingly amazing as well, sometimes his only text is a poem. Kudos, Joe.
Best Vlogs of the Year (Video Blogs)
Sage Canaday‘s YouTube channel, Vo2MaxProductions, is pretty awesome. Sage, along with his girlfriend Sandi Nypaver (a very accomplished long trail runner herself) give tips on proper running form, speed workouts, downhill technique, gear reviews, nutrition tips, etc. and generally post cool clips of them ascending Long’s Peak or running beautiful trails around the country.
The Ginger Runner! Ethan Newberry is my newest discovery- this guy rules. Product reviews and what to buy for the runner in your life, but really his awesome race reports; this guy brings a GoPro camera to races and documents the whole thing, then edits it (really awesome). He’s entertaining as hell and he’s progressing along nicely as a runner.
Salomon Running TV is nothing short of incredible. With that team and what seems like endless financial resources, they’re at the forefront of putting together so many cutting edge, short trail running movies.
I think Tim Long and Gary David at Elevation Trail are the best in the business. They look at endurance sports from a thinking man’s point of view; Long is an astute observer of the ultra scene and outspoken critic of where the sport is heading; he can come off as a curmudgeon but he’s highly entertaining. He likes his ultras old school and enjoys living in a cabin with his girlfriend and three dogs, deep in the mountains. David is a sociology professor at Bentley University in Massachusetts so he looks at ultras and endurance sports from an academic point of view, and it makes for great conversation between the two. And hey, they’re pretty damn good runners.
Trail Runner Nation; these guys are the sort of the class clowns of the bunch. Scott Warr and Don Freeman, along with occasional recurring guests like Jimmy Dean Freeman, Faith Goss, Sally McRae, Drs. Phil Maffetone and Mark Cucuzella are joined by all the big names in ultra and trail running, and they have fun doing it. Some of my favorite interviews/shows of the past year: Chris Vargo, Ian Torrence, Anna Frost, JB Benna, Candice Burt, et. al. That’s just the past few months. These guys are good about churning stuff out on a timely basis, too. The only downside (and I know this is a necessary evil) is the 6-7 minutes of advertisements at the beginning; usually from Petzl or Tailwind Nutrition.
Talk Ultra: this is THE global ultrarunning podcast, hosted by Brit Ian Corless (with co-host Karl Meltzer, yes, THE Karl Meltzer) and it works as well as any late-night duo as I’ve ever seen (…or heard). Meltzer’s dry, wry delivery coupled with his “a hundred miles is not that far” old-school mentality is the perfect foil for Corless’s charming, positive and bright attitude. His interviews are long but never boring, totally in-depth. He also has Emelie Forsberg do a recurring bit called “Miles and Smiles”, and like I said previously he covers the entire globe, he may be talking to winners of the Mount Everest Marathon in the same episode as he’s talking to a 100-mile guy like Mike Morton. He releases 3-plus hour podcasts every other Friday, so add “prolific podcaster” to his list of achievements.
Best Free Stuff from Races
It’s free, so it’s all good- I’m not complaining if anybody gives me anything for nothing (well, I did pay the race entry fee I guess). I mean, I’ll even take the crappy stuff; because they make nice gifts to other, less experienced runners. But the best free stuff is good quality tech shirts or hats, because I’ll use that shit (some races give that low quality tech fabric, that’s a huge no-no). But pint glasses (yeah, Inside Trail Racing) and coasters (from Coastal Trail Runs) are actually the best thing you can get because people need to use those at my house to not mess up my cheap Ikea furniture. And they’re now forced to mention my last 50k. I also get to plug the two best trail racing companies in the Bay Area, so that’s an added bonus.
Looking Forward to 2014:
So I’m psyched to try my first pair of Altras. If you’re not familiar with Altra, they’re the “zero drop” shoe, meaning no differential between heel and forefoot so it’s like actually being barefoot, but with adequate trail / road protection. I’ve got the Altra Superior on the way, should be here by press time. They look really cool and have sweet functionality, like a removable rock plate, super wide toe box and are actually shaped like a foot. I’ve heard nothing but good things from the trail-running community, so I’m hoping they’re all I think they could be.
I’m also really psyched to run with more and more people this upcoming year; it’s been really great to watch my friends get into running and progress rather quickly, whether it be at the half marathon road distance, the trail marathon with 4,000 feet of elevation gain or hearing them think out loud that they may want to attempt a 50-miler, that’s a really cool thing to be a part of. Having a friend to go out on a 25+ mile training run is a life-saver and having friends be available to pace and crew you in 50-milers is pretty beautiful, too. Just having that sort of support network is so invaluable; being pushed to do an extra mile; just chatting away the miles about “life”; hell- even farting contests on the run are pretty funny. This is probably the best thing I’ve tried to cultivate this past year.
So that’s it, the year in running reviewed. I’m ready to train hard, hopefully I’ll see you out on the trails…