Category Archives: Gear

Gear Reviews

Gift Guide for Runners Who Can’t – 2016

Get well soon bitmoji

Holiday gift guides for runners are as ubiquitous as Christmas Carols after Thanksgiving… and generally about as unique.  Heck, even my guide from 2013 is pretty standard (cough boring cough cough).  In 2014 I focused on cheaper “dupes,” and in 2015 I tried to highlight more unusual offerings, but generally it’s always been a gift guide for active runners, or for people who at least pretend they’re going to run sometime.  Soon.  Maybe after New Year’s.

 

But what about all those bajillions of runners who get injured and can’t run?  I know you’re out there, and I know you still like junk, so this year, 2016 (The Worst Year EverTM), I’m offering a gift guide for the runner who can’t.  (Specifically for the runner who can’t run, but maybe also who just can’t in general.)

 

fracture cast boot shoe coverA Darco Shoe ($9.50 to $20).  Or an Aircast Boot ($65 to $75).  Or a cover to keep the germies off their floor (tall ($29) or short ($10)). Your (severely) injured runner probably already has at least one of these items prescribed to them by a doctor, but they might want an extra to wear inside, or at the very least they’ll want a foot cover thing to wear inside so they don’t track all the grossness from the outside world into their private cocoon fortress of rehabilitation (aka their tiny apartment).  An extra canister of Lysol wipes might also be appreciated.

 

 

hbo-netflix-hulu-amazonA subscription to Netflix, or HBO NOW, Amazon, or Hulu (Varies, generally about $8 to $15/month).  Because right now TV is their best friend, after you for getting them more TV.

 

 

 

Calm meditation backgroundA subscription to meditation apps like Headspace ($95/year with chocolate) or Calm ($60/year).  They might need this even more than the TV.  For what it’s worth, I’ve only tried the free trial of both apps and prefer the woman’s voice in Calm infinitely more than the man’s voice on Headspace, but online reviews say Headspace offers more comprehensive guided meditations (and comes with chocolate).  So, I’d say try the free versions and see which you (or they) prefer, or maybe they’re hardcore and can stick to a meditation program without hand-holding apps.

 

 

couch tableA couch table ($20) or remote control holder ($13).  If your injured runner is literally stuck on the couch all day, they will create a little nest of items they need within reach.  Help them feather this weird little nest of snacks and tissues and magazines and lip balm with this sad table and/or couch pouch.  What’s even sadder?  Those cookies don’t come with that table.

 

 

 

cashmere-travel-wrap-in-greyAn expensive cashmere travel wrap from White & Warren ($209 to $350).  A runner definitely couldn’t or shouldn’t run in this, but it would go great with their couch and some ice cream.  (It’s also great for flights to all their future races when they’re better, or to wrap up in when they need a cozy nap after long runs.  It’s also unisex!  And it comes in many, many colors!  Have I convinced you yet that this scarf/blanket is worth $300?  No?  Well then, fleece blankets are on sale at Old Navy for $5, normally a whopping $10.)

 

 

 

adidas superstars

Adidas Superstars ($80) or other fashion sneakers (varies).  Runners have soooo many pairs of running shoes.  The interwebs and the KardashianHadids tell me sneakers have become fashionable, but only the cute impractical sneakers, not Frankensteinen Hoka One Ones.  I always feel a little guilty buying sneakers I can’t run in, since I already own so many sneakers and it’s a waste if they’re not functional, right?  But if your runner can’t run, it doesn’t matter! Get them some fun fashion sneakers that are not appropriate for running and they can finally enjoy them guilt and run-free.

 

 

betsey johnson pom pom glovesBetsey Johnson Pom Pom Gloves. (At Macy’s, regularly $32, on sale for $22.40, with code “FRIEND” only $15.68!) These aren’t running gloves, and look like they’d be quite impractical for running or even life in general if you ever want to put your hands in your pockets or keep your fingertips warm, but damn do they appeal to the 14-year-old girl in me.  The male equivalent would be… what?  I’m not sure, but probably these.

 

 

vrai-oro-trillian-diamond-necklaceDainty gold jewelry from Stone & Strand or Vrai & Oro (Varies, $50 to $$$).  I mean, one could run in it, but it looks better while not running so people can admire it for longer.

 

 

 

secure double walled electric kettleTea and Sympathy (Free, almost).  While I didn’t love talking about my injury, I did appreciate it when friends would check in, and I appreciated it even more when they’d stop by my prison cell apartment or made plans to see me that I could handle (e.g. at a nearby bar or restaurant, or planned an activity where I didn’t have to walk – like sitting on a park bench listening to a podcast together, or going to a movie theater with full reclining seats).  Even just encouraging your injured runner to crutch around the block if they’ve been inside all day will help them shake off the funk of watching TV nonstop and worrying they’ll never run again.  I have to say that those outings were the best presents I received this year, even if they weren’t intended as presents.  If you literally want tea and are in the market for a water boiler (aka “kettle”), I really like this one from Amazon.  It’s lined in stainless steel (thus avoiding any plastic taste or fear of shattered glass), boils quickly, and is only $32.  You deserve the upgrade for being such a good friend.

 

What do I want for Christmas 2016?  A non-broken ankle, a non-ruined body, and the last 8 months of my life back.  Not possible?  Then I guess chocolate.  Or that cute guy from PT.

 

What do you buy yourself when you’re injured?  What’s the best present you gave or received this year?  What do you want for Christmas?  Share in the comments!

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners in 2015 – Good Stuff & Weird Stuff

Some of the (mostly weird) stuff I recommend for runners!

Some of the (mostly weird) stuff I recommend for runners!

A gift guide before Thanksgiving?  Yep, that’s apparently what we’re doing now!  So, it’s (already) that time of year again…  The time of year where you have to do a lot of holiday tasks, like possibly roasting a turkey, possibly sending out Christmas cards, possibly decorating cookies, possibly doing some extra cleaning in case you’re having guests over and you don’t want them to know how you actually live, and definitely shopping for yourself under the guise of holiday gift-giving.  To help you, I’ve highlighted some of the nifty gadgets and gear any runner (aka you yourself) would enjoy.  (For more ideas, click here for my extensive wish list from 2013 and here for my “dupes” edition from 2014.)

 

The Good Stuff!

Soundpeats Bluetooth Headphones – I’ve finally found a pair of bluetooth headphones I love!  The SoundPEATs Q9A Bluetooth 4.1 Wireless Sport Headphones fit well in my ear (almost too well, blocking quite a bit of ambient noise) and hook over my ears ensuring a sturdy fit and no bounce, but can still be worn with sunglasses.  They’re lightweight, the cord doesn’t get in the way or make noise, the battery seems to last quite a while (they claim 5 hours but I haven’t tested them), and they even have a microphone for calls (which I only just discovered, thanks Mom!).  Occasionally I’ll get some interference or a dropped signal, but it usually resolves itself in a second or two.  The controls (on/off, volume up/down) are small and I wish they had a separate skip button (instead of having to hold down the up volume), but otherwise these are currently the bluetooth headphones to beat.  (SoundPEATs Q9A Bluetooth 4.1 Wireless Sport Headphones, currently $50 at Amazon, sometimes on sale at Amazon for $30.)

 

Athleta topAthleta Neothermal temperature control top – I don’t own one of these (yet…) so I don’t know if they really work or not, but the idea sounds fabulous – a winter top that magically regulates your temperature so you’re never too hot or too cold.  How does it do this?  With magic???  I don’t know!!!  (Neothermal Top, $79 at Athleta.com.  Note that reviews say it fits small, so consider sizing-up, and to wash it inside-out to prevent snags.  Also available in a hoodie version.)

 

Vizlet snowflakeVizlet Snowflake – I’ve loved Vizlets for years now, and this season they have a cute new snowflake shape.  Be seen, be safe.  (Vizlet LED Snowflake, $10 each at Amphipod.)

 

 

Fenix HL23 Headlamp – After my headlamp disaster at Ragnar Trail New England, I wanted to get a nice, powerful headlamp.  I’ve also committed to taking the NYRR running class at 6:30 pm, which currently starts and ends in the dark, so I felt like I could justify spending some cash on another headlamp.  I went with my Ragnar teammate’s recommendation and got the no-BS Fenix HL23 150 lumen LED headlamp (currently $35 at Amazon, includes two batteries, requires one battery).

 

Phillips Wake-Up Light – In keeping with the light theme, let’s round it out with this sunrise alarm clock.  I’ve been skeptical about these things for years, but after noticing how it’s dark now almost the entire day (and it’s still only mid-November!), I finally got one during an Amazon Gold Box sale.  I’ve been using it the last week or so and while I don’t know if it really makes a difference in mood or energy levels or any of that jazz, it is a lot nicer to wake up to a bright bedroom than a dark one.  This could be an especially nice present for the runner who wakes up early to run, or for your single friend who doesn’t have to compromise on their alarm situation.  (Phillips Wake-Up Light with Radio, currently $119 at Amazon, newer, fancier version Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light With Colored Sunrise Simulation available for $115 with instant coupon.)

 

Garmin Forerunner 225 – Ugh, I already have a great Garmin (my Garmin 620, currently on sale at a jaw dropping $240 with heart rate strap included, originally $450) but now really I want the 225.  I love my Garmin but hate wearing the chest strap, so I almost never do.  This new Garmin 225 (pictured at left) has a heart rate monitor built into the watch itself – no more uncomfortable strap!  Huzzah!  Will knowing my heart rate change the way I’m currently training?  Probably not, but still – heart rate without strap!  (And it’s currently on sale at Amazon for $266, regularly $300.)

 

Luggage – Everyone always needs a new bag.  No?  You have plenty?  You must be mistaken.  Get a new bag.  Pretend you’ll use it to carry stuff to the gym, or to an out-of-state-marathon, or on a trip around the world.  Fantasize.  Get another bag.  Repeat.  (Price on bags and fantasies vary.)  (The bag on the left is Heys America Lightweight Pro 21″ Carry-On Spinner, the lightest-weight dual-bar handle spinner I found after copious research (only 5.1 lbs), available on Amazon for $112 with free shipping, but might be cheaper elsewhere on the interwebs.  The backpack on the right is the Adidas Rumble, available in multiple colors at Amazon from $20 to $49 (price depends on color), is lightweight, water-resistant, and holds a ton.)

 

Weird (but still really good!) Stuff

 

Ruby’s Lube & Monistat Anti-Chafe Powder Gel – Ruby’s is my current favorite anti-chafe product for my feet and Monistat’s Powder Gel is my favorite anti-chafe product for bra lines and other, um, sensitive areas.  Good gift items because nobody wants to buy this stuff but all runners need it. (Ruby’s Lube, 3 oz tube plus free mini tube, $15, & Monistat Anti-Chafe Powder Gel, 3 for $21 or 1 for $9.75 both at Amazon.)

 

Folca Pill Case – This isn’t specifically running related, but I learned about this case at EMT camp this summer and now it’s something I’ll never travel without.  It’s about the size of a thick deck of cards and has 8 compartments (4 small, 3 medium, and 1 large).  I recommend filling it with whatever OTC meds you use or might need on a trip, and then LABEL everything with the brand name, the generic name, the amount of active ingredient per pill, the expiration date, and ideally the dosage if there’s room (there’s a plain space on the case you can use to tape a small piece of paper with dosages printed on it).  This ensures no forgetting which pill is which like when they’re all just dumped into a single container (like I used to do) and lets you know exactly what’s in each pill (extra handy if you’re overseas and need to restock, since you’ll have the generic name right there).  Note that this case is not completely airtight or waterproof.  Also, I do not recommend using this case for prescription medication – that you should keep in the bottle with your prescription information on it.  [Shhhhh…. I made one of these for my parents and each of my siblings, which took a long time (and a lot of pills), but I hope they’ll find it as Type-A pleasing as I do.]  (Folca Pill Case, $5.80 at Amazon.)

 

Skinny Pop Popcorn – This also isn’t exactly running related, but it is the most delicious 100-calorie snack I’ve found.  I’ve eaten multiple, multiple boxes of this stuff, and I never get tired of it, because it’s simply popcorn with a little salt and oil.  Freakin’ delicious, and sorta healthy I guess (and definitely better for you than those three-flavored tubs of popcorn that go stale after a couple days but you still eat because you can’t stop eating waste food), and no one would be disappointed to get a box of this stuff this holiday.  They might be puzzled, but not disappointed.  (Box of 30 for $25.66 at Amazon.)

 

Stamina X Adjustable Height Plyometric Box – They have adjustable-height plyometric boxes?  That’s almost inspiring enough for me to consider getting one someday!  (Stamina X Adjustable Height Plyometric Box, $200 at Amazon.)

 

Undress dressUndress dress – My sister got this for me last Christmas (while it was still a Kickstarter project) and it’s pretty nifty (sorry I haven’t done a proper review of it – I haven’t actually used it in the wild yet).  It allows you to change without exposing yourself (sort of like the Chawel – but instead of changing inside a bag/towel, you slip the dress on over your bottom and under your top, so when you peel off your top layers you’re just wearing the dress.)  If that’s confusing to you like it was to me, visit their website for the video.  (The Undress, $79.)

 

 

Just Weird Stuff

 

Gotta go running skirtThe Gotta Go Running Skirt – Another Kickstarter project, this is basically running shorts with a skirt on top and a trap door on the crotch, so you can just drop the flap and pee behind a bush, without exposing yours.  It’s a great idea if you don’t wear underwear when you run, don’t ever poop when you pee, and don’t mind not wiping before closing the trap door and running with urine-speckled shorts.  (The Gotta Go Running Skirt, $75 on Kickstarter but MSRP of $79 – what savings!)

 

 

Race Dots or Race Clips – Can you not be trusted with sharp objects?  Do you have issues with safety pins?  Are you good about bringing small objects to a race?  Are you good about then saving those small objects after a race and not losing said small objects?  Do you not mind having extra weight (e.g. magnets, plastic clips) on the front of your running shirt?  Do you like spending money on something you’ve been getting for free?  Then race dots or race clips might be the perfect thing for you!  (BibBits Magnetic Race Bib Holders, $17 with shipping at AmazonEventClip Pinless Bib Race Number Fasteners, $8 with shipping at Amazon, Magnetic Bib Dots, $36 with shipping at Amazon.)

 

tigerlady clawstigerlady claw singleTigerLady Self-Defense Claw – OMG.  It’s a device you grip in your hand during a run, and when you squeeze it literal claws come out, so you can scratch your attacker and run away with DNA evidence.  Just don’t accidentally reach up to wipe sweat out of your eyes!  OMG omg OMG.  (TigerLady Self-Defense Claw, one for $29 or get the “running grips” package, two for $51 – one for each hand!)   (Mom, please don’t even consider getting this for me – I already have like a dozen.)

 

What’s on your holiday wish list?  What have you already bought for yourself?  Are you going to have more nightmares about the TigerLady or the pee pee shorts?  Share in the comments!

Packing “Light” for a Fall Marathon

Yes, this is packing light for me.

Yes, this is packing light for me.

I haven’t done a normal marathon packing post in a while, and since I have four fall/winter marathons coming up, all (?) of which I’ll be traveling to without renting a car, I thought I’d share my experiments with packing “light.”  For this trip, I’m flying out to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, running the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, and flying back on Monday night.

 

I plan on visiting the Mall of America (to ride a roller coaster!) on Monday before my flight, so I’ll have all my luggage with me then (they have lockers for rent at the mall).  I’m also using the metro system a lot (to get from the airport to downtown (where my hotel is, not far from the marathon start), from downtown to the expo and back, and probably from the marathon finish back to downtown (unless I use one of the race’s buses)) so I decided to go with a small roller bag plus an expandable briefcase-style bag that will slip over the rolling bag’s handle for ease of carry.  I considered using my normal roller but I wanted to see how two smaller bags would work, and I also considered using just one large backpack and skipping a roller altogether, but I thought I’d get tired shlepping all my stuff through the airport and on the trains.

 

Ok, so what’s all in the picture above?  Starting from top left and working (sorta) down and across:

Packing stuff left side

  • Lipault Wheeled Pilot Case – fits two packing cubes, all my toiletries, socks & underwear, massage tools, two sandwich Ziplocs of gels/gummies and Clif bars, and a Garmin watch in a case.  Unfortunately it does not fit my shoes along with all those other items.
  • Nike Studio Kit 2.0 (almost invisibly sitting on top of the roller case) – to use as my “purse” but it’s big enough to fit my kindle, tablet, papers/notebook, snacks, etc.
  • Herschel Supply Co. Packable Daypack – to bring to the expo so I can carry all the expo goodies back
  • Socks and underwear (in Ziploc bags)
  • Hoka One One Clifton – I just got these but they’re actually the Clifton 1 from last year – I loved them in the 10-Miler and hopefully they’ll hold up for the full 26.2 (and beyond!)
  • Road ID (on the shoes)
  • Adidas Adipure Slides – This is the most important new thing I will always pack – slides!  I realized after South Dakota that once I was back in the hotel room, I really didn’t want to put my sneakers on after the race, so I actually just stayed in my room the whole afternoon.  Slides won’t hurt my toes post-marathon, and they can also be used as slippers so your feet don’t have to touch nasty hotel carpet (but can be used as actual shoes unlike slippers).  The Adipure slides are very lightweight.
  • CEP calf compression sleeves – just in case it’s really cold the morning of the race (it effectively transforms my capri running tights into full length tights, although it looks terribly dorky)
  • Garbage bag
  • Assorted head and neck warmers (e.g. Bondi Band, Buff, headband)
  • SPI Running belt
  • Hat (black and grey) – from Target, I think
  • Gloves (pink) – also from Target, I think
  • Oakley sunglass case & glasses (on hat) – I’m actually packing my training sunglasses instead of my fancier photocromatic ones because for some reason I want to wear them.  I got them years ago, but I think they are the Radarlock version?  Or maybe the Radar Path Asian Fit?
  • Packing stuff middle“Regular” sunglasses (on American Flag soft bag – great deal on Amazon – ‘MERICA!) – to wear while not running (I could have downsized here and just brought a single pair, but I splurged and am packing two).
  • Gas Cap Hat
  • Clothes – Zoot Sports IceFil shirt (in case it’s hot), long-sleeved pink shirt (for expected temps), white rain jacket (stained, to toss), pink rain jacket, CW-X Stabilyx 3/4 tights, “Everything Hurts And I’m Dying” cotton t-shirt and comfy black pants to wear Sunday night/Monday, pj shorts, cheap grey fleece to toss, and grey sweatpants & animal-print fleece for bag check (to wear after race).  The weather is supposed to be perfect running weather (partly cloudy and temps in the 40s to a high of 60) so I’m not packing as many “contingency” clothes as I sometimes do.
  • Koss Fitclips headphones
  • Charger and cables
  • Kindle and Samsung Tablet (Galaxy 4)
  • Footstar massage ball and a massage tool (I got the tool at some expo and it doesn’t have the brand on it – sorry I can’t remember! You could try this or this.)
  • Garmin 620 – with charger in a hard sunglasses case (otherwise I find the buttons get pushed in transit and the watch does weird things and dies).  BTW it’s been finding satellites much faster recently in NYC – more satellites up there now?
  • Pink flower, blue flower, and hot pink long gloves (back up at the top of the photo) – I don’t have a great costume for this race, so I’m just going with a pink theme.  No real reason.
  • A. Saks Expandable Tote Bag – only $35 on Amazon right now, this bag will swallow everything you own, so you have to be careful not to overpack (to leave room for Mall of America goodies!).
All packed up!

All packed up!  It’s a surprising amount of stuff, even still!

 

Also, yes, I PACK my marathon shoes.  A lot of space could be saved by simply wearing them, but after I was vomited on twice on airplanes, I pack my precious, precious shoes.

 

The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.

The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.

 

And now for my expectations!  I always try to include my expectations because I think a lot of how someone feels about a race depends on what they were expecting.

  • I’m expecting it to be “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.”

    Twin Cities Marathon elevation miles 20 to 23

    A three mile hill!

  • I think the course is mostly flat to rolling, except for a crazy 3 mile hill between miles 20 to 23!
  • Potentially cold (temps in the 40s at the start), but secretly I’m expecting it to be perfect weather.
  • Easy walk from my hotel to the start, but I’m expecting a long wait for the bus or train back to the hotel, so I’m checking sweatpants and a sweatshirt so I don’t freeze while waiting.
  • I’m aiming for 12-13 minute miles (ideally between 12:00 and 12:30 – or a 5:15 to 5:30 marathon), but I’m not sure how realistic that is considering my training (longest run was a single 16-miler at a much slower pace) and recurring knee pain.
  • And finally, I’m a little worried I’m sick – I’ve felt bad all day today, with a headache that won’t go away and a slight loss of appetite (only slight – I’m not dead!).  I even took a nap but the headache didn’t go away.  So…. yeah.  If I’m sick, I’m sick, and that’s gonna suck and change all of my expectations.  Hopefully I’m just tired and can go to bed early tonight and feel better for my big travel day tomorrow…

 

Have you ever visited the Mall of America?  What’s your favorite flavor of Clif Bar?  Do you have any packing tips or tricks?  Share in the comments!

Gear Review & Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

The chair and table (and sit-pad, tarp, & decorative flags), that served us well at the Ragnar Trail New England.

The last weekend in June I ran my first Ragnar Trail in Massachusetts (“Ragnar Trail New England”) – you can find my expectations and initial packing list here and my race recap/review here.  This post will focus on the gear.

 

Overall, my team pretty much packed the right stuff.  With a little tweaking I think we would have been totally set.  For an updated packing list in PDF form, click here.  For details and thoughts on the items from the original list, see below.

 

Original Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England:  New Comments in Italics

Clothing – Put each running leg outfit in separate labeled Ziploc bag – You do this so (a) in case it starts floating around camp, everyone knows whose stuff it is, (b) you know which bag to grab for which loop, and (c) you can stuff your gross, sweaty gear back into the bag and seal it up until you get home to deal with that mess.

  • Running shirts & bottoms – 3 each – Yep, not much to note on this.  I guess you could re-wear items but that could be kinda gross/uncomfortable especially if you sweat a lot.
  • Running shoes – 1 or 2 pair – If they’ll have a Salomon demo tent (and they probably will), one pair is fine, because you can always check out a demo pair in case yours get too wet or muddy to use.
  • Running socks – 3 to 4 pairs – Definitely bring extra socks especially if you ever end up wearing your socks with sandals in the wet grass…
  • Sports Bra/Undies – at least 3 pairs each – Yes.
  • Hat/visor – 1 or 2 hats – One hat was fine for me but if it had been really cold I might have used a beanie at night.
  • One comfy non-running shirt (for in-between runs) – One shirt was fine, plus you’ll get the race t-shirt when you check in.
  • One pair non-running bottoms (for in-between runs) – e.g. sweats or yoga pants – I wore both my silly American flag leggings and some thin, long jogger pants at night and was still a bit chilly, so if you tend to get cold make sure to bring some cozy sweatpants or long underwear or something for night.  If you run both hot and cold, toss in a pair of shorts for daytime, too.
  • One pair non-running (shower) shoes – Didn’t need shower shoes for New England because there were no showers, but was definitely nice to have a pair of slides to wear between runs.  I like these from Crocs – comfy and lightweight for packing.
  • Warm jacket and/or sweatshirt – A definite must for the chilly night.  I wore both my thin sweatshirt and a lined windbreaker at night.
  • Rain jacket/windbreaker – I wore a thin rain jacket in the rain while we set up camp.  Glad I had it and even more glad I didn’t need it much over the weekend.
  • Costume items & team shirts! – I LOVED our matching team shirts.  Our Runner #6 made an awesome logo out of the American Gladiators logo and our shirts were bright and cheery and looked great together in a group.  Just like for the road Ragnar, I think team shirts are totally worth it, even if they are kinda spendy for a small custom order (I paid $30 for my cotton shirt, I think the tech shirts were a similar price).  We used logosoftwear.com to make our shirts this time.

Running Gear (required)

  • 70+ lumen headlamp (one with a red filter saves your nightvision) – 1 (or more) w/ fresh batteries – I’d say go 120-150 lumen, with 100% fresh batteries (yes, take out whatever batteries you have in there, even if you think they’re good, and swap them out with new ones, and check that sh*t), and carry fresh spare batteries that you have also tested to make sure they work.  Then also carry a backup headlamp that you have also tested with fresh batteries.  And then maybe carry one additional backup for fun.  I used this Princeton Tec 70 Lumen Byte headlamp that I got for only $15 from Amazon which was ok when it had good batteries (it features a red mode, regular mode, and bright mode and takes 2 AAA batteries – it would make a good backup if not your main lamp).  My teammate tried both the Black Diamond Spot 130 lumen headlamp (currently $32 at Amazon) and the Fenix HL23 150 lumen headlamp (currently $35 at Amazon), and he preferred the latter (as it was simpler to use, takes only one AA battery, and “seemed more reliable,” although it doesn’t seem to have a red mode).
  • Cup/bottle for hot & cold beverages (Ragnar Trail is cupless) – 2 – I only really used the one large water bottle I brought and didn’t use my insulated bottle for hot beverages.  I’m not a coffee drinker but I also heard they actually did have cups for the coffee anyway.  Next time I’d just pack one bottle but bring additional beverages like water, Gatorade or Zero Vitamin Water, and some beer and/or whiskey.  They gave out free Nuun water in the village but they used the Ragnar hose water to make it, so it still tasted bad.

Personal Running Accessories

  • Hydration backpack/handheld bottle/water belt/SPI belt – I wore my hydration backpack on every loop (my favorite Nathan Zeal 2-liter – highly adjustable, almost no bounce, and nice big pockets on the front to stash your phone and gels and whatever else you want to tuck away during your run), but most people didn’t carry any water even on the longest 6.5 mile loop.  I’d say do whatever you’re used to and you probably know yourself and whether you’d feel more comfortable carrying water or not.  I needed it because I’m a thirsty person and I’m slow, so even on the shortest loop I was out there for 45 minutes (and almost 2 hours on the longest loop, and one water stop over 2 hours wasn’t going to cut it for me).
  • Watch or GPS – Some of my teammates didn’t have a watch, but since the miles weren’t marked on the trails it was reallyreally great to know how far you had gone out there, especially since .2 miles felt like 2 miles sometimes.  The only downside was looking at your watch every 5 minutes and realizing you’ve gone like .1 miles.  I’m still using and enjoying my Garmin 620, although I almost never wear the heart rate monitor anymore.  
  • Sunglasses – More crucial for walking around camp and the village than for running the shaded trails, actually!
  • Buff or headband for ears – Never needed it but glad I brought it, but they also had two different vendors handing out free buffs in the Village, so you might be able to snag a free one (or two).
  • Gaiters – Surprisingly did not need these!  I didn’t get any rocks in my shoes at all – actually got more rocks in my shoes during the Deadwood Mickelson “Trail” Marathon.  If you don’t already own gaiters, don’t buy them for just this race.
  • Tall compression socks/calf sleeves (for brush) – Did not need these, either!  They would be fine for recovery but you don’t need them to protect your legs on the trail.  Again, don’t buy them just for this race if you don’t want to.
  • Hair ties/hairbands – Yep.
  • Gloves – Didn’t need these but glad I had them just in case. 
  • Road ID – in case of emergency – Wore mine on my shoe but forgot to swap them to my demo shoes.  Luckily our Captain entered any critical allergy info for the team so if one of us had gone down someone probably would have gotten that info.  Nevertheless, try to have ID on you especially if you do have allergies or a medical condition.
  • Additional handheld lights/headlamps – YES.  See above comments on my newfound headlamp obsession.
  • iPod & headphones (discouraged on trail) – Never used except when sleeping in camp (my trick is to sleep with in-ear headphones plugged into my phone to dampen the noise around me and so my alarm will wake me but not my teammates.  One teammate who runs with headphones ended up taking his off shortly into his run, preferring to concentrate on the trail instead.
  • Cell Phone – pre-programmed with teammates numbers & photos of course maps – I carried my phone on all three loops, mostly to take pictures.  Never needed it for an emergency and there were always plenty of other runners around so if someone did need help it would have been easy to get.  There’s decent service around on the trails and at the Village, so definitely bring your phone in general to camp.

Personal Miscellaneous

  • Toiletries – toothbrush & paste, hairbrush, etc. – Yep.
  • Sunblock & Chapstick with SPF – Yep.
  • Body Glide/anti-chafe – Although not strictly necessary for short runs like this, I almost always wear anti-chafe on my toes and I like to have it in case some weird thing starts bugging me.  I now use three different anti-chafe products depending on the area of body and my mood (anti-chafe being like a runner’s makeup…) – Ruby’s Lube (mild ingredients that smell herby), Sportslick (smells a little like coconut oil although there’s no coconut in it), and the unfortunately branded Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder Gel (smells like nothing to me and disappears on skin but still does a good job of protecting sensitive spots).  
  • Towel or Chawel – I ended up not using my Chawel this time, changing inside the tent instead.  I guess I’m glad I had the “most massively useful thing” in the universe, but for Ragnar New England, it wasn’t strictly necessary.
  • Ear Plugs & Sleeping Mask – I didn’t use mine but teammates used theirs.  Good to have and small to pack.
  • Headphones – Again, only used while sleeping, but was very helpful for that.
  • Any medicine you need – Yep.
  • Prescription Glasses/Contacts – Yep.
  • Food & Drinks – special stuff for you (e.g. Gels, electrolytes, chocolate, etc.) – Yep.
  • Cash – small bills – Yep.  I bought one Boloco bowl and a Ragnar merch hat, using cash for former and credit for latter.  

Camping Gear

  • Tent(s) – enough for team, 1 big or a couple smaller – It was really nice to have one big tent  you could stand up in (and where most of us slept at one point or another) and two smaller tents, especially dedicating one of the smaller tents for our gear and for changing (to isolate the funk to one tent).  We got our big tent (Coleman Montana 8) on an Amazon Deal of the Day, but I’d recommend it even at the higher price because of the awesome “screen door” style door that opened and shut without zipping (perfect for frequent, fast, noiseless entries and exits).
  • Tarp – for under tent or as a rug – We used about 3-4 tarps for our campsite – under each tent and for the front of the changing tent so you could walk around without your shoes.
  • Sun Shade (if available) or Umbrella – I read so many bad reviews online for various pop-up canopies I didn’t buy one, but luckily someone on our team was able to borrow one from a friend (so I’m not sure what brand it was) – but it worked great!  It was key for a sun-phobic like me to have a shady place to sit.  See if you can borrow one from someone you know and if not, I think it’s a worthwhile team expense (divided by 8 people it’ll probably only cost $10-15 per person).
  • Camp Chairs & Table – I read that having a chair was important for a Ragnar Trail event and I’d agree – our team brought 2-3 “high” or normal chairs and 2-3 “low” lightweight, portable camping chairs, and they were all almost constantly in use (the normal chairs were more favored).  I got this chair because of our USA theme and it was cheery and pretty comfy, plus it had two drink holder cups which was useful.  If I didn’t need or want a theme chair, and was willing to spend extra money, I might get a chair like this one or this one with a mesh bottom (because the rain and sweaty bottoms made the canvas chairs a little damp).  This $20 chair also has mesh but only in the back, not solving the damp bottom problem.  Having a table was also really nice, even the tiny camping table that I brought, although having a bigger table or a second table would have been nice, too.  
  • Sleeping Bag or Blanket & a Pad/air mattress – Definitely needed a sleeping bag or blanket at night (I used my old 15-degree down bag that seems to have lost its loft – any bag or blanket will do, though).  And it’s always nice to have a sleeping pad for comfort and warmth – I used a Therm-a-rest Z-Lite Sol because it’s pretty cheap ($25 for the small folding one, $20 for the regular size Ridgerest rolling one), doesn’t need inflating, and doesn’t make noise as you shift around (that an inflated mattress sometimes does).
  • Small pillow/inflatable camping pillow – I used my old Cocoon Air-Core pillow but I recommend spending a few extra bucks for the Sea to Summit Aeros ultralight pillow (also available at REI and EMS) as it’s so incredibly compact you can bring it on airplane flights for extra lumbar support or to use while traveling if the hotel pillows are terrible.  If you’ll never go camping again, just bring a small regular pillow from home or a pillowcase and stuff your clothes into a ball.
So tiny yet surprisingly comfortable!

So tiny yet surprisingly comfortable!

Additional Items – One “Kit” per Team

  • Baby wipes – at least 2 tubs, unscented – Definitely nice to have a bunch of baby wipes for “showering.”
  • Bug Spray – We brought, we used, but I didn’t see a lot of bugs – huzzah!
  • First Aid Kit (e.g. bandaids, antibacterial cream, ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, Tums, Pepto, Imodium, allergy meds, tweezers, scissors, cough drops, moleskin, Vaseline, rubber gloves, tampons) – We brought and we used the scissors probably more than anything.
  • Hand sanitizer – 1 large pump bottle – I used this religiously after every gross porta-potty visit, so to me it’s a definite must.
  • Trash bags – a few – We used one bag before we did our check-in (when you get 2 trash bags – one for regular trash and one for recycling).
  • Extra Ziploc bags – I think someone needed one once.  
  • Snacks for the group – e.g. bananas, apples, nuts, jerky, cheese, chips, cookies, candy, pretzels, Twizzlers, granola bars, PB&J, bagels, etc. & gum – I was throughly impressed with the quantity and quality of snacks my team brought, especially considering we did NOT stop at a grocery store on the way!  We had macadamia nuts, chocolate covered mangos, beef jerky, wasabi peas, no-bake cookies, Pop Tarts (I didn’t even bring them!), Reeces Pieces, and other stuff I can’t even remember.  Definitely bring a bunch of fun snacks because half the time the snacking is the entertainment.
  • Drinks – Gatorade or electrolyte drink mix, several gallon jugs of water – We did not bring water and that’s the one big thing I wish we had brought.  The “potable” water provided by Ragnar tasted like water from a dirty inflatable pool and while nobody got sick from it, it was not conducive to wanting to hydrate.  We used some free bottled water from the Village until it ran out, then we just drank the gross water.
  • Portable external battery/solar charger for phones & charging cables – I used my external battery charger (Anker Astro, $18 at Amazon) (only had to use it once near the end) and it was great.  My teammate frequented the Goal Zero charging station in the Village multiple times to keep her phone above 80% just about the entire time.
  • Camera – One team member brought an SLR camera, which was nice.  The rest of us used our phones like millennials.  😉
  • Cards/Games – Another team member brought an awesome selection of games.  We played a couple games and I think it was worthwhile to bring, but next time I’d make more of an effort to play even more.
  • Bluetooth speaker/radio – We had two and we barely used them because Ragnar played music most of the day – I’m moving this to the “optional” section.
  • Decorations for campsite – We had some (paltry) decorations and while we weren’t the absolute least decorated campsite, we were in the bottom third I’d say – not for lack of effort on our part, but because other teams went over the top with some awesome decorations.  We were jealous.  Next time we will have more…
  • Village Schedule & Trail Maps – They post the Village schedule in the Village, and you can also pull it up on your phone, but it was nice to have it printed out.
  • Team pace sheet with ETAs – Definite must.  Definitely use this version and make an effort to try to accurately estimate your times so you’re not waiting around the village worrying that your runner is dead on the trail.  Overall we were slower than we expected because the trails were pretty tough.  Don’t forget a pen!

Optional – Can Skip if $ or Space is Tight

  • Yoga Mat – No one on our team did yoga that weekend.
  • Cooler with ice – Would be nice if filled with drinks.  Our small soft-sided cooler actually kept some ice frozen the entire weekend.  Get ice at the hotel if you don’t need a lot of it.
  • Paper Towels – 1 roll – We actually used our paper towels quite a bit – I’m moving this to the “bring” section.
  • Dry shampoo – One team member (a dude!) brought “Not Your Mother’s” Clean Freak Dry Shampoo, used it a lot, and swore by it.  One other teammate with long hair also used it and got complimented on her hair.  I didn’t try it but I’d give it a “thumbs up” from reputation.
  • Glow sticks – Meh.  I picked up several of these on the trail as trash the next morning, so I’m taking this off the list since they basically just turn into trail trash (and this is why we can’t have nice things).
  • Additional flashlight(s) or Lantern – One of my teammates brought a lantern and it was GREAT.  Really nice to have light at our campsite hang-out area.  I’m bumping this item up to the “bring” section.
  • Massage stick/Foam roller – Someone brought one and used it a bit, but I didn’t.  Optional.
  • Colgate Wisp one-time use toothbrushesI used mine and it was great, but can use regular toothbrush too, of course.
  • Toilet paper and/or Kleenex – We actually did need to use our roll of TP during the porta-potty-pocalypse, so I’d say this is a “bring.”
  • Duct and/or Scotch Tape – Didn’t bring, maybe kinda wanted tape at one point (to stick up our schedule and decorations) but we made do without.  Optional.
  • Shoe anti-odor and drying spray – Didn’t bring.
  • Camping stove (not allowed in many locations) – Didn’t bring although we saw a TON of grills (and smelled their burgers and stuff).  If you’re into this, I’d say bring, but I definitely would not have been willing to take on cooking and cleaning duties (and making sure food didn’t spoil, etc.).
  • Bike(s) – I saw one dude riding around on a bike, but for New England they’re not necessary because the campsite wasn’t all that big and the Village was up a hill you probably wouldn’t want to bike up anyway.

 

One random item not on the original list that I’m including as optional on the updated list – reflective markers or tent stake lights.  Our tent stakes/lines got kicked several times by people walking past our campsite during the night, disturbing several people (especially those sleeping near the tent walls), so it would have been good to have the lines marked with reflective cord or stickers or electric tea lights or something.

 

Again, my updated, unannotated, one-page packing list for Ragnar Trail in PDF format is here.  My packing list for Ragnar road races is here.  I hope to do Ragnar Cape Cod next year, so I expect to update my road packing list again after that.  I’m like Sisyphus with these packing lists and I can’t stop!

 

What do you consider essential gear for a relay race or a camping trip?  When’s your next Ragnar?  How do you feel about camping?  Share in the comments!

Expectations & Packing List for Ragnar Trail New England

Just some of the stuff I'll be bringing to Ragnar Trail New England this weekend.

Just some of the stuff I’ll be bringing to Ragnar Trail New England this weekend.

My first trail Ragnar relay is only a few days away, and once again instead of actually training on trails, I’ve focused on what to pack.  For my first Ragnar Relay I put together an extensive packing list, then revised that list after the race, finding many of the things I brought unnecessary and excessive.  Since this is a camping and trail race, and thus has all sorts of different gear involved, I expect to do the exact same thing again.  I’m nothing if not consistent.

 

For those not familiar with Ragnar, in a nutshell it’s a relay race series.  The “traditional” Ragnar Relay is run with teams of 12 (6 for ultra) split into two vans, covering about 200 miles along open roads.  The trail Ragnars are a newer offshoot.  They’re run on trails (naturally), with teams of only 8 (4 for ultra), and have a “home base” or what they call a “village,” with all exchanges happening in one single location.  That means every team camps in one large area and no one has to worry about driving or getting to the next exchange.

 

Each Ragnar trail race varies, but they all have three loops ranging in difficulty (coded as green, yellow, and red), and everyone runs the same three loops, just in different order.  For Ragnar Trail New England, the loops are 3.5, 4.8, and 6.5 miles long, but cover quite a bit of elevation (e.g. 800 feet in 2 miles!) and sound reasonably technical (especially compared to the Mickelson “Trail” Marathon).  Our team of 8 expects to finish the 118 miles in about 24 hours, give or take a couple hours.  In comparison, our team of 12 finished 197 miles on the road in about 30.5 hours for Ragnar Adirondacks.  I don’t consider either of my Ragnar teams “competitive” in the running sense, mostly because they allowed me to be on them (I’m the slowest runner on the team – gotta be number 1 in something!).

 

Thanks to a lot of dedicated bloggers, there’s a lot of info out there on various Ragnar Trail races, but since this is the first Ragnar at this particular location, there are no reviews on this specific race.  But from skimming many pages of various blogs and the Ragnar website itself, here are some expectations and tips I’ve culled together –

  • Campsites can fill up fast, so I’m glad our volunteer shift is early so our team is “forced” to get there to set up.  Each team is limited to 300 square feet of camping space (or about 17’x17′ feet), which should be plenty, I hope!  One person recommended getting a site that’s easy to see and that’s not too far from the exchange location, but others indicated it’s just a matter of preference in terms of which spot you choose.
  • We will be camping on grass, not a parking lot like some of the other Ragnar Trail races (e.g. Tahoe).
  • Ragnar promises a bonfire, s’mores, and a pasta dinner on Friday night (although most say it’s not a great dinner).  There will be a beer garden (5 pm to 10 pm on Friday and 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday), various yoga sessions, and a movie Friday night (although probably played without sound).  It also looks like there will be lunch and breakfast available for sale, which is great news since I don’t think our team is bringing a camp stove.
  • Most of the trail reviews indicate that Salomon provides shoes to demo, which is great in case your shoes get wet, but it’s unclear if this location will have shoes available.
  • Also unclear if there will be paid shower facilities available – the race bible (“Trail Guide“) says to check the Village page, but the Village page for New England doesn’t say anything about showers (or shoe demos).
  • Some say it can be difficult to know when the next runner is coming in, since they’re out alone on a trail and there’s no way to see or track them (except for the chip mat .2 miles from the exchange).  I also think trail running is in general more variable than road running, so I expect to wait around at the exchange more than for a road Ragnar.
  • At the exchange, you pass the race belt with the number and chip, not the slap bracelet – the bracelets are color coded for the trail you’re about to run, they’re not the baton as in a Ragnar road race.
  • A single headlamp can give you tunnel vision, especially in the fog, so handheld points of light can be helpful.  The Knuckle Lights don’t appeal to me (too bulky seeming and one-use seeming) so I’m going to wear two ultra-compact Petzl E+LITE headlamps on my knuckles instead (I absolutely love that mini headlamp, by the way).
  • Most race recaps make the Ragnar Trail races sound a lot more chill than the road races – no rushing around to find your runner, no need to drive, your team is all in one location, etc.  It sounds like it’s a lot of hanging around with some running thrown in, which sounds pretty perfect to me.
  • Weather forecast for Northfield, MA, calls for highs in mid-70s to lows in mid-50s, with some showers on Friday.  Not too bad, I hope!

Concerns

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

My patriotic folding chair (and table) for our American Gladiators-themed team!

I do have a couple worries about this race – the first involves food (as most of my worries do).  I’m sure we’ll have plenty of snacks but I’m a big fan of hot meals, too.  For the road relay we were able to have a couple normal meals at restaurants during the weekend.  While we’re supposed to get a pasta dinner on Friday, most reviews said it was pretty lackluster and that the lines for the other food can be incredibly long.  I’m not worried about going hungry, it’s just that I don’t want to do my typical thing and eat chips and candy and Pop Tarts for the entire weekend (or do I…?).

 

My second worry is about the bathrooms, since we’ll have to use the same porta potties for the entire weekend.  I’ve seen porta potties get preeeeeeeety gross even in the 30 minutes of use before a race, so I don’t want to dwell on how gross they’ll be after two days, but I do.  I do dwell.

 

My final worry is just the general anxiety of never having done something like this before.  Will we all fit into one van with all our junk?  Will our tent work out?  Will any of us get any sleep?  How will we carry all our stuff to our campsite?  Will I get bitten by a tick with Lyme disease?  Will they run out of beer before I decide to have one?  Will I be able to maintain even a 14-minute pace on those intense trails?  Will my teammates like me???  It helps me articulate my fears on the interwebs because I think Google is working on some new AI that will prevent bad things from happening as long as I blog about them.  (Will I die alone covered in ticks in a dirty porta potty?  Google please get on preventing that!)

 

Logistics

Our team will be driving up from NYC to Massachusetts in a big van on Thursday night, staying at the nearby Hampton Inn, then getting to the campsite relatively early on Friday morning to set up and cover our volunteer shift (every non-ultra team has to cover one 3-hour volunteer shift or pay $120).  There’s a “Big Y” grocery store right across from the hotel, so we might hit that up for snacks and drinks.  I’ll be sure to grab a box of Pop Tarts or two.

 

The race location is at Northfield Mountain, which is a little over 2 hours west of Boston or 3.5 hours north of New York City.  Camping there for the race is only allowed from Friday morning to Saturday at 6 pm, when everything has to be cleared out.  I already anticipate an exhausted (and sticky) drive back on Saturday night and wonder if we shouldn’t have tried staying a night in the area, but with so many people it’s hard to coordinate (and I know people wanted to get back home to do things and to save money).

 

Overall, I’m definitely excited for this race, as I looooved my first Ragnar, although I know this one will be different.  Oh, and the packing list?  Yeah, you can find a PDF of that here!  I’ll be sure to update it with comments after the race.  In the meantime, I’d like to highlight one particular item – a small portable external battery charger for your cell phone (that’s otherwise sure to die on the trail).  I like this one from Amazon – it’s only $18, it’s pretty dang small, it holds its charge well, and it can re-charge my iPhone over 3 full times.  Or you can get a little one like this for ten bucks – always handy to have in your bag.  Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, but feel free to contact me with any questions.  I used this awesomely helpful website to make our team’s pace sheet.

 

Have you ever run a Ragnar Trail?  Do you like to go camping?  Do you think Sasquatch lives only on the West Coast or does he occasionally venture East?  Share in the comments!

Reflective Jacket by WTFinish

Gift Guide for Runners – 2014 “Dupes” Edition

Reflective Jacket from Wheres the Finish

Guess who!

I’m a little late on the holiday gift guide this year, but that’s allowed me to review many other runner gift lists and hopefully not bore you with things you’ve seen already (is there literal magic in the Oiselle New Flyer jacket, $140, that it’s on everyone’s  list?).  If you’d like to see a thorough gift idea list, click here for last year’s guide.

 

But let’s be honest, you’re just shopping for yourself at this point so it doesn’t really matter when you get the goods as long as you get them.  Just remember that all the running stuff you buy only helps you become a healthier, happier, better person, and you can’t put a price on that.  Or actually, you can, since if you bought everything on this list it would cost $838 for the high-end products but only $134 for the cheaper versions.  Sometimes it’s worth buying high-end stuff, but sometimes a great dupe (aka duplicate) can be just as good.  Hopefully this guide will actually end up saving you some money, since there are some great dupes below at great prices!

 

  • All-Over Reflective Jacket – $33 (!!! with shipping included) to $500 – You’ve all seen the Nike Flash gear by now.  It’s really expensive and fancy so it kinda makes laughing at this okay.  They don’t even make the all-over flash jacket anymore – this year it’s dots, $495, or half flash, $350.   I lusted after those jackets last year but decided not to get one (even on sale) after I tried them on and found them too heavy and hot.  My search for an all-over reflective jacket did not end, however.  I considered the Lululemon Bomber Jacket, $228, but it looked too short, heavy, and still so expensive!  But huzzah, I’ve finally discovered a fantastically cheap all-over flash jacket that’s not too heavy – on eBay (Fashion Woman Mens Unisex 3M Reflective Windbreaker Jacket, $23 plus $10 shipping)!  Delivery takes about a month since it’s shipped directly from China, but it’s worth the wait.  It’s a little sketchy since they are clearly branded as Supreme jackets but nowhere in the description do they list the word “Supreme,” but it’s a legit seller and the product is good.  It’s totally reflective all over (minus the Supreme logo) and lightweight enough to wear while running in cool to cold temps (it feels like a rain jacket, so not very breathable, but I wasn’t expecting that from 3M flash material).  Note that the sizing is “Asian” which in this case means “small.”  I ordered the unisex size Medium and it is a tight fit around my hips (laid flat out on the floor the bottom hem measures 19.5 inches across), and while I successfully wore it in the snow last night (and stayed totally warm), I’d prefer a larger size.  It’s also a little bit short on my gorilla long arms, and the pockets aren’t nearly deep enough (I plan on adding some velcro to the pockets so lip balm or tissues don’t fall out).  It has a nice, solid plastic zipper, a non-detachable hood, and velcro along the main zipper and at the cuffs.  It’s not a totally fully featured jacket, but it’s pretty dang good for any jacket at that price, let alone a 3M reflective one.  If you would like a “half-flash” option for even less than that, check out the “Harajuku 3M reflective stars leopard splicing charge trench coat Jacket” for $25 with free shipping (there’s no size choice and it’s listed both as a “women’s M” and a “L” so who knows exactly what size it will be, but it’s cute and cheap!).  There are also similar jackets for even less listed at Aliexpress, but their payment confuses me so I stuck with the more familiar eBay.  None of these will arrive in time for Christmas, but you can put an I.O.U. under the tree, or just keep them all for yourself.  
Reflective Jacket by WTFinish

So shiny!

  • All-over Reflective Hat – $10 to $50 – Ok, so I’m obsessed with reflective gear.  I take crossing the road and running in traffic seriously!  So before I found the jackets, I actually got an all-over reflective hat from Nike (Nike AW84 Hat, $50).  It’s not bad, albeit plenty dorky.  Then I found a slightly-less-dorky-looking-but-still-reflective hat from Forever 21, of all places, and it’s only $10!  (Reflective Night Runner’s Cap, $9.90)  The Forever 21 hat has a stiffer brim and black mesh on the top and sides, making it more breathable and slightly less dorky-looking.  The reflective material is also not as reflective as the Nike hat nor the Supreme jacket, as you can see in the photo below (taken with flash in a well-lit room).  It’s still more visible than a normal hat, so at 10 bucks I say it’s still a “buy.”
Nike hat, Forever 21 Hat, Supreme jacket reflective

The Nike Flash hat, Supreme reflective jacket, and the “reflective” hat from Forever 21.

  • Bluetooth Hat or Headband – $30 to $99 – I’m still seeing AcousticSheep SleepPhones, $40, make it onto “new” holiday gift lists (cough cough Today Show cough cough) even though they’ve been around for what feels like centuries (Amazon tells me I ordered them in January 2011).  They’re ok, I guess, but that stupid cord is still stupidly annoying.  AcousticSheep now sells a wireless version for $99.  And yet Target is selling bluetooth (that means wireless, Mom) hats (Bluetooth beanie, $30) and headbands (Bluetooth Headband, $30, unfortunately out of stock right now) and nobody is covering this.  This is news, people!  I ordered some for gifts (shhh don’t tell!) and of course one for myself, which I’m wearing right now.  It just arrived today so I haven’t put it through its paces yet, but so far it paired quickly with both my phone and laptop, held its connection even when I walked all the way across my apartment and into another room, and it’s plenty loud enough, which is about the only audio review I can give, since I’m totally not an audiophile and my favorite earbuds are 11 bucks.  I can tell that the right speaker seems louder than the left, and the electronics seem a little flimsy, so I worry they’ll break easily, but they slip out of the headband very easily so you can wash the gross off the actual headband.  The headband itself is quite thin so wouldn’t provide much warmth in the winter, but I think it would block the wind and it’s thin enough you could just wear a regular hat over it if you’re cold.  All-in-all, I definitely would take a chance on this over the $100 headband.  Plus everything ships for free from Target from now until Christmas!
Bluetooth headband from Target WTFinish

The only bluetooth headband available from Target last week – the headbands are all sold out now but hats are still available!

  • All-Weather Paper – $13 to $25 – I’ll admit I got this idea from the Runner’s World Gifts Under $30 list where they suggest using it to print trail maps for running.  But then I found this version on Amazon for only $13 with free shipping, and it’ll work with my laser (not inkjet) printer.  I haven’t actually ordered any yet, but the reviews are good.
  • Wool Socks & Underwear – $16 to $60 – (This isn’t really a “dupe” item, it’s just a solid gift idea.)  The temperature has finally dipped low enough in NYC that I’m breaking out my wool hiking socks for running, but it would be nice to have wool socks that are actually for running (like Darn Tough Vermont Women’s 1/4 Merino Wool Ultra-Light Athletic Socks, $16, Men’s version here).  Since wool has both magical anti-stink properties and is warm while wet, I’ll be wearing wool underwear (not just long underwear, but Icebreaker Botanical Hipkinis, $30) and even a wool sports bra (Smartwool PhD Seamless Racerback Bra, $60, but I’ve occasionally seen it on sale for $35) for my camping trip around Crater Lake next year.  Besides finding the items on sale, I guess the dupe here would be to find other brands, although since we’re talking about wool next to your most precious skin, you might want to stick with a name brand, like the well-reviewed items above.  Check out Sierra Trading Post for constant sales on stuff like good wool socks.
  • Lightweight Jogger Pant – $27 to $89 – Unlike people who hate ugly and comfortable clothing, I love that jogger pants and tapered sweatpants are all over stores right now.  They’re not for actual running, mind you – they’re to remind you and others that you might have in the past or will in the future be running.  Some of us are celebrating the end of the tyrannically tight yoga pants and are proudly wearing only clothing that can be confused with pajamas or found on those who have given up in life!  So I love Athleta’s City Jogger Pant, $89, but I also love not spending $100 on what are essential track pants.  Luckily, Athleta’s sister brand Old Navy has me covered with some similar pants (Active Lightweight Warmup Pants, $27, but there’s always a sale) and striped sweatpants (Side-Stripe Fleece Pants, $18, so not the same thing, I know, but they were on sale for $11 last week), and Marshall’s was just selling some thin jogger pants that were definitely Athleta-style for about $30 (photo below but no link is available – check your local store for availability).  I like these pants for travel because they are incredibly lightweight and dry quickly, and I can pretend they are fancier than jeans and wear them as such.
Lightweight jogger pants by WTFinish

RBX brand jogger pants from Marshall’s, thank you.

  • Headbands – $5 to $15 – Those sparkly bands look pretty but they always slip off my head and they don’t really do anything besides keep my bangs off my face (until they slip off, and then they really don’t do anything).  Bondi Bands are not quite as cute but they are effective at corralling stray hair and not slipping off, plus they double as ear protection.  A lot of time I just need to block the wind from my ears, and Bondi Bands are great for that.  Plus they have a large selection on sale for $5 at any given time (even ones that look like Frootloops, French Fries, or Jelly Beans).
Headbands from Wheres the Finish

A sparkle band (Sweaty Bands brand) & two Bondi Bands. Guess which one I wear the most?

 

Finally, a note on something I’ve found on every single holiday gift list focused on runners (including mine from last year, grimace) – compression socks and/or calf sleeves.  You know my love of compression gear, and I don’t step foot on a plane without wearing compression socks or calf sleeves (more recently I prefer the calf sleeves as they feel less constricting & let me wear a weird American flag design on my lower legs).  However, it’s one of those gifts that is basically impossible to give to someone else.  Why?  Because you have to know the calf circumference of the person wearing them.  Do you even know your own calf circumference?  No, you do not.  Which is a good thing, because it probably changes over the year with training and ice cream and not-training, forcing you to measure yourself before you buy something as tight as compression socks.  If you know the calf circumference of your giftee, then you’ve been measuring them while they are asleep, and that’s creepy.  If you want to share your enthusiasm for compression gear, give your giftee a link or photo of what they should buy along with a gift card.  Or just buy them a reflective jacket.

 

What’s on your holiday wish list?  How many reflective jackets are you going to order?  Does anyone know a dupe for actually running the miles?  Share in the comments!  

Zensah compression sleeves

Test Run & Zensah Calf Compression Sleeve Mini-Review

Zensah compression sleeves

At least my calf tan line might fade a bit…

I’ve spent every other day for the past week doing at-home PT exercises and the Runner’s World “IronStrength” workout (well, some of exercises, and not as many reps or sets as RW recommends even for a “beginner”…), and icing and resting the rest of the time.  I’ve also taken a two-week break from running, which was easier than it should have been even though it gave me nightly highly-realistic dreams about earning various DNFs at marathons.

 

Since the Hatfield McCoy Marathon is less than a week away, I went for a 3-mile run today to test how my shin splints are doing.  I wore some new Zensah calf compression sleeves (pictured above – USA pattern for patriotism!) as people say it’s supposed to help with posterior shin splints, even though it was sunny and 86 degrees out and left no skin on my lower body exposed, plus it made me look like the biggest dork and poser runner in a park filled with dorks.  I’m Queen of the Dorks!

 

The good news is my leg felt pretty good!  If anything, my knees hurt more than my shin.  The bad news is that it also felt like I have never run before in my life.  I was gasping for air and taking walk breaks every couple minutes.  Whose bright idea was it to take a two-week break from running?  Oh right, that was my idea.  Well, it literally sucks wind.

 

Actually, I can’t say it was a terrible decision, because it does seem like my leg has healed to some degree and I feel like I can at least run a little bit without pain, but I definitely feel even fatter and slower than ever.  The Blerch and I have become one.  Despite the fact that even the modified Runner’s World workout left me breathless and drenched in sweat, it’s apparently no substitute for running or cardio.  I could have (should have) gone to the gym to bike, and I definitely should have scaled back on the chocolate and granola, but I did not, and now it’s only 5.5 days until I have to run 26.2 miles.

 

I’ll save my full “expectations” of the Hatfield McCoy Marathon for my next post, but in terms of actually being able to finish it, after today’s run I’ll up my odds to a 60/40 chance of finishing (much better than my initial 30/70 prediction), but I expect it to take over 6 hours.

 

As for the Zensah calf compression sleeves, I don’t know if they helped all that much, but they didn’t hurt (except for making me marginally warmer on a warm day).  They feel supportive but not constricting, and the material is soft although it does leave subtle imprints in my skin (but I have tissue-paper-onion-air-mail skin that bruises when I scratch an itch, so your results will vary).  I plan on wearing them until I’m confident my shin splints aren’t a problem anymore.  I’d wear them anytime I run except I really do look like a Grade A dork in them since I wear 3/4 capri tights instead of those shorty “runner shorts” that look cute with a knee high sock, and the tights overlap with the sleeves in a decidedly awkward manner.  Not that looking like a dork has stopped me from making many, many questionable fashion choices in the past, nor will it in the future (I wear more clothing to swim than is required by certain religions to avoid the wrath of God).

 

What’s the dorkiest thing you wear when you run?  Do you find this mild summer weather to feel like 1,000 degrees since we’re still not acclimated yet?  Or did you spend all weekend inside binge-watching Orange Is The New Black?  Share in the comments!

Wearing my Garmin 620 (with WTF bracelet and slim Road ID)

Gear Review – Update on Garmin Forerunner 620

Wearing my Garmin 620 (with WTF bracelet and slim Road ID)

Wearing my Garmin 620 (with WTF bracelet and slim Road ID).

I loved my Garmin 620 the second I opened the box – it was so thin and had such a beautiful touchscreen face (that responded well to even my winter-gloved fingers) it was like looking into a mini portal into a speedy future.  It also found the satellites almost instantly and I didn’t have to stand and wait around like a junkie for a fix.

 

It found the satellites quickly, that is, until it didn’t.  The 620 was initially so fast at finding satellites that I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t locking on anymore, and I would start my run inadvertently using the built-in accelerometer tracking my miles instead of the much more accurate (and nifty map producing) GPS.  I’d be running along in Central Park and the watch would tell me my pace so I thought I was using GPS, forgetting that the 620 had the accelerometer feature that my old 110 did not.  When I got home to download my data, Continue reading

Packing for Cincinnati Flying Pig

Prepping & Packing for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon – Gear & Expectations

Packing for Cincinnati Flying Pig

All my stuff for Cincinnati – can you spot the two *handcrafted* flying pigs?

 

I’m getting ready to go to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon this weekend, and as usual my preparation is focused on packing and costumes instead of actual training.  These past two weeks have been a bit alarming, as some lower inside shin pain has aborted a few of my runs (so basically my “taper” has been “totally not running at all,” which is not a good thing).  I’m hoping there will be an actual flying pig at the race that I can ride to the finish line.

 

Instead of focusing on my fitness, I spent a good 45 minutes Continue reading

Packing List for the OCD Runner in You

Packing for Marathon

Admittedly a slightly bizarre staging of my luggage for Little Rock – don’t worry, those granola bars are definitely going in my small hand-carry.

 

As you know, I’m more gear-focused than actual-running-focused, and I basically started this blog just so I could post packing lists.  That’s why I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to post a “Running Travel Packing List” for out-of-town races.  This list includes everything you want and a lot of things you might not need, but it’s meant as a packing checklist that will hopefully alleviate some of the stress that is inevitably attached to any big out-of-town event.

 

It’s in PDF format for easy printing, and there’s a section at the bottom to check before you head out the door for the race (I’ve had to go back up to my hotel room a couple times because I forgot my sunglasses in the pre-dawn darkness).  Yes, it looks like a lot, and it’s maybe a little overwhelming (and includes items that many of you don’t need or use), but I assure you that even if you packed everything it could still fit in a rollerboard that you don’t have to check.

 

Do you think I forgot anything on my list?  Will I see you in Little Rock?  Will I ever get home what with the NYC forecast calling for a foot and a half of snow on Monday?  Share in the comments!