Tag Archives: Gear Review

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!

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

Gear Review – 3 Winners and 3 Losers from 2013

Vespertine vest, pin and bracelet

Vespertine reflective vest and accessories – a winner!

You know I’m a gear junkie and basically only run so I can justify buying running-related gear, but sometimes I come across a product that disappoints or even fails miserably.  Usually I quietly sweep the memories of those failures into the dark recesses of my mind, but today I will parade them out into the harsh light of 2014, in hopes that you do not have to experience similar pain and suffering at the hands of these inferior products.

 

It was tough to pick only three winners, so while I’ve mentioned the products before, they were new to me in 2013 and might not be on your radar, either.  The losers are products I’ve tried and did not like, for one or more reasons.  As always, I’m not affiliated in any way with any of these companies.

 

The Winners!

 

  • Vespertine reflective gearVespertine is a small NYC-based company that makes high-end (and kinda pricey) reflective gear such as vests, coats, and jewelry geared towards cyclists, but a lot of their stuff works for running, too.  I think their accessories are cute and effective, which is always a great combo.  In terms of sizing, I got my first vest in a large (since I wear size large running tops), but it turned out to be way too big (and I had to use safety pins to clip it to my shoulders so it wouldn’t slip around and rub my neck).  I got my second vest in XS, which actually works for me (small might be better, since the XS doesn’t quite wrap around my chest like it probably should, but I worry a larger size will rub my neck like the large size did).  I also love the leaf pin/clip and the leaf bracelets, and they are fully reflective to boot.
  • Level Flip Belt – I’ve been wearing SPI belts for several years now, and I still like them a lot, but lately I’ve been reaching for my Level Flip Belt as the best solution to carry my large-ish phone on the run.  The Level Flip Belt does keep you warmer than a SPI belt (since it’s a double-layer tube of fabric, like wearing a scarf around your waist), so I might switch back to SPI as the mercury climbs, but it carries my phone without any bounce, which is a pretty good trick.
  • The Chawel – You might already know my deep love for the Chawel.  I didn’t know this product existed until 2013, when it saved me from having to sit in wet gear during Ragnar, since it allowed me to change in the van while we were still moving.  In full disclosure, Chawel sent me this newest sports Chawel to try (the sports Chawel is nice and compact and I can’t wait to use it for my next Ragnar), but I already loved them before I had any contact with the company.  The Chawel makes for a nice, compact travel blanket, too.  As we learned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”  If Douglas Adams were still around today, he might amend his choice to the Chawel.

 

The Losers

 

 

  • Fabletics Running Tights (loser runner-up – Gap running tights) – Fabletics is a subscription-based athletic clothing company that sends subscribers a new workout outfit every month for about $50.  Usually the outfit is two pieces (shirt and pants) but sometimes it’s three (e.g. shirt, jacket, tights) and sometimes it’s more than $50.  I tried one month with them (3 pieces for $40 with coupon) but after wearing their tights I have no plans on trying them again.  The tights look fine and feel soft and everything seems peachy when you first put them on, but then … they do not stay up.  The second I start walking in them, the crotch starts creeping down, and after 10 seconds of running I look like Justin Bieber in London.  No matter how many times I yank them up, they immediately slip down again, and are perhaps the most frustrating article of clothing I’ve ever owned (and I once owned a sequin dress that gave me a rash all over my arms… ok, that was worse than the tights).  Other online reviewers rave about Fabletics, so maybe I just got the one solitary bad item they sell, but I also thought their jacket was so thin as to be useless (I haven’t worn it yet, since I have not found an occasion or weather for which a useless jacket would be appropriate) and the t-shirt to be blah.  The only other pair of tights I own that fall down like the Fabletics tights are my Gap tights, but they don’t get the official “loser” title because they have handy reflective stripes on them and only cost $12 on sale (and they don’t fall down quite as badly as the Fabletics tights).  Strangely, my Old Navy tights do not fall down, even though ON is the same brand as Gap.  If you want quality tights, I’ve really enjoyed my Zella “Live In” Leggings (available in plus sizes, too) and my go-to CW-X tights.
  • Nathan Water bottle hip-belt – Apologies for not knowing the exact name and model of this water bottle carrier (I think it’s the Nathan Swift Waist Pack), and I’m sure I bought it before 2013, but 2013 is the year I realized how badly this product works for me.  Since I almost exclusively wear CW-X tights in the summer, the fabric around my waist is always a bit slippery.  This belt cannot abide slippery, and proceeds to spin around my waist like an electron, no matter how tightly I try to cinch it.  The water bottle also makes a sloshing noise whenever it isn’t completely full or entirely empty, and the noise bugs me as it makes revolutions around my waist.  This belt might be fantastic, and only just unsuited to me, so I plan on passing it along to a running friend with adequate warning (and full license to toss it in the trash if it’s unacceptable to him, too).
  • MeCam – This tops my list for Loser of 2013, and probably the decade.  I was so excited when I first discovered this product, since the concept was perfect for a blogging runner – it’s a small camera that you can wear like a pin (the whole thing is 2 or 3 inches across), and at the press of a button it captures either still shots or video.  The problem is, the quality of the photos is so terrible they are not worth taking, plus you can’t tell if the photo will be crooked since the device is round and not well-marked.  Also, the product itself is so shoddy it snapped and fell apart the second I tried to open the pin back (which is just a giant safety pin on a tiny plastic hinge, hence the breaking – it’s not like the pin is incorporated into the plastic housing in any meaningful way).  I quickly returned the product only to be met with the most unpleasant and horrible customer service (from the owner of the company, no less), and not only did I have to pay for shipping both ways, they charged me an exorbitant “restocking fee” despite my timely return and their product’s complete worthlessness.  The MeCam company is a nightmare and their product is total garbage.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to stick with pulling out my cell phone if I want a mid-run photo, or wait until another company develops a small, lightweight wearable camera (GoPro is too bulky for me for a daily basis), or until the day we all have smartwatches that can take photos (or Google Glasses, or bionic eyes).

 

The best part about 2014 is all the new gear that’s out there, just waiting for me to judge it.  I plan on rewarding myself for finishing the Holiday Run Streak with a new Garmin, so I’m particularly excited for that.  Now I just have to actually get outside and start running again!

 

Subscribers, check out the site for photos of the gear.  What were your gear winners and/or losers from 2013?  Did you run outside during the Polar Vortex?  Share in the comments!

Day 16 of Holiday Run Streak – Three Times the Run, plus New Backpack!

NYRR headquarters

NYRR HQ, with holiday flair

I did it!  I ran more than a mile today!  It was a balmy mid-30s so I decided to run both to and from NYRR to pick up my race packet for tomorrow.  It was a solid 3-mile roundtrip, which is ridiculously short in grand terms but three times the amount I’ve run for 16 days, so that’s impressive, right?

 

15k shirt and Hi-Chew candies

The race shirt and the Hi-Chew candies I “earned” with my run today

Since I saved on cab fare by running home, I spent my taxi money on Hi-Chew candies. Extra running and Hi-Chew?  Sign me up every day.  In fact, this makes me think all running should be rewarded in terms of cab fare saved.  Ran 2 miles?  You deserve a small Pinkberry.  Ran a half marathon?  Get yourself a new hat.  Full marathon?  Tech shirt time.  FYI, this game is a lot less fun with subway fare.

 

Front view of Mountain Hardwear's Fluid 6 backpack

Front view of Mountain Hardwear’s Fluid 6 backpack

 

 

The other exciting thing that happened today was that I developed an instant love of my new Mountain Hardwear Fluid 6 backpack (retail price $70, but you can find it on sale around the web).  Now, I didn’t load it up, and I’ve only taken it on one run while wearing a jacket (so it might be less comfortable in a thin t-shirt, but I wouldn’t know yet), but so far signs point to it being awesome gear.  It’s incredibly lightweight (online specs say 9.9 oz) and holds more than just a water reservoir (365 cu in/6 liter total capacity (hence the name), plenty big enough for both a water bladder and a light jacket plus a few random accessories like gloves and your phone).  Note that the backpack does not come with a water reservoir/hydration bladder, so you have to get that separately if you need one.

 

Fluid 6 backpack open

Inside view of the Fluid 6 – you can see the pocket for the hydration bladder, but there are no other internal pockets.

 

Today I skipped the hydration bladder and instead threw in a small water bottle (to test bounce), my phone, and my level flip belt (and on the way back, a long-sleeved t-shirt and race bib) – and it wasn’t remotely full with these items.  The bag has a stretchy compression cord on the front to cinch down the load, plus two chest clips to further reduce bounce.  I’ve barely used any of the features yet (like the little pockets on the front straps), but I’m excited to use this as my new go-to hydration backpack when I actually start running more than one mile at a time.  Also, while it doesn’t have its own self-compression pocket, it does compress down into a tiny package (see photo below), so it’ll be easy to take on travels.

 

 

MH Fluid 6 strap view

Strap and back view of the Fluid 6 – lots of jazz going on there, including one open and one zippered pocket.

 

While today was a successful running day, I can’t even believe I have a 15K race tomorrow.  I will have to repeatedly tell myself that I can always stop at any time, especially if I feel knee pain.  I’d like to think the biggest hurdle will be getting out of bed and out the door in the morning, but I fear that it will actually be running the 9 miles in the cold.  Luckily, the snow isn’t supposed to be heavy until the afternoon, at which point I hope to be finished running.

MH Fluid 6 backpack in a baggie

The Fluid 6 compressed into a quart-sized ziplock baggie (water bottle for scale).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying the 10 degree temperature increase?  Running in the snow tomorrow?  Share in the comments!

Tiger Tail massage stick, Level Flip Belt, and Sprigs wrist pocket

Gear Review – Level Flip Belt, Tiger Tail Massage Stick, & Sprigs Wrist Wallet

Tiger Tail massage stick, Level Flip Belt, and Sprigs wrist pocket

Tiger Tail massage stick, Level Flip Belt (sorry for the upside-down logo), and Sprigs reflective wrist wallet

It’s a bonanza of a gear-review today, as I’m reviewing three products that helped me get through the MDI Marathon and which I plan on bringing with me this weekend to Marshall.

 

First up is the Level Flip Belt – I discovered this item from another blog but then found the product at my local Jackrabbit store, so I could try it on for size.  Lucky I did, too, because I was going to order the large online but ended up with the medium in person, and I’m glad I did – for my size 8 and typical “medium” size in CW-X tights, medium is indeed the right size in the Level Flip Belt.  The belt is basically a tube of material with strategic openings that you can slip items through – the items do tend to shift around inside, since there is no divider stitching, but no worries on anything accidentally falling out through one of the holes (the holes have no zippers or anything, you just slide the items in and flip the belt over to lock the items in against your body).

 

I wore it for the first time on the MDI breakfast run and didn’t even notice it was there, safely carrying my phone and cash.  Then I wore it for the full marathon and did notice it – basically, any belt or bag is going to annoy me over 26 miles, and wearing nothing is always better than wearing something, but it still worked pretty well.  The best part was that the belt swallowed my phone with its giant, rubberized case, and kept it fairly snug over the miles.  My tube of Shot Bloks definitely took a little tour around the inside of the belt, and smaller items like my handi-wipes were even more difficult to find in the recesses of the belt, making it difficult and slightly time-consuming to find those items during the race itself.  But the bounce factor was really minimal, and the design allows for a lot of storage without a lot of bulk.  I’d say it’s a good buy if you’re still unsatisfied with your current race-belt situation, and if you don’t need the race bib toggles or water holders that other belts have.  Basically, the Level Flip Belt is good, no-bounce option to carry medium-sized items or any item you don’t need to access quickly during a race.

 

You’re probably familiar with The Stick massage stick, and might even own one yourself (like I do), but don’t let that stop you from upgrading to a Tiger Tail massage stick.  It’s a solid tube roller covered in a thin foam.  I found the solid design doesn’t pinch as much as the separate beads on The Stick, and the foam is overall more pleasant than the uncoated, hard plastic of The Stick.  It’s also a lot more compact (although I know both brands now make multiple sizes, but if you have an old, original The Stick it’s probably really long and difficult to carry in your luggage).  I don’t love using massage tools (oh foam roller, how you pain me!), but the Tiger Tail is making me a convert.  It was small enough that I could apply good, strong pressure, and the foam-covered tool itself didn’t hurt more than it was supposed to as it rubbed out the knots and broke up the scar tissue in my legs.  I used it before and the many days after the marathon, on both my thighs and calves as well as my shoulders (as a pummel, not exactly as designed, but still effective).  I think it helped, although I won’t be running a marathon and not using the Tiger Tail anytime soon to do a comparison.  It’s already packed away in my bag for the weekend, and I’m almost, just almost, looking forward to using it again.

 

Finally, a little bonus item review, the Sprigs wrist wallet – I picked this up at the Century 21 store because, well, I’m a gear junkie.  I didn’t really know what I was going to use it for, but I liked that it was bright yellow with a reflective stripe and had a secure, zippered pocket.  I ended up using it on every leg of my Ragnar relay, to hold little plastic baggies of blue meth candy to pass out to volunteers and other runners.  I’ve also used it to hold my key, credit card, a gel pack, lip balm, and money (at separate times).  It’s turned out to be a surprisingly versatile little piece of gear!  I’ve also machine-washed and air-dried it several times now, and it still looks like new.  They have different versions of the Sprigs wrist wallet, like one with an additional pouch pocket, but I like the one I have in yellow with the reflective detail (it flips over to plain black, too).

Have you discovered any new running gear you’d like to share?  Anything you’d like me to include in my upcoming “Runners’ Christmas Wish List”?  Share in the comments!

Revlon Pedi-Expert pedicure tool

Gear Review – Revlon Pedi-Expert pedicure tool

Revlon Pedi-Expert pedicure tool

The Revlon Pedi-Expert – Sorry for the open package, I wasn’t planning on reviewing it but it was so good I had to share

If you are eating lunch, I suggest reading this another time.  If you are squeamish, I suggest never reading this.  If I might ever go on a date with you, stop reading this immediately and let us never speak of it again.

 

I finally broke down today and bought a Ped Egg (or rather, the more expensive Revlon equivalent of the Ped Egg, since it was the only brand available at my drugstore).  You’re probably familiar with the Ped Egg from the numerous infomercials, but it’s a plastic pod-shaped device with a metal grater on one side which you use it to shave (or rather grate, or plane) down your calluses.  Essentially, it’s a microplane for your feet.  My sister raved about it years ago but I was always a little afraid of trying something so drastic.  But with my ongoing callus problem (which started when I switched to a midfoot/forefoot strike), I finally bit the bullet, bought the Revlon Pedi-Expert (with “bonus” unwanted nail clipper and emery board) and grated my calluses.

 

I never should have waited so long.  The thing is amazing.  You use it on DRY feet, and just gently rub it back and forth over your thickest calluses, and it grates them away into dust – I always pictured huge chunks of skin coming off, but it’s not like that at all.  It’s more like if you used your kitchen zester on parmesan cheese – tiny, fluffy, white shreds come off, nothing thick or painful.

 

The metal microplane snaps into the plastic pod which is supposed to catch the shavings, but I found that the little shavings went everywhere, so it’s best to do this in your shower so you can wash away the ick afterwards.  (But again, you use the product on DRY, not wet, skin.)  When I popped the metal part off I was horrified (and a bit delighted) to find a huge pile of shavings inside, so it does catch some but not all of them.  The Revlon Pedi-Expert also comes with a little smoother pad to rub over the areas you shaved to smooth down any little sharp skin bits – it seemed to work ok, and cleaned up well.  I thoroughly washed all the parts with soap and water as directed, and am almost looking forward to building up my calluses so I can use it again.

 

Online reviews do indicate some people find the Revlon product sharper and superior to the Ped Egg, so it might be worth spending the $12 on Revlon versus the $6 on the Ped Egg.  Plus you do get that clipper and nail file, in case you need them.

 

Are you totally grossed out yet?  Isn’t this much worse than the “what I wear” post?  Share in the comments – we are learning so much about each other!

Sunblock is a runner’s best friend

Lots of good sunblocks here.

Lots of good sunblocks here.  From left to right, Coppertone Sensitive Skin, Banana Boat Baby, Supergoop, and Neutrogena Beach Defense.

The one thing I wear no matter the season, no matter the distance, is sunblock.  I have sensitive skin and had one pre-cancer removed despite my shunning the sun, so it’s especially important to me, but it should be important to you, too.  Marathon runners are more at risk for skin cancer, not only because of their increased exposure to sun but also because of their “depleted immunity from all the high-intensity exercise.”  Yikes.  I’ll admit I don’t reapply during my long-runs or races, but now that they have these sunscreen towelettes, I think I’ll start stashing one with my gels to use on the go.

 

But before I head out the door (and even before I put on my running clothes, to avoid any spots I might miss from shifting clothing), I always slather on the sunscreen.  I used to use spray sunblocks but have switched back to creams because I think they last longer on my skin, don’t force me to hold my breath during application, and aren’t as sticky.  My favorites are pictured above and reviewed below.

  • Coppertone Sensitive Skin SPF 50 – I first bought this because it was listed as one of the chemically “safe” sunblocks out there, but kept using it because it works so well.  I use it on my face, neck, and ears.  It doesn’t sting and gives excellent coverage, but it will give you a white face until you rub it in (and sometimes even after, especially spots around your hair that don’t quite get rubbed in).
  • Banana Boat Baby SPF 50 – It’s labeled as tear-free and sting-free, and for me it is.  Much like the Coppertone, it takes a bit of effort to rub in (and when I sweat a lot it “re-emerges” as white streaks on my skin), but it seems to last longer than some other formulas, and in a pinch I can use it on my face, too, so it’s multipurpose.  Also, since it’s for babies it makes me think it’ll work better because if a product doesn’t work on babies, those parents will cause a ruckus.  I’ll use this on my upper body and sometimes legs.
  • Supergoop SPF 30 – Supergoop is one of the few chemical sunblocks that doesn’t sting even when my skin is sensitive (from heat or salt or a bad mood).  It rubs in easily, doesn’t smell like much of anything, and doesn’t leave my skin sticky or shiny.  While the big pump is initially expensive, it’s actually not much more ounce-for-ounce than regular drugstore brands, and the pump is very convenient, making application that much simpler.  I’ll use this on my legs and arms, especially when I’m going for a short run or when I’m not running at all.
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70 – These yellow bottles cropped up in stores earlier this year and I couldn’t resist trying them.  They are not a “wet skin” formulation but rather a standard sunblock, but I like how easily it rubs in and I actually enjoy the beachy/fruity scent it has (but I don’t wear it when I know that fragrance would be irritating to others, and I don’t use it all over my body because then I think the smell would be overwhelming).

 

Whatever your distance, if you’re running outside, don’t forget to slop on the block!

 

What sunblock(s) do you use?  Share in the comments!