My journey to trail running and ultra racing began around the middle of 2012 after a devastating foot injury that abruptly ended my track season (5K). I was absolutely devastated, taking tons of time off to really heal – road biking and aquajogging to maintain some kind of fitness. My friend Ashley had already been putting the bug in my ear to start racing them with her every since she completed Avalon 50 in January that year. Finally, after being a part of her crew for San Diego 100, I finally saw the light. Total light-bulb-in-the-dark-kind-of-thing. I was amazed and impressed and I knew that is what I wanted to do. Before I knew it, it was July and I was registered for Cuyamaca 100K
with her and we were going down for a 50K (!) course training run. This would be my longest run distance EVER, and it was the day I realized I knew NOTHING about trail running or ultras including all the things you actually need and not just because they look good. Read about this dreadful 50K training run here.
Although I still feel new to ultra running, I have trained, raced, crewed and paced enough to experiment with gear and nutrition to know what works for me and to know exactly what I like.
Here is a short list of items that I believe in — all of them carried me through 2013 and I feel confident in recommending them to anybody.
SHOES: PEARL IZUMI
Trail – E:Motion N1 – $125 (www.pearlizumi.com)
Love on the trail!
I bet you saw this coming, especially after my announcement about joining Team Pearl Izumi -Ultra
a week or so ago. Well let me tell you – I don’t promote stuff I don’t believe in, and, I won’t be on just any
team for the shoes. My love for the brand happened after I received my first new pair of TN1′s for my birthday in March. Until that moment, I was having problems finding the right trail shoe. I just couldn’t find anything that I liked, I was experiencing nagging injuries and I was discouraged. At first I was nervous to train and race in a light and neutral shoe because I thought I needed more support and cushion for steep descents and rough terrain, but they actually worked out great…AND looked sexy! The rock plate saved my toe nails more times than I can count after accidentally “kicking rocks” and the traction was enough to keep me upright (most of the time – I have a tendency to fall — A LOT, out of clumsiness). I tried and tested these shoes climbing to Mt. Baldy, raced Leona Divide 50 (dnf), took them to the Sierras, to Bishop, paced at San Diego 100 and finally trained and raced in them at Los Pinos 50k. I just love these shoes! After logging in more miles than I should have, I finally, and reluctantly tossed them – but not before receiving a pair of shoes for winning Los Pinos 50K. Guess what shoe I chose? Yep, N1s but in a different color (thank you Steve, Carlos and Run With Us). Note: The N1 has a 1MM drop. And for distances longer than 50K, I prefer to run/race in the N2 for extra protection from long hours of pounding and more technical terrain.
Road – E:Motion M3 – $125 (www.pearlizumi.com)
Pearl Izumi EM M3
A few months after getting my N1s, I decided to give the road shoes a try. Although I wear a neutral shoe without any issues, I slightly pronate on the right side. The Pearl Izumi M3 seemed like the best fit as I wanted a shoe with light stability and decent cushion for loading on my weekday miles on the road in preparation for my marathon. I was extremely pleased when I opened the shoe box – they looked amazing, and the colors were so bright and bold. After logging nearly 100 miles, I had became a full-fledged Pearl Izumi fan. I ended up racing in them for my marathon
to as I had only trained on the road in this model. Typically I would have chosen a lighter racing shoe (Road M1), but since I didn’t train in them, I didn’t race in them. I prefer wearing a more cushioned road shoe when I log in higher mileage on the road – kinda makes me feel safe (from injuries), my legs and feet feel less fatigued the following day, and when I switch to a lighter road shoe for speed work and tempos, I really feel like I am flying! Note: This shoe has a 4mm drop.
Injinji – $12-$15 (www.injinji.com)
RUN 2.0 Original Weight Mini-Crew
I swear by these socks and until someone tries them, they are a little weird-ed out by the toe sock theme. I wear injinjis during all my runs – to help keep a lot of the dirt out between my toes that would otherwise rub and cause blisters. I also like my feet to feel dry and since my toes don’t touch skin to skin, I never have to think about it and get grossed out again! After long trail runs it’s funny to compare my feet to someone who is wearing regular socks – mine come out dirty, but WAY more clean. Admittedly, they do feel weird until you put your shoes on then you don’t think about it again.
There are three thicknesses – Lightweight, Original Weight and Midweight. I only run in Original and Midweight and I wear Lightweight to work or whenever I wear regular shoes that require socks. I prefer running with the No-Show on the road and Mini-Crew on the trail to keep debris out. Not much else to say here except to TRY THEM! Oh yeah, I saw on FB that they were going to be coming out with some crew length styles in 2014 – YES!
UltrAspire – ~$55 (www.ultraspirestore.com)
UltrAspire Spry Racing Vest
When I first started trail running, I took my pink 1.5 L Camelback everywhere until I started having a few issues: back chafing on my spine and pilling on the front of my favorite running tops from the straps rubbing. Because I didn’t just have the money to simply replace it, I started using handhelds. One morning LeftLane sports had a special on UltrAspire packs for 50% off and I jumped on it immediately and bought the Spry (1L) pack without the bladder. Like I said, I really started to like carrying handhelds – and, if I really needed a bladder, I could purchase on separately. I used this pack for a while and really, really liked (liked as in past tense because I no longer have it – another story I will have to tell later) for several reasons:
Color – I am not the biggest fan of primary colors and I especially don’t want a pack that is solid red or blue (too plain, boring and unisex looking) – I want something bright and pretty. This lavender-like color coupled with the slate grey was definitely a keeper.
Comfort: With this pack, or racing pack as it is referred to on their site, is really small and lightweight. It scored huge points since I could run in a sports bra without chafing and scabbing my spine (or anywhere else). I did also test this pack with a shirt and didn’t have any issues with pilling. Another thing I liked was the breathability – the mesh all around pack didn’t have me over heating.
Versatility: Since I didn’t use this pack with a bladder, it instead became very useful for carrying all the other stuff I “must-have” with me when I am running or racing and can’t fit it all in my handheld pockets or fanny pack. I utilized the bladder section to hold my jacket or any peeled layers. I could store my empty or full Amphipod bottle there too – these bottles have a flat back to them that sit comfortably against my back instead of a typical cylinder-like bottle.
There are three front pockets – two large and one small magnetic closing pocket. I always regretted having a pack with pockets located on the back because I’d have to take it off just to access something I needed — not very convenient nor efficient. The left-side pocket has a zipper closure and I liked to stow my cell phone or camera (I am sure you can relate to this challenge). The right-side pocket has an elastic drawstring type closure that was big enough to put a bottle of water (my least favorite use) – I preferred to store my gels, RunGaurd, small first-aid kit and whatever else I thought I needed that day. BTW, there is a small mesh storage space on the outside of the zippered pocket that is great for storing gel wrappers. Finally, the Magnon Electrolyte Pocket™ – a very small convenient pocket that is closed by the force of a small magnet — brilliant. This water-proof (well, it seemed like it was water-proof) pocket held my ibuprofen and salt pills naked – I didn’t have to store them in a baggy to keep them dry there. Very convenient to access when running and moving. I like to keep a few bobby pins in there too since they don’t get lost and are typically stuck to the magnet.
I mentioned earlier that this pack can utilize a 1L bladder that is sold on their site. This pack wasn’t really made for long treks, it’s more of a lightweight racing pack, but there are several other models available (including a 2L option). This pack holds a little more than 1-1/2 standard handhelds out there. It is much smaller than my 1.5 liter Camelbak (about the same as 2-1/2 handhelds).
Fitletic Ultimate Running Belt – $27.95 (www.fitletic.com)
I posted about this belt in February 2011 and I still use same belt and still highly refer it (they last a long time and are very durable)! When I bought it, it was called an ifitness belt while now, the company seems to have re-branded and is now calling it Fitletic. I use this belt when I carry handhelds so I can have a safe (and dry) place to store my phone and more room to place my gels. I have copied and pasted what I had previously said about it below (changing the name to Fitletic to be more current):
With all the stuff I carry with me, I need somewhere to put it. I started with the Spibelt but everything was flopping around all over the place and I ended up getting bruises from it. I didn’t like the fact that I had to carefully pack the items inside to keep it from flopping. During a run or race, you have you need out of it without even looking down at it. The iFitness belt is really comfortable, doesn’t budge and it is also made of a neoprene fabric that protects the stuff inside from getting wet: cell phone, salt pills, etc. As a side note, I use the Ultimate Running Belt Style since it has particular places to hold the gels and I can also attach my racing bib to it.
Hydraform Handheld Pocket™ – 20oz. – $19.50 (www.amphipod.com)
I have tried so many other branded water bottles, but this is the one for me. I avoided buying this one for the longest time because of the color. Yes, I said that. After trying it out, I try to only use this one. The design is ergonomic and hit fits comfortably in your hand. It’s easy to pull the top open and it’s easy to close. I remember after breaking my finger that I quickly grabbed a different water bottle before my run and I had problems squeezing the water out because my finger was absolutely useless – it was this run that confirmed why I like it. I don’t want to struggle or have my hand in a position that is uncomfortable for hours on end. It’s just really a no-fuss, easy-to-use type of bottle. Several other styles available.