As 2018 was coming to a close, I thought back on the exploring that I had done throughout that year and came to a conclusion. While I had done a lot of cool stuff, I had also done entirely too much driving to get there.
I live in a location with an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, and that is a huge part of why I live here. I decided to come up with a project for 2019 that would underscore that quality of my chosen home, and at the same time make my recreational choices a bit more environmentally friendly. So I laid out a set of rules:
At some point during each month throughout 2019, I would find my way from my front door to a named mountain summit without using a motor of any kind.
Each of the 12 summits must be different.
Any mode of self-powered transportation would be on the table – hiking, running, snowshoeing, skiing, cycling, anything that did not involve a gas or electric motor.
To make the challenge a little bit more interesting and encourage me to get out of my comfort zone a bit, each summit would have to be one that I had not reached without motorized transport prior to 2019. This ruled out 4 or 5 summits that are very close to home.
The idea of spreading them out, one per month, would ensure that I would see a variety of conditions and modes of transportation.
Now 2019 has come to a close, and the project is complete, which means it’s time to run some numbers! These are the totals for the 12 activities that comprised this project.
Cycling – 309.77 miles
Skiing – 36.46 miles
Foot travel – 97.17 miles
Total – 443.4 miles
Vertical feet climbed:
Cycling – 24,326 feet
Skiing – 12,209 feet
Running/Hiking – 26,063 feet
Total – 62,598 feet
Cycling – 26 hours, 57 minutes, 29 seconds
Skiing – 11:05:22
Running/Hiking – 24:16:57
Total – 62 hours, 19 minutes, 48 seconds
January – Woody Mountain (bike-ski)
February – Stuart Peak (bike-ski)
March – Miller Peak (bike-hike)
April – Point Six (bike-ski)
May – Sheep Mountain (bike-run)
June – Mosquito Peak (bike-run)
July – Lolo Peak (bike-run)
August – Iris Point (bike)
September – Mineral Peak (bike)
October – Bonner Mountain (bike-hike)
November – Mitten Mountain (run)
December – Blue Mountain (bike-run)
Adventure buddies – 10
Bikes used – 3 (Orbea Terra, Cannondale Scalpel, Fixed-gear frankenbike)
Running shoes used – 4 (Saucony Peregrine, Hoka One One Torrent, Salomon Sense Ride, Saucony Razor Ice)
Pairs of skis used – 1 (Atomic Backland UL65)
Times I wished I brought snowshoes – 3
Times I brought snowshoes – 0
Lookout towers climbed – 2
Wishing everyone happy adventures in 2020! If you have the chance, I encourage you all to take some opportunities to make them self-powered!
There are times when this question makes sense, and there are times when the absurdity of it makes you giggle, because it is 1:00 in the morning, you’re several miles from the nearest sign of humanity, and it’s only just out of the realm of plausibility that the wolves you heard howling minutes before are firing up a griddle and whipping out a batch of delicious breakfast treats. Nevertheless, that was the situation we found ourselves in, this trio of first-time 100-mile runners who, after a wild combination of highs and lows spread out over the last 80 miles, ended up running in tandem through the darkest, loneliest part of the night. The story of the IMTUF 100, as is the story of any race that starts at 6am and doesn’t finish until the next day, is one of absurdity. It’s not without its share of inspiration, excitement, new friendships, teamwork, and, in some cases, intense competition, but the common thread that ties it all together is that the task at hand is a completely ridiculous one. Between whoops of joy, groans of disappointment, and the occasional olfactory hallucination, we are all there to accomplish one thing: get back to where we started.
Home base for the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival (IMTUF) is Burgdorf Hot Springs, nestled within the Payette National Forest, just under and hour drive north of McCall, Idaho. The cabins are simple and rustic, with no electricity or running water. There are wood stoves for heat and whatever you bring for light. There were 12 of us (five racers and seven crew members) who came down from Missoula and stayed in “The Castle”, a large cabin up on a hill, overlooking the whole race weekend scene. After getting settled in, eating a collaborative dinner, and making sure all our race gear was in order, morale seemed to be high among the ranks on Friday night. I slept intermittently, a little giddy about what was awaiting on Saturday morning.
Just as with every race morning, Saturday morning snuck up on me. Of course I knew I had prepared and was ready to run the race; I just wasn’t ready to start the race. But 6:00 always arrives, whether you want it to or not, and there we were, standing on the starting line, spending a minute or two excitedly cracking jokes about what we were about to do.
“Just remember, go out hard to establish a good position.”
“The key is, don’t ever stop at aid stations.”
“It’s just a 5k with a 100-mile cool down. Over mountains.”
And just like that, at the sound of the elk bugle, we were off, headed down the two-mile stretch of dirt road leading to the trails that would be our home for the next 19 to 36 hours.
Part 2: Settling In
IMTUF alternates directions every year, and this year was a clockwise year. In terms of course dynamic, that meant we would be encountering the easiest part of the course at the beginning, and getting into the more mountainous sections later. As a result, it took a good bit of restraint not to start out too fast on the smooth, rolling singletrack that comprised the first 25 miles. I found a group that seemed to be going a very sustainable pace and resolved to stay in the group until at least the first crew access point at mile 17. As it happened, fellow Missoulians John and Nate ended up finding their way into that group as well. It was comfortable, everyone was chatting good-naturedly, and I was happy to be out for a nice jog through the woods with a great group of people as the sun came up. I rolled into the mile 17 aid station feeling like I had run about 2 miles and spent about a minute and a half with my very excited crew of Kailee, Bill, and Nico. This was the first of many times I would see my crew’s smiling faces and feel the energy that comes along with it. In fact, it’s worth noting that essentially the whole race was broken into chunks based on when I would have contact with my crew. Their energy and excitement egged me on over and over, and gave me something to look forward to when it got a whole lot harder to keep moving. After refilling my two chest bottles, which I had emptied, stuffing my face with pickles, fig newtons, and swedish fish, and getting the all-important high-fives, I headed back out onto the course.
With the sun now beaming down on the trail, it became immediately obvious that I had forgotten to drop not only my headlamp, but also my wind shell at the aid station. That’s what I get for going through quickly, I suppose. I packed both items into my vest and carried on. The majority of the group I had been running with had spent more time at the aid station, and as a result I ended up much further up in the field than I had intended at this point. I tried hard to concentrate on my own pace, conserving energy and moving efficiently, and I continued to move up through the field from miles 17 through 30. We climbed up and over Diamond Ridge, which was the first major climb on the course, and as I descended to the second crew access point at mile 33, I found myself gaining ground on a group of three runners in front of me.
Once again, I went through the aid station fairly quickly, spending about 2 minutes this time, and left with the group. As I left the aid station, Nico reminded me, somewhat sternly after I had passed so many runners in the previous section, to go slow for the next 25 miles or so. This was the advice I would have to keep repeating to myself over and over, getting carried away for small stretches when I felt good, then repeating Nico’s words in my head: “go really slow.”
Part 3: Meandering
Starting slow is one thing, it seems, but maintaining a sustainable pace for 40 or 50 miles becomes more difficult. There’s enough time for the mind to wander, and having been out there for 8-10 hours already, I found myself getting caught in a trap of picking up the pace just because I was excited to feel good that far in. In reality, I was less than halfway done, and keeping things in check was still of the utmost importance. Eventually, I was able to settle in with a couple other runners on the way up to Duck Lake, and forcing myself to stay with them when I occasionally wanted to speed up helped keep the pace controlled.
As we meandered through the middle miles, I became aware that the runners around me were in a very wide array of different states, some clearly feeling confident and moving fast, and some already feeling the effects of hours of trudging through the mountains. The next milestone, at mile 49, was where many of us would pick up our first pacers, and was also a potential turning point where things could start to to well or take a downward turn very quickly. When I reached that point, I was running in 6th place and, from the looks of it, feeling better than many of my fellow racers. My crew was there with as much energy as the first two times I saw them, and by this time my dad had arrived and added more excitement to the mix. Kailee was ready to go; she would run with me for the next 11 miles. It was amazing to have her company, and I was fairly chatty as we climbed past Snowslide Lake and over the most beautiful section of the course. I felt strong on the climb, moving efficiently and conserving the necessary amount of energy.
What came next, though, was my first wave of self-doubt during the race. We had a long, gradual 9-mile descent to the next aid station, at mile 60. Where I had hoped to be able to stride out a little and make good time, I found my legs a bit uncooperative. I was still able to run, but gone was the smooth, efficient feel that had been present on the climb. A brief rain shower necessitated a stop to put on a jacket, and a couple bathroom stops zapped momentum a little further. Still, by the time I entered the next aid station, crew waiting anxiously, I was in 5th place and 15 minutes ahead of my projected time. I took 13 minutes to gather my gear for the night, eat some food, and mentally prepare for the long slog ahead.
Part 4: Charging Into the Night
What lay ahead was a 30-mile stretch with no pacer and no crew access, during which the sun would set and I would traverse the most remote sections of the course. As I pushed onward, the energy difference between the climbs and descents became more pronounced. Around mile 65, my quads started to throw a bit of a fit, and descending got exponentially more difficult. I still felt that, as long as the terrain was steep and everyone was walking, I could climb well, but the flats and downhills ruined any momentum I could find. Just after sunset, two guys passed me in the dark, and as much as I tried to hang on with them and use their energy, I just didn’t have the gusto to make it happen. I trudged on through the night, suspecting I might end up walking the rest of the way to the finish. I had tried not to dread this section too much, but it was intimidating, and it appeared that any fears I had about it were coming to fruition.
And then, out of nowhere, with no impetus whatsoever, everything changed. Part of the way down a rocky, technical descent, I felt my legs start to move smoothly again. I noticed that, in the distance ahead of me, I could see the occasional hint of a light from other runners’ headlamps: the two guys who had previously flown by me like I was standing still. Before I knew it, I was headed into the Box Creek aid station at mile 75, and I had company. Jeff and Heath, the two guys who had passed me, had recently arrived at the aid station and were chatting with the volunteers and hanging out with the goats who packed the aid in.
We all headed out together, and just as we were leaving I spotted a couple Missoula friends, Nate and his pacer Josh. They had been quietly gaining on all of us for a while, and now that they were in striking distance, I knew Nate would be giving whatever he had to make sure he chased us down before the finish.
In the next 15 miles, the highs and lows came and went quickly, but the three of us stuck together for the most part. We discussed running on treadmills, pizza as a trail snack, and how the occasional magical fart or burp could yield a fleeting burst of what seemed like superhuman speed at the time. Jeff smelled the aforementioned mysterious forest pancakes. We employed generous walk breaks while running down a dirt road at a 4% grade, because at this point, it was about us all getting to the finish in one piece. Nate and Josh eventually did catch us, and by the time we reached the next crew access point at mile 90, we had a bonafide pack running together at 1:30 in the morning. It was the most surreal and, in a very strange way, perhaps the most pleasant part of the race.
The aid station at mile 90 was a turning point for me, and not in a good way. I sat down by the fire and ate some soup, and I got a little too comfortable. I watched as Heath left, then Jeff, then Nate. My pacer for the last section, Micah, waited anxiously until I got up and got my vest back on, at which point I promptly headed to the side of the trail and threw up all the soup I ate. We took off slowly. At points with good visibility, I could see Nate ahead, but with each laboured step, he moved further away. We had one final 2,500-foot climb before plummeting to the finish line. In most situations, it would be considered a runnable climb, but there was very little running on this particular night. As we crested the top, the night was dark and the stars were among the brightest I have ever seen.
Part 5: Icing on the Cake
One descent to the finish. That was all we had left. According to my watch, I had already run over 100 miles. In a sense, what I had come out to accomplish was done. Sure, I hadn’t crossed the finish line, but I had run all through the day and all through the night. I had found camaraderie in the middle miles. I had felt the excitement of a good team working together at the aid stations to get me properly geared up, fed, hydrated, and back on the trail. The rest was all just bonus mileage. I bombed the descent at breakneck speed, and by that I mean 13 minutes per mile with frequent walk breaks, and occasionally muttering, “ow, ow, ow” beneath my breath. My knees and ankles felt like they might snap, but somehow the muscles in my legs were still managing to hold me up. 4 miles to go…3 miles to go…2 miles to go…there’s the road!
When we hit the road, Bill was waiting to jog the rest of the way in. It was a mile and a quarter, give or take, to the finish. I knew there was no one close behind me, but I kept glancing back, afraid a headlamp would appear out of nowhere and sprint past me. I was still in walk-jog mode, making liberal use of my poles to take the weight off my aching feet. Shortly before the finish, we were joined by Kailee and my dad.
It was maybe the least fanfare I have ever seen at a finish line. I got there at 6:39am, and there was a small handful of people standing around, having just recently gotten up or having stayed up all night. Either way, it was a sleepy atmosphere. I collected my belt buckle and collapsed into a heated tent next to the finish, where the 7th place finisher, who finished about 20 minutes ahead of me, was still warming up. We tiredly talked about the race briefly, then, still in a bit of a stupor, I hobbled over to the hot springs and hopped in, without a second’s thought about how I didn’t have dry clothes for after I got out.
Heath and Nate made their way into the hot springs as well. Between that morning’s soak session and a later one in the evening, we spent hours reflecting on all manner of things, primarily, of course, the absurdity of what we had just done.
As I write this, it has been 12 days, almost to the minute, since I crossed the finish line at IMTUF. One of the most common questions I get when discussing the race with people is whether I will do another 100-miler. I can safely say it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. For now, though, I still have the occasional aches and pains in my joints and tendons. If I twist a certain way, my hip still hurts. If I try to run more than a couple miles, my knees still whine and complain. The floppy toenail on my right foot is long gone, and the tender spots on my feet are mostly healed. Eventually, all these things will pass, and it will be time to plan for the next conquest.
So there we all were, enjoying a nice fall. The leaves were making their lazy journey from their high perches down to the ground below, where we would put off raking them until the very last minute, under the guise of there being fewer left to fall after said raking was done, but really just because we are lazy and like to procrastinate. there was a nice coat of larch needles on all the trails around town, still just enough light in the mornings and evenings I didn’t yet have to ride my bike in the dark, at least not every day. A nice coat of snow covered everything just in time for the Elk Ramble 15k, and we all got to trudge around in the snowiest race of the year. We all thought it was winter then, but fall came back.
As November wore on, though, it wasn’t the cold or the snow that drove home the point that winter is quickly on its way. No, the real, consistent proof of that fact, the part that never changes from year to year depending on the current season’s weather patterns, is the darkness. Soon, it will just barely be light when I leave for work in the morning, and it has already been dark for a solid hour when I go home in the evening.
All this is to say, if I want to keep running through the winter, and I do, a good bit of it will be happening in the dark. And that brings me to my main point: lights!
I have always been a headlamp kind of guy in the past. They have the advantage of increasing the visibility of the runner while also allowing you to see that rock or curb quickly approaching. As a side note, they by no means guarantee that you won’t trip over that curb. It’s possible that a certain unnamed individual did a faceplant after tripping over a snow-covered curb doing intervals in the dark in Greenough Park last winter. It’s also possible that individual was me. Not saying one way or the other for sure.
Headlamps have their downfalls, though. The most obvious: vehicle drivers can’t see them from behind. Also, many people find them uncomfortable. This necessitates a search for other lighting options. The most recent one I tried out and am reviewing today is an arm band. Specifically, the Nathan Lightbender RX.
I had never used an arm band before, and my first thought was that I would prefer something that wrapped around the arm more snugly. The Lightbender essentially forms kind of a D-shaped loop, and, at least if you have little chicken arms like me, it fits fairly loosely, even when tightened down all the way. While I was worried this would bounce around an be obnoxious, it turned out to not be that big of a deal. It did work its way down to my elbow as I ran instead of staying up higher, but it was still comfortable and didn’t feel like it was flopping around all over the place.
The unique (and fun) feature of the Lightbender RX is that you can change the color of the light. There are three options (red, green, blue), so you can pick whichever one suits your mood that day, or you can really geek out and try to research which color is the most visible to passing motorists. The internet has less to say about this than I thought it might, but the overall consensus seems to be somewhere between green and yellow. Since yellow isn’t one of the choices, one might choose green. Then again, green means go, so perhaps red would instill more caution in drivers. Or, maybe you don’t want to blend with a sea of traffic lights, so you choose blue to stand out a bit more. As you may have gathered, there is no right or wrong choice, and that’s why there are three of them.
The method of changing the light color was not immediately intuitive for me, and the instructions didn’t help. They said to turn on the light, then double tap the power button, but what they really meant was, turn on the light and then hit the button again right after the light turns on. Maybe I’m crazy, but to me that means two different things. Anyway, I eventually figured it out and happily flipped my way through the color options.
One last factor with any kind of light that is worth paying attention to is battery life. Nathan advertised the battery life as 8 hours on steady mode or 16 hours flashing. I would definitely encourage any user to pay attention to how long it’s been since the light was last charged, because like fall turning to winter, waning battery power is a gradual process. If you’re not careful, before you know it, you’ll be in the dark.
So you just finished up a tough workout. Your muscles are aching and your joints are feeling a bit creaky. In this scenario, you also worked all day before said workout, and now you’re home and ready to relax. The problem is, you’re also really hungry. Dinner isn’t going to make itself, and if you ordered food every time you found yourself in this situation, you wouldn’t be able to afford new running shoes or race entry fees. But making dinner involves more time on your feet, and that sounds terrible!
Enter Oofos, the goofy-looking (yeah, I’ll definitely acknowledge that) recovery sandal with foam soles that are ludicrously thick (44mm under the arch) and supportive, and therefore super comfortable to stand on.
Earlier this summer, I saw a couple of the folks from Runner’s Edge wearing them, and it’s possible that I made fun of them. Because in case I didn’t mention it, they are pretty silly. Like clown shoes. Well, they talked me into giving them a try and fortunately, I have no shame and now I am able to wear them in public. I even walked to the grocery store in them the other day, although to be honest, they are better for standing than they are for walking any kind of distance.
Possible uses for Oofos:
Cooking! This is my favorite use, because if you’ve gotta be on your feet, you might as well have a couple inches of foam under your soles.
Going to work. This is only an option if you work somewhere where it makes sense to wear open-toed shoes. I don’t recommend them on a construction site. Likewise, I would not wear them to a business meeting. Somewhere in between, though, there is a sweet spot where they might be appropriate.
First thing in the morning after a race or hard workout. When your joints are all creaky and trying to get used to being vertical again after 8 hours of being horizontal, these things do make the transition much more pleasant.
Walking to the grocery store. As I mentioned, this is an okay use for them, but not where they really shine. Just don’t try to run in them. You’ll probably make a fool of yourself if you do.
There are several styles of Oofos, including a slide style (my preferred, pictured above), a flip-flop style (not for me, don’t like things between my toes), and a clog. The slide style is definitely the best if you are an old man (or one at heart) who likes to wear tall white cotton socks under his sandals. Or, if you’re going for maximum recovery potential and style points all at once, just wear your compression socks under your Oofos.
Can I definitively say, from a scientific standpoint, that the Oofos sandals help speed up the recovery process? I surely cannot, because I am not qualified to make such a statement. But can I say that they are really, really comfortable, and make me feel just a little bit more okay about spending time on my feet when I would rather be laying on the couch? Sure! And sometimes that’s all you need.
This review starts long before it should, but you know, there is always a back-story for everything, and even a simple shoe review can’t escape that fate on occasion. So bear with me, it’s relevant (sort of).
So we begin around the turn of the century, when soon-to-be high-school freshman Jesse went into his local running store to purchase some shoes to train for his upcoming cross country season. I was excited to try on all the shoes I could, and find something that fit just perfectly, so that I could be fast and comfortable and never get injured. But mostly fast. Let’s be honest, the rest of that stuff was all kind of an afterthought, just because my parents and the guy at the running store told me they were important. Bear in mind, if trail-running specific shoes could be found at all at the time, they were a strange hybrid of clunky hiking boots and running shoes that looked something like this.
Anyway, I was excited to try on a pair of fancy new Brooks shoes, because a couple of the super-cool, super-fast seniors on the team wore Brooks, and they must be the best. After the guy at the running store pulled them out of the back, I excitedly slipped them on, but to my dismay, they felt awful on my foot. The midfoot was too wide, the arch too flat, they felt clunky. I hoped maybe they would feel better running down the sidewalk, but everything was all wrong. I tried another pair, and felt the same way about them. I ended up finding myself a nice pair of Mizunos and deciding that Brooks shoes just weren’t for me.
That’s how my ill-advised mental block against the entire line of one brand of shoes began, and it has been a difficult thing to escape. However, it has been nearly two decades, and the time has come for Brooks and me to sort out our differences and find common ground.
And so, about a month ago, I cautiously laced up a pair of Brooks PureGrit 6’s, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. As it turns out, a lot can change in two decades. Here are my takeaways from trying out the PureGrit 6’s, divided into categories.
With 4mm of drop and relatively little cushioning, the PureGrit 6 is a fairly lightweight, minimal training or race shoe. If this isn’t your cup of tea, it might be worth looking into something with more substantial support and cushion, like the Adrenaline or the Cascadia.
When I first slipped these shoes on, they felt pretty decent. If anything, the toe box is a hair tighter than what I am used to, but not uncomfortably so. The heel is very secure, which I really like. I have a particularly narrow foot, and finding a shoe that efficiently wraps my arrowhead of a heel can be a challenge. It is worth noting that the more I run in this shoe, the better the fit gets. They use a proprietary midsole they call BioMoGo DNA, and the whole point is that it molds to your foot shape to provide a comfortable and responsive fit. The more I run in these shoes, the more I am convinced it works.
Also of note: after receiving some negative reviews on the tongue, upper, and laces, of the PureGrit 5 in relation to their ability to spread out pressure on the top of the foot, as well as some durability issues, it seems they have made some big changes in this iteration. I found the upper, tongue, and lacing system to be supremely comfortable. They also have a very nice little pocket on the tongue for your laces, for those who prefer not to have them flapping in the breeze. I cannot speak to the durability of these shoes yet, as I have not put enough miles on them yet to wear anything out. Ask me in a couple months (if the smoke ever lets up) and I’ll let you know.
This is the most impressive characteristic of this shoe, and I noticed it immediately on my first run. While they are fairly light, the weight is nothing revolutionary. Mine weighed in at 8.65 ounces, which is very comparable to most shoes in this category in my size. What gives these shoes the edge, I think, is again the midsole, which has a certain amount of spring that I felt put more pep in my step than most shoes I have tried.
On faster, non-technical descents, I felt this shoe did well. The heel shape effectively rolls the foot forward, which means heel-strikers may experience less jarring. If the shoe lacks somewhere, it is in aggressive technical descending. The grip on the outsole is not bad, but the overall stability could be better. Where I notice this most is on off-camber corners or rocky sections of trail where you never know what angle your foot might hit the ground. The saving grace on rocky terrain, though, is that the rock plate in this shoe is very effective. I found that when I did hit those unavoidable sharp rocks (okay, maybe for the sake of this review I aimed for them on occasion), the pressure was spread out effectively and the shoe was quite comfortable.
Hey, it matters. It’s one of the sleeker-looking shoes on the market, but it only comes in one color each for men and women, so hopefully these color schemes do the trick for you.
While I wouldn’t immediately reach for this shoe for an overly technical race where off-trail, kamikaze-style descending is particularly beneficial (think The Rut 28k or 50k), I think it makes a phenomenal shoe for hill climbs or races with hard-pack trail descents (think Bitterroot Runoff 10-miler or possibly Snowbowl 15k). It does feel like a race shoe, but I would also use it for lighter training runs. I think this is the perfect shoe for doing variable-grade intervals in the North Hills. And who doesn’t love that?
As endurance athletes, we have all learned to deal with the variety of challenges intrinsic to our sport. There is specialized gear available for every type of road or trail, unbelievably lightweight packs and vests to carry whatever we need, and clothing for every weather condition that we can bring along without having to deal with excessive bulk. One of the most critical challenges, though, is how to feed ourselves while we are on the move. To find something that is easily transported, tastes good enough that you will actually eat it, has the proper balance of nutrition that works for you, and won’t make you sick to your stomach takes some major trial and error.
The range of products out there right now to fuel our daily excursions can be downright intimidating in its breadth, from drink mixes specifically designed for before, during, or after exercise, to gels and chews, to energy bars, to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. While I am a proponent of each of these types of sustenance in their own place, for purposes of keeping this review somewhat simple, I’m going to focus specifically on gels and chews. That’s right, the form of nutrition that it seems every endurance athlete has an extreme love-hate relationship with. I know you can remember the last time you or one of your training partners complained about the taste, texture, or mere existence of gels, while in the same breath acknowledging their necessity in the process of finishing a certain race or workout.
Well, good news! I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. The variety of options has increased dramatically in just the last couple years, and continues to do so. If you haven’t found the right gels or energy chews for yourself yet, that’s an excellent reason to keep reading. Hopefully I can guide you in the right direction. I will divide this review into two categories (chews and gels) and discuss three of each.
First, the energy chews!
Clif Shot Bloks
These have been one of my go-to chews for years. They the softest of the chews that I have tried, which in my experience makes them relatively easy to chew and swallow (a feat that can be difficult during a long, particularly arduous outing) and I have found them to be a quick, reliable source of energy. They are available in 11 different flavors, with margarita (which everyone goes nuts for) and salted watermelon containing extra sodium1.
Gu Chews (formerly known as Chomps) have been around for a while and are pretty similar to the Clif version, with a couple notable differences. Specifically, a sleeve of Chews contains eight smaller-sized chews, as opposed to the six larger Shot Bloks per sleeve. Gu Chews are particularly high in potassium (because cramping sucks) and contain amino acids that, according to Gu, may help “reduce mental fatigue and decrease muscle damage”. I personally haven’t noticed a huge difference in my level of mental fatigue when using these chews, but you know, maybe it helps?
Skratch Labs Fruit Drops
If you have issues with the stickiness of most gummy chews and find them difficult to consume, it might behoove you to try out the Skratch Labs Fruit Drops. They are much firmer than most and have a sugary coating, making them generally easy for most people to get down, even in the throes of an endurance activity induced breakdown. Also, in my opinion, they have a very pleasantly fruity taste. At 160mg per pouch, they contain the most sodium of the three chews mentioned here, but they contain no potassium. They are also the only chews mentioned in this review that do not contain maltodextrin2 .
Okay, so maybe you’ve figured out which chews will be best tailored to your needs, or maybe there is more research to do. Regardless, for this review, it’s on to the proverbial meat and potatoes of rapid endurance fuel. That’s right, it’s time to talk gels.
Gu gels are, in many ways, what comes to mind when I think of energy gels. They have that classic gel consistency that can be almost liquid when it’s warm out and downright difficult to get out of the package when it’s cold. Maybe that texture is your thing. It’s not mine. That said, Gu’s redeeming factor (over other brands of traditional gels like Hammer or Clif) is the breadth and creativity of the flavor options. From Caramel Macchiato to Cucumber Mint to Tastefully Nude (code for unflavored), there is something for everyone. As a bonus, if you want to support public lands access (don’t we all?) try out the Campfire S’mores flavor, as 10% of those sales are donated to Conservation Alliance’s Public Lands Defense Fund. Also it’s delicious, so there’s that too.
If caffeine3 is your thing, Jet Blackberry and Espresso Love have 40mg per packet, with many other flavors also containing smaller amounts.
Honey Stinger gels are pretty much what you would think they would be: honey, with added vitamins and electrolytes. The notable addition that you get from Honey Stinger and not from the others is the presence of B vitamins, which play various roles including conversion of foods into energy, aiding in digestion, and boosting immune response. They also have very high potassium levels. Also of note, for those who prefer a 100% plant-based diet like myself, Honey Stinger makes one of the few gels that does not fit the bill. For this reason, it doesn’t make it into my standard line-up.
So you don’t like gels, you say. The texture is weird. They don’t taste good. They leave a funny sticky feeling in your mouth. Whatever your complaint, throw it out the window, because Huma has taken gels to the next level by doing the obvious: using real fruit and real sugars, mixing in the necessary electrolytes, using ground chia as a binder, and making a magical concoction that tastes like a smoothie and works like an energy gel. This was by far my favorite gel of everything I tested, in both taste and function. It contains far more sodium than any of the other gels (although this varies widely by flavor) and the berry pomegranate flavor (my favorite) contains extra sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It’s the most comprehensive electrolyte blend I have seen in any gel, and in my experience, it works.
In the wide, wide world of endurance nutrition products, it’s hard to sort out the differences sometimes. The products I’ve mentioned are a very small glimpse into some of the options out there, and a starting point for how to differentiate between them. I hope you have fun experimenting on your own and creating your personalized endurance fueling plan.
1 A note on extra sodium: for particularly long, particularly hot days that involve a lot of sweat, it is extremely important to make sure you are replenishing your electrolyte stores. Along with Potassium, Sodium is the most critical electrolyte to replenish because of its role in allowing the body to maintain fluid balance. Basically, you can drink all the water you want, but your body wants to maintain a certain level of salinity in its extracellular fluids. If you don’t have the sodium to maintain that balance with the water you are taking in, you won’t be able to make any use of that water. I have experienced this in races, and it is awful. It is worth figuring out what level of sodium balance in your nutrition works best for you, and fortunately, there are a whole lot of different products with different levels of the stuff.
2 Maltodextrin is contained in many nutrition products for athletes. It’s purpose is to simultaneously serve as a sweetener and a thickener. It is worth mentioning that for some athletes it can cause stomach irritation. Experiment with different products to see if you notice such a pattern for yourself.
3All three gels I have reviewed here, as well as nearly every other one in existence and many of the chews as well, have flavors available that contain caffeine. Determine for yourself if this is something that benefits you or not. Personally, I have experimented with it in shorter events from time to time and noticed little difference in performance, but if you are a caffeine fiend, by all means go for it.
This past weekend brought, barring some bout of spontaneity, my longest-distance and probably most competitive triathlon of the season. For a few years, I have heard tell of the Great White North Triathlon as a somewhat off-the-radar race to the north, impeccably organized with a generous prize purse, fast but accurate course, excellent post-race food, you know, all the things that make a race awesome. So this year, I decided to give it a whirl.
Since my travel buddy for the weekend ended up unable to race due to chronic injury issues, I made the trip alone. I left on Friday morning, and ten long hours later, I was pulling into the driveway of the house in Spruce Grove, Alberta where I would be spending the next couple nights. Spruce Grove is about 30 minutes west of downtown Edmonton, and about 10 minutes from the small town of Stony Plain, the site of the race. Since I was traveling solo and would definitely be in need of a good couple nights sleep after that much driving, I had decided to book a room through Airbnb, which worked out splendidly. My host, Monique, was very helpful, giving me advice on where to go eat, a good place to go for a run in the morning, and even cooking dinner. Her four cats were also very friendly. The housing situation made for a very relaxed couple days of race prep, which I was very thankful for.
I got some rest Friday night, opting out of the early race check-in and pasta feed, since I would have had to hurry over to Stony Plain in more of a rush than I preferred. Instead, I checked in on Saturday. Since packet pickup began at 11:00, I had plenty of time in the morning to get a run in and get all my assorted gear in order. By the time I had picked up my packet, dropped off my bike, checked out the swim course and transitions, I felt ready to go.
If you’ve been following my adventures this spring and summer, you know that I had a bit of a setback in May, forcing me to drop out of my first planned long course race of the season and lose several weeks of training, in addition to psychologically getting back into the mode of riding bikes fast. Sometimes, though, a setback like that is just what you need, and I am glad to be back to racing and training in full force. Going into the weekend, the only lingering injury from that accident was a bit of intermittent pain in my shoulder, which was pretty mild and would only show up occasionally. That said, I had gone for a total of one swim since the accident, and it was two weeks before this race, just to make sure that I could in fact swim without severe shoulder pain. I could feel it slightly that day, but by race day, it was barely noticeable.
The swim start took place on a wide beach and was an 800-person mass start. Mass starts with that many people can tend to be a bit crazy, so I tried to get out pretty quick so as not to get too caught up in the mass of wetsuit-clad humanity.
In the swim, I felt way better than I thought I would due to my complete lack of swim fitness. I got in a groove, starting out with a big group and gradually hopping from one pair of feet to the next, moving through the field and feeling confident. I still came out of the water several minutes back of the leaders, but considering the circumstances I was okay with it. Official swim time: 29:02.
In my first transition, I realized that it has been a little while since I did an open water triathlon. I got to the wetsuit strippers and still did not have my sleeves off, so I spent some time fumbling with that, then proceeded to drop my goggles and swim cap out of the sleeve when I ran off, which a volunteer kindly picked up for me. All in all, if T1 is the most disappointing part of the race, I think that is okay. Official T1 time: 1:15.
As soon as I got out of T1 and hopped aboard my Orbea Ordu TT bike (read my review of the bike here), I felt at home. I began moving my way through the field comfortably, and enjoyed the small rolling hills. The two-lap course took us north on the highway over what amounted to a net climb, then descent to the turnaround. We then repeated in reverse on the way back, totaling four climbs, none of which were too substantial.
On lap two, I got to a point where I stopped passing people, and was engaging in a little back-and-forth with a couple other racers. This kept me focused, but I did start to notice that late in the descents, the extra weight on my arms caused my shoulder to flare up a bit, right where it had been hurt from my accident. In the last five or six miles, it started to get much more painful, and I had to sit up and shake it out a few times. After each short shake-out session, I put my head down and did my best to focus and keep putting out as much power as I could, and I ended up holding it together pretty well, riding my second lap about a minute faster than my first. I believe I came off the bike in 14th place. Official bike time: 2:23:09.
T2 went much better than T1. I smoothly got off the bike and moved through transition relatively seamlessly, trying my best to keep my focus and psychological momentum going. I got edged out for the fastest transition time in the field by the eventual women’s champion, but I did put together a solid second place in that ever-important competition, 1.9 seconds back. Official T2 time: 57 seconds.
This only being my second triathlon of the year, and not having done any brick workouts, I felt a little rough around the edges in the first half mile or so of the run. Fortunately though, after that my legs started to sort themselves out. I have been doing much more running than anything this season, so I knew if I was going to do well that was my ace in the hole. I just made a point of holding a pace I knew would get me a time somewhere in the 1:26 range, which was manageable. I figured if I felt better, I could pick it up on the second lap, but I really wanted to avoid imploding at 5k and having to suffer through 10 miles.
Well, when I got to the second lap and thought about trying to find that next gear, it wasn’t really there. I was able to hold the pace I had done for the first lap, and the encouraging part was that I was still moving up in the field. It was clear that I would not move up far enough to crack the top 5, but I made it a point to pick off as many people as I could, and to hold off a couple guys who appeared to be bearing down on me from behind.
With about 1k to go, I glanced back on a corner to see Devin Wittig, a pro who had had some trouble on the bike and was on a mission to gain as much back as he could on the run. I had no clue what place I was in, and I was hoping to be able to coast through the finish, but when it comes down to that close of a race, one has to do one’s best to hold off any attacks. I kicked it into gear, used the momentum from a slight downhill to propel me to the finish, and managed to hold my spot through the line. Official run time: 1:26:53
My overall finish was 4:21:17, good enough for 8th place and a long course PR.
Next up is the one race every year in which I participate without racing. I will be leading the 3:20 pace group at the Missoula Marathon on Sunday, which is always a fun and rewarding venture. From there, it’s on to my homecoming race, the Tiger Triathlon next weekend!
I hope everyone’s having a great summer. See you out there on the roads, trails, and maybe even assorted bodies of water if I get ambitious later this summer!
It’s been a minute or two (actually almost exactly 50 thousand; yeah, I calculated that) since I last posted anything on this here page, but I assure you there are good reasons.
For one, the Garden City Triathlon happened eleven days ago, and in case you weren’t aware, that is the one race a year that I direct.. I am glad to be able to be involved with the Garden City Tri, as it helps out Montana Campus Compact and our local triathlon community (via Team Stampede), but it turns out that putting on a triathlon can pretty much just suck the life out of you for a while.
Between my recovery from that and, leading up to it, my recovery from previous incidents, I’ve been doing a lot of physical and mental recovering. Fortunately, the mental recovering involves a fair amount of physical activity. That has taken many forms, but most notably, I have finally gotten a chance to get out and get some quality interval training in on my time trial bike the last couple weeks. As such, I figure now is as good a time as any to tell you all about the new time trial bike I am on this year.
Like anyone who fancies themselves a cyclist, I am picky about my bikes. I am especially picky about time trial bikes, and there are a lot of characteristics that are absolutely critical to making a good time trial bike. Enter the 2016 Orbea Ordu OMP (Orbea Monocoque Performance) frame.
Before I ever got out and rode this bike, I got to know it really well in the shop. After ordering up the M30 model, which comes with a mechanical Ultegra drivetrain, I made the decision to upgrade it to Shimano’s Di2 group. Who doesn’t want buttons instead of shifters? Anyway, the Di2 shifting is a whole other review (spoiler alert: it’s awesome), but right now I will stick to the features of the frame.
In building the bike, I got to take a good look at the cable routing and the Di2 battery storage system. It’s all very clean (read: aerodynamic) and impressively thought out. Historically, your bike mechanic will probably curse your name every time they have to work on your TT bike, and I won’t go so far as to say this is an exception to that rule, but they certainly did make some improvements from the previous model (and virtually all other time trial bikes on the market).
Most notably, the rear brake is not longer a proprietary brake hidden under the bottom bracket. If you’ve ridden a TT bike made between about 2008 and 2015, there’s a good chance you are familiar with a wonderfully spongy rear brake that sometimes works great, and sometimes just decides it is more content to rub on your rim halfway through a race. Well, that’s gone. You still get an aero brake caliper, but it is mounted above the wheel, has no funky twists and turns in the cable, and works like a dream. It is delightful.
The Di2 battery mount is pretty slick. It removes from a compartment directly in front of the rear wheel, which sits above the bottom bracket. There is plenty of room in the frame in that area for routing wires, and the excess material around the bottom bracket shell has added aerodynamic benefit as well.
Speaking of aerodynamic benefits, let’s talk about that funny-looking fork. In the area surrounding the wheel of your bike, there is a lot of turbulence cause by the wheel’s rotation, especially around the spokes. The idea behind the “free-flow” fork is that it brings the fork legs further away from the wheel, and therefore out of that turbulence, allowing the air to slip by more smoothly. I haven’t personally had the bike in a wind tunnel, but I can tell you that it sure feels fast.
Perhaps the most important aerodynamic advantage you can get on a bike, of course, is your fit. Orbea didn’t overlook this in finding ways to improve their design either.Since the stem is not proprietary, there are as many options for different fit situations in the front end as there are stems on the market, and it is all easy to swap out as needed. On both the stem and the seatpost, Orbea went away from the monolink design that they had on the 2013-2015 Ordu OMR frame. Personally, I thought there was promise in the monolink system, but it required very specific torque specs, an adapter if you wanted to use a standard saddle, and a complete inability to use a standard stem. The current system is much less proprietary, and much easier to adjust with basic knowledge, tools, and the parts available at pretty much any bike shop. What this means is that, even if your mechanic still might curse a little bit when you bring your bike in, your fitter will be very happy. For many of you, dear readers, that is me, so I appreciate the steps that Orbea has taken to make my life easier.
And speaking of making lives easier, how about all those bottle cage mounts? There are four, count ’em, four sets of bolts for mounting all manner of stuff to your frame. This is not counting an aero-bar mounted bottle. You can easily run your top-tube mounted bento box and three water bottles if you want, or if you run tubulars, there’s a convenient spot for a can of Pit Stop behind the seat tube. Be creative! These details make this a great bike for racing Ironman races, because when you’re on the bike for anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, you need to be able to carry a lot of stuff.
My overall takeaway on the new Ordu OMP: it is a bike that has the ride characteristics of a triathlon superbike (reasonably light and stiff, and uncompromising in aerodynamics), but is substantially more user-friendly than most bikes at this level. I am impressed with how easy it is to make adjustments and to carry all the gear you need for training or racing. The frame also has the smooth ride that I felt was characteristic of the older OMR frame, so after hours in the saddle, it keeps you comfortable.
The Ordu OMP comes in four different builds, ranging from the 6800 series Ultegra at $4299, all the way up to the flagship Dura-Ace Di2 build, which sells for $8999. The three higher-priced builds all come with Vision carbon race wheels, which is a huge upgrade if you are not already riding something similar. For the triathlete who doesn’t demand every second of uncompromising aerodynamics, there is the option of the OME (Orbea Monocoque Evolution) frame. This frame is less expensive, but has many of the same features, and is offered in three builds, ranging from the Shimano 5800 series 105 Build at $2299 to a Di2 build for $3999.
Hopefully this has been informative for some of you out there, and next time you’re in the market for a new race bike, I highly recommend considering one of Orbea’s offerings. You can find out more about them, watch some videos, and check out all the models here.
For anyone who happens to live in Missoula, I will be leading a Time Trial interval workout this evening, and also next Wednesday evening (June 22nd). Meet at 6pm at Missoula Bicycle Works. Not only will you get to check out this sweet bike in person, but you will get a great workout too.
I, like many of you, love riding bikes. It is, in many ways, part of what defines me as a person. I ride mountain bikes, road bikes, triathlon bikes, cyclocross bikes. I like to race, testing my abilities against others and against myself. Sometimes I like to ride fast for no other reason than to feel the muscles in my legs getting perpetually closer to the breaking point. Sustaining effort becomes an ever more monumental task, and I reach for the superhuman feeling that comes from holding that effort as long as possible, before finally imploding to the point where putting any pressure at all on the pedals seems nearly impossible.
I also like to ride slow. I like to converse with my fellow riders, teach new riders the mechanics of riding in a pace line, look at the scenery and goof around. I like to zip through the woods at breakneck speed, I like to climb mountains on my bike, and I like to cover astounding amounts of ground on the open road, appreciating with every pedal stroke the brilliant engineering that allows me to do so under my own power.
As we are all reminded from time to time, though, this wonderful activity that we enjoy so much can turn against us pretty quickly, and always unexpectedly.
It was a gravel road, in a group of about 15 riders. There are a couple downhill corners where the group can really pick up speed, and we did just that. We flew around the first left-hand corner without incident, and banked into the second one, a right-hander with poor visibility. I was near the back, and on the left side (outside) of the group. Missing the smooth tire track on the far right, I got caught in the loose gravel nearer to the center of the road. Not wanting to slide out and take out other riders, I stayed wide, which is a great option if there are no cars coming the other direction. As it happened, though, this time there was an SUV with very poor timing headed up the road. My GPS track shows that I was going 32.9 miles per hour when I saw the car, at which point I quickly assessed my options. Swinging left would put me into a gully with a barbed wire fence, assuming I made it around the car to begin with, which would have been unlikely. Swinging right was out of the question, with the gravel and my current trajectory. I locked up the brakes and hoped for the best.
“The best” ended up being me having to tell the driver to back up after she got out of the car, so that I could un-wedge myself from under her bumper. Not entirely the outcome I had hoped for, but it could have been worse…
As it turned out, I suffered a substantial amount of road rash, some whiplash, a small pang in my right knee, a sore elbow and shoulder, and some dizziness upon standing. No broken bones, no lost memory. After laying low and not doing anything for three days, I was able to get out and get back to my life. All things considered, I am counting my lucky stars and trying to use the experience as a reminder in the future. I will, however, be off the bike for a couple weeks. I am also unable to run or swim, so the extent of my daily exercise at the moment is walking to and from work. I’m taking the opportunity to slow down, smell the lilacs, watch the birds flitting around on the riverbank on my way through town. Also I’ve been doing some reading, and sitting on the front porch a lot more than I usually do.
Sometimes that slowing down is necessary, and I usually don’t do it without being forced to. Occasionally, I can get carried away, just trying to keep up, and lose the clarity that comes with going a little slower. And maybe, just maybe, an SUV comes around the corner and puts me in my place.
With much reluctance, I’m skipping my next planned race, the Troika long course triathlon in Spokane on May 21st. By the time June rolls around, though, I should be ready to get back after it.
Triathlons in Montana can be pretty inconsistent as far as level of competition is concerned. With a relatively small population to draw from, most races just don’t have the depth that you see often in more populated areas. There is, however, one annual exception, where the triathletes come out of the woodwork in search of a spring proving ground, to figure out how their winter training has worked out. The Grizzly Triathlon always seems to draw a pretty solid field of racers.
This year, though, some key perennial powerhouses were missing from the start list. Last year’s champion, Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman, was out through the winter due to injury. Runner-up Kory Burgess is a new dad and hasn’t had the time to get in triathlon training. Matt Seeley broke his hand in a mountain bike accident several days prior to the event. Andy Drobeck decided to sit out the Griz this year. Elliot Bassett would be out of town for the weekend. Out-of-state champs Ben Hoffman and Matt Lieto wouldn’t be there. On the women’s side, Amanda Hunter was on the start list, but planned to drop out after the bike due to injury. Erika Ackerlund was busy kicking everyone’s butts at Collegiate Nationals. No Linsey Corbin or Jen Leubke. The favorites were dropping like flies.
On the men’s side what we were left with were five racers who could conceivably contend for this year’s title.
Brendan Halpin, of The Cycling House, always strong, would be racing the Rocky Mountain Roubaix in the morning before the afternoon start at the Griz, and also had not been swimming for quite a few months. Those two factors put him essentially out of contention. He did win the “most miles ridden” division for the day.
Evan Eck, of Helena, has always been strong late-season and in open water races, but has yet to have a breakthrough race at the early-season Grizzly Tri. He has always been competitive, but usually not quite vying for the podium.
Nick Dorsett, from MSU’s triathlon team, is often a strong runner, and is capable of a good swim split. Historically, he has had a bit of work to do on his cycling to become a contender.
Daniel Mazza races for the UM triathlon team. Both Dan and Nick are young racers, and they have both gradually worked their way into the “top contenders” category over the last couple years. Dan I knew would be tough this year, as he has been riding very well all spring. He is also always a strong swimmer. If I had any chance against him, it would have to come down to the run.
In the swim, I did my best to start out conservatively and stay smooth. I succeeded in those goals, but the problem was, I wasn’t going fast enough. Last year, I went through the halfway point of the swim in 5:46, which seemed too fast, but was encouraging. This year…6:08. Dan was swimming my lane, and he started to pull away from me about 500 yards in. I tried to respond and just didn’t have the extra gear. Evan was just ahead of him in the next lane over. Meanwhile, on the other side of me, Nick was in a lane with a 16-year old high school swimmer named Darragh Mahns, and they were both wiping the floor with all of us.
I ended up coming out of the water in 12:33, 46 seconds slower than last year, with Evan and Dan not too far ahead. Nick took a little extra time in transition despite out-swimming all of us by at least 30 seconds, so we were able to catch him in the first couple miles of the bike.
I am on a new bike this year, and it is a big change from the old one. I will be posting a review shortly of my impressions of the new Orbea Ordu OMP frame, which boasts a whole lot of interesting changes from their past designs. Since this was only my third ride on the new bike (and my third ride on a time trial bike period in the last 7 months), I am still getting settled in on it. Regardless, you can check out some of the cool features of this bike here.
Some shuffling took place in the opening miles as we passed a couple faster swimmers, and after some passing and re-passing, it ended up shaking out with Dan and Evan out front with a bit of a gap, Nick riding in third, and me just trying to keep everyone within striking distance. Meanwhile, Brendan had come out of the water a little over two minutes behind me, and was working his way through the field.
I had not anticipated Nick and Evan riding as fast as they were, which was nerve-wracking because I knew they could both be strong runners on the right day.
Dan came off the bike first, but struggled in transition. He and Evan headed onto the run course together. About a minute later, I was able to pass Nick in transition and we also headed onto the run together.
Nick took off fast on the run, on a mission to hunt down either or both of the two guys ahead. He blew by me and I did what I could to stay within striking distance. When we got to the long straightaway maybe half a mile into the run, we could see Evan pulling away, and Dan losing ground. I started to feel comfortable with the pace. My running mileage has been great this year. I passed Nick right before the big hill about a mile in, and tried to stay in my comfort zone up the hill. I could tell Nick was struggling, and just before the top of the hill, he dropped off the pace. Then I was alone to try and chase down Dan. Evan was clearly running away with the victory.
At the turnaround, Dan was around 25 seconds ahead of me, and it seemed I was gaining fast. I dug deep. He dug deep, too. It got harder to close the gap. I scraped back a second or two here and there, but there wasn’t enough time. With half a mile to go, it became a reality that he would hold on to second through the finish. I cruised my way in. By the time I got to the finish, the gap was 19 seconds. Nick held on for fourth, and Brendan did end up working through the field to secure 5th place. On the women’s side, Sue Huse cruised to an easy victory with no serious challengers.
And with that, another year in the books. Final finish: 3rd place, 1:02:42. Certainly not my fastest time, but I’ll take what I can get. I suspect my longer-distance fitness is a bit better, so I look forward to testing it out at the Troika Half on May 21st. In between, looking forward to the Montana Hell Ride and Bloomsday this weekend. Stackin’ em up!