Camelbak Circuit Hydration Pack Review

Introduction

They say that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles power was in their shells, they were the original heros of the half-shell. Fearless. Agile. Able to overcome any obstacle and defeat any foe. I remember, as a young boy, pretending I was Leonardo with swords drawn running around the garden fighting off Shredder and his evil villains. Granted it was all in my imagination but I fully believed it was real, even if my ‘swords’ were just sticks and my ‘mask’ an old cut up blue shirt. I felt free, invincible, courageous, able to tackle any adventure. Never did I expect to feel like that way again, that was at least until I put on the Camelbak Circuit Hydration pack. All of a sudden those images and memories from my childhood came rushing back in like a flood and it suddenly hit me, I finally had my ‘half-shell’. Instead of running around the garden defeating Shredder and his posse I was now running over mountains defeating rock monsters and roaring winds, imagination still alive and kicking

Perfect positioning for a lightweight pack

As Trail Runners we are often frowned upon by our cousins of the tar with our back packs bulging with food and water bottles, trucker caps, buffs pulled over our faces, waterproof jackets and bearded faces. This reminds me of one particular morning in early winter a few years back where a few of us set out from Fish Hoek beach to run the Old Fishermans Trail to Hout Bay. It was a chilly morning and the weather on top of the mountain was looking wet and windy. While running the tar section to the trail head we passed some road runners out on their morning jog, them in their flimsy vests and 2 inch Split Polly Shorts, and us? We were kitted out head to toe for the usual gnarley winter mountain weather. I remember them chuckling to themselves as they passed us but what our cousins of the tar failed to realise is that support is a critical part of being a successful trail runner. Unfortunately most people starting out in Trail Running also take this for granted and a scary experience while venturing out unprepared can ruin the beauty and purity of running in the mountains. (If you missed it we discussed why the mountain is so unforgiving here and why it will chew you up six ways to Sunday if you are not prepared.)

One of the key ways of being prepared is ensuring you have adequate kit, water and fueling with you to safely complete whatever route you are attempting to do, this is where hydration packs come in. They make it massively convenient for you to carry your water, energy food, cell phone, extra kit or anything else you might want to take with you. Unfortunately they can be also quite cumbersome and uncomfortable at times, which really ruins the fun factor. It is horribly frustrating  being smacked from behind by your Llama Bars while trying to run and your phone is jabbing you in the ribs, yes Llama Bars give a could kick but they shouldn’t have to literally kick you. This has taught me that you can also be over-prepared (although this is a whole let better than being under-prepared). It is this reason why I am so thoroughly enjoying my new half-shell, the Camelbak Circuit. It has just enough space to ensure you are safe in most situations yet at the same time you are limited in packing space to ensure you remain light weight and agile. There is no doubt about it, this pack is a lightweight, race your face off, hydration and fuel when you need it kind of pack. It does not mess around. It is so comfortable and snug fitting at times you will forgot you are even wearing a pack, don’t get me wrong I have a few niggles but we will get to those a little later.

Camelbak Circuit Review

The pack sits perfectly between the shoulder blades, high up on the back and completely out of the way of your elbows as you run. This for me is one of the reasons why the pack is so comfortable. You will struggle to have it weigh in over 2.5kg fully loaded and I found that having it sit so high up put a lot less pressure on my lower back than other packs I use that sit lower down on the back. What this does for stability and confidence on the trail is massive, not once did I feel the pack throw me off balance as I shifted sharply on the trail. Where I went, the pack went. The Hydration Pack is so snug it literally feels as a part of you as your shoes do (provided they fit properly).

Many packs have a ‘ventilation’ pad at the point where the pack makes contact with your back, often you don’t really feel the difference but with the Circuit it is very obvious early on that you have a lot more breathing room than normal. I always find it so ironic when the pack that is meant to keep you hydrated causes you to sweat more because it doesn’t breathe well enough which causes overheating and dehydration. This is not the case with the Circuit. As you can see from the image below, the vents are large and numerous which aids in keeping you cool. Especially if you have ice in the pack, it really helps to keep you cool through the vents on really hot days.

Effective Breathability

So what about packing space and access to it all out on the trail? Call me crazy but the one thing that makes me feel like an Ultra Runner is having bottles on the front of my pack, I don’t know why but I feel badass when I run on the trail with bottles nestled nicely on my chest, there when I need them, looking cool when I don’t. The Camelbak Circuit has space for not one, but two bottles in the front of the pack, that is if the 1.5L reservoir is not enough for you. This enables you to comfortably carry 2.5 liters out on the trail (I found 500ml bottles fitted best, 750ml felt a bit top heavy for me). If you only need one extra bottle you have an extra pocket to store a buff, energy bars, gels or even a rain jacket.

The reservoir has a wide opening for easy cleaning and also features hanging clips which speed up drying after use, there is nothing worse than your reservoir going gunky cause it stays wet in your cupboard, thankfully the developers at Camelbak thought of this.

Depending on the distance and duration you are heading out for you will need to be creative in how you pack your kit to maximise it’s effectiveness. For example, this last Saturday I was out running with the pack for about 7 hours on Table Mountain. Water is scarce up there at the moment but I opted to leave the bottles at home so I could carry my TNF Verto Storm jacket in one of the mesh pockets and enough food to last 7 hours in the other. I only needed to refill the bladder once and found it really easy to do with the reservoir still in the pack. The opening is very large and the pack clips nicely behind the opening making it quick and easy to refill.

If you need to carry less food, there is a smaller envelope type pocket which fits about 2 or 3 bars and a gel giving you the space in front for the extra bottle. Each person is different and their nutrition requirements out running are different so you will need to find what works for you.

Ample space for extra bottle

There is also a great, sweat proof, pocket with a zip on the front of the pack which is perfect for your keys, card, phone or anything else you don’t want to lose out on the trail. It is small though, an iPhone 5s fits perfectly in there but if you have a larger phone you are going to struggle to get it in there. If you are fortunate to have a waterproof storm jacket that folds up into it’s pocket the mesh pockets on the pack are perfectly sized for holding your extra layer should the weather make a turn for the worse.

TNF Verto Storm jacket sitting ‘purty’ 🙂

This is Camelbak’s lightest pack available, a mere 270g (pack only) yet what surprised me the most about it is that it is not only for a short run. This pack can go the distance, a massive distance, if you are clever with how you pack and have a good refueling strategy. So if you are needing a lightweight pack that will enable you to stay nimble and agile but has the features to cover proper distances then I would suggest looking at getting this pack. I am interested to see how far one can go with this pack, I intend to test that out at the 80km Puffer in August.

Right so as I mentioned earlier I have one or two niggle with this pack, nothing major but issues that for me would make a great pack even better if adjusted. First one is very small but the dual sternum straps which are very comfy an keep the pack fitting snug have no clips or loops for the slack that is left in the strap after pulling it tight. This means that they ‘flap’ around a lot as you run. This probably won’t bother most people but it bothers me, it’s not that fun being tapped on your chest by a lose strap for hours on end. That being said it is an easy fix, I just used some elastic hair bands to secure them down.

The other issue, and it could be because the pack is still relatively new, but it is a little too difficult for my taste to get the PureFlow tube out of the clips when you need a drink. Like I said it could be because it is new and hopefully the clips will loosen over time but running along technical rocky sections tugging at the pipe with both hands while watching where you are going can be risky. As a temporary fix I just looped the pipe through the chest straps which works really well.

BBTR4

All in all I really do rate this as one of the better packs I have run in, light, fast, comfortable, and great looking. Camelbak have been making packs ever since I can remember. My first memory of them is as a boy, my dad had an early generation Camelbak Classic that we used on our missions together in the mountains, must have been about 15 years ago. It was a great pack then and I am happy to see that they are still one of the worlds best masters of hydration.

If the Turtles’ power was in their shells, then a runners power and strength is directly effected by their Support / Hydration pack. It is well said that Ultra running is basically an eating and drinking contest with some exercise thrown in the mix. That being said any decent trail run is essentially an eating and drinking contest. The technical terrain and radical elevations that you are covering is so taxing on the body you burn through calories faster than Michelangelo burns through 6 large Pepperoni Pizza’s. If you don’t hydrate, you die. Thankfully the Camelbak Hydration Pack, has your back!

Key Features:

  • External fill
  • Sweat-proof phone pocket
  • Stretch overflow storage
  • Reflectivity
  • Fits 30″-46″ chest.

Designed to Carry:

  • Water bottle
  • Extra layer
  • Nutrition
  • Phone
  • Keys

 Specifications:

  • Hydration Capacity: 50 oz / 1.5L
  • Total Capacity: 1.5L Reservoir
  • Total Weight: 9.5 oz / 270g (pack only)
  • Dimensions: 17 x 13.5 x 2 in
  • Torso Length: 30 cm
  • Back Panel: Air mesh
  • Harness: Fixed harness with cargo pockets and dual slider™ sternum strap. Fits 30″—46″ chest.
  • Fabric: 70D reverse chain nylon.

Check out this video to see the pack in action: VIDEO

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Exercise Intensity – How Hard Should I Go?

I often get questioned (and sometimes challenged) by athletes about exercise intensity. Competitive athletes generally feel they should always “go hard” as this will make them faster. So that begs the question, “how hard is hard enough” and “when am I going too hard”?

I am afraid there is no simple answer to these questions. The reason for this is that it depends on where you are in your training cycle and, you guessed it, what your goal is and your current fitness level and physiology! So to understand how hard you should go (your exercise intensity) in any training session you need to understand:

  • Your overall goal
  • Your current fitness level
  • You physiology
  • Where you are in your training cycle (Base 1, Base2, Speed)?
  • What is the specific session / workout goal?

A word on your physiology. Do not compare your heart rate figures with other athletes. Having a low resting heart rate is some indication of fitness but does not mean you will perform better in races. The numbers in terms of max HR (MHR) or anaerobic threshold (AT) etc that we use are tools to help you train at the correct intensity. They are not bragging rights in your training group!

If you are training in a group exercise intensity can be a two edged sword. On the one hand group training is a fantastic tool to ensure that you push and reach the workout intensity that is required. On the other hand it often leads to an athletes competitive instinct taking over and cause them to push too hard. An example of this would be where the required workout is a “long slow distance” endurance workout. Often these are performed in a group because the boredom that can sometimes set in with hours of running alone, which can also be a little overwhelming. As the workout progresses the group often start picking up pace until some of the slower members are actually not training at the correct intensity any more! This should be avoided as it prevents the athlete from achieving the correct load for the workout, as well as benefiting from the adaptation that would have followed.

So, how does one prevent this from happening?

How hard is too hard?

Measure Exercise Intensity

Most important is to have a measure of exercise intensity. This measure can either be objective or subjective.

The objective measure is using a heart rate monitor. Once you have calculated your “zones” you can use your heart rate monitor (HRM) to ensure that you stay within the upper and lower limits of the zone required. This is a very good way to ensure that workouts are performed at the correct exercise intensity but it does sometimes take the “fun” out of training.

A subjective measure is using a method known as rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This method relies on how you “feel” to determine how hard you are going. It requires you to rate your exertion on a scale of easy to very, very hard. I have found this is a very difficult measure for most people other than seasoned athletes. Once you have trained with a heart rate monitor for some time and you know what different zones feel like you can use RPE effectively when you do not feel like using your HRM, but not before.

Know Your Zones

There are a lot of resource available on heart rate zone training. Go and do a search online and you will find a lot of information, some good and some not so good. Here is some high level information but I encourage you to do some more research.

Start by knowing what your zones are. Your zones will be a percentage of either your maximum heart rate (MHR), your VO2 Max or your anaerobic threshold. Don’t get too bogged down by the different methods to determine your zones. Look at the following and select a method.

Max Heart Rate (MHR)

As the name suggests, this method uses the number of beats per minute that your heart would beat during an all out effort as your upper limit. There is a simple (but quite inaccurate method to determine your max, MHR = 220 – your age. I say inaccurate because it assumes a very general fitness level and physiology. A better method is to test it. It is however quite hard to get yourself to 100% HR. If you are just starting HR training and need some kind of guidance the simple MHR calculation method could be good enough, but I do suggest that that you do some testing to determine a more accurate method as soon as possible.

Anaerobic Threshold (AT)

This is in my opinion a better method to use. AT is the HR that you will be able to maintain during racing and it is highly trainable (more so than max HR). If you periodically test your AT and train at a percentage of AT I think you will get the most out of your training. The method to determine your AT using a field test is also fairly simple and all you will need is a HR monitor that has a stopwatch. Do a 15-20 min warmup at a very easy pace. Then do a 30 min time trial at the fastest pace that you can maintain for the entire duration. Rather start a bit slower and go faster than to go very fast and then be forced to slow down toward the end. Use the average HR for the last 20 min of the time trial as your AT. A more complicated method to determine your AT (but that has been disputed of late) is the Canconi method.

VO2 Max

This is an indication of your aerobic capacity and measures the volume of oxygen your body can absorb. The higher the VO2 the more oxygen you can absorb and send to your working muscles and the better your capacity to perform in endurance sport. It is however mostly determined by genetics and is not very trainable (it is to some extent possible to improve when just starting out training, but not really for trained athletes). Testing also requires a laboratory and in my opinion is a bit too complex to work with for the average athlete.

Calculate Your Zones

Once you have determined the upper limit of your training using one of the methods above, you can work out your zones. You do this by using the percentage (mentioned below) of your upper limit (determined above). So for instance if I choose to use MHR simple method to determine my upper limit and I am 30 years old, I would use 220-30 = 190 as my max HR and then use the percentages below to define the zone as a percentage of 190.

  1. Zone 1 – Very low intensity (active recovery). Usually <60% of your max HR / <70% of your AT / very, very light to very light on the RPE scale.
  2. Zone 2 – Aerobic conditioning. Usually between 60%-75% of your max HR / 70%-90% of your AT / fairly light to somewhat hard on the RPE scale.
  3. Zone 3 – Anaerobic threshold conditioning (including Tempo training). Usually between 75% – 90% of your max HR / 90%-100% of your AT / hard to very hard on the RPE scale.
  4. Zone 4 – Pure power and speed work. Usually at 90%+ of max HR / 101%+ of AT / Very, very hard on the RPE scale.

So How Hard is Hard Enough?

As I mentioned earlier your plan would largely dictate when you use which zones (exercise intensities). You would for instance use mostly Zone 2, with some Zone 3 in Base1 training. You need to therefore make sure that you have a plan to know when to use which zones. The question about what is the correct exercise intensity is determined by:

  1. Your goal and where you are in your training cycle – Your plan is based on your goal and will determine which zone you should train in. Where you are in the training cycle on your plan will more specifically determine the Zone you are training in.
  2. Your fitness level and physiology – If you do some field testing to determine your MHR or AT you will be working at a percentage of the intensity that was determined by your current fitness level and your physiology.

It is worth spending the time to determine your zones. You will make sure that you reach the intended outcome every time you go and train. You will also make sure you don’t overdo things and get injured or sick because you just went too hard, too soon.

The key is consistency!

Race Review: The Bat Run

Trail Runners are already some of the more looney, wacky and crazy bunch of people out there, swopping the tar for the extremely satisfying challenge of the trail is something every runner should do at least once in their life! As if trail running wasn’t challenging enough the batty mates at.. well M.A.T.E.S (Mountain and Trail Enthusiasts) cooked up an event that took an already challenging route to a whole new level.

What is the route you ask? Well starting at Kloof Nek runners would run along Tafelberg Road to the base of Devils Peak, summit Devils Peak then return to Tafelberg Road, run along to the base of Platteklip Gorge, up Platteklip to the top of Table Mountain, then if that wasn’t enough along the top to Maclears Beacon (the highest point on Table Mountain) before heading back the same way to Tafelberg to the original starting position to only have to cross Kloof Nek and summit Lions Head before returning to the start which would then be the finish line of an epic 26km event with 2100m elevation. Right now you might be asking, so what? That sounds like a decent mountain run with some decent climbing, what’s the catch? Well I am glad you asked because unlike other events that start in the morning this event starts at night.. Yep you read right, runners start at 7pm with some finishing well after midnight. Hence it’s name, The Bat Run.

This year I found myself at the start line in what is best described as the most intense gale force wind I have ever stood up in let alone run in. As I am only in week 6 of a 6 month base training schedule using the MAF principles I was not looking to race, just get the time on the legs. The wind was traveling at a consistent speed of around 50km/h with gusts hitting close to 70km/h as it plummeted down the cliff face onto the saddle of Devils Peak. This was going to make it tough to keep the HR low. Add to that low lying clouds with thick mist and sharp stinging rain that seemed to pierce through any amount of layers you were wearing. Now I am not ashamed to admit that I am addicted to Adventure, I don’t like the mundane, it is not in my nature.. I need new horizons, new trails, crazy adventures that I know there is a very good chance I might not get out of this alive. When I hit the start line I knew full well that this would be one of those adventures.

After a race briefing we were let loose like a pack of hungry wolves searching for a meal, our prey? The 3 peaks looming above us spitting in all their fury and fierceness, almost to say, “Oh, you want to conquer us? Well we will see about that… mwhahaha (insert sinister laugh)”. We didn’t back down. The sun had only just gone down so we enjoyed about 30mins of twilight before the headlamps came on, by this time I was well into my first ascent of Peak 1 (DP). As I crested the saddle and made my last dig at the summit the wind hit me with such sheer force I was literally blown off my feet, if not for a branch sticking out of a bush I would surely have been blown into a situation I didn’t want to be in. I have honestly never been lifted clear off my feet by a gust of wind before so this was quite an experience. 80kg’s of body and running kit flung around like a rag doll. At the summit (Check Point 1) I learned I was way back in the field, 75th out of 125 starters as it turns out. I wasn’t worried, legs were feeling good and I didn’t chase down the people racing past me up the climb, I knew what was still to come. The decent was gnarley and fast, a little too fast, when I got back to Tafelberg road I regretted letting the brakes off a little too much so early on in the run. I was reminded of this up the Platteklip climb where some of the people I blazed past on the decent caught up to me, thankfully the bulk of Platteklip was sheltered from the wind, I was able to regroup and get my mind focused for what was to come.

The top of Table Mountain was a full on blizzard, wind chill factor was below zero with pelting rain and the before mentioned wind (although thankfully it seemed to not be as severe as on the DP saddle). Trouble was the visibility was literally reduced to max 2m because of the thick mist which took my headlamp and turned the cloud I was running though into a sheet of bright white noise, I might as well have been running with a bed sheet around my face. The path to Maclears is tough to find (let alone follow) on a clear day because essentially it isn’t a path.. you are basically running over rocks that look identical with yellow foot prints painted every 3 or 4 meters showing you where to go, add the mist and the darkness and you feel like you are running on the moon. Thankfully the run to Maclears went well and I managed to stay on path. The trouble started after I turned at Maclears and after about 10m I had lost the path, quickly becoming disorientated I head right instead of left before coming up close and personal with a sheer cliff face. Thankfully some runners who were heading to Maclears were vaguely visible and after some scrambling I was able to get back on the path. I had a massive sense of relief because getting lost or taking a fall up there in that weather would have made it incredibly difficult for search parties to find me. I don’t remember ever being so happy to see the top of the platteklip climb before and I started to make my way down the mountain, it was slow going, because of the rain the rocks were incredibly wet and slippery. Sure footing was scarce but thankfully after a few tumbles I made it down to Tafelberg road.

The contrast in weather was phenomenal, 30mins before I had been freezing in a full on blizzard but now back on Tafelberg as I made my way to Kloof Nek it felt like I was running in the middle of a hot summers day. Before long every top layer I had on was in the pack to prevent further dehydration (I thought it a good idea to tackle DP and Table Mountain with 500ml’s of water which had run out on top of Table Mountain), thankfully I could refill water and get some food at the aid station on Kloof Nek before tackling Lions Head. Lions Head was great, by now the wind was completely gone so I could really enjoy the climb and take in the sights of the city below. I let my competitiveness get the better of me on Lions Head and made a little push at the end to reel in one or two places, probably not the smartest move but fun nonetheless. My shoe of choice this time out was the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail (which I reviewed here). Hands down one of my favourite shoes at the moment, sadly it was their last run as I have clocked some serious mileage in them the last few months before the upper separated from the sole. Taking into account the terrain I run on they held up really nicely in terms of durability. I will however wait for the 2nd version to come out which has an updated and stronger cross-stitched upper, shoes aren’t cheap so the longer they can last the better.

All in all it was a stunning event! Will I do it again next year? I sure will, although I will admit at one section on Platteklip while being smacked by the wind and rain I almost turned back, thinking my life is not worth trying to finish this thing but the Adventure was worth it and getting to that finish line was an amazing experience. Running at night on trails I know like the back of my hand added a whole new world to what I thought was a normal route I have run hundreds of times. Oh and I manged to finish 22nd while keeping my Heart Rate in my aerobic zone which was great sign that the MAF principles are working for me (more on that in a blog to follow), I am looking forward to when I can really get stuck in again and race my heart out.

Thank you Mike and all the amazing people from M.A.T.E.S, the volounteers, the sweepers, the Check Point controls on top of each peak (especially DP and Maclears who were freezing their ear lobes off for us), and to Tim for organising some rad cooler bags for us

Trail Safety and Compulsory Equipment

Trail Safety is an often neglected aspect of trail running.

Be safe out there!

If you have been trail running for at least a year or so you would have come across a race that has quite a long and to the novice, highly complicated, list of compulsory equipment that you will need in order to run the event you are entering. These lists can be frustrating and seem so trivial but in fact they are there for your safety and to ensure you enjoy yourself while completing the route as safely as possible.

The earliest memory I have of the kit that I was carrying helping to save my life was when I was about 13 years old in my first year of High School in the Natal Midlands. One weekend a few of us with a teacher decided to the tackle the Two Passes and Cleft Peak Escarpment Hike in the Central Drakensberg. Since we were in a boarding school in the Drakensberg we had plenty experience in the mountains as we would often complete 1 or 2 day hikes over the weekend. This time we chose to get up to the escarpment via Mlambonja Pass, traverse along the escarpment and descend via Mikes Pass. The plan was to camp on the escarpment and complete the hike in a more relaxed time of 5 days instead of the usual 3. Being winter we knew were in for a cold time and there was a strong possibility of some snow falling up on the escarpment. We made sure we had adequate warm clothing as well space blankets and a few other items we thought might come in handy. We started off excited and ready to tackle the 5 days out in some of the most beautiful mountains in South Africa. We made camp at the end of day 1 at the base of the pass and settled in for the night.

The next morning we awoke feeling super excited to get to the top of the escarpment and enjoy the views. As we began to make our way up the pass we were greeted with some light rain, as we got higher the rain turned to snow which began to fall, light at first but by the time we were 3/4 of the way up the snow was bucketing down so thick and so fast I could barely see 3m in front of me. The ‘light snow on the escarpment’ had turned into a full blown snow storm that was now reaching all the way down the pass. We quickly realised that pitching tents on the escarpment was now a bad idea, we were in a race for time to find some safe shelter. Freezing we made our way for the Twin Caves, not really knowing if we were even on the right trail because at this stage the path was completely covered with snow. Thankfully we eventually found shelter in the cave, after working our way through the snow, sopping wet we set up camp inside a small cave and tried to ride out the storm.The snow fell for 5 straight days and continued to fall on the 6th day, albeit a little lighter. The hike was only supposed to be 5 days so we were out of food and had no choice but to hike out. Descending back down the pass was probably the most surreal experience of my life, the little stream that ran alongside the path was no where to be seen. Everything was completely covered in snow. Using poles to test for level ground we made our way down the pass in hip high snow.

We made it back safe and if it wasn’t for my space blanket, my thermal base layer, thermal beanie and waterproof hooded jacket hypothermia would have come very quickly. In fact one of my friends unfortunately developed hypothermia before we made it to the cave but thankfully we were able to warm him up. Just how you do that is another story.. if you don’t feel like being mostly naked in a sleeping bag with a friend till your body recovers take this list seriously. Most trail races aren’t 5 day hikes but when you are on the mountain, even the smallest, the weather can turn so suddenly and so fast you will be caught in a serious situation before you can even say, “But the sun was just shining!!”

It has been recorded that since 1920 there has been more deaths on Table Mountain (a seemingly easy climb of only 1080m asl in the city of Cape Town, South Africa) than there has been on Mount Everest. 219 recorded deaths on Everest and 225 for Table Mountain. There could be many different contributing factors but for me it boils down preparation. The average person attempting an Everest summit is far more prepared than the average person attempting a Table Mountain summit. These compulsory lists ensure that you are prepared, even if the weather forecast is for “light snow on the escarpment.”

The weather at the summit, will very often be very different than the weather at the base.

Below is the list that WildRunner has listed as the compulsory equipment for the Marloth Mountain Challenge, lets unpack it a bit (my comments in red) and see what each item is there for:

Compulsory Equipment List

  1. Trail running shoes. (Pretty self-explanatory, I have tried running trail with road shoes and I was subsequently awarded the ‘Sailing-Sarah’ award with my local club for my spectacular falls, trail shoes have grip for a reason.)
  2. Backpack or suitable mountain running equipment carrier. (Unless you like carrying your stuff in a shopping bag, this one is pretty self-explanatory as well See our review of the CamelBak Circuit Hydration Pack here: CamelBak Circuit Hydration Pack review)
  3. Waterproof jacket with a hood (NO wind proof shells, no apple jackets, no ponchos – MUST carry a label that reads “waterproof“). (This is where it gets serious, water resistant is not going to keep you dry. Being wet with a wind chill factor of below zero, which is easily achievable even on Lions Head, and a pumping NE with heavy rain slapping you in the face things can get very hairy, very quickly. Being dry can save your life. Someone once said there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.)
  4. Ultralight windbreaker – wind shell, apple jacket or similar. (These aren’t as warm as your waterproof jacket enabling you to stay pretty comfortable and not overheat while running in a chilly wind or even a light mist / drizzle.)
  5. Micro fleece (thin fleece) or equivalent (NOT a long sleeve running top). (Micro Fleece is one of my most favourite fabrics, it is a great base layer as it helps insulate and regulate your body temperature, allowing your skin to breathe and wicking sweat off the skin.)
  6. Buff AND beanie. (Some people think these are the same thing but they are not, a beanie will keep your head warm while the BUFF will keep your neck and face warm, in really cold weather I find it easier to breathe warmer air if I cover my mouth and nose with the BUFF. Very cold air going into your chest is also not good for infections. I find the Seal Skinz waterproof beanie’s are amazingly warm and keep your head dry. Your feet, hands and head are the most important parts on your body to keep dry and warm.)
  7. Emergency/space blanket (preferably a heavy duty emergency blanket or bag). (Space blankets are an incredible invention, they basically turn you into a human oven when you wrap yourself up. The reflective material sends your body heat back to your body instead of letting it escape. In an emergency situation this piece of kit will save your life, or someone else’s.)
  8. Whistle. (This is not so you can referee a social soccer match up in the mountains, it is to call for help, especially if you are out of sight because of a fall or the weather has turned bad. A person can only shout so loud for so long, the sound from the whistle will carry much further than your voice.)
  9. Cell phone, charged and with the numbers of the organisers on it. (If you find yourself in an emergency situation with cell reception, your chance of getting out after calling in for help are much higher.)
  10. Basic food, enough for anything from 3-7 hours in the mountains. (If you are stuck and waiting for assistance which could take a few hours, your planned nutrition for a 3 hour run will now not last you a 7 hour wait. This is not to make your pack heavier, again it is for emergency situations for either yourself or a fellow runner.)
  11. 1 litre of water (there’s lots of water on the course but you must carry a minimum of 1 litre from the start of the event). (If you get stranded and you aren’t close to a river or CP having at least 1 litre with you will enable you to hold out for help much longer than if you don’t have any. If you find yourself stranded without water on a hot day seek shelter if possible.)
  12. Basic first aid kit.
    This can include the following: pain killers and anti-inflammatory tablets, stretch bandage, rigid strapping, safety pins x 2, super glue, tampon x2, cable ties x2, rehydrate sachet x1, “Grabber” hand warmers x2, and any personal medication. (Having these items with you are paramount, I try carry these even on basic training runs. you might carry them 99 times and never take them out but that 1 time you need it, they could save a life. If you are wondering what on earth the super glue is for it is an amazing tool to close wounds that need stitches, enabling you to not bleed out as you make your way to a CP)
  13. Either a dry bag to keep all of your dry stuff dry OR packaged individually in zip-lock bags. (Most of this stuff will be pretty useless if it’s wet, keep it dry.)

Visibility can change very quickly as well.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED IN BAD WEATHER

  1. 4x Grabber hand warmers. (I love these things, they are basically a mobile heater for your hands.. as soon as they are removed from the packaging they heat up. Warm hands will enable you to continue working with your hands, like strapping an injury, making a plinth, building a temporary shelter etc.)
  2. Polypropylene long sleeve running top – will still insulate when wet. (Layers equal insulation, having the correct layers at the correct position can mean staying warm while still staying light. Polypropylene is not like cotton or polyester, if it get’s wet it will still keep you warm if it’s layered with a mid and outer shell.)
  3. Polyproylene running gloves – keeps your hands warm enabling you to close/open zips … to get food or warm/dry clothes out. (Same as above.)
  4. Mohair socks – keep your feet warmer in wet shoes. (These wick moisture off the skin and breathe like a dream while still keeping you warm.. a wonder material!!)
  5. Cold weather running tights. (I usually don’t worry about these, even in severe cold weather but each person has their own preference, weigh up the terrain and what the weather usually does and plan accordingly.)

Other kit I would recommend

  1. Seal Skinz Waterproof socks.. dry feet for the win
  2. A head lamp in case you get stranded into the night
  3. A pocket Knife with a basic survival kit for the really gnarley routes
  4. A beard.. naturally Beard’s are scientifically proven to keep your face warm.. (ok maybe not scientifically proven but it is pretty obvious.)
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So there you have it, a breakdown of a compulsory equipment list, the vary between races some being super strict and some less strict. It all depends on the terrain, altitude, time of year etc. As I mentioned earlier there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

It could save your life.

Running Goals – Achieving Yours

Where do you start with putting together a plan for achieving your running goals? In this first article in of a series of 5, I explore 5 steps that can set you on the road to running success.

The road to achieving goals are often not clear till you have a roadmap on where you are trying to get to!

1. Set  Running Goals

I often chat with athletes that want to start running or competing in races, but don’t know where to start. It all starts with understanding your running goals. You don’t drive around aimlessly when you go on vacation?! No, you decide where you want to go, and then you can figure out the details of how to get there.

For me training is the same. You need to start by setting the goals (your running goals), then you can work out a training program to help you achieve those goals. It is important to align goals with your training using a program. As we explored before in a previous post  by James Murphy titled “Irony: Your Training May Not Be Helping You Reach Your Goals – Try Polarised Training” training has to be specific and not random to really benefit you. The two components to achieve this specific training are goals and a program.

So take some time to think about why you run and what you hope to get out of it and that will be a good indication of what your running goals are.

2. Evaluate Your Running Goals

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help shape your goal a little:

  • Do I want to do any races?
  • What races do I want to do?
  • Is it a single big event, an event series or compete in a racing season with many different events?
  • What is date of the event?
  • What type of weather conditions can you expect in the event?
  • Does it involve a lot of climbing / is it undulating / is it flat?
  • What is the duration of the event (distance and anticipated finish time)?
  • What do I want to achieve in the event / events? Do I want to win the event, win my age division or just complete the event?
  • How much time do I have available from now to the event?
  • What is my current fitness level?
  • What is my current skill level?
  • Do I have any injuries? Slight or worse?
  • Do I need to qualify for my goal event?

Know where you want to go before you can work out how to get there!

Write the answers to these questions down and then test them against the voice of reason. I believe anything is possible, but some things might take a bit more planning and time to achieve than others.

So if you plan on doing an epic 100’miler at altitude on very technical terrain you might push it out for a season and first build up to the distance and gain the skill required. Don’t sell yourself short, you can achieve it, maybe just not immediately.

Work out a multi year strategy and you can still achieve your running goals. I guess what I am saying is, it is ok to have goals that might seem impossible as long as the plan to achieve them is realistic.

3. Tell Your Friends

I have found a very powerful tool for us to actually achieve our goals is to tell others about it. Just the action of speaking the goal out load seems to give you the confidence that you can do it and it also commits you to it. No one wants to tell everyone they are going to be doing an event and then later has to explain why they never did it.

This is a step that makes you quite vulnerable but trust me it works. I have in the past often committed myself to doing something and then later felt I had to push through because I had committed.

4. Surround Yourself With Like Minded People

Solo is not the way to go to reach your goals

Training on your own on cold rainy winters mornings is enough to make anyone hit the snooze button en drift back into lala land. But knowing you have a crew waiting for you that would not have a problem ringing the doorbell and waking the your entire family is enough motivation to get anyone out of bed!

Training and racing with others also knit you into a tight unit. It is funny how suffering together actually builds deeper friendships. So find a crew that shares your goals and can motivates you when you feel like giving up, pushes you when you want to slack off and holds you back when you want to do too much too soon too fast. O yes, and you do the same for them!

5. Get a Program

Running Goals

When is it enough, when is it too much?

You need a roadmap. Let me say it again, you need a roadmap! Say it with me, I need a roadmap!

The purpose of a program is to ensure that you focus on the right things at the right time and remove the need for decision making from your training. Unless you a pro athlete (and even if you are), you probably have limited time. You need to get maximum returns for the effort that you put in.

Programs take things into account like periodisation, the different energy systems that you need to train, your current fitness levels etc. and mixed together with your running goals to provide you the most efficient roadmap to achieving your running goals.

All the training program should do is to provide structure and focus. It does not need to be complex but it also should not be generic (unless you have the same goals, skills, level of fitness, time available etc.).

If you want to download a generic program, that is fine, but at least be find one that is tailored to the event you are wanting to complete in or the distance you want to conquer.

If you however want to excel in the event a more tailored program will be required. You can draw up your own program if you  understand the principles of endurance training (I will be taking you through this process in this series of articles). However if you do not understand these principles or really want to excel, enlist the help of a coach. The coach’s years of experience will save you a lot of time in drawing up an appropriate program.

Done correctly, a properly constructed program will help you achieve your running goals and keep you injury free.

Conclusion:

I read a quote somewhere once that went a little something like this, “we are kept from our goal not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal”. It is not secret knowledge that we as humans somehow always seem to choose the easier road. There will be times in your training when you will make up a million excuses why you can’t do it. Don’t give in, don’t give up! Keep that goal before you and persevere, the rewards will be sweet.

Now go and have a chat with yourself and figure out what your running goals are! In another articles we will look at how to construct your own program based on your running goals.

Fat as fuel

Fat as fuel: a review of VESPA CV-25

Fat: Most athletes, through coaching and self-study/research, have been traditionally hardwired to believe that this is primarily causal to substandard performance, excess weight, and general lack of health. As health science continually emerges and evolves, though, this vilification of fat has become suspect. In fact, some self-proclaimed heretics, like Peter Defty of VESPA and Prof Tim Noakes, claim that fat (rather than carbohydrate) is, in fact, the principle source for fueling in endurance and ultra-endurance sports. So how can we make the most of fat as fuel?

Enter VESPA, stage right. VESPA is based on the idea that humans, like many other species, store an almost infinite amount of energy as fat whereas they can only store about 90 minutes of energy from carbohydrate (glucose stored in muscles and liver). VESPA serves as a catalyst to the metabolic pathway which converts our fat stores to useable energy (a process known as ketosis and beta-oxidation). If you think of your body as a car engine, carbohydrate is gasoline – fast burning fuel for immediate results and instantaneous power. On the other side of the energy spectrum, fat burning would be likened to diesel fuel – slower to initiate speed and power, but long burning and heavy hitting in the long run. VESPA serves as a bridge between these two fuel types in an effort to maximize the power-efficiency-longevity ratio that your muscles are capable of – making a sort of gas/diesel hybrid.

The catalyst (what kicks our bodies into fat-burning mode) of the VESPA product is the extract of the Asian Mandarin Wasp (Vespa mandarina). Essentially, this wasp flies upwards of 100km in a day on nothing more than fat stores from its thorax in order to feed its offspring. The larva of the wasp lives in symbiosis with its parent, providing the adult wasp with a peptide which allows for the breakdown of the fat for fuel. VESPA harvests this same peptide from the larvae, and under the pretense that individual cells are similar inter-species, allows human cells to function in the same fashion.

In conjunction with the use of VESPA, Peter Defty devised OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism), a comprehensive program which predisposes your body to burn fat as a standard fuel. This allows for the most benefit from supplementing with VESPA in both training and competition. In essence, the nutrition strategy calls for limitation of carbohydrates, especially “white” carbs (potatoes, bread, etc.) and an influx of “good fats” (avocados, nuts, and natural fats including saturated fats, etc.) to be allowed. Note that this does not entirely eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, and instead advocates the “strategic” use of carbs – basically before and during competitions.

Review:

I’ve been using VESPA for nearly a full year now (I sat down for the first time with Peter Defty in February of 2014), and as a prelude to the nitty-gritty of the review, I’d like to make note of the fact that I do no longer consciously strive to maintain an OFM diet. I found that simply by limiting my carbohydrate intake, my protein-fat-carb ratio self-adjusted to be moderate, high, and low respectively. I would say, though, that if you’re intending to experiment with the product and eventually include it in your dietary regimen, you should begin with a strict low carb, high fat type diet – sort of a modified paleo style nutrition plan – until you become better “fat-adapted” (to be able to use fat as a primary fuel source).

**CV-25 is intended for athletes of over 160 pounds. VESPA Junior has a lower content of Wasp extract and may be better suited to athletes under 160 pounds. Also available is a VESPA Ultra-concentrate, which is only recommended for athletes who have used VESPA CV-25 or Junior in the past.**

Packaging

The CV-25 (as well as the Junior) is contained in a simple, aluminum/plastic style pouch, with a small bit-tip twist off cap. The package is reminiscent of a baby-food pouch, and fits well in the pocket of a race vest, but doesn’t do so well in a pair of shorts. For racing, I’d only recommend having a pouch in a drop bag or at a crew stop. If you absolutely need to carry a VESPA package with you, I’d opt for the smaller Ultra-concentrate which is packaged in a small, rip top package similar to a fast food condiment packet.

Taste/Texture

In my opinion, taste is, by far, the biggest downfall of the product. While not altogether unsavory, the taste of the CV-25 mixture is only slightly reminiscent of honey and is, in fact, relatively bitter making it slightly less than enjoyable on first sip. I find that I have to consume VESPA in one gulp and promptly drink a mouthful or two of water/sports drink to wash away the taste. It is far better cold than room temperature or warm, and I try to refrigerate the package before consuming if at all possible (obviously race logistics might make this difficult to impossible).

On the other hand, texture is not nearly an issue. The compound is a fluid – watery, and easily palatable even mid run.

Benefits/Positive Results –

Most notably, of all the results, is my decreased need for mid-run calorie intake. This makes a world of difference, not only in the overall amount of storage necessary for my runs, but also in the gastronomical side effects of consuming sticky-sweet gels. I find that during a training run, I can easily manage a steady pace on even the most diverse of terrain with not much more than 100 calories per hour and some sodium. During races, I tend to increase my intake to about 200-300 calories per hour (some of which is from “real food”) and salt.

Because of this limited intake and requirement, I almost never carry a race vest for races of 50 miles or less – carrying nothing more than a handheld water bottle, a gel or two, maybe an EPIC Bar, and whatever’s on my back. This allows me to move all the more easily and remain nimble & unhindered over technical descents and upright and unimpeded on uphill climbs.

Additionally, because I only have water and a gel or two bouncing around, I no longer experience bloating or upset stomach mid-run. This really hasn’t been a huge issue for me in the past, but it has come up a few times; when it did it was entirely debilitating and I know that it’s a common discomfort for endurance and ultra-endurance athletes.

Furthermore, I’ve noticed a slight increase in my propensity for recovery, most notably in the level of muscular soreness I feel post-run. This is most likely due to the fact that my body is not producing nearly as much lactic acid as it would be if it were fueling entirely on carbohydrate stores.

There are other purported benefits, like increased mental clarity and alertness, of which I have not noticed a tangible difference. Ultimately, I still feel like I’ve run 30 miles when I’m done running 30 miles, like I’ve run 50 miles when I’ve covered 50 miles.

Drawbacks/Negative Results –

I’ve already mentioned my distaste for the flavor, but there are a few other setbacks I’ve made note of over the past year:

First, if you haven’t cut your carb intake, you may experience an upset stomach. For example, last spring I had just encountered Skratch Labs Hydration Mix and Portables. Most of the Portables recipes are in rice cake form, and because I was experimenting with recipes, I had been eating a LOT of rice in the week or two prior to my long run. I won’t go into the gruesome details, but ultimately I stopped several times on the way home from the trailhead.

Second, the packaging, like I explained earlier, can really only be held in the pocket of a race vest. Functionally, for me, that doesn’t work so well. I’ve resorted, then, to only have VESPA packets available at Drop Bag or Crew Accessible points.

Third, and probably the most important, is that hydration plays a HUGE part in the entirety of fat burning, and therefore in the use of VESPA. Essentially, from my limited understanding of the process, ketosis requires an abundance of electrolytes (primarily in the form of sodium chloride, salt). Without active supplementation, this takes sodium and other salts away from the muscles (which use electron shedding/collection from sodium and potassium to contract and expand muscle cells/bundles) bones, and liver. This also affects your ability to thermo-regulate via sweat. The first few times I used VESPA, I was not a master at hydration, and as such, suffered irreparably from dehydration and cramps. At about the 30 mile mark of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run, for example, I began to experience what can only be described as a series of muscle cramps which felt as if someone were playing my muscle strands like a rhythm guitar. By the end of the race, because I had failed to properly hydrate, my calf muscles twitched involuntarily and eventually seized up; it felt like a grapefruit or softball had taken their place. So long as you heed the warning on VESPA’s website, though, you can pretty easily avoid this kind of discomfort.

Conclusion –

Accepting that VESPA’s product, like any other product will have negatives and drawbacks, and based on my personal experience, I’ve concluded that VESPA is a product of note to say the least. On the whole, I feel that the benefits (and subsequent consequences of those benefits) of VESPA far outweigh the drawbacks – so much so that I use, and will continue to use into the foreseeable future to harvest fat as fuel, VESPA’s product for long runs and on race day (I limit my use to only these two parameters in an effort to continue to expand my fat and carb burning efficiency, and most of my training runs do not exceed two hours).

If you have any questions regarding my experience with, my review on, or VESPA itself, please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you with an answer as soon as possible. Otherwise, for more information or to order your box of VESPA, please visit www.vespapower.com or email info@vespapower.com.

Cheers, and Happy Trails,
Charles

 Product Details:

From the VESPA website: “Shake and consume one pouch of VESPA CV-25 or VESPA JR 45 minutes prior to athletic activity. You can consume VESPA with water or your favorite electrolyte drink. For endurance events and training lasting longer than 2 hours consume VESPA every 2-3 hours”.

**These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.**

Ingredients:

  • FilteredWater
  • Honey
  • Royal Jelly (240mg)
  • Citric acid
  • Bee propolis (120mg)
  • Wasp extract (100mg)
  • Ascorbic acid
  • Product: VESPA CV-25
  • Type: Supplement
  • Serving Size: 1 Packet (80ml)
  • Calories: 18
  • Calories from Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrate: 5g

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes – A Long Term Review

So before we start I have to admit, I might be a little biased in this review. As this is a long term review, I am giving you an opinion on a shoe that has been my go-to trail friend for the last year. It is a bit like giving you an opinion on one of my children, I think they are beautiful, warts and all (not that they have warts but you get the point). Now that you know that, here goes.

Quick Overview

Pro’sCon’s
LightweightLaces
Mad gripTakes a while to get used to
Helps you make the most of the sensory feedbackNot great on tar (if you run to the trail head)
Stylish looksCould do with a bit more underfoot protection
Good moisture management
Did I say lightweight?
Arch protection

A little background understanding – Proprioception

Proprioception is basically a fancy word to explain how your body is good at adjusting how you perform actions based on sensory feedback. It uses nerves to provide feedback to the brain of the environment that surround you. The brain uses this feedback in turn to adjusts your actions. Go on, try it out, take your shoes off and run on different surfaces and see how your body automatically adjusts your stride.

Why is this important to know? Well, Minimal / ‘Barefoot Running’ shoes allow maximum Proprioception in order to allow you to develop an efficient and effective barefoot running style. The team at VIVOBAREFOOT have set out to create shoes that help the body make the absolute most of all this data and turn it into speed, running efficiency and most importantly… fun!

First Impressions of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

Good looking shoes, very easy on the eye indeed!

Key Features of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

The Look

It is safe to say the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes are very, very easy on the eye. The design and colour scheme give it a very relevant appeal in today’s world of brightly coloured and designed shoes.

The Sole

These soles grips like you cannot believe!

The lugs at the bottom of the shoe are what caught my eye first, all 4.5mm of them and with the bantam 2.5mm outsole they ensure maximum grip and sensory feedback.

The lugs on the heel face the opposite direction as the lugs on the front. This helps to keep you on your feet on those steep and slippery descents. During testing in wet wintery conditions this shoe very seldom lost grip. To say that I was impressed with the grip of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes would be an understatement.

There is something to be said about having peace of mind in the ability of your shoes to grip. Knowing you can take a few more risks or be a little more adventurous all adds to faster times and less time spent on the ground.

The Upper

Apart from the brilliant grip of the shoe I noticed on the first run how the breathable mesh really allows for great ventilation around the foot. Running through rivers and in heavy rain the mesh upper also allowed the shoe to drain quickly.

The Inside

The 3mm insole sports a hex-flexmoisture management system which helps to keep the feet warm in colder conditions, you can run in socks in these shoes but I never do.

One of my absolute favourite features of this shoe is the added arch protection on the side of the shoe. A sharp rock into the side of your foot is never fun and I appreciated no rock punctures into my foot arches in these shoes.

A wide toe box allows your toes to spread. This in turn gives better balance and running efficiency, nothing worse than cramped toes! If you have ever been on a 4×4 trip you would know that on soft sand sections you let air out of your tyres to increase grip by giving the tyre a larger contact area. The same concept works here, wider toe box gives a wider surface area which gives more grip.

The Weight

One of my other favourite feature, and for the weight weanies amongst us, the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes weigh in at an incredible 272g, I had to look down at times to check I still had shoes on my feet while blitzing along the trail.

Proper running technique is important to avoid injuries with these puppies.

General Impressions of the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

Back to Proprioception. Since the outsole is a mere 2.5mm you need to be very conscious of not ‘heel striking’. At first my heels were a bit sensitive and my calves and achilles quite sore, but as I ran more and more in the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes, I started to get the hang of the ‘Barefoot Running’ technique.

This isn’t a shoe you can get ‘lazy’ in. I seldom ran with the removable in-sole as I preferred the heightened sensory feedback you get without it. This however also meant less cushioning. Don’t be fooled, there are no gimmicks here! To run in these shoes properly you will need to adjust your technique. This takes time. The shoe is a tool but you need to learn proper technique and allow your body time to adapt to a new ‘Barefoot Running’ style. Dial back your miles if you are new to minimal / barefoot running shoes. Get the technique right and then you will enjoy many injury free miles in the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes.

Good Moisture Management

Things I Did Not Like About the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

This wouldn’t be a proper independent review if I didn’t touch on the things I didn’t enjoy about the shoe.

I would change the laces on the shoes. A silly and small thing I know, but they are far too long. If I didn’t tie them in a triple knot they would kept coming undone as I ran. The last thing you want is to suddenly find yourself face down on a jagged rocky section because you tripped over your own laces. The elastic loc-lace type laces would be my first choice for a shoe like this (which is what VIVOBAREFOOT did for their Trail Freak model).

My other comment, not so much an issue was that the sole only partially protected your feet from sharp objects. This is because it is a ‘Barefoot Running’ shoe and the whole point of Proprioception (sensory feedback) is to provide feedback, I know. None the less, you need to make peace early on with the fact that these are not cushioned shoes and you’re feet will have to adapt to the lack of underfoot protection.

In Conclusion

These shoes are radically fast (maybe because of the increased confidence and traction) and light. They feel solid on any terrain you run on and conditions you are running in.

The toe box is nice and wide which improves the grip and ensures that you do not end up with black toenails. I did runs of up to 35km (21.7mi) in them and they felt great. Even during multi-day events I did not feel that I needed more cushioning in the shoe.

The shoe handles getting wet fairly well and drains water rapidly. I did find they took long to dry out completely though. The shoe has good ventilation and is cool in hot conditions.

On the durability front VIVOBAREFOOT need to do some work. Although the shoes are a year old and have seen many miles on some very unforgiving rocky terrain they did start to deteriorate fairly early on. No show stoppers but at the price point the shoes comes in on I expected more in the durability department.

So my advice to you if you decide to buy these shoes is this, give it some time. You will need time to adapt your running style, get your body strong (feet and calves in particular) and get used to the increased sensory feedback. If this is your first pair of minimalist / barefoot shoes this can take some time, don’t rush it. Start pre-season when mileage is minimal and build up gradually as you feel your body adapting.

I personally would recommend the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes. I have used them for a year now and still love them. I tried a pair of cushioned shoes a couple of days ago and turned back after a couple of hundred metres to change to my VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

If you were a teenager in the 90’s you will at some point have had your favourite TV show set on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A quirky comedy about a typical mischievous and rough around the edges teenager who get’s thrust into the high life when he moves in with his wealthy Aunt and Uncle who live in Bel Air. Just why it was such a big hit I believe is that in some ways we can all relate to Will Smith’s character. Even if we weren’t a teenager at the time it is highly likely that we secretly dreamt to be a youth again. You have to admit it, being a teenager is pretty exciting, fun and carefree. As a teenager you have very little responsibilities, you think you know everything, and life is a beach. It is fun not being grown up, to have an excuse for your wild behaviour. I mean when did we as adults become so serious about everything? Maybe it’s the bills to pay at the end of the month, or the car or house we want to buy so we work extra hard to get it. I don’t know about you but I constantly need to remind myself to slow down once in a while and actually have some fun, to not take life so seriously..

Enter The Fresh Prince of Boston. The quirky, mischievous and a little rough around the edges teenager of the running world. The Fresh Prince of Boston, also known as the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe (this particular review is about the trail version hence the name of the site). When New Balance first brought out the Fresh Foams they had an air of mischief to them, in many ways they were nothing like New Balance had ever brought out before. Moving from it’s Rev-lite and minimus mid and outer soles New Balance was taking a gamble, in a sense rewriting it’s legacy in an over saturated industry. A bold move that is not unlike a teenager who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, not afraid to try something fresh, throw off the mundane and have some fun. I mean just look at the colour options you get with the shoe, if that doesn’t scream a wild carefree teenager like spirit then I don’t know what will.

Don’t get me wrong, just because I am comparing this shoe to a wild and fresh teenager doesn’t mean the shoe shouldn’t be taken seriously! In fact this shoe, while being wild and fresh, is very serious about it’s business and it’s business is performance.

Bearded Brother taking the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe for a test drive.

Lets look at some of the specs:

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Upper:

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see that New Balance went with a singular stitch mesh design for the Fresh Foam Trail 980 Upper. It does breathe nicely which is great but it also hamper’s it’s strength and durability on the trail, I am happy to report though that the v2’s will come out with a cross stitched dual density mesh which will make it much stronger on the trail. Along with the padded heel bridge and the ‘Gusseted” tongue which very effectively keeps debris out of the shoe the Fresh Foam Trail’s hug your foot very nicely. Out on the trail I experienced very little niggles to my feet inside the shoe, the fact that the overlays are not sewed makes a massive difference and enables the shoe to comfortably be worn without socks.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Midsole:

As mentioned before New Balance has gone with a foam design on the midsole, this according to New Balance allows you to “Experience the science of soft — off road. With the same impossibly plush and natural underfoot feel as the road version, the Fresh Foam 980 Trail delivers a smooth yet stable ride.” The smooth yet stable ride comes from a ground clearance of 29.3mm at the heel and 22.7mm at the forefoot. This equates to an approximate 4mm heel to toe drop which for me is my most favourite feature of the shoe. New Balance have kept their philosophy from their more natural running inspired minimus shoes and kept the drop as minimal as possible while still offering a smooth and comfortable ride for the longer runs.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Outersole:

Any trail shoe worth it’s salt will always be graded according to grip and ride-ability. The fact that the Fresh Foam 980 Trails has a full ground contact out sole with multi-directional lugs which ensure fresh grip on even the most mischievous uphill and downhill tracks is a massive plus for this shoe. A “fast finish” angle to the outsole gives the shoe a great ‘roll-on’ effect as you run along the trail which I enjoyed quite a lot.

Good looking shoe – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Performance:

So how does it perform? It’s one thing to list a bunch of fresh sounding specs but out in the real world, on the trail, does it all come together like an inside out California roll or is it a fresh flop? First let me give you some context to my running, I am and always will be a ‘running with the fairies’ minimalist runner. For me less is always more when it comes to a running shoe so it is safe to say I was little skeptical of running in a ‘maximal’ shoe again. I was not disappointed. In fact I literally had to hide the Fresh Foams away after two weeks so I could go out in my minimus shoes again. Out on the trail they are incredibly comfortable, and at 8.9oz (230g) they are mischievously light! They handled the rocky, technical sections of the mountain really well and I felt very confident in their grip. They were, simply, a breathe of fresh air! The ride was soft yet surprisingly responsive and on the steep descents they were care free and agile. On hard pack and tar they were fantastic. The one thing to consider though is they do ride about a half size too small so if you are looking at them then try a size up as the toe box is a bit narrow.

Bearded Brother review – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe in Action

I do still find my minimus shoes faster at higher speeds through the really technical stuff but for holding a consistent pace over the long haul the Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe is about as comfortable and responsive as you can ask for.

So I guess the question you need to ask yourself is how seriously are you taking yourself? Do you need a bit more fun in your life, a bit more foot loose and fancy free vibes? If so then you need to meet The Fresh Prince of Boston, the quirky mischievous and a little rough around the edges teenager of the running world.

Can I perform on a Low Carb High Fat Diet?

A Low Carb High Fat diet (LCHF) such as Paleo, Banting and Atkins is all the rage at the moment. Can you race and perform on such a diet though?

Well, I think it depends on who you talk to. In my opinion you can definitely train on on a Low Carb High Fat diet. Racing depends on a couple of things, such as the type of race, duration and how fat adapted you are.

One of the best resources on the subject I have found is a book “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” (by Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek). These guys have been researching the topic of Low Carb High Fat diet and endurance sport performance for a long time and in their opinion it is very possible to perform on a low carb high fat diet.

My Experience on a Low Carb High Fat Diet

I found (as was to be expected) that at first my performance definitely took a big dip. The first couple of weeks, especially the first couple of days were very hard. I had zero energy. After a while though my body did become more fat adapted and as long as I did not push myself into the red (anaerobic zone) I was fine. The overall improvement in terms of weight loss and energy levels over a couple of weeks were remarkable though. After about two weeks training at anything but really hard efforts became easy and very enjoyable.

I completed a number of multi-day trail running and multi-sport events on a LCHF diet and I think it works for me. I still battle with sugar cravings and occasionally succumb to the temptation. My overall fitness levels and general health is very good and I have more energy than before.

Some Help From My Friends

I stumbled on VESPA Power, an amino acid supplement that worked really well for me on a LCHF diet (www.vespapower.com). VESPA assisted my body to metabolize fat at higher intensity levels.

What are the pros doing?

Many pro athletes (including some pro continental cycling teams) now use a middle of the road strategy of train low (carb intake) and race high (carb intake). If you have to push into the red during your race this might be an option.

Race Duration and a Low Carb High Fat Diet

During long races you will need to supplement with carbs if you are not fat adapted. Your body can only store a limited amount of carbs. Your fat stores are vast however and so if you are fat adapted and can use your fat stores and will be less reliant on carb supplementation and you will be able to go longer and feel better.

Race Intensity and a Low Carb High Fat Diet

Intensity is the killer though. The higher the intensity the less the body’s ability to burn fat (unless you use something like Vespa Power). You can however through conditioning make your body “better” at burning fat and to some extent overcome the intensity issue.

Conclusion

My suggestion is to try LCHF if you are battling to keep the weight off even though you are active. Stick with it for a couple of weeks, it is hard in the beginning. Don’t cheat, if you do you will not transition your body from preferring carbs to burning Ketones, and do your research, many will tell you that you are going to die of a heart attack which is an unsubstantiated claim…

#BestGiftEver: Fuel to Conquer South Africa’s 100km Ultra Trail

Rae Trew-Browne, a 29-year old South African native, was a fierce competitor on his high school cross country team growing up. After falling out of the running routine during post-graduate life, a friend asked Browne to compete in a sprint triathlon with him a few years ago. He struggled and was unable to finish the race. Now Browne is competing in 50km trail races in his hometown of South Africa and gearing up for his first 100km next year. “If I had finished that first triathlon I had attempted, I don’t think I would’ve been so motivated to start running again,” says Rae. “Because the race beat me I was so determined to come back and conquer it.”

Originally from Johanessburg, Browne moved to Cape Town three years ago and started trail running on their famous stunning mountain terrain. The high peaks and spectacular views gave him the running bug. Now he runs 12km both to and from work almost every day, does five-hour mountain runs/hikes on the weekends and has competed in numerous mountain races. “I experienced some painful setbacks in my personal life and being able to push myself, only to discover you can always go further was a great accomplishment,” says Rae. “Conquering physical mountains gave me the confidence to conquer the emotional mountains I was also facing at the time.”

As we approach 2015, Browne is gearing up for a 60km race on the Swellendam Hiking Trail – one of South Africa’s most sought-after trails,where he’ll aim to qualify for a 100km ultra trail race in Cape Town. “Competitors only have 15 hours to complete the 100km, so it will be a decent challenge,” says Rae. “Finishing in the cut-off would be a dream come true!”

We want to help Rae cross the finish line so we sent him a care package with some specific brand new running shoes and apparel including the Minimus Zero Trail, the Fresh Foam Trail and the glow in the dark Minimus 10v2 (Rae snapped these shots of him in action with his gifts right after they arrived). “Being able to compete in the mountains is an amazing gift,” says Rae. “Running can be tough at times but to be able to race in an ultra would be a huge gift for me.”

We can’t wait to see what mountains Rae conquers in 2015! At the very least, we hope the new gear inspires him in his endeavors and is the best gift ever this holiday season.

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