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The holidays are coming, in case your email inbox isn’t jammed full of pre-Black Friday offers or you otherwise somehow missed it. Wondering what to get the runners in your life to show them you care? Let’s start with essential safety gear. Bonus: all of these suggestions work for cyclists and others who might be outdoors at night. Many of these brands are offering the same or similar deals at your local running and cycling shops, so shop local if you can.

Be Safe, Be Seen

NoxGear Tracer 360 vest

NoxGear. My favorite way to be seen, hands down. Their best-known product is the Tracer360 vest, and personally I think everyone who runs at night should own one. Essentially it is a lightweight, minimal “vest” that you wear over your regular running clothes. (More of a belt that has loops that go over your shoulders–doesn’t add bulk.) The shoulder straps light up, and there are both solid color and flashing pattern options. When it’s dark outside, there’s no way you’ll be missed. Save 35% on all NoxGear with code BRIANARUNS (courtesy of @matmilesmedals). https://www.noxgear.com/tracer360

ProViz. A few years ago I won one of these jackets in an online contest, and I still cannot believe my luck. The fabric seems like a grey/silver until light shines on it and then BOOM! it lights up like someone plugged it into a socket. (sturdy and long-lasting too, so think of this as an investment in your night wardrobe forever.) No photo I take will do it justice, so I highly recommend you go look at their website. ProViz makes sport-specific safety clothing for runners and cyclists, and also has a line of general activewear including fleece lined visibility gear for less sweaty endeavours. The 2020 Black Friday deal is 20% off everything. https://www.provizsports.com/en-us/

Knuckle Lights. Useful for all situations where you might run in the dark, from casual night jogs to ultrarunning events. Knuckle lights strap to your hands, just like the name indicates, and increase your visibility in two ways: (1) your literal visibility to others (traffic, cyclists, other runners, etc.) and (2) your visibility in the sense that you can better see the path in front of you. There’s a money-back satisfaction guarantee, and a five-year warranty, so you’ve pretty much got nothing to lose. I’m proud to share the love, since Knuckle Lights is based in Oregon. https://knucklelights.com/

Brilliant Reflective by 3M. If the runner in your life is picky about gear, or likes maximum options, you can help them make the gear they already own and love reflective. Brilliant Reflective Strips come in both stick on (temporary, pull back off) and iron on (more of a permanent solution) options. This is one of the least expensive ways to up your visibility, and you can add it to your clothing, bike helmet, or even your bike! There are multiple varieties and colors too. https://brilliantreflective.com/

Safety Skin. We all know that one guy who runs in shorts and a tank top, year round, regardless of weather or temperature. If that’s you or the runner in your life, Safety Skin is for you. Safety Skin is basically a deodorant-like stick with a wax base that you put directly onto your skin. This makes it easy to put a reflective strip anywhere on your body, regardless of whether you’ve got clothing there. There’s a sunblock option too. https://www.safetyskinproducts.com/

Other Options. When looking at winter running or cycling gear, keep an eye out for gear with reflective properties. Most major brands have at least one line of tights, pants, shorts, etc. that has a reflective strip or pattern on it. Gear can also have reflective properties, for example on a SPI belt or an Amphipod hand-held bottle. Staying seen is one of the top ways to avoid getting hit!

Be Safe, Carry ID

I’ve looked around, and there is really no substitute at all for a Road ID. It’s superior to carrying just your phone since most phones screen lock, and even better than a drivers license since the Road ID can get crucial medical or allergy information to responders that your state-issued ID cannot. I’m so in love with the Road ID that I personally own three or four (I have one that was specific to the original FitBit, obviously I’m not using that one anymore…). No one likes to think about it, but what happens if you are out on a run, by yourself, and something awful happens–you get hit by a car, you have a heart attack or a stroke? Road ID helps make sure first responders and emergency personnel can help you appropriately. I’m a wrist ID person, though I’ve used the velcro on the bands to connect my Road ID to my running vest. I bought one for my Dad, I bought one for the family dog. If your arm party is already strong, you can get a Road ID to attach to your running watch, your Apple watch, or your shoe. My favorite part of Road ID is the connectivity part: in the event I am unable to assist first responders, there is a code on the ID they can use to access my essential medical details (which I keep updated) and my emergency contact list. The cost for this is minimal, even for the low mileage I run each year. Peace of mind for all of my family, too. Did I mention the engraving is guaranteed for life? Road ID also has an app that allows people YOU select to follow you in real time, which is super useful if you have an accident and can’t tell your family which hospital you are headed to. Current sale is 20% off, and up to 80% off of the clearance items. https://www.roadid.com/

Be Safe, Stay Connected

Wearsafe Tag. If you find yourself in an unsafe situation or suddenly needing help, the Wearsafe Tag is your best friend. When you get the tag, you download an app and set up your contacts list. If you find yourself needing help, you just push the button on the tag. The app alerts your contacts that something is wrong and sends them a live audio feed. Your contacts can use the app’s group chat feature to coordinate a response–which might mean going to you directly, or might mean calling 911. The tag vibrates to let you know someone has seen your alert, and you can press the button again to let them know you’re okay–the app will turn blue to alert them you’re okay. It’s easy to strap or clip the tag to your running gear. If you have a friend who runs alone and you worry, this is the perfect gift. https://wearsafe.com/

Be Safe, Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Aftershokz. Regardless of whether you’re running at night or during the day, the number one thing you can do to promote your own safety is to stay aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, many runners go out wearing noise-canceling headphones that impede their ability to hear what is going on around them, from other runners to approaching cyclists to cars. (Really, it just takes one bicycle-runner collision to really mess up your body.) I’ve been a huge fan of Aftershokz for a long time. Instead of buds that sit in your ears and block out other sound, Aftershokz sit outside of your ears and use bone-conduction technology. This means you can hear everything going on around you. Fun fact: there are also Aftershokz for swimmers! https://us.aftershokz.com/ BUT WAIT! If you want to save up to $35 off (discount depends on what you order) all bone conduction headphones, use this link from @MatMilesMedals: https://glnk.io/4w4/sharp  (On December 6, the link returns to a 15% discount)

Be Helpful: What’s Your Go-to Gift for Runner (and Athlete) Safety?

Drop me your favorites! What’s the best gadget, piece of clothing, or product that helps keep you safe while you’re out? What do you secretly hope to find under the tree, in your stocking, or waiting for you wherever your presents appear?

Disclosure: I received the gently used Grid and new-in-package MobiPoint Massage Ball as conference swag, directly from TriggerPoint Therapy, one of the sponsors of Sweat Pink’s BlogFest at IDEA World 2019. (I’m only giving them away because I already had my own!) I wasn’t asked to write a blog post, host a giveaway, or anything else for that matter. All opinions and words are my own.

What Have You Heard about Foam Rolling?

Pictures of The Grid
The Grid (left), The Grid Vibe Plus (right), and the travel Grid

If you haven’t heard about “foam rolling,” you’ve probably been living under a rock. There’s WAY more to the world of self-myofacial release (SMFR or MFR) than the foamy logs you see at the Relax the Back store or in your yoga/pilates studio. Essentially, SMFR is a type of self-massage that often involves specialized tools, including various kinds of stick-rollers, log/tube-shaped rollers, balls, and other tools. SMFR techniques manipulate and massage the muscles and surrounding tissues, increasing blood flow and elasticity. In my experience, while there is sometimes a bit of “owww, that’s a tight spot,” the end result is a bit like the end result of a massage: everything feels better.

I first encountered the Grid at an SCW Mania event nearly ten years ago, back when TP Therapy was a small company based in Austin, TX. (It is now owned by Implus, the American parent company of SKLZ, Harbinger, Balega, RockTape, FuelBelt, Sofsole, Spenco, and more.) Their trainers–including Cassidy Phillips, the founder and CEO–taught several practical SMFR sessions. Cassidy taught us a little bit about fascia, the connective tissue that helps form the structure of the human body; it’s like a scaffolding around the bones that helps keep other body tissues and organs in their place. Think of it as a stretchy mesh: if you pull on one corner and wad it up, the rest of the mesh stretches out to accommodate. Fascia does something similar in the body (which is why when your left low back gets tight, you might find your right upper back, or some other seemingly unrelated body part, is also upset). Cassidy also explained that human muscle tissue is just like any other animal muscle tissue; when it is fully hydrated and moving well it is like a tender steak, but when it is partially dehydrated and has knots or spots of uneven tension it is more like beef jerky. (That image has stuck with me, and I’m a more hydrated-human because of it.)

Before I get into why I love The Grid, let’s take a step back. If you’ve tried SMFR you probably agree that it feels good (well, after it stops hurting like hell), and maybe you’ve read some other blogger yammer on about how fantastic it is. That’s all well and good, but fancy tea tastes good and no matter how many bloggers say so it isn’t going to “detox” you (at least not any more than your liver and kidneys already do). So…is foam rolling worthwhile, or is it some woo-woo goop-esque trend?

What Science Says

If you’re a science geek, you probably already know about PubMed. If you are an athlete interested in exercise science, or a person interested in the latest nutrition research, or a blogger who doles out advice on anything related to the human body (including products and ingredients) you really ought to bookmark it. PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institute of Health. PubMed largely includes abstracts of peer-reviewed articles, though a few articles are available for free. The articles include clinical trials, epidemiology reviews, case studies, and more. You can choose to view the results by “best match” or “most recent”

Pro tip: if you don’t want to pay for access to an article, but you really want to read it, you have two free options. One, reach out to the authors of the paper. Many authors are happy that someone wants to read their research, and would be thrilled to send you a copy of the publication. Two, seek out access via a college or university library. If you attended a college or university, start there. Many allow their alumni to use the library resources for free or super cheap. If you didn’t, you can try a nearby college or university. Many have a non-student library card that you can obtain for a fee, and that may include access to electronic resources.

A PubMed search for “foam rolling” returned 83 results! (The more scientific “self myofascial release” returned 100. There is some overlap, of course.) Some of the articles are very general, while others are almost nauseatingly specific, such as Behara B, and Jacobson BH’s “Acute Effects of Deep Tissue Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching on Muscular Strength, Power, and Flexibility in Division I Linemen.” J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):888-892. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001051. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26121431

A Little of the Bad News

There are several articles that cast doubt on what you’ve likely heard about foam rolling.

At least one review concludes that the term “self-myofascial release” is misleading, because there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that foam rolling and similar practices actually release myofascial restrictions. Behm, DG and Wilke, J. Do Self-Myofascial Release Devices Release Myofascia? Rolling Mechanisms: A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2019 Aug;49(8):1173-1181. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01149-y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31256353  It strikes me that this is a fair conclusion, since the research on foam rolling and similar practices is still pretty young, and it’s entirely possible that any results achieved are from something other than myofascial release, maybe improved blood circulation, or something about how your breathing changes while you are doing it–we don’t know. (But we might, soon!)

Bundle of TP tools
TP Performance Collection (minus the Baller Block–trust me, you want that too) and MB5 Massage Ball

Another study concluded that adding SMFR to static stretching did not have an effect on hamstring stiffness, as a group that did only static stretching achieved the same results. Mortin, RW et al. Self-Myofascial Release: No Improvement of Functional Outcomes in ‘Tight’ Hamstrings. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016 Jul;11(5):658-63. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0399. Epub 2015 Nov 9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26562930

Remember that in order to make sense of any study’s result, you need to take a look at who the participants were (students, professionals, weekend warriors?), what the researchers looked at (how did they measure results? what did they consider or fail to consider?), and the testing protocol (what did the participants actually do? was there a control group?). The results of a small study of college tennis players, for example, may not apply to a Gen Xer who only does Crossfit.

A Little of the Good News

I love the way I feel in my body after a good session with The Grid, so I almost don’t care if there is any science to support it. Since I’m recommending it to you though, I think it would be irresponsible to talk about how great I think it is if in reality it’s a sham like detoxing foot pads or alkaline water. Here are a few studies that found foam rolling or SMFR beneficial–these are the ones I found interesting, but you can go find more on PubMed. The term “key finding” is mine (as some abstracts use “results,” others use “conclusions,” and I like a tidy organization to my references).

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to an improved range of motion:

  • Su H, et al. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. J Sport Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6):469-477. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2016-0102. Epub 2016 Oct 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27736289 Key finding: flexibility test scores improved significantly more after foam rolling a compared with static and dynamic stretching.
  • Mohr AR, et al. Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. J Sport Rehabil. 2014 Nov;23(4):296-9. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2013-0025. Epub 2014 Jan 21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24458506 Key finding: Regardless of the treatment, all subjects had increased range of motion (regardless of treatment: static stretching, foam rolling and static stretching, or only foam rolling). Use of a foam roller followed by static-stretching increased range of motion more than static stretching alone.
  • Bushell JE, et al. Clinical Relevance of Foam Rolling on Hip Extension Angle in a Functional Lunge Position. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2397-403. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000888. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734777
    Key finding: repeated foam rolling is beneficial, both objectively and subjectively, for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity.

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to improvement in recovery, including delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS, or the soreness you get a day or two after your workout):

  • Pearcey GE, et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413
    Key finding: Foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures.
  • Rey E, et al. Effects of Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool in Professional Soccer Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Aug;33(8):2194-2201. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29016479 Key finding: soccer coaches and trainers working with high-level players should use a structured recovery session of 15-20 minutes using foam rolling at the end of a training session to enhance recovery.

Some studies looked at specific health conditions or effects, rather than muscular performance. A few of the ones I found nifty:

  • Improvement of Fibromyalgia. Ceca, D et al. Benefits of a self-myofascial release program on health-related quality of life in people with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Jul-Aug;57(7-8):993-1002. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07025-6. Epub 2017 Jan 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28139112
    Key finding: regular, structured practice of SMFR can improve health-related quality of life for people with fibromyalgia.
  • Reduction of Arterial Stiffness. Okamoto T, et al. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23575360 Key finding: SMFR with a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness and improves vascular endothelial function.

In short, while the jury is still out on some claims about foam rolling, there is also some evidence–at least regarding the population and specific protocols studied–that foam rolling provides a benefit. I mean beyond feeling good when you’re done.

Back To The Grid

Comparison of The Grid and The Grid Vibe
Above, my well-worn The Grid (yours will be nicer); The Grid Vibe Plus is a bit more slender

Unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid has a hollow hard-plastic core. (While there is a smaller travel Grid available–think as if you took a slice of the roller–the original Grid is great for travel, as you can stuff a lot of clothing in there inside your suitcase.) On the outside, the Grid is textured in an un-even grid-like pattern: small squares are high and firm, like fingertips or a thumb tip; long and narrow rectangles are more like fingers; and larger rectangular flat areas are like palms. Positioning the Grid so that a particular surface hits the targeted area changes how it feels on your body. Rolling through all of the different zones feels delicious to me! In my first class, we learned techniques to roll out the peroneals, IT band, quads, anterior tibialis, and more.

Also unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid is very sturdy. (I’ve had my personal Grid since that first SCW Mania, I’ve toted it around the country, and you’d be hard pressed to tell.) The fact that it is hollow means you can also incorporate it into exercises apart from SMFR. For example, you can hold the sides (palms on top, fingers tucked inside the hollow center) and plank. This adds an extra dose of instability to your plank, as any shift of your body weight forward or back will cause the Grid to roll. Another example exercise is the lunge. Standing with your front foot on the Grid and your back leg in an extended lunge, keep your torso upright and your front leg steady while you drop you back knee to a right angle. Another example is the plank-to-pike exercise: start in a plank with your toes on the Grid, transition to a pike with the soles of your feet on the Grid. Quite possibly my favorite is the wall squat using the Grid between your back and the wall.

Your Only Tool Is a Hammer…Is Everything a Nail?

One of the things that impressed me was that the staff at the TriggerPoint booth were more interested in showing you how to use their tools than selling you the tools. SMFR isn’t something you just do here and there to make a workout smoother, or to recover from a workout. In order to create and maintain results, any SMFR program requires repetition–just like exercise. The TriggerPoint website includes a library of videos on how to use their products (which back in the day we bought on DVD). After using it in a workshop targeted towards runners, I purchased a tools kit (similar to what is now called the TP Performance Collection) that came with a booklet outlining a total body program (including a dry-erase calendar to plan your program); I also bought The Ultimate 6 for Runners–a similar booklet that targets the soleus, qaudcriceps, psoas, piriformis, pectorales, and thoracic spine. I particularly like the booklets. They are spiral bound to lay flat, and have plenty of photographs in addition to the text description.

Today, the TP Therapy products in my SMFR tool kit also include the Grid Vibe (thinner than the Grid, but OMG the vibration is brilliant!), MB5 large foam massage ball, MobiPoint massage ball, and the Nano X foot roller (the extra-dense version of the Nano foot roller). Recently TP Therapy released a new tool, the MB Vibe, which is similar to the MB5 but also has vibration to it. (I cannot wait to get my hands on one!)

Win Your Own!

I have ONE prize pack to give away. It includes The Grid, the original TP Therapy product, in orange; and the MobiPoint Massage Ball (a sweet treat for runner feet!). Apologies to my friends elsewhere, but postage is spendy these days and so I have to limit this giveaway to U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited.

Start by leaving a comment and tell me about your experiencce: Have you tried foam rolling or another form of self myofacial release? Which tools do you use? What’s your favorite exercise? How often do you roll?

Then work your way through the steps in the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a pair of Legend Compression socks for testing purposes because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

If you’ve been following along, you know that socks are my jam. Even before I started running, I had two large dresser drawers filled with socks. (With the addition of compression socks, they have now spilled into a third drawer. Clearly it’s time to get rid of some t-shirts so I have more room.) Naturally I leaped at the opportunity to try Legend Compression socks.

Fresh out of the package and ready for testing--instructions included!
Fresh out of the package and ready for testing–instructions included!

By the way, if you want a concise, bullet-pointed, reader friendly review (plus pictures of the cute yellow socks!) you’re in the wrong place. Try BibRave Pro Casey‘s review instead.  (BibRave Pro Janelle also did a less verbose review, but she picked the same aqua color that I did.)

See how those socks are leg-shaped and not tube-shaped? Yeah, that’s the mark of a quality sock right there. (Otherwise how could the compression be graduated?) They have the size marked on them, which initially made me worry I had two left socks. Nope! While I’m on the topic of shape, the “Wear 101” card that came with the socks is helpful in case you’ve never tried compression and I’m surprised other brands don’t include it. Basics: to put them on, bunch up the sock and get your foot in there first, toes then heel; then begin to pull them on from the bottom (as opposed to pulling on the top edge of the sock). To take them off, reverse the directions (don’t just yank on the toes!). Store flat with their friends. I’m used to struggling with compression socks, like they are a girdle for your calves, but Legend isn’t like that. BibRave Pro Chris also loved how easy they were to get on and off.

The first try-on! NO seams. Wraps around the arch of the foot without squeezing. Cushion in the toe and heel. Sweat-wicking too!
The first try-on! NO seams. Wraps around the arch of the foot without squeezing. Cushion in the toe and heel. Sweat-wicking too!

Legend is based in North Carolina. All of their compression performance socks, leg sleeves, and recovery socks are made in the USA. That by itself is a huge plus for me. Even better, the founder, John Thomas, spent 30 years working in the medical industry (where compression products are tightly regulated, unlike the sports products on the market) and ran the largest compression manufacturing facility in the world.

Compression socks are like a happy little hug for your legs. But don’t just take my word for it; BibRave Pro Chadd is also a compression lover, as is BibRave Pro Christine. Check out his blog for pictures of these unisex socks in black. BibRave Pro Nora is also a compression fan (she opted for a classic white, since Legend was kind enough to let us choose colors, while BibRave Pro Jen picked classic black.)

They are not just “tight socks” however. Think of how your blood circulates in your body, with arteries taking fresh, oxygenated blood from your heart to your muscles, and veins bringing back the “used up” blood. Veins are closer to the skin and less muscular than arteries, so they are more susceptible to a hug from a nice sock. Since the veins in your legs are helping to move blood back to your heart, they are working against the pull of gravity. When you work out or run, your muscles need more oxygenated blood (hence your pulse speeds up and your heart works harder), which means your muscles produce more de-oxygenated, used-up blood, and those little veins have to work harder. The theory is that giving those veins a little hug helps to give them a leg up (you know I couldn’t resist!).

Look, I'm on a roll! I crack myself up, but really, compression plus the Nano Roller is the best!
Look, I’m on a roll! I crack myself up, but really, compression plus the Nano Roller is the best!

From personal experience, I can tell you that compression also helps reduce the amount of movement in your legs. Okay wait, let me explain that… If you are a woman, you’re familiar with the difference between a good sports bra (keeps your breasts from bouncing all over the place) and a bad one (lets your breasts swing from side to side and bounce up and down); if you’re a man, you may have similar observations from seeing female runners. Compression socks basically do the same thing as a good sports bra, hugging your muscles and other tissues a little tighter to the bone, reducing the amount of bounce. I have big ol’ soccer player calves (they are strong and muscular, and while they prevent loads of cute boots from fitting, I love them for their strength), so I am a fan of compression.

The amount of compression in a sock is measured in millimeters of mercury. Legwear sold as medical grade compression is tightly regulated (no pun intended!) while the “recreational” flavor of compression is not regulated the same way. This is one of the reasons it matter that Legend founder John Thomas has a background in medical compression. (Think about it; if graduated compression helps, what if the compression is reversed or otherwise messed up? #BadNews) Legend Compression Performance Socks are 15-20 mmHG of graduated compression.

Other benefits of the Legend compression socks (the performance socks!) include:

  • UV protections
  • cushioned toe and heel
  • moisture wicking material
  • breathability

I have really weird feet, so I prefer to run in double-layered socks and compression sleeves for long runs, but the Legend Compression Performance Socks were delicious for 5k and 10k.  BibRave Pro Brie wore hers for trail running, where I’m sure I will also love them. I specifically appreciated the seamless toe construction (seams give me blisters). I also loved them for recovery. (Legend does make a separate compression sock for recovery.) Legend also touts greater power input (makes sense to me, since there is less jiggle!), increased oxygen levels and blood circulation, and reduced muscle fatigue. I don’t have a way to measure these items.

Legend Compression Performance Socks were great on my runs, and I loved them for recovery. (Cute, fit well, great for hopping on a plane a few hours after a half marathon.) Right now, you can get a discount on Legend compression wear from BibRave!

Click here to share the discount with your tweeps! bibsave15 scores you 15% off, courtesy of Legend Compression and BibRave!Click To Tweet

When you order your first pair, be sure to check out their sizing guide. BibRave Pro John agrees with me that they fit true to size (per the guide on their website). Don’t rely on sizing guides from other brands–I have a size 10.5 foot and wear a medium in another brand, but the large Legend socks were perfect for me.

Clean, dry, and ready to go!
Clean, dry, and ready to go!

Oh, final note: compression isn’t just for running!  BibRave Pro Haley likes to wear hers when she lifts. Same benefits–increased circulation, “fresh” legs, comfort–plus they make a nice shin guard for your deadlifts. (I’m looking at you, CrossFitters.) Legend comes in lots of fun colors (BibRave Pro Jessica picked purple!) so grab more than one pair!

Have you tried compression socks?

Disclosure: I received an original Buff® for testing purposes because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

The genuine article has the Buff logo on it--proof of quality and brand!
The genuine article has the Buff logo on it–proof of quality and brand!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Buff®

Okay, maybe you already knew this. If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, or have seen me at any races, then you probably know about my love affair with Buff® products. I use the UV half Buff® as a hat liner when running, which keeps my bangs out of my face and covers my ears (which never seen to get sunblock on them for some reason). I’ve used UV Buff® in the full size as a hat replacement/”do-rag,” to keep my neck warm during the pre-race chill in Arizona and Nevada, as a sweat mopper during races, and as a combination hat liner and ice holder during the 2016 Buffalo Marathon. As I started to figure out just how useful Buff® is–and how each variety (e.g. UV, infinity scarf, merino wool) is multifunctional–I could kick myself for not grabbing a drawerfull earlier. Given the chance to score a Buff® I will always be interested, and I’ve purchased quite a few for myself, friends, and family. Since I love Buff® products so much, I’m thrilled that BibRave and Buff® have an ongoing partnership!

Sweaty post-race selfie at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach
Sweaty post-race selfie at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach

It’s local.

Betcha didn’t know that! (Okay, local to me…) While the parent company (Original Buff®, S.A.) is in Spain, Buff® Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary company) is located in Sonoma County, northern California! No wonder they are a sponsor of the Levi’s Granfondo in Santa Rosa.

On my wrist to mop sweat (Half Buff)
On my wrist to mop sweat (Half Buff)

Don’t be a Pirate.

Buff® is a Brand Name that Indicates The Real Deal. Just like Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Clinique, and Nike, the term Buff® is a registered trademark. (Through the magic of WordPress I have found the ® symbol!) Unfortunately, just like you can buy knock-off Fendi and Gucci out of some dude’s trunk in many cities, there are imitation/fake/imposter Buff® products out there. (Note that it is absolutely 100% fine to sell a multi-functional headgear, headwrap, tube, etc. but calling it a “buff” when it is not a Buff® is misleading and a violation of trademark law.) For example, at least two race series I know of advertise that runners get a race-themed “buff” with registration, and the Marathon Maniacs and the Half Fanatics sell a club logo “buff” in their member stores. This isn’t just bad news for Buff®, it’s bad news for you.

First, you’re not getting a real Buff® when you buy these products, but you’re probably paying the same price–or more! When I order a Buff® or am promised a Buff®, I expect the real deal. The real original Buff® is made from a soft technical fabric that dries quickly, wicks sweat away from you, and is treated with Polygiene to prevent the build up of bacteria in the product. (The UV version blocks at least 93% of harmful UV rays, there is a reflective Buff® for low-light safety, and Insectshield® has a built-in repellent that lasts through 70 washes.)  The fabric has been tested and is warranted to meet several international standards including Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (which prohibits the use of certain types of chemicals that are known to be harmful to humans or the planet). Fake “buff” products–at least every single one I have seen–are generally made of cheaper fabric that holds the heat in, doesn’t dry quickly, and has no UV protection.

Second, you’re hurting Buff® when you buy fakes. Genuine Buff® products are reasonably priced, and there are great sales (be sure to get on the mailing list!). There is no reason for any race or club to offer a fake “buff” because Buff® offers custom products (here’s the U.S. site!) and has a low minimum order requirement (25 pieces!). Buff also supports numerous international charities with custom designs, including UNICEF, Walking With The Wounded, and World Horse Welfare. (In the U.S., charity designs include The Breast Cancer Fund, and Buff® USA sponsors the Marine Corps Marathon.)

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Buff® isn’t just for running!

Last year I bought a super cute Buff® headband after trying it out at a race expo. (Most headbands go shooting off of my head like a slingshot. Insert joke about having a big head here.) My intent was to use it during yoga and group ex classes to help keep sweat from my head/hair off of my face. My body is very efficient at cooling itself, which is to say I sweat A LOT during workouts. It did a great job of keeping my bangs from dripping sweat into my eyes, and further did a great job of keeping adjacent hair from sticking to my face, but there was still the issue of my ponytail whacking me in the face during sun salutations.

In addition to my large melon, I have baby-fine, stick-straight hair with zero texture. If you put a clip barrette into my hair, it will slowly slide right out–same with most hair elastics (unless applied super duper tightly)–and the giant claw-clips tend to wobble unless held in place with something else (like a shower cap) and are impractical for yoga classes. During this round of BibRave testing, I opted for a full Buff® from the National Geographic collection. (The design I picked was so awesome that it is now sold out.) At first I tried wearing it foulard/do-rag style (see the “How to Wear” video on the Buff® website). While that kept more sweat off of my face and kept all of my hair from sticking to my face, it had the unfortunate effect of letting my ponytail turn into a giant dreadlock.

The finished look, from the top
The finished look, from the top

So I messed around with it more, and came up with a solution. It’s not in the video on the website, so here’s how to do it:

  1. Pull Buff® over head and all the way down onto neck, pattern side out. (Like the neckerchief in the video)
  2. Pull top edge of Buff® up over head (temporarily covering face) until bottom edge of Buff hits chin. Ponytail should be inside (not below the bottom edge). (This is like foulard/do-rag in the video.)
  3. Scrunch and/or roll bottom edge of Buff® up to hairline; multiple layers of fabric should be at the hairline. (I put it behind my ears, which I know looks dorky, but my goal was “effective sweat and hair control” and not “fashion statement.”)
  4. Grab ponytail and twist a few times, making a faux bun right next to head; using one hand to hold ponytail, grab free edges of Buff® with the other hand. (It helps to bend over a little bit while you do this.)
  5. Grip opposite sides of Buff® (it’s a tube, so anything approximate will do) and tie a single, firm overhand knot.

BOOM! Hair and sweat control in one! I used this method in multiple deep-flow style yoga classes that included inversions and plenty of movement, as well as a Lagree Method class. Gravity was no match for this baby.

Post-sweaty yoga selfie--hair intact, no sweat in eyes
Post-sweaty yoga selfie–hair intact, no sweat in eyes. (When all else fails, through a filter on it.)

 

Do you have a favorite Buff® product?

Disclosure: I received a pair of Aftershokz for testing purposes because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

During September and October, Aftershokz has a limited edition Trekz Titanium in Pink! Building on their brand’s signature feature–headphones with uncompromising sound quality that allow you to remain aware when running–Aftershokz has partnered with Bright Pink. If you haven’t heard of Bright Pink, they are a nonprofit with a great mission.

Bright Pink is on a mission to save women’s lives from breast and ovarian cancer by empowering them to live proactively at a young age.

We now know enough about cancer to know that even young women in their 20s can develop breast and ovarian cancers, yet doctors and society still see these cancers as diseases relevant to older women only. Bright Pink wants to change that. Not only is early detection the key to surviving cancer, young women can reduce their risk of developing these cancers through an active lifestyle and proactive measures (such as quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke). You need to know your risk to do what you can to reduce it, so Bright Pink has a risk assessment tool on the website. But let’s get back to Aftershokz for a moment.

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The first time the BibRave Pro Team partnered with Aftershokz, I was intrigued about how they work. Instead of earbuds sitting inside your ear and projecting sound into your ear canal, Trekz have “transducers” that sit in front of your ears. (Surprisingly, this does not make your tunes audible to your fellow runners.) These transducers work on something called “bone conduction technology.”

Graphic from the Aftershokz site to explain how they work
Graphic from the Aftershokz site to explain how they work

Initially, this kind of freaked me out. I was in an accident that left me with extensive damage to the right side of my face, including bone and nerve damage. My right cheekbone and eyesocket are largely wrapped and lined with titanium mesh, held in place by titanium plates and tiny titanium screws. (Sadly, this did not confer any bionic powers. Also, it is 2016, so where’s my flying car?) I didn’t ask to try Trekz because of the description of how bone conduction technology works:

THE AFTERSHOKZ WAY

Bone conduction is a natural part of the hearing process—sound travels through our eardrums and bones simultaneously. We’ve taken the concept to the next level through development of a suite of proprietary audio technologies and design patents. The result: headphones that deliver unrivaled situational awareness and comfort.

HOW THEY WORK

Transducers guide mini vibrations through the cheekbones to the inner ears, delivering sound without plugging or covering them.

Changes in atmospheric pressure sometimes make my face hurt, so I was reluctant to taunt my bones with “mini vibrations” from something named titanium!

Trekz_Titanium_Pink_2

But then the #AwareWithPink campaign came along. For every pair of Trekz Titanium Pink sold, AfterShokz will donate 25% of proceeds to Bright Pink; every time #AwareWithPink is used on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, AfterShokz will donate an additional 25 cents to Bright Pink to extend the awareness. Testing these headphones would give me an opportunity to help do a lot of good, particularly by raising the profile of Bright Pink. Most of us only have to look to our own families and friends to find breast cancer or ovarian cancer disrupting lives; I can point to my best friend’s mother, Judi; my grandmother; two of my favorite elementary school teachers; women I know from the running community…I bet you’ve got a list too.

Send this tweet using #AwareWithPink to donate a quarter to Bright Pink right now. Click To Tweet

So here I go, testing the Trekz Titanium Pink limited edition.

Trekz Titanium Pink: Party In a Box!
Trekz Titanium Pink: Party In a Box!

Guess what? It turns out my fears were totally unfounded. I’ve used them on all of  my runs since they arrived, and I’m loving them!

Initially, I was trying to wear them a little too high
Initially, I was trying to wear them a little too high

The transducers sit in front of your ears (but not near the tops like I first tried them!). You can control the volume with the buttons on the headset, or you can use your phone. They also have a built-in mic so you can take phone calls (but frankly if you call me while I am running I’m going to ignore you, so I haven’t tested that part). The sound quality is great and I love that I can still hear my surroundings. When you’re out running, that’s a critical safety factor, whether you’re running on a bike path, the road, or at a race.

Sweaty post-race selfie at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach
Sweaty post-race selfie at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach

The two most important factors for me–beyond safety–are battery life and sweatproofness. Trekz recharge using a mini USB to USB cable (included) and the charging port has a rubber plug to seal it shut. On the most recent charge, I’ve run for over six hours (a few short runs plus a half marathon). Since I usually forget to charge them unless there’s a big race coming up, the long battery life is a bonus. As for sweatproofness, I was initially concerned that my body’s ability to very efficiently cool itself would somehow end up hurting Trekz. Nope! Even at Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach–which was humid and warm–they did just fine.

After the race my friend Ezra tried them out. First he just put them on and took them off. Then he asked to try them on again and jumped up and down and shook his head really hard a few times. Trekz stayed put. (I wasn’t clever enough to snap pictures of this.)

If you’re in the market for a great pair of wireless headphones that will support a great cause, head over to the Trekz Titanium Pink site. From September 1 to October 31, 25% of the proceeds goes to Bright Pink! If you use code PINK when you purchase, you will also score a bonus travel case. (There is enough room inside for the headphones, cord, softcase, and a few more essentials. I put my RoadID in mine.)

BibRave Pro Abbie took this picture, which shows off the case
BibRave Pro Abbie took this picture, which shows off the case

Even if you are not interested in new headphones, I’d like to encourage you to go to the Bright Pink website and learn what you and your friends can do to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Tweet your favorite facts using #AwareWithPink to donate a quarter to Bright Pink!

Don’t forget to join the BibRave Pro Team and other runners for #bibchat on Tueday, September 6th. (I’ll be tweeting from an airplane!) Aftershokz and Bright Pink will be our guests.

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Disclosure: Amphipod provided the prize for the giveaway in this post, because I am a BibRave Pro. Amphipod did not exercise any editorial control, or provide any content, for this post. All content reflects my own research, experience, and opinions. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

You are just a big bag of water.

Let’s talk water. Did you know that about 60% of your body’s weight is water? Think about that for a minute: a 200 lb. man is 120 pounds of water. You’ve got water in your cells and water in between your cells. Basically you’re a carbon-based container of mostly water.

You are what you drink (water). Everything your body uses to run contains water. Your blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to your working cells, is 83% water. Your body fat, which you might be burning as fuel, is 25% water. Your muscles that propel you along at 75% water. Even your bones are about 22% water.

You run on water. Again, literally. Every system in your body needs water while you are running (and while you are not!). Water dissolves and transports various substances, moving nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells and eventually out of the body as urine and feces. Water plays a role in the synthesis of proteins, glycogen, and other nutrients. Water keeps you moving by lubricating your joints, and serves as a shock absorber for your eyes and in your spine (and for your fetus, if you’re pregnant).

The Sweaty Life. If you lead an active lifestyle you’re more than familiar with water as a temperature regulator. Exercise heats the body, which sends water outside of the body to the surface of your skin, so that it can evaporate and cool.  The more you exercise, the more efficient your body becomes at cooling itself. Translation: you start to sweat earlier, and likely sweat more. Since each body is different, some of us sweat more than others. Sweat isn’t the only way you lose water while exercising though.

You lose water 24/7: It’s not just about sweat. Breathing also requires water, as your nose and mouth hydrate dry air on the way in, and release vapor (water in gas form) on the way out. The harder you work out, the more demand your body has for oxygen, the harder you breathe. Tissue in your nose, nasal passage, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs is more sensitive when it is dehydrated. As a practical matter, that can trigger asthma, allergies, and COPD; if you have none of these, it still means you’re more likely to be irritated by pollen, dust, and fumes.

Sleep is dehydrating! Just think about it–you go 8 hours without taking in any liquids, but you continue to breathe, losing water. Maybe you sweat a little at night.

Dehydration is BAD. You’ve probably read that dehydration–not enough water in the body–contributes to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, as reduced water reduces your body’s ability to regulate body temperature. It’s worse than that. If you are down a mere 0.5% of your body water, you have an increased strain on your heart. (Think about it: less water, less blood volume, sludgier blood, takes more effort to pump it through your body.) At 1% loss of body water, your aerobic endurance suffers. At 2%, your muscular endurance declines; basically if you hit 2% as a runner, you are nowhere near the top of your game. At 4% you have not just reduced aerobic and muscular endurance, but also reduced muscle strength and reduced motors skills–and you’re at a risk for heat cramps. Seriously, you’ve got to keep that water loss below half a percentage point.

Did you know sleep is dehydrating? Check out more tips from @TrainWithBainClick To Tweet

As a runner, you MUST be on top of your hydration game.

Water intake isn’t the whole story. You can drink boatloads of water, but unless you give your body some electrolytes, that water might just pass right through, useless. Electrolytes are compounds that dissolve in water and keep an electrical charge, allowing them to regulate the flow of water (and other substances) in and out of cells. Electrolytes form the salty grit on your face if you’re a sweaty runner (and even if you are not, since they regulate the release of water from the cells of your body). Electrolytes include: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chloride, manganese, sodium, and potassium.

Carbohydrates love water. You’ve probably read that for most athletes, the notion of “carb loading” before a race to replenish glycogen stores is neither necessary nor particularly helpful. But wait, there’s more: carbohydrates love water, and for every gram of carbohydrate stored in your body, you’ve also got 3-4 grams of water hanging out. (This is why low-carb, high-protein diets initially show a quick weight loss–depleting the carb stores means water goes away, plus a high protein diet contributes to fluid losses to remove urea from the body.) This is also why most electrolyte drinks have some amount of sugar or carb in them. Like to eat pasta? You’re welcome.

It’s harder to judge dehydration that you think. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already partially dehydrated–and now you know how bad even half a percent of body water loss is. Urine color is favored by some, but you’re unlikely to see your urine on race day (I don’t know about you, but I’m NOT looking into that porta-potty!), and a number of popular supplements and foods (beets!) can darken your urine and give a misleading impression.

Top Five Tips for Building Your Hydration Strategy

What's your hydration strategy? Do you know the basic facts?Click To Tweet

  1. Know your body. Learn to recognize the pre-thirst indicators of dehydration in your body, monitor your water loss through sweat, pay attention to how you feel during training runs and workouts. So many factors affect your hydration needs–body weight, body composition, environment, medication usage, diet, and more–that the best advice is to learn and listen to your body.
  2. Practice good hydration when you’re NOT running. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit (they are good sources of water, as well as electrolytes and other vitamins and minerals). Sip on beverages throughout your day. Like coffee, tea, soda? Current research shows they aren’t automatically dehydrating, but they are not as hydrating as other choices.
  3. Pre-hydrate before a workout or a run. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning to make up for water loss while you’ve slept. (Adding a lemon to it makes it taste nice, but it’s not going help you lose weight, burn fat, “detox,” or any other popular yet silly-and-unscientific claim. Watch your teeth if you take that option, lemons aren’t kind to tooth enamel.) If you’re taking a heated class like hot yoga, tank up before you go.
  4. Test your hydration products BEFORE race day! Nothing new on race day. Seriously, you don’t want to discover that your tummy doesn’t like XYZ Hydration Brand at mile 4. Anything you’re going to use at a race, take it for a test drive. Find out what hydration the race plans to have on the course, so you can evaluate whether to use what they provide or bring your own exclusively.
  5. Carry hydration–and emergency cash. I need sips of fluids more often than every two miles (how aid stations are frequently spaced at races) to stay fresh and properly hydrated. Once I ran a race where the second aid station, manned by well-meaning but clueless high school students, completely ran out of water and electrolyte beverage! Fortunately I had my emergency fiver, and ran into a nearby CVS.

Enter (to win) the Amphipod.

I'm giving away THIS exact Amphipod, an Ergo-Lite Ultra.
I’m giving away THIS exact Amphipod, an Ergo-Lite Ultra.

To help you up your hydration game, I’ve got an Ergo-Lite Ultra Amphipod to give away, courtesy of Amphipod. (Amphipod provided this exclusively for this giveaway; it was not sent to me for testing purposes.) It’s brand new, never-used, and only came out of the box so I could take a few pictures of it.

All of the BibRave Pros who tried out the Amphipod liked it, even those who had previously shied away from hand-helds for various reasons. Like Running for the Average Joe, most of us hated the idea of running “while holding something.” But as he pointed out, the Amphipod isn’t something you hold, it’s something you wear. Dr. Runner liked the one-way drinking valve (you have to suck on it or squirt to get the water out).

Hand elastic showing both the ergonomic thumb hole and the loops for gels or fuel
Hand elastic showing both the ergonomic thumb hole and the loops for gels or fuel

The thumb holed was a hit with Runner Transformed, who liked the more ergonomic fit. Run Away with Me liked the softness of the fabric (we all agree that chafing from stiff fabric is BAD).  If you look at the various photos accompanying the reviews, you can see that the Amphipod works well on either hand, something Samantha Andrews liked.

The products are durable, and might just save your hand if you crash on the trail, as My Name Is Dad learned. Unlike some bottles, it’s also easy to clean, as Fun Size Athlete noted. That said, if you leave it in a hot car, the sleeve might discolor the bottle (as Darlin’ Rae learned). Maybe wash the sleeve first?

The storage pocket has a key loop inside
The storage pocket has a key loop inside

All of the Pros liked the amount of storage in the pocket, and The Caffeinated Runner found it had enough room to carry doggy essentials when running with her pooch.

Seattle-based blogger Sweet Blonde’s Fit Life points out these are made in USA and, specifically, in Seattle!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now that you’ve learned about hydration, why not hop over to the internet home of the Arizona Sun Goddess and read about solo running adventures?

Selected References:

 

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Disclosure: (1) I borrowed the featured image above from the SPI belt website. (2) I received a complimentary SPI belt Venture series because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

I bought my first SPI belt several years ago, long before I had invested in much running “gear,” the Original SPI belt. I picked a bright turquoise color because most of my running gear was drab (this was before the dayglo/neon revival, and before the advent of patterned leggings) and I thought a pop of color would be a little wild for me. When I upgraded to iPhone 6, I also upgraded to a slightly larger, waterproof, Endurance series SPI belt with a wider elastic (to protect the phone, and because it fits better).

Prior to trying out the SPI belt Venture, I was NOT a fan of hydration belts. I dislike them for the same reason I dislike most waist-packs: bouncing.  Even when I’m running a race and I see other people running with hydration belts, it makes me nuts to see the bottles/bottle cages flapping up and down. How can anyone run like that?!? The other thing I really hate about hydration belts–actually, most bottles–is that the liquid sloshes around and they leak and make a mess. It’s fine if you’re running in the heat and just carrying water, but is miserable when it’s cold and sticky and disgusting when you carry a hydration-fuel product.

While I was skeptical about the SPI belt Venture series, my experience with SPI belts was that they don’t have that bouncing/flapping problem most other belts do when I run, so maybe they figured out this hydration belt thing.

SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston
SPI belt Venture joins me in running Revel Mt. Charleston

Now that I’ve successfully completed three races with the Venture, I’ve reached the conclusion that used properly, this is a viable option for anti-bounce, anti-flap, anti-slosh hydration. Even when I had consumed part of the liquid, I didn’t feel the sloshing I’ve felt with other hydration belts. It’s not just me, BibRave Pro Gina also found merit to the no-bounce claims. There are three factors that make Venture work for me:

  1. Bottles clip on. As you can see from the photo above, the bottles clip onto the belt; there is no cage or strapping device on the outside. This makes them easy to grab and replace, as you can clip them anywhere on the belt (in other words, you’re not aiming for a special slot). This also means you can choose to wear the pouch in the front or the back (or on the side, I guess). The clips slide the bottles far enough down that they don’t bounce, as they are pretty securely attached. The clips are removable (see photo below) which makes them easy to clean.
  2. Bottles are vaguely “body shaped.” Like some other brands of hydration bottles, the Venture bottles have a curve to them. I found that curve–in combination with the clips on the outside–prevented the bottles from poking or stabbing me as I ran. At the same time, the bottles stand up on their own on a flat surface, making them easy to fill. (I broke a Nuun tablet in half and put half into each bottle.)
  3. Bottles have a leak-resistant system, Jet Nozzle. This is THE big one. I can’t exactly say they are 100% leak-proof (because that’s like saying they are idiot-proof, and since I found a way to make them leak, that makes me a better idiot). When you initially fill the bottles and close them, you can invert them without any liquid escaping. While you run, getting liquid out requires creating pressure (e.g. squeezing the bottle or sucking the nozzle with your mouth). If you look inside the valve, you can see there is a little X-shaped cut in the rubber that seals the valve shut. (It did not photograph well.) That’s what prevents the leakage. Note it IS possible to leave a few drops of liquid between that cut and the tip of the nozzle, and if you do that, those drops can slip out and get your waist a little wet. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)

Venture comes with two bottles and their clips
Venture comes with two bottles–the SPI H2O Companion–and their clips.

A few additional details: The bottles hold 8 ounces and are top-rack dishwasher safe and BPA-free. The pouch comfortably held my iPhone 6s, though it was a bit of a pain to try to get it out and then re-stow it while running (which I suppose you only do rarely unless you happen to be a blogger!). The belt has an adjustible buckle, so you can make the fit snug to your body. The Venture also comes with bib clips–elastic you thread through the hole on the bib and then through a toggle. You can run the toggles over any part of the belt, adjusting to all bib sizes/shapes. Christine’s review reminded me that there are also elastic loops on either side of the pouch. Both she and Abbie figured those were to hold gels; but the loops are tiny, as Abbie pointed out, and I thought they were to thread the bib holder toggles through (since other SPI models have a different type of loop for holding nutrition). Heather’s review has better pictures than mine, and shows how she did use the loops for gels.

Important safety tip #1: It is possible to clip the bottles anywhere on the belt (meaning you can wear the pouch part in the front or the back), you should wear the bottles in the front when you run.  If you don’t, and you’re wearing the belt on your waist, the movement of your butt might jostle the clip up and kick the bottle off of the belt in a way that doesn’t happen when you walk. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)

Important safety tip #1, corollary: If you drop the bottle on pavement, nozzle down, the nozzle/lid WILL dent/scratch, and this may result in a sharp/pokey/pointy surface. A few light passes of an emery board or fine sandpaper will take the edge off. (I may have learned this through personal experience.)

Important safety tip #2: The pouch on the Venture is NOT waterproof. It says so right on the website, and I felt no compulsion to test it out for myself. If it is going to rain, or you tend to use water stops to take a shower, you should put your phone or other electronics into something waterproof. SPI recommends using a LOKSAK® re-sealable bag; I’ve used a Ziploc freezer bag.

Interested in checking out the SPI belt Venture series? Score a 10% discount with code elizabeth10. Don’t forget to join us for #BibChat on Tuesday, May 24th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Maybe you can win some goodies?

Have you tried the SPI belt Venture? How do you carry hydration on your long runs?

 

Disclosure: I received complimentary 2XU Hyoptik tights to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

The Hyoptik tights are made of material that is substantially thicker than the Elite MCS Compression Tights I previously reviewed (and have been wearing to every possible race). While the material feels like a single layer, 2XU describes the material as two (fused) layers: “A soft brushed thermal inner layer helps retain warmth in cold climates.” Not that the San Francisco Bay Area qualifies as a cold climate, usually, but I did scrape hard frost off my car before my January runs AND see actual hard ice on my run.

See how misleadingly tiny they look? And this is AFTER washing them!
See how misleadingly tiny they look? And this is AFTER washing them!

Anyway. I ordered a size large, because that’s the size I have in every other 2XU product. When I first took the Hyoptik tights out of the box, I was afraid I’d made a mistake. They looked like they might be 3/4 length, and made for a pixie. I held them up to my waist, and the bottoms barely touched my knee! I was seriously worried. Fortunately, there was nothing wrong. I did order the right size. There must be something about the fabric that just makes them look itty-bitty when fresh out of the box. Whew.

After my initial worry about the size, I played with the tights a little bit, even before I first put them on. The thicker fabric definitely seemed appropriate for cold weather, and I love it when my winter gear has a little bit of fuzzy-wuzzy on the inside. It’s also soft on the inside, which I liked.

Then I put them on. The thicker fabric of the Hyoptik was both easier and more difficult to stretch over my legs when compared to the MCS and other, thinner compression tights. On the one hand, it was easier because I could get a better grip on the fabric as I worked the tights onto my leg. I also found I was much less likely to snag a nail on the Hyoptik fabric (for whatever reason, I have a problem with this and thinner compression tights/shorts). On the other hand, this thicker fabric tends to want to snap back to the original shape a tiny bit more, so I have to work harder to adjust and keep the upper portion appropriately on my body. (Ladies, you know all about how bad a “drop crotch” is with pantyhose, right?) I went so far as to apply a small amount of Body Glide, just in case, the first few times I wore them. (It wasn’t necessary, but a runner can’t be too careful about chafing.)

2XU in my kitchen
2XU in my kitchen

Since I grew up in Michigan, I joke that California doesn’t have a real winter, at least not in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Jenzenator knows what I mean–she chose the 3/4 length because it isn’t cold where she lives either.) We have calendar months they call “win-ter” but not actual winter weather. A few days each year there is some frost on my car and I can see my breath, but that’s about it. So as far as a field test wearing these in  the snow and icy hey-the-wind-chill-is-double-digits-below-zero of my childhood, I would have needed a field trip to a cold place.  If that’s your situation, you want to check out reviews by the other BibRave Pro team members who live in colder climates. If you read Daddy Did You Win? you know the tights are cut out for Northern Indiana winters. (While you’re at it, Cass Gunderson has tips on winter running too.)

First test race, Brazen Racing New Year’s Day, was one of those frost on the windshield days. While I was running I actually saw frosted patches of grass along the trail! This is as close as I was going to get to a cold snap, so I took Hypotik out for a run. (The Fun Size Athlete and Heather Runs 13.1 also took Hyoptik to the trails.) Now despite being a native Midwest girl from two long lines of white, pasty people from far northern climates, I’m not big on being cold. I really dislike running with cold legs. When the weather drops below a certain temperature–and it’s not that low since I’ve moved to the West Coast and gone soft–it’s like my thighs and butt freeze into solid blocks of ice and just don’t un-freeze. (I don’t know if Sweet Blonde’s Fit Life has the same problem.) It’s hard to run when your biggest muscles, which should be warm and pliable, more closely resemble a side of beef in the deep freeze! 2XU Hyoptik kept me just the right amount of warm. Sure, I was a little cold at the start, but once I started moving I was fine. The fabric kept all of it’s promises: compression, sweat-wicking, and warmth.  By the time I finished, the sun had come out but it wasn’t actually warm outside. My legs cooled off a little bit after I stopped running, but didn’t hit the point of being actually cold. Since I spent part of that time sitting at a picnic table and eating an It’s-It, I’m attributing the lack of chill on my legs to the tights. Not that it gets as cold as, say, Colorado where Miles of Abbie lives, but hey.

Once I’d confirmed the 2XU Hyoptik worked well in cold weather that stayed cold, I wondered what it would be like in weather that started cold, and then warmed up significantly. I packed the tights and headed off to Disney World! (Okay, so I had planned this trip months in advance…but I did take the Hyoptik with me.)  If you ran during marathon weekend last year, or have any friends who did, you know it was ridiculously cold last year. So much so that I bought all new running clothes off the clearance rack at a local sporting goods store, plus a hat and gloves from Target! This year I wanted to be better prepared for cold. While my pre-trip weather check said it would be warm for all the races, it wasn’t. It even rained. But back to the Hyoptik tights. I decided to wear them for the half marathon, because I expected the sun to be out in full force by the time I finished the full marathon. (I did wear the 2XU MCS compression tights for the full.) When I pulled them on at 3:45 a.m., it was quite chilly. (I even took an old heat sheet to the corrals with me.) As before, the 2XU Hyoptik kept me warm once I started running, wicked away sweat, and didn’t leave me freezing when I stopped running–which was important, as I had to stand in line for a little bit to wait for the bus back to my hotel.

By the way, these tights are not “just a chick thing.” Running For the Average Joe declared his love for them, and Confessions of an Amateur Athlete also gave them some blog love.

A dynamic duo from the BibRave Pro team!
A dynamic duo from the BibRave Pro team!

The last appropriate opportunity I had to run in the 2XU Hyoptik before my deadline for this post was for the Inaugural Sin City Run. It didn’t seem cold at the hotel or standing waiting for my cab, but I was fooled: Las Vegas is a desert climate, and it gets COLD when the sun isn’t out! When I stepped out at the park in my Hyoptik tights and short-sleeved t-shirt, I thought I was going to freeze. I wondered if I had made a serious error in failing to pack a long sleeved shirt for running. I pulled my Buff up over my head to cover my ears and line my hat. BibRave Pro Laurel ran these races too, and she had also worn her 2XU Hyoptik tights, so we were twinsies! When the 5k started, my legs were chilled. After a few intervals–Laurel and I ran 2/1–my legs were warm and toasty but my upper body was still quite cold. (Hm. Hyoptik top layer for cold days? I’m going to go check out the 2XU website.) My legs felt good and stayed warm through the end of the 5k, and through the pause between the 5k and 10k. While it wasn’t a super-long break, it was sufficiently long enough that my arms were cold and I was a little chilly from the sweat on my head. Then the 10k kicked off, and my still-warm-and-happy legs took off and banged out a 10k. During the course of the 10k, the sun came out and the day warmed up substantially. The volunteers who had been wearing warm coats, hats, and mittens started to take off layers. I took the Buff off my head. By the time I finished, my upper body was also warm, and the sun felt really good. I spent the rest of the day in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but I could have gotten away with short sleeves. (I was afraid I’d be cold inside the hotels and casinos.)

BibRave: #OrangeIsTheNewFast
BibRave: #OrangeIsTheNewFast

After multiple washes, they still look brand new (only slightly less tiny). I didn’t even read the care directions (oops) but have been washing them in cold water, mild detergent, no fabric softener, hang to dry (except that one time I wanted to pack them in a suitcase and they were still damp). The only aspect of the 2XU Hyoptik that I didn’t really field test is the reflection factor on the print. (Okay so technically I didn’t have a good way to test the SPF or the antibacterial properties either…but I’m not sunburned or itchy, and they don’t stink, so there you go.) Fortunately, Run Gina Run has some great pictures showing off the reflective qualities of the logo on the Hyoptik tights. During this time of year the days are still pretty short, and even where I live a lot of running takes place in the dark before work or the dark after work. I’m a big fan of taking safety precautions when running in the dark. Here are just a few:

  • Run in well-lit areas whenever possible.
  • Avoid running on the road if you can, especially if it is icy. If you must run on the road, dress as visibly as possible.
  • To increase visibility, at a minimum wear a reflective vest, jacket, and other clothing, like the 2xu Hyoptik tights.
  • Other ideas to increase visibility: wear light colors on top, add reflective tape (it’s temporary, you can remove it), use/wear lights or gear that lights up
  • Stick to headphones that are NOT noise-cancelling, and leave the volume low enough that you can clearly hear what is going on around you.
  • Carry your phone (the iPhone has a flashlight mode, in case you get somewhere crazy dark).
  • Wear or carry ID

Of course, you don’t have to wear them only for running. Run Jen Run sported hers for runs, housework, expo attendance, and the flight home!

Have you tried anything from 2XU? Have you worn the Hyoptik compression gear?

No? Yes?

Either way, here’s your chance to score a discount! Code RUN20 will save you 20% off gear from 2XU, but only until February 29th. Run right over to the website and pick your new compression gear.

 

Disclosure: I received a complimentary XX2i France 1 Dual Pack to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

Details, upfront: XX2i USA1 sunglasses retail for $59.99, though you can choose a kit that comes with additional lenses for $99.99. (Hint: if you read through this review, you’ll find a way to score a sweet discount.) The XX2i Optics website is www.xx2i.com.

When I was a kid, I knew you were supposed to wear sunglasses when it was sunny outside. (My pale blue eyes are also uber sensitive to sunlight, so the idea that anyone could go without just boggled me.) Unfortunately, I grew up into one of those teenagers and then adults who is always sitting on sunglasses, losing them, scratching them, etc. I mistakenly assumed the way to deal with this was to buy cheap dollar store type sunglasses. I suspect this is pretty common, as John had a similar history and so did Emily. (We are all now reformed!)

Then one day I was given a pair of super nice sunglasses with polarized lenses. If you’ve never tried polarized lenses, WOW are you missing out. (Eric agrees.) Polarized lenses contain a special filter in them to block intense reflected light. As a result, you get much less haze or glare. I had no idea that I could run in bright sunlight without squinting until I tried polarized lenses. So when I had the opportunity to try the XX2i USA1 sunglasses with polarized lenses, I was pretty excited to see how they compared to the XX2i France1 I previously tried. While I liked them both equally–well, I do prefer the polarized lenses of the USA1–Danielle preferred the look of the France1 but loved the fit on the USA1.

The XX2i USA1
The XX2i USA1

As I previously reported, XX2i has a fantastic lifetime guarantee on their products, and a mission statement I can get behind (“We support people that make a difference every day. People who are committed to a healthy, athletic lifestyle and being good citizens. People who appreciate quality, innovation and no BS marketing. We are committed to producing the best possible eyewear for outdoor enthusiasts and stand behind each product we produce with integrity and pride to insure your completely satisfied no matter what. All of our products are perfect for running, cycling, golfing, fishing, tennis, sport shooting and just about any outdoor activity.”) Also cool, XX2i gave a huge number of BibRave Pro team members the opportunity to try out these glasses. That’s not only generous, but to me it shows complete confidence in their products.

Like the France1, the USA1 come in a kit. (Abbie’s picture is way better than the ones I took, so please don’t judge these glasses by my lame photography!) This includes a zippered hard storage case, a soft pouch (that fits inside the hard case, protects the lenses from scratching, and doubles as a cleaning cloth), a screwdriver plus red and blue arm covers and nose piece (so you can change them out to match your gear), and a sports strap (similar to the Croakies brand strap). The frames allow for interchangeable lenses, which are an optional additional purpose. (Good thing, as Jessica would prefer photochromatic lenses.) The hard case has a foam interior with slots in the foam, in case you opt to purchase additional lenses.

Additional slots for lens storage
Additional slots for lens storage

Since I made many of the same observations about the France1 as I did with the USA1, I asked my friend Kirsten to test drive these sunglasses for a few days during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. (BibRave Pro Gina actually tried them running.) After a few seconds of adjusting the nose piece to fit perfectly, the first thing she noticed was that they have a wrap-around feel, with a wide protected field of view. This surprised her a bit, as they don’t have the boxy look of other sunglasses she’d tried that have that same effect.

My wear-testing friend Kirsten
My wear-testing friend Kirsten

The second thing she noticed is that they are polarized. Actually, she thought her phone was malfunctioning because she couldn’t see the app she had open–one of the effects of polarized lenses, ha ha! While not obsessively messing with her phone (hey, you know we all plan our days and meetups using phones these days), she wore them during all of the sunny parts of the day (it did rain during that weekend) and found them lightweight and comfortable, with a clear view. They stayed put on rides and in the “jump test,” as well as the “shake your head” test. Kirsten enjoyed wearing these XX2i, though in choosing a pair for herself she probably wouldn’t choose white–it’s just her personal preference. Fortunately for her, they also come in black, and you can check out some BibRave Pro photos of them.

My first observation is that there is a very slight gap between the upper outer corner of the frame and the lenses. (Christine and Erin took better picture of that than I did.) Initially I thought this was a problem, but it turns out it is a feature to help prevent them from fogging up. When I tried them on, I didn’t even notice that gap–it made zero difference in my field of vision or the quality of the view. Man, do I love polarized lenses. Since I live in California, my wear-testing options were sun and our mostly dreary “winter.” Hey, I’m not complaining, we NEED the rain! BibRave Pro Angie tried them out in real winter–snow and everything–and also found them great for playing cards.

Actually, the first thing I noticed is that I need a haircut.
Actually, the first thing I noticed is that I need a haircut.

I was at a bit of a loss to describe what makes sunglasses “a good fit” since I now tend to stick with what I know. They have to be comfortable. For me, that’s glasses that sit on my nose and stay there without my eyebrows hitting the lenses and messing them up. I also need the earpieces to be gentle, basically sit there, stay put, and gently hug my head; I can’t stand stiff sunglasses, in part because they really irritate the scar tissue behind my right ear. Kim pointed out one thing I forgot, which is I hate it when the bottom of the frame hits my face. (The last thing I need is little sunglasses dents on my face when I take them off.)

The overall consensus from the BibRave Pro team? A few Pros had issues with fogging (which could be about snow?), but overall we loved them. Jen is ordering another pair of frames (because they come in many colors). Laurel has to keep stealing hers back from her son! Amy noted that the durability of XX2i products is pretty amazing, as she’s been constantly wearing her France model glasses since she got them.

If you’d like to get a pair of your own use codeXX2iRocks for a 50% discount! 

Sunday I ran the Brazen Racing Almost New Year’s Eve run at Lake Chabot park. It’s a cool way to end the year because it was my second time running my first trail race, and the first half of the “marathon.” Friday I started 2016 by running the same course in reverse! Well, “running” might be a bit of an exaggeration, given the elevations there wasn’t much running on my part. Brazen Racing organizes 20+ races each year, all in parks, and largely trail runs. (The course at Lake Chabot includes some paved sidewalks into and out of the picnic area that serves as the start and finish line.)

One feature of some of the Brazen half marathons is the “hiker start.” This option allows slower runners and hikers to start an hour early, which is particularly nice when you might need more than four hours to conquer the hills. The downside is that when you take an early start, there is always the possibility that the aid stations won’t be ready for you yet. (This wasn’t a problem at the Brazen races, by the way.) Trail races also present limited options for aid station placement, and they are not always evenly spaced like they would be on a road race. What’s a runner to do?

Enter Orange Mud. The HydraQuiver Vest Pack 1 was my best friend during both of the Brazen Races. I carried hydration, snacks, tissues, my phone, gloves, lip balm, and a Buff (when I wasn’t wearing it) and still had plenty of pocket space leftover. By the way, since I’m not great with the photos (and the one below is borrowed), I recommend checking out Brad’s pics at Trail Running Faith and Jenny’s at Runny Legs and Burnt Toast.

Hydraquiver_VP1_Profile_Black
Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 1 (photo by Orange Mud)

One reason this type of pack appeals to me is that you can use multiple water bottles. Ever left one in your car for a few weeks by accident? Then carefully washed the sipping valve? Yuck. Bladder-style hydration packs just freak me out, because I’d never feel comfortable that they were clean and always be either obsessing or sipping on soap.y water. Yuck.

It’s hard to evaluate running gear online–though Orange Mud has multiple videos on the website to help you see how the gear looks and fits on an actual human–and if you just see the HydraQuiver itself, you might be a little hesitant about the fit. Don’t be. The vest has a strap you can adjust on each side; in addition to the buckle, there is also a separate slider to hold the end of the strap (so that it doesn’t hang down or flap around after you adjust it). The strap’s location (plus that slider) keep the strap close to your body, and away from your arms–no chafing here! (Full disclosure, Heather over at Marathon Mom did experience chafing, though she noted she has this difficulty with lots of things.)

The front of the pack is also adjustable–though OrangeMud recommends using this for “micro adjustments” only, as the side straps are the main fit–with the strap landing high on the sternum. The placement is perfect for me, and doesn’t cause any chest discomfort or sports bra interference.

The back of the pack is a bottle holster and two smaller pockets. (I slipped a tube of Nuun into one of them.) The bottle holster is adjustable, so you can take a bigger bottle or a smaller one. (The pack comes with a 25 ounce BPA-free bottle.) All you have to do is adjust the strap that goes across the bottom (it is velcro).

Rear View (bottle strap adjusted for smaller bottle)
Rear View (bottle strap adjusted for smaller bottle)

Initially I wondered if it would be awkward to reach behind my head for hydration, since I’d never done it before. In a word: NOPE. It felt very natural, and even when using a smaller bottle I didn’t need to fumble to slide it into the pocket. It was an easy grab to get it out and stuff to get it back in. I’m not making this up, Angie over at Angie Runs found it really smooth too.

On a side note, the ONLY problem I experienced with this pack was with bottles. When I used the bottle pictured above, I didn’t dry the threaded edges well enough before I filled it, and so it leaked out the sides of the lid as I was running. This was clearly user error, and might actually be a fun feature in super hot weather (self-cooling), ha ha!

The front of the pack has four pockets. The shoulder pockets are open on the bottom and close with a velcro strap. (It would be awkward to have a pocket where the opening was at the top of your shoulder.) I used one pocket to hold a pack of tissues. These pockets are also suitable for self-contained items like hats, gloves, Buffs, bandannas. I could also see using them to hold packaged snacks, like Honey Stinger chews. If you have a smaller phone, or need to take your wallet with you, those pockets are perfect. They were a little small for my iPhone 6.

Upper Front Pockets (thumb in bottom opening, with velcro closure)
Upper Front Pockets (thumb in bottom opening, with velcro closure)

The two lower pockets open at the top and have elastic to keep things from flying out while you run. The right-sided pocket also has an additional drawstring-type device to further constrict the top. These pockets are easy to access while you’re running (no need to mess with velcro). During my runs I used them for a pack of partially eaten Honey Stinger chews, a container of Energy Bits, an itty-bitty lip balm, the Buff I kept taking off and putting on to adjust as I ran in and out of shaded areas, Dixie cups from the aid stations (on a trail run you can’t throw anything on the ground, and Jelly Belly beans are easier to carry in a Dixie cup than in your hands). See Jess Run took hers out on a 50k, and liked having her hands free for the aid stations!

Lower Front Pocket
Lower Front Pocket

It was rather cold for both runs, so I wasn’t particularly worried about overheating, though my experience with this pack indicates that wouldn’t be an issue. The main pieces next to the body are meshy-fabric-covered material with big ventilation holes. Even as I was sweating during my runs, the sweat was wicking away from my body. I never felt hot or particularly wet underneath the vest.

Close-up shot of the vest body material
Close-up shot of the vest body material

Overall, I’m really pleased with the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 1. The construction is durable and comfortable, and the pockets made this more than a hydration carrier. While I initially pegged this as a trail running product, after using it for these races I can see it as a pretty great tool for any medium to long training runs, trail or road.

Isabel models the HydaQuiver (visit her blog at The Running Teacher)
Isabel models the HydaQuiver (visit her blog at The Running Teacher)

You can also check out a video of BibRave Pro Sarah with this pack at Sweet Blonde’s Fit Life. To learn more about how this pack compares to the double-barrel, check out Heather Runs 13.1

Still on the fence? Would saving 15% on ANY OrangeMud order persuade you? Use code BIBRAVE to score your own discount. OrangeMud also makes hand-helds, if that’s your jam. Be sure to join us on twitter for #bibchat sponsored by OrangeMud on Tuesday, January 5th at 6 p.m. Pacific.

How do you carry your hydration on long runs? What about other stuff?