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Disclosure: I received complimentary 2XU MCS Elite Compression 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.

Oooooh! Shiny!
Oooooh! Shiny!

Compression! Before getting my hands on these 2XU MCS Elite Compression Tights, I had a little experience with the 2XU brand.  I had tried the 2XU compression capris (purchased at the expo for the Oakland Running Festival), and knew their products are designed in Australia, and made in Taiwan. At another race, I’d packed in a hurry and left my sleeves at home, so at the race expo (I think) I paid $40 for a pair of size M “Unisex Compression Performance Run Sleeve(s).” Sadly, the combination of the two makes me look a little bit like one of those biscuit packages after you’ve popped the roll and there are bits of dough poofing out on the sides.

The only other compression tights I had tried were CW-X winter-weight Stabilyx tights. I do like them, but I have a very difficult time wriggling into them (there is always much swearing and gnashing of teeth, and usually a broken fingernail or two), in part due to the stiffness of the fabric while trying to wrangle the compression web into the correct places. The 2XU MCS Elite Compression Tights are a completely different garment. If you’ve tried compression before, you should definitely try these. They might just rock your socks off.

WAIT. What about the science? But first, a nod to science and personal experimentation. If you’ve read the published studies on athletes and compression, you’ll notice most of them have really unsexy names like “Mechanical compression during repeated sustained isometric muscle contractions and hyperemic recovery in healthy young males” and deal with compression and circulatory diseases. (There’s a reason why doctors prescribe those awesomely beige compression stockings.) Studies on compression and athletic performance, with equally sexy titles like “Changes in Tissue Oxygen Saturation in Response to Different Calf Compression Sleeves” often reach conclusions that are difficult to apply to running. (That last study? “This study shows that wearing compression sleeves from various brands differently affects tissue oxygen saturation.” Super helpful.) When user-friendly summaries are reported in fitness magazines for popular consumption, it seems like each investigation had a very specific limitation (for example, male professional cyclists on indoor bikes) or comes to a conclusion that contradicts the last one. Or both.

[On a happier note, compression for recovery seems to be a good idea–but as the latest review notes, the fairly uniform data are suspect.  See Marques-Jiminez et al. Are compression garments effective for the recovery of exercise-induced muscle damage? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiol Behav. 2015 Oct 29. pii: S0031-9384(15)30156-6. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.10.027. You can read the abstract HERE.)  At least  a few BibRave Pro members, Angie and Heather, prefer compression for recovery.]

My suggestion? Get some compression gear and take it for a test run. I personally love running in compression (but don’t like to wear more than calf sleeves for recovery) so I was SUPER excited to try out the 2XU MCS tights. When I put on compression tights, I feel like I’m wearing a sweet little hug all over my legs. BibRave Pro Sarah totally felt that way about these tights too. When I run, my body feels much more like an action hero, as the compression holds everything in place, close to the bones, and minimizes any jiggling or lateral movement. If you’re a woman, think about the difference between running with a really good sports bra, and running with a ratty old sports bra that doesn’t give you support and control.

What distinguishes these tights from others?

The first is in the name, MCS, which means “muscle containment stamping.” It’s a pattern of rubber-ish stuff (like uncovered elastic) stamped on the inside of the tights. (It is unrelated to the gold design on the outside.) The patterns are specific to the muscles they cover, so the stamp for the quads is different than the stamp for any other part of your legs. The 2XU site describes it like this: “MCS is a revolutionary fabric support system traced over key muscle, tendon and fascia groups to focus greater compression power to wrap precise areas and reduce muscle oscillation and damage.”

Inside view, MCS on the calf (and you can see the waistband drawstring, too)
Inside view, MCS on the calf (and you can see the waistband drawstring, too)

I’m all about reducing that oscillation, thanks. BibRave Pro Kim took a much better picture of the MCS than I did, also showing the tights turned inside out.

The other thing that differs from other compression is that the 2XU MCS Elite tights use two different fabrics. There is a lighter-weight technical fabric on the front, and a heavier weight one on the backside. It isn’t awkward though, and I bet you wouldn’t notice the difference if you picked up a pair and started to try them on, unless you started out looking for that difference.

Exterior view (read: I took a photo of my thigh); you can see thinner anterior fabric, and the shadow of the MCS
Exterior view (read: I took a photo of my thigh); you can see thinner anterior fabric, and the shadow of the MCS

To me, these felt very lightweight. I didn’t struggle to get them on, though I did take care to put the MCS pieces in their correct locations. (It’s not rocket science–once you have it in your hands, it’s obvious what should go where.) They felt good on my body, and other than the mini-muffintop I get from any compression wear (I’m not the only one, BibRave Pro Jenny also noticed that) I’d like to think they looked good, too (BibRave Pro Sarah pointed out that she was turning heads in 2XU, and BibRave Pro Jess felt like a superhero). It’s not just about the looks, and it’s not a “girls like black pants” thing–check out BibRave Pro Tom’s review  or read how BibRave Pro Jeremy credits these tights with a shiny new PR.

Other features:

Graduated compression. Like medical compression garments, the 2XU MCS Elite is graduated compression. In practical terms, that means assistance with venous return (at least theoretically), as the compression helps your circulatory system work against gravity. 2XU states this also increases blood circulation for recovery and reduced muscle stiffness post-exercise.

Fabric that wicks, but doesn’t stink. The fabric wicks sweat away from your body quickly. I’m a sweaty woman when I run, and was happy these never felt wet (or even damp, really!) after a half marathon. The fabric has antibacterial properties, which probably explains why it didn’t stink even after I wore it for a ten-miler and then it had to wait a week to get washed. Care is the same as other tech fabrics (wash cold, no fabric softener or bleach, hang to dry). Bonus, it also has UV sun protection.

Attention to details. The waistband has a drawstring, so if you’re not a natural mini-muffintop like I am, you can cinch the drawstring to get a custom fit. The seams are completely flat. No matter the humidity or other conditions, I’ve never had chafing. There is also a tiny pocket to hide your key when you run.

The Verdict: Invest in 2XU MCS Elite

Yes, these tights are on the pricey side–MSRP is $149.95 (Lululemon, eat your heart out). Think of this an an investment, and if you take care of them, they will last for many, many runs. (Personally, I’d rather have one really great pair of tights that lasts than several crummier ones that fall apart and need to be replaced faster.)

As I write this, these giths are on sale for $119.95. You can save 20% with the code BIBRAVE20. Psst! Pass that code on to Santa (or Hanukkah Harry, if you’re like my friend Liz!), it is good until 12/31/15!

I love a good discount as much as I like bling! This is me sporting the 2XU MCS Elite Compression Tights at Rock 'n' Roll San Jose
I love a good discount as much as I like bling! This is me sporting the 2XU MCS Elite Compression Tights at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose

But hey, don’t just take my word for it. Just about ALL of the BibRave Pro team members who tried these tights LOVED them. Katherine rocked hers at the Hot Chocolate 15k. Laura killed the North Face Endurance Challenge in hers. Brenda likes them for trail running. Read more reviews from Allison, Haley, and Samantha, or watch a video review by John (I’m not quite cool enough for video yet). A legit criticism for many athletic pants, BibRave Pro Rachel would have preferred a wider waistband, something several others noted too (see Danielle’s Review).

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.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t actually had the opportunity to run in them. It’s a sad saga involving a very expensive lost contact lens, a lengthy insurance battle, and other epic plot elements. By the time my new lenses were approved it was time for a new prescription, and on the only day I had free to go to the eye doctor, she was sick. (I know, I know–#firstworldproblems.) So while I can’t write about how awesome it is to run wearing these sunglasses, I’ve thoroughly investigated the rest of the aspects. I’ll update this post after I get my &^%*!!?! contact lens situation resolved.

In the meanwhile, if you would rather read a review by runners who actually got to run, here are a few reviews from my fellow BibRave Pro team members: Danielle, Tom, Krissy, and Jeremy.

I’ve never owned fancy sports sunglasses. In fact, until a few years ago when I was gifted a pair of Oakley sunglasses, I really only used giveaway sunglasses I received from various promoters. Basically I was afraid to spend money on sunglasses, because throughout my life I’ve always scratched them, sat on them, lost them, and otherwise destroyed them. The secret, it turns out, is to have both a safe place for them to live (like a hard case) and protective clothing for when they travel and are not on my face (like a microfiber cloth slipcover).

This kit from XX2i had me completely covered. First–and most important to a serial sunglasses killer like me–a zippered hard case to store all components when not in use.

Exterior shot
Exterior shot, everything safely tucked inside the hard turtle shell

By the way, see those letters at the bottom? LIFETIME GUARANTEE, baby!! This is really important to me because when I spend the money to buy quality gear, I need to know the company really stands behind it. So before I even opened the box,  I headed over to the website to see what “lifetime guarantee” means to XX2i.  First, I noted the company’s mission statement: “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.” So far, so good.

Then I clicked on the “warranty” to find out the scoop. It’s much better than I expected! See for yourself: “All XX2i sunglasses come with a no questions asked Lifetime Warranty! No matter if your dog chewed on them (which we hear a lot!) or if you drove over them in your SUV, we’ll replace them for a nominal shipping and handling fee of $19.95!” They do ask that you ship by a method that can be traced, which is pretty reasonable (since packages do sometimes get lost, but there are also scammers who try to take advantage, so I don’t blame them for making that request).

Satisfied it was safe for me to touch the glasses themselves, I opened the box to see what goodies were inside.

Filled with goodies, just like an Easter egg (only less messy)
Filled with goodies, just like an Easter egg (only less messy)

As you can see, the kit contains TWO frames and FIVE sets of lenses. Assuming you and your significant other or best friend don’t like the exact same combo, you can easily share. For this picture I left the lenses as they came (wrapped in plastic and yes, that was a Twin Peaks reference), though the kit actually includes a protective cloth cover for each set of lenses. That’s in addition to the two drawstring-style cloth bags for the sunglasses (frames with lenses inside them).

On the right, you can see the additional accessories: a sports-style strap and additional nose pieces and tips. Since I’ve also lost a few pairs of sunglasses that just had to go swimming instead of canoeing, the former is important to me. The latter could be really useful if you want to match your sunglasses to your running outfits or, for example, plan to be Captain America for the Disney Avengers races.

With all these pretty parts and a lifetime warranty in place, it was time to mess with the component parts. First I decided to try swapping out the tips. It was pretty easy, though you do need to give the original tips a little twist to get them off.

White frames, black (original) and blue (swapped out) tips
White frames, black (original) and blue (swapped out) tips

Next I decided  to try changing out the lenses. I’ve never had this option with sunglasses, and it seems both practical and fun (you could have two different color lenses, just like Dr. Jacoby! why yes, that’s another Twin Peaks reference).   The kit includes five sets of lenses, and the other four will be sad if I don’t try them out right? Also, you can buy additional lenses, including prescription lenses, polarized lenses, and readers. Changing the lenses was a big leap of faith for me, as I think of sunglasses as being delicate and easily broken.

For the too-fashionable-to-wear-one-color set, and to show contrast
For the too-fashionable-to-wear-one-color set, and to show contrast

It turns out you really can manhandle the frames a bit.  The lenses too–sure, I got them all fingerprinty while changing the lenses out, but they cleaned up easily. The only pieces I didn’t test-change were the nose pieces. This is mainly because I’m not great with little tiny screws, and I was afraid that one or more would go the way of my errant contact lens. The nose-pieces are adjustable and stiff to hold shape but pliable to bend, so you can customize the fit.

Speaking of customizing the fit, I was really pleased that these frames fit me. Through much trial and tears while trying on the cute headbands at all of the running expos, I’ve discovered I have a giant melon. (You can read about the ones that finally fit me here: Bani Bands.) These frames worked just fine.

The XX2i France 2 in tortoise
The XX2i France 2 in tortoise–you can see my eyes!

Since I can’t see without my contact lenses, running wasn’t much of an option. (Surely I would have killed both the sunglasses and myself if I had tried!) So instead I did some jumping around to mimic running, though it was more like crazy jumping jacks; the sunglasses stayed put, which is exactly what I need them to do. They also feel very light, and didn’t make any effort to ski jump off the end of my nose. That’s the long and short (mostly long) of my test drive of the XX2i sunglasses dual kit.

If you want to get your own, use code “XX2iRocks” (without the quotation marks) to score 50% off of your order!

 

Disclosure: I received a free Plantronics BackBeat Fit 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!

Prior to testing the Plantronics BackBeat Fit wireless headphones, I’d never run with Bluetooth headphones. I’m not sure why I thought I wouldn’t like wireless headphones, especially since I’d pretty much stopped running with music due to corded headphone issues. The ear buds that come with the iPhone/iPod are pretty from a design standpoint, but had a tendency to jump out when I run (plus if you sweat on the ones with the volume control thingy on the cord, you can kill them–Awesomeness alert: the BackBeat FIT is 100% waterproof. You can even fully submerge them. Tunes while swimming, anyone??). I’d switched to Yurbuds since they are a huge improvement in terms of both of those issues, but now those are my at-work earbuds. It’s probably my naturally graceful movement, but once I’m geared up to run they were sure to snag on something–hat, watch, Road ID, Handana–and yank a bud out of my ear.

Running without music is a drag sometimes. When I’m running alone and not at a big event, I need more motivation than I can get from just running. Otherwise it is just too easy to sit on the couch. So when the BibRave Pro team had the opportunity to test the Plantronics BackBeat Fit, I decided to give them a spin. Worst case scenario, I’d decide they are not for me and give them away. (No such luck for you, dear reader, as it turns out I love them.)

When the box arrived, I felt like it was just like Christmas! I knew exactly what was inside.

Santa Cruz? We're practically neighbors!
Santa Cruz? We’re practically neighbors!

I forgot to mention that long before Bluetooth, when most of us didn’t have cell phones and Apple hadn’t invented the iPod, back in the days before we were worried that the Y2K bug was going to cause the end of the universe, that’s when I first learned of Plantronics. The context was that I was a student at Coach U., where all of the classes are conducted telephonically via bridge lines. In order to avoid the creaky neck caused by spending hours and hours holding the receiver with your head and shoulder so both hands are free to reference materials and take notes, the Coach U. team recommended all students buy a headset for their phones. (This was a radial notion at the time.) The brand Coach U recommended as the top-of-the-line, best investment was Plantronics.

Now I have a Plantronics headset in my office for conference calls and depositions. From the context I always associated Plantronics with businesses and offices, so hearing a connection to running was quite the surprise to me.

Handwritten note!
Handwritten note!

The Plantronics team included a handwritten note inside. I really love that kind of personal touch–it makes me feel like there are people on the other side of the box and the product, instead of a monolithic corporate entity. (I have no idea whether Plantronics is a huge company or a tiny one. All I know is that I associate the name with quality headsets.)

I’m also a giant nerd, and I’m interested in packaging and presentation. Instead of ripping open the package and extracting the contents, I’ve got to examine all the elements first. Notice the sticky-note on the box not only has the social media information and a QR code, it also has a color photo of the two most important items in the box, the headset and the carrying case. (The box also contains a charging cable and instruction booklet.) The carrying case is reversible neoprene: turned one way, it’s a storage unit for the headphones, cable, and instructions; turned the other, it’s an adjustable armband to carry your phone (keys, cash, etc.) while you run.  Also, the note is color-coordinated with the box and contents in Lime Burst (the headset also comes in Electric Blue). Enough already, let’s open the package.

Here (hear?) they are!
Here (hear?) they are!

The front piece of the box opens like the cover on a book. It reminded me of the Lifesavers “A Sweet Story” packages my parents used to get for us kids at Christmas. Anyway, peek inside!

Pretty, right? The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, the color is much nicer live. Also, you can’t tell, but the piece connecting the two earbuds is flexible like a cable, not stiff like what I suppose are now “old-fashioned” headphones like the kind that came with the Walkman.  Awesomeness note: this makes them super adaptable to different sizes of heads, and you can wear them under or over headgear!

Charging is simple. First pull out the small tab to slide the cover off of the plug receptor. Plug the charging cord into the receptor, and then connect the other end to a USB power source (e.g. computer, wall-wart). Rings around each bud turn red when the power is connected, and blue when charging is complete. Final step, pair the headphones with the iPhone. Boom.

Back of the box
Back of the box

Ready to go! I read the instructions, and you’d think I could have figured this out since there are only really two buttons, but some days I am short a few clues. I put the headphones on and hit the button, but nothing happened. I tried the other button. I tried both buttons. Cut to the chase, you don’t just hit the button, you hold it down for 2 seconds. The headphones then speak to you (“Power On”). If you tap the button, they will tell you how much charge is on them. Awesomeness note: there is an 8 hour battery charge life. That means you can psych up before the race, run a marathon, and still have tunes to enjoy with your post-race beer!  To adjust the volume, you can either use the button on the headset, or you can use the volume controls on your phone. (Bonus: my iPhone shows that the headset is connected and shows the power level.)

One thing I really love about the Plantronics BackBeat Fit is that these are NOT noise-cancelling (“block out”) headphones. Wearing noise-cancelling headphones while running is a major safety hazard, because they are designed to block out all of the ambient noise, anything not coming from the sound source. When you’re running, you need to hear the world around you! Not being able to hear traffic, other runners, and race officials/volunteers is downright dangerous. Awesomeness note: the BackBeat Fit delivers quality sound while still allowing me to safely hear important environmental clues. Or as the website puts it, “Eartip design directs audio into ear but lets you hear a bit of your surroundings.”

I’ve now taken these out on short runs like the Road Runner Sports Adventure Runs, and on long runs like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach half marathon. So far, I love them! There are a few features I haven’t tried yet.

  • Phone usage. Use the buttons to switch between music and phone calls without fuss.
  • Armband case, because I’m either holding my phone in my hand (Adventure Run uses a map) or it is in one of my skirt pockets, so  my biggest problem is what to do with the headphones when I’m done running. I tried hanging them around my neck, but if I bend over I lose them (which could be perilous in a porta-potty!). After one run I put them around my neck, and secured them with a Buff. Another time I put them into a free pocket.
  • Apps. Plantronics has some apps in the app store. According to the website, “Our apps help you get the most from your headphones by explaining features, updating to the latest firmware, and even locating your lost headphones.”

If you haven’t tried the Plantronics BackBeat Fit and are in the market for wireless headphones or Bluetooth headphones (these are both!), I highly recommend these headphones. I love them so much I’ve committed to a year of membership in Rock My Run, now that I know I have reliable, non-tangle, headphones.

But hey, don’t just take my word for it! Take a look at reviews by some of the other BibRave Pros!