I found my match! Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

To say I am picky about my methods of hydration is an understatement. Let’s face it – I drink A LOT while training and racing. Some people give me odd looks and/or make fun of me. I don’t care. I’m a thirsty girl. Of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years one of the most important for me is to HYDRATE! Waking up in an ambulance after collapsing on a race course from a heat stroke will do that to you.

Hydration is easy on the bike – so many options and places to store bottles of fluids. There are also various options for running – handheld bottles of varying sizes, waist packs that can hold multiple flasks/bottles/gel packs, etc. And then there are packs. All of them have their positives and negatives. If you are anything like me you’ve probably tried them all. I’m at the point where upon opening my “gear cabinet”, run-specific bottles and flasks come a-tumbling. I like options.

Handhelds are okay for shorter runs, but I get really annoyed by carrying anything in my hands. Waist packs can also be good for shorter runs, and they offer options for conveniently carrying other gear like keys, food, and you cell phone. However I don’t always have the easiest time removing and replacing the bottles while I’m running. And of course there is inevitably some sort of “bounce” factor. My favorite way to go is the pack. They can hold large amounts of fluid which sets my mind at ease, and most have extra storage/pockets for other goodies.

Although I prefer packs, there are times when they just seem like “too much.” That was until the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest came into my life. It may sound cliché, but it was a game-changer for a hydration junkie like myself. A dream come true for a thirsty minimalist! As soon as I strapped it on I was in love.
raceultravestConfession time: when it first arrived I actually wore it around the house that day. I was so excited by its sleek design and badass look I just couldn’t resist! And the comfort? Okay it was empty at the time but it fit unlike any pack I’ve ever tried. With adjustment straps across the chest and on the sides you could practically mold this bad boy to your torso. A hydration vest that works well for a petite female? Pinch me!

Time to put the vest to the test

The first time I used the vest I opted to fill the reservoir only which holds 2 liters. The reservoir fits nicely into an insulated sleeve which then drops into the large stretch mesh pocket in the rear. The straw is insulated as well and can be fed through the shoulder straps on either side of the pack.
raceultravest2The nozzle has an on/off option and a cap that can either be used to keep dirt out or be removed entirely. I tend to use the cap only during travel and remove it when it’s time to run. When using the pack without the bottles this opens up 2 large pockets in the front to stash lots of handy items – cell phone, trail snacks, etc. But fear not, there are still 2 additional stretch mesh pockets on each side that although may be narrow at the opening (which is great for security like your key and/or money) can hold a lot of items as well!
raceultravest3I set off on my run with a full pack and immediately fell in love with the snug fit that kept the vest from bouncing around. I realized that I would be relying heavily on this vest for training runs!

The big question for me –  would the addition of the 2 – 500 ml bottles throw me off by making the pack too wide? Surprisingly they were not in the way at all. They are angled in a fashion as to not hinder your arm swing, which also makes them easier to retrieve and replace on the run. Each pocket has a bungee strap that stretches over the cap to keep the bottles from flying out on rugged terrain. The small pull tab make the bungees easy to maneuver as well. So now I can have 2 liters of water and another 1000 ml of electrolyte drink. Score!

Other cool things to mention? The whistle that is latched onto the chest strap of course! Go ahead bears, try me.
braveheart bearAlthough the vest is not made for a ton of storage, the reservoir pocket on the back is stretchy enough to allow for some gear. So far I’ve used it for a trail map (I’m forever getting lost), gloves and sleeves. I’m sure you could stash a few other small items in there as well.

I’ve now raced twice with this pack – once with the bottles and once without. Complaints? None that I can find yet! And although I’ve (mostly) given up wearing it around the house, I have definitely put some miles in. I’ve even used it on a shorter run that required me to carry some gear. I removed the insulation sleeve and reservoir and had lots of space to store things.

The pack in action!

SRT 20 miler - with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

SRT 20 miler – with bottles. Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Blues Cruise 50k - without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Blues Cruise 50k – without bottles. Photo credit: Jim Blandford

So there you have it – the Race Ultra Vest is the perfect fit for me. It’s no surprise that this vest has been the recipient of some big time awards. If you love getting lost in the trails for hours and are looking for a minimalist pack that provides all the necessities while at the same time is barely noticeable – I highly recommend you check this one out!
Race_Ultra_Vest_awardSee you on the trails!

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Blues Cruise 50k – Take 2

I was excited to return to Blues Cruise this year for a number of reasons. It was my first 50k, Blue Marsh Lake is a childhood landmark, but mainly because I wanted to see what I’ve learned from last year’s attempt. If you read my race report from 2013 you may remember that I was not even close to prepared to tackle the distance. I wanted to come back this year with the preparation, the training, and the knowledge of what it takes to successfully race a 50k.

Right from the start the cards were stacked in my favor this year. Last year’s temperatures soared which was odd for the time of year. Sunday we were lucky to have what I would call the best running conditions. Temps were in the low 40’s at the start with an anticipated high in the low 60’s for the day. THIS is fall running! Love it!

The course changes direction every year, with 2014 running clockwise for the one-loop, 31 mile trail around the lake. I was told this was the easier route and I was determined to take full advantage of it. Lining up at the start of an ultra is so relaxing – there is no need to sprint out of the gate.
start lineRace director Stephan Weiss let out the command to go and this year’s start was more relaxed than the last. I was able to quickly settle into my own pace and for once I was not letting others dictate my pace. Progress! I spent a few miles lagging behind 2 guys who were only slightly further up the trail. I felt like I could have easily cranked up the effort for a short time to latch on and stick with them, but I felt it would be wiser of me to follow my plan. It paid off when I was able to pass one of them later in the race.

In fact, I felt so great during the first 10 miles running only slightly under my goal pace. I had a big smile on my face and was wondering if it was too good to be true. I felt so relaxed, in control and confident that I questioned whether or not I was taking it too easy. Luckily I talked myself out of that thought!
Pace for the first 10 miles – 7:32

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

At mile 12 I came across race photographer and amazing ultra runner in his own right Jim Blandford. He informed me that I was 9 minutes ahead of the next female. Eek!! This was too close for comfort. A bit of panic crept into my head as I spent the next few miles reasoning with myself. I wasn’t even halfway through the race – it was too soon to pick up the pace and risk blowing up. But what happens if this gap starts closing? I continued on, strong and focused. No need to panic just yet.

As I hit mile 20 I was excited to see Jared as he knew I wanted some data. He told me that I had at least 15 minutes on the next female. YES! This was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Time to enjoy the last 11 miles of this course, which in my head were going to be the easiest (I obviously didn’t remember the first 11 miles from last year…).
Pace for the second 10 miles – 8:26

These last 11 miles were definitely not passing as quickly and easily as I had expected. Even though my pace hadn’t changed, my effort level felt way harder. I had spent my day running by myself and at this point was really craving some company. I heard a pack of guys making ground behind me and was not at all upset about the thought of them passing me as it would at least give me some running partners. Eventually 2 of them caught on to me and then made a pass. This definitely helped me mentally to have runners around me for a short time. As we tackled these last hills that continued to taunt us so close to the finish, I worked to keep one of them in sight. At last, I popped out onto the road and was so happy knowing that finish line was quickly approaching. Even better? Not only was I going to surpass my goal of 4:15 – I was also going to snag a course record!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

There was much for me to celebrate – I achieved so many goals. I got a better handle on pacing, I raced my own race instead of getting caught up in what others were doing, I stayed relaxed, in control, and confident – I didn’t once let negative talk creep into my thoughts.
Pace for the last 11 miles – 8:24

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford


I cannot say enough great things about this race. To start – Stephan Weiss, Mike Yoder and the Pagoda Pacers do an amazing job at making sure everything runs smoothly so that you have an enjoyable day on the trails. The sense of community they create is second to none! The aid stations are well-stocked with friendly, lively volunteers who are eager to assist you with your needs. Furthermore there is no shortage of fuel. The course is spectacular just in its uniqueness alone. It’s not often that you will find a one-loop 50k course. The trails offer a little bit of everything while being extremely runnable. Single track, open fields, stone trails, dirt trails, rocks and roots – you’ll get it all. I went with my main squeeze – the inov-8 trailroc 150’s again this year to tackle the course. They never let me down! Although I love all of inov-8’s trail shoes, these are by far my favorite.

And I can’t fail to mention the swag…all finishers received a long sleeve tech shirt, a water bottle, a tech hat, AND a custom kitty throne!
swagWe all know I’m a sucker for unique awards. This sailboat definitely ranks in the top 5!

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Again in 2014 Blues Cruise was the RRCA Regional 50k Championship. Congrats to Mike Dixon who also broke the course record.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Also congratulations to the masters champions, Justin Krebs and Elisa Edgar.

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

Photo credit: Jim Blandford

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kn1cHCZMJc

Now…time to focus on JFK!

Finish time – 4:09:17

 

SRT 20 miler

I’m very lucky to have so many amazing trails within minutes of my house. Since moving to New Paltz, NY in February, the Shawangunk Mountains have been my playground.

I decided to participate in the Shawangunk Ridge Trail run/hike 20 miler as a tune-up and test for my 50k this coming weekend. In the inaugural event, Ken and Todd offered 3 days of racing to those who share the thrill of running wild on the trails of Hudson Valley. A 74-mile jaunt began Friday night. Out of 5 starters, only one man finished – kudos to him for toughing it out! Saturday hosted the 32 mile option – this one tempted me but I am not yet prepared to run such long distances so close in proximity. Plus, I heard that the first section of the 32-mile race was brutal! I opted for the 20-miler on Sunday, which turned out to be a perfect option for me.

Trail blazes marked our course

Trail blazes marked our course

The race was point-to-point and un-supported which made it interesting. The trails were blazed by the Trail Conference, but there were no other markings. There was a GPS app you could download and 2 checkpoints along the course, but beyond that you were on your own. About half of the race took you through some great technical trails. You then transition onto the roads and run down the mountain before turning onto the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail for the last few miles to the finish.

When we were released onto the trails, I went off the front along with 3 other guys – I could tell this was going to be a fast race. As the leader Jason pulled away I jumped in front of the other 2 guys for our first section of climbing. Before long we hit some descents and I could hear the 2 guys coming up quickly. I stepped aside to let them pass – this was a “training” race and I was not about to take any risks. This allowed the 3 guys to open a substantial gap on me but I was fine with this. Before even hitting 2 miles one of them went down hard with a twisted ankle. After making sure he was okay I once again took off into the woods – still a lot of miles ahead!

Passing through checkpoint one it was time for the long, gradual climb along Old Minnewaska Trail. I could see one, then both men ahead of me as I made my way along the path feeling both strong and confident. When I made my first pass I urged him to hop on as Jason was just ahead of us, but I continued on alone. When I reached Jason I let him know that no one was with me and we chatted for a while as we hopped onto the Undivided Lot trail – one of my favorites! I offered to take a turn pulling but Jason had a different idea. He said he would pull me through the woods if I pulled him up the hills and along the road. I have to admit Jason – I did not want to be pulled through the woods 😉 But I am not opposed to working together, and thought maybe it was a smart idea to settle in for a while and save myself for later in the race. Jason again took the descents with a tenacity that I was not willing to partake in that day. And sure enough he took a rough tumble in turn. He appeared to be no worse for the wear and continued on. Once we got to the first “climb” in that section it was my turn to take over and pull. But I realized pretty quickly that Jason wasn’t coming with me. Sorry Jason – it was time to run my race! (read Jason’s race report here)

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Crossing over the road onto Chapel Trail – I forgot how tough that section is! I resorted to power-hiking at that point – this year I have learned when to embrace the power hike as a smart move and not to be ashamed of it! I was excited to arrive at Spring Farm because I knew there was only a little bit of climbing left to do on this course. I became anxious when I did not see a checkpoint there, as this was the section of the course I was unsure of. I came across Ken and asked him about the trails ahead. He assured me that I wouldn’t have any issues finding my way and I left it at that – forgetting he doesn’t know me and how easily I become lost 😉 Sure enough I popped out onto the carriage road, turned in the direction I knew was correct, but quickly questioned my route. I stopped halfway up a climb to look around, then started heading back down the hill before realizing I would have to run it again if it was in fact the correct route. I then resorted to pulling out my phone, pulling up the app, and confirming that I was on course. Phew! Now I took off at almost a sprint to make up for that unwanted break.

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Before long I hit the second checkpoint onto Mountain Rest Road. This is a long, steep, and curvy downhill that I love…to ride on the bike. It was refreshing to hit the pavement and pick up the pace, but within only minutes I was ready to get off that road! My quads were not happy with the pace I was tackling and the undulating stretch seemed to go on forever. Once you get to the bottom of the mountain you turn onto another road that offers a short climb (to which my legs were not happy to respond) before turning down another road with a steep descent. I reasoned with myself that the faster I ran, the sooner I would be on the rail trail 😉

20140921SRTrace

Photo credit: Tom Bushey

Onto the rail trail at last – at a spot where I run a majority of my recovery miles. A section where miles tend to tick away quickly and effortlessly. Not today! The heat and humidity were starting to really take their toll and I felt like I was moving backwards. Passing the Rail Trail Café where I knew I’d be enjoying lunch soon gave me that last boost knowing I had less than 2 miles to go. And finally the trestle bridge – with no shade and thick, hot air I definitely got that dizzy feeling that the diagonal planks create. The finish line was just ahead and I was happy to see it!

Throughout the day runners continued to venture in – everyone wearing smiles from an awesome adventure on a challenging yet fun course. The race was exactly what I had hoped for. I was happy with how I paced it and how I felt – just the confidence boost I needed! And of course I was aiming for the overall award…
SRT awardCongrats to everyone who tackled any of the SRT challenges! Thank you to Ken and Todd for creating such a cool event. And of course thank you to Inov-8 and 110% for providing gear that allows me to run my best! This was my first time racing in my x-talon 190’s. I knew they would not be necessary for the road and rail trail portion of the race, but I was definitely happy to have them for the technical sections. And they did not feel uncomfortable or slow me down on the road and rail trail. This was my first time racing with the Race Ultra Vest and testing the full fluid capacity (2 liter reservoir + 2-500 ml bottles). I will be writing a product review of this vest soon, but for now I will tell you this was more comfortable to race in than I imagined! Another staple to my trail racing are 110%’s Flat Out Sox. Tackling long miles on uneven terrain my legs welcome these fatigue-reducing compression socks to keep me feeling fresh through the finish line.

Finish time – 2:32
Lunch on the course – vegan bean & sweet potato burrito 🙂