You know what I can’t stand about the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? Shopping. And pictures of other people’s kids cloyingly posed on a TinyPrints card with no personalization to the holiday message.
Our family tries to keep the holidays simple, and to spend money on experiences more than stuff. It’s with some reluctance, therefore, that I jump on the gift guide bandwagon for the third year in a row. I do it mainly to spotlight nifty things for trail runners that I truly recommend and discovered in the past year; and also, honestly, to make a few bucks. Some of the links below provide me with a small commission for click-through sales. It’s one time of year when I can generate a little income from this mostly non-commercial blog.
With that disclaimer out of the way, check out these cool things I used this year! Buy them for your trail runner friend … or, get yourself a gift!
SPF arm sleeves: I bought these for the Western States 100 to keep my arms from crisping, and to shove ice down them at aid stations. I had never used arms sleeves for cooling and sun protection, only for warmth. My fear that they would bug me didn’t come to pass; on the contrary, I was so glad I had these on my arms. I bought the Novara Sun Sleeves from REI (now on sale for $15). Recently, however, I noticed that the Western States Endurance Run updated its online store and is offering some fierce-looking WSER logo sleeves for $20; check it out.
First Aid kit small enough to fit in a hydration pack: As detailed in this blog post, I got a NOLS Wilderness First Aid certification this summer—then, four weeks later, sliced open my ankle while trying to be a hot shot on a field of talus above tree line. If not for my handy-dandy first aid kit and know-how to use it, I might have suffered a dangerous amount of blood loss from the puncture wound and hypothermia while waiting for search and rescue. Instead, I bandaged up and made it down the mountain. Get the NOLS Med Kit 1.0 ($12) plus an irrigation syringe ($1) for flushing out cuts, and self-adhering bandage wrap ($17 for six pack) for sprained ankles and wounds.
Cooling towel: This is “the coolest” thing for you and your crew to have on hand—or to put in a drop bag—at hot ultras! The Mission Enduracool Microfiber Towelis made of a synthetic fabric that retains coolness. If you get it wet, wring it out and wave it around, it provides a chilling sensation. Wipe it on your face and neck, and drape it around your shoulders, for instant relief at an aid station. ($15 but on sale through amazon)
Read, runners, read! Three books and two magazines: Recently, I immensely enjoyed three books related to trail/ultra running.
First, The Road to Sparta: Reliving the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World’s Greatest Footrace ($20) by Dean Karnazes is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of Dean and his first bestseller, Ultramarathon Man. Regardless of what you think of Dean and whether you read his first book, I recommend The Road to Sparta as an engaging story that weaves more of Dean’s personal narrative with an illuminating, in-depth account of the Greek foot messenger Pheidippides and the ancient roots of ultrarunning. Here’s my full review in Trail Runner.
Second, if you want to laugh, cry and indulge in the literary equivalent of an all-nighter on junk food, then get Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The Pack ($16) by Cory Reese. I simply loved this book. Cory, a big-hearted social worker and dad of three from southern Utah, could have made it as a comedian—but I am glad he is a social worker, because his skills as a counselor who understands suffering and personal tragedy also shine through in the book. Before I read Nowhere Near First, I knew Cory only vaguely as the guy with a face as expressive as Jim Carrey, who weirdly likes to take selfies of jump shots while ultrarunning. Now, I know him as the guy who plugs along in ultras “at approximately the speed you move when standing in line at the DMV” and who good-naturedly wore a clown suit to the Javelina Jundred because runners are expected to dress in Halloween costumes there. He described the experience as such:
A little bit of my manhood died as I stood at the starting line wearing that clown outfit. It occurred to me that I looked like I was wearing a Hazmat suit with polka dots. And I was starting to sweat even before I started running. I quickly realized that my costume resembled an oven. It was like being baked into a Hot Pocket. … The costume virtually required an act of Congress to take it off if, say, you needed to go to the bathroom …. You need to take off your hydration pack and wrestle with the strings on the back of the clown suit to get the stupid thing off. Go ahead. Try untying a series of six knots on your back in forty-five seconds or less …
Third, I received a promo copy of a gorgeous coffeetable book, Grand Trail: A Magnificent Journey to the Heart of Ultrarunning and Racingby brothers Frederic and Alexis Berg ($45 but on sale for $35 through amazon). I’m generally not enthusiastic about large-format photography books that tend to stack up and just sit there, but this one is definitely worth opening and reading. I half expected the text to be filler around the photos, but on the contrary, the quality of writing matches the stunning images. Profiling 16 notable elite-level ultrarunners and 13 ultras around the world, Grand Trail presents a global picture of the sport yet also manages to feel intimate. It takes us to Western States, Hardrock, Ultra-Trail Harricana in Canada, Transgrancanaria in Spain, Eiger Ultra in Switzerland, Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji in Japan … rather than list them all, I’ll let you discover what other races the book spotlights. Flipping through a few pages at a time each night is an experience to savor, like watching an episode of a Netflix series that you don’t want to end. I’m glad I skipped forward to the end, however, because a slim, two-column Afterword essay by Jenn Shelton knocked my Drymax off. Francophiles, rejoice: Grand Trail is a bilingual book, with English and French text blocks side by side.
Finally, friends, please subscribe to my two favorite magazines instead of distractedly skimming a little bit of their free content online. I have been a contributor to Trail Runner for over eight years now, and the print version that appears in the mailbox is So Much Better than what you get online. Hold it in your hands and have a deep reading experience instead of letting your eyes fly over a screen, interrupted by notifications. Subscribe here. Same with UltraRunning magazine, which Karl Hoagland continues to grow and improve; subscribe.
Trail toes—you got ’em. So get it: Trail Toesis an anti-friction cream that I use on my feet for all long runs and ultras (except for ultra-ultras when I go to the trouble of taping my toes). Maj. Vincent Atunez, an Army orthopedic physician assistant and hard-core stage racer who’s raced all the 4Desert races and the Grand to Grand Ultra (which is how and when I met him), developed this waxy stuff that works like magic. ($14)
Super-duper hydration pack with convenient trekking pole holder: Earlier, I reviewed Ultimate Direction’s women’s Ultra Vesta but did not go into as much detail about their larger-capacity Adventure Vesta because I hadn’t tried it out much. This past summer, however, I put the Adventure Vesta ($150) to good use in Colorado and can now enthusiastically recommend it. In particular, I like the roomy pockets, the velcro tabs that easily adjust the fit, and the trekking pole loops that make running with folded-up poles no problem. See photo below; it shows me on the left with the Adventure Vesta, which is the women-specific version of UD’s SJ Ultra Vesta 2.0 that Yitka, pictured on the right, is wearing. I also love Ultimate Direction’s Body Bottle Plus, a 17-oz soft flask. The Adventure Vesta comes with two of them, but I like having a couple extra. On long runs, I often use one or two extra bottles filled and carried in the mesh pocket in back, in lieu of a hydration reservoir (even though the Adventure Vesta can accommodate a reservoir), because I like swapping out the empty bottles in the shoulder holsters with two full bottles. For mountain adventures, I wouldn’t use any other hydration vest.
The best running gloves that aren’t really running gloves: This year, I discovered that my favorite running gloves are actually snowboarding/skiing liner gloves. These Burton Touchscreen Glove Liners ($17) are super thin and don’t overheat my hands as normal running gloves tend to do. If I want to take them off, then they scrunch up into a tiny pocket.
Energy gel that tastes like pie: I’m a brand ambassador for VFuel because I prefer its digestibility, texture and taste. It differs from other gels in that its secondary carb is dextrose, not fructose. It also has a texture that stays liquid and easy to squeeze out of the pouch in cold weather, unlike other gels that tend to thicken. This year, VFuel introduced the delicious Salted Caramel Appleflavor ($38 for 24 pack). I can’t decide whether I like it better than Peach Cobbler. I suggest you try the Vfuel Endurance Gel 24 Variety Packto sample lots of flavors.
Stickers that show you’re part of the tribe: This is a great stocking stuffer for the ultrarunner in your life. Support UltraRunnerPodcast.com by making a donation to their “Donation Aid Station,” and my buddy Eric will send you a >26.2, Hunnerd, Singletrack Mind or other sticker of your choice. What? You say you’re not familiar with my favorite podcast that I occasionally co-host? If you want to sample some of my favorite episodes, then scroll to the bottom half of my portfolio page for a collection. Or, of course, visit the site to see them all.
Go to Target and build a care pack for the ultrarunner in your life: I won’t bother with links here because I just want to share the idea. Put this together for an ultrarunner to keep in her or his car, or to give to crew to use: folding chair, cooler, beach towel, baby wipes, sunscreen … you know, the stuff you’d want midway through a very long trail run.
Give a gift to conservation in someone’s name: Now more than ever, given the changing priorities in Washington, D.C., your support is needed to protect the environment and preserve open space, especially federal lands. I’ve chosen to support these three organizations: the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Grand Canyon Trust and The Nature Conservancy; plus, locally, Save Mount Diablo. With a donation comes membership, which means you’ll stay informed and have opportunities to advocate on behalf of the wilderness and climate. For a primer on federal land management, check out this well-done article published earlier this year on iRunFar by Ian Torrence, A Trail Runner’s Primer on Public Lands. Don’t take your trails, clean air, clean water and climate for granted!
Uh-oh, I was on the verge of a political rant. Suffice to say it’s a sign of the times that my friends who host an annual holiday sing-along party decided to cancel it this year and have a gathering at a bar instead called, “F.U., 2016,” and I’m gonna go. On a more positive note, as 2016 winds down, I am incredibly grateful for a year of trail running—and family times—that fulfilled several goals and hopes. I’m so fortunate for my trail-running friends and appreciate the encouragement you’ve given me as I strive to train, race and chase dreams through middle age.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season. Here’s to peace on earth, and good will to all.