My Nathan Minimist Hydration Vest Stinks

IMG_7099After two ultras and countless training miles over 15 months of service, my Nathan Minimist vest stinks. I mean it, it really reeks. When I strapped it on this morning over clean running clothes, I had to check myself — had I grabbed a jacket out of the hamper? No, that infernal odor is one with the pack, and probably always will be. It’s only distracting during those crucial moments when I’m wearing it indoors as I get ready to leave; the stink is inescapable. Much of the reflective material on the vest is peeling so I’m afraid to wash it and risk losing those nighttime safety features. So, the stink is here to stay. But with a vest this suited to my needs, I’m okay with that.

Pros:

Value. I scooped this vest on Amazon in December of 2013 for $52.02 before tax and it came with its 1.5L hydration bladder. Out of the box the pack is ready to go, unlike some high end models that require the bladder to be purchased separately.

Lightweight. I get all of the features I need (a zipper pouch for the bladder, a zipper key pocket, an open stash pocket, an open stuff pocket, two chest straps, and a velcro pocket) in a thin, lightweight vest. I haven’t yet even so much as considered overnight runs, so I don’t need a full backpack. I can carry what I need (e.g. Clif Shot Bloks, keys, Imodium, and a rain shell) in the vest and save myself the weight of extra layers of fabric — critical during a long run.

Durable. With the exception of the peeling reflective elements, this vest is in fantastic shape. No tears or stretching/warping in the fabric. The velcro still sticks and isn’t fuzz-encrusted, and the zippers operate smoothly.

Comfortable. In addition to not weighing me down over the long haul, the soft shoulder strap material doesn’t chafe. I wouldn’t recommend wearing this vest without a shirt since the chest straps would probably be rough on bare skin, but shirted up, it works great.

Slosh-free. The bladder is fairly quiet normally, but goes into ultimate stealth mode if I turn it upside down and suck the air out until I hit the water before inserting it into the vest. Incessant sloshing is second only to jangling keys in annoyance during solo runs (moaning/huffing and puffing runners during the late miles of a race is the overall most annoying noise while running!), so I’m thrilled that this isn’t an issue with this vest.

Cons:

Fit. It can be tricky to dial the fit in from day to day if I’m dressed differently due to the weather. An improperly adjusted vest is distracting — too tight and it becomes hard to breathe; too loose and it bounces so much that the straw comes loose from its clip and/or strap and starts slapping around.

Straw tastes terrible for the first few months. I mean inhumanly terrible. I don’t turn my nose up at Florida’s funky, swampy tap water when I vacation there, and I found myself having to spit out mouthfuls of water that had spent too long marinating in the chemical-laden plastic of the straw. Just horrid. It’s no longer an issue, but when the pack was new, I started considering buying a replacement bladder.

I couldn’t find the Minimist on the Nathan website, so it may not be available except from specialty retailers, but if you can get your hands on one, it’s a good lightweight option. The 1.5L bladder is too small to go super long without refilling, but I’ve had the good fortune to have access to a route with a water fountain, so that hasn’t been an issue for me. Overall, this hydration vest scores 8/10 for me.

Three Secrets for Success with the Hoka One One Clifton

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Disclaimer: The following is just my opinion based on my experience with the shoe, which includes long training runs, a marathon, and a 50 mile race. Every runner is different. Among dedicated running shoes there is probably no 100% bad shoe, but probably a lot of shoes that aren’t right for you. As much as I love it, the Clifton isn’t even my Cinderella shoe! Before buying any running shoe, I recommend trying it on. The best running specialty stores (You’re shopping at a specialty running store, right? You’d better be.) will let you take it on a short run (on an in-store treadmill, or maybe even outside if it’s a really cool store), so do that too when possible.

1. Use both insoles.
The Clifton comes with two insoles, both of which are super thin and light. One is orange foam, one is white foam. I would guess that the orange foam is Ortholite and the white foam is EVA, but I’m sure you can find out for sure on your own if you’re interested. I probably could research specs and write that sort of review, but I don’t want to portray myself as some sort of footwear expert when I’m not. Yes, I run in almost all of the major brands, often multiple models from each line, but I’m not an actual expert. What I am an expert in, is my individual experience with a shoe. That said, my real point is that using both insoles is the way to go. The midsole of the Clifton is so marshmallowy soft that I felt like I was running through the shoe during the Marine Corps Marathon — all squish, no spring and the shoe felt like it was bottoming out. Adding the orange insole atop the white insole added just enough additional padding and support for me to get through my mostly-trail 50 miler without getting that bottomed out feeling from the shoes.

2. Wear thick socks.
I love Drymax Hyper Thin socks. I don’t love wearing them with the Clifton because I don’t love blisters. Other Hoka fans rave about the great fit of the Clifton’s upper. Are their standards super low, or is my foot super low volume relative to the average Hoka customer? Because I swim in these puppies! I’m not blister-prone, but with thin socks (socks that I wear blissfully without issue in other shoes), I suffer. My solution: thick socks to reduce the amount of sliding around my feet do in these shoes because of their sloppy fit. Extra padding is a nice fringe benefit, too. Sticking with Drymax, I rocked one pair of Drymax Max Cushion Run Mini Crew socks for the entire JFK 50 Mile Race. Anticipating disaster, I brought four pairs of different kinds of socks and didn’t need to change once. I’d always rather have something and not need it (like Immodium, am I right?!) than need it and not have it.

3. Don’t crank the laces down.
Yes, the Clifton has a sloppy fit. But don’t try and correct it by lacing it tightly. Over long distances, blood pools in the feet, causing them to swell. There’s absolutely no padding in the Clifton’s tongue. As soon as swelling sets in, those laces will be digging into your feet. Having endured that during the Marine Corps Marathon, I can tell you that it is extremely uncomfortable over the long haul. The pain lingered: a week later I still felt like my right foot had been stomped by a Sumo wrestler. Leaving the laces a little looser for the JFK 50 Mile Race didn’t cause me any trouble on the downhills (I wasn’t sliding all around within the shoe) and I didn’t feel like there was a lag between when I lifted my foot and when the shoe actually came off the ground — there’s a level of looseness that keeps under-lace soreness at bay while still keeping me adequately locked in.

Following the above tips left me with blister-free feet after my first-ever ultramarathon. Running long is all about the mental game and being able to roll with the punches, but anytime you can dodge a problem by dialing in your gear, why not do it?

Be on the lookout for a full review of the Hoka One One Clifton…eventually!

Honey Stinger Protein Bar Reviews

I was lucky enough buy some Honey Stinger 10g protein bars at steep discounts — everything with Lance Armstrong’s image on it must go! — otherwise I probably never would’ve tried these. The regular price of $30 for a box of 15 bars is far too rich for my blood. I found discounted Honey Stinger 10g protein bars online at The Clymb and Steep and Cheep and in person at REI. REI was practically giving them away on 12/26/13 at the store I visited, so if you’re interested, that may be your best bet.

I tried two varieties: Peanut Butta Pro, and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.

Honey Stinger Peanut Butta Pro 10g Protein Bar

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Taste: 10/10

In a word, delicious. The Peanut Butta Pro flavor is reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It’s chocolatey and peanut buttery and it really doesn’t taste healthy at all. There’s no discernible honey taste, which is neither a good nor a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, just kind of noteworthy given that honey is touted as an ingredient.¬†Unlike some other protein bars, the milk chocolate will melt in your hands because it’s real chocolate! These are stupid good: 10/10.

Texture: 10/10

There’s none of the weird protein bar chewiness in these bars. The smooth texture is about as firm as a Power Bar, but isn’t nearly as chewy and not at all as gummy; you can break these bars if you hit them just right, or pack them in a bag that gets crushed. No crunch from crispy soy or crispy rice, as the 10 grams of protein come from whey protein: 10/10.

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Honey Stinger Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond 10g Protein Bar

Taste: 10/10

The whole bar has a strong cherry taste, especially the interior. Dark chocolate is a supporting character, but is a welcome addition that rounds out the candy bar-like flavor: 10/10.

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Texture: 10/10

The texture of the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond bars is identical to that of the Peanut Butta Pro variety, except that the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond bars contain almond and cherry pieces. Almond bits add crunch, but not much taste, while the cherry pieces add a little raisin-esque chew. The mixed in bits aren’t so thick that they substantially change the texture of the bar; it’s not like a granola bar or some trail mix. They simply add some interest in a robustly flavored bar: 10/10.

Overall, perfection for their category: 10/10.

I’m going to be sad when there are no more sale boxes to be had, since I can’t justify $2 per bar (plus shipping shipping, depending on where I buy them) for small-ish bars with only 10 grams of protein. The calorie and protein content is comparable to my tried-and-true favorite Lemon Zest Luna Bar: both have 180 calories, while the Peanut Butta Pro and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Honey Stinger Bars come out ahead with 10g of whey protein to the Luna Bar’s 9g of protein. I don’t know enough about different proteins to speak authoritatively about how soy protein compares with whey protein, but my understanding is that whey protein is more easily absorbed by the human body. Another possible consideration: if you’re keen on getting your protein from a vegan source, then whey is not the way to go.

First Impressions of the New Balance 870v3

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Today I took my New Balance 870v3s for a test drive — probably my first-ever pair of American-made running shoes. My first impression was very favorable.

This past Saturday I went to a Crossfit BFit class (not even actual Crossfit) which kicked my butt pretty soundly. Later that day I went for my 12-mile run. Sunday morning I hurt. I complained to Jenny that I might be “grievously injured.” But I still went for my 8-mile run.

(Turns out I wasn’t grievously injured.)

I rolled my legs out with a lacrosse ball during my Monday rest day, which helped a lot, so I was at about 70% for my run this morning. Still some nagging tightness in my legs. I preface my impressions with these comments because I think it’s important to note that I wasn’t trying these shoes on my best day. Not every running day is going to be my best running day, so I think that’s reasonable.

Bottom line up front: I liked these shoes.

When I first laced them up, I really noticed that the interior wasn’t very roomy. I don’t have tall or high-volume feet, but I felt that the 870v3s short height-wise: sole up to laces (not short toe to heel, the length was good). The low interior volume disappeared during the run into snug comfort. I expect more roominess as the shoe breaks in. These shoes aren’t as plush as my Brooks Glycerin 11s, and I didn’t expect them to be, but they do boast a cozy and supportive upper.

Best of all: no pain, even with a creaky body and a probably messed up stride. I enjoyed smooth transitions and a soft heel. The Abzorb foam in the heel is mushy to the touch and that softness is felt underfoot. Nice and soft, not sloppy. The heel isn’t exactly a push-off zone in my stride, so I’m not worried about responsiveness there.

First shoe impressions often hold, but my opinion of the 870v3 may change when I put more miles on it. Check back later for a full review.