“How important is the gear you have in the long run — as in 13.1 miles long run? Our knower-of-all-things-product, Christina, just finished her second half marathon (and longest trail race to date!) aided by our Helium Hydration Pack. Read about her first time using a hydration pack here.”
It’s no secret: even if it wasn’t essentially my job, I would still be a gear junkie.
Gadgets and gizmos a-plenty, when it comes to all things endorphin and sweat related, I have to learn more. Be it geeking out on my running gait analysis and what that means in terms of ideal run shoes for my personal lack of heel strike or the newest tech toys like tracking sleep and steps via my Fitbit Flex, you can almost guarantee that if it involves working out and peaks my interest at all, I will have a ‘have to have it’ moment. Training is of course essential, but good gear can absolutely help one be prepared for any given situation out on the race course.
So how does a self-proclaimed gear junkie who is on a mission to run 103 races not own a hydration pack?
A few weeks ago I handed out cups of water and cut up bananas at a trail race (full, half, 10k, and 5k.) As a fellow runner, it seemed natural to want to be on the other side of the “Yes, water!” “Is there sports drink?” and the starry-eyed while standing at a table of gu “Where’s the gu?” equation. There was added incentive that a full day’s volunteering was paid with free entry into an upcoming race of our choosing. Until recently I had “Nitro Trail 10k, sign up pending” listed as race #6 in my run103 mission. However, at aid station three in the 90 plus degree heat, all that changed: a fellow volunteer convinced me that I had run a half before, it didn’t matter that it was my only half; I should forgo the 10k and just go for the half.
Before I could balk or come to my senses, I emailed the race director and BOOM, registration for the half, not the 10k, was done. Let the countdown and panicking commence: I had signed up for a race that I felt unprepared for. After my first flat-road half marathon in January, I essentially took a month and a half off from running seriously, easing back in with pretty short distances. My half was heavily assisted so I didn’t train with water on my person. Only about ten miles total had been logged in my new trail shoes (5 of which were a different race,) the longest trail race to date I had done was one 10k and while I had run a half marathon before it was exactly that: a half. While I do regularly hike at the entrance of the canyon where the race started, the hike involves indulging our two off-leash dogs with my husband, not 13.1 miles for time. Part of the course was completely unassisted and I had never run with a hydration pack. Did I mention I had never run with a hydration pack? Ever?
Colorful slang involving bodily functions and bricks come to mind. At times like this, eloquence and grace are secondary to primal instinct. This wasn’t sounding good training and conditioning-wise. Could gear really save me now?
While I continued physical training, more than anything else, I mentally prepared. Researching the elevation helped me really wrap my head around what I was about to endeavor, or rather, how bad ‘bad’ would be. It wasn’t so much that I thought I might not meet my goals of not being picked up by the sweep, bonking or barfing: it was that I did not want to put up anything but what I deemed as my best showing. Ego checked, I sucked it up. I would run it anyways. Even if I did not mentally believe that I was prepared, my physical body was telling me otherwise. But of course: did I have the right gear? That single-holster water bottle holder was definitely not looking like a reassuring companion.
Armed with the “Helium Hydration Pack” borrowed from Customer Service at work with the promise of a thorough review upon return, I began to prepare. As noted, prior to the race I had never, ever run with a full pack, only a hydration belt that is really a fancy single water bottle holster. Considering it took me two hours to complete my first half, I knew that would not be enough water; a hydration pack was a must for easily-dehydrated me. If anyone spotted me running through the building at work and around the parking lot prior to the race, it’s because I was adjusting all the straps on the pack. After those adjustments on Friday, I made zero adjustments pre- or mid-race on Saturday.
At first, in hand, for someone who normally runs without water at all, it seemed like a “lot” of pack, which concerned me. Pack stocked with ClifShot gels, emergency BodyGlide and a tick stick (among other things) tucked into other secure interior compartments, the only thing left on my checklist seemed to be remembering to breathe. Compression sleeves for my calves, check. Beloved, still new-ish runners, check. New raceday singlet and new visor, check. My Garmin charged and RoadID secured, in my raceday outfit complete with virgin hydration pack, if nothing else, I certainly looked ready.
Race morning I easily filled the bladder, quickly secured it, double checked the easily-accessible side pockets and before I knew it, I was crossing the timing line and starting my timer. The trail half I thought I was unprepared for was underway. Immediately, we pushed through a single-file funnel and were dumped out onto my familiar, well-worn path. Despite the excitement, I knew better: we were five minutes or less into the race, and I was walking. If this hill was the start, I knew we were probably in for it.
In short, I was right.
During the entire two hours and fifty-six minutes, over 2,240 feet of elevation change, I may have laughed and maybe even teared up a little, but I had no pack problems in regards to chafing, shifting or leakage. My gels were easily accessed, their empty packages stashed and I had plenty of water as I made sure to hydrate as well at aid stations. It was definitely a great first-time hydration pack experience. It truly surprised me that there were no additional subtle ‘next time I would ___’ adjustments needed; the only time I removed the pack during the race was to access something I had put in a main pocket. Unlike my old hydration belt, the pack did not shift, stayed out of the range of my arms and sat up off my narrow hips such that I essentially forgot it was there! As I am built like a small noodle, I definitely found the denoted women’s specific fit to be a pretty big deal. Overall, the pack was easy to use and being able to take more frequent sips without any mess definitely helped me hydrate on the hot, dry course. I attribute proper fueling paired with better-than-usual hydration over the last 5k for my strong finish.
I do my best to practice good run etiquette, but if you’re the gal in the blue in this picture, I am sorry I was so rude. We were getting so close to that single-track path and our paces were awkward for passing. It wasn’t my intention to walk on your heels on the single track path and then blow past you in the last 100 yards; I am simply a jerk who tries to kick it out in the last half a mile and stride out at the last 100 yards of any finish because it makes me feel like I really left whatever I had left out there.
And at this half, despite thinking I was unprepared, I was determined to try to have a more fun finish picture. Victory!
I FREAKING DID IT.
In the end, I was ecstatic. I didn’t see my official time at the finish but knew it had to be sub 3 hours. But more importantly, I had done it: 2,240 plus feet of elevation over 13.1 miles only 48 minutes slower than my road half. It felt good to be done, but more importantly I was thankful that I had pushed myself and just went for it. Way up and out there, outside my comfort zone, some magic happened thanks in part to the graces of some good gear.
Post endorphin high and lolling about in the sun, there was of course the aftermath: exhaustion, copious amounts of maple almond butter consumed with a spoon washed down with electrolyte lemonade, trail ‘anklets’ (dirt anklets, that is) and the obliteration of three trays of In-n-Out french fries before foam rolling.
With the Wildcat Trail Half under my belt and two more races coming (a 5 mile trail race and a 5k fun run,) my confidence is up. My closet is full of gear, my pantry full of BCAAs, Clif everything and nuun. The training calendar has been penned: Dumbo Double Dare, I am coming for you!
Guess I better buy my own hydration pack before then.