Gear Review: Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2

Gear is very important once you start regularly running and racing distances 20 miles or more.  Shorter runs you can get by with not much more than a water bottle and maybe a couple snacks in a pocket.  If you are training long miles self-supported and running ultras, chances are you will need something a bit more significant than a belt pouch to carry some essentials including food and water.

Candi and I had been gifted an Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2 from a

Wearing my Orange Mud
Mid Pack and Candi Crusher

friend who had been too large for this particular vest, but having great results with my old pack, the Orange Mud just stayed hanging

on the running rack in the laundry room.  Yesterday, on a planned 20 miler, I decided to give it a test run.  The plan is, if it passed, it would get the nod to start the game at White Rock Classic 50K next weekend.  (I will get back to whether the HydraQuiver 2 made the starting lineup or not in a few paragraphs, so read on.)  Following are my observations from my experience yesterday with the pack.

Fit / Wear

Fit is so important in hydration packs.  All the little pockets and gadgets are great, but if the damn thing does not fit right, it might as well go in the garbage.  The HydraQuiver 2 vest fit nicely with very easy adjustments.  The wearer can adjust from front center, back center, and under both arms.  Personally I don’t like shit sitting under my armpits, so I pull tight at the front and wide in the rear and cinch under the arms.  I also like it to ride higher on my shoulders – I was fairly quickly able to get the pack adjusted pre-run to a very comfy position (while wearing a long sleeve, fairly thick pullover).  So I definitely liked how easy it was to adjust for the first time.  No difficult buckles to fuck around with (and still not get right), just a simple one-way pull ratchet clip that stayed in place and didn’t get looser than a truck stop lot lizard while running.  While running, the fit held nicely and the pack stayed where I wanted it.  My only knock on the fit is that once it warmed up and I took my pullover off, I put the pack back on and it was too loose.  Since I had the front already cinched tight (per my preference) I had to either take it off to tighten the rear or have Candi pull the underarm straps.  No problem if you have a running buddy, but a big pain in the ass if you are solo.  Again, this is partly due to my personal preference in the front, but I would like to be able to reach the underarm straps from the front without removing.   But all-in-all a very comfortable fit and ride once adjusted and it did not give me any chaffing or hotspots.

Form / Function

I will start in the front and move to the back.  The front (chest) of this pack has a large oval pouch on both sides.  These damn things are good size, and are super stretchy with easy to use locking drawstrings at the opening.  In my left pouch I had my iPhone 6 PLUS

Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2
Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2

IN A CASE, a couple cereal bars and fruit strips.  There was still plenty of room, and it felt just fine.  In the other pouch I had a few more bites of food and it actually felt empty – tons of space for trash or little road finds to be tucked away as we ran along.  I shit you not, these little pouches were like Harry Potter “bags of holding”  I love having easy access to fuel, small gear items (like chap stick, wet wipes, body glide, etc.) without breaking my arms and cramping my shoulders grabbing from the back – or God forbid – stopping to take it off to get crap out of the back.  Beware however, one of the pouches has an access hole on the bottom corner, so don’t lose your keys!  I didn’t notice the bottom corner access hole until after I finished, but luckily didn’t lose anything.  Fortunately, inside each pouch is a small clip, great for securing keys, whistle, or single shot Derringer pistols.  Move up on the shoulder straps and each side has an additional pouch for small items like ibuprofen or S-caps or maybe a few bucks and an ID for you urban runners who have things like convenience stores on your routes.

In the back, there is not much storage (none actually) aside from the water bottle holsters.  You could possibly use the bungee adjustment cord between the holsters to strap down a jacket or something rolled up, but I am not sure that was the intended use.  As far as the bottle quivers, this is what makes this pack unique.  Most packs that use bottles as opposed to bladders (which I HATE) are on the front, all sloshing in your ears and banging into your face, while rubbing your chest raw with the weight.  Having to bottle holders on your back damn near perfectly distributes the weight and makes for no bounce.  I had one empty bottle and one that was full and could not tell any uneven weight distribution at all.  My concern starting was that I wouldn’t be able to reach them well or get them back in the quivers after taking a sip.  Turns out that by simply tugging down a bit on the front straps pulls the bottles up your shoulders and it is no harder to grab a bottle than it is to adjust an earbud.  I did struggle a little bit – at first – to get them back in, but by the end of a single run, the muscle memory was set, and it was just like slipping your trusty pistol back into its concealed carry holster.  Very handy.

The bottles on the back did not bounce and swishing sounds were minimal.  I used my trusty CamelBak insulated 21 oz bottles with the lock tips (best on the market) rather than stock and they fit just fine.  As a matter of fact, they are taller and skinnier than a lot of bottles and they fit just fine.  Actually they might have been easier to grab and stow due to their shape and size.  The point is that it will work fine with just about any bottle I have ever seen.

Conclusion

I really had a great experience with the Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2.  My only two criticisms are that it is somewhat challenging to adjust the fit while wearing, and if you are going really long in high heat, you are maxed out at 2 bottles – with no option for a bladder.  But, for me, in a 50 miler or less or any race where the aid stations, water refills are no more than 8-10 miles apart two bottles should be more than sufficient.  I loved the way it rode, fit, and most of all – just how easy it was to get to my food (I LOVE FOOD) while running with no reaching or stretching to get stuff out of the back.  When I hit the starting line next Saturday at the AURA White Rock Classic 50K, I will most definitely be wearing my Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2!  Check back to read the follow up on how it performs during an actual ultra!  Big thanks to Orange Mud for putting out a quality product!

PS – This review was not solicited by Orange Mud in any way.  It is strictly my opinion on it based off of my personal experience with the pack.  As always, there is no perfect one-size -fits-all in any aspect of ultrarunning.  It truly is a deeply personal experience that is different for every runner!

 

U.T.O.T.D: Soreness vs. Pain

I will start this with a simple clarification between the definitions of soreness and pain:  soreness indicates that you have worked a muscle or group of legpainmuscles while pain may indicate an actual injury.  If I have a pain that is sharp, extremely localized, and gets worse as I go – I watch that very carefully and make sure it isn’t (or does not turn into) an injury.  If I have soreness, I pay attention to it as it lessens as I work it out, hopefully making gains – be it running, lifting, agility.  If you train through an injury, you can hurt yourself and miss training time and as we all know, that SUCKS.  If you train through soreness you will feel less sore and overall stronger when you are done.  Like with most things workout related, this is sometimes a judgement call, as it may not be obvious if the aches and pains you feel are sore muscles or damaged tissue.  Here is where my tip of the day comes in:  Listen to your body at all times.  Not just when you first start your workout or after you are finished.   If you feel sharp pains, back off and rest.  As you feel muscles loosening up, push a little harder.  Take an inventory of how you feel periodically during your workout and adjust accordingly – but BE HONEST.  Don’t be a wuss and slack off because you are sore and then blame the pain of soreness like it is some kind of injury!  No one else cares about your excuses and you can not lie to yourself – so every run, every workout, every lift – give it all you’ve got and go be the best you that you can be!

U.T.O.T.D: Be Flexible!

Mid Pack Zach says, "You're awesome!"
Mid Pack Zach says, “You’re awesome!”

Sometimes, just like Forrest Gump observed after stomping a dog turd, SHIT HAPPENS.  I know that ultrarunners love to use plans.  Training plans, fuel plans, hydration plans…. always a goddamn plan for everything.  The difference between success and failure lies in how well you can manage to sidestep, block or catch the unplanned bullshit that comes flying in your direction.  After all, that’s what running an ultra is all about.

Be flexible!  All week, Candi and I had planned on capping a nice solid training week with a brisk 20 mile run.  Low and behold, my eldest spawn reminds me on Friday that I had committed 6 months ago to assist with a school tourney on Saturday from 7:45 to about noon.  FUUUUUUCCCKKKKK!  Some planner I am… should have added that to the calendar months ago.  Having afternoon plans pretty much nuked our chances for getting our scheduled workout in -AS PLANNED.

Fortunately, we did as we do… we got creative.  Nobody wants to get up at 3:30 am to run on their day off, but somehow 5:30am seemed perfectly acceptable.   We decided to simply split our run into 2 separate 10 milers – one before the tourney, and one immediately after.  Simple.  BE FLEXIBLE.  To add a little bonus, or possibly self-punishment, for my piss poor planning – it was also decided that since we would have to break it up, we would do both at a faster pace.  The result was 2 very solid runs that totaled our goal – faster than goal speed.  Success.

Whether it is a training run getting interrupted because  of a birthday party, a workout cancelled because Globogym was installing new Tug Toners or Shake Weights, or because you drank too many white wine spritzers last night to do speedwork at the track – DON’T PANIC! Missing a single workout isn’t the end of the world and will not cause an automatic DNF at your 50 miler in two months.  Chill the fuck out, be creative, find a new time (or substitute) and BE FLEXIBLE!

First YouTube Video! White Rock Classic 50K Race Preview

What up all you crazy ultrarunners?  If you are reading this, you are either lost on the internet or interested in the White Rock Classic 50K at White Rock Mountain near Ft. Smith Arkansas.  This is the first of hopefully many videos that I plan on making to share my information, experiences, and perspective from the middle of the pack on some of the many great ultras I participate in.  Eric Strand, to preemptively answer your question, there are no llamas at White Rock (at least that I saw).  Hope you enjoy…

Ultra Wimps and Whiners: Kindly Fuck Off.

I apologize in advance if the language, lack of political correctness, or content of this article offends you.  Oh?  Wait as second… no I don’t.  If you are offended by the language, content, or lack of political correctness in this article – YOU are the problem.  If you don’t like it: fuck you, piss off, go cry somewhere else, and stop complaining about stupid shit and blaming others for your problems.

Ultras are equal opportunity destroyers.  Facing fears and enduring hardships in effort to reach a goal that most people never even dream as possible is at the core of the sport of ultrarunning.  Surviving and persevering in spite of agony and despair – by your own choice – is what appeals to most ultrarunners.  There is no place in this sport for whiners and wimps.  With the rise in popularity of ultras there has also been a rise in runners complaining about every minute detail of a race they don’t deem as perfect.  I have seen people whining about a few things that they should accept as their own responsibility.  But there are a couple things that absolutely drive me nuts… HERE GOES.

Aid Station Food and Drink 

How can you expect a race director to have everything you possibly want or need at every aid station?  I actually HEARD SOMEONE in a 50 miler whining at an aid station that there were no hot food vegan choices.  You think this is a fucking hipster restaurant?  You choose a lifestyle like that, you better prepare to pack your own food!  If you have a peanut allergy don’t bitch about the PB&Js, eat the fucking boiled potatoes!  You need to plan for the possibility that the aid stations will have nothing of nutritional value for you – cause guess what – I have gone through aid stations that expressly stated there would be GUs and I ended up carrying a Dixie Cup of goddamn gummie bears and M&Ms.  I fought nausea for a good hour and just about shit my pants in that 50K – but more importantly – learned a valuable lesson.  Take nothing for granted.  Now, I always carry at least 500 calories between drop boxes that are filled with other food options.  There have been plenty of times where the aid was great and I didn’t use my own shit – and that is fine by me.  I can either eat it later or take it home.  No big deal.  Please – take responsibility for yourself.  Aid stations are to be an aid (no shit) to you, not your personal chef.

The Weather 

Holy shit.  If it is cold dress warm.  If it is hot strip naked.  But please…. PLEASE…. do not piss and moan about the weather.  Complaining about the weather in an ultra is like complaining about like complaining about dirt while gardening.  It is dumb.  Part of the fun of ultras is planning for, and overcoming, the unexpected turns that the weather can take the day before (or during) the race.  If your hands are cold, that is your own damn fault.  Whining about it will not warm you up.  Making bad decisions and poor planning does not make it the volunteer’s responsibility to let you borrow a hat and gloves (seen it), give the poncho off their back (seen it), or give you a trash bag to use as a windbreaker (seen it).  Awesome people working the events often do these types of things – but they shouldn’t have to.  Don’t be a dick, be prepared.

The Price 

I have to admit.  I am guilty here.  I have whined about the price of events.  It is stupid.  There are new events popping up all over the country every single day.  All boast a different challenge, a different perk, and a different price.  Let your money do the talking.  If the event does not offer enough value for you – do something else!  If it is a race you have done every year for 10 years, either pay or move on.  There are charity races if that is your thing.  There are for-profit high profile races and low key fatass events.  Find what fits you and go with it.  Don’t go around bitching how you got into a high dollar race – especially AFTER you paid for it.  That makes you look like a total douche.  “Hey man, it was like 400 bucks to get into XXX Ultra, total rape-job.  I am gonna eat as much of that vegan chili as I can to get my money’s worth”  It is a supply and demand system – let your $$$ not your mouth do the talking.

General Blame Shifting

If you fail you fail.  Own it.  Don’t make excuses about how the campers next to you kept you up all night or the hotel sheets were too scratchy to sleep.  Some people are always looking to blame someone or something else.  Work has been too busy…  The kids need too much attention… The dogs didn’t feel like running… I had the sniffles…  The course was too hard… The course was too easy… It was too hot… It was too cold… The RD was mean… My crew was unprepared… My pacer was boring…   ALL EXCUSES.  I had a middle school teacher who loved to say, “Excuses only satisfy those who make them.”  He literally used to make us say it out loud anytime someone in class made an excuse.  If you fail, for whatever reason, own it.  Don’t try and make it not your fault – because in running ultras, the bottom line is that, yes, it is all your fault.

I could name several other things that the (still relatively small number of) whiners and wimps have been doing that just piss me off, but I feel like that I would be borderline whining myself.  I will continue to ignore them, as it is not affecting me and my race strategy – but I just wanted to call them out.  If you think this is about you it probably is.  Toughen up or fuck off.  Ultrarunning is not a sport for insecure, whining, petulant, entitled, fragile, weak-minded wimps.  (edit – it was pointed out to me that pussies can indeed take quite a pounding and was not a good word choice.

U.T.O.T.D – Have Your Shit Ready to Go

It is a damn good thing that Candi woke me up while getting ready to go to work this morning at 4:30am because I was not ready to do battle with my morning training run!  I mean mentally, yeah, I was ready.  But otherwise, I was pretty less-than-prepared.  This brings me to my Ultra Tip of the Day.

Have your shit ready to go!  This morning I had to scrounge through my running drawer, some clean clothes in the dryer, and even the nice hangers full of clothes with at least 40 miles of sweaty funk hanging of off them from last week.  After 10 minutes of textile gathering, I grab the trusty Fenix and attempt to turn on the GPS only to find that apparently electronic devices need to be charged before use.  My dumb ass left the BlueTooth on yesterday and so no data for this morning’s great run other than my looking at the clock before and after and using the gmaps-pedometer tool to track my route… better than nothing, but no mile splits or heartrate data.

This tip is simple.  Have your shit ready in advance and you can save yourself some valuable time and a decent amount of frustration.  Planning is a very important part of ultrarunning.  I have seen some great natural runners fail or totally underachieve because they are fucking terrible at organizing and planning.  This is no different.  Train how you want to race, planning included.

-Mid Pack Zach

Mid Month Training Update 1/15/2016

I definitely feel like I have some running mojo flowing back into me.  January is going really well so far.  To date, I have logged 75 miles including two really great trail races – WinterRock 25K and Athens-Big Fork Marathon.  More importantly, I am loving it again.  In the months after finishing Leadville, and all the subsequent training, I was just not enjoying running.  I really took a nice long break after Pumpkin Holler 100k in October and am feeling the benefits (mental and physical) of doing a few 100 mile months.  I finished the year with about 1800 miles total, and I am totally good with that.  After all, my main-number-one-knock-it-out-of-the-park-goal was to get that Leadville 100 under 30 buckle, and I did.  After a year of lots of races and miles, now it is definitely time to get back to business!  In addition to getting back to 40-50 mile training weeks, I am eating much better and have set a goal to get down to a sleek 170 (from 195) pounds before the Silver Rush 50 miler in July.  So far I am doing well, down about 7 pounds since Jan 1st.  Speedwise, I am getting under a 7:40 pace in 5 mile training runs with about 70% effort – which definitely makes me happy, although my goal by June is to run a 20 miler in under 2:30.  For my fat ass, that is ridiculously fast, and really sounds pretty insane to me at the moment.  I have never been one to set goals that are too easy, as I think making goals you know you can achieve is a waste of time and just good for stroking your ego.  The rest of January shouldn’t include any races, but you never know what might pop up.  The plan is to run 5-6 days out of 7 with one long run and one day of speed.  Strength training at least 3 out of 7.  I want to turn 40 (June of 2017) in the absolute best shape I have ever been in – time to put the work in now.  If you are struggling with motivation, get off your ass and get to it.  No one is stopping you but YOU.

T.O.T.D: Get Dressed

Ok!  Here is today’s tip of the day!  Not only is it the tip of the day, it is the very FIRST EVER tip of the day.  Yep.  That’s what the acronym T.O.T.D. mean.   Will I write a tip of the day every day?  Probably not – it is, afterall, not billed as “the tip of the day everyday no matter what”.  But here goes the tip for today:  

When it is burn your skin and make you miserable cold forecasted for your early morning run, don’t commit to going running.  Sometimes it really sucks to run is nasty weather, and in my opinion, there is no reason to hate your run because Jack Frost won’t get off your ass.  What I do is instead of committing to going for that run, I just commit to getting dressed in my winter gear and  going out to check it out.  You see… after a 23 minute ordeal of slipping into 4 skin-tight layers, 3 fleece layers,  a neck gaiter, a stocking hat, and 2 goddamn pairs of gloves, I usually find that I am hot as hell and need to get out into the tundra to cool off.  Great tip to get your butt out the door in the dark, cold recesses of winter.  Good luck, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s (or whenever I get around to it) tip of the day (TOTD).

2016 Athens-Big Fork Marathon

The Athens-Big Fork Marathon – heretofore to be referred to as “ABF” – has been on my radar for a number of years.  Last year I was all set to go, but it got flooded out.  The two years before that it was in conflict with a local race that I love.  This year, I decided, come hell or high water, my fat ass was gonna be tromping over the significant (at least to a flatlander) mountains of the Ouachita National Forest.  First off – don’t let the name fool you – this race may measure like a marathon – but it runs like a pissed off 50K.  This year it got written up in Trail Runner Magazine as, “The Hardest Trail Marathon You Have Never Heard Of” or something similar.  After running it – I would definitely agree to that statement.

Residing about 5 hours north of the ABF starting line and having a homecoming queen crowning to attend that Friday night meant that

Big Fork Community Center - Very cool place!
Big Fork Community Center – Very cool place!

our arrival to Mena, Arkansas would be somewhere between 1:30am and 2:30am on race morning.  PLENTY of time to make it not-so-well rested to an 8am starting line.  My ultra-compadres Candi (my super hot and totally badass wife) and old buddy Ryan

(Rhino – cause once this dude charges, he won’t stop) enjoyed a long and massively shitty, rain infested interstate trip down to our one-star motel.  I woke the poor clerk up from his curry fueled slumber behind a thin wall behind the front counter with a ding of the bell, and with a creaking fart and some grumbled curses he got us checked in.  I am definitely not complaining – it was a double queen room 20 minutes from the start line for 57 bucks.  Our room was just clean enough for a 3 hour sleep, and before you know it we were hanging out at the Big Fork Community Center waiting to get started.

The beginning of the race is a short bit down the highway with full-on police escort in the front and rear followed by a nice jog down a

All runners at start
All runners at start

red dirt road to get to the trailhead.  That is when ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.  By this time, the nice soaking rain has us totally drenched and showed no signs of letting up any time soon.  After a short jaunt at the foothills of the first mountain, it was time to climb.  And climb we did!  Over and over and over.  Eight

Water crossing #495982703
Water crossing #495982703

mountains on this out and back course – and yes they were mountains.  These climbs were GNAR for the midwest!  I have run in the mountains of Colorado, and these were every bit as steep, although not as long.  Basically the entire course you were either going up or down.  It was freakin’ awesome!  There was an aid station shortly after getting on the trail, after the first mountain I think, but Candi and I didn’t utilize it being only a few miles into the race.  We had decided to stay together and enjoy the day couplie style like we often do, while Rhino set out a bit slower but VOWED to see us at the finish.  We kept on at a nice steady pace, and I was pretty much cold the entire time – as my decision to only wear a couple of tech tees under my rain shell proved me a dumbass.  Candi – being smarter than me as

usual – had enough layers that she didn’t bother covering her ears.  It was a steady rain with temps in the mid to low 30s and pretty good winds if the mountains weren’t providing cover.  The terrain once you get on the trail is pretty varied; from scree-like gravel, muddy ruts, rocky outcroppings, to soft pine needles track – this course really had it all.  The valleys had flowing streams at every low point, and even a couple deer feeding plots.  It was wonderful – totally what I look for in a trail.  And did I mention you get to climb

ABF-Boston Elevation Comparison
ABF-Boston Elevation Comparison

hills.  Mountains.  I had so much fun climbing that I made this graphic comparing the iconic Boston Marathon to the ABF.  –>

We eventually made it to the top and bottoms of all the 8 mountains on the way out to the Jackass Aid Station.  This was run by a bunch of cowboys… REAL cowboys… from Texarkana.  These guys were serving up hot soup and real foods, had a warm fire, and an overall badass forest oasis set up for us.  Candi and I made it to the turn in about 3:15 at right about 14 miles and felt good since we were shooting for a 7:30ish finish after looking at the finishers times from previous races.  Coming over the last

View from the top
View from the top

mountain we ran into Rhino, who was about 30 minutes behind us and totally kicking ass.  It was basically more of the same on the way back – powerhike up the mountains, try not to roll down the other side like a snowball, and freeze your ass off crossing the stream at the bottom.  Rinse.  Repeat.  It was nice coming to the aid stations and getting hot food and a slap on the back before heading back out.  We finally dragged our shredded quads off the last mountain and headed back down the roads to get back to the Community Center – and I tell you what… that Marathon ran WAY more like an ass-whippin 50k.  It was tough.  For technicality of trail I give it a 4 gel packs out of 5, and for difficulty compared to similar races I give it a full 5 snotrockets out of five.

Warming by the fire! Candi left Rhino right
Warming by the fire! Candi left Rhino right

Once we got finished, just over 7:22, I pretty much stripped my soaking clothes off and nakedly hugged the glowing woodstove while chugging hot coffee and eating from the various foods we had packed with us.  I basically stayed cold as a witch’s tits the entire day – my fault – and just wanted to be warm.  For a fat-ass race, this thing had all the bells and whistles, minus a medal I didn’t need and a shirt I didn’t want – so I call it a win.  Thanks to everyone who worked hard to put this on. It was outstanding!

Ryan, Zach (Me), Candi at the finish in the Big Fork Community Center
Ryan, Zach (Me), Candi at the finish in the Big Fork Community Center