Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Altra Running Apparel Review: Performance Skirt, Performance Tank, Performance Tee

I am an Altra Running Athlete and as such receive my apparel at no cost. I choose to write reviews on my blog for those who are interested. I am under no obligation from the company to do so, and the opinions expressed here are just that: my honest opinions based on my personal experience with the products reviewed.

When I was at the winter Outdoor Retailer show in January I got a sneak peak at many of the awesome things Altra Running is coming out with this year. Among those were some of their apparel pieces. I was stoked to get 3 items to take to New Zealand with me to try out: Performance Skirt, Performance Tank, Performance Tee.

Performance Tee and Skirt on Mt. Torless, NZ

I will sum it up by saying that I loved every item and am super pleased with this lineup that Altra is offering. I'll go into a little more detail on each item below.

Altra Running Apparel and Mids rock off-trail in New Zealand

Performance Skirt
I'm typically not a fan of running skirts/skorts. They are always heavy and slow drying which defeats the point of wearing a skirt in the first place. I also don't like the skort since I wear skirts because I like skirts. If I want to wear shorts then I'll just wear them. So, I was pleased as punch with the Performance Skirt from Altra Running. 

Pros:
Number one, it's light. Seriously, this skirt weighs 2.6 ounces. That's incredible. 

Secondly, it wicks and dries uber fast. I tend to be a heavy sweater on my back when I wear a pack and often find my shorts stay uncomfortably damp for way too long. This skirt never seemed to hold moisture.

Cons: I am concerned by the California Prop 65 warning on the product. I haven't heard back from Altra what exactly it's referring to, but it's certainly worth taking into consideration when purchasing.

Performance Skirt on Lake Hill, NZ

Performance Tank

Pros:
Just like the skirt this tank is light. It weighs in at under 2 ounces. That makes a combined outfit weight of under 5 ounces. My thrift store dress days are probably behind me. And that's saying something. 

This tank also wicks and dries crazy fast. Even with the heavy back sweat under a pack the tank never seemed to hold moisture for more than a few minutes after I removed my pack.

I thought the front perforations looked weird at first, but honestly the peekaboo effect with my bright sports bras was cute.

The semi-fitted cut was super comfortable and I felt like I wasn't even wearing anything. I wish I'd had this for the overbearingly humid Appalachian Trail last summer!


Cons: I am concerned by the California Prop 65 warning on the product. I haven't heard back from Altra what exactly it's referring to, but it's certainly worth taking into consideration when purchasing.

Performance Tank on Bounty Island, Fiji

Performance Tee

Pros:
The tee weighs in just a tad less than the skirt at 2.4 ounces. It's by far my lightest tech tee. I also like that it is reflective on both sides since I often run in town. 

I wasn't sure I'd like the mesh back, but it wasn't at all irritating. Mostly I just felt like I wasn't even wearing anything. 

I like the looser fit making it super comfortable for long days.

Just like the rest of the series it dries wicked fast.

Cons: I am concerned by the California Prop 65 warning on the product. I haven't heard back from Altra what exactly it's referring to, but it's certainly worth taking into consideration when purchasing.


Performance Tee in a Tree, NZ ;)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sealskinz Waterproof Thermal Cap Review

I am an ambassador for Sealskinz USA and received my hat at no cost. However, this review was not requested by the company and is my own opinion of the product.

I've been using my Sealskinz Waterproof Thermal Cap for over a year in all types of conditions. I've used it on long winter runs in Washington, as well as winter hikes, and my ascent of Mt. Rainier in the summer of 2015. It's been an excellent addition to my warm hat collection.

Pros:
Exceptionally warm
Waterproof
Windproof
Brim keeps rain out of eyes
Ear flaps and neck flap keep typically cold parts of my head warm and dry
Fleecy lining is comfortable against the skin

Cons:
Can be too hot during exertion in moderate temperatures

Overall, highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sealskinz Jacquard Waterproof Beanie Review

I am an ambassador for Sealskinz USA and received my hat at no cost. However, this review was not requested by the company and is my own opinion of the product.

I wore a Sealskinz Jacquard Waterproof Beanie for the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail in 2015 and throughout the winter in the Pacific Northwest.

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • WARM
  • Adorable


Cons:

  • Sizing runs quite small. I have a pretty small head (22 in) and I needed the L/XL
  • Heavier than most beanies I own


Overall I recommend this as a winter beanie to anyone in a cold, wet climate. It's a bit too heavy to be reasonable for 3 season thru-hiking use, but I could justify sending it to yourself in a box at colder/wetter sections of trail. Ie. Washington on a NoBo PCT trek, or to Virginia on a SoBo AT hike.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Barkley, Where Dreams Go to Die

"Barkley. Where Dreams Go to Die" -Gary Cantrell

The Race Start-Courtesy Leon Lutz

If you're hoping to read a detailed account of my experience "out there" in 2016 don't bother reading this post. This story isn't about what happened out there, because that doesn't really matter. It's a reflection on what happened in me, because that is what matters.

I came to my third attempt at the Barkley Marathons ready to finish 3 loops. I was bolstered by my 3rd loop start last year and the excellent weather conditions. My navigation on the first loop was almost flawless. I felt good. I felt strong. I was excited. Until I wasn't anymore. Until my body decided to freak out on me and the reality of failure (again) ebbed higher and higher throughout my second loop.

Finishing Loop 1-Courtesy Keith Dunn
Last year after my taps Laz asked me when I was going to "get serious" about finishing the Barkley. I came there this year believing that I was finally serious about at least a Fun Run. Yet over the weekend I discovered that I wasn't.

First ascent of Rat Jaw. I quit here on the 2nd loop.-Courtesy John Price

In my first application I told him that I needed to fail at something and that that is why I wanted to come to Barkley. So I came and I failed miserably. It was crushing and yet gave me the focus and the drive to set the AT FKT. Setting that FKT gave me the confidence to believe that I actually belonged at the Barkley this year.

My first set of Barkley Book Pages ever
I realized as my race ended and I watched the events of camp that I was coming to Barkley for the wrong reasons. First I came to watch my dreams die. And, while that was essential to me for my own path as an athlete, why did I return last year? And this year? Why tell myself I was serious when I really wasn't? Those were the questions that haunted me.

video
Getting Tapped Out-J. Kowalski


The answers surprised me. I was there because other people wanted me there. So many people believe that I can be the first woman to finish 5 loops at the Barkley. My entire life has been a quest to make others happy. To get good grades for my parents. To marry someone that wasn't right in order to please others. To enter a race when my heart isn't in it and hope for the best.

Just after Taps-Courtesy Joe Kowalski
This year forced me to take a step back from the pattern. To look at this cycle. To realize that the things I'm well known for: the records I have set, those times that I have stubbornly clung to perseverance despite everything being against me are when I have really, truly wanted it for myself. 

Moving across the country. Leaving unhealthy relationships. Quitting my job. Throwing myself into an FKT attempt on the PCT. These things didn't make anyone else happy. No one wanted me to do them. But I wanted to do them. I needed to do them. For Myself.

And I did them without regret and with a resolute, stubborn drive.

I have never come to Barkley with that drive.

"I'm done."-Courtesy Leon Lutz

I realized as I watched Jennilyn rocket up the ascents; and as I saw Gary, my friend and incredible athlete unravel in his 5th loop that I have never been invested in Barkley physically. In order to truly do well at the Barkley I have to be at the same physical level that I have been at in the midst of my record setting hikes. Where I eat elevation for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on little sleep for weeks on end. And I have to be at that level in March, without having the cushion of doing nothing but hammer out 45 mile days for a month beforehand. I haven't been willing. I haven't been invested in the training. I haven't wanted to finish Barkley enough to do what I have to do to be successful.

I watched John Kelly stagger into and out of camp during the transition from his 4th to 5th loops. I recognized that dreamlike stupor of fatigue that he floated in as the same thing I experienced in the High Sierra two years ago. I had wanted the JMT FKT like John wanted Barkley. I had wanted it enough to push my body through 80 hours of almost no sleep to the brink of death from HACE and HAPE. I had wanted to finish it so badly that even when I was coughing up blood I refused to stop.

JMT 2014
People ask me if I think I can be the first woman to finish the Barkley. I have always said "No, I'm too slow," or, "Of course not, no woman can" (echoing Laz's taunt). I've been hiding my lack of desire behind self-deprecation.

After this year I finally realized that I can finish 5 loops at Barkley. I have no doubt of that now. But in order to do so, I need to want the Barkley for myself.

Will I apply again? Maybe. But only when I have decided that I want it enough.

If I return to the Barkley it will be when I am ready physically and mentally to finish it.


Accepting the truth with tears in my eyes-Courtesy J. Kowalski


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sealskinz Windproof Gloves Review

I am an ambassador for Sealskinz USA and received my gloves at no cost. However, this review was not requested by the company and is my own opinion of the product.

I had a pair of Sealskinz Windproof Gloves on the southern Appalachian Trail in 2015. They were indispensable. They are also my go to glove in the mountains and for running throughout the edge seasons.

Pros:

  • Windproof
  • Water Resistant
  • Warm
  • Breathable
  • Non-bulky
  • Light

Cons:

  • If these were totally waterproof they would be the be all end all of gloves.
  • The left glove's thumb was stitched funny and is very snug compared to the right. I ordered a size too big, so it isn't a problem for me. Not sure if this weirdness happens often or if I just got a wonky pair.
Overall these are the perfect 3 season glove. I have Reynoud's and they even work for me. I did take them on a run in early winter rain/snow/cold here in Washington and they definitely weren't adequate for me in those conditions. But the rest of the time, yes. So much yes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nuun Products Review

I am a member of the 2016 Nuun Elite Team and therefore receive Nuun products at no cost. I have however, been buying Nuun for my electrolyte drink since 2010. This review is my own personal opinion and not requested or required by the company.

I was walking through the Bellingham Farmer's Market about 6 years ago when a man asked if I'd like to sample a new electrolyte drink. I said sure and he gave me a sample cup of a product called Nuun. I was sold and I've been using it ever since.

Nuun is a Seattle based company and it's local-ness was part of what I loved. Over the years I've seen their product line grow from their base electrolyte drink to lines that contain caffeine, calories, and vitamins. I've also seen a steady growth in their presence in the running world not only here in Washington, but throughout the country.

This year I decided to apply to be on their athlete team and was very excited to be selected!

I'll give a brief rundown of my experience with their products:

  • Nuun Active: This is my go to drink post exercise. It's portable and quick and I've mixed up to one gallon at a time to share with hiking partners. The array of flavors ensures there's something for everyone to like. The flavor is not bold or overly sugary so it goes down easily, even during intense competition.
  • Nuun All Day: This is my drink of choice post exercise on multi-day trips when nutritional deficits may occur. While the vitamins and minerals are not going to be as bioavailable as those from food sources it's a nice little insurance policy to help your body recover long term demands.
  • Nuun Energy: This is my drink of choice during ultras or really taxing all day climbs. Not only does it replenish electrolytes, but the kick of caffeine and b vitamins can boost performance when you're already taxed.
  • Plus for Nuun: I haven't tried this yet, but will be incorporating it into my longer endeavors this year. A drinkable form of simple carbs can be critical to long endeavors and I'm looking forward to trying Nuun's solution.
  • U Natural: This particular blend is for less intense activities. I use it interchangeably with Nuun Active uses since I just really like all the flavors.
Overall, I highly recommend all of Nuun's products to anyone looking for a well rounded, tasty electrolyte replenishment drink without sugar, artificial colors, and other crappy ingredients.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Altra Torin 2.0 Review

I am an Altra Running Athlete and as such receive my footwear at no cost. I choose to write reviews on my blog for those who are interested. I am under no obligation from the company to do so, and the opinions expressed here are just that: my honest opinions based on my personal experience with the products reviewed.

I have been enjoying my Torin 2.0's as my around town shoe as well as for anything that requires me to be on my feet all day, such as the Winter Outdoor Retailer show in January. When I worked as a cashier I had a pair of black ones that I wore to work every day.

The Torin is a highly cushioned shoe that utilizes Altra's signature Zero Drop™ Platform and FootShape™ Toe Box. They are maximally comfortable for long days on your feet.

I also like wearing the Torin at the gym and for general fitness workouts. The tread is super sticky and keeps you from sliding on the smooth flooring your find in most fitness classes.

I also recommend the Torin to a lot of folks who want to transition to the Zero Drop shoe from other makes of shoe. I think the cushioning can help alleviate some of the stress that accompanies that transition.

Overall, I highly recommend the Torin for anyone looking for an all around running and fitness shoe, or for those in jobs that require a lot of time on the feet.