TNFECS Utah 50K (Sorta) 2016 Race Report

Well, that was one helluva way to end my season.  My goal was to run a fast 50K to finish my 2016 races on a strong note, but Mother Nature had something quite different in store for me at The North Face Endurance Challenge Utah this year.  Watching the weather forecast all week was depressing, with constant rain and snow predicted for 2 1/2 straight days leading into the race on Saturday.  As it came closer, I decided to accept that I would be dealing with the adverse conditions and make the best of it, even if it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The race had a scheduled start of 7:00am on Saturday morning.  Living about 45 minutes away, I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before and drive up in the morning.  Since I don’t like to feel rushed, I got there at about 6:15 only to find out that the race start was delayed until 8:00.  To pile on to it, at about 7:15, the race crew made the announcement that the 50 Milers that started a couple hours earlier were being rerouted because the upper half of the mountain was experiencing white out conditions and the course markers were buried in snow.  We too would now be running a modified course; two loops of the half marathon course.  So, my 50K turns into a Marathon at the last minute…oh well, you can’t control the weather and I was already there so I might as well MAN UP!

We started out on the trail in three waves with instructions on the new route to help spread us out on the single track.  I took off in the first wave and we immediately went the wrong way.  By the time we figured it out, we tacked on an extra half mile and ended up behind most of wave 2 and 3.  This created quite the bottleneck as we all tried to swerve around people in the mud (not always so gracefully).  The first climb is supposed to go up over 3,000 feet to Jupiter Peak, but instead, we went up about 1,400 feet before we started cutting across the middle of the mountain to the other side to run down.  There were a few sections on the first loop that were actually pretty runnable and I moved as fast as I could.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was too busy trying to not fall on my ass, but I did steal a few from other people so you can get a sense for what we were dealing with.  I am happy to report that although I had to move slower at times, I did manage to stay upright the whole time!

TNF Ryan Delany.jpg
PC: Ryan Delany

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PC: Alan Griffin

We ended up having three aid stations per loop and I was impressed with how well stocked they stayed for the entire race and how friendly the volunteers were.  They were all super helpful, despite probably dealing with a higher percentage of grumpy runners than normal.  Thanks to all of you volunteers!

I ended up doing the first loop in around 2:30, which I was pretty happy with given the conditions, however, the second loop was a slightly different story.  As I started back the second climb, I started to have some stomach issues.  It ended up being nothing major and settled down after about five miles, but it did make it painful to run for a few miles there.  In most cases, the uphill grade on this course would be runnable for me, but with the conditions and the stomach pain, I decided to hike most of it on this lap so that I didn’t dig myself into a bigger hole.  I think this ended up being smart as I was able to rally, although it did cost me a bit of time.  The other significant issue on the second lap were the trail conditions.  While manageable on the first lap for the most part, by the time I came through for the second lap, they were torn up after all of the foot traffic that had been passing through.  This too contributed to slowing me down a bit more than I was hoping.

As I crossed the finish line, I ended up doing the second lap about 30 minutes slower than the first with an overall time of 5:28:07.  Good for the top 30% of finishers.  The conditions weren’t ideal and definitely exposed some of my weaknesses (being a skittish downhill runner for example), but I can’t really complain all that much.  Given all of the injuries I had this year, it was good to get through the race without any setbacks.  I also managed to get across the finish line before Rob Krar finished the 50 Miler, so that is good in my book.  Even though he is a beast, he did start three hours before me and I never like getting passed up by people running longer distancesūüôā

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PC: Ryan Delany

For now, I am going to enjoy my off season and getting to run for fun without having to focus on a particular race.  I also plan on doing quite a bit more strength training ahead of the 2017 race season to help combat some of these injuries that popped up on me from happening more often.  Don’t worry though, just because race season is over doesn’t mean you won’t find me out on the trails all winter…afterall, I am a trail addict!

Pros:

  • Hard to talk about pros when a race does not go at all as you expected.  Still, I will say that the volunteers went above and beyond during this event.  They dealt wonderfully with the conditions and were quick to deal with the last minute modifications.
  • Despite being wet and muddy, the scenery for this race is amazing.  This year in particular, you got to see Fall and Winter battle it out…it was pretty nice.

Cons:

  • While not part of the normal course, because the 50 Mile, 50K, and Marathon runners all ended up doing laps on the same trail, it was pretty crowded and got pretty sloppy.  That being said, this was the exception that the weather brought this year.  I ran this race before and can say it is definitely not the norm.
  • My biggest complaint was how they handled the weather.  Given that the weather was expected all week, I felt they should have made the course changes at least the night before to give runners more advanced warning.

2016 was mentally tough for me.  It has been one with random nagging injuries that never allowed me to get the momentum that I was hoping for.  They were frustrating, which definitely took a toll on me mentally too.  Despite that, I still had my fair share of people cheering me on.  Thanks to my friends and family for their continued support.  Thank you to the crew and volunteers for dealing with the elements to make sure us runners were taken care of.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!  Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic Hydroventure: This is the best waterproof shoe on the market.  26+ miles of wet, muddy trails and my feet stayed completely dry.  Unreal!
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Crew Sierra: Love the designs on the new Injinji trail socks and as always, no blisters.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 1: Light, with enough room for the water and food I need to get me from one aid station to the next on race day.
  • Headsweats Go Hat: If you wear hats on race day, there isn’t a better one out there.
  • RAD Roller and Rod: I always need to take care of the muscles after a great run.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Product Review: Orange Mud Endurance Pack

For their first few years of¬†existence, the mantra at Orange Mud was centered around bottles over bladders. ¬†The first four packs they released were bottle-based, with their signature “bottles on the back/jetpack” design. ¬†So you can imagine my surprise when they said they were working on a bladder pack. ¬†At the same time, it makes sense. ¬†From a business growth perspective, there is a huge demographic that prefers bladders (particular for long, self-supported activities). ¬†Besides, why shouldn’t the folks in the bladder camp get to enjoy the high-quality, well-thought-out designs from Orange Mud!? ¬†With that said, I bring you my review of the Orange Mud Endurance Pack.

Product Overview

This is Orange Mud’s first foray into a non-bottle based pack, although it steals many of the same concepts of its bottle-based predecessors. ¬†For example, it still has the signature shoulder and chest pockets that you get on both of the Orange Mud Vest Pack models. ¬†It also uses the same breathable mesh. ¬†Where it differs is on the back of the pack, where the bladder neatly hides¬†away beneath the storage that is¬†layered on top of it. ¬†The result is a ton more storage room than we are used to seeing with Orange Mud packs. ¬†Here are the specs from their site:

  • Pack Weight:¬†– 270grams, 9.5oz.
  • Dimensions: 10″W x 13″ tall / Volume 6 liters.
  • Bladder: HydraPak 2L (70oz) elite, with quick disconnect and blaster valve.
  • Compartment 1: Bladder compartment
  • Compartment 2: Main cargo
  • Compartment 3: Zippered elastic¬†pocket with secure key clip.
  • MUDX Technology: Trekking Pole Attachment Option.
  • Material details: Our stretch fabric¬†is tough, abrasion resistant, & endurance designed.
  • Shoulder pocket storage: Phone, gel, nutrition, electrolyte and more, both sides.
  • Front chest pocket storage: 15oz/450ml soft flask capable.
  • Front adjustments:¬†2 elastic straps have multiple¬†adjustment locations.

Price: $135/$150 (trekking pole model) at OrangeMud.com (click to visit)

Fit

This is probably the most form-fitting hydration pack in the Orange Mud line of products. ¬†While I love the bottle system, the fluid shape of a bladder contributes to the packs ability to mold to the contour of your body for more “hug-like” feel. ¬†Additionally, the pack itself is slightly longer from top to bottom, which increases the footprint on the body, but also enables a more snug and secure fit.

I have never really had much of a problem with bounce on any of the Orange Mud packs to be perfectly honest, and the Endurance Pack is no exception.  What I did find is that while the bottle-based packs did seem to take a bit longer to dial in the right fit, the Endurance pack was a lot easier right out of the gate.


Ride

The Wasatch mountains in Utah offer the best terrain for field testing because of the steep uphills and aggressive downhills; they just offer the right conditions for really testing out a products potential.  The most annoying thing to me about any pack is when it shifts a lot on a fast downhill.  I am happy to report that this passed with flying colors.  The very secure fit not only makes me happy on downhills, but it also allows the pack to disappear when wearing it.  What I mean is that it fits so close to the body that you forget you are even wearing it.  Despite that, it did not feel restrictive whatsoever!  The downside to the fit and larger footprint is the effects it has on breathability, especially on the back.  As good as the mesh is on the pack, it there is simply nowhere for heat to escape off the back of the body.  I definitely sweat more on my back than in Orange Mud bottle packs.

Conclusion

Overall, this is an unbelievable entrance into the bladder-based pack.  Minus a few nitpicky things, I think Orange Mud nailed it.  In fact, this pack has actually caused me great internal strife and conflict.  One the one hand, I hate bladders, but on the other hand, this pack is so comfortable that it makes it worth it.  I still struggle with this, but having choices is never a bad thing.  One complaint I have always heard about OM is price, yet this is pretty price comparable to similar bladder packs on the market.  I would recommend this pack to anyone that likes bladders over bottles or just needs a pack that can hold more water and other stuff.  I have used Nathan and Salomon bladder packs in the past and this more than holds its own against any of those that I have tried.  I likely will still race with one of the bottle-based vest packs, but this is definitely my new go-to for long distance, self-supported runs.

Pro’s:

  • Fit…in other words, like a glove. ¬†I was always pleasantly satisfied with the minimal bounce of their bottle-based packs but this fits even better. ¬†It literally does not move at all.
  • Plenty of storage! With the two front pockets, shoulder pockets, open back pocket, zip back pocket, and cinch cords, you can carry anything and everything in this pack.
  • Quality. Nothing about this pack says “cheap”. ¬†The construction and sewing is all top notch from what I can tell.

Con’s:

  • Add on charge for the pole hooks. ¬†Should be included. ¬†I am not a fan of how they secure either as it makes me paranoid that they are going to become unhooked (I must add that this has been all paranoia so far since it has not actually happened to date).
  • Bladder size. ¬†70 oz. is perfectly fine for me, especially since you can stash soft flasks up front, but some people do like a larger bladder reservoir and might have a problem fitting anything larger than the 2L in this pack.
  • Bigger footprint on the back is not as breathable as some other Orange Mud packs.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Product Review: IceMule Pro Cooler

My family loves to hike. ¬†As a low maintenance trail runner, it is easy for me to stuff a few things in my pack and head out the door, but family hikes tend to require more planning (especially when it involves a six and eight year old). ¬†We like to take our time and enjoy nature on our adventures, which comes with its own set of challenges. ¬†We need to pack enough food and drinks for everyone for a long day outside. ¬†I can’t tell you how many times we have thought to ourselves, “man, it would be great if we could have a real picnic” while reaching the half way point of our hike at one of the many remote alpine lakes in Utah. ¬†This is a challenge because by the time you actually get there, your drinks are warm and your food is smushed and gross. ¬†Well, I finally found a solution with the IceMule Pro Cooler. ¬†Take a look!

Disclaimer: IceMule provided me with the Pro 20L for free for the purposes of this review (and perhaps after a little salivating on my part at Outdoor Retailer).  As always though, my objectives are to help you with your buying decision and help the company improve upon their products, so I will strive to be honest and unbiased.

Product Overview

The model I have been using is the 20L Pro model, which is a soft-sided, insulated cooler designed to be worn as a backpack.  I was interested in this model because it could be worn backpack style and I felt it offered the right balance between capacity and weight and would be perfect for my anticipated use.  Here are the specs from their site.

Dimensions & Capacity

  • 17″ tall, 14″ wide, 11″ deep (when closed)
  • Capacity = 18 cans plus ice
Features
  • TriFold DriTopTM System. Foolproof seal to keep ice in and air out.
  • MuleSkinETTM and MuleSkinEVTM. Tough 1000 denier Outer layer for exceptional strength and durability; heavy-duty inner layer 2X thicker than most soft coolers.
  • ComfortCarryIMPTM System.¬†Reinforced back-straps and plus ventilated back pads provide ultimate comfort for long-range excursions.
  • PolarLayerTM Insulation. Keeps contents ‚ÄúIceMule Cold‚ÄĚ for up to 24 hours.
  • IM AirValveTM.¬† Allows for insulation layer air removal so the cooler can roll up for storage in its stuff sack.

Price: $99.95 on Amazon.com (click to view)

Field Test

I have used it a few times so far, but I will focus my review on my recent trip spent hiking with my family in the hotter conditions of Southeastern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. ¬†Many of the trails in these parks are pretty exposed. ¬†Knowing that we would be moving slow with my kids, I wanted to make sure we had enough cold drinks and some food for when we got hungry. ¬†I figured this terrain would be the perfect test for the IceMule. Here is a picture of me wearing it near Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

I was focused on reviewing it in two key categories, comfort and performance.

Comfort

This was perhaps my greatest concern before using it. ¬†My initial thought was, “how could wearing a cooler on my back be comfortable?” ¬†At the end of the day, I was beyond surprised at how comfortable it was. When loading it about¬†2/3 full, it weighed in at around 15lbs; a manageable weight for most grown ups. ¬†The padding on the back and shoulder straps was so comfortable that I didn’t feel burdened with the weight¬†and didn’t feel¬†any awkward weight distribution at all. ¬†When all was said and done, I never got sore shoulders or any sign of chafing. ¬†In other words, it was pretty comfortable. ¬†In addition, it was¬†pretty breathable. ¬†Sweat on by back was very minimal, despite being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit out.

Performance

Ultimately, the biggest test for me was¬†how long it would keep¬†the ice, otherwise, what would be the point of carrying a cooler up a mountain. ¬†:-) ¬†With a small 8 lb bag of ice, about 8 bottles/cans, and some food, the ice melted about half way over the course of 4 1/2 – 5 hours. ¬†This included several times opening and closing the cooler along the hike. ¬†I am sure with more ice, it would have kept even longer, although I felt the amount I used was typical of how I will use it. ¬†While it didn’t seem like the ice would last anywhere close to a full day, it would have been good for 8+ hours in the heat of the day, which is likely perfect for most uses. ¬†Additionally, I plan to test out other use cases to see what effects it has on ice longevity.

When done, it is easy to clean as well, just requiring a quick rinse and air drying.  It also has a air release valve so that you can release the air used for insulation for quick and compact storage when it is not in use.

Conclusion

One other nice thing about this pack that I haven’t mentioned yet are the rip cords on the back of the pack that is perfect for cinching down a jacket or two. ¬†It is perfect if you are expecting it to be rainy or chilly and would like to pack accordingly without having to carry another bag. ¬†I will say, I don’t believe there is anything else on the market that compares to the IceMule. ¬†It¬†fills a huge gap that I have had as it relates to hiking, particularly as a family. ¬†I could see this having so many applications too, day trips to the park/zoo/etc., a day out on the boat or at the beach, you name it! ¬†For $100, this is definitely worth picking up and keeping handy.

Pros:

  • Ice lasts more than long enough for a day full of activities.
  • Comfortable and breathable.
  • Plenty of room (with some to spare) for drinks and food for my family of four.
  • Easy to clean and store.

Cons:

  • In addition to the rip cords on the back, it would be great to build in¬†some pockets or storage¬†up front for quick access to essentials.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!