The 2015 Grand Circle Trail Series: Beauty That Only Your Own Eyes Can Appreciate!

Overview

I have been all across the country (39 states and counting) and can honestly say that there is no place quite like the Southwest in terms of natural beauty.  Within the Southwest is an area known as the Grand Circle.  Encompassing portions of five states (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada), the Grand Circle contains America’s largest concentration of national parks and monuments.  There is no shortage of beautiful vistas, break-taking canvases, and zen-like feeling in the Grand Circle.

grandcirclemap

The mission of Ultra Adventures is to give runners a chance to immerse themselves in their passion on one-of-a-kind courses throughout this area. As you will come to understand, Ultra Adventures is about much more than just organizing races, but let’s look at the event line-up first.

The Races

For 2015, the lineup consists of seven events, all giving you its own unique taste of the Grand Circle.  I have provided a description of each event, a link to its detail page, and a link to sign up.

Antelope Canyon – February 21 (Sign up here)
This race is located near the Arizona-Utah border, near the town of Page.  It allows you the opportunity to experience two of the most photographed land features in the United States: Antelope Canyon and the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 55K, 20K.
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Monument Valley – March 13/14 (Sign up here)
Situated within the Navajo Nation on the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley features amazing formations that reach over 1,000 feet into the sky.  You will likely recognize these formations or “monuments” from the hundreds of movies that have been filmed in this desert backdrop over the years. Vibrant colors and dramatic shadows cast along the valley floor as you move along the course.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
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Zion – April 10/11 (Sign up here)
Located in Utah adjacent to Zion National Park, this course gives you fantastic views of Southern Utah’s desert landscape.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
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Grand Canyon – May 15/16 (Sign up here)
This race is run in Northern Arizona within the Kaibab National Forest near the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The route traverses the famous Kaibab Plateau and links into the scenic Rainbow Rim trail, which takes you along several spectacular lookout points.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
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Bryce Canyon – June 5/6 (Sign up here)
Located in Southwest Utah, this scenic, mountain course runs along the western edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, offering spectacular views above and below the hoodoos. The race is run at high elevation, with most of the miles on this course situated between 8,000 and 9,000 ft.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, and half marathon.
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Capitol Reef – July 10/11 (Sign up here)
Located in Southcentral Utah, near the city of Torrey, this race begins at the red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park. Soon after, you will be cruising singletrack through the pines and aspens along more than a dozen high mountain lakes, topping out on the tallest plateau in North America at over 11,000 ft.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, and half marathon.
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Tushars – July 31/August 1 (Sign up here)
Located at Eagle Point Ski Resort, just East of Beaver, Utah, Tushars is the highest, most challenging course in the Ultra Adventures line up.  Runners will summit 12,000 ft. peaks and run ridgelines among a thriving mountain goat herd then drop down singletrack into vast, glaciated valleys spattered with abandoned mining ruins from the wild west.  It offers four distances – 100M, 93K, sky marathon, and half marathon.
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Here is a great video overview of the Grand Circle Trail Series from UA:

The Experience

Ultra Adventures events preach “the experience”.  They don’t want you to come to the area, race, and leave like you do with so many other events out there.  They want you to experience everything that the area has to offer.  For this reason, they created the Trifecta Challenge.  This is a collection of three routes that you can take, in addition to the race itself, that highlight some of the beauty of the surrounding area.  These challenges are unique to each course and are meant to encourage you to turn your race weekend into an extended stay vacation.  This is especially beneficial for out-of-town racers that may not have another opportunity to visit the area in the near future.  As an added bonus, your participation will earn you discounts on future Ultra Adventures events.  The discount is based on whether you complete the criteria for one, two, or three of the routes.

A big part of the experience also involves protecting these areas so that future generations can enjoy them as much as you undoubtedly will.  For this reason, UA events also promote environment and social responsibility.  Here are some highlights of how they accomplish this:

  • All events are zero waste, with less than 1% of event trash making it to a landfill.
  • Solar polar is used for all aid stations and race operations.
  • 80%+ of all aid station food is organic.
  • Extensive support of local businesses, organizations and artisans (including the awesome handmade finishers awards (each is unique)

The Challenges/Series

As further encouragement to experience everything about the Grand Circle, Ultra Adventures offers a number of mileage challenges and combo-course series.

Runners that sign up for the Spring Slam Series or the Run Elevated Series will receive a 20% discount off of their total race entry fees when registering for all four at the same time and a special hand made award for completing it.

Those that complete a mileage challenge will receive a special hand made award.  The great thing about the mileage challenge is that it can be completed over multiple years, allowing you to spread your races out#

Conclusion

What Matt Gunn and his team are doing at Ultra Adventures is truly unique and amazing.  He has created this opportunity for runners to see, experience, appreciate, and respect some of the most naturally beautiful places on our planet.  As an Ultra Adventures Ambassador, I fully embrace the idea that we should not just enjoy these treasures, but protect them.  I think this is a mindset that many trail runners embrace in some form or another.  As such, I think you would be missing out if you didn’t experience at least one Ultra Adventures race in your lifetime.  Until you do, you truly won’t realize what you have been missing.

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, or you have questions on any of the Ultra Adventures races, please contact me and/or follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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Product Review: Titin Tech Weighted Compression System

I have been really excited to write this review, as I typically am for any product that I feel is a game changer.  As a mountain trail runner in Salt Lake City, I have been on a quest for some time to find a tool that can help me add resistance and build running strength on the days when I can’t hit the mountain climbs.  I have tried weighted vests in the past, but they all fit awkwardly, bounce, chafe, and/or cause muscle strains due to how they unevenly distribute weight (especially the shoulders).  Enter the Titin Weighted Compression system.  Titin has gone back to the drawing board and come up with a completely different solution to this problem; a combination of weight training and compression.  Let’s take a look at it!

Product Overview
Titin Tech markets itself as the world’s only weighted compression gear.  It has gained a lot of momentum recently, making a successful appearance on Shark Tank and being adopted and endorsed by professional athletes and coaches across a number of sports and disciplines.  Their main selling point is that the product keeps weight in place better than any other solution by using a combination of weight disbursement and compression.  As a result of the overwhelming effectiveness of their product, they are able to claim measurable results, with those “using it during warm up achieving a 13% increase in vertical leap, 11% increase in endurance, and 3% increase in running speed.”  They seem to have a lot of supporters that back their product already, but I am a hands on guy that likes to see for himself.  Let me share what I thought of the Titin system from an ultra runner’s perspective.

In the Box
The Titin system comes with (3) main components as pictured below:

  • Anti-microbial pocket shirt
  • (14) weight gels
  • Outer compression shirt

IMG_2771      IMG_2772

Price:
$249 for the whole system (includes one pocket shirt, one compression shirt, 14 gels)
$52.95 for an additional pocket shirt
$32.95 for an additional compression shirt

An important thing to keep in mind is that the gels come with a lifetime replacement warranty, which means that after the one time investment in these, you will no longer need to purchase them again.

Benefits and Uses
It is important that you don’t oversimplify this product and thing of it just as a weighted vest because the flexibility of this product is unlike anything else on the market.  It’s versatility allows it to be used in a number of different ways with a number of different benefits.  The truth is, while it is more expensive up front, you are getting much more utility and value out of the Titin system.  In fact, I will go as far as to say that you will likely replace some of your other gear/equipment with this system.  Let’s look at some of the key benefits:

  1. Due to its compression design, bounce normally experienced with fast movements is greatly reduced.  This means that it is more friendly for use while running, doing speed work or circuit training, or even sports drills such as what you would find in basketball or football.
  2. The even weight distribution means the weight is not putting a burden unevenly on parts of your body.  With most weighted vests, a good deal of the weight rests on your shoulders.  With the 14-point placement of the gels with the Titin system, you can ensure that all parts of your upper body are supporting the weight without any one area picking up the slack.
  3. The gel system itself is an added benefit in that they can be both heated and cooled.  This allows the vest not only to be used during weight training activities, but as a recovery tool as well.

Here are a few shots of me wearing it, both with and without the outer compression on.

Titin Front 1     Titin Back 1

Titin Front 2      Titin Back 2

In Action
So all of the marketing and third-party impressions aside, none of that matters if it doesn’t do the job when it counts!  After years of disappointment in my own search to find something that that I could run in, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have built up some lofty performance expectations coming into this review.  And while my focus for using this product is on how it performs while running, I also wanted to test it across a number of activities that I do that contribute to my running fitness, which I have included below.

Putting it on and General Care
This is about as simple as it gets.  The gels come in two shapes which are designed to fit into certain pockets on the under shirt.  It is pretty straight forward which ones go in each pocket and they are very easy to insert…I had them all in in less than two minutes.  On the back (as seen in one of the pictures above), there is a half zipper that makes it easier to put on and take off.  I also found it easy to reach the zipper without assistance thanks to a ribbon that is attached to it.  As far as the zipper itself, it is unnoticeable while wearing, with no chafing or rubbing.

The gels can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer for added heat or cold therapy.  They don’t freeze solid, so you don’t have to worry about them forming into some weird, uncomfortable shape either.  Once heated or cooled, you are good for about 45 minutes.

The pocketed undershirt is anti-microbial, which means you don’t have to wash it after every use.  After using it for a solid week, I smelled no odor.  Still, I will probably wash it relatively frequently…every 1-3 weeks depending on frequency of use.

Now, here are my impressions when used for a number of different activities.

Running
For me, this was the most important test.  With other weighted vests I have tried in the past, the biggest issue was bounce.  I was constantly having to reposition the vest while running.  This resulted in chafing and an overall unpleasant/unpeaceful running experience.  Most vests are often bulky too, making it difficult to wear my hydration pack.  Lastly, with most previous weight vests, when I take it off I generally feel stiff and can tell that the weight was straining my muscles in bad ways.  This are all of the things I was looking to asses.

With the Titin vest, all of these problems disappeared.  With the outer compression shirt, the weight stayed snug and in place without impacting my running motion.  The gels are distributed and positioned in a way that they don’t restrict movement in the arms and torso.  I experienced almost zero bounce with Titin.  Because the weights are broken up into small packages, it is easier to used the compression to hold them in place while getting the collective benefit of the total 8lbs at the same time.  I ran multiple times up to an hour in it during my tests (which mimics my intended use), and experienced no chafing or weird rubbing.  The 8 lbs of weight is the perfect amount for offering some resistance training while not overdoing it (general recommendations is no more than 5-10% of your body weight).  When I took it off after my run, aside from fatigue from the added weight, I had no immediate soreness or stiffness in my upper body, which held true the day after as well.  Lastly, as you can see from the picture below, it is not nearly as bulky, which allowed me to wear my Orange Mud hydration pack normally and without any awkwardness.  In short, I have finally found the perfect resistance training solution for running.

Titin in Action

Circuit Training (Using Insanity T25 – Total Body Circuit)
While running certainly provided a good test of how the Titin system would perform under movement, I still wanted to test it with a bit more of an explosive workout.  I am happy to say that it performed equally as well with the quick, jerky movements found in circuit training workouts.  Additionally, the added weight made the workout quite a bit more more challenging, but in a good way.

Yoga/Body Weight Exercising
My test here was focused less on fast movements and more about how it performed in strength training routines and other programs that incorporate different body positioning.  I was most interested in how it would feel while in inverted positions, such as downward dog in yoga.  I am happy to say that it performed great in these scenarios quite well too.  In downward dog position, there was only some minor shifting, but no issues with the weights sliding into my neck or out of position.

Downward Dog Titin

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • This system, while not necessarily designed for runners, suits the purpose extremely well with no bounce, chafing, or discomfort while running or cross training.
  • The weight is distributed extremely well as to not cause any unnecessary muscle strain.  The 8 lbs. is also the right amount of weight to provide benefit without increasing the risk of injury.
  • The system is multi-purpose, serving the job of both weight and resistance training as well as hot or cold therapeutic recovery.
  • The gels come with a lifetime warranty requiring you to only buy them once.  This way, you only need to buy additional shirts as needed.
  • Can use your own outer compression tops that you already own.

Cons

  • The price will likely turn some away, which is a shame because I believe the value far surpasses the price tag.  Even so, a slightly lower price point may encourage people to jump on board.
  • One design change I would make is to have the zipper on the back open up just a bit higher.  While it was super easy to put on, it was a bit difficult to take off once I was a little sweaty.
  • Addiction — I am not going to want to stop using it.  🙂

Conclusion
While the upfront investment can be eye-catching, what you get in return with the whole system returns much more value to you considering the multiple uses and the overall training benefit.  This product is truly a game changer that I believe finally gives runners a product that they can use to improve their performance and recover successfully afterwards.

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!