Gear Review: Topo Athletic HydroVenture

Ah, Spring…the time of the year when the snow starts to melt and rain begins to fall from the sky.  No matter where you are at (with some exceptions — I am looking at you Arizona!), Spring typically means copious amounts of mud and rain on the trails.  Despite this annual occurrence, it has always surprised me that there isn’t a wider selection of waterproof trail running shoes on the market.  Sure, there are a few, but a majority of waterproof gear comes in the form of a hiking boot and other clunky footwear.  Well, that is no longer the case.  Just in time for the wet weather of 2016, Topo Athletic released their waterproof shoe, the HydroVenture.  As a member of the Topo team, naturally I was going to try it out…so I did and now I want to share my thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo athlete team and this pair of HydroVentures was provided to me for free.  However, my goal with every product review is to provide an unbiased review so that you can make informed decisions and I can help the company improve on their product.

Overview

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The HydroVenture follows the same design principles as all of the other shoes in the Topo product line:

  • A wide toe box allowing for freedom of movement and natural splay of the toes.
  • A narrower mid foot and heel that provides a more snug fit throughout in order to provide a secure feeling without slippage.
  • A low heel drop to promote natural foot motion.

In addition, the HydroVenture incorporates some additional features to round out the shoe and make it the lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market.

  • A partnership with eVent incorporates a waterproof membrane that keeps water out without sacrificing breathability.
  • A rockplate to promote underfoot protection in the front of the foot.

Specs

Release Date: March, 2016
Price: $130
Weight: 9.7 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 23mm/20mm (2mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size to 1/2 Size Small

Design/Fit

The HydroVenture uses the same outsole lug pattern as the MT-2 and the RunVenture.  After using both of these shoes extensively over the past year, I say if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.  The outsole has proven to be an extremely durable, multi-purpose choice for all types of terrain.  The stack height, ride, and responsiveness are all very similar to the MT-2.  In other words, it is a mid-cushion shoe that provides ample protection underfoot without sacrificing too much responsiveness.  The upper is similar in appearance to other Topo trail shoes, but adds the eVent waterproof membrane.  The special thing about this membrane is it gives you true waterproofing without a significant addition to the weight or without sacrificing breathability.  In fact, the HydroVenture weighs only about a half ounce more than the MT-2.

As far as fit, I did notice a slight difference here.  Whereas the upper on the MT-2 seems to have a little bit of stretch, the HydroVenture, likely because of the waterproofing, didn’t have as much give.  As a result, the shoe felt just a slight bit tighter in the upper mid foot.  I accommodated this by loosening the laces a little bit, which seemed to do the trick.  Another option for some may be to go up a half size.

Performance

Light

The shoe comes in at 9.7 oz for a Men’s 9, which is middle of the pack for a mid-cushion trail shoe.  I personally did not see this as an issue as the shoe still felt pretty light and responsive.  Also, considering the trade-offs, dry feet are more important on some runs than a little bit of (barely noticeable) added weight.

Waterproof

Prior to trying on the shoes, I made a video illustrating the waterproof capabilities.  I put a paper towel in the shoe and poured water over it.  The end result, a dry paper towel.  You can find the video here:

Now that is all fine and dandy, but how about real world application.  I purposely delayed my review of the shoe until I could put it through the ultimate test; the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  During the race, we crossed more than a dozen waterfalls and just as many stream crossings.  While the race didn’t go as planned performance wise, my feet did not get damp in the least.  Furthermore, the shoe provided great traction over the wet, mossy, rocky surfaces.  Lastly, the shoe didn’t seem to sacrifice breathability.  Most hiking shoes that I have that are waterproof trap in the heat…not these.  My feet stayed cool the whole time.  Honestly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance of the shoe on the course.  Here are some pictures and a link to the run on Strava:

Gorge Waterfalls 100K on Strava

Comfortable

My longest run in the HydroVenture was the 50 race miles on wet, rocky terrain through the Columbia River Gorge.  During this run, I felt the shoe had more than enough cushion.  Even on the pavement sections, they provided a smooth, comfortable ride.  As is typical with Topo, my toes had plenty of room to move freely.  What is even more important is that I experienced no blisters or hotspots thanks to the secure fit.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Topo no doubt, but putting that aside, these are a game changer in my opinion.  I clearly favor the the Topo design methodology, but beyond that, to release such an effective waterproof trail shoe in such a lightweight package is truly an accomplishment.  If you haven’t found a reason to try out Topo yet, this should be it.  As I said, most of us are in grave need for a waterproof trail runner that feels great and works without feeling like we are running in cement shoes.  This is that shoe.  I see these playing a key role in my shoe rotation anytime I am running in wet conditions.  As far as pro’s and con’s:

Pro’s

  • Definitely the waterproofing…it works!
  • Lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market!
  • Topo design more closely aligns with my foot shape and the natural mechanics of humans.

Con’s

  • The upper is a bit more restrictive than their other shoes.  You will want to loosen the laces or size up a half size.
  • Speaking of the laces, they were a bit short.  Double-knotting them was a bit iffy in a standard lacing configuration.

If this review wasn’t incentive enough to try the HydroVentures, how about a 10% off code at TopoAthletic.com.  Just use TOPODEANJ10.

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!

 

 

The Five Stages of UltraSpouse Grief

We ultrarunners can sometimes forget about how much our addictions impact those around us.  Sure, we endure some serious physical and mental beatings, but we cmust keep in mind that our families can go through similar struggles when dealing with us.  In this guest post from my wife, she takes a humorous approach to describing the “stages” you go through when you live with an ultrarunner.
The Kubler-Ross “Five Stages of Grief” model is usually applied to a person who is suffering a traumatic life event. Being an UltraSpouse may not be considered “traumatic,” but I swear I have experienced the five stages of Ultra grief.
1. Denial
Sweet, sweet denial. In my head, it went something like: “It was only a 50k, but look how torn up he is! He won’t want to do a 50 miler any time soon. Maybe never!” I was so naive. The distances got longer, the races got more frequent, and, before I knew it, our whole family was sucked in and loving it. Even our littlest girl has done a trail race.
2. Anger
Oh man. The angry thoughts I have had! The ridiculous fights I have started! I confess that I still get angry sometimes… Like when URJ is HOURS off of his projected time, and I have no way of knowing whether he is ok, or dead, and I am worried-worried-worried, and I make myself sick (and angry!) from all of that worrying, and I am trying to keep our kids from staging a mutiny (or running off to find him themselves), and that makes me angry, and then he rolls up to the finish line in the DNF-mobile, and I have to immediately swallow that anger, and go back to plain worry and support. Because he has suffered enough, and is going to torture himself mentally for weeks and months to come. But I need a massage, y’all. And someone please bring me my tequila. I’m gonna take a rest day.
3. Bargaining
I could probably handle a hostage negotiation, given the amount of bargaining I have done in the last five years. It was ugly at first– I would not have trusted me with lives on the line. Over time, I developed some ground rules (ex. a training run cannot be so taxing that URJ is unable to help with the normal parenting/chores when he gets home), and now the bargaining is easy. Because, compromise. And tequila.
4. Depression
Once upon a time, I was the more active spouse. I convinced URJ to join me in some of my fitness endeavors, promptly got pregnant with our youngest (which is what I get for spending all of that extra time with URJ), and slowed down considerably. Meanwhile, URJ became, well, URJ. When I woke up from the fog of pregnancy/early infant days, he was pretty far gone. I wanted to get back in shape, but it was difficult to carve out time for myself, and URJ was not helpful at all. The jerk. He “had to train” for his races. So, after some anger, and a whole lot of bargaining, not to mention tequila, I realized that I should just sign up for a race myself. “I have to train” is apparently the language that URJ understands. Which brings me to…
5. Acceptance
I tried to deny, got angry, bargained, wallowed in depression, but finally accepted that the chubby, teddy-bear-like man I married has been replaced by an ultrarunner. And you know what I’ve realized? Our life together is pretty rad. I wouldn’t change any of it.
But… Next time you see me at a finish line, I wouldn’t say “no” to a beer. Or, tequila. I really do love tequila.

Race Report: Grand Canyon 50K…An Unexpected Journey

I hope that Peter Jackson doesn’t sue me for stealing the tagline from the first Hobbit movie, but it really does describe my experience at the Grand Canyon 50K this past weekend (in more ways than one).  Before I get into my race report though, I have a confession to make…I am a terrible Utahn.  I have called Utah my home for eight years now and have woefully neglected much of the natural beauty that the West has to offer, especially in and around the National Parks.  As my kids get older though, we are slowly starting to remedy that…the Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Series is pushing me along too.  With each of their races taking place on the doorsteps of the most beautiful parks in the country, racing is helping me to discover what I have been missing all of these years.  This past weekend, I got to check off the Grand Canyon from my list!

Now, I mentioned that this race weekend was unexpected in many ways, the first of which was the weather.  Last year, the race saw 80-degree conditions and lots of dehydrated racers.  This year was much different as you can see from this picture.

The race weekend saw overnight temperatures in the 20’s and close to 6 inches of fresh snow.  Luckily, my wife and I decided to buy a camper the week before because I would have been miserable in a tent!  🙂  The sudden shift in weather caused Matt Gunn, the race director, to make a change to 3 of the 4 courses because of shuttle inaccessibility to the start lines.  As with any trail race, you have to be prepared for such last minute changes.  I will say that Matt made the right (and safest) decision to modify the course and, despite the last minute nature of the changes, still coordinated a beautiful and flawless race event.

For the modified 50K course, we actually ran what was the original 25K course out and then back.  Because the 25K course was actually 17.5 miles in each direction, we ended up with about 35 miles overall, but that just added to the adventure!  The course started with a steady climb up the road behind the DeMotte Campground.  As you can see in this picture, there was some decent snow, so much of us were trying to run in the ATV trails heading up.

I got out to a pretty good jump with the lead pack and was running in 5th/6th up to the second aid station at about mile 9.  With the temperature still low, the trail conditions out to the turn around at mile 17.5 were actually pretty good.  Most of it was on top of the snow or fire road, with only a few muddy spots.  It was early on that I made a strategic decision that would play a critical role in my day.  I knew that as the temperatures started to rise that the quality of the terrain would soon change, so I decided to press on the gas pedal a little more than usual for the first half of the course.  I figured that if it did start to get really muddy that I wanted to get out in front quickly after which the eventual mud would start to slow everyone down enough that I could hang on.  Coming in to mile 9, I made a quick aid station turnaround only to fill my bottle up before moving on.  It was at this point that I think I moved in to 3rd, although I thought I was still around 4th or 5th.  As I continued to push my pace, I did not see many 50K runners for awhile, although knew I was on track because of the exceptional course markings.  Through mile 16, the course takes you through the beautiful Kaibab forest on the North Rim, however, once we got to mile 16, we were rewarded with a view so fantastic that I had to stop and take a picture!  As it turns out, this was the only section of the course that was pretty dry (due to its sun exposure and proximity to the edge of the rim I suppose).

After I took a picture, I kept running.  I finally passed the two lead 50K runners and realized they were only about a half mile ahead of me.  This was completely foreign to me and I was honestly in a bit of disbelief.  I usually run strong, but I was having a really good day.  The question then became, could I hold on?

Heading back from the turnaround, things started to get interesting as the course quickly became wet and muddy as I expected.  From this point on, it was about running whenever I could manage it and speed hiking when I couldn’t.  It was so bad in places that attempting to run was actually slower and more difficult.  As someone that practices speed hiking in my training, I think this actually may have played to my advantage because it put me on a more level playing field with some of the guys that are typically faster than me.  My strategy here was to keep moving forward as quickly as possible and to keep aid stations to under 1 minute.  As I did this I kept looking over my shoulder expecting runners to catch up to me, but they never came.  With a mile left to go, I came to the last downhill toward the finish line, which was wet, but not terribly muddy.  After 34 miles, I knew I would be devestated is I let someone catch me so close to the finish line, so I turned on the jets.  When I crossed the finish line, they confirmed that I was 3rd and handed me the award, a handmade tomahawk.

  

This brings me to yet another unexpected part of the weekend.  While I do consider myself a pretty strong runner, I never imagined that I would end up with a Top 3 finish.  I thought that maybe if I had a great race day, I could crack into the Top 10.  Call it lack of self-confidence or whatever, but I was just not expecting this!  Conditions aside though, everyone ran the same course and on this particular day, I did well enough for a 3rd place finish.  What I do take away is that all of the hard work I have been putting in is paying off and I will aim to use this as a momentum boost for the rest of my race year.

I have to thank a bunch of people for this.  My family, obviously, for their continued love and support.  My sponsors, who see potential in me as an athlete and as a loyal ambassador for the brands that I love and rely on.  Lastly, Matt Gunn and his volunteers, for putting on a phenomenal race series that gives me a perfect opportunity to experience all of the beauty that the Great West has to offer.

What I used:

  • Scarpa Tru trail shoes
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 socks
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 1 race vest
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats beanie (super warm)
  • Garmin Fenix 3 with MIO Fuse HR Monitor
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews

Ultra Adventures Grand Canyon Trifecta Update:

One of the things I love the most about the Ultra Adventures races is the emphasis on turning the events into an experience and enjoying everything the area has to offer outside of the race event.  One of the ways they promote that is with their Trifecta Challenge.  Each race has 3 additional routes that you can do, in addition to the race itself, that highlights the surrounding area.  For those that do it and take a picture with their bib at a certain spot, Matt will even reward you with a discount on future races.  As a bit of aggressive active recovery, I decided to head down into the canyon to Roaring Springs with a friend of mine.  As a first time Grand Canyon visitor, I didn’t want to pass up a chance while I was there.  It was absolutely breathtaking!  If you ever get a chance to hike down into the Canyon from either rim, I would urge you to do so…it is an experience you will never forget!