Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ultimate Direction Wasp Review

This is a long review…sorry but I have a lot to say about this one. Ultimate Direction products are generally blend utility and weight. They are not a flashy or gimmicky product line but they get the job done and score high enough in all categories to always be considered an option. I equate UD stuff to Rainbow Sandals (San Clemente, CA !!); no bells or whistles, just the essentials that work when you need them too, definitely my style. I decided to get the UD Wasp because of the reviews from others particularly Stuart from the Quadrathon blog and because I wanted a pack with more storage that I could use for unsupported long runs where weather and daylight come into play. No one likes stuffing a small pack with a change of clothes, jacket, and socks only to find out when you need them it is (1) dripping in sweat or (2) bladder’s condensation went through all the pockets and now you have a “moist” change of clothes, no bueno…so the Wasp.


Initial Impression
Bright, most packs try to stick with dull colors like grays and blacks that can hide a little dirt. These straps are white, wow, like arctic white. The yellow part with the white reminds me of an egg, just saying. I doubt I will ever match when wearing this thing, darn.

Mesh is sturdy and seems tougher than mesh in other packs. I trust that it will handle a beating. It seems pretty open so breath ability should be fine; maybe it is thicker to handle the weight in the pack? Who knows?

There are 4 pockets up front as opposed to the two standard pockets. I am happy about these, because I am often choosing what will go where and inevitably something is sacrificed to the back of the pack forcing me to take it off during runs.

Specs (per UD w/ my comments)
MSRP: $ 82 (you can find it cheaper online)
Storage Capacity: 390 cu in/ 6.9L
Fluid Capacity: 64oz/ 1.9L Reservoir Included(meh - replaced)
Weight: 1 lb 5oz/ 595g
Material: 3s AirMesh, Nylon 210D Wide Dobby, Nylon Mesh

SportVest Shoulder Harness System (i.e. it’s a vest, fits light and loose but can be tightened)
Separate Top Loading Reservoir Pocket w/hanger (this pocket is divided into 2 by a mesh piece so if you needed to stuck stuff in here you could but will get wet with condensation good to store extra gels)


Top Pocket allows fast access to race passport (this thing is useful, it keeps the cell phone and quick access stuff separate and away from water so if there is a leak your tech-stuff is still good)
Easy access side zipping front pocket (these things are big)
Two Front Multi-Use pocket - bungie closure (big, feels like it can get loose and might be too big for some, space=over packing, fyi)
Mesh Storage Pocket on Back (sort of useful, I put some calf sleeves in there when I got hot, I could see putting an empty water bottle in there too)

Tie Loops on pack (for trekking poles or whatever you can put on em) (on my run I actually looped an empty Camelbak Quick Bottle (review), worked like a charm)
Adjustable Reflective Bungie System (it covers the mesh pocket so you can put stuff in mesh outer pocket and lock it down or tie more stuff to the pack.
Reflective Logo
Drain hole

I have used this pack on many short runs but most notably I trusted it for an early, early 20 mile run (1:30 am start) to work. In addition to the night running stuff I needed space to carry a change of clothes, body wash and a towel. I also had to believe that the pack could not only handle it, but not destroy my change of clothing. But, let me backtrack a few weeks prior to the long test run. I tried to use the pack, but 2 miles in I could feel water dripping on my calves. I took checked and there was an un-explainable leak. It really frustrated me because I could not find it. So…for the long run filled bladder to the limit hung on door knob and walked away for a few hours. Result, bladder failed me.

I came back and the bottom of the pack was soaked, just from sitting there. I was very disappointed with the test so I threw it out and have since used two bladders in the pack, a 2L Hydrapack (link) and 70oz Camelbak (link) both of which worked well.

On the long run I packed: jeans, socks, t-shirt, body wash, towel, GU packets, SoftFlask, Headlamp, phone, running kit, wallet. It’s a lot of stuff but the pack handled the load and still let me run without feeling overly burdened.

I did noticed that the back padding of the pack helps keep you cool since air can run through it but the pads soak up sweat. It is especially terrible when you have to take the pack off then on again or if you have to tighten it up; gets squishy. 

Storage Capacity. This thing can hold everything you would need for your long unsupported run, change of clothes, jacket, etc.

4 pockets: there are two that the UD site lists but also the front has two more (check the pic). I was able to carry my phone, headlamp, soft flask, salt, extra gels in the front minimizing my need to take off the pack.


UD bladder. - it may be a one off and I hope that is the case but straight up failure. Most people change out the bladders from their hydration system to something they are more comfortable with, but I would still have liked to use the UD bladder, such is life.

Weight - I could see UD making this lighter, but for the load carrying ability i am not sure where to trim weight, but they can figure it out i am sure. 

Back Padding - this is a +/- because it makes the pack comfortable and doesn't kill you when supporting heavier loads, however it does get squishy if you tighten it after running around for a while.  So it is a blessing and a curse sort of.

Consistent and provides what you need when you need it. The Wasp bladder unfortunately was a small let down.  I would definitely use this pack if a change of clothes or during the winter time when i need to carry more things just in case, or if you are taking inexperienced trail runners out you could add another water bottle just in case they try and start mouching of your supply.  I have been messing around with adding an MSR 2L camping bladder in the storage pocket to double my fluids without doubling size,m but we'll see.  Overall love the pack definite must have if you are into the long unsupported runs or just like exploring the trail as it gives you enough storage to be comfortable while at the same time allows you to be quick with your feet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yesterday - Birthday Reflection

I closed a tough year last night. I celebrated my birthday with some golf at my local course. Did not play well, but the company was great. More importantly I have tamales waiting for me at home…these are Maiz Colorado Tamales. They are purple, no filling and sweet. I have no clue how to make them but they are a traditional July food in my families region in Mexico and aunts who visit usually bring some back for me because they know I am pretty much an addicted to them.

I have learned a few lessons this year which I hope to take onto next year. My training has been better than it was at the beginning and hopefully it will continue to improve. My personal goal for this year is to have a training month where I average 40+ miles per week. It’s a tough goal but I think I can crank it out.

But #1 thing to close this year right is to thank you my dear S. You have been there through my ups and downs. You know everything I have dealt with and been dealt this year. You did not forget me when so many others did and you made sure to ask the questions no one else would. This last year has been amazing. You have convinced me to try different food, places and customs that I did not even know existed. Sometimes you get on my nerves for not properly hydrating (disclosure: I am paranoid about hydration and mountain lions) and I will still give you a hard time about it because I worry about you. But, I love you and thanks for sticking around.

Ok well back to the running.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Back Spasm/ Stress Injuries

Last weekend on my run and had a back spasm doing a route that I can almost do blindfolded. It is out 2 miles to the end of the street then back via side streets to add elevation and is roughly 5 miles give or take when I turn on the Garmin and if I cut corners. At the 1.5 mile I felt so good it worried me. I was running 20 sec/mi under my average and it was during the heat of the day. At mile 2 my back tightened and it stopped me dead in my tracks after that point all I could muster was a shuffle.

The frustrating thing about this run is that I have felt this exact pain before. Three times to be exact. The first was circa late 2009, when the market took a dive due to the housing industry. The drop caused a lot of seasoned people (10+ yrs of service) to be let go. In those dark days were all under the gun and feared “downsizing,” “restructuring” and “enhanced resource sharing” or whatever line management threw out there to explain why severance packages were handed out like happy meals.

I was walking to my car after my shift and my back froze up. I hobbled to my truck a’ la Frankenstein. I sat in my truck with tears streaming down my face pissed off because I could not move. I waited until I recovered mobility and took side streets the 25 miles home. I missed a few days of work because I simply could not even roll to my side without pain.

Next was May 2011 Bishop High Sierra; I had the same pain. Mind you I was running an ultra marathon at the time…but the hurt was familiar. I had run with a pack for weeks in prep for this race and at the 10 mile mark the pain started in my upper back and did not leave me for the whole race, 15+ hours. By the end I was walking crooked and hobbling and I paid for the effort with a week of stiffness and hurt (note: need to buy stock in Advil or whoever makes them). I was “unable” (focus on “ “) to attend a function integral to what I do and that caused a lot of stress. The date of this event I missed = day of the race. Being “unable” to attend cleared my calendar but screwed my back again out of the blue. I actually even had other people around me ask if I was ok and ask why certain groups were being so hard and condescending to me, but I shrugged it off attributing to a stressful time for all of us.

July 2, 2011. The week prior this run was a tougher work week where vacations and schedule coordinating made it impossible to get everything done that had to be. In addition there was another “issue” that I knew was going to come back and it what do you know it did. Today I got the “pre-warning” to the “real warning” warning me that potential “real warnings” are in the works but may not be realized depending on the preliminary review needing to be done to establish if a real warning or just the warning of a “real warning” was enough for the situation. Yeah, I cannot even imagine the scrutiny that goes into these sorts of things, but honestly I am really over it. It is what it is and I am not ripping anyone a new one here. But that’s not the point I am trying to make here.

My back spasms have coincided with periods of high stress in my life. I know I feel my stress in the neck area and it seems that during times of higher stress my back locks up. There is no other way to describe it. I refuse to allow these work stress take over my life. I want to continue being a healthy happy person but I feel that these things really affect me at a subconscious level that I don’t know how to control. I don’t know how much an athlete’s psyche influences their performance and makes them prone to injuries but I reckon it is significant. It bums me out that these “issues” are following me home, but I am determined to be better and solve them both at work and at home so the skeletons of quarter’s past don’t haunt the races of years to come.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ultimate Direction FastDraw Plus Bottle

This bottle is not the most popular handheld for recreational runners since Nathan, Camelbak and Amphipod handhelds dominate the retail market. In fact, I would argue that it is more used by ultra runners than any other group. It is easily recognizable by the red kicker valve and this bottle for most people is a love/hate relationship.
20oz. /0.6L Bottle with Kicker Valve
Weight 4.0 oz
3D AirMesh, 210 D Nylon Dobby, Nylon Mesh
Sleeve with zippered pocket (mesh)

I have used the bottle in different scenarios including the BHS50 Run. The bottle is standard among the UD products and I used it in the UNO waist pack (review coming). To be honest the first time I used this bottle I hated it. I purchased the 26 oz version and used it with a handheld pouch and simply could not get it to work. I was probably being too ambitious with the larger bottle and that probably soured me on them for a while.

I eventually purchased two because I wanted something smaller than my Camelbak’s that could be more stable on the trails. Therefore, I have used this bottle mainly on trail runs. I prefer the Camelbak Handheld for road since I am not shifting and weaving as much and I carry a little bit more water and the Podium Bottle does a better job of staying colder for longer than the UD. The UD bottle is great on the trails and significantly more stable and lighter than the Camelbak. The bottle itself had indents for your fingers to more easily grip the bottle. The grip and its size allow a more balanced feel.

This bottle has been my go to when I want to conserve H2o; let me explain. The kicker valve allows you with a little practice to control how much water you take in. Other bottles tend to be one or the other. You get the benefit of one handedness and little flow control or you need two hands to operate. The kicker valve allows you a little of both worlds.

The valve also when “kicked” will not spill which is the reason I do not use the Camelbak on Trails. On trails the full Camelbak will squirt water if I grip it too tightly. I am definitely not trying to think about my hand-to-bottle pressure while jumping over rocks and avoiding missteps. I also have used this bottle in combination with a pack as a combo, charm.

Normal trial conditions mean taking in 26-28 oz of water so this bottle may stretch you if it is all you have for over an hour. That being said it is very easy to re-fill if you have a pit stop and very easy to conserve if you can delay or minimize your water consumption (not recommended but in a pinch do what you gotta do). As with most bottles doing a combo nutrition system can benefit you for longer runs, i.e. Hammer Heed or GU Brew or some other electrolyte/caloric nutrition in the first bottle then gels from the pocket after a refill will work. Pocket opens to the side so be careful your key’s don’t fall out.

The pocket does not fit your Blackberry or iPhone and if it does fit “your” phone there is not much space for anything else. If you are of the brave class who put electronics in handhelds please cover them with a zip-lock, sweat will mess with your stuff. I put three gels in the picture above and they were crammed in there.  there is also no hook for keys so careful with anything in that hand pocket.

Get this handheld if you are looking for a wallet friendly workhorse. This bottle is great by itself or if you are using it with a pack. If you absolutely positively must have the coldest water possible from a handheld after running roads for an hour get the Camelbak. But if you are a trail junkie get the UD, there is a reason you see Ultra runners (winners) with this tied to their hands.  The design is simple and why mess with a good thing.