Over the last four weeks, I’ve averaged 33.5mpw running (had a low week, most weeks are ~36 miles) and, those miles were done at a somewhat faster pace than the previous month. I also started adding in more trail running.
Up to this point, unless we’re out with the RV somewhere, my runs have been limited to paved or crushed granite paths, with very small amounts of dirt and/or grass mixed in. I haven’t been wanting to get in the truck and drive half an hour or longer to a trail head, run, then get back into the truck and drive home exhausted. But that’s what you do if you want to become a better trail runner – so for the last couple weeks, I’ve gone through this process at least once per weekend.
I’ve visited one trail head twice, for the Brushy Creek Trail, which has a mostly-paved 6.3 mile throughway (you can double back on it and add a little for a half marathon) with several unpaved ancillary paths, and another one once, the Tejas Trail, which is essentially a 7.15 mile portion of the 28 mile Good Water Loop that you can use as a 14.3mile out and back route, or continue on for the rest of the loop. This trail has a lot of traffic for the first mile or so, then it drops off, and you don’t see anyone for the next several miles. It isn’t really what I would consider remote, but the trail is situated in such a way that many portions feel isolated, and you aren’t all that likely to run across other humans out there. Cell service is spotty.
Since running these trails with our warmer weather approaching, I’ve made some more changes to my gear. First, I found that the Osprey Duro 1.5 bag I’ve been using is too big – in both fitment and capacity. It covers a large portion of my back, and requires a hip belt to be fastened, which causes heat and friction, and inhibits motion on trails. Further, I’ve lost enough inches that the size I bought has to be cinched close to the tightest settings to fit well. I ordered a Salomon Adv Skin 12 to replace it, in size medium, and it fits like a glove. Though I was very happy with the Osprey bag, the Salomon fitment is far better, and it’s one of those situations where you don’t quite realize how much better something could be until you’ve tried the alternative. I still like and will keep the Osprey, but it’s a better fit for Fast Packing and overnight stays than it is for trying to get down a trail in the shortest possible amount of time.
With the Salomon pack, also came some hydration changes. The Osprey uses a 2L bladder with a hose, and has spots for two collapsible bottles on the shoulder straps. Despite my attempts, I could never find those two compartments comfortable when used. The Salomon has the same basic setup, but the strap pockets are actually comfortable with the included soft flasks in them, and the (sold separately) bladder is only 1.5L. Due to my fueling strategy, I’ve found this to be a far better arrangement.
My stomach seemingly doesn’t have the capability to handle solid foods while running, so to prevent falling ill on the trail I’ve defaulted to liquid fueling. I’m still testing out different products – Skratch, Tailwind, vFuel, and others make them – flavored powders that you add to water and consume, providing you with 100-200 calories per hour, with all of the electrolytes you need as a “one stop shop” for nutrition during heavy activity.
Since the Salomon vest contains two 500ml flasks, in addition to a 1.5L bladder for water, I’m using one flask for fuel, and the second flask and bladder for straight water. Rather than drinking directly from the bladder, I’m using it to fill the flasks – that way I’m aware of exactly how much I’m drinking and, more importantly, how much I have left. This is going to prove very critical over the summer, as I already ran critically low on water and had to ration two sips per mile for the last seven miles on one of these longer trail runs.
On the run where I ran so low on water, I ran through a creek that had some fast running water, and filled one of my empty flasks from it as an emergency water source. A lot of trail runners carry small portable filters for these situations, and I ended ordering a MSR TrailShot today which filters up to 2000L of water on a cartridge and weighs under 5oz. In the end, I made it back to the trail head without needing to drink the creek water as the rationing was sufficient, though I needed to hydrate well that evening.
While I see so many people running topless or in skimpy clothing, I’m finding more than ever that I’m benefiting from long sleeves and pants. I tend to burn pretty easily and the sun reaching my skin makes me overheat – using a layer of clothing to block it seems to keep me cooler (even though it has the potential to add warmth) than bare skin and sun screen. Additionally, I lost my footing on a hill and landed pretty hard on Saturday, tearing up the knee of a pair of pants and breaking the skin underneath – it would have been far worse if not for the clothing to protect it. I’m still trying to nail down the right clothing combos, and trying to find less expensive options than the big name brands so that I can have clothes for all days of the week without breaking the bank. I recently placed an order for Old Navy’s Go-Dry gear, but haven’t received it yet. It looks promising at about a third of the cost of Nike, Adidas, and UnderArmor for similar items. I have determined that low compression athletic tights, loose shorts over them, and a loose long-sleeve tee are the correct arrangement – it’s just a matter of finding the right brand/value proposition at this point.
I’ll do an update in a couple weeks with my carry gear, and maybe some trail reviews.