Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews

Review: Women’s Pearl Izumi Infinity Softshell Jacket is my favorite winter running jacket

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I have been running in the Pearl Izumi Infinity Softshell Jacket all winter long, and I am absolutely in love.

This jacket is perfect over a warm long-sleeve shirt for my coldest winter runs in the 20s (with windchills in the 15s), and works well with a lighter layer underneath for anything up to about 40-45 degrees.

The few times I’ve worn it over a T-shirt in mid-40-degree, sunny weather, I’ve had to take it off after the first mile or two. But in that 20-40 degree range, I am never too cold or too hot in the jacket.

This jacket provides both warmth and breathability, and there are extra sleeves inside that have thumb holes to provide a complete draft-proof fit. In 30-degree weather, it’s warm enough that after the first mile or two, I don’t need my gloves or headband anymore to keep me warm.

The side pockets are great, providing ample space for those gloves and headband after I’m warmed up, or my phone, tissues and fuel. And the back is slightly longer than the front, which helps keep the der·ri·ère warm.

The price is a bit high — $149 — but this jacket is well worth it. The quality is great — I’ve washed it at least a half dozen times and it comes out perfect after each wash. This is definitely a jacket that will last several years. If I have a chance, I’ll have to buy another one, in a different color of course, ahead of next winter.

My only request would be that they make the zipper pocket on the arm just slightly larger. I couldn’t fit my iPhone 4s in there and that would be an ideal place to stash it.

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Review: New Year’s Day 5K the perfect way to start 2014

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(Photos by Potomac River Running)

There was part of me that wanted to skip out on PR Races’ New Year’s Day 5K. I had just run the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year’s Eve (i.e. 16 hours earlier), where I went out a bit too fast and had lots of asthma-coughing afterward plus some stomach aches. Plus, I was still getting over a bad cold.

But it was a 10 a.m. race, meaning I didn’t have to get up until 8:30 a.m. And it would be in daylight, meaning I’d be warmer. And it was a little shorter. And it was the last race on my calendar until March. And it was on a flatter course. And I wanted to see how I performed when my legs were already tired. And I wanted a new 5K PR.

So I decided to tough it out.

And I’m glad I did. They always say you’ll never regret a run once you start — and that’s very true.

The course started at Reston Town Center and wound down to the W&OD trail and back. There were just two medium-to-high-sized hills and a few smaller ones. I wasn’t loving those hills after Fairfax’s hillier race, but I was determined to push through them. This was a smaller race field — about 700.

My only mini-complaint is having to go around the mall to get to the finish. You get tricked into thinking the finish line is right around the corner when you hop off the W&OD connector, only to find out you still have a few minutes left to run! But, I get why they do this — we would have had to go up another hill on the W&OD and there likely isn’t an easier way around the mall to the start/finish area.

Bonus: In addition to neat long-sleeve shirt, I got a lanyard and pin!

Oh, and I got that 5K PR, and was only 2 seconds slower per mile overall even on tired legs!

I spent the rest of New Year’s Day in my nifty T-shirt (I earned it!), while I constantly refreshed PRs Flickr’s page, looking for my race pics.

Time: 27:46. Pace: (8:57) — a 5K PR!!

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Reviews

Review: Gel Kayano 20 provides cushion and support

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I went into a bit of a running shoe buying craze a few weeks ago and bought two pairs of Asics GT-2000 2s and a pair of Gel Kayano 20s + another pair of GT-2170s (my third of that style).

I was intrigued by all the positive reviews of the Kayano 20 online and these did not disappoint in real life.

Upon first trying them out and walking around in them, I noticed immediately that the collar at the back and tongue felt like they had more cushion than the GT 2000 2. The shoe also seems to be just a tad bit higher than the GT-2000 2 — I suspect to add more cushion/gel underneath.

My only concern was that I did notice my heel seemed to come up just a smudge when I was walking around in them, but when I did some little spurts of running at home, it didn’t seem like it was significant enough to cause a chafing problem.

I walked around in the in the office for two days, and they felt amazing. Somehow even more comfortable than the GT 2000 2 — I think it’s the plush tongue and collar and extra cushioning in the heel and midfoot.

Basically they already felt like a pair of broken in shoes — they just fit well and felt so comfortable.

Once again, I bought these from Road Runner Sports, which offers a 90-day try it and return it guarantee to VIP members on all their shoes, in addition to a 10% discount every day.

So with that in mind, I gave them a whirl on the road.

I know you’re supposed to ease into new shoes, but I didn’t really have time for that with my old pair being so old, so my first run in these was on my long run, which was 10 miles. It was a cold, super windy day, and I was still getting over a cold, so I ended up taking several walk breaks.

The Kayano 20s felt great throughout the run. I did feel like they were a little loose in the midfoot, but that may have just been an indication I needed to make the laces snugger. I didn’t notice the looseness much until going downhill around mile 8.

My next run was a 13.5 miler, and the shoes felt perfect. I didn’t feel any looseness or have any issues at all!

The shoes felt cushier than the GT 2000 2s, particularly in the heel. And on the run, I didn’t feel like my heel was coming up at all, which had been the only concern I had while walking around in them.

This pair of shoes is more expensive than the 2000 2s, but I think it’s worth it. I have a feeling these will be my go-to shoes for long runs and my longer races.

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Review: Night race Fairfax Four Miler a hilly must

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Wow. This was a hilly course. And there was one hill in particular — at 2.5 in that I will not soon forget.

The race started going uphill, but it was a short uphill, luckily. I did go out way too fast, but I was excited to be running on pavement for the first time in more than a week, not to mention it was my first time running at night, my first night race, and it was New Year’s Eve!

There were a bunch of small hills, both up and down, here and there, then at 2.5 miles we hit the big hill. As you crested the big hill, you found out you had to go down a short downhill and then back up again at the turnaround. Ugh.

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I pushed myself up it, telling myself, it’s just one hill. It’s gotta be the last hill. The last awful hill at least. I hate hills. I cursed in my head.

It did end up being the last bad hill. There was another decent hill shortly before the finish, but by that point the end was so near. Racers who’d already finished were yelling “Just one more minute!” I kept that in my head. It ended up being like another 2-3 more minutes, but close enough.

The final .10 of a mile was on a downhill, and I knew I had that to look forward to. Cresting over the hill and seeing the clock was a thrill. I was aiming for around 9 minute miles, which would put me at around 36 minutes, and I beat that by a nice margin despite the hills!

After the race, pizza was served, but I skipped on that — my stomach wasn’t feeling right and I can never eat immediately after a race (props to those who can).

Parking was easily accessible — a nice perk. I don’t really need need my inhaler, it for emergencies, and I still haven’t had a true asthma attack since I was a teen. But between going out too fast and dealing with a cold, I had to take a puff right away, and found myself still dealing with what I consider asthma-coughs throughout the night.

Bonus: Instead of the usual T-shirt, we got a sweet hoodie sweatshirt.

Time: 35:38. Pace: 8:55 (PR for race pace!)

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Reviews

Review: Asics GT-2000 2 a decent replacement for GT-2170

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I’d been running in GT-2170s for more than a year (and this particular pair for about 6 months), when I realized I needed a new pair.

Still, I kept putting it off. My shoes weren’t giving me any problems, and I would hate to have a bad experience with running shoes, particularly during my long runs.

But in late December, I knew it was time. My running shoes had significant wear on the inside and while the bottoms looked OK, I knew the cushioning was going.

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Add in that I had signed up for my first half marathon in March — and knew I would definitely need new running shoes by then — I finally caved and started looking at running shoes online. I found I could get a new pair of GT-2170s, but they were backordered until late January.

So, I ordered a pair of GT-2000 2s, which are supposed to be the next generation of GT-2170s.

I’ve never really been concerned about breaking in new running shoes. Back when I got my last pair in June, I ended up breaking them in easily on a trip to Colorado and Utah, where we walked around a lot. By the time I ran in that pair, they were plenty broken in, and I was still doing walk/run combinations until August.

The pair before that, I was only walk-running, so I just naturally broke them in while doing that.

I lucked out, too, in somehow finding the perfect shoe for me before I understood terms such as “neutral,” “stability” or “overpronate.” I definitely turn my foot inward when I walk/run and need stability shoes.

So I was a bit nervous about this pair. What if they didn’t feel as good as my GT-2170s? What if they pinched somewhere? What if I got blisters? What if I got black toenails? I ordered the pair from Road Runner Sports, which offers VIP members up to 90 days to return used shoes to the store if there are any problems.

I tried them on, and they felt good, so I wore them to the office the next day (it was a Saturday). After a couple of days using them whenever I ran errands, I ran my first race in them on New Year’s Eve. I was a little concerned that I hadn’t done a normal, easy run in them, but I figured they felt fine so 4 miles couldn’t hurt.

They performed beautifully. I didn’t really feel any difference in the 2000 2s versus my 2170s. And having a new pair of shoes with new cushioning felt nice. So I ran in them again New Year’s Day, some 16 hours later, even though you’re supposed to let shoes rest something like 24 hours between wears. Again, they felt fine.

But then, the day after, I had some soreness in my legs — hamstrings and IT-band, which isn’t uncommon after a hard race — and some slight shin splits, which got me worried. (A little history on me and shin splints — I started trying to run in the 7th grade, got shin splints, rested, tried again, got shin splits again and gave up — it was probably that I was wearing old gym shoes, but that’s why shin splints make me anxious).

I whined to a friend, then thought up of all the reasons why it could be the shin splints did not mean the shoes weren’t going to work. I had run hard. The New Year’s Eve race was hilly overall and the New Year’s Day race had two significant hills. I hadn’t run on pavement in at least 10 days before the two races. I hadn’t run more than 3 miles on pavement in 2 weeks. I had run two races within 16 hours of each other (which I’ve never done before). Any soreness was just from running in the new shoes for the first time and wouldn’t occur again. Yada, yada, yada.

I ran in the shoes again about 4 days later — this time for a treadmill run. They felt fine, maybe like they still needed some breaking in, though. I didn’t have any pain the next day. I ran on the treadmill again a couple days later and finally on the pavement on a night run Friday.

I felt fine after all those runs, so I’m keeping this pair, and I even bought a second pair after just a day of walking around in the first.

I’m going to focus on just using them for treadmill and shorter (3-5 mile) runs for the next month, to really break them in.

In the future, I plan to be better prepared at phasing in new running shoes instead of waiting until the last second to order a new pair that I feel I need to start running in ASAP. It helps that I now have multiple pairs of running shoes to rotate, meaning I’ll also never do a morning run in shoes I ran in 16 hours earlier.

I plan to keep one pair of shoes at the office for my workouts there — not sure yet whether it will be the backordered 2170s or one of the 2000-2s. And the other pairs I will rotate around my runs.

I also ordered a pair of Gel-Kayano 20s, which I’m pretty sure is going to be my go-to shoe for my long runs and long races. (Review on this pair to come!)

Reviews

Review: Zensah Smart Running Gloves a little too big, but deliver warmth

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I got the Zensah Smart Running Gloves with touch screen feature because I was looking for a second set of gloves that was slightly warmer than my lightweight pair.

These fit the bill. They’re a little warmer than my other pair without being overly warm. I also like that they have the snap to keep the two gloves together. I ended up driving to two races in them, and liked the grip that they provided in the palm.

I got the small size, but they are a bit big for me — there’s room at the finger tips, which can make it hard to use your smartphone. (Usually small-size gloves fit me perfectly.)

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Runner’s day-by-day log/2014 calendar keeps me on track

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There’s a variety of calendars out there that help you keep track of your day-to-day, weekly and yearly mileage. I’d been struggling to keep a concrete idea of just how much I was running each week — some weeks I’d add it up in my head, others I wouldn’t … so I bought one such calendar for $10 on Amazon a couple of weeks ago.

If you’re like me and track your work schedule and other activities through an app (for me, it’s Google Calendar), this is useful because it has spots in the back where you can write down your daily and weekly mileage by week for the entire year and easily add them up at the end, or give it a quick glance to see how you’re doing for a particular month. In addition, it has a couple pages where you can jot down all the races you ran, your times, paces and any notes, as well.

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Review: “My Life on the Run” by Bart Yasso an inspiring tale for runners of all abilities

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Bart Yasso’s book, “My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon,” is an inspiration and testament to what a life of running can provide.

I’ve been subscribed to Runner’s World magazine since the summer or fall, so I’ve obviously heard of Yasso, who is Chief Running Officer for the publication (what an awesome title!).

In 25 years, he’s run more than 1,000 races, not to mention on every single continent (including Antarctica). Along the way, he’s met some pretty amazing runners.

I’ve been running such a short period of time by comparison, but this book just makes me want to run more. And it also made me realize that you needn’t have been running since elementary or high school to be a “lifelong runner”. Yasso started running in 1977, when he was in his early 20s. He’d been leading an unhealthy lifestyle, drinking alcohol and using drugs since his teens. Running changed all that.

Throughout the book, you feel like you’re traveling all around the world with Yasso, and biting your fingernails when he’s dealing with a tough race or illness. Turns out Yasso was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease in the early 1990s, but came back from debilitating symptoms and continued to race until 2006.

These days, he doesn’t race as much and usually just short distances, but he still travels around the world acting as the “mayor of running” at races each year.

Yasso’s book details his experiences, of course, but it also pays homage to all the folks who helped him along the way. From his brother, who egged him on after his first race; to racing buddies who would run with him for parts of his ultras; to the so-called “Average Joes,” who ended up being more inspiring than you can imagine; all these people have had an impact on his life.

In addition, he offers lots of practical advice for runners of all abilities — from beginners to those brave enough to do an ultra. At the back there’s a section with race training plans for marathons and half-marathons (separated by levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced) as well as some of his must-do races around the world, including why they’re such a draw.

To top it off, Yasso seems like the most down-to-earth, humble person. I actually tweeted at him when I was reading the book on the second night, saying I enjoyed it and it made me want to go running, but I couldn’t because I was sick. He tweeted back at me, “Hope you feel better soon.” I never had expected him to respond!

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I was wrong about running socks

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Awhile ago, my runner friend told me she always ran in Balega socks. I saw them when we were at Pacers together after a race, but bulked at the high price tag — $11-12 per pair.

I had been running — and still am for the most part — in plain $1.50 per pair cotton socks from Target. But on a more recent trip to the running store, I decided to get a couple of Balega socks to try out.

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I never knew socks could feel so comfortable. The second I put them on there was this sort of “ah” moment. They just felt that good. One thing I noticed right off the bat was the tab in the back. There’s a little extra fabric and cushion so that the sock doesn’t slip back into the running shoe — genius.

Since I like thinner socks, I got the ultra light version.

The price of these socks is obviously prohibitive. But I’m sure I’ll add a few more pairs as I go. For now, I’m saving them for my longer runs and will definitely use them on race days. And I plan to try some of the other running socks that are around too, especially the ones that are a bit cheaper.

Now to figure out how to never lose one of these socks in the washer/dryer!

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Review: FuelBelt Gel Ready Race Number Belt totally worth it

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I’d only run a few races when I decided that this whole pinning the bib on a shirt wasn’t exactly awesome. And when I got to my cold-weather races, I worried how I was going to take off a layer if I needed to.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I was constantly rearranging the pins to make the bib look even and in the right place on my stomach. For my first cold weather race, I resorted to pinning the bib to my leg (which I don’t recommend doing *before* you drive to a race).

I’d heard of these race belts, but didn’t know if they’d be for me. Mostly, I was worried that the bib would continually flap upward and annoy me. Totally not the case. I wore FuelBelt Race Number Belt for both my New Year Eve and New Year’s Day race — a 4 miler and a 5K, respectively.

I had ZERO problems. The bib didn’t flap up even once (and it was pretty windy New Year’s Eve). I put it on and forgot it was there.

The belt also allows places to store your gels. I haven’t tried out that aspect yet, but hope to test it out sometime in the spring.

For now, I totally recommend this belt just for holding your bib alone.