The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Running

The Test of Time

From the $100 surf-ready Mariner Tide to the $1,750 super-powered Astron, these are the season's most exciting new watches. They're ready for anything nature throws at them. Are you? 

Nixon Tangent ($500)

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The Tangent is made from the same burly material used in the fins of big-wave surfboards. It comes with a simple tide dial, and Nixon smartly moved the crown to the nine o’clock position to reduce wrist bite while paddling out.

Seiko Astron ($1,750)

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/seiko-astron-watch.jpg","size":"large"}%}

This titanium-body watch uses GPS to calibrate the exact time, zone, and daylight-savings status. And because it doesn’t use atomic clocks, it can also set itself—precise to one second every 100,000 years— at any point on earth. The only caveat: it uses solar power to take a daily reading, so you do need to be outside at least once in a while.

Freestyle Mariner Tide ($100)

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This easy-to-read watch takes Freestyle’s Mariner sailing model, turns it into a great tool for surfers, and still keeps the price within reach. Programmed with tidal direction, time, and height for 150 beaches worldwide, the Mariner Tide does the thinking for you, so you can watch for the next swell.

Luminox SXC 5127 ($795)

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When the first clients of Space Expedition Corporation launch into orbit, they’ll all be wearing one of these. Basically a spruced-up aviation watch, it can handle G-forces and has a GMT hand, in case you splash down in another time zone.

Reactor Gryphon ($350)

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For the optimal balance of tough-as-nails and light-as-feathers, the survivalist-minded Reactor houses a stainless-steel body inside a frame made of weapons-grade Nitromid polymer. Even the K1 hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal is more impact-resistant than most watches. Its slim profile minimizes the chance of breakage, and it stays illuminated all night.

Suunto Ambit2 R ($249)

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Running watches just keep getting better. The Ambit2 R takes readings for speed, distance, and heart rate and features interval timers and a Backtrack function that’ll guide you on unfamiliar trails.

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A Killer Course

I have now been to Hardrock five times. I’ve paced and crewed three former winners, and last year I paced and crewed the women’s champion. In 2011, I briefly lived in Silverton, Colorado, in a dilapidated pink house with that year’s runner-up, Dakota Jones. I’ve run the whole course in one shot four times, three of which were “Softrocks,” which break the course into three days of 28 to 45 miles each. I’ve spent countless hours on the course and even more thinking about the race. It’s simply the most rugged and beautiful 100-mile course in existence.

Like waiting to be asked to the prom, I waited for my friend Jared Campbell to ask me, unprompted, if I would pace him this year at Hardrock. If anyone on the Hardrock starting line doesn’t need help getting around the course, it’s Jared Campbell. Earlier this year, he won the nearly impossible Barkley Marathons—a 100-mile bushwhacking race with no course markings, more than 60,000 feet of vertical gain, and only 14 finishers. Ever. Campbell has finished twice, and this would be his 10th time lining up for Hardrock.

They say complacency is the leading cause of death for the experienced mountain athlete. As dusk descended Friday for the first time on the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run, I was running back and forth to my car trying not to become a statistic. Adding and subtracting items from my running pack, I couldn’t decide how much or how little to take with me for my pacing duties. If overlooked, the reality of 31 night miles in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado will land you in the hospital—or worse. Still, complacent and maybe a little flippant, I didn’t pack rain pants or a winter hat and gloves.

Hardrock is widely considered the premier mountain 100-mile race, with an average altitude of over 11,000 feet above sea level. The course starts in Silverton, Colorado, at 9,318 feet and is a beautiful loop through the San Juan Mountains. The race is often jokingly called the “Hardwalk,” because the altitude coupled with the 33,992 feet of vertical ascent leave even the best runners walking.

This year, more than 1,200 people applied for the 140 available entries into the Hardrock 100. A first-time applicant has about a 1.4 percent chance of getting in. I’m one for six. My single race-day experience is a common one. A pretty good endurance runner comes to Hardrock with a heart and mind full of hope and gets destroyed by the course, conditions, altitude, and mental burden of not performing as well as they should have. My body required a nap just to make it to the finish line.

But I finished.

This year, the lottery gods showed favor to the stars and the gazers, creating the most competitive field in the race’s 21-year history. I asked race director Dale Garland—who makes five personal picks—if he made the race competitive this year. He assured me the lottery did it. Unlike other endurance events, the Hardrock makes no special allowances for elite athletes. Everyone has to get in through the lottery system, and this year hit the jackpot. “The stars lined up,” said Garland.

Modernity and the deep field attracted media coverage never before seen in sleepy little Silverton, which has a year-round population of 500. Hardrock board members were making on-the-fly decisions on things like media access that previously had never been considered. There were camera drones at the start line. You’d be hard-pressed to find something so un-Hardrock, a race that prides itself on being a run, not a race. The fact is that only human anomalies can race the Hardrock 100. The rest of us survive it. This isn’t Western States.

The hype coming into this year’s race was unprecedented. The presence of ultrarunning’s reigning alpha (and anomaly), Kilian Jornet, meant everyone else was racing for second place. The real question was would he set a new course record after what he just did on Denali?

In 2008, a then 23-year-old Kyle Skaggs stunned the ultrarunning world by becoming the first person to run the revered 100.5-mile course in under 24 hours. In Hardrock’s inaugural 1992 running, David Horton won the race in a time of 32 hours, 34 minutes. Skaggs, racing hard from the gun, rounded the loop course—which tours the iconic Colorado towns of Telluride and Ouray—in 23:23. Neither of these two Hardrock champions run ultras anymore. This year, Horton was showing off a new knee, swollen from too many mountain bike miles, and Skaggs basically retired after his record-setting run. The repercussions of the effort left him with an undiagnosed racing heartbeat and odd palpitations that made it hard to sleep, let alone run. He’s now happily farming in New Mexico.

Hardrock’s tagline “Wild and Tough” delivered this year with a lingering storm cycle coming through as the race leaders were either climbing Engineer Pass or on the course’s high point, Handies Peak, at 14,048 feet. Hardrock stories of hunkering down to avoid lightning or to get warm after developing hypothermia are common. The year I ran Hardrock, my pacer and I spent 45 minutes in a cave trying to avoid getting lit up. The San Juan Mountains are known for brief afternoon showers in July.  “There is always the monsoonal flow, but to have [storms] at night and have them stick around for four or five hours is uncommon,” says Garland.

This year’s women’s race unfolded almost exactly as it has in the two previous years, with Boulder, Colorado–based athlete Darcy Piceu running to a steady win after race leader Diana Finkel dropped out late in the event. In 2009, Finkel set the women’s course record of 27:18. While pressing to win the overall race in 2010, Finkel pushed her body to its limit and spent the following three weeks in the hospital on dialysis. Amazingly, she managed to win again in 2011 but has withdrawn with health issues in the past three years, each time leaving the race to Piceu.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/2014-hardrock-100-winners_fe.jpg","caption":"You would never guess that men's champion Kilian Jornet and women's first-place finisher Darcy Piceu had just run 100 miles if they weren't holding their Hardrock 100 trophies."}%}

Campbell and I were unfortunate witnesses to Finkel’s demise this year. As she has during the past few Hardrocks, Finkel was running in the men’s section of the field. In eighth place overall when we caught up to her, she was experiencing the all too familiar symptoms of kidney dysfunction. As we approached, she was stumbling from side to side, with her stoic husband, Ben, trying to keep her from falling and ultimately dying in the basin. She would make it to the Maggie aid station, at mile 85, and drop from the race. Lacking the competitive depth of the men’s field, this year’s second woman finisher was more than eight hours after Piceu.

As Campbell and I were trudging up Handies peak, about 61 miles into the race, Canadian athlete Adam Campbell (no relation) and his pacer were hit by a dispersed lightning strike on the summit. “It blew my headlamp up and knocked us both down,” Campbell told me. Undeterred, the Canadian raced an almost flawless effort and finished third overall in 25:56. 

Although the altitude, stormy weather, and course conditions took down some of the best endurance runners on the planet, Jornet sauntered to a new course record with his usual aplomb. The 26-year-old Catalan ultrarunner and mountaineer missed the brunt of the day’s storm by running out in front of the field and the lightning. French ultrarunner, 2011 Hardrock champion, and eventual second-place finisher Julien Chorier managed to stay within striking distance until Jornet decided it was time to push for the record. Jornet is so much better than the next-best athlete in most races that he stays with them just for the company. As the finish line approaches, he then makes a move for the win. Worried about getting lost on the sparsely flagged Hardrock course, Jornet decided he’d run easy until mile 72. “I planned to go for it at Sherman aid station because it was just a marathon for me then,” said Jornet. Still a whopping 10 minutes behind course record pace at mile 85, Jornet flew to the finish and a new record by 42 minutes. “This is a record that will stand for a long time,” says Garland of Jornet's 22:41 finish.

I ran with Campbell for about 10 hours—11,000 feet of up, 31 miles, and just under a third of the Hardrock course. We shared few words and one puke (watching him puke made me puke). Charging to the finish line with a time of 28:23, Campbell finished in seventh place. He ran the finish-line shoot with his wife and six-month-old baby before kissing the Hardrock.

My heart palpitated.

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Fact-Checking Outside’s Altitude Training Tips

No matter what I read about tackling a high-altitude race, I wasn’t convinced that minor training tweaks could actually affect my result. And as a fact checker for Outside magazine, I couldn’t resist the chance to test our online team’s fitness advice when I ran a 26.2-mile race in Leadville, Colorado, last month.

Maybe it was an altruistic pursuit, but it’s more likely that I needed an outlet for my growing nerves. Because Leadville is high (in at least one way I could confirm). The town is wedged between Rocky Mountain 14ers at 10,152 feet, and the course starts climbing right away.

Us mere mortals were resigned to hiking the inclines as the trail weaved toward the halfway point at Mosquito Pass (13,185 feet) where wind speeds hovered around 30 mph. To put it in perspective, climbers launch most Mount Rainier (14,409 feet) summit bids from Camp Muir, which sits at 10,080 feet. You know, the same height at which pilots used to tell you it was okay to turn on approved electronic devices. High.

So how does Outside recommend tackling the highest marathon in the United States? And more importantly, does our advice work?

“Avoid racing between 24 to 72 hours at altitude and instead head up the night or morning before.”

To avoid the ill effects of altitude on race day, we recommend heading up one to three weeks ahead of time to get acclimated. If that’s not doable, then avoid the window where symptoms typically set in: between 24-72 hours of exposure.

Since hanging out in Colorado for a week wasn’t something I could pull off, I got to Leadville 12 hours before the gun. Surprisingly, I felt no effects of the altitude (trust me, I was looking for it), but it definitely took a mental toll because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

PINOCCHIO RATING: 0

“Aim to spend four or more hours at 5,000-plus feet a few times in the month leading up to the race.”

Having experience training at altitude helps. When I moved to Santa Fe (7,000 feet), I was aware of the thin air the second I got out of the car. But three months of training here gave me a huge advantage over my fellow Midwestern competitors. On the course I met a guy from Oklahoma (as we were walking one of the ascents), and he mentioned that the tallest “mountain” he could find topped out at 1,400 feet. He’d never breathed air so thin, much less tried to run in it.

PINOCCHIO RATING: 0

“Be sure to prepare mentally, as your race pace will be slower and dehydration sets in quicker.”

I’m pretty good at drinking water. I even nixed my usual night-before beer because Outside (for once) doesn’t recommend drinking booze. Starting the race hydrated is easy enough, but staying that way is a bit tougher. I took a few sips of water every 10 minutes or so, but it wasn’t sufficient to keep headaches at bay. As pressure built at the nape of my neck and temples, however, a quick chug of water reversed the advancing pain and allowed me to keep trudging on.

PINOCCHIO RATING: 0

“Rather than trying to maintain your typical pace, consciously slow yourself down to avoid blowing up.” 

Unlike a sea-level marathon where a wall is expected late in the race (if ever), at altitude you might not know you’re bonking until you’re delirious and puking in the trees. For many, myself included, a finish at high altitude is as good as a win. I overheard the following advice on the course:

1. Don't do anything stupid. 
2. Just finish. 

One guy said this to another shortly after we passed a runner dry heaving around the two-mile mark. The altitude combined with the gnarly terrain (think snow, loose rock, mud) was responsible for a few bloody knees and faces as runners navigated the steep slopes. No need to do anything crazy, just keep it moving. 

PINOCCHIO RATING: 0

And if all else fails?

“If you still end up feeling like crap the whole race, don’t sweat it. It’s not you—it’s genetics.”

I managed to finish on two feet, arms sticky with electrolyte water and a new tan line resembling a capped-sleeved wrestler's singlet. But I finished. I was waiting for symptoms of altitude to hit, but they never did.

The Bottom Line:

So after completing this 6.5-hour investigation, my fact check found that we’ve offered sage advice on executing a high-altitude jaunt, sans hypoxia and with enough stamina left to Instagram post-race. No noses growing here: it turns out (surprise!) that Outside's experts know their stuff.

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The Rise of Run Commuters

Pam Walker doesn’t take the easy way to work.

Two days a week, the 46-year-old clinical emergency medicine pharmacist runs 15.6 miles over hilly dirt roads to her job at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After work, she laces up her shoes again and spends another 2.5 hours running home to suburban South Lyon.

Walker recognizes that most commuters consider her distance runs to and from work a little insane, but she insists that the sunrise runs past farms and horses mentally prepare her for the long workday ahead.

“Those running endorphins help with my creativity for projects,” Walker says.

Walker is one of a growing number of people who are maximizing their exercise time by running to work. The Run Commuter (TRC), which launched in April 2011, is a website devoted to tips and stories about run commuting, including backpack reviews, advice on how to get started, and regular blog posts from site users.

It all suggests that run commuting is becoming increasingly popular, says Kyle Torok, one of TRC’s founders. In the past year, TRC has seen its number of users—60 percent of whom are American—increase 191 percent.

“We hear from people all over the world who have started run commuting in recent years,” Torok says.

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t break out statistics on people running to work but tracks that about 3 percent walk, which could include runners. In major cities, that number is typically much higher. In Boston, for instance, 15 percent walk to work.

Most of the runners sharing stories on the site cover three to seven miles each way during their commutes, Torok says. The site plans to send out a survey in late summer to collect more information on run commuters' demographics and motivations. Torok says more women than men share stories on the site, but that might just be indicative of a woman’s inclination to engage in social online activity.

Most run commuters take it up to avoid traffic and transportation costs and to put themselves in a better mood for the workday. Running to work isn’t as fast or efficient as bicycle commuting, but it allows for a harder workout.

For commuters with nonstop work and family lives, run commuting is often the only chance they have to exercise. TRC’s other founder, Josh Woiderski, has two young children and a third on the way and finds his commute time the best way to log his miles.

There is one considerable hurdle—every run commuter has to figure out how to clean up when they reach the office. “We hear from a lot of women that they have to be more presentable at the office,” Torok says. “Men typically feel they can be more scruffy.”

Torok, who works for the government and has no office shower, goes into a locking bathroom and uses wipes to mop up the sweat. He keeps a large pack of Huggies baby wipes in his desk drawer, along with deodorant, soap, comb, and towel. Other showerless run commuters get even more creative. If they belong to a nearby gym, they use the locker rooms there. A German wrote to TRC about his practice of keeping a small washtub at his desk. He fills it with water in a private restroom, stands in it, does a sort of sponge bath to rinse himself off, and then empties the tub in the sink.

Then there are the logistics of transporting clothing and gear to and from the office. This often involves more planning than bike commuting, as runners don’t have the luxury of strapping panniers on a bike and filling them with daily supplies.

Torok uses the days he bike commutes to carry heavier loads and haul extra work clothes to the office, where he keeps a supply of five pairs of pants, six shirts, and two pairs of dress shoes. Even if run commuters don’t want to leave a full wardrobe at the office, Torok recommends they always keep the most critical clothing items in their desk drawers. “The most important thing is an emergency pair of underwear and socks at your desk, because they are so easy to forget,” Torok says.

Investing in the right running backpack is also key to a comfortable and successful run commute. The search term “running backpack” brings the most people to TRC, suggesting it’s a priority for those considering running to work. TRC’s running backpack roundup includes price and size details for 24 different packs, from brands like UltrAspire, CamelBak, and Black Diamond. Some of the packs also link to lengthier blog reviews on the site.

Torok relies on a snug hip belt and chest strap to keep his pack from swaying as he runs; side compression straps distribute the weight. The wide availability of both gender-neutral and women-specific running packs makes it easier for commuters to find a backpack that fits.

Many run commuters prioritize gear that can withstand a variety of weather. Blog posts on TRC tackle running through subzero temperatures in Ottawa winters, waterproofing packs with plastic grocery bags for rainy runs, and enduring the heat and humidity of sweaty East Coast summers.

Though the stories on TRC vary from Walker’s monster rural commute to quick city jaunts, Torok believes all run commutes are inherently interesting.

“You smell the honeysuckle, the lemon pie factory, or the smoky barbecue,” Torok says of his run commute through Atlanta. “You sometimes get that on a bike, but you never get that in a car.”

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