Thursday, October 30, 2008

Clothing system for SHT

My clothing for the winter SHT has been a continuing conundrum to me. I need to be prepared for a wide range of temps, but I also need to keep it lightweight. I know the heavyweight options that I have used in the past are going to be overkill. I'm not going to take a fleece vest, 300 weight fleece jacket AND a down jacket all together. However, I know this heavyweight option has kept me warm. Thus, I (think) I've boiled it down to what I need.

For my head, I'm going with two hats: a thin fleece beanie and an OR Sonic Balaclava. The fleece hat is my trusty all-season insulating hat that I have taken everywhere. For its weight (1 oz), it is the warmest piece of gear I own (maybe). The balaclava is made of Gore Windstopper and WindPro fleece (ear panels). It also comes over my mouth and protects my nose. I know it is a laminate, so it will not breath as well, but it is there when the wind really starts blowing. My experience has shown me that wind protection on one's cheeks is a necessity. Coupled with a pair of goggles, I should be able to completely close off my face to the weather.

My biggest issues have come with my torso insulation layers. Working from the skin out, I am taking a Stephenson's VBL shirt, a REI Mistral jacket as my primary active wear. Both can serve as a base layer, and the REI jacket, which is made of PowerShield, is there for additional insulation when moving.

(I could just drop the Mistral jacket, but this needs some testing. This would then be placed in the uncomfortable position of being without flexibility in my clothing i.e. down jacket either on or off, nothing in between for my torso. I have also toyed around with the idea of bringing a thin fleece jacket or fleece vest instead.)

For insulation layers, I am taking my Nupste down jacket by The North Face. It's heavy, I know, but it is incredibly warm. I would prefer a lighter weight parka with an insulated hood and baffled construction, but I don't have the kind of cash to throw down for a Feathered Friends Hooded Helios or Hooded Volant Jacket. I would like to take my Thermawrap parka, but I don't think it will be warm enough without bringing some serious fleece to put underneath.

For a storm shell, I am taking my Rab Drillium. See my initial review of it here. In short, I believe a true hardshell is necessary given the uncertainties of weather and the locale where I will be. Although I lack experience with softshells in winter conditions, the theory does not jive with me: the snow may be wet and extensive, and that could/would wet out a hooded softshell, such as the Arc'Teryx Gamma MX Hoody or a Beyond Clothing Cold Play X Jacket.

Quickly, on softshells: Much has been written about the benefits of softshell clothing for winter use, here, here, here, and here. (please excuse the member-only content from last two). I am bringing a soft-shell style jacket with me, al beit without a hood and designed as a flexible base layer. If the weather was drier, I would be going with a softshell-style storm shell. However, the possibility of lake-effect blizzards requires a true hardshell to handle the expected conditions.

For my legs, I am taking a thin base layer for my next-to-skin layer. As my main active pant, I just bit the bullet and bought a pair of Marmot Scree Pants at 20 percent off. I know, it is a softshell and I just railed on them earlier. So let me explain. I am already wearing a softshell material for my lower legs, so I think I should extend that to my thighs. Even in a storm, I do not expect to have snow sticking to my legs like it would on the top of my hood, shoulders and arms. A few reasons: my legs are not horizontal and they are constantly moving. They provide no shoulder for snow to . The only exception to this is a blizzard in 30 degree weather where the snow melts on contact. I have experienced this kind of storm in central Minnesota and it that snowstorm (18" in 18 hours @ 30 degrees F) and it is in the back of my mind (my friends, too!). This, I know is an extreme, but it is something I need to be able to deal with. I the end, it is really about breathability. I am concerned with how much heat I will be putting out, and something more breathable than a hardshell is necessary for my legs.

Finally, experience tells me that a softshell pant is a good decision. At winter camp, the scouts wear wool pants over their base layers and are fine. They rarely wear fleece pants underneath or have hard shells over them. Thus, I have faith in a softshell pant. Eventually, I may move to a true softshell jacket (with hood), but that might take a while.

I am also taking some Stephenson's VBL pants. I anticipate these will only be used for really cold days where wearing my insulated pants while moving is necessary (sub -10 F). For insulating pants, I will be taking some Montbell Thermawrap U.L. pants. They are lighter and more compressible than my 100 microfleece pants, and they fit better.

On my feet will be (skin out), some Fox River X-static liner socks, Integral Designs VBL sock, a SmartWool Mountaineering sock, and lastly, my boots, a pair of Steger Mukluks Arctics w/o ribbon. I will be wearing a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents (25") for snowshoes.

For my hands, I will me taking my tried-and-true Black Diamond JetStream gloves. They're made of WindPro Polartec fleece, and are molded to my hands well. Experience has shown me that they should be good down to at least 0 (F) when moving. For insulating mitts, I will be using a pair of REI Ridgecrest, which are completely waterproof and have a Primaloft-like insulation. Ideally, I would like to take a VBL mitt, a la RBH Designs or the BPL Vapor Mitt, but it's a cost issue - I also can't justify purchasing them when I have perfectly good mitts to begin with.

I have debated these clothing choices much, and of all of the areas, I am most comfortable with my hand and foot layers. I believe I will be able to deal with any temperature the North Shore can throw at me, and probably more. The record low for Grand Marais is -35 (F), which is 15 degrees colder than I have ever experienced. That said, I have dealt with some crazy temps with outrageous windchills, and I believe I have assembled a hit that will be warm enough but also weigh a little as economically possible. Yes, there are lighter alternatives that are warmer for their weight, but those toys are far off. Until then, I'll deal with what I have.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ouch: TC Marathon finished

Please excuse the lack of timeliness for this post.

It was the hardest thing I have ever done. It ranks up there with first-year law school exams and the LSAT.

My pace was fine through about 11 miles. I was running a pretty consistent 7:15. My first and second 5K times were even. I ran the fastest 10 mile and half marathon of my life; I was on pace to do about a 3:12 at the half. And then it went downhill. My pace started floating upward and I soon I ran a string at about 7:30. Two more miles boosted my pace to 8:30 at mile 18 and I ran four more miles at that pace. The next two were around 9:00 and then the last two were around 9:20.

The pain started at mile 16. My hamstrings started to give out. My quads went at mile 21 and all I could focus on were two simple things: get to Summit Avenue, the last road and a long 4.5 mile stretch of road; and get to my parents, who were camped just before Mile 23 at Snelling Avenue. Those thoughts kept me pushing as my paced slowed and the pain increased.

I crossed the finish line in 980th place at 3:28:35 chip time, all out of 7966 eventual finishers. That's top 12.5 percent of the crowd. Not bad for myself. My buddy ran a 3:01 chip time and finished in the top 300 runners.

The weather was brutal. Air temp at the start was in the low 40s and I decided to forgo a shirt and instead ran in my usual marathon shorts, hat and sunglasses. While standing in the corral, a Star Tribune photographer took shots of my cold, bare stomach and asked me if I was concerned about hypothermia. I said no, because I knew I would be sweating profusely. The sunglasses never moved from the top of my hat. A few miles in the rain came, first a mist with driving wind from the south, then an all-out down pour that soaked my shoes and put extra strain on my legs. It also didn't help my body temperature. I repeatedly lost and re-gained dexterity in my hands, especially my thumb. It made grabbing cups full of water and Powerade difficult - I needed two hands to take it from the volunteers.

My clothes choice ended up being a good one. Although my finger dexterity was questionable and was slightly chilled on the tops of my things in the high teens miles, I was fine. It was better than dealing with chaffed nipples or band-aids preventing the same, and it was better than carrying a heavy shirt that would stick to my body and chaff other parts.

When I was done, the world collapsed around me. I crossed the finish line and attempted to raise my arms to catch my breath. I couldn't. My hands touched at the base of my skull and dropped. I wobbled and almost fell. A medic who saw my plight asked me if I was OK. I said yes, and kept walking. I wanted my finisher shirt and my medallion, something I missed out on last y ear. I was quickly wrapped in a mylar heat blanket, which I quickly (and surprisingly at that time) sweated out. At the line, there was water, Powerade, potato chips, hot soup broth, bananas and small kaiser rolls. I grabbed water and chips, and attempted to eat both at once. The chips fell out of the bag to the ground and kept walking. I couldn't be bothered by such trivialities.

I needed to get my sweats bag. In it was a thin fleece jacket and hat, and my cell phone. I wandered on the Capitol grounds toward the check. Armed Forces volunteers (Army or National Guard) from Ft. Snelling were in the fenced enclosure and got my bag. I ripped it open (I previously duct taped the bag shut) and put on my clothes and hobbled on toward the Capitol steps. To get there, I had to walk down and up a curb over a sidewalk. It was a standard curb, about a five inch drop and rise, but I couldn't manage it without help. My legs were inflexible rods, my knees bending only to shuffle my feet forward. Volunteers assisted me down the step and up the next one, and I meandered toward the family meeting ground. By now, I had my sweats on and the mylar blanket wrapped like a skirt. My family soon came - we took the obligatory photographs and went to the cars.

At home, it was shower time. I couldn't get the water hot enough. My body was ravaged. I was dehydrated and low on blood sugar. All that had kept my body temp up was my running. Normally I would have been eating constantly to keep my core temp up, and since I had been running, I had spent all of that energy just moving forward.

But it was now time to replenish that calorie loss - Pizza Luce (lu-che) was next. I ordered a "Bear," which basically is a meat-lovers paradise. It looks like the farmer went around the barnyard and took an axe to one of every type of meat-producing animal he raised. I ate about half of a 16" and was hungry later.

For the next 48 hours, I remained hobbling like an old man (mind you, I'm in my early 20s). I sucked in water constantly to help flush out all of the lactic acid that had accumulated. On Wednesday morning, I was fine.

I went running for the first time since the marathon on Oct. 20, 2008. I had taken just over two weeks off, and I felt fine. My body is currently showing no ill effects from the race, and it is my full intention to continue running and begin serious training for January's snowshoe trek.