Monday, January 25, 2010

Book review: Chris McDougall's Born to Run

Chris McDougall's Born to Run has a simple premise: homo sapiens are on the top of the food chain because before we developed tools such as spears, atlatls, bow and arrows, we ran our food to death. As the title indicates, homo sapiens whooped the Neanderthals because what we gave up in top speed and strength, we gained in endurance. We did this by gaining specific advantages of running animals: Achilles tendons, a nuchal ligament to control our head movement, our ability to dump massive amounts of heat through sweating (unlike our furry prey), and our ability to disconnect our breathing from our stride. And butt muscles.

All of this takes place with the background of the Tarahumara people of Mexico competing in the Leadville 100 in 1994 and a 50 mile race on their home turf against the world's best ultramarathoners. These people are the best runners in the world, and have shown that running is the fountain of youth. Their culture lacks illnesses that attack modern societies: diabetes, heart disease, clinical depression, cancer, etc. And they don't get injured running all those miles. Which leads us to theme number three. And their diet lacks all the processed foods of modern society.

Born to Run also attacks Nike and every other shoe company out there. Modern running injuries didn't exist because people ran in thin shoes. Feet are meant to take a beating. The nerves in the feet are similar to those in your hands, face and genitals read: sensitive. They are constantly trying to find a hard place to land on because the foot is an arch. It gets stronger the more force push down on it. However, support an arch from underneath (like with a modern running shoe), and the arch collapses.

To summarize the argument, Nike created a market for a product and then created the product. And when the market needed shoes to correct the problems and injuries the market created, (read: over/under pronation, shin splints, etc.) Nike and co. created shoes to fit the market. And so on.

The upshot of this is that I am running in my racing flats and have been for about two weeks. My feet feel stronger, particularly in my toes. I am striking midfoot instead of on my heel. The only problems is that the shoes are not designed for Minnesota winters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Down jacket construction confusion

Lots of companies use narrowly-spaced parallel lines (as opposed to a grid pattern) to contain the down in their lightweight jackets e.g. Patagonia Down Sweater, Hoody and Vest; Rab Microlight jacket and vest.

Will Rietveld at BPL recently reviewed the MH Nitrous, which uses narrow lines of down. His conclusion? The jacket dumps heat and breathes well because the lines create cold spots on the stitching and within 1/2" of the stitching because down. What gives? I want a jacket to be warm. If I want it to dump heat or be breathable during "active pursuits," I'll get a fleece.

Running attire when mercury drops

To answer a question, here's what I wear when it's -17F out and I'm running.

Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt and Crew
Patagonia R1 Hoody
GoLite Wisp or Ether windshirts
Black Diamond midweight gloves (Powerstretch)
Patagonia Capilene 1 boxer briefs
Patagonia Capilene 1 bottoms
Nike marathon shorts
SmartWool Expedition socks (heavy cushion)
Asics GT 2150 shoes
Ironman watch

And when its warmer out, I tend to drop things in this order: Cap 1 Crew; R1 Hoody (swap for Crew; add fleece skullcap as necessary); Cap 1 Bottoms and briefs; windshirt; swap for lighter socks; Cap 1 Crew (leaving me in shorts, shirt and shoes/socks).

In sum, I own very few running-specific items. Lets see: running shoes, three handheld bottles, running hydration vest. The rest is just my hiking clothes put to a similar use.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons from a first winter weekend

Just back from my first of three weekends at winter scout camp. Here's some quick-hitting lessons learned:

1. Over-glasses (yeah, those ones) are a great substitute for glacial glasses. And no one cares what you look like as long as you're warm.
2. Puffy vests are excellent. This was the first winter weekend that I used my Patagonia Micropuff vest during winter. And it performed beautifully. I wore it walking around camp over my baselayers and windshirt, and it kept my core warm. In turn, my arms and legs were warm. Excellent all around. Puffy vests are also great for taking up space underneath overparkas without making your arms bulky.
3. BD powerstretch gloves eventually die. Not a new lesson for me (this is my second pair I've killed, and my brother has gone through at least one pair), but I came to realize it more this weekend. I went into the weekend with a small hole on the inside of my left thumb, and the hole only got bigger as I used my hands. I also developed a small hole on the inside of my right thumb. These gloves are a little over a year old, and I used them in all seasons. Despite this durability shortcoming (again, expected), I will continue to use these gloves because I love the material and the leather palms.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New cottage gear manufacturer added: enLIGHTened equipment

Tim Marshall's enLIGHTened equipment has been added to my Cottage Gear Makers list (at side bar).

Tim makes quilts high-quality insulation and shell materials, including 800+ down and Momentum 90. He also does custom work. He has also pioneered the use of 0.33 oz/yd^2 Cuben fiber in quilts, and has developed the so-called "World's Lightest Quilt" (WLQ), which he has named the Epiphany. Steve Evans of BPL got the original version, the WLQ-1, which uses 8 oz of 800+ down and weighs in at a paltry 11.01 oz. The link is to the now-lengthy forum thread about the quilt, its subsequent models and other ramblings. Tim's custom work has included making synthetic quilts for a child and toddler, which he did for BPL staff member Doug Johnson.

Tim's site also includes a downloadable Excel spreadsheet whereby you can get a good guess as to how much your custom beauty will weigh.

You can contact Tim via e-mail.

MLD's ~10oz Dyneema Pack

Ron Bell at Mountain Laurel Designs will soon be releasing a sub 2100 cubic inch capacity UL backpack, code-named Newt.

This of course, gives Zpacks a direct competitor in the UL dyneema pack category. I wrote about Joe's new Dyneema pack in my recent post, New Zpacks in Dyneema.

What does this all mean? Joe has been criticized by BPL as using simple (but effective) construction techniques. However, Ron's gear has long been lauded for its quality manufacturing. I think only time will tell. Both packs are based on proven designs, and I expect both to withstand the beating of years of abuse or a thru hike. Bring on the testers.