So it’s mid July and summer training is moving along in earnest. And man oh man, is it STEAMING out there. Look, I get it, complaining about the scorching heat and oppressive humidity in the summertime — in JULY — in SOUTH FLORIDA!! — is a pointless exercise in Classic Nuh-DOYity. Still, I went for a 13.1 mile run at 4:45 AM on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, and it was already 80 degrees with over 90% humidity when I started, and by Mile 7 I was already overheated (and it was still dark out!) So we have to be real careful out there.
Thankfully, being real careful often involves spending endless gobs of money on new gear to help us take on the heat, so let’s get to my latest Gear Reviews.
First up (and the cheapest item today) is the Halo II Headband. I bought two of these suckers because they get utterly drenched in sweat, even after a few miles, so at least this way I can swap them out between runs. Halo headbands have been popular for a while now, but it wasn’t until after a semi-recent disastrous bridge run (during which roughly 40 liters of sweat dripped right into my eye sockets and resulted in swift cries of woe, consternation, and agony that lit up the South Florida evening sky like a tactical nuke) that I started looking into some kind of keep-the-damn-sweat-outta-my-eyes solution. Our local running store gurus swore by the Halo, so I purchased one for my next run. Almost immediately, I became a fan. Although I have a slightly larger-than-normal sized head (understatement of the century), the headband never felt constricting or uncomfortable. The plastic seal right above my brow keeps the sweat from dripping into my eyes by wicking it off to the sides, while the fabric is light and breathable, never feeling too hot or overly damp and heavy. The blecchy factor is kept to a minimum (at least until you wring it out after your race) and it cleans easily. The Halo Headband II can be found for around $10-$15, and really makes that much a difference. I love the thing so much, I even use it while braving the gym dreadmill. And I don’t even look too dorky either! Well, no more than what’s standard dorkiness these days…
Anyway, let’s get on to my next bit of gear for discussion today. Hydration is critical, even in cooler temperatures and more awesome running conditions. If you’re sweating, you need to replenish, period. Now I’ve always hated hydration belts, although I’ve used them often and, for shorter runs, I still do. But I don’t like pressure on the stomach area while running, so for a while I switched to handheld bottles with accompanying hand straps. These were even LESS ideal. They’d soak up perspiration and start getting hot, moist, and blecchy. I’d find myself switching the bottle from hand to hand every few minutes, often in vain. FEH! So I bit the bullet and decided to go with a bladder system, and settled upon the Camelbak Dart Hydration Backpack.
Again, this was another “where the hell have I been??” situation. I love this thing. Any worries that a backpack-based hydration system would feel awkward, uncomfortable, or just plain weird were gone after I first hit the pavement with the Dart. Aside from some mild “sloshing” noises, I got used to it very quickly, often to the point of forgetting I was even using it. The tube clips securely on your right hand side. Whenever you’re ready to hydrate, simply unclip it, put the valve into the mouth, bite softly on the opening and then drink away. The reservoir holds 50 ounces of liquid; I always fill mine up with water and ice cubes, which ensures that my liquids stay cooler for *just* a bit longer. There’s a mesh pocket in the front for my energy gels, while two rear pockets hold the essentials — wallet, cellphone, car keys, and map of Ecuador.
If I had a complaint, it would be that removing the reservoir can be something of a mild pain at times. It doesn’t slip in and out easily; it’s not particularly difficult either, but you have to really pay attention and fiddle with the thing. Once the bladder is full, getting it back into backpack is just as much “fun”. More of an annoyance than a complaint, really. Also, removing the hose from the bladder for cleaning can be just as maddening sometimes. There’s a host of videos on Youtube showing best practices for keeping your Camelbak clean, which is nice because the product comes with no manual or instructions whatsoever. I understand that this is the Internet age and we can find all this stuff online, but throw us a bone, guys.
Despite all that, I am still very impressed with the Camelbak Dart. It retails for about $65 and is worth the price of admission. No more belts, no more handhelds, no more bottles period. But be warned! On a scorching hot day during a long run, those fifty ounces can disappear quickly by around Mile 10 or 11. So don’t get cocky! Refill whenever you think you have to at a water fountain or sink.
Finally, we get to the new running watch.
Look I still love my Garmin 610. It’s not without its wonky issues though: the ANT+ communication means I have to stay tethered to my PC if I want to save and share my run data, and the ANT stick and Communicator Agent software isn’t exactly the most reliable hardware/software combination ever devised (let’s face it: how many times have you had to restart the Agent on your PC and reboot your watch, and/or re-pair the watch with the ANT stick?) The screens and settings on the 610 have somewhat confusing layout and data flow issues. Is changing my Run/Walk interval in the Settings screen, the Activity screen, or the System screen? Neither? What? Get thee to an Information Architect…
Still, it was a great watch. It was sturdy, resistant, and had a ton of great features that I never really used much of, like creating courses online and downloading them for use on a run, or the Virtual Racer feature that went entirely unused. Anyway, I decided to switch to the 220 for two main reasons: (1) you were no longer required to use the ANT+ communication protocol, and (2) you don’t even need a PC anyhow (except for software upgrades).
The 220 (and its upscale brother the 620) comes equipped with Bluetooth, which means it can now communicate directly with your Apple or Android smart phone. Once you have the Garmin Connect app installed and have paired the watch to the phone, you can take advantage of a host of nifty new features. The niftiest one, of course, is Live Tracking. This means that, provided you WANT people to track you (it’s optional, of course), you can start a run and people at home or on their cell phones can follow along with you, live, on their screens. It can tell them where you are, how far you’ve gone, how fast you’re going, and so forth. You can totally see the benefit of this in a half-, full-, or ultra-marathon, as it will give your friends/family an idea of your location so they can jockey up for cheering and photo ops and maybe toss you a peanut butter and honey sandwich somewhere along mile 8. Even if they’re not able to cheer you at the Finish Line, they’ll at least be able to know when you’re close and when you’re finished.
Plus, if you find yourself going for a late-night or early-morning run, your loved ones will be able to track your whereabouts if, god forbid, something kind of awful happens.
Anyway, all of this is awesome stuff. AWESOME stuff. And when you’re done with a run, you can immediately upload your run data to your phone, which will in turn save the information to the Garmin Connect cloud, with optional share options for your favorite social media. This includes all your stats: average pace, elapsed time, running time, lap splits, satellite map of the course you ran, elevation, best pace, etc. So now you can lord over all your friends about how awesome you are that you did a zillion miles before daybreak, while they were still digesting last night’s 3 AM Ho-Hos! HA!!!
The Garmin Forerunner 220 goes for around $250 without the heart rate monitor option (which, if desired, adds on another $50 to the retail price), and you get a lot of value for the money. By switching to the 220, I gave up a few standard features from the 610. There’s no touch screen, the build isn’t quite as sturdy, and the aforementioned downloadable courses/virtual racer features are nowhere to be found. On the other hand, the Bluetooth / Live Tracking / Connection App functionality obliterates any of those concerns. If you’re looking for something sturdier with more features, you might want to check out the 620 (which runs about $150 more), which has a some neat stuff you won’t find on the 220. That said, I think the 220 is pretty much perfect for my needs. It latches onto a satellite in a handful of seconds (after an initial calibration during first-time use) and then I’m off to the races. Literally.
So that’s the latest running gear I’m using. None of it is particularly new, but they’re making my summer runs that much more manageable by keeping the sweat out of my eyes, my system properly and constantly hydrated, and my running location trackable by anyone who cares. So hooray to all that! Here’s the video: