My Critical Running Gear

Most runners will tell you that their most important running gear is their running shoes.  Runners can get crazy when it comes to their shoes.  A Road Runner Sports sales clerk once told me when a shoe model is being retired by a shoe manufacturer, people who love that shoe will buy every pair in their size that they can find.  It is not unheard of for a customer to buy the last 10 pairs of their favorite shoe if it is being discontinued.  Seems a bit obsessive compulsive to me.  I think the most pairs of shoes that I ever stockpiled was 2 pairs.

My yellow scarf

My yellow scarf

Besides my shoes, the most critical piece of running gear for me is a yellow scarf.   I got the scarf from my friend Marnie.  In 2007 I ran my first marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Team in Training to show support for Marnie when she was going through chemo for lymphoma.  I asked her to give me something of hers to carry with me during the race.  I was running for her and I wanted to have her along for the ride.  Marnie gave me one of the bandanas that she wore during her chemo.  She wore her “do-rags” instead of a wig.  I tied it to my fuel belt and carried it the whole race.  Since then, that scarf has gone with me on most training runs and to the start line of every race I’ve run except one (I forgot to pack it).  It makes me think of her and why I started running in the first place.

When I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis in 2011, I knew I had to control my core body temperature when I ran in the heat.  Heat makes my TM symptoms flare up.  For runs in hot weather I wrap ice cubes in the scarf and put it in the freezer the night before.  The scarf is nice and cold when I head out – perfect for keeping me cool.

A couple years ago I completed the Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon.  I ran a lot of trails during my training.  During one of my trail runs, I realized I had dropped my scarf.  I panicked.  I turned back to go find it.  That scarf had become very important to me.  I couldn’t imagine running in the heat of the Grand Canyon without it.  I was relieved when two miles back I saw a yellow spot on the trail.  My scarf.  I was so happy to be reunited with it.

I had my scarf with me in Berlin for the marathon.  I filled it with ice and popped it into a ziplock bag before I left the hotel.  It was crazy in the runners village and gear check areas – huge crowds and lots of noise.  When I found the drop off for my gear bag, I was juggling a bunch of things – my hat, my fuel belt, my gear bag, the ziplock with my scarf, my sunglasses.   I still debating whether to wear a singlet in the race or change into the short sleeve shirt I had in my bag.  I finally settled on the singlet.   It was chilly so I was wearing a plastic trash bag as a long skirt to keep my legs warm.  At the bag check, I took off my jacket, stuffed it into my bag then checked it.  I tossed my “plastic skirt” in a trash bin then headed off to my corral.

At the control point for the corral, I realized that I didn’t have the ziplock bag with my yellow scarf.  My heart sank.  I couldn’t believe that I’d have to run the race without my scarf.   Throughout the race, I hoped that the scarf had accidentally been dropped into my gear bag when I took off my jacket, that it would be waiting, a soggy mess, in the bottom of my gear bag.

When I reclaimed my bag, I tore it open, looking for my scarf.  But it was gone.  The first thing I told my husband when we met back at the hotel after the race was that I had lost my scarf.  He knew immediately what that scarf meant to me.  Losing it cast a shadow over my joy of a new PR.

I think that my yellow scarf had come to represent my confidence in running.  Maybe I had some sub-conscious idea that, without it, I couldn’t do well – like Samson without his hair.  It gave me strength.  It was a connection to Marnie and why I started running in the first place.   The scarf was something that helped Marnie through her chemo and it had become something important in keeping me running.  And running is keeping me healthy.

I am trying to decide what I will do now to keep cool when I run.  I can’t get another scarf from Marnie.  She got rid of her old “do-rags” when she moved last year.  Maybe I will keep using my homemade tube-sock arm warmers.  Whatever I come up with, it won’t have the same connection to Marnie.  That yellow scarf was special.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Every once in a while I have to ask myself why I chose a hobby that involves so much physical pain.  In marathon running there is frequently pain while you are running, pain when you are done, and if things are really bad, pain the next day.  I never hear people who paint or quilt complain about pain from their hobby.  But then I can’t see myself sitting still for long periods of time to paint or quilt.  I have to move.

Saturday was one of those days.  I ran my longest training run – 20 miles – in preparation for the Berlin Marathon.  I started my run early, hoping to beat the heat.  My running spouse was off working a race for a charity so I was running solo.  I arranged for my husband to meet me around Mile 10 with water, ice, and a banana.  The last 6 miles were tough because there wasn’t any shade.  My Transverse Myelitis doesn’t like the heat and I was starting to drag.  Except for being hot, I didn’t feel that bad while I was running.  Some dull aches but nothing extreme.  When I finished my run, I had a few spots – lower back mostly – that reminded me that I had just run 20 miles.  The next day was when I really felt the pain.

I asked Jessica, my physical therapist, to explain why it hurts the day after a long run or race.  She started talking about actin, myosin, trigger points and fascia, and my head started to spin.  From what I could gather, movement comes from the interaction of the actin and myosin.  When you do something like run for 20 miles, you can end up with trigger points where the muscles go into a spasm (a contraction) from all the repetitive motion.  Normal movement becomes painful or maybe not even possible, in the case of injury.

According to Jessica, massage is great for recovery and working out the trigger points that result from a long run.  My hero, Meb Keflezighi, uses massage as a key part of his recovery.  Unfortunately for me, my massage therapist, Jennifer, is not on call 24/7.   When I can’t see Jennifer, I have to resort to Plan B – self-massage.

There are lots of self-massaging tools on the market.  After my run on Saturday, I pulled out all the ones that I have in my closets.  It was astonishing to see all the things that I have bought over the years to keep my muscles moving.  Some were things I picked up at my local running stores but others were impulsive purchases made at race Expos.  In my self-massage arsenal I have two different kinds of foam rollers that you can sit or lay on (both in multiple sizes); three different massage sticks; a massage ball; and one hand massage roller.

I drafted my husband for a fun product evaluation experiment.  We tested the self-massage tools by using each of them on the same 6 areas of the body: calf, IT band, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and back.  We used the tools on each area and then gave it a score, using a scale of 1 to 10.  Here are our observations on each of the products (Disclaimer: these are our observations; your mileage may vary.) :

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

Pro-Tech Foam Roller:  This roller is long and smooth.   I have used this one to do some my PT exercises for my arm but not too much for self-massage because it is pretty hard.  It is like rolling on a hard floor.  Not very comfortable.  Neither of us found that it helped much with any of the 6 areas because it didn’t seem to get too deep.  Overall score: 2.17

The Grid:  The Grid is another foam roller but with raised areas, or bumps, of different sizes.  The bumps can get much deeper than the plain foam roller.  You have to get into some unusual positions to use the Grid on some muscles so you have to have balance and some upper body strength.  Both of us thought the Grid did a great job, though my husband felt it was uncomfortable on his back.  Overall score: 8.50

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick, the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick with red trigger wheel, the RangeRoller Pro with four black Trigger Treads, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

The Marathon Stick:  I think this was one of the first self-massage tools that I ever bought.  It is a stick about 20 inches long with beads that move independently of each other.  You can roll the stick over muscles to work out sore areas.  Because it is flexible, it contours to areas of the body.  The Marathon Stick doesn’t provide a deep massage like the Grid and, in my opinion, is only good for lightly massaging the legs.  I saw videos on the Internet that show how to use the Stick on other parts of the body like the neck and back.  I don’t have the flexibility with my right arm to use it that way.  Compared to some of the other tools, my husband and I didn’t rate this one too high.  Over all score:  4.0

The Hybrid Stick:  The Hybrid Stick is very similar to the Marathon Stick except it has a single trigger wheel in the center that can reach deeper into a muscle.   The trigger wheel made this tool score higher in our review.  Overall score: 5.0

The RangeRoller Pro: This 16” stick is firmer than the other stick rollers that I have.  It has 4 Trigger Treads ™ (similar to the trigger wheel on the Hybrid Stick) that can reach deeper into the muscles.  Like the other stick rollers, I had difficulty using this on some spots due to my arm and we both found that it isn’t as helpful on the glutes.   Both my husband and I gave the RangeRoller high marks for working our legs.  Overall score: 6.5

The Orb Massage Ball:  The Orb Massage Ball is a 5” nubby ball made by ProTec.  I bought the Orb at an Expo this year.  It appealed to me because of its small size.  It fits into my carry-on.  It works like the foam rollers.  You can roll along the sore areas of your legs and even into your glutes.  I thought it was a bit difficult to use on the outside of my calves but otherwise it was pretty effective.  Overall score: 7.0

Addaday Marble Massage Roller:  I bought this at an Expo last Spring.  The 3 marbles can get deep without sharp pain.  The Addaday roller fits easily in the palm of my hand so I can massage any place that I can reach.  While it is not very helpful for massaging hamstrings or glutes, I think it works great on calves, quads, and the IT Band.  Plus I can massage my neck and arms, areas that are still recovering from my broken arm.  The small size makes this one very portable.  I can toss it into my carry-on bag or even my purse for a quick leg massage when I am flying on the plane.   I liked this one more than my husband did.  Overall score: 6.0 (I would give it 7 just because of how portable it is.)

We summarized our observations:

  1. The more bumps or raised areas on the self-massage tool, the better the tool.  The smooth foam roller just doesn’t give the same relief.
  2. Foam rollers that you can sit or lay on are better.  You get the added benefit of your body weight to get deeper into the muscles.
  3. Portability is important when traveling.  You can buy some of the foam rollers in smaller travel sizes but they still take up a good bit of valuable space in your suitcase or carry-on.  I think the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb and the Addaday Marble Massage Roller are the best for trips.  [Note:  The Stick might be considered a potential weapon so when flying, put it in your checked baggage.]
  4. Different tools work better on different areas.  In his book, Meb for Mortals, Meb mentioned that he uses a foam roller on his IT band and a ball on his glutes.  We found that some tools worked better on some areas than others.  Experimenting with different tools will tell you what works best for you.
  5. I don’t need to spend any more money on self-massage tools.  I have enough.  I just need to use them.

None of the self-massage tools we tested is a replacement for my massage therapist, Jennifer.  She can make just about any ache or pain disappear with a 60-minute massage.  Plus I enjoy chatting with her while she works the kinks out of my muscles.

Not sure how all this foam rolling works?  Jenny Hadfield made this terrific video on how to use a foam roller.  Check it out!

The Undress

Many local television stations have a reporter assigned to consumer issues.  Our local NBC station had a woman whose job was to cover consumer complaints against local companies; advice on homeownership, financial investments and retirement; and verifying whether a product really did what the manufacturer claimed it did.  That last segment was called “Does It Really Do That?”  She would take a viewer’s question about a product like some gizmo to wash off your dog’s muddy paws before they came in the house and see how well it worked (the dog foot bath was a dud).  I am trying out so much new running gear that I have started my own “Does It Really Do That?”  This week I am trying out the Undress.

The Undress

The Undress

The Undress was a Kickstarter project that launched September, 2014.  The Undress is promoted as the “first fashionable mobile changing room.”  Their slogan is “Change clothes in public without getting naked”.  I learned about the Undress from someone on Facebook.  I checked out their Kickstarter page.  They had a nifty video that demonstrated how the Undress worked.  I was intrigued enough to become one of their investors.

I wasn’t alone.  In the 39-day funding period, they raised over $615,000 from 7200+ backers.  The Undress is Kickstarter’s most funded women’s fashion project, most funded dress project, and among the Top 3 most funded fashion projects to date.

The Undress is a full-length halter-type dress with slits at thigh level in the sides.  You put the dress on and then slide the top under your running bra using a small plastic hook, putting the straps over your head.  With the top of the Undress in place, you can pull off the top layer – your wet running bra, for example – so that you can put on a new top.  To change your shorts, you put your hands in the slits to remove your shorts and pull on new ones.   When you have changed, you just slide the top out from under your top and take off the dress.  Presto, change-o!

The Undress has obvious appeal to athletes, yoga practitioners, beach goers, women who want to be more discrete in packed locker rooms, and travelers.  Actually, it appeals to any woman who needs a way to change clothes on the go when there aren’t changing facilities available.  No more struggling in the car to change or hiding behind towels held up by helpful friends.

I received my Undress a few months ago but never took the time to try it out.  One of my concerns was whether my arm, which isn’t back to 100% yet, would make it difficult to use the Undress.  Today I decided that I wanted to give it a try.

When I got back from my 9.5 mile run in the steamy summer heat, I pulled out my Undress.  I put it on according to the directions I remembered from their video. I was surprised at how easily the top slid under my sweaty running bra.  Normally I struggle to get my running bra off when I finish a run – I do contortions trying to get my bra over my arms and head.  But today it seemed like it was easier than normal to get it off.  I had plenty of fabric to remove my shorts without exposing anything too.

The Undress is so comfortable and the fabric is very soft.  I can see myself wearing it at the beach or pool as a cover-up too.  In fact, there are lots of ways to wear the Undress – their website has videos demonstrating how versatile this garment is.

I am heading out to run a half marathon this weekend.  I am packing my Undress so I can change after the race.  I would not be surprised if other female runners see me and ask about the Undress.  I have to tell them – yes, it really does that!

Interested in getting your own Undress?  Check out their website.  The Undress is handmade, one at a time, in the USA.  


Sorry to be late with a blog post for this week but I am on vacation in Montana.  I will have lots to share about that next week.  Surprisingly, I have found ways that riding horses helps with training for marathons.

In case you missed it, Lily Trotters launched their Kickstarter campaign for their compression socks.  Horseback riding really can fatigue my leg muscles.  I have been wearing my Lily Trotters at night to recover and get ready for the next day’s ride.  Check out their Kickstarter campaign and get what I think are the best and the cutest compression socks.

Trotting Out in Compression Socks

I have mentored several runners through their first marathons.  I told them all to think of training runs as “dress rehearsal” for race day.  The number one rule of marathoning is you should never wear/eat anything new on race day.  You don’t want to get out there and find out those snazzy new shoes you bought at the Expo really don’t feel so good at Mile 12 or that new sports drink makes you sick.  Getting picked up by the sag wagon due to running gear issues would just waste months of training.

I am in training mode for the Berlin Marathon.  I am using my training runs to try out all the new nutrition, hydration, and running gear that I picked up at Expos this spring.  I will be sharing my opinions with you (and maybe save you some money on things that I find aren’t so great).

Today I have to tell you about the most incredible compression socks that I tried – Lily Trotters.  They are getting ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign and they generously sent me a pair to try out.  Within the running community, there is a debate about the benefits of compression socks.  Even Runners World recently stepped into the fray and had an article on the compression sock debate.  Lots of my running buddies wear them.  I have tried compression socks in the past but never felt comfortable running in them or even wearing them after a run.  But Lily Trotters makes a compression sock that is unlike the others I have tried.

My Lily Trotters!

My Lily Trotters!

First off, the Lily Trotters socks are easy to get on.  I found the other compression sock brands are almost impossible to get on.  It is like a wrestling match to get them over my foot.   And heaven forbid if they don’t line up correctly when I pull them up.  I have to wrestle with them again to pull them down and straighten them out.  I shouldn’t have to fight to get my clothes on or off.  (In case you are wondering, I had been measured and was wearing the correct size.)  The Lily Trotters folks must know how that feels because putting on their compression socks is easy peasy.

Second, the Lily Trotters are not excessively tight in the toe box.  Toes are important for balance and for running.  My toes like to stretch and move around in my shoes.  David Carrier, a biologist at Brown University, along with his colleagues Kathleen Earls and Norman Heglund, analyzed people walking and running to see how they used their toes.  They found that toes are like the gears in a car.  Our toes help us accelerate from standing still or going from a walk to a run – a bit like going from first to second gear.  I need my toes to be able to wiggle around so I can get into a higher gear and run.  The other brands of compression socks bound my toes tightly together.  My poor toes felt like they were being strangled.  It was painful.  My toes were not helping me run.  The Lily Trotters let me wiggle my toes.  I don’t feel like my socks are holding me back.  The Lily Trotters even feel great when I wear them all day – happy toes, not strangled toes.

Finally, the Lily Trotters have fun colors and designs.  The other brands of compression socks are not attractive.  I always looked like I was wearing something that I got at a hospital.   I am not a vain person but I like to have a little style, even when I run.  Lily Trotters socks look so good I would enjoy wearing them when I am running on the trail or to the store.

I will be honest – I still love my Balega socks.  My legs need to breathe in warm weather and high socks seem to make me hotter.  I definitely will keep wearing my Balegas for warm weather runs.  But I will try running again in my Lily Trotters when the weather is cooler.  I think they would be perfect for cold weather running when my Balegas are a bit too chilly.

I love wearing my Lily Trotters after a long run to help with recovery.  I did a long run right before I hopped on a plane for a 2-hour flight.  I wore my Lily Trotters on the plane and was amazed at how wonderful my legs felt after sitting so long.

I guess I am a bit like Goldilocks with compression socks.  They can’t be too tight or too loose.  They need to have just the right amount of support without strangling my toes.  Lily Trotters do just that for me and they look great doing it.  Lily Trotters made me a compression sock convert.

Lily Trotters will be launching their Kickstarter campaign on July 14.  I signed up to be notified when the launch happens.  I want to get more Lily Trotters in the other fun designs.  Here is a link to their website so you can sign up to be notified for early-bird discounts.