Friday, July 4, 2014

New Balance MT110v2 shoe review


Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had a love affair with the original NB MT110.  It was one of the most anticipated trail shoe and in most ways it didn't dissapoint.  It was an industry leader for a lightweight trail shoe and it is common knowledge that Anton Krupica called it the best trail shoe he had ever used.  Of course, no one shoe is perfect.  The biggest complaint about it was its durability.  The perforated plastic-like material was prone to tearing open if it came in contact with a sharp rock or stick.  How long they lasted really depended on what type of terrain they were used on.

But despite its faults, it had one very magical aspect for me.  The fit.  It was simply perfect for my foot.  Built on the NB minimus last (NL-1) it was as if the designers snuck into my room, cast my foot, and then built a shoe just for me.  And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I have probably gone through 6 or 7 pairs since they first came out.  I love it for runs under 20 miles in the woods, even though I once used them for 70 miles of the Leadville 100.  If I was asked to design version 2, I would try to address a few things.  I would add some better traction.  I would change the outer material for more durability.  And I would add a bit more cushioning for longer runs.  From what I have read by many, my list of desired changes is a pretty common one.


When New Balance first announced and showed this new version a lot of people were surprised.  It looks nothing like the original.  With the different materials, much deeper lugs and a bit more cushioning, it looks like a perfect match for what I was hoping for.  The one thing that nobody understood was the change of last.  The V2 is no longer built on the minimus last.  I questioned that immediately, way before I ever held one in my hand.  I mean, the minimus design is what drew so many of us to that shoe (and the others built on the NL-1).   And it no longer looks foot shaped, it looks like a 1930's dress shoe with a super pointy toe box.


Hmmm....seperated at birth?

But sometimes looks are deceiving.  Unfortunately for me, this time they are not.  When I first put them on my feet, I could feel the tighter toebox immediately.  But as I've learned many times, the first impression standing in my living room doesn't nessisarily translate to how a shoe feels on the run.  So I headed out to the trails and put 15 miles on them.  My notes say: "First run in MT110v2.  Nice shoe, but the toe-box is too narrow." 


There are two areas that bothered my feet on this run.  You can see in the picture above how my foot fits on the footbed of the V2, next to the original version.  The addition of a footbed is another change on this shoe as the original didn't have a separate one.  The skin on the outside of my big toe, where my toenail starts, got "lifted" or sort of "torn" and my pinky toe, which is pretty small and short, again on the outside edge.  You can also clearly see the extra area in front of my foot which creates a dead feeling area at the front of the shoe.  Three days later I took them to Pats Peak to test their traction and see if I had better luck with the fit.  After only 7 miles I ran into the same problems.

Steep climb up the ski mountain.  Incredible traction!
Close up view

Being a bit bummed out, I decided to reach out to Brendan Murray, who I believe was the lead person at NB for the development of this shoe.  I explained that I was happy to see the shortcomings of the original addressed, but could not understand the decision to move to the PL-4 last.  He wrote me a very thorough explanation and then followed up with a phone call to help me explain better. I'm not going to post the entire email/conversation, but here is a small piece:

"Since we already had a 4 mm off-set trail model in our iconic minimus trail 10, we felt that continuing to make the 110v2 in the same fit and nearly the same stack heights would have been redundancy from our stand point and really limit the trail community with choices.  Futhermore talking with our ambassadors such as Tony, and their needs, they were asking for a slightly straighter lasted model in the forefoot - as ones foot needs adjust and change over time.  The idea of using the PL-4 last allowed for the trail runner who was seeking a lightweight trail model which provided slightly more girth in the midfoot and depth in the toe box, that the 10 didn’t, a new option.  The new 110v2 will also provide slightly more cushioning under foot (the trail 10 has a midsole specific stack height of 8/12 while the new T110v2 has a 10/14)."

He also gave me a perspective that I would have never considered.  He stated that although the original was extremely popular with the trail running community, they actually were not reaching the full sales potential based on their market research.  NB actually had a sizable amount of complaints regarding the NL-1 last for this shoe.  There is a visual look of a "hook" shape because of the way the shoe curves on the lateral side that actually prevented a lot of people from purchasing the shoe.  All of these factors led to the decision to change the last. 

Close up of lacing system, which does a good job at keeping the non-lasted tongue in place.

On the few runs that I took, my only problem was the toebox.  I want to like this shoe so badly.  The traction is awesome.  It seems to drain well.  It still retains that excellent balance of ground feel and protection.  They feel fast!  The materials seem like they will be far more durable than the originals.  If this shoe fit the way the original did I would probably have 500 miles on these things by now.

More cushioning than the originals

Here is what I suggest.  Forget these are the next MT110.  Consider them to be a new mountain/fells running shoe.  Try them on.  If they fit your foot shape and you liked the "running feel" of the originals, then you are psyched.  There are a lot of positive features of this shoe.  I just wish they fit me better.

9.8 Oz for size 11 (they fit a bit small, just like the originals.  Try the same size as what you wear in those (1/2 size up)

As a side note I also need to add that I don't like writing negative reviews.  I think that every shoe reviewer/blogger feels a sense of appreciation to any manufacture that has been kind enough to provide free shoes for review (which these were for me).  But I read too many reviews that are flowery bullshit because of that very fact.  I truly believe that the good manufactures listen and with enough feedback, make positive changes for the next version.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.  Either way, I don't write these reviews for them.  I write them for you.  I will never stop writing honest reviews, with both the positive and the negative.  Obviously it is only from my perception.  Everybody's feet shape and needs for a shoe are different.  But my goal with reviews is to give exactly that, my opinion.

Call for comments:
Have you tried them?  What's your opinion?  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Altra Olympus Shoe Review

Altra Olympus

At the end of my last post I listed a few shoes that I need to review and asked if anybody had a preference for which I should do first.  It was a tie between the Altra Olympus and the New Balance MT110V2.  So here is the first of the two.

When I first heard about the Olympus I was very excited.  Way back at the beginning of Altras incredible ride to popularity (3 or so years ago) I fell in love with the Altra Instinct.  I wore it for road and trail ultras, including 3 different 100 milers.  As much as I loved it, I wished that it had more cushioning and better traction.  So much so that I even cut the sole of a pair of Hoka Mafates and bonded it to a Instinct upper. 

My original Altrokas

When I heard that Altra was coming out with a Zero drop, maximum cushioning shoe I was psyched.  What I was hoping for was a Hoka type ride with an upper that had the typical Altra features of a large toe box and comfy upper.  Speaking of Hoka, there is no way to do this review (in my eyes) without having some sort of comparison between the two.  Most trail runners I know have at least one pair of Hokas, even if they primarily run in minimal or traditional shoes. 


When I slipped them on for the first time I was really pleased with the fit of the upper.  Then when I took my first steps I was immediately struck by the odd gait I had walking on our wood floors.  It was as if I was standing on a flat sole that canted forward when I walked. I have worn many rockered shoes but they have always felt as if they exaggerated the natural running stride.  These felt like they impeded it.

See the short steep angle of the toe spring?  Feels more radical than it looks.

My first run was on the pavement.  I hated them.  It felt like the radical ramp angle had my toes hanging off the edge of a diving board and the stride was just clunky.  The level of cushioning was great.  Not Hoka Bondi soft, but similar to the Stinson Evo.  Also similar to the Hoka Rapa Nuis, but with more height.

The best toe-box in the biz

I was pretty bummed and put them in the closet.  I wrote Golden (the founder of Altra) asking if I was the only one who was fixated on the ramp angle.  I asked because I had already read many reviews and people seemed to love the shoe and was starting to see it on peoples feet at races.  He said that no, I wasn't the only one, but many folks were saying that it was much minimized when running off road.  He also said that for the next version they will be working on a more natural transition to toe off.

Cool built in Gaiter Trap

Since I loved the fit, I wore them a few times casually.  My heel bruise does better wearing maximal cushioning shoes.  I didn't run again in them for a while.  Then I tried them on a short 8 mile run on the trails and though that he was right.  The ramp angle wasn't nearly as noticeable.   But with many shoes to test they sort of fell out of my rotation.  With it being the top pick for a review, I decided I better run some more miles in them.

Lacing system allows snug fit

So Thursday I took them out for a 12 mile run all trails.  I swear they seem like they are breaking in.  The run felt really good and I enjoyed wearing them.  Then on Sunday I took them to the White Mountains. 

Slippery when wet!

Since they fit just a tad tight on my right foot, I was worried about using them on the steep descents, but it turns out that wasn't a problem.  As a matter of fact, they were excellent.  I ran 21 miles of very steep, rocky, wet, muddy, mossy, rooty....ok you get it.  With 8000 ft of elevation gain/loss it was a great test. 

Going back up Mt. Tecumseh

The level of cushioning is so appreciated when running/hiking on trails like these. As is the super comfortable fit and wide toe box.  But the upper can be laced very snugly and they keep your foot in place.  Which prevents your toes from being smashed against the front, which is something I hate.  What's not as appreciated is the traction.  It has somewhat grippy rubber, but not awesome.  And the road based tread doesn't work in mud at all.  The good news is the fit and comfort.  I got zero hot spots or blisters and I just love how comfy they are.  Although I haven't submerged them, they seemed to dry out pretty quickly from the water/mud I did get on them.


It should be noted that I saw these shoes on the feet of several competitors at the Peak 200 race 3 weeks ago.  And two of them wearing them finished!  Also it's worth noting that my friend Larisa Dannis ran a 2:44 Boston Marathon in them, finishing first non-elite US woman!

The foam seems to be getting a bit softer and breaking down a bit.  This is a really good thing.  The stiff rigid feel I encountered at first seems to be going away.  Sometimes you actually do get another chance to make a first impression.  I still will be excited to see Altra fix the abrupt ramp angle, but in the meantime I am going to put a lot more mountain miles on these puppies.

Oh yeah...If you really want to know the stats...
Weight (size 10.5) - 12.75oz - actual weight on my food scale
Fit - True to size, perhaps a tiny tiny bit on the small side
Delta - Zero Drop
Cool stuff - built in Gator velcro
Stack Height - 36mm (!!!!)
Price - $130
Construction/materials/etc. - Check out Altra for more info.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trans-Zion and Peak 200 race report. A recap of May's activities.

Well, May has come and gone and I've just realized that I didn't post even once!  Rather than write individual posts about everything, I thought it might be nice just to do a little recap.  First, the stats.

Total miles ran - 365.3
Hours running - 71:58 (no wonder I haven't had time to write)
Calories consumed - 1 billion

Finishing the Lake Waramaug 50k
After running a fast 50k at the end of April at Lake Waramaug, May was the time to start putting in more miles and more specific training.   Going into this year, committed to running 200 miles in Sept, I knew that I had to change the way I trained.  I've always put a lot of miles in, but this year I need to put in more long (really long) days.  Time on my feet is the most important thing, not the speed at which I do my training.  I've added in walking at a fast pace, and I'm trying to get more cross training in.

Sherpa John

Knowing that I need to get some Journey runs in, I made the decision to join my old friend Sherpa John for a Trans-Zion run on the 17th.  I flew out a few days ahead of time to catch up and do some runs in his stomping grounds (Colorado).  We had a great time running, eating and catching up.  Friday we drove the 500 mile trek to Utah.  The drive was beautiful.  The campground we stayed at was even more beautiful!  Since it was a group fun run, I got to meet everybody at the campground as we hung out around the fire and got to know each other.

The group running Trans-Zion together.  This is the view from behind our campground!

The run itself was a blast!  It ended up being 51.5 miles with about 10k of elevation.  We also ended up going up Angels Landing as a side trip.

Angels Landing.  We went right up that ridge to the top.  Scary!

It was almost 100 degrees for most of the afternoon and it really ended up affecting most in the group.  It didn't seem to bother John or I much, and despite almost everybody taking the 36 mile bail out, we soldiered on to finish in 14.5 hours.  The great part was that there was no rush.  It was just an awesome day covering lots of miles with friends.  These type of adventures are more memorable than most of my races.  I finished the day feeling good.  It was a confidence builder for what I was about to do 10 days later.

Starting the Pittsfield Peak 200

On Thursday the 29th at 6am I toed the line at the Pittsfield Peaks 200 mile race.  I had been planning on doing this race as a practice for the Tahoe 200.  Leading up to the race I had told Amy that I was just going to see how far I could get and what I could learn about doing a multi-day race.  The longest I've ever been on course was 24:34 (Leadville 2011) and I've never had to sleep during a race. 

Board where we record our laps - Old School Cool!!

Of course, in the few days leading up to the race I forgot about all that and was determined to just finish at all costs.  I wanted to learn to be patient, which I am terrible at.  I even decided to not wear a watch, which for me is a big deal.  As we headed out on the first of what should have been 20 loops of the 10 mile course I felt great.  I was in the lead and running and climbing at what I thought was a very easy pace.  I knew I needed to slow down when I come in from the first loop in 1:44.  Way...too...fast.  So I backed it down, or so I thought, to an even easier pace.

Stone Shack.  My favorite place on the loop.

By then end of the fourth loop, which I finished exactly at 8 hours, I already had over 10 miles on almost the entire field.  I was still moving well, but even with slowing down I still think I was going to fast.  My thought process was that if I could run with no discomfort, why shouldn't I?  I knew that I would slow down later and the buffer I had build would really take the pressure off to finish in under the 82 hours that the course was open.

Singletrack with waterfall.

On the 6th loop I decided that I would hike the entire loop just to see how long it took me.  Of course that went out the window when I came to my favorite part of the course, the 4 or so miles of downhill single-track after the Stone shack at the crest of the mountain.  I remember thinking that not only was I going to finish, but I was going to win this thing.  I felt awesome and ripped off a 2:20 or so lap (my total time was 2:40ish, but that included a 15 minute stop at the start/finish and a 5 minute break at the top of the hill).  Oops. 

The start/finish line.

The 7th loop was tough.  The 8th was even tougher.  I finished mile 80 at 19:03 into the race and decided that I needed a break.  I was tired.  My feet had been wet for hours and some blisters were starting to form.  I figured that I could take a nap and dry out my feet.  I went to sleep around 1:45 and woke up a little past 5.  

Deluxe accommodations.
When I got up I couldn't believe how well I felt.  The pace was much slower than what I'm used to in a 100 and my legs didn't feel beat up.  I put on new shoes and socks and headed out for my 9th loop in really good spirits.  By the time I got to the top of the hill, about 3.5 miles into that loop, I was really tired again.  I was moving a lot slower and the downhills were killing me!

These little messages were all over the course. 

On my 10th loop the tendonitis in my right shin was flaring up really badly, especially on the downhills.  I decided that 100 miles was a pretty good training run and called it quits after finishing 100 miles.



I don't feel like it was a total failure.  I learned a bunch of things about what I'm going to need to do to finish one of these monsters.  In one sense, I'm even more scared than before.  100 miles is a really long distance to run, 200 miles is like...double that!!  What the hell am I thinking?????

One final note.  I am way behind on my shoe reviews.  Here is what I have in the works.
- New Balance Fresh Foam Trail
- New Balance MT110V2
- Altra Paradigm
- Altra Olympus
- Merrell Bare Access Trail

Please help me prioritize.  Are there any of the above shoes that you want to hear about first?  I appreciate the feedback!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lake Waramaraug 50k Race Report


This Sunday I returned to New Preston CT to run the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultramarathon.  I had signed up for the 50 miler, but during the race I decided to drop down to the 50k distance and see if I could get a PR.  Here is what happened.

Doing the race was a last minute decision after realizing that it was only 35 miles from my brothers house.  After figuring out the logistics, I signed up for it on Friday night.  I was planning on using the race as a training run.  But it wasn't long before I was doing research on splits, times, etc.  Of course, I decided that this flat paved course might provide a great opportunity to try to break 7 hours for 50 miles, which I have never done.

After spending the weekend visiting my brother and his family, and not getting back to the hotel from NY city until midnight, I was pretty tired when the alarm went off at 4:30 Sunday morning.  The family rallied and I drove to the race.  After my usual 5 million nervous rest room stops, the race began promptly at 7:30.

Freedom tower in NYC

Side note:  You will be hard pressed to find a cooler atmosphere than at this race.  From the incredibly enthusiastic RD, to the aid station workers and all the runners in the field.  Everybody just seems to be happy.  This race has been run for almost 40 years and is one of the oldest Ultras in the country.  And it has that old school feel.  It's awesome.

The course itself is a flat paved 7.6 mile loop.  It has almost no elevation, just a few small rollers, but it offers very nice views of pretty houses and of course the lake.  The race starts with the entire field doing a 2.2 mile out and back (4.4 total) in the opposite direction, then followed by either 3, 6 or 7 full loops depending on what distance you are running.  There are 50k, 50 mile and 100k options.  The 50k'rs do a final 3.8 mile out and back to finish, the 50 milers finish after their 6th loop and the 100k'rs do 7 loops followed by a 4 mile out and back.

Course Map

As the race started, two runners jumped out front, while I hung back with Joe Lasky and Billy Preston.  We were going nice and easy (7:40ish pace) and having some great conversation.  Somewhere around 2 miles I just felt like I was going too slow and needed to run my comfortable, but aggressive pace.  At this point I was still planning on racing 50 miles and I knew that in order to break 7 hours I had to be below 8:30 pace.

I felt excellent.  I was listening to tunes, and running very comfortable.  My plan was to just run comfortable all day long, paying attention to my exertion level.  I finished the 4.4 mile out and back in 36:27 (7:50 pace).  I grabbed my bottle with 3 scoops of Heed Sustained Energy, put a lara bar in my pocket and headed out to start my first full loop after only spending about 30 seconds at the finish line aid area.

I actually started to pick up the pace, because that is where I felt comfortable.  I knew it would be very aggressive to try to maintain that pace for the full 50, but every time I reminded myself to slow down and relax I ended up just running the same pace.  At this point I could see no reason to try to slow down more than I was.  I felt good and started to get excited at the prospect of what I might be able to accomplish.

Being that it is a loop course around a lake, it was no surprise that there were parts of the course where the wind was directly against us.  With gusts of up to 30 mph, I kept reminding myself to just relax.  If my pace slowed with the wind, then it would surely pick up when it was on my back further down the road.  Again, my pace never really slowed, and I finished loop one in 57:42 (7:36 pace).

At the finish line aid, I grabbed another lara bar, but I only added water to my bottle.  I figured that I could eat the bar and get a few hundred calories over the next loop and that should be all I need.  My strategy was to avoid making stops unless absolutely necessary.  I had one hammer gel in the pocket of my bottle holder just in case.  I never ended up using it.

Loop 2 was much the same as the first.  I continued to hammer, but at a pace that was just starting to get a little bit uncomfortable.  I tried to slow, really I did!  But again, I felt pretty comfy so I decided that it was just the day to go for it.  I finished the second full loop in 57:32 (7:34 pace).

I refilled my bottle with 3 scoops of drink mix and headed back out.  I was probably stopped for only about 45 seconds or so.  It was in the middle of this loop that I started to get a dose of reality.  If I kept this pace up I would do a low 6 hour 50 mile.  Considering that my 50 mile PR is 7:35 I was pretty excited.  But that excitement was tempered by the increasing stiffening of my hamstrings.  Even more concerning was my left heel.  I have been battling what appears to be a bruised heel bone for about 2 months.  It was starting to hurt.

Whether it was a cop out or a smart move I'll never know, but I made an agreement with myself.  If I could drop down to the 50k distance, but still be an official finisher, I would.  If the RD told me that I wouldn't get an official finish I would continue on and hold on as long as I could, heel be damned.  This put my mind at ease as I made a clear black and white decision for what to do at the end of the loop.  Somewhere near the end of the loop I hit the marathon mark in 3:13.  My current marathon PR is 3:15:10.  I was flying.  And I was really really enjoying running fast and strong.

I finished the third loop in 58:34 (7:45 pace).  Luckily Carl, the RD was right at the line so I asked him if I dropped would I be an official finisher.  He said that I would and many people do that at this race.  I was 3 hours and 28 minutes in and I knew that if I hauled ass I might be able to do my first sub 4 hour 50k and set a huge PR (my current PR was 4:35 from VT50 last year).

Ok, so now this is what I was gunning for...

Since I had entered the 50 miler, I really had not paid much attention to how far out the turn around was, but my Garmin had me at around 28 miles so I knew I couldn't mess around.  Now it was game on and I took off to run the last out and back as fast as I could.

Shortly after leaving the aid station the first 50k runner was coming back, almost at the finish, and he was hauling ass!  He ended up setting one of the fastest times in the history of the race with a 3:30:40.  Solid!  I knew that I couldn't win now.  And I remembered that he had taken off at the start of the race with another runner whom I had not seen yet.  Maybe I could get third today!  But...another runner then cruised by me headed towards the finish. Damn.  Maybe I can get 4th today!  But...yet another runner went by me again.  Funny, but he didn't look like he was moving that fast.   A few more miles go by and the other runner who took off at the start went by me.  I hadn't hit the turn around yet and although he looked like he was slowing, he was quite a bit in front of me.

There was nothing I could do but just run as fast as I could.  As I ran back towards the finish line I passed a ton of runners still on course who were all super supportive.  I was an arm swinging drooling mess as I went by them, but they stoked my fire to finish strong!  Within a few minutes I saw the other runner.  Although he was still quite a bit in front of me I saw him actually stop for just a few seconds and stretch.  I smelled blood and ran as fast as I could, cranking at a low 6 minute pace.

I blew by him and finished in 3:54:36!  I ran the last 3.8 miles at a 6:49 average pace and ended up with a 7:34 pace for the entire race.  As I finished I asked the starter if I was 5th and he said that was about right.  I was kind of bummed, but very excited to have a new PR.

After showering and eating I returned to the race to do whatever I could to help my friend Ron finish his first 50 miler.  I casually looked at the results board to discover that I had actually finished second!  It turns out that the other runners I saw coming back towards the finish line were early starters that had started an hour before us and they were just finishing up.  I was psyched! I was first loser for the day, and I was totally cool with that.  Considering that this race was a last minute decision and that I ran almost 30 miles last Sunday, I was happy.

Yes!!! Second place!

And it turned out that Ron didn't need my help at all.  He rocked his first 50 miler with a time of 9:07 and got his VT100 qualifier.

Ron and I post race celebratory beer!

It was an awesome day, enhanced by the laid back atmosphere and awesome people.  I highly recommend that everybody do this race at least once.  There is no corporate BS, just a bunch of super friendly people encouraging people to test their personal boundaries.

Race stats:
Food Consumed - 2 Larabars and 6 scoops of Heed Sustained Energy (about 1000 calories).
Shoes - Skechers Go Run Ultra 2 prototypes.  Similar to the current GRU with a few new test features.  Click here for my GRU review on Runblogger.
Blisters - zero.  ZERO!!!!

50k PR Footware by Skechers (Go Run Ultra)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 Review

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0
With the Tahoe 200 looming large in my future, I have already started to work on trying to figure out what gear I am going to need.  Unlike a typical 100 miler, the aid stations are much farther apart.  This creates a bit of a dilemma for me because I am going to have to carry more than I am used to.  For my daily runs I like to run as minimal as possible.  Give me a pair of shorts, a good pair of socks and shoes and let me loose in the woods.  Unfortunately, that lack of equipment usually is not possible for longer races.

Front view with bottles
I have many hydration packs, but still haven't embraced using them unless I absolutely have to.  They slosh and pull the back of my shirt up.  The drinking tube freezes in the winter.  And I still haven't found one that works when I'm not wearing a shirt.  And worse of all, I find that I just don't drink as much when I don't have a bottle in my hand.

Back view
But the biggest downside for me is that it doesn't work with my fueling strategy.  Over the years I have perfected my nutrition.  Basically, it involves sipping Hammer Sustained Energy (3 scoops per 28oz bottle) alternating with sipping water.  That means that I need 2 bottles.  But after a while (like, maybe 100 miles....) you get really tired of always having your hands tied up.

Bottle holder with pockets on both sides
The UD SJ 2.0 Vest might be able to solve that problem (note - this vest was provided to me free of charge as a media sample).  Rather than using a bladder, it uses 2 pockets to hold bottles.  So I can now mix one up with SE and fill the other with water.  And I don't have to carry them.

Inside view, notice the super lightweight material
I was super excited to check out the vest.  First looks reveal a very "techy" piece of equipment.  And it seems to weigh about nothing.  According to their website it only weighs 11oz (15 with the included empty bottles).  It has a ton of well placed pockets and cleaver ideas, including an emergency whistle.

Emergency Whistle
This model fits in the middle of their range of vests.  The most minimal is the AK (Anton Krupicka) and the largest is the PB adventure.  All models are now in their second version with improvements over the originals in materials and features.

On top of Mt. Hancock
I have had the vest for about 6 weeks now.  I have worn it for most of my runs over 20 miles in all types of conditions from freezing wet runs to a hot 22 mile run at Red Rock Canyon.  For such a small pack, it looks like it will hold a ton.  In reality, it is not a very big pack.  But if you are looking for a backpack to use for weeks in the woods you wouldn't even be considering something like this.

At Red Rocks Canyon in NV (I took the vest off for the picture)
The first thing I noticed was that it really stays put.  There is hardly any bouncing.  The bottles do make more noise than a pack with a bladder, but I got used to that pretty quickly.   I was very excited to find that it doesn't pull up the back of my shirt either.  I find that I drink more having the bottles where I can see them.  And of course, I can now drink 2 different liquids because I have two bottles.  Having my hands free is liberating.  After using it maybe a dozen or more times, there is no sign of wear or tear at all.  It still looks brand new.


When I wear it with a winter type shirt I find it fits great and is super comfortable.  But when I wore it in the desert with only a thin running shirt I found that full bottles bouncing against my chest was not entirely comfortable.  I have an extremely bony chest.  I look just like E.T. without my shirt, but with more tattoos.  Actually, looking at the picture, he might have more of chest than me... I will be testing it out for much longer runs when the summer gets here before I decide on using it for the big race.

Smart phone pouch

As far as storage goes, there are a lot of compartments.  I have found it a little bit difficult to get to the side pockets when running, but with a little practice it's not too bad.  One thing I would like to see them change are the "smart phone pouches" that reside under the bottle holders.  I have an iphone 5.  While it does fit width wise, it is to tall to be fully encased.  I won't put my phone there for fear of it eventually bouncing out.  But I find it fits rather nicely in the side pocket without any discomfort.

Handy Velcro pill pocket under each bottle holder

I am still waiting for the official list of gear that we will be required to carry for the race.  If everything I need can fit in this vest it is most likely what I am going to use.  It is a great alternative to a traditional hydration pack/vest.

Super lightweight airy material
Adjustable clips slide for better fit
Outside zippered pocket
Which also has an interior Velcro opening
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is available on the Ultimate Direction website for $129.95.  Full specs are also on that page for those of you who want to know every little detail.