Thursday, December 18, 2014

Doing What is Fun

Not having a training plan is throwing me for a loop. What do I do with my "time off"? Am I running too little? Too much? Maybe both, depending on the day? It's sort of crazy-making. If I had to make a guess, I would say I am running too few miles during the week and too many of the weekend-- but here's the thing: that is how I love to run. If I had my choice I would run little to no weekday miles and a million on the weekend. The primary reason for this is that the weekdays are so busy, I am lucky if I can fit in a few pavement miles between errands/appointments/volunteering/whathaveyou. That isn't my favorite way to run. I would rather head for the hills for several hours, losing myself in the woods and the long miles. 

So I decided the plan now is "Do What is Fun". Here's what is fun: I am attempting to train my dog, a Poodle/Australian Shepherd mix, to run with me. Likely I biting off more than I can chew, as Heidi (the dog) doesn't seem to love running and can be excitable/aggressive when she sees other dogs. So I have a big bag of treats that I shovel in to her and am using all the positive reinforcement I can muster. Hopefully she can be molded in to my new running BFF.

Heidi and I taking a break on a rainy morning run/walk.

I am letting go of my concern about too-long weekend long runs and embracing time with friends. Stacey and I are gung-ho about exploring new-to-us trails, which is super exciting. Also, this weekend I finally, finally!, get to run with Sally again. 

Miss running with this girl! 
Sally and I on an Alki run last March. 

During the week I am loving strength training workouts with Sarah and yoga classes. I guess, in general, it doesn't look that much different than a formal training plan, except for the approach to it. I am doing it because it's fun, not because it's on a piece of paper. See the difference? Okay, me neither.

On Tuesday I had a wonderful massage by a West Seattle massage therapist. This was exciting, because I had yet to find a new massage therapist who was both in my 'hood AND awesome. Massages are fun, so I am glad Sarah told me about a good deal at a local place that I could take advantage of. 

Thankfully I am pretty much done with my Christmas shopping (thank you, Amazon!), creating photo books, and mailing out packages to far-away relatives. Whew. Now I am down to the rest of the list which feels vaguely manageable. No matter how thin I stretch myself emotionally, physically, financially at Christmas time, it never feels like it is enough. Does anyone else feel like this? It is frustrating that every cause I want to support is asking for more donations of money and time around Christmas-- exactly when both of those things are in short supply and I can't do it all. Ugh! Guilt city. Besides the guilt, Christmas is fun! 

This year I am super excited that my husband's sister's family is coming to our house on Christmas day. Usually it is just the four of us chilling at home-- which is actually very fun, but this year it will feel more festive to have extended family here. I decided we will have a big taco bar for dinner, how awesome is that?! 

Anyways, that's what is fun (mostly) right now. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up: Dec 8- Dec 14

Let's see. What to say about this week? It was a very busy one, I only got in two runs. I needed to (repeatedly) remind myself that this is my down time. I can take as much down time as I want/need and it's exactly perfect. 

Total Miles Run: 15.7

Monday: Yoga

Tuesday: Strength Workout

Sarah and I focused on our upper body and abs. Oooo, it was a good one! My chest was so sore the next day! We also did a little stair climber at the end which was hard and fun. 

Wednesday: 5.1 Mile Run

I had to do this run on pavement and again my legs were crazy sore afterwards. Hmmm. I think I might not actually be making this up, because my legs were less sore after a 3 1/2 hour trail run later in the week than they were after this 50 minute pavement run!

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Yoga

Saturday: Rest 

Sunday: 10.6 Mile Run

Oh, this was a good run! It took Stacey and me 3 1/2 hrs, which is about a 20 min/mile. That seems slow, but here is the elevation of the run:

Cougar to Squak Mtn Elevation

We also stopped to check maps, eat, take photos, blah blah blah. Anyways, there was still a lot of running to be had! 

That middle peak is the Squak portion. We got a great little sneak peek at Mount Baker from up there, which was so cool as we rarely can see it from this far south. The weather was amazing. Started in the 30s, got up to low 50s, sunny the whole time. We went on some trails we hadn't ventured on before, which was really fun. Can't wait to go back and explore Squak some more soon!

One of the exciting things that happened is that I tripped and laid myself out on the trail for the first time. When I tripped I felt like it was slow-mo, I knew I was falling and yelled "ahhhhhhhh" for what felt like forever. Then I was flat on my stomach. Nothing broken or bleeding, thank goodness. Not even any ripped clothes! I will have a nice big bruise on my thigh and elbow, though. At least I got that out of the way!

Originally we planned to run for 2 hours and I brought a map for a new route, having no clue how far it was-- or the elevation. Rookie move on my part. We ran much further than we planned and didn't even do half of the route I hoped we would! Stacey and I agreed we could have kept running all day if we had the time. It was one of those runs where every step (maybe not the trip . . . ) was amazing. 

One of my goals is to take more photos on the trails. Unfortunately, my phone isn't taking great pictures now. Maybe my lens is too scratched or something? Everything is blurry. But I got this one of Stacey and me on a bridge on Squak. 


Love running with this girl. We will officially begin 50k training next month and have some serious fun at the Sun Mountain 50k in May! 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up: Nov 30- Dec 6

Not having a running plan is throwing me for a loop. My brain is saying "go run!" and body is saying, "um, NO." Well, that's a little drastic, maybe it's saying "um, that's a bit much."

It is interesting, sometimes when I am faced with scheduled miles on a training plan and I just want to crawl in to bed and ignore it . . . but then I've got nothing planned and want to go run and run and run. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I should just throw training plans out the window all together! Ha.

It was mostly a great week on the workout front, though. Will probably end up finding a nice groove just before being hit with my girls' winter break! 

Sunday: Rest 

Monday: Yoga

Tuesday: 3 Mile Run

So this is where I started pushing it too much. I didn't think I was going to have time for a run this day so when I unexpectedly had half an hour free, I jumped on it. After stepping out the door I decided I felt good enough to do my own personal version of speed work. There is a three mile out-and-back run from my house that is flat and goes through a few stoplights. The goal is to cover the 3 miles in under 30 minutes without stopping my watch (so, the longer I am stuck at stoplights the faster I have to run!). I ended up running in about 27:30, which was fun and also, BY FAR the fastest I have run in what felt like forever. 

In hindsight, pushing myself that hard right now is not in my best interest-- so luckily it won't happen again for a while. 

Wednesday: Strength Workout

Sarah and I met at her gym and did a killer leg workout from her trainer. Short and intense. Perfect! The last time we did this workout my buns were so sore the next day, it is a good one! Lunges with kettle bells, squats, double leg presses, single leg presses, glute bridges and then some overhead tricep extensions for good measure. 

Thursday: 7.75 Mile Run

I woke up and felt like running a certain route around my neighborhood. It ended being the farthest I had run on pavement in several months (I think!). I felt just fine on the run, which included an almost mile long hill right in the beginning, but was flat the rest of the way. It wasn't a particularly speedy run (about 10 min/miles), but running on roads typically means faster pace than trails, so it was quicker than I was used to. 

Later that day, however, my legs felt like I pushed them through a tough half marathon. I was so very sore, which seemed really unusual given the length of my earlier run. I'm not sure if it was too much, too soon after the marathon, or the pounding on the pavement, or still being tired from the strength workout the day before . . . anyways, it kind of sucked. 

Friday: Yoga

Lots of hamstring stretching, was was perfect for how terrible my right hamstring has been feeling lately. 

Saturday: 5 Mile Run 

I met the High Heel Running Group at Cougar and originally planned on doing 7 miles. Then I realized it would likely be better for my body to just stick to 5 and call it good. It was a great run, I made a new friend and we took it nice and slow and chatted the whole time.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Christmas List

I finally sat down to think about my Christmas wish list. Not surprisingly it mostly centers around stuff to support my running habit!

Jade Harmony Professional 68-Inch x 3/16-Inch Yoga Mat (Olive Green)

The first thing on my list is a new yoga mat. I got my current one at Marshall's and it's pretty cheap, both in cost AND quality. Here's to hoping that you get what you pay for and a new pricier mat will make yoga class even more enjoyable.


---OR---



After my chilly, snowy run on Saturday I realized I need a bit more winter gear to make trail running more comfortable through the cold season! A trail scarf would certainly be a huge help! These are my two favorite of the research I have done.


After watching Stacey slip these on her feet over new socks after a very cold and muddy run, I instantly knew I HAD TO HAVE A PAIR. They would be perfect apres-run! 



I searched all over for a warm ponytail hat. This was one I found that I thought was cute and also functional.

Massage Gift Certificate! 

Ah, no explanation needed!


One of my very favorite gifts ever was the Keurig I got last year for Christmas. My only complaint about it is that the coffee isn't very hot, so if I want to add a lot milk (or eggnog!) it really cools my coffee down. Since we don't have a microwave and I am too lazy to heat milk on the stove, this is the perfect solution! 


So that's basically it! I am sure I could come up with a a few (okay MANY!) more things that would be fun to have, but these are my top wish list items. What do you have on your holiday wish list?

Monday, December 01, 2014

Two Weeks Off and Looking Ahead

I spent the last two weeks doing almost nothing. A bit of yoga was about it! In fact, this past week I did four days of yoga (usually I just do two) and it was so lovely to be on my mat a bit more. In addition to yoga I just appreciated the small stretches of walking I do each day to get the girls to school. 

After yoga class on Thanksgiving day I headed out for my first run post-marathon. A three mile spin through Lincoln Park and just like that I was moving on past the marathon. My body felt pretty much normal except for a little creakiness. And heck, even creakiness isn't terribly uncommon for me these days!

On Saturday morning I met up with Stacey for a run at Cougar Mountain with the High Heels Running Group. Stacey was kind enough to pick me up since I was feeling chicken about driving myself-- we had snow in the Seattle area! Just for the morning, and it was so, so glorious. Here is the group pre-run:

Photo taken by a HHRG member that isn't me.

The trails were incredible, other than some mushiness and puddles left over from the torrential rain we had the day prior. I enjoyed every step of the run and my body felt great the whole time. Doing a longer run at Cougar felt like I was semi back at it.

I say "semi" because I don't officially begin training again for two more months, but between now and then I have to make sure my fitness level is where it needs to be come January 26th to start off running a 25 mile week-- and just add more mileage from there! Getting my long runs up to 10-12 miles or so would be nice, and absolutely do-able, as well. 

Mostly what I need to focus on in this time is strength training, which will be tricky. I envisioned that I would do my workouts inside once the weather got bad enough to not be able to do them outside . . . but, I just don't. I really need to temporarily join a new gym! 

The past week was filled with all sorts of fun. We went to Great Wolf Lodge for two nights! Two nights > one night, I have decided. Thanksgiving was wonderful, though I didn't take a single picture of the entire day. Started with yoga, then a run, then home to get my share of the feast ready before heading over to our friends' house for the big meal. We have such a wonderful time with their family and I think I realized this year that Thanksgiving might be my very favorite holiday. At least the way we celebrate it, it is! Relaxing with friends and catching up before eating an amazing meal capped off by out of this world desserts. Apparently I adore pecan pie. Who knew?! This year after dinner the Seahawks played and it was such a fun game to watch. Back in time to get the girls in bed . . . but then Eloise woke up in the night with a fever. The Thanksgiving curse! Timehop reminded me that at least two of the last five years one or both of my girls have been sick on this day. I recall several instances since they were babies of one of them spending the evening puking, or getting sick later that weekend. Interesting, no? Why always the same time? 

Sadly, Thanksgiving being over means it is December, and I'm not looking forward to December. It is such a crazy-busy month for us, as it is for most people, so it will be nice when Christmas arrives and the whirlwind of everything is in the rearview mirror. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Marathon Recovery

My favorite race photo from the marathon! 
Both feet off the ground, aw yeah.

Thank you so much to everyone who sent kind messages about this whole marathon thing. I really appreciate it, and it has been so much to share this experience with other people! One thing I have heard a few times is how amazing it is that I remained so determined to run a marathon despite months-- years!-- of setbacks. I appreciate the kudos, but I don't really find my determination that unusual. While most people might not feel this way about an endurance challenge, like running a marathon, I am sure everyone has something they would keep working towards no matter what road blocks they face. There is nothing else in my life I have focused on in the way I have focused on this marathon. It's been an incredible journey, in many, many ways!

Recovery has gone really well. Besides yoga on Monday and a light upper-body strength workout on Tuesday I've been keeping things really easy. A few short walks, but no running! Running won't resume until later next week, at the earliest. I am not only trying to ensure I recover properly, but also enjoy the down time. As this down time coincides with a short family vacation AND Thanksgiving-- well, let's just say I will be lucky if I don't turn in to a sloth!

In seriousness, though, I have a bit of a plan. It involves the aforementioned recovery from the race-- two weeks off from running or any sort of planned strength training. After that, on December 1st, I will resume strength training and some running. Not exactly sure what that running will look like, but mostly I am thinking whatever the heck I want it to. I hope to meet the High Heels Running Group for some runs now that I don't have scheduling conflicts every.single.week. anymore. I also hope to try and run with my other friends more.

In addition to getting back in to the strength training and easing in to my running, I also want to focus more on nutrition (outside of running-- I have nutrition during my runs down pat) and my foam rolling/stretching/PT exercises. I completely nailed most of this leading up to the 30K, but in the month between that race and my marathon, I seriously fell off the bandwagon, which sucks, because that is what has been a huge piece in keeping me healthy.

Then, on Monday, January 26th, I need to be ready to start 50K training. Did I mention the 50K? My goal is to run the Sun Mountain 50K on May 16th. I have heard so many wonderful things about this race, and my trail running bestie Stacey is planning to run it, too! As I did with my 30K/marathon training, I will be running just about the fewest miles possible in order to stay healthy and still pull off the race. I checked out the training plans from Relentless Forward Progress and even the one that averaged 50 miles a week was too much running for me. I will likely use the 16 week one from Competitor-- Stacey had a lot of success with it for her 50K-- but I will cut the miles back even more to accommodate yoga and strength training.

So that's that! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reflections on My First Marathon and a Race Recap

ETA this photo from the race!

You might not have heard (haha) but on Saturday, November 15th, I became a marathoner. My results from the Grand Ridge Trail race say I finished in 6:16:40, good enough for 15th out of 37 marathoners overall. While I had hopes of finishing somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, I hadn't taken in to account just how crazy hilly that race is. My goodness.

My lead up to this marathon was a bit unusual. Or rather, not what I imagined when I dreamed about my first marathon. I imagined everyone would know, and care, about my impending achievement. I imagined I would tell my in-laws and they would come to the race and cheer me on. I imagined my husband and daughters would spend all day moving along the course to provide me encouragement. I imagined I would run the race with a friend (looking at you, Sally!) and that it would just be huge. Since I chose a trail race, it was very small and had basically no spectators. Sally had just run the New York City marathon and wasn't a trail runner, so that ruled her out. I also didn't really tell many people outside of social media (which I do because, by and large. my small social media audience is made of up other runners). It no longer felt like a huge thing to rope everyone in to, but rather my personal journey to embark on. 

I think that because I didn't make a big deal out of it or put myself on a stage, I didn't get too freaked out about it. I was more concerned about logistics like the clothing I would wear in the below-freezing race day temps than I was about actually running a marathon. Which was equally odd and comforting. 

On race morning I woke up, ate, got dressed and double checked I had everything I needed and was ready to go. I wasn't overly nervous, just mostly worried about the cold and made a race-morning decision to throw on a second long-sleeved shirt (this was big, because I previously wondered if I would be okay in only a short-sleeved shirt and arm sleeves!). The other brilliant choice I made was to stick hand warmers in my gloves. 

Matt and the girls and I made it to the race with enough time to check in and be ready to listen to the race director's instructions. Unfortunately I literally heard not a single word of them. Apparently his megaphone wasn't megaphoning very well.

The girls and I pre-race. 

The countdown was on and at 7:45 a.m. the 50K and marathon runners took off while I stood at the start line taking off my warm layers and saying goodbye. I started a couple of minutes after everyone else and felt at ease about it. 

The elevation of this race is no joke. After a half mile or so of flat, we began climbing. 


The first half of the race was great and even though I was in the back and the runners spread out, I felt someone was always within sight. As I approached the first turn around (it was two out-and-backs) I started going by the other runners coming back towards me. I enjoyed "good jobbing" as many runners as I could. After the turn-around I then went by the half marathoners, who started at 9:00 a.m., coming towards me. Once I began my second out-and-back everyone had really spread out and I felt like I was completely alone out there, which I didn't really enjoy. The miles from about 14-18 sucked. I was sure I would be out in the woods for the rest of my life walking up hills. I spent my time thinking about my family, thinking about my friend Stacey who was running her first 50K as I was running my first marathon, thinking about all sorts of things that were going on. When you are on the trails, alone, with nothing to distract you, there is a lot of time to think. I also had to focus on the trail ahead of me, because when my mind wandered too much, my footsteps became sloppy as I landed on rocks and other debris. If there as one thing I did not want to do, it was fall out there alone in the woods! 

The first (and third) turn-around point. 
Those water jugs were emptied long before the last runners came through.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this race was the yummy food at the aid stations. I ate many chocolate chip cookies and handfuls of m-n-ms and trail mix, in addition to all of the food I had on me! In the second half of the race I felt like I could eat anything and everything. I had a pre-planned nutrition schedule that went out the window after eating my first shot bloks at 45 minutes in. After that I just ate when I wanted without looking at my watch. My stomach felt 100% fine the whole race, thank goodness. I definitely do not think I drank enough, but other than a brief minor headache at the half way point, I didn't seem to have any obvious effects of dehydration.


The second turn-around for the marathoners and 50Kers. We had run a half marathon by this point.
You can sort of see the black finish line arch in the back.

My body held together nicely the whole day. I eventually became pretty tired and my right hip flexor felt a little tight at times and my left IT band was threatening to revolt (which I later laughed about to Matt, saying it must have given up its whining because it felt fine at the end!). I also was really fortunate because I didn't chafed and didn't have any blisters didn't develop a couple of small blisters on my feet until the next day (weird, no?). In general I felt strong the whole race and never felt like I couldn't run a flat or downhill-- from the beginning I was almost exclusively walking the uphills so that didn't change. I never hit "the wall" and around mile 22 I got a second wind and felt like I was just ready to fly in to the finish. Of course, those miles nicely corresponded with a long downhill.

Course map. We ran around the loop to the left, then up then straight back to the start. 
Then did it again. 

The end of the race was really emotional for me. I had been instagramming/tweeting/texting a bit to let people know who wanted to follow my adventure know how I was doing. At mile 21, my last turn around, Sally texted me: "Now's the time to dig deep but also enjoy it. You're going to be a marathoner and that's all that matters". I started crying when I read it and thought "game on" and began my charge (albeit a very slow "charge") towards the finish. It was also at mile 21 that I put an ear bud in and played my favorite workout mix on Spotify. I had never listened to music on a trail run before but it helped so, so much at that point. 

Those last 5.2 (well, 5.68 according to my Garmin) miles were my very favorite. I was thrilled to catch up up to a few runners I could chat with a tiny bit, and despite my body aching everywhere, I felt stronger than ever. I also knew my husband, girls, and Sally (and her fiance and their dog!) were waiting for me at the finish.

I came out of the last downhill stretch and hit the half mile flat portion before the finish. I focused on the ground ahead and told myself I could NOT walk (interestingly, I felt no more tired here than I did when I hit that stretch during my 5 mile race at Grand Ridge). Interesting to note, mile 26 was my fastest mile of the entire race! As I made my way along I heard a voice say my name to my right. I looked over and thought "who is that guy?!" and then I heard another voice say my name, it was Sally and Patrick! I was so focused I didn't see them there! Sally ran up alongside me and I started crying. She ran with me and we met my girls right before the finish line and I began crying even more. The girls were very worried I was hurt. 

Crossing the finish line. 

My tears were about finally, finally, achieving my goal.  I was crying because I couldn't fucking believe I did it. Because people I loved were there to see me finish. Because I ran up and down and up and down trails for 6 hours and 15 minutes and my body HURT. It was a very emotional moment for me. 


All of the emotions.

There was no crowd at the finish line. I won't lie, I am bummed there was no medal (Iris said she would make one) or any other fun marathon swag. Once I stopped running I briefly chatted with my friends and family, glanced at the food table without grabbing anything except a drink I didn't really want, and said I was ready to go home. And that was that. I was a marathoner. I am a marathoner.

I am a marathoner. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

FOUR MORE SLEEPS!!!!

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Just four more sleeps until I run 26.2 miles through the woods.

This whole marathon thing is driving me crazy. One part of me is completely freaked out, like it shouldn't even be possible, and definitely not sane, to attempt to run that far. 

The other part of me,which is most of me, is just ready to run! Is it incredibly naive of me to think this race is just going to be the most fun, incredible challenge ever? I have probably been spending too much time with ultramarathoners, because sometimes I even catch myself thinking,
"well, it's just a marathon . . . "

My long run partner Stacey is running a 50K on the same day as my marathon, in fact.

Stacey and I on Tiger Mountain during a kinda brutal training run.

I do think that because this race is so low-key, a small trail race through the woods, I am not getting worked up about it. There won't be a huge start or finish line. No medals. Likely no spectators except for a few at the start/middle/finish. I will be running alone for a lot of the race. My family will be dropping me off and meeting me at the finish when I am done. There isn't really anywhere for them to hang out out there while I run for roughly six hours anyways, so it's completely fine with me to have them be home!

The weather is looking interesting on race day with a high of 45, low of 36. Maybe a little rain? I don't even know how to dress for that, as I haven't run in weather that cold in a long time! I am thinking layers, probably a warm headband, definitely some gloves. I didn't know if I should use a drop bag, but I *think* I decided not to. Well, unless the chance of rain goes up, I might want to have an extra pair of socks of something. Other than that, I should be able to carry everything I need right on me. Yay for the Ultra Vesta!

My last long run was seven miles. To be honest, outside of that, I will have run very, very little in the last two weeks before the race. Smart or stupid? Guess I will find out on race day! I have been active in general, just not many official workouts. As far as I can tell, "the hay is in the barn" and running a bunch of miles in these last two weeks wouldn't really help that much at this point, anyways.

Stacey was asking me what my recovery plans are, and I guess I'm not exactly sure. For sure zero running for at least a week, likely two. Definitely lots of yoga! After that I need to figure out how much I should run to keep up a basic level of fitness before starting to train for my next goal!

And what is that you might ask?

Stacey and are going to sign up for the Sun Mountain 50K in May! Wowsa. It's crazy. But exciting!

So anyways, wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up: From Horrible to Spectacular (and Spartan Race Winner!)

Business first: If you are here to check who won the Spartan Race giveaway, it was Jennifer! I wrote everyone's name on a slip of paper (one paper for each entry) and had my daughter help me cut them out and pick a winner. Thanks again to everyone who entered, that was a lot of fun for me to host a giveaway!



So, anyways, back to the grind. This is quite possibly the most bi-polar week of running I have ever had. Every run was downright brutal during the week. Like, struggling through 3 miles brutal. Questioning my ability to run at all, let alone run a marathon in less than two weeks.

Aside from typical busy-ness, I have just lost all my mental toughness. Yes, my body could have run farther. My mind could not. Usually it's the other way around (and I get myself in to trouble), so it was particularly difficult to come to terms with this turn of events.

Total Miles Run: 25-ish

So, on Monday I did yoga. On Friday I did yoga again. Every yoga class I attend is completely glorious. 

I ran on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Each run was just over 3 miles. They were each awful.

I did exactly zero strength workouts. 

But here's the thing: I ran for 3 1/2 hours on Sunday. And I felt amazing every single second of that run. I went almost 15 miles (darn Garmin). Last time I ran that same route my Garmin read 14.6, so I will go by that. 

I made a plan to meet Stacey at Cougar Mountain at 7:00 am on Sunday. At first I thought this was pretty a sucky start time, but then hey, daylight savings time! So it was a perfect. We ran just over 10 miles together, which was what I had on my (totally made up) training plan. Then, for the first time ever, I thought, "you know what? I'm not done with this run." and left Stacey at her car and headed out for about four more miles on my own. Was running for 3 1/2 hours the best thing for my body to do two weeks out from a marathon? Eh, probably not? However, my mind absolutely needed that run. Finishing that run feeling so great gave me 100% confidence that I can run a marathon.

Photo of me running at Cougar Mountain, taken by Stacey.


Can. Not. Wait. for November 15th! 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Ultra Vesta Review

A few weeks ago I became completely enamored with the idea of buying a hydration pack. It felt like such a silly desire, considering I had a four bottle Fuel Belt that I loved and was (mostly) serving me well, so I couldn't really justify spending the money on something new. But, wait! It was almost my birthday! I knew financial gifts from parents and grandparents would be coming in the mail and I knew exactly what silly desire I would spend them on: a hydration pack!

It turned out to be a very wise move on my part and I found a pack that is almost totally perfect.

I did a bit of research, but it is so hard to tell online what kind of hydration pack will work when you have never even put one on. One that kept coming across my path in my research was the Ultra Vesta by Ultimate Direction, so my interest was piqued. 

On a rainy weekday afternoon I drove across town to a new-to-me running shop that my friend had raved about, which was the Seven Hills Running Shop. I walked in and the friendly person working that day directed me towards an Ultra Vesta pack that had been used a couple of times and returned, so it was marked down 50%. I put it on, stood in front of the mirror for about 5 seconds to determine I didn't look absolutely ridiculous squeezing in my boobs, and was sold. 

Sadly, the shop did not have any bladders to go in the pack (the Ultra Vesta comes without a bladder) so I headed straight over to REI. They only had two brand options in store, so I went with the Camelbak Antidote Reservoir in the 50 ounce (or 1.5 liter) size. I have nothing else to compare this bladder to, but it's fine. The water did taste "chemically" the first few times I used it, which was gross.
photo from REI.com

My other complaint, and I am not sure if this is the fault of the Camelbak or the Ultra Vesta, but the bladder has a hook (sort of like the top of a hanger) at the top to help secure it in to the pack. The pack has a velcro strap to hold the bladder in. Between the hook and the velcro strap, they are not effective at securing the bladder and it always slips out. I am not sure why the Camelbak has a hook instead of having that piece of plastic go all the way around and connecting? It's not a HUGE deal, just mildly annoying. I only use water in my bladder and at the advice of the staff person from Seven Hills, I store the bladder in the freezer between runs.

So, back to the Ultra Vesta. 

Ultra Vesta
Photo from UltimateDirection.com

I won't go in to every single detail about this pack because many other online reviews already exist outlining that info (google is your friend!). I just want to share what my personal experience has been with this pack as a new hydration pack user and as a new trail runner. 

The most important thing about this hydration pack is that it fits me well. I bought the M/L size and from the first time I ran in it it was perfectly comfortable. The straps are easy to adjust, two in front and one on each side. I also do not feel any bouncing when I run. 

The bladder is fairly easy to put in the pack. As previously mentioned there is a velcro loop at the top to hold the bladder up and a web of thin bungee cords to hold the bladder in place. I played with the hose a bit, trying to find the best place for the bite valve. I have settled on pulling the hose out from the back of the back over my right shoulder and looping the bite valve through the gray loop on the middle of the vest on my left side, so the hose crosses over my chest. It seems to work okay. 

It has been tricky for me to adjust to using a hydration pack in that at first I didn't instinctively drink enough water when I wore it. So that's just something I had to get used to and force myself to drink more often. The water in the pack gets pretty warm, but it's not like my water in bottles on a belt was ice cold, so it's not any worse than what I was doing.

One thing I really did not like was using the two plastic bottles in the chest pockets. The ones that UD provides are very, well, square and they pressed in to my chest. I replaced them with one Fuel Belt bottle, I believe it is 10 ounces, and I like that a bit better because it is more rounded. I use the bottle for Gatorade.  

There are plenty of pockets on the pack, which is awesome. I can stuff all of my stuff! My only complaints are: First, the pockets on the front do not comfortably hold my Samsung Galaxy S4 (it's a big phone). Yes, I can shove it in the lower right pocket, but it isn't comfortable to run with it there. I end up storing it in the smaller upper pocket on the back, which holds it securely, but I have no access to my phone without taking the vest off. The other complaint is that the pockets are not water (or sweat) proof! When I run at Cougar Mountain I bring my map and fold it up and put it in a front pocket. By the end of the run it's practically in shambles from getting damp (presumably from sweat). So, when I run with my phone or anything else I don't want wet, I put it in a ziploc baggie before packing it away. 

A blurry photo of me on my first run in the Ultra Vesta. 
For reference, I am 6' tall and have, uh, ample boobage. 

The longest run I have done in the Ultra Vesta is my "30K" that was 20 miles. The vest was great, held all of my food and water (I drank one tiny cup of nuun on the course and that was it!). Zero issues with it during the 30K. I saw so many runners during the race who were wearing packs that were shifting and bouncing all over the place, but not mine!

About to cross the finish line in my Ultra Vesta! 

The only thing I have had come up was after wearing it four times the stitching on the strap started coming apart. I brought the pack back to Seven Hills and they shipped it back to Ultimate Direction, who fixed it for me. A++++++ customer service for both of these places!