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Last Minute Stocking Stuffers for Athletes

By now you may be scrambling to find gifts for your friend or better half.  If that person is a runner, triathlete or biker, maybe I can give you a few ideas. To the untrained eye, these may seem a bit cheesy, but trust me, if you want to get them something that they need and will actually use, then think about these. Not only are they practical and show that you’ve put some thought into their love of sport, but may even add a few snickers on Christmas morning. You can find most of these at your local running or other sports-oriented store and maybe even online. I’m a firm believer of supporting local shops, so definitely try them first.  (Throughout, I’m referring to your athlete as “him”, but can be very well a “her”).

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1. Anything GU – Most athletes are in need of nutrition and can always use more. So stuff a few Stroopwafels, a few gels, a package of chews or maybe a tube (or two) of GU Drink Tabs into their stocking. The electrolyte tablets bring electrolytes to water with minimal calories (only 10) and something I use EVERY ride and on runs when I carry fluids. If you don’t know what a stroopwafel is, check out this video.  You can even get creative with the nutrition.  On our New Year’s Day run, we break out with Jet Blackberry gel on mini, powdered donuts. Now THAT’s one good jelly donut. www.GUEnergy.com

 

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2. Give them Warmth – If your runner or biker likes training in cold weather, then you cannot go wrong with arm warmers. These gems are great because they can be taken off and stowed easily during those long workouts when you start of in the cold, but the temperature rises as your workout progresses.  These are especially a favorite with ultra runners and even bikers.  Be picky with your choice and don’t go for just any arm warmer.  These arm warmers from Orange Mud are made from bamboo.  Why a bamboo arm warmer? From a sustainability perspective it’s a crazy fast growing plant that requires very little water and no pesticides to “grow like a weed”. When you chop down a bamboo plant, it doesn’t need replanting, rather it simply regrows for continual harvest. The plant is also fantastic for erosion control, and also feeding pandas. Yes, pandas. www.orangemud.com

 

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3. Elastic Shoe Laces – If you have a runner or triathlete that you’re buying for, chances are that they may already be using these handy laces that allow them to get into and out of the shoes without untying. Even if they already have them, they can use an extra pair for when they buy another set of shoes. Not only do you relieve yourself from the hassle of tying, but as you run, especially long runs, your feet tend to swell.  These beauties will stretch as your feet swell, keeping your shoes comfortable but snug.  www.locklaces.com

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4. Socks – Yep, you heard right. The same gift we used to dread getting when we were kids is a cool gift now. Well, they’re cool if you get the right socks. As long as they are for riding, then you can’t go wrong. There’s many to choose from out there, but the best ones come from DeFeet, Sock Guy, Sugoi, and Pearl Izumi to name a few. You score extra points (and laughs) if you get some with a cool saying or picture on them. Can’t settle on the funny ones? Go a little more practical with Merino wool socks from Orange Mud (great this time of year) or compression socks which aid in recovery after a long workout. Want to go with a completely American made sock? Then check out Farm to Feet.

 

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5. Get Grippy – If they’re a biker, ESPECIALLY a mountain-biker, then get them a pair of ESI Grips for their handlebars. They’re the most comfortable grips on the planet. So much so, that I ride without gloves (unless it’s cold). They come in a variety of thickness and colors, but I prefer the “Chunky” ones. On most regular handlebar grips, manufacturers put raised logos, tread patterns and all other kinds of crap that just make them damn uncomfortable. That junk belongs on tires, not handlebar grips. The whole idea of putting something on your handlebars is to 1: improve your grip and 2: keep your hands comfortable. Forget other grips that don’t put these two things FIRST. And if they’re hung up on having their “lock-on” grips, never fear, I used to as well. But the only grips that slip are the poorly made ones. ESI’s grips have their priorities straight and theses puppies won’t move once installed. So get them this gift and they’ll love you for it. www.ESIgrips.com

 

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6. Seal it up – For the mountain bikers in the bunch, there’s a good chance your loved-one is riding on tubeless mountain bike tires. If so, this is a great stocking stuffer. If not, this may motivate them to take advantage of swapping to tubeless and experience all the benefits. For you, if you’re not a mountain biker, this will score major points that you happen to know something about tubeless tires and the need to use sealant. This stuff seals up the tires making it possible to hold air without a tube. The best part is it also acts as an automatic seal should they get a puncture on the trail. Don’t settle for that sealant with some guys name on it. Instead, go with the orange stuff made from NASA technology. One 8 ounce bottle is good for a set of tires, but if you go with the 4 ounce bottle, get two. I’d recommend getting the first bottle with the injector. FYI, I’ll be riding a product review on this soon. www.OrangeSeal.com

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7. Crankbrothers Multitool – You can’t get more handy or practical than a multitool. Necessary for trail-side or road-side repair of bike foul ups and tends to work better than a MacGyver twig and rock combo. Crankbrothers has many to choose from at different price ranges. My favorite is the mutli-17 tool since it comes with a chain tool. It even comes with a lifetime warranty. www.crankbrothers.com

 

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8. Co2 cartridges – If he’s a biker of any sort, having extra Co2 cartridges handy will ensure he has a way to fix a flat. It may take a little bit of snooping to figure out if he needs the threaded or non-threaded type. Just check his current stash (usually in his seat bag or where he keeps the rest of his stuff). If you can’t figure it out, go with threaded. If it’s the wrong type, he can easily swap it out with the right ones at his favorite shop. Go with either 16oz or 20oz. www.GenuineInnovations.com or your local bike shop.

 

If you found this list helpful, please vote for me in the #RunUltraBlogger awards (please scroll all the way down to complete the vote).

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If you’re in the Charlotte, NC area, be sure to come check out our 10th Annual New Year’s Day Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Group Trail Run

-Marcus

Grinding at the Greenway

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Last Saturday (5/8), I raced the 6 Hour Grind at the Greenway, an endurance mountain bike race at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, SC.  Not wanting to take on the entire 6 hours alone, I teamed up with Dan Kimball as a two-man team, referred to as a “Duo”.  Since neither of us are on the same “team” (such as MelRad or TrySports), we decided to opt for a humorous team name of “Tango & Cash”.  If you’re my age, you may recall the cheesy, 80’s flick of the same name that, although cheesy, was still a hoot to watch.  Dan came up with the name which both Alba and I decided was perfect.  If you don’t think so, then I’m blaming it on Dan.

Before I get into the race, let me just throw a shout-out to Neal Boyd.  If you are anywhere remotely close to Charlotte, North Carolina, and you haven’t attended an event put on by Neal, you are truly missing out.  His events are top-notch, well organized and all-around fun.  For more info, hit his website at www.CharlotteMtnBike.com

Back to the race.  Dan and I showed up early (well, he did, I was late in classic Marcus-fashion) and we setup our TrySports camp among all of the other tents  We then proceeded to work on my broken bike.  I know, I know, I should have done all of that stuff waaaaaay before race morning, but due to a long days at work and breaking a derailleur the day before, it was unavoidable.  All-in-all, we changed two tires, put on a derailleur, chain and new brake pads.  Note:  we did not touch the shifters.  We finished everything just in time to get to the race briefing.  Unfortunately, for me, there was no time for a warm up.

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Home Base

We had previously decided that I would ride the first lap.  This was primarily due to the fact that we were going to shoot for a total of 8 laps during the 6 hours and that would put Dan in position for riding the last lap.  I had a prior commitment to be somewhere at 6pm, so by leaving the race before it was over would allow me to get to where I needed to be on time.

So off to the start line.  I lined up in front and off to one side of the fast guys.  I was shooting for a sprint start with the mindset of getting to the single-lane swinging bridge before it became clogged with traffic.  Neal had designed a method to spread the crowd out before getting to the bridge, but even with his efforts to help mitigate the problem, it still happens.  There’s just no way to avoid it, although he does a great job reducing it.  We started about a half mile or so down a gravel road (which was part of the course) and headed back towards the finish line.  Once we went across the finish line, our first lap started.  As I started the small hill climb towards the finish line, I attempted to downshift one gear.  In doing so, I pushed the lever of my rear shifter and NOTHING HAPPENED.  There wasn’t even any pressure.  “What the heck!”, I thought.  I fumbled a bit and decided just to push through it with a tougher gear, knowing I had a long ride down the gravel road where I could further investigate.

We went across the finish line, starting the first lap and riding by all of the “pit stops” (a sea of popup tents and spectators).  Riding by our tent, I spotted Dan, my teammate, and yelled, “I don’t have any rear shifting!”.  For a split second I thought of pitting right there.  I didn’t for two reasons.  First, he only spot you are supposed to pit was near the finish line.  Second, if I would have, I’m sure I would have been plowed over by the slew of people behind me.

So as we dove back onto the gravel road headed for the trail, I began my investigation.  Push shifter: nothing happened.  Check cable tension:  cable’s tight, not a broken cable.  Visual on derailleur: looked fine.  The thoughts began to run through my head.  I knew I didn’t have any tough climbs anytime soon, so should I stop and fix it or just deal with 3 gears (shift with the three up front).  Knowing that in order for us to do well, we would have to do 8 laps.  Time calculation dictated that we would have to turn 45 min laps (or faster) to make it 8 laps and that would be tough enough with shifting problems at the beginning of the race.  This meant that every minute counted.  If I stopped to attempt a fix, it could have been futile if I didn’t have the necessary tool to fix it or if I couldn’t figure out the problem.  So knowing that stopping could be fruitless, I decided to press on with three gears and got to the swinging bridge without having to wait on anyone (I would later hear that a bottleneck did eventually happen).

The first lap was tough, especially with the Sugar Island loop.  Normally this is a very fun section of the Greenway, but with 3 gears and 2 busted ribs, it ended up being not that much fun.  Trying not to lose too much time, I really tried hard to push the lap.  I wasn’t really sure if pushing my legs this hard on the first lap would hurt me later in the race, but I didn’t see it as a choice.  On one of the longer switchback climbs of Sugar Island, my ribs reminded me that they still weren’t fully mended.  As long as I didn’t breathe extremely deeply or cough, I could mitigate most of the pain.

I came in at the end of the first lap at 50:31, not too shabby considering the circumstances.  However, it meant that we started our race down 5:31 which we would have to make up somehow.  During our quick transition, Dan stated that we could share his bike if I couldn’t get mine fixed.  Seeing as we are both the same size AND I somehow talked him into buying the very bike that I should be getting soon (Specialized Epic Expert Carbon), I was thrilled to be able to race on the bike I am so eagerly awaiting (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).

While Dan was out for lap # 2, I managed to fix my shifter which ended up being something very minor that I could have fixed on the trail.  However, it took me around 5 or 10 minutes to figure out, so I’m not sure if spending that time on the trail would have been a wash or not.  Dan came in lap #2 at 47:01 and I took off on my Gary Fisher. 

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Marcus waiting to transition

 

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Swapping the chip

The rest of the race went pretty close to what we had planned.  We alternated laps, giving us a chance to recover somewhat.  We later discussed if that was the best strategy or if we should have done 2 laps before switching off (or some other weird combo).  Alba stopped out to see how our race was going and to snap off a few pics of us.  She also brought us out a couple of bags of ice which we were both desperately wanting.  To try and mitigate swelling of my ribs, I’d stuff my rear jersey pockets with ice before taking off.  Not only did it help the ribs, but it also cooled me off overall. 

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Our lap times ended up looking like this:

1. Marcus  50:31
2. Dan  47:01
3. Marcus 47:51
4. Dan  49:27
5. Marcus 49:01
6. Dan  50:12
7. Marcus 53:26

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Dan coming into transition

As you can see, we never seemed to make up for the 5 minutes that I lost in the first lap.  Matter of fact, by the time we got to lap 7, I was so spent that my time dropped significantly.  We both think that it had a lot to do with how hard I pushed through the first lap with only 3 gears.  Our final standings ended up being:

Duo Male Team: 8th out of 32 teams
Overall: 17th out of 171

Full results:  Overall, By Class, Lap Times

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Marcus & Dan

All-in-all, we both had an absolute blast at this event!  Not bad results for a couple of triathlon geeks who have never done pure endurance mountain bike racing before.  :-)

Be a Warrior!

Marcus

GU Just Keeps Getting Better

Boy-o-boy, how do they keep doing it?  Every time I get a new flavor from the wonderful folks at GU Energy Labs, I always wonder how they will get any better.  Low and behold, each time, they always out-do themselves.  Back when they came out with Roctane, and I got my hands on Blue Berry Pomegranate, I was in heaven.  An awesome flavor in a GU with an extra punch.  Perfect.  Can’t be out-done.

Then, they came out with Pineapple Roctane.  The first time I tried it was during a training ride up in Pisgah.  I instantly had a new favorite flavor.  The only way, I thought, that it could get any better is if I had a new regular GU to go along with my new favorite Roctane.

As if some little fairy was listening to my thoughts and flew to the GU labs to let them know, it wasn’t long that I received a box on my doorstep with yet another new flavor, Jet Blackberry.  Quickly opening a package, I tried one on for size without even taking a close look at the label.  Devouring the packet in sheer delight, I had found my new favorite GU.  I was even more delighted by the fact that it has 2x caffeine.  Along with the Pineapple Roctane, the pair were now a duo at my command.  Surely, this combo cannot be out-done.

Fast forward to today and the box I just received. 

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Jet Blackberry now has a flavor that will give it a run for it’s money: Mandarin Orange.  With 1x caffeine, it doesn’t have the same caffeinated boost as Jet Blackberry, but man is it tasty.  I downed a packet just before my trainer workout and I absolutely love it.

Folks at GU, I don’t know how you keep coming up with more and more awesome products.  Whatever it is that keeps you guys and gals inspired, it’s working.  Keep on doing it.  We love you out here!