Meet Michele and gwenyth

I’d like you to meet my good friend Michele.  She’s fun, clever and creative. She’s the kind of active person who likes to do things (as opposed to lots of people I know who like to mostly sit around).  She is such a do-er that when she couldn’t find an activewear top she liked, she went out and designed, manufactured and sold one.  Thus was gwenyth born.  This is not an advertising site, but from time to time I’ll feature brands that I support.  While I have obviously never worn one of her tops, I like gwenyth and love Michele, so I asked her to share a little bit about herself and her great product.

The lovely Michele. Athlete, entrepreneur, boob expert and peace advocate.

The lovely Michele. Athlete, entrepreneur, boob expert and peace advocate.

When David asked me to guest post, I was honored yet baffled – as an owner of a small activewear brand focused on barre, dance, and pilates, who considers a 5 minute shuffle around the block a “run” these days, what could I possibly share that would be of interest to a running crowd?

My chicken response to David’s invitation was as follows:

“Would love to guest post – but I’m not sure what gwenyth would offer to your running audience.  I’ve been specifically told by girls with chest sizes B-cup and up (that’s like every non-Asian girl in the US) that our top is NOT for running! Which is isn’t.  🙂   But thanks for thinking of me.”

And then I weakly offered in the same e-mail:

“Maybe what happens to boobs in sports bras, targeted to your female runners?  Or maybe that would be for the men.  🙂  I could probably write a book on boobs at this point.  Girth and cup are insufficient measures.  There is also shape and trajectory to consider.  That’s why no one can ever find the right bra.”

To which he responded:

“WOW, now I insist that you write something.”

Now that I’ve either whittled down or slightly grown the audience still paying attention, I’m going to talk about…wait for it…not boobs.  Instead I’m going to talk about why I started gwenyth.  Those of you that feel like you boarded the wrong plane can feel free to exit now.image00111

gwenyth tops – barre to bar

gwenyth tops – barre to bar

On starting gwenyth: The story on our website and materials talk about how I couldn’t find a top for myself for dance class that performed and supported, but was pretty and feminine and didn’t squash my meager A-cup (per reference above, yes I am Asian).  About how I redesigned the internal bra, chose very specific fabric, and reworked its construction to solve that problem.  About how I have no apparel manufacturing background and prototyped like over 20 garments to get to the exact fit I wanted.   Yes that’s all true.  But as I really think about it, that’s not why I started gwenyth.

I started it because:  I wanted to bring dance to life. That’s the best I can describe it.  Now let me explain what I mean, as I realize this all sounds a little hokey.  I don’t mean to say I want everyone to dance.  Although a flashmob consisting of all runners doing the running man would be uh-mee-yaaay-zing.  Or that I think current dance and dancing is dead and lifeless.  What I mean is that I want to bring that feeling of mental, physical, and emotional breakthrough I experience most consistently from dance into daily life for myself and others.  And it just happens that I thought the best way to do that was via a top that reflected the strength, aesthetics, and invention of dance.

I never get tired of going to dance class.  As an adult beginner, I am nowhere near great, or even good.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m still motivated to get better and the little improvements are like massive rewards.  I’m never looking at the clock, and I am never so discouraged or ill-fit for the discipline that I want to give up despite any pain.  Similarly, for my runner friends, it seems that running is an almost compulsion.  There’s no if but when. It’s like an express elevator to a different strata of the mind and the body.  It’s something they never get tired of pushing at. It’s not easy.  But it’s not impossible.  And there’s eternal reward in the doing even on the bad days and maybe even more so on the days that hurt. But whether it’s dance or running, crossfit or bird watching, I think there’s that 1 or 3 things for each person that heightens their sense of experience and life. For me it’s dance. Maybe for you it’s running.

So, selfishly, that’s why I started gwenyth.  I want to seize that feeling not just for a 1-hour dance class, or a 2-hour run, but for more of my waking, working life. I want to help people channel that feeling more efficiently. Yesterday it was through a top. Today it was through a pic of James Dean doing ballet. Tomorrow it may be through a fund to make the dance experience more accessible to more children.

This Men’s Health article (http://betweenloveandlike.blogspot.com/2008/04/airborne-toxic-events-mikel-jollett-on.html) by Mikel Jolett, the lead singer for Airborne Toxic Event and incidentally also a runner, best explains the sentiment I think.  And because he’s not an idiot, he didn’t name it “Motivation” or “Inspiration”.  Instead he entitled it “Brad Pitt Whipped Me Into Shape”.

If you’re interested in learning more about a top that is generally NOT for running, but fabulous for 90% of all other occasions, check out gwenyth’s website (www.gwenythbrand.com) or feel free to contact me directly at michele@gwenythbrand.com.

Remember, running is just like dancing forward.

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PEP: A gear review

It’s a pretty common and generally un-frightening event when, at the gym, you suddenly catch a whiff of a ripe scent. At the Dolphin Gym this is a much more common occurrence than elsewhere. A couple of months ago I smelled some funk and made the obvious and universal response – the furtive head bow sniff – only to find that I was the offender! Me!

At first I was terrified. Then I realized that I had only just started my run. And then I was mortified (which is worse than terrified). How could this have happened? Hadn’t I showered this morning? Had I smelled this bad all day?

Upon much internal reflection, discussion and investigation alongside Awesome Wife Kelly, we came to what should have been a pretty common sense realization that I was the victim of old shirt syndrome.

And now a reflection. I started running about 13 years ago. Which means that about 12 years ago I bought my first batch of technical running shirts. They were almost certainly whatever was on the rack at Nike Town. What transpired between now and then will probably be familiar to many of you: I bought a few more, then a few more. Then I ran some races and got a few more freebies (do you remember when races used to give non-technical shirts? The horror). Over the years a shirt here and there would develop a hole or would somehow be irrevocably damaged and would get thrown away, to be replaced by a new marathon shirt or something that I happened to find on sale as I was walking through a store. But by and large my collection was established and was mostly static.

That, my friends, is how I ended up with a bunch of 8-12 year old shirts that were ratty, ugly and kind of smelled bad. Now I don’t consider myself cheap, but neither am I the type to up and spend several hundreds of dollars on non-essential items with no good reason. But as I thought about it, I was still wearing shirts that I’d bought for $40 a pop 10 years ago. That seems like a lot of money until you do the $ / wear and realize that these are the cheapest things I’ve ever purchased. So rather than try to string out a few more wears while contributing to the overall aroma at Dolphin Gym, I gave these guys a well deserved Viking Funeral and decided to invest for the next 10 years.

My first inclination was to walk on down to Nike Town (it’s just an expression, I’d actually have to take the 6 train to 51st, then walk over to 5th Ave) and buy 10 new shirts. But then I started to think about how much technology, materials, suppliers and even fashion has changed over the past ten years. My Nike (and comparable branded) shirts had served me really well, but here’s an opportunity to do some research and surface some good new stuff.

So I did the Internets and talked to some friends who I trust and / or respect and found out some things. The first, is that the Cool Kids just do not wear synthetics anymore. Whereas wicking polyester was all the rage under W. Bush, the world has moved on both in terms of performance and philosophy. Synthetics are apparently covered in synthetic things so they don’t make you feel like your most actualized possible self. And apparently they wear out faster than non-synthetic things. And maybe they’re not good for the environment? I wasn’t so clear on all the reasons that I should be running in natural materials, but I was told that not only would I feel better about the world (and vice versa), but that the performance would be better too. So I kept investigating.

Apparently merino wool is where it’s at. It feels good, it breathes and it doesn’t smell. All of those things are pretty cool, but I remember my buddy buying an Icebreaker t-shirt for $125 because they said it would never smell. I remember making fun of him mercilessly for this purchase. Then he draped the shirt over his hand to help twist open a beer bottle and tore a little hole in his brand new $125 shirt and I remember making fun of him for the subsequent two years (I hope he’s reading this right now so I am, in essence, making fun of him as I type this). So even though merino seemed like a good idea I had my reservations.

More research.

There’s a thing called Pettet Endurance Project (PEP for short) that’s focused on producing high quality merino wool products at reasonable prices (http://www.pettetendurance.com/). I’m mostly focused on quality and cost, but the fact that they seem to be good people and manufacture their products responsibly (and in trendy Oregon!) is a plus I guess. Having said that, I dipped my toe in slowly buying only one shirt as a test. If it doesn’t feel good and work well, I don’t really care how many running hipsters we’re employing in the Pacific Northwest.

So I got a Gresham (http://www.pettetendurance.com/shop/men/gresham-short-sleeve-merino-running-shirt/) which seemed pretty reasonable at $50. I’ve now worn the shirt ~5 times through some pretty intense runs. Here are my impressions:

Some May Care

  • These guys are very focused on using high quality natural materials and making their shirts locally. While it’s hard to make everyday shopping decisions based on global ideals, it is nice to know that you’re doing one thing in your day that doesn’t actively contribute to abusive working conditions and other awfulness.
  • These are nice people. With my first order they sent me a PEP sticker (I’m a big sticker fan) and a hand-written note saying how excited they were to have PEP worn in NYC. On my second order there was something screwy with my post office delivery tracking so I sent them an email. They were all over it, immediately called the post office and got everything sorted out. Then another hand written note thanking me for my repeat purchase. It’s small stuff, but given the choice I’d like to do business with nice people.
  • They are focused on making their products affordable. They have a direct to consumer selling model that avoids giving fat margins to middle men and translates to cheaper prices for you and all of your money going to the people who actually design and make the clothing. Sadly the sheep get little out of it other than food. But I guess that’s all sheep really want.
photo copy

PEP shirt and hat

More important

  • It’s a good looking shirt. Long cut and tapered, but not too tight. Probably not for extremely self conscious or folks on the heavier side, but I’d say overall looks comparable or better than what I’d been running in. The shirt is logo-light. There’s a small PEP logo on the back and mini red label on the bottom, but these are pretty unobtrusive so the NO LOGO set should feel pretty comfortable.
  • It feels great. I can’t get too technical here as I’m no tactologist (note: made up word), but the merino wool feels almost like silk. Honestly, I just can’t stop rubbing it between my fingers, which is kind of weird
  • It performs well. The wool is lightweight and breathable for sure. Don’t tell Awesome Wife Kelly, but I’ve worn it multiple times between washes (don’t judge) without noticeable odor. And while the wool is breathable and thin, it does feel a bit more substantial and warmer than my traditional wicking shirts. Winter running in the long sleeve model is the ideal PEP use case
  • A caveat. I’ve done my trials in the winter, where I’m obviously sweating significantly less than during warm weather runs. Even so, the shirt does feel like it retains / carries moisture differently than a synthetic shirt. This has something to do with the fact that Merino doesn’t actually “wick” but it’s clearly wet to the touch in a way that a synthetic isn’t (or is, but less so). Don’t get me wrong, to this point I haven’t identified a problem per se. The shirt doesn’t hang heavy like cotton and it doesn’t chafe. However, I’m holding off from buying more of the short sleevers until I can test their performance in the hot summer days.
  • UPDATE: On mile 3 of today’s 21 miler the drinking tube became disconnected from my running bladder. By the time I figured out what was going on and fixed it, there was about a liter of Heed running down my back and legs and 18 miles left to go. After a few minutes of mentally kicking myself, I basically totally forgot about it. Sure, when I touched it with my fingers (why did I keep doing that? I have no idea) it was wet, but it didn’t actually bother me or impact my run one bit. I think this is a pretty good simulation for some serious sweat and I feel comfortable there won’t be any issues in warm weather.

The verdict

  • Definite recommendation. The shirts look good, feel great and perform well. Especially if you’re anti-corporate might and pro local / environmental / natural, they’re a can’t miss. In the short-term I’m focusing my recommendation (and purchasing) on the long sleeves for warmth in winter running, but don’t really have any serious reservations on the short sleeves in summer either. Also bought their hat, which is pretty cool and very functional.

Running resources and reads

There are so many great resources and blogs out there that adding one more to the mix (mine) seems pretty silly. Regardless, I’ve done it and if you’re reading this, then at least I may be able to turn you on to some great resources and fun blogs out there.

Resources:

Marathon Guide

http://Marathonguide.com/

Their race calendar and user commentary are basically the (marathon) industry standard and their map is soooo much fun to play around with. Whenever I’m looking for a race at a certain time of year the first thing I do is head to this site, narrow down my options, then go to the racer reviews to see what’s good.

Map My Run

http://Mapmyrun.com/

One of those sites that is just so awesome that every time I use it I think back to the days before science and apps and GPS satellites made magic possible. I get that in the age of Google maps it’s not such a revelation any more, but seriously – I can find the exact distance of any run with just a couple of clicks on the map – to top it off, it follows logical road routes. Don’t be so jaded folks, the world is an astonishing place.

Hal Higdon marathon training programs

http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51142/Marathon-Advanced-2-Training-Program

I don’t know if Hal Hidgon’s programs are the gold standard, but they’re certainly the most frequently used and are time and mile tested. I’ve followed a slightly modified Advanced 2 training previously. In my opinion it’s a bit light in mileage and maybe a bit slow in some of the speed work, but overall a great place to start.

Ultra training programs

http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Ultramarathon_Training_Plans

While marathon training programs are becoming a dime a dozen, good ultra training programs are both rarer and harder to separate from some of the more mediocre stuff. This is a good overview of several programs to let you get your feet under you and start to think about what works for you. Many of these are way too intense for me, but then again I’m kind of fragile.

Ultrarunning’s race calendars

http://calendar.ultrarunning.com/

If you run ultras or even think about running ultras, you should subscribe to Ultrarunning magazine. These people dedicate a ton of time to covering a niche sport that will almost certainly make them no money ever. If you must, think of it as a donation. This link is to their race calendar, which is a super helpful resource.

Reads:

Sabrina Little’s blog

http://notallergictoadventure.blogspot.com/

Sabrina is an awesome runner and a really fun writer. She mostly focuses on excellent race logs, with just enough of the personal stuff thrown in to make it more broadly interesting. My only complaint is that she doesn’t update enough…come on Sabrina, your public is impatient.

Sweaty Emily

http://www.sweatonceaday.com/

Emily loves running and beer and apparently, sweating. The first two make a pretty great combination and her writing reflects what a fun person she must be. I also like her because she’s a long-time marathoner who’s just moving up to ultras and she’s very fast, but not elite, so her stuff is relatable.

Competitor.com

http://running.competitor.com/

A great, but mostly under the radar site, this is more an on-line magazine than a blog. It tends to have somewhat more serious articles with more serious runners in mind. Let’s just say that it eschews some of the fluffier material that some more mainstream offerings focus on. It relies on galleries (requiring lots of clicking) more than I appreciate, but I guess it’s hard to complain given the amount of high quality content available for free.

Ultra Runner Joe

http://ultrarunnerjoe.com/

This is a gear heavy site, with lots of very helpful product reviews. If you’re interested in a new piece of gear he’s probably got a thorough description for you. I found this site when I was looking for the dirt on some new Hoka’s and of course he had the most informative post out there.