Sometimes failure can be fun: The New Orleans Marathon (Part 1 of 3)

A post in three parts:

Part 1: Dead man shuffle: A recap of my race

Part 2: I’ll admit when I’m wrong: Broader thoughts on the New Orleans Marathon

Part 3: The long weekend that wouldn’t end: Six days in the Crescent City

Part 1

This is the first real-time race recap I’ve ever written and I suspect it will be a pretty easy one. Had I run a great race, exceeded expectations and set a blazing PR, I would have had to weave the fine line of recapping my triumphs while maintaining a thin veneer of modesty, so as to retain a sympathetic voice to the reader. Sometimes it’s just easier to write about abject failure.

I previously wrote about the new three day training program I used for this race. Over the past four months I ran fewer miles than in any previous marathon training, but at much faster paces. I felt fast, but uncertain if I had the endurance to last all 26.2.   Despite my doubts, I decided to go bold. Rather than settle for a comfortable 3:20-3:25 finish (current PR 3:19) I planned to push a 7:30 clip and chase glory or burn out spectacularly. I estimated a 25% chance of a glorious new PR and a 75% chance of good blog fodder. Fodder it is.

Race recaps focused on the post-mortem and minutiae of what went wrong are boring, so I’m not going to belabor the point. I ran 17 strong miles, then fell off pretty sharply and finished in 3:36. Below is a simple, short annotated history of my race.

Splits by mile: This chart shows pretty clearly what happened. Halfway through mile 18 things started to go wrong and then basically stayed wrong.

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Below I’ve split the race into two different charts (with different scales) in order to simply walk through what was going on during the long stretch of ~7:30 miles and during the longer, painful denouement.

Annotated splits – the good part

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Annotated splits – the bad part

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So sure, I didn’t meet my goal, but I really don’t feel so badly about it. I enjoyed my training and I got an excuse to go to New Orleans with my good friends. I enjoyed the marathon and I really enjoyed eating lots of jambalaya. In a perfect world I would have enjoyed a PR, but I guess I can’t be so picky.

A couple of notes:

Many, many thanks to Awesome Wife Kelly, Running Partner Lindsey and our supporters, Adam, Anne, Dave, Isla and Stella. You guys made it a great race and a great weekend.

One more hats off to the amazing 3:15 pace team leader. I wish I’d finished with him so I could have gotten his name. He was so spirited and fun and I’m certain he pushed me further than I would have been able to go on my own.

Tune in later in the week for a review of the race itself (e.g., not my performance) and a recap of a great week in New Orleans

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Fresh thoughts on final week marathon planning and tapering

It’s Tuesday, January 20th, 5 days before the New Orleans marathon. As you likely know, I’m contractually obligated by the Union of Running Bloggers (URB) to write a post about final preparations. Taper’s driving me crazy! Lots of carbs! Trying to stick to routine! Not doing anything I haven’t done before! Prepping my race bag! Reviewing the course map one last time – no surprises for me! Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the stuff that matters – what I’ll be eating and drinking. To break ranks with running blog protocol, I’m not talking about carbo loading and hydrating, but about Coop’s jambalaya and Napolean House’s Pimm’s Cup. The race is in New Orleans, which presents special challenges that need to be addressed in this space. There are basically two schools of thought here: 1) You’ve spent four months training for this race. In the final days prior, you should be taking it easy. Eat lean foods, up the carb content of the diet and stay really hydrated. Sightseeing should be minor and low impact. Four months worth of turning in early, skipping out on drinks and running in the freezing cold, come to a glorious, sweat soaked culmination on Sunday. Make it worth it. 2) You can run a marathon any time. You’re in New Orleans, you’d better eat your weight in jambalaya, gumbo and po’ boys. Who cares if you run a few minutes slower, or even if you oversleep and miss the race? Eat every grilled oyster you can find, then buy some more and put them on top of some beignets. Then wash all of this down with Hurricanes. Then wash the Hurricanes down with Hurricanes (note: I know that Hurricanes are disgusting. I still love them). 232323232fp-8->nu=3247>-65>667>WSNRCG=3396893888325nu0mrj Anybody who knows me (and even many who don’t) know that I’m going with option 2. Awesome Wife Kelly and I arrive on Thursday. The rest of our group, including my running partner Lindsey, arrive on Friday. That gives us 2 days of totally guilt free eating. I plan to treat Thursday and Friday just like any other trip to New Orleans. This may mean a couple of extra pounds to lug around the course, but I feel like the overall impact will be pretty light. Maybe I’m lying to myself. Because I’m a responsible person I plan to take it relatively easy on Saturday. How easy depends on what restaurants we end up at, and how much grief my buddies give me. I mean, if they’re REALLY making fun of me, I may have to cave a bit. They do say that drinking is fine so long as you have two glasses of water for every alcoholic drink. Plus there’s that old adage (read: lie) about beer being a good source of carbs. So there’s that. Some more silver lining: if I show up hung over and bloated and wreck 4 months of training with a DNF, at least I’ll have great fodder for Monday’s blog post. Finally, and with no real reason, I’d like to recall an all time great homage to New Orleans, courtesy of The Simpsons:

A day so cold the fountain froze - we still had hurricanes outside

A day so cold the fountain froze – we still had hurricanes outside

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaJjZ9svMYM Long before the Superdome Where the Saints of football play… Lived a city that the damned call home Hear their hellish rondelet… New Orleans! Home of pirates, drunks and whores New Orleans! Tacky overpriced souvenir stores If you want to go to hell, you should take a trip To the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Mississip’ New Orleans! Stinking, Rotten, vomiting, vile New Orleans Putrid, brackish, maggotty, foul New Orleans! Crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank New Orleans!

Running against MJ

Alternatively titled: Learning humility from the marathon

Long, boring story that you won’t care about:

In 2010 I traveled with some friends to New Orleans to watch the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.  During Kentucky’s blowout win over East Tennessee State my friends and I began a “bar debate” that got so spirited, angry and nearly violent, that all present still talk about it to this day.  The question that inspired such passion: could my four friends and I replace the Kentucky players and hold off East Tennessee State with a 19 point lead over the last five minutes? What started as a funny little discussion to while away a blowout became a heated screaming match that nearly resulted in us getting ejected from the arena by a burly, humorless security guard. You know why that argument was so much fun? There is absolutely no way to know who’s right. I mean, short of actually going out and playing those guys, all we could do is conjecture and raise our voices for emphasis. And five otherwise reasonable guys had wildly different opinions. (Editor’s note: I’m a bit embarrassed to say that at the time I was in the affirmative on this argument. Now I think we’d end up losing by 10).

That’s because there’s almost no way to quantify how good an average joe is vs. a great basketball player. Or boxer. Or football player. Or, well, you get the point.

BRILLIANT conclusion:

And this is one reason why running is so fascinating. I know exactly how I compare vs. every other person who’s ever run a marathon. More interesting, I know exactly how much better (or, more appropriately, worse) I am than the greatest runners out there. Think about this: When I run 400 meter repeats, I basically sprint in at around a 6 minute per mile pace. When Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record in Berlin with a 2:02:57 finish, he averaged 4:42 per mile. This is an insane thing. I can tell you – backed by math and science – exactly how much more awesome that guy is than me. He runs 26.2 miles at a pace 1:18 faster than I run a quarter mile. GOD DAMN.

So while we are all pretty convinced that Michael Jordan can beat us one on one, we know by exactly how much Dennis Kimetto will beat us in a race.

A Jew runs with Santa: The Rovaniemi Marathon

In 2009 I lived in Finland for a year. Finland, land of reindeers, saunas and brooding, silent Finns. In order to get the most out of my time there I resolved to take a one year marathon hiatus. I mean, I love running and racing, but I didn’t want to miss out on a trip to Rome or even a night drinking with new Finnish friends in order to get up early and log 20 miles. Also, in case you didn’t know, Finland is very cold and icy, making running just a little bit less attractive. I was doing some maintenance mileage, but all slow and easy and never anything more than 8.

In early May, my buddy Rich, who was living in England at the time, calls me up to let me know he’s planning on running the Stockholm marathon. As a runner who appreciates dedicated and reckless spectators, I immediately offered to meet him and lead his cheering crew. So at the end of May I escorted three women around the two lap Stockholm marathon where we cheered our heads off every time we saw Rich or pretty much any other runner. The Scandanavians tend to be a pretty reserved group, so we clearly stood out as foreigners as we chanted Rich’s name over and over. A quick aside – the Stockholm marathon was followed by the best post-race partying I’ve done (even though I didn’t run), highlighted by a midnight sunset, drinks until early morning sunrise, and a crazy woman throwing a drink (not just the liquid, the entire glass) at Rich with absolute zero provocation. Good times.

Back to the story. Watching Rich chug through Stockholm in front of a crowd of subdued Swedes was inspiring. Even though I had sworn not to race for the year, I got an itch. So then I figured: the reason I’m not racing is not so I won’t get a marathon experience in Europe, but rather so that I won’t have to miss anything fun in order to train. And here we come to the loophole – I could run a marathon as long as I didn’t train. This is creative problem solving at its best.

Then to find the right marathon. I’d grown to love Finland and wanted to find something domestic so I could have a Finnish race experience. As I searched the possibilities, one jumped out as a clear winner: The Santa Claus Marathon. To this day I still don’t know if this is the official or unofficial name of the race, but that’s what everybody called it. The race takes place in Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland which, for those of you who don’t know, is the birthplace (or home, I don’t really know) of Santa. Seriously, that’s what Finns believe. We who hail from outside of Finland know this to be laughably untrue. Even we Jews know that Santa and Mrs. Claus incontrovertibly live at the north pole in a bunker filled with elves, reindeer and wooden toys.

I found the race in the first week of June, which allowed for exactly one week of training. Three runs later, capped by a slow 13 miler, I was onto the taper. Thus was I ready to take on the world (or to get a cramp and bow out after 6 miles).

Taking advantage of the endless daylight of the Finnish summer at the Arctic Circle, the race started at 8:00 PM, as many Nordic marathons do. I toed the line, a bit nervous, along with 100 other dedicated or crazy runners who had travelled far distances for the singular glory of having Santa fire the starter pistol. The race starts exactly on top of the arctic circle at a place called Santa’s Village, which is a big tourist attraction. The first mile runs around and, indeed, through Santa’s workshop, which is a pretty novel thing. It’s a bit like running through an underground Christmas themed Disneyland, so that was a new experience. After that, you get some nature and pretty lake views, but the course basically winds through mostly abandoned streets and neighborhoods over the next 25.2 miles. Despite some great spirit and comradery from this obviously dedicated group of runners, the spectators reflected the small size of the race. If you ever need a bunch of spectators to edge you on, it’s when you’ve done the patented David 1 week training program.At the finish

The first 10 miles went pretty smoothly. I ran slowly, but without issue. Soon thereafter I got the first signs that things were starting to go south. You know how you get that one muscle twinge that’s not so bad, but indicates that you’re not getting off scott free? I got that around mile 11. I gutted out a few more miles at a 9:30 pace, then finally got the good idea to start a run walk. As these things tend to, I started out at a 10 on 2 off, then slowed to a 10:4, then an 8:4, then a who-knows-what. I was just trying to move forward in any way possible – relentless forward progress as they say. Sometimes this was running, more often it wasn’t. The good news is that there were sparse, but friendly runners around and I knew that I had nobody else to blame but myself. This was all my doing. It’s odd, but that does make one feel better.

One thing nobody tells you about the northern summers is that the mosquitoes are more aptly compared to birds than bugs. So while I’m gimping along at a crawl, the mosquitoes are feasting for long, long hours. At least they did motivate me to move a bit more quickly.

One of my favorite memories of this run – or of any run actually – was the final mile and the post-race festivities. At the end of the race you enter the downtown area which is filled with bars. In the summer months the folks of cold countries try to fit 12 months of festivities into the 2-3 months that are reasonably not freezing. In a place like Rovaniemi this goal is taken to an extreme. So  at midnight, as I’m struggling through the last 300 yards on the main street through the center of Rovaniemi’s nightlife, there are hundreds of inebriated, partying Finns drinking and cheering all along either side of the course.  I have to say that I was in no shape to run, but I didn’t want to disappoint the party goers so instead I got on my horse and galloped.  Spectator motivation at its best.photo

Finishing at midnight (it took me 4:30, so I actually finished at 12:30) in the blazing Finnish sun was a pretty serene event. The medal is a thick chunk of wood emblazoned with a reindeer – one of my absolute favorites. Rather than going home to shower after the race I made a ninety degree right turn and joined the revelers in the bar. I’ve got to say that joining hundreds of rowdy, partying Finns at the finish line of a 100 person race (101 if you count Santa Claus) and partying the night away covered in sweat was a pretty cool way to celebrate my slowest, most painful race ever!

Drink more coffee

It’s good for you. Don’t believe me? Read this:

http://www.amazon.com/Buzz-Science-Lore-Alcohol-Caffeine/dp/0195092899

Or this:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/this-is-your-brain-on-coffee/?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A5%22%7D

It’s especially good for endurance athletes:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/how-coffee-can-galvanize-your-workout/?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A5%22%7D

So there you go.

The ideal running WAG

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So I’ll acknowledge up front that this is a bit of a self-indulgent post. Self indulgent because I believe that:

1) having a wife or girlfriend (or boyfriend) who supports your running in just the right way is critical to a successful relationship and a successful run;

2) there are a few easily-identifiable but under-appreciated criteria that separate the good running WAGs from the not good running WAGs

3) that I happen to have the best running WAG out there, Awesome Wife Kelly

Note: We here at Run David Run are not sexist or any other ist, so far as we know. HABs are equally judged along the following criteria.

So here goes. Running WAGS should:

  • Be supportive: Getting out of bed at 6 AM to go on a long run is hard. Abstaining from alcohol the night before is lame. A supportive WAG who doesn’t hassle you (too much) makes these things much easier
  • Be interested: Showing genuine interest in what is probably a pretty boring story is priceless. I’m telling the story because I’m excited about it and I know nobody else will care. It’s nice to have a WAG who is the ONE person in the world who does

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    Post-race support

  • Know when to pretend to be interested: It’s simply not possible for anybody, no matter how much they love you, to actually be interested in a five minute discussion of different methods to tie your shoes to reduce arch pain. Sometimes it’s okay to nod and look attentive while you’re really planning out your weekend in your head
  • Have a firm leash / strong backhand when needed: Sometimes we become too self-obsessed. It is also your job to keep us in check
  • Be a great cheerer: Screaming our names, making signs, acting like getting a PR is the most important thing in the world. These things make a huge difference for us. If you don’t run you may not know how important it is to look forward to a great reception at mile 22, but it really, genuinely is

    This time the whole family came to cheer

    This time the whole family came to cheer

  • Be awesome

Unrealistic, but possible extra credit:

  • Be an awesome cook
  • Be okay listening to audio books about running
  • Don’t scream about sweaty running clothes taking over the bedroom

Thanks to Awesome Wife Kelly for embodying all of these things and many, many more

Chasing Bourbon with Running and Vice Versa: The Bourbon Challenge

I’ve been fortunate enough to do some really fun and bizarre things in my life – at 16 I hung out with a doped up Dennis Rodman as he tried to talk two models into a threesome – but I rank the Bourbon Challenge right up there with the all-time highlights.

Chase map

Each October, 300 12-person teams run a 200 mile relay through Bourbon County from Louisville (more or less) to Lexington. The race is designed to take about 24 hours, with each runner responsible for three legs at ~5 miles each. You can do the math, but that means you run more or less every 8 hours over the course of a day. Because the runs are so short and spread out, you can basically hit each leg at 10K pace. I mean yeah, eventually, the effects of the cumulative effort and hours without sleep catch up with you, but until it does, you really fly.

Several things make this race a once in a lifetime experience:

  • Logistics: While awful in many respects, the sheer lunacy of the logistics of moving 12 people through a 200 mile running relay contribute to the fun, confusion, panic and general tumult of the race. Each team has two seven-person vans to drive runners from relay checkpoint to checkpoint (each team is required to supply its own non-running drivers. These people are literal saints). The runners from one van will run seven consecutive legs, making this van “on” while the runners from the other van are “off” and try to find a good parking spot on the side of the road to get a couple of hours of sleep while crammed into uncomfortable seats with sweaty, stinky runners. The “on” van has to drop its runner, wait for the handoff, CHEER LIKE HELL, then collect the finished runner and hurry ahead to the next stop to do it all again. After six such hops (about 6 hours) the “off” van becomes “on” and starts the whole process again. What this means is that over 6 hours you get a bunch of short bursts of wild cheering, mad dashing (and getting lost) and one really fast (and fun) run. Then you take six hours off, eat something and try, almost surely unsuccessfully, to sleep. It’s more awesome, unpredictable, boring and memorable than I can hope to describe
  • Spirit: I’ve never been at a running event with such good natured, spirited participants. All the ITK teams show up with vans decorated to reflect the team’s name / spirit / favorite color / whatever. Similarly outrageous outfits adorn the more creative and fun teams. People take this race with the appropriate amount of seriousness. That is to say, they run hard when they’re up and just have fun in between. The lack of sleep and need to psych yourself up to run at night, really helps set the tone of pandemonium. But here’s the kicker: the runners are also the fans. Because at any given time, 13/14 runners from each team aren’t running, they’re cheering. Ever wonder what it would be like to run a marathon where everybody cheering was also running (and vice versa)? Yeah, it’s the most enthusiastic group of spectators / runners I’ve ever seen. All around, it’s like no other race I’ve experienced.

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  • Bourbon: The organizers (who are simply top notch) do a great job of taking advantage of the locale. Many of the hand-offs are at distilleries, including Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Four Roses and Wild Turkey. And you’re not just there to pass the baton, but to tour, explore and taste. My team made the most out of our surroundings and at least a few of us tasted at each distillery. Hey, you’ve got several hours before the next run and when is the next time I’m going to be at the Knob Creek distillery?
  • TURKEY: So this one will only apply to me, but I was fortunate to run with the Wild Turkey team, comprised almost exclusively of employees of Wild Turkey. Running the Bourbon Challenge with the guys who make Wild Turkey 101 is a pretty cool thing to have on your resume. Not only were my teammates top notch, passionate and incredibly knowledgeable (about bourbon) people, but they were great fun and good runners. In addition, Wild Turkey and corporate parent Campari treated us incredibly well, springing for t-shirts, turkey calls, 1st class vans and just as much Gatorade as we could handle. We even got a story written about us in something called the Urban Llama.

Sadly, my buddy at Wild Turkey moved on to another job shortly after the race. When he told me he was leaving I practically begged him to stay so that we could run the race again. Alas, he had other priorities.

Not me. If Wild Turkey ever comes calling, I’ll take the job just for this perk.

Why stickers are the best souvenirs

So this is a pretty silly post. Silly but crucially important to your future happiness and the fate of mankind.

One of the great paradoxes of our time is that as society has become wealthier, people, as a whole, have not become happier. So much more stuff, but it’s not translating into joy. A flood of recent research into happiness outlines many, many potential causes of the paradox. The good news about this academic research is that much of it is really actionable – kind of like a Facebook “Do these 10 things to be happy” post, but like actually based on smart people doing massive amounts of research and synthesizing their results in peer reviewed journals.

One of the nuggets I’ve taken away from my reading in this area is that accumulating possessions has little impact on happiness, whereas accumulating experiences does. While the causes and consequences of this finding are complex, it can be (poorly) summarized as such:

Things depreciate. You enjoy your car, watch or television more on the 1st day you own it than at any other time. Things also have carrying costs (insurance, gasoline, storage space, etc). So you continue to pay for these items forever, but like them less and less every day.

Experiences appreciate. You’ll think fondly of your last vacation / surfing lessons / marathon for the rest of your life. Even if the experience itself wasn’t that great in the moment, you’ll actually like it more in retrospect.

Summary: Buy experiences, not things.

Awesome Wife Kelly and I have begun to adopt this philosophy into our lives, deciding to aggressively prune our possessions and declutter our lives (also after reading Marie Kondo’s fascinating book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” which is equal parts self help guide, practical advice for living a simpler, tidier life and mystical treatise. In the US they would have her committed, in Japan she’s a celebrity). We have gone through everything we own and decided if this is something that makes our lives better or if it’s something that sits here and makes our lives busier and more crowded. Even following round after round of discarding unwanted items, this perspective helped us clarify a lot of decisions that used to seem hard.

The point here isn’t to preach or even to persuade. It’s simply to give you the necessary background for why stickers are the absolute best souvenir.

photo 1

I’ve pasted stickers over a good portion of my personal possessions (always in a tasteful way). They’re on the crappy Ikea dresser that I see every morning. I’ve got a sticker from the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer on my coffee grinder (one of the all time essential pieces of equipment in our house). My Kindle has a sticker I brought home from Finland. Every day I see these stickers, they remind me of the great moments of my life and they make me happy.

photo 3photo 2

They do not take up room. They do not cost money. They do not provide stress.

Sure, running shirts from the marathon are cool. So are branded water bottles that say “New York Marathon 2009”. But too often these great reminders of life events require too many trade-offs. I have so many damn running shirts piling up they are overflowing my drawers. And now I can’t throw any of them away simply because it has the name of a race on it? Even worse, these shirts are usually of pretty mediocre quality. So now not only do I have an overflowing drawer, but bleeding nipples. That’s a whole different type of experience and one I choose not to repeat / remember.

Forget it. Buy a sticker. Peel, apply and enjoy.

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.
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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.