Monday, January 9, 2012

Best Running Purchases of 2011

As runners, we make tons of running-related purchases.  Some are needed, some are desired, some are just made. As usual, I bought a lot of running crap this year.  Probably less than previous years (I think I'm reaching a point of saturation). Among the new gear, there were a few stand-outs worth mentioning. Here are my favorites for 2011:

Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket
I already had 5-6 running specific jackets, but never felt I had the "right" one for most runs. All of mine were a bit too much--too bulky, too warm, too heavy, too unbreathable, too much. When it's really cold, I do need more than a lightweight jacket, but on the vast majority of days I simply need a simple jacket. That's where the Patagonia Nine Trails jacket fills the niche. It is EXTREMELY light weight (~4 ounces), extremely breathable, blocks wind, sheds rain, and fits very nicely (trim fit, but stretchable). I've had my eye on this one for a while, but like most Patagonia gear, it always seemed too expensive. The list price is $99.  I bought in this fall during the Patagonia clearance sale for $45. It works very well. Packs to the size of my fist, drys quickly, breathes nicely, yet still blocks wind and light rain and never becomes clammy. It has a full front zipper, but no pockets or hood. Unfortunately, seems that the Nine Trails jacket is being phased out or replaced with a newer model. Almost impossible to find in stores or online.

Garmin Forerunner 305
From year to year, and sometimes from month to month, I go back and forth between logging every detail of my runs to logging absolutely nothing.  Lately I've tried to do more heart rate based training, especially Maffetone inspired aerobic runs. I already had a heart rate monitor...but for some reason, I never consistently used it. Enter the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS/HR watch!  Last summer I was gearing up (mentally and literally) for the August Howl at the Moon 8-Hour race. I decided I needed a little extra motivation to keep running in the heat and humidity that typified central Illinois. The Garmin 305 was my choice for external motivation. I bought it on Amazon for $125. It now sells for around $175-200. How can older model watches sell for more over time?  I have really enjoyed logging all of my miles, tracking routes, heart rates, paces, elevation, etc. It seems fairly accurate (95-99%)--doing better on roads and open trails. Accuracy decreases when you have twists and turns, frequent elevation changes, and dense cover. Overall, I am happy with the general features, long battery life, and ease of data download. The watch does all of the "work" and I simply download via USB port to my computer. There are several free software programs that will grab the Garmin data and display/analyze for your viewing pleasure.

SportTracks Running Software (plus FellRnr plugin for DailyMile)
Well, if I got myself a Garmin GPS/HR watch, I best get myself a good run log program too!  I checked out various reviews on the "interweb" and found a few people favoring SportTracks software.  I laid down about $30 and got the full-featured program (there is a free limited trial version too, now the full program costs $35).  It was worth it.  The program has quite a few plugins (many free, others low-cost) that enhance the overall analysis and usability. How cool is it to download my Garmin data into SportTracks and have the weather, splits, and heart rate zones automatically calculated and displayed?  And my FellRnr plugin grabs the data and uploads to DailyMile with one click (adding his own "efficiency" calculations and a few other cool stats). You can analyze daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly data and split it according to your own preferences. Very cool. This and my Garmin watch motivate me to log more miles...and then actually look at the pretty data pictures.

2011 was a banner year for minimalist shoes. Lots of good road and trail shoes came out and the trend will likely continue in 2012. I suppose I can't exclude shoes from my 2011 best purchases. The Merrell Trail Glove and the New Balance Minimus Trail were both good purchases and are solid trail shoes...but not spectacular. To their credit, they have allowed me to continue my fascination with minimalist running. Unfortunately, I already had several pairs of running shoes that were just as minimal, if not more so (VFF Bikila, VFF KSO, Feelmax Osma, etc). I was hoping that these two trail specific models would take the minimalism to the trails...but still provide traction and protection. Not quite. They are nicely minimal, but they don't protect on the trails as much as I would like (and need) for trail ultramarathons (or long training runs).  A little more midsole and a flexible protection plate would make them ideal. Very good shoes, just not the dream shoe I was planning for when I ordered them (maybe that dream shoe will be the 2012 NB MT 110?).

Hope you made some wise running purchases in 2011.  Have any products to recommend to me?


Kevin said...


Just got my NB110's last week and ran in them for the first time last Saturday. Did 10 or so easy miles on some solid and some slightly muddy trails. The traction was good, nice rock plate, low weight, and fit like the 101s. I'm planning on using them next weekend for at least part of, if not all, of a 50 mile trail run. First impression is good, but should have better idea after the longer miles. I also have been running all my road miles in the Altra Instincts. The first pair I got fell apart after about 100 miles - I sent them back for replacement. In the meantime, I got a second pair. Ran the McNabb FA50K yesterday in them and have probably 200 miles on the second pair with no construction issues. It took a couple of weeks for the calves to get use to the zero drop on hard surfaces, but now they feel good. A little stiff, but they offer decent cushioning. Trade-off I guess for trying to keep the feet together on blacktop and concrete.

Best running purchase of 2011 for me was a beer home brew setup. Long runs and beer go so well together!

Happy new year!

Chris said...

Just got my MT 110s today. Seem almost perfect (I got the wide 2E version). Need more runs before really reviewing them but they have serious potential!

I have the Altra Instincts too--they are a bit too much shoe for me. Too heavy, too thick midsole, inflexible, etc. Probably good for longer ultras that are on roads or tame trails (dirt, gravel, hardpack, etc). Nice and wide toebox. Altra are supposed to have new road and trail models that are less shoe than the Instincts and Lone Peaks. Those would be nice.

Home brew...sweet!

Ben S said...

I'm happy with the Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp I bought. I'm curious how bright the Black Diamond Storm is and how long the batteries last. I've heard it's been improved. I also bought a GPS watch in October and it's made a huge positive impact in my training.

Chris said...


I have the BD Icon headlamp--it is really bright and long lasting (plus I got the recharge pack)...but it's rather heavy. Great for 100 milers. I use it for my winter (night)trail runs too since it's so bright and easy to recharge.