Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Product Reviews: Fischer Progressor 8+, Saucony Kinvara, Craft Zero Extreme Crew, CW-X Stabilyx Tight

It's been one hell of a week at the Crashing the Boards offices. And by offices, I mean getting out there and after it.

To wit, put down an epic ski day over at Saddleback Mountain: waist deep powder, low 20s temperature, and a barnburner of a run at 43 MPH. You can't get much better than that. Then, of course, because I'm sick in the head, came home and ran with the Maine Running Academy for the night. Couple all this with a great swim set earlier in the week, and things are looking up for next week's start of training for my first half-iron distance race.

To make all of this extensive training possible, though, it's important to have the right gear. You can't make turns confidently on skis you don't trust; you can't run in shoes that don't fit well; you can't run outside in the winter without the right tights or pants. In all, here's a few items in my arsenal that have been added in the past 12 months:

Fischer Progressor 8+ 170 cm: Full disclosure: I've been on Fischer's since I started skiing. I know how they handle (extremely responsive), and know what they don't like (laying flat). In other words, this isn't the ski for you if you want to be lazy. Instead, if you're an active skier looking for your ski to provide a lot of energy return, this is where to go. The dual-radius turning system is a real cool trick: the tip of the ski is set at 12m, where the tail is tuned to 16m. So if you're forward on the ski, you can make explosive slalom-style turns, or ski moguls with a lot of confidence. Meanwhile, if ripping big GS turns is more your style, sit back and relax. Great carving and edging on firmer surfaces.

Tuning note: the integrated binding system on the Progressor provides a lot of response. However, the Austrians tend to mount the binding further back on the ski for more stability at high speed. If you want more quick turning, or a centered feeling on the ski, mount on the forward (+5) setting. Want to float in powder? Set it to the rear setting (-5).

In all, a great all-mountain ski for the East Coast, or a carver for those out West. Not for the faint of heart, but those who want to really get out there and hit the slopes hard.

Dimensions: 120mm tip, 72 mm underfoot, 103 mm. Price: $799 with Railflex bindings.

Saucony Kinvara: If you've read the post on Natural Running here on Crashing the Boards, you'd know where this shoe falls into our categories of footwear: natural. Coming in around the 10 ounce mark in my massive size 13 boats, this is probably the lightest shoe I have run in.

To be entirely honest, I was skeptical of trying something like this out. I've had plenty of issues with running before (see my Injury posting), and going to something without posting seemed like it would be wrong.

I could not be happier to tell you: I'm wrong. This shoe kicks about 11 different levels of tail. I've taken it on speedwork, on long runs, on short runs, and it has been a dream. I will say that it is happier at speed than it is slow, as you are more likely to maintain good form when you are pushing your limits. (Weird how that works out, as you'd think form gets sloppy when you add speed to things).

Note: the lack of heel-toe drop can be a bit jarring if you haven't run more midfoot-style before. It can lead to some Achilles and calf issues, or even stress fractures in the lower part of the leg. Transition slowly. But for those who have made the switch, this shoe is a winner. Thinking this is my shoe for training and racing this year.

Cost: $89.99, available from Saucony or specialty running retailers.

Craft ZeroExtreme Long Sleeve and Concept Base Layers: Two answers to the same question: what to wear as a base layer. In general, for winter, we want three different layers: your base layer, designed to move sweat as quickly as possible; your insulating layer for warmth, and a shelter layer to protect from the wind and precipitation.

The ZeroExtreme line was designed with 35-55 degree temperature ranges in mind. To be honest, I could never see myself wearing the Warm product line. I love these two pieces. The Long Sleeve and Concept both feature the same basic weight in the garment, but the Concept piece has a bit more open paneling off the Cool product line for breathability. Extremely lightweight, and form-fitting.

Fitting note: Yes, they ARE supposed to be that tight. Take your normal size in these things. The Scandinavians do tend to build things long and narrow, but we want this to be tight so that if the wind makes it through your first two layers, you are still protected from your sweat turning ice cold.

Prices: $69.99-$79.99, available at ski shops, specialty running stores, and Craft directly.

CW-X Stabilyx Tight: Not just a tight, CW-X utilizes both compression and kinesio-tape application to provide a support web throughout. The Stabilyx product line focuses on the IT band, patellar tracking, and the calf for support. Other pieces in their line focus on other aspects of the body.

I've been wearing them for both skiing and running, and I can definitely feel a bit of the difference between them. My personal pet peeve, though, is that they aren't quite long enough: I've got a small spot on the lower part of my leg that does not get covered by my sock nor the tight. CW-X: please offer a tall version.

Sizing note: Sizes not based on waist size or inseam: instead, simple height and weight will dictate. For reference, at 6'3" and 150-155, I'm in a large. (again: please offer a long version!)

Cost: $97.99, available from specialty running and ski retailers.

Now equipped, what are you waiting for? Get out there!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nutrition and Conditions Report: Saddleback, Butternut, and Shawnee Peak

First off, a Happy New Year to all! Now that we've shaken off our New Year's imbibing, it's time to get down to business.

If you've been following along, you'll know that I'm a pretty big skier. I've been a passholder at Sugarloaf for the past few years. This year, I'm holding over at Saddleback instead, just a short trip across the valley. It's a fantastic time, no matter where you are.

However, how many times have you had to bag your day early because you simply had nothing left in the tank? Couldn't make it till last chair, despite arriving on the hill late? More often than not, the answer isn't technique or lack of conditioning. Instead, it's because your nutrition strategy failed you.

We attempt to get by when skiing on a steady diet of...well...nothing besides breakfast and lunch. Would you try that for your next race, whether running, biking, triathlon, etc.? Didn't think so. Why would you try that here? Your body can only store enough glycogen for ninety minutes of exertion, at which point you switch over to burning fat as primary fuel. The problem, of course, is that you have to slow down when that happens so your body can process fat as fuel. Ever wonder why you start to struggle midway through the day?

I've had three ski days so far, all at different mountains, with all different types of terrain and surface conditions. We'll go through each, talking about the quality of the skiing as well as the nutrition presented for both.

Saddleback Mountain, Dec. 20: Amazing what a little bit of snow can do in a short period of time. Saddleback had only been open for three days prior to my 2+ hour venture to the northwest. I wasn't expecting much. After all, not a lot of natural snow had fallen, and a big rain event delayed the opening by a week.

Boy, was I wrong.

Conditions were superb, especially for early season. Glade skiing before Christmas is like finding $100 bill in your jacket that you didn't know was there from last ski season. (Nope, no cash in the jacket this year. Sigh.) It's just something that doesn't happen around these parts.

Considering it was the first day out, and skiing pretty aggressively, it was time to get aggressive with the nutrition. I utilized three products on this day:
  • Powerbar Ironman Perform: Think of Gatorade, except by somebody else and in powder form. A solid mix of electrolytes and calories to put fuel back in your system. This is also the official drink of all Ironman races this year, so it's good to be fueling with something that I'll have to use on race day. Overall, it works quite well. The taste isn't fantastic, but it gets the job done in lemon-lime form. Started nursing a bottle of it from the start of the day, all the way till the finish.
  • Hammer Gel Apple Cinnamon: I use Hammer instead of other gel products simply because it doesn't upset my stomach. As an added benefit, Hammer's gels use both a short and long chain carbohydrate to keep your fueling consistent across the board. Apple Cinnamon tastes a lot like a store-bought apple pie: not great, but good. Any gel would probably be of decent benefit to people, but this is my particular brand and flavor. Used mid-morning, it helped me push across those last couple of runs.
  • Clif Shot Blocks, Tropical Punch: I love these chews. They stay nice and solid the entire time, and you can pop a single one in the mouth and suck on it for a little while. Absolutely delicious. Each little block is 33 calories, so you can dispense them as needed throughout the day. I get them with caffeine for a little extra kick in the rear end when necessary.
In all, a super solid way to kick off the season.

Butternut Ski Area, Dec. 31: Gotta burn those calories before taking part in the evening's festivities, right? Going from Saddleback to Butternut was a big change, as it's apples to oranges. Saddleback is a big mountain, with a lot of difficult terrain. Butternut is more of a family-style approach, with a decent amount of pitch. Consistency of their snow was what they make their bread-and-butter on. Really soft, buttery turns all day long that results in some pretty serious GS-style turns. A good cruiser mountain, rather than super challenging.

As such, the nutrition strategy here wasn't so much to keep me on the mountain as long as possible; instead, it was just to keep the tank chugging along. Only one product, along with some good old-fashioned water.
  • Honey Stinger Waffle: A word of warning to the addictive personalities in the room: these darn things are awesome. Modeled after the strupwafels of northern Europe, this little gem in the Honey Stinger line has 160 calories and a fair amount of sugar. For those who would normally snack on candy, this would be an excellent organic alternative. Caution: will make you thirsty. Not that this is a bad thing, as it forces you to continue to focus on hydration. I'm using these straight out of T1 this year to force me into my liquid nutrition. Plus, they're delicious.
Another solid day, although spring skiing in December is a bit odd.

Shawnee Peak, Jan. 3: Stout little mountain only about an hour from Portland, this is a place that can really sneak up on you. It doesn't look all that imposing, and then you roll off the top and go "whoa! Where'd that come from!"

Conditions didn't help matters much, as the skiing was a bit *cough* firm. The mini-thaw had come and gone, and things had firmed back up. Those not from the northeast may have called it icy. However, because you couldn't see fish beneath it, it could not be ice. Therefore, the following terms are acceptable to describe the conditions: firm, edgeable, carveable, slick, hardpack, boilerplate, or my personal favorite, classic New England skiing. You know it's firm when a snowboarder, sliding with his board perpendicular to the fall line, is not bringing any snow with him.

However, this was also my first day with my new toy: a Garmin Forerunner 305. And seeing as it has a Max Speed function....well, you can imagine what we were trying to do. 35.4 MPH was all we could manage in flat light and conditions. I'm thinking a test at Sugarloaf on Widowmaker-Flume will be in order...

Experimented with the nutrition strategy, as the legs were still a little sore from the 31st.

  • Clif Shot Bloks: See above review.
  • Hammer Endurolytes Fizz Mango: A new product from the friends at Hammer, this is a low-calorie effervescent drink (read: it makes the bottle fizzy!) It's a solid option for those who already are eating their calories, and just need to get the electrolytes back into the system. The mango flavor wasn't bad, although I could see it needing some water as a backup. However, I did enjoy it, and think it would be a strong addition to a skiing strategy for those who sweat salt, like I do.
In all, another good day, even with some teeth-rattling conditions.

Got two more days upcoming in the next week, at which point I'll have some other products reviewed. If you have a particular product you would like to see reviewed, mention it in the comments or shoot me an e-mail, and I'll try to work it in.

Have fun out there!