Yes indeedy, once again it's time to recap the Year in Gear. Here's the stuff I used this year and feel confident recommending to everyone...and no, none of these companies are paying me to plug them...I just like their stuff!
After wearing mostly Brooks the past couple years, I ran a bunch of miles in some other brands this past year as well. With the world's supply of clearance Brooks Glycerin 6s in my size pretty much tapped out, I needed to move on from my 2008 shoe crush and find a new love. For my first new shoe date, I wore a pair of Vasque Aether Tech SSs during the Bull Run Run 50. They're not bad for 50 milers like this one on moderate trails, but I wouldn't recommend them for a 100 miler or anything with super gnarly terrain (The uppers tear easily and the boa lacing system pops itself out every now and again on rough stuff)....but for a 50-mile or less speedy trail race, they're actually quite an enjoyable (and light!) shoe to run in.
Later in the year I hopped back on the Saucony bandwagon after a few years away and ran 200+ trail miles in the original Xodus (newer version linked here) before the heel cup failed on me and ripped up my foot during The Ring. I liked this shoe a lot, and I assume my heel-cup issue was a freak thing. I'll probably pick up another pair for my 2010 trail races. Needing a new trail shoe with my Xoduses (Xodi?) out of commission, I picked up a cheap pair of the Saucony Grid Excursion 4s for $53 the week before my Horse-Shoe Trail adventure and they worked out pretty well. I know I complained about their friction heat on the roads, but I should probably realize they only started to bother me on the roads after 110 miles of running in that adventure. For anyone looking to run 100 or less on a course that demands a hybrid shoe, this is actually a great affordable option.
Finally, I'm happy to report I logged all of my road miles in the second half of the year (including my 139+ miles at the NorthCoast24) in the discontinued Saucony ProGrid Ride 1. I have a couple pairs left that I'll rack up a few hundred more miles on this winter before I need to find a replacement as my go-to road shoe. The ProGrid Ride 2 version is out now, and I figure by the time February rolls around and I run out of my stock of 1s, the 2s will be on clearance to make way for the 3rd generation. Not bad timing!
As always, no matter the shoe I'm running in, I always get them online at Holabird Sports. No, they don't pay me or give me any discounts (beyond what they offer everyone on their website), but shipping is always free over $65 (and I usually buy 2 or 3 pairs at a time, so that's not a problem), and they even offer discounts on brand-new shoes too. I highly recommend.
Drymax, that's all you need to know. I've been wearing them for about 18 months now and haven't had a single blister. I pretty much stick to the Maximum Protection versions (with the hot weather versions being great in the summer), and to give you an idea of how well they're made, it took about 1,500 miles per pair before they started to show any wear (and it was on the back of the ankle and not the bottoms!). Simply put, these socks kick ass and are made by Kick Ass people. I couldn't possibly recommend them more. *Disclaimer: They do give me free socks, but I would still pay for them if I had to.
Here's the deal. Nathan's HPL20 pack itself fits great and pretty much has all the pockets and features you need to run a 100+ miles happy. The problem is, their hydration bladder is a total piece of crap. Mine started leaking within the first couple weeks of using it. When I checked for similar issues from others online, I found dozens of other who were dealt the same crappy hand by Nathan's shoddy work. To make things worse, they never bothered to respond to my requests for a replacement bladder online or by phone. Boo to you, Nathan. You're totally off my Christmas list.
I ended up replacing the defective bladder with a great 70oz Camelbak that fits and works great. I highly recommend all Camelbak bladders for their sturdiness and technological advancements (internal support structure, much more flexible hose, etc).
I tried out a lot of new stuff this year, and wouldn't you know I ended up right back where I started. This isn't a bad thing since I always run great on S-Caps and Hammer Gel and Perpetuem, but all sorts of fancy new products continually trick me into thinking there's something even better for me out there. You know what I realize after trying all of these "magic bullets" over the past couple years? What makes me a better runner is working harder (and smarter) in training, and running my races with a smart pacing plan. There are no short-cuts in ultra running. My S-Cap and Hammer combo plan keeps my stomach happy, so I'll stick with that in the future and trust in hard work to make me better.
You know what else kicks ass? The Black Diamond Icon headlamp, Oxysox Compression socks for lower legs (cut off the feet and put your Drymax there!), BodyGlide, Ultragen and Endurox for recovery, Proline Sports Nutrition for great deals on supplements (look for promo code discounts), the Gregory Miwok pack for self-supported mountain trips!, POM juice (drink it straight up if you're tough, or check out their site for great recipies!), these Sennheiser headphones (awesome for running!), this awesome winter hat from Under Armour, CW-X Tights (love the 3/4s for cold days/night runs), and Dirty Girl gaiters!
I'm always looking for new stuff, so let me know if there's any gear you swear by too!