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April 30, 2010

Jet Blackberry: Are You Gonna Be My Gel?

I’ve been on the receiving end of some nice generosity from the GU company recently, so today’s post is partly a way for me to share the love with a couple of readers, and partly to see who pays attention to this place on the weekends.

Since the giveaway features two separate items, this post features two separate setups: one that’s something of a clarification, and another that’s a bit of a story.

First, the point of clarification: most of us who have done ultras for a number of years were used to seeing GU2O as the featured energy drink at race aid stations. It was also sold in packets and tubs at REI, and developed a loyal following among endurance athletes. So when it started disappearing from store shelves last year, there was a fair amount of “Hey – where’s the GU2O? And what’s this new stuff?” being asked amongst runners, cyclists and triathletes.

The answer is that nothing happened, really. GU2O was rebranded as GU Electrolyte Brew - GU Brew for short – and, according to the website, “retains all of the attributes of GU2O with a slight formulation tweak to improve performance.” It has a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin to fructose, which effectively supplies working muscles with easily available fuel while stimulating the absorption of electrolytes and fluid from the stomach to promote sustained hydration.

What I liked most about GU2O was that its sweetness was extremely mild, making it easy to take for 6, 12, or 24 hours at a time when necessary. Drinks that are too sweet quickly become sickening, and mixes that taste like water eventually lose their appeal during long-duration activity. GU Brew maintains that just-right balance of sweetness that its predecessor possessed – so if you liked the old mix, you’ll like the new stuff as well.

One sad note is that my favorite TangoMango flavor didn’t make the transition from 2-Oh to Brew, so that was kind of a bummer. It’s been replaced by Blueberry Pomegranate, which is pretty nice as well, but it sure doesn’t taste like mangoes. The other three Brew flavors are the same as the earlier version, and if you win the giveaway, you’ll get a sample packet of all four varieties to test for yourself.

And now for my little story …

There was a time almost 20 years ago when I got hooked on long-distance cycling. I lived in North Carolina at the time, and there wasn’t a better way to spend a sweltering summer afternoon than cruising along some bucolic country road (there were lots to choose from), being cooled by a steady breeze that was faintly but sweetly laced with the aroma of tobacco leaves from nearby fields (lots of those, too) until the sun faded enough to make lounging around the home patio a little more tolerable.

Of course, long days in the saddle still required some caloric intake - but in those days my friends and I were living on starving grad student rations, and we weren’t exactly what you’d call sophisticated. So instead of spending our money on cases of energy gels from our local bike shop, we made a habit of pocketing those little jam and jelly packets they have on top of the tables at Denny’s and Waffle House to use as quick sugar fixes on our bike rides. (Classy, huh?)

Over time, we became experts at precisely what kind of fruit toppings to smuggle. We learned to bypass the fruit-juice laden jellies in favor of the real fruit pulp found in jam; we found that berry flavors complemented water or Gatorade better than grape jam or orange marmalade; and I soon decided that blackberry was probably my favorite berry of all.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I had largely forgotten all of that until about 3 months ago, when I tasted my first packet of Jet Blackberry GU. I’m not sure quite how they did this … but it tastes almost exactly like the containers of blackberry jam we used to take from restaurants. Except in this case, it’s a nutritionally supercharged container that’s ideally formulated for endurance activity. The gel has a similar maltodextrin/fructose balance as GU Brew, along with citrates to speed the conversion of carbohydrates to energy molecules, branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) that reduce fatigue by limiting the central nervous system’s production of serotonin, and histidine to help neutralize lactic acid buildup. Throw in some antioxidants, a little chamomile as an anti-inflammatory agent, and a dash of ginger to soothe the stomach, and that’s about the most kick-ass packet of restaurant jelly you can possibly imagine.

The only real downside that I can see is that because of the name, every time I open a packet of Jet Blackberry, I’m reminded of the ridiculously infectious rock tune that follows this post. But that’s my own issue to deal with; as for you, I’ll throw in a couple of packs of Jet Blackberry GU with the Brew samples for whoever wins the drawing.

So that’s the deal: Brew and Blackberry samplers for two winners, drawn randomly from anyone who comments below. Good luck, and I’ll announce on Monday whether Jet is going to be your gel.


Jet, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (click to play):

*Products provided by GU Energy.
** See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


April 29, 2010

Father/Daughter Day: Big Sur 5K Report

“Look at this big great world that we’re living in –
There's lots of fun to be had on these streets –
We can take a ride just you and me –
It's a jungle gym.”
- Jack Johnson, “Jungle Gym” (video after post)

One thing is certain about Big Sur Marathon weekend: I take it a lot less seriously than I used to.

This used to be the day I had circled on my calendar approximately 364 days ahead of time. The race I relied upon to validate all those early morning workouts, all the pain I habitually inflicted upon myself, and all the time I spent obsessing over my training plans. Most (and, in hindsight, worst) of all, it was the day I used to determine my self-worth for approximately the next 364 days.

Times have definitely changed.

A few years ago, after a streak of 12 BSIMs in a row, I made what was at the time an excruciating decision to sit out the marathon in favor of a pair of ultras on either side of the race date, and did the marathon relay with a group of friends instead. Last year, I received a gift entry, and used it as an opportunity to document all the sights and sounds of the race I’ve loved for so many years. In the process, I realized something: Big Sur is a wonderful race, but it’s not an important race. At least, not in the way it used to be for me.

That’s why I didn’t hesitate for a minute this winter when my 8-year-old daughter asked if she could run the 5K with me this year. Since the marathon and 5K are held simultaneously, it’s impossible to do both events – and four years ago, when my then-3rd grade son did the 5K, I had him run it with his mother so that his big day wouldn’t interfere with my own marathon plans. So … yeah. You could say there's a bit of regret there.

Consequently, my goals for this spring were very basic: to share some quality time with my daughter in training for the race, and try to help her have some fun on race day. I figured that these opportunities might not come along very often, so I may as well enjoy the ride while we’re on it.

(And with that, let’s get to the pics …)

One thing you notice right off the bat on the start line of the 5K is how strangely normal everyone looks. There aren’t any super-skinny people jumping around in singlets, or sucking down energy gel packs like they’re crack cocaine, or jumping into the bushes to pee every 2 minutes. They’re just … people, I guess. Predictably, this struck me as kind of weird.

However, what the marathon and 5K have in common is this: a completely log-jammed first mile. See that red arrow? (Click to enlarge.) It’s pointing at my daughter’s head. After I took this photo, I had to weave my way through at least 100 people to work my way back to her. Fortunately, they were all going at something like 12 min/mile pace, so it didn’t take me very long.

After the first mile, the course goes from road to trail, with the ocean on one side of you, and beautiful coastal foliage and rocky bluffs on the other. It’s also fairly flat, and the crowd has finally thinned out enough to jog at a steady pace. Speaking of which …

My daughter had it in her head that she didn’t want to walk at all during the race – and since it was her idea, I had no problem letting her go for it. Sure enough, she was able to keep a steady jog throughout the whole race. Not only that …

... but she was able to run all the way up the quarter-mile hill that begins mile 3. Best of all, she remembered this little talk we had before the race:

Me: Let me explain what’s going to happen at the start. Everybody’s going to take off like crazy, but we’re going to keep an easy pace and let them all run ahead of us.

Her: OK. How come?

Me: Because in the last half of the race, all those idiots will be walking and gasping for breath, and we’ll start passing people left and right.

Her: Cool. Got it.

So pretty much everyone you’ve seen in these pictures ended up finishing behind us – and on this final hill, we almost had to weave our way through the crowds we were passing.

Perhaps the coolest part of the 5K is that the final 1.1 miles are on the marathon course, so even novice runners can sense some of the relief of seeing this “Hallelujah!” sign, and …

... all of the spectators who are gathering to see the marathon finish warm themselves up by cheering the 5K runners home. My daughter, as well as all the other 5Kers, got the excitement of sprinting down the wide open roadway toward the finish banner while being flanked by well-wishers on either side, without having to run the usual 25 and a half miles to get there – why didn’t I think of this a few years ago?

It’s a wonderfully supportive and encouraging environment, with one exception: you know who doesn’t like to share the excitement of your 5K finish? …

The Marathon Foto people, that’s who. At least, not unless you pay them at least $19.95. They did this to me when I tried to take a picture of my girl standing in front of the “official finisher” backdrop. Not to worry, though; we snuck over to an identical backdrop when no one was looking, and I got my photo … but I’m not posting it here, in case their lawyers are reading this.

And just like that, my daughter’s first 5K was in the books. I honestly have no idea if this is going to become a regular thing, or if she’ll drift away like her older brother did in favor of other athletic pursuits as she gets older. What I’m more sure of is that my goals for the event were met: the time we spent in training was completely rewarding, and my daughter had a fun experience on race day. Come to think of it, shouldn’t those be the goals for every race?


And of course, no post about this daughter of mine would be complete without a tune from her favorite singer.

Jack Johnson, "Jungle Gym" (click to play):


April 27, 2010

Soft Star RunAmoc Now Available!

If you’ve been following along here for the past month or two, this isn’t so much an announcement as it is an update – but Soft Star's RunAmoc is officially available as of today from the company website.

Soft Star RunAmoc; black perforated leather with street outsole

Links are below – but first, a few follow-up observations …

* The name is RunAmoc! Just like I wanted! I love getting my way sometimes.

* More than any other minimalist shoe I’ve worn, these mocs have a very natural feel to them – I’ve occasionally described it to friends as “tribal” or “native”. There are two pieces of leather or suede held together with a single lace, sitting atop a thin, flat platform; you get the sense that American Indians or indigenous people of nearly every continent might have worn something very much like this at some point. (Sure, the Apaches or Navajos probably didn’t have access to Vibram outsoles – but it’s a simple design with universal utility.) If you didn’t know better, you’d have no idea how much trial, error, and revision was involved with making the finished product.

* Price point for these (as of this posting) is $87. It was the last element of the product launch to fall into place, and by far the one that caused the most discussion, research, and thoughtful consideration on the part of the company.

Basically, the factors involved were these: Soft Star’s not a big corporation looking for huge profit margins – they mainly want to make a nice, high quality product that is as affordable as possible while still sustaining the business and providing for their handful of employees. However, their hand-made products also carry some very unique pricing issues that larger companies don’t have to deal with, such as custom orders (materials, colors, outsoles, accents), specialty sizing (including working from tracings and individual foot measurements at times), and keeping 100% of their materials and construction in the USA.

All of that stuff adds value to the product – and in my opinion, to the whole company – but it comes at a price. The fact that they’ve taken all this into account and still offer a price point that’s similar to a pair of Vibrams is pretty impressive.

* Of course, any comparison to Vibrams has to include durability, and that’s the aspect of the RunAmoc I’m still investigating. I currently have almost 200 miles on my trail soles, and there’s some visible wear in the high-impact areas, but not enough to lose traction yet. Will they last 300 miles? 500? More? I’m not sure yet … but I’ll keep posting updates here as warranted.

Trail outsole after approximately 200 miles; click to enlarge

* Since I’ve already covered much of the information that would be included with an “official” review, for the time being I’ll just refer you to a couple of prior posts for more information: This one explains the product development process, and this one introduces the RunAmoc with perforated leather and a street outsole.

So here are your links: the Soft Star RunAmoc is available in black perforated leather, red perforated leather, or brown suede. Currently the perforated models (officially called RunAmoc Lite) only come in those two colors, but the suede model can be customized in any color. All of those styles can be ordered with either a 2mm street outsole, or extra grippy 5mm trail sole. Check them out, and contact me (in the comments box below) or the company via e-mail if you have any questions. Then go run amuck!


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April 26, 2010

Yosemite: Snow Creek Falls Hike

One of the few drawbacks about Yosemite National Park is that if you happen to like sleeping in a bed at night, you need to plan a trip very far ahead of time.

You have to make reservations for Yosemite Lodge almost a year ahead of time for any reasonable chance of scoring a room, so planning a hiking trip in the springtime - Yosemite’s most beautiful but most unpredictable time of year – is something of a dice roll when it comes to weather conditions. And when you’ve scheduled a date nearly ten months out, you’re pretty committed to seeing it through – even if spring snowfall totals approach record levels, or air temperatures are 25 to 30 degrees below average, or the forecast calls for another day of snow flurries. Or, in the situation we experienced last week, even if all three of those conditions apply.

Another notable, and far more distressing, drawback of Yosemite is that people die there. Lots and lots of people, in fact – more than 900 since the park’s inception. I happened to be acutely aware of this, because for three weeks prior to our trip I tore through Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite, an exhaustively researched, morbidly fascinating account of every known traumatic fatality within the park borders, written by two longtime Search and Rescue dudes. The appeal of the book – aside from the morbid fascination thing – is its reinforcement of what NOT to do when you’re cavorting in the wilderness. If you spend lots of time in the wild, the book should be required precautionary reading. If you’re interested in learning about the crazy things some (overwhelmingly male, naturally) people do to get themselves killed, it’s really an outstanding collection of tales.

But if you’re too busy to check it out, I’ll help you out a bit. The main theme of Off The Wall can be effectively condensed to a couple of fairly simple rules: 1) Follow the rules, and 2) Don’t be an idiot. Use common sense, and don’t overestimate your abilities just to stoke your ego. Coincidentally, we’ll file that little lesson away for later in the report on the hike my wife and I took in the Snow Creek Falls area. For now, we’ll get started with the photos:

Our hike began from the Tenaya Creek Bridge on the far eastern side of the valley floor. All week long, rain and snow showers had been forecast for this day – so when the morning broke with merely near-freezing temperatures but no precipitation, we decided to go for it. We weren’t sure whether this would be a 30-minute hike or an eight-hour day; we just knew we wanted to give it a try.

The first mile of the trail is actually a gently graded asphalt path that winds past Mirror Lake. During this trip, we learned that the name of the area is officially called Mirror Meadow now, for reasons that are more evident from above.

After the first mile, the trail assumes the signature Yosemite Valley mixture of dirt and granite, with large rock slide areas on one side …

… and the looming presence of Half Dome on the other.

About 2 miles in lies the trail junction for Snow Creek Falls trail, which is also the route to North Dome and Indian Rock. The Falls are about 1.8 miles from this point, most of which is straight uphill.

Snow Creek is perhaps the steepest route in and out of the valley, with several very tall switchbacks to help offset the morning chill.

Along the way, you cris-cross a handful of mini-waterfalls bursting from the overhanging rocks. In another park, a waterslide this large would at least be given a name; in Yosemite, it’s considered a seasonal runoff channel - one of perhaps thousands.

Gaining elevation quickly, we enjoyed some nice views down into Tenaya Canyon …

… and the series of Quarter Domes on the other side …

… as well as a cool angle of the top of Half Dome. That sharp upturn is where the cables run, and the little notch is the famous diving board. (Photo links from this report).

If you click to enlarge this shot, you’ll see a pair of waterfalls on Tenaya Creek (at lower right) in the floor of the Valley below. Even with our remote distance, the sound of these waterfalls was clearly audible for most of our ascent. Meanwhile, we were getting closer to …

… this thing, which was looking more and more like a real waterfall the nearer we got to it. It was also making the trail somewhat treacherous in places …

… as cold granite tends to get pretty slick with an ankle-deep sheet of snowmelt running over it. Trust me on this one.

Above 5500’ or so, the entire face of this rock was covered with runoff, and we were beginning to get hit from above by snow falling off of overhead tree cover. It was around this time that I optimistically remarked how lucky we were not to see snow on the trail.

Around 5600’, we saw it.

I found the view from the end of this switchback particularly arresting: water streaming over the granite ledge to the right, Half Dome still imposing on the left, and the steepness of the canyon we were climbing out of plainly visible on both sides.

Also, see those white clouds rolling in to the right? …

… They became more and more prominent, as we gradually lost our killer views across the valley …

… and quickly lost our trail underfoot. The trail we were following was about 6 to 10” below what you see here, but we were plucky, and decided to soldier on for another 500’ or so of vertical gain.

It wasn’t much longer before whiteout conditions found us: we couldn’t see the sky, couldn’t see the trail …

… and had completely lost our view across the canyon. And suddenly we weren’t so warm anymore.

Also, remember that book I mentioned earlier? Its chapters are (again, somewhat morbidly) divided into mechanisms of death: waterfalls, drownings, rock climbing (a very big chapter, by the way), BASE jumping, etc. I mention that because it was right around here that my wife and I started having the following conversation:

Wife: So if we die out here, would we make the book in the “Hiking Off Trail” section, or somewhere else?

Me: Nah … there’s a whole chapter on “Snow”, and another on “Getting Lost”; I think we’d be in one of those.

See, here’s the thing: when you’re having conversations about how your impending death might be classified, that’s probably a good indication that it’s time to turn around. Recall rule #2 – don’t be an idiot – that I mentioned above. And since the terrain ahead looked like this:

… and snow flurries were starting to fall on us, turning around seemed like a very good idea.

(However, to demonstrate that I can’t completely abandon my foolishness, we continued upward far enough to go from 6990’ on my GPS to an even 7000’. To her credit, my wife didn’t punch me when I proposed this.)

Aside from watching our step on a very slippery downhill slope, backtracking our route was fairly easy: all we had to do was follow the two lonely sets of footprints in the snow that we made on our way uphill.

Here’s another example of how I married the right girl: about 10 minutes down the hill, trying to escape a possible snowstorm, I said “Hey, wait! I need to get some pictures of the gear I’m wearing for a blog review!” and only received a mild eye roll before she agreed.

Curiously, once we descended below the cloud bank, the snow flurries seemed to cease as well; it was like the snow was completely self-contained in the overhead clouds, and couldn’t be bothered to fall all the way to the valley floor below. Not that we were complaining.

(This is also a great shot of why it’s called Mirror Meadow now; the whole area is more of a marshy pool than an actual lake. Credit Yosemite for being ecologically correct.)

At the base of the trail, we were kind of bummed that we couldn’t reach the summit of the climb, so we cruised around the valley floor for a bit – first, to this footbridge further up Tenaya Creek …

… and later on the trail that skirts the north edge of the valley towards Yosemite Lodge. The trail is full of massive rock slides and improbable boulder formations …

… such as this one that forms a natural cave, with a pine tree somehow growing straight out of the granite roof. Whenever I walk around Yosemite, I get the feeling that God just decided to show off a little bit when creating this place.

Eventually we made it back to Yosemite Falls, and then to the Lodge after about 10 miles of hiking. Our discouragement from not reaching the goal of Snow Creek Falls was quickly remedied by a heated room, hot shower, and a quick nap before dinnertime.

While it may be hard to predict exactly what you’ll encounter in Yosemite on any given day, it’s fair to say that any part of this park you explore will leave you impressed and amazed. Perhaps we’ll see Snow Creek Falls another day, or maybe we’ll keep discovering new hikes to occupy our days here. The only thing I know for certain is that I’m looking forward to finding out.


April 25, 2010

Scenes From a Marathon, 2010

This is one of those weeks where I’ve got about twice as many things to report than I have days to write about them – so it’s likely that one of two things will happen: 1) The posts will come fast and furious for the next several days, or 2) I’ll have an acute carpal tunnel seizure somewhere around my third race or hike report that sidelines me for 6-8 weeks without splinting and/or high doses of anti-inflammatories. Honestly, I have no way which way it will play out.

We’ll get the week started with an insider’s recap of this morning’s Big Sur International Marathon that will appear in Monday’s Monterey Herald. Since I didn’t run the marathon myself (I was in the 5K with my daughter, one of the impending race reports on my docket), much of this information comes from my journalistic partner in crime Mike, who was also one of the Boston to Big Sur runners mentioned below.

I should also say that there’s really no way to spend a weekend around the Big Sur Marathon events without getting completely jazzed on the race; even though it’s not in my foreseeable plans, a large part of me is definitely chomping at the bit to race Big Sur again in 2011. Never say never, I guess.


Running Life 4/26/10 “Scenes From a Marathon, 2010”

With Big Sur’s 25th Anniversary in the books, we’re sharing a final handful of observations from another wonderful BSIM weekend …

Hometown Victory!

Even though it started as a small hometown event, the Big Sur Marathon never saw a local runner win the overall men’s title – at least, not until the 25th presentation. Big congratulations to Danny Tapia of Salinas, a recent Hartnell College runner coached by Chris Zepeda. Even more impressive is that this was Danny’s first marathon; it’s possible that we’ve got a legend in the making for future editions of the race.

Coach Zepeda tried making arrangements on Saturday afternoon for Danny to ride the elite bus, a privilege that top contenders in the race are offered by the race committee. Unfortunately, the van was already full, so Danny got up early to catch the Carmel Middle School buses with the “regular” schmoes, before taking off like crazy at the starting gun. He built a big lead after 5 miles, and never looked back en route to a 90-second victory. Next year, we’re guessing he’ll be on the elite bus.

Fast Ladies of Pacific Grove

Note that we said Danny was the first local men’s winner; on the women’s side, the Big Sur Marathon has had 3 local champions: Patty Selbicky in 1987, Nelly Wright in 1988, and legendary ultrarunner Ann Trason in 1989. Interestingly, all of these women were from Pacific Grove, the same town where 2008 Olympic marathoner Blake Russell currently resides. The lesson, perhaps: if you’re a speedy girl looking to win the Big Sur Marathon, you should definitely consider moving to PG.

Blake was at this year’s event as a spectator greeting runners after the race. She has recently returned to competitive running after having a baby a year ago, so if you ever see her on the start line at Big Sur, the smart money will be on her to win big.

Smiling Happy Little People

The JUST RUN Kids’ 3K was held in Pacific Grove for the first time on Saturday and had a record number of participants. About 3,000 kids and parents ran on a beautiful out and back course from Lovers Point. 33 schools participated, and smiling faces were everywhere. Hopefully these are the marathoners of tomorrow.

Boston to Big Sur Forever!

The Boston to Big Sur Challenge was a huge success, with fantastic feedback from everybody who participated. We’re happy to report that the challenge will be continued indefinitely in years to come. Like this year, the races will probably sell out early; mark your calendars now for the July 15th online entry date for Big Sur’s 26th presentation on May 1, 2011.

Where We Shamelessly Take a Portion of Undue Credit

A special shout-out goes to our running partner Carmella Cuva, for completing the Boston to Big Sur Challenge, for winning the top local female award at Big Sur, and for characteristically smiling her way through both races. We’ve run more miles than we can count with Carmella, so we like to think that some of those mornings together contributed to her amazingly successful week of racing.

By the Numbers

This year’s race saw 12,000 participants in the various events, with 2,800 volunteers helping them. 365 Porta Potties were picked up. 350 gallons of coffee were consumed, along with 85,000 cups of Gatorade on Highway 1. Post race, 25 kegs of beer vanished, as well as 2400 bagels, 72 gallons of soup, and 100 cases of bananas. The numbers keep getting bigger, and the race keeps getting better.

See you next year.


April 22, 2010

Snow Day

I typically have a hard time admitting when Mother Nature has the upper hand, or conceding defeat to natural conditions. But sometimes, the decision is fairly clear:

Nevertheless, it was a bit frustrating when the hike that was on our Yosemite agenda today was cut far shorter than expected; details to follow in a report next week. In the meantime, I can still say with certainty that a rough day in Yosemite is still a lot better than a good day almost anywhere else.


April 21, 2010

Princeton Tec Remix Headlamp Review

Princeton Tec is an equal-opportunity illuminator: for more than three decades, they’ve produced a huge variety of lighting systems for cycling, SCUBA, climbing and camping, as well as industrial and military applications. Or, according to their website: We've consulted great athletes, scaled mountains, traversed the poles, touched the ocean floors and rolled two wheels on every continent. By comparison, your routine morning trail run shouldn’t pose that much of a challenge, right?

Despite all this, the company lacked what I consider an essential accessory for early morning trail outings: a compact lamp that’s light enough to wear for hours, bright enough to take on single track trails in the dark, and small enough to fit in your pocket. It’s the category where Black Diamond’s Spot and Petzl’s Tikka XP2 really (pardon the pun) shine, and Princeton Tec lagged behind with the Fuel lamp, which fell short of the brightness and battery life of its competitors.

The Remix is an enormous step forward in both those regards, and makes Princeton Tec a legitimate player in the compact lamp category. Basically, they’ve taken the 3-LED Fuel design and supercharged it with an additional Maxbright LED bulb and extended battery life, while keeping the dimensions the same and adding only a fraction of increased weight.

Princeton Tec Remix

Additionally, the Remix offers some unique features that aren’t typically seen in compact trail headlamps. Its water-resistant casing has a single-arm bracket, which allows rotation through an expansive 120-degree range of motion. The 5mm LED bulbs are white on the standard Remix, but available in red (for night vision) or green (for reading topo maps) versions with the Remix Pro. The 3 AAA battery compartment is very easily accessed by a built-in opening tool on the headband.

Power output for the Maxbright bulb is quite impressive at 70 lumens, and each bulb type has a high and low setting. On high, the Maxbright bulb shoots 45m with a burn time of 28 hours, while the 5mm LEDs have a range of 30m for 61 hours. Functionally, the 5mm LEDs serve as a flood mode, while the Maxbright is more of a spot application. Extended battery life is up to 200 hours with the 5mm LEDs on the low setting. The Remix is compatible with rechargeable batteries as well as standard alkalines.

Three 5mm LEDs; 1Maxbright LED, single on/off button on top

Above the casing is a single large button that is used for on/off and for switching from the 5mm LEDs to the Maxbright. The button is large enough to be used with gloves, but I found it a little overly sensitive to mild pressure, as it accidentally turned on in my pocket a couple of times after I had stowed it away for the morning. One of these times, I didn’t notice until much later, unknowingly draining my battery life while I was oblivious.

Those episodes also highlighted (another pun – sorry about that) one other drawback to the Remix, in that there’s no battery life indicator to tell you when you’re running low. There’s also no strobe function, but for trail running applications that’s pretty much a non-factor.

Overall weight of the Remix is 83g (2.9 oz), and the sleek design sits very comfortably on my forehead even for a couple of hours. Its MSRP is officially $40, although both the company website (link above) and Amazon.com list it at $45. Either way, it's a fairly affordable option for a convenient and compact headlamp.

But how does it compare to the other compact lamps I’ve reviewed? I’ve got that taken care of for you as well. Click here for my comparison review of the Tikka XP2 and the Black Diamond Spot, and compare the specs with this review.

*Product provided by Princeton Tec
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at


April 19, 2010

Mess of Mii

“I've made a mess of me, I wanna get back the rest of me –
I've made a mess of me, I wanna spend the rest of my life alive.”
- Switchfoot, “Mess of Me” (video after post)

My wife and I both exercise consistently; unfortunately, only one of us seems to be getting any benefit out of it. At least, that’s the conclusion our video game system presented us with earlier this month.

If you don’t believe me, perhaps a visual representation is in order. This, according to our new Wii Fitness program, is me - or, in proper Nintendo parlance, my Mii:

I’d be the pudgy guy in the corner stretching out the belly of his blue sweatshirt. Prior to receiving our balance board, I created a Mii with my facial features, which was then attached to a body shape of my choosing. I made mine somewhat tall and slightly lean, keeping with how various people have described me over the years.

At least, I thought I was super …

However, when you order the balance board and fitness program, you enter your height, and the board measures your weight to calculate your BMI. Then it displays what the board “feels” you must look like. And if you're me, you look like this:

Let me ask you: does that look like a guy who’s ready to run an ultra in a few weeks? It looks more like a dude on the Blue Team waiting to meet Bob and Jillian at the Biggest Loser ranch.

More insults were quick to follow; my BMI rating came out as borderline overweight, and my “fitness age”, determined by BMI and my performance on some rudimentary balance challenges, was 49.

I’m, um … not 49. Barely within a decade of it, actually. But apparently all that swimming and biking and lots and LOTS of running in my past have only served to hasten my demise. I suppose it’s likely that my chocolate chip cookie addiction hasn’t helped my situation either. Somehow over all these years, I’ve managed to make a nice mess of myself.

On the other hand, consider my lovely wife, who in real life - as if that matters - was born just a few months apart from me (and no, I’m not saying who’s older). This is her Mii:

Very easy on the eyes, wouldn’t you say? Slim and curvy, and rockin' a snug green t-shirt. She runs a few days per week, and does a variety of workout videos on the days she doesn’t run. It must keep her in great all-around shape, because …

… even from the back, her Mii has got it goin' on. Given how out of my league she is, I sometimes suspect that her Mii might be looking around Wii Plaza for an upgrade to her virtual spouse in this picture. A guy can only wonder.

Whatever she’s doing fitness wise, it seems to working, because her Mii is perfectly lovely. Not only that, she’s much healthier than me; her BMI is smack in the middle of the “healthy weight” range, and her fitness age is – get this – 33. On the plus side, all this means that in Wii Fitness terms, I’m hooking up with a girl who is 16 years younger than I am. Go me! Or rather, go Mii!

Predictably, my kids now enjoy perpetuating my Mii persona as a tubby slob who struggles just to get a high score in Tilt City. Perhaps the ultimate indignity was voiced by my 6-year-old this week as I was about to eat a cookie: “Dad! Don’t eat that! Your Mii will get fatter!!” And so it goes.

Supposedly the Mii body will morph and adapt and become leaner once I spend some time burning calories on various games, or once it detects that I’ve lost some weight. Time will tell, I guess. Either way – whether it’s the prospect of running a 50-miler next month, or the shallow vanity of squeezing my Mii into a size smaller trousers – one thing is becoming clearer with each passing day: I need to get a little more serious about this training stuff.


As for the song, there’s not much explanation to it other than the obvious one, and for being a current favorite of mine.

Switchfoot, “Mess of Me” (click to play):

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