Gear (and Race) Review: SaltStick / Simple Hydration at Ice Age 50mi

A great time was had this past weekend at one of the most competitive 50 mile trail races in the nation.  Despite some warming temperatures an incredible 26-year-old course record was broken by 12 minutes by Max King enroute to an unworldly 5:41:07 clocking on the sometimes wide, sometimes rolling, but mostly single track technical up-downs of the Kettle Moraine State Forrest. Max’s race report can be found here.

Starting off the day at 6am (white/red hat)
Starting off the day at 6am (white/red hat)

As mentioned before I was using this race as a tune-up and eventually made the decision to run easy with an aggravated achilles tendon and my biggest most intense block of Western States training to follow.  The day opened up according to plan nice and easy but I found myself withdrawing from the race at ~35 miles … not because of anything that was particularly wrong but to be safe and cautious with the achilles but also ensure a good (fast) recovery.  Initially I wanted to run “all-day” / 100-mi effort for 50 miles, but what I fell into was probably a shade or two softer than 50-mi race pace.  ~25 miles I was able to experience my first face-plant out on the trail which really took me by surprise.  By the time my brain felt my foot hit the rock I was already sprwalled out on the hands, knees, and face.  Shaken up for ~20 seconds, look around, dust myself off … keep running.  With the heat I’m not used to creeping in after 4+ hours I didn’t want to risk digging too deep and letting my body go any deeper in the well than I needed. I wanted a nice long easy run and I’m proud to say I got it!  So a DNF and another first – giant face-planting digger – finally starting to feel like an ultra guy.

Now, five days post-race, I’m incredibly happy with my decision and I believe it’s served me well.  After no running Sunday and an easy pool running session on Monday, I am excited to have zero nagging or irritation to the achilles in my last three days (Tues, Wed, Thurs) – I’d say I’m ~95% and better coming out of Ice Age than going in!  And so begins my final and most important “phase” of training heading into Western States … 100-mi specific running including much more all-day-pace, greater core stability, heat, down hills, up hills, and most importantly enjoying the privilege of being able to run at all.  44 days and counting down.

Among my other priorities at Ice Age was checking and further testing gear for Western States out on the trail including SaltStick Caps and Simple Hydration Bottles – see my thoughts & “mini-reviews” below:

SaltStick Caps & SaltStick Caps Plus with SaltStick Mini

I’ve been really impressed with SaltStick over the past few months.  I usually only take a salt supplement on longer (3+ hr) runs so I wanted to wait to run Ice Age to give a full report back.  I’ve been nothing but pleased.  It is sometimes overwhelming digging through all the differences between what product does what at what rate through a drink, dissolve-able tab, pill tab, etc but SaltStick keeps it simple.  What you loose in sweat is replaced by SaltStick Caps as shown by the comparison chart below (and here).

SaltStick Caps compared with others

Most notable differences to my previous products is the Veggie Cap and a better balance with all of the elements … the benefit? A very regular and easier to ingest solution … doesn’t feel like a bomb is going off in my stomach after swallowing one whole.  SaltStick Plus Caps give a great option if you want to regulate your caffeine intake without having to do so with calories or drinks – and they have a different color casing to make it easy to identify on the run – genius!

Using the SaltStick Mini dispenser I am able to carry along three caps and clip the easy to use dispenser to my shorts or pack without even really knowing it’s there.  It keeps them dry but many packs on the market have specific pill-carrying pockets that can hold ~10-20 caps at a time.  This dispenser is perfect for me if I’m out for a medium long run with just shorts and a hand-held bottle.

Simple Hydration Bottles

Simple Hydration Form Fitting Bottle

These bottles are serving me very well.  What a great size – 13oz – and form factor to be ultra-versatile.  The main feature of Simple Hydration Bottles is to be able to carry them in your shorts without a belt or pack completely hands free.  Make sure your draw-string is tied tight and they live up to their promise.  I went for a full 26mi long run a few weeks ago with one tucked for the whole time.  Their form factor also serves them to be able to be carried in-hand easily or with even a different bottle handheld strap – I can wrap around a The North Face Flight Series Hydrator strap and it actually fits great!  I really like the cap size as most bottles on the smaller size have tiny caps which make it harder to fill and unscrew on the run.

The only small irritation I have with the bottle is when I stow it for a long period of time it can sometimes rub from the bottle corners into the small of my back and create some irritation.  This was easily eliminated by securing $0.49 felt-tape around the edges and bottom – no problems now!  They might not be as rugid or heavy duty as some of the big brand 20oz handhelds, but these are simple and incredibly light and will be part of my hydration solution at Western States when I want multiple bottles / drink options on me – easy to stow in shorts, on pack, or carry in hand.  The most versatile bottle I have!

SImple Hydration


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