Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A Spotting Scope Review

Leo puts the HD 65A to work
The market is crowded with excellent binoculars. It does not take much to get a serviceable pair, and a serviceable pair is all you need to get started in birding. Of course, it won’t be long before you start thinking about getting a pair of something far more advanced, with ED glass, the latest lens coating, and probably an ego-puffing logo on the barrel. I am asked frequently about my gear when I lead tours or encounter people in the field. The one piece of advice I always give people is to stick with the binoculars you have…and invest in a scope.

And an investment it truly can be. Just like binoculars, scopes range in price from the department store, $100 variety, to outfits from the European brands that will set you back $5,000 or more. No matter what you end up with, a scope will open new doors for you as a birder or observer of wildlife. The extra reach will double your life list, it is that big an enhancement to your arsenal.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Milestones...what are yours?

This past week Average Guy Hits the Road passed 300,000 page views. I did not even notice. I rarely look at stats these days because my former motivation for doing so, attracting gear companies, has largely dissipated. I am still lucky to have a few pairs of shoes and other techy bits to try out in my adventures and in the field for the Conservancy, but honestly I write this blog for myself these days.

That is not to say I'm not happy with passing an important milestone.

Milestones are everywhere in my life. I tend to set them up regularly as I am a list-maker and box-checker. How many of you have actually added something to a list just so you can immediately cross it off and show some sense of accomplishment? I do that when I am working on my weekly to-do list at work. It is a constant struggle between motivating myself for daily chores and daydreaming about the next milestone.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Evangeline Lilly, Saucony, and the temptations new runners face

I am concentrating on not getting ahead of myself. I have 20 pounds to lose, two years of poor eating habits to kick, and about one thousand miles to run before my target race, the Marquette 50k near the end of August. I ran a few times in the past week and I find myself a bit footsore and tight. Of course, some of that stays with us indefinitely. Anyway, I am working through those new-runner aches. This is a good time for me to write, honestly, to the aspiring marathon runners out there.

Having the experience of many races from 5k to 50k, I have some perspective on running. I also have experience as a new runner, a consistent intermediate runner, and as a marathoner and ultramarathoner. I have been around the block, so my thoughts on some things may be different from more elite runners who are used to being at the top of their game genetically and with their training and results.

Evangeline Lilly has 100 problems, but her looks ain't one.
I was laughing with Moira tonight at an article in Women's Health magazine. In it, Evangeline Lilly was going on and on about how she wishes that young women wouldn't be so concerned with their weight and appearance.

Well, uh, of course you don't have to be too concerned with your weight or your looks when you are Evangeline Lilly. Easy for her to say. That would be like Warren Buffet telling us that money isn't everything, you know. (I appreciate her message by the way, very positive, but just sort of amusing from someone as physically gifted as she.)

The long and short of it is that running is a struggle for me, and it always has been. I am not a natural, and when people ask me "What is the one major challenge you face as a marathoner?" I always say "Gravity." I hope that my perspective as a struggling runner starting out again, but with this body of work behind me, will inform my writing.

This is a good place to ask...if you are an average runner and you have any questions that you wish you could ask yourself two or three years from now about your running, try me! I may have the answers for you while really having context and a similar set of tools. I enjoy reading elite blogs as much as the next runner, but I am not sure I learn as much from their writing as I do when I read about people like me that have to work so hard to get even average results. I am not an expert, but I have lots of past mini-failures on my side to learn from.

In short, I am about to embark on many new-runner challenges like breaking into double-digits (miles) for the first time (well, in my case the first time in a long while), weight loss, durability and strength training, building workouts, following a training plan, intermediate goals, etc. We are in this together, new runners, so lets stick together and get out there and run.

Of course, the biggest problem for new runners is usually the "too-much-too-soon" trap. Your muscles and bones and tendons, your architechtural "foundation," just can't adapt as fast as your cardiovascular capacity can. So, what you end up with is a heart (and lungs) that are willing, but a framework that is weak. Do what I do and stick with a plan, limit your running (less running now means better, longer, MORE running later), and try a lot of strength training work or alternative cardio work.

If I can offer you one minor piece of marathon training advice before I go, it is this: balance your early season running with strength training, and do lots and lots of exercises for your hip flexors, especially. Strong hips = strong feet and knees and backs and necks. Take a look at the excellent Runner's World tutorial HERE. Just trust me on this, I have experience in hurting all of those things before!

By the way, I have a full fresh stock of Saucony goodness to test out for you. Take a look at the detailed photo album on the Average Guy Facebook page and "like" us while you are at it!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Vanguard Endeavor ED Binoculars Review

...and now for something completely different! A review of the Vanguard Endeavor ED optics I use in the field all the time. This is a great line for an attainable price.

Documenting birds observed at the SBLC nature preserves and other protected properties is a crucial task. The more we observe, the more we understand about the land, and the better we can steward that land. When I came to the conservation industry, I had no idea how critical my wildlife observation skills would become, and how much I needed to learn. I am a visual learner, so keen observation is the key to my growth as a birder, and as a result, my growth as a conservationist working to protect bird habitat.

Our staff had access to a variety of consumer-grade optics, but nothing approaching an “enthusiast” or “premium” offering. Earlier in 2013, that changed when Vanguard became a sponsor of our Conservancy, and of our project, the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail. As part of their sponsorship, they provided us with pairs of their Endeavor ED 8420 Binocular, which we now use exclusively in the field, both on duty and off. Full disclosure, the equipment being reviewed was provided at no charge from Vanguard to support our charitable conservation work.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Expanded horizons; Defining my active outdoor lifestyle

Moira and I on some adventure in 2013
As of yesterday I pulled the band-aid off my big admission...I'm out of trail running shape and setting new goals. I am figure I am already making progress on one of those goals by sitting down again here for a few minutes to right up a quick post. Of course, I am already sitting at a desk I have been sitting at all day, but I digress.

In my day job I manage a small but critical conservation outfit, the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy. In my post yesterday I was sort of harsh on my lifestyle up here in Michigan's heartland; I was critical of how much I work and sit and work, etc.

Of course, a big part of my job (depending on the season) involved pretty rigorous outdoor work. We manage many miles of trails, we control invasive species, we monitor and observe wildlife, etc. So I get outside a lot, pretty much half the year, in fact.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Saucony 2014 Preview: Virrata 2, Peregrine 4, Mirage 4

Peregrine 4: review coming soon
You'd think I would start this (p)review with some sort of apology over my offline foundering when it comes to what to do with Average Guy Hits The Road. After several false restarts I pretty much gave it up. Then, four things happened:

First, I weighed myself. BIG mistake. I am 20 pounds (plus or minus the pocket change) heavier than my 2011 ultra marathon race weight. This is a factor of a new lifestyle that involves longer work hours, my newish home up north, away from my old dedicated running club, P.R. Fitness, and way more craft beer on a weekly basis. I even make my own now. LeSigh.

Second, I decided to do something about #1. I have begun strength training regularly, and I am once again a fixture at the fantastic local YMCA. My wife, Moira, and even my parents, have also rededicated themselves to activity, so that was extra motivation in and of itself. I have really enjoyed the novelty of walking through a space that was once all my own, with more or less just anonymous strangers about, and finding myself waiting to use a machine because my dad is there using it himself. It may not exactly be a group of 60 marathoners churning up the streets and trails of Ann Arbor, but its a great source of motivation for me.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I fell in love again.

So it is no secret to any of my readers (260,000 page views!) that I have essentially gone away. Its OK, it is not you, it is me. You see, for all of my talk about writing about what I really care deeply about, and maybe hitting on a product review here and there, I basically wasn't living that way. I decided to devote every minute to trying to DO the things I love. So I did. And I am still.

A few updates.

For one, the new Merrell Ascend Glove is the best shoe ever built. Seriously, for me it is the perfect shoe. Enough cushion for the long haul, wide toebox, full length rock plate (but very flexy anyway), and zero-drop. Plus, it looks awesome. Try it.

For two, I helped Moira finish her first trail half marathon. For those of you that know where this blog came from well, you know what a huge damn deal that is for real. I am so proud, and so taken aback by where she is now and the hell we went through when she was sick, well, I just can't talk about it. I have not the words nor the fortitude to revisit that place in my my head.

For three, I have been birding and biking and camping and hiking and running and taking advantage of every minute I can in a hectic summer of hard work and travel. It has been amazing, stressful at times, but enlightening. I think I am coming up on a lot of new insights and some real clarity on where this blog is going to go in the future. For starters, it will focus more fully on the whole active outdoor lifestyle, not necessarily just running. But I digress, stay tuned.

So yeah, I am back online again, and I have ideas. I can't wait to share them with you.





P.S. It was really the Merrell Ascend Glove I fell in love with.  Amazing.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Merrell M-Connect Apparel Review: RFE Shorts, MixMaster Windshirt, and Torrent Shell

Me in the RFE Shorts and MixMaster Windshirt today
I have only reviewed clothing a few times on this blog. However, I am a frequent wearer of clothes and I feel like I probably wear them just about every day. So, while I may not be as versed in running apparel as I am in running shoes, I think I can probably throw a few thoughts down on this three-piece kit I was sent by Merrell on the heels of my M-Connect shoe series review.

Merrell sent me three pieces, the RFE Shorts, MixMaster Windshirt, and the Torrent Shell.  My test samples were both black tops and a grey/orange pair of shorts. I have come to expect a lot of Merrell in terms of innovation and quality, and these pieces have not disappointed.

In all honestly, I wear the MixMaster Windshirt pretty much constantly, as a mid-layer that looks sharp and classy enough for my outdoorsy job, and provides a unique, breathable barrier to the elements under a poofy vest or jacket.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Joe Grant Interview: Above Average Athletes

Joe (center) on his recent trip to Japan (alpine-works.com)
On Monday we all heard some of the most heartbreaking and terrible news imaginable associated with a running event. This running event, the Boston Marathon, is sacred to runners everywhere.  Even mid-packers like me, who are never likely to qualify for the race, revere it and love it as though we could.

What Boston represents is the ideal, the pure love of amateur sport. Accomplishment. Marathons are not about competing, except for the rare few who are elite level runners. Rather, marathons are about defining ourselves and being the best we can be. The running community worldwide has responded with kindness and camaraderie, a remarkable family we are.

In that spirit, I am pleased to share my recent interview with Joe Grant. Joe, perhaps more than any of the great runners I have interviewed here on AGHTR, loves his running in a pure and authentic way that can only be defined as his own. Like many of us, his running is personal. It is about being his best self. It is about defining himself and being inspired.

Joe runs and wins ultramarathons. He recently returned from a mountain running trip to Japan, which followed his second-place finish at the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350...a 350-mile race in winter in Alaska. It was his first time at the event. Joe provides art-heavy, beautiful blog posts. His posts have actually inspired me to consider a new new approaches to my own self-expression. Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Grant!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Coming to My Senses

What I am daydreaming about most days
All my life I was never much of an athlete. I tried basketball, baseball, wrestling, golf...I was never much more than slightly below average. I was an art kid. Later in life, when Moira got sick and I was clearly sick as well, I found running as a vehicle for clawing my way to health. As it turns out, I found more fitness than I ever had as a kid. At 35 years old I am capable of running all day. I'm not too fast, but I can cover terrain under my own power that I never would have thought possible just a few years ago. 

I am an average runner, performance-wise, but even an average marathoner is still a marathoner. I need to tell myself that, I need to actively come to my senses, after every long run, half or full marathon, or ultra I finish.  These experiences require me to really reflect, because it still doesn't feel like me that is finishing. Sometimes it is almost an out-of-body experience for me. I don't look like a guy planning to run 50 miles this summer. I'm sturdy. I am clumsy with a golf club. That can't be me running all morning, it is someone else. I run the danger of not appreciating the hard work I have put in, the blessed experience of running all day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On the Meaningful Running Blog

 Average Guy with his above average family,
a few years ago...I can always date it by the shoes I am
wearing (Brooks Cascadia 3!)
Let’s just get this out of the way right now...this blog gets the lion’s share of it’s traffic from seekers of shoe reviews. Running geeks united around the world have wasted countless hours surfing to find the next big thing in running shoe hardware, and I am lucky to have been the beneficiary of all that interest and traffic. It is largely rewarding, but (poor me, I know) it actually gets a little bit slow when reviewing another running shoe. To be honest, running shoes are so awesome across the board now, I rarely find something I don’t like!

Once I read an article with the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. While he said that all his work was rewarding, he looked most forward to those more somber albums between his great, radio-friendly stadium-fillers. For example, after “Born to Run” with the mighty E Street Band (6x platinum), he released “Darkness on the Edge of Town” as a solo album (only 3x platinum, and mostly because of sales later in his career...Darkness had no hit singles). Later, he’d release the angry and stark “Nebraska,” a stripped down solo acoustic release that *only* achieved 1x platinum status even through today. “Nebraska” was followed by “Born in the USA” (15x platinum) and his legend rose to mythical status.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Merrell M-Connect Series (or, how we spent the last few months)

Let the epic party begin.
All at once, it seemed, my cancer-beating, hardcore wife and I had a lot of work to do. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun, but I have never in my blogging career had such a task ahead of me. Yes, it is a tough job reviewing an entire line of amazing, innovative running shoes from one of our favorite companies, but we persevered.  We ran in sleet, snow rain, heat, night, day, trails, roads, up stairs, down stairs, on treadmills, to work, from zombies, over hills, underpasses, through the woods, to grandmother’s house, and anywhere in between. We came out of it uninjured, and on the upswing in both of our running.  Here...here is our epic story of real-world-testing the 2013 Merrell M-Connect line...

We begin with the day that the UPS man thought he would hurt his back, but didn’t, because the huge boxes he had saved for last ended up being as light as a chap-stick.  Amazed, he carried both of them in one triumphant, glowing march to my front door.  From there, he tipped his cap, gave a knowing smile, and high-fived us both as we cheered, ecstatic at what we had been delivered.

Feverishly, we tore open the boxes, and inside we found many more boxes.  For her, five pairs of shoes ranging from the slipper-like minimal maestro, the Vapor Glove, through the crossfit-crowd loving Crush Glove, to the new pink Proterra boots she’d wear all winter, and even more shoes in between.  For me, it was the much-improved Bare Access 2 and new MixMaster Move that caught my eye, but the men’s Vapor Glove, Road Glove 2, and Proterra mid were waiting in the wings to rock my running world.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Exploration: Saginaw Bay Watershed

Photo by Craig Sterken
In the past year, I moved about 100 miles away, back to my home region in the Saginaw Bay Watershed of Michigan. I found a job here where I could spend a lot more time outdoors, working to protect nature. Ironically, in this area, access to nature is harder to come across than it was in Ann Arbor. While it is a larger city, Ann Arbor has more protected natural areas and more topography. Just a short jog from my house on the west side were three contiguous protected natural areas where you could easily string together a rigorous 3, 4, 5, or even longer (I once did a 16-miler there with several laps).

Of course, here in Bay City (well, in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City together) we have epic amounts of wild public land, too. You may have to drive to them, but even just in our area are Tobico Marsh, Midland City Forest, Chippewa Nature Center, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Pine Haven, and the Michigan DNR refuges of Nyanquing Point, Wigwam Bay, Fish Point, and Crow Island. A little further afield, about a 45-minute drive, we have Tuttle Marsh and the entire Huron National Forest with amazing opportunities to lose yourself in wilderness.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Patagonia EVERmore Review

Patagonia is, bar none, my favorite outdoor gear manufacturer. I am sure I am not alone when I say I like their style, their lifetime guarantee, and their commitment to the environment (see the 1% for the planet printed right on our subject today the Patagonia EVERmore). Did you know that Patagonia was the first company in California to register as a B-Corporation? That means that they are, now officially, a for-profit company with a charitable swagger built right into their step.

Of course, you also know of my deep affection for Merrell. Merrell is a company under the umbrella of Wolverine Worldwide, and they are right here in the Great Lake State, where I am from.

 While Wolverine makes a variety of shoes ranging from dressy to workwear to ultra-marathon distance trainers, Merrell is where my heart really belongs in their portfolio. Oh, did I forget to tell you that Patagonia footwear is just down the hall from Merrell?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Saucony Adventerra GTX Review: Darth Vader Eats Trail Mix

The Adventerra GTX is a first-of-its-kind from one of my favorite running specialty makers, Saucony. Unlike Merrell, who came into running from the outdoor adventure crowd, Saucony is attempting to do something amazing and enter the outdoor crowd coming form the running side.  

Why is it amazing, in my opinion?  I guess there is a mentality I believe I have observed in hardcore outdoor gear that heavy, traditional, and tried & true products and brands are best, like my pair of Vasque Sundowners.  

There are many distance hikers that swear by this style of all-leather, indestructible boot. Gore-tex liner. Heavy Vibram lugged outsole. High, stiff ankle collar. One-piece smooth upper.  In short, a hiking boot in the traditional mold. What you really have is a work boot. I don't us ermine for hiking, even with a pack.  I use them for driving a shovel in the ground, protecting my feet out in the field for work, etc.  Hiking, after all, is pretty much just rigorous walking with a load on your shoulders.

So, with my long-standing belief that less-is-more in footwear, I am eager for this emerging market of effective, lightweight, low-drop hiking products coming online.  Right now I am wearing the Saucony Adventerra GTX and the Merrell Proterra in a "battle of the 'terra-boots" testing period.  These are both low-drop hikers based on performance lasts shared with popular minimal running products like the Saucony Kinvara and Merrell Barefoot platforms, respectively.

Now, no one will accuse either of these boots of being minimal footwear.  Make no mistake, they are both hiking boots.  However, in a twist of fate, the Saucony...the one from the running shoe company, is the sturdier and more robust of the two, while the Merrell Proterra, from the traditional rugged outdoor company, is much lighter duty.

Well, let me just say I am very happy that I was able to get a shot at reviewing both products, but in my everyday life the unusual (more on that in a minute) Adventerra gets the nod.  I wear this boot for work (i manage a conservation non-profit, so I get muddy a lot) and I appreciate the familiar feel and fit I have grown accustomed to running in my all-time winner, the Kinvara (with the Kinvara 3 being my "everyman's shoe pick-of-the-year" in 2012).