Salomon S Lab Wings 8 – Review

Just as we were headed out in the Westy for a four day adventure in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, our UPS guy delivered a new pair of S Lab Wings 8 trail running shoes. Perfect timing as the trails and ridges that we planned to run and hike in the Sawtooths are ideally suited to evaluating these shoes which are intended for use in technical mountain trail situations. So off we went!

I have used the predecessor S Lab Wings shoe quite a bit (about 500 miles) this past fall and into the spring but never consistently enough to allow for a confident review and follow-up series. Meanwhile, there have been numerous reviews of the S Lab Wings put up elsewhere. Although most reviews are very positive there were two problems with the S Lab Wings, and I experienced both. The first is that the insole would delaminate and slip forward leading to “bunching” in the forefoot area. The only solution is to remove the offending layer and find another suitable replacement (or nothing as some have done). The second problem is with wear of the mesh upper in certain areas leading to early wear out and holes that allow debris into the shoe. This was reported in numerous areas but was primarily happening at the fore foot flex axis on the upper mesh material above the TPU overlays. Mine wore out here at about 350 miles and the holes got so big that I discarded the shoes at about 500 miles of use- a figure that is much less than I typically get out of S Lab products. I experienced good results from the S Lab Wings particularly on technical trail and off-piste scree fields and rocky ridges. The shoe seemed like a good choice for a technical mountain trail race with demanding terrain and I intended to use the S Lab Wings for that purpose but the uppers just did not last long enough.

The grapevine indicated that Salomon was aware of the wear-out issue and would address it in the product refresh in Summer 2016. This refresh was announced in late December 2015 and is now available in the US.

S lab wings 8

The S Lab Wings 8 is a very slightly modified version and a direct replacement for the 2015 S Lab Wings shoe.

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construction

From all appearances the construction of the S Lab Wings 8 is exactly the same as the S Lab Wings, right down to the shape and design of the outsole, midsole, and most of the upper. It still has a 28mm heel/19mm toe ramp (9 mm drop) with a die cut EVA insole (which is, hopefully, part of an insole system that will not delaminate with use as the prior model did).  Thankfully speed laces and a lace pocket are provided- something that needs to be included on the S Lab Sonic as discussed elsewhere on this site.

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The upper mesh appears to be the same material that was prone to early wear-out in the prior 2015 model but there is one change- a polymer overlay in the areas that saw excessive wear. There is a patch of clear polymer laminated upon the mesh material on both the lateral and medial sides of the shoe.

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Perhaps Salomon has found that this overlay material is sufficient to increase the life of the mesh to standards typical of S Lab products, only time will tell.

The only other change to the shoe is in the ContraGrip outsole material- it has been upgraded to the new “Premium Wet Traction” ContraGrip compond that has been demonstrated by Salomon at shows since last summer. This is a good thing since many of the ContraGrip outsoles have had issues with wet grip on stream crossings and other, hard, wet surfaces. I look forward to testing out the performance of this new compound on the typical wet challenges here in the Northern Rockies.

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Salomon S Lab Wings 8 outsole made with the new “Premium Wet Traction” ContraGrip compound.

Although there may be some other changes incorporated into the S Lab Wings 8 as compared to the S lab Wings, I have not noticed them.

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Initial running impressions

Well, given the lack of any substantial outward changes to the S Lab Wings, the S Lab Wings 8 runs exactly the same. I have not put many miles on these shoes yet but there are no discernible differences with the Wings 8 in my limited experience.

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So if you liked the Wings, you will like the Wings 8. Hopefully Salomon have figured out the manufacturing and design issues that limited the life of the Wings and the Wings 8 will perform up to S Lab standards of wear. Stay tuned for updates.

price

$180 US. This represents no change from previous model and, given that this is a very light refresh, appropriately so.

bottom line

The Salomon S Lab Wings 8 is a lightly refreshed S Lab Wings with some added wear protection and an upgraded outsole material. This shoe should perform even better than the already highly performing S Lab Wings. See below as to why you might want to wait before you go ahead with a pair of these.

new salomon shoes to be launched at outdoor retailer (OR) in august

There has been some information released about the Fall/Winter trail running shoe offerings from Salomon that will be announced at OR in SLC in August.

First there will be an all-new S Lab Sense Ultra (it’s about time!)- not sure if it is the latest “Kilian” shoe without the integrated full-foot gaiter but the shoe is said to have an 8-9 mm drop ( a big change from the current 4 mm drop) and a lot more cushioning (another big change from the current Sense 5 Ultra model)- so if you like the S Lab Wings (or Wings 8) you might want to wait for this new S Lab Sense Ultra as it sounds like a very similar shoe to the Wings/Wings 8 and the shoe may have some additional features of interest- and a price to match.

There is also a S Lab Sense 6 for 2017.

It seems the Sense line will expand further with a “Sense Marin” model targeted as a training shoe for buffed trails (like those on the namesake Marin Headlands).

And the Sense Propulse will be replaced by a more refined shoe called “Sense Pro Max” for those who are looking for the superior Salomon fit on a highly cushioned shoe.

 

The Road to Klosters 2017 – Training Plan Structure- macro, meso, and micro

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As indicated in the first post in this series, in this second post I will describe the training plan structure that I have put in place to prepare for the Klosters Masters World Cup Cross Country Skiing Championships in March of 2017.

Just to review some of the content of the first post, first and foremost, the training plan is constructed around a few guiding principles and an overarching training “philosophy”. The fundamental base of the training approach is consistency and recovery (the Big “C” and the Capital “R”) since without such a base, it really does not matter what else one does, your preparation will be compromised. Training rule #1 is strive for consistency even if the session might be compromised and strive for recovery even if you end up “over-recovered”. It is best to at least do some work and to do such work in a recovered state. Skipping scheduled training sessions or pushing through training sessions whilst not recovered end up having non-linear regressive impact on your overall training progress. Just like building an investment account where every little ends up being a lot, in athletic training every little adds up to much more than the arithmetic sum due to non-linear compounded training progress.

The second input to the training plan is to accommodate the unique needs of an older (50+) competitive cross country skiing athlete. These areas of focus are to increase muscle mass (or at least stop or minimize loss of muscle), to increase aerobic capacity (VO2 max) (or at least to stop or minimize loss of aerobic capacity), and to reduce body fat (or at least to stop or minimize increases in body fat).

The third input to the training program is to develop a Lydiard-like periodized structure incorporating the concepts of “block periodization” (BP).

Training Plan Macrostructure (aka Annual Training Plan (ATP))

The overall training plan structure based on a 12 month cycle starting 4 July 2016 is depicted below through March 2017 in graphical form.

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Macro view of “block periodized” training plan for peak at World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships March 2017. More detail to be added and modified as the season progresses, e.g. peaking sequence in January-February, additional ski races, equipment details, actual recovery days/weeks, and a fall trail race (TBD).

As you can see, the overall structure begins with a 9 week endurance block followed by a 4 week VO2 max block, a 3 week LT block, a 4 week VO2 max Peak block, and a final 4 week LT block just prior to the 10 week race season. Also shown are proposed recovery weeks, some of the planned races (others TBD), the  strength plan, technique development, and equipment preparation. The Mesostructure section below will explain the reasoning behind this overall structure for the cardio portion of the plan. Strength, technique, and equipment plans will be covered in separate posts.

Training plan mesostructure

Each block in the the training plan has a physiological and logistical basis. Endurance training, although necessary for an older athlete is pretty much secondary in the overall build-up to the race season as explained below. Of primary importance are the VO2 max and LT blocks and the associated abilities/energy systems that will play a fundamental role in optimal racing condition.

In my case, the endurance preparation is actually quite a bit longer than depicted as I started training in mid-March for two ultra running races in June. Since I was just coming off of the ski racing season I had a fully developed LT ability/energy system after a 2-per-week LT/VO2 max interval session diet from October-early March along with 6 races mixed in. So I started the ultra running training in mid-March with endurance-level (L1-L2/low L3) efforts gradually leading to twice weekly 4 hour mountain runs with reasonable vert (5000 ft / 1200 m) over a 10 week period with a 2 week LT block in the middle (about mid-April). This fed into a two week taper, a 60 km mountain race on 4 June, a week of recovery-level running, then a 1 week taper and finally a 50 km mountain race on 18 June. I was a bit fried given the 5-8 hour race efforts just two weeks apart. I took an extra long recovery until 4 July and have now started a new endurance block depicted above. So my endurance base is substantial, others may not have such an endurance base to work from and would need to have a longer endurance block to establish a sufficient endurance base for maximizing the VO2 max and LT blocks that follow. The other point here about endurance is that older (50+) athletes who have been in competitive endurance sport continuously for a long time will not get much gain in endurance nor will such athletes loose much endurance ability by taking some time away from endurance focused training. This is because all of those years of training and developing endurance pay off later in life in the form of highly developed musculo-skeletal, cardiovascular, and economy systems that do not decay much with time. Just as Friel points out in “Fast After 50”, although something you need to maintain, endurance is one element that you do not have to put much focus on as an older athlete. The “Big 3” are where you should put your main foci. In my case with continuous endurance training and racing for over 40 years, I am not going to have a lot of endurance gain for the time spent doing the training, however, gains in aerobic capacity and muscle gain can be substantial and they can play a big part in successful cross country ski racing.

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Sundby after winning the World Cup 15 km classic race in Toblach by double poling the entire race, December 2015. photo credit and link

After the 9 week endurance block I have a 4 week VO2 max block the purpose of which is to develop VO2 max on an upward progression through the fall interspersed with substantial LT blocks. This development of VO2 max is early in the training plan because in cross country ski racing most races are raced at or around the lactate threshold level (high L4-L5a-b) and having a highly developed aerobic capacity will enable maximum gain in the LT blocks- the most race-specific training blocks. So in the training plan you see a VO2 max block followed by a shorter LT block and then a 4 week VO2 max block to work toward a peak in VO2 max leading into a critical 6 week LT block. I am looking forward to seeing what transpires as my measured VO2 max as a young competitive road cyclist was in the low 80’s. My Garmin 920 watch has a VO2 max estimator*  that tells me my VO2 max is now about 72- a figure that I think is way too high- but at least I have a baseline of VO2 max estimation from a traditional periodization protocol to compare with what happens with this block periodization.

The final pre-race season block is a 6 week LT block to bring LT ability to a near maximum level. In this block I will be working toward about 1 hour in total LT work per LT session. I have regularly completed 3 X 15 minute LT workouts in the past year but I would like to work toward 3 X 20 minute sessions. All of these sessions will be either uphill running at about 10% grade or as bounding sessions up steeper hills with poles. At the beginning and end of this 6 week LT block there will be a LT test to monitor any gains. Having a fully developed LT ability/energy system is critical to going into the race season prepared and confident. The plan is designed around ensuring that this has a high probability of coming to pass.

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This race season I hope to be racing approximately every weekend in one form or another (either at a competitive race or in time trails on race courses). Between races will be training sessions focused on fitness maintenance and “sharpening” for individual race-specific “needs”. More on in-season training will be presented in a separate post.

Training plan microstructure

The daily planning is critical to succeeding with any otherwise well-conceived training plan. This day-to-day grind planning and attending to the necessary adjustments is what makes a coach valuable. Having a coach is an advantage that a “lone wolf” athlete does not have. One should, after an evaluation of all aspects of an individual’s situation, consider engaging with an experienced coach. The time commitment alone may justify any cost. Just something to consider.

The types of individual pre-snow training session workouts that are utilized here include activities such as trail running, trail mountain biking (MTB), roller skiing (primarily double pole), mountain hiking and adventuring, hill bounding with poles, uphill running repeats, and on-trail rolling interval runs and tempo runs.

I find that,  from a musculo-skeletal perspective, running workouts are best suited to classic technique and that MTB workouts are best suited to skate technique . This is because the whole-body motion in each of these is most similar to a particular technique. For instance typical mountain trail MTB involves significant transient high power application just as is extant in skate technique skiing and mountain trail running involves a more steady and uniform application of a lower level of power as is extant in classic technique skiing. So mixing these types of workouts will allow for a equanimiable progression in musculo-skeletal development and associated cardiovasular support. Likewise for a specialist in, say, classic technique, sticking with running-type workouts might be a prudent path to improvement under circumstances of limited time to train.

This bring us to the question of how much training time. As noted, this is an individual thing and one that cannot be proscribed, particularly for older athletes. For me, I have found that a total training time (including cardio, strength, and technique) of between 15 and 22 hours per week is supportable and successful over the long term. Occasionally I will put in a 28-32 hour week but they are very limited. But everyone is different and one must figure this out for themselves since it is essential to know what is supportable in order to be able to plan.

I will not present any detailed daily training specifics here since any such information needs to be specific to an individual and their respective background, ability, and commitment. I will however point out a system that has worked well for me when it comes to planning daily training- a weekly training cycle that is repeated and becomes habit. For me this has meant a daily training plan that, with a traditional periodization, takes the following format:

Sunday: long run/long ski/roller ski

Monday: easy/off

Tuesday: intervals

Wednesday: long run/long ski/roller ski or Tempo ski

Thursday: easy/off

Friday: intervals

Saturday: Flex

The specific workouts are designed around the focus of the periodization cycle. Sessions can be easily adjusted for different foci in the periodization and the Saturday “flex” session is essentially a catch-up if anything goes wrong during the week.

In the case of Block Periodization (BP) here, a similar pattern will be used with the minor adjustment that, for example, within the endurance block the interval sessions will be replaced by “long run/long ski/roller ski” or “long MTB”, depending on what is best for the session goal. Likewise, during the VO2 max and LT blocks the “long run/long ski/roller ski” or “tempo run/tempo ski/roller ski” is replaced by a third weekly interval session. The specific endurance, VO2 max, and LT workouts can be varied to try to minimize any “burnout” associated with repetitive training. For instance, in the endurance block through August much of the training will be accomplished exploring the inner canyons of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. These “hikes”/runs involve a lot of off-piste way-finding up steep mountainsides above treeline for many hours- perfect endurance training for cross country skiing! … and not the least bit repetitive and boring. Similarly,  mixing up the VO2 max and LT interval sessions to include some very different locales and terrain will go a long way toward making all of these sessions enjoyable- even though they will be physically tough or even “brutal”.

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Sawtooth Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains – one of the gateways to the spectacular inner canyons and the “Sawtooth Traverse” from Redfish Lake to the Sawtooth Lodge.

Strength and technique training

Contemporaneous with the cardiovascular training outlined above are strength training and technique development. As these are very important elements, I will devote separate posts to these subjects. In fact, it is important to point out that the cardio portion of the training plan above will not be sufficient to get one to the starting line as fit and as competitive as one can be- this can only happen if strength and technique are separately, but in concert with the cardiovascular training, developed. So stay tuned.

*The Garmin/FirstBeat VO2 max estimator methodology is documented  in this white paper.

The Road to Klosters 2017 – Overview

klosters logo
"To plot, to take aim at something, to shape time and space. 
This is how we advance the art of human consciousness."
Murray to Jack in "White Noise" by Don Delillo
background

With solid plans (i.e. paid airline tickets and hotel reservations with deposits) to compete in the 2017 World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters/Davos Switzerland I will be putting up a series of posts over the next 9 months on my preparations for getting to the starting line as fit and competitive as is possible for this 60 year old rapidly aging athlete. This is the first installment.

I am not a professional coach, nor do I have any certifications (which I find to be dubious anyway). I do read a lot and I currently compete regularly year round in Cross Country Skiing, trail running, and trail ultra running. I have a coach, my wife (who is also not a professional coach), and we are both former elite-level endurance athletes (in Cross Country Skiing, Road Cycling, and Cross Country Mountain Biking). We are bringing over 80 years of combined knowledge and experience in training at the elite and sub-elite level for national, international, and Olympic-level competitions to bear on our individualized training programs. What we do, and what I might describe here, is not intended to be a recommendation for anyone else as we are all individuals with very different backgrounds, abilities, and commitments. As in any athletic endeavor, one should be fully aware of their capacities and have the consultation of a professional to guide them when embarking upon a training regimen. In fact, it is clear that no one should do what we do for training as all training programs should be personalized. My purpose here is to document the build-up to the Klosters Championship by applying known, sound physiologic principles to a training program designed for me. Others may find the information of interest to varying degrees.

Although there is some spotty information, dated books, and a lot of disorganized thoughts available out in the published world, it does not amount to much. One source that has a good base of historical information is at NordicSkiRacer. Some of the links are broken but overall this is a good place to look around for some input on your own training program.

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developing a training program

Any training program should have an articulated conceptual “philosophy” and an overarching structure that addresses the approach. This is what I will describe in this post.

No reliable conceptual training “philosophy” can be conjured up out of  a vacuum of knowledge and experience; similarly, such a “philosophy” will be highly informed by the knowledge and experience of the author. Therefore my “philosophy” is a result of many years of competing as well as having read over 100 books on athletic endurance, strength, and mental training in numerous competitive sports. Expectedly, there are a few core books that I will refer to when speaking to training program development and execution. Given that I am a 60 year old competitor, the unique application of endurance and strength training physiology and protocols to older athletes will be central to a successful outcome.

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Photo credit: Teton Ridge Classic Ski Race – link

There is a singular book that I highly recommend for understanding the diminished physiologic capacity of older endurance athletes: Fast After 50 by Joe Friel. If you read but one book on training for older athletes, this is the one you should read. The content of this book has highly influenced the “philosophy” and the detailed specifics of the training program that we have developed for ourselves as we go forward toward the Klosters starting line.

Among other books that I have found invaluable and will frequently refer to are:

Lore of Running

Total Heart Rate Training

Training for the New Alpinism

Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

The Lydiard Foundation – free material no longer available

Racing Weight

The Power of Habit

In Pursuit of Excellence

Focus

80/20 Running

How Bad Do You Want It

Other books as well as peer-reviewed references will be used to support concepts, protocols, and detailed training progressions. Please comment if you have questions or if you have something to constructively add.

Training “philosophy”

Before delving into the specifics of the unique physiologic realities of an older endurance athlete and what sort of training “philosophy” might be effective, there is one overarching basic principle that applies to anyone who is engaging in a serious training regimen:

The Big “C” and the Capital “R” – Consistency and Recovery

Consistency (The Big “C”) and Recovery (The Capital “R”) are the foundational basis for any successful training plan. Progression will only result if one is consistent in their training and that sufficient recovery is observed prior to additional training stimulus. Seems obvious, right? Well, these are the two most difficult things for an overwhelming majority of serious athletes to adhere to. Maintaining consistency in the face of needed recovery is a difficult thing to balance for even the most highly motivated athletes with plenty of time to train and is particularly difficult  when one has other significant stressors in their lives and/or is an older (50+) athlete. So while The Big “C” and the Capital “R” appear obvious and seem simple to do, reality has a way of making it one of the most difficult challenges in athletic training . This balance is magnified in training for endurance sports since the training stimuli can be very taxing to the endocrine system.

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For many, attaining good balance between The Big “C” and The Capital “R” essentially comes down to significant lifestyle decisions like commitment to things such as sufficient high quality sleep, limiting other “extracurricular” activities, “healthy” eating, limited or no alcohol intake, prioritizing down time, etc. For each there will be a different balance so no recommendations are offered here, nor has anyone perfected this- it is an infinite optimization problem that one can only continually chip away at. But this is not to diminish the importance of consistency and recovery- if you accomplish just one thing, being consistent in your training and ensuring sufficient recovery is that one thing. All that follows assumes training consistency and sufficient recovery.

Ordinal Training principles for older endurance athletes

Let’s start with a quote from Friel in the book “Fast After 50” p. 108:

“This brings us back to the big three- the primary determiners of
performance decline with age according to sport science. To refresh 
your memory, these are declining aerobic capacity, increasing body 
fat, and loss of muscle mass.”
Joe Friel in "Fast After 50"

In the book Friel uses a raft of peer-reviewed studies and basic physiological understanding to found this conclusion. His summary statement is also consistent with my own experience and that of many other older endurance athletes that I have interacted with. These are the “big three” training elements that any older endurance athlete needs to address- first and foremost. I further refine these and give them an ordinal character functional with a specific sport. For Cross Country Skiing I use the following order of importance for the “big three”:

  1. loss of muscle mass
  2. declining aerobic capacity
  3. increasing body fat

It is well documented that as we age we loose muscle mass, it is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia has origins in decreased hormone production. Significantly lower levels of  testosterone and estrogen, growth hormone, and insulinlike growth factor are evident in most individuals. On the positive side there are studies that have shown that such muscle loss can be slowed, stopped, or even reversed if one engages in a strength program of sufficient volume and intensity- a “use it or loose it” paradigm. Including strength training in a cross country skiing training program is essential to progression since not only is one’s power production dependent on muscle strength, one’s technique and efficiency are also critically dependent on the same muscle strength (and endurance).

I will argue, assuming a highly developed aerobic fitness capacity, that in the past decade Cross Country Skiing has become an upper body and core strength-dominant sport. Not to say that leg strength is not important but rather that, building upon optimal aerobic fitness, upper body and core strength are the most important element in successful racing. Among many other examples, this is evidenced by, for example, winning World Cup skiers double poling entire 10 km – 30 km classic races that contain steep hills. This can be achieved only with a ridiculously strong upper body and core. Here is what H. C. Holmberg has to say about the subject in a recent publication:

"The revolutionary increase in the use of the DP technique has many 
causes including better preparation/grooming of ski tracks, marked 
improvement of equipment (both the poles and gliding properties of 
the skis), greater upper-body strength and endurance, and substantial 
biomechanical improvements."

So, although there are other factors, upper-body strength and endurance are critical, and I would additionally argue that such strength and endurance is, in fact, enabling. Given that the double pole (DP) technique is critical to V2 skating and that the same bio-mechanics for superior DP also lead to superior V1 and V1 alt, the importance of upper-body and core strength cannot be questioned. In fact, the emergence of the US Women’s Cross Country Ski Team at the top of the World Cup in the past 5 years is directly associated with a focus by the team on upper body and core strength development following in the path of a similar focus that has been in place with the dominant Norwegian Men’s and Women’s team for over a decade. This is why I have “loss of muscle mass” as the number one training focus for older cross country skiing athletes- it is one of the capacities that is most detrimentally affected with age and it is arguably the most important part of successful competitive cross country skiing. This is also why all training programs  for older athletes need to address the fact that we are loosing muscle mass and to, therefore, include substantial strength training elements- elements that take precedence over even aerobic, aerobic capacity, and technique training. Without the upper-body and core strength one’s technique and efficiency will suffer. Just spend a few minutes looking around at your next ski race or at the Nordic Center in your area- you will see poor technique and the associated collapsing cores and noodle-like  “chicken wing” arms all around you. Currently, strength training does not play the central role that it should in cross country skiing, at least in the US.  I will have a separate post on cross country skiing-specific strength training for older endurance athletes.

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Moving on to the #2 most important factor for ageing athletes- aerobic capacity (VO2 max). Aerobic capacity is more substantially diminished with age than either lactate threshold (LT) or economy. Reduced aerobic capacity can be partly due to increased body weight but, for an experienced older competitive athlete, the greatest portion of the reduction  is most likely due to a slow progression away from high intensity interval training (HIIT) stimuli. It is rather easy to slowly reduce and, perhaps, eventually eliminate HIIT from your training regimen given the reputation such workouts have with respect to how difficult or “brutal” they can be. This, combined with concerns for injury during HIIT, has, in my experience, lead to a slow progression for reductions in, and for some athletes, elimination of, HIIT for many ageing athletes. But as you age, HIIT becomes of critical importance to ensuring that you slow the inevitable loss of your aerobic capacity. Studies have shown that VO2 max reductions with age can be minimized by inclusion of a regular diet of HIIT. So HIIT should play a central role in any training regimen for older athletes.

Finally we come to the subject of increasing body fat. As noted above, it is well documented that as we age there is a significant loss of muscle mass and unless we experience a coincident reduction in body weight as we age (very unusual), we are replacing that muscle with fat. There are few older athletes that maintain the same or similar weight to their most competitive days in their 20’s and early 30’s. I find that one can come close but never actually get there. In my case at 5’7″ with a slight build, I weighed 119-122 lbs (54-55.5 kg) when in the most competitive condition as a road cyclist specializing in races with lots of climbing. At 60, and competing in cross country skiing and mountain trail and mountain trail ultra running, this optimal-condition weight has climbed to 124-126 lbs (56.5-57.5 kg) for mountain trail running and, with the requisite added upper body mass, to 128-130 lbs (58-59 kg) for cross country skiing. Measured body fat in my 20’s varied from a low of 5% to a more typical 7%. These days I hover at 8-10%- a significant increase. I find that if I venture into the sub-124 lb (<56 kg) territory, I begin to loose the ability to recover from workouts as well as find a larger susceptibility to minor viral issues and a tendency to being a bit “irritable”. So I have settled and come to peace with a weight range of 125-130 lbs (57-59 kg). I highly recommend that you read Fitzgerald’s book “Racing Weight” for guidance on the subject. Weight is  a very individual thing and, for some, very personal, so I will not spend much time discussing the subject other than to highlight it’s importance.

So, I hope I have made a strong case for the primacy of consistency and recovery in training and for the over-riding importance, as ageing athletes, of the need to concentrate on maintaining or increasing muscle mass, maintaining or increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing body fat. Endurance and technique development are secondary to the “Big 3”. You don’t have to take my word for this, just take the time to read and absorb Friel’s book and I think you will be convinced that by focusing on the “Big 3” and developing your training plan around this concentration there will be a path to progress and improvement even as you age.

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Training plan structure
"The bigger the base, the higher the peak."
Arthur Lydiard

There are many different training plan structures that have been successfully used by endurance athletes. Many of these structures come and go in popularity but one in particular has survived the test of time- the simple periodized Lydiard approach. The basic tenet is “the bigger the base, the higher the peak” – meaning that any success is built on a substantial base of endurance training leading into more sport specific and finally, race specific training. This progression typically involves a long 12-20 week base (the “big base” ala Lydiard) followed by 8-10 week sport specific period and then a race specific period of 4-6 weeks followed, in cross country skiing, by the approximately 10-12 week “race season” of repeated race prep, between-race rest, and aerobic maintenance. I have used such a protocol for my entire life as an endurance athlete and it has worked well and allowed me to excel and regularly perform close to my best potential. I have been somewhat reticent to try any other pedagogy given not only my personal success but also the uniform acceptance of Lydiard-like training programs across the spectrum of competitive endurance sport. However, there is a recent (last 5 years) trend in endurance sports (including cross country skiing) that, along with accumulating supportive peer-reviewed studies, indicates that there may be a constructive and efficacious “tweak” that one can apply to a standard Lydiard-like plan for improved results- it is called “block periodization”. Among a number of recent publications, I reference one here that does a reasonable job at explaining what “block periodization” is as it relates to cross country skiing training as well as providing data that can be interpreted to support the advantages of a “block periodization” protocol.

Traditional Periodization (TP) differs from “Block Periodization” (BP)  in that TP mixes the development of abilities and energy systems throughout the training plan. BP has mesocycle structure that is made up of blocks of training that address, primarily, a single ability or energy system. For example while a TP plan might have weekly interval training sessions (in the sport specific training period) that mix a VO2 max session on say, Monday, with a Lactate Threshold (LT) session on Thursday, the BP plan would take a 4-6 week period and focus on VO2 max and then follow that up with a similar (or longer, depending on the sport and the specialization of the athlete) LT “block”. The argument for this being a better approach is that by concentrating on single energy systems or abilities one can wring out every last bit of improvement that would be possible with a given athlete. The other part of a BP program that is appealing is that the macrostructure is tuned to the race season where the block progression starts with the least race-specific work transitioning into the most race-specific work. So for cross country skiing you would likely see a progression that has an endurance block followed by a VO2max block and then finishing with a LT block. This progression makes sense because the endurance base is critical to giving the athlete the ability to handle the difficult VO2 max work and then the LT block provides race-specific preparation since cross country ski races are typically raced at threshold (or just above threshold). Similarly, for mountain trail ultra running an effective progression might have an early season VO2 max block followed by a LT block and finishing with a race-specific endurance block since ultra running races are typically run at endurance-level effort (L2-low L3).

I have been experimenting with BP this running season and have developed enough confidence in the efficacy of the approach that I am proceeding with a BP protocol for the upcoming ski training and racing season. The grapevine indicates that some of the top cross country skiing national teams are adopting, to varying degrees, BP-like training programs. Not that this trend with current elite athletes would necessarily make sense for a 60 year old has-been but, given my personal experience, BP does seem to potentially give enhanced results for the same training commitment. Only time will tell.

I will also note here that Jason Koop and Jim Rutberg in their book “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning” do a great job of outlining and applying the principles of BP for ultrarunning. It is straightforward to modify their approach to cross country skiing. This is the only current source of a comprehensive guide to BP for endurance sport that I am aware of and I highly recommend that, if you are interested in BP, that you read the book.

I have spoken with two recent US Cross Country Skiing Olympians and they have both experimented with block periodization and both have had issues with going into the long race season energized. The very challenging pre-race season VO2max  and LT blocks can, if not properly dosed, lead to diminished returns. Both have returned to traditional mixed periodization. I will be keeping a close eye on this going forward.

In the next post I will present the macrostructure of my training program and outline detailed training plans for the next few months (July-December) using a BP protocol with a Lydiard-like progression.

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A few words about “grit” and motivation

Any commitment of substance is based upon individual motivation and some will argue that completion of any challenging commitment will take “grit”.  You have probably read articles and commentary on the importance of “grit” in training for and competing in endurance sports. No one actually does a good job of defining what ‘grit” is- even Duckworth in her recent book “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance” fails to do so. I think this is because grit is a derivative descriptor and not an actual thing. For me “grit” is the actualization of motivation. It is not that one is “gritty” or that “grit” is genetic or that “grit” is learned, but rather that “grit” derives from motivation- either extrinsic motivation or intrinsic motivation or, likely, some combination thereof. The origin of “grittiness” is motivation and motivation is a very complex thing, one that may be the subject of future post. But suffice it to say that we know when we are motivated and we know what motivates us (so long as we are willing to be truthful with ourselves about the subject). The important point here is that motivation is another basic, foundational, part of any training program. Given the commitment needed to succeed in any challenging training regimen, it is well worth while to go about understanding what your motivation is and making sure that first, you are, in fact, motivated, and second, that you are fully behind those reasons that currently motivate you and, third, that these reasons are “durable” (meaning that the reasons are not subject to significant change in the foreseeable future). There will be little value in embarking upon a difficult and challenging training regimen only to find that your motivation is waning or that circumstances have lead to highly diminished motivational support for the daily grind. Be sure you are ready to commit and then commit. None of this is easy and it will always take a high level of commitment and enthusiasm that can only originate in authentic motivation- know yourself so you can freely release the energy needed to attain your goals.

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Heard on the Trail: Salomon May Offer “Custom” Shoe Program

After hearing continued rumblings since last fall from both Europe and State Side, the vibe is building that Salomon will likely offer a “custom” shoe program which treats the customer like one of their elite athletes- i.e. you tell them what you want and they build it.

Salomon’s elite athletes have gushed for many years how the company’s R&D department (or S Lab) in Annecy can rapidly (in days or weeks) turn out shoe prototypes for testing. This includes minor tweaks like a different outsole on an otherwise unchanged model (e.g. putting a SpeedCross outsole on a Sense Ultra for example) to totally unique examples with different midsoles, uppers, lacing, etc. Well, based on the rumor-mill it looks like some version of this might be offered to the paying public.

With no details on the specifics of the rumored program one might speculate that the program might include a number of uppers, midsoles, and outsoles  in the Salomon line-up (presumably from the S Lab line) from which one can mix-and-match to design a shoe specifically to one’s liking. The shoes would likely be made in Annecy and therefore will be very limited in total number produced. Also given the difficulties associated with production of custom shoes, only a small number of Salomon dealers worldwide (perhaps 50 total) and a few (perhaps 5) in the US would be the exclusive source for this service. Who knows what the pricing might be, but I would not be surprised to see pricing exceed $250 US per pair.

Kilian shoes Zegama 2016

Kilian’s prototype “monster” shoes with integrated gaiter and traditional lacing at Zegama 2016… what would you design? Photo credit: carrerasdemontana.com (link). My take on these shoes is that Kilian is going in a direction away from trail running races and fully into extreme adventure runs (or very difficult/technical trail races like Kima and Zegama). These shoes appear to be more fit for that type of use. I think we will see an increasing number of runners venturing into more extreme, off trail, efforts. And, therefore, a proportionate increase in the number of back country rescues and predator encounters!

Kilian clean prototype Zegama 2016

Kilian’s “monster” shoes early on (and clean) at Zegama 2016. Photo credit: trailrunning review.com (link). Emilie is also wearing this shoe, as shown in a recent (18 June)  twitter post.

Such a program represents potential for shoes with outstanding performance for specific purposes and running style, but also for production of some of the worst shoes ever produced by man. Given a combination of what little science there is on efficacious shoe design, the whims and reckless ideas of individual runners, and the importance of uniqueness to certain types, we may see some, let’s say, “very interesting” shoes coming out of a Salomon “custom” project. Perhaps Salomon will keep the combinations strategically limited to ensure that no obviously “bad” shoes are produced.

If this program does come to fruition, and if you think you have some tweaks you would like to see in your Salomon shoes, this may be a program for you.

Run With Power by Jim Vance – Review

The use of power meters for training guidance and the development of personal metrics for monitoring training progression has, over the past 15 years, transformed all rigorous training approaches for cycling. I expect the same to take place in running with the recent advent of reliable, easy to use running power meters. Jim Vance, a former professional triathlete and current triathlon and duathalon coach, has jumped on the bandwagon and written the first comprehensive book on the use of power meter training for running.

Run with Power by Jim Vance

This book is a great place to start to understand the reasons that one might want to use power data for training. The introductory chapters provide a compelling, sound basis from which a power-based training approach can be developed.

From the fundamentals (and Vance’s extensive experience in utilization of power data in cycling training) a detailed discourse on the application of power meter training to running is presented in clear language and informative graphics.

Central to any power meter-based  training is the concept of parameterization of  economy (net oxygen use per distance traveled) and efficiency (net pace per unit of power produced)- two critically important running metrics that, prior to the development of running power meters, could only be inferred from other, indirect, measurements. Experienced runners already have a sense of these parameters from their training but, just as with heart rate, having an analytic measure to confirm and reiterate what is felt or indirectly measured is yet another tool to get the most from one’s training. Although the author suggests that these data can be used in a positive feedback loop to adjust running  technique and stride specifics, I have seen little in the peer-reviewed literature that supports the efficacy of stride and technique manipulation that results in increased performance at the competitive regional, national, or international level. Setting technique aside, the use of running economy and running efficiency metrics in training is, in theory, the ultimate goal of training for running where, given an individual’s specific and unique biomechanics, a training progression that optimizes economy and efficiency will yield a competitor who will likely perform to their greatest physical potential. The mental side is another story.

In a comprehensive way, Vance runs through the details of utilizing running power for training including how to get started,  determining functional threshold power (FTP- the power meter equivalent of lactate threshold for HR training) and setting zones, and then using these data for training plan development and monitoring. Vance also provides the most concise, clearest and transparent guide that I have read pertaining to the use of the Training Peaks online software tool that has power metrics fully integrated into analysis algorithms. It is a good reference for anyone starting out with TP as their training tracking and analysis choice.

Also included in the book are some more advanced training approaches as well as some sample training plans for road running events from 5 km through the marathon.

This book does not address application of running power to trail and ultra running but it seems straightforward that the concepts are directly transferable with similar and appropriate modifications as is currently operative with heart rate training for trail runners and ultra runners. In fact, given the high variability in trail grades, and therefore in pace, the power meter is an even more valuable tool on trails than it is on roads. And for ultra runners, the power meter should substantially help in pacing during training and racing- a critical skill for success.

Provided that the current crop of power meters (e.g. Stryd) succeed in providing an accurate and easy to use method for obtaining reliable running power metrics, we should see a similar transformation of running training that has been experienced in cycling training and Vance’s book will be an important part of this transformation. If you are considering adding power to your running training, I highly recommend this book as a comprehensive, clearly written, and valuable resource.

Personally, I will not be adding power to my training metrics until Garmin transparently accommodates running power into their firmware and software for their high-end watches. Right now the integration is “clugey” at best for Garmin. Suunto high-end watch users already have a fully integrated running power capability and with direct download into Training Peaks, everything in this book can be applied to your training.

boasts
  • First comprehensive resource for use of power meters for running training
  • clear, concise writing with informative graphics
  • nice introductory information on the use of Training Peaks for training with power for running
  • can also be used as a basic training guide and plan development tool
beefs
  • no discussion on how running power meters work and which meters are currently providing reliable data
  • no specific discourse on application of running power measurement to trail and ultra running where the use of power may be most advantageous

Salomon S Lab Sonic – Final Update

I posted initial impressions and a 500 km update on the Salomon S Lab Sonic previously.

I currently have about 800 km (500 miles) on a first pair of the S Lab Sonic including use in buffed mountain trail single track, mountain double track, rocky technical mountain trail, across rivers, scree, snowfields, and high ridges, very limited paved road, and in one mountain trail 60 km race. I am putting up this final update now because these shoes are in a rotation with a couple of pair of S Lab X-Series and I will not likely take them to true end of life (EOL) until the end of the summer. I am still using a pair of X-Series that have over 1800 km (1100 miles) on them and they are still performing well in shorter (10 km or less) runs and as a hiking shoe. I expect the same, with one exception noted below, to be true for the S Lab Sonic.

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Salomon S Lab Sonic after about 800 km (500 miles) of mountain trail running- holding up nicely!

Given that the S Lab Sonic is a very slightly modified version of the S Lab X-Series (reviewed here, here, and here), it is no surprise that it performs similarly- meaning that this shoe is an excellent and durable performer in the mountains. Having logged very limited road miles (<80 km (50 miles)), I will not make any comments on road performance.

I will, however, comment on the use of traditional laces and the removal of the “lace pocket” on the S Lab Sonic- the bottom line is that this is a mistake and Salomon should at least provide for the option of speed laces. The speed lace/lace pocket technology is a superior solution to securing and fitting a trail running shoe for a whole host of reasons that I do not need to enumerate here as they are patently obvious. I am hopeful that Salomon will move on from this “experiment” and return to the 21st century, at least with the S lab shoes. So, ignoring the issues associated with the traditional laces on the S Lab Sonic, what follows is the rest of the final update.

upper

One of the primary changes from the S Lab X-Series to the S Lab Sonic is a a switch from a lycra-like upper material to a very light mesh material. With over 1800 km (1100 miles) on a pair of S Lab X-Series, I have yet to wear out an upper. Not so with the S Lab Sonic- the medial upper area near the flex point is beginning to wear through at this point. This type of mesh upper is well known to accumulate abrasive dirt within the the mesh and lead to excessive wear out (as has been reported on the S Lab Wings in particular). I have been told by other athletes that they have worn out this area on the S Lab Sonic in as little as 400 km (250 miles). Obviously I have gotten better wear than that but this area is likely to begin to fail within the next 150 km (100 miles).

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Medial upper area on the S Lab Sonic showing excessive wear of the mesh material at the flex axis (within the small triangle of mesh defined by the TPU overlay just above the “3D Flex” graphic. The TPU overlay constrains the mesh and induces high strain which combined with dirt particle accumulation leads to wear out. Experience will vary on wear out- with wear out times from as little as 400 km (reported by other athletes) to more than 800 km (in my case).

The lateral area of the upper at the flex axis is still intact and does not show significant wear.

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Lateral upper area on the S Lab Sonic showing minimal wear of the mesh material at the flex axis after 800 km (500 miles).

I am just starting to see the heel counter wear that was typical in the X-Series. This wear ends up not affecting performance as I continue to wear a pair where this area is worn down through the underlying cushioning material and I have experienced no discomfort or “hot spots”.

midsole

At this point (800 km (500 miles)), the midsole is still performing to expectation and I have not noticed any substantial reduction in cushioning. I have noted an increasing frequency of sharp rock awareness that seemed to not be present at the outset. I expect that there is enough EVA compression that some of the sharper rocks are now having a greater impact on the bottom of my foot.

outsole
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The outsole of the Salomon S Lab Sonic after 800 km (500 miles) showing very little wear and no preferential wear at the outside outsole edge and, particularly, the outside heel area.

Wear, as in the X-Series, is outstanding. I have yet to wear out one of these X-Series/Sonic outsoles even after over 1800 km (1100 miles).

comfort

Again, as with the very similar X-Series, the comfort of this shoe is excellent and is not noticeably deteriorating. This shoe continues as the most comfortable trail running shoe I have ever worn. One advantage to the S Lab Sonic over the S Lab X-Series is that the Sonic runs noticeably cooler due to the lightweight mesh upper. The lycra-like mesh utilized in the X-Series, although not hot, ran warmer- a good thing in cold weather but not a good thing in hot conditions. With the cooler performance comes the potential upper wear-out in high strain areas; as usual all things involve compromise.

value

Although these shoes are not at EOL, a value calculation yields a current per mile cost of about $0.36US. The X-Series came in at about $0.21US/mile. The question will be exactly when will the mesh upper give out to the pint where too much debris is getting into the shoe and causing issues. I expect that, based on the observed wear to date, I will likely get another 250-350 km before upper wear-out. That would give a per mile cost of about $0.25US/mile, a bit higher use cost than the X-Series. Of course some users have reported that the S Lab Sonic upper is wearing out in as little as 400 km (250 miles) which gives an unacceptable use cost of about $0.68US/mile. Obviously use varies and the user also plays a role. For my use, stride style, and size the S Lab Sonic represents a good value, particularly for a racing quality shoe.

Bottom line

Salomon have managed to not screw up the excellent X-Series product from 2015 and have retained a high performance, light-weight trail shoe that provides a high level of long run comfort, superior trail feel, high durability, and all-around performance on mountain terrain. Highly recommended, but be aware of possible upper mesh wear-out issues.

I will be using the S Lab Sonic in rotation with S Lab X-Series exclusively for training and racing this season including an number of mountain trail 50km-60 km races as well as some possible longer races in the fall.

Based on some information trickling out of Europe and State Side, it seems Salomon will have a new program to offer for 2017. I will put up a “rumor post” on this subject soon.

How to Make an “Ice Bandana”

At the aid stations of hot summer races where I would refill my ice bandana, many competitors and aid station volunteers would ask about it- where I got it, how does it work, where can they get one, etc. Well, after looking for something that would work for ultra running races a couple of years ago I realized that there was nothing on the market so I designed my own with some input from others who have done the same. This post outlines how to make an ice bandana. Note: This is a prototype. It worked sufficiently well in the first iteration that I never modified it. But I am sure that it can be (and certainly has been) improved upon.

If you do a quick search, it is clear that there is not much available out there on either buying or constructing an ice bandana. I have seen no detailed design outlined anywhere, although I am not the best at searching. The following is what I have gleaned from a bit of casual research and, at the time, an immediate need for an ice bandana.

Basic Idea

The approach for an ice bandana is to reliably get a cool surface onto regions of high allesthesial thermosensitivity- specifically, in this case, the back of the neck. This is important because cooling of such regions has been shown to improve the ability of humans to perform in hot environments. Other such thermosensitive areas include the surface of the head and face, among others.

One highly utilized method to attain this cooling is to use a bandana and line up a row of ice cubes along the diagonal of the rectangular shape and to “roll up” the cloth to form a tube-like assemblage that can be tied around the neck. Many runners use this approach but there are numerous compromises. First is that the ice does not last that long as it is hard to put much ice into the bandana. Second, unless you limit the ice to just the center of the diagonal (and therefore even further limit the amount of ice you can get into the bandana) you will have ice along the sides of your neck and even into the front part of neck. Cooling of the sides of your neck is not as effective as cooling the back of your neck as the sides are not as thermosensitive- this design takes ice from where you want it (back of the neck) and puts it somewhere where it is less effective (sides of the neck) thereby decreasing the efficiency and durability of the icing. Third, using just the cotton bandana cloth leads to quick melting of the ice since it is in very close proximal contact with your skin. The thin cotton bandana material does not provide much of a thermal barrier between the 0C (32F) ice and your 37C (98.6F) skin. Finally, there is a very low “thermal mass” when just using the cotton bandana material due to both the relatively high thermal conductivity of the bandana material and the low ice mass capability of the system.

A System That works

Many runners have experimented with using ice bandanas over the years and one concept that has been found to be very efficacious is the inclusion of a low thermal conductivity, high capacity ice “pocket” with a relatively large thermal mass.

One such material is chamois- traditionally the tanned skin of the chamois, a small European antelope (which, like the US pronghorn variety, are incredibly “cute”). “Chamois” is also the term used for a similar tanned skin material from sheep or lamb. Historically,  chamois has been used for a number of purposes including as a drying towel for automobiles, as the crotch material in cycling shorts, and as a polishing cloth for soft metals and gems, among many other uses. In each case the very low abrasion characteristics of the material are central to the use. For use in an ice bandana the chamois material is providing not only low abrasion, but also a relatively low thermal conductivity and a relatively high thermal mass (ability to hold a large amount of water).

One of the important consequences of using a chamois insert is that it gets wet and stays wet. This is critical to ensuring good thermal contact with your skin and, combined with the small thermal barrier layer that the chamois provides, you are cool but not cold- or frozen. Some of the available non-ice type neck wraps that use freezable sealed liquids and phase change materials can be too cold against the skin and therefore uncomfortable. And just sewing a square cotton bandana into a triangle with an opening to deposit ice will work but the ice will not last as long and it will not be as comfortable as the design shown below.

The idea here is to sew a chamois pocket on the “inside” of the bandana in a configuration that allows for both a substantial amount of ice to be accommodated and that the ice is preferentially located at the back of the neck. This can be accomplished in numerous configurations but I show here how I have done it. Do not limit yourself to this arrangement; as noted above, this bandana was a prototype that could likely be improved upon. It works well enough for me and I have not felt the need to make any “improvements”. Just make sure you include the chamois pocket in your design.

design and construction
  1. Start with a standard square 56 cm (22″) bandana. The bandana material is preferably cotton, as this will be the lightest and least abrasive cloth for this purpose.
  2. Lay the bandana out flat on a table and cut a 20 cm (8″) by 15 cm (6″) rectangle from a piece of high quality chamois. In the US high quality chamois is generally available from auto care outlets that specialize in the myriad of tools, lotions, and potions for the auto detailing geeks. One such outlet is here, but there are many others. One of the best places in world to buy chamois is here.  The key is that the chamois is the real thing and is of high quality (proper thickness and proper preparation (tanning)). At the time I built this bandana I was under a time constraint so I just cut a rectangle out of the chamois I use to dry our beloved Westy camper. The drying chamois is now a bit smaller but still sufficient to do a good job of drying the Westy.
  3. Place the chamois rectangle on the diagonal in the center of the of the bandana and machine or hand sew three of the four sides leaving one long side facing “upward” open to form a pocket.      L1030293Slide1 (7)L1030294
  4. You now have an “Ice Bandana”! Fill the pocket with as much ice as you need for the conditions- I usually fill it up as much as possible on a hot day. However, if I am starting at the base of a big climb in hot conditions but will be getting to high altitude (<ca. 2500 m (8000 feet)) quickly I will not fill it with as much ice since the temperatures will generally be moderated and breezes common at the higher attitudes.L1030304L1030296
  5. Now fold the lower part of the bandana “triangle” up and over the filled ice pocket to form one large, bulging, “triangle”.L1030299
  6. Then fold the upper part back over the ice pocket area and you have the assemblage that you will then wrap around your neck.L1030300
  7. Locate the ice pocket on the back of your neck and tie the bandana. I use a simple double knot that is easy to untie and adjust. Be sure not to tie the bandana too tight as it will be quite uncomfortable. You will likely adjust the knot a few times until you find the most comfortable tightness and position.           L1030301L1030302L1030303

For me, the amount of ice shown here will last in excess of 2 hours at 32C (90F) – 35C (95F). You may have a different experience since the ice melting will be a function of your skin temperature and your exposure to direct sun. However the 2h+ timeframe is usually sufficient to get you to the next aid station.

Some other sources

Here is an ice bandana with a chamois lining available from a retail supplier. I have not found any details as to exactly what the design is but I expect that the bandana is fully lined with chamois. You can get the right cooling by just putting ice in the middle section of this model and folding it up as described here.

There is more information on ice bandanas here at the Fellrnr site.