Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hammer Energy Gels Review

Bremen was the one who first introduced me to Hammer Gels. I remember because I thought they looked quite odd, their over-sized packaging easily dwarfing that of other gels. He's a fan of their Montana Huckleberry flavor and so next time I was at REI, I decided to pick up a few of my own.

For purposes of this short review, I'll compare them to GU gels, which I'm sure most of you are already familiar with. Hammer Gels come in single-serve packs weighing 32 g and packed with 90 Cal. Its main component is maltodextrin (a glucose multimer), though unlike most other gels there is no added fructose, which tends to be less well tolerated by some athletes. The trade off is that the maximum rate of carbohydrate absorption is less in Hammer Gels than others, since glucose and fructose are transported into the bloodstream via different receptors. At the same time, this would suggest that Hammer Gels delivers energy at a slower, steadier rate (absorption being rate limited by epithelial glucose transporters), and thus might stave off what runners experience as a brief boost upon gel intake followed by a relative "crash" thereafter. As for electrolytes, Hammer Gels have slightly less sodium and potassium than its competitors, and especially on hot and humid days I would consider supplementing it with salt tabs or electrolyte drinks. Only the coffee and tropical flavors are caffeinated, with a dose of 50 mg.

For me, the main argument for Hammer is taste and tolerability. Simply stated, no other gel (GU Chocolate Outrage being the single exception) tastes as natural as Hammer. Take GU's "Cherry Blaze" for example, which - while not bad tasting per say - has a very artificial taste, and can quickly become overburdening especially when consuming your fifth or sixth gel at the end of a race. All of the Hammer flavors I've tried are understated, and never overpowering. I generally tolerate most gels very well, but for my early morning workouts, when I just got out of bed, am feeling groggy and have very little time until I need to be back on my feet, Hammer has become my go-to fuel because they are so easy on the stomach. My personal favorite has to be Hammer banana, which tastes exactly the way it should: fruity, not too sweet and with the right consistency.

My new favorite gel - wish it came in a caffeinated version!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

White Marsh 4 Miler Race Report

Pre-race

Figures, it takes a road race to get me to go to a shopping mall :) This Saturday I drove up to White Marsh for the "White Marsh 4 Mile", a new race put together by T3 Run, who also organize the Towson Downtown 5K. It coincided with the first cool day of the season, to the extent that warranted pulling out a pair of track pants and pullover out of long term storage. My plan was to run the race hard then add-on my regular long run (20 miles) on NCR immediately after for an extra-strong training stimulus.

The race organization was fine, though the race was smaller that I had hoped. My belief is that I would rather have a deeper field than a better placement, in my view good competition enables us to run beyond our abilities. And so when lining I was happy to see one or two guys engaged in serious warm-up. The cool thing about smaller races is that there are few enough people that you try to gauge the competition. So then you end up with two or three of us looking each other over, trying to figure the other out. Here's what to look for: singlets and shorty shorts - my prediction that the less fabric a runner wears, the better they are generally holds true (especially at low temps on race day).

Race

The course looped around the White Marsh Mall twice, and was unexpectedly hilly. Three of us broke away from the pack early on with a 5:10-5:20 dash for the first half mile. I looked down at my watch and decided to hang back in third rather than force a pace I couldn't keep. It was the right choice because second place soon began fading, upon catching him I shouted "let's get that guy" while pointing to the leader. Much easier said than done, as it would turn out. Upon finishing loop 1 of 2 he had gained 30 seconds on me and while I tried to hang on, it would be impossible for me to make up that deficit over the remaining two miles. Fortunately, one thing I notice is that while running a hard pace such as this one, my mind doesn't have much time or energy to contemplate alternatives, so in my head I was still fighting for the win, and as a consequence I did not drop the pace. I finished second in 22:20 on a course that read 4.1 Mi on Garmin.

Post-race

This was the best part: free, post-race massage for a 4 Mile race! I finished early enough to not have to wait, and received an excellent 15 minutes sports massage courtesy of the Healing Path. Taken together with Panera bagels and a tech shirt, I deem this a great value for only $25 registration. I had to leave early to meet the Hopkins Marathon Team at NCR for the weekend's long run (a 20 miler), so the race director kindly handed me my 2nd place medal and I was off.

Conclusions

With a good value for the price and decent enough organization, I would do this race again if it aligned with my training schedule, though hopefully there will be more participants and next year's race.

Update: The results just came online and they are off by over a minute from what I recorded on my Garmin. I've contacted the race director to request a correction. Come to think of it, one vital thing that was missing at this race was a race clock at the finish! Hopefully these small quirks will be ironed out by the next race.