Friday, March 23, 2012

"The best way out is always through." -Robert Frost

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 247 & 248:

BlogLand, I am in Love... with my new running tights. I got them the other day, and got my first chance to run in them yesterday. I thought I'd take this opportunity (Rest Day, before a RACE tomorrow!), to give you a bit of a review... 

Global Warming has arrived in Vermont in a big way; it's been 70-80 degrees all this week - MID MARCH. That is unheard of. Usually at this time of year spring skiing is still in full swing, you need a jacket at night, and it would still be cool enough for me to run in some lighter-weight warm tights. Clearly, such is not the case, right now, which got me thinking... "Self, I need to add to my running woredrobe." You see, the last time I ran in the warm weather, I was just starting running, was almost 50# heavier, and was worried about  making it through 30 seconds of full running - not weather my tights were compression, or insulated.  In the time that has passed, I've learned quite a bit about myself, the back roads of my town, and what I want/need in gear. And yes, you need "gear."

Old Self used to always scoff at people that would pay $100+ dollars for running sneakers, or trot around town in their crazy-colored spandex... I'm here to tell you BlogLand, not only am I now a believer, I assure you, there is a reason WHY that happens. First, cotton is bad. It just is. It hangs on to all your sweat (if you're anything like me, after a few miles, you're a hot sweaty mess) and you end up feeling super gross. Plus, it rubs and chafes, particularly if it's sweat-tastic. AND, my least favorite - once it gets sweaty, etc. I find that it doesn't stay in place. Quite frankly, it is NOT fun to be running along and having to hike up your tights every 4 steps; I have enough to worry about (not dying, continuing to breath, HOLYCRAP is that a HILL?) that I don't need to worry about my pants staying on, too.

So here I am, sitting at my computer the other day, pondering my warm weather running-tight choices... I looked at my Under Armour options (...which I love. UA, you'll always be my first love! You got me through negative temps this winter!), thought about going cheap and mediocre with Old Navy (the compression stuff isn't half bad), but the CW-X brand kept rattling around in my head. The in-the-know Spartan Chicks (particularly the infamous Margo the Great, over here at Dirt in Your Skirt) are always singing the praises of this company's products. However, as a newbie to the sport and the gear, what I saw was a HUGE price tag, for gear that looked like "something out of the movie Tron," to paraphrase Margaret. The CW-X gear runs upwards of $80+, but I figured there had to be something to it, if all these serious athletes were believers. SO. I investigated, and resolved that if I could find a good deal, I'd get myself a pair and see what all the fuss was about. After all I, too, am a serious Runner now, damnit.

Thank you, Ebay - deal found. The 3/4 length CW-X Stabilyx tights, in the color and size I wanted, for only $70. Sold.

Ripping open the packaging the day I received my tights, I was immediately filled with some dread. They looked itty bitty. Seriously, ladies, you know what I'm talking about - that moment when you pull out a new pair of nylons or leggings and you are like, UHM, THAT tiny bit of material is going to cover my ass? Added to which, it seems that CW-X does not cater to the more Amazonian of us; their women's size chart reads like the back of a box of nylons and according to my height/weight, I was a wee bit over their max size Large (why not an X-Large, CW-X? why?!). Nonetheless, I skimmed the directions for putting them on. Yes, they come with directions, as you must make sure their high-tech "support webbing" is, in fact, in all the right places, so it can support you as designed. Seemed reasonable.

I wiggled myself into these bad boys and was immediately struck by the compression aspect of them. WHEW. However, that may be attributed to the fact I was a little more toward their max capacity... but I had heard that the first wear was the worst - after that they compression eases up just a little bit. My next thought was that they were a little high-waisted. I am built pretty non-hippy, which could be contributing to this, but also, I think it is the way these tights are designed. Apparently, these tights have a "Support Web" in place to support the lower abs, back and core to help you "channel power." Hmm. Alright, I guess they have to go a little higher.

Feeling a lot like a sausage at this point, I was a little hesitant to look in the mirror, but I braved it: Enter I, Robot. I chuckled a little, as I have these tights in black with raspberry accents, and they really just make you look a little bionic.
The huge geek in me was even really entertained that cw-x refers to this as wearing an "exoskeleton." I'm sorry, what geeky kid (even the grown up ones!) aren't excited about wearing an EXOSKELETON!?

Yeah. I was.

Alright, it was time to take these babies out for a run, and see what my crazy bionic pants were going to do for me. Furthermore, would they be worth their crazy price tag? I had some positive vibes going, already, as walking around the house, I could (really!) feel the support around my knees and behind on my hamstrings, particularly. As these are two real trouble spots for me, I was really hopeful that my robot tights would have something to offer here.
Also, I must say, that even just test-wearing them around my living room, I felt more "springy." This is a hard one to explain, but it felt like my legs had more oomph... perhaps the supportiveness around my knees, and the compression (increasing blood flow) had something to do with it?

So, out for a run I went. Only a little 4 miler with a buddy today, but a trial-run for my Bionic Pants, nonetheless. Usually, my first 1/2 mile is a little slow and creaky, while my tight hamstrings try and warm up, my knees un-stiff themselves and I generally get moving. Today, clad in my exo-skeleton, this was shortened to literally a minute or so of jogging, and I felt really good and ready to go. Now, I know what you're thinking - this is a psychosomatic response to thinking I'm wearing hi-tech pants. I pondered this to, so I reserved judgement.

The next test: The monster hill sprint up to my buddy's house. Up I started, with the usual goal - keep moving, run the whole thing, steady pace. This is where I started to become a believer in my Bionic Pants (sorry, cw-x, they're too entertaining to ever again be referred to by their proper name "Stabilyx tights")... as I hit that point in the hill where I would typically start to fade a little bit, feeling the exertion in my quads and hams, I just didn't. I was aware that I was using my legs (when you're running up hill, that's just unavoidable!), but there was nowhere NEAR the usual fatigue.  My lungs were pretty sure they were going to explode and there was rivers of sweat beading up on my forehead, but my *legs* felt like they were still good to go. HMM. Still reserving judgement, it was early yet.

After picking up my buddy and continuing on, we fell into a slightly faster than usual pace (seriously, my "new" to running buddy is killing these runs. It's a huge help to keep me going.), and hit our route. Again, I found myself feeling a little tightness in my calves - which weren't encompassed by my 3/4 length tights - but the rest of my legs still felt fresh. Keep running.
More running (I can't tell you what happened. It was like 7am. I wasn't awake yet.).
We plowed up a .60 mile long hill, which typically has me really feeling my hamstrings (why must they be tight all the time??!)....but as I crested the top, lo and behold, there was no tight hamstring, and no subsequent pulling sensation in the back of my knees. WHAT?!? Dear Exoskeleton, could it be true?
More running.
As I headed home, I have to run down the initial hill sprint. This was another fun learning moment - I could actually feel the "support web" holding my knees as I did that typical steep-downhill tiny step run. My knees aren't the greatest (I'm sporting some compressed cartilage), so this was a HUGE thing for me.
Home I ran, where I wondered around my house, re-hydrating and evaluating the status of my body after a run in my Robot Tights.

No kidding, BlogLand... and keeping in mind we are all about honesty here at What A Beautiful Wreck... My legs felt AWESOME. Still good to go. I could've run another 4 miles, no problem. I didn't feel any of the knee-pulling tightness that my hamstrings usually set into motion, no significant fatigue in my quads, and - maybe most importantly - my knees still felt "springy" and good. Often, because I am sporting a little less useful shock-absorbing cartilage than your average bear, after a run on pavement (irregardless of the shoes) I can feel the effects in my knees; there is no pain at all, but you're bound to feel SOMEthing if you're pounding down pavement, vibrations running up your leg, with no inherent natural shock absorber. After a run with my CW-X Stabilyx tights, even with my crappy knees, thanks to the crazy hi-techness of my pants' support system, I was stiffness free!!!!

SO. My one critique (there's always SOMEwhere to improve), is that I'm not entirely in-love with their higher-waistline. Perhaps I will come to love this (particularly as I lose a little more of my spare tire and don't feel so sausagey in it!), but I'm willing to make this trade-off for now. It could be that I have just not fully evaluated and understood the "core support" that it is helping me with.

Ultimate Decision, Two Big Thumbs up for my Bionic Pants. This Exoskeleton was worth EVERY. SINGLE. DOLLAR. that I paid for it. If I could afford it (look, I'm a young profession with student loans, I can't afford anything.), I would NOT feel badly paying full price for these things, based solely on the initial 4 miles I put on these pants. I will also most DEFINITELY investigate their other products - shorts, pants and bras!! (If they can do sports bras with the finesse that they've executed the tights, I may have to buy stock in this company...)

The after thoughts... So, after running that morning, and getting ready for work, etc. even after sitting at a desk for several hours without getting up to stretch and move around, I found myself noticeably not stiff, with much less muscle fatigue. The shortened recovery time that cw-x boasts, is proving true. I'm feeling pretty good about my purchase. Tomorrow will be the real test...

(Yes, of course I'm going to go bionic into this one! I'll need it! hehe)

Stay tuned, BlogLand, for the recap on that one tomorrow... but I feel a little bit reassured knowing I'll have my exoskeleton on and rearing to go! With that, I must go and commence my pre-race freak out... 

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