Continuum
noun, con·tin·u·um \kən-ˈtin-yü-əm\
A range or series of things that are slightly different from each other and that exist between two different possibilities.

I became an ultra runner overnight.

nathan_artist

One day, I was a sad artist, recording a self-deprecating punk album in his bedroom. And the next, I was an early-riser, lacing up at dawn with a head full of dreams, determined to finish an ultramarathon.

My abrupt lifestyle change occurred after stumbling across Salomon’s short film, “Home,” featuring elite trailrunner, Anna Frost. In the video, Frost eloquently describes a period of depression; returning to her childhood home, she has lost her love of running. Gradually, through living simply and with the support of her family, she rekindles a sense of self, and in turn, rediscovers a passion for adventure. The video is just over six minutes long, but by the end of it, I had experienced a profound personality overhaul. A skeptic by nature, this was a rare burning-bush moment in my life. I knew with an alien certainty that this is what I must do now.

So all of a sudden, I was a trailrunner. Wonderful. Except for one thing—gear. I didn’t have a lick of gear.

All passion and no experience, riding the pink cloud of inspiration, can you guess what I did? Yep, I bought stuff. Lots of stuff.

I looked online for gear reviews. Based on Internet searches, it seemed like Hoka One One and Altra were on the cutting edge of trailrunning technology. I purchased the most maximal of maximal Hokas, and just for good measure, I threw in some Defeet insoles for extra protection. I found videos of people praising compression socks. I bought three pairs of $60 compression socks. Then, with half of a paycheck, I bought a Salomon hydration pack.

nathan_headbandThere were random purchases too. Colorful polyester tights from a beachwear shop, I wanted to stand out—little did I know that the crotches would rip after one use and I would be standing out for a different reason. I bought a dozen bandanas, each one slipping from my head mid-run. Who needs performance material socks? I went with a 12-pack of cotton socks. They came back moist as slugs after every run. In short, I was waking up from a kind of lifestyle kryogenisis. My passion illuminated a deficit of gear, and so my journey along the learning curve—the gear continuum—was severe.

When I nearly sprained my ankle due to the stack height of Hokas, I switched to Altras. New to the sport, I made the transition to zero drop shoes too quickly. This resulted in peroneal tendonitis. In this recovery period, I got in the pool and on the bike to cross-train. What does this mean? Swim shorts, goggles, swim cap, earplugs, clipless shoes, pedals, gloves, tights…there are countless purchases I am leaving out—but just imagine: I was a kind of Snowball of Gear; rolling down the mountain, propelled by gravity, I scooped up anything in my path. As the snowball grew in size, so too did my momentum to purchase. This is an apt picture of my experience with gear acquisition; a bunch of uninformed purchases leading to a bunch of poor if not harmful applications of gear, leading to tons of trial and error, leading to even more purchases.

How could this have been different?

In my haste, I found endless company-sponsored reviews but only a handful of third-party reviewers: The Gearist, GingerRunner, Gear Institute, to name a few. But even within these third-party sources, it was exceedingly difficult to glean information applicable to me, specifically. I wanted to know what other 5’10, 165lb males with a neutral gait wore to run on east coast trails (I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for those men and women on the extremes of the size-spectrum). Just tell me what works for me! But all I could find were either company-sponsored praises or several individual reviewers whose preferences were distinct from my own.

There was no user-based online resource. I have great respect for those third-party reviewers such as The Gearist and GingerRunner, but they can only pump out so much content. I wanted to watch a dozen reviews—all on one shoe—all recorded by unbiased people with the same relative build and interests as myself. If I had had access to an expanding network of neutral reviewers sharing videos of their personal experience and thoughts on all sorts of gear, I would have still gone through a process of trial and error. This is an inevitable and essential part of becoming knowledgable in a sport. But at least my process of trial and error would have been more deliberate, safer and fun!

My overnight passion for adventure sports is not a unique story. Whether it is rock climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, orienteering, camping, surfing, hiking, birding or trailrunning, the magnetism of wild spaces will continue to thrust previously sedentary, unknowledgeable individuals into the dizzying hunt for gear. A user-based reviewing network is needed so that those of us making this incredible transition in to adventure sports and hobbies can acquire information specific to our gender, size, shape, style and interests. Yes, money will be saved and on the whole, our safety will surely increase, but most importantly, having access to a community of reviewers freely sharing their experiences and ideas will enhance our enjoyment of gear acquisition.