Sunday, 17 February 2013

UltrAspire Molecular Belt System Review

Those who know me will know I am not one to be that interested in technical intricacies or specification of kit - one of the things I love about ultra running is its simplicity. But over the past 3 years of running ultras I have trialled and errored and learnt the hard way how important the practical parts of racing are. If you have an ill-fitting race belt or hydration pack you will be travelling a long way with the niggles.

Box of goodies
On talking to the European distributor of ultra gear company UltrAspire about the Western States, they kindly sent me a box of gear goodies to see me through training and racing with a view to doing a few reviews along the way. I'd been admiring their lightweight race packs for a while, some of which are co-designed by Krissy Moehl, eilte American ultra runner and one-time UTMB champion. Started by Bryce Thatcher, who also started Ultimate Direction before designing for Nathan, it is a relatively new company which, as the name indicates, is targeted specifically at the ultra running community.

The MBS
I tried the Molecular Belt System (MBS) out on recent training runs and during the Thames Trot 50 ultra earlier this month. Its such a personal preference but lightweight race belts have always been my gear comfort zone and having always run with belts rather than packs the MBS would have been my natural first choice of all UltrAspire's products.

Components
The main design concept of the MBS is interesting: that you can choose any one of a possible eight 'core' pieces and attach it to one of a possible five belt connectors. These are all interchangeable, so you can decide which combinations of the two components fit your running and racing best. The core pieces mainly consist of bottle options, designed to sit around the back of the waist. They include the Fusion (two small 0.24 litre bottles), the Synapse (one larger 0.6 litre bottle, in a bottle pocket with a large capacity zipper for gels etc) or the Nerve (large 0.6 litre bottle in a more lightweight bottle pocket). There are also other core pieces which act like additional connctors for minimalism or extra pocket space, I guess for those who are running shorter or have have lots of support.

The connector options are essentially the waist belt parts, designed to fit around the front of the waist. They include the Atom (waist belt with small mesh pouch), the Cell (with larger mesh pouch), the Peptide (minimalist belt with just a elastic cord for holding gels and a tiny mesh pocket for electrolyte pills or other small essentials) and the Neutron (pouch designed specifically for a gel bottle).

See the full range of core and connector pieces here or watch the intro video on the MBS.

I chose the Nerve as my core and the Cell as my connecter:
The Nerve



















The Cell








With Western States training/long runs in mind I need a belt that will hold a decent volume of water (for the UK not in the US where you'd probably need to run with two large bottles in the summer) as well as nutrition and essentials like phone, keys, money etc.

What I like is the sheer number of options the different components give, depending on your need for nutrition capacity, water, extra pockets etc. The Cell pouch is a lot larger than the standard pouches on race belts, and I could get my iPhone, keys and a couple of gels in there. If you weren't carrying a huge phone then you'd most likely be able to squeeze 9 or 10 gel packs in. There is a handy inner pocket inside the pouch, offering security for cash cards, keys etc.

Or the Fusion core


Other options: the Electron connector








I ordered a small and at first thought this was going to be too tight, but the belt actually naturally fits higher around the waist than other belts I am used to, and in this position I've found it extremely comfortable - almost barely there. In the Thames Trot I found that I had to be careful when refilling/replacing the bottle and re-stocking the pouch at aid stations, as its important to get the bottle/belt back into the correct position - when replaced correctly it almost moulds to your shape but incorrectly it can jar.

I don't really like the weight of carrying a full bottle - something I am trying to get used to for Western States - so at the Thames Trot I just half filled my bottle and drank a lot at each check point. This probably added to my feeling of the belt being barely there. Thankfully wasn't any chaffage either - in my experience this can surprise you out of the blue at races even when wearing gear you haven't chaffed with in the past (after the West Highland Way last year I ended up with quite severe belly button issues!).

The bottle top was pretty easy to screw on and off and there doesn't seem to be any leakage when running with a full bottle, as I've found with so many other bottles (Nathan being an example). There's a handy wee finger loop on the side of the bottle too, and with the Nerve core there is also an elastic cord on the side of the bottle pocket which you could fasten a waterproof or other clothing item into if need be.

So my verdict on the MBS is entirely positive when worn for the right type of run or race. Though I have to say after spouting my preference for race belts this last few days I've been trying out the 'Surge' hydration vest. I think I am a convert! But I'll leave that to another post to avoid being disloyal to the MBS...

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