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How I choose the brands to partner with

By Henry Howard

When it comes to training, recovery and racing, I get by with a little help my friends.

In this case, these friends are sponsors. Before I launch into any arrangement with a brand that I promote, I test and use the product first. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. But I strive to make what I say authentic. If the product does not work for me, I won’t compromise myself by falsely advocating for it.

Case in point: early in my running journey, I had used an overly hyped, mass marketed product for fueling and recovery needs. But I never really felt that it was a difference maker, and I was concerned about the safety of some of its ingredients. I rejected an invitation to promote this company, as I have done so with others whose products do not meet my standards.

Making recovery a priority

Fortunately, I discovered Gnarly Nutrition during a trip to Utah and it has been a wonderful addition to my training and recovery. Here’s why Gnarly is my go-to.

This past week, I was once again in Utah. As part of my trip there I ran but DNF’d at the Zion 100K.

While that was not the outcome I envisioned, I enjoyed meeting Gnarly czar Eli Kerr at the race and UltrAspire athlete coordinator Jodi Hicks the day before at the headquarters office. Both were very gracious and supportive, which is part of the reason why I am so proud to represent their brands. And, if you need a light source for dark runs, I heartily recommend the UltrAspire waist lamp. The difference between its illumination and a typical head lamp is jarring.

While I use Gnarly for a pre-workout boost, hydration during workouts and their Vegan Protein powder for recovery, I rely on Honey Stinger for my on-the-go fueling. I am so glad that I discovered their gluten-free waffles, chews and gels that work much better for me than other brands. I’ve enjoyed being part of the Honey Stinger Hive for several years and hope I can connect other athletes, especially those who are gluten free, with these amazing products.

As a masters athlete, I count on recovery so that I can chase my wild and crazy dreams. While I appear healthy in the outside, it’s important to truly understand my health inside. I’ve used InsideTracker for years and cherish the thorough analysis and custom recommendations provided to me. the improvements I’ve seen have indeed made me healthier, such as correcting my vitamin D levels, getting my cortisol level under control and more.

These brands pass the test

Among other brands that I wholeheartedly support:

Odlo. Sustainability and conservation practices are important to me. While some brands have discovered this more recently, Odlo has made this is a priority since its founding in Norway more than 75 years ago. And their gear is excellent. I use various items throughout the year. Among them: a winter running jacket, rain jacket, various mid- and base layers, shirts, shorts, tights and a hat. They are all comfortable, moisture wicking, light and can double as active wear for chilling out.

Drymax. I’m not technically an ambassador but strongly recommend Drymax socks. I’ve tried pretty much all the socks marketed to runners. Some are good, some are not but none meet the quality of Drymax.

Squirrels Nut Butter. A simple salve that prevents blisters and chafing.

Prevail Botanicals. There is no shortage of CBD-based salves, sleep aids and other items on the market. I’ve tried my share and believe that Prevail works the best for me. (Of all the categories, this is far and away the one where I receive the most pitches to promote products from different companies. I have declined them all, since I do not have experience with them nor do I want to deviate from Prevail.) I also admire Brock Cannon, the founder who is also a plant-based ultra runner with an interesting back story.

Coros. After serving as an ambassador for several years, I unfortunately did not make the cut for 2022. Still, I am a huge advocate for Coros and wear my Apex Pro during every run. I first came across them when I tested at least four different watches for another website. Coros stood out among those I tested because of its amazing battery life, ease of use, great data and reliability when it comes to syncing. If interested in a Coros watch, feel free to use my code for a free swag item with the purchase of any watch. Here's the code and how to use it.

• AfterShokz. I am not an official ambassador with AfterShokz but nothing beats these earbuds. I listen to podcasts or music when running and love my AfterShokz. Their over-the-ear concept allows the athlete to hear their surroundings so they can be safe on the roads or trails.

• Last but not least, Bigger Than the Trail. I had the pleasure to interview BTTT founder Tommy Byrne several years ago and share his story. Since then I have become an ambassador for this organization that uses trail running to raise awareness and funds for mental health counseling for those who cannot afford it.

Be authentic

In the trail and ultra running community there has been some criticism of brands and their influencers that mass market their products.

And I get it. Some of the criticism is leveled at the brands for using the athletes for free or reduced products. And the ambassadors are called out for promoting the products, regardless of their quality or authenticity.

Just for fun a couple of years ago, I applied to be an ambassador for a brand even though I had not used their product. I made that clear on the application, but I was accepted and welcomed to the ambassador program. That confirmed my theory that this particular company, which has a large number of ambassadors, would generally accept anyone who applied.

I ignored the acceptance and still have not used their product.

My advice to those frequenting the social media landscape for hints on what products to consider for the running or other athletic pursuits is to seek out authenticity. Does the tweet, post or promotion sound authentic? Does it appear to be part of a mass marketing campaign? Or is it genuine from a user who has provided more than just talking points from a template?


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