Disclosure: I’m running the Buffalo Marathon with a comped bib thanks to the BibRave Pro Team.
When I signed up for the Buffalo Marathon last year, I was confident I’d push my marathon time below six hours. (Officially, the course has a six hour time limit. After that, you are detoured to sidewalks so they can re-open the roads.) I had plenty of time. While I’d never done a six hour marathon, I’d also never done a course that is fast and flat, so it’s just a matter of convincing my body to trot along a little faster. Naturally I had all sorts of issues including an overuse injury due to an imbalance in my hips/pelvis. Ugh!
My planning for this race is off in other ways too. I had also planned to write a long blot post with interviews from people who ran Buffalo in the past and while I started it, you haven’t seen it yet. I had planned to reserve at the host hotel, which is sold out. Ugh!
…I’m going to have a fantastic race anyway! Why? Because I run for fun. I do this because I enjoy it. After interviewing Greg Weber, the race director, on Runner of a Certain Age (that’s the podcast I co-host, check it out!) I know the whole race weekend is going to be a total treat!
The BibRave Pro Team got a surprise pre-race treat too: the opportunity to interview Meb! Meb Keflezighi is definitely one of my running idols. I know I’ll never be fast like Meb–I’m not devoted to training and I’m not built like Meb–but I have a deep admiration for the man. Sure, he’s a legend, but he’s also a sweet, humble, kind man. At every race event where I have seen Meb, he has graciously interacted with the crowd (and everyone wants a piece of Meb). He’s an Olympian in his own class, yet encourages fun runners to keep moving forward.
Since I tried not to hog this experience for myself–I put out a call on social media for interview questions and got just one in response–I’m sharing my mini-interview with all of you.
What memories do you have from running the NCCA Championships in Buffalo?
That was my senior year in T&F. It was my last time representing UCLA. I really enjoyed being in Buffalo and seeing Niagara Falls. I remember Western New York being a beautiful area.
Did you know Meb has already run in Buffalo? (Be like Meb. Come run Buffalo with us!) I’m excited to see Buffalo, as I haven’t been there since I was a very little girl–too young to remember. Speaking of memories, running is a great way to create them. When you ask a runner about notable moments in their running history, the competitive ones (i.e. not me!) often cite a PR, crossing the finish line, or a big win as their favorite running memory. My favorite running memories are not about these things. That’s what inspired my next question:
What is your favorite running memory that does NOT involve crossing a finish line, breaking a record, or winning an event?
Finishing Fourth Place at Olympics was not a record or a win. But my daughters and about 50 of my family members were there. We thought this would be my last Olympics. At one point I was in 21st place and was having a tough race. But I remembered I was there representing USA, not myself. I pushed to get to the finish and surprisingly finished 4th. Though I didn’t medal, it was one of my greatest memories.
Check it out! I have something in common with Meb! We both value family. My own favorite running memories are races I’ve done with my Dad. (For the record, he runs faster than I do. A lot faster.) Mom was never into running, and she barely got to see the very beginning of my running hobby. I remember Dad and I called her every mile or so from the Portland Marathon Course years ago. My first “big” race, in my mind, was the race I ran for the American Cancer Society’s Team DetermiNation in memory of Mom. That’s actually one of the things I love best about the runners I’ve met: so many of them run for charity, volunteer to help newer runners, or otherwise give back to their communities.
How do you give back to your community? How can other runners support that?
I’ve created the MEB Foundation. MEB stands for Maintaining Excellent Balance. It is about supporting and promoting youth health, education and fitness. We’ve had a lot of people run for the MEB Foundation at the NYC and Boston Marathons. If you are interested in running those races as part of TeamMeb.org. In addition to the MEB Foundation, I’ve been able to support many charity organizations, which is an important part of our sport.
I’m so thankful to Meb for taking the time to answer questions for the BibRave Pro Team. (If you’d like to read BibRave Pro Jen Skiba’s interview, you can check it out on her blog, Jen Runs Fast.) I’m also thankful to Meb for setting a great example of remaining humble even in the face of great success, and for giving back to his community and the world.
By the way, if you have not yet signed up to run the Buffalo Marathon or the John Beishline Memorial 5k (Saturday), GO SIGN UP NOW. The race is on course to sell out. As an added bonus, the very last person to register–that final registration that makes the race 100% full–will be FREE. Use code BRELIZ05 to save $5 on your registration.
Disclosure: I forgot to put this on my Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio post. Oops. I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team, and as a team member I am rocking a TourPass. Despite the name, being a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team does not obligate me to blog about each race (or do anything else in particular regarding race recaps). As always, all opinions–and every single word in this post–are exclusively mine.
When Briana and I first saw The Lone Star Legend at the Heavy Medals display in San Antonio, we knew we had to have it. The medal is about as Texas as you can get–shape of the state, check; Texas flag, check; a lone star, check–and since I frequently find myself running for shiny objects, I immediately declared “in.” Plus I ran the Dallas Remix in 2015 and figured it would be a good excuse to see friends and family.
Friday I got up entirely too early to fly to Dallas, catch DART from the airport to the hotel, and crash for a little bit. The nice thing about the Dallas Remix is that if you choose a hotel within walking distance of DART, you don’t need a car at all. After Briana arrived we had a quick bite to eat at the hotel and then headed over to the expo. I love the Friday expo, since there are almost never any lines when the marathon or half is on Sunday.
After picking up both of my bibs and shirts I did a quick cruise around the expo. (The Dallas expo was a little difficult to find, since an auto show had taken over most of the convention center and there were not a bunch of big signs. Fortunately, DART goes right to the convention center, and there was a parade of people with Rock ‘n’ Roll bags…so we all just made like salmon.) Like last year, I found the Dallas expo smaller than most Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Sad to say, this year there was no Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! There was a ton of cute stuff for the race, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible this year. My closet is basically filled with running clothing, and there isn’t much I need–so if I bought something, when would I wear it??
Then there was dinner. One of the things I really love about the Rock ‘n’ Roll series is that so many people with TourPass go from race to race. Last year I made a ton of new friends, and now I’ve always got a group to eat dinner with while I’m on the road. (In fact, I ate with a bunch of the same people again in San Francisco.) Dallas has a bunch of great, interesting places to eat all within walking distance of the downtown hotels. Finally there were the obligatory flat-me “selfies,” and there was sleeping, and suddenly it was time to get up for the 5k.
Since it was now Saturday, and I’d packed for the weather they were predicting on Thursday, the first step outside was sad–windy AND chilly! We headed over to the DART station when I saw my savior: 7-Eleven. They sell garbage bags! I had just enough time to buy a 12 pack and jump on the train, where I made some new friends. DART dropped us off right at Fair Park–though the station closest to the stadium, where the race started, was actually the next stop over–and we headed to the starting line. Lots of runners were huddled together, so it was time to make new friends. I actually met several people who were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in the morning and then hop a plane to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City half marathon in the evening! (They called it the Tex-Mex combo. Salsa not included.) By the way, you can hear a great race recap with one runner who first heard about Tex-Mex at the Dallas expo, signed up, and drove home to get his passport! Check out Runner of a Certain Age.
The course around Fair Park is not the world’s most exciting, but access to Fair Park is easy by DART or car. If you are a local, you’ve likely already seen all the things there are to see at Fair Park, and the course is going to be a bit of a yawn–think of it as a shakeout run for the half marathon. On the other hand, if you are a local with kids who are ready to do 3.1 miles, this is a great race since it has tons of parking, doesn’t require travel, and has all the party amenities of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (I did hear some people complaining about finding parking, but these were family/friends who came to pick up runners at the end of the race. This year there were several other large events going on in Fair Park that started around the time the race ended, so that may have contributed to the griping.) I saw tons of kids who were clearly running with mom and/or dad (or both!), and later proudly wearing the medals they earned. Start ’em young!
Personally, I liked running around Fair Park. This was basically the same course as last year, only run in reverse. The course itself is quite flat, and half nifty and half meh. This year the nifty part–the grand WPA-era pavilions and buildings, reflecting pool, carvings and murals–was first. The “meh” part is an out-and-back along the seasonal rail line that runs through the big parking lot on the back side of Fair Park. I’m not local, so I could be wrong, but I don’t know that there are any viable alternatives to this course, beyond turning it into a two-loop course. It seems like there just isn’t enough real estate to make 3.1 miles happen (evidenced by the “everybody gets a PR!” phenomenon caused by a course that everyone I talked to said measured quite short–2.7 or 2.8 miles vs. 3.1). I like the Fair Park location though, due to easy access via DART or car, plenty of parking, and convenient for those who planned their hotels around the half marathon location.
The aid stations had water (maybe Gatorade? I’m writing this a month later, and I don’t think I took anything but water, personally). At the finish line there were bananas, water, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks. The finish line also had a beer tent for those over 21 with the Rock ‘n’ Roll sponsor beer, which I think is Michelob Ultra again. (I don’t drink beer.) There was a concert, of course, with plenty of room to dance (and lots of the kids who ran their first 5k were dancing like little rock stars)
While I could have lived without the out-and-back section around the parking area, it’s tough to get 3.1 in within Fair Park itself, on paths/sidewalks wide enough to hold a race. Fortunately I ran into several other people I knew or had previously met, and got to say hi to Derek Mitchell on my way through that section, so I enjoyed it anyway. (When a race gives you lemons, add vodka!)
Bottom line: as I said on my BibRave.com review, this is not a “destination 5k.” While it is a fun event, and I enjoyed meeting other runners and using it as a pre-half marathon shakeout run, I would not have made the trip JUST for the 5k. If you’re local and want a party-like 5k, and don’t mind the course, this is a good choice.
The rest of Saturday was a whirlwind of activity. We took DART back to the hotel, with several bewildered locals curiously observing all the runners. I was still tired from Friday, so it took me forever to shower and put on clean clothes…and so I missed most of the epic #WeRunSocial meetup. I arrived just in time for the “we need photographic proof we made it” latecomers, ha ha! From there, Briana and I headed to BeautyCon Dallas, which just happened to be taking place at Fair Park. (More on that later.) From there, we made a trip to Target for warmer duds. Seriously, Target is my savior when it comes to changing weather and travel. If they don’t sell it, I can’t possibly need it. I scored tech fabrics on the clearance rack! Then it was off to another group dinner before hitting the bed early to get some precious sleep!
Sunday morning came WAY too early. (Why do races have to start so darned early??) On our way to the starting area I was still debating whether to check my jacket, but decided to keep both long-sleeved layers due to the WIND WIND WIND. I did eventually let go of my recycled heat sheet, but only because it’s hard to run dressed like a baked potato.
The course this year was NOT the same as last year. I’m sure the changes were based on runner feedback, because the Rock ‘n’ Roll series does take that seriously. The new route did not go over the torn-up and pothole-ridden roads, which made me happy. The start and finish were also in a different location, near Reunion Tower. I don’t know the city well enough to explain the rest of the course changes. While I was bummed to not run by Oak Lawn Coffee (where I enjoyed an epic mocha during last year’s race), I didn’t miss the roughed-up roadways. Note to runners: fill out those post-race surveys, and review your races! Race directors generally do want you to have a good race and enjoy it. If there is something you don’t like, point it out! Good race organizations do respond to critical feedback.
As I mentioned, race day was VERY WINDY. Like you could “lean in” it windy. Comically windy (but not funny as you ran into the wind and crossed the final overpass/bridge). It seemed like no matter which way the course turned, the wind was in my face, never at my back. I don’t know if the wind was the reason, but this year the course did not have the giant neon Texas-themed selfie stations, the Texas backdrops, or the bands with huge sets (like the one that had an entire BBQ joint, complete with smoker, in 2015). While waiting to jump into the corrals many runners huddled inside the nearest buildings to wait for their corrals to start. I was really hoping for warm as I made my way along the course. Nope.
In my experience–as a mid-to-back-of-the-packer–course support was up from last year, with more families and random cheering people than last year. Aid stations were on point and well-stocked, though as usual I wish half marathons put their first fuel option earlier on the course. On course entertainment included local cheerleading groups, bands, and other performers–including the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the finish line!
About that “flat course”…the course was not truly flat, but it wasn’t technical or super challenging either (hills led up to, and down from, the bridges). The course was fairly flat, on balance. Just like last year, we ran over the almost-brand-new Margaret McDermott bridge, an architectural beauty that inspired hundreds of selfies. (I didn’t take them all, but I did have to dodge several people who came to a dead stop right in the center of the road.) While I assume the city’s whims played a role in course development (in case you’re not aware, host cities can pick and choose which streets they will let you close, and for how long, and place other conditions on the race permit), it seemed to me like the course was designed to show off many different aspects of Dallas. We ran through some areas that were clearly under urban renewal, and some areas that looked a lot like the suburban town I grew up in, complete with parks and ball fields. We ran over what are ordinarily heavy traffic streets and a freeway (literally over that one, as we were on the bridge), and down quiet neighborhood streets. I really like it when a race course tries to show all the facets the location has to offer.
Bottom line: I like this race as it gives me an excuse to see my extended family over the weekend. It’s also an early-season Rock ‘n’ Roll race, and one of my first opportunities to meet up with my runner peeps from other states. I’d be more enthusiastic about the race except for the WIND WIND WIND (which wasn’t an issue last year). Assuming I decide to try to go for Hall of Fame next year, I’ll probably be back.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Remix was my first Tour Stop of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll season. Up next: San Francisco!
Disclosure: I receiveda free entry to the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.
Not all races end with beer. But when Blooms to Brews ends with beer, they do it up right. I’m not a beer fan myself, but just count the number of taps on that truck! If you want to read more about Blooms to Brews and the race website just isn’t enough, try Sarah’s blog, A Sweet Blonde & Her Fit Life. (If it isn’t up yet, it’s coming–patience!)
This race is amazing! Go put it on your calendar for 2017, right now. As word about this event “gets out,” you’re going to be left behind. I don’t know what the capacity limit for this course is, but you want to run it now so that when it is a regular sell-out and everyone is raving about it YOU can say, “I ran that race back in the day before it was ‘discovered.'”
Blooms to Brews takes place in Woodland, WA. Woodland is about 45 minutes north of Portland (depending on where you start and when you drive) and 2 to 2.5 hours from Seattle. While Woodland itself doesn’t have a ton of hotels, I had no problems securing a reservation the week before the race. You could probably drive from Seattle on race day morning, but it costs $20 for day-of-race packet pickup and you’d miss the entire expo. Portland is a better bet, and Vancouver, WA is filled with hotels of all stripes. (You could, of course, also try a bed and breakfast, or use Air BnB. Lots of options.) If you’re flying in, PDX is the closest airport. If you’re road-tripping, I’d make a long weekend of it since there is so much to do nearby.
The brand-new Woodland High School hosted the Blooms to Brews expo. There was plenty of parking, as well as two days to pick up your packet. I took a ton of photos, but in my brilliant attempt to organize them I deleted EVERY expo photo I took. (Awesome, right?) The expo was small but mighty. Packet pickup had no line on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible to register for the 10k, half marathon, marathon, or marathon relay. In addition to Blooms to Brews logo merchandise, there were about 8-10 vendors, including a cool wraparound sports skirt company, Sweet Spot Skirts (neat design fits a variety of sizes, stays put, and covers what you might want to cover–made in USA!). A few race companies were there, including the Portland Marathon. The Woodland Rotary was selling some delicious coffee as a fundraiser to support building a local sport park for the youth and teens of Woodland, and at the end of this post YOU can win a bag!
One thing I really liked about the expo is that each of the tables was manned by a person who really cared about that table’s goods/services. There were no hired guns. Everyone was really friendly. I was particularly lazy for the remainder of the day. After a quick trip to Burgerville for the handmade, in-season, strawberry milkshake, I checked into my hotel and took a nap. I emerged to buy a few groceries, eat dinner, and head back to bed.
Morning came all too soon as it tends to do on race days, and I dragged myself out of bed and suited up. While my hotel was technically within walking distance of the start at Horseshoe Lake (about 17 minutes) I opted to be pre-race lazy and drive. Added bonus, there is a drive-through coffee shop right before you turn into the parking area. (I’m not going to lie, one of the things I really, really miss about living in the Pacific NW: drive-through coffee.) Parking was plentiful–there could have been many more cars there–and despite my mocha detour I was able to leave my hotel at 7ish and still make it to the starting line with plenty of time to spare.
Starting line amenities included a bag check, water, snacks, music, and a post-race party that was ready to start. I took a few minutes to walk around and look at the amenities, since I still had plenty of time to spare. There was a school bus food truck that sold pizzas and other tasty food, right next to the BBQ. While I’m on the subject, part of the race instructions (and the promos, now that I think about it) said there would be a BBQ sandwich for each runner, with a vegetarian alternative for those of us who are not meat-eaters. As a vegetarian, I don’t expect special treatment–but at the end of the race I do expect some food! I once read a statistic that said on average, 10% of the U.S. population eats vegetarian when they eat out–some choose vegetarian or vegan, others are keeping Kosher, observing Halal dietary laws, or only eating organic or free-range–plus there are several well-known plant-based running groups, so it isn’t insane to think there will be other vegetarians. Anyway, when I went to ask for my sandwich, AS PROMISED there was tofurky on a bun, warmed with vegetarian baked beans. Score!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The starting line had the usual platformed trusses and a banner. When I read that the marathon started at 7:30 and the half at 7:40 I was like, “um, corrals? Is that enough time?” No, no corrals. Just as they should, runners self-seeded (with a little help from the well-spaced pacers) and the entire marathon group took off without any incident. In addition to various Marathon Maniacs (and Double Agents), I saw a man dressed up like…bacon?? He must have been with one of the four-person relay teams. One of the cool things about Blooms to Brews Marathon was the option for a FOUR person relay team. That means you only needed to be able to run about 6.5 miles to join in the marathon–a very cool opportunity, as many marathons don’t offer a relay, and others only offer a 2-person relay. Several of the spunky folks running the second and third legs whizzed right past me on my run, too! (Fresh legs, they had fresh legs. Or at least that is what I kept telling myself.) The relay medal was very cool–four magnetic pieces that fit together to form a key with tulips on top!
As promised, the course is FLAT (just as promised!). The entire thing, all the way. There were three almost insignificant not-flat parts: one, leading up to a railroad crossing; two, leading down from the road to the beginning of the unpaved section (not sure if that was technically a dike, since the Horseshoe isn’t connected to a river?); three, coming off of the unpaved section and returning to paved road. Each of these was extremely brief–measured in feet, not yards. The marathon follows a separate course from the half marathon, but starts in the same manner and re-joins for the last few miles. As a marathoner, I love it when I’m not “just” running two loops of the half marathon course. (Personally, I hate passing the finish line before I get to cross it!) The relay teams all seemed to be having a great time–some dressed in matching costumes, others had a theme going, still others dressed like I do for a run (if it passed the sniff test, it’s good to go).
It’s fairly rare, in my experience, that a course that says it is flat is really, really flat. This one is, I promise. (Well, I can’t opine as to the looped portions of the marathon since I didn’t run them, but the half is like a pancake baby.) Since the vast majority of the race was rural, there were no “unofficial aid stations” or sponsored cheering stations. There were, however, plenty of well-stocked and cheerfully staffed aid stations! At least two of the aid stations had gummy bears–they were hiding in Dixie Cups–but there were no other foodstuffs served on course. (But again, that was NOT in the promises the race made, so I had packed some Glukos chews and Honey Stinger chews, and I was just fine. Yet another reason why you should actually read the race website and the emails from the race director, even if you run races all the time and figure you know everything there is to know.)
This was NOT my best race, sad to say. After the icky hills of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco and the Livermore Half Marathon, I was really excited to be on an actually flat course. Up until about mile 7 I was on pace to PR (not that I’m that fast, but a PR is a PR, right?) and was thinking about what corral that might put me in for the Dopey Challenge next year. Right around that point, that glute-hamstring tie-in on my left leg tweaked HARD and started to whine at me. Whiiiiiine, ow, whiiiine. UGH. This is a new one for me, and I thought it was a hill issue (since I had experienced it in San Francisco). So bummed, since I spent a good deal of my cross-training on the posterior chain last year (e.g. Lagree method). Around mile 9 I gave in to reality: this course would not be close to a PR. (Sad trombone noise! Whomp whomp!) Every time I tried to run–oh right, I was using 1-1 run and walk intervals–my left leg complained. ARGH.
Still, the course was flat (hooray!), green (hooray!), and reminded me of all the reasons why I love the Pacific NW. It wasn’t until after I had passed the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens that I realized I had been to Woodland before the race–twice! The first time I was there for the festival at the lilac gardens. Maybe it wasn’t a festival, but it was some big event, and it had a Volkswalk associated with it. I was in Woodland again later for the tulip festival at Holland America Bulb Farms–going on during this race!–and another Volkswalk. Of course that was in my pre-running days, so I doubt I would have noticed a race going on.
None of my photos do the tulips justice, so you’ll have to go run this race yourself and check them out. The fields were set back from the road, and as we passed I could see stripes of red, yellow, white, and other colors in addition to the non-blooming fields closer to the road.
At any rate, after grabbing some gummy bears at the last aid station I started to pass runners with medals on, which confirmed what I knew: the end was really close! The runners headed home with their bling all cheered and high-fived, which was cool. As I rounded the corner to the very last piece, the home stretch, I noticed the final not-flat piece of the course: a very slight downhill to the finish line! Hey, I’ll take ANY downhill to the finish line, no matter how slight.
The finish line was very organized! Race director Elba Benzler was on the ground, handing out high-fives and congratulating runners. (After having him as a guest on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast before the race, it was nice to finally meet in person!) Traffic cones at the end of the chute subdivided runners–at that point it was really just me!–based on which race they finished, so they could receive the appropriate medal. What’s that? Why YES, there were completely different medals for the half, full, 10k, and marathon relay! You know how most races have one design, and the half gets a smaller version while the full gets a bigger one? Not here!
After greeting Elba I tried to find Sarah, who I’d heard and seen as I crossed the finish line. Of course we both had runner brain and each went to where we last saw the other, so it took us a little bit. Then I wanted to drink as many cups of delicious Opal apple cider as I could get without being silly (side note: the Opal apple was at the Walnut Creek Half Marathon two years ago, and it is the best apple ever). We posed and laughed before heading over to the VIP area, and then we posed more! All the post-race selfies!
One nice perk of BibRave is that race directors sometimes give us VIP privileges at races. These were some really nice VIP privileges! In addition to access to the beer garden like other runners, the VIP area had a separate bar with the beers plus Washington State wine, and mimosas. In addition to the aforementioned BBQ sandwiches, VIP also had a spread of bananas, nuts, KIND bars, chips, and other assorted food. There was a complimentary massage station that I eyed but didn’t take advantage of due to having to check out of the hotel by 1 (and needing a shower, badly!). My favorite part of VIP was probably the patio heaters. It wasn’t exactly cold weather, but post-race my core temp definitely dropped, and the jacket I had packed into my bag wasn’t doing the trick, so I was happy to huddle under a heater.
Overall, this race rocked my socks. It delivered on everything, as advertised. As I was driving out of Woodland–post-race, post-shower, and post-Burgerville–the finish line party was still going strong. It’s reasonably priced, has a variety of distances, and is close enough to food, coffee, and other amenities that your finish line cheer squad can see you off, do something else, and then meet you at the finish. If you want to hear more, check out the latest episode of Runner of a Certain Age Podcast.
Since the race is Blooms to Brews, and you brew coffee, I’m giving away a bag of coffee beans! Not just any beans, mind you, but Rotary Club of Woodland’s premium dark roast. My purchase of these beans helps the Rotary fund the new sports complex in Woodland. This coffee was roasted just before the race (April 7th) by local coffee producer the Luckman Coffee Company.
Important! This giveaway is not sponsored by BibRave, Blooms to Brews, the Rotary, Elvis, or any other entity real or fictional. There is ONE prize, a bag of coffee beans. I’ll ship to the US and Canada for free. If you live elsewhere I’ll still ship, but I’ll ask you to make a charity donation in the amount of the cost of postage.
As a kid, I thought coffee was disgusting. As an adult, I learned that drip coffee made from ground beans so old they’ve been in the metal can longer than most wine is aged, that’s disgusting. Good coffee? Mmmm, I love coffee.
This month, I’m giving a jolt of caffeine to the But First Coffee blogger linkup: every month, we start with coffee. No April foolin’, just posts about coffee. (If you’re a blogger and want to join, just reach out.)
Last year, while I was researching the impact of caffeine consumption on distance athletes, I learned that Hammer Nutrition has their own line of USDA certified organic and Fair Trade coffee, called 53×11. (Based on the graphics, I assume 53×11 is some super-secret cycling reference intended to taunt me into doing a triathlon. Nice try, but still NO.) According to Hammer, “Originally created by cyclists, for cyclists, 53×11 Coffee today is dedicated purely to delivering the best cup of organic, fair-trade coffee in the world. We utilize only sustainable organic, pesticide-free farms, and support trade wages and direct purchasing to give more to those growing the beans.” That, plus if you join the coffee club (2 bags/month on autoship) you get some freebies and perks (pun intended).
There are four blends in the Hammer coffee line-up: Chain Breaker, Big Ring, Early Break, and Downshift (which is decaff, so why would I bother??). All blends come in the standard 12 oz. bag–word to the wise, nobody seems to sell coffee by the pound anymore–and in whole bean or ground. Personally, I think the money I invested in my coffee grinder has paid dividends in better-tasting brews, and I recommend doing the same. (I bought mine at Target for about $15; Hammer sells a fancier model for just under $30.) I ordered the obvious three and here are my thoughts.
Chain Breaker: Our signature espresso blend is the perfect choice for those who favor a darker roast. This rich, nutty blend is equally extraordinary for espresso or drip use. The Chain Breaker consists of beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas which results in a complex, yet smooth cup. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.
Much to my surprise, this is the coffee I liked the least out of the three–and I expected it to be my favorite! I usually make dark roast coffee like an espresso blend, quite strong, and then add some form of milk and a little cocoa to it. (Exceptions for exceptionally smooth, low-acid coffee, like the Jamaican coffee I had while actually in Jamaica.) Generally speaking, the darker the better. This is definitely DARK coffee. It isn’t as acidic as most of the dark roasts I like, and I suspect that threw off the flavor profile at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. Don’t misinterpret that–this coffee was just fine. If you like strong coffee before a run (or ride or whatever) but the acidity messes with your stomach, this is a great choice.
Big Ring: Our 100% organic Sumatra single origin coffee, medium roasted and shade grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees that provide a viable habitat for migratory birds. The Big Ring represents the classic Sumatran flavor profile with low acidity and full body. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.
This coffee is delicious! It is definitely my favorite of the three…so much so that when I switch to two bags a month, I might make them both The Big Ring. If I made this coffee at Midwestern strength, I could probably drink it without anything added. Life on the Left Coast has led me to prefer my coffee made just strong enough to start to dissolve the spoon (kidding!), so that’s unlikely.
What I liked most about The Big Ring is that it delivered exactly what it promised: a full-bodied flavor with low acidity. If you’re only going to try one of Hammer’s coffees, THIS is the one.
Early Break: A morning staple at the 53×11 office. This medium-roasted blend of Central, South American, and Sumatran beans represents a well-rounded, mildly acidic cup with a clean finish. The Early Break is a great “everyday” coffee. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.
Again, this one promised what it delivered: balanced body, rich flavor. (That’s on the label, but if you’re a Runner of a Certain Age like I am, you might not be able to read it.) It’s also low in acidity. When I brew this one I up the amount of coffee in the coffee-to-milk ratio. I like this one with some Califia almond milk and a small splash of quality vanilla extract. (Feeling daring? Try a dash of cinnamon too.) I like this one for the weekends, when I want to sit down and get to work while drinking more than one giant mug of coffee. (That would be a a BAD idea with the Chain Breaker, at least for me…I might get more done, but I’m pretty sure the typo level would increase dramatically!)
As I mentioned previously, I didn’t try the decaff blend. Seriously, what is the point of unleaded coffee? In case you’re curious, here’s how Hammer describes it: Down Shift: A decaffeinated version of our beloved Chain Breaker signature espresso blend. No shortcuts were taken here. This blend represents the four major coffee growing regions as well, resulting in a remarkable decaf. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean. Based on the other three, I’m sure it is lovely, but I don’t see the point.
In addition to the four coffees, Hammer can also hook you up with an electric kettle (great for making drip coffee at the office), a refillable Keurig cup (because seriously K-cups are the most wasteful, non-recyclable, non-compostable thing on the planet), a french press pot, and pretty much anything else you might need to partake of the coffees. Join the coffee club for a free mug, coffee filters, and drip-into-that-mug maker, plus lower prices.
By the way, Hammer makes all manner of other nutrition products for athletes. I’m working my way through the ones that are appropriate for me–and they have actual, real, live people to talk on the phone or chat online if you need help deciding what is best for your personal goals. So far, customer service has been GREAT. Before every coffee club shipment, I get an email reminding me that it’s about to ship, and have the option to delay or modify the order. The Hammer website also has loads of information on nutrition and endurance sports. If you’re thinking about making your first order, might I suggest you use my referral code? If you do, you’ll get 15% off your first order and a special packet of goodies including samples of some of the most popular Hammer products. Just place your order, and in the “referred by” section: Elizabeth Bain, email address bananafishie AT gmail, and code 252426. Voila!
Want to try before you buy?
Enter to win a bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee from Train With Bain! Just follow along on the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note the following: (1) This giveaway is in no way sponsored by Hammer Nutrition (or any other company or person or animal or alien), it’s 100% Train With Bain, baby. (2) I will happily ship to you for free within the US and Canada. If you’re in another country, I’ll have to look at postage…if it is extreme, I might ask you to help pay for it (or donate to a charity in lieu of paying postage). (3) Winners have to contact me with their shipping details within a reasonable amount of time–if I haven’t heard from you in a week, I’ll assume you are not interested.
Prizes: one bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee (new, unopened, fresh). The first winner to get back to me gets first pick of the blends!