Disclosure: I am a proud ambassador for Represent Running, the series that brought you the Inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon. Race ambassadors get some sweet gear and free race entries in exchange for promoting the races. (Of course I was so excited when I first heard about the race that I immediately signed up–seriously, did you see the swag?) OH HEY, you can already register for next year. Don’t wait CLICK AND REGISTER!
After the heat of the San Jose Food Truck 5k, I was really glad the weather cooled off a bit–especially because the race didn’t start at o’dark-thirty. I also really liked that part. There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep in a big fluffy bed, and then NOT getting up before the sun to go run the race. (Well, maybe I should have run before the sun got up…SPF 30+ is no match for my vampire-like skin’s reaction to the sun.) At any rate, I strolled from the Fairmont to the starting line, glad to have opted for the downtown San Jose experience. (Also for the CREAM sandwich I ate the night before: birthday cake ice cream on two sugar cookies. NOMNOM.)
The Starting Line
First I realized that my bib only had one dot–but it was supposed to have two. See, this weekend was chock full o’ bonus bling: a challenge medal for running both the San Jose 408k and one of the weekend events, and another challenge medal for running both days (the Food Truck 5k on Saturday and either the SV Half Marathon or the 10k on Sunday). One of the other Represent Running ambassadors pointed me to the problem fixer-upper tent, and a minor crisis was averted. (Do NOT get between me and my bling!)
After a bunch of clowning around at the starting line, I started to pay attention to the pre-race speakers. It may be kinda nerdy of me, but I enjoyed learning a little more about the work of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the official charity of the race and its mission to prepare every student for college and careers, with a focus on STEM. If you don’t live in the area, you probably think of Silicon Valley as full of rich white guys–and it is, but there is also a sharp contrast between that impression and reality, which is that plenty of kids need help. It’s an expensive place to live, and there is food insecurity even among people who work “good” full time jobs. You can learn more about SVEF (and throw in some bucks!) here: https://svefoundation.org/donate/ There was also plenty of local love for bringing a big run back to downtown San Jose.
Out On the Course of the Silicon Valley Half
Speaking of a big run, San Jose has many running events throughout the year, but the Silicon Valley Half Marathon course was NOT a copy-cat course. Sure, it had some of the same streets, but the course itself as a whole was brand new. I particularly enjoyed the areas in the neighborhoods and near parks and schools. as it was quite warm and I needed shade! Every one of the water stops was fully staffed by great volunteers–this was not the kind of race where half of the water stop spots are filled by teens glued to their iPhones.
One of the fun things about an inaugural race is that you get to create all of the race stuff from scratch. Ordinarily, I don’t care about mile markers. (Frankly at most races they all look the same and are generic.) But there are lots of runners who selfie it up at every mile. So why not make the most of those selfies (since you know they’re going on Instagram)? The Silicon Valley Half Marathon made great mile markers, themed to various aspects of life in and around San Jose. Unless it’s a Disney race–where each mile marker is themed and plays music–I don’t take mile marker pictures…yet I have almost a complete set from this race.
Given that it was hot, and I was feeling tired even after luxuriating in my fluffy bed at the Fairmount, I knew I was not gunning for a PR. I started with the intent to run about half, and walk the rest. For the first few miles, I was leap-frogging with the 3:00 pace group. Around mile 4, I decided to tag along. Mad props to Too Legit Fitness for providing amazing pacers. (Seriously, go follow Too Legit Fitness on Instagram.) While I ultimately decided to slow my roll at mile 7 or so, the pace team kept me going on the 3:00 pace up to that point. I’ve only ever run with one other pacer I loved so much, but this race had a team! Like not just one runner with a sign looking at his watch. I don’t have any official scoop here, but there were two women passing off the timing stick, and their gigantic fan club/run group. It was super motivating! Also, there were a few additional people from the pack who checked in with everyone else who was running, handing off a little snack here or a sip of water there to make sure that everyone was still moving forward.
Setting The Pace: Too Legit
The pacers were so awesome that after each pace team finished, the pacers went back out onto the course to cheer in more runners. This might not matter at all to you if you’re a sub-2:00 runner, but for those of us in the “back of the pack” (you know, the ones most races ignore and forget to feed, or let the sponsors pack up and go home before we finish?) it was a really great perk. Starting about a half mile from the finish line, there were pace team members cheering and jumping around. Some took the time to walk or run for a block or more with incoming runners. It was really cool to see the pace team out there, after running a half marathon, still out there encouraging everyone.
Mad props to the entire pace team (and apologies for anyone I missed): Nando Gonzales, Fernando Loera, Randy Pangelina, Melissa Yamashita, Jill Ahearn, Eric D. Sullivan, Earl Hooks II, Jackie Silva Torres, Sylvia Loera, and Jimmy Quilenderino. You can find them all on instagram.
After the race, runners were treated to a post-race beer (actually I used mine to get sparkling wine–even better!) and live music. Lululemon provided little totes for each runner, which made it much easier to juggle the bling, banana, snacks, and bottled water at the finish line. The park was ideal for picnicking, and there were food trucks (and not the same trucks from the 5k but an entirely different set!). Plenty of runners brought their family and friends out to enjoy the music and food and beautiful day.
Other runner perks included a long-sleeve quarter zip (instead of a race t-shirt) that I just love (it’s a teal colored Leslie Jordan brand, super soft–you can see it on some of the folks in the starting line picture above), a sweet duffel bag, and FREE race photos, courtesy of race sponsor Amazon (who also had a photo booth on site, along with free sweat towels).
The park also had booths from all of the sponsors, and from local vendors selling both running-related items and items of general interest. Sparkling wine sponsor Barefoot had a booth tasting their new canned sparklers, in addition to beer and wine for sale at the beer tent. It made for a fun and relaxing afternoon.
On the plane home I started to think about the Silicon Valley Half Marathon 2019. Since the inaugural event had zero noticeable flaws, I’m sure word will get out and there will be many more runners in 2019. You should be one of them! Come join me–I’m going to register ASAP. (Note: you can actually register right now!)
Disclosure: while this is not a sponsored post, and contains no sponsored content, my ticket to BlogFest—just like everyone else’s—was generously paid for by the BlogFest sponsors. I’m thankful for that. As is my editorial policy, all of the opinions and words below are my own.(Product links are to my Amazon affiliate storefront. You pay nothing extra, I make a few bucks to pay web hosting fees.)
Remember how you looked forward to Christmas as a kid? All the anticipation, special treats, relatives, preparations! That’s how I feel about IDEA World, especially now that BlogFest takes up the first two days. Sometimes the things I wasn’t all that excited about turn out to be the very best things—just like Christmas, BlogFest is full of surprises!
This year, BlogFest hit at a somewhat inopportune time. I have A LOT going on in my “day job,” and some parts of that are extremely stressful. A year after moving to Portland, I’m still not fully settled into my apartment (and I’ve already renewed the lease). My godfather is extremely sick. One of my best friends just lost her mother. I have twenty-five (yes, 25!) drafted but unfinished blog posts, multiple brand new yet unread books on my dresser, a pile of packages that haven’t yet made it to the post office, and a mound of laundry patiently waiting for me. Every time I got closer to finishing something, I hit another set back. For example, I finished the first of five big giveaway posts, only to discover the photos I wanted to use are on my camera, and the battery was dead, and unlike my old camera this one requires a special battery. (Hooray for Amazon Prime.) Even though the thought of travel just depressed me and made me want to stay home so I could continue to dig myself out of the heap, I knew I’d feel better once I actually got to BlogFest.
I chose the last flight from Portland to San Diego on Wednesday night (for day-job-related reasons), and got in quite late. I was so excited to see Briana again that we spent a little more time than we should have catching up, and suddenly it was way past my bedtime. Oops. I didn’t sleep well at all, and just could not pry my body out of bed to get to the morning BlogFest workout on the beach. (As it was, in order to be on time to the opening remarks, we had to check in and get our badges beforehand, and the day started WAY earlier than I usually get to the office.) Despite the fact that the first day was THURSDAY, in my head it was Monday. (Seriously, it has been that kind of week!) The morning workout, presented by sponsor Fit Bodies, Inc., wasn’t something I felt I could do without compromising my commitment to NOT coming down with post-convention crud. I heard the workout was really fun, a simulated workout on the beach (with the “beach” being inside). I did read all about Fit Bodies prior to BlogFest. Essentially it is a way for personal trainers and group ex instructors to have a working vacation at a reduced price; in exchange for teaching a week of classes, fitness professionals can stay at the host resorts for a greatly reduced fee and enjoy all the same amenities as a regular guest. (I will definitely be checking into this for 2019!)
We kicked the day off with a welcome and initial thank you for the speakers. The morning presentation was Petra Kolber. You may not know who she is, but I’ve been following her since back in the days before DVDs. I used to get my VHS exercise tapes from Collage Video, and Petra was a force in the era of “step aerobics” (as well as the subsequent “Hi-Lo” format and beyond), so her name was all over the catalogue (and later, the website). At first I was a wee bit concerned that her topic—”The Perfection Detox: Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely and Unleash Your Joy”—was just a big ol’ ad for her upcoming book (named, of course, The Perfection Detox). Yes, I’m cynical at times, but if you’ve read my prior posts you already knew this… I’m pleased to report that (1) I was totally wrong, and (2) I am so excited for the release of Petra’s book that I want to plan a group participation (free!) #PerfectionDetoxChallenge online. (Head over to my Amazon affiliate page and pre-order her book. Stay tuned for more details.) Petra shared her own history with anxiety and imposter syndrome, and encouraged each of us to STOP being so self-critical. Petra’s message was something I think we all really needed to hear, and it was a welcome shift from the energy that permeated the earlier part of my week.
Moment of transparency: originally I had planned to write a multi-part re-cap based on the three days I attended BlogFest and IDEA World. It suddenly makes MUCH more sense to break things down by topic, so instead of continuing on with Thursday, I’m shifting to talk about the rest of the super content from the BlogFest sessions.
If I was excited to hear from Petra Kolber—who I swear does not look like she is old enough to have been on VHS—I was positively stoked to hear from the first speaker for the afternoon, Sadie Nardini. If you do yoga you may already be familiar with Sadie Nardini. If you work out and hang out on Instagram, you’ve probably seen an ad for one or more of Sadie’s online courses, such as Fit and Fierce over 40 or Yoga Shred. In the yoga world, she’s seen as a bit of a yoga rebel (and not just because she has a fierce blonde mohawk and is in a rock band). Technically, Sadie was there to teach us about creating online content that provides asymmetrical income—the opposite of trading time for money—with a presentation titled “How to Make 6 Figures Online While You Sleep—Even if You Aren’t Tech-Savvy.” The meat-and-potatoes of the presentation outlined how to plan and film online content and create courses. But the underlying message was to quit being afraid of getting it wrong or doing a terrible job, and to go out there and DO that thing. Sadie had a really cool way of demonstrating how who she is on video is simply who she is not-on-video, with just a smattering of being nervous about being on video. (Aren’t we all??) I wish I’d had the chance to go hang out with her at wine o’clock, but I didn’t want to miss the next presentation.
The theme of this year’s BlogFest—which I’ve nicknamed “Stop Beating Yourself Up!”—continued with the BlogFest Keynote on Friday, delivered by Heidi Powell. Heidi spoke frankly about the businesses she runs with her husband, Chris Powell, and taming her own inner self-perfection-demanding critic. She also gave us a unique perspective on how to deal with the haters (you know, the people hiding behind their computers who have nothing better to do than criticize some detail of whatever it is you’ve most recently done). For more detail on the key takeaways on the BlogFest theme, check out Fab Fit Friends. Oh, and also Run Out Of The Box.
BlogFest is a social media conference, so we also had some presentations very specific to the things we do online. Chantal Brodrick came all the way from Australia to talk to us about “The Power of Podcasts,” but then lost her voice! Fortunately she had prepared her slide deck and had a friend deliver her presentation. Even though she couldn’t talk, Chantal still came to see us and help answer questions. No less a celebrity, GiGi Ashworth of Gigi Eats Celebrities gave a talk on video titled “Make Love to the Camera.” If you’re online, you know video is where all the action is right now, and I don’t just mean YouTube. Instagram supports video, as does Facebook (which owns Instagram). Twitter has video all over it. Blogs even have embedded video now, and some of it looks better than what is available on TV! GiGi’s talk was practical and hilarious. If you’ve watched any of her videos online, just imagine her teaching about how not to look ridiculous on camera. Finally, we had a quality presentation by Kristine Beatty, “Actionable Analytics—Beyond Your (Google Analytics) Home Page.” This is probably the technical talk I needed to hear most, since it is the topic I know the least about; sure, I have Google Analytics installed on this blog, but I have no idea what to do with it other than look at page views and bounce rates. I sent Kristine a message right after her presentation (since I’m such a newbie that even some of the terms she used lost me) and I’m definitely planning to use her slide deck and the resources she recommended to learn more.
Overall, the content in this year’s BlogFest was SOLID. Each year has been a little different in terms of how the schedule is organized and which topics and speakers are featured. This year, I’m committing to not beating myself up. Would you like to join me?
Feel free to follow me on Twitterand Instagram, where I’ll be announcing my online book club/offline “Perfection Detox” Challenge when Petra’s book comes out. You can also join my tribe using the form at the bottom of the blog—and I do solemnly promise and swear there will be no spam, ever, and I won’t share your email address without your permission, ever.
Thank you to this year’s BlogFest sponsors. (Curious? Click and learn more!)
Before I go, tell me: how does “perfection” have a hold on your life? What would it be like to live your life in a self-judgment-free zone? I’ll randomly choose a comment to win a sweet prize (which might just include a copy of Petra’s book when it is released in August) on July 31, 2018.
Disclosure: I am SO stinkin’ proud to represent these races as part of the Represent Running Ambassadors. Yes, I do get to run the races for free in exchange for helping to promote them, but I signed up for the inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon before I was asked to return to the team. All opinions are my own–and you know I have plenty of them!
I’m behind some race reviews, but I could barely wait to start writing about the inaugural Food Truck 5k and Silicon Valley Half Marathon! (Yeah, yeah, it was over a week ago–I had some blog issues.) The Food Truck 5k was Saturday afternoon. My understanding is that it was originally going to be an early evening race, but there was some sportsball thing or event that kicked the start time up to 3pm. In any case, that was perfect for me, as it allowed me just enough time to sleep in a little bit, hop a flight from Portland to San Jose, Lyft to the Fairmont Hotel, check-in, unpack, change, and head over to the festival area to pick up my stuff.
Locals did have the option to pick up packets in advance at Sports Basement, which was always a fun choice for me when I lived in Alameda. Sports Basement offers a discount for runners on the day of bib pick-up, and since I always found something there I needed (and at a great price!), it was a win-win. Now that I’m in Portland, however, going to the Sports Basement pick up would have meant a day off from work and another night in the hotel. Yeah, I know, you feel so bad for me. Anyway, there were also some other pre-race-weekend events, including a run with Meb! (Do you feel bad for me now? Because I had to miss that?)
One of the great things about running in San Jose, there are a ton of hotels within walking distance of any reasonable starting line–more if you rent a car, or are willing to take a car. For Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose 2017 I stayed at the AC Hotel, which would have been a great choice for these races too. The SV Half host hotel was the Fairmont, and they gave us a screaming deal: it actually cost less to stay there than to stay at the AC! The Fairmont is one of the aging grand dames of the hotel world, and I loved staying there. My room was gigantic, the bathroom had both a shower and a separate bath tub, and there was a separate vanity and mirror outside of the bath room. Sure, there are some signs that the hotel wasn’t built yesterday–the USB outlet in my room did not work, and the bathtub spout had a hand-held shower permanently attached (because the actual shower was not enough showers for one room?) so I couldn’t take a bath, but it’s a great place. After the races and a much-needed shower, I met a friend for snacks and cocktails in the bar.
Day-of-event packet pickup was a breeze, and I got both my Food Truck 5k and my SV Half gear at the same time. (In hindsight, I should have waited until after the 5k to get my SV Half gear, as there was no bag check, but as an ambassador I had a little help.) There was plenty of parking nearby, though I had walked from the hotel. I had some time pre-race to walk around and see the vendors and race sponsors. Amazon had free sweat towels, and I wish I had grabbed one before the 5k so I could sweat on it (instead I thought, “oh, it’s one more thing to carry.” Silly me.) Amazon also sponsored free race photos all weekend and had a photo booth, so that was fun. After clowning around for some photos in the festival area–and checking out the food trucks to plan my post-race eats–the ambassador squad headed over to the 5k starting line to take more pictures.
Actually, we all walked OVER the starting line, heard a bunch of beeps, and wondered if the timing system thought we were running…then we looked up at the starting line structure and wondered why the letters were all backwards. (Yes, a bunch of social-media-fueled runners didn’t understand the selfie-setup.) Suddenly it was about time to start, and I was WAY too close to the front, so I sidled over to the right as far as I could get, and decided to hang there until the right group started to move past. (We didn’t have corrals for the 5k, but people did a pretty good job of self-selecting–it was impressive.)
The course was basically an out-and-back with a bit of a loop (running on parallel paths for a portion). Most of it was on a paved path through Guadalupe River Park and Columbus Park, though a small portion was on sidewalks and a street to get to and from the start/finish area at Arena Green East. I ran most of the first mile at a very easy (read: slow!) pace, did a run-walk for the second mile, and walked all of the third mile (with the exception of the last .1, of course). The heat was brutal and unexpected! I’d flown in from Portland, where it was in the 50s. The average temperature in San Jose in mid-April is in like 50-65 degrees. This year? It was 80! I didn’t run any of that third mile because my body–descended from two long lines of pasty-white people from northern climates–was like “NOPE!” I felt great after the run anyway.
Post-run, first I went to the Barefoot wine tent to sample their “refresh” spritzers. (No, not at all like a “wine cooler,” yuck. More like “wine with bubbles.”) Then I bought a glass of sparkling wine and I hit up Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen for some tacos. (The menu on the website does NOT do them justice–I ate two different vegetarian taco types, decorated liberally with verde, roja, and molcajete sauces.) It was only after I ate all three of them and the tasty, tasty hot sauces that I realized I should have put them on Instagram. Oops. Bad blogger! Other options for Saturday included Road Dogs, Akita-sushi, BBQ Kalbi, Curry Up Now, and Treatbot (ice cream–VERY popular that day!). Everyone was clustered under the trees and in the shade, but having a great time. In addition to many food options, sponsor booths, and vendors, there was live music! Starting at 1 and lasting until 7:30 p.m. we had Bird and Willow, Israel Sanchez Music, NOIYA, Casey Wickstrom, and Love District.
Soaked to the bone with sweat, and sated by the street tacos, I headed back to the hotel for a much-needed shower and a wee nap. Then it was dinner and a cocktail, and off to bed to be well-rested for the inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon!
Disclosure: Bain here. I didn’t run Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans this year, so I didn’t write this post–it’s a guest post by fellow Rock ‘n’ Blog team member Gretchen Schoenstein! (I did write the headline, so don’t blame her for that, okay?) Gretchen ran this race as a Rock ‘n’ Blog team member (which means she didn’t have to pay the entry fee) but all of the content (including the pictures) and opinions are hers alone. Enjoy!
What better way to celebrate New Orleans 300th Anniversary than to run a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon! RnR NOLA has got to be one of the most, if not the most, colorful race weekends out there. And the most energetic. And most beaded for sure. Those colors, that energy and of course those beads were on full, enchanting display this past weekend.
It might seem a bit odd to celebrate a city known for amazing food and drink to bring a bunch of runners to town to join the hometown runners–had more than one cab and ride-share driver remark on “y’all aren’t the usual crowd”–but where else are you going to celebrate your finish line with a sazerac than in the city that invented the drink?
For me, it’s a city I’ve been aiming to get back to to run since I first ran #RnRNOLA back in February 2011. Back then, it was only my 7th half marathon, and my 3rd Rock ’n’ Roll event. This past NOLA race was my 64th half marathon (54th RnR half!) and oh so worth the effort to finally get to run it in New Orleans again! It’s such a unique place to run–the history, the food, the people. Folks who are from New Orleans have a pride that is nearly unmatched for their city, and they’re so grateful to have all us runners come to town and not only enjoy a beautiful course that shows off some of the best parts of the city, but also make a point to really celebrate in a city that knows how.
You could sum up RnR NOLA for a lot of runners as: Run Hard, Play Hard!
And when I say run hard, here’s the great news, it’s not necessarily a hard run. Meaning, it flat, fast, and below sea level. Which is beautiful. You can’t help be hopeful and expectant for a happy finish time. Not only that, but the music along the course is unique to the city and some of the most dynamic you will hear on any course. ‘Kingfolk’ standing on the bed of a pick up truck playing vibrant New Orleans jazz while shouting and whooping it up with runners as the pass by? Yes please! Or how about looking up and around and seeing the history surrounding you in the churches, buildings, and homes architecture. And if you keep looking up, you’ll see beads just about everywhere.
Speaking of music–the speakers in the new mile markers signs? You have to hear them! Especially when you hear a song again along the way, like it’s your own soundtrack following you.
Run hard and you may just get a PR. Like I did seven years ago. Here’s the thing: it’s still my PR. And so I’d had aspirations of aiming for that PR again–ended 2017 races on an upswing, so why not? Well, the flu and pneumonia got in the way in January and February, so I had to shift my goal a bit. This you can do in NOLA. It’s a low risk, high reward kind of race. You can go for it, and this being the first of 12 halfs for 2018, I decided to get curious and use it as a way to kick the tires or test the water of what my body is capable of at the moment. Within the first few miles, I thought, hmmm, if I fight for every second I can on this course, I might just beat ALL of last year’s race finish times.
And so you take in the whole course, the amazing runners (eager in sequined skirts, green purple and gold shirts, sunglasses with the sun beaming) along the way like the woman running backwards, or the two guided blind runners inspiring everyone around them, Kathrine Switzer, or the Darth Vader wearing a Saints hat cheering people along. And the spectators? New Orleans might just have some of the best out there. So loud, so fun, so delighted to see us running towards them.
Speaking of seeing things coming – you cannot miss the NEW SIGNS along the course! New signs for water, gel and SiS support. I’d heard about these coming up but until you experience them you cannot begin to know how helpful they are. First, they’re super obvious from down the way, so you can much better navigate moving to the right or left or staying in the middle without tripping over runners making last minute decisions. The flow of runner traffic is much smoother through there.
Plus, seeing the signs way up ahead allowed me to finish a gel or make a thoughtful decision about water, yes or no? And if yes, which side? And also if yes, how much? My fueling was far better managed which made for consistency that I know helped keep my pace and health along the course. These signs are a game changer. As always, there was stellar volunteer support at those water and gel stations–people working so hard to make sure runners have access to things they need–the determined commitment they have makes you shout out THANK YOU as you run by.
When you finish in City Park, it’s nearly an instant party. How could it not be? It’s New Orleans, c’mon! There were even food trucks nearby and I’ve never seen so many runners lined up for delicious offerings with Soul Offerings and Cowboy Mouth raging on stage–if you’re a food truck, you did extremely well serving a lot of hungry runners. That afternoon and evening, after everyone had crossed their finish lines, the bars and restaurants were buzzing with runners eating and drinking their way through the city; you could spot them, they had a hobble in their giddyup and a big smile on their face.
Oh, as for me? Just being in New Orleans and recalling some of the familiar course, including running down and back along St Charles Avenue, a bit along Magazine Street, down by the Mississippi river with it on your right and St Louis Cathedral on your left, past Cafe du Monde, and up onto Esplanade Avenue and entering into City Park past the huge fountains was worth the travel and the effort. And yes, I pushed myself because I could and because the course allowed it. And so, happily, I crushed ALL 10 of last year’s finish times by nearly three minutes. Couldn’t have done without the New Orleans course and the Rock ’n’ Roll support.
Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed!
About the Author. With half marathons being her preferred distance, Gretchen Schoenstein has run 64 of them since April 2010. In late 2006 she was unable to walk, diagnosed with a debilitating auto immune disease that resulted in doctors telling her she’d never run again. For 3.5 years she listened to them and then decided to run despite their protestations and laced up a pair of running shoes and hasn’t looked back, running 64 half marathons in eight years, with a goal of 75 total by the end of 2018. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges and flare ups, including being diagnosed with asthma, but as every step is a gift, Gretchen is grateful for every day she gets to run and every step she gets to take.
Psst! Bain here. Why not follow Gretchen on Instagram and Twitter? Her handle is @rungrateful, in case those links are giving you trouble. You can also find her blog at iwonderwoman.com
Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Blog Team. Members of the Rock ‘n’ Blog Team receive free entry to up to ten Rock ‘n’ Roll races and one VIP, and other surprise perks. All of the opinions in this review are my own, there is no sponsored content. Per usual, I’ve got plenty to say on my own.
The times, they are a changin’, since Ironman bought Competitor Group and is now entering its first year solo as the owner and producer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. While some of the bigger changes were already phased in—such as the much-anticipated price increase for Tour Pass and the elimination of the unlimited Tour Pass option (bringing the cost per Tour Pass race to $70) and the transition of the Competitor staff who accepted offers to move to Tampa into their new Ironman roles—many were waiting for the first race of the year to see what the new series owner has in store for Rock ‘n’ Roll.
General Communication. Or lack thereof. The complaint I have heard most frequently is that it is currently impossible to get ahold of anyone at Rock ‘n’ Roll to fix problems. I’m not sure if none of the customer care people from Competitor wanted to move over to Ironman, or if Ironman was unprepared for the volume of email, but there are a lot of unhappy runners out there on social media. Currently the fastest way to get a response is to contact Rock ‘n’ Roll through their Facebook page, which seems really inefficient especially when many of the inquiries could be handled with the exact same response. (I’ll share it here: Yes, the Rock ‘n’ Roll team are aware that many people are still waiting on Heavy Medals they earned in 2017. Sources say there’s a meeting soon to get to the root of the problem and get medals in hands ASAP. If you’re missing a medal, hang in there!)
Personally, I’m disappointed the new team wasn’t proactive in communicating the cancellations of the Brooklyn and St. Louis races—basically people found out about it after they were removed from the website. This is a huge missed marketing opportunity for Ironman, especially since there are semi-credible rumors that new Rock ‘n’ Roll destinations are on the way. When Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Vancouver races parted ways, everyone who had run Vancouver got an email about the change. This was a great way to help set runner expectations—oh, the races are going forward, they just won’t be part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series—without having to field a dozen email inquiries about what if you pre-registered, etc.
Pre-season general communications could also have been used to communicate some of the series-wide changes in advance of the races and prevent them from becoming fodder for Facebook page complaints, as well as to put a more positive spin on some of the unpopular changes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from Ironman but from social media (or at the Expo!) that most people learned the marathon jackets have been discontinued, as have the physical Tour Pass credentials (and the Tour Pass priority check-out line for the Brooks/Rock ‘n’ Roll merchandise area), and the Tour Pass vanity bibs/back bibs.
Registration. Ironman decided to kill Competitor Group’s RaceIt registration system and use Active.com instead. From a financial standpoint, this probably makes the most sense for the company (and may have been contractually required—I don’t have any inside information, but I know a little about business and it is at least a possibility). While some runners have chafed at the increased fees and Tour Pass now has fees added to it, members of the Active Advantage program may wind up ahead…but still pay $40 in fees for the Tour Pass 10-pack. (Active Advantage is the premium subscription for Active. Members save up to $10 in fees per registration, among other perks. If you register for a race and the fees are $5, you don’t pay the $5. The Tour Pass 10-pack fees are about $50, so Advantage members pay $40.)
Confirmations. In years past, each participant got an email to print out a waiver. You’d go to the Rock ‘n’ Roll website, enter your full name and birth date, and (assuming you were registered!) a .pdf document would pop up, pre-populated with your name, address, bib number, and other details. This year I got my email, and went to the website to print the waiver. It only required my last name, and when I pulled up the confirmation page to print, it was blank—I had to hand-write all of the information in myself. While that last part is definitely a #firstworldproblem, I’m a little concerned about only needing my last name to pull up my bib number. If you don’t need to know anything else, it’s pretty easy to print up a confirmation sheet and pretend to be me. Sure, the volunteers at packet pickup are trained to look at each ID before issuing a bib, but the same is true at runDisney races and there are at least two known documented instances of bib theft at the Disneyland races.
Pre-Race Communications. I’ve run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona marathon once, and the half marathon twice, in addition to a few rounds of the 5k (and that sweet remix medal). Though I opted out of the 5k this year—the December sale price was still a bit higher than I’m willing to pay for anything but a charity 5k—I had initially set my expectations based on my past experiences, all of which were good. (See my review for last year.) The pre-race email from Rock ‘n’ Roll completely changed my expectations. These all communicated that the new Rock ‘n’ Roll experience would be focused on the on-course experience: a band every mile, more food on course, new signage, and other enhancements to the actual race. I also got several emails about the all-new, improved series app with live runner tracking, which I downloaded immediately. Boarding the plane to Phoenix, I was excited to see what the new race experience would be like.
Expo: Entry. My race roommates and I basically went from our planes to the race expo at the convention center downtown. Arizona confuses me a little, as it seems like all the cites overlap each other and are smushed together, yet nothing seems to be near anything else. (If you’re headed to this race, I highly recommend being prepared to Uber and Lyft.) Anyway, we got to the expo safely and strolled right past the “look up my bib” stations because we were prepared. Walking into the expo, the first thing I noticed was the Hall of Fame banner, because it wasn’t there. I usually start my expo by taking selfies with my Hall of Fame friends who aren’t going to the race, so that was a bummer. I hope the Hall of Fame banner debuts at Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans.
Expo: bibs, shirts, and Brooks. It was a quick few minutes and I had my bib in hand. The bibs are basically the same design as last year, with one major improvement: no more shoe timing tags. If you’ve run Rock ‘n’ Roll in the past, you know the routine: pull the plastic strip off of the bib, tear it in half, attach the correct half to a shoe by making a loop. No more. Finally the timing tag is ON the bib, so you don’t have to do anything about it, it’s there. Another improvement? The back of the bib has a pre-printed label with your emergency contact’s name and phone number. This is a great idea. The only complaint I heard is that you cannot fold the bib—which is large—without wrecking the timing chip. This isn’t a problem for me, since I’m tall and I generally put my bib on a race belt or use Race Dots. My shorter and smaller friends have less available real estate for the giant bib would love smaller bibs or a different timing tag. I’m confident that in a race or two they will craft a hack that takes care of this. Yay, bibs!
The shirts? That’s another story. While I didn’t immediately notice, I overheard several runners complaining about the shirt fabric; on further inspection, it does appear thicker, less soft, and less wicking than the shirts from last year. I don’t know if Ironman fired all of their graphic designers or what, but the shirt is pretty awful. This was an issue with Rock ‘n’ Roll shirts a few years ago—they were all poorly designed and a crazy percentage of them were grey–it was one of the major gripes of the season. For starters, the Arizona shirt is grey. The graphic appears to be the stock image for all of the series shirts this year—the rectangular-shaped object over the bottom that has the race name on it is the only variation. (For New Orleans, it is a street car.) In Arizona, this design would have looked better in colors of the state flag– red, blue, and yellow. I heard quite a few complaints about the shirts, which is unfortunate as it’s a huge missed opportunity for the race. From the race’s standpoint, the shirt functions as free advertising (as other people will see it, assuming the participants wear it), and it can also serve as a reminder to keep the race in the runner’s memory throughout the year (assuming they wear it) and perhaps plant the seed of running the race again the next year. Hopefully Ironman is listening to runner feedback, since that has always been one of the main reasons the Rock ‘n’ Roll series was beloved by repeat participants, and will make a mid-year course-correction.
In another random twist, the samples inside the gear check bag? A sleep aid and a laxative. Strange combo. (I tossed both. I wish there had been a “no thank you” box for them instead.)
The gear produced by Brooks, in contrast to the official race shirt, was adorable. Brooks had several great designs and colors. Since one of the two things I had forgotten to pack was a hat, I treated myself to a new one—turquoise/teal with embroidered race name on the side. Brooks also had the snazzy new Rock ‘n’ Roll design shoes, a tie-dye print that just made me happy looking at it. The Brooks area also featured an expanded line of Rock ‘n’ Roll race-specific merchandise, from pint glasses and coffee cups to a stuffed animal. The only bummer in this area is that the express lane for Tour Pass holders was gone, again making me think the Tour Pass may not be on the tour next year.
Expo: main expo. Since I had forgotten to pack only two things—the aforementioned had and my sunglasses—my agenda at the expo was to get a hat and a pair of goodr sunglasses. (Sadly, I lost my favorite Maui Jim’s at Disney World, and Maui Jim wasn’t at the expo.) The Arizona expo was small compared to the expo at each of the prior Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona races I attended. Curiously, there were several booths that had nothing to do with running or tourism in Arizona, which are the things I expect to see at a race expo. There was a booth doing some kind of hair extensions, for example. There were two or three booths selling anti-wrinkle creams which was a huge disappointment. I’m hoping this isn’t a trend—there were also aggressive anti-wrinkle cream peddlers at the IDEA World fitness convention in Las Vegas last year, but I attributed that to Las Vegas. I don’t go to a race expo to have some booth assault me with a “no more Botox” theme. Thanks, I don’t do Botox, I take good care of my skin, and wrinkles are a natural part of aging. Whatever. It was a weird expo, with many of the main race sponsors not there, and several of the regular exhibitors also absent. Overall, the expo was somewhat disappointing, but I assume this was a function of (1) the newly increased booth prices for exhibitors, and (2) the series’ new focus on the on-course experience.
The parts I liked best about the expo were seeing my friends and trying Tailwind for the first time. One of my friends is now a head honcho with the Spartan Race series expo booths, and we got to catch up. (Look for big things coming from Spartan this year—more races, more stadium sprints, more in-expo experiences.) A bunch of the Rock ‘n’ Roll regulars tend to eventually congregate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll booth to catch up, make plans, and take pictures. Finally, at the Hot Chocolate booth I also had a “hey! I follow you on Instagram!” moment, which is always fun. For me, the best part of running races is all the great runners, and I’m always thrilled to meet people in person who I’ve only seen online.
Tailwind, if you haven’t tried it, is AMAZING. I’ve been wanting to try it for quite awhile, but I hesitate to buy any running fuel that I haven’t taste-tested first. If you’ve tried enough running fuels, you know that not all of them agree with all digestive systems and that you really want to know if one is going to fight you before you buy a bunch of it. The Tailwind booth had four different flavors of fuel to taste, and two of their recovery drinks (which I skipped for now). Tailwind is a powder you mix with water, and it serves as both fuel and hydration. When mixed as directed it has a thin consistency like water, a very light flavor, and almost no color (Tailwind doesn’t have any artificial colors in it). To my great surprise, not only did I like all of the types of Tailwind I sampled, the orange (yes, orange!) was my favorite. Usually I’m a berry or fruit punch flavor type of runner, and I avoid orange popsicles, orange soda, orange drinks, and orange desserts. Tailwind orange is pretty delicious though. I bought a bag of orange (orange!) at the expo special price, and also some samples (single-serving size) of other flavors. In my mind, this was a major expo win—but more on Tailwind later.
Race Day Preparations and the Starting Line. My crew selected their hotel based on proximity to the finish line at the park. Turns out it was also quite close to the starting line for the half marathon. (The marathon has a smaller field, and a separate start.) The morning of the race I got dressed, mixed up a packet of Tailwind (which dissolved immediately, without extensive mixing/shaking, and without any gritty undissolved bits at all), and headed over to the starting line. Unfortunately, I relied on the app to tell me where the starting line was—and it was wrong. I learned this when I arrived at what I thought was the starting line, only to join about 20 other runners walking over to where the starting line actually was. Bummer.
The starting line did feature new corral markers, which were inflatables instead of cardboard signs. While they were easy to spot, they were difficult to read. The markers are thick material like a bounce house, and they wasted spaced with “corral” and the number sign. To my over-40 eyes, they were actually harder to read from far away than the old sign-on-a-stick (I ended up in the wrong corral initially).
On the bright side, the starting line had pumping music and a ton of energy. We all missed Ann, the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll announcer, who is sidelined with an injury for the time being. The stand-in did a great job of keeping the crowd pumped up though, and there was a lot of fun and fanfare.
The On-Course Experience. Had I stuck to my expectations based on my prior experience running this race, they would all have been met. But as I mentioned earlier, I had received a bunch of email hyping the new focus on the experience during the race and so I was excited to check out the new race experience, so I was looking out for the specific items mentioned in the email.
One of the things mentioned in the emails was new signs at the corrals and on the course. The signs on the course were color-coded aid station signs that let runners know what would be offered at the aid station. I definitely appreciated that I could see the signs before I got to the aid station. At the same time, signs are a depreciable asset and need to be replaced every now and then; while I liked the new signs, I see them as more of an ordinary business expense and less of an enhancement for the runners.
Food on course. Half marathoners did not get food on the course. (I believe the marathon runners were offered bananas on the course.) Based on the emails, I thought there would be some actual food at the half marathon aid stations.
Gel stations. In past years, the half marathon course had one aid station with gel; last year the official gel was Glukos, and prior to that it was Gu. This year, Science in Sport (SiS) is the official gel. Some people love it, others don’t. Since I was experimenting with Tailwind, I didn’t eat gel on the course. It’s good that I wasn’t relying on it, as the pre-race emails all promised me two gel stations on course, but there was NO gel at the first gel aid station. I saw the signs, and they were followed by an empty table and empty boxes. This is a course with a 4-hour time limit. I finished well in advance of the time limit, and was nowhere near the end of the pack. I’m disappointed there wasn’t enough gel for the slower runners at the aid station.
Bands Every Mile. The pre-race emails also promised a band every mile. For the first 8 miles, the race delivered: a band every mile! Then the bands dropped off. There is an out-and-back portion of the course (which really needs a timing mat—it’s a known cheat-point as I documented last year) which I get would have been difficult to band-up, but there weren’t any bands for the last several miles. (There was a DJ station, but the DJ left before the course closed.) I’m not sure I need a band every mile, but if you promise me a band every mile and don’t deliver, that’s not good.
“On Course Activations.” The pre-race emails promised more of these. When I read them, I thought “wow, this is a badly-worded email” because “activation” is a jargony-PR term that basically means something interactive with a brand. (So, for example, the opportunity to take a test-drive in a Toyota at the expo is an activation.) Historically, the on-course activations have been things like the inspiration zone with encouraging quotes put up by Alaska Airlines in Seattle. The only one I noticed at this race was the Toyota zone DJ.
Overall, I had a good experience on the course. Post-Dopey I was walking, and I didn’t stop at Bosa Donuts this year, but the weather was gorgeous and the course has some scenic spots. I figured this out around mile 11, when I was thinking I’d never run this race again but then realized it was because the race wasn’t meeting my expectations—ALL expectations set up by the pre-race emails.
Tailwind. Side note, remember how I tried Tailwind at the expo? I mixed some up for the race and carried it with me. Instead of taking Powerade during the race, I sipped on Tailwind throughout the course. (I did take a few cups of water at some of the aid stations, but no extra fuel.) I only carried one bottle (size: Camelbak podium, Nuun bottle) and it lasted the entire course. I never got sick of the taste, which is very light. My tummy stayed happy the entire time, and even after the race I wasn’t starving and ready to hoover all of the foods. I’m so excited to have found Tailwind! If you haven’t tried it, you really should!
Finish line. The finish line was just like it has always been, with some adjustments to the post-race snacks. I grabbed a bottle of water and a post-race chocolate milk as I usually do (though Gatorade was also available). I took a banana. Snacks consisted of a granola bar (the plain hard granola kind), pretzels, and Pringles. Personally, I really miss when the granola bar was a Power Bar (the thicker ones with the cake-like consistency); everyone who knows anything about sports nutrition knows you’re supposed to put some protein in the tank within the first 30 minutes after an endurance event. (This made me extra thankful for the chocolate milk!) I also miss the Del Monte fruit cups, though they were logistically a bit of a pain.
Finisher Festival. Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona has one of the best finisher festivals of the series! We had a great band, per usual, and a series of food trucks from the Maine lobster guys who were on Shark Tank to a truck that served really great pretzels shaped like giant moustaches. It’s a great atmosphere, and a ton of people come to watch the band. We had great weather, though it was very, very sunny. Normal for Arizona, but kind of brutal after running a race.
Bling. The medal is cute, and features a cactus and bright colors. Unlike the generic design for the race shirts, the race medals this year are more race-themed, though to date every medal revealed is a guitar-pick shape with brightly-colored and cartoony artwork. The ribbon is a wide, satin-y ribbon with a colorful design and the race information, and I expect these will continue to be the standard (especially after the strong runner feedback several years back requesting them).
Marathon Zone. As I mentioned, I didn’t run the marathon this year (though the year I did run the marathon, I would have loved to have a marathon zone!). The Marathon Zone was one of several special perks just for marathoners. This was part of the focus on the race experience (and, I assume, added to assuage the hurt feelings of the marathoners who signed up to run Arizona last January and thought they were getting a marathon finisher jacket). Other marathon specials were the bananas on the course, and a red carpet (literally) at the finish line. Back to the Marathon Zone, which was a separate area for marathoners only. Inside there was a separate spread of food, including pizzas and Snickers bars, and a massage tent with free massages.
While the theory was nice, the concept was poorly executed. For one, there was no shade at all in the Marathon Zone, other than the massage tent. As I mentioned earlier, the mid-day finish meant straight-on Arizona sun for the finish. The Snickers bars melted completely (I saw examples). There were zero marathoners sitting on the chairs out in the full-sun. In contrast, the VIP area had umbrellas over at least some of the tables. For two, the Marathon Zone was far from the stage so it wasn’t possible to watch the headliner concert and enjoy the pizza and massages—you had to leave the area to watch the concert. In contrast, the VIP area was within the sight-lines of the stage. Finally, the entire marathon zone was shut down before the marathon course was finished. In other words, even if you finished the race within the time limits, you might not get to enjoy the amenities because they had already been disassembled. (This is the case for some friends of mine.) If you are going to have special amenities for the marathoners, they should be available to ALL marathoners who finish within the course time limits. (Instead, random people were handed entire pizzas as they shut down the Marathon Zone, while my marathoner friends arrived to find an empty field.)
Ultimately, I’d run this race again–and recommend it to you, too. Next time, I won’t let the pre-race hype emails set up my expectations though. It’s still early in the season, and there was a post-race survey that I’m sure plenty of runners filled out, so I’m sure the proud new owners of Rock ‘n’ Roll have plenty of information. I hope they choose to carry on the Rock ‘n’ Roll legacy of responsiveness to runner feedback–and maybe tone down the promises in the pre-race emails.
Did you run Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona this year? How was the marathon? The 5k? The mile? Will I see you at any of the other races I’m planning to run this year?
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Imagine The Color Run–self-identified as the happiest 5k on the planet–and a yoga studio had a baby. What do you get? Poof! Black light yoga with freebies and confetti! What The Color Run did for the 5k, Soul Pose yoga (a project of the people that brought you The Color Run) does for yoga. Since I had a good time at The Color Run (see the review linked near the top of this post), I figured I’d try Soul Pose, “the happiest yoga on the planet.” Even though I know I’m an over-educated, slightly anal-retentive yoga teacher, who could resist black light yoga with body paint? After all, it’s good to mix it up every now and then. (Note that some of the events are NOT black light yoga, but are held during the day–see the websitefor more information.)
Oh hey, a disclaimer here: if you’re a yoga purist, if you get upset that people call a class that is nothing but poses a “yoga” class, if you object to posture practice without meditation and pranayama, if you want to have a dialogue about the Yoga Sutras or the Pradipika, if you want to use every class to debate whether American yoga is cultural appropriation or a new creature, this isn’t for you. You’ll be miserable. If you can let go of your expectations and think of this as a black light party where you do some physical practice stuff, you could potentially have a good time.
Step One: Get On The List. I can’t remember where I first heard of Soul Pose yoga, but I added myself to the mailing list and started following them on Twitter so I could be the first to hear about when there would be a Soul Pose near me. I read the website, which promises that Soul Pose is for everyone, even if you “have never set foot on a mat.” Once the date for the Portland session was published, I waited for registration to open.
Step Two: Register! Registration for a Soul Pose event includes a yoga mat, a sweat towel embroidered with the Soul Pose logo, a “namaste” bracelet, a confetti pack, and access to paints before the session. (More on these perks later.) During the first week of registration (September for a December event) there were also extra gifts, depending on which day you registered. I’m a bit of a sucker for hoodies, so I registered the day the gift was a zip-up Soul Pose hoodie. My co-worker T wanted a mat bag, so she registered on a different day. We had a choice of four different sessions in Portland (8:30, 11:30, 2:30, 5:30), which is something of a yoga mecca–seriously, there are as many places to do yoga here as there are in San Francisco, which is ground zero for yoga in the United States. Registration was around $20 plus a registration fee from Active.com (but since I am an Active Advantage member, those fees were waived as a perk of Active Advantage membership). Pro Tip: If you run any races that use the Active.com platform, it’s probably going to work out in your favor to join Active Advantage. The annual membership is like $70, but includes a refund of registration processing fees for events that use the Active platform (up to $10 per event), a refund of the cost of your fifth event of the year, a free pair of Pro Compression socks (value $50), the opportunity to win free race entries and monthly gear giveaways, and more.
Step Three: Hurry Up And Wait. Then, the wait. In between registration and the event, Soul Pose sent out a couple of offers, like a Black Friday/Cyber Monday special. In addition to the events, you can also purchase Soul Pose gear, from my hoodie to yoga blocks to water bottles and other clothing and props. I think I got a reminder email, and just before the event there was an email with an event guide, basically laying out what to expect, when and where to arrive, etc.
The Happy Day! While lots of event guides advise you to arrive early, and it seemed a little extreme to arrive an hour early to check-in for a yoga class, I managed to get my butt (and a minimal amount of stuff–the Event Guide told participants to bring a water bottle and not much else, due to space limitations) on MAX early enough to arrive about an hour early. There was a HUGE line, stretching well outside the venue and it was cold. (Portland-cold, not Midwest-winter-cold, but still.) Given the space they rented, they could have arranged the line so more of it was inside if they had shifted the footprint of various booths. While waiting I checked out the line. It was largely composed of stereotypical American yoginis–thin, female, white, well-dressed–including a higher-than-average number of containers of kombucha. I saw exactly zero men. I did see some not-thin yoginis which made me feel better (I think yoga is for every body, not just waifs), and some moms who had brought their kids. The line did keep moving, and once I got to the front it was one quick scan of my ticket (scanner = iPad mini, ticket = email on my iPhone) and I was handed my hoodie, towel, and bracelet; with a quick “your mat will be waiting inside” and a welcome, it was off to find the paint.
Body Paint Was Limited: Bummer. I wish I had known that there wouldn’t be very many paint markers, and that many of them would already have run dry or dry-ish after the first session. The white should have really popped under the black lights, but it was so dry that I had to kinda stab myself with the marker to make it paint, and the color was washed out. The green one worked pretty well, but two of the markers I grabbed were so dry that they didn’t produce any paint at all–and there had only been one session before the one I attended. Pro Tip: Plan ahead, especially if you are in a later session. Buy a set of day-glo poster paints and some brushes, and bring them with you. (Poster paint is non-toxic and washes off with soap and water. The day-glo colors super pop under black light. You could paint yourself at home, but you run the risk of smearing it, or having it dry and flake off before you arrive.)
Venue: Adequate, Not Great. Soul Pose took place at the Portland Expo Center. Initially I was pretty excited, as I was thinking about all of the external bits: plenty of parking, easy access to public transit, big indoor space. I hadn’t thought about the yoga practice itself. While the room was big enough–our “sold out” session had room for at least another 50-75 people in it–it wasn’t a great space for yoga. The biggest issue for me is that the floors are the kind of polished concrete that you find in every convention center and were not at all compatible with the “yoga mats.” I had to put that in quotes because yoga mats ordinarily have a slight component of padding, and a somewhat serious component of traction. This is why yoga mats used to be called “sticky mats,” and why many modern yoga mats are made of, or surfaced with, rubber. Unfortunately, the Soul Pose mats are very lightweight, stiff, thin foam. They have no traction at all and slid on the polished floor. During the practice my mat also puckered up when I stepped my foot from place to place. Pro Tip: Skip the Soul Pose mat entirely. Bring your own mat. If you’re afraid your body paint will mess up your mat–and it might–or you want to paint your Soul Pose mat, bring a regular yoga mat to put under your Soul Pose mat. It’s likely going to make the balancing poses harder due to the squishiness of the Soul Pose mat, but it will keep your mat from sliding around.
Another thing that bears mentioning: the temperature. It was cold inside that expo room, and the room had a polished cement floor (which you touched during parts of the practice). Cold! The organizers should have warmed the room up better, whether by space heaters or the heating system, as even a “warm-up” doesn’t keep the body warm when the ambient temperature is cold. I get that it is hard to manage temperatures in rooms filled with people, as I’ve been to a million and one conferences and convention centers, but I hadn’t expected the bare room and the cold floor. Oops. Pro Tip: wear long tights/pants and light layers. If I had known the room in advance, I would have brought toe-less socks and arm warmers to start class. I probably would have done the entire class in long sleeves if I’d had the option.
The Rig: Festive and Theatrical. While I found it a little weird to make a human tunnel to “run in” the instructor (like a football team running a cheerleader gauntlet on the way into the stadium), but whatever, okay. There was a small, round elevated stage for the instructor; when we entered the room the mats were arranged in circles around the stage. There were white party lights strung from the stage to several points outside the circle of yoga mats, and multiple black light sources that hit most of the yoga mats with almost full coverage. Honestly, it was kind of a fun set-up for the instructor (versus rows of mats with the instructor in the front) and the black lights did their job. Pro Tip: wanna glow? Wear white or day-glo colored clothing. Make sure your body paint is solidly colored-in, too. Other good options are things that have lights, or those snap bracelet glow-sticks. Need extra help or an example of the poses? Get as close to the stage in the center as you can.
Instruction: NOT For Beginners. I only went to one of the four sessions, and each had a different instructor. I’m likely biased because I’m an instructor myself. I don’t know how many people were in the room, but it was definitely over 100. There was one instructor, and one assistant. This was inadequate coverage for the number of people in the room who needed help. When I say “needed help,” I don’t mean “man, their poses were lame.” What I mean is that I observed several things that were potentially catastrophically unsafe (like “do it this way, and you’re 80% likely to sprain that joint”) and that a tiny bit of assistance could have made much safer–and much more comfortable!–for the participants and their knees and ankles. (Especially since the mats were all sliding on the floor.)
There was no instruction as to how to get from one pose to the next, which concerns me as an instructor because most yoga injuries that are not catastrophic (think falling on your head), or long-term-misuse injuries happen during transitions. For example, to safely transition from a right-sided Warrior I to a Warrior II (and avoid tweaking a knee, etc.) you not only turn your hips to the left, but also step your left foot towards the right long-side of the mat (which gives your pelvis the room to move). It’s important to keep your right knee over your right ankle (as if you let it slide further forward and you lose your balance while moving that back/left foot, you could mess up that knee). Yet the instructor just said “Open up to Warrior II.” There was no instruction on the things that tend to bother beginners the most, such as what to do if your wrists are sore from so many downward-facing dogs. There was no instruction on where to point your toes, which is one of the most basic points for any pose. (For example, I saw a dozen people doing a right-foot-forward Warrior I pose where the right foot was turned in such that the right toes were pointing to the left corner of the mat or rotated even further.) I was also confused when the instructor talked us into what she called “Pyramid Pose” because that’s what I did–following her instructions to face both feet towards the front of the mat–and everyone around me was doing a wide-legged forward bend!
My guess is that the instructors (all of whom were drawn from the local CorePower studio chain) had only done the CorePower 200-hour training, had no specific teacher training on how to teach basic yoga to beginners (honestly, this topic is almost completely ignored in most 200-hour teacher training programs), and lacked extensive experience teaching to raw beginners. I’d love to see Soul Pose run a continuing education class for teachers who want to teach for Soul Pose, focused exclusively on clear instruction for those who have “never set foot on a mat” as their advertising said this would be a great experience for them, yet didn’t cater to that level of inexperience at all.
Pro Tip: don’t expect to be taught how to do yoga at Soul Pose. Ask a more experienced friend to come with you, or at least to review some of the basic yoga poses before you go: downward-facing dog, cat-cow breathing, warrior I and II.
Instructor Positives! The instructor did a good job creating a chill atmosphere. She reminded everyone to have fun and enjoy the practice, which was definitely keeping with the “happiest yoga on Earth” vibe. Everyone was reminded to take child’s pose whenever they wanted to, and there were a significant number of breaks where we stood in mountain pose (tadasana) to breathe, which is kinda refreshing. Also, unlike the “spiritual sandwich” model of yoga class–you know, something heart-felt and mushy at the beginning and the end without much besides posing in between–our instructor did a good job of weaving positive messages throughout the class. She had a great personality for teaching, and seemed genuinely grateful for the opportunity to teach with Soul Pose. Pro Tip: show up with an open heart and an attitude of gratitude!
If you’re an experienced yoga practitioner, and don’t need much in the way of alignment instruction, you’re going to be fine. I can’t say you’ll be challenged or get an “intensely physical class” as promised by the website, but you’ll likely get your sweat on and have a good time.
The “Block Party.” The Event Guide and the emails mentioned a Block Party, which I figured was going to be like a typical “yoga mall” with vendors trying to sell everything under the sun that might be tangentially related to a (western) yoga (posing only) practice. Instead, it was a curious mix of sponsors and other vendors. There was a Soul Pose boutique (selling the same things that are on the website), a vendor selling what I think were Christmas ornaments, and one with yoga-themed headbands. The Bakery on Main had gluten-free granola to sample. La Croix handed out ice-cold cans of La Croix (and I’m a huge fan!). White Claw hard seltzer (yes, that does mean alcoholic) was there sampling their three current flavors. Overall it was very low-key.
If Soul Pose asked me for tips: I’d advise them to (1) pick a venue where the floor had carpeting (like a hotel ballroom) or a texture to keep the mats from slipping; (2) bring in another 10 assistants per session who have experience working with first-time-yoga-class-attendees; and (3) select a teacher who is skilled in teaching to beginners and not just in keeping the vibe. Also, why are you calling the bracelet a “namaste” bracelet when it’s like a Pura Vidastyle bracelet that says “Soul Pose” (not “namaste”) on it? Oh, and a coat rack would have been really helpful too–December in Portland is chilly!
Would I do it again? Sure! Who doesn’t want to drop a squat into malasana and then throw confetti?? (Okay, so it was a wee bit annoying to be picking confetti out of my bra after class, but hey–the risk-reward analysis says when in doubt, throw the confetti.) I’m pretty sure this was the first Soul Pose yoga event in Portland, so just like an inaugural race there are some kinks to work out. Next time, I’m taking my own pro-tips (see above) and especially my own body paint.
Disclosure: The fine folks at Click sent me a canister of CLICK All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix (caramel, nomnom!), a canister of CLICK Active All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix, two sample packets of other flavors, and a CLICK logo Blender Bottle.They are also generously providing a giveaway prize!As always, this review is my work, and contains my opinions. I wrote this–there is no ghost-written or “sponsored” content in this post.
Coffee is one of the greatest things on Earth. (If you disagree, you might be reading the wrong blog.) I love, love, love coffee. The best part of my Saturday (after sleeping in!) is grinding whole beans and making a fresh pot, then settling in for a mini-staycation. Coffee, however, is not breakfast. Even with milk and “fixin’s” coffee just doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did, and it definitely doesn’t have the nutrition to be a meal–if you’re drinking a coffeehouse coffee in the morning, it’s basically a sugar-bomb; if you’re drinking it non-fat to “save calories” you’re removing part of what could help your tummy feel satisfied even if I do get that you don’t need your mocha to have 450 calories (that’s a venti Starbucks mocha with 2% milk and whipped cream).
Right before I moved from Oakland to Portland, a friend told me about CLICK, a new drink mix that is real coffee with protein. Not coffee-flavored protein, but coffee with protein. Actual coffee, not faux-coffee. Protein is an important part of breakfast because it helps you feel full. Intrigued, I dashed off an email to the founders to learn more. Naturally the box with the goodies arrived right as I was moving and everything was in chaos, so I set it aside instead of tearing into it immediately. (This was not easy. I love opening boxes!) I decided to wait until the road trip part of the move, for two reasons. One, taking CLICK with me meant I would have an easy breakfast every day. (Important when you are driving hundreds of miles with a cat and his many accessories.) Two, there is some data that starting a new habit while away from home will help you carry that habit over when you get home. (If you’ve read any books about habits and willpower, I’m sure you already know a few things about habit change. If you haven’t, I highly recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonical, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. They tread some of the same ground, but approach the topic from different angles.)
As an adult, I’ve become a serial breakfast skipper. (Or should that be cereal? I snap, crackle, pop myself up!) I know my body pretty well, and I can definitely feel my work and workouts suffer when I skip breakfast or just have coffee. When I skip breakfast, I am generally super ravenous by the time lunch rolls around, ready to stuff All The Foods into my face. As annoying as moving is–don’t ever move, ever–I decided to leverage the move as a life re-set. In “my new life” I have enough breakfast to make my body happy until lunch. While I doubted the CLICK literature asking if my coffee pot felt neglected (because no way am I giving up coffee!), I was game to try it.
Wait, what’s in CLICK? CLICK is an instant drink mix made from real coffee. (I promise, it tastes NOTHING like that bland “instant coffee” or “freeze dried coffee” stuff your parents had in the 1970s.) CLICK is intended to be a breakfast (or other meal or snack) replacement, though you can drink it in place of any regular coffee drink (saving calories and adding nutrition). In addition to two shots of espresso, CLICK has protein and 23 essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, it has sugar, but not much (5g per serving). If you make it with water, a serving is 110 or 120 calories, depending on which flavor you choose and how much you use. (If two scoops is too much flavor for you, try using just one scoop. My sweet spot is around one and a half scoops.) To make CLICK, you put CLICK in water and shake/stir. You can make it with milk or a milk substitute. You can make it hot or cold. You can make it fancier in a blender. You can make it in a box, you can make it with a fox! Oh, wait. Wrong story. Carrying on… CLICK is NOT for you if: One, you are vegan. CLICK contains milk. (If you’re interested and enough other people pester them too, I bet a vegan CLICK could be in the works.) Two, you are allergic to soy. CLICK contains soy-based ingredients. Three, you hate coffee. CLICK is coffee. If you hate coffee, can we even be friends?!?
The first taste test: cold-ish. It sounds silly now, but the first time I mixed CLICK I panicked. What if I don’t like it? What if it tastes weird? It sounds silly for many reasons, but at that moment I was on a very tight budget and this is what I had planned for breakfast. (Plus I had agreed to write an honest review, and no one likes to have to tell someone “hey I tried your product and it was icky.”) To me, a yucky breakfast is almost worse than no breakfast at all. The number one thing I fear in a drink mix is grittiness, and most drinks mix better in warmer rather than colder water, so I started with cold-ish water. I was particularly worried because I was using water as a base, which would make any grit even grittier. If you’ve ever had protein powder, I’m sure you know what I mean–there’s nothing like drinking a glass of sand. Cautiously, I put the shaker ball into the Blender Bottle, added CLICK, added water, closed the lid (very important step!), and gave it a few shakes. It quickly dissolved. I took a deep breath, followed by an itty-bitty baby sip and…
IT WAS DELICIOUS!
First, the flavor was delicious. The caramel tasted like a fancy cold coffee drink treat. Second, CLICK dissolved completely. The resulting drink had a 100% smooth, completely liquid consistency without any lumps. There was NO grittiness at all, not even a little bit, and no weird crunchy bits left at the bottom (you know, those weird protein powder dregs). I quickly hoovered the remainder. Afterwards I felt like I’d had a coffee drink, and a little breakfast. My tummy was happy until lunch.
Icy cold coffee! The next day, I decided to try iced CLICK. The container said I could ice it, but I wasn’t sure I believed (yet). Also, some drinks are much better if you make them hot and ice them later. Since this was a test, I put the mixer ball in the Blender Bottle, filled the cup with ice, added CLICK, and then filled the cup with water (as cold as the tap would allow). After putting on the lid and shaking, I was shocked that CLICK dissolved completely! Even though it dissolved well at room temperature, I honestly thought it would be a little sandy-tasting when iced. Nope! I really like CLICK icy cold, so this is how I have been making it ever since. I’m still amazed that a powdered drink mix with protein dissolves this well without using an electric blender.
How much do I love CLICK?
For starters, I’ve continued to start every work day with iced CLICK (except the days I have been out of town–I need to get some little containers to put single servings in so I’m not relying on single-serve packets or plastic bags). I had planned to try making a hot CLICK, but Portland has been pretty warm since I moved and the thought of commuting on MAX with a hot beverage is not appealing. (That will change, I know!) When I reached the bottom of the canister, I hustled over to the website for more. As a result, I’m happy to report the vanilla latte flavor is also very yummy. (I haven’t opened the chocolate yet, as it seems overly decadent to have three canisters open at once.) Not only did I spend my own money on this–no special discount code or anything–I opted to buy the four-pack of canisters (and it comes with a cute hot drink mug). This is not a fling, my friends, this is a long-term relationship. I might need to go change my Facebook status. (My coffee pot is super jealous. I haven’t purchased a single bag of coffee beans since I moved.)
CLICK Active is another super yummy coffee-based drink mix with protein. CLICK Active is designed to take advantage of that magical post-workout “window of opportunity” when your (now worked-out and tired) muscles are extra-ready to suck in the nutrition to help repair and build muscle. You can read more about post-workout nutrition in general on my favorite nutrition site, Precision Nutrition. In a a nutshell, in a post-workout situation, nutrition helps the body to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis. That’s what CLICK Active aims to do–and it’s still a better plan nutritionally than a venti mocha. CLICK Active has protein plus branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are the building blocks of protein, and therefore also of muscles. BCAAs are more easily digested than protein (which your body has to work to break down into amino acids before your body can use them).
The difference between CLICK and CLICK Active is basically the difference between a meal replacement drink and a recovery drink. No, the two are NOT the same thing! Think of CLICK as a low calorie breakfast or snack to help keep you on track nutritionally, and CLICK Active as a post-workout drink that helps your muscles recover. You can read more about the difference on the CLICK website’s blog. The CLICK website has all sorts of useful information, including a weight-loss plan (focused on portion sizes, making good choices, and exercise!) and recipes for shakes and snacks (coffee protein CLICK pop, anyone?).
How much do YOU love CLICK?
You won’t know until you try it, right? So you should enter to win it!
My new friends at CLICK are offering one prize: your choice of a canister of CLICK or CLICK Active, in the flavor of your choice (assuming availability) and a snazzy purple CLICK branded Blender Bottle to go with it.
Since I practice law and all, here are the rules: (1) this contest is not sponsored or endorsed or in any way affiliated with any social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Tumblr, Pinterest, mySpace, Livejournal, or anything else you can name); (2) there is no purchase necessary to enter; (3) entrants must be 18 or older because I don’t want to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and because in the U.S. minors can’t enter into a binding contract, and because teenagers don’t need to start the day with two shots of espresso; (4) there is one prize and will be one winner, who will be required to submit their shipping address for prize delivery purposes; (5) the winning entrant will be contacted by email, and must respond to that email within three days or a new winner will be selected; (6) this contest is void where prohibited (I’m pretty sure that still includes Quebec, sorry!); (7) if I missed any major legal points I reserve the right to add them here.
Disclosure: I attended Natural Products Expo West on a Press pass. This post is not sponsored, endorsed, written, paid-for, etc. by Expo West (or any related entity) or any of the companies and products discussed below. The giveaway prize consists of samples I picked up at the Expo or purchased. Per usual, the topic was my idea and the opinions are all mine. Happy reading!
Chickpeas are everywhere this year. (Beets too, but that’s another post.) At Expo West I saw chickpeas in soups, ready-to-eat meals, baked goods, flour, chips, puffed snack foods, frozen snacks and entrees, and pretty much every category (other than beverages–maybe next year?). I’m not sure if I’m obsessed with chickpeas because I never ate them as a kid, so as an adult they are still a novelty, or because I know they are packed with protein and fiber, making them a great addition to my eating plan.
These are my favorites:
Vana Green Chickpea Superfood Bowls
Vegan, certified gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO
There are so many good things to say about these that I don’t want to forget the most important: they are yummy! Vana Life Foods makes four varieties, each featuring green chickpeas: chipotle, black beans, and sweet corn; chimichurri, coconut, and butternut squash; kale, potato, rosemary, tomato; coconut, lime, cilantro, bell pepper, sweet potato. I’m not going to lie, I took lousy notes as I tasted my way across the expo, so I can’t remember which one was my favorite. The kale/potato/rosemary/tomato was sort of Italian-food inspired, not too zesty, with the kale sufficiently hidden that I didn’t feel like I was chewing on the lawn. The coconut/lime/cilantro/bell pepper/sweet potato also has lemongrass in it, and the flavor reminded me a little bit of Thai food. The chipotle/black bean/sweet corn has a vaguely Cuban flavor about it, zippy but not so spicy that it puts your mouth on fire. Finally, the chimichurri/coconut/butternut squash has to be South-American-inspired (as google tells me chimichurri sauce comes from Argentina).
Don’t fear the green chickpea. If you’ve never eaten one, pretend it’s like the first time you ate green pasta, or colored frosting. Why are they green? As Vana’s website explains:
A green chickpea is a garbanzo bean harvested from the vine in its optimal nutritional state that is immediately blanched and flash frozen to preserve all its inherent goodness. That’s because when it’s green, the flavorful young legume is packed with protein, fiber, A, B, and C vitamins, and minerals—while being low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Basically, it’s a superfood at its best.
Seattle-based Vana won the Expo West NEXTY (sort of like an Oscar for natural food) for Best New Packaged Food. The shelf-stable pouch has two places you can tear across the top to open (little notches help you tear it properly). Tear at the top line to pour out into a bowl, pan, etc. Tear at the bottom line if you want to keep the food in the package and microwave it–it turns into a bowl! (This is really a pretty cool trick.) There is no BPA in the packaging, and it is recyclable.)
When I left the booth, I told the great folks at Vana that there were only two things wrong with their product: (1) there are only four flavors (for now–looking forward to next year!), and (2) there aren’t any in my office desk drawer. The website has a store locator. You can also buy these green chickpea pouches through the Vana website, or via various other online vendors (e.g. Jet, Amazon). The price varies, but is generally $4-5; on the Vana website, a single pouch is $4.99 while a six pack of the same flavor is $26.94 (cheap compared to eating lunch out, even if you factor in the additional cost of a piece of fruit or side and a drink).
Gluten-free, kosher, soy-free, allergy-friendly, produced in a nut-free facility, vegan (except for the mac n cheese varieties)
Technically this one is “cheating” since I first met Banza at IDEA last summer, but they were at Expo West this year. (In 2015 Banza won the “People’s Choice” NEXTY at Natural Products Expo East.) You know how when you make traditional pasta you can eat a bowl the size of your butt, and then you still want seconds? So you love pasta, but maybe think you shouldn’t eat it so often? Banza is your dream, baby. Over 90% of the pasta is chickpeas, and the protein and fiber ensure that not only do you have to eat a smaller portion, you aren’t going to be starving and go back for seconds (or thirds). Banza cooks like regular pasta, though the water might foam up a tiny bit more (because hey, chickpeas). Just like regular pasta, you have to keep an eye on it towards the end to make sure it comes out al dente and not all mushy.
My personal favorite is the rotini shape, which I douse in warm italian spaghetti sauce mixed with Beyond Beef crumbles and then top with grated parmesean or mozarella shreds. (The ridges on the rotini help hold the saucey goodness.) Banza also make macaroni/elbows, spaghetti, penne, and shell shapes, and offers four varieties of mac and cheese. My favorite thing about Banza is that unlike several other non-wheat pastas I have tried, this one has the right toothiness to it, so when you chew it is just like chewing regular pasta.
Banza started in Detroit in 2013 with a non-cook 23-year-old kid messing with his food (or so the legend goes). I love a scrappy start-up with a great product, but I’m not sure you can call Banza a start-up anymore, since you can buy their pasta in Target and they are part of the inaugural class of the Chobani Food Incubator. At any rate, you can find Banza in 2,700+ stores in the US and Canada, including Shop Rite, meijer, HEB, Wegmans, Sprouts, Fairway, Marianos, Whole Foods (select regions–but if you bug the manager at your local store you can probably get it too), and Eataly. You can also buy from various online sellers such as Thrive Market ($2.95/box), where prices are $3-5, or buy directly from the Banza website (6 boxes for $30 though if you choose the subscription option, you also save 20%).
Hippeas: the vegan improvement on cheese puffs
Certified gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, and have no added MSG, trans-fats, or artificial preservatives
If you were at Expo West, it was really hard to miss the cute Hippeas swag themed to match their packaging. The Hippeas booth was strategically located at the corner of the room closest to the door, so a ton of people hit it up immediately when the Expo opened for the day, meaning tons of bright yellow bags with smiles on them (the eye is a chickpea, of course). If you weren’t at Expo West, you may have seen Hippeas at Starbucks and wondered what’s inside those yellow bags. The best I can put it, it’s a crunchy snack with the texture of those cheap cheesy puffs but with unusual flavors and a MUCH better nutrition profile.
Hippeas flavors include far out fajita, sriracha sunshine, vegan white cheddar, maple haze, pepper power, and happenin’ hickory. Far out fajita–the flavor I’m putting in the prize pack–is described as “A fiery stash of chilli, paprika and cumin puffs to take on your journey to self-discovery” on the website. They are definitely flavorful, so you might want to watch out what you pair them with! A single serving has 4g protein and 3g dietary fiber. It’s not the same as eating the chickpea, but it’s a definite snack improvement.
Hippeas also gives back. You can head to their website and read about current initiatives, including their support for Farm Africa. Oh, and they are hiring.
Chickpeatos: a crunchable munchable
Organic, kosher, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO
When I tasted these in the fresh ideas pavilion, I was trying to describe the new Popped Chickpeatos to the guy working the booth. “They are like a Cheeto but made of chickpeas!” Um, duh, that’s why they are called ch-ickpea-tos. I immediately felt stupid and stuffed some more chickpeatos into my mouth so I had to stop talking.
The non-popped Chickpeatos are roasted–NOT deep fried–in olive oil (except for the cinnamon toast flavor, which is roasted in coconut oil). Right now you can buy rosemary, spicy cayenne, and tomato basil (and cinnamon toast). They don’t have a lot of fussy ingredients; for example, here’s what’s on the ingredients list for rosemary chickpeatos: chickpeas, olive oil, rosemary, salt, garlic powder. Most of the ingredients are organic.
Chickpeatos are great by themselves (I know, I tried them all!) but the company that makes them, Watusee, also has great recipes on the blog. How about chickpeatos instead of croutons? How about a recipe to use up the spices and crumbs that remain in the bag when you’re done? Check the blog. They have you covered. Watusee also makes a one-ingredient bread crumb substitute: chickpea crumbs! Anything you would use bread crumbs or panko on, you can use chickpea crumbs. It’s a sneaky way to add a wee bit of protein and fiber to any dish. Watusee also works to fight food insecurity–a huge problem in the United States–by donating products and supporting the Capitol Area Food Bank and D.C. Central Kitchen.
Chickpeatos have some nutritional punch that makes them better than your average chip. One serving has 6g protein and 5g fiber. A case of 12 bags (5 oz, 5 servings per container) purchased directly from Watusee is currently $45. They charge a flat $5 to ship.
But Wait! There’s More!
I could literally go on for another two blog posts on all the ways I saw chickpeas at Expo West. For example, I haven’t even mentioned hummus yet! Truitt Family Foods is a brand I knew before Expo West, as they were a BlogFest sponsor. I am a huge fan of the Fiesta Chili Lime hummus in go-cups (which I eat completely, then rinse the container to recycle it). Technically that flavor isn’t a chickpea product (the base is white beans and Greek yogurt, but the go-cups don’t require refrigeration), but I love it so much I had to mention it. I also visited Hope Foods, who I first met at Expo West last year and have subsequently seen at various race expos. If you haven’t tried the coconut curry hummus (or the frozen dessert hummus–yes! it’s a think!), try them at your first opportunity. Their booth always has so much energy, and they make all sorts of unusual flavors (lemon peppercorn, kale pesto, spicy avocado, to name a few).
This year I tried Lilly’s Hummus for the first time. Super smooth, based in Oregon, what’s not to love? My favorite is the roasted red pepper, and I just learned Lilly used hazelnut briquets (not the nuts, just the shells) to do the roasting. Great re-use of what is otherwise a “waste” product.
But instead of going on and on, how about a giveaway?
Chickpeas Prize Pack! The prize pack includes a full-sized box of Banza penne, Hippeas swag (tote and buttons), Hippeas 4oz bag in far out fajita, Maya Kaimal chickpea chips in lightly salted flavor, Biena foods chickpeas in sea salt, information on Watuse Chickpeatos and Vana Life Foods, and misc. other Expo West goodies (to fill the box, because partially empty boxes are sad). Again, this prize is NOT sponsored, endorsed, whatever by any of the companies included. There is one Chickpeas Prize Pack. Open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only (sorry everyone else, but postage…)
Runner-up Prize Pack! This prize pack will consist of a selection of snacks and goodies from the Expo West show. It’s a pot-luck assortment, and will likely include some exotic chips, nuts, and fruit snacks. Again, there is one Runner-up Prize Pack. Again, open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only.
Disclosure: this is NOT a sponsored post (no compensation, product, or freebies were offered to entice me to write it), and is neither written nor endorsed by Good Farms. Per usual, the choice of subject matter and all of the opinions here are mine. This is the first of my posts inspired by #ExpoWest
This weekend was the industry meeting, trade show, and adult trick-or-treating extravaganza known as Natural Products Expo West: a gathering of more than 100,000 people with exhibits/booths for more than 3,000 companies. For 2017, I can’t think of a better find to spotlight than Good Farms. Remember my last post about food waste? I had a lot of conversations around food waste at Expo West (which itself produces quite a bit of waste, but that’s a subject for another time). One of the most promising trends in the natural foods space is using “waste” products instead of putting them in the trash. (All that fancy coconut water people are sipping? Did you ever think about where the rest of the coconut goes?)
Enticed by strawberry juice! Friday morning I made my way to the Arena section, an entire room I missed last year, when I came upon a booth decked out in strawberries with a video slide show. If you know me, you know I’m a total strawberry junkie: I have fond memories of spending a day each summer picking strawberries with my family at Blessed’s Strawberry Farm (“one for the basket, two for me”) and filling the “way back” of the station wagon with berries; when I lived in Oregon I anxiously awaited the annual Burgerville strawberry milkshake season; most recently I wait for the spring farmer’s markets to open so I can buy directly from the farmers. When I saw strawberries, I was drawn like a bee to a blossom and let me tell you–SO worthwhile!
Right,back to the juicy goodness. Good Farms’ cold-pressed, organic strawberry juice is simply wonderful. You can smell the strawberries as the cup nears your face (since the juice is not heated, the volatile organic compounds that create the strawberry’s aroma remain mostly intact). The juice tastes just like biting into a strawberry, minus the pulp and seeds. It is very flavorful–I could see using a few splashes in my fizzy water to make a refreshing mocktail. While I didn’t check the nutrition label, I know it is fruit juice…so I’m glad it comes in 14.5 ounce bottles instead of gallons (as otherwise I’d drain the whole jug much too quickly). If you’d like to get your hands on some, try Costco, Whole Foods, Chick-fil-A, Panera, and meijer. (Note those are the Good Farms partners, not necessarily all of them will have the strawberry juice, which is currently in limited production.)
Ugly reject strawberries make great juice. That’s because there are nothing wrong with the strawberries, which come from organic strawberry farms in Mexico; they simply don’t meet the beauty standards supermarkets set for strawberries. Using these berries instead of treating them like garbage not only results in delicious juice, it also makes sure farmers get paid for their crop, farmworkers can earn a better wage (more sold produce = higher profit = more money to pay wages), and it is a responsible use of the resources that went into farming the berries in the first place (including water, soil/dirt/land, and labor). Finally, it prevents the berries from ending up in a landfill, where they would either remain intact for centuries (as in a standard landfill, where the ever-increasing materials on top deprive those on the lower levels of the air necessary to rot), or decay and produce gases and contribute to climate change (if put onto a dump-style trash pile).
But wait, there’s more! If you’re following along to this point, you may have the same question I had: “Wait, after the strawberries are juiced, what happens to the smushed-up berry parts?” That’s wasted, right? WRONG! At Expo West I had the opportunity to talk to some of the Good Farms project team. The great guys in the booth were kind and patient with all of my questions. They explained that the juice project is currently a small operation–two trucks of berries per week–because it is important to get the process, production, and finished product done well before scaling up. (That way you can scale as time and resources permit, staying true to your original vision.) They are working to connect the farms with secondary markets for the smashed berry parts, such as companies that make all-fruit frozen pops. I imagine those berries would also be useful to companies that make yogurt, smoothies, and dried fruit products.
It’s not just about the strawberries–it’s about the farmers. Every piece of produce has people behind it. In the US, we have typically treated farm workers poorly. While I haven’t studied the socio-economics of why, I imagine the shift from slave labor to poorly paid sharecropper labor (read: racism and the resulting racial and economic inequality) play a role. The framers of the US Constitution were landed, white gentry who definitely thought themselves more valuable and worthy than everyone else (e.g. the First Nations who already lived in the Americas, slaves, indentured servants, women). The Good Farms strawberry farms are in Mexico; in the US the workers who pick strawberries are almost always migrant farm workers, typically without access to education, social services, or medical care. Farm workers tend to move to follow the crops (where the work is), which means children who should be in school may be in multiple schools each school year, every year, making them more likely to fall behind academically and less likely to graduate from high school or pursue higher education. Female farm workers are subject to a high level of sexual harassment and assault, often at the hands of the bosses who are supposed to be protecting them. One report I heard on NPR (morning of 3/13/17) estimated that 45% of the farm workers in California are undocumented, which means they don’t enjoy many of the legal protections that US workers are entitled to, such as minimum wage, rest periods, and meal breaks. It also means that women who are sexually harassed or abused are less likely to seek help for fear of being deported and separated from their children. California only recently (since I moved here in 2008) passed laws mandating access to shade and clean drinking water for farm workers. We’ve got a LONG way to go here.
Good Farms is moving the needle. Good Farms is a stakeholder in the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI). You can read more about EFI on their website, but the basic gist is this: treating workers better (through fair wages and labor practices, access to education, sensible pesticide policies, proper protective equipment and safety protocols) is the right thing to do. EFI goes beyond third-party audits (like when OSHA shows up to spot-check your operation) by creating an on-farm team that is responsible for implementation and maintenance of their program. EFI partners include the United Farm Workers Union and Oxfam America. This is true of all of their farms, not just the strawberry farms. The Good Farms strawberry farms are also fair trade, certified by Fair Trade USA. You probably don’t even consider whether terrorists or slave-labor was involved in producing the food on your plate, but Good Farms does: C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) helps them keep terrorists and terrorism out of the food chain by working with companies to protect and secure cargo, and with CIERTO to create transparent, safe labor contracts and help eliminate slavery. (Maybe you’ve heard about child slave labor used to obtain cacao? Slavery isn’t just a chocolate problem.)
A few other notables. Good Farms works with Feeding America and other food banks to donate produce instead of wasting it (not just strawberries, of course), to the tune of 350,000 pounds in 2016. They have outside auditing for their organic standards (CCOF) and food safety (PrimusGFS). Good Farms helps their farmers in Mexico by partnering with Mexican social responsibility programs that educate workers on their rights and how to exercise them; they help undocumented Mexicans living in Mexico obtain birth certificates (because without them, you can’t fully participate or exercise your rights–yet many economically disadvantaged Mexicans have never had a birth certificate). Good Farms partnered with Costco to provide disaster relief. With IEEA they provide education to farmworkers, by giving children backpacks with school supplies they reduce barriers to childhood education, and by maintaining websites and consumer outreach they teach us how to eat more vegetables and enjoy them.
Food security is a privilege. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are a lot like me: safe place to sleep tonight, not worried about where my next meal is coming from, enough income from my relatively-cushy job (where I do not perform manual labor in a hunched-over position like the farm workers in this video on the UFW facebook page) to make discretionary purchases, leisure time to pursue personal interests. I’ve never gone to bed hungry because I have always had access to plenty of food. My parents had access to education and paved the way for my life, where I had even better opportunities. Most of the world is not so lucky. I’m willing to pay a little more for a quality product that improves the lives of those whose work produces the food on my table, because I can.
Yes, I agree that “clean your plate” is a dated rule (better option: “watch how much you put on your plate in the first place”), but I’m betting that’s the first thing the term “food waste” brought to mind. Most Americans likely associate food waste with at-home table scraps, or restaurant leftovers that go from plate to trash. The problem is much, much bigger than that. In August 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council published an issue paper titled Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. You read that right, FORTY percent. What I found most shocking is that most of that 40% has nothing to do with throwing out leftovers or not doggy-bagging your restaurant leftovers!
Why you care about food waste:
80% of the fresh water used in the United States is used for agriculture (source) and roughly 25% of the entire fresh water supply is used to produce food that gets wasted (source)
roughly 50% all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually (source) and up to 1/3 of all food produced world-wide (source)
about 1 billion unpeeled/unopened food items are discarded annually in American schools (source)
wasted food that goes to landfills–not all of us have access to composting–generates methane (source); food waste has a carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases, making food wastage the third top GHG emitter after the U.S. and China (source)
the United States produces enough food to sustain roughly 860 million hungry people, more than twice the amount needed to feed the true population of the United States (source) yet in 2015 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households [that means, roughly, they are not certain that food will be on the table for all upcoming meals] including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children (source)
But forget about the doggy-bagging and leftovers, as a whopping 38% (source) or more is wasted before it even has the opportunity to be eaten! Ever wonder why all the apples, in the grocery store are about the same shape and size? Or the carrots are all straight and about the same length? It’s because the nonconforming, weird-looking, too-big, too-small pieces are THROWN AWAY. It’s bad for farmers–they don’t get paid for the goods they grew–and it’s bad for the environment and the planet.
How can YOU reduce food waste?
Easy! Buy ugly produce! In California (SF Bay Area, now rolling out neighborhood by neighborhood in LA!), and UPDATE! Oregon too! check out Imperfect Produce (scroll down to score $10 in free goods!). In Baltimore, D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the surrounding areas check out Hungry Harvest (see below for a discount code!). Both are small businesses fighting food waste AND hunger. What do they sell? Hungry Harvest calls their produce “recovered” and explains it this way:
“Recovered” produce comprises fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat, but would have otherwise been thrown away. Recovered produce is often discarded because of aesthetic imperfections (think misshapen eggplants or off-color apples) or logistical inefficiencies (when grocery stores over-order produce, they can reject truckloads, and that usually gets thrown away).
Imperfect Produce calls their produce “ugly” but wants to assure you it tastes the same:
The produce we source is rejected purely for cosmetic reasons, meaning that taste and nutrition aren’t affected. Common reasons for produce being classified as “ugly” are: too small, wrong color, misshapen. We only source the most delicious fruits and vegetables, and we have strict quality-control measures in place to ensure that what ends up on your doorstep is fresh, delicious, and nutritious. If we wouldn’t eat it, we won’t sell it. We’re redefining BEAUTY in produce, not taste! And if for whatever reason you’re not satisfied with an item in your box, we will either replace it or refund the cost of the box that week.
It’s a win-win-win. Farmers get paid for produce that would otherwise become garbage. You get cheaper produce that may (or may not) look funny. Both companies donate produce to fight hunger, too! It works something like this:
My Imperfect (Perfect!) Experience
My neighborhood’s delivery day is Saturday, so I have until 3:00 Wednesday to customize my box. I get a small box of fruits and vegetables, since I travel a lot and live by myself. The basic cost (if I get whatever was assigned to the box that week) is $11-13 plus a small delivery charge ($2.99). On Monday or Tuesday I get a reminder email to check in and customize my box. (There is an option to not customize the box–surprise!–but since I’m picky I don’t often use that; you can also opt for just only fruit or only vegetables.) One of the things I like is that I can decide how much of something to get, and the Imperfect site tells me why it is “imperfect” as well as where it originated. Right now, Imperfect works mostly with larger family farms in California, but they are also working to source produce from Mexico and smaller family farms. I’m really excited to see what they can do!
My box this week had 1 pound of organic brussels sprouts, a blood orange, 2 pounds of carrots, 1 pound of creamer potatoes, a grapefruit, 1 pound of onions, a 1/2 pound of red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, 1 pound of mangoes (rejected for being too small, I can easily hold one in my hand), and 1 pound of organic lemons. I paid just $15.39, including the delivery charge. There were a ton of other choices, too. Each box also includes the “Weekly Beet,” a card that introduces a team member, gives a quick fact about one of the items offered that week (the asian pears offered the week of September 19th would have been rejected due to scarring and were grown in Kingsburg, CA), and a tasty recipe. Some of the recipes I have received are Blue Cheese and Asian Pear Tartines, Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps, Celery Root and Carrot Soup, Lebanese Pumpkin Hummus, and Fuyu Persimmon Salad. (You can find more recipes at imperfectproduce.com/recipes)
The pre-Thanksgiving box included a recipe booklet. Imperfect Produce does fun things, too. Once we got googly eyes in the box to decorate for a contest, and they recently sponsored a contest with Cape & Cowl, donating an additional five pounds of produce to the Alameda County Food Bank for every entry. I can easily set my box to “temporary stop” for vacation. I try to remember to set out my empty boxes Friday night, as Imperfect Produce can re-use them.
To score a $10 discount on Imperfect Produce: when you sign up for your first delivery, put my name (Elizabeth Bain) in the “referred by” box at checkout. (I hope you don’t mind that as an Imperfect Produce customer, this gets me $10 too.)
Hungry (for a) Harvest?
Clearly, I don’t live in Baltimore, D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the surrounding areas, so I’m not a Hungry Harvest customer–but if I lived there, I would be! I found Hungry Harvest on Twitter, and I’m thrilled to see there are other organizations doing the work Imperfect Produce does in other parts of the country. (I was extra excited to see they scored a deal on Shark Tank, which also helped fund some of my other favorite small businesses, including Wild Friends nut butters and Bombas socks.)
So while I don’t have first-hand experience, it looks like Hungry Harvest shares pretty much all of the characteristics of Imperfect Produce. Delivery days are assigned by zip code, and there is a modest delivery charge. You can even have your produce delivered to your office! Hungry Harvest also offers add-ons (Imperfect Produce has these on a variable basis). Add-ons include products from other food makers that could go to waste while still being perfectly good to consume: fresh baked bread, coffee, granola, peanut butter, jam, pesto, and produce staple add ons (lemons, limes, etc.).
Like Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest sources mostly local produce but is also reaching out to prevent food from going to waste, offers organic options, allows you to customize your box (and choose a size), has easy cancellation/temporary hold, and shares recipes to use your yummy produce. For every box they deliver to a paying customer like you, Hungry Harvest donates 1-2 pounds of produce to those in need. Hungry Harvest has a unique partnership called “Produce in a SNAP,” a partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools to bring fresh, affordable produce to food deserts to promote healthy eating and fight hunger. The program allows food-insecure families and individuals who could benefit from affordable produce, including those on government assistance programs such as SNAP/EBT, WIC, and SSDI, to stretch their food budgets and put nutritious produce on their dinner table. (I cribbed that from their website, because I couldn’t say it better.)
Hungry Harvest can’t reuse the boxes, but can pick them up for recycling if you don’t have access to recycling. (No recycling? Seriously, the 1970s called and they want their wasteful environmental policies back.)
To score a discount on Hungry Harvest:enter code TRAINWITHBAIN at checkout.
You know you can also support your local farmers’ market, especially if you don’t have an Imperfect Produce or Hungry Harvest nearby. (Most don’t have beauty pageant standards for their produce, so the weirdos can show up there.)
You can commit to less food waste in your household: freeze small amounts of vegetables for use in soups and stews, chop and freeze that onion before it goes bad, share with a neighbor. Compost food scraps using a commercial service if available, or a backyard compost or under-sink worm bin.
Local and state laws have a HUGE impact on how much produce gets wasted. The NRDC report details a few items you might watch for and ideas to reduce food waste. These include tax breaks for farmers that donate produce instead of trashing it, laws that allow individuals to donate produce from their home gardens directly to food banks (this is huge in California, where one lemon tree can shower an entire block with lemons), and changes in food labels’ use of terms like “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” (currently under discussion at the federal level in the United States).