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“What?” you may ask, “Is that an antique fire truck that serves beer?” Oh heck yeah!!

Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

Not all races end with beer. But when Blooms to Brews ends with beer, they do it up right. I’m not a beer fan myself, but just count the number of taps on that truck! If you want to read more about Blooms to Brews and the race website just isn’t enough, try Sarah’s blog, A Sweet Blonde & Her Fit Life. (If it isn’t up yet, it’s coming–patience!)

Flat Bain for the Blooms to Brews half marathon (how did this tradition get started, anyway??)
Flat Bain for the Blooms to Brews half marathon (how did this tradition get started, anyway??)

This race is amazing! Go put it on your calendar for 2017, right now. As word about this event “gets out,” you’re going to be left behind. I don’t know what the capacity limit for this course is, but you want to run it now so that when it is a regular sell-out and everyone is raving about it YOU can say, “I ran that race back in the day before it was ‘discovered.'”

Obligatory PDX carpeting shot
Obligatory PDX carpeting shot

Blooms to Brews takes place in Woodland, WA. Woodland is about 45 minutes north of Portland (depending on where you start and when you drive) and 2 to 2.5 hours from Seattle. While Woodland itself doesn’t have a ton of hotels, I had no problems securing a reservation the week before the race. You could probably drive from Seattle on race day morning, but it costs $20 for day-of-race packet pickup and you’d miss the entire expo. Portland is a better bet, and Vancouver, WA is filled with hotels of all stripes. (You could, of course, also try a bed and breakfast, or use Air BnB. Lots of options.) If you’re flying in, PDX is the closest airport. If you’re road-tripping, I’d make a long weekend of it since there is so much to do nearby.

The brand-new Woodland High School hosted the Blooms to Brews expo. There was plenty of parking, as well as two days to pick up your packet. I took a ton of photos, but in my brilliant attempt to organize them I deleted EVERY expo photo I took. (Awesome, right?) The expo was small but mighty. Packet pickup had no line on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible to register for the 10k, half marathon, marathon, or marathon relay. In addition to Blooms to Brews logo merchandise, there were about 8-10 vendors, including a cool wraparound sports skirt company, Sweet Spot Skirts (neat design fits a variety of sizes, stays put, and covers what you might want to cover–made in USA!). A few race companies were there, including the Portland Marathon. The Woodland Rotary was selling some delicious coffee as a fundraiser to support building a local sport park for the youth and teens of Woodland, and at the end of this post YOU can win a bag!

A jacket from the race-logo merch
A jacket from the race-logo merch

One thing I really liked about the expo is that each of the tables was manned by a person who really cared about that table’s goods/services. There were no hired guns. Everyone was really friendly. I was particularly lazy for the remainder of the day. After a quick trip to  Burgerville for the handmade, in-season, strawberry milkshake, I checked into my hotel and took a nap. I emerged to buy a few groceries, eat dinner, and head back to bed.

Morning came all too soon as it tends to do on race days, and I dragged myself out of bed and suited up. While my hotel was technically within walking distance of the start at Horseshoe Lake (about 17 minutes) I opted to be pre-race lazy and drive. Added bonus, there is a drive-through coffee shop right before you turn into the parking area. (I’m not going to lie, one of the things I really, really miss about living in the Pacific NW: drive-through coffee.) Parking was plentiful–there could have been many more cars there–and despite my mocha detour I was able to leave my hotel at 7ish and still make it to the starting line with plenty of time to spare.

This is one short bus you WANT to be on--it's full of pizza!
This is one short bus you WANT to be on–it’s full of pizza!

Starting line amenities included a bag check, water, snacks, music, and a post-race party that was ready to start. I took a few minutes to walk around and look at the amenities, since I still had plenty of time to spare. There was a school bus food truck that sold pizzas and other tasty food, right next to the BBQ. While I’m on the subject, part of the race instructions (and the promos, now that I think about it) said there would be a BBQ sandwich for each runner, with a vegetarian alternative for those of us who are not meat-eaters. As a vegetarian, I don’t expect special treatment–but at the end of the race I do expect some food! I once read a statistic that said on average, 10% of the U.S. population eats vegetarian when they eat out–some choose vegetarian or vegan, others are keeping Kosher, observing Halal dietary laws, or only eating organic or free-range–plus there are several well-known plant-based running groups, so it isn’t insane to think there will be other vegetarians. Anyway, when I went to ask for my sandwich, AS PROMISED there was tofurky on a bun, warmed with vegetarian baked beans. Score!

It was an overcast marathon start with a fluffy blanket of clouds
It was an overcast marathon start with a fluffy blanket of clouds

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The starting line had the usual platformed trusses and a banner. When I read that the marathon started at 7:30 and the half at 7:40 I was like, “um, corrals? Is that enough time?” No, no corrals. Just as they should, runners self-seeded (with a little help from the well-spaced pacers) and the entire marathon group took off without any incident. In addition to various Marathon Maniacs (and Double Agents), I saw a man dressed up like…bacon?? He must have been with one of the four-person relay teams. One of the cool things about Blooms to Brews Marathon was the option for a FOUR person relay team. That means you only needed to be able to run about 6.5 miles to join in the marathon–a very cool opportunity, as many marathons don’t offer a relay, and others only offer a 2-person relay. Several of the spunky folks running the second and third legs whizzed right past me on my run, too! (Fresh legs, they had fresh legs. Or at least that is what I kept telling myself.) The relay medal was very cool–four magnetic pieces that fit together to form a key with tulips on top!

Pre-race not quite twinsies: BibRave singlet, Orange Mud hydraquiver, BibRave custom Buff...#orangeisthenewfast
Pre-race not quite twinsies: BibRave singlet, Orange Mud hydraquiver, BibRave custom Buff… orangeisthenewfast
Still cloudy at mile...whatever this is, but very green
Still cloudy at mile…whatever this is, but very green

As promised, the course is FLAT (just as promised!). The entire thing, all the way. There were three almost insignificant not-flat parts: one, leading up to a railroad crossing; two, leading down from the road to the beginning of the unpaved section (not sure if that was technically a dike, since the Horseshoe isn’t connected to a river?); three, coming off of the unpaved section and returning to paved road. Each of these was extremely brief–measured in feet, not yards. The marathon follows a separate course from the half marathon, but starts in the same manner and re-joins for the last few miles. As a marathoner, I love it when I’m not “just” running two loops of the half marathon course. (Personally, I hate passing the finish line before I get to cross it!) The relay teams all seemed to be having a great time–some dressed in matching costumes, others had a theme going, still others dressed like I do for a run (if it passed the sniff test, it’s good to go).

MIlestones, er, cardboards?, had fun messages on them
Milestones, er, cardboards?, had fun messages on them
No, not beer--just water and Gatorade
No, not beer–just water and Gatorade

It’s fairly rare, in my experience, that a course that says it is flat is really, really flat. This one is, I promise. (Well, I can’t opine as to the looped portions of the marathon since I didn’t run them, but the half is like a pancake baby.) Since the vast majority of the race was rural, there were no “unofficial aid stations” or sponsored cheering stations. There were, however, plenty of well-stocked and cheerfully staffed aid stations! At least two of the aid stations had gummy bears–they were hiding in Dixie Cups–but there were no other foodstuffs served on course. (But again, that was NOT in the promises the race made, so I had packed some Glukos chews and Honey Stinger chews, and I was just fine. Yet another reason why you should actually read the race website and the emails from the race director, even if you run races all the time and figure you know everything there is to know.)

Truly pastoral, though I knew I was in trouble when one of the calf babies started running faster than me!
Truly pastoral, though I knew I was in trouble when one of the calf babies started running faster than me!

This was NOT my best race, sad to say. After the icky hills of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco and the Livermore Half Marathon, I was really excited to be on an actually flat course. Up until about mile 7 I was on pace to PR (not that I’m that fast, but a PR is a PR, right?) and was thinking about what corral that might put me in for the Dopey Challenge next year. Right around that point, that glute-hamstring tie-in on my left leg tweaked HARD and started to whine at me. Whiiiiiine, ow, whiiiine. UGH. This is a new one for me, and I thought it was a hill issue (since I had experienced it in San Francisco). So bummed, since I spent a good deal of my cross-training on the posterior chain last year (e.g. Lagree method). Around mile 9 I gave in to reality: this course would not be close to a PR. (Sad trombone noise! Whomp whomp!) Every time I tried to run–oh right, I was using 1-1 run and walk intervals–my left leg complained. ARGH.

A band of tulips!
A band of tulips!

Still, the course was flat (hooray!), green (hooray!), and reminded me of all the reasons why I love the Pacific NW. It wasn’t until after I had passed the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens that I realized I had been to Woodland before the race–twice! The first time I was there for the festival at the lilac gardens. Maybe it wasn’t a festival, but it was some big event, and it had a Volkswalk associated with it. I was in Woodland again later for the tulip festival at Holland America Bulb Farms–going on during this race!–and another Volkswalk. Of course that was in my pre-running days, so I doubt I would have noticed a race going on.

None of my photos do the tulips justice, so you’ll have to go run this race yourself and check them out. The fields were set back from the road, and as we passed I could see stripes of red, yellow, white, and other colors in addition to the non-blooming fields closer to the road.

At any rate, after grabbing some gummy bears at the last aid station I started to pass runners with medals on, which confirmed what I knew: the end was really close! The runners headed home with their bling all cheered and high-fived, which was cool. As I rounded the corner to the very last piece, the home stretch, I noticed the final not-flat piece of the course: a very slight downhill to the finish line! Hey, I’ll take ANY downhill to the finish line, no matter how slight.

Once again I do *not* win best dressed
Once again I do *not* win best dressed

The finish line was very organized! Race director Elba Benzler  was on the ground, handing out high-fives and congratulating runners. (After having him as a guest on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast before the race, it was nice to finally meet in person!) Traffic cones at the end of the chute subdivided runners–at that point it was really just me!–based on which race they finished, so they could receive the appropriate medal. What’s that? Why YES, there were completely different medals for the half, full, 10k, and marathon relay! You know how most races have one design, and the half gets a smaller version while the full gets a bigger one? Not here!

After greeting Elba I tried to find Sarah, who I’d heard and seen as I crossed the finish line. Of course we both had runner brain and each went to where we last saw the other, so it took us a little bit. Then I wanted to drink as many cups of delicious Opal apple cider as I could get without being silly (side note: the Opal apple was at the Walnut Creek Half Marathon two years ago, and it is the best apple ever). We posed and laughed before heading over to the VIP area, and then we posed more! All the post-race selfies!

Snacks and space heaters, aka a runner's paradise
Snacks and space heaters, aka a runner’s paradise

One nice perk of BibRave is that race directors sometimes give us VIP privileges at races. These were some really nice VIP privileges! In addition to access to the beer garden like other runners, the VIP area had a separate bar with the beers plus Washington State wine, and mimosas. In addition to the aforementioned BBQ sandwiches, VIP also had a spread of bananas, nuts, KIND bars, chips, and other assorted food. There was a complimentary massage station that I eyed but didn’t take advantage of due to having to check out of the hotel by 1 (and needing a shower, badly!). My favorite part of VIP was probably the patio heaters. It wasn’t exactly cold weather, but post-race my core temp definitely dropped, and the jacket I had packed into my bag wasn’t doing the trick, so I was happy to huddle under a heater.

"Seriously, I just got lapped by a cow!"
“Seriously, I just got lapped by a cow!”

Overall, this race rocked my socks. It delivered on everything, as advertised. As I was driving out of Woodland–post-race, post-shower, and post-Burgerville–the finish line party was still going strong. It’s reasonably priced, has a variety of distances, and is close enough to food, coffee, and other amenities that your finish line cheer squad can see you off, do something else, and then meet you at the finish. If you want to hear more, check out the latest episode of Runner of a Certain Age Podcast.

Since the race is Blooms to Brews, and you brew coffee, I’m giving away a bag of coffee beans! Not just any beans, mind you, but Rotary Club of Woodland’s premium dark roast. My purchase of these beans helps the Rotary fund the new sports complex in Woodland. This coffee was roasted just before the race (April 7th) by local coffee producer the Luckman Coffee Company.

Important! This giveaway is not sponsored by BibRave, Blooms to Brews, the Rotary, Elvis, or any other entity real or fictional. There is ONE prize, a bag of coffee beans. I’ll ship to the US and Canada for free. If you live elsewhere I’ll still ship, but I’ll ask you to make a charity donation in the amount of the cost of postage.

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As a kid, I thought coffee was disgusting. As an adult, I learned that drip coffee made from ground beans so old they’ve been in the metal can longer than most wine is aged, that’s disgusting. Good coffee? Mmmm, I love coffee.

This month, I’m giving a jolt of caffeine to the But First Coffee blogger linkup: every month, we start with coffee. No April foolin’, just posts about coffee. (If you’re a blogger and want to join, just reach out.)

53x11 direct to me!
53×11 direct to me!

Last year, while I was researching the impact of caffeine consumption on distance athletes, I learned that Hammer Nutrition has their own line of USDA certified organic and Fair Trade coffee, called 53×11. (Based on the graphics, I assume 53×11 is some super-secret cycling reference intended to taunt me into doing a triathlon. Nice try, but still NO.) According to Hammer, “Originally created by cyclists, for cyclists, 53×11 Coffee today is dedicated purely to delivering the best cup of organic, fair-trade coffee in the world. We utilize only sustainable organic, pesticide-free farms, and support trade wages and direct purchasing to give more to those growing the beans.” That, plus if you join the coffee club (2 bags/month on autoship) you get some freebies and perks (pun intended).

There are four blends in the Hammer coffee line-up: Chain Breaker, Big Ring, Early Break, and Downshift (which is decaff, so why would I bother??). All blends come in the standard 12 oz. bag–word to the wise, nobody seems to sell coffee by the pound anymore–and in whole bean or ground. Personally, I think the money I invested in my coffee grinder has paid dividends in better-tasting brews, and I recommend doing the same. (I bought mine at Target for about $15; Hammer sells a fancier model for just under $30.)  I ordered the obvious three and here are my thoughts.

IMG_3171Chain Breaker: Our signature espresso blend is the perfect choice for those who favor a darker roast. This rich, nutty blend is equally extraordinary for espresso or drip use. The Chain Breaker consists of beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas which results in a complex, yet smooth cup. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Much to my surprise, this is the coffee I liked the least out of the three–and I expected it to be my favorite! I usually make dark roast coffee like an espresso blend, quite strong, and then add some form of milk and a little cocoa to it. (Exceptions for exceptionally smooth, low-acid coffee, like the Jamaican coffee I had while actually in Jamaica.) Generally speaking, the darker the better. This is definitely DARK coffee. It isn’t as acidic as most of the dark roasts I like, and I suspect that threw off the flavor profile at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. Don’t misinterpret that–this coffee was just fine. If you like strong coffee before a run (or ride or whatever) but the acidity messes with your stomach, this is a great choice.

IMG_3169

Big Ring: Our 100% organic Sumatra single origin coffee, medium roasted and shade grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees that provide a viable habitat for migratory birds. The Big Ring represents the classic Sumatran flavor profile with low acidity and full body. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

This coffee is delicious! It is definitely my favorite of the three…so much so that when I switch to two bags a month, I might make them both The Big Ring. If I made this coffee at Midwestern strength, I could probably drink it without anything added. Life on the Left Coast has led me to prefer my coffee made just strong enough to start to dissolve the spoon (kidding!), so that’s unlikely.

What I liked most about The Big Ring is that it delivered exactly what it promised: a full-bodied flavor with low acidity. If you’re only going to try one of Hammer’s coffees, THIS is the one.

IMG_3170Early Break: A morning staple at the 53×11 office. This medium-roasted blend of Central, South American, and Sumatran beans represents a well-rounded, mildly acidic cup with a clean finish. The Early Break is a great “everyday” coffee. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Again, this one promised what it delivered: balanced body, rich flavor. (That’s on the label, but if you’re a Runner of a Certain Age like I am, you might not be able to read it.) It’s also low in acidity. When I brew this one I up the amount of coffee in the coffee-to-milk ratio. I like this one with some Califia almond milk and a small splash of quality vanilla extract. (Feeling daring? Try a dash of cinnamon too.) I like this one for the weekends, when I want to sit down and get to work while drinking more than one giant mug of coffee. (That would be a a BAD idea with the Chain Breaker, at least for me…I might get more done, but I’m pretty sure the typo level would increase dramatically!)

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t try the decaff blend. Seriously, what is the point of unleaded coffee? In case you’re curious, here’s how Hammer describes it: Down Shift: A decaffeinated version of our beloved Chain Breaker signature espresso blend. No shortcuts were taken here. This blend represents the four major coffee growing regions as well, resulting in a remarkable decaf. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean. Based on the other three, I’m sure it is lovely, but I don’t see the point.

In addition to the four coffees, Hammer can also hook you up with an electric kettle (great for making drip coffee at the office), a refillable Keurig cup (because seriously K-cups are the most wasteful, non-recyclable, non-compostable thing on the planet), a french press pot, and pretty much anything else you might need to partake of the coffees. Join the coffee club for a free mug, coffee filters, and drip-into-that-mug maker, plus lower prices.

By the way, Hammer makes all manner of other nutrition products for athletes. I’m working my way through the ones that are appropriate for me–and they have actual, real, live people to talk on the phone or chat online if you need help deciding what is best for your personal goals. So far, customer service has been GREAT. Before every coffee club shipment, I get an email reminding me that it’s about to ship, and have the option to delay or modify the order. The Hammer website also has loads of information on nutrition and endurance sports. If you’re thinking about making your first order, might I suggest you use my referral code? If you do, you’ll get 15% off your first order and a special packet of goodies including samples of some of the most popular Hammer products. Just place your order, and in the “referred by” section: Elizabeth Bain, email address bananafishie AT gmail, and code 252426. Voila!

Want to try before you buy?

Enter to win a bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee from Train With Bain! Just follow along on the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note the following: (1) This giveaway is in no way sponsored by Hammer Nutrition (or any other company or person or animal or alien), it’s 100% Train With Bain, baby. (2) I will happily ship to you for free within the US and Canada. If you’re in another country, I’ll have to look at postage…if it is extreme, I might ask you to help pay for it (or donate to a charity in lieu of paying postage). (3) Winners have to contact me with their shipping details within a reasonable amount of time–if I haven’t heard from you in a week, I’ll assume you are not interested.

Prizes: one bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee (new, unopened, fresh). The first winner to get back to me gets first pick of the blends!

 
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Like coffee? Why not take a spin around the April But First Coffee loop? It’s a short one this month! Next in line is Endure, Run Conquer

Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!

If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:

What does “natural” mean?

Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days
Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days

First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic.org) Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.

Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)

Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.

So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)

BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labeling page of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!

So, on to Expo West!

Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:

Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…

Who doesn't love popcorn?
Who doesn’t love popcorn?

Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon, POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…

This is my jam
This is my jam

Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.

Tastes like butter!
Tastes like butter!

Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.

Honestly, made from vegetables!
Honestly, made from vegetables!

Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!

Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee
Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee

Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee (and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…

But this is getting long.

So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!

Some of the goodies in this giveaway
Some of the goodies in this giveaway

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ve been a huge fan of keeping a food and exercise log/journal since I first started to dip my toes into the health and fitness arena. I call it “tracking,” largely because that’s how my Weight Watchers peeps refer to it. Yes, it’s kind of a pain in the butt sometimes, and I’m not 100% compliant with my own goal of tracking every day, but in my experience it’s been a huge help. When I write it down, I stick to my plans. I tend to eat healthier (because who wants to write down, “Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, 1 pint”??). I tend to workout more because I can see lots of blank space when I haven’t been exercising.

There are many electronic options to track, including free and paid apps and websites where you can track both exercise and food (e.g. My Fitness Pal, Livestrong, FitBit) but I do best when I write things down. For one, I spend so much time on my phone and computer that I don’t really need to find another reason to do that. For two, when I’m using pen and paper it’s easy to track what I had planned versus what I actually did. Or doodle in the margins. Or reward myself with a cool gel pen with funky ink. Finally, I’m more like to review my data if I can thumb through the pages and compare multiple pages at once.

So you might wonder, why bother with tracking? Trust me, it’s not just my personal obsession.

Three reasons you might track

1. Lose Weight

My first experience with tracking was actually when my office started a Weight Watchers group. As part of the program, we kept track of what we ate each day, working to stay within our “points” allowance. Tracking to lose weight is a proven method for adherence to a weight loss program.A study called Long Term Weight Loss Maintenance indicates tracking is also useful for maintenance, noting that some of the factors for long-term success (taken from the National Weight Loss Registry data) include “self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.” (You can read the rest of the abstract for more.)

Mileage Data (Believe Journal)
Mileage Data (Believe Journal)

2. Collect Data

If you’re tracking food intake, you probably know to write down what you ate. Don’t forget to write down how much! You might also write down how you felt afterwards. (I know people who have discovered food sensitivities this way.) Food is really tied up in emotions, and you might discover you’re eating because you are upset or bored!

If you’re tracking workout data, what you track probably depends on what you’re doing. In the P90X programs, Tony Horton recommends writing down how many reps you got through of each exercise (in addition to how much weight you used). If you’re running, you probably want to track time and distance, but you might also want to track weather, road conditions, and other factors that could affect your run.

Tracking both food and exercise allows you to see whether there are correlations (I always run better after a half cup of coffee, I’m miserable if I had champagne the night before), or if you’ve fallen into a habit you’d like to keep up or break up with. Right now I’m also tracking my water intake and hours of sleep.

If you’re really into the idea of collecting up data, you might want to check out the Quantified Self movement and see if there is a meet-up or conference near you.

The big picture page (FitBook)
The big picture page (FitBook)

3. Plan Ahead

If you are training for an event, you probably have some kind of training plan. Runners often plan a certain number of miles or minutes per training day. But planning isn’t just for “those people” (if you’re not one of them!). Maybe you need to plan out your workouts because you’ve got a busy schedule and a full plate, and planning it out ensures it will happen. You could put the workout in your regular calendar like an appointment, then write out the details in your tracker. If you’re following a training plan from a book or magazine, you can pre-write your workout in your tracker. I find carrying my small FitBook much more convenient than bringing the magazine, and I can always note where I made changes or did more reps. Another example, you can use a tracker to plan meals for you or your family (and from that, create your grocery list!). It can save you a bunch of time and money if you plan your meals that way.

Trackers I have known and loved

First, true confession, I’m actually tracking different things in different places. I have a FitBook for food and workouts. I have the Believe Journal for running, where I also write about how the run felt, what I got right and wrong, and my general thoughts about events, etc. I track my weight in the FitBit app. It might seem horribly inefficient to have all this data in different places, but it works for me–I want the graph the FitBit app makes, but I want space to write about my runs. I use the food section of FitBook to track container equivalents from the 21-Day Fix eating plan, but formerly used it to track points.

While you can just grab any notebook and start your own tracker, I’ve not have great success with this. The main issue for me is that since the pages are not organized into days and weeks, it is just too easy to skip a day, and “just for today” turns into “I don’t track anymore.” When I first started tracking I wasn’t sure what I wanted to track, and I tried to do too much, which also made the blank notebooks less than effective. I enjoy the graphic elements of the published trackers as well.

An example of my inspiration collages
An example of my inspiration collages

Weight Watchers

There is a WeWa app now, and some of my friends love it. I’ve never tried it, in part because I found the website quite buggy when I tried to use it to track. Instead, I used the spiral-bound purse-sized trackers. Note that there is a free downloadable tracker, and those attending meetings can pick up single-week trackers (or used to be able to do so–I’ve not checking up on it lately). The link leads to the current journal, which is a 12-week hardcover, because I couldn’t find the spiral-bound one online. Pros: highly portable, used the covers for inspiration collages. Cons: not much room to track exercise, frequently ran out of room to write.

Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!
Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!

Believe Journal

This is a running-specific journal, with information, inspiration, and worksheet-like activities between the regular weekly tracking pages. It was created by professional runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. You don’t have to be a runner to use it though–you could use the weekly pages for any activity, the yearly overview for planning, and the worksheets apply to almost every sport. There are some runner-specific information sections that don’t cross-apply though, including a variety of speed workouts, pace charts, and training plans.  Pros: plenty of room to write, spaces are customizable, textured cover, knowledge bombs/content. Cons: too large to carry around in a purse, not designed to track both exercise and food.

Workouts on the left, foods on the right
FitBook: Workouts on the left, foods on the right

FitBook

I first met FitBook at IDEA World in…wow, 2010. FitBook had a table at the expo, and I was so excited at how much better the format would be for my purposes. FitBook has a place to record stats other than weight, a weekly planning page, and a weekly summary page with space to journal, reflect on the week and how to move forward. There are two daily pages; the left side is for exercise and the right side is for food. The FitBook website and email newsletter deliver some great content for free, including inspiration, receipts, and printable calendars and goals worksheets. Pros: lots of space to track both food and exercise, largely blank areas are highly customizable, spiral binding lays flat for easy use. Cons: some might find it too big to carry daily.

A giveaway!

FitBook and FitBook Lite
FitBook and FitBook Lite

I’ve got ONE brand new FitBook Lite! The “lite” version of FitBook is a six week version of it’s big sister, FitBook. Once you’ve got FitBook Lite in your hands, you can downdload a free kickstart ebook with a meal plan, recipes, tips, and a workout plan guide. Please note: this giveaway is not sponsored by FitBook (or anyone else) in any way.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I am a 2015 Nuunbassador. This post is not sponsored by Nuun in any way. The giveaway is not sponsored by Nuun. All opinions are my own. Many thanks to Briana of Mat, Miles, Medals for the image above.

December is more than half over, and the new calendar year is almost upon us. (I know, I know–I have to keep saying it to myself over and over, because I barely believe it!) I was fortunate enough to be selected to be a Nuunbassador in 2015, and it’s time to celebrate that adventure coming to a close.

By the way, I decided not to reapply for 2016. That decision had nothing to do with Nuun–which I still drink all the time and am just shy of obsessed with–or my experience (it was great!). So many of my friends were really excited to apply, and really deserved a chance to represent Nuun in 2016. They wanted it SO badly! Since I already had the chance to represent Nuun, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be chosen as an ambassador for the Detroit Marathon, I decided to step aside this year. (Hey Nuun, maybe let’s get together again in 2017?) No need to be greedy, and I want to continue to do an excellent job for BibRave in 2016.

So, let’s talk Nuun!

Nuun’s major innovation is to separate hydration from fueling. Most sports hydration drinks are designed to do both, which is why they are filled with sugar–simple sugar can be readily broken down for use as fuel. Unfortunately, many endurance athletes find that consuming too much sugar while hydrating leads to…let’s just call it unpleasant digestive side effects. Nuun decided to separate the hydration (and and accompanying electrolyte replacement) and fueling.

Nuun Active is the original, and comes in the widest variety of flavors. Nuun Active contains the optimal blend of electrolytes because you need more than sodium when running (this is why salt packets are not the best electrolyte replacement!). Nuun has sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Here’s the nutrition facts and ingredients for my favorite flavor, tropical.

Some advantages to choosing Nuun Active for hydration:

  • light flavor
  • highly portable tablet format
  • easy to change or mix flavors
  • thin, non-sticky consistency
  • add more/less water to adjust taste and consistency
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.

Since Nuun ships as tablets in a recyclable tube, I suspect it also has less of an environmental impact, at least on the consumer side–no water is shipped so you can move more Nuun with less fuel, and using your own bottle means no disposable plastics. Finally, while the tube is recyclable, many people wash and re-purpose the tubes.

Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/
Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/

They are just the right size to carry Energy Bits, or store change for parking meters. If you travel as much as I do, you might also use the tubes to pack cotton swabs, part of a Lush bubble bath bar, or earrings.

2015 #TeamNuun kit
2015 #TeamNuun kit

Nuun Active is what I used all year for running. (Nuunbassadors do get a product discount, but frankly the expo special is a better price so I rarely used it.) In addition to my regularly scheduled events, this year was also the first virtual run co-sponsored by Nuun (with Motigo and the website now known as FitFam). Only Nuunbassadors and Team Nuun members could participate, and the run included a cute fitted shirt and medal. Athletes representing Nuun also had the opportunity to purchase specialty Nuun apparel twice during the year. Pactimo prints the Nuun team gear, which is quality technical gear. Most of Pactimo’s styles are for cycling, not running. So, for example, there weren’t running tights, or singlets. I opted for a pair of cycle shorts (encouragement to go to FlyWheel more often!) and a cycling jersey. (It’s got pockets on the back, so I know it wasn’t made for running.)

Andrew--find him on twitter @smartwatermelon--uses Nuun Plus in tri training
Andrew–find him on twitter @smartwatermelon–uses Nuun Plus in tri training

Nuun Plus is the newest Nuun invention. It contains electrolytes and sugar (dextrose and sucrose). Basically, it’s a way to add the fuel into your Nuun. You can easily adjust how frequently you fuel by adding Plus to some bottles, but not to others. I haven’t tried it yet, but my friends who have tried it do like it.

Nuun Energy is my favorite product, especially the cherry limeade. Like Nuun Active, it contains an optimal blend of electrolytes. Unlike Nuun Active, it also contains a B vitamin blend and caffeine. I keep a tube of the cherry limeade on my desk at work, so I have a low-calorie, less junky, option when I need an afternoon boost. (My non-Nuun choices are coffee drinks and sodas.)

Nuun All Day is a multi-vitamin disguised as Nuun! My favorite flavor is the blueberry pomegranate. The flavors are a little different, in part because the vitamin/mineral content is different. I’m not a huge fan of all of them, and as a friend of mine observed, it tastes a little “vitaminy.” I like the blueberry pomegranate all by itself, but you can easily mix it with another flavor (say half tab of each) or mix it into a beverage other than water (such as iced tea).

Finally, there’s U Natural. I’ve never tried it. U Natural is intended for use as hydration in less intense physical activities. (This is not the marathon runner blend.)

You can buy Nuun online, but buying it at your local sports or running store helps them to keep the doors open. The best price for Nuun right now is always at a race expo, where the expo special is two tubes for $10 plus a free refillable bottle.

Speaking of those bottles, I’m a bit of a water bottle junky. I came across an impressive photo of a Nuun bottle collection that essentially took up an entire kitchen cabinet. While I don’t have that many Nuun bottles, I do have quite the collection of other bottles too. When I started this year, I had two Nuun bottles: one Rock ‘n’ Roll, and one Active. I seemed to have crummy luck, and missed all the specialty bottles–the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, the Kara Goucher…but really, how many do I need??

The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina
The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina

Throughout the course of the year it became clear I was going to end up with MANY more bottles, so I made a rule: I can only keep one in each design. I haven’t used any of the rest of them–that’s where the giveaway comes in!

I’m giving away my extra, brand-new, un-used Nuun bottles! I’ll also put some Nuun samples inside for the lucky winners! Important Note: the samples are not the Nuun-factory-sealed samples. They will be untouched Nuun tablets, poured directly from the Nuun tube into a fresh snack-sized Ziploc bag. (Remember, this isn’t sponsored by Nuun! Cut me some slack, since I’m paying for the product and the shipping; I’d hate to send you a tube and it turns out you hate that flavor.)

Nuun bottles! There will be at least 3 prizes!
Nuun bottles!
There will be at least 3 prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a free Zensah thigh sleeve to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! The giveaway at the end of this post is not sponsored by Zensah.

UPDATE: I forgot to add that YOU can score 20% off Zensah products through 9/22 with code ZSBIBCHAT20!

Unlike the Zensah calf sleeves, the Zensah thigh sleeve comes as a single, not as a pair. On some level this made immediate sense to me. If you’re going to wear compression on both thighs, wouldn’t you just grab compression shorts or tights? Since runners often wear single-sided compression (just one calf) to protect a recovering injury, packing the thigh sleeve one to a pack instead of two seems logical, though I guess you could buy two and wear both.

Zensah thigh compression sleeve
Zensah thigh compression sleeve

The packaging depicts two runners, each wearing a thigh sleeve. (The calf products are featured on a similar graphic element on their packaging and on the website.) I’m not sure it’s possible for the average runner to actually run wearing the thigh sleeve. This is for two reasons.  One, the top of the sleeve tends to roll down, peeling off of the thigh. Two, because it is a compression product, the top of the sleeve produces the thigh version of the “muffin top.” Since I am an average (yet tall and not waif-like) woman, I don’t have the mythical “thigh gap” (and don’t want one, as it would look unhealthy); I run wearing shorts to prevent thigh chafing, and use Body Glide when I have shorter shorts. When the sleeve top rolls down, it exposes the interior exposed elastic, which then grips onto the opposing thigh. Further, the muffin-topping action produces increased chafing. (This isn’t unique to this product–I had the same problem back when I wore a Body Media device, which has an elastic band that goes around the upper arm.)

Initially I wanted to get a picture of the thigh sleeve on my body, so you’d be able to see exactly what I mean. Given the location of the product, however, it is very hard to do so without getting some rather dicey real estate into the photo. (Also, let’s face it, none of you want to see my thigh-muffin.) Instead, I give you a photo of the sleeve, and one with the top rolling down a bit, so you can at least better picture what I mean.

Thigh compression sleeve, flat
Thigh compression sleeve, flat

If you have the very-low-body-fat-percentage type of build of a professional runner, you may not run into these issues. In fact, I think this product was designed with exactly that body type in mind. (I can’t confirm this, but it is my suspicion based on my experience of it.) I thought of this since I had an almost comical attempt to get the sleeve on and into place. I wondered if I had ordered the wrong size (double checked the chart and nope, per my thigh measurement I should have used the L/XL). If you click over to the Zensah website (link above) you can see that the models have somewhat chiseled legs (not a lot of body fat). This also means the thigh sleeve is probably not an option for heavy-set, larger-bodied runners.

That said, so far all of the reviews by customers on the website are positive, and the sleeve has performed as expected for them. As with any type of wearable, your mileage may vary based on the size and shape of your body.

Thigh compressions sleeve, top rolling down
Thigh compressions sleeve, top    rolling down

If you wear tights over the top of the sleeve, you may not experience these issues. Note that I haven’t tried this–it’s been hot and humid everywhere I’ve been since I got the sleeve to test–but it seems like it should work, though I imagine reassembling yourself after using a porta potty would be difficult. I’m going to give it a shot once the weather cools a bit.

I’m planning to buy 2.5″ thick elastic–the kind I used to strap over my Irish “hard” shoes to ensure a snug fit through the arch–and add it to the top of the sleeve, under the gripping elastic. That kind of elastic yields to no man or woman or thigh. While I haven’t had a chance to do this yet, and the average runner reading this likely doesn’t have the sewing background I do, I think it will help the sleeve work better for my thight.

Another fix would be to use a quality stretch kinesio tape (like Go Tape) to secure the top of the sleeve in place after putting it on. Since taping could potentially cause a restriction, like putting a rubber band over the muscle, I would not recommend running with the sleeve taped in this way.

A bunch of other BibRave Pro team members also tried out the Zensah thigh compression sleeve. Read what they thought about it:

Overall, I think this product has promise, but in its current incarnation it doesn’t work for me without some kind of intervention (e.g. my planned elastic fix, tape, tights, etc.). On the upside, the Pro team gave some feedback to Zensah, and they seem genuinely interested in improving the product. Still, I really like the calf sleeves better, especially because I now own two pair that are the white with red and blue. So when I inevitably lose one, I’ll still have a pair!

Speaking of sleeves, I won a pair of Zensah calf sleeves at the Berkeley Adventure Run at Road Runner Sports a little while ago. Sadly, I forgot to check the size and they are size S/M (I need M/L). Since I feel like a doofus trying to exchange an item I won over a month ago, I’m going to give it away here instead.

wednesday linkup

Important notes! This giveaway is NOT sponsored by Zensah in any way. (They just happen to have made the prize.) The prize is a set of black Zensah calf sleeves in size S/M. I will mail it to the winner–be patient! I have a crazy work month ahead of me, so the trip to the post office might not happen instantly.

Also, this giveaway is linked to the #WinAllThePrizes Wednesday Giveaway Roundup. Check out the rest of the goods at Running with SD Mom and Erica Finds… to enter to win all sorts of blogger giveaways.

 

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I presented Legal Advice for Bloggers at IDEA World BlogFest 2015 and am a member in good standing of IDEA. This post and the accompanying giveaway are unrelated to my presenter duties, and are not sponsored by IDEA, Sweat Pink, or any other entity. All opinions are my own–you know I’ve got plenty to go around!

BlogFest and IDEAWorld gave me enough to write about for a year (but not the extra hours in the week to #writealltheposts). This is just a re-cap of my top take-aways from the BlogFest portion.

Be your own flower
Be your own flower

#1: Authenticity is the new buzzword.

The word “authenticity” must have come up at least as many times as I am years old. As an undefined intangible in a culture that highly values individuality, it’s a perfect addition to the word collection that includes “disruptor” (formerly known as “paradigm shift”). Everyone said “authenticity” and no one defined it. At the risk of being glib, I would say it is now-speak for “be honest.”

One of my great teachers once said, “Be yourself. All the other jobs are taken.” (Yoga, philosophy, and Sanskrit expert and academic, Douglas R. Brooks.) It is just as true in the blogging world as it is in every other part of the world. The world is filled with blogs, but trying to imitate another blog (or another blogger) is pointless. You can never be as good as they are at being them. Why not be yourself? When I created my blog, I sat down and thought about what is important to me, who I am, and how to keep my blog in line with me.

For example, I’m not obsessed with partnering with brands or accruing swag (not going to lie, I do like both), and it doesn’t make sense to me to pretend to be something or someone I’m not in order to land a partnership. Seriously, if a brand wants a hardcore dedicated runner, they’re going to be disappointed. Even if the brand and product seem like a good fit, I will only promote products and services I use and truly believe in (my recommendation is my reputation, so why would I throw that away for someone else?). Another example is that I don’t like reading “breakfast lunch and dinner” posts (it seems we are calling them “lifecasting” today) so I’m not going to write them. I just don’t enjoy it. If you do, that’s fine–go be you!

Not everyone is going to love you, and that’s okay. Love yourself, be yourself, and remember that what other people think of you is largely none of your business.

Just like lunch, there is plenty to go around.
Just like lunch, there is plenty to go around.

#2:  Stop living in a scarcity mentality.

No one expressly stated this during BlogFest, or at any session I attended at IDEA, yet I thought about it all weekend.

There is enough of EVERYTHING to go around. No matter what you hope to get from your blog–a job, an ambassadorship, a certain number of regular readers, a pat on the back–there is enough for you, and me, and every other blogger. (This is, in part, because we are all different–that pesky “authenticity” thing–so we’re not really competing against each other.)

When I started teacher training at Yoga Kula in Berkeley, one of the teachers there used to collect information on all of the yoga classes in that style taught all over the Bay Area and put them into a single schedule including all teachers and all studios and locations. Some people thought she was nuts (“won’t that drive students to other classes?”) but she explained that (1) that is a scarcity mentality, based on the assumption that there are not enough students to fill all those classes, and (2) there is no “my students,” because you don’t own or control who decides to come to your class. The same is true of blogging. Sharing, promoting, or helping another blogger is not going to drive “your readers” or “your partnerships” away, and you know what they are not really YOURS in the first place! If anything, helping someone else benefits you; you look good for being kind and helpful, and you stick to being who you are and what you do best. Everyone wins.

I regularly tell my yoga students, “hey, I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me or don’t like my class, come talk to me. I’ll help you find another teacher and another class that better suits your needs.” Trying to keep every single student happy and returning to my class is exhausting and doesn’t serve me, but more importantly it does not serve my students. There is lots of yoga in the world. To help more people do yoga, the best thing I can do is help them find their yoga. The same is true in blogging. Sure, I know I’m going to keep evolving over time and things may change, but it’s not in my nature to write very short posts (I have Twitter for that!), I don’t rock a highly artistic and sensually beautiful design, and I’m not going to promote meat-based recipes (dude, I’m a vegetarian). If that means my blog is not for you, thanks for visiting. There’s a blog out there for you to read. If you tell me what you’re looking for and I know where you might find it, I’ll tell you.

A rising tide lifts all boats, says the proverb. As the blogging community grows and each of us gets better at what we do, we all win.

Rise and shine!
Rise and shine!

#3: Commit and Follow-Through:
Hard work is always in style.

Ignore the “under promise and over deliver” mantra of the “I’m too cool to sleep” decade. Instead, do what you say you are going to do. If you have time to throw in some bonuses, great. If not, don’t fret.

Personally, it is important to me to follow-through on what I say I am going to do. It is like keeping a promise: the best way to ensure you keep it is to think carefully about what you are committing to do before you make the promise, and then creating a plan to get it done. I’m always surprised when I hear that bloggers who committed to a campaign, or event, or whatever, simply flaked and didn’t do the work. What the what? Guys, unless something truly serious and unanticipated happens–thing emergency, injury, computer goes for a swim in the ocean–follow through on what you say you will do.

It’s ridiculously easy. For example, as a member of the BibRave Pro team, I am sometimes given the opportunity to test out products or services (or run races) related to running. If I accept an assignment, I know that means I am responsible for tweeting about the item/event, attending the #bibchat sponsored by that item/event, writing a blog post, and tracking my social media engagement. If I can’t do those things for whatever reason (maybe the time frame is wrong, for example), I don’t accept the assignment.  Going back to point #2, there is plenty to go around. I don’t need to do everything, but the things I do, I need to do well.

#4: So are genuine kindness and generosity.

This weekend many people generously shared their stories, their advice, their experience, and their knowledge. “Generosity” means freely giving what you are able to offer, without any expectation that the recipient(s) will reciprocate. Mom used to explain to me that life puts you in situations where you are absolutely forced to ask for help or rely on others. (This was definitely true when I was in high school and in a serious car accident that put me in the hospital for two weeks. My terrified parents came to visit me every day. While they were away, other people cooked meals for the family, did the laundry and the dishes, drove my brothers to sports practice and to pick out a new coat; it was actually Mom’s first day at a new job, and the man she was to replace stayed on longer in order to let her spend her time with me. Some of these others were neighbors and close family friends, but even people we did not know well at all–people who were friends of friends of friends–stepped in and did things.) Realistically, there is no way you will ever get to pay back all the people you “borrow” from, and in many cases you won’t even know who they are. Instead, Mom would say, you “pay back” by lending a hand to anyone who needs it when you are able to offer it. (This was long before “pay it forward.” I guess it is a similar idea though.)

During BlogFest, bloggers taught how to do many things (grow a social media following on different platforms, optimize SEO, work with brands). In most cases, this was less textbook information and more “secret sauce”-like things that these bloggers learned by trial and error and trying again. Sometimes it was specialized knowledge from experience in a specific industry, such as my presentation on basics of law for bloggers.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t have a technical background, and each new thing I try to do still involves some learning and moments of painful frustration. Heck, I still run into “why does the picture keep doing that weird thing?” and “how do I do that?” I’m fortunate to have developed a nice network through Sweat Pink, FitBloggin‘, and groups like Rock ‘n’ Blog, and when I have a question, I ask.  If by some miracle there is a question I can answer, I do.

My favorite slide from BlogFest. Thanks, Melissa Burton!
My favorite slide from BlogFest. Thanks, Melissa Burton!

#5: Page Views and Followers: Not The Only Thing (Maybe Not A Thing)

If you are a blogger, you know that any discussion of blogging inevitable includes at least some mention of SEO (search engine optimization), promoting your blog, and analytics. It kind of makes sense, because most people writing a blog would like it if other people read the blog. New bloggers often find this aspect overwhelming (especially if the actual blogging is already more than enough work!). Going back to that scarcity mentality, many bloggers also worry that their low page-views will prevent them from getting the “good” opportunities.

Seriously, that can’t be the case–because I’ve scored some great opportunities and I don’t have a huge readership. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to try and review new Clif Bar products, serve as a Nuun ambassador, and be on Team Rock ‘n’ Blog. If all opportunities were based just on page views, I’d probably never have any of that because when I applied I didn’t even have an analytics widget installed.

Several of the presenters at BlogFest brought up the idea that bloggers and companies are catching onto the reality of blogging: it’s not a numbers game. One of the presenters, Katy Widrick, asked, “would you rather inspire 10 people, or have 10,000 pass through your blog?” Sure, we’d all like BOTH. But if you had to pick, which would you choose?

Bonus #6: each one of these points is applicable to the unwritten blog that is your life.

Two winners will share these goodies.
Two winners will share these goodies.

BlogFest “wish you were here” pack giveaway!

Please note that to win this giveaway you must NOT have been at BlogFest. (If you were there, you already have this stuff–so share the love! Invite your friends who were not there to win some swag.) By entering this contest, you expressly and affirmatively state that you were not at BlogFest 2015. I am obsessed with water bottles, and they are starting to take over my kitchen. Because of this, I’m going to give away the two water bottles I got at BlogFest. I’m throwing in a bunch of freebies, coupons, and swag too.

Important tip: if you win, you might have to wait a little while before I am able to ship the goods. Patience, grasshopper!
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Disclosure: I received samples of Everlast Vegan Protein because I am a BibRave Pro and because I am a fitness professional member of IDEA. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com!

As many of you know, I eat vegetarian and have been trying to reduce my egg and dairy intake. As part of my quest to keep a healthy, balanced diet I’ve been in search of a vegan protein powder. Since I drink Shakeology daily, I don’t need a protein powder with added nutrition–I’m just looking for the protein, thanks. I jumped at the chance to try Everlast Vegan Protein!

After I received the samples, I bought the full-sized bag, so you can enter to win those samples. (There is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup.)

Everlast Vegan Protein
Everlast Vegan Protein

Everlast Vegan Protein currently comes in one flavor, “light vanilla flavor.” It has no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, and no soy. If you have severe allergies, you should know it is made or packaged in a facility that also handles products made with milk, eggs, wheat, and soy (and the package has the required FDA allergen warning on it).

Ingredients. Many protein powders either have a bunch of weird or unnecessary additives. Yes, protein powder is a highly processed food, but I still like to know what is in it and make the best possible choices.

Bag, back view
Bag, back view
  • Pea protein
  • Carrageenan
  • Sea Salt
  • Natural flavor
  • Rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Stevia glycoside

The protein blend includes yellow pea protein, rice protein, and hemp protein.  This mix avoids the most common allergens (e.g. soy) while delivering a protein that covers a complete BCAA profile. (Branched-Chain Amino Acids–BCAAs–are the building blocks of protein: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. You can read more about what BCAAs do on the Precision Nutrition site.)

What about the non-protein ingredients? Sea salt is exactly what you think it is. The term “natural flavor” is regulated by the FDA, and is used on the labels of many food products and supplements–and since this protein powder has a flavor, the label has to identify it. If you really want the technical definition, here it is, direct to you from the Code of Federal Regulations:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Since this is a vegan protein, you know the flavor isn’t from meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy products. (I know, you’re thinking, “why not just say ‘vanilla’?” My guess? That’s complicated, as in there are separate sections of the Code of Federal Regulations with specifications for vanilla. Title 21, Part 169, Subpart B defines:  § 169.176 Concentrated vanilla extract; § 169.177 Vanilla flavoring; § 169.178 Concentrated vanilla flavoring; § 169.179 Vanilla powder; § 169.180 Vanilla-vanillin extract; § 169.181 Vanilla-vanillin flavoring; and § 169.182 Vanilla-vanillin powder. Vanilla is derived from a variety of orchids from the genus vanillia; different flowers grown in different parts of the world produce different flavors. If you want to keep the taste of your product consistent, ideally you’d use the exact same type of vanilla flavor…but vanilla is a picky little diva of a flower that can only be grown in certain places. Any change in the flowers could change the flavor, which means re-sourcing the vanilla. Re-sourcing the vanilla could mean changing from one type of regulated flavor to another–for example from extract to powder–which would require a change in the label, which would lead to a delay in production. In other words, major pain in the butt.)

That leaves carrageenan and stevia glycoside. The dairy industry has worked hard to demonize carrageenan through production of commercials about nut milks. (Backstory: the biggest dairy producers and processors convinced some legislators to introduce a bill that would limit use of the word “milk” to dairy products; they are unhappy that in the current nutritional climate, many people are turning to soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and similar beverages. When this bill failed, they started to run commercial advertising to influence public opinion by providing just one tiny slice of information about non-dairy milks. Basically, sore losers.) Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed. The Irish began using it in food hundreds of years ago (if not earlier–there’s only so much history we can trace). The Food Babe points to it as one of the most evil things in food, but she relies on animal-only studies that studied poligeenan (which is a different substance) and studies that used huge amounts (more than you’d consume even if you ate all-processed, all the time). (You can read one simple counterpoint to the fear-mongering at the International Food Information Council site. Click the links, use Google Scholar and PubMed, and understand the science.) Carrageenan serves two functions in a protein powder. One, it preserves the nutritional value of the protein. Two, it allows the protein to suspend evenly in liquid, instead of clumping up and floating to the top or sinking to the bottom.

Finally, stevia glycoside. Steviol glycosides are the compounds in the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant–at least ten of them–that make the plant sweet. Pure stevia actually has a bitter aftertaste, which is why commercial sweeteners containing stevia usually don’t contain much stevia–and why Truvia (which is like 95% erythritol, a sugar alcohol) is being sued for misleading consumers. The difference is important; stevia, which has been used for over 100 years as a sweetener, does not have an impact on blood sugar, while some sugar alcohols not only impact blood sugar but also affect gut bacteria and may cause intestinal upset in sensitive individuals.  You can read more than you ever wanted to know about stevia from the International Stevia Council. (Yes, it is their job to make stevia sound awesome. Feel free to cross reference with Google Scholar and Pub Med.) Oh, and the amount of stevia added is just enough to make Everlast Vegan Protein not-sour, not-salty. This isn’t a sugar bomb “tastes like a cake mix” product.

My kitchen is the laboratory: Touch Test. Okay, so this might not technically be a test, exactly, but in my experience the texture of the mix affects the final product. The protein powders my brother used in high school were gritty and felt like they contained bits of ground-up gravel in them. The resulting sludges had a sandy texture to them, and any un-mixed lumps brought me right back to falling off the swingset and doing a face plant in the sandbox. Yuck. Birds need to eat gravel and grit, but I surely don’t!

Thankfully, there is no sandy, gritty stuff in Everlast Vegan Protein powder. The dry texture is more like a weightier powdered sugar, or a very soft and creamy powdered makeup. While in the sealed bag, you can almost knead it like bread dough.

pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein
pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein (just pretend you can’t see parts of my kitchen, okay?)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Mix Test. The first test I perform on any drink or protein powder is a mix test: I take the full serving size, put it into a pint glass, and add either water (for fruity-flavored supplements) or skim milk (for protein powder), then stir with a spoon. I don’t always have a shaker cup with me, and sometimes you need to adjust serving sizes to get an optimal mix. Yes, I realized while I was stirring that it is a little ironic that my first test on a vegan protein powder is to mix it with dairy milk. Oops.

The majority of the protein powder mixed thoroughly and dissolved. In hindsight, the amount of space the protein powder took up in the glass means it is unlikely I got the recommended 8 to 12 ounces of liquid in there. Oops. There were a few globs of not-quite-dissolved powder; when I tasted them, they were smooth, like a thick pudding (not at all gritty like my brother’s high school sludges). The resulting protein drink was smooth and had a nice texture. To my surprise it was also very filling, even though a single serving is only 110 calories (plus the approximately 90 calories in the 8 ounces or so of skim milk I put in there).

The flavor was light, as described on the package. It didn’t scream VANILLA! like some vanilla-flavored things. Personally, I consider this a major win, as my search for a protein powder is in part so I can add it to recipes and shakes where I don’t want it to overpower the other ingredients.

One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)
One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Blender Test.  At IDEA World last year, I stopped by the Ninja Kitchen booth, had some delicious green juice, entered a twitter contest, and won a Ninja Ultima! The blender is now my go-to appliance (because it works like a ninja, and because it is so easy to clean) and I use it pretty much every day to make a breakfast smoothie using the single-serve Nutri Ninja cups. Since the mix test above convinced me that I needed more liquid for a full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein, I made one of my usual recipes and added a half scoop (without changing anything else about the recipe). I was a little afraid that I should have added the liquid first–some of the powder hit the bottom of the cup, and I wasn’t sure whether the Ninja could get it fully mixed-in, given the softness of the product.

Fortunately the Ninja worked like a champ, and the Everlast Vegan Protein blended into the smoothie 100% (no unblended bits). The smoothie tasted pretty much like I expected it to taste, with a subtle hint of vanilla in there. I could definitely tell I had added more protein, as the smoothie had a little more weight to it, and I felt sated longer than I usually do after a smoothie.

The not-so-good. The only downside to Everlast Vegan Protein is the packaging. (I was going to add the flavor–there’s a thing called “flavor fatigue” if you always have the same thing–but the flavor is so light that you can add anything to it, or add it to anything, and come up with a million tasty flavors.) I like that the packaging is minimal, just a single, theoretically re-seal-able bag. I’m trying to cut down on how much trash I generate, and since I own plenty of portable containers and such there isn’t any reason why I should need individually-wrapped servings. I like that it’s not a giant plastic canister like most other brands of protein, as those take up way too much space in my kitchen and are usually about 25% larger than necessary.

I count the packaging as a downside, because the ziploc-style re-seal-able top is incompatible with the product. When I tried to re-seal the bag, the single set of grooves refused to mate and seal; both sides of the bag had the fine dust of Everlast Vegan Protein thoroughly filling in the groove. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the bag to seal shut again. This led me to dump the bag into a Tupperware-type square container with a tight-fitting lid. Unfortunately, the fluffy texture of the powder meant that even though I tried to prevent any giant dust-poof (if you’ve ever poured flour into a storage jar, or tried to seal a flour bag shut, you’ve met the dust-poof), the product got all over my counter and myself. Oops. Now that it is in the container, and I’ve washed and dried the scoop (which I put into the container with the handle OUT of the product), I’m good to go.

WIN WIN WIN!

Since I went all-in and bought the two pound Everlast Vegan Protein bag, I don’t need the samples. Since I have a bit of a drinking vessel habit–seriously, I can’t resist a cute water bottle or shaker cup–I don’t need the shaker cup either. (Trust me, it pains me to give this one away, but I’m trying SO HARD not to turn into my packrat Nana.) This giveaway features TWO prizes! Prize #1: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein. Prize #2: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein plus an Everlast shaker cup.

Prizes!
Prizes!

 

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P.S. remember there is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup. (That code is good on anything on the Everlast Nutrition site, and does not expire.)

P.P.S. Want to see what the other BibRave Pros thought about Everlast Vegan Protein?

On Sunday, April 12, 2015 I joined a small group of runners at the Novato Wild Horses Half Marathon & 5k. Produced by Titanium Racing, this is the first of the three events that make up the Triple Crown Series (all of which are part of the 2015 California Half and Full Marathon Series).

Not wild, but still horses
Not wild, but still horses

Novato is in Marin County, which has designated a huge amount of land for permanent preservation through a variety of means, such as the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. As you might imagine, that has driven property values through the roof, but it has resulted in some gorgeous places to run.

Part of the course runs through a park
Part of the course runs through a park

The Triple Crown Series races do not have an expo. Instead, you can pick up your bib at one of the designated sponsor locations. This year, that was Whole Foods in Novato and Road Runner Sports in Berkeley. That’s all you pick up, just the bib–the other swag is waiting at the race.

Wild Horses starts and ends at the San Marin High School. Given the smaller size of the race, this is an ideal location: plenty of parking and an accessible building for swag pickup and post-race refreshments.

I'm sure the locals thought I was nuts as I talked to the horses and took this picture
I’m sure the locals thought I was nuts as I talked to the horses and took this picture

I thought I had a picture of the starting line, but it turns out I don’t. You can get a good idea of the size of the field by looking at the picture on the Wild Horses Half Marathon website. It’s a pretty small group, so if you’re a faster runner, your chances of taking home one of the awards. The course is an out-and-back, mostly along paved roads but also on some blacktop. It winds through residential areas, and by the College of Marin Indian Valley Campus. It’s a mostly flat course, with actual “gentle rolling hills” (not a euphemism for once, but an accurate description). Many of the homes are on large lots with animals; I like imagining what they think of the parade of runners.

Not a horse, but still a cutie
Not a horse, but still a cutie!

The course ends back at San Marin High School, where you do a victory lap around the school’s track before crossing the finish line. I have to say, it is pretty awesome to end the run on a softer surface! Also, race staff were there to run in the very last runners, which I really appreciated.

Titanium racing has a history of good-looking race shirts. The long-sleeved shirts for the Tiburon Half Marathon, for example, have side panels in contrasting colors. The Wild Horses shirt featured a full-face design this year.

Mr. Potter, inspecting the race shirt
Mr. Potter, inspecting the race shirt

The medal and cinch-sack feature the same race logo. Runners were treated to a variety of snacks at the finish line, including Nuun hydration. Whole Foods provided a take-away bag filled with goodies including Purity Juices and Hint water.

There were more snacks, but I eated them. #EatAllTheFoods
There were more snacks, but I eated them. #RunAllTheRaces #EatAllTheFoods

This year, Titanium Racing also hosted a virtual run option for those unable to attend the race in person. I found out about it by accident, when I received a virtual kit in the mail–cinch-sack, medal, and shirt. I contacted the race organizers to send them back, but they said I should keep them.

Race medal featuring a fancy ribbon
Race medal featuring a fancy ribbon

So…got a little runner in your life? Or a horse-crazed girl? Or some other good purpose for a medal, a cinch-sack, and a race shirt?
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If you haven’t checked out the Run Where I Live Tour, hop over to Live Run Grow and start your tour in Cape Cod, then follow the links to see where your fellow runners run. (Maybe bookmark a few for your next vacation?) Since runners love to eat, the topic of running local easily leads to eating local. So I’m dedicating my first “what I ate Wednesday” post to edibles for runners (and other athletic types). Read on to learn about my newest discoveries, and to win some of your own!

Disclaimer: I received the products reviewed in this post from Clif Bar & Company. Clif Bar did not ask me to publish a review (though they are probably hoping for at least a shout-out). Clif Bar did not ask me to use these products in a giveaway (so count yourself lucky that I’m not greedy and that I promise not to eat all the coconut-flavored samples!). All opinions are my own. Trust me, I have so many opinions I don’t need to borrow anyone else’s. 

Clif Bar & Company is headquartered in Emeryville, the “rottenest city on Earth” according to Earl Warren, about two blocks from my first California apartment. If that’s not local food, I don’t want to hear about it. Ha! The original Clif Bar in coconut chocolate chip kept the rumbly-in-my-tumbly from disturbing my classmates when I had 12-hour days in grad school. I love the relatively new Clif Mojo Bars, so I was excited to get the opportunity to try the new Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars, which debuted in April 2015.

According to the Clif website, “Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar is made for mixing it up and discovering all the good stuff the day has to offer. Combining simple and organic ingredients that are good for both our bodies and the planet, our trail mix bar comes in flavors for just about every occasion no matter where the trail takes you.” If you like Clif Mojo Bars, chances are very good you will also like the Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars. Mojo Bars inspired the Organic Trail Mix Bars, which have 95% organic ingredients (Mojo is 70% organic).

These bars? I eated them.
These bars? I eated them. (LOL. All of them.) But I have another one of each flavor just for you!

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars are gluten free, certified kosher, and delicious! These wouldn’t be a go-to running food for me, exactly, because you have to chew them and I’ve got a talent for choking on things, but they make a great post-run snack. Or a hiking fuel snack (nuts + chocolate = protein, fat, and carbs). I have a stash in my desk so I can successfully treat myself to something healthy instead of grabbing a donut at the cafe. Each is at or under 200 calories, so it is a good size for a snack. The protein and fats from the nuts up the satiety factor (you actually feel like you ate something).

Don't you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?
Don’t you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?

My favorite flavor is the coconut almond peanut. (I’m still a sucker for coconut.) Just look at it, and you can tell most of what is in it. The dark chocolate almond sea salt is a close second, because it’s a little bit like a candy bar–chocolate and almonds, right?–but without the candy bar fake ingredients. Dark chocolate peanut butter rounds out the top three for my favorites, but I think dark chocolate cherry almond deserves an honorable mention; it has cherries in it, so I need it for muscle recovery, right?

Clif seems to have a flavor for everyone in the Organic Trail Mix Bar, with or without chocolate. The other flavors are cranberry almond, wild blueberry almond, and dark chocolate pomegranate raspberry. (If you enter my giveaway below, you could win a box with one of each flavor!)  Certified USDA organic, the ingredients list for my favorite illustrates what is inside:

INGREDIENTS: Organic Peanuts, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Almonds, Organic Coconut, Organic Rice Crisps (Rice Flour*, Dried Cane Syrup*, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Organic Inulin, Organic Honey, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant). ALLERGEN STATEMENT: Contains soy, peanuts, almonds, and coconut. May contain traces of other tree nuts.

Good stuff! Clif Organic Trail Bars are available in a variety of grocery stores, sporting goods stores, Target, and online through companies like The Feed. MSRP for a single bar is $1.69-$1.79 but you might as well buy a box (it’s more cost-effective, and you know you’re going to want more than one…and if you don’t want more than one, just send me your leftovers and I will take care of them for you).

If you’ve been to any race expos in the past year, you’ve probably noticed an interesting trend in athletic fuel. While athletes have used itty-bitty pouches for years (think Gu, Clif Shots, Honey Stinger, Hammer Gel), the larger pouches have been reserved for toddlers (think Mott’s Snack & Go, GoGO Squeeze, Chobani Tots). Until now.

Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation
Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation

When I opened the box with samples of Clif Organic Energy Food I was excited, but also a little bit terrified. The pack was super cute and pizza, themed, complete with a red and white checked napkin and seeds to grow basil, oregano, and tomato.

Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients
Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients

Then I looked at the contents. Pizza Margherita? Really? My runner friends who found the pizza and the Sweet Potato with Sea Salt flavors were quick to snap a selfie and post an expression of similar skepticism. Is this for real? I love pizza as much as the next runner, but pizza squeeze? Yum or Ew? (The answer is yum, by the way, but I’m getting to that part.)

Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?
That’s my hand, so you can see the size. Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?

Clif Organic Energy Food comes in four flavors. According to the Clif website, these were inspired by recipes used by Clif athletes. The two you would thing of as “more normal” (banana mango with coconut, and banana beet with ginger) are sweet, like you expect runner food to be, and come in at 90g and 100 calories per pouch. They taste just like you’d expect them to taste (only if you expect to get a vegetable flavor from the beet, that’s not quite right.) The two savory flavors (sweet potato with sea salt, and pizza margherita) have a higher protein and fat content and are 120g per pouch, with the sweet potato at 200 calories and the pizza at 160, making them more suitable for longer activity. But let’s take a look at that freaky-sounding pizza flavor, shall we? What the heck is inside?

Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Carrot Puree, Water, Organic Quinoa, Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Olive Oil, Yeast Flakes, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Oregano, Organic Basil, Citric Acid.

What is NOT inside? GMOs, trans-fat, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, weird fake sugars, preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Okay, so far, so good.

Since I didn’t want to try a new food on a race day, but I also didn’t want to open a pouch and risk throwing most of it away just to get a taste–with no preservatives, these foods are designed to open and eat immediately, not be served up as leftovers–I decided to make my own version of the recipe for Scott Jurek’s Long Run Pizza Bread included in the box. But first, a taste of the Clif Organic Energy Food:

Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!
Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!

It tastes like pizza. Not like “pizza flavor” but like you took a bite of pizza toppings and chewed it up. Most of my Instagramming and Facebooking friends doubted that they would want to consume anything tomato-based while running. This doesn’t have the acidic, sharp flavor of pureed tomatoes. Notice the second ingredient is actually carrot, which gives the Pizza Margherita a smooth, creamy texture. The starch from the carrot balances out the tart tomato. So I was happy to make myself some dinner!

Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it's dinner!)
Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it’s dinner!)

I sliced the Pretzilla in half and toasted it, cut side up, in the toaster oven. After it started to tan, I pulled it out and spread a generous heap of the Clif Organic Energy Food on top. (It looked really orange–not like tomato sauce.) Then I topped each half off with a sprinkle of shredded pizza cheese, and popped it back into the toaster oven until the cheese started to melt.

Yes, it's an indulgent dinner. But hey, it's actually Monday as I'm eating this.
Yes, it’s an indulgent dinner. But hey, it’s actually Monday as I’m eating this.

Moral of the story? Your parents were right: try it, you might like it. (This recipe used about half of a pouch. While you’re supposed to consume it and toss the leftovers, I’m going to take a calculated risk. I put the remaining half pouch in the refrigerator, and plan to put it on eggs and potatoes for breakfast.)

By the way, another aspect of the Clif Organic Energy Food I really approve of: the lid can be recycled, and Clif partners with Terracycle so you can upcycle the pouch itself.

Clif Organic Energy Food is available in a variety of locations. Check your local running store first, then your grocery store. MSRP for the sweet flavors (90g) is $2.29 and MSRP for the savory flavors (120g) is $2.99.

Do you want to win some Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars AND Clif Organic Energy Food? One lucky winner will get a prize pack that includes one of each flavor of bar, and one of each flavor of Organic Energy Food.

 

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